By James Phelan 1
Saint Hill Manor is a traditional old English mansion that stands behind a high gateway on a quiet Sussex road some 30 miles south of London. Its size and age-it was built in 1728-give it an impressive but faintly brooding air. Before 1959 it was owned by the Maharaja of Jaipur, and before that by Mrs. Anthony Drexel Biddle. But it is a safe bet that in all its 236 years Saint Hill Manor has never seen anybody quite like its present owner, Dr. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.
Doctor Hubbard is a big, orange-haired 52-year-old American who describes himself as an author, explorer, scientist, boatsman, engineer, glider pilot, philosopher, movie writer, student of the occult and the real-life model of “Mister Roberts” in the novel of the same name. The most fascinating side of his many-faceted character, however, is the “Doctor” before his name. He is not an M.D. but a D. Scn., which stands for “Doctor of Scientology.” This is a degree that brings a look of puzzlement to a Johns Hopkins or a Harvard registrar, but Scientology, a growing international movement with branches on all five continents, is close to Doctor Hubbard’s heart. He is not only its head and best-known practitioner ; he actually invented it.
Essentially Scientology is an outgrowth of an American fad of the early 1950’s called Dianetics, which was also invented by Dr. L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology purports to be a sort of “religion;’ but it is not affiliated with any of the broad U.S. church movements. It has elements which resemble psychoanalysis, although leading psychiatrists bitterly reject it. Even Hubbard, who has written 10 million words about Scientology, seems to have difficulty defining it. He currently calls it “the Common people’s science of life and betterment:’ but this is only the latest of a series of definitions that he has tried and discarded. In view of its tremendous scope, its odd procedures and the remarkable feats claimed for it, an attempt to compress Scientology into the few words of a definition is much like trying to gift-wrap a dozen live eels.
It is easier to explain what Scientologists do. For a fee, Hubbard’s followers will “audit” or listen to people who have troubles. They use a small, battery-run machine known as a Hubbard E-meter while they are auditing the people with troubles. whom they call “preclears.” The machine has two wires running out of it, and these are clamped to a couple of tin cans, which the ” preclear” holds while he is being audited.
The E-meter has knobs and a large dial with a needle, and as the person talks, the needle moves around, which presumably means something to the Scientologist.
As Hubbard ‘ explains it, “The meter tells you what the preclear’s mind is doing when the preclear is made to think of something. If they’re emotionally disturbed about cats, and they’re talking about cats, the needle flies about. If they’re not disturbed about cats, the needle doesn’t fly about. So you let them talk about cats until they’re no longer disturbed about cats, and then the needle no longer flies about.”
Scientology also has many drills for people with troubles. In one, you sit in a chair, visualize the two upper corners of the room, then “hold” these two corners in your mind and think of nothing else. This is called ” Holding Corners.” Its purpose, Hubbard says, is to “make you act younger,” In another drill the Scientologist reads a sentence or two from Alice in Wonderland to the preclear, who repeats it verbatim. The Scientologist then says, “Thank you,” and reads another passage from Alice in Wonderland, and this goes on and on. This drill, called the ” Dear Alice,” is supposed to “improve communication.” In at least one instance it resulted in a complete collapse of communication. A police captain in one Eastern city, puzzled by reported goings-on at a Scientology office, enrolled an undercover man there.
The agent spent several bewildering days listening to Alice in Wonderland, repeating it to the Scientologist, and getting thanked. When he returned to the police station, his superior asked him what went on at this Hubbard place. “I’m not going to tell you,” said the officer, “because you won’t believe me.”
The feats Hubbard claims for his science are just as unusual. At various times Hubbard has held that Scientology “can cure some seventy percent of man’s illnesses,” that it is the only effective counterforce to the H-bomb threat and that it can make you immune to the common cold. He maintains that Scientology can raise a person’s I.Q. one point for every hour of auditing. (“Our most spectacular feat was raising a boy from 83 I.Q. to 212,” Hubbard told this reporter.) He claims that it can improve the performance of astronauts and help jet pilots avoid crashes, that it can “arrest the aging process” and make you look younger, that it will restore psychotic persons to sanity much faster and cheaper than psychiatry. (” I saw Ron do it in an asylum,” says a California follower. “He just went along snapping his fingers at them and saying, ‘Come up to present time! Come up to present time!”‘)
And along with all this, according to Hubbard, a Scientologist can move a person out of his body and let him stand over in a corner and look at himself. “We don’t like to publicize this,” says Hubbard, who has publicized it in many of his pamphlets. ” It makes people uneasy.”
If these marvels seem reminiscent of the old-time snake-oil peddler, let it be said immediately that there is nothing old-time about L. Ron Hubbard. A few feet from his desk at Saint Hill stands a Telex, giving him instant communication with his far-flung branches. “Airmail is too slow for Scientology,” he says. Hubbard speaks easily and with seeming authority about physics, mathematics, nuclear fission, or indeed, almost any science, and salts his conversation with phrases like “small energy measurement,” “stimulus-response cycle” and things like that.
Scientology literature frequently refers to him as an engineer, a mathematician and a nuclear physicist, and Who’s Who In The Southwest credits him with an engineering degree at George Washington University. The university does not. Its records show that he enrolled in 1930 but never received a degree of any kind.
Today, besides his “Doctor of Scientology,” he appends a Ph.D. to his name. He got it, he says, from Sequoia University. This was a Los Angeles establishment, once housed in a residential dwelling, whose degrees are not recognized by any accredited college or university.
Hubbard, who was born in Tilden, Nebr., in 1911, has been married three times, divorced twice, and is the father of seven children. (Scientology is supposed to be superb in healing marital difficulties. Hubbard carefully points out that his present wife was a Scientologist when he married her, and that they have been happily married for 12 years, whereas the two earlier non-Scientology marriages were stormy.) He once wrote movie scripts, his major opus being The Secret Of Treasure Island, a Columbia adventure serial. He served as a commissioned Naval officer in World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and after the war banged about L.A. and Pasadena, where he was known as a fellow with an intense curiosity.
Somewhere along the way he took up the writing of science fiction, and both Dianetics and Scientology show the strong influence of his former craft. Both Scientology and science fiction are characterized by arcane words and by invented terms, phrases and abbreviations. Where every science-fiction fan knows that a RE.M. is a Bug-Eyed Monster, every Scientologist knows that an “org” is a Scientology group, and that H.A.S.I. is the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International. Hubbard’s followers also deal with and knowingly discuss such things as down-bouncers, Thetans, M.E.S.T. bodies, lock-scanning, dub-ins, rock slams, bops, big mid ruds, S.O.P. goals, anaten, engrams, H.C.A.’s and boo-hoos, or weepers. It is not possible to explain all these in just one magazine article, but the “boo-hoo,” or “weeper,” deserves some detailing. As pâté de foie gras gives you the flavor of France, the boo-hoo tells much about Scientology.
The boo-hoo, Hubbard writes, was a clam-like animal that lived millions of years ago and used to pump sea water from its shell through its eyes. It marked the transition from life in the sea to life on land, and “may be the missing link in the evolutionary chain .” Life on the beach was miserable for the boo-hoo; sometimes it would get stranded there, or even attacked by predatory birds.
(Hubbard did not explain where, if life was just emerging from the sea, those birds came from.) According to Scientology, you may have been a boo-hoo, aeons ago. If you were, your personality has been affected by some of the awful things that happened to you as a clam on the beach at the dawn of time. When a Scientologist audits you, he may discover evidence of your life as a clam. He then processes this, which is called “running the boo-hoo.” This makes you weep like a clam pumping sea water through its eyes, after which you feel better.