The story of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) is also the story of a movement-the Church of Scientology. Founded by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology claims millions of devoted members worldwide and, beyond all controversy, it cannot be denied that the movement retains its influence around the world even after Hubbard's death.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911, in Tilden, Nebraska. He was the son of Harry Ross, a naval officer, and Dora May (Waterbury de Wolf) Hubbard. He attended George Washington University in the early 1930s and studied at Princeton University in 1945. The years in between undergraduate studies were spent as a free-lance writer. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant though he was not "extensively decorated" as church brochures would later claim. After two unsuccessful marriages, Hubbard married Mary Sue Whipp on October 30, 1952. The couple had four children: Diana Meredith de Wolfe, Mary Suzette Rochelle, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. (changed name to Ronald DeWolf), and Arthur Ronald Conway.
Hubbard first came to public attention as a writer for the pulp magazines of the 1930s. During the next two decades he turned out a host of westerns, mysteries, sea adventures, and science fiction stories under his own name and several pseudonyms. Xignals reported that at his peak he wrote "over 100, 000 words a month." Hubbard's writing, Martin Gardner explained in his In the Name of Science, "is done at lightning speed. (For a while, he used a special electric IBM typewriter with extra keys for common words like 'and, ' 'the, ' and 'but.' The paper was on a roll to avoid the interruption of changing sheets.)" Hubbard published nearly 600 books, stories, and articles during his lifetime. His fiction volumes sold over 23 million copies, while his nonfiction books sold over 27 million copies.
Birth of a Movement
During the late 1940s, Hubbard began to synthesize concepts from Eastern religions and modern psychology into a new system for mental health. Called Dianetics, after the Greek word for thought, this system promised to cure all mental disorders and psycho-somatic physical ailments. "The hidden source of all psycho-somatic ills and human aberration has been discovered, " Hubbard explained in his manuscript Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, "and skills have been developed for their invariable cure." Dianetics sees the human mind as "blocked" by traumatic emotional memories called engrams. By talking over these emotional memories in a process similar to conventional psychoanalysis, a patient can remove the engrams and "clear" his mind. Hubbard believed that a treated patient-called a "clear"-was "to a current normal individual as the current normal is to the severely insane, " and claimed that those treated by Dianetics had higher IQs, healed faster, had better eyesight, and never got colds. "The clear is, literally, a superman-an evolutionary step toward a new species, " Gardner summarized. A writer for Fantasy Review saw a parallel between Dianetics and Hubbard's outer space adventures, claiming that "like the quasi-superman heroes of most of Hubbard's fiction, initiates were encouraged to believe their mental powers were unlimited."
Bought at first by Hubbard's science fiction fans, the manuscript soon became a national best-seller when it was published by Hermitage House in 1950. Groups were formed to learn and practice Dianetics, especially on college campuses and among the Hollywood set. In 1947, Hubbard actually opened an office in Los Angeles to "[test] the application of Dianetics" among the Hollywood elite. Hubbard left freelance writing in 1950 to promote Dianetics, writing a score of books on the subject in the following decade, delivering some 4, 000 lectures, and founding a string of research organizations to spread the word. The Church of Scientology, founded by Hubbard in 1954, became the largest and best-known of these groups.
Essentially the bible of Scientology, Dianetics describes a program of self-improvement and spiritual awakening. As a journalist in People described it, "basically it is the use of a crude lie-detector-type device called an 'E-meter' to diagnose an individual's emotional state, followed by lengthy and expensive Dianetics counseling sessions to deal with the 'problems' the meter detects-and it is the basis of the church's wealth."
Hubbard's ideas continued to be popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The church has over 700 established churches, missions, and groups around the world and membership reached its peak at around six million. Dianetics has sold over eight million copies and still sells nearly 400, 000 copies a year. A 1991 Time cover story characterized the movement as at best a money-making scam and at worst a terrorist organization. As Cult Awareness Network director Cynthia Kisser has stated, "Scientology is quite likely the most ruthless, the most classically terroristic, the most litigious and the most lucrative cult the country has ever seen."
Bringing New Members to the Fold
To a church that runs on that kind of money, the need for ongoing new members is crucial. Time has listed various ways in which Scientologists would recruit. In many cases, targeted individuals were often led to believe that they were enrolling in a self-help or professional organization, with church affiliations never mentioned initially. There was, for instance, the HealthMed chain of clinics, which Time's Richard Behar said promoted "a grueling and excessive system of saunas, exercise and vitamins designed by Hubbard to purify the body. Experts denounce the regime as quackery and potentially harmful, yet HealthMed solicits unions and public agencies for contracts." Then there was a drug-treatment program, Narconon, "a classic vehicle for drawing addicts into the cult." There was also The Concerned Businessmen's Association of America, another Scientology-linked group that, according to Behar, held "antidrug contests and [awarded] $5, 000 grants to schools as a way to recruit students and curry favor with education officials."
Indeed, members of Scientology are reportedly subjected to mental and even physical abuse while paying exorbitant prices for an unending series of texts and programs. The recollections of Edward Lottick attest to the pull and power of Scientology. Seeking spiritual guidance, Lottick's 24-year-old son, Noah, had joined the movement in 1990. Just months later, drained of his money and intimidated to the breaking point, Noah leapt to his death from a 10th-floor window. "The Lotticks [wanted] to sue the church for contributing to their son's death, but the prospect [had] them frightened, " commented Behar. "For nearly 40 years, the big business of Scientology has shielded itself exquisitely behind the First Amendment as well as a battery of high-priced criminal lawyers and shady private detectives."
Because of Scientology's legal problems, Hubbard went into seclusion in the early 1980s, reportedly living on his yacht in international waters, in one of his homes in England, and on a ranch in rural California. But Hubbard seemed unable to avoid the legal battles of the time. In 1982, Hubbard's son Ronald DeWolf tried to have his father declared legally dead or incompetent. He further charged that Scientology officials had stolen millions of dollars from his father's estate and described his father as "one of the biggest con men of the century." At the same time, Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue Whipp Hubbard, was sentenced to prison for her part in covering up Scientology break-ins at Federal offices.
"2000 hours, the 24th of January, AD36"
Hubbard's death from a stroke on January 24, 1986, was officially announced by church officials several days later, after Hubbard's body had been cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean. In accordance with Hubbard's will, "no autopsy was performed, " according to the Chicago Tribune, and the bulk of his estate-"estimated at tens of millions of dollars, " according to Mark Brown of the County Telegram-Tribune—was given to the Church of Scientology.
Hubbard's death was a Scientology event described by the authors of L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? As they reported, a missive dated January 27, 1986, ordered all Scientology churches and missions worldwide to close their doors for the day. In the Los Angeles area, Commander David Miscavage addressed a packed audience at the Hollywood Palladium. As he told the mourning group, as quoted in L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?: "For many years Ron had said that if given the time, … he would be able to concentrate on and complete all of his researches into the upper OT level [for Operating Thetan, a Scientology spiritual state]…. Approximately two weeks ago, he completed all of his researches he set out to do." The book noted an audience reaction of approval. Then Miscavage continued: "He has now moved on to the next level of OT research. It's a level beyond anything any of us ever imagined." According to Miscavage, Hubbard had achieved a state so pure, the body was no longer needed: "Thus at 2000 hours, the 24th of January, AD36 [signifying the 36th year after the publication of Dianetics], L. Ron Hubbard discarded the body he had used in this lifetime for 74 years, 10 months and 11 days."
Further Reading on L. Ron Hubbard
Corydon, Bent, and L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, L. Stuart, 1987.
Gardner, Martin, In the Name of Science, Putnam, 1952, published as Fads and Fallacies in the name of Science, Dover, 1957.
Hubbard, L. Ron, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Hermitage House, 1950, reprinted, Bridge Publications, 1984.
Miller, Russell, Bare-faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, Holt, 1988.
Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1986.
County Telegram-Tribune, January 30, 1986.
Fantasy Review, February 1986.
Maclean's, November 17, 1997.
People, January 24, 1983.
Reason, April 1996.
Time, May 6, 1991; February 10, 1997.
Xignals, April/May 1986.