Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Obscene Dog: Hubbard and Scientology

On the surface Scientology seems to be a fairly straightforward method of self-improvement.
Even using their own terminology it's not hard to see the appeal of a system that encourages the individual to 'Audit' themselves to find their weaknesses and shortcomings and undertake a series of exercises or 'Study Tech' to travel across the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerge on the other side as a 'Clear', happier and more complete person or an 'Operating Thetan'.
For many the ridiculous language employed by the Church of Scientology is enough to leave them open to mockery and their teachings to be rejected but there are enough people looking for answers about themselves and the world around them to see Scientology grow into the international belief system that operates today and count large numbers of people, including massive celebrity names, among its followers.
Founded by the author L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 the very origins of Scientology are clouded in controversy.
Hubbard had previously published a book called 'Dianetics' in 1950.
In 'Dianetics' he had proposed a pretty straightforward system of popular psychology where the mind stored negative memories in a 'reactive' area as 'engrams' which affected the 'analytical' area in an indirect manner. By simply substituting 'reactive' for 'subconscious', 'engrams' for 'trauma' and 'analytical' for 'conscious' you were left with a fairly obvious and simplified version of basic Freudian analysis that required the user to simply engage with and accept subconscious trauma as something that could affect their everyday life.
Most people saw through 'Dianetics' as a poor version of Freudian analysis with unqualified therapists leading people through a series of inadequate attempts to deal with traumatic memories.
Hubbard didn't see the failure of 'Dianetics' as an indictment on the system itself but rather that he had not gone far enough in moving his methods of treatment from those of conventional psychology.
He decided that he would leave the business of the mind alone to therapists.
His business would now be that of the soul...
This decision also tied in with another theory that Hubbard had developed during this period.
Friends at the time reported Hubbard often claiming that there was no money to be made in the Science Fiction novels and short stories he was producing and that the real money was in starting a religion.
Rumour has it that a wager in a bar with Robert Heinlein, another prominent Science Fiction writer, about who could found the more popular religion was also a prompt for Hubbard.
The actual existence of this wager is disputed but Heinlein went on to produce the novel 'Stranger in a Strange Land' (1961) which inspired the creation of 'The Church of All Worlds' by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart in 1968.
If there was a wager then Hubbard won...
While The Church of All Worlds enjoys worldwide membership it is still tied very firmly to neopagan subculture and its insistence on polyamory and instruction in the Martian language will probably see it remain a very small, but fervent, community.
By reframing Scientology as a religion rather than the self-help system that Dianetics was Hubbard immediately expanded the appeal of the movement.
The tax breaks that religions enjoy as institutions probably didn't hurt either...
Now established as a religion Hubbard used a very similar methodology to Dianetics for the mechanics of Scientology.
New followers are described as 'Preclear'. They are 'Audited' to determine the 'Incidents' that their 'Thetan' has endured and undertake 'Tech' to clear themselves of the memories of these traumas crossing the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerging on the other side as an 'Operating Thetan.'
The incidents that Hubbard described are bizarre. They are believed to have taken place at a time before our souls have taken any physical form and were endured by our spiritual selves but the trauma remains and affects our conscious mind.
Among them are the 'Body Builder' incident, where the Thetan was placed in a "special field and forced to fight his own 'attention units'and build a physical body from them", the 'Ice Cube' incident where Thetans were trapped in ice and thrown in the ocean and the 'Jack-in-the-Box' incident where the Thetan was tricked into gathering a series of identical images which then explode.
People who have suffered from this incident will apparently be obsessed by the pictures on cereal boxes...
These are the incidents studied at a very basic level in Scientology.
Those further along the 'Bridge' will be confronted by traumas featuring Bears, Gorillas and an Obscene Dog...
Before long the methods of Scientology came under scrutiny.
The policy of 'disconnection', where followers were encouraged to refuse to acknowledge non-Scientologists and leave friends and family behind lead to accusations that it was little more than a cult. Investigation from the media and law enforcement agencies followed which in turn lead to Hubbard developing some hardline policies with how the Church of Scientology should deal with its enemies.
He advocated policies such as 'Attack The Attacker', 'Fair Game' and 'Dead Agenting' which all involved refusing to assist with any enquiries from outsiders about the activities of the Church of Scientology and discrediting anyone who spoke ill of the organisation.
Surprisingly, given the origins of his methodology, Hubbard was particularly opposed to the practice of Psychiatry and encouraged his followers to attack and discredit it whenever they could.
Despite the murky origins and unconventional beliefs at its heart, the Church of Scientology has gone from strength to strength over the years.
The recruitment of celebrity followers such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Tom Cruise has given Scientology a media profile that other organisations can only envy.
The revelations promised to followers who cross the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and become 'Operating Thetans' was a secret for a long time.
Sustained investigation and the rise of the Internet has meant that in recent years this has become public knowledge and even featured on an episode of 'South Park'.
According to Hubbard the 'Thetans' that form our souls are from another planet and were dumped into volcanoes on Earth millions of years ago by a despotic intergalactic overlord.
The 'incidents' that traumatised these Thetans, including the volcanic immolation, have lead to us believing ourselves to be 'merely' human and unaware of our cosmic origins and destiny.
Through Scientology Hubbard promised to allow us to 'clear' ourselves of the traumas and lies that prevent us from embracing our intergalactic future and return to the stars as true Thetans.
It seems a shame that when it came down to the core of his religion Hubbard couldn't resist going back to the hackneyed Science Fiction stories he claimed to be moving beyond.
It's not even a good one...

1 comment: