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Did L. Ron Hubbard believe his own rap? Here’s what he admitted about Scientology in 1952


In 2011, an Ohio State University professor named Hugh Urban came out with a book he titled The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. We wrote about the book when it came out and interviewed the man.

Urban’s book was not on our recommended reading list that we provided the other day, but not because it lacks importance. Urban’s book is significant because it’s an academic’s attempt to put together various court documents and other historical records to establish just what Scientology is. And even though Urban, like so many other academics, questions the value of testimony from Scientology defectors, he still provides a rather stark assessment of L. Ron Hubbard’s creation. Hubbard was a collector of ideas from various movements before him, and had cobbled something together that had taken on a life of its own, Urban explained.

We mention this today because recently, someone at the ESMB forum noticed that a review of Urban’s book by New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv showed up in the London Review of Books in 2012, and it contained a rather startling quote from Hubbard. We remember when Aviv’s review appeared, but we can understand why, four years later, that quote caused a bit of a stir over at ESMB. Here’s the relevant paragraph from Aviv’s review…

Hubbard had frequently compared life to a game, and he didn’t want to be ‘playing some minor game in Scientology. It isn’t cute or something to do for lack of something better.’ The game hinged on the idea that we can choose what we perceive to be ‘true’, and discard everything else as an illusion. Yet soon Hubbard’s postmodern religion strove to become a ‘real’ one. His followers – among them hippies as well as educated and ambitious young people – surprised him with the intensity of their belief. Hubbard told a group of doctoral students in Philadelphia in [1952] that his followers were more convinced of Scientology’s cosmology than he was. ‘I’m just kidding you mostly,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe any of these things and I don’t want to be agreed with about them … All I’m asking is that we take a look at this information, and … let’s see if we can’t disagree with this universe, just a little bit.’


After seeing that quote, Jason Colavito, a skeptical writer we greatly admire, described it as “Hubbard’s [1952] confession that he did not believe his own teachings about space federations and Xenu.”

The “Xenu” story actually came more than a decade later, in 1967, but you get the point — Aviv and Colavito pointed to this quote, which comes from the opening session of the “Philadelphia Doctorate Course” on December 1, 1952, to show that L. Ron Hubbard admitted that he was making things up out of whole cloth.

Here’s the fuller quote that Aviv took those words from, and you can see how damning it is…

“Now, all this of course is—I’m just kidding you mostly. I don’t believe that you’ve been in the universe 76 trillion years. I don’t believe you have any past before birth. I don’t believe that there is any reason whatsoever for this universe to be here except some fellow called the devil or something that built it. And I don’t believe any of these things. And I don’t want to be agreed with about them. It infuriates me to be agreed with about them.”

Was it all, then, just a con? Many critics have always assumed so, that Hubbard knew he was spouting nonsense about being a race car driver on earth some 40,000 years ago, or that the Marcabian invader forces operate between-lives implanting stations on Mars and Venus, or that the genocidal galactic overlord Xenu was responsible for the clusters of invisible alien souls that constitute each one of us. And if Hubbard admitted that he was just making things up, is the notion incorrect that Scientologists are expected to take Hubbard at his word and believe that everything he said was true?

Actually, it’s more complicated than that, and more insidious, which we learned after consulting with several of our experts on tech issues here at the Underground Bunker.

First, it’s important to put the 1952 quote in a larger context. We’ve prepared for you a brief, four-minute “fair use” segment of that lecture so you can hear what Hubbard was talking about before he said he was “just kidding.”

In this section of his lecture, Hubbard is describing the idea that the nature of existence itself might all be built on hopes and dreams and anxiety and fears, that the laws of physics only operate the way they do because we’ve all agreed that they do so. Would gravity cease to exist if we stopped believing in it? You know, the kind of thing which seizes many college sophomores in the middle of the night at some point or another.

Hubbard describes an ancient alien civilization he calls “Arslycus” (pronounced arz-LIE-cuss, and not “arse-lickers,” as Wikipedia has it), which was a city that floated in space until some “slave” who “polished the third row of bricks” suddenly came up with the concept of “mass,” which in turn caused the idea of gravity to come into existence, resulting in the sky-city abruptly crashing to the ground.

It’s one of the key basic concepts of Scientology, that gravity, planets, the universe itself all exist only because “we” — or the 76-trillion-year-old spiritual “thetans” we really are — have decided that they should exist. The physical universe is just a game made up in our heads, and if we could clear away things holding us back (the “reactive mind”) and gain better control over those impulses, we could manipulate the universe however we wanted and live like gods. At least, that’s where Hubbard is going, but here, after talking about Arslycus crashing to the ground, he suddenly interrupts himself and says he’s making it all up. Give it a listen…


Isn’t that a bizarre thing for Hubbard to admit to? Actually, it’s a key part of his carnival act, as our experts all agreed.

Hubbard doesn’t want you to “believe” what he’s saying. He wants to you “discover” them for yourself, making your support for him and his ideas much, much stronger.

“I think people often overlook the power of ‘what’s true for you is what’s true’,” says Claire Headley, who for years was a high-ranking technical Scientologist at the organization’s International Base east of Los Angeles, and at one time even found herself overseeing the auditing of actor Tom Cruise. She’s referring to Hubbard’s famous dictum that reality is what you have observed for yourself, whatever that might be. “As a result of that idea from Hubbard, you will find that Scientologists promote and hold onto their beliefs far harder, stronger, longer, than in other beliefs. I think that’s a key underlying factor as to why Scientology takes so much longer to ‘wear off’ than other cult experiences. In fact, in a study, Scientology was found to be one of the longest lasting cult experiences, and as a result, one of the hardest to break free from.”

Later in the 1952 lecture, Hubbard explains what he wants his followers to do…

“That person who is the best observer will get the most out of these lectures. We’re not asking anybody to observe what has been observed. We’re just asking people, ‘This is the definition. Now, look and see if you can observe this. If you can’t observe this, perhaps it isn’t there; but if you can observe it, then it’s there.’ Now, so we’re asking for observation. Now, to observe is quite a trick. It’s a sort of a clean slate principle.”

After Hubbard “admits” that he’s just kidding, he asks his followers to look for themselves, which they will accomplish by going back into their past lives with the use of the E-meter to “remember” their own experiences from the long, long ago. And in that state of reverie (never say “hypnotism” around a Scientologist), the Scientologist realizes that what Hubbard had gently suggested is, in fact, the case. Scientologists then accept past lives and Hubbard’s wild space opera tales not because they “believe” in him, but because they have experienced it for themselves.

We’re reminded of our 2012 interview with Dani Lemberger, one of the most forthcoming but completely bought-in Scientologists we’d ever met. Lemberger led his Haifa, Israel mission in a revolt that year as his entire mission broke away from the official church to become “independent Scientologists.”

Lemberger told us that he was a Scientologist because he was a skeptical person. He explained that what appealed to him was that Scientology asked you to believe nothing. It was a science, and what you were doing was discovering knowledge, not taking things on faith.

Hubbard is not telling you to accept the existence of Arslycus because he described it in a lecture. He has put the suggestion of Arslycus in your mind in a lecture, then you’re told to go discover your own past lives in auditing. And in a reverie, you might just discover that you have been a hero of Arslycus, or one of the other “whole track” experiences that Hubbard laid out that year, 1952, in his bizarre book A History of Man.

That “knowledge” is a much stronger motivator than “believing” something Hubbard said in a lecture. And that’s why he’s telling them at Philadelphia not to believe what he says, and why he’s acting like it bothers him that people accept what he’s saying.

“You nailed it right on the head. I remember this lecture and all of the PDCs because they were required listening as part of the whole Basics thing that came out in the mid-2000s,” former Sea Org official Chris Shelton tells us. “What he’s doing here is a bit of tongue-in-cheek by claiming the opposite of what he really means. I can just see the smile on his face as he is delivering these lines. He may be saying ‘I’m just making this up,’ but he’s taking what he thinks some audience members are thinking and saying it out loud in a kind of sarcasm or irony so as to call them out on their incredulity. Then he immediately turns around and gives them the ‘don’t believe me, believe yourself and what you will find in your own auditing.’ Yet notice how he has given them the entire story of Arcslycus so now they can conveniently go back and ‘discover it for themselves,’ when in fact if he hadn’t described it to them, no one would ever have pulled out the Arslycus story from their own imagination.”

“You are right. Tony, Hubbard used the con man’s trick of getting his victim to feel like his ideas are actually their own,” says Mockingbird, a former Scientologist who often comments on technical matters at the Underground Bunker. “Hubbard says don’t believe it on faith, but he knows as a master hypnotist and propagandist that hypnosis is suggestion plus imagination with authority or rapport or altitude. He achieved the effect of suggesting the very vivid images of past lives in fine detail and then the people who in auditing imagined them and mistook that for memories served to validate his suggestions themselves. He made contradictions from direct evidence seem wrong, he also established infallible authority. The victim takes Hubbard’s word over observation, since they see the physical universe as a lie and disagreement with Hubbard as a lack of awareness or sanity. It’s a closed loop, if you agree with Hubbard you are right and if you or anything disagrees it is wrong or a lie.”

“Immediately after that quote he announces that the class will be doing after-class exercises that will test various ‘phenomena,’ implying that all his wild ideas will be proved by the students themselves,” says Techie, another former church member who contributes to the Bunker on technical issues. “Then he goes on to talk about reality being simply agreement, another formulation of the ‘What is true is what is true for you’ idea. This is an extremely convenient formula for someone who wants to pile on the wild theories without ever having to face any kind of verification or validation. It is a very important point, stressed in a few lectures and in issues like ‘Engram Running by Chains – Charge and the Time Track.’ Hubbard is very careful not to force his wild ideas on you in session, they just ask the question ‘Is there anything earlier-similar?’ never ‘Did something similar happen in Roman times?’ Hubbard spins all kinds of wild tales, but you are supposed to discover your own flavor of woo all on your own. And it is forbidden to discuss things like Arslycus or your former life as Jesus with anybody but your auditor. So nobody gets to compare notes and nobody goes to the graveyard to find their former names, etc. The big wild and woolly exception is the OT III materials (the Xenu story), which give exact dates and incidents. But that is only for the really committed woo pilots, and by that time they have enough invested in the crazy to stick with it. So I don’t grant a lot of importance to that one line. He is not really saying anything new. And it does not contradict his other statements, just allows the students to disagree if they have not yet experienced it for themselves. But he thoroughly expects them to experience it. If he was really just kidding in 1952, he was not kidding in 1986 when he tried to cure his ‘body thetans’ with electricity. It is a long-standing argument among exes and never-ins as to whether Hubbard really drank his own kool-aid. I would say he probably knew how weak his theories were but eventually became invested in them.”

As Techie points out, one of the surprising things we learned from Lawrence Wright’s epic 2013 history of the church, Going Clear, and then in even more detail in the final chapters of Mark “Marty” Rathbun’s 2013 book Memoirs of a Scientology Warrior, was testimony from Steve Pfauth, who was with Hubbard in his final years in seclusion, and who said that during Hubbard’s final months the frail old man was earnestly searching for those invisible, disembodied alien souls — body thetans — hoping to chase them away. Hubbard really seemed to believe his own science fiction at that point.

But in 1952? He apparently knew he was putting everyone on. But if he could get you to “remember” his fantasies under reverie, he knew he could get you to accept them with much more ferocity than mere belief. It’s fascinating, isn’t it.

A great thanks to our technical advisers for help on such short notice.




3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on May 16, 2016 at 07:20

E-mail 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. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated 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 L.A. 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

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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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