The mysterious Church of Scientology, based in Los Angeles, must have a fine clipping service. A few lines in this space on July 25, about a new book ostensibly written by L. Ron Hubbard, set in motion the church's publicity machine.
At first, it was a call from Mary Tinat, who is director of public affairs for Bridge Publications, publisher of A Very Strange Trip. I strongly suspect that Bridge Publications is just one of the money making arms of the church.
Others include consulting firms, literacy campaigns, anti-drug programs. Tinat wanted to talk about what I had written, which wasn't nice, she wanted me to know. Talk isn't quite right. She wanted to lecture.
Since Hubbard has been dead for 13 years, and since the book immediately popped up on the New York Times best-seller list for just one week, I wondered about this successful posthumous authorship. How does this happen? I suggested that it happened when the church itself sent out its members to buy massive numbers of the book at the big chain bookstores, thus propelling A Very Strange Trip to the coveted best-seller list. I had hit a nerve with the church publicity mill. Tinat argued that the readers can't be wrong about L. Ron Hubbard's literary worth. (When some one says it's not about money, it's usually about money.)
The caller grew tedious and angry. I recognized a trained debater on the other end, and a skilled interviewer. I also recognized the need for a machine that answers calls for me.
We rang off without coming to a mutual agreement about the merits of L.Ron Hubbard. Getting no satisfaction, Tinat then wrote a letter to this newspaper spelling out the wondrous popularity of Hubbard and my failings: "With such popularity, it's no wonder that demand for Hubbard's works continues to grow and now enthralls a whole new generation of readers," Tinat wrote.
Baloney, I thought to myself at the breakfast table.
There is no clue in Tinat's letter that Bridge Publications is affiliated with the Church of Scientology, and, indeed, there is no mention of Scientology at all, but bridge is a term used in Scientology teachings.For an ever-increasing fee, which can total as much as $300,000, members can achieve a "Bridge to Total Freedom."
Here's a recap from July 25: "The writer and editor John Campbell is credited with transforming Hubbard the science fiction hack into Hubbard 'the capable con man,' says science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch, who labels the Church of Scientology 'clearly fraudulent.' It was Campbell who compared the publication of Hubbard's Dianetics to man's discovery of fire.
"How can a person who has been dead 13 years still have a best-selling book? One way would be for wealthy members of the church (Tom Cruise is one) to buy massive numbers of the book in certain bookstores that the New York Times samples for its list."I believe those paragraphs set in motion the hired lackeys of the Church of Scientology. It wouldn't be the first time that the church has been accused of buying a massive number of its books with the intent of creating a best seller and making it appear that church writings were immensely popular. In an article in 1991, "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power," Time magazine made the accusation. Time's cover article said Scientology director David Miscavige, described as "cunning, ruthless and so paranoid about perceived enemies that he kept plastic wrap over his glass of water," is obsessed with obtaining credibility for the church in the 1990s. Among the tactics Time listed were: "Retains public relations powerhouse Hill and Knowlton to help shed the church's fringe-group image; joined such household names as Sony and Pepsi as a main sponsor of Ted Turner's Goodwill Games; buys massive quantities of its own books from retail stores to propel the titles onto best-seller lists; recruits wealthy and respected professionals through a web of consulting groups that typically hide their ties to Scientology."
Said Time: "A former B. Dalton's manager says that some books [by Hubbard] arrived in his store with the chain's price already on them, suggesting that copies are being recycled."
The church promptly took Time to court, but Time won. Litigation, and training bullying publicity agents, is standard procedure, it seems, for the church. The tactics worked against the IRS, which agreed after a barrage of lawsuits against the agency and some of its employees to grant Scientology tax-exempt status.
When L. Ron Hubbard's books are reviewed, which is rarely, words like "hackneyed" invariably appear. Said the New York Times Book Review in 1986, the last entry for a Hubbard book in the Times archives: "Many decades after he had interrupted a successful career as a science fiction writer to found the Church of Scientology--described by its leaders as a religion and by its critics as a highly profitable business with cultlike overtones--L. Ron Hubbard started writing science fiction again. His new books became best sellers, even though the plots were hackneyed in the extreme, the characters were thoroughly obnoxious (although not in any interesting way) and the sentences sounded as if they had been created on a non-English-speaking word-processor. Sample: 'Like a dying person's life flashing past their eyes, such news always brings a review of one's crimes.' The Invaders Plan (Bridge Publications, $18.95) is the first volume in a 'dekalogy' with the overall title Mission Earth. Dekalogy is a neologism that we are told means 'a group of ten volumes.' In his introduction, Hubbard assures us that what follows is satire, a form of literature whose origins he carefully explains in what I take to be a satire on ponderous, self-serving pseudoscholarship.
What actually follows is a paralyzingly slow-moving adventure enlivened by interludes of kinky sex, sendups of effeminate homosexuals and a disregard of conventional grammar so global as to suggest a satire on the possibility of communication through language."
Hubbard himself, the Boston Herald reported in a 1998 expose, claimed to be a nuclear physicist who traveled into outer space; that he was the reincarnation of Buddha; and that he was the reincarnation of British adventurer Cecil Rhodes. He claimed to be a World War II hero wounded fighting German submarines, but, the Herald pointed out, his ship never saw combat.Hubbard told a group of science fiction writers in 1948 of his plan to get rich. "I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is," according to writer Lloyd Eshbach.
Today, a battle against the Church of Scientology is fought on the Internet.
The church operates a 30,000 screen site at http://www.scientology.org. Dozens of anti-Scientology sites are available simply by using a search engine and typing in Scientology. One good one is http://www.xenu.net.
Xenu, in the Web address above, is a planet, by the way. The Church of Scientology teaches that souls of space aliens murdered 75 million years ago were flung out to Earth from Xenu, only to attach themselves to the bodies of Earthlings. New church members are told that they are encumbered by these souls and to achieve spiritual benefits they must pay to have them removed at a cost of $400 per hour.
I wish I were making it up, but the Xenu story goes like this: Xemu, the alien galactic ruler, was in charge of Earth and 75 other planets in this part of the galaxy some 75 million years ago and cured overpopulation by paralyzing the people, flying them to Earth in DC-8 "space planes," arranging them around a volcano to murder them with H-bombs. The souls of the murdered people were gathered up and boxed, taken to theaters and shown films for several days, the end result being that the souls glommed on to humans. And of course they must be removed at huge expense so that a person can get "clear."
The only good thing about not having a machine to answer my calls is that Tinat of Bridge Publications has agreed to take me off her mailing list. No more L. Ron Hubbard books. No more copies of Dianetics.