Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
December 17, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 51
Scientology: The Now Religion
By Donald M. Kaplan
The true measures of the false prophet are an unrelenting certainty and a staggering income. The immediate impression of L. Ron Hubbard, the prophet of Scientology, which emerges from George Malko’s “Scientology: The Now Religion,” is of a windbag hustler. There is not a single question Hubbard cannot answer easily and definitively. This and the fact that Hubbard personally has been making something around $140,000 a week from Scientology (that is, as Malko tells is, week in and week out) I would submit as evidence prima facie of an intellectual crookedness that pervades Scientology from the bottom up. One need go no further. But if we must, as we shall, the impression worsens.
To belabor the spurious character of Scientologic praxis for even as brief a space as 200 pages, as Malko has done, is, as the saying goes, like shooting a whale in a barrel. Nor will you find Malko’s frequent subjectivisms scintillating reading: “What was I investigating, a genuine religion, which Scientology quite legally claims to be, or something much simpler yet at the same time incredibly more insidious…? It was a long time before I found out. My ambivalence was based, partly, on a reluctance to go out and find the flaws in what a lot of people looked at as being their religion. You just don’t go out and knock a religion. Just the same, there was this freaky faddishness to the whole thing.” But though he soon concludes that Scientology is a fad, Malko never goes on to relate Scientology to sociology of fads. Once in the barrel with his prey, he never gets out.
Still, as pointless as his book finally is, Malko has at least gathered together in one place the history, ideational content and everyday affairs of a very extensive salvationist operation. (Scientology might well involve the 15 million believers its publications claim for itself. The quarter of a million believers in California is certainly a credible figure. And so widespread was it in Australia that at one point the legislature of that odd continent actually found itself in a crisis over how to regulate the activities of Scientologists among the general population. The British Parliament rose to a similar occasion.) Moreover, Malko inspires trust in what he reports. He cites documents wherever he can, is careful to inform us about hearsay information, and names names and locations.
My interest in Scientology is by way of my interest in the psychology of performance. Imposturousness is a perverse species of performance, and Hubbard’s career embodies the characteristics of such a performance. The impostor, witting or otherwise, reveals a combination of fairly specific traits. He is an intrepid liar. He has a diffuse identity — virtually all impostors are given to pseudonyms, gratuitously, that is, even between impostures. Also, he is abysmally ignorant of those learned activities at the periphery of his imposture; his knowledge does not merely fade as it radiates, his ignorance is abrupt — an imposturous surgeon, for example, will know absolutely nothing about infectious diseases. Then the impostor’s reality testing is poor; slick within his imposture, he is a bungler everywhere else, preposterous in his relationships to those over whom he has no charismatic command. Finally, he has strong counterphobic tendencies; he is afraid to feel fear, which imparts to his conduct a reckless, daredevil quality. I might add a personal reaction to impostors, which is that they are crashing bores — egocentric and emotionally shallow and colorless. These traits are prominent in Malko’s description of Hubbard.
Malko tells us, for example, that “Hubbard’s career at George Washington University is important because many of his researches and published conclusions have been supported by his claims to be not only a graduate engineer, but ‘a member of the first United States course in formal education in what is called today nuclear physics.'” (Notice by the way, the bizarre rhetoric of this phrase Malko quotes from Hubbard.) But Malko went on to uncover the fact that not only did Hubbard never receive a Bachelor of Science degree, he failed freshman physics and dropped out of Washington University, never having completed a semester. Thus the “C. E.” which Hubbard often prints after his name is a lie, and the “Ph.D.” he often adds was “granted” by a California diploma mill called Sequoia University.
Hubbard is today 61 years old, afloat in the Mediterranean on a residential yacht, the flagship of a small fleet housing the drifting headquarters of Scientology International. Malko complains that the record of Hubbard’s first 30 years is a mish-mash of contradictory data. In Hubbard’s early 20s there is evidence that he made a mark as an aerial maniac, barnstorming the Midwest in gliders and prop planes. Inter alia he was a radio crooner, banjoist, newspaper reporter, explorer, and gold miner. By the 1940s he came to roost in science fiction, publishing under a variety of pseudonyms.
Hubbard soon began crossing the line between science fiction and fictional science. For copies of an alleged manuscript called “Excalibur,” said to be the ultimate rendition of the truth of life (alleged because to this day no one has ever seen it), Hubbard was asking $1500 and a signed statement that the buyer would forbid access to additional readers, this latter stipulation because, in Hubbard’s words, “the first four of the first 15 people who read it went insane.” (Oh that literature was ever so potent!) According to various spokesmen, “Dianetics of 1950” was an expansion of a single chapter of “Excalibur.” Several years later, Scientology (the science of knowing how to know) arose from the financial ash of the bankrupt Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in Wichita, Kansas.
In several successive chapters, Malko gives a detailed account of Scientologic tenets, which are so unbearably asinine that Malko’s publishers should strike a medal for their author’s dauntlessness in sticking with them. “All life is composed of two elements: statics and kinetics,” Malko is at pains to explicate. “A static is that which possesses no motion and is without width, length, breadth, depth, and mass. Its capabilities are unlimited, and it could be represented by the mathematical symbol theta. The kinetic he (Hubbard) called MEST, the physical universe in terms of matter, energy, space, and time. The origin of MEST lies with theta itself.” Malko quotes liberally from Hubbard, and I reproduce one quote to indicate the intellectual flavor of Scientology. Hubbard writes in “Scientology 8-80” (not to be confused with a subsequent work, “Scientology 8-8008”):
“Thetan (a theta unit) is the word given to the awareness of awareness unit, the life source, the personality, and the beingness of homo sapiens…The thetan is a glowing unit of energy source. He seems to himself to be anything from a quarter of an inch to two inches in diameter…The thetan enters some time in early infancy. This may be before, during or following birth, desiring to have an identity which he considers he has not without a body. He throws capping beams at the genetic entity, takes over the body…You as a theta being may or may not have seen Greece or Rome. Your MEST GE (‘genetic entity’) has probably activated a body there, an anthropoid in the deep forests of forgotten continents or a mollusk seeking to survive on the shore of some lost sea.”
The GE may have even been involved as that prehistoric hoax the Piltdown man. The technology of Scientology — where all the money is — is aimed at straightening out (“clearing”) one’s thetan. This is accomplished with the aid of electrical boxes, tapes, and other modern paraphernalia in graduated steps of clearance. At the post-graduate level of Scientology (O.T. level = operating thetan), the technology aims at such skills as “reading people’s minds, lifting objects at will, the ability to exteriorize and be at any point on the planet at your own decision.” Terms with longstanding technical meanings, such as “engram” and “screen memory,” Hubbard tosses around like a two-year-old with a can of marbles. Scientology transforms wisdom the way hocus-pocus translates hoc est corpus.
Within the Scientologic community, Hubbard has no trouble functioning. With unfettered whimsy he turns out directives and bulletins by the reams. His findings are protean. In one bulletin he reports on the origin of human aberration in a specific event on the “planet Helatrobus” between 38 and 43 trillion years ago. In another, he holds forth on the vicissitudes of the human pineal gland due to a “supersonic shot of engram” eons ago. He is also full of counsel about the management of reluctant and hesitant clients. This gospel is disseminated throughout the Scientologic community an accepted there with earnest and grateful belief.
Outside that community Hubbard does less well. In the face of difficulties in the world at large his conduct is something out of “Room Service.” Harassed by the Internal Revenue Service in regard to his tax evasion ploy of incorporating as a religion, he counters by creating a petition to be circulated among the mental-health establishment and submitted to Congress, which begins, “It is not generally appreciated in the United States that the field of mental healing could be used by a foreign power to undermine our democratic system of government.” This petition, which goes on to demand of every clinician that he declare his loyalty before a Justice of the Peace, was like holding a Christian cross against a Jewish vampire. The IRS was not intimidated by Hubbard’s patriotism, any more than the Food and Drug Administration was impressed by Hubbard’s threat that Russia was offering him $200,000 and laboratory facilities to defect. Anticipating a variety of legal trouble in 1957, Hubbard tried to ingratiate himself with organized psychology and psychiatry. But these groups are not stupid in quite the way Hubbard expected. He circulated an unsolicited code of ethics — actually one of his loyalty oaths, which included an item forbidding the teaching of foreign psychology — and in a cover letter threatened to turn the recipient in to the federal government as a subversive unless he returned the document signed before two witnesses and a notary public. Not a stir. (I mention the item about foreign psychology because Hubbard, in “Scientology 8-8008,” acknowledges, among a rash of others, Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Roger Bacon, Buddha, Charcot, Confucius, Descartes, Freud, Jesus of Nazareth, Count Alfred Korzybski, Mohammed, Lao Tsze, Lucretius, Plato, Socrates, Herbert Spencer, the Vedic Hymns, and Voltaire.)
But what is the appeal of Scientology to those large numbers suggested earlier? The question is as tedious as it is inevitable. What recommended Major Bowes to the millions? But it must be said that, as such off-beat activities go, Scientology is rather immense, and I would surmise that this is so because its scope is broader than most. For the youth in it, it is, like astrology, pop science. For those plump ladies with the straight yellow hair, household animals, and cigarette coughs, it has reincarnation. For those marginal souls west of New York, there is Hubbard himself, the complete Dale Carnegie mensch, down to the rolling r’s and lightbulb smile. And then there are the legions of the miserable who populate halfway houses like Scientology, which promise melioration without the suffering of truth.
Still, were Scientology to go public, I should keep my money in Phillips Petroleum. Malko’s book is an accurate but not very favorable prospectus. Scientology is the ad hoc operation of one man, who has planted it about as deep as a mushroom and who fertilizes it with wits fast going sterile. Caveat emptor.
[15 million believers! Oh, how Scientology has fallen on hard times. Always inveterate liars about how many members are active in the science-fictiony “religion,” at least the current cabal claims about half that amount. But as we’ve been reporting in recent stories, defections of key people from Scientology is stripping away the facade and getting us closer to the truth. The best recent estimates are that a total worldwide membership of about 40,000 people are actually active Scientologists. Still, this 1970 Voice article is an eye-opener for this veteran Scientology-watcher. It’s pretty much all there — debunking Hubbard’s college credentials, exposing the “asinine” core concepts of the “technology,” even describing the “operating thetan” and Scientology’s claims for superhuman results. But no Xenu yet. That revelation would come later, apparently. — Tony Ortega, ed.]
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 8, 2010