Inside the mind of Scientology’s Messiah

Twenty-five years after his death, Michael Bywater revisits the sacred texts of the pulp science writer turned prophet L Ron Hubbard

photo of Michael Bywater Michael Bywater 

L Ron Hubbard

The last really successful religion – the only successful one for 1,340 years, since Islam kicked off with the Qur’an – was started way before the online Distraction Machine. One article in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction started the whole thing going. The author was a red-headed pulp sci-fi writer with a sideline in Westerns and fantasy who to the astonishment of his colleagues churned out about a million words a year at 70 words a minute. Clearly he hadn’t just been cooling his heels for the remaining 46 weeks of the year, but thinking up something spectacular. The new religion (or at least its core idea) was no flash in the pan; its author, writes sociologist Stephen Kent, “had been discussing and developing his ideas at least as far back as the previous summer”. Assuming he could think twice as fast as he could type, that’s roughly 18 million words of thinking before he went into print. No wonder the idea caught on.

“The author” was, of course, L Ron Hubbard, the idea was called “dianetics”, the book that followed in 1950 was called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the religion, Scientology, and the whole story was both remarkable and utterly improbable.

It being 25 years since L Ron croaked (or abandoned his body to continue his researches on a planet in a distant galaxy, which is what Tom Cruise and John Travolta believe, and Jerry Seinfeld, Van Morrison and Sharon Stone used to believe, or at least are believed to believe or have believed) it seemed only fair to read Dianetics and a bit of L Ron’s other stuff – Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 and the Ole Doc Methuselah stories from Astounding magazine – to see how he might have done it.

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