[Note: typos preserved.]

The Advertiser (Adelaide), Sat 05 Dec 1987, magazine p4

Novel preachings of the science-fiction Messiah


THE sign on the footpath in Waymouth Street says: "Church recruiting, low pay, great future. Improve while you have a job." Another sign offers a free "personality test". Both encourage passers-by to come inside. Those who do, almost invariably, are young, vulnerable - or are people with lingering problems and diminishing options.

The personality test, if they take one (and having gone through the door, most go further), takes about 30 minutes. It consists of 200 questions, to which a respondent must mark a "Yes/No/Sometimes" sort of response.

There is then something of a charade while the test is "marked" and a "counsellor" explains the implications to the subject. Without exception, those tested are told they need help: dianetics can help them, at $10 an hour. The first session usually requires a pay-in-advance block of 24 hours.

At the Church of Scientology everyone is on a mission from Ron. And there, for the unindoctrinated, lies the rub.

The late Lafayette Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, father of modern dianetics, seems to have been possessed of all the familiar makings of a modern Messiah, right down to the legacy of a "church" divided over the hundreds of millions of dollars he left behind after his death. The church clings to its claim to be a non-profit organisation.

In a glossy, 20-page, lift-out advertising supplement to the New York Times, inserted by the church after his death, Hubbard is described as a best-selling author, founder of scientology, friend to millions. He is exalted as an explorer, philosopher, humanitarian, educator, administrator, artist and adventurer. He is accredited with major discoveries in most of those fields.

Only fitting, perhaps, for one who was also a self-proclaimed space traveller, and who was able to write about his impressions after two separate visits to heaven.

On the first, Hubbard writes of arriving in a small town with an old-style corner bank. Inside, a flight of marble stairs leads, inevitably, to the Pearly Gates. "The gate pillars are surmounted by marble angels. The entering grounds are very well kept, laid out like the bush gardens in Pasedena, so often seen in the movies," writes L. Ron.

But on his second visit, Hubbard is disappointed. "The place is shabby," he writes. "The vegetation is gone. The pillars are scruffy ..."

There are other signs of poor heavenly housekeeping, duly recorded by this intrepid time traveller, but perhaps they were to be expected: Hubbard claims to have made the second trip a trillion years after the first.

Hubbard's followers - about 6m according to the Church's records, although defectors say the figure is more like 2m - abhor the scepticism and charges of charlatanism that have dogged their master's earthly footprints.

The Church of Scientology has been steeped in controversy since its founding in 1954, originally as the Church of the New Faith. It was banned in several states of Australia, including SA, in the late '60s amid claims of cultish manipulation of members, blackmail and other fraudulent practices, although the legislation eventually was repealed.

In 1983, the High Court found that scientology was entitled to be classified as a religion, overturning an earlier ruling by the Full Bench of the Victorian Supreme Court.

But scientology's bad Press, particularly in the US, persisted well into the '80s, and is about to be given more fuel by a new book claiming to expose Hubbard as a confidence trickster on a grand scale.

Bare-faced Messiah, by American journalist Russell Miller, purports to explode many of the myths around Hubbard, who died in 1986, a Hughesian recluse who had been seen by no-one but a handful of close adherents for the previous several years.

His conclusions echo the findings of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul G. Breckinridge jun. in a 1984 court judgment against the church, which he called "schizophrenic and paranoid".

"The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements."

The case stemmed from allegations of former church officials who said they had helped Hubbard secretly divert more than $120m into foreign bank accounts.

At the time, the organisation maintained that Hubbard had cut his ties to it in the mid-'70s and that its millions of dollars a year in revenue was being spent for charitable purposes.

But former senior church officials told the court that at Hubbard's direction, in the '70s and continuing into the '80s, they had established a series of shell corporations to channel church resources to his overseas accounts.

They said most of the money was on deposit in Luxembourg and Lichtenstein.

The former officials testified widely that the church, while contending it was a religion, was run as a profit-making enterprise whose leaders systematically used intimate personal facts confided by members in private counselling sessions to blackmail and intimidate them.

Hubbard's eldest son, Ron jun., who changed his surname to DeWolf, fought and lost a bitter battle for control of his father's multi-million dollar empire, which he claimed was being systematically pillaged by church officials.

In a testimony during the court case, he derided claims made about his father's many achievements. "Ninety nine per cent of what my father wrote about his past life was false," he said.

This accorded with the conclusions of a member of the church's inner circle, Gerry Armstrong, who was authorised in 1980 to write the Hubbard biography.

After delving into Hubbard's past, Armstrong defected from the Church, claiming the scientology founder was a fake. He found that Hubbard had been a mediocre high-school student who later dropped out of George Washington University after two years of an engineering degree.

But Scientology's Australian spokesman, Mark Hanna, claims to have evidence that Hubbard's war service was classified because of its "highly secret" nature.

Hubbard has also been accused of having been a drug addict, suffering from mental disorders.

But none of this deters Hubbard's followers, who see the hand of the CIA, the FBI, ASIO, Special Branch and other government agencies behind every revelation which appears to discredit their leader.

Hubbard, born in 1911, started his writing career as a moderately successful author of pulp science fiction in the '30s. In 1950, he wrote a book, Dianetics, which became the handbook of the Church of Scientology. It has been a consistent best seller, with claimed sales of 9m up to 1987.

He was also a prolific writer of science fiction and self-help books.

Dianetics sets out the tenets of a "modern science of mental health", which involves a one-to-one counselling technique called "auditing". Scientologists believe auditing removes "engrams", blemishes or scars deposited on the brain during periods of unconsciousness by painful or unpleasant experiences.

Auditing can last for years and is conducted in line with techniques laid down by Hubbard and his followers in an intricate, ever more comples path leading not only to "clear" states, but to greater authority, influence and seniority within the church.

In 1975, facing increasing legal attacks on charges of practising medicine without a licence, and being denied entry in port after port around the world, he took refuge in Clearwater, Florida, and at several other places in Southern California.

About this time, the church began a project called "Snow White", in which members of an elite group called the "Guardian's Office" were assigned to infiltrate government agencies in more than 30 countries to find out what investigations were going on and to try to supress them.

In 1978, the FBI seized thousands of documents which indicated the church had contucted a far-ranging intelligence operation against more than 100 governmental agencies in the US alone which included burglaries, wire-tapping and theft of documents.

Gerry Armstrong's revelations, in 1981, were something of a turning point.

Russell Miller, in his new book, comes to much the same conclusions as Armstrong.

But Hubbard's followers reject Armstrong's testimony and the many other damaging revelations about their founder. They say Armstrong was a government agent.

One the much debated question of whether Hubbard established his "religion" simply to avoid paying tax, Miller quotes from a Hubbard letter of April, 1953, to an assistant, Helen O'Brien. In it Hubbard writes of setting up "Spiritual Guidance Centres". The Church could make "real money", he writes, if each clinic could count on 10 or 15 "pre-clears" (trainees) a week, each paying $500 for 24 hours of auditing.

"I await your opinion on the religion angle," he wrote.

Other records show that since as early as 1940, Hubbard had been a keen informer for the FBI against people he suspected of being Communists, despite one of the basic creeds of his Church ... "That all men have inalienable rights to conceive, choose, assist and support their own organisations, churches and governments."

In 1951, he wrote to the FBI to provide the names of 15 "known or suspected" Communists within his own organisation. Heading the list was his wife.

"Sara Northrup (Hubbard) ... 25 years of age. 5'10", 140lbs. Suspected only. Had been friendly with many Communists. Currently intimate with them but evidently under coercion. Drug addiction set in Fall 1950. Nothing of this known to me until a few weeks ago. Separation papers being filed and divorce applied for."

In ADELAIDE, misgivings about the Church of Scientology were raised again in the early '70s, resulting in a Select Committee of the Legislative Council looking into allegations about methods of recruiting and raising money.

In its report, in 1985, the committee found cause for concern at several aspects of the church's recruiting and marketing techniques. Significantly it found that people approached by the church often were in a state of depression or anxiety.

It recommended continual monitoring of the church's activities by the Department of Public and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Labour.

The latest controversy about church members touting in the streets looks set to fizzle because of difficulties facing the Adelaide City Council in enforcing an effective by-law to stop it, and because of a successful compaign by church members to portray the issue as a test of religious freedom and free speech.

[Press articles on Scientology]