This video continues my critical analysis of the book Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis with chapters contributed by various religious scholars, psychologists, sociologists and the like. If you haven’t yet watched my first video in this series, I recommend you do, so you get the context of what this is all about. There is a link in the notes section below to that first part. I am not making any claims in this video to be unbiased or objective in my views on Scientology.
Here we will be taking up Chapter One of this book, written by J. Gordon Melton, currently a researcher with the Department of Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He’s also an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and the Church of Scientology has recommended him as an excellent source for information on religions and cults through their Cult Awareness Network website.
He founded and is chairman of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and is the chairman of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) which is an organization famous as the world’s foremost cult apologist organization. Melton has been doing cult apologetic work since the 1970s for many other groups besides Scientology.
For example, you may recall a Japanese religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo, who in 1995 carried out a sarin gas attack in a Japanese subway which killed 12 people, severely injured 50 more and caused temporary vision problems with upwards of 5,000 people. Shortly after the attack, Melton and James Lewis actually reached out to Aum Shinrikyo and offered their assistance. With their hotel, airfare and “basic expenses” paid by the cult, they went to Japan and defended Aum Shinrikyo’s religious freedom, stating in a press conference that the group could not possibly have produced the sarin gas and was simply a victim of excessive police pressure. Two months prior, the police had already discovered the chemical weapons laboratory at Aum’s compound and were quite certain that they had carried out the attack, so all Melton and Lewis accomplished in their apologetic defense was to discredit their own profession and make themselves look like morons or worse. I could not find anything from Melton where he later apologized for or took back his defense of Aum Shinrikyo.
Melton also takes a dim view on apostates or former religious group members, who he claims always and invariably distort the truth in their quest to take down their former groups. He stated on record that when he is investigating cults, “you never rely upon the unverified testimony of ex-members. To put it bluntly, hostile ex-members invariably shade the truth. They invariably blow out of proportion minor incidents and turn them into major incidents…”
He further stated “The major source of primary data to appear in anti-cult books comes from the reports of ex-members who have broken with the group because of an intense internal dispute or deprogramming. Unfortunately, their testimonies are usually highly distorted by their hostility and desire to hurt the group at all costs.”
I certainly agree that one should verify information given by any source, but Melton makes it clear that he has an anti-apostate bias and his work is clearly flawed by this, as we’ll go over. In fact, he actually seems to have a vested interest as an academic in helping destructive cults put on a good public appearance, even when they have committed mass murder.
So what does he have to say in Chapter 1 of Scientology?
He begins by stating that Scientology has been controversial, its religious status questioned and it has been the subject of multiple court cases – all true. He says that his chapter will be an attempt to “(1) provide an overview of the life of L. Ron Hubbard anchored by the generally accepted facts; (2) an introduction to the church’s beliefs, practices, and organization; and (3) a summary of the major points of the controversy.”
In the first paragraph on L. Ron Hubbard’s life, Melton begins to forward the Church’s narrative rather than anything factual. And there is an interesting note as to why.
L. Ron Hubbard was a pathological liar and spun many varied stories about himself, his education, war record and how he came up with Dianetics and Scientology in the first place. These lies have been extensively documented and debunked over and over again, but the seminal work done on Hubbard’s actual life was done by British journalist Russell Miller in 1987.
His research notes and interviews with Hubbard’s family, contemporaries, former Scientology workers and friends are extensive but of course the Church of Scientology would not assist him because he did not work for them and would not parrot Hubbard’s lies about his own life. Regardless, Miller traveled around the US to the places Hubbard grew up and lived and in reading his book, you have no question that it is an attempt at a truly objective recording of what L. Ron Hubbard’s life actually consisted of. This is why Scientology hired private investigators to try to smear and harass Miller, sued Miller’s publishing house and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to block its publication. They failed to stop it in the UK and Canada and the book has since been positively reviewed and is widely regarded as the best and most comprehensive biography of L. Ron Hubbard ever.
On their end, the Church of Scientology hired writer and high-level Scientologist Dan Sherman as L. Ron Hubbard’s biographer in the early 1990s. Sherman apparently did complete a biography and still works for Scientology as a speech writer. The only person I know who has read the manuscript of Sherman’s biography is former Scientologist Steve Hall. In July 2015, journalist Tony Ortega quoted Steve on his blog, the Underground Bunker:
“‘It will never come out, I’ll tell you that,’ Steve says. ‘I’ve read it. It was a manuscript in a three-ring binder.’
“Steve says he was supposed to be working on a script for a biographical film about Hubbard, so another executive allowed him to read the manuscript.
“‘Hubbard’s too corrupt. They can’t ever let that get published. Sherman covers Hubbard’s bigamy, for example,’ Hall says, referring to Hubbard’s 1946 marriage to Sara Northrup when he was still married to his first wife, Margaret ‘Polly’ Grubb, who he divorced in 1947.
“‘The manuscript covers it, but Sherman spins it, saying that Hubbard did it to save Sara,’ he says. But for Steve, it was something of a revelation. As a Sea Org member, he had no idea about that part of Hubbard’s life. ‘I was shocked when I read it.'”
So here you have two biographies of L. Ron Hubbard which the Church works to keep under wraps, even the one they commissioned one of their own members to write. This leaves the Church with a major problem of having to re-iterate Hubbard’s own lies about himself and double down on those lies whenever they are challenged.
And so we come back to J. Gordon Melton. What is he using as his source references for Hubbard’s life? Here’s what he says in one of the footnotes in this chapter:
“The Church of Scientology has yet to produce a biography of Hubbard, though it has put out a series of biographical booklets that highlight important areas of his life through his own writings and added commentary and a photographic biography: L. Ron Hubbard, Images of a Lifetime: A Photographic Biography (Los Angeles, Bridge Publications, 1996). A comprehensive biography is due out soon. The best of the several biographies attempted by critics, The Bare-Faced Messiah, by Russell Miller (New York: Henry Holt, 1988), is seriously lacking as Miller did not have access to many of the documents relating to the rise and progress of the church.”
And there we are: the only source of information Melton is willing to consider are those produced by the Church of Scientology. He labels Miller a critic (which he is not and has never claimed to be) and can’t even get the name of Miller’s book right. He writes off the entire work because he claims that Miller did not have access to what? The Church’s documents about its own expansion?
This example all on its own tells you exactly what Melton’s problems are as a researcher and academic. He is only willing to consider one source of information and a highly biased source at that.
So how does this affect his work? Well, let’s look at one of the next sentences in his essay about Hubbard’s early life.
“Befriended by the local Blackfoot Indians, he was made a blood brother at the age of six.”
This claim was debunked in June 1990 by LA Times reporters Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos. Here is how it was reported:
“As L. Ron Hubbard told it, he was 4 years old when a medicine man named ‘Old Tom’ made him a ‘blood brother’ of the Blackfeet Indians of Montana, providing the inspiration for the Scientology founder’s first novel, ‘Buckskin Brigades.’
“But one expert on the tribe doesn’t buy Hubbard’s account.
“Historian Hugh Dempsey is associate director of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada. He has extensively researched the tribe, of which his wife is a member.
“He said that blood brothers are ‘an old Hollywood idea’ and that the act was ‘never done among the Blackfeet.’
“As for ‘Old Tom,’ Dempsey has informed doubts. For one thing, he said, the name does not appear in a 1907 Blackfeet enrollment register containing the names of hundreds of tribal members.
“For another, ‘It’s the kind of name, for that period (1915), that would practically not exist among the Blackfeet,’ he said. ‘At that time, Blackfeet did not have Christian names.’
“In 1985, church leaders produced a document that they say proves Hubbard was not lying.
“Typed on Blackfeet Nation stationery, it states: ‘To commemorate the seventieth anniversary of L. Ron Hubbard becoming a blood brother of the Blackfeet Nation. Tree Manyfeathers in a ceremony re-established L. Ron Hubbard as a blood brother to the Blackfeet Tribe.’
“The document actually is meaningless because none of the three men who signed it were authorized to take any action on the tribe’s behalf, according to Blackfeet Nation officials.
“The document was created by Richard Mataisz, a Scientologist of fractional Indian descent. Mataisz said in an interview he tried to prove that Hubbard was a Blackfeet blood brother but came up empty-handed.
“‘It’s not,’ he said, ‘something you go down to the courthouse and look up.’
“So Mataisz, using the name Tree Manyfeathers, said he held a private ceremony, made Hubbard his own blood brother and, along with two other men, signed the commemorative document.
“‘You should not give it (the document) very much credibility,’ said John Yellow Kidney, former vice president of the tribe’s executive committee. ‘I don’t.'”
So guess what document Melton has used as the source reference for his claim that Hubbard was made a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians? Yep – the very same document created by Scientologist Richard Mataisz!
This is the quality of Melton’s academic research into Hubbard’s life.
Melton’s description of Hubbard’s life continues in this non-factual vein, bypassing reality and simply forwarding what the Church of Scientology told him. There are certain passages that actually reek of propaganda, such as “[Hubbard] would find his greatest fame in science fiction and would become one of the noteworthy voices in that primal generation that created the field as it is known today” or “though writing consumed his time, Hubbard never lost his adventurous spirit”. It honestly reads as though Melton just copied the text he was given by the Church word for word.
In fact, here’s a quote from a 2005 publication from the Church:
“Even in his early youth he exemplified a rare sense of purpose and dedication which, combined with his adventurous spirit, made him a living legend.” (L. Ron Hubbard – Shaping the 21st century with solutions for a better world – Introduction, Church of Scientology International, 2005)
Melton goes on to forward the Church’s lies about Hubbard being in naval intelligence during World War II and how Hubbard was also responsible for sinking a Japanese submarine off the coast of Oregon, ignoring the extensive Naval investigation of that incident which resulted in Hubbard being transferred to another ship where he subsequently lost his command forever after illegally conducting bombing runs on an island off the coast of Mexico.
Melton glosses over Hubbard’s involvement with Jack Parsons and the Ordo Templi Orientis or OTO, again saying that he was only involved in ritual sex magick with Jack Parsons at his Pasadena, California mansion because Hubbard was part of a military intelligence operation. Melton is also completely dismissive of any relationship between Aleister Crowley’s OTO teachings and those of Scientology.
“It should be noted that whatever happened during Hubbard’s association with Parsons, the teachings of the Church of Scientology are at wide variance with those of Crowley and that the practices of the church show no direct OTO influence.” (p. 21)
Oh yeah? Now this statement is just a bald-faced lie and as a religious scholar, Melton should know better. But his apologetics show their face in all their vivid glory with this footnote about Hubbard’s plagiarism:
“Critics of the church have gone into great detail to point out possible sources for the various aspects of the teachings of Dianetics and Scientology, and there are certainly numerous points of convergence between Hubbard’s teachings and individual ideas and practices available elsewhere. At present, it is not known which aspects of Dianetics Hubbard actually encountered in previously existing sources and subsequently incorporated them into his system and which parts occurred to him independently. The essence of Hubbard’s originality, however, lies not so much in the sources of the individual elements as in the synthesizing of them into a finished system.”
This is an academic stating on record that L. Ron Hubbard’s originality is that he copied things from other people and mixed them up into his own system. I have no words for the depths of dis-ingenuousness that this shows on Melton’s part, except to note that this is the exact logic L. Ron Hubbard himself used when he explained to his followers how it was that they were finding elements of his work in earlier writings from people like Krishnamurti, Sigmund Freud, Madame Blavatsky, etc. Hubbard simply wrote it off by saying that sure, they may have said the same thing he was saying, but he was the one who found the important parts in their work and he simply discarded the parts they got wrong when he formulated Scientology.
The point of this video series is not to just do a bunch of fact checking of the work of these scholars. There are so many things Melton gets wrong that I simply can’t debunk the rest of Melton’s research errors point-by-point. The pure nonsense he writes as fact about Hubbard and Scientology’s evolution through the 1950s is plain Scientology propaganda and I think if I just label it as such, that will pretty much do the trick.
In walking through Dianetics and Scientology’s history, there is a section called “Encountering the Powers that Be” where Melton goes in to Scientology’s history with the American Medical Association, the Food & Drug Administration and the IRS and then follows this up with a history of the Sea Organization, Scientology’s elite inner corps of the most trusted and powerful Scientologists who oversee its management and deliver its high-level confidential courses and counselling.
Much of what Melton covers in these sections is actually true enough in that few of the statements he makes are outright lies. He even manages to get it right in how the Church created their own problems when they secretly established themselves in Clearwater, Florida in 1975 and engaged in their usual brand of dirty tricks against their critics. Yet this gets only a passing mention, when the fact is that “dirty tricks” and illegal activities are at the heart and soul of what makes Scientology a destructive cult in the first place. Melton refuses to acknowledge this because he has a vested interest in making Scientology look and sound like a legitimate and law-abiding religious group, so he has to gloss over these pesky details.
In fact, it’s what he doesn’t say, the vital and important facts that are left out, which makes this history nothing more than a whitewash in the same way that I learned in school that Christopher Columbus brought civilization and joy to the Americas because he was proving that the world wasn’t flat.
For example, Melton fails to mention when discussing the IRS’s withdrawl of Scientology’s tax exemption in 1967 that this was done after an extensive investigation revealed that Hubbard was personally profiting to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and that Scientology’s bank accounts were being used as nothing more than slush funds by Hubbard to support his excesses. And remember, that was hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1950s and 60s, which equates to millions of dollars now.
He also fails to mention that the entire operation of the Guardian’s Office through the 1960s and 70s – all its illegal activities such as breaking and entering, stalking, harassment, kidnapping, false imprisonment, intimidation and its infiltration of US government offices – all were done under the direct orders of Mary Sue Hubbard, L. Ron Hubbard’s wife. Nor does he mention that she briefed Hubbard every single day on the the GO’s activities. To think for a second that Hubbard was not fully informed of everything that was going on, condoned it and even ordered most of it himself is simply ludicrous.
To his credit, Melton lays out much of what the GO did in Operation Snow White and the subsequent 1977 FBI raid that resulted in so much bad publicity for Scientology. Except instead of following up with any real objective analysis of what this was all about, he instead wraps up the section with this:
“It must be said in the church’s defense, however, that following the convictions, the church stripped the eleven of all offices in the church, and those later found to have had some role in aiding or covering their actions were either dismissed from their position and/or expelled from the church. The incident become a moment of great soul searching for the remaining Scientology leadership and resulted in a major international reorganization. Among the first acts, the leadership of the Sea Org disbanded the Guardian’s Office.” (p. 28)
On the surface, this is true, but for an academic who is supposed to have done an in-depth and objective study of Scientology, this simply glosses over what actually went down. The truth is that once Hubbard was almost indicted for federal crimes in the US, he went into hiding so deeply that only three Sea Org members knew his actual location until he died in 1986. He’d already been on the run after his innurement debacle with the IRS in 1967 and then being convicted in absentia in France in 1974 for fraud.
After the bust, Church management was under express orders from Hubbard to do everything possible to not ever get caught again and to root out anyone who was even suspected of being the slightest bit disloyal to Hubbard or church leadership. Melton says the Church leadership did a lot of soul searching, yet none of Hubbard’s policies about how to deal with Church critics or former members was changed, Operation Snow White continued to be run and the only reason for the church’s reorganization is so that money flowing to Hubbard could be made legitimate so as to regain tax exempt status in the US. None of this is a secret. Former members who were actively involved in every part of what I just described have written books, given interviews and talked extensively about their involvement in all of this.
Melton doesn’t mention any of that because he’s too busy picking up with the Church’s propaganda about how after that dark period in the 1970s, Scientology has been experiencing unprecendented growth and expansion across the world.
So we reach the end of this chapter and what can I say?
To be blunt, as a former Scientologist and educated critic, it’s pretty sickening to read Melton writing about Scientology simply because his work literally does read like a Church propaganda piece. I don’t have any proof that Melton was paid money by Scientology for his apologist writings, but after reading this chapter it’s not difficult to see why people would think he was. Intellectual dishonesty of this magnitude is hard for me to understand.
Maybe J. Gordon Melton really does believe that Scientology didn’t get a fair shake and that it’s a legitimate religous movement. Maybe he thinks that despite all his flaws and the abundant evidence to the contrary, that L. Ron Hubbard really did mean well and had profound insights into the human spirit. If so, he certainly wasn’t convinced enough to become a Scientologist himself, so I don’t really think that Melton is so convinced.
I can’t really make heads or tails of what Melton’s motivations are, nor is it really my place to judge the man personally about this. What I can say though is that this chapter on Scientology is nothing short of intellectual fraud and a puff piece about Scientology which glosses over reality so as to paint Scientology in a favorable light it doesn’t deserve and give it respect it never earned. Given that editor James R. Lewis chose to make this the first chapter in his book on Scientology, it also speaks volumes about Lewis’ intellectual integrity and academic standards.
That concludes our look at Chapter 1. I hope you found this interesting and of some use. I’d love to hear your feedback and comments, good or bad, and whether you think I missed on anything here. I am not pretending to be objective in my analysis of this book, but I do want to be fair.
In our next part, we’ll look at Chapter 2 by William Sims Bainbridge, entitled “The Cultural Context of Scientology”. Now that should be some interesting stuff and hopefully will be a more factual analysis than Melton’s nonsense.
Thank you for watching.