Hubbard, L. Ron (1911-1986)

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Hubbard, L. Ron (1911-1986)

Founder of the Church of Scientology in the second half of the twentieth century, La Fayette Ron Hubbard was known chiefly in literary circles as a talented and prolific author of pulp fiction from the time of his first sale in 1934 until the early 1950s. In those penny-a-word days, if survival was to be maintained, being prolific was just one of the job requirements, and Hubbard more than met it. His stories appeared in magazines devoted to high adventure and mystery, as well as science fiction. Perhaps his two most famous stories in that genre were Fear and Typewriter in the Sky. Because of his skills at weaving the fantastic into plausible narratives, Hubbard was among such authors as Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov whom editor John Campbell relied on to fill the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, the leading periodical in its field.

Yet, it was ultimately not a story but an essay in Astounding which marked the turning point for Hubbard and eventually thrust him into the international arena. Campbell was so taken with Hubbard's new ideas for developing human potential that he printed Hubbard's 1600-word article, "Dianetics," in the May 1950 issue of Astounding. Hubbard's thesis traced all human misery and misunderstanding to the distorted and confused signals received by the fetus in the womb. Further, it was Hubbard's contention that a person could "clear" himself of these misapprehensions and inhibitions by submitting to an "auditing" process of questions-and-answers conducted by a practitioner of Dianetics. (According to Scientology literature, the term Dianetics is a combination of the Greek words dia "through" and nous "soul.")

Although widely ridiculed by medical professionals (especially psychiatrists, who could claim with some justification that Hubbard's new science had appropriated certain psychological tenets for its own purposes), the "Dianetics" article created sufficient stir that Hubbard soon expanded it into a full-length book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book, in turn, sold well (it is still in print) and created interest in many individuals to invest in "becoming clear." Author Hubbard was now in the Dianetics business, training auditors and charging fees for their services. By 1954, in a move considered by some to be an attempt to gain mainstream respectability (and circumvent prosecution for quackery), Dianetics had evolved into an official religion, dubbed with the new name Scientology. Healing has been a long-time tradition in many religions, and in the early 1950s, faith-healers (such as Oral Roberts) were as prevalent on television as professional wrestlers. Significantly, those who claim to heal under the auspices of a given religion are not customarily held to the same rigorous standards of accountability as are medical professionals.

For years, a possibly apocryphal story has circulated in science-fiction circles that at a gathering of his fellow writers, the young Hubbard had declared that the way to become rich would be to found a new religion. (Some state that Hubbard was indeed at the discussion in question but that it was another man who made the infamous pronouncement.) The fact remains that Hubbard prospered. By the end of the twentieth century, there were hundreds of Scientology churches around the world. Almost as long as it has been in existence, Scientology has been an object of controversy, accused of everything from cultic brainwashing to tax evasion. Yet despite these attacks, including government investigations, Scientology has always defended itself rigorously in court and in the public media, and weathered each storm largely unscathed. And, despite many books and periodical articles (including a 1991 cover story in Time magazine) which have attempted to debunk Scientology's precepts and reveal unscrupulous practices, the Church of Scientology seems in the 1990s to be thriving more than ever. As a religion born in the twentieth century, Scientology has proven itself a most media-savvy church, taking full advantage of modern methods, from television to cyberspace, to promote its methodology, attack what it views as the evil of psychiatry, and engage in positive public relations. The Scientologists' claims for Hubbard's teachings include techniques to improve education and combat drug addiction, although mainstream acceptance of these ideas, particularly when it would mean forming an alliance with the controversial Church of Scientology, has not been forthcoming.

Hubbard eventually went into seclusion, remaining the subject of rumors and speculation until his death was announced in 1986. But Scientology goes on. This twentieth-century church may or may not be a cult, but it certainly believes in the power of "the cult of celebrity." To bolster its claims, an army of publicists continually point to prominent men and women in the arts who feel that Scientology has been of immeasurable benefit in their personal and professional lives. Among these accomplished citizens are film stars John Travolta and Kelly Preston (Travolta's wife), Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (Cruise's wife), jazz musician Chick Corea, and composer Mark Isham. The church is populated by many people who feel they have gotten their money's worth from following its precepts. As long as Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States, its adherents are free to place their faith in it, as are those of any other religions, whether their roots can be traced back for many centuries or to the more recent outcropping of "New Age" spirituality.

Further Reading:

Atack, Jon. A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed. New York, Carol Publications, 1990.

Behar, Richard. "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power." Time. May 6, 1991, 50.

Corydon, Bent. L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? Fort Lee, Barricade Books, 1996.

Hubbard, L. Ron. Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Los Angeles, Bridge Publications, 1992.

——. Fear. New York, Gnome Press, 1951.

——. Scientology, a New Slant on Life. Los Angeles, Bridge Publications, 1997.

——. Typewriter in the Sky. New York, Gnome Press, 1951.

——. What Is Scientology? The Comprehensive Reference on the World's Fastest Growing Religion. Edited by the Staff of the Church of Scientology, International. Los Angeles, Bridge Publications, 1992.

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Hubbard, L. Ron (1911-1986)

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