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History of Scientology

Whether it is a religion or scientific theory, let's go back to the history of Scientology.

By Izzy ErlichPublished 7 years ago 7 min read
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by assuming you haven’t heard of Scientology. The whole topic is a briar pit of controversies and hyperbole. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the eccentric religion, or cult, depending on your learning, and in what many theologians could have never predicted, a new religion has sprouted its head in the 20th Century. But although many people have heard about Scientology, or maybe even about the controversies that it finds itself shrouded in, many don’t actually know what the religion teaches. So what is Scientology? Who founded it? When was it founded? And why is it so controversial?

The important aspect to remember about the history of Scientology is that it was never originally intended as a religion. In fact, many would argue that it was simply a scientific theory that got far too out of hand in the control of a strange and powerful man. This man is L. Ron Hubbard. Nowadays, you’ll only hear a bad word about the man as he was, undoubtedly, over exuberant about his ideas, to put it lightly.

However, he is incredibly important to the story of the founding of Scientology and so like any good historian, we should try and observe this character and see what makes him tick.

History of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard: Founder of Scientology 

Image via Youtube

An only child, Hubbard had a relatively uneventful life from when he was born in 1911 far into the 20th Century. It is only at the onset of the Second World War that we see his fingerprints on the history books. He was conscripted as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was placed in direct command of a U.S. submarine that was intended to hunt down Japanese naval units. On May 18th 1943, the crew of Hubbard’s submarine came across what they thought to be a submarine, and in accordance to protocol fired 35 depth charges at the unidentified object. It was only when they reached port however that a navy report concludes that “there was no submarine in the area”. This seeming ineptitude in the military continued when he ordered his crew to bombard the Coronado Islands which were under the control of US-allied Mexico.

In April 1945 Hubbard reported great stomach pains and was moved to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California. He stayed there until the end of the war, but interestingly Hubbard later taught his followers that it was here he made specific medicinal breakthroughs in his development of the principles of Scientology. Later on the 15th of October in 1947 Hubbard wrote a formal letter to the Veteran Administration requesting psychiatric treatment. He wrote, “My last physician informed me that it might be very helpful if I were to be examined and perhaps treated psychiatrically or even by a psychoanalyst.” Many critics of Scientology believe that it was during these sessions that Hubbard would gain an understanding of the manipulative nature of psychiatric therapy and theory.

Dianetics: Removal of "Engrams"

Image via Night Flight

He was of course still unknown at this stage in his life. He would remain so until May 1950 when he would publish Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science in a sci-fi magazine and the full-length version entitled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. In Dianetics, Hubbard details a process by which a person known as an “auditor” would practice a technique known as “auditing” on a subject so that they could recall traumatic events from the past that are still affecting them to this day. It’s important to remember that at this point, Dianetics was never intended to be part of a new religion, but simply a psychotherapy technique. The purpose of Dianetics was for the removal of “engrams”, which to us is painful memories, and clear them from the mind.

Many critics have popped up over the years criticizing Dianetics as mere hearsay, and some say it is just another way that post-war US, used in order to clear emotional stress, which was uniformly seen as a bad thing, and turn oneself to pure rationality.

But the reason that critics still talk about it to this day is that it sold spectacularly well. The book spent well over six months in the New York Times best-seller list and was described as the bestselling non-Christian religious book of the century. It’s clear to see then why many Scientologists are quick to say that the publishing of this book is the most significant of the century. In fact, many Scientologists count its publishing as a new calendar. AD, instead of Anno Domini, becomes After Dianetics.

Hubbard became the de facto leader of this widespread fascination with one’s self. After lecturing all over the US he heard about people experiencing past lives through Dianetics. He developed the theory of a thetan, a soul essentially that was transferred from person to person upon their death. The introduction of a soul and the afterlife was an important stepping stone of Dianetics moving from a secular scientific movement to a fully-fledged religion. The most important distinction to make this entire article is that Dianetics is the psychiatric theory which contributed to the religion of Scientology, and not the other way around.

Legal Battle: Religion vs Science 

Image via UCLA

Due to legal battles with the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners over practicing medicine without a license, Hubbard had to sue for bankruptcy and was essentially, broke. He lost the Dianetics trademark, his own creation. This is yet another point in this story that many believe is the core reason Scientology was founded, to line the pockets of its founder. In 1952, Hubbard clearly stated that he wanted Scientology to be a science and not a religion. However, his new teachings that were compiled in his new book, Scientology, a religious philosophy would imply the ulterior. The profitability of religion seemed to grow on Hubbard as in April 1953 he wrote a letter proposing that Scientology should be transformed into a religion. He outlined plans for the establishment of “Spiritual Guidance Centers” wherein he could charge devotees $500 for a full day of auditing.

On the 18th of February 1954, Hubbard gave his blessing for some of his followers to set up the first local church of Scientology. This church was to adopt the “aims, purposes, principles and creed of the Church of American Science, as founded by L. Ron Hubbard”. Hubbard has now officially become a church leader. The movement, popular among those who would seek self-improvement, spread rapidly across the English speaking world including England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia and South Africa. The second church of Scientology was funded in Auckland, New Zealand later that year. In 1955, Hubbard established the Founding Church of Scientology wherein he declared that it would act as an authoritative body over the rest of the church.

Only now that Scientology had proved to be so popular that controversies began to come thick and fast. Much auditing was done with the help of something that Hubbard invented called an “E-Meter”. On January 4th, 1963 the FDA raided the offices of the Church of Scientology to seize as many E-Meters as they could due to them being perceived as illegal medical devices. They also confiscated thousands of booklets as they were alleged to be full of false medical claims. The church was not seriously harmed by the whole affair, but they were now legally binded to labelling each E-Meter as a religious artifact only and pay a $20,000 compliance fee.

Scientology Lives On

Image via PR News Wire

However, the heat didn’t stop. Widespread criticism was beginning to surface stating that the teachings of Hubbard were often contradictory, and that Scientology was less about following a theological doctrine as much as it was to follow Hubbard unquestioningly. Indeed, even when Hubbard moved to France in order to avoid indictments the French police service hounded him. In 1972, he quickly moved from France to the US where he lived in a small apartment in New York where he shut himself away from the world, trusting only ten Messengers. He then cut off contact with everyone he knew, even his wife, whom he saw for the last time in August 1979. Hubbard went into deep cover in February 1980 wherein he left to hide at his ranch in California. He died on January 24th, 1986, however the church did not die with him.

Quite a few splinter groups have spawned from Scientology, each usually trying to make the religion more independent and distant from the controversy that Scientology brought. Many accuse the Church of Scientology of many dark deeds indeed such as extortion, kidnapping, coerced abortions and even murder. Although none of these are yet to be definitively proved, it’s something that has haunted the Church to this very day.

Still, 55,000 Americans identify as Scientologists as of 2001 and for those who do support it, they show their support fervently. However pop culture has rarely supported it, despite big names like Tom Cruise supporting the cause. Nevertheless, the religion continues on and it is not likely to stop soon. Whether you are a condemner or supporter, it’s impossible to deny that the legacy of Hubbard and the history of Scientology will not die for a long while yet.

The bolt from the blue that began a worldwide movement. For here is L. Ron Hubbard’s landmark book presenting his discovery of the reactive mind that underlies and enslaves Man. It’s the source of nightmares, unreasonable fears, upsets and insecurity. And here is the way to get rid of it and achieve the long sought goal of Clear. This is the complete handbook of Dianetics procedure and, with it, any two reasonably intelligent people can break the chains that have held them prisoner to the upsets and trauma of the past.

About the Creator

Izzy Erlich

Upstate New Yorker, who loves to travel to Colorado and Vancouver. Certified Yoga instructor.

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