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Free Personality Test!

That’s what the Church of Scientology used to promise, as they button-holed you on sidewalks or advertised on billboards: “Free Personality Test!” or “Discover Your Reactive Mind!” or things like that.

Without going into the oddities or (alleged) improprieties of Tom Cruise’s favorite religion, I’ll just say that I was never tempted to join. Or even to discover my reactive mind. All of the intensity and eye-contact and barely concealed aggression I’ve seen from Scientology’s acolytes just doesn’t seem very attractive to me. I like my religions lower-key.

Yesterday, though, Scientology scored a minor coup. The church purchased an “advertorial” on the Atlantic.com. And boy, did it look a lot more “vertorial” than “ad.” You can find the whole thing here, cached, but you’ve got to hand it to the graphics team of Scientology & The Atlantic: this certainly looks like a page from Atlantic.com:

It says “Sponsored Content” up there in yellow, but I’m not sure “sponsored content” is all that descriptive. I mean, all content is sponsored. By someone. (Usually Audible.com, but you know what I mean….)

There was a Twitter uproar, of course — people who read Atlantic.com don’t like to think of themselves as the kind of people the Church of Scientology should be going after. People who read Atlantic.com are smart, see? Under no circumstances should they be direct-market targets of wacky cults and creepy religions. So they pushed back. And Atlantic.com caved, in a memo today:

We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.

How, exactly, did they “screw up,” unless it’s really just a euphemism for, “We let our readers know that they’re a perfect fit for the Church of Scientology?”

After all of this, one thing is clear: the editors and publishers (and readers) of Atlantic.com did, ultimately, submit to a personality test. The results weren’t great. Maybe they need to work on their “reactive mind.” I know a place where they can do that.