Entry updated 15 February 2021. Tagged: Theme.
In its early years Scientology was known as Dianetics (which see for details), a term still used within Scientology. The word "Scientology" was coined in 1952 by L Ron Hubbard, its founder; two of his books on the subject are This Is Scientology: The Science of Certainty (1955) and Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought (1956).
The activities of the Scientologists have evolved in many curious and highly publicized ways since 1952. A lively account by a not wholly unsympathetic outsider can be found in Cults of Unreason (1973) by Dr Christopher Evans – who characterizes the movement as "The Science Fiction Religion" – but there have been several more critical studies since then, both of the movement and of its founder. John Sladek was sceptical in The New Apocrypha: A Guide to Strange Sciences and Occult Beliefs (1973; censored 1978); later works include L Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? (1987) by Bent Corydon and L Ron Hubbard Jr a.k.a. Ronald DeWolf, and the remarkably thorough Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (1987) by Russell Miller. All were the subject of legal action by the various corporate groups associated with the Church of Scientology; the relevant chapter of The New Apocrypha was heavily cut in post-1973 editions, and US publication of Bare-Faced Messiah was blocked altogether [but see under links below].
Scientology, originally a form of psychotherapy with many Pseudoscience overtones, became what has been described as the first sf Religion, when the Founding Church of Scientology was incorporated in Washington, District of Columbia, in July 1955. Sceptical commentators saw this as no more than a crafty tax dodge, but in fact Scientology had from the beginning many of the qualities of a genuine religion, and certainly aroused a religious fervour among its adherents. (In 1992 it was announced that an arm of the Church of Scientology, the Church of Spiritual Technology, was building an underground crypt to house "the religious works of L Ron Hubbard and other key religious works of mankind".)
Hubbard extended Scientology overseas quite early, opening centres in Australia and South Africa in 1953, and himself moving to the UK in 1955. A bad setback was the result of the Board of Inquiry set up in the state of Victoria, Australia, in 1963; the melodramatic Anderson report of 1965, having examined 151 witnesses, concluded that "Scientology is evil; its techniques are evil; its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill", and Scientology was banned in Victoria. A later disaster was the deportation of L Ron Hubbard from the UK as an undesirable alien in 1968. Scientology was then directed from the ships of Hubbard's fleet, usually found in the Mediterranean, until in 1975 Hubbard returned to the USA. In 1978 he was found guilty in Paris of obtaining money under false pretences through Scientology, and sentenced in absentia to four years' imprisonment.
Scientology and Hubbard had lost some ground, but the movement continued to attract members, and Hubbard himself was the subject of an enormous publicity boost when the Scientology publishers, Bridge Publications, reissued in 1984 Hubbard's novel Battlefield Earth (1982), originally published by a mainstream publisher, St Martin's Press, and followed it with an sf "dekalogy", the ten-volume Mission Earth saga by Hubbard (1983-1987; later vols posthumous); these were heavily and expensively promoted. Around this time Hubbard had also founded and sponsored the Writers of the Future Contest, good entrants to which were published in the L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future series of original anthologies, #1 being in 1985. All of this did something to re-establish Hubbard (who had been discredited in the eyes of many observers) as an important figure in the sf community, and something of a philanthropist, though his own writings, and the literary contests and workshops, became controversial themselves; the sf community is deeply divided as to the merit of the latter, and Hubbard's own sf books of the 1980s are seldom highly regarded.
Hubbard's role remains enigmatic; some saw him as a cynic, the founder of an organization calculated to bring in an income of many millions of dollars, which it did. This is perhaps too simplistic a view, though the opposing attitude – that he was a man of genuine if eccentric vision, totally convinced of the truth of his case, and fighting valiantly against the powerful conspiracy of orthodox psychiatry – is also likely to be less than the full story. The presentation of orthodox psychiatry as the enemy (or the opposition that needed to be shot down) dates back to the early days of Dianetics; even in the simple-minded Space Opera of Battlefield Earth in 1982 – later filmed as Battlefield Earth (2000) directed by Roger Christian – it emerges that the hateful and genocidal Alien "Psychlos" who have occupied Earth are as horrible as they are because psychiatrists long ago made them so, this being the kind of thing that psychiatrists do.
Scientology is the most dramatic example of the precepts of Pulp sf being put into practice in the real world. One regular attraction of the pulp tradition, as witness Hubbard's own stories and those of his one-time colleague A E van Vogt, was its dramatization of the idea that inside us there may be a Superman struggling to get out. The glowing promise held out by scientologists is that this dream can be realized.
Echoes of Scientology and its founder have occasionally featured in later sf and also non-sf, an example of the latter being Norman Spinrad's The Mind Game (1980; vt The Process 1983), which centres on a manipulative and oppressive cult with several similarities to the darker side of Scientology. One plot strand of Greg Bear's Heads (July-August 1990 Interzone; 1990) involves an attempt to extract memories from the titular frozen heads (see Cryonics), with a potential for damaging or controversial revelations about the twentieth-century founder of a sinister religion here called Logology (created by an authoritarian who wrote more than 300 books, including apocalyptic fantasies of prehistory that resemble Hubbard's claims about the deep past in the "secret" teachings of Scientology). John Scalzi's The Android's Dream (2006) features a wealthy cult – "The Church of the Evolved Lamb" – which inter alia spies on US government activity and whose founder and prophet was a "science fiction writer of admittedly modest talents and man on the make". [PN/DRL]
- Christopher Evans. Cults of Unreason (London: Harrap, 1973) [hb/]
- Russell Miller. Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (London: Michael Joseph, 1987) [hb/photographic]
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