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Jon Atack: Scientology’s ‘past lives’ don’t pass the giggle test

Jon_AtackJon 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.

We rarely ask ex-Scientologists about their own experiences in past-life therapy. (When we have got around to it, the results were pretty great.) We’re glad you brought up the subject, Jon, and we’re looking forward to what you can tell us about it…

JON: I had been in Scientology for a few months when I had my first “past life” experience. The Auditor’s Code tells us that we must “never evaluate for the preclear,” but I had read enough Hubbard material to know exactly what to expect.

Allow me to sidetrack: to apply this tenet, auditors would only work with “preclears” who were completely ignorant of the world of engrams, secondaries, locks, service facsimiles, affinity breaks and the other paraphernalia of Hubbard-world. Instead, recruits are immersed in Hubbard’s evaluations from day one, and I was no different.

Of course, OT III violates the evaluation rule completely. We have a description of the supposed events, along with the date and the location. It also happens, as my friend Peter Forde pointed out 20 years ago, that the locations did not exist at the time – neither Hawaii nor the Canary Islands. Hubbard also gave the wrong date for the “great extinction.” Forgive me for quibbling, but, according to Hubbard, truth is the “exact time, place, form and event.”

It was during a “self-analysis” session that I found myself wandering alongside a mule in desert heat. I guessed I was somewhere in Israel or Judea at around the time of Jesus. I remember sweating from the heat. Unlike many preclears, I did not feel that I was part of the Jesus legend, however. Maybe next lifetime…


I was a true believer for nine years. Although I read literature critical of Scientology and spoke with people who were hostile, nothing shook my belief. Even after I left and discovered the irrefutable reality of Hubbard’s deceptions in his own contradictory statements, I held on desperately for a several weeks before abandoning the “Tech.”

It was one of the most liberating times of my life. I no longer had to conform my thinking to the often conflicting dictates of Ron Hubbard. I could once again assert that the most important element of life is compassion rather than cash-flow (the “governing policy of Scientology” in Hubbard’s own words). After years of conformity to Hubbard’s ideas, I found self-determinism. I have reveled in my own peculiar and eccentric view of the universe ever since, and proved able to change my mind whenever the evidence against my beliefs becomes overwhelming.

During those nine years I had surprisingly little auditing. One very well to do woman told me that she had wondered why it always took her much longer to finish each level than it did for others. After spending a million pounds (yes, a million pounds), she realized that it was simply because she had enough money to pay.

My relative poverty meant that I reached the heights of OT V in tens rather than hundreds of hours, though the process took almost nine years. Even my OT III only took three afternoons. I hear the cynics mouthing the word “quickie,” but I had the best auditors on offer, and the thinnest ethics file in all of Scientology. And my needle floated most of the time.

By the time I was done, I was having full force “recollections” that were more like horror movies than therapy, in the desperate attempt to find out why my super powers had not kicked in. By then, I had given enough auditing to question the adequacy of my preclears’ memories.

One woman faltered on basic words in every session. She could not grasp the notion of prepositions or conjunctions, so we would painstakingly word clear “of” and “and” at every opportunity. After a week, she attested to “super-literacy,” so avoiding further word clearing. When I expressed concern to the case supervisor, he showed me a Hubbard bulletin that insisted people be allowed to attest whatever they feel like.

I audited people who could remember the thrilling details of space battles a trillion years before, but would be hard pressed to tell me what they had eaten for breakfast yesterday. I have an above average memory, so I noticed the deficiencies in others more readily. I gave Method One auditing, but no one recovered their lost education, despite Hubbard’s promise. Scientologists’ memories were no better than anyone else’s, yet we claimed to be able to remember past lives.

“Past lives” is another Hubbard borrowing from Aleister Crowley, who preferred the term to “reincarnation” or the “transmigration of souls.” In Science of Survival, back in 1951, Hubbard rather disingenuously claimed that others had found themselves reaching before conception (remember the “sperm dream”?). As with the founding of a religion, he pretended that it was not his idea.

The decision to pursue past lives split the Dianetics community. For instance, A.E. van Vogt, who had abandoned his illustrious career as a true “golden age” science fiction writer for Dianetics, refused to believe and continued to practice “this life time” auditing for the rest of his life.

Hubbard claimed to be a scientist – although he had been suspended from university for poor scholarship. He was not a “nuclear physicist” by any stretch of the imagination (he seems to have adopted the title from his early supporter John Campbell, Jr). He was not a civil engineer, nor a mathematician, either, contrary to his claims (though he admitted as much in the 1950 lecture, Introduction to Dianetics). And there is precious little “scientific” about the formulation of Scientology.

Past lives were included because Hubbard, as a devoted Crowleyite, had believed in them for years before adding them to his burgeoning system. His two attempts to validate past lives were woefully inadequate. The first was the book Have You Lived Before This Life, which is simply a set of anecdotes given during auditing by believers in the Hubbard view. As a matter of interest, one of the preclears was Cyril Vosper, who would later recount his experiences in The Mindbenders. Cyril continued to believe in past lives long after he left Scientology, although he spent no more time trying to explore them.

There is much to poke fun at in HYLBTL, including Ray Kemp’s session as “case no.4.” Kemp was a merchant seaman who penned the Oxford Capacity Analysis and became a “Doctor of Scientology” (an award given by Hubbard for “major contributions” before he decided that no one else had made any).

Kemp reported an incident from “nine galaxy periods ago” in which “I was a male born of space parents. I seem to have had two or three mothers [with Scientology all things are possible] who died or were killed. At the age of five I was already on the lookout for brothels.” I did say he was a merchant seaman, but even so this seems a tad young. He goes on to kill his father and complain of the homosexuality practiced by space crews. After killing the captain, he was sent to the “Zap machine (a ray gun to destroy bodies)” and his body dispatched in a “space coffin.” Stirring stuff, perhaps, but not a hint of testable evidence. Astronomer Patrick Moore gently lampooned the book in the East Grinstead papers.

The second attempt at validating past lives is recorded in Mission Into Time, Hubbard’s abortive attempt to discover treasure buried in his previous lives. Hana Whitfield captained that expedition and has elsewhere dismissed any claim to success. Such endeavours are not science, they are hogwash. In fact, I wouldn’t even wash my hog with this nonsense.

It should be simple enough: any Scientology OT should be able to point us to buried splendour. There have been some interesting explorations of past lives – among the most convincing is psychiatrist Arthur Guirdham’s We Are One Another – but not one of them made by a Scientologist. For myself, I gave up believing a long time ago, so I have become skeptical of anything that I don’t actually need to believe; including past lives.

By the time I abandoned Scientology, I no longer believed that my own past life memories were necessarily true. As I talked with more former members and learned about false memory syndrome, I came to believe that most memories recovered in auditing are false. All too often, the preclear simply recounts the first thing that comes to mind, and this is steered by the e-meter – a notoriously fallible machine. There is no external checking, so preclears can develop their delusions at will.

A few years after I left Scientology, I read about Elizabeth Loftus’s work, and picked up Making Monsters by Ofshe and Waters. In the 80s, a spate of ‘recovered memory’ cases erupted in both the US and the UK. Here, in the UK, many children were removed from their parents for fear of Satanic abuse. Not one of these cases proved reliable; not one. It is likely that some of the children plucked from their friendly, comfortable homes grew up traumatised not by their parents but by gullible social workers.

In the US, adults began to sue their parents for alleged sexual abuse during childhood. These allegations were largely from “recovered memories.”

While it is possible that memories may be “repressed,” it seems more likely that those who have been abused will have at least some memory of that abuse. “Recovered memory” patients typically present with various problems in their thirties and “therapists” then spend years recovering memories.

Author of Going Clear, Lawrence Wright, wrote about recovered memory in Remembering Satan. Law enforcement officer Paul Ingram was accused of hundreds of instances of sexual abuse by his two daughters. Neither ever corroborated a single incident described by the other, although they shared a bedroom throughout childhood. Psychologist Richard Ofshe acted as a consultant and offered Paul Ingram a narrative by his son, also accusing his father of abuse. As he had with his daughters, Ingram said he had no memory of the abuse, but trusted that his children would not lie. The court rejected Ofshe’s clear proof that Paul Ingram had responded to false testimony on his son’s part and accepted a guilty plea. This is only one of many travesties of justice for innocent parents. It should do nothing to detract from the pursuit of actual pedophiles, but evidence is paramount.

Showman supreme Derren Brown has shown on several occasions just how easy it is to induce false memories. For instance, in a few minutes, using only conversation, Brown convinced a man that he had taken a ride in a hot air balloon. This capacity to merge imagination and memory is carefully tested in psychology experiments. Scientology has no such testing, despite its pretensions to science. Scientologists are largely ignorant of the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, so do not realize just how easily we can be led.

Hubbard said that to control people all you have to do is introvert them. What a marvelous technique of introversion such past life exploration is for believers. We spent far too much time wandering in our own imaginations – as stimulated by a science fiction writer – than we did examining the credentials of Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard’s accounts of his heroism vary from his 1950 interview with Look magazine where he had suffered from “ulcers, conjunctivitis, deteriorating eyesight and something wrong with my feet” to his statement in “My Philosophy” that he was lamed with “physical injuries to hip and back” and “blinded with injured optic nerves.”

Many years ago Otto Roos – the world’s first OT VIII and one of only five Class XIIs trained by Hubbard – told me that the tall tales of heroism that the Founder offered to us had also featured in his auditing sessions. Otto was incensed to find that Hubbard had made up stories during auditing; but had the auditing brought Hubbard to believe these inventions and exaggerations? Was Hubbard not only the creator of Scientology but also its victim?


Bonus photos from our tipsters

Chill EB and Jim Meskimen make the scene at Saint Hill as the IAS once again parties down…


…and here’s Chill EB and triple-threat entertainer James Barbour with a fan…




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.

Tony Ortega’s upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

Oct 28: Adelaide, Wheatsheaf Hotel, (with Sen. Nick Xenophon and Bryan Seymour)

Oct 30: Perth, Collins Street Centre, Collins St and Shaftesbury St, South Perth, 7 pm (with Bryan Seymour)

Past dates: 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)


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 25, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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


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