Scientology

by Kieran Healy on June 26, 2005

What with Tom Cruise and his Scientology-driven antipathy to psychiatric medicine in the news recently, it might be worth revisiting an old post about the claims that Scientology makes for its founder, the appalling L. Ron Hubbard.

Was there ever a more entertaining belief system embedded in a more ruthless organization? (Apart from the obvious one, I mean.) And then there is L. Ron himself — a man whose abilities and achievements are quite literally incredible. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, read and ponder “L. Ron Hubbard: A Chronicle,” the official summary of Hubbard’s life and legacy from the Church of Scientology itself. There are many juicy bits, but my favorite section is the period between 1970 and 1973, when L. Ron turned his gargantuan intellect and penetrating insight to sociology and philosophy, two subjects close to my heart:

Having developed a successful and standardized pattern of organizational form and function, Ron turns to resolving the problems of how to manage an international network of organizations. Ron streamlines organizational management technology – laying out highly workable principles of personnel, organization and financial management and handling which are found today in the Management Series volumes.

Naturally, this work now forms the cornerstone of graduate-level reading in the sociology of organizations. Whenever I teach Orgs, L. Ron gets the first six weeks to himself. Then maybe we move on to Weber or Herb Simon or one of those other, lesser people. Interesting and all as it is, though, the sociology of organizations is not as fundamental a subject as, say, logic. L. Ron was working on the foundations of logic at around the same time that we was doing the drug research that Tom Cruise admires so much:

His breakthroughs at this time include the first significant advances on the subject of logic since ancient Greece.

Consult your local copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica or any standard history of the field for further information. Bandwidth constraints mean I can only make passing mention of Hubbard’s Begriffsschrift, his Calculus of Logic, the Hubbard-Skolem theorem, Principia L-ronica, his famous autocritique “On Formally Outrageous Propositions of Principia Lronica and Related Systems” and finally Hubbard’s Completeness Theorem for Modal Logic. The latter proves Scientology correct in all possible worlds.

While all this is going on,

Ron conducts a comprehensive study of all existing public relations theories and practices and also releases his discoveries in the field of public relations, providing an entirely analytical and ethical approach to the subject.

L. Ron’s ethical approach public relations is exemplified by this very Chronicle.

In 1972 L. Ron Hubbard carries out a sociological study in and around New York City. Through the remainder of the year and into 1973, he researches vitamins and nutrition which will later become significant in his breakthroughs in the handling of the residual effects of drugs.

L. Ron’s attentions shift to the Arts in 1974. If you’ve done six impossible things before breakfast then it’s time to shake your booty:

In February 1974, while aboard the Apollo [his ship, not the spacecraft, surprisingly—KH], Ron forms a music and dance troupe to provide entertainment and goodwill at Spanish and Portuguese ports of call. He personally instructs the musicians and dancers in artistic presentation, music, composition, sound, arranging and recording.

But then it’s back to the serious stuff, later to be cited extensively by Tom Cruise, the well-known professor of psychopharmacology:

Ron discovers that drugs remain in the body even years after usage has ceased. Consequently, he develops the Purification Program to rid the body of harmful residual substances. … These techniques [are] used by churches of Scientology and drug rehabilitation organizations around the world…

Incidentally, just in case you thought he was slacking off with the Iberian Cabaret,

It is also in 1979 that Ron isolates and solves the problem of increasing illiteracy.

You have to love this guy. I mean, until his organization comes by and ruthlessly attempts to suppress any criticism you may have, of course, while ripping off huge amounts of money from its members.

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1

bad Jim 06.26.05 at 2:30 am

The secret teachings of Scientology, regarding alien colonization of the planet, are odd beyond belief. I don’t believe I’ve ever read such ridiculous science fiction.

To find a link to what I’d read before (originally published in the L.A. Times, I believe), I googled “scientology” and got just seven sites.

Googling “scientology” and “thetans”, by contrast, got 17,700 and this chilling notice: “In response to a complaint we received under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint for these removed results.”

In my beachside resort town the Scientologists periodically put up a tent, not explicitly identifying themselves, offering psychological evaluations, family counselling and the like. Teenagers in t-shirts reading “Youth against psychiatry” pass out leaflets.

In retrospect, the Krishna devotees we used to get were more entertaining and less scary.

2

Barry Freed 06.26.05 at 2:34 am

Wasn’t he nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine too?

3

bad Jim 06.26.05 at 4:35 am

This sort of thing makes Philip Dick look like a subtle observer of Californian lifestyles:

OT III, also called “The Wall of Fire”. Deals with Incident 2, Xenu, the evil galactic overlord, and the H bombs on Hawaii 76 million years ago. Hubbard said that anyone who was exposed to this level casually would “freewheel” through it, become a chronic insomniac, then get sick and die. “Locating and auditing of body thetans on Incident I (first incident in MEST universe) and Incident II (incident which caused the degradation of these beings into body thetans and clusters as caused by Xenu approximately seventy-five million years ago). Emphasis on this level is ridding the pre-OT of body thetans which are conscious enough to respond to the auditing. Available at Advanced Organizations and higher. Partially replaced by New OT V.” – Jonathon Barbera. See Incident Two.

Dick’s imagined realities were actually routine experience at the time he wrote them, and his characters were recognizably my friends and neighbors.

Returning to theology, at least Catholicism can offer us a Saint Sebastian pin cushion at a reasonable price, but not yet a Saint Lawrence grill.

4

Yusuf Smith 06.26.05 at 4:51 am

To say nothing of their sabotage of the Penet anonymous remailer in 1996, which was commonly used by posters to newsgroups like alt.sexual.abuse.recovery. The site was shut down because Penet was forced to betray its anonymous users who were posting the $cientologists’ “secret scriptures” to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup.

5

Clarkent 06.26.05 at 7:37 am

It kind of reminds me of Billy Jack, except even creepier.

6

John Emerson 06.26.05 at 7:54 am

Werner Erhard, Lyndon LaRouche and the Rev. Dr. Moon are pretty tough competitors here, especially Moon, who probably whips Hubbard. In another sense, Amway probably controls more minds than any of the others, and they do have a politico-religious program too.

The LaRouche people are nutty as hoot owls, but some of them are bright and diligent and they do a lot of digging. The trouble is that you can’t be sure of anything they say, one way or another. Did Bertrand Russell really advocate preventive nuclear war in 1946? Did Adorno really work for the Congress of Cultural Freedom? In the past some of the weirdest stuff they dug up has proven to be true. (But not the stuff about Aristotle being a Persian agent).

None of it is really loonier than primitive Christianity or primitive anything. The Christianity we see has suffered 2000 years of improvement, and it still can be loony.

7

Brett Bellmore 06.26.05 at 10:03 am

It never ceases to amaze me that anyone would join a religion that was well known to have been founded by a hack SF writer on a drunken bet. Not that the other world religions actually make any more sense, but at least you don’t still have people walking around who knew Mohammod, and will tell you about the drunken party where he invented Islam on a dare.

But for some reaons, people like Cruise don’t get that thrown in their faces when they’re interviewed, and the subject of Scientology comes up. Maybe the interviewers don’t like the idea of having to spend the rest of their lives in the witness protection program?

The sad truth is that Scientology is just to damn dangerous to be funny. And the extent to which they’ve infiltrated the media and politics in this country is downright scary.

8

John Emerson 06.26.05 at 10:30 am

Expanding the topic a little, there has to be something to learn from the proliferation of this kind of thing. A lot of these groups are very successful with educated, successful people. It would seem that there’s something wrong somewhere.

And while Hubbard and the others probably aren’t worth much as scientific sociologists, they seem to have devised some pretty effective tools of sociological engineering. So I’d say they deserve a degree of respect for that, fully achknowledging granted the nefarious effects of their activities.

Then again, some of the XIXc American religious cults (e.g. the “Come-outers”) which played a role in the anti-slavery and suffrage movements actually were pretty loony too.

9

Brett Bellmore 06.26.05 at 10:53 am

I wouldn’t mind them being loony, if a friend of mine weren’t in hiding because of helping to publish their “secret” scriptures. You can laugh about how loony they are, until their enforcers come after you. People are dead as a result of crossing THESE loons…

Plenty of people manage to be loony without having goon squads on the payroll to take care of anyone who gets too public about how loony they are.

10

jdw 06.26.05 at 11:11 am

Kieran. Kieran! You don’t even– you’re glib.

11

John Emerson 06.26.05 at 11:25 am

I’m not defending or supporting the Scientologists.

The Mormons had a well-earned bad reputation during the XIXc, and look at them now. The first Sherlock Holmes story was about the assassination of a Mormon apostate in London.

Governments and influential religions do tend to function as hoodlum gangs. Gotta control your turf.

12

foo 06.26.05 at 12:31 pm

Just a note… and I totally understand how crazy and awful the Scientologists are, but… you also gotta understand, Scientology acts as a sort of professional club for actors. A lot of young Hollywood types join when they’re young and unknown. It’s a way to get jobs… and the money part, well, think of that as a sort of “club dues.” A significant number of movies are “Scientology only” shops, and being in the club helps to get you a small part, advance your career, etc.

I’d love to see someone do a sociological study of the Scientologists, and figure out to what extent this is rational behavior, on the part of actors.

Think of it as kind of a f*cked up Rotary, that’s all. :-)

13

george 06.26.05 at 12:37 pm

What, no romance novels or Donald Duck collections?

14

TonyB 06.26.05 at 12:58 pm

Two good sources on the madness that is Scientology are the books L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? by Corydon and Bare-Faced Messiah by Miller. Both biographies lay out the tapesty of faleshoods and fabrications that Hubbard and his disciples made of his life. Hubbard was a homophobe who liked to think he was the reincarnation of Cecil Rhodes, not realizing in his ignorance the reason for his hero’s never-married state. Even worse, Hubbard’s gay son Quentin commited suicide, perhaps because Scientologists regard homosexuality as as aberration from which they are entirely free. (If you don’t believe me, ask John Travolta.)

In a different vein is Norman Spinrad’s The Mind Game, a thinly fictionalized version of what goes on in Scientology, told from the point of view of a writer who gets ensnared in a plan to ghost the autobiography of the cult leader. A fascinating but creepy story where Spinrad takes advantage of the fictional veil to say things that it would be imprudent to say of L. Ron Hubbard.

15

Dan Goodman 06.26.05 at 2:19 pm

I believe Scientology’s distaste for drugs also includes aspirin, etc.

16

abb1 06.26.05 at 3:47 pm

Scientology is always ridiculed and ‘Christian Science’ seems like a well-respected cult. This confuses the heck out of me.

17

John Emerson 06.26.05 at 4:28 pm

Passage of time, abb1. And some of the rough edges may have been knocked off. And CS uses death threats less.

XIXc America was a treasurehouse of weird religion.

18

Peter 06.26.05 at 5:36 pm

It’s not just religion that has loony ideas. Central to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity is an explicit assumption that he could predict the motion of planetary bodes by undertaking experiments here on earth with pendulums — ie, that both planets and pendulums are subject to the same force.

This is truly loony! It is only our western scientific education that stops us seeing how mad this is. There is nothing in Newton’s, or our, everday experience that provides the slightest evidence for such a belief. The only proof of this theory is in the eating — that he *could* thereby accurately predict the motion of planets. But, without this, we would all reject the belief of a single force as crazy.

I am sure the same is true of religion, that the proof is in the eating. The people who believe the ideas of, say, Scientology, do so because it changes their life in perceivable ways, and that therefore, they conclude, the beliefs must be correct.

I don’t think science is in any position to point fingers here. The assumptions of string theory — as yet untested and maybe untestable — are crazier still than Newton’s strange ideas.

19

A. G. Rud 06.26.05 at 6:08 pm

Kieran, this is wonderful, ROTFL about “Tom Cruise, the well-known professor of psychopharmacology.” hahahahahaaaaaa…we have been having a “discussion” about TomKat in our house, and are eager to see if Katie, apparently a devout Catholic (went to Catholic schools) will bend toward the Hubbardites…all indications are that she will. Batman to the rescue!

20

John Emerson 06.26.05 at 7:17 pm

Um, Peter. I think that the Thetans have colonized your DNA. It’e too late for you, I’m afraid.

21

snuh 06.26.05 at 9:21 pm

since no one else has linked to it yet, the rotten library has a great little article about l.ron’s life story. it concludes “And so ends the story of the greatest man who ever lived”. it’s funny.

22

Jon H 06.26.05 at 9:25 pm

foo writes: “A significant number of movies are “Scientology only” shops, and being in the club helps to get you a small part, advance your career, etc”

Except, it doesn’t actually help very much, does it?

The successful Scientologists seem to be successful in *spite* of it, not because of it. The ranks of Scientology are full of has-beens and never-weres.

23

Jon H 06.26.05 at 9:28 pm

Peter writes: “The people who believe the ideas of, say, Scientology, do so because it changes their life in perceivable ways, and that therefore, they conclude, the beliefs must be correct.”

Well, I’m sure it has a perceivable effect on the bank account (drained), and their relationships with friends and family (cut off by cult minders).

I’m not sure why they would look at those things and think “It works!”, but I suppose they do.

I suspect the celebrity recruits are probably somewhat better-treated than common folk. The Scientologists aren’t going to make Jenna Elfman scrape barnacles if her tanked career leaves her unable to make the payments. They might do so with a nobody from Philly.

24

bi 06.27.05 at 2:42 am

Jon H: Besides, I’d like to know whether Newton ever proved his theories by just saying “I perceive my theories to be true! The proof of the pudding is in the eating! And I _have_ eaten the pudding! Period!” He provided evidence in support of his theories such that an _impartial_, _skeptical_ observer will have to agree his theories are more likely true than false.

In our modern age of science and technology, it’s this and similar misunderstandings of the scientific method that allow psychopathic cults and pseudo-scientific gobbledygook to have a hold on people’s minds.

A. G. Rud: we need Batman. Or Superman. Or Spiderman.

25

bad Jim 06.27.05 at 3:10 am

‘I have always found that the hypothesis of Santa Claus “works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word”‘, wrote Bertrand Russell, making fun of William James and pragmatism. I see t-shirts saying “Prayer Changes Things.” Perhaps most Americans, proud of being practical, base their religious faith on their personal experiences.

26

Andrew Brown 06.27.05 at 4:11 am

Remember that religion is always dual; part is the psychology of prayer; part is the social effects of belonging to a group defined by its agreement about the effects of prayer. The double effect of psychology and sociology is what makes it effective.

As for Bertrand Russell advocating pre-emptive nuclear war, I’m pretty certain that he did. Some scholarly-looking supportive evidence [“here”:http://print.google.com/print?id=7VMMOO4bt2cC&pg=3&lpg=3&prev=http://print.google.com/print%3Fq%3Dbertrand.russell%2Bnuclear.war&sig=huhqbT3R2iHwlG0VlX-liyR8ToQ]

27

Ray 06.27.05 at 5:53 am

A quick read of that material shows that “Bertrand Russell advocated pre-emptive war” is a wildly misleading summary of Russell’s position.

Peter, there is nothing particularly loony about hypothesizing that planets and pendulums are subject to the same forces. At worst, pre-Newton, there was no evidence either way. As others have pointed out, the strength of Newton’s theory is that it allows you to make specific, falsifiable predictions, that can be confirmed by neutral (or even hostile) observers – not just people who have already made an emotional (and financial) investment in the truth of gravity. Until religion can do the same thing, I will continue to point and laugh.

28

patrick taylor 06.27.05 at 7:25 am

john emerson wrote:

In the past some of the weirdest stuff [LaRouchians] dug up has proven to be true. (But not the stuff about Aristotle being a Persian agent).

Sure he wasn’t a Persian agent, but is it possible that he was objectively pro-Persian?

29

Ray 06.27.05 at 7:52 am

Ah, an ‘agent of influence’.

30

John Emerson 06.27.05 at 9:54 am

Bertrand Russell was always able to surprise people at times. Except perhaps in the last years of his life he was politically very eclectic and not an orthodox anything.

The defense was not convincing. Russell’s position was nuance, but included the possibility of a short war in which only one side had nuclear weapons.

I believe that the process theologian Charles Harteshorne wrote something similiar. I just saw something by Wittgenstein (Culture & Value pp. 48-9, 1946) in which he seems to welcome nuclear war out of general disgust with humanity.

When Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia switched sides in 1945-1948, a lot of people said things best forgotten.

31

John Emerson 06.27.05 at 11:09 am

I was going to mention that Russell’s “Power: an new social analysis” is much better than I had expected. So much so that I didn’t finished reading it, because it requires attention — I was planning to whip through it and write something dismissive.

He writes almost like a libertarian — ha has a violence theory of the state sort of like Duhring’s, not that I’ve read Duhring himself.

32

Ray 06.27.05 at 11:19 am

ITYM the libertarian ‘violence theory of the state’ is close to the anarchist theory, given that Russell wrote about, and was sympathetic to, anarchism and syndicalism.

33

Terry 06.27.05 at 11:41 am

…hearing about John travolta laying hands on a singer’s throat to give an *assist* reeks of Benny Hinn, but without the Dr. Evil labcoat. Hilarious in any context.

34

John Emerson 06.27.05 at 12:05 pm

It’s not really far from Mill’s “king of the vultures” theory, either.

35

Peter 06.27.05 at 12:23 pm

Ray —

With all due respect, we only think Newton’s ideas area sensible now because we’ve had such long exposure to them. As I said in my post, nothing in his or our everyday experience would lead one to conclude that planets and earth-bound pendulums are subject to the same force. This defies our common sense and our intuition still, after 300 years.

And my point about the proof of the theory was in the eating was precisely that a scientific theory is tested. Newton’s theory delivered the goods, despite its lack of explanatory power. (He could predict the motion of the planets, but not explain why they were subject to gravity, as many pointed out to him.)

36

TheyWouldKillMe 06.27.05 at 1:17 pm

I attended an org for a course and an auditing session in the 1970s. My reaction was the reaction of most people who do not suffer from low self-esteem: I thought it was a waste of my time.

My father spent all his money on Scientology, took many courses, and attained the level of “clear”. Since having a stroke over ten years ago, he has spent most of his time being totally apathetic, and saying “I want to die”. It seems his main reason for this is so he can start his “next life” as a dedicated Scientologist.

I met an old friend of his yesterday, who also spent his entire life savings on Scientology courses – over two hundred thousand dollars. He finally realized that all of the “abilities” he was supposed to have in exchange for his time and money didn’t exist. He’s in his seventies and working hard to save again.

BTW, celebrities have their own special “org” in LA (and maybe others) where they get the red carpet treatment. They are catered to so the “Church” gets their star power for recruitment.

37

Ray 06.27.05 at 3:21 pm

Peter, there’s nothing particularly strange about the idea that planets and pendulums are both material objects and both obey the same rules. There was no reason to believe anything else. (Remember, Newton was _after_ Galileo, so people had been observing the planets through telescopes for some time when he came up with the theory of gravity.)

Why do you think it defies common sense and intuition?

There really isn’t a comparison with religion. The motions of the planets remain the same whether you believe in gravity or not, but any effects religion have are limited to the believer. The proof of Newton’s pudding is that _anyone_ can eat it.

38

theorajones 06.27.05 at 9:44 pm

Well, not to defend Peter, but your explanation of “science vs. religion” seems to me not wholly accurate. Gravity was a theory, and it predicted certain things, but as Newton conceived it, it was wrong.

Scientific thought as practiced by scientists is quite the opposite of religion, I agree. It’s almost completely about embracing a limited and enlightened faithlessness, if you will. It’s about total acceptance of observed phenomenal facts, but only proximate acceptance of the theories underpinning those facts–ie, if a better theory comes along that explains more facts, then it wins out.

And, of course, the biggest problem of science is that NOT everyone can eat the pudding. Some people aren’t smart enough to eat the pudding. And even people who are smart enough might not have enough time to get around to eating the pudding because they’re busy eating other pudding. Um, one sec, I’m going to go have pudding…

Oddly enough, for many people there’s an acceptance of “scientific facts” that IS an acceptance on faith because they fundamentally do not understand the theories and cannot judge for themselves how known facts support or fail to support those theories. If people can’t follow the math, they have to take it on faith–they have to trust the scientists who explain it to them. And in that way, in the eye of the uncomprehending beholder, scientists and priests are exactly the same.

Think of it as relativity…

39

Ray 06.28.05 at 3:17 am

Gravity, as Newton conceived it, wasn’t completely right, no, but wrong is an overstatement. For most situations, Newtonian physics is as accurate as you need to be.

Yes, science is Very Hard, but there is no point of disconnection, beyond which everything has to be taken on faith. Its maths and observation all the way up.

Instead of religion, compare it to language. I can’t read Spanish, so I can’t translate Don Quixote myself and, in a sense, I am just taking the accuracy of a translation on faith. But in a more important sense, I’m not. Spanish is not a mystical, personal experience, its a set of grammatical rules and a vocabulary, and I can see that translating something from Spanish to English means applying those rules and that vocabulary.

Saying religion and science are the same thing is a _really_ bad idea.

40

Christo 06.28.05 at 3:23 am

L Ron Hubbard!?! …. sorry that is the worst name for a religious leader.

Mohammed, Moses, much better names for a prophet.

41

Nick 06.28.05 at 6:52 am

L Ron – best remembered over here as the Road Safety candidate for East Grinstead Town Council c 1967. Had no idea he’d given up local politics to pursue his other interests . . .

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