The idea was “dianetics”


Battlefield Earth, Warner Bros., 2000

From New Humanist:

I once knew a man who sat next to a couple of guys in a Los Angeles diner and overheard them starting a religion. “So. We’ll need a saviour,” said one, “and a prophet.” “Well,” said the other, “I don’t know about the saviour. Muslims just have a prophet, and they seem to do fine.” And on they went, discussing strategy and PR, marketing campaigns and the necessary steps for charitable status, a hierarchy (and indeed a demos of the faithful, this being America). You’d think it would have been easier if they’d had the internet back then. But you would be wrong.

Out on the inter-web, the coffee-shop guys’ new religion would have had to compete for our attention with all that other stuff like International Talk Like A Pirate Day and NaNoWriMo and (before it started becoming unwatchable with all those damned ads).

The last really successful religion – the only successful one for 1,340 years, since Islam kicked off with the Qur’an – was started way before the online Distraction Machine. One article in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction started the whole thing going. The author was a red-headed pulp sci-fi writer with a sideline in Westerns and fantasy who to the astonishment of his colleagues churned out about a million words a year at 70 words a minute. Clearly he hadn’t just been cooling his heels for the remaining 46 weeks of the year, but thinking up something spectacular. The new religion (or at least its core idea) was no flash in the pan; its author, writes sociologist Stephen Kent, “had been discussing and developing his ideas at least as far back as the previous summer”. Assuming he could think twice as fast as he could type, that’s roughly 18 million words of thinking before he went into print. No wonder the idea caught on.

“The author” was, of course, L Ron Hubbard, the idea was called “dianetics”, the book that followed in 1950 was called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the religion, Scientology, and the whole story was both remarkable and utterly improbable.

“Inside the mind of Scientology’s Messiah”, Michael Bywater, New Humanist