In a previous post, I noted that religions of recent vintage provide scholars with unique research opportunities. If this is true of Mormonism (established in 1830), it is doubly true of Scientology (established in 1950).
Today the New York Times published an extended story on Scientology, which includes a video, slideshow, and timeline. For this not familiar with Scientology and its short history, this is a nice introduction. Incredibly fascinating stuff.
Scientology is the brainchild of the prolific and eccentric science fiction writer L. (Lafayette) Ron Hubbard. Hubbard introduced sci-fi aficionados to his thinking in a 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, a pulp magazine which also ran stories (in the same issue) by Poul Anderson (“The Helping Hand”), A.E. van Vogt (“The Wizard of Linn”), and Jack Vance (“The Potters of Firsk”). This is the cover page, which I would consider priceless were it not for the fact you can purchase this collectors’ item here for $118.75:
Hubbard’s short entry appears on page 43 and is titled: “Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science.” An eye-catching title for anyone interested in evolutionary science. Except, of course, Dianetics has nothing to do with either science or evolution. This is the beginning of a new religion, which truly is unique because it does not build upon any previous religions or spiritual traditions. It is cut whole-cloth from Hubbard’s fertile imagination.
One of the more interesting overviews and assessments of Scientology was done by David Touretzky, who is with Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department & Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. You can find his poster presentation — “Neuroscience Concepts in a New-Age Religion: Scientology’s Model of the Mind” — here.
Touretzky’s summary helpfully includes the first page of a foundational document for Scientology — the infamous Xenu story, in Hubbards’ handwriting:
For many, any scripture that began by discussing “The Head of the Galactic Confederation” would appear to be pure science-fiction. Astonishingly, considerable numbers of well-educated, apparently rational, and highly successful people accept Hubbards’ fiction as fact. An entire religion has been built around his Thetan stories. Many people devote their entire lives — and much money — to Scientology.
In the end, Scientology demonstrates a few things about religion in general. First, there undoubtedly is something about the human mind which biases it toward supernatural beliefs, regardless of form and no matter how absurd. Second, there is something about life in modern society that generates a need for such beliefs in many people. I will continue exploring these “somethings” during the life of this blog.