by Russell Miller
Michael Joseph, £12.95
'If a man really wanted to make a million dollars,' the late L. Ron Hubbard told a New Jersey convention of science-fiction writers, 'the best way to do it would be to start his own religion.'
To an ambitious schizophrenic liar with a wild imagination and the gift of the gab, it seemed logical to proceed from science fiction to pseudo-science as the basis of his own religion, with himself as saviour and principal beneficiary.
His Church of Scientology made him a multimillionaire in several currencies by the time of his most recent known death (he said he believed in reincarnation), at the age of 68, seven years ago. Today, though his church has been reviled judicially and through the media in its place of origin, the United States, and in many of the countries to which it spread, including Britain, France and Australia, it still prospers, with a present membership of about six million.
Most people, even sceptics, are in favour of any system guaranteed to provide peace of mind. If part of the package is eternal bliss -- well, that might be nice as well, if it didn't seem to last too long. It is natural to praise such a rewarding system's founder. If its sponsor is divine, so much the better.
The most extraordinary achievement of Commodore Hubbard, as he eventually styled himself, was to succeed in directing worship exclusively towards himself, rather than any external Supreme Being, and making his acolytes all over the world adore him for accepting their tributes and contributions. He managed with hypnotic charm to convince them that he, uniquely, could confer upon them a glorious, infinite past and an infinite future of fun identities. Furthermore, he promised a cure here and now for whatever ailed them, even the common cold and forgetfulness.
Russell Miller, who wrote widely acclaimed biographies of Hugh Hefner and J. Paul Getty, has now published, in Bare-Faced Messiah, overcoming the legal objections of the Church of Scientology, what must be an unsurpassably scathing study of money-mad, power-mad megalomania. Mr Miller sustains his derisive contempt with admirably detailed documentation. I recommend the book unreservedly.
Although one should, perhaps, shed a tear or two for all the men and women whom Commodore Hubbard so profitably brain-washed and gulfed and for the wives and children he tormented and betrayed his victims have been vastly outnumbered by his satisfied customers. Did he do any more harm, did he give an' less value for money, than distillers, pop stars and producers of soap operas? This biography, by the way, would make a marvellously entertaining television series, which could be a tragedy or a comedy, but better as a comedy. Rod Steiger would be right for the lead.
Comedy is predominant throughout Mr Miller's enthusiastic debunking of every Scientological myth. He cites one disillusioned Scientologist who said that Hubbard was 'a mixture of Adolf Hitler Charlie Chaplin and Baron Münchhausen. In short, he was a con man.'
He began his career as a prolific writer of adventure stories for pulp magazines, a one cent a word. At that rate, he had to be prolific. Some of his many pen-names were worthy of Groucho Marx and W. C. Field -- Winchester Remington Colt, Kurt von Rachen, René Lafayette, Joe Blitz and Legionnaire 148.
He graduated from publications such as All Western and Smashing Novels to Astounding, the first magazine to publish some of the better pioneer writers of science-fiction. Isaac Asimov was one of those who admired Hubbard's stories about teletransportation and intergalactic strife
Hubbard believed, not unreasonably, that 'the brain worked like a computer which could be made markedly more efficient by clearing its clogged memory bank.' He discovered that by hypnosis, instead of protracted Freudian psychoanalysis, he could conduct willing subjects backwards through their memories all the way to their birth and even before. Revealing and erasing painful memories could improve physical and mental health.
He called his theory and its application 'dianetics'. He introduced it to the public in Astounding Science Fiction and a book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which became a Number One bestseller. He founded the Church of Scientology in 1954 essentially to teach and cash in on do-it-yourself dianetics.
By 1957 he was taking a percentage of the profits from more than a hundred churches in the United States. He franchised the church like take-away food places and his income exceeded a quarter of a million dollars a year. In 1959 he bought Saint Hill Manor, the Maharajah of Jaipur's estate near East Grinstead. That elegant Georgian house was Scientology's world headquarters until the Home Office declared him an undesirable alien. In 1966 he felt obliged to take his entourage to sea. He felt that no government, not even his own, could get at him in international waters.
In spite of many noisy public scandals, his followers continued to believe everything he told them. In one of his innumerable past lives, on another planet, he said, he had manufactured steel humanoids and sold them to the thetans, the local rulers, on hire purchase if they did not have the cash. He had been Tamburlaine's wife. He had hidden money in the statue of a horse in Italy, but that son-of-a-bitch Machiavelli stole it from me.'
He said he had been to heaven twice, 43 trillion and 42 trillion years before. The second time it had been shabbier. His heaven this last trip must have been much shabbier.