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Episode
170

A Brief History of Scientology

Jun 25, 2021
Weird World
-
28
minutes
Religion
Eccentric people
Science Fiction
USA
Weird history
Tax

It is, by some standards, the most successful modern religion.

Discover how Scientology went from the pseudo-medical ideas of an out-of-luck science fiction writer to a religion that counts some of the world's most famous film stars among its believers.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Scientology, the controversial belief system founded by a science fiction writer that, to its followers, is a compelling way of understanding the world and connecting with your inner self, and to its critics is a dangerous cult.

[00:00:42] This is part two of a mini-series. Part one was on Mormonism, another religion that has been labelled a dangerous cult, and in part three we are going to come back and look at Scientology and Mormonism together, and discuss what questions they raise about religion, and what makes us believe anything. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 170 different episodes now, including part one and part three of this mini-series, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:44] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:55] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:05] OK then, Scientology.

[00:02:09] The story of scientology is inseparable from the story of its iconic but controversial founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, otherwise known as L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:02:21] Now, I should start by saying that there isn’t universal agreement about the life of L.Ron Hubbard, and one of the criticisms of Scientology is that his achievements have been exaggerated by the church to make him seem far more impressive than he actually was.

[00:02:41] Naturally, where there are disagreements I’ll point these out, but it is hard to deny that the life of L.Ron Hubbard was varied and full of excitements of different kinds.

[00:02:54] He was born in 1911 in Nebraska, in the US midwest.

[00:03:01] As a young boy he didn’t seem to excel at anything in particular, he wasn't good at anything in particular, and he failed at his first attempt to get a place in the US Navy.

[00:03:14] He won a place to study civil engineering at George Washington University, and would later claim that he was on track to become a nuclear physicist. 

[00:03:26] But his university records suggest otherwise; he received poor grades, and wasn’t considered to be a talented student by any means.

[00:03:37] But he had discovered another talent completely unrelated to engineering.

[00:03:43] Writing fiction.

[00:03:45] In the 1930s he would become a prolific writer, and although his favoured genre was science fiction, he would write almost anything: adventure fiction, romance novels, travel stories, anything that his editors requested.

[00:04:03] He got married in 1933, and had a daughter a year later.

[00:04:08] When World War II broke out, he joined the US navy, and was given the rank of a junior officer.

[00:04:16] Although the official Scientology story of L. Ron’s time in the navy is one of a glorious, brave navy officer, there are several other accounts that described an overly confident officer who wasn’t suited for military duty.

[00:04:34] This all culminated when the ship that L.Ron was commanding bombed an island that was actually part of Mexico, an ally of the US, and the young L.Ron was dismissed from active military duty, he was in effect sacked as a commanding officer.

[00:04:54] After this he complained of a great number of illnesses - stomach pain, headaches, shoulder pain - and he was sent to hospital. 

[00:05:04] He was kept there for three months, and this will later prove to be an important part of the L.Ron Hubbard mythology, and the story of Scientology.

[00:05:16] After the war was over, and L.Ron Hubbard returned to civilian life, he was at a point of loss. 

[00:05:23] He was reportedly abandoned by his family and friends, his marriage had collapsed, and he was suffering greatly from a health point of view.

[00:05:34] He moved to Los Angeles, continued his science fiction writing, but started to develop a system of self-help, which he would test on anyone who would be amenable to it.

[00:05:48] His first, and most famous patient was himself.

[00:05:51] He would later claim that this self-help system cured him of all of his illnesses, both physical and mental.

[00:06:01] By this time L.Ron had become particularly interested in psychiatry, but was a sceptic of traditional psychiatric treatments.

[00:06:11] Instead, he sought to create his own system, a new kind of psychotherapy that claimed to cure people of all sorts of illnesses.

[00:06:23] This system, which was called Dianetics and I’ll explain properly in a minute, is at the heart of Scientology.

[00:06:32] The system was codified, it was set out, in a book called “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”. 

[00:06:41] The book was an almost instant commercial success, selling 4,000 copies in a week in its first few months on sale, and has grown to become the canonical text, the most important text, in the religion that was to follow.

[00:06:58] Although it had an authoritative and seemingly medical title [it was “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”], it was poorly received by medical health professionals because, well, it wasn’t based on real science at all. 

[00:07:15] It was based on L.Ron Hubbard’s personal experience, not based on scientific fact or study.

[00:07:23] Indeed, to quote some reviews of it, The American Psychological Association said that Hubbard's claims were "not supported by empirical evidence", Scientific American said that Hubbard's book contained "more promises and less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing", and The New Republic called it a "bold and immodest mixture of complete nonsense and perfectly reasonable common sense, taken from long acknowledged findings and disguised and distorted by a crazy, newly invented terminology".

[00:08:01] So, one could summarise these reviews as “the book was a load of made up rubbish”.

[00:08:07] But the people who were first attracted to the idea of Dianetics, and to L.Ron Hubbard as an individual were not the sort of people who were to be deterred by these kinds of negative comments. 

[00:08:20] The kind of people who were attracted to Dianetics were the kind of people who had had negative, or less than 100% positive, experiences with traditional psychotherapy, and were looking for a new perspective. 

[00:08:37] They were unlikely to care if experts from a field they didn’t trust said something negative about a theory that they wanted to believe was true.

[00:08:48] Dianetics is a lengthy book with many new and controversial ideas that are considered to be complete rubbish by most mental health professionals, but it is at the heart of Scientology so I will try to explain some of them briefly. 

[00:09:05] The main idea is about the formation of the human brain.

[00:09:10] L.Ron Hubbard proposed that your mind is divided into two main sections: an analytical mind and a reactive mind. 

[00:09:21] The analytical part works perfectly, Hubbard proposed, but the reactive mind can’t think or make decisions.

[00:09:30] The reactive mind is filled with all sorts of memories that send incorrect data back to the analytical mind, and this is part of what causes people to make bad life decisions and suffer from mental illness.

[00:09:46] Through a process that L.Ron Hubbard designed called auditing, it is possible to control this reactive mind, and reach a state called “Clear”.

[00:09:57] Now, although there is no evidence for this being valid science at all, and it's completely contrary to how we believe the human brain works, it was very attractive to its small group of devoted fans, or believers.

[00:10:14] At this time though, Scientology as a religion, or as a belief system, didn’t exist. 

[00:10:21] Dianetics was a psychiatric treatment, albeit a completely unproven one, and one that was considered to be a complete sham by medical professionals, it was considered to be something that didn't work at all.

[00:10:36] L.Ron Hubbard’s primary income was still coming from science fiction writing, although he was struggling to make ends meet, he was not paid very much for his work. 

[00:10:47] Frankly, he was more about quantity than quality, and even though he was publishing huge volumes, huge amounts of science fiction, he was still not earning very much money.

[00:11:01] There’s an account, which is fiercely denied by Scientologists, of L.Ron Hubbard complaining about not being able to make enough money, and a fellow science fiction writer telling him that the way to get rich was by starting a religion.

[00:11:19] Whether that’s true or not we will never know, but what is undeniable is that within a few years L.Ron Hubbard had started the process of turning Dianetics from a pseudo-medical procedure to something that was at the heart of this new religion, Scientology.

[00:11:40] As a medical procedure, Dianetics would be treated like any other medical procedure, and would have to display evidence that it was doing good, that it was helping people.

[00:11:51] As already mentioned, there was very little evidence that it actually worked, other than L.Ron Hubbard’s stories about it working on himself, and various other stories of people who claimed that they had been cured by it.

[00:12:06] And as you will know there are plenty of government guidelines and laws that restrict medicine to trained professionals, for very good obvious reasons.

[00:12:18] But L.Ron Hubbard realised that there was another category that didn’t need to provide evidence.

[00:12:25] Religion.

[00:12:27] If L.Ron could turn Dianetics from a medical procedure into a religious organisation, it wouldn’t be required to demonstrate its efficacy, it wouldn't be required to show that it worked, and it wouldn’t be bound by such strict guidelines

[00:12:46] This was either a moment of religious inspiration or of cynical opportunism, depending on how supportive you are of Scientology. 

[00:12:56] So, in December of 1953, three and a half years after Dianetics was first published, L.Ron Hubbard incorporated three new churches: The Church of Scientology, The Church of American Science and The Church of Spiritual Engineering.

[00:13:14] This was to be the start of his new religion, The Church of Scientology.

[00:13:20] And as part of this new religion, L.Ron Hubbard was able to charge a lot of money for it.

[00:13:27] 24 hours worth of auditing, of this Dianetics programme, would cost $500, around $5,000 in today’s money.

[00:13:38] The cash soon started to flood in, and L.Ron Hubbard went from struggling science fiction writer to the head of a new organisation that was generating large amounts of cash.

[00:13:53] He implemented a system whereby he would receive a percentage of all income from these auditing sessions, and by 1957 he was reportedly earning around $250,000 a year, which is over $2 million in today’s money.

[00:14:13] There was a very thin line between the funds of the Church of Scientology, as it was called, and L.Ron Hubbard’s personal funds. 

[00:14:23] He bought extravagant houses which became Scientology centres. 

[00:14:27] He bought boats, plots of land, and real estate all over the world. 

[00:14:33] And there were reports of him just withdrawing from the church’s bank account and transferring to his own account, without any particular reason.

[00:14:44] Different branches of the Church of Scientology sprung up all over the world, and its members grew.

[00:14:52] This brought it further into the public eye, and under closer examination.

[00:14:58] It might have started as a harmless self-help system, but it started to be considered by many governments to be a dangerous cult, and was accused of indoctrinating its followers.

[00:15:12] L.Ron Hubbard himself was accused of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, being of doubtful sanity, and of having delusions of grandeur.

[00:15:24] If you’ve listened to the last episode on Mormonism, these accusations might remind you of someone we learned about in that one.

[00:15:32] The result of this was that The Church of Scientology started to get in trouble in almost every country it was active in.

[00:15:42] It was banned in parts of Australia, the UK banned Scientologists from entering the country, and L.Ron was considered to be, and I'm quoting here, a “mental case” by the FBI, a “mental case” is a slang term for a crazy person.

[00:16:00] But, as often tends to be the case, the more a belief system is persecuted and cast out from mainstream society, the more its followers are drawn to it. 

[00:16:12] Scientology continued to grow, with members joining from all over the world.

[00:16:18] But life wasn’t any easier, and it continued to run into problems with a wide range of governments, so in 1967 L.Ron Hubbard decided to move the base of Scientology offshore, and launched something called the Sea Org, the organisation of the sea.

[00:16:39] This was a fleet of ships, initially three large boats, that travelled around the Mediterranean and Northern Atlantic, staying for short periods of time at each port.

[00:16:52] It was manned by the most dedicated members of the Church of Scientology, including L.Ron Hubbard and his family.

[00:17:01] It was aboard the Sea Org, and over the period of the next five years or so, that his behaviour became even more erratic, and he made some curious additions to the doctrine of the Church of Scientology.

[00:17:16] L. Ron said he had discovered that humans had been brought to Earth 75 million years ago by a galactic dictator called Xenu, who put them all in a volcano and blew them up with hydrogen bombs.

[00:17:32] And the souls of these original humans stick to our bodies, and that's what causes us problems.

[00:17:39] Now, I should say that this story is not public, the Church of Scientology denies its existence, but numerous ex-Scientologists have confirmed it.

[00:17:51] According to them, as a Scientologist you are only allowed to learn about this story, which is essentially the account of the Creation, by going through numerous levels of training, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:18:08] We’ll discuss this further in a minute, but let’s return to L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:18:13] Aboard the Sea Org, his mental and physical health seemed to be in decline

[00:18:19] He was a heavy smoker, and he had put on large amounts of weight. 

[00:18:25] He was reportedly erratic, and started behaving in an even stranger manner.

[00:18:31] But nobody was allowed to question him.

[00:18:35] After he returned to land, he continued to be pursued by the authorities. 

[00:18:40] He was charged with obtaining money under false pretences by a French court and sentenced to four years in prison in France. 

[00:18:50] This was in absentia, he wasn’t actually in France and never served any time in prison.

[00:18:57] And in 1980 he went into hiding. He was never seen again, and in 1982 it was announced that he had died.

[00:19:06] According to the Church of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard had decided to drop his body because it was getting in the way of his research, and he had decided to continue his research on another planet.

[00:19:21] Quite a life, right?

[00:19:22] Now, if you thought that Scientology had ended with L.Ron Hubbard’s death, you would be much mistaken.

[00:19:31] After his death the religion was taken over by a young messenger, David Miscavige, who is to this day the leader of the Church of Scientology.

[00:19:41] With Miscavige at its helm, the Church of Scientology has grown into an incredibly powerful organisation.

[00:19:49] Nobody seems to know how many Scientologists there actually are, and there are vastly different numbers depending on who you ask.

[00:19:59] The Church of Scientology says it has between 8 and 15 million members, which would make it on a similar level to Mormonism, as we heard about in the last episode, and even Judaism.

[00:20:12] But most experts dispute this number, with a recent documentary, called Going Clear (which is excellent by the way, I would certainly recommend it). This documentary said that it had fewer than 50,000 members.

[00:20:27] If this is indeed the case, one might wonder why Scientology seems to be so present in the news. 

[00:20:34] Firstly, it is because it has this strange and unorthodox founding story that we’ve just learned about.

[00:20:42] Secondly, it has a vast amount of money - there was even an advert for it during the 2021 Super Bowl.

[00:20:50] And thirdly, Scientology has done a very good job at cultivating celebrities, people who are in the public eye and talk about the religion during TV interviews. 

[00:21:02] Tom Cruise and John Travolta are both Scientologists, and there is a long list of other Hollywood actors who are members of the church.

[00:21:12] Of course, for the church, this is excellent PR, it’s great marketing. 

[00:21:17] These celebrities are normally huge proponents of the benefits of Scientology, and will go on talk shows and explain how it has helped them. 

[00:21:28] So, given how frequently Scientology is mentioned, it might be surprising to find out that the actual number of Scientologists is a lot smaller than you might think.

[00:21:40] Now, to its devoted followers, Scientology appears to be an amazing part of their lives. It helps them address their emotions, understand their life, and be better humans.

[00:21:53] But criticisms of Scientology didn’t stop with L.Ron Hubbard, and the church has continued to be attacked on all sorts of grounds, theological, financial, and even criminal.

[00:22:06] The first reason is both financial and theological, and is about Scientology’s status as a religion, and what this means in terms of how much tax it has to pay.

[00:22:17] If an organisation is a religion, there are some very attractive tax benefits in the United States. 

[00:22:24] For 37 years The Church of Scientology was in battle with the US government. Scientology said it was a religion, and therefore didn’t have to pay all sorts of taxes. The US government argued that it wasn’t a religion, and therefore owed almost a billion dollars in unpaid taxes over this almost 40 year period.

[00:22:49] In 1991 though, the IRS finally settled, the Inland Revenue Service finally settled, and agreed that Scientology was indeed a religion, and was therefore exempt from paying these taxes. 

[00:23:04] Now, you can agree or disagree with the criteria about what is or isn’t a religion, and indeed we will discuss this more in the next episode, but the result meant that the church had saved almost a billion dollars in taxes, and this gives you an indication about quite how much money it was making.

[00:23:25] Another criticism of the church, which is again related to its finances, is quite how much money it makes from each follower, and how hard it is to leave once you have joined it.

[00:23:38] If Scientology were a business, it would be an excellent business.

[00:23:43] To become a Scientologist, you don’t just turn up one day and go to church and perhaps drop a few coins in a donation box, there are numerous courses and auditing sessions you need to do, each of which is paid.

[00:23:59] It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the higher levels, and once you are there you don’t stop, you continue doing these paid sessions.

[00:24:11] During these sessions you are asked to share very personal information, and this is all recorded by the church, there is a central database of everything you have ever confessed to.

[00:24:24] Critics of the church say that this information is used as blackmail to stop people leaving the church. 

[00:24:31] Understandably, if you have confessed all of your sins, and talked about deeply personal memories or traumas, you probably wouldn’t want these to be shared with the world, especially if you are a celebrity, an actor like Tom Cruise or John Travolta, let’s say.

[00:24:50] Now, this is just a small list of the accusations against the church. 

[00:24:55] Its leaders have been accused of physical and mental abuse, of murder, of fraud, of brainwashing, and all sorts of very nasty activities. 

[00:25:06] If you are interested in learning more about this, the Internet is full of tens of thousands of articles about all of the accusations against The Church of Scientology, and that would certainly keep you busy for a long time.

[00:25:20] So, that is Scientology.

[00:25:23] To its most ardent followers, its most passionate followers, it is a way of making sense of the world, and becoming a better person.

[00:25:32] To its critics, it is a cult, or even a criminal enterprise.

[00:25:37] While one can only hazard a guess at the true intentions of its founder, L.Ron Hubbard, if even he had any true intentions, what is certainly undeniable is that he has left a weird, weird legacy on the world.

[00:25:56] OK then, that is it for part two of this mini-series on Mormonism and Scientology. 

[00:26:02] I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and if you see large buildings in New York, London or Paris with Church of Scientology written on them, well now you’ll know a little bit about the story behind them.

[00:26:17] Next up, in part three, we will come back to look at a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology, two very different religions, but two that have a uniquely American story, and have been criticised for similar reasons. 

[00:26:33] In this episode we’ll talk about the similarities and differences between the two, as well as think about the wider question of what is a religion, and ask ourselves whether they would have been possible in any country other than the USA.

[00:26:48] That is one of our member-only ones, and will be coming out on Tuesday.

[00:26:52] And on that note, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, such as parts one and part three of this mini-series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:10] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:27:23] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Scientology, the controversial belief system founded by a science fiction writer that, to its followers, is a compelling way of understanding the world and connecting with your inner self, and to its critics is a dangerous cult.

[00:00:42] This is part two of a mini-series. Part one was on Mormonism, another religion that has been labelled a dangerous cult, and in part three we are going to come back and look at Scientology and Mormonism together, and discuss what questions they raise about religion, and what makes us believe anything. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 170 different episodes now, including part one and part three of this mini-series, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:44] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:55] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:05] OK then, Scientology.

[00:02:09] The story of scientology is inseparable from the story of its iconic but controversial founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, otherwise known as L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:02:21] Now, I should start by saying that there isn’t universal agreement about the life of L.Ron Hubbard, and one of the criticisms of Scientology is that his achievements have been exaggerated by the church to make him seem far more impressive than he actually was.

[00:02:41] Naturally, where there are disagreements I’ll point these out, but it is hard to deny that the life of L.Ron Hubbard was varied and full of excitements of different kinds.

[00:02:54] He was born in 1911 in Nebraska, in the US midwest.

[00:03:01] As a young boy he didn’t seem to excel at anything in particular, he wasn't good at anything in particular, and he failed at his first attempt to get a place in the US Navy.

[00:03:14] He won a place to study civil engineering at George Washington University, and would later claim that he was on track to become a nuclear physicist. 

[00:03:26] But his university records suggest otherwise; he received poor grades, and wasn’t considered to be a talented student by any means.

[00:03:37] But he had discovered another talent completely unrelated to engineering.

[00:03:43] Writing fiction.

[00:03:45] In the 1930s he would become a prolific writer, and although his favoured genre was science fiction, he would write almost anything: adventure fiction, romance novels, travel stories, anything that his editors requested.

[00:04:03] He got married in 1933, and had a daughter a year later.

[00:04:08] When World War II broke out, he joined the US navy, and was given the rank of a junior officer.

[00:04:16] Although the official Scientology story of L. Ron’s time in the navy is one of a glorious, brave navy officer, there are several other accounts that described an overly confident officer who wasn’t suited for military duty.

[00:04:34] This all culminated when the ship that L.Ron was commanding bombed an island that was actually part of Mexico, an ally of the US, and the young L.Ron was dismissed from active military duty, he was in effect sacked as a commanding officer.

[00:04:54] After this he complained of a great number of illnesses - stomach pain, headaches, shoulder pain - and he was sent to hospital. 

[00:05:04] He was kept there for three months, and this will later prove to be an important part of the L.Ron Hubbard mythology, and the story of Scientology.

[00:05:16] After the war was over, and L.Ron Hubbard returned to civilian life, he was at a point of loss. 

[00:05:23] He was reportedly abandoned by his family and friends, his marriage had collapsed, and he was suffering greatly from a health point of view.

[00:05:34] He moved to Los Angeles, continued his science fiction writing, but started to develop a system of self-help, which he would test on anyone who would be amenable to it.

[00:05:48] His first, and most famous patient was himself.

[00:05:51] He would later claim that this self-help system cured him of all of his illnesses, both physical and mental.

[00:06:01] By this time L.Ron had become particularly interested in psychiatry, but was a sceptic of traditional psychiatric treatments.

[00:06:11] Instead, he sought to create his own system, a new kind of psychotherapy that claimed to cure people of all sorts of illnesses.

[00:06:23] This system, which was called Dianetics and I’ll explain properly in a minute, is at the heart of Scientology.

[00:06:32] The system was codified, it was set out, in a book called “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”. 

[00:06:41] The book was an almost instant commercial success, selling 4,000 copies in a week in its first few months on sale, and has grown to become the canonical text, the most important text, in the religion that was to follow.

[00:06:58] Although it had an authoritative and seemingly medical title [it was “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”], it was poorly received by medical health professionals because, well, it wasn’t based on real science at all. 

[00:07:15] It was based on L.Ron Hubbard’s personal experience, not based on scientific fact or study.

[00:07:23] Indeed, to quote some reviews of it, The American Psychological Association said that Hubbard's claims were "not supported by empirical evidence", Scientific American said that Hubbard's book contained "more promises and less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing", and The New Republic called it a "bold and immodest mixture of complete nonsense and perfectly reasonable common sense, taken from long acknowledged findings and disguised and distorted by a crazy, newly invented terminology".

[00:08:01] So, one could summarise these reviews as “the book was a load of made up rubbish”.

[00:08:07] But the people who were first attracted to the idea of Dianetics, and to L.Ron Hubbard as an individual were not the sort of people who were to be deterred by these kinds of negative comments. 

[00:08:20] The kind of people who were attracted to Dianetics were the kind of people who had had negative, or less than 100% positive, experiences with traditional psychotherapy, and were looking for a new perspective. 

[00:08:37] They were unlikely to care if experts from a field they didn’t trust said something negative about a theory that they wanted to believe was true.

[00:08:48] Dianetics is a lengthy book with many new and controversial ideas that are considered to be complete rubbish by most mental health professionals, but it is at the heart of Scientology so I will try to explain some of them briefly. 

[00:09:05] The main idea is about the formation of the human brain.

[00:09:10] L.Ron Hubbard proposed that your mind is divided into two main sections: an analytical mind and a reactive mind. 

[00:09:21] The analytical part works perfectly, Hubbard proposed, but the reactive mind can’t think or make decisions.

[00:09:30] The reactive mind is filled with all sorts of memories that send incorrect data back to the analytical mind, and this is part of what causes people to make bad life decisions and suffer from mental illness.

[00:09:46] Through a process that L.Ron Hubbard designed called auditing, it is possible to control this reactive mind, and reach a state called “Clear”.

[00:09:57] Now, although there is no evidence for this being valid science at all, and it's completely contrary to how we believe the human brain works, it was very attractive to its small group of devoted fans, or believers.

[00:10:14] At this time though, Scientology as a religion, or as a belief system, didn’t exist. 

[00:10:21] Dianetics was a psychiatric treatment, albeit a completely unproven one, and one that was considered to be a complete sham by medical professionals, it was considered to be something that didn't work at all.

[00:10:36] L.Ron Hubbard’s primary income was still coming from science fiction writing, although he was struggling to make ends meet, he was not paid very much for his work. 

[00:10:47] Frankly, he was more about quantity than quality, and even though he was publishing huge volumes, huge amounts of science fiction, he was still not earning very much money.

[00:11:01] There’s an account, which is fiercely denied by Scientologists, of L.Ron Hubbard complaining about not being able to make enough money, and a fellow science fiction writer telling him that the way to get rich was by starting a religion.

[00:11:19] Whether that’s true or not we will never know, but what is undeniable is that within a few years L.Ron Hubbard had started the process of turning Dianetics from a pseudo-medical procedure to something that was at the heart of this new religion, Scientology.

[00:11:40] As a medical procedure, Dianetics would be treated like any other medical procedure, and would have to display evidence that it was doing good, that it was helping people.

[00:11:51] As already mentioned, there was very little evidence that it actually worked, other than L.Ron Hubbard’s stories about it working on himself, and various other stories of people who claimed that they had been cured by it.

[00:12:06] And as you will know there are plenty of government guidelines and laws that restrict medicine to trained professionals, for very good obvious reasons.

[00:12:18] But L.Ron Hubbard realised that there was another category that didn’t need to provide evidence.

[00:12:25] Religion.

[00:12:27] If L.Ron could turn Dianetics from a medical procedure into a religious organisation, it wouldn’t be required to demonstrate its efficacy, it wouldn't be required to show that it worked, and it wouldn’t be bound by such strict guidelines

[00:12:46] This was either a moment of religious inspiration or of cynical opportunism, depending on how supportive you are of Scientology. 

[00:12:56] So, in December of 1953, three and a half years after Dianetics was first published, L.Ron Hubbard incorporated three new churches: The Church of Scientology, The Church of American Science and The Church of Spiritual Engineering.

[00:13:14] This was to be the start of his new religion, The Church of Scientology.

[00:13:20] And as part of this new religion, L.Ron Hubbard was able to charge a lot of money for it.

[00:13:27] 24 hours worth of auditing, of this Dianetics programme, would cost $500, around $5,000 in today’s money.

[00:13:38] The cash soon started to flood in, and L.Ron Hubbard went from struggling science fiction writer to the head of a new organisation that was generating large amounts of cash.

[00:13:53] He implemented a system whereby he would receive a percentage of all income from these auditing sessions, and by 1957 he was reportedly earning around $250,000 a year, which is over $2 million in today’s money.

[00:14:13] There was a very thin line between the funds of the Church of Scientology, as it was called, and L.Ron Hubbard’s personal funds. 

[00:14:23] He bought extravagant houses which became Scientology centres. 

[00:14:27] He bought boats, plots of land, and real estate all over the world. 

[00:14:33] And there were reports of him just withdrawing from the church’s bank account and transferring to his own account, without any particular reason.

[00:14:44] Different branches of the Church of Scientology sprung up all over the world, and its members grew.

[00:14:52] This brought it further into the public eye, and under closer examination.

[00:14:58] It might have started as a harmless self-help system, but it started to be considered by many governments to be a dangerous cult, and was accused of indoctrinating its followers.

[00:15:12] L.Ron Hubbard himself was accused of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, being of doubtful sanity, and of having delusions of grandeur.

[00:15:24] If you’ve listened to the last episode on Mormonism, these accusations might remind you of someone we learned about in that one.

[00:15:32] The result of this was that The Church of Scientology started to get in trouble in almost every country it was active in.

[00:15:42] It was banned in parts of Australia, the UK banned Scientologists from entering the country, and L.Ron was considered to be, and I'm quoting here, a “mental case” by the FBI, a “mental case” is a slang term for a crazy person.

[00:16:00] But, as often tends to be the case, the more a belief system is persecuted and cast out from mainstream society, the more its followers are drawn to it. 

[00:16:12] Scientology continued to grow, with members joining from all over the world.

[00:16:18] But life wasn’t any easier, and it continued to run into problems with a wide range of governments, so in 1967 L.Ron Hubbard decided to move the base of Scientology offshore, and launched something called the Sea Org, the organisation of the sea.

[00:16:39] This was a fleet of ships, initially three large boats, that travelled around the Mediterranean and Northern Atlantic, staying for short periods of time at each port.

[00:16:52] It was manned by the most dedicated members of the Church of Scientology, including L.Ron Hubbard and his family.

[00:17:01] It was aboard the Sea Org, and over the period of the next five years or so, that his behaviour became even more erratic, and he made some curious additions to the doctrine of the Church of Scientology.

[00:17:16] L. Ron said he had discovered that humans had been brought to Earth 75 million years ago by a galactic dictator called Xenu, who put them all in a volcano and blew them up with hydrogen bombs.

[00:17:32] And the souls of these original humans stick to our bodies, and that's what causes us problems.

[00:17:39] Now, I should say that this story is not public, the Church of Scientology denies its existence, but numerous ex-Scientologists have confirmed it.

[00:17:51] According to them, as a Scientologist you are only allowed to learn about this story, which is essentially the account of the Creation, by going through numerous levels of training, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:18:08] We’ll discuss this further in a minute, but let’s return to L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:18:13] Aboard the Sea Org, his mental and physical health seemed to be in decline

[00:18:19] He was a heavy smoker, and he had put on large amounts of weight. 

[00:18:25] He was reportedly erratic, and started behaving in an even stranger manner.

[00:18:31] But nobody was allowed to question him.

[00:18:35] After he returned to land, he continued to be pursued by the authorities. 

[00:18:40] He was charged with obtaining money under false pretences by a French court and sentenced to four years in prison in France. 

[00:18:50] This was in absentia, he wasn’t actually in France and never served any time in prison.

[00:18:57] And in 1980 he went into hiding. He was never seen again, and in 1982 it was announced that he had died.

[00:19:06] According to the Church of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard had decided to drop his body because it was getting in the way of his research, and he had decided to continue his research on another planet.

[00:19:21] Quite a life, right?

[00:19:22] Now, if you thought that Scientology had ended with L.Ron Hubbard’s death, you would be much mistaken.

[00:19:31] After his death the religion was taken over by a young messenger, David Miscavige, who is to this day the leader of the Church of Scientology.

[00:19:41] With Miscavige at its helm, the Church of Scientology has grown into an incredibly powerful organisation.

[00:19:49] Nobody seems to know how many Scientologists there actually are, and there are vastly different numbers depending on who you ask.

[00:19:59] The Church of Scientology says it has between 8 and 15 million members, which would make it on a similar level to Mormonism, as we heard about in the last episode, and even Judaism.

[00:20:12] But most experts dispute this number, with a recent documentary, called Going Clear (which is excellent by the way, I would certainly recommend it). This documentary said that it had fewer than 50,000 members.

[00:20:27] If this is indeed the case, one might wonder why Scientology seems to be so present in the news. 

[00:20:34] Firstly, it is because it has this strange and unorthodox founding story that we’ve just learned about.

[00:20:42] Secondly, it has a vast amount of money - there was even an advert for it during the 2021 Super Bowl.

[00:20:50] And thirdly, Scientology has done a very good job at cultivating celebrities, people who are in the public eye and talk about the religion during TV interviews. 

[00:21:02] Tom Cruise and John Travolta are both Scientologists, and there is a long list of other Hollywood actors who are members of the church.

[00:21:12] Of course, for the church, this is excellent PR, it’s great marketing. 

[00:21:17] These celebrities are normally huge proponents of the benefits of Scientology, and will go on talk shows and explain how it has helped them. 

[00:21:28] So, given how frequently Scientology is mentioned, it might be surprising to find out that the actual number of Scientologists is a lot smaller than you might think.

[00:21:40] Now, to its devoted followers, Scientology appears to be an amazing part of their lives. It helps them address their emotions, understand their life, and be better humans.

[00:21:53] But criticisms of Scientology didn’t stop with L.Ron Hubbard, and the church has continued to be attacked on all sorts of grounds, theological, financial, and even criminal.

[00:22:06] The first reason is both financial and theological, and is about Scientology’s status as a religion, and what this means in terms of how much tax it has to pay.

[00:22:17] If an organisation is a religion, there are some very attractive tax benefits in the United States. 

[00:22:24] For 37 years The Church of Scientology was in battle with the US government. Scientology said it was a religion, and therefore didn’t have to pay all sorts of taxes. The US government argued that it wasn’t a religion, and therefore owed almost a billion dollars in unpaid taxes over this almost 40 year period.

[00:22:49] In 1991 though, the IRS finally settled, the Inland Revenue Service finally settled, and agreed that Scientology was indeed a religion, and was therefore exempt from paying these taxes. 

[00:23:04] Now, you can agree or disagree with the criteria about what is or isn’t a religion, and indeed we will discuss this more in the next episode, but the result meant that the church had saved almost a billion dollars in taxes, and this gives you an indication about quite how much money it was making.

[00:23:25] Another criticism of the church, which is again related to its finances, is quite how much money it makes from each follower, and how hard it is to leave once you have joined it.

[00:23:38] If Scientology were a business, it would be an excellent business.

[00:23:43] To become a Scientologist, you don’t just turn up one day and go to church and perhaps drop a few coins in a donation box, there are numerous courses and auditing sessions you need to do, each of which is paid.

[00:23:59] It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the higher levels, and once you are there you don’t stop, you continue doing these paid sessions.

[00:24:11] During these sessions you are asked to share very personal information, and this is all recorded by the church, there is a central database of everything you have ever confessed to.

[00:24:24] Critics of the church say that this information is used as blackmail to stop people leaving the church. 

[00:24:31] Understandably, if you have confessed all of your sins, and talked about deeply personal memories or traumas, you probably wouldn’t want these to be shared with the world, especially if you are a celebrity, an actor like Tom Cruise or John Travolta, let’s say.

[00:24:50] Now, this is just a small list of the accusations against the church. 

[00:24:55] Its leaders have been accused of physical and mental abuse, of murder, of fraud, of brainwashing, and all sorts of very nasty activities. 

[00:25:06] If you are interested in learning more about this, the Internet is full of tens of thousands of articles about all of the accusations against The Church of Scientology, and that would certainly keep you busy for a long time.

[00:25:20] So, that is Scientology.

[00:25:23] To its most ardent followers, its most passionate followers, it is a way of making sense of the world, and becoming a better person.

[00:25:32] To its critics, it is a cult, or even a criminal enterprise.

[00:25:37] While one can only hazard a guess at the true intentions of its founder, L.Ron Hubbard, if even he had any true intentions, what is certainly undeniable is that he has left a weird, weird legacy on the world.

[00:25:56] OK then, that is it for part two of this mini-series on Mormonism and Scientology. 

[00:26:02] I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and if you see large buildings in New York, London or Paris with Church of Scientology written on them, well now you’ll know a little bit about the story behind them.

[00:26:17] Next up, in part three, we will come back to look at a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology, two very different religions, but two that have a uniquely American story, and have been criticised for similar reasons. 

[00:26:33] In this episode we’ll talk about the similarities and differences between the two, as well as think about the wider question of what is a religion, and ask ourselves whether they would have been possible in any country other than the USA.

[00:26:48] That is one of our member-only ones, and will be coming out on Tuesday.

[00:26:52] And on that note, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, such as parts one and part three of this mini-series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:10] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:27:23] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Scientology, the controversial belief system founded by a science fiction writer that, to its followers, is a compelling way of understanding the world and connecting with your inner self, and to its critics is a dangerous cult.

[00:00:42] This is part two of a mini-series. Part one was on Mormonism, another religion that has been labelled a dangerous cult, and in part three we are going to come back and look at Scientology and Mormonism together, and discuss what questions they raise about religion, and what makes us believe anything. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 170 different episodes now, including part one and part three of this mini-series, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:44] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:55] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:05] OK then, Scientology.

[00:02:09] The story of scientology is inseparable from the story of its iconic but controversial founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, otherwise known as L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:02:21] Now, I should start by saying that there isn’t universal agreement about the life of L.Ron Hubbard, and one of the criticisms of Scientology is that his achievements have been exaggerated by the church to make him seem far more impressive than he actually was.

[00:02:41] Naturally, where there are disagreements I’ll point these out, but it is hard to deny that the life of L.Ron Hubbard was varied and full of excitements of different kinds.

[00:02:54] He was born in 1911 in Nebraska, in the US midwest.

[00:03:01] As a young boy he didn’t seem to excel at anything in particular, he wasn't good at anything in particular, and he failed at his first attempt to get a place in the US Navy.

[00:03:14] He won a place to study civil engineering at George Washington University, and would later claim that he was on track to become a nuclear physicist. 

[00:03:26] But his university records suggest otherwise; he received poor grades, and wasn’t considered to be a talented student by any means.

[00:03:37] But he had discovered another talent completely unrelated to engineering.

[00:03:43] Writing fiction.

[00:03:45] In the 1930s he would become a prolific writer, and although his favoured genre was science fiction, he would write almost anything: adventure fiction, romance novels, travel stories, anything that his editors requested.

[00:04:03] He got married in 1933, and had a daughter a year later.

[00:04:08] When World War II broke out, he joined the US navy, and was given the rank of a junior officer.

[00:04:16] Although the official Scientology story of L. Ron’s time in the navy is one of a glorious, brave navy officer, there are several other accounts that described an overly confident officer who wasn’t suited for military duty.

[00:04:34] This all culminated when the ship that L.Ron was commanding bombed an island that was actually part of Mexico, an ally of the US, and the young L.Ron was dismissed from active military duty, he was in effect sacked as a commanding officer.

[00:04:54] After this he complained of a great number of illnesses - stomach pain, headaches, shoulder pain - and he was sent to hospital. 

[00:05:04] He was kept there for three months, and this will later prove to be an important part of the L.Ron Hubbard mythology, and the story of Scientology.

[00:05:16] After the war was over, and L.Ron Hubbard returned to civilian life, he was at a point of loss. 

[00:05:23] He was reportedly abandoned by his family and friends, his marriage had collapsed, and he was suffering greatly from a health point of view.

[00:05:34] He moved to Los Angeles, continued his science fiction writing, but started to develop a system of self-help, which he would test on anyone who would be amenable to it.

[00:05:48] His first, and most famous patient was himself.

[00:05:51] He would later claim that this self-help system cured him of all of his illnesses, both physical and mental.

[00:06:01] By this time L.Ron had become particularly interested in psychiatry, but was a sceptic of traditional psychiatric treatments.

[00:06:11] Instead, he sought to create his own system, a new kind of psychotherapy that claimed to cure people of all sorts of illnesses.

[00:06:23] This system, which was called Dianetics and I’ll explain properly in a minute, is at the heart of Scientology.

[00:06:32] The system was codified, it was set out, in a book called “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”. 

[00:06:41] The book was an almost instant commercial success, selling 4,000 copies in a week in its first few months on sale, and has grown to become the canonical text, the most important text, in the religion that was to follow.

[00:06:58] Although it had an authoritative and seemingly medical title [it was “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”], it was poorly received by medical health professionals because, well, it wasn’t based on real science at all. 

[00:07:15] It was based on L.Ron Hubbard’s personal experience, not based on scientific fact or study.

[00:07:23] Indeed, to quote some reviews of it, The American Psychological Association said that Hubbard's claims were "not supported by empirical evidence", Scientific American said that Hubbard's book contained "more promises and less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing", and The New Republic called it a "bold and immodest mixture of complete nonsense and perfectly reasonable common sense, taken from long acknowledged findings and disguised and distorted by a crazy, newly invented terminology".

[00:08:01] So, one could summarise these reviews as “the book was a load of made up rubbish”.

[00:08:07] But the people who were first attracted to the idea of Dianetics, and to L.Ron Hubbard as an individual were not the sort of people who were to be deterred by these kinds of negative comments. 

[00:08:20] The kind of people who were attracted to Dianetics were the kind of people who had had negative, or less than 100% positive, experiences with traditional psychotherapy, and were looking for a new perspective. 

[00:08:37] They were unlikely to care if experts from a field they didn’t trust said something negative about a theory that they wanted to believe was true.

[00:08:48] Dianetics is a lengthy book with many new and controversial ideas that are considered to be complete rubbish by most mental health professionals, but it is at the heart of Scientology so I will try to explain some of them briefly. 

[00:09:05] The main idea is about the formation of the human brain.

[00:09:10] L.Ron Hubbard proposed that your mind is divided into two main sections: an analytical mind and a reactive mind. 

[00:09:21] The analytical part works perfectly, Hubbard proposed, but the reactive mind can’t think or make decisions.

[00:09:30] The reactive mind is filled with all sorts of memories that send incorrect data back to the analytical mind, and this is part of what causes people to make bad life decisions and suffer from mental illness.

[00:09:46] Through a process that L.Ron Hubbard designed called auditing, it is possible to control this reactive mind, and reach a state called “Clear”.

[00:09:57] Now, although there is no evidence for this being valid science at all, and it's completely contrary to how we believe the human brain works, it was very attractive to its small group of devoted fans, or believers.

[00:10:14] At this time though, Scientology as a religion, or as a belief system, didn’t exist. 

[00:10:21] Dianetics was a psychiatric treatment, albeit a completely unproven one, and one that was considered to be a complete sham by medical professionals, it was considered to be something that didn't work at all.

[00:10:36] L.Ron Hubbard’s primary income was still coming from science fiction writing, although he was struggling to make ends meet, he was not paid very much for his work. 

[00:10:47] Frankly, he was more about quantity than quality, and even though he was publishing huge volumes, huge amounts of science fiction, he was still not earning very much money.

[00:11:01] There’s an account, which is fiercely denied by Scientologists, of L.Ron Hubbard complaining about not being able to make enough money, and a fellow science fiction writer telling him that the way to get rich was by starting a religion.

[00:11:19] Whether that’s true or not we will never know, but what is undeniable is that within a few years L.Ron Hubbard had started the process of turning Dianetics from a pseudo-medical procedure to something that was at the heart of this new religion, Scientology.

[00:11:40] As a medical procedure, Dianetics would be treated like any other medical procedure, and would have to display evidence that it was doing good, that it was helping people.

[00:11:51] As already mentioned, there was very little evidence that it actually worked, other than L.Ron Hubbard’s stories about it working on himself, and various other stories of people who claimed that they had been cured by it.

[00:12:06] And as you will know there are plenty of government guidelines and laws that restrict medicine to trained professionals, for very good obvious reasons.

[00:12:18] But L.Ron Hubbard realised that there was another category that didn’t need to provide evidence.

[00:12:25] Religion.

[00:12:27] If L.Ron could turn Dianetics from a medical procedure into a religious organisation, it wouldn’t be required to demonstrate its efficacy, it wouldn't be required to show that it worked, and it wouldn’t be bound by such strict guidelines

[00:12:46] This was either a moment of religious inspiration or of cynical opportunism, depending on how supportive you are of Scientology. 

[00:12:56] So, in December of 1953, three and a half years after Dianetics was first published, L.Ron Hubbard incorporated three new churches: The Church of Scientology, The Church of American Science and The Church of Spiritual Engineering.

[00:13:14] This was to be the start of his new religion, The Church of Scientology.

[00:13:20] And as part of this new religion, L.Ron Hubbard was able to charge a lot of money for it.

[00:13:27] 24 hours worth of auditing, of this Dianetics programme, would cost $500, around $5,000 in today’s money.

[00:13:38] The cash soon started to flood in, and L.Ron Hubbard went from struggling science fiction writer to the head of a new organisation that was generating large amounts of cash.

[00:13:53] He implemented a system whereby he would receive a percentage of all income from these auditing sessions, and by 1957 he was reportedly earning around $250,000 a year, which is over $2 million in today’s money.

[00:14:13] There was a very thin line between the funds of the Church of Scientology, as it was called, and L.Ron Hubbard’s personal funds. 

[00:14:23] He bought extravagant houses which became Scientology centres. 

[00:14:27] He bought boats, plots of land, and real estate all over the world. 

[00:14:33] And there were reports of him just withdrawing from the church’s bank account and transferring to his own account, without any particular reason.

[00:14:44] Different branches of the Church of Scientology sprung up all over the world, and its members grew.

[00:14:52] This brought it further into the public eye, and under closer examination.

[00:14:58] It might have started as a harmless self-help system, but it started to be considered by many governments to be a dangerous cult, and was accused of indoctrinating its followers.

[00:15:12] L.Ron Hubbard himself was accused of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, being of doubtful sanity, and of having delusions of grandeur.

[00:15:24] If you’ve listened to the last episode on Mormonism, these accusations might remind you of someone we learned about in that one.

[00:15:32] The result of this was that The Church of Scientology started to get in trouble in almost every country it was active in.

[00:15:42] It was banned in parts of Australia, the UK banned Scientologists from entering the country, and L.Ron was considered to be, and I'm quoting here, a “mental case” by the FBI, a “mental case” is a slang term for a crazy person.

[00:16:00] But, as often tends to be the case, the more a belief system is persecuted and cast out from mainstream society, the more its followers are drawn to it. 

[00:16:12] Scientology continued to grow, with members joining from all over the world.

[00:16:18] But life wasn’t any easier, and it continued to run into problems with a wide range of governments, so in 1967 L.Ron Hubbard decided to move the base of Scientology offshore, and launched something called the Sea Org, the organisation of the sea.

[00:16:39] This was a fleet of ships, initially three large boats, that travelled around the Mediterranean and Northern Atlantic, staying for short periods of time at each port.

[00:16:52] It was manned by the most dedicated members of the Church of Scientology, including L.Ron Hubbard and his family.

[00:17:01] It was aboard the Sea Org, and over the period of the next five years or so, that his behaviour became even more erratic, and he made some curious additions to the doctrine of the Church of Scientology.

[00:17:16] L. Ron said he had discovered that humans had been brought to Earth 75 million years ago by a galactic dictator called Xenu, who put them all in a volcano and blew them up with hydrogen bombs.

[00:17:32] And the souls of these original humans stick to our bodies, and that's what causes us problems.

[00:17:39] Now, I should say that this story is not public, the Church of Scientology denies its existence, but numerous ex-Scientologists have confirmed it.

[00:17:51] According to them, as a Scientologist you are only allowed to learn about this story, which is essentially the account of the Creation, by going through numerous levels of training, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:18:08] We’ll discuss this further in a minute, but let’s return to L.Ron Hubbard.

[00:18:13] Aboard the Sea Org, his mental and physical health seemed to be in decline

[00:18:19] He was a heavy smoker, and he had put on large amounts of weight. 

[00:18:25] He was reportedly erratic, and started behaving in an even stranger manner.

[00:18:31] But nobody was allowed to question him.

[00:18:35] After he returned to land, he continued to be pursued by the authorities. 

[00:18:40] He was charged with obtaining money under false pretences by a French court and sentenced to four years in prison in France. 

[00:18:50] This was in absentia, he wasn’t actually in France and never served any time in prison.

[00:18:57] And in 1980 he went into hiding. He was never seen again, and in 1982 it was announced that he had died.

[00:19:06] According to the Church of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard had decided to drop his body because it was getting in the way of his research, and he had decided to continue his research on another planet.

[00:19:21] Quite a life, right?

[00:19:22] Now, if you thought that Scientology had ended with L.Ron Hubbard’s death, you would be much mistaken.

[00:19:31] After his death the religion was taken over by a young messenger, David Miscavige, who is to this day the leader of the Church of Scientology.

[00:19:41] With Miscavige at its helm, the Church of Scientology has grown into an incredibly powerful organisation.

[00:19:49] Nobody seems to know how many Scientologists there actually are, and there are vastly different numbers depending on who you ask.

[00:19:59] The Church of Scientology says it has between 8 and 15 million members, which would make it on a similar level to Mormonism, as we heard about in the last episode, and even Judaism.

[00:20:12] But most experts dispute this number, with a recent documentary, called Going Clear (which is excellent by the way, I would certainly recommend it). This documentary said that it had fewer than 50,000 members.

[00:20:27] If this is indeed the case, one might wonder why Scientology seems to be so present in the news. 

[00:20:34] Firstly, it is because it has this strange and unorthodox founding story that we’ve just learned about.

[00:20:42] Secondly, it has a vast amount of money - there was even an advert for it during the 2021 Super Bowl.

[00:20:50] And thirdly, Scientology has done a very good job at cultivating celebrities, people who are in the public eye and talk about the religion during TV interviews. 

[00:21:02] Tom Cruise and John Travolta are both Scientologists, and there is a long list of other Hollywood actors who are members of the church.

[00:21:12] Of course, for the church, this is excellent PR, it’s great marketing. 

[00:21:17] These celebrities are normally huge proponents of the benefits of Scientology, and will go on talk shows and explain how it has helped them. 

[00:21:28] So, given how frequently Scientology is mentioned, it might be surprising to find out that the actual number of Scientologists is a lot smaller than you might think.

[00:21:40] Now, to its devoted followers, Scientology appears to be an amazing part of their lives. It helps them address their emotions, understand their life, and be better humans.

[00:21:53] But criticisms of Scientology didn’t stop with L.Ron Hubbard, and the church has continued to be attacked on all sorts of grounds, theological, financial, and even criminal.

[00:22:06] The first reason is both financial and theological, and is about Scientology’s status as a religion, and what this means in terms of how much tax it has to pay.

[00:22:17] If an organisation is a religion, there are some very attractive tax benefits in the United States. 

[00:22:24] For 37 years The Church of Scientology was in battle with the US government. Scientology said it was a religion, and therefore didn’t have to pay all sorts of taxes. The US government argued that it wasn’t a religion, and therefore owed almost a billion dollars in unpaid taxes over this almost 40 year period.

[00:22:49] In 1991 though, the IRS finally settled, the Inland Revenue Service finally settled, and agreed that Scientology was indeed a religion, and was therefore exempt from paying these taxes. 

[00:23:04] Now, you can agree or disagree with the criteria about what is or isn’t a religion, and indeed we will discuss this more in the next episode, but the result meant that the church had saved almost a billion dollars in taxes, and this gives you an indication about quite how much money it was making.

[00:23:25] Another criticism of the church, which is again related to its finances, is quite how much money it makes from each follower, and how hard it is to leave once you have joined it.

[00:23:38] If Scientology were a business, it would be an excellent business.

[00:23:43] To become a Scientologist, you don’t just turn up one day and go to church and perhaps drop a few coins in a donation box, there are numerous courses and auditing sessions you need to do, each of which is paid.

[00:23:59] It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the higher levels, and once you are there you don’t stop, you continue doing these paid sessions.

[00:24:11] During these sessions you are asked to share very personal information, and this is all recorded by the church, there is a central database of everything you have ever confessed to.

[00:24:24] Critics of the church say that this information is used as blackmail to stop people leaving the church. 

[00:24:31] Understandably, if you have confessed all of your sins, and talked about deeply personal memories or traumas, you probably wouldn’t want these to be shared with the world, especially if you are a celebrity, an actor like Tom Cruise or John Travolta, let’s say.

[00:24:50] Now, this is just a small list of the accusations against the church. 

[00:24:55] Its leaders have been accused of physical and mental abuse, of murder, of fraud, of brainwashing, and all sorts of very nasty activities. 

[00:25:06] If you are interested in learning more about this, the Internet is full of tens of thousands of articles about all of the accusations against The Church of Scientology, and that would certainly keep you busy for a long time.

[00:25:20] So, that is Scientology.

[00:25:23] To its most ardent followers, its most passionate followers, it is a way of making sense of the world, and becoming a better person.

[00:25:32] To its critics, it is a cult, or even a criminal enterprise.

[00:25:37] While one can only hazard a guess at the true intentions of its founder, L.Ron Hubbard, if even he had any true intentions, what is certainly undeniable is that he has left a weird, weird legacy on the world.

[00:25:56] OK then, that is it for part two of this mini-series on Mormonism and Scientology. 

[00:26:02] I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and if you see large buildings in New York, London or Paris with Church of Scientology written on them, well now you’ll know a little bit about the story behind them.

[00:26:17] Next up, in part three, we will come back to look at a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology, two very different religions, but two that have a uniquely American story, and have been criticised for similar reasons. 

[00:26:33] In this episode we’ll talk about the similarities and differences between the two, as well as think about the wider question of what is a religion, and ask ourselves whether they would have been possible in any country other than the USA.

[00:26:48] That is one of our member-only ones, and will be coming out on Tuesday.

[00:26:52] And on that note, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, such as parts one and part three of this mini-series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:10] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:27:23] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:27:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:35] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]