The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 1: L. Ron Hubbard

The Village Voice/September 28, 2011

We can already hear the howls from the growing independent Scientology movement at our choice for the top person in this list, the church's founder, 1930s pulp fiction writer, occult dabbler, bigamist, noted singer, author of Dianetics, founder of Scientology -- the commodore himself, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.

How, we've been asked, could a man who's been dead for 25 years be crippling the movement he left behind, as in the present tense? Wasn't it Hubbard's prolific output, his charisma, and his shrewd instinct that turned a brief self-help fad in the summer of 1950 into a decades-strong globe-spanning religious organization? And even if the church has fallen on hard times in recent years, isn't the new independence movement rescuing Hubbard from it, getting back to his first principles, which have nothing to do with the corruption of official Scientology under its current leader, David Miscavige?

Allow me to call bullshit.

Just as L. Ron Hubbard gave and gave to the Church of Scientology, the same man, paradoxically, poses the greatest threat to its continued existence. How can that be? Let us count the ways, grasshopper. And we'll start with the most obvious of reasons.

Anyone who has compared Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah, the most thorough biography of Hubbard's life, to the official church version -- what Professor Hugh Urban called a "hagiographic mythology" in his book, The Church of Scientology, A History of a New Religion -- is well aware that Hubbard was as prolific a liar as he was a writer. There was no aspect of his own life Hubbard was unwilling to fictionalize to make himself a larger-than-life hero, extending all the way back to his childhood.

Hubbard was a blood brother of Montana's Blackfeet Indians at only like 4 -- or was it 6? (Um, no. Never happened.) Well, in 1924 at the age of 13 he became the youngest Eagle Scout in the U.S. (In 1924, the Boy Scouts didn't keep track of who was the youngest Eagle Scout, so Hubbard couldn't have known if that was true.) While still a teenager, he had extensive travels through Asia, and had profound discussions with holy men while few Westerners could penetrate these strange lands. (Actually, he made a couple of brief trips and complained about the "gooks" he found, and after a later trip, concluded, "The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here.") In college, at George Washington University in Washington D.C., the young Hubbard used his experiences in nuclear physics to launch his explorations into the mind. (Actually, he took only one class in atomic physics, and failed it. He left without a degree.) Well, he was too busy becoming a barnstorming pilot, one of the best in the country. (Actually, his pilot's license was only for gliders, not powered flight, and he didn't renew the license because he didn't have the money.) Later, in World War II, he commanded an anti-submarine vessel and sank two Japanese submarines off the Oregon coast. (Actually, he didn't sink anything, and he lost his command after shooting up some Mexican islands for gunnery practice.) He was injured severely during the war with machine-gun fire, which left him blind and lame, and he was twice declared dead. It was in search for a cure to his debilitating wounds that he healed himself and discovered the concepts that would become Dianetics. (Sigh. It was an ulcer that brought Hubbard low, not enemy fire. And even his military doctors considered him a pain in the ass.)

Scientology's problem is that these fanciful tales and their debunkings will never go away, like a truth-dripping faucet with a permanently broken handle. And because Hubbard's biographical whoppers are an integral and inseparable part of Scientology's own history and public image, Scientology's and Hubbard's credibility are likewise forever fused together. This wasn't always a problem for Scientology -- Hubbard crafted his mythological biography at a time when prospective members couldn't easily fact check his tall tales. But as everyone with an Internet connection knows, those days are over for Scientology, as are the days of it attracting bright, well-intentioned people to its ranks.

Hubbard's eye-rolling biographical farce isn't the only embarrassment Scientology can't wish into a cornfield. Hubbard wrote thousands of policy letters, many which have come to define how Scientology is perceived. Disconnection, Fair Game, the derogatory and discriminatory labeling of "SPs" and "Wogs," the dirt-digging on perceived enemies to silence them, "dead agent packs," the equating of criticism of Scientology with criminality, hostility toward homosexuality, journalism, psychiatry, and so on. David Miscavige didn't create these policies (though he's done a bang-up job implementing many of them), they're entirely a product of Hubbard's paranoid, megalomaniacal mind, and they're part of Scientology's permanent and lasting legacy as a result.

You want to rehabilitate L. Ron Hubbard for a new generation? Then you're going to have to deal with his voluminous utterances that portray him as a paranoid relic of another era. Here are just a few that he has hung around the neck of Scientology for now and evermore:

"The only way you can control people is to lie to them."

"When somebody enrolls, consider he or she has joined up for the duration of the universe -- never permit an 'open-minded' approach... If they enrolled, they're aboard, and if they're aboard they're here on the same terms as the rest of us -- win or die in the attempt."

"There's only one remedy for crime -- get rid of the psychs! They are causing it!"

"A truly Suppressive Person or group has no rights of any kind and actions taken against them are not punishable."

"If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace."

"ENEMY: SP Order. Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."


Thank you, commodore.

Now, onto the less obvious reasons Hubbard's legacy has doomed Scientology.

As Professor Urban contends, Hubbard was less a religious leader of the type we're most familiar with, and more an "entrepreneur and spiritual bricoleur," that is, he synthesized an array of others' ideas, from Freud, to Buddhism, to Anton LeVey -- consciously or not -- to form Scientology. Hubbard's gift was that he possessed an acute understanding of the country's mood, and was able to build, package, and repackage Scientology in accordance with the perceived needs of the greatest target audience, based on the prevailing attitude of the time.

But this approach left Scientology vulnerable to the inevitable march of time, as he provided no mechanism for Scientology to alter itself (like, say, the U.S. Constitution) or grow from his shadow. Accordingly, Hubbard's writings -- especially his forays into pseudoscience and Cold War paranoia -- will only grow more embarrassingly out of touch over time. While shedding the past and adapting to new times hasn't been much of a problem for centuries-old mainstream religions, Scientology faces the challenge of having to contend with Hubbard's vast doctrinal output, much of which finds him dictatorially micromanaging in a much different, far away time and place. And yes, there's that pesky Internet again, reminding everyone just how fantastically wrong Hubbard was about so many things (like radiation, nuclear physics, and floridly imagined anti-Scientology conspiracy groups like SMERSH and Tenyaka Memorial).

Perhaps the most compelling reason that Hubbard will continue to slowly kill his own creation with each passing year is his mandate that the survival of Scientology be the most central, guiding principle in Scientology, rendering Scientology as little more than a protective shell intended to preserve the genius of Hubbard's unalterable works. Jon Atack described this policy, Keep Scientology Working, as existing to "inculcate reverence to Hubbard as the 'Source' of Scientology, and to show the crucial role of the Scientologist's mission on Earth." Or as Tom Cruise less profoundly put it: "It really is KSW... that policy has really gone, boy!... that's exactly it." On second thought, maybe Cruise's description is the more profound. After all, Scientology has always revered the successful for their success and lauded the important for their importance -- who better to illustrate this empty circular logic than Cruise?

By making Scientology the most important thing in Scientology, Hubbard rendered Scientologists subordinate to the religion, in turn rendering fundamentalism the norm as opposed to the exception. While it's hardly the case that all Scientologists follow an ends-justifies-the-means rationale, history finds no shortage of dangerously fanatical Scientologists under Hubbard. Whether it involved organizing a bomb-scare to implicate journalist Paulette Cooper, staging a hit-and-run accident to frame then-Clearwater mayor Gabe Cazares, or infiltrating the IRS, Scientologists have repeatedly exhibited an unflinching willingness to ignore laws and ethical boundaries in order to protect or advance Scientology. Hubbard created no institutional principle that prevents or discourages acting outside the law where Scientology is threatened. There is no asterisk at the bottom of Hubbard's KSW policy letter, and yes -- it can be interpreted in more benign ways -- but it's hardly a reach for some to interpret it as justifying most any action taken in defense of Scientology.

The majority of Scientologists -- public members anyway -- can afford to dabble in Scientology and enjoy the luxury of treating it like the self-help therapy Hubbard originally designed it to be. At the institution's executive core, however, Scientology has seen a ruthless and vicious game of corporate politics play out time and again. David Miscavige's ascension to Scientology's corporate throne was not explicitly ordained by Hubbard, but it was hardly an accident -- Miscavige simply played The Game the best.

Which leads us to the final reason Hubbard booby-trapped Scientology. Despite being perhaps the most prolific writer in American history, Hubbard found no time, for some reason, to muse about how future Scientology leaders would be selected. So far this has only mattered once, the result being a coup that saw Hubbard's last will and testament mysteriously redrafted the day before he died, which led to Pat Broeker suddenly out as executor, putting in Miscavige loyalist Norman Starkey, who helped set forth the corporate vehicle Miscavige would soon inhabit as "Chairman of the Board." So will the next succession be another sordid Machiavellian backstabbing free for all? It seems like a good bet, because it's not as though the Scientology anthology can be added to -- Hubbard made sure of that. And that is why ultimately, Hubbard, and not David Miscavige, bears the greatest responsibility for Scientology's eventual demise -- because he ensured that only the David Miscaviges of this world will ever rule the Scientology corporate empire... and rule it right into the ground.

[I am greatly indebted to Scott Pilutik's expert help in the preparation of this entry.]

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