Going Clear
Author:Lawrence Wright

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1 According to the church, “There was something under the water and it was definitely hostile, and after they dropped their charges, there was oil and something sunk.… It definitely happened.”

2 A conspicuous example of Dianetic processing involved John Brodie, the outstanding quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who suffered an injury to his throwing arm in 1970 that threatened to end his career. Despite the best medical attention and physical therapy, his elbow remained sore and swollen. Finally, he went to Phil Spickler, a Scientologist and Dianetic auditor, who asked Brodie to tell him about previous incidents that might be keeping his arm from healing. Brodie related that he had been in a severe traffic accident in 1963, in which his arm had been broken. As he explored the incident with Spickler, Brodie seemed to recall one of the ambulance attendants saying, “Well, that poor sonofabitch will never throw a football again.” And yet Brodie was unconscious at the time. How could he have such a memory? Spickler told him this was all part of an engram that was keeping him from getting well. “The ambulance attendant’s prediction had been simmering in my unconscious for seven years, agitating all my deepest fears of declining ability or failure,” Brodie later writes. “It had finally surfaced as this psychosomatic ailment in my throwing arm. Phil made me tell the story again and again and again, until no charge showed on the E-Meter” (John Brodie and James D. Houston, Open Field, p. 166). The swelling on Brodie’s arm diminished. He went on to have one of the greatest seasons of his career, and was voted the National Football League’s most valuable player that year.


Going Overboard

Given his biography, it would be easy to dismiss Hubbard as a fraud, but that would fail to explain his total absorption in his project. He would spend the rest of his life elaborating his theory and—even more obsessively—constructing the intricate bureaucracy designed to spread and enshrine his visionary understanding of human behavior. His life narrowed down to his singular mission. Each passageway in his interior expedition led him deeper into his imagination. That journey became Scientology, a totalistic universe in which his every turn was mapped and described.

Hubbard’s own logic was inclining him toward conclusions that he was at first reluctant to draw. By admitting the validity of prenatal memories, he was bound to confront a dilemma: What if the memories didn’t stop there? When patients began having “sperm dreams,” Hubbard had to accept the idea that prenatal engrams were recorded “as early as shortly before conception.” Then, when patients began to remember previous lives, Hubbard resisted the idea; it threatened to tear apart his organization. “The subject of past deaths and past lives is so full of tension that as early as last July 1950, the board of trustees of the [Dianetics] Foundation sought to pass a resolution banning the entire subject,” he confided. Still, the implications were intriguing. What if we have lived before? Might there be memories that occasionally leak through into present time? Wouldn’t that prove that we are immortal beings, only temporarily residing in our present incarnations?

Instead of remembering, the patient undergoing Dianetic counseling “returns” to the past-life event. “There is a different feel to another period in time that’s so basic it’s hard to describe,” Hubbard’s top US executive, Helen O’Brien, recalled. “If you find yourself in a room, there may be color with unfamiliar tones because of gaslight shining on it. The air has a strange quality. Its particles of dust derive from unmodern constituents. Even human bodies seem to radiate a different kind of warmth when they are covered with the fabrics of another age. Memory, per se, filters out all that. When you return, you find the past intact.” Some of the “returnings” were shocking or painful. O’Brien’s first past-life experience in an auditing session was that of being a young Irish woman in the early nineteenth century. She could feel the coarse texture of her full-skirted dress as she walked down a narrow country lane, hearing the birds and feeling the warm country air. But when she turned a corner of her house, she saw a British soldier bayoneting her fourteen-year-old son in the yard. “I literally shuddered with grief,” O’Brien writes. When the soldier threw her to the ground and tried to rape her, she spit in his face. He crushed her skull with a cobblestone. O’Brien’s auditor had her re-experience the scene over and over until she was able to move through the entire bloody tableau unaffected. “By the end of it, I was luxuriously comfortable in every fibre,” she writes. “When I walked downstairs … the electric lights dazzled me. The clean modern lines of the house interior, and the furniture, were elegant and strange to me beyond all description. I was freshly there from another age. For the first time in this lifetime, I knew I was beyond the laws of space and time.

“I was never the same again.”

With his new acceptance of past-life experiences, Hubbard could now describe the individual as being divisible into three parts. First there was the spirit, or soul, which Hubbard calls the thetan. The thetan normally lives in or near a body but can also be entirely separate from it. When a person goes exterior, for instance, it is the thetan part of him that travels outside the body or views himself from across the room. The mind, which serves mainly as a storehouse of pictures, functions as a communication and control system for the thetan, helping him operate in his environment. The body is merely the physical composition of the person, existing in space and time.

Anyone who stands in the way of a thetan’s spiritual progress is a Suppressive Person (SP). This is a key concept in Scientology. Hubbard uses the term to describe a sociopath. The Suppressive instinctively fights against constructive forces and is driven berserk by those who try to help others. Hubbard estimates that Suppressives constitute about twenty percent of the population, but only about two and a half percent are truly dangerous. “A Suppressive Person will goof up or vilify any effort to help anybody and particularly knife with violence anything calculated to make human beings more powerful or more intelligent,” Hubbard writes. “The artist in particular is often found as a magnet for persons with anti-social personalities who see in his art something which must be destroyed.”

Naturally, anyone who is close to a Suppressive Person is in great danger of falling under his influence. Hubbard called that person a Potential Trouble Source. If, for instance, a parent opposes a child who wants to join Scientology, that parent is likely to be declared an SP; and as long as the child remains in contact with the parent, he is in danger of being defined as a PTS. He will be denied auditing and training. Eventually, the child will have to make a choice, either to leave the church—which offers him a path to career success, personal improvement, and salvation—or to disconnect from his parent, who is the cause of his failure to achieve happiness and realize his dreams.

Hubbard had learned some difficult lessons from his experience with Dianetics. He was by nature an autocrat, but his work beckoned to amateurs. The movement inspired by his book had sprung up so quickly there was no real chance to rein it in and exert the kind of authority that might have made it more durable. Although he tried to impose order by creating professional training schools for auditors, in truth he had more or less surrendered control of the movement from the moment of inception by empowering his readers to become practitioners themselves; all they had to do was to follow the formulas sketched in his book. Entrepreneurs grabbed hold of the concept and snatched it out of his hands. They spread the message, but they also diluted it. When the Dianetics movement subsided, Hubbard was unable to restore the momentum that had given it such a rocket-powered launch. Imitators and competitors came onto the field, some even rivaling Hubbard himself. He was determined not to make the same mistakes with Scientology. From now on, he would exercise total control. His word was law. He was not just the founder, he was “Source”—the last word, whose every pronouncement was scripture.

In the evolution of Dianetics to Scientology, however, there was a larger wheel turning inside Hubbard’s protean imagination. Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought—except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.” One of the problems with Dianetics, from a moneymaking perspective, was the lack of a long-term association on the part of its adherents. Psychotherapy has a theoretical conclusion to it; the patient is “cured” or decides that the procedure doesn’t work for him. In either case, the revenue dries up. Religion solves that problem. In addition to tax advantages, religion supplies a commodity that is always in demand: salvation. Hubbard ingeniously developed Scientology into a series of veiled revelations, each of which promised greater abilities and increased spiritual power. “To keep a person on the Scientology path,” Hubbard once told one of his associates, “feed him a mystery sandwich.”

It may be true that his decision to take his movement in a new direction had more to do with the legal and tax advantages that accrue to religious organizations than it did with actual spiritual inspiration. He was desperate for money. The branches of his Dianetics Foundation were shuttered, one after another. At one point, Hubbard even lost the rights to the name Dianetics. The trend for his movement was toward disaster.

A letter Hubbard wrote to one of his executives in 1953 shows him weighing the advantages of setting up a new organization. “Perhaps we could call it a Spiritual Guidance Center,” he speculates. “And we could put in nice desks and our boys in neat blue with diplomas on the walls and 1. knock psychotherapy into history and 2. make enough money to shine up my operating scope and 3. keep the HAS [Hubbard Association of Scientologists] solvent. It is a problem of practical business.

“I await your reaction on the religion angle.”

In the anti-Scientology narrative, this is one of several clear statements of Hubbard’s calculations and proof that the “church” was nothing more than a moneymaking front. But Hubbard follows this with the observation, “We’re treating present time beingness, psychotherapy treats the past and the brain. And brother, that’s religion, not mental science.” At the end of that year, Hubbard incorporated three different churches: the Church of American Science, the Church of Spiritual Engineering, and the eventual winner in the brand-name contest, the Church of Scientology. The Church of Scientology of California was established on February 18, 1954, quickly followed by another in Washington, DC.

The fields of psychotherapy and religion have bled into each other on many occasions. They have in common the goal of reshaping one’s view of the world and letting go of, or actually renouncing, one’s previous stance.1 Hubbard said there were “many, many reasons” to ally Scientology with religion. “To some this seems mere opportunism,” he later admitted to a reporter. “To some it would seem that Scientology is simply making itself bulletproof in the eyes of the law.”

Among the many other incentives to turn Hubbard’s movement into a religion, there is one that might be considered especially in light of the frequent charge that he was insane. Religion is always an irrational enterprise, no matter how ennobling it may be to the human spirit. In many cultures, people who might be considered mentally ill in Western societies are thought of as religious healers, or shamans. Anthropologists have called schizophrenia the “shaman sickness,” because part of a shaman’s traditional journey requires suffering an illness that cannot be cured except by spiritual means. The shaman uses the powers and insights he gains from his experience to heal his community. This is exactly the history that Hubbard paints as his own: a blind cripple in the Navy hospital, given up for lost, who then heals himself through techniques he refines into Dianetics. This is the gift he humbly offers as a means of healing humanity. “The goal of Dianetics is a sane world—a world without insanity, without criminals and without war,” he declares. “It can be stopped only by the insane.”

For both the shaman and the schizophrenic, the boundaries between reality and illusion are soft, and consciousness slips easily from one to the other. Hubbard, with his highly imaginative mind, certainly had immediate access to visionary worlds; his science-fiction stories are evidence of that. But it is a different matter to be able to cast the nets of one’s imagination into the unconscious and pull out best-selling books. The schizophrenic is rarely so productive in the material world.

Sometimes in Hubbard’s writings, however, he puts forward what appear to be fantasies of a highly schizophrenic personality. In 1952, for instance, he began talking about “injected entities,” which can paralyze portions of the anatomy or block information from being audited. These entities can be located in the body, always in the same places. For instance, one of the entities, the “crew chief,” is found on the right side of the jaw down to the shoulder. “They are the ‘mysterious voices’ in the heads of some preclears,” Hubbard said. “Paralysis, anxiety stomachs, arthritis and many ills and aberrations have been relieved by auditing them. An E-Meter shows them up and makes them confess their misdeeds. They are probably just compartments of the mind which, cut off, begin to act as though they were persons.”

Hubbard says there are actually two separate genetic lines that, in the history of evolution, first came together in the mollusk, but have been contending for dominance ever since, even in human beings. “In the bivalve state, one finds them at war with each other in an effort to attain sole command of the entire bivalve,” Hubbard writes. This primordial contest manifests itself in higher forms of life in such things as right-and left-handedness. “Your discussion of these incidents with the uninitiated in Scientology can produce havoc,” Hubbard warns. “Should you describe the ‘Clam’ to someone, you may restimulate him to the point of causing severe jaw hinge pain. One such victim, after hearing about a clam death, could not use his jaws for three days.”

HUBBARD’S THIRD WIFE was smart and poised, a decorous partner for him. She was so slight and weightless that it might be easy to overlook her, but her Southern manners and Texas accent concealed a hard and determined nature. Unlike Sara or Polly, Mary Sue was a true believer, a natural enforcer. One of Hubbard’s executives later described her as “pragmatic, cold, cunning, calculating, efficient, and fiercely loyal.” She had flinty blue eyes, a sharp, prominent nose, and a rare lopsided smile that would expose her uneven, slightly crossed front teeth.