In 1990, author Jon Atack published what is still one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, A Piece of Blue Sky. Atack now has a new edition of the book out, and it reminded us what an encyclopedic resource he is. So we had an idea. In the world of Scientology watching, we noticed that there seem to be some legends, myths, and contested facts that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet. With Atack’s help, we’re going to tackle these issues one by one, drawing on Jon’s deep knowledge and sharp sense of humor.
This week, we have a great treat: Harlan Ellison is IN THE HOUSE. Yes, the legendary writer helped us out with our mythbusting this week, and that has thrown our entire program into disarray.
We’ll try to calm down and start at the beginning. What we wanted to discuss with Jon Atack this week was one of the most enduring parts of L. Ron Hubbard lore: Before he published Dianetics in 1950, did Hubbard really tell other people that he intended to make millions by starting a religion?
Things started when we told Jon that we had run into a 1969 article in Parents magazine which has this passage…
In spite of the widespread, responsible criticism of dianetic theory, Hubbard was not deterred from promulgating his notions. Faced in 1951 with legal difficulties, he proceeded, as his ex-associate, science-fiction writer and editor John Campbell, Jr. put it, “to get religion”—and the tax advantages inherent in church status. Hubbard’s decision came as no shock to Sam Mos[k]owitz, science-fiction editor and author. “Three years earlier,” he recalls, “Hubbard spoke before the Eastern Science-Fiction Association in Newark, New Jersey. I don’t recall his exact words. But, in effect, he told us that writing science-fiction for about a penny a word was no way to make a living. If you really want to make a million, he said, the quickest way is to start your own religion.”
When we brought it to his attention, the first thing Jon asked us was what the hell we were doing reading a 1969 copy of Parents magazine, but it would take too long to explain that one.
We pointed out that some version of this story comes up again and again. Russell Miller put three different versions of it into his 1987 biography of Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah.
But the church, responding to Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear, argues that in fact it was George Orwell who, in 1938, made the statement about inventing a religion, and that it was erroneously attributed to Hubbard later.
We asked Jon if he had dealt with this issue in A Piece of Blue Sky, and how confident he is that Hubbard actually said some version of “the way to make a million is to start a religion.”
“In Blue Sky, I wrote that in his autobiography Over My Shoulder, publisher Lloyd Arthur Eshbach remembered taking lunch with Astounding Science-Fiction editor John W. Campbell and Ron Hubbard in 1949 (p.125). Hubbard repeated a statement he had already made to several other people. He said he would like to start a religion, because that was where the money was,” Jon said.
“And, yes, Russell reckoned we had three distinct sources, all of whom were told this directly by Hubbard,” he said, and added an aside: “I like the ‘dead-agent’ logic of Scientology that says because George Orwell also said it, Hubbard didn’t…”
We told Jon that another person who has his own version of Hubbard’s statements on religion is writer Harlan Ellison, and you can hear him talking about it with Robin Williams in a recording on YouTube. In that version, Harlan says he was visiting New York as a high schooler, and was hanging out at the Hydra Club with several science fiction writers, including Hubbard. (In 1950 Ellison would have been about 16.)
Ellison told us that same story when we were fortunate enough to visit him last year at his mindblowing Los Angeles home, Ellison Wonderland.
By Harlan’s request, the lunch we had there and what we discussed was entirely off the record. But on Thursday, we called him up and asked how he felt about us now writing about our visit and what he had said.
Harlan did even better. He told us the story all over again!
“Hubbard was a writing machine. Other people envied him that he could turn out so many stories in so many genres. I told you about the roll of butcher paper he kept behind his typewriter so he could keep writing, didn’t I?” he said, and we confirmed that he had, indeed, filled us in on that remarkable detail, that Hubbard typed on a butcher-paper roll, and he pounded away on the keys like the act of writing was an Olympic sport.
“There was a lot of schmoozing and get-togethers then,” Harlan said about the writers he got to know in that period. “Ron would invariably complain that he was getting tired. How exhausting it was to be turning out work at only a penny a word. That he was writing night and day.”
And then one night, the other writers got tired of Hubbard’s moaning.
“The night I heard it, Lester del Rey said you should start a religion. Del Rey had been a stump minister. He was one of the top five or six science fiction writers of the day. Lester also turned out to be one of the great frauds of his day — ‘Lester del Rey’ wasn’t even his name. But he was a very outgoing, garrulous guy, and he said to Ron, you ought to start a religion!
“Right around that time, Reich’s orgone box was fairly popular, and there was a lot of psychiatry talk going on. L. Sprague de Camp was there. Lee Correy — his real name was Jay Stanton. Each of them chipped in a little bit. One chipped in the Reich orgone box, which became the e-meter. Another one chipped in group therapy, which was big at the time. This was right around the time the Kinsey Report came out. Lester contributed most to the discussion, and out of it came Dianetics. Hubbard got Dianetics going. It didn’t become Scientology until he wanted to get tax exemption,” Ellison says.
When we visited Ellison’s home — and its quarter-million books — Harlan had recommended that we read Fear, which he said was a fabulous experiment in terror by Hubbard.
“Ron was always kind to me. He was very decent to me. We weren’t drinking buddies, but he was always very respectful,” Harlan told us yesterday. “When I asked him to do a story for Dangerous Visions, he was very humble and said he wasn’t good enough for something like that.”
(Dangerous Visions is a 1967 collection of short stories Ellison edited that produced four Hugo and Nebula awards and had a major effect on science fiction, gathering most of the great artists of the time.)
During our talk at Ellison Wonderland, Harlan told us he didn’t think very much of Dianetics and Scientology, but he still had much affection for the older writer who had been his friend. “That’s why I’ve never been bothered by Scientologists,” he told us Thursday. “He put out the word, leave Ellison alone.”
Well, with one exception…
Harlan repeated a delicious anecdote which he and his lovely wife Susan told us last year — the one time his Hubbard story got him physically attacked.
It was a party at Roddy McDowall’s house, he said, attended by many local luminaries. “One was a leading psychiatrist of Beverly Hills. Another was the police chief.” A film director, meanwhile, asked Harlan to tell his story about Hubbard and religion to everyone, and kept at him until he agreed to do so.
He was unaware that one of the people at the party, opera singer Julia Migenes-Johnson, was a Scientologist. Until, that is, she literally jumped on him while he was telling his story.
“I had no idea that they got that unstable about it. But if you’re a true believer, you’re a true believer.” Harlan and Susan both told us about the chaos that ensued.
“She really went after me. She’d have taken my head off if she’d had an axe. I was completely taken by surprise. It took two people to get her off me,” he said.
We contacted Migenes-Johnson’s agent yesterday, asking the singer to comment, and he said she is on tour in Europe, but that he’d forward our message. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back from her.
Thank you, Harlan. And we will never forget our visit to the secret passages and hidden rooms of Ellison Wonderland, including the futuristic vault we are probably not supposed to talk about. (But we’re still keeping our photos off the ‘net. Some things are just too good share.)
Jon, back to you to help us put these statements about Hubbard and religion into some context…
JON: From his neophyte membership of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, in 1940, Hubbard had an eye on this particular main chance. Lawrence Wright points out that there is little in the way of religion in Hubbard’s background. His teen journals — when he was supposedly studying in the mystic East with gurus in ‘India, Tibet and China’ — make no mention of religious teaching, beyond telling us that the Chinese lamas ‘sounded like bull-frogs.’ The trips to Tibet and India were imaginary, as we know the trips to China were brief holidays. He fell in with Arthur Burks, and spoke with him of ‘the little its,’ which he claimed he could see. These are the ‘elemental beings’ who he mentions as his ‘slaves’ in the Affirmations or the ‘body satans’ of Scientology (remember to lisp, when you say ‘satan’ and you have understood the fundamental truth of Scientology, where a ‘thetan’ sits in the place of God). Mysticism had little place in The Hub’s scheme. Just yesterday, I had an e-mail from an ex-member saying that Hub’s investigation of the Vedas, the Tao, and the Sutras seemed a little superficial. That is my experience too. Hubbard saw these ideas through the eyes of his super-junkie hero, Aleister Crowley. Ex-members would do well to read Mircia Eliade or Joseph Campbell for a more accurate view of these traditions than Hubbard’s cartoon clips. As a ‘religion’ Scientology is based upon an extensive study of hypnosis and of Crowley. There is a distinct shortage of references to Christiantiy, apart from his suggestion in a long out-of-print version of The Phoenix Lectures (which I happen to have a copy of) where we find that ‘God just happens to be the trick of this universe.’
The Ceremonies of the Church of Scientology are simply embarrassing. We might, however, join in this Scientology prayer: ‘At this time, we think of those whose liberty is threatened; of those who have suffered imprisonment for their beliefs; of those who are enslaved and martyred, and for all those who are brutalised, trapped or attacked’, but, at the end, we might add, ‘by David Miscavige’ to differentiate the faith of the ex-members from that of the current member.
THE BUNKER: Ouch, that’s harsh. But clever. Well, with so many independent sources, it looks like this story is confirmed, and between 1948 and 1950 Hubbard was indeed telling people that he intended to cash in by starting a religion (or, as in Harlan’s version, was pushed into it by his friends). As we learned last time, it took him a few more years to accomplish his goal, when he registered his first Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey in December, 1953.
SCIENTOLOGY PULLS OUT OF BBC RADIO INTERVIEW RATHER THAN FACE TOUGH QUESTIONS
On Thursday morning, we told you about a rare chance to hear a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology be interviewed by an actual journalist. Scientology’s Mark Pinchin, from the London “Ideal Org,” was scheduled to appear on BBC5’s Victoria Derbyshire show on Friday morning.
It was Pinchin who showed up recently on the television talk show of gardener Alan Titchmarsh, and took advantage of a series of softball questions lobbed by the lightweight host to paint an unrealistic portrait of how Scientology works.
Derbyshire wanted to make sure that Pinchin would get some real questions on her show. For help on that, she turned to someone who was once in Pinchin’s place as a spokesman for the church — Mike Rinder.
Rinder tells us what happened next…
BBC5 contacted me to get some background and recorded some statements from me for the church to respond to. And when the church heard this, they backed out at the last minute.
And that’s a pretty telling indictment of their inability to communicate (though they hold themselves out as the masters of communication) and their uncertainty about whether they can say anything that will convince anyone that maybe they have a point. How can they be so scared? If it were me, I would have been on the show and getting my message out during the time I had (which would be far more of the time, sitting in studio….). It’s how the church now “handles” their PR. They send written statements in the name of Karin Pouw or a lawyer writes them. No live interviews. Complete fear. It’s a tacit admission that what they are saying is BS and they know it. So, all they can do is try to BUY PR with paid ads….
I will go on any program with any spokesperson they want to send out. I am sure you would do the same. There are no doubt plenty of other people who would also take them on — Tom De Vocht, Marc Headley, Amy Scobee, Jeff Hawkins just to toss a few off the top of my head.
Well, we’d certainly like to have an opportunity to interview a Scientology spokesperson. As we told the Observer recently, we haven’t had a response to our numerous requests to the church for comment since Debbie Cook’s hearing a year ago.
Come on, Miscavige, what are you afraid of? Answer some questions already. We’re prepared if you are.
LINKS OF NOTE
The $50 million defamation lawsuit Tom Cruise filed against Bauer Media Group, publisher of Life & Style and In Touch magazines, got a lot more interesting this week as documents in the case laid out what each side will be trying to get out of the other as the discovery process moves forward.
Each side is talking tough and doing its best to give the impression that it will put the other side through hell. Since Bauer is being sued for characterizing Cruise as a deadbeat dad, “abandoning” his daughter Suri after his divorce to Katie Holmes, Bauer will be seeking depositions and documents regarding Cruise’s parenting. It also wants to know what role the actor’s connection to Scientology played in his decisions regarding visitation rights.
Cruise, on the other hand, is threatening to bring up Bauer’s “history of bigotry,” and The Wrap obliged with a piece explaining what that might mean — that the German publisher puts out porn and magazines that appeal to neo-Nazis.
We’re not sure that Wermacht adventure magazines would actually be relevant in a case like this, but who knows.
Both sides are acting like they’re loaded for bear, and if things proceed and discovery really does start coming in, this could become very interesting. But we’d have to imagine that both sides still have a pretty big interest in making this thing go away.
Posted by Tony Ortega on February 16, 2013 at 07:00