University of North Carolina at Asheville









Dianetics, Scientology, and the American People:

America’s Attitude Towards L. Ron Hubbard’s Creation, 1950-1975







A Senior Thesis Submitted to

The Department of History

In Candidacy for the Degree of

Bachelor of Arts








Kathryn Descieux









Asheville, North Carolina

November 22, 2005




In today’s world, when the average person hears the words “Scientology” and “Dianetics,” they associate them with movie stars more than the religious practices. This very secretive and misunderstood religion has arguably been subjected to more debate and more criticism in the past half century than any other religion in America. Once a thriving success in terms of integrity and acceptance, Scientology and Dianetics ultimately succumbed to the same fate as other cults of the mid twentieth century, and dwindled to a side note in American religion. The sad tale of Scientology’s past and its fall from religious success is inextricably linked to its degenerating image in the eyes of the American public. Scientology was unsuccessful due to a strong base of opposition that highly influenced public opinion. Though Dianetics was praised at its initial release, the following decades of severe opposition by medical associations, its identification with occult practices, and government investigation, handicapped its ability to gain and keep credibility. The Church’s own inability to effectively combat criticism and promote a good image ruined its chance to become a publicly respected denomination of our time.



In order to understand the conflicts and controversies surrounding Dianetics and Scientology, it is first important to understand what Dianetics and Scientology are-- their key principles, applications, and ideologies. Dianetics is the theory of author L. Ron Hubbard, created over a period of fifteen years of personal research. Dianetics means “through thought.”[1] According to Hubbard, Dianetics has the potential to cure mankind of all psychosomatic ills, resulting in a society of highly creative, logical, driven people.[2]  The basic theory behind Dianetics is that the human mind exists in two parts, the analytical mind and the reactive mind. Not unlike Freud’s conscious and unconscious, the analytical mind is the rational part of the mind that functions as a calculating, data processing machine. It records the experiences of life with exactness, making no errors unless incorrect data is fed to it.[3] The analytical mind is what we as humans are conscious of and use in our everyday life. We use it to solve problems, learn from our mistakes, tie our shoes, and create art.

The reactive mind on the other hand, and the lynchpin to Dianetic theory, is “that portion of the mind which files and retains physical pain and painful emotion, and seeks to direct the organism solely on a totally stimulus-response basis.”[4] The reactive mind only records and analyzes life when the analytical mind is shut down. The analytical mind only shuts down due to pain in the form of physical injury or shock. These pain memories are recorded in the cellular memory by the reactive mind and produce “engrams,” which are memories the analytical mind cannot access. Engrams, according to Hubbard, are the root of all psychosomatic illnesses such as anxiety disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders.[5] An engram, if re-stimulated in the reactive memory, will cause a physical response in a patient. Since the rational analytical mind cannot explain the physical response, the result is mental disorder due to an inability to rationalize irrational behaviors. For example, little Johnny riding his bike one afternoon falls off and is knocked unconscious. In the minute he is unconscious his reactive mind records the sound of the neighbor’s dog barking, the smell of freshly mowed grass, and his mother yelling “I knew that bike would get him hurt one day.” For the rest of his life, if Johnny hears a dog bark, smells mowed grass, or sees a bike, he feels very nervous and agitated. He feels like something is going to hurt him. He might even get a headache, but he does not know why.

            Dianetics, according to Hubbard, could cure all of this. With the help of a Dianetic ‘auditor,’ Dianetic’s version of a therapist, patients are sent into a Dianetic reverie to uncover these incidents and relive them until they hold no power over the patient. This is done with the help of an E-meter, a device used by an auditor to find engrams in patients. An E-meter consists of two tin cans attached by wires to an electric box. As the patient holds the cans in his or her hands, an electric current is sent through the body and registers on the box’s dial a person’s resistance to questions.[6] When a person is rid of all of his engrams, and the dial shows no resistance, he is said to be “Clear,” the Dianetic version of Nirvana. This is a very over-simplified explanation of how Dianetics works, but with the basics in mind, we may continue.

            The leap from Dianetics, the psychological theory, to Scientology, the religious practice can be a hard one to follow. The reasons for the transition are shrouded, but in essence Hubbard discovered between 1950 and 1952 that a Clear person was no longer the highest form of being. The new goal was to rediscover the Thetan, the spiritual essence in all of us that is both timeless and all powerful.[7] The Theta, or life force, exists separately from MEST (matter, energy, space, and time) and through Scientology and Dianetic truths, humans can come to know and understand their place in the universe.[8] In understanding the eight dynamics of existence--the self, the family, groups, species, life forms, physical universe, spirits, and infinity--[9] a Scientologist can transcend physical existence and rediscover his or her infinite soul and infinite past lives. Therefore, the meaning of the word Scientology is “the study of knowledge in its fullest sense.”[10]

A member of the church of Scientology attends weekly services to learn about the interrelationship of his Theta and the universe, and during the week studies the principles of Dianetics and attends auditing sessions. Scientology liturgy comes from the thousands of written and recorded works and lectures of L. Ron Hubbard, as he is the single fount of all Scientologists’ knowledge. Hard work and dedication, however, are not enough to be a Scientologist. Unlike other religions, Scientologists must pay for their auditing as well as their study courses. As one progresses through the Church, fees, demands for proselytizing, and devoting the whole life to Scientology increase.  The goal of the Scientology individual is infinite survival, and though many of the organizations and missions of the Church of Scientology have changed over time, these principles have stayed true.


Dianetics: the Early Years

Returning to its historical record, when Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health first hit the shelves on May 9, 1950, the public rushed to pick up a copy.[11] An issue of Publisher’s Weekly in September of 1950 called clearing engrams the “number one indoor sport.”[12] Success abounded as Americans began to practice auditing each other in the comfort of their own homes. Enthusiasts like Dr. Joseph Augustus Winter gave his early approval saying that “for the first time in [his] life, [he was] satisfied that there [was] a method by which many questions, hitherto unanswerable, [could] be answered with definiteness and proved correct…insofar as the improved health of the patient is concerned.”[13] Public opinion in publications, though dubious that Dianetics might save the world, spoke with confidence that Dianetics would not just be another fad, and that it would not fade.[14] Followers reported healing each other of ailments ranging from headaches to diabetes.[15] John McMaster became the world’s first Clear,[16] and Hubbard became one of the busiest lecturers in the country, flying coast to coast to preach his theory which in his own words “is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel and the arch.”[17]

Dianetics seemed to be the answer to America’s inadequate mental health program.[18] Many patients could not afford the frequent and long sessions required by psychotherapy, but they could afford a book with a promise. Dianetics was the poor man’s psychoanalysis.[19] Even more than that, Hubbard claimed that his theory was so revered and in such high demand that leaders from Russia[20] and Cuba[21] were interested in having their government and military personnel trained and Cleared by Dianetics. 1950 was a grand year for Dianetics. With Hubbard in an almost messiah-like limelight, adherents grew in numbers. Groups formed to audit each other, and publicity abounded.

There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity, but unfortunately for Dianetics, this was definitely not the case. The early, exponential success of Dianetics was to be short-lived as disapproval from the medical, psychiatric, and religious institutions began. Early criticism was often light and contingent on the argument that there had not yet been enough research on Dianetics to prove anything conclusive about it.

Discontent manifested itself in a variety of ways. There were those who condemned the unoriginality of the idea. Hubbard was simply putting new words on old ideas and marketing them for a fee; “Clear” was equal to the psycho therapy term “clarified,”[22] “Dianetic reverie” referred to hypnosis, and the analytical and reactive mind were like the conscious and unconscious. Many others referred to how dangerous and irresponsible it was to allow persons who lacked any training or understanding of mental disorders to try to cure other emotionally disturbed people.[23]  Furthermore, book reviews in esteemed journals and medical magazines responded, calling Dianetics things like “a perversion of science…[that plays on] the gullibility of the public”[24] and harmful due to its “grandiose promises to troubled persons [through] oversimplification of human psychological problems.”[25] Dr. I. I. Rabi, a Nobel prizewinning physicist, said of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, “This book probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing.”[26] As time passed, skepticism and condemnation grew, and as it grew the public became more aware of the ‘dangers’ the medical industries were worried about. 

On September 8, 1950, the American Psychological Association became the first scientific group to take an official stand against Dianetics, and made a resolution recommending that “its members that use the techniques peculiar to Dianetics be limited to scientific investigations designed to test the validity of its claims.”[27] Similarly, at the Physicians Forum at the New York Academy of Medicine in March of 1951, Dr. Gregory Zilboorg spoke out against Dianetics calling it “unfair to human beings in promising the hope of cures by persons without scientific or medical training.”[28] Magazines giving the public health advice warned that “the chief results that [could] be expected from the method [would] be confusion of those who attempt to follow it.”[29] Whether other anti-Dianetics groups were inspired by these declarations, or if Dianetics had just been out long enough for multi-sided investigations, the anti-Dianetics sentiment spread into other sectors.

The world “cult” started to be used in reference to those who practiced Dianetics. This is interesting in that, when psychoanalysis first came out, its adherents might have been thought on the fringe, or contrary to traditional psychology, but they were not considered to be a cult. It was not just that psychoanalysis was practiced by licensed doctors, but psychoanalysis had something that Dianetics did not, and that is research, proof, case studies, and some of the best minds in psychiatry supporting it. It was a science that asked little of its patients. Dianetics on the other hand, to the people of 1950 and 1951, had very little to no scholarly backing. In fact, even in its early stages people equated it more with religion than science;[30] something that needed to be taken on faith rather than as the “science of the mind” Hubbard claimed it to be. [31] The October 1950 issue of Newsweek went so far as to call Dianetics one of the many mind-healing cults that had been stirring in the country.[32] It did not help matters when rumors surfaced of L. Ron Hubbard’s links with the Ordo Templi Orientis, a ritual magical group then headed by famous occultist Aleister Crowley.[33]  Hubbard had never joined the group but had “assisted…on several magical operations he would later claim was in fulfillment of his military intelligence function.”[34] The legitimacy of Dianetics as a true science waned quickly in the face of opposition, and yet the movement continued to flourish in membership. The demand for Dianetic therapy was still high as people flocked to Hubbard’s door for auditing.[35]

Followers initially sought out Dianetics for a variety of reasons. Some drifted into the movement, some felt a sense of having lowered efficiency or wanted meaning to life based in science. Some shared the hope that Dianetics would enhance or explain their special talents, or cure inferiority complexes.[36] Most followers probably had a hope that Dianetics would cure their ills, but certainly, not everyone expected it to. One former Scientologist said that he entered into the Church because he “was extremely curious, suggestible, and willing to undertake dubious—possibly self-destructive—schemes on a lark; [and] that [he] possessed an unwarranted sense of social obligation.”[37] Unfortunately for Hubbard, it became apparent rather early, as early as late 1951, that Dianetics was not the miracle cure many people thought it would be. Dr. Joseph Winter, who had been one of the earliest and strongest supporters of Hubbard, withdrew his support stating that “it [was] dangerous for laymen to try to audit each other…patients at Hubbard’s foundation…went insane…[T]reatment should be by experts only.”[38] Applications for auditing dropped, the grass-roots Dianetics groups began to dwindle in number, and Hubbard found himself in great financial crisis.[39] Not only this, but Hubbard was beginning to lose control over those groups who had stayed true to Dianetics. To survive, Hubbard would need centralization, communication, and orthodoxy.


The Transition to Scientology

Hubbard’s inspiration for Scientology began long before the financial crisis he experienced in 1950 and 1951. As a person who studied the human mind, Hubbard questioned what it was that was receiving engrams and giving meaning to the situations of life. He concluded that it was not just the mind or body, but the spirit which he named the Thetan, and that through Dianetics and spiritual awareness, a person could overcome all of physical reality. He needed a system that could address both issues simultaneously, and at the same time be self-funding. An official Church would provide the perfect solution. These notions had been stirring in Hubbard’s mind, but he did not release his new brainchild until 1952.

Hubbard obviously expected the Church of Scientology to pump new life into Dianetics and revamp public interest. He was right too. Applicants for membership and general interest in the church were high. By the early sixties, the Church of Scientology had installations all across the U.S.: New York, Washington, Detroit, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Honolulu, San Diego, and Los Angeles.[40] And, with Hubbard’s effective, if not alienating, system of consolidating power over all Dianetics and Scientology groups of the country, the United States’ Churches all became small departments of a larger, world-wide Scientology Bureaucracy. Hubbard had established Churches as far as Auckland, Melbourne, Wellington, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, London, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Caracas, Vancouver, Toronto, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Bulawayo.[41] Hubbard established headquarters in Phoenix in 1952, which he later had to move to Philadelphia in 1953. Headquarters then jumped to Washington, then Sussex England in 1959, and finally Clearwater, Florida in 1966, where it still exists.[42] But while Scientologists themselves, especially those who joined the movement in the early sixties or later, seemed excited about their religion, few others were.

Initially damaging to Scientology’s reputation were the skeletons that continually fell out of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s closet. For instance, in 1951 Hubbard’s wife sued him for divorce citing “bigamy, cruelty, systematic torture, and also of being a paranoid schizophrenic.”[43] Hubbard had more than once proclaimed that in past lives he had been “up on the Van Allen radiation belts, [had] dropped in on the planet Venus, and [had] visited heaven twice.”[44] It also came out that Hubbard had not actually earned the M.D. he often put after his name. In fact, his transcripts showed that he did not even graduate from college but dropped out.[45]

Furthermore, many of Hubbard’s earliest supporters of Dianetics began to back out as schismatics and denouncers of the new ‘religion’ Scientology. Dr. Joseph Winter, H. Charles Berner, and Jack Horner, long time associates of Hubbard, rebelled at the new rigidity of Church policy and Hubbard’s attempt to gain all control of the church.[46] The messiah was turning out to be a mad man, and Scientology suffered in the wake.

Many were hailing Scientology as a joke and a hoax to the public. People who had joined the Church and then dropped out brought back horror stories of requirements for exorbitant amounts of money, for disconnection from families, and commitment into asylums.[47] Article after article about Scientology from the late fifties onward told similar and equally horrific tales.

In 1951 for about $500 anyone could take a month’s course of Dianetics to get professional certification. For $350 each, a team of two co-auditors could enroll for a series of fifteen lectures and case instruction.[48] By 1968, introductory lessons cost as little as $15, but courses to carry a person through the first four stages of release cost about $1000,[49] and to complete all courses cost as much as $5000.[50] One man reportedly prepaid $1200 for a course, expecting fifty hours of processing. Instead, he was ushered back out the doors after twenty minutes thereby paying $60 per minute.[51] Fees were not set. From the evidence, the Church tended to take as much as a student was willing to give. A housewife claimed she spent $4,000 for auditing, while a Florida millionaire paid $28,000.[52] Both sued. Dianetics for children was very inexpensive at $10 for regular courses and $5.60 for a cram course in 1968.[53] Clearly, “The door to salvation [was] shut to those who [could not] afford to pay the price of processing. Nothing [was] said about the plight of the poor, the sick, the homeless, the oppressed.”[54]

Where did all of this money go? “In the four-year period from June 1955 to June 1959 the center brought in $758,982; it denied that it owed any federal taxes on this amount since it was a church.”[55] In 1969 it was estimated that the Saint Hill manor facilities in Sussex, England had taken in as much as $150,000 in fees in one week.[56] In 1966 Hubbard received $240,000 from the Scientology movement for the use of his name and ideas. He even bragged to friends of having $7,000,000 stashed in a Swiss bank account.[57] The yachts in which Hubbard cruised around the Mediterranean[58] should have spoken volumes, however Hubbard said that he did not profit from the various organizations and missions of Scientology, but as all other employees, had a fixed weekly salary. He claimed he was not wealthy.[59] Overwhelming evidence was emerging to discredit not only the principles of Scientology and Dianetic treatment, but now even the way the organization was managed.


Scientology the Cult

Scientology’s status as a cult also intensified, and the causes for such accusations were so well known that the church could do little to contradict them. A former Scientology member by the name of Alan Levy recounted his excursion into Scientology for Life magazine, calling his experience “a true-life nightmare that gnawed at my family relationships and saddled me with a burden of guilt.”[60] Levy described auditors who asked him questions like: “Now what would Scientology have to do to convince you it worked” or “are you connected with a suppressive person [a suppressive person being someone who is against Scientology or slanders the name of Scientology]?”[61] At one point Levy felt as if he’d “been asked what price [he’d] take for selling [his] soul to the devil.”[62] Levy’s account is very interesting in that he completed auditing all the way up to Clear. Levy’s story ends tragically. He had to seek professional psychiatric help to undo the damage done by his Dianetic auditing for Scientology. He also suffered many physical side effects, such as migraines, due to his processing.[63] Another man by the name of Robert Kaufman referred to a friend who said “he always had to reveal his innermost thoughts [to his auditor], no matter how risqué or self-incriminating they were.”[64] Because of this, auditors in Scientology held a lot of power over their charges, as they knew the darkest secrets of their lives. These tales are only the tip of the iceberg, however.

There were five predominant elements of the Church of Scientology that engrained its cult status. First was the use of E-meters. While Hubbard claimed the E-meter as an essential tool for locating engrams, people who had the meter used on them felt otherwise. Authors Arlene and Howard Eisenberg pointed out in their article “The Dangerous New Cult of Scientology” in 1969 that the method behind the E-Meter was “nothing more elaborate than a simple electrical circuit—a device well known since the late 19th century—that merely measures the body’s resistance to the current produced by a small battery.”[65] In other words, it was a lie detector, or as Dianetic auditors prefer, a ‘truth detector.’[66] While patients held the cans in their hands, they would be barraged with a series of questions until the needle stopped moving, indicating the erasure of the engram. Early questions were always aimed at discovering if patients were sympathetic to Dianetics, making sure they were not subversives.  For example a first round of questions during security checks might sound something like:

Are you here for a different purpose than you say? Are you guilty of anything? Do you have a secret you’re afraid I’ll find out? Have you ever practiced cannibalism? Practiced homosexuality? Have you ever had anything to do with communism? Are you hiding anything? Have you ever injured Dianetics or Scientology? Have you ever had any unkind thought about L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology? Do you know of any secret plans against Scientology? Do you plan to steal a Scientology organization? What unkind thoughts have you had while doing this check?[67]

If a patient was thought to be subversive or happened to know a subversive person, an Ethics Officer would be sent in to further question a member until they admitted who might be against Scientology.[68]

Second was the labeling of suppressive persons. Absolutely anyone who was not for Scientology was against it, and no member of Scientology was allowed to associate with a suppressive person. These people were labeled P.T.S., or potential trouble source, and if found within Scientology ranks, they were ostracized.[69] Suppressive activity could be anything from saying a bad word about Scientology, to disbelief in the Dianetic process, to mobilizing forces against Scientology. These were all misdemeanors and punishable by the Church. Punishment was contingent on the severity of the crime and the Scientologist’s rank along the Clear scale. Reprimand could include forcing members to wear dirty gray rags on their arms,[70] or publicly humiliation by making them wear signs that said “Don’t talk to me—I’m on silence restriction.”[71] In harsher cases, such as infringements incurred while on one of Hubbard’s sea-going vessels, punishment could include being dangled over the side of the boat or being locked in a dungeon.[72] One Scientologist recalled being forced to clean a roach-infested tunnel beneath the kitchen where the smell was so bad he fainted.[73] In most cases, a letter was sent out to all Scientology Churches labeling the particular member as suppressive and requiring all other Scientologists to disconnect from the person totally and “to consider him ‘fair game’ unprotected by ‘ethics’ of any kind.”[74] Disconnection meant not speaking to or acknowledging that a suppressive person existed save to hassle them over their infringement.

The third cult link concerned the concept of disconnection. When done among members within the church it was harsh, but more often members were required to disconnect from family members, friends, jobs, and even recreational activities because the people in them were considered suppressive. Scientology members were required to sign an agreement that stated: “I understand that I must cooperate fully with the Ethics Officer in advice given me to facilitate my case progress and that any failure to do so renders this contract [for auditing] null and void without rebate.”[75] There was one instance of an up and coming Broadway singer who was asked by the Church to disconnect from her agent and the two lucrative contracts she had just signed so that she could devote her life to Scientology exclusively.[76] She did it. There were enough cases of Scientologists in England and Australia who were asked to disconnect from their families that the Australian Government and British Health Minister Kenneth Robinson began formal investigations.[77]

The fourth and perhaps most telling cult-like activity was the Church’s use of tracking members, subversive or not, after they had left the church. It would seem that in tracking, the Church of Scientology had some better espionage tactics than the CIA.[78] Ted Gunderson, former head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office stated “In my opinion, the church has one of the most effective intelligence operations in the U.S., rivaling even that of the FBI’s Los Angeles Office.”[79] For instance, in 1972 an author named Paulette Cooper wrote a book called The Scandal of Scientology. She was sued by the Church of Scientology for slander. Cooper claimed that Scientologists “tapped her phone, followed her closely and obtrusively, made obscene phone calls…[and] tried to date her as a means of acquiring information.”[80] She even claimed that Scientologists posed as F.B.I agents with forged letters and documents supposedly signed by President J. Edgar Hoover to question friends and acquaintances about her.[81] When Reverend James Meisler of the Church of Scientology was interviewed in the matter he stated that, “We welcome the opportunity to bring Miss Cooper to the courts where she can be investigated fully, as we have begun one ourselves and find shocking evidence…Paulette’s been very, very naughty.”[82] The A.U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C. was said to have had his sex life investigated in hopes of intimidating him for speaking against the Church. Another woman had her neighbors informed that she had pinworms.[83]

In yet another case, a Reverend Andrew Bagley, Organization Secretary, warned an ex-member, “I’ll just start my people to work on you, and then before long you will be broke and out of a job, and broken in health. Then I can have my nasty little chuckle about you…You won’t take long to finish off…Remember: I am not a mealy-mouthed, psalm-canting preacher. I am a minister of the Church of Scientology.”[84] There was even a conspiracy organized by Hubbard in the early eighties called the operation “Snow White.” In it they spied on multiple federal offices including the Justice Department and the IRS with the intent of stealing and destroying documents about Scientology.[85] It was no wonder people found it hard to trust Scientology or Scientologists, and with accusations from defector Scientologists that Dianetic processing produced “automatons,”[86] there seemed no positive view of Scientology anymore, other than from its members.

The fifth and final element of the cult of Scientology concerned the founder, L. Ron Hubbard and his recruiting practices. Where many churches acquired members through advertisement, Hubbard actively and aggressively sought to recruit members. He did this by formulating a covert plan to target potential recruits. The three-fold plan, begun in the late fifties and carried through the sixties, consisted of: (1) I will talk to anyone (2) Illness Researchers (3) Casualty Contact.[87] ‘I will talk to anyone’ was a plan whereby the church placed ads in local papers advertising personal counseling. The premise was to coax applicants into counseling, but then pressure them to join a weekly auditing group.[88] For this reason, the Scientology counselors were told they “should not talk to the person in such a way to ease [their] problem. This may be the last problem this person has and it would be a disservice to simply solve it as easily as that.”[89] The goal of the counselors was to dramatize the problem and convince the patient that they needed more help through Dianetic therapy.

‘Illness Research’ too, required a newspaper advertisement. Calling for polio victims, the ad cited a research foundation that was investigating polio, and desired volunteers suffering from the illness to call. When the patients called the number provided, they “were immediately given about three hours of auditing.”[90] For those who did not call, but came to the office, groups would be set up to receive processing, and attendees were then offered individual auditing. The ad was so successful it was repeated, calling for arthritis and asthma sufferers.[91]

The last phase, ‘Casualty Contact’ required all members of the Church of Scientology to take “every daily paper he [could] get his hands on and [cut] from it every story whereby he might have a preclear.”[92] Then, the member was to acquire the address of said person, pose as a minister, and approach the person to offer help. If they could not arrange a personal meeting, they were to mail the person a letter offering help.[93] Done across the country, even if only a small fraction of people responded favorably, then Hubbard would have acquired new members to perform the same daily ritual, increasing the ability for widespread success.

Hubbard realized that his ads might not reach everyone, so he also employed a method whereby he set up mailing lists that targeted mystical groups, self-betterment groups, self-study groups, health groups, and those who subscribed to magazines dealing with the previous groups.[94] In this way, Hubbard was able to cover all of his potential bases for acquisition of members.

There is no doubt that Hubbard’s recruiting methods were underhanded and based on false advertising. There were likely hundreds of citizens in the fifties and sixties who were targeted by Scientology under false pretenses, a confrontation that many probably resented. Again, if one is trying to present an image of salvation and ultimate truth, the best way to do that is not through lies and deception.  L. Ron Hubbard now faced a multitude of problems, but calling Scientology and Dianetics fraudulent, medically invalid, and a cult was only the first step. Once the U.S. government, as well as other governments got involved, Scientology would have to dig deep to find any redemption.  



Government Intervention

The sixties became the turning-point decade for Scientology. The stage had been set for the public. Dianetics, for the most part, did not work. Medical associations, even after research, could find no miracle cure in Dianetic therapy. Government crackdowns were beginning, and L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology could turn to no one for help.

1963 was a monumental year for Scientology. In January, the Food and Drug Administration raided the Washington D.C. church, seizing one hundred E-meters as well as a load of literature, charging that the articles were mislabeled with therapeutic claims.[95] At the time, L. Ron Hubbard claimed that Dianetic counseling could cure almost anything. His early works stated that cancer, tuberculosis, the common cold, ulcers, arthritis, allergies, asthma, some coronary heart conditions, eye trouble, hearing trouble, and more all stemmed from an engramic source.[96] In the mid fifties the Church had added warning labels in many of their manuscripts, for example:

This material is owned…by the Hubbard Association of Scientologists, International…As such property any member of these organizations may employ it, for only then can we guarantee that its data and skills may be used to help man. In skilled hands it can bring about miracles and immortality. In unskilled and experimental hands this material, or slight variations of it, can lead to illness, insanity, or death.[97]

The Church had not rescinded the medicinal claims of Dianetics however, only added the label. The FDA had not approved any medical claims of Dianetics, and found itself justified in the raid. The Church appealed stating that the literature and the E-Meters stolen were devices associated with their religion, and the seizure impeded their first amendment rights. [98]  It should be noted that prior to such investigations, Scientology centers were called organizations and centers, and only after the seizure did they change the names to missions and churches.[99]

To add insult to injury, in 1963 the Federal Internal Revenue Service charged that the Church was not an institution of religion, but a commercial enterprise and “therefore owed back income tax on its nearly $8,000,000 of earnings over the four year period from 1956-1959.”[100] In February 1969, however, Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a federal Court ruling saying “until the Government can refute the claim that Scientology is a religion…protected by the right of freedom of worship…the Scientology practice of auditing must be assumed to be comparable to the Roman Catholic confession and Scientology literature comparable to Holy Scripture.”[101] It would be a very small win for the Scientologists.

In 1965 the Australian state of Victoria banned the practice of Scientology within its borders.[102] A government inquiry had concluded that Hubbard was a fraud and that Scientology was “evil, fantastic, and impossible, its principles perverted and ill-founded, its techniques debased and harmful.”[103] Those were very harsh words to describe a religion, and the implications of such an accusation were heard and felt worldwide. In the summer of 1968 the British Ministry of Health received so many letters of complaint from disillusioned former Scientologists and their relatives that they barred Americans from coming to Britain as students to the Saint Hill manor.[104] Eight-hundred students who had been planning to arrive in Britain for their international congress were turned away.[105] L. Ron Hubbard himself was formally banned from Britain by Home Secretary James Callaghan.[106] British Health Minister Kenneth Robinson called Scientology “Socially harmful…Its authoritarian principles and practices are a potential menace to the personality of those so deluded to become followers.”[107] In November of 1969 the British government took the final step, ruling that Scientology was not a religion.[108] With this crackdown from governments abroad, the Church of Scientology in America stood on shaky ground. Once again it was proven that public attention to Scientology often did much more harm than good.  

By 1969 it was possible that the Church of Scientology was the most investigated religious association in the world.[109] The United States had already taken steps against Scientology in 1967, stripping the Church of its tax exempt status, though the Church ignored the ruling.[110] So, in August 1968 the U.S. Court of Claims ruled that the Washington center was not a church but a profit making commercial enterprise and required that it pay taxes.[111] They would not be re-granted their tax exempt status until 1993.[112] In the United States, all it takes to be constitutionally recognized as a religious organization is claiming that you are one,[113] and because Hubbard said Scientology was a religion, the United States could never go so far as to deny Scientology’s status as a religion unless it could be proven otherwise. Religious and Civil Rights leaders would never let that happen though, as government involvement in religious and first amendment rights is generally a much debated topic in this country. The ACLU argued in Scientology’s favor saying that it was unconstitutional for the government to define religion.[114] The magazine Christianity Today in 1971 made the comment that “[o]nly in the gravest of situations, such as religiously motivated human sacrifice or torture, should the state act to prohibit or restrain the free exercise of religion.”[115] Though the publishers of the magazine made it very clear that they did not endorse the movement, they respected Scientologists’ constitutional rights and found that if the FDA, particularly, brought charges against the Church they were overstepping their jurisdiction.[116]

Basically, the U.S. government, civil, and religious groups might openly disapprove of the content and practices of Scientology, but they would not wish for anything to infringe on Scientologists’ rights as U.S. citizens. This realization was perhaps the boost Scientologists were waiting for to fight the long decades of criticism they had so far experienced. Hubbard and his followers took action against the negative attention they had garnered, filing law suits against any company, individual, or group they felt threatened their image. However, Scientologists would end up doing more harm than damage-control to their public image in fighting their critics.


Libel Action

It appeared that the Church of Scientology had had enough of the damning comments from its critics, so beginning in the late sixties, but really picking up in the seventies, the Church of Scientology began taking libel action against a variety of sources. Among the pursued were individuals, book authors, publishers, spokesmen, medical associations, and more. Cases were not limited to scope, amount, or country. The cases that the church could not win in courts, they would attempt to negotiate privately. For the church, it all boiled down to winning the right to protect themselves from public denigration at any cost. Paulette Cooper, who was one of the victims of these suits, claimed that the Church had filed one hundred suits in the United States and Britain between 1970 and 1972.[117] Among those targeted in America were Tower Publications, the American Medical Association, the National education Association, Fairchild Publications, The Washington Post, author George Malko along with Delacorte Press, publisher of Realist Paul Krassner, and author Robert Kaufman.[118] Threatened to be sued were Life magazine, Reverend Lester Kinsolving of the San Fransisco Chronical, the Los Angeles Times, and Parents Magazine,[119] and these were only a handfull.

Britain in 1971 experienced the longest libel action it had ever known when Member of Parliament Geoffrey Johnson Smith in a television interview implied that Scientology was harmful. He had then reiterated his concern to the minister of health that Scientologists “deliberately directed themselves towards the weak, the unbalanced, the immature, the rootless, and the mentally or emotionally unstable.”[120] Scientologists referred to the trial as the “freedom trial of the century,”[121] but the jury ruled that Smith’s statements were not libelous. The estimated charges against the Church of Scientology were up to $200,000.[122]

In another case, the Church of Scientology in 1974 vowed to take any Canadian library or bookstore to court if it continued to distribute libelous books such as The Mind Benders by Cyril Vosper, Scientology: the Now Religion, by George Malko, or Inside Scientology, by Robert Kaufman.[123] A similar suit in the U.S. of Dell and Belmont-Tower books had paid outside settlements amounting to $7500 and $500 respectively, with an agreement not to republish, and offering public apologies.[124] In Canada, however, an organization of authors, publishers, booksellers, and libraries united to fight against the threats of the Church.[125]

Not everyone bowed down before the pressure of the Church, but many did, for if neither suing nor bribery worked, the Church of Scientology put their skilled espionage teams to work. In April of 1972, The New York Times reported that “International Telephone and Telegraph Company officials had somehow received a copy of a manuscript…exposing their alleged cozy relations with the Justice Department.”[126] The New York Times had enough money to battle that kind of exposure, but what about individuals or small businesses? Regardless of public opinion, the Church of Scientology had a lot of money, and if “you have money and don’t like what’s being said about you, sue. Win or lose, you’ll scare off some people.”[127] But they scared off a lot of people, including their base for acquisition of members. Scientology was beginning to look like a religion that had a lot in common with the Mafia. No religion can carry that similarity and simultaneously capture the heart and devotion of the public. But the suits were proving useful, if only to keep sacred texts under the exclusive control of the Church of Scientology, and so the church pursued its course of libel and secretiveness which carries on to this day.

By the close of the seventies, the Church of Scientology found itself once again in a new, worldwide position. The Church flourished. It was financially stable, its membership numbers were still growing, it had new organizations opening up, and its community involvement was high. However the Dianetics and Scientology movements were not the sweeping success and world-wide phenomenon L. Ron Hubbard had hoped for. Scientology had not replaced Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism for religious superiority. For a man who was purported to have wanted to take over the planet, as his former associates speculated, the end was far from sight. [128]

The failure of Scientology and Dianetics to catch on as a sweeping phenomenon of twentieth century America was not due to bizarre religious claims or fundamental inaccuracies in procedure. The thousands of adherents and believers still left in the church to this day prove otherwise. Instead, Scientology was unsuccessful as a religious phenomenon due to a strong base of opposition that highly influenced public opinion, and in turn, the actions of the Church itself. Had it not been for the medical community’s frequent denunciations, governments’ interventions, and the cult reputation of the Church, Scientology might have stood a fair chance at becoming as popular as Christianity. In a world open to new ideas, especially those concerning science, the time was ripe. As it turned out, the Church of Scientology’s mismanagement of its own image and inability to effectively combat criticism led to its status as a peripheral religion in our modern world.  


[1] L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Original Thesis (Sussex: F.E. Bording Ltd., 1951), 6.

[2] L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950; Reprint, Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1992), 14-15.

[3] Hubbard, “Dianetics: The Modern Science,” 69.

[4] Hubbard, “Dianetics: The Modern Science,” 667.

[5] Hubbard, “Dianetics: The Modern Science,” 69.

[6] Robert Kaufman, Inside Scientology: How I Joined Scientology and Became Superhuman (New York: Olympia Press Ltd., 1972), 4.

[7] The Church of Scientology International, Scientology: Theology and Practice of a Contemporary

Religion (Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1998), 18.

[8] The Church of Scientology International, 18.

[9] The Church of Scientology International, 24-5.

[10] Hubbard, Dianetics: The Original Thesis, 6.

[11] Gordon Melton, Studies in Contemporary Religion: The Church of Scientology (Torino: Signature Books, 2000), 9.

[12] “Psychologists Hit Dianetics: New Title Due this Winter,” Publisher’s Weekly, 16 Sept 1950, 1124.

[13] As Quoted in F.L. Shuman, “Peace of Mind in Dianetics?” Better Homes and Gardens, Apr 1951, 11.

[14] Schuman, 211.

[15] D. Bess, “Total Freedom and Beyond,” Nation, 29 Sept 1969, 312.

[16] Bess, 312.

[17] W. Beecher and C. Willingham, “Boiled Engrams,” American Mercury, Aug 1951, 74.

[18] “Dianetics, by L. R. Hubbard Review,” Consumer Reports, Aug 1951, 380.

[19] “Poor Man’s Psychoanalysis,” Newsweek, 16 Oct 1950.

[20] Bess, 315.

[21] J. Phelan, “Have you Ever Been a Boo Hoo?” Saturday Evening Post, 21 March 1964, 84.

[22] Rollo May, “How to Back Track and Get Ahead,” New York Times, 2 July 1950: BR5.

[23] “Dianetics, by L. R. Hubbard Review,” 378.

[24] Robert Lindner, “Review of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,” The Quarterly Review of Biology 26, no. 2 (Jun 1951): 233.  

[25] May, BR5.

[26] Schuman, 11.

[27] “Psychologists Act Against Dianetics,” New York Times, 9 Sept 1950.

[28] “Dr. Zilboorg Attacks Dianetics,” New York Times, 30 March 1951.

[29] “Dianetics,” Today’s Health, Nov 1950, 6.

[30] “Departure in Dianetics,” Time, 3 Sept 1951, 51.

[31] Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science, 12.

[32] “Poor Man’s Psychoanalysis,” Newsweek, 16 Oct 1950, 16.

[33] Melton, 7.

[34] Melton, 7.

[35] Roy Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom: a Sociological Analysis of Scientology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 49.

[36] Wallis, 57-62.

[37] Kaufman, 8.

[38] “Departure in Dianetics,” 51.

[39] Wallis, 86.

[40] Phelan, 83.

[41] Phelan, 83.

[42] Wallis, 91.

[43] W. Beecher and C. Willingham, 81.

[44] R.L. Smith, “Scientology, Menace to Mental Health,” Today’s Health, Dec 1968, 35.

[45] Phelan, 82.

[46] Wallis, 148.

[47] J.M. Hopkins, “Scientology: Religion or Racket?” Christianity Today,  21 Nov 1969, 12.

[48] “Dianetics, by L.R. Hubbard Review,” 378.

[49] Smith, 36.

[50] “Meddling With Minds,” Time, 23 Aug 1968, 40.

[51] A. Eisenberg and H. Eisenberg, “Dangerous New Cult of Scientology,” Parents Magazine, June 1969, 48-49 & 79-83.

[52] Hopkins, 11.

[53] Alan Levy, “A True-Life Nightmare,” Life, 15 Nov 1968.

[54] Hopkins, 12.

[55] Smith, 37.

[56] Eisenberg, 85.

[57] Hopkins, 11.

[58] J.D. Douglass, “Masquerade Unmasked,” Christianity Today, 30 August 1968, 42.

[59] Phelan, 84.

[60] Levy, 101.

[61] Levy, 102-3.

[62] Levy, 103.

[63] Levy, 104.

[64] Robert Kaufman, Inside Scientology: How I joined Scientology and Became Superhuman (New York: Olympia Press Ltd., 1972), 4.

[65] A. Eisenberg and H. Eisenberg, 49.

[66] Levy, 102.

[67] Kaufman, 264-5.

[68] Levy,103.

[69] Smith, 38.

[70] Eisenberg, 82.

[71] B. Zablocki and T. Robbins, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 361.

[72] Wallis, 148.

[73] Zablocki and Robbins, 359.

[74] Eisenberg, 83.

[75] Eisenberg, 83.

[76] Eisenberg, 84.

[77] Hopkins, 172.

[78] Wallis, 153.

[79] As quoted in Richard Behar, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” Time, 6 May 1991, 50.

[80] Steinman, 1973.

[81] Steinman, 1973.

[82] Steinman, 660.

[83] William Zellner, Counter Cultures: A Sociological Analysis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 125.

[84] Phelan, 84.

[85] Michael Crowley, “Assessment: L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s Esteemed Founder,” [online journal], July 15, 2005

[86] Bess, 314.

[87] Wallis, 157.

[88] Wallis, 157.

[89] Wallis, 158.

[90] Wallis, 158.

[91] Wallis, 158.

[92] Wallis, 158.

[93] Wallis, 158.

[94] Wallis, 159.

[95] Hopkins, 11.

[96] Eisenberg, 84.

[97] L. Ron Hubbard, The Creation of Human Ability: A Handbook for Scientologists (Phoenix: Hubbard Assocation of Scientologists, International, 1955), 4.

[98] “Victory for the Scientologists; Court of Appeals protects E-Meters and Leaflets,” Time, 14 Feb 1969, 76.

[99] Zellner, 127.

[100] Eisenberg, 48.

[101] Hopkins, 11.

[102] J.D. Douglass, “Masquerade Unmasked,” Christianity Today, 30 Aug 1968, 42.

[103] “Meddling With Minds,” Time, 23 Aug 1968, 41.

[104] Smith, 39.

[105] “Meddling With Minds,” 41.

[106] Douglass, “Masquerade Unmasked,” 42.

[107] Smith, 39.

[108] Douglass, “Cult Wins Round One,” Christianity Today, Dec 1969, 35.

[109] Eisenberg, 87.

[110] Zellner, 127.

[111] Smith, 37.

[112] Zellner, 101.

[113] Zellner, 127.

[114] Zellner, 128.

[115] “FDA Versus Scientology,” Christianity Today, 4 June 1971, 21.

[116] “FDA Versus Scientology,” 21.

[117] C. Steinman, “Faith and Libel: Scientology Fights Back,” Nation 214 (22 May 1972): 659.

[118] Steinman, 659.

[119] Steinman, 659.

[120] Douglass “Setback for Scientology: Loss of Libel Action in Britain,” Christianity Today, 29 Jan 1971, 33.

[121] Douglass “Setback for Scientology,” 33.

[122] Douglass “Setback for Scientology,” 33.

[123] “Anti-Scientology Books Target of Lawsuits,” Library Journal,1 Nov 1974, 2791.

[124] “Anti-Scientology Books Target of Lawsuits,” 2791.

[125] “Anti-Scientology Books Target of Lawsuits,” 2791.

[126] Steinman, 660.

[127] Steinman, 660.

[128] Eisenberg, 87.