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Despite suspicions, Scientology flourishes

"We are the Wave of the Future," Church’s lifetime guardian tells convention

by John Dart

September 12, 1976

Twenty-five years ago a writer-adventurer named L. Ron Hubbard moved to Wichita, Kan., his fortunes at a low ebb.

Immediate success had greeted his 1950 book, "Dianetics," which came out about the same time that excerpts were published in two magazines, Explorers Journal and Astounding Science Fiction.

But Hubbard, also going through a divorce, had difficulties with authorities over the application of Dianetics.

Undaunted, he announced in April, 1951, that he was making Wichita the home of his Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation. Dianetics, the local newspaper reported, was "a science which attempts to make effective readjustment of people who are insane or neurotic."

An old friend, acting as Hubbard’s part-time public relations adviser in Wichita, at one point wrote a memo to Hubbard suggesting he form churches to practice Dianetics and avoid government interference.

"Ron called back and said, ‘I love your idea. I’ll do it!’ He left Wichita the next day," according to the friend, and a journalist who asked not to be identified.

Hubbard started the Church of American Science in Washington, D.C., in early 1954 to be succeeded by the Founding Church of Scientology. Scientology sources, who question the Wichita anecdote, say Hubbard left the Kansas city in June, 1951, and wrote four lectures, none of which talked about founding churches before 1954.

Nevertheless, today the Churches of Scientology are worldwide and have made a prosperous philosopher-prophet out of "Ron," as he is known to admiring followers said to number about 600,000 Scientologists.

Scientology – strongest in California – has spread despite government opposition in most English-speaking countries amid suspicion of being either a pseudo-science or a pseudo-religion or both. Toning down some of its early healing claims and fighting back aggressively in the courts seem to have done it.

It claims it is still being unfairly investigated – as demonstrated by suits filed this summer accusing various public officials in California of "infiltrating" its churches to obtain information in an underhanded, if not illegal, manner. Those agencies have not commented publicly on the suits.

Thus, there was bitterness mixed with pride at Scientology’s first International Conference for World Peace and Social Reform recently held at Anaheim Convention Center. The five-day gathering, which drew 6,550, closed Aug. 29 with a religious service on a human rights theme.

Whether the world likes it or not, Scientology is becoming increasingly influential, asserted the Rev. Jane Kember, 39, a primly attractive Britisher named by Hubbard to a lifetime position as guardian, or top administrative officer.

"We are the wave of the future," she said, crediting Scientology with posing the first serious challenge to "institutional psychiatry in its self-appointed role of judge, jury, executioner and high priest of public standards…"

The Church of Scientology’s main thrust for years has been the counseling, or "auditing," of persons to rid them of psychological hang-ups and advance their self-understanding.

Some medical critics have questioned whether the now-voluminous and often mystical writings of Hubbard and the use of the E-meter, a $215 device akin to a lie detector, are reliable methods.

In counterattacking, Scientology has criticized such practices as lobotomy, electroshock treatment and psychotherapy.

Its churches mounted their own "investigations" not only of the mental health establishment and the American Medical Assn. but also of U.S. government agencies they have tangled with – the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, etc. It won a big battle with the FDA a few years ago when a U.S. appeals judge ruled the E-meter a religious artifact.

Scientology has filed numerous freedom of information suits in recent years in efforts, sometimes successful, to examine government files on itself.

As it has broadened its attack in the name of universal human rights of privacy, justice and freedom, Scientology has won a few non-Scientologist friends – and, importantly, diverted some attention away from its own practices.

Ex-CIA official Victor Marchetti, coauthor of "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence," spoke at the church’s Anaheim conference. Marchetti earlier charged the CIA, FBI and other government intelligence agencies with domestic interference in Scientology affairs.

Another conference speaker was Daniel Sheehan, a civil rights attorney, candidate for the Jesuit order and chairperson of the Washington Interreligious Task Force on Criminal Justice, supported by major Protestant and Catholic bodies.

Sheehan had contact with Washington Scientologists in lobbying against Senate bill 1, a controversial revision of the criminal code, and found the church members "extremely effective in linking people together in Washington."

In a well-received speech, Sheehan invited Scientologists to join "a growing Christian conspiracy" against what he terms a moneyed power elite on the right. "They are terrified of people who are truly religious," Sheehan said.

While admitting he was unfamiliar with Scientology’s theology, Sheehan said he sensed the church was at a critical point in its evolution – "a shift from a medical-psychiatric fascination and getting it together as a human being to moving out… to resist domination by secular governments."

Two democratic Assemblymen from Los Angeles, Art Totres and Richard Alatorre, also addressed the conference.

"My experience with the church has been very positive," said Alatorre. He chairs an Assembly committee studying human experimentation in penal institutions, which Scientology has opposed.

Scientology has also won a sympathetic ear from William Willoughby, religion editor-columnist of the Washington Star, particularly on the question of religious liberty. A speaker at the Anaheim meeting, Willoughby said privately that he likes Scientology’s "methodology" but thinks its theology and religious practices give an "afterthought" impression.

The church says that Hubbard long ago discovered the idea that personhood is really an individual life force which he named the Theta.

Hubbard’s metaphysics include the Eastern concepts of karma and reincarnation but are relatively silent on the nature of God. The latter pleases many members who either retain their traditional faiths or dislike a dogmatic picture of the deity.

Scientology ministers wear conventional black priestly suits and white collars when the occasion calls for it.

The Christian-like appearance is enhanced by the wearing of a cross. Scientologists explain it is not the crucifix but an ancient religious symbol with the horizontal bar denoting matter and the vertical symbolizing spirit.

It’s still an uphill struggle for credibility with the American religious establishment, which often regards Scientology as just one of many new sects and cults. The church’s small "missions," which along with Scientology churches offer counseling and courses costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, were often called "franchises" until the late 1960’s.

The major news media tend to be skeptical as well. Numerous articles were printed in the late 1960s illustrating some of Scientology’s questionable practices, including orders to members to "disconnect" with antagonistic family and friends and classifying some ex-members as "fair game" for harassment.

These policies were dropped, the church says, but Scientology remains highly sensitive to news coverage that goes beyond a news release.

Any reporter or photographer who came to Anaheim Convention Center to cover the Scientology meeting was required to have an accompanying "media host" at all times.

Learning that a parents’ group was planning to picket the conference, some Scientology ministers made unannounced calls on two of the principles beforehand.

Mrs. Henrietta Crampton of Redondo Beach, whose protests have been principally against sects such as the Children of God, Hare Krishna and Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, said the two ministers stayed in her house for more than five hours. "We couldn’t get rid of them," she said.

She said the protest was made in sympathy with other parents who have complained about the amount of money their offspring have spent in Scientology.

The dozen parents who carried signs such as "Scientology, Religion or racket?" were joined on the sidewalk outside the convention center, however, by Scientologists who held placards such as "Beware, Psychiatry Kills" and one with a misleading message, "Volunteer Parents of America United Against Organized Religion."

In defense of the tactics, Jeff Dubron, community affairs director for Scientology churches in the Los Angeles area, said the parent leaders had always refused to make appointments to discuss Scientology.

Dubron also said he was afraid a television crew might film the protesters, get a response and that would be the sum of TV coverage. (No camera crews showed up, however.)

While the incident was minor, it illustrates the standard of practice of Scientology not to ignore criticism or unfavorable mentions. "Ron says you only get hurt when you duck," explained Dubron.

Besides the critical accounts of its defectors, part of Scientology’s problems with credibility may lie with an impreciseness on information about itself.

Willing to talk at length about its antidrug abuse program called Narconon and various social reform plans, it is rather vague about membership figures despite its tightly organized structure directed from its international headquarters at East Grinstead near London.

Guardian Jane Kember told the Anaheim conference that Scientologists in the United States now number more than 1% of the population; in other words, more than 2 million persons. The world figure is variously given as 3.5 or 4 million.

But Dubron said those numbers include those who have taken at least one Scientology course or bought at least two Scientology books.

Spokesmen say the active Scientologists worldwide are about 600,000. Freedom, the independent journal of the Church of Scientology, claims a circulation of 350,000.

Figures that may indicate the hard core of accomplished Scientologists are those who have become "Clear," persons defined as those cleared of "wrong answers or useless answers which keep (them) from living or thinking."

There are about 2,700 "Clears" in the United States and about 5,600 worldwide, according to Dubron.

Scientologists who advance on to higher states of spiritual achievement are called Operating Thetans. Until last spring, all of the advanced training was conducted in England, Copenhagen or Los Angeles. A second U.S. base was established last March when Scientology bought a Clearwater, Fla., hotel for more than $2 million in cash.

At the same time, Scientology announced it was selling its 3,287-ton yacht Apollo, which since 1968 had served as the sometime home of Hubbard and a roving administrative center.

While still an influential voice in Scientology’s affairs, Hubbard has been officially only a consultant to the church’s board of directors for the last decade, spokesmen say.

The top two officers of the U.S. church are the Revs. Henning Heldt, 31, assistant guardian for the United States, and Arthur Maren, 34, whose role as public affairs director makes him the most visible official.

In her lecture-sermon to the Scientologists gathered in Anaheim, Jane Kember referred to the words and works of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mohammed, Gautama Buddha, and 19th-century philosopher-libertarian John Stuart Mill.

Of Mill, she said, "He would have understood L. Ron Hubbard and Theta goals… for a nation without insanity, war and crime."

Referring to Hubbard’s assertion that "certainty, not data, is knowledge," she said that with certainty Scientology can reverse the downward spiral of humanity.

"Remember," she added, "the only power the attacker has is the power you grant him." Deep down, she said, the opponent knows that "the only hope he has lies in your success."

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