Now comes Slate magazine with its retrospective on the entertaining life of L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction author who founded the Church of Scientology in 1954. Let me just save true believers the bother of actually reading Michael Crowley’s piece before they start forming their opinions, by offering up this excerpt:
To hear his disciples tell it, Hubbard, who died in 1986, was the subject of “universal acclaim” and one of the greatest men who ever lived. Not only did he devise the church’s founding theory of Dianetics, which promises to free mankind of psychological trauma, he was a source of wisdom about everything from jazz music to nuclear physics. ...Crowley’s bottom line: “Hubbard’s ultimate success lay in convincing millions of people he was something other than a nut.” Ouch!
To those not in his thrall, Hubbard might be better described as a pulp science-fiction writer who combined delusions of grandeur with a cynical hucksterism. Yet he turned an oddball theory about human consciousness--which originally appeared in a 25-cent sci-fi magazine--into a far-reaching and powerful multimillion-dollar empire. The church now claims about 8 million members in more than 100 countries. The slow creep of Scientology’s anti-drug programs into public schools, the presumably tens of millions of dollars the church keeps with the help of its tax-exempt status, and the accusations that the church has convinced people to hand over their life savings, make Hubbard’s bizarro legacy seem less like tragicomedy and more like a scandal. Comparable crackpots-in-chief like Lyndon LaRouche and Sun Myung Moon have had almost no detectable national influence.