Today is the centenary of the birth of Ron Hubbard, the controversial figure who developed Dianetics and founded the Church of Scientology. In his day he had a huge following, and his church or cult grew at exponential rates, at least until undermined by legal and moral challenges, leading him to spend the last years of his life as a recluse. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he kept a diary through his life, but as a teenager he did write one when in the Far East, and campaigners against the cult have seized on those diaries to undermine his claims about the spiritual influence the trips had on the ideas that led to Dianetics and Scientology.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born on 13 March 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. His father was in the navy for a while, and his mother worked as a clerk for the state government, but the family moved around a lot during Ronald’s childhood. During the last years of his schooling, he lived mostly with his grandparents in Helena, Montana, apart from some time in Guam, South Pacific, where his father was stationed. He studied civil engineering at George Washington University for a couple of years but then dropped out.
During the 1930s, Hubbard developed a skill at writing in various genres for pulp fiction magazines, particularly science fiction, and is said to have associated with writers such as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His first full-length novel, Buckskin Brigades, was published in 1937, many more followed. During the late 1940s, Hubbard started publishing works about a system of mental health, called Dianetics. After his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health became a best-seller, he gave up fiction and focused on promoting Dianetics, writing more books, delivering many lectures and launching various research organisations. The Church of Scientology, founded by Hubbard in 1954, became the most popular and famous of these groups.
Hubbard’s ideas continued to be popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s, establishing many hundreds of churches, missions, and groups around the world with membership rising to six million. However, increasingly Scientology ran into all kinds of legal problems, and eventually Hubbard became a recluse living in various different locations around the world. He had married three times and had had seven children when he died of a stroke in 1986. Wikipedia has a very extensive and well-referenced biography, noting many of the contradictions between official Scientology versions of Hubbard’s life and the facts. For a Scientology view of the man see the official Ron Hubbard website, and for an alternative view see Russell Miller’s Bared-Faced Messiah (available on Chris Owen’s website) or A Piece of Blue Sky by Jon Atack (on the Operation Clambake website).
While still a teenager, Hubbard made two trips to China. Later the trips were to be mythologised as the source of some of the wisdom that went into the spiritualism in Dianetics and Scientology. But at the time, Hubbard was keeping a diary, and much is made of this by critics of Hubbard and Scientology’s stories about him. Here are three paragraphs from Wikipedia’s text summarising the two trips and the records of those trips in his diary. (The original source of the diary material is given by Atack in his book as ‘exhibits 62, 63, 65, Church of Scientology of California vs. Gerald Armstrong, Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, case no. C 420153’; and the photo of Hubbard’s diary is also taken from Atack’s book on the Operation Clambake website.)
‘Between 1927 and 1929 Hubbard traveled to Japan, China, the Philippines and Guam. Scientology texts present this period in his life as a time when he was intensely curious for answers to human suffering and explored ancient Eastern philosophies for answers, but found them lacking. He is described as traveling to China ‘at a time when few Westerners could enter’ and is said to have spent his time questioning Buddhist lamas and meeting old Chinese magicians. . . Hubbard’s unofficial biographers present a very different account of his travels in Asia. Hubbard’s diaries recorded two trips to the east coast of China. The first was made in the company of his mother while traveling from the United States to Guam in 1927. It consisted of a brief stop-over in a couple of Chinese ports before traveling on to Guam, where he stayed for six weeks before returning home. He recorded his impressions of the places he visited and disdained the poverty of the inhabitants of Japan and China, whom he described as ‘gooks’ and ‘lazy [and] ignorant’. . .
Between October and December 1928 a number of naval families, including Hubbard’s, traveled from Guam to China aboard the USS Gold Star. The ship stopped at Manila in the Philippines before traveling on to Qingdao (Tsingtao) in China. Hubbard and his parents made a side trip to Beijing before sailing on to Shanghai and Hong Kong, from where they returned to Guam. Scientology accounts present a different version of events, saying that Hubbard ‘made his way deep into Manchuria’s Western Hills and beyond - to break bread with Mongolian bandits, share campfires with Siberian shamans and befriend the last in the line of magicians from the court of Kublai Khan.’
However, Hubbard did not record these events in his diary. He remained unimpressed with China and the Chinese, writing: ‘A Chinaman can not live up to a thing, he always drags it down.’ He characterized the sights of Beijing as ‘rubberneck stations’ for tourists and described the palaces of the Forbidden City as ‘very trashy-looking’ and ‘not worth mentioning’. He was impressed by the Great Wall of China near Beijing but concluded of the Chinese: ‘They smell of all the baths they didn’t take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here.’ ’