Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Separated at birth? Beery (l) and Hubbard
I never met L. Ron Hubbard, but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s visceral portrayal of Lancaster Dodd in The Master strikes me as being close to the mark. Certainly PSH was reminiscent of the LRH I saw years ago in a short introductory Scientology video, seated at his writing desk, oversized plume in hand (though “Elron” resembled the old-time movie star Wallace Beery much more than he did Hoffman).

Over the years I’ve met more than a few true believers in Hubbard’s sci-fi religion and read a lot of Hubbard's prodigious output. I admire him, frankly, as a pulp fiction writer. Scripture, however, is a different matter. It's the most difficult genre to write well; which is why I feel safe in saying that his by-line will not resonate down through the millennia with those of Moses, Kings Solomon and David, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tzu (your own favorites go here).

Unfortunately, the overwhelming impression I come away with from perusing Hubbard’s Dianetics and Scientology books and pamphlets, and from viewing his stagey videos, is of a man supremely desirous of being the Big Cheese. Additional evidence of this abounds in the recent expose by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.

Alter ego to Hubbard's Big Cheese is the Pitchman, incessantly trumpeting his own genius and the non-stop products issuing therefrom while denigrating all others. The Master movie seems to have got that about right; and by all accounts Hubbard’s organizational heir, David Miscavige, is playing it forward with Hubbard-like zeal.

There’s no shortage of Big Cheeses behind lecterns and pulpits, of course— behind all the doors, in fact, along the corridors of power. It’s not hard to be seduced into playing the Great and Powerful Oz. Isn’t Grand Illusion what the masses clamor for? Who wants to see the all-too-human bloke sweating behind the curtain as he manipulates the levers?

Are all master teachers and religious leaders, then, really poseurs to some degree? I don’t think so. I love good preaching and teaching and impassioned oratory. But those who most inspire me embody the proud humility of John the Baptist: “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” (John 1:8, KJV) They have learned to "let their egos get out of the way,” in Aldous Huxley’s phrase, in order to let the Light the better shine through.

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