First Church of Scientology (1954)
It was on this date, February 18, 1954, that the first Church of Scientology was established in Los Angeles, California. A church in name only, the Church of Scientology was first incorporated in December 1953 in Camden, New Jersey, by American pulp science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). Hubbard found more fertile fields for his growth industry in California, where the Scientology world headquarters now resides.
A successor to Hubbard’s self-help system, which he marketed as “Dianetics,” it is hard to escape the similarity between Hubbard’s Scientology in the 20th century and Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science in the 19th century: Both founders wrote copyrighted books outlining their “spiritual” systems (Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures; Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health); both rejected modern, empirically-based science in favor of quasi-scientific healing systems (Eddy, Christian Science, eschewing modern medicine; Hubbard, Dianetics, eschewing modern psychology – his Dianetics system was at least twice rejected by psychological journals); both were hypocrites to their own systems (Eddy had a life-long addiction to morphine, wore glasses, and frequently sought help from doctors; Hubbard sought psychiatric care in 1947 and the coroner found after his death that Hubbard had been injected with the antihistamine/tranquilizer Vistaril, aka, hydroxyzine).
Scientologists have a reputation of aggressive defense of their copyrights and reputation. To silence its critics, the Church of Scientology has engaged in harassment and abuse of the civil courts – a tactic called “fair game” by L. Ron Hubbard since 1967. Beginning in 1973, operation “Snow White” was perpetrated, in which Scientology spies from the “Guardian Office,” some of whom worked as employees planted on the inside, penetrated such high-security agencies as the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service to find what (accurate but disparaging) information they had on Hubbard and the church. Several Scientologists were convicted for this, the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists were also convicted of fraud, manslaughter and tampering with witnesses in France, espionage in Canada.
The Church of Scientology was stripped of its tax exemption in 1967 by the US Internal Revenue Service, the IRS saying that the church was more a moneymaking operation than a religion – for example, what other “church” has a copyrighted holy book that is considered a trade secret? For the next 26 years, the church sued the IRS and lost repeatedly. Both sides eventually settled in 1993 and the IRS recognized the church as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, based on a promise that it will mend its aggressive ways. Ironically, although it had to litigate its way to that status, the Church of Scientology emphasizes this court victory as proof that it is a bona fide religion – sort of like stealing the shirt off a man’s back, then having him arrested for indecent exposure!
Scientology’s opposition to psychiatry is well known, but it is clearly a case of competing world views, one empirical, the other fantastical: L. Ron Hubbard thought of psychiatrists as fakes, in denial of human spirituality. Never mind that only psychiatry is published in peer-reviewed journals. In fact, a popular Scientology Q&A says, with a bit of historical amnesia about religion, “psychiatric theories that man is a mere animal have been used to rationalize, for example, the wholesale slaughter of human beings in World Wars I and II.” Prior to 1980, the church led a campaign of repudiation against the World Federation on Mental Health and the National Association of Mental Health.
Opposition to psychiatry led to a rancorous public dispute in 2005 between actor Tom Cruise, a well-known Scientologist, and actress Brooke Shields, who had been suffering post-partum depression and publicly spoke in favor of an antidepressant that gave her some relief. Cruise condemned Shields – and all of psychiatry, for that matter – and Shields shot back that Cruise was being "irresponsible" and "dangerous" in his criticisms. In fact, modern psychiatry has shown the chemical basis of depression and the chemical treatments found most effective against it.
So what’s the harm in Scientology? Ask Jeremy Perkins, an American Scientologist diagnosed with schizophrenia but never allowed by his church to receive treatment after previous episodes of violence and hallucinations. On 13 March 2003, he stabbed his mother to death, inflicting 77 wounds. Or ask Linda Waliki, an Australian Scientologist, denied mainstream psychiatric treatment for a diagnosed psychiatric illness, who took a knife to her father, her 15-year-old sister and her mother – and only the mother survived.
And the harm goes further than just the rejection of science and empiricism. With its secretive scriptures, embargoed practices and aggressive defenders, Scientology is the medieval Inquisition, the Jesuits and the Mafia juiced up on science fiction, with thugs at its call and Internet-age mind control at its fingertips. Truly, Scientology is where the bullies are!
Originally published February 2011 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
Here’s your Week in Freethought History: This is more than just a calendar of events or mini-biographies – it’s a reminder that, no matter how isolated and alone we may feel at times, we as freethinkers are neither unique nor alone in the world. Last Sunday, August 5, but in 1850, French naturalistic writer Guy […]