Thinking with Thetans


From London Review of Books:

Empirical study led L. Ron Hubbard to the principles on which Scientology is based. He never claimed to have had a revelation. He spelled the principles out in 1950 in Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the bestselling self-help treatise in which he presents rationality as our birthright. The human mind, he wrote, is a perfect computer corrupted by ‘incorrect data’. He urged readers to reflect on their lives and ask themselves: ‘Where is the error?’ With the help of a lay therapist, called an ‘auditor’, they could uncover early traumas – mothers who wanted to abort them, or slept with too many men – and become less irrational: ‘Many of the things which Freud thought might exist,’ he wrote, ‘such as “life in the womb”, “birth trauma”, we in Dianetics have … confirmed.’

Hubbard insisted that the principles of Dianetics had nothing to do with ‘any mumbo-jumbo of mysticism or spiritualism or religion’. He assured readers that ‘Dianetics is a science; as such, it has no opinion about religion, for sciences are based on natural laws.’ Throughout the United States, people formed Dianetics clubs and helped each other to become ‘clear’: in this state, they would be free of all compulsions, neuroses and delusions, see colours vividly for the first time, appreciate melody, perform complex mathematical calculations and recall every moment of their lives. Hubbard was so confident of the merits of his electro-psychometer, a device used to detect hidden trauma by measuring galvanic skin response, that he asked the American Medical Association to investigate his new tool. The medical establishment showed no interest. In a review in the Nation, the kindest thing the psychiatrist Milton Sapirstein could say about Dianetics was that ‘the author seems honestly to believe what he has written.’

Hubbard took the rejection badly. When his followers were arrested for practising medicine without a licence, he complained that the United States made it ‘illegal to heal or cure anything’. He began to reconsider the distinction he’d made between psychology and spiritual practice. In a 1953 newsletter he wrote that the process of uncovering repressed memories through auditing is ‘perhaps allied with religion, perhaps a mystic practice and possibly just another form of Christian Science or plain Hubbardian nonsense’. The following year, embracing what he called the ‘religious angle’, he opened the first church of Scientology in Los Angeles. The electro-psychometer was no longer used as a diagnostic tool but became instead a ‘valid religious instrument, used in Confessionals’.

Scientology claims to fulfil modern psychology’s fantasy of direct access to the contents of the mind. Some pervasive deception just beneath the surface – what is commonly thought of as normal life – must constantly be confronted and dispelled. Members prove their devotion by submitting to ‘security checks’ while holding an electro-psychometer:

Have you ever had thoughts you were embarrassed about?
Are you guilty of anything?
Do you collect sexual objects?
Have you ever had any unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology?
Do you think there is anything wrong with having your own privacy invaded?
Do you deserve to be free?

Individual expression was streamlined as members adopted a generically scientific lingo. Verbs were ‘pressured into service as nouns’, as Hubbard put it, and new terms brought into being: love was renamed ‘affinity’, an irrational person an ‘aberree’, an evil one an ‘SP’ (for Suppressive Person) and bad PR was now ‘Entheta’. The new language didn’t leave room for ambiguity, so there was little need for adjectives or adverbs.

“Religion, grrrr”, Rachel Aviv, London Review of Books