L. Ron Hubbard is one of the most controversial and perhaps even influential figures of the 20th century. Back in 1950, a book titled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published and released in stores all over America. It was a self-help book, authored by fantasy and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
In the years that followed, this book would form the basis of the controversial, and some would say cult-like, religious movement known as Scientology. Widely criticised and condemned for some of its practices, as well as being mocked by comedians and popular TV shows like South Park, Scientology has nevertheless amassed a legion of followers, including celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
The group earns hundreds of millions of dollars each year and is known for its aggressive and confrontational response to any kind of criticism. And it all started because of a man who, according to writer Lawrence Wright, once said that “If you want to make any money, the only way to do it is to make a religion.”
So how did it all began? Well, the very first inklings of Hubbard’s tendency to weave fabrications can be found in his childhood. From an early age, according to articles in the LA Times and Watchman, he would lie and invent stories.
He claimed to have been the youngest Eagle Scout in history. He stated that he met a medicine man at the age of four and the pair became blood brothers. He suggested that he’d been made a “lama priest” during a tour of Asia, lived with outlaws in Tibet, and much more. These stories are widely accepted to be total lies.
Before publishing Dianetics, Hubbard spend some time in the Navy. Again, he would later make spurious boasts regarding this period of his life, saying he was awarded more than 20 medals, when in fact most of his duty was spent behind a desk. He actually received a total of four medals, none of which were related to combat. In fact, he accidentally started firing at Mexican Navy vessels in 1943 and nearly started a major disaster all by himself.
During his time in the military, Hubbard kept a diary. He famously suffered from a lack of self-esteem, so would write strange messages to himself in order to try and raise his confidence levels. Messages like “I can have no doubts in my psychic powers” and “Men are your slaves” were written there. Many of his writings were related to his prowess in bed. The Church of Scientology has kept a lot of these so-called “affirmations” under wraps for years.
Hubbard’s strange writings did seem to imbue him with a special kind of confidence and belief in his own abilities, which for many seemed like supernatural powers.
A chance meeting with a man named Jack Parsons led to Hubbard and his new friend performing a bizarre ritual. Their ultimate aim was to summon a goddess who could give birth to the Antichrist. It didn’t quite work, so Hubbard ultimately tricked Parsons into giving him $20,000 and ran off with his girlfriend.
Perhaps it was this exploration into strange rituals that played a part in Hubbard’s creation of many of the core concepts of Scientology. He created a device called the E-meter, which is allegedly able to determine the enlightenment level of any individual. If they get the right readings, the individuals are able to proceed to the next level of Scientology. If not, they usually have to pay up for more teachings and practice.
Hubbard was laughed out of England after once using his E-meter on a tomato and suggesting that it could feel pain while being eaten, and he was starting to get a bad reputation in many other countries too. So, in 1967, he bought several ships and made his own fleet called the Sea Org, designed for hardcore Scientologists only.
Bizarrely and worryingly, a small section of the fleet’s crew was made up of teenage girls who, according to ex-Scientologist Kate Bornstein, would be tasked with trimming Hubbard’s nails and other odd duties. In spite of his many strange attributes, scandals and controversies, Hubbard can at least go down in history for his prolific writing ability.
He actually holds the Guinness World Record for the most published works by one author, with over 1,000 books and stories in total, as well as being the most translated author for the same book.
He sold a lot of books, but their actual influence and effect on the world is seen as negative by many, with even Charles Manson allegedly coming up with ideas for his own cult after reading Dianetics.