The Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Church of Scientology
    Book Description:

    Scientology is one of the wealthiest and most powerful new religions to emerge in the past century. To its detractors, L. Ron Hubbard's space-age mysticism is a moneymaking scam and sinister brainwashing cult. But to its adherents, it is humanity's brightest hope. Few religious movements have been subject to public scrutiny like Scientology, yet much of what is written about the church is sensationalist and inaccurate. Here for the first time is the story of Scientology's protracted and turbulent journey to recognition as a religion in the postwar American landscape.

    Hugh Urban tells the real story of Scientology from its cold war-era beginnings in the 1950s to its prominence today as the religion of Hollywood's celebrity elite. Urban paints a vivid portrait of Hubbard, the enigmatic founder who once commanded his own private fleet and an intelligence apparatus rivaling that of the U.S. government. One FBI agent described him as "a mental case," but to his followers he is the man who "solved the riddle of the human mind." Urban details Scientology's decades-long war with the IRS, which ended with the church winning tax-exempt status as a religion; the rancorous cult wars of the 1970s and 1980s; as well as the latest challenges confronting Scientology, from attacks by the Internet group Anonymous to the church's efforts to suppress the online dissemination of its esoteric teachings.

    The Church of Scientologydemonstrates how Scientology has reflected the broader anxieties and obsessions of postwar America, and raises profound questions about how religion is defined and who gets to define it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3943-8
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-25)

    Surely few new religious movements have been the subject of more scandal, controversy, media attention, or misunderstanding than the Church of Scientology. Well known for its high-profile celebrity patrons such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Tom Cruise, while boasting over seven hundred centers in sixty-five countries, Scientology has also been attacked by government agencies, anticult groups, and the media as a swindling business and a brainwashing cult. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986), has been described variously as the man who “solved the riddle of the human mind” (by the Church of Scientology),³ as “a mental case” (by...

  6. ONE L. RON HUBBARD: American Entrepreneur, Spiritual Bricoleur
    (pp. 26-56)

    At the heart of the mystery, controversy, and scandal that surrounds Scientology is its enigmatic founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Portrayed in the church’s literature as a rugged explorer, world traveler, and engineer, equally accomplished as a “humanitarian, educator, administrator, artist and philosopher,”³ Hubbard has also been described by his critics as a liar, charlatan, and madman.⁴ Indeed, writing the story of Hubbard’s life is extremely difficult, since there are at least two very different versions of that narrative. On the one hand, there is the church’s official biography of Hubbard, which tells of his extensive travels throughout the Far East,...

  7. TWO SCIENTOLOGY, INC.: Becoming a “Religion” in the 1950s
    (pp. 57-88)

    Dianetics was a surprisingly successful and widely popular form of personal therapy—indeed, arguably the first of the many popular self-help manuals that followed in the next five decades. Although it offered many remarkable benefits and made many astonishing claims, one thing Dianetics didnotclaim was any sort of religious status. As Hubbard put it, “Dianetics is a science; as such, it has no opinion about religion, for sciences are based on natural laws, not on opinions.”³ In fact, in many of his lectures from the early 1950s, Hubbard was quite critical of organized religion and particularly of Christianity....

  8. THREE A COLD WAR RELIGION: Scientology, Secrecy, and Security in the 1950s and 60s
    (pp. 89-117)

    The Church of Scientology was born in, flourished amidst, and gained its greatest popularity in the decades from the early 1950s to the late 1980s—in other words, a period that almost exactly coincided with the decades of the cold war. Indeed, the years from the birth of Dianetics in the late 1940s to the death of Hubbard in 1986 closely parallel the years from the dawn of the Red Scare after World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 90s. This historical overlap with the cold war is hardly accidental. In...

  9. FOUR THE “CULT OF ALL CULTS”? Scientology and the Cult Wars of the 1970s and 80s
    (pp. 118-154)

    Beginning in the 1970s and 80s, Scientology came to the center of yet another set of volatile and contested debates surrounding religion in the United States: the “cult” controversies and the anticult movements that spread rapidly throughout these decades. Particularly in the wake of violent new religious movements such as the Charles Manson Family, with its murder spree in 1969, and the Peoples Temple, with its mass suicide of over nine hundred members in 1978, a widespread anxiety about alternative religious groups began to spread throughout the American public, the media, and government agencies. These “cult” anxieties were intimately tied...

  10. FIVE “THE WAR” AND THE TRIUMPH OF SCIENTOLOGY: Becoming a Tax-Exempt Religion in the 1990s
    (pp. 155-177)

    The debate over Scientology’s status as a “cult” or a legitimate “religion” is far more than an academic exercise or fodder for sensationalistic journalism. It is also a question with extremely complicated legal, constitutional, and financial implications. On the one hand, it is a question of money—indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter, often very, very large amounts of money—that became an issue particularly during the church’s period of rapid growth during the 1970s.⁴

    But on the other hand, it is also a question with profound implications regarding the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First...

  11. SIX SECRETS, SECURITY, AND CYBERSPACE: Scientology’s New Wars of Information on the Internet
    (pp. 178-200)

    With the rise of new information technologies in the post–cold war era, Scientology’s concerns with secrecy and knowledge control have only grown more intense. Above all, with the rapid expansion of the Internet, Scientology faces a whole new series of threats to its exclusive claims to confidential knowledge such as the OT materials. Since the early 1990s, a wide array of confidential Scientology documents have been popping up all over the web, so that now anyone with even the slowest Internet service can unlock the inner secrets of OT at the click of a mouse. In turn, the church...

    (pp. 201-216)

    As I finish writing this book in 2010, Scientology’s efforts to assert its status as a “religion” have by no means ended but in many ways have grown even more intense. Not only have the American media continued to assault the church with a barrage of scathing exposés, such as CNN’s week-long series entitled “Scientology: A History of Violence,” but a number of high-profile members such as Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, and director Paul Haggis have recently exited the church, leaving behind narratives of scandal and abuse.³ Meanwhile, various foreign governments have also continued to target Scientology, such as the...

    (pp. 217-220)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 221-256)
    (pp. 257-264)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 265-268)