Lafayette Ronald Hubbard - writer, founder of the Church of Scientology. 1911 - 1986
"I have lived no cloistered life and hold in contempt the wise man who has not lived and the scholar who will not share... There have been many wiser men than I, but few have traveled as much road."
- L. Ron Hubbard
"...most messiahs have had markedly unstable lives"
- Willa Appel, Cults in America
"The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements." - Judge Breckenridge
"Enemy... Fair Game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued, lied to or destroyed" -L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard is surely one of the most controversial figures ever, due to his views on mental health and religion, as well as the church and associated organisations he founded. His many opponents will seek to decry, the Church will seek to elevate. As a result, there is much dispute over many details of his life, owing to the Church's official biographies differing from those of his detractors. It is difficult sometimes to know where the truth begins and ends; fact and fiction are seemingly mixed together by both sides (especially on the subject of his youthful exploits and his military career). Different accounts offer wildly varied timelines and courses of action, and it has been a difficult and time-consuming task to try and find neutral and accurate accounts.
This biography will therefore present different viewpoints - the official Scientology accounts as well as those written in apparent attempts to undermine the man. Those apparently more neutral accounts will form the main basis for this write-up. Material drawn from or based solely on official Church sources and Hubbard's own statements will be indented (in <blockquote>).
The purpose of this write-up is not to comment either on Hubbard or Scientology, but to present the facts of his life, in the hope that it will form the background for study of his philosophy and religion. There are two primary sources - Russell Miller's biography "Bare-faced Messiah" and the various Scientology websites, but other sources are quoted where appropriate. If anyone finds anything which presented as fact, but is not accurate, please /msg or email the author.
Ron Hubbard was born in Tilden, Nebraska on 13th March, 1911, to Ledora May Hubbard (who had trained as a teacher) and Harry Ross Hubbard (an orphan, ex-navy man and a clerk in various businesses in and around Omaha). The family moved to Kalispell, Montana in early 1912, and were joined later in the year by Ledora's parents. Ron was the centre of much attention - with an extended family around him, parents, grandparents and aunts, he was both popular and well favoured. In 1913, however, his parents moved again - two hundred miles away to Helena. Harry took a job at the local theatre, but left in 1914 following the closure of the theatre. The family tightened its collective belt, moved to cheaper accommodations and pressed on.
He learned a lot about survival in the West, and could ride a horse by age four, and was quickly able to tame horses too. According to one source, he was breaking broncos at four. His mother taught him to read and write at a very early age, enabling him to read and absorb the classics - Shakespeare and the Greek philosophers.
At age five, Ron (known as "Brick" because of his ginger hair) was enrolled at the local kindergarten. He recalled how he defended local children against bullying, but a close friend, Andrew Richardson stated that this was not true. "He never protected nobody," said Richardson. "It was all bullshit. Old Hubbard was the greatest con artist who ever lived." (http://www.spaink.net/cos/rmiller/bfm01.htm)
By the age of six, he had become a blood brother of the Blackfeet tribe, having been mentored by his close friend "Old Tom", an elderly medicine man, who taught him the ways, customs and secrets of the tribe.
In 1917, his father joined the Navy again, volunteering for a further four years' service. Ron was spoiled by his family, yet developed into a lad who was "exceptionally imaginative and adventurous, always filling his time with original ideas and games". In 1918, his father received a Naval commission as ensign, and intended to continue to develop his career and prospects.
Following allegations that Harry had not paid his debts, and wanting to be with him, Ledora wanted him to return home. Instead, she and Ron moved house to San Diego, to be closer to Harry, and she began the Navy wife's lifestyle of moving to keep up with her husband. In Seattle, Ron joined the Boy Scouts, and gained much pleasure from his activities, which he began to record in his journal. In 1923, however, the family moved to Washington by sea, where Ron met Commander "Snake" Thompson, a psychoanalyst who, he says, re-ignited his interest in Freud.
Ron continued his interest in the Scouts, working tirelessly to gain his badges, and encouraging others in the troop to do the same. He moved swiftly to the front rank, and was chosen to meet President Calvin Coolidge. He claims in his journals to have been "bored" in Washington, yet later claims that this was a crucial period of learning about psychology. Somehow he managed to carry out this intense study at the same time as becoming an eagle Scout at age 13 -
"Twenty-one merit badges in ninety days. I was quite a boy then. Written up in the papers and all that. Take a look at me. You didn't know the wreck in front of you was once the youngest Eagle Scout in the country, did you?" (http://www.spaink.net/cos/rmiller/bfm01.htm)
(It is worth mentioning that despite some people's claims to the contrary, "Snake" Thompson did exist - sociologist William Sims Bainbridge reports that he was attached to an intelligence mission in Japan. According to Scientology sources, Thompson had also studied with Freud under sponsorship from the Navy.)
In 1927, Ron began a series of travels to Asia. Although only sixteen, he was able to learn much from the ancient philosophers, including "Old Mayo", who was the last in the line of Chinese magicians in service to the court of Kublai Khan. Such men as these taught him much about Far Eastern philosophy and culture, and enabled him to gain access to the rarely-visited lamaseries in Western China. Such a rare opportunity was too much for young Ron to pass up - he questioned, studied and observed the monks, all the while building up a wealth of knowledge which would prove invaluable to him in later years.
He was also an accomplished linguist: "I remember one time learning Igoroti, an Eastern primitive language, in a single night. I sat up by kerosene lantern and took a list of words that had been made by an old missionary in the hills of Luzon Philippines. The Igorot had a very simple language. This missionary phoneticised their language and made a list of their main words and their usage and grammar. And I remember sitting up under a mosquito net with the mosquitoes hungrily chomping their beaks just outside the net, and learning this language - three hundred words - just memorizing these words and what they meant. And the next day I started to get them in line and align them with people, and was speaking Igoroti in a very short time." Scientology: A New Slant on Life, L. Ron Hubbard, 1965
Always uppermost in his mind was the question "Why do we suffer?" Time and again he sought answers, but despite all the wisdom of the East, he was unable to form any clear conclusions as to the cause or the cure.
On returning home, he entered the Swavely Preparatory School in Manassas, then the Woodward School for Boys at Washington, D.C. and George Washington University where he studied engineering, but did not finish his degree. His quest for "truth through science" as well as spiritual understanding was continuing, and he continued his studies in both arenas.
He wrote for the Sportsman Pilot and ran the university flying club, in addition to writing for and editing the college newspaper. (His first published fiction, Tah was printed here.) In academic terms, he was enrolled in an early nuclear physics class, which opened his mind to the possibility that life might be explained in terms of energy particles. This was instrumental in his development, opening the door to future thinking, "but it was methodology such as this that led him to become the first 20th-century thinker to take a wholly scientific approach to inherently spiritual questions".
He also began his writing career here, although the university did not encourage his overall development as a thinker, so he left to pursue his life's work by embarking on ethnological expeditions in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, "where he conducted that island's first mineralogical survey under United States rule".
There is no external evidence at all to support either his outstanding academic achievements or his South American trips, in fact one source suggests that whilst he became a keen glider pilot (he received a licence as a Commercial Glider Pilot), his grades were well below normal. Certainly he started out on a trip to Martinique
, but the vessel was not sufficiently seaworthy to complete the voyage, and there is no evidence that he collected material in support of any scientific programs, as he later claimed.
Following his return to the United States in 1933, he got married to one Mary "Polly" Grubb. Ron now had to support his growing family, L. Ron Junior (born in 1934) and daughter Catherine who was born in 1936. He began the writing for which he became initially famous, his output being primarily for the "pulp" magazines, notably Astounding Science Fiction. His writing spanned many genres, notably science fiction, although he was "...primarily celebrated for his adventure stories, much of them drawn, incidentally, from actual travels. Mr. Hubbard was nothing if not versatile. Indeed, his work through the 1930s and 1940s spanned all genres: western, aviation, mystery, high seas adventure, fantasy and science fiction."
It is certainly true that his output was prodigious, although his "science fiction" was more akin to space opera at that time. He was later to develop a more open style of writing, following the development of his more spiritual works, after "Dianetics". A full bibliography is given below.
A Military Career, Black Magick and Bigamy
When America joined World War II, he received a commission as a lieutenant (junior grade) in the United States Navy, serving in the South Pacific and Atlantic theatres of war, including his service with the intelligence agencies in Australia. By the time the war was over, he had received 29 medals and palms, and had seen action in five theatres. His injuries included damage to his hip and back, in addition to his sight being hampered by damage to his optic nerves. On his return home, he received treatment in San Francisco's Oak Knoll Naval Hospital.
He certainly had a love of ships and the sea, as is witnessed in later life. There is no doubt that he served in the Navy, being posted to Brisbane
as an intelligence officer, but here it becomes almost impossible to state the truth, as even the "neutral" sources cannot agree on the true course of his war. He was allegedly sent home in disgrace to a deskjob, but returned to sea after a few months. He was given charge of the 280-ton submarine chaser vessel, USS PC-815, but again, was relieved of his command following two episodes. The first, more humorous glitch, involved him depth-charging a magnetic anomaly on the seafloor; the second was more serious, when he tested the vessel's guns in Mexican waters. Following this, he was hospitalised, complaining of back and stomach pains. He later claimed that he was blown up whilst removing an unexploded shell from his ship.
Hubbard's "official" biographers in the Church claim that he received between 21 and 29 war medals. It is likely that he received no more than four, those awarded as a matter of routine to all servicemen.
Following his discharge in 1945, there is evidence to support his involvement with the Ordo Templi Orientis in Pasedena, an organisation with connections to the infamous Aleister Crowley (although the two probably never met). Certainly he had some dealings with one member of the group, Jack Parsons (allegedly having an affair with his wife, too).
It was after the War (1946) that he married Sara Northrup, despite still being married to Polly. Sara knew nothing about the existing marriage or the two children. Hubbard secured a divorce from Polly in 1948, but his second marriage was also doomed to failure. Sara filed for divorce, claiming that Ron was mentally ill, and accusing him of both physical and mental abuse during the divorce proceedings. They were divorced in 1951, leaving their only child, Alexis with Sara.
Philosophy, Dianetics and Mental Health
Hubbard had long taken an interest in the mind, memory and spiritual matters. He followed keenly the work on cellular memory retention and the transmission to later generations through RNA. He concluded that there were factors which could retain and transmit memory through breeding, affecting later generations.
In 1948 he wrote a summary of his thoughts in an unpublished work, "Excalibur" and began work at Oak Knoll, to help survivors of the War, especially those who had undergone major psychological traumas, such as Japanese POWs. Many of these people had physiological symptoms such as an inability to utilise ingested proteins, and he sought to establish whether these patients had "mental blocks" which prevented them from making full physical recoveries.
The techniques he used he later expanded upon, writing a manuscript entitled Dianetics: The Original Thesis. This manuscript was passed around many people, copied and well-commented on. He wrote of his success treating physical ailments using psychological techniques:
"In essence, those techniques addressed what he defined as the sole source of all psychosomatic ills and mental aberration, or what he termed the reactive mind. Described as 'an obsessive strata' of the mind, this reactive mind had been previously unknown, unseen and even unsuspected."
Although his close associates were impressed, the American Medical Association
and the American Psychiatric Association
were not. They did not recognise the validity of his work, probably because he was an unknown in the field, and had not qualified as a medical doctor.
May 1950 saw the publication of his first major work in the field of psychology: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book was an immediate best-seller, and quickly went into a second, then a third edition. Its major selling point was that the techniques Hubbard described could be applied by almost anyone, to themselves. People began talking about it, meeting to discuss it, and very soon, groups of people began gathering together to help one another. Some 250,000 people were said to be using Dianetics in some 750 groups throughout the United States, despite the media and medical professions speaking out against it.
Ron was suddenly in great demand; people camped on his lawn for personal guidance, he was called upon to lecture all over the country, and above all, to write more on the subject. Following this, the Dianetics Research Foundation was formed in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with others being founded in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Hawaii.
By 1951 he finished his second book, Dianetics, Science of Survival
. This purports to be the first public disclosure of the mind control ("brainwashing
") techniques used by the US military and security organisations. (1951 also saw his final marriage, to Mary Sue Whipp, with whom he had four more children.)
The veracity of his claims were later confirmed by the CIA as being accurate with regard to the MK Ultra projects and Project Chatter. Because of this, he "was now to be under constant federal scrutiny". He, and his work, were under constant scrutiny, both overt and covert (and hence, illegal).
The Church of Scientology
According to popular legend, the Church was founded after a bet between Hubbard and Robert Heinlein in 1948. Whatever the truth of this, the Church of Scientology was first founded in New Jersey in 1953. (Dates vary enormously. According to the Church's website, the first Church was set up in 1954 in Los Angeles by his followers, quite independently of Hubbard). Drawing heavily on his work with Dianetics, Hubbard was able to establish Scientology Centres all over the world, although he finally decided to settle in East Grinstead in England, where he set up his headquarters in 1959.
He certainly travelled to spread the word. He lectured in most major cities in North America and Europe over a five-year period, working in hospitals and prisons to refine his techniques, and the design of the E-meter, the tool used in Scientology auditing sessions.
he founded The Sea Organisation
, with a growing fleet of vessels, and begins to use this fleet, and especially the 3,200 ton Royal Scotsman
, as his base. After 1975, he returned to the States, and lived in Dunedin
, Florida, before moving on West to California. Increasingly concerned about the abuse of drugs, he continued to carry out research into why people use drugs, their effect on the body and mind, and work on treatment. This work was to take much of the rest of his life, and spanned both the psychological, physical and spiritual realms.
Concerned about the threats of litigation, he began a strategic withdrawal from the visible management of the Church from the 1960s onward, giving his edicts through a complex, insulating management system. In particular, he was worried that the IRS would come after him for unpaid taxes. Increasingly ill-tempered and apparently irrational, he continued to write, turning out a number of science fiction books, including his Battlefield Earth. At the same time, he was also working to further develop Scientology, writing more and more material, especially for more advanced Church members. Becoming reclusive, he spent more and more time at his ranch, where he died on 24th January, 1986 of a cerebral haemorrage. He was cremated, and his ashes scattered to sea.
"...at 2000 hours, Friday 24 January 1986, L. Ron Hubbard discarded the body he had used in this lifetime for seventy-four years, ten months and eleven days. The body he had used to facilitate his existence in this universe had ceased to be useful and in fact had become an impediment to the work he now must do outside its confines. The being we knew as L. Ron Hubbard still exists. Although you may feel grief, understand that he did not, and does not now. He has simply moved on to his next step."
- David Miscavige
Whatever the truth, there can be little doubt that L. Ron Hubbard was a remarkable man. Of the many things he achieved, any one would be remarkable. His output as a writer, his work with Dianetics, his development of the Church of Scientology, any of these would be sufficient to bring him fame. Whatever our views of him, devil or saint, liar or hero, quack or genius, he will long be remembered.
One last word, from the man himself. A poem, entitled "There is No Compromise with Truth". There is here, I feel, a certain irony...
There are those
who would have me compromise with truth and tell you other things,
for greed and popularity
for lies might then resound
and theirs into
some future state of granite and concrete.
there is no war not based on lies,
there is no infamy alive without
its kindred kin, deceit.
For I care nothing, yes and less
or for the crowd
whose howls are music to a fool
alone can echo far and as it springs
from spirit so
alone can outlive clay.
And if in speaking as a spirit men
forget as men most often do
then it is naught
For there is truth in that
a name to live
in riddles or in lies.
1. The Invaders Plan (1985)
2. Black Genesis (1986) Hugo Award "Best Novel" nominee
3. The Enemy Within (1986)
4. An Alien Affair (1986)
5. Fortune of Fear (1986)
6. Death Quest (1986)
7. Voyage of Vengeance (1987)
8. Disaster (1987)
9. Villainy Victorious (1987)
10. The Doomed Planet (1987)
Buckskin Brigades (1937)
Slaves of Sleep (1939)
Final Blackout (1940)
Death's Deputy (1948)
The Masters of Sleep (1948)
Typewriter in the Sky (1951)
Return to Tomorrow (1954)
The Ultimate Adventure (1970)
Seven Steps to the Arbiter (1975)
Battlefield Earth (1982)
The Automagic Horse (1994)
The Kingslayer (1949)
Triton and Battle of Wizards (1949)
Typewriter in the Sky and Fear (1951)
Fear and The Ultimate Adventure (1970)
Ole Doc Methuselah (1970)
Lives You Wished to Lead But Never Dared (1978)
As Kurt von Rachen
The Idealist (1940)
The Kilkenny Cats (1940)
The Mutineers (1941)
The Traitor (1941)
The Rebels (1942)
Why I Selected The Professor Was a Thief (1949)
The Analytical Mind (1950)
Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science (1950)
The Mayan Elephants (1950)
Author's Note (1951)
Art and Communication (1977)
Story Vitality (1993)
Magic Out of a Hat (1994)
Steps in the Right Direction (1995)
Major Online Sources and References
I am not associated with the Church of Scientology, nor with any organisation or individual opposed to, or critical of it.
If anyone finds fault with the factual content of any of this material, please contact me with clear references and sources.
Credits: Thanks for help: Rancid_Pickle, JayBonci, Albert Herring and BlueDragon