BARE-FACED MESSIAH: THE TRUE STORY OF L. RON HUBBARD By Russell Miller
The gold mine in heaven
BARE-FACED MESSIAH: THE TRUE STORY OF L. RON HUBBARD By Russell Miller (Key Porter, 390 pages, $21+.95)
As a struggling science-fiction writer in the late 1940s, L. Ron Hubbard once said, “If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start his own religion.” By the time of his death one year ago, Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, had proved the truth of that
statement many times over. In 1982 alone, his earnings from Scientology amounted to about $200 million. Critics of the church, which Hubbard created in 1954—and which now claims seven million members worldwidehave labelled the organization immoral and corrupt. Disaffected Scientologists have accused church officials of manipulation and intimidation. British journalist Russell Miller’s book Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard has itself been the subject of attacks from the church. In it, the author examines in detail the genesis of Scientology, arriving at a portrait of its founder that is by turns hilarious and deeply unsettling.
Born in Nebraska in 1911, the son of a career naval officer, Hubbard liked to portray himself as a true Renaissance man, an expert in fields ranging
from horticulture to cinematography. In reality, his accomplishments were far less illustrious. Through Hubbard’s unpublished letters and diaries, as well as interviews with many former church members, Miller reveals a charismatic figure with a gift for spinning tall tales about himself. Hubbard’s fertile imagination helped him as a young man to become a regular contributor to pulp-fiction magazines —and it certainly contributed to his development of Scientology in the early 1950s. According to the religion,
each person embodies immortal beings called thetans that are reincarnated millions of times, sometimes in worlds other than Earth. Scientology purports to help its devotees realize their full potential through a form of therapy that, among other things, makes them aware of past lives.
As the religion’s influence spread in his later years, Hubbard displayed an alarming inability to distinguish fact from fancy, imagining that the church was beset by enemies on all sides. Some of his projects bordered on slapstick comedy. In the late 1960s he launched a private navy, which he called the “Sea Org,” and roamed the Mediterranean area in a vain search for treasure he believed he had buried in earlier incarnations.
Scientologists on both sides of the Atlantic have reacted angrily to Miller’s unauthorized biography. In December a Danish publisher claiming exclusive licence to publish Hubbard’s biography sought, unsuccessfully, to ban publication of Miller’s book in Canada. Scientologists lost a similar court case in England last fall. But while scathingly critical of Hubbard and his church, Bare-Faced Messiah is, in fact, scrupulously fair. Miller takes pains not to ridicule the sincerity of Hubbard’s followers. Indeed, the author writes that the book is dedicated to those former Scientologists “who had the courage to face the truth and speak out.” As Bare-Faced Messiah makes clear, the truth about L. Ron Hubbard is considerably stranger than fiction.
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