Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and for more than a year on Saturdays he helped us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet. He was kind enough to send us a new post.
The axioms! Thank you, Jon, for bringing them up. We have been derelict in taking a closer look at them. We’re very interested in your thoughts on Hubbard’s “self-evident truths.”
JON: If you want a religion, conform to people’s expectations about religion. Have a cross and some triangles wrapped around a snake, and make up some fancy dress up for preferably elaborate rituals.
If you want to launch a new science, however, you will need symbols – including a few Greek letters – and a specialized language. How about some “axioms?” That sounds scientific!
Perry Chapdelaine told me that he co-wrote the Axioms of Dianetics with Hubbard, for precisely that reason: Hubbard wanted something that “sounds scientific.” They spent an evening with a bottle of Scotch and created something that very few people have ever managed to read but which has that “sciencey” feel (for more on such “sciencey” creations, see Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science).
I was attracted by the first Axiom of Scientology, which tells us that “life is basically a static.” T.S. Eliot spoke of “the still point of the turning world,” and this seemed to be an expression of the same oft-repeated mystical truth. Theologians say that God is the “prime mover unmoved.”
Hubbard seemed to be saying that we are all gods. In Let’s sell these people A Piece of Blue Sky, I wrote a chapter about the cosmology and philosophy of Scientology, because there is no clear statement within Hubbard’s millions of words, but the Axioms and the Factors are held to be the basis of the whole unwieldy contraption. As I say there, Scientology is definitely not Buddhist. The essential concept of “no self” – anatta – is contradicted by Axiom 1.
I think I understood what Hubbard was shooting at with that particular “axiom.” However, some of the other axioms continue to baffle me; and everyone else, as far as I can tell. It is often noted that demagogues and leaders of destructive cults tend to confuse rather than enlighten, but followers believe that the information will become clear to them, once they have penetrated further into the “truth” of which the leader speaks.
My friend Eileen Griswold told me that the official East Grinstead OT Committee spent years failing to unravel the Axioms. These were old-school OTs, who were meant to have actual supernatural powers (all cancelled when NED for OTs became New OT , VI and VII). They met every week, but bogged down completely in the Axioms and came nowhere near finishing, because they realized that they could make neither head nor tail of many of these propositions (or “postulates” in the meaning of that word prior to Hubbard’s capricious redefinition).
Thirty years ago, a charming Irish auditor tried to persuade me that the axioms are, well, “axiomatic.” I had just told her about the years spent by the puzzled East Grinstead OTs, but she brushed aside their misunderstanding of these obvious truths. After all, Hubbard told us that an axiom is a “self-evident truth.” (the dictionary adds that it can be an “established” or “accepted” truth, if we are going to be entirely truthful).
I asked if my Irish friend would explain Axiom 4 to me – “space is a viewpoint of dimension” – and she said that it would be easy. As I recollect, she kept going bravely for almost two hours, before admitting that Axiom 4 doesn’t seem to actually say anything. Hubbard had boasted that this was the first time that space had been defined without reference to matter or time. However, it is actually a tautology that contains no real information.
Rather like his notion that the purpose of existence is to exist (or “survive”), which Darwin had nailed by 1859. And it is as tautologically twisted as “survival of fittest,” which means those that are best “fitted” to an environment will survive (not the most brutal as Hitler and his friends had it), which tell us precisely nothing, save that whatever survived did actually survive (and, yes, I know that Stephen Jay Gould disagreed with me on this).
I’m a little pressed for time, and can only give a small amount of my life to the thoughts of L. Ron, but the axioms about truth and beauty are worthy of examination, because there is insight into Hubbard in them (as of course there is in all of his scriptures. As Vasari said, the artist only really paints his or her own picture, and Scientology reveals its own emperor in all his nakedness). “Truth,” we are told in Axiom 38, in loud capital letters, which I have not the energy to shout, ‘is the exact time, place, form, and event.’
It took me a few years to realize that this is a wonderful example of Hubbard’s determination that information will only persist if it contains a lie (for which see Axioms 32-40), because the most important element is missing from Hubbard’s definition of truth. We have the object, but no subject, no causative agent, no doer who caused the event to take place.
Moving to John Keats’ other objective, beauty, in Axiom 31 we learn that “Goodness and badness, beautifulness and ugliness are alike considerations and have no other basis than opinion.” Elsewhere, Hubbard made tortuous differentiations between “morality” and “ethics” but here he dismisses both.
“Ethics” according to Hubbard can be determined by the survival value of a decision. The quest for lebensraum or “living space” by the Germans, which included the murder of millions of Jews, Romanies and Blacks would be ethical in Hubbard’s terms, because it provided more space for the Germans.
I lived in this house of cards for nine years. I really was a true believer. In that time, I never doubted the efficacy of auditing, the management “technology,” the social outreach programs of Scientology or the “sane” ethics procedures. Then I faced reality – which, by the way, is not based upon agreement – and saw that Hubbard was no more than a small man with a megaphone standing on a stool and bellowing at all the straw men, the tin men and the cowardly lions. It is surely time to get home to Kansas and leave the yellow brick bridge far behind.
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on October 31, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield