A Dark Centenary

Very busy day today, and I’ve been out and about for most of it in the spring sunshine. I just thought I’d keep up my record of posting every day by marking a centenary that falls today. One hundred years ago, on March 13 1911, L. Ron Hubbard was born. I said “marking” rather than “celebrating” because Hubbard was a truly appaling man – a liar, a charlatan, a conman, a drug addict, and an egomaniac – who left a trail of wrecked lives, largely through the sinister Church of Scientology he founded in the 1950s. Purporting to be a “self-help” organisation, it has succeeded only in helping itself to large amounts of money from its gullible victims, much of it subsequently spent silencing its many critics. Let’s see if they have a go at me!

In 1977, the FBI raided the offices of the Church of Scientology and found damning evidence of burglary and conspiracy. Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue, was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Hubbard himself escaped justice by going into hiding. He died in 1986.

If you want to know more about this so-called Church, I suggest you read the book The Scandal of Scientology, all of which is available online here. I also mentioned it in a post last year.

I’ll just point out one particular victim of L Ron Hubbard: his own son, Quentin. A shy and sensitive boy, he took his own life in 1976 aged just twenty-two, no longer able to tolerate his father’s relentless homophobic goading.

I feel pity for those duped into signing up as scientologists – it seems to me such a transparently phoney operation I don’t see how anyone could fall for it – but for Hubbard himself, pity doesn’t come into it. He was monstrous.


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12 Responses to “A Dark Centenary”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    That looks like a good book on Scientology. For Hubbard himself, nothing matches Russell Hoban’s damning biography Bare-Faced Messiah (1987). It’s not on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk even secondhand, nor bookfinder.com, nor is it in the Cambridge University Library although they had to have been offered a free copy since it was published by a British publisher and this is one of Britain’s copyright libraries. (Unlike the British Library they are free to decline, but this is not the sort of book that they refuse.) Some of this is explained by an appalling decision of the US Supreme Court as detailed in the book’s own Wikipedia page, but I suspect that the University Library has had its copy stolen. Who might have done that?

    Martin Gardner summed it up in 14 words in his review: Hubbard was “a pathological liar who steadily deteriorated from a charming rogue into a paranoid egomaniac.”

    Anton

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    And an erratum of my own: I’ve been saying Russell Hoban when I mean Russell Miller. Hoban writes fiction, Miller doesn’t (whatever scientologists say). This is why I couldn’t find it on Amazon…
    Anton

  3. In many countries, Scientology has a privileged position due to its status as a church. It is difficult to revoke this status without being accused of unfairness. (One can’t criticise Scientology for being, as Simon Singh might say, bogus, since the same applies to all other churches with regard to scientific verifiability of their claims.) The solution, of course, is to accord no church a special status, but very few countries have gone this far.

    One often mentions Tom Cruise, John Travolta and other such people with regard to Scientology. Despite being more-or-less capable actors, they are often portrayed as clowns due to their off-screen antics etc. But many otherwise respectable people are members of Scientology or speak out in support of it. A member of the former category is Chick Corea, who said “Hubbard was a great artist himself. One way to learn about Scientology is to know who Ron Hubbard was. He was a great man.” and that Hubbard “was a great composer and keyboard player as well. He did many, many things. He was a true Renaissance Man.” Corea appears on the album Space Jazz: The Soundtrack of the Book Battlefield Earth by none other than L. Ron Hubbard himself. We do need to separate the art from the man, of course, recalling for example Wagner and the fact that his music is better than it sounds.

    I don’t think that Dustin Hoffman is a member of Scientology (I’m not sure), but he has certainly spoken out in its favour. In a newspaper ad which was an open letter to then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Hoffman, Corea and other luminaries protested the treatment of Scientology in Germany (it is allowed to operate but is watched by the same agency which watches, say, neonazis). In particular, they compared the situation of Scientology in Germany today to that of the Jews during the Third Reich, which is, at best, a huge exaggeration.

    Readers might be interested in this interesting article about a Hollywood luminary (director Paul Haggis, who had a hand in more things than you might think) who has turned his back on the organisation:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright

    It’s 26 pages, but worth reading.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t think any religion purports to be scientifically verifiable, so I don’t agree with your use of the word “bogus” in the general context of religious belief. I do agree that scientology is bogus, however.

    • There is a whole “school” of thought, Intelligent Design, whose goal is to scientifically demonstrate that religious claims are scientifically viable. They fail, of course, but they consider themselves to be scientists (and claim that sensible people belong to the “religion of secular humanism” or whatever). There are people who weight dying people to see how much the soul weighs. History is full of such attempts to scientifically shore up religious claims.

      Some religions, notably the Catholic Church, have become accommodationist in an attempt to avoid looking silly (at least in this respect), so one can be a good Catholic and still believe (if that’s the word) in evolution, the Big Bang etc. Though I suppose that one has to believe that wine really becomes blood (not just symbolically) and that, ironically, at least in one case, abstinence didn’t prove to be a good method of birth control: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2011/02/08/birth/

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip: I agree with you that “The solution… is to accord no church a special status.” I want no special status for the Christian church (of which I am a member). As soon as Constantine gave it special status in the 4th century it filled with people seeking preferment who were not serious about Christ, and eventually became a political top-down coercive movement rather than a grassroots bottom-up movement of the people. The church as defined by scriptural criteria carried on as a small minority outside this system, but they were repudiated and ultimately persecuted by it.

      I also agree with Chick Corea that “One way to learn about Scientology is to know who Ron Hubbard was.” Miller’s book tells you exactly who he was.

      “One can’t criticise Scientology for being… bogus, since the same applies to all other churches with regard to scientific verifiability of their claims.”

      What do you mean by ‘scientific’ here? If you mean claims regarding events describe in the Bible then they are historical, and your scepticism could equally well be used to question claims about details of the Napoleonic wars. If you want to do testing of claims of healing today then the Christian claim is that you would be testing something/someone that is aware of the testing and is liable to respond accordingly. This has the effect of wrecking testing.

      Like Thomas Aquinas I do believe that there are rational arguments for my faith, but I doubt that a debate which has gone on for 2000 years is going to be settled in a few blog posts.

      Anton

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip: Intelligent Design is in practice a movement involved in the Creation/Evolution wars. In that area it talks rubbish. I find the evidence for ID much stronger in physics, viz the beauty of the laws of physics and the extraordinary fact that they permit biology.

      It is strange that some of my fundamentalist brethren denounce the Big Bang. The single most important feature of the Big Bang is that it says there was a beginning – just like the first word in the Bible (BERESHITH, “In the beginning…”) and in contrast to the eternal past existence of the universe posited by Buddhism.

      As for transubstantiation – that Jesus himself held up the bread and wine at the Last Supper, when he said “this is my body/blood” and instituted Communion, shows that he meant the words symbolically. The doctrine of transubstantiation had the effect of requiring an ordained priest to run the rite; I doubt that this is coincidental. (*All* Christians are priests – ie ambassadors – of Christ according to 1 Peter 2:9 in the New Testament, which nowhere refers to ordination.) Catholics who quote John 6 in support of transubstantiation forget that Jesus often addressed a crowd in an elliptical way which would be heard differently by the faithful (who knew their scriptures) and the indifferent, whereas to an audience of committed followers he makes things clearer (see Mark 4:33-34). If he had chosen to speak plainly, he would have had a ready answer to their question of what it meant to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that answer could not have been transubstantiation because this discourse took place before the Last Supper.

      Anton

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: The online book you quote is good but rather dated; it was first published in 1971. Scientology has since trebled its lifespan.

    In the 1980s during my time in the Skeptics (and as an atheist) I found myself at a loose end one evening in a city overseas. Just then a young man asked me if I wished to take a personality test. I recognised scientology’s come-on and gradually drip-fed its jargon into the resulting conversation in a skeptical manner. Eventually he asked me to leave. Probably I knew more about it than he did, since working your way up from the inside is a slower and more expensive way to learn about it than by reading skeptical books containing information from ex-members who went deeper than its street preachers.

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