I just finished Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,’ by Lawrence Wright. My nutshell review is that it was good, but uneven, neither organized nor analytical enough for my tastes. Given the hefty price tag for this new book, if I had a do-over, I would get it from the library.
Some of the early chapters on L. Ron Hubbard’s life were the most interesting. He was a prolific sci fi writer beginning in the 1930s, eventually publishing over 1000 books, thanks to his motto, “First draft, last draft, get it out the door.” Oh, and all you #1K1hr Tweeps? L. Ron wrote 100,000 words a month!
I giggled at his sketch for a romance novel (never written):
Another idea: “Love story. Goes to France. Meets swell broad in Marseilles.”
The connection between Hubbard’s fiction and Scientology is so close as to be impossible to separate neatly. His life raises interesting questions about the boundaries between fiction and religion, and between creativity and madness. Hubbard himself seemed to recognize this when he wrote:
“The main difficulty these days is getting sane again. I find out that I am making progress. Of course there is always the danger that I will get too sane to write.”
Being a book blogger, this is probably my favorite passage:
Hubbard explained to his agent that he ultimately decided to withdraw the book from publication because the first six people who read it were so shattered by the revelations that they had lost their minds.
The next time I get an article rejected, I am totally using that line.
Hubbard’s life brings new meaning to the phrase “spectacular failure.” I had read in other accounts that he was paranoid, neurotic, and controlling, with megalomaniacal tendencies. But one aspect of his personality that other reviews had not prepared me for was his deep misogyny. Here’s a rundown of the highlights.
Ron married Polly and they had a kid and he had affairs:
Ron blamed Polly for his philandering. “Because of her coldness physically, the falsity of her pretensions, I believed myself a near eunuch,” he wrote in a private memoir (which the church disputes) some years later. “When I found I was attractive to other women, I had many affairs. But my failure to please Polly made me always pay so much attention to my momentary mate that I derived small pleasure myself. This was an anxiety neurosis which cut down my natural powers.”
While still married to Polly, he married Sara:
Ron had begun beating her in Florida, shortly after her father died. Her grief seemed to provoke Ron—
In the 1940s, LRH wrote a secret memoir, which included mantras he would attempt to hypnotise himself into believing. Among them, these two gems:
Many women are not capable of pleasure in sex and anything adverse they say or do has no effect whatever upon your pleasure.
You have no fear if they conceive. What if they do? You do not care. Pour it into them and let fate decide.
Blaming mothers for their children’s mental illness is nothing new, but in 1950, Hubbard hypothesized a most unusual causal mechanism:
“It is a scientific fact that abortion attempts are the most important factor in aberration. The child on whom the abortion is attempted is condemned to live with murderers whom he reactively knows to be murderers through all his weak and helpless youth!” In his opinion, it is very difficult to abort a child, which is why the process so often fails. “Twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon in the aberree and in every attempt the child could have been pierced through the body or brain,” Hubbard writes. “However many billions America spends yearly on institutions for the insane and jails for the criminals are spent primarily because of attempted abortions done by some sex-blocked mother to whom children are a curse, not a blessing of God.”
And how is wife #2 doing as LRH spins these theories? Not too well, it turns out:
While he was writing Dianetics, and Sara was pregnant with Alexis, she says, Hubbard kicked her in the stomach several times to attempt to cause a miscarriage. Later, Hubbard told one of his lovers that he himself had been born of an attempted abortion.
Now regularly beating Sara, Ron tells her that he doesn’t want to be married, but neither does he want a divorce. The elegant solution?
if Sara really loved him, she should kill herself.
When she declines, he offers to kill her. Not surprisingly, she declines again. He then kidnaps their daughter (keeping her in a crib with wire over the top) and threatens to kill the child. First wife Polly, who has been waiting years for child support payments that never came, actually wrote a letter to Sara, offering her support.
Hubbard eventually extricated himself from both marriages without killing anyone, and launched a fleet of Scientology ships. His treatment of women did not improve, as this incident from the late 1960s indicates:
One night as the fleet was sailing in the Caribbean, he looked at the young woman serving him dinner, Tracy Ekstrand, whose glasses were sliding down her nose in the tropical heat. “You’re doing yourself an aesthetic disservice,” he pronounced. She was mortified and stopped wearing glasses that night.
On board, he created a “Commodore’s Message Association” comprised of young teenaged girls, who wore:
white hot pants, halter tops, and platform shoes. When the Commodore moved around the ship, one or more Messengers trailed behind him, carrying his hat and an ashtray, lighting his cigarettes, and quickly moving a chair into place if he started to sit down.
After some women Scientologists on the ships became pregnant, Hubbard decided he needed complete control of their reproductive lives:
The baby boom eventually prompted Hubbard to order that no one could get pregnant without his permission; according to several Sea Org members, any woman disobeying his command would be “off-loaded” to another Scientology organization or flown to New York for an abortion.
Sea Org is the most elite level of Scientologists:
Since 1986, children have been forbidden to Sea Org members. Former church executives say that abortions were common and forcefully encouraged.
So much for his earlier abortion theories…