By Janet Reitman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 369 pages, 2011
I had a colleague teaching journalism at Wayne State University in Detroit decades ago with a brilliant son who became a Scientologist. He and his wife were horrified. With good reason. Scientology is a fraud.
It has been exposed in articles and books for 60 years. Yet still today it is called the fastest growing belief in America. The credibility of people is as astounding as it is boundless.
Author Janet Reitman tells how Ron Hubbard transformed a self-help group into a spiritual corporation. His greatest coup: getting a billion dollar tax exemption as a religion from the gullible IRS.
The fact is that Scientology is a business, not a religion, with marketing, advertising and PR. Along the way Hubbard got movie star Tom Cruise to serve as a front man.
Hubbard ruled for 25 years with charisma, fear, intimidation and hucksterism. Scientology has been sued many times, once this year for duping members into donating $420,000 for non-existent disaster relief and a building campaign.
Steve Sebelius reviewed a book about Scientology for CityLife of Las Vegas in March. The book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright, tells how believers are mistreated, punished for petty statements and “thought crimes.” Punishments included confinement in horrid conditions, hard labor for little or no pay and beatings.
An E-meter audits practitioners. A description tells you how fraudulent it is — and how little it has to do with religion. The E-meter (electropsychometer) measures galvanized skin response. The sect treats it as a religious symbol recording the static field.
Jeff Sharlet, in his exposé review in the San Francisco Chronicle, called Hubbard “a relentless teller of tale tales” who lied about his abysmal Navy record and boasted of his “uncanny powers.”
A review by Michael Kinsley in the New York Times was just as devastating. Kinsley, editor at large of the New Republic, is no radical and the Times is hardly Marxist. But he noted how Hubbard babbled about Venus and Mars like the science fiction writer he was.
Reitman’s view is equally shattering. Hubbard’s claims are “totally outlandish.” She observes:
•“Traditional religious bedrocks — worship, God, love, compassion and faith —are absent from Scientologist precepts.”
•“Scientology charges members for every service, book and course offered, promises greater spiritual enlightenment with every dollar spent. People don’t ‘believe’ in Scientology, they buy into it.”
•“The buying and selling of self-betterment, an elusive but essentially American concept, has never been more in demand than it is today.”
Hubbard claimed millions of members in 165 countries in church, missions and outreach groups. As with any mesmerizing leader, huge Hubbard portraits adorned Scientology functions.
His book, “Dianetics,” was published in 1950. It’s heft: 452 pages. It’s opening: absurdity: “The creation of ‘Dianetics’ is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to the invention of the wheel.”
It may be the most derided book in history: little science, lack of evidence for its assertions, claims of embryo memory and great discussions of life in the womb.
Further proof of its speciousness was Hubbard’s supposed revelation of “the exact anatomy of the human mind.” His next step: Scientology allows the practitioners “to discover the anatomy of the human soul.”
Scientology, described by practitioners as the “study of truths,” has no truths.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.