Key Porter, 1987, 390 pages, C$24.95 hc, ISBN 1-550-12027-7
First things first: I will not shy away from admitting that I loathe Scientology.
Most of this anger is a natural byproduct of my general abomination for sects. Organized -read “established”- religions at least have a veneer of respectability and relatively down-to-earth beliefs. (Despite my avowed atheism, I once got an A+ on a college-level essay that argued that the catholic church had a beneficial impact on the colonization of Canada. This has scant relation to Bare-Faced Messiah, but I can’t pass this opportunity to mention it.) Sects, on the other hand, combine financial swindling with seemingly voluntary lobotomy. How else to explain paying obscene amount of money to find the state of mind one can get from a good long walk in the woods with a pretty girl?
Scientology, however, holds a special place in my pantheon of Bad Ideas. As an early Internaut, I still seethe at their callous legal shenanigans which finally forced the shutdown of the anonymous remailer anon.penet.fi. As a Science-Fiction fan, I carry the collective burden of a genre that hosted L. Ron Hubbard before he decided that the way to make money was to organize a religion. The so-called “top-secret” documents of Scientology, recently revealed by a band of courageous ex-scientologists, read like bottom-level sci-fi garbage. Scientology has no clothes; if it appears so blindingly obvious to me and multiple other wise persons, why isn’t it obvious to everyone?
Bare-Faced Messiah is not really about Scientology. It’s a biography of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. By casting the forefather in the true light of his accomplishments, Russell Miller reveals the tissue of lies and forgery that is at the heart of Scientology.
L. Ron Hubbard didn’t compromise a life of honest work and accomplishments by starting the scam called Scientology. This biography makes it clear that Hubbard was a self-aggrandizer, a fabulist and an unbalanced boy well before he used his easy talent for fiction to write for SF magazines. Numerous incidents where Hubbard keeps promoting himself as “The Youngest Eagle Scout Ever” -when no records could prove or disprove this affirmation- is particularly instructive.
From this boy without a clear sense of himself would emerge a teen constantly inflating his modest accomplishment in tales worthy of men’s adventure magazines. Which inevitably happens, as Hubbard finds himself drawn in a profession where lies are honorable. But Hubbard is a compulsive buyer and before long, he tries to evade his debts in the military service. His war is not heroic, but his war tales are, as he manages to transform a battle with a known magnetic anomaly into a country-saving duel with a Japanese submarine.
After the war, Hubbard divides his time between magazine pieces and trying to swindle a medical pension from the Navy. He eventually writes a piece called “Dianetics”, from which he’ll establish a religion. Though this first scam ends badly -Hubbard is a compulsive spender-, it lays the foundations for Scientology.
From there, the remainder of the tale is distressingly familiar: a man with too much power, too much money and too little wisdom. As Scientology grew, Hubbard diminished. His death in 1986 puts a merciful end to a life taken over by paranoia.
I will quickly gloss over Hubbard’s bigamy, his criminal records, the ludicrous tale of his private navy and other assorted antics; they’re more valid reasons to look for Bare-Faced Messiah. This wonderfully well-researched book lays bare the moral foundations of a fascinating character. For Hubbard might be the twentieth century’s most successful con artist, his true life is even more fascinating than his imagined life.
Anxious to read the book? Worried that your local library’s copy was destroyed by your friendly neighborhood scientologist? You’re in luck: Check out the online, uncensored version of Bare-Faced Messiah at http://www.jritson.demon.co.uk/bfm/bfmconte.htm
The Internet just might get the last laugh over Scientology…