Mind Over Matter
How Scientology's founder science-fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, created a religion of individualism and personal power.
BY: Interview with Prof. Hugh B. Urban, by Alice Chasan
Hubbard knew a lot about Eastern philosophy. He claimed that when he was young, he traveled to the East. His father was a military man who he claimed had taught him the mysteries of Oriental religions. He clearly incorporated some aspects of, especially Hindu philosophy-the Atman-Brahman idea. Also, his model of the reactive mind sounds a lot like the way the mind works in yoga.
And even though Scientology has a long history of hatred of psychoanalysis, it sure looks a lot like Freud's model of the mind. It's interesting that psychoanalysis and Scientology hated each other for so long and still do. I mean, from the psychoanalytic perspective, Scientology is kind of hokey. And in turn, Scientology has accused psychotherapy of basically numbing people with drugs. Scientology is especially opposed to drugs and still today goes after Prozac and other antidepressants.
In addition to psychotropic drugs, does Scientology oppose other kinds of medical treatment?
No. They are particularly opposed to antidepressants because they see them as a kind of Band-aid that's just superficially treating the problem rather than getting to the root of the problem, which is what auditing claims to do. So auditing claims that it can actually get to and pinpoint the exact origin of the problem and get rid of it.
There was one case, of a Scientologist named Lisa MacPherson, in 1997, who died in the custody of Scientologists at one of their centers. She had been denied medical treatment and the church claimed that it was treating her in an appropriate way, but she died of dehydration. She was [also] severely malnourished. And there was a criminal prosecution, and Scientology was eventually let off, but it's still hanging in the courts of the civil case, I believe. There's a website devoted to her.
Is "Dianetics" Scientology's sacred text?
I've never heard it described as a sacred text. My sense is that what's contained in the higher levels of "operating Thetan" [literature] is more like a sacred text. And some of them are handwritten documents of Hubbard's, at least of the things I've seen. But again, those higher levels are so esoteric, it's hard to know exactly what's contained in them. "Dianetics" is, at least the way Scientologists describe it, more of a kind of handbook to how the human mind works. They call it "The Owner's Manual of the Human Mind"-so it's more a kind of pragmatic tool than a sacred text.
Over the years, critics have dismissed Scientology as a cult. How would you define a cult, and does Scientology fit into that definition?
I don't like the word "cult" because today it has so many negative connotations. If you hear the word "cult," you immediately dismiss whatever it is that you're talking about. I prefer to call Scientology a new religious movement. That being said, there are a number of disturbing aspects of Scientology. There is the secrecy aspect, but then one of the more troubling things is the way in which they have gone after their critics.
In the 1960s, Hubbard introduced a policy that he called "fair game" that was in a number of policy letters. The idea is that anyone who is subverting the mission of the Church of Scientology by going against it or even selling some of Hubbard's teachings at a discount price was considered "fair game," and that means that one could do anything, go to any lengths, in order to discredit them or destroy them.
For example, a woman wrote a book critical of Scientology, and they launched what they called "Operation Freak-Out," which was intended essentially to drive her insane. Time magazine in 1991 did a cover story [about Scientology] called the "Cult of Greed," in which they basically attacked Scientology as a money-making business masquerading as a religion, and the author of that piece, Richard Behar, was hounded by a whole team of lawyers and private detectives, who got into his credit report and basically tried to destroy his career.
One of the most remarkable examples of this "fair game" doctrine is [what happened to] the Cult Awareness Network. Cynthia Kisser of the Cult Awareness Network had branded Scientology the most dangerous, rapacious cult in America, and [beginning in 1991] Scientology bombarded the Cult Awareness Network with so many lawsuits that the Cult Awareness Network went bankrupt as a result. And when they were selling off the rights to the Cult Awareness Network, [its name, help-line phone number number, mailing address] and so forth, the person who showed up to buy them was a Scientologist. So now, the new Cult Awareness Network is owned by Scientology.
And that's why there's almost no critical scholarship on Scientology. There's one book by Roy Wallis, "The Road to Total Freedom," came out in the '70s and he got some pretty serious criticism from the church for that book. And since then, there hasn't been anything-I mean, there are articles here and there. There's one little book by Jay Gordon Melton that's very neutral. There haven't been any critical studies of Scientology since the '70s. It's because people are afraid to write on them. There have been a lot of popular books, but in terms of academic work, there's been almost nothing.