Birth of a Religion
J. Gordon Melton
As the twenty-first century opened, the Church of Scientology1 has emerged as one major focus of the ongoing controversy on new religions and their role in the rise of religious pluralism in the West. The teachings of founder L. Ron Hubbard enjoyed some immediate success with the public following their initial appearance in 1950, but one could have hardly predicted Scientology’s meteoric rise or its history of public conflict from its modest beginning. The controversy over Scientology has extended at times to almost every aspect of the church and its founder, and although those issues have been largely resolved in North America, the very status of Scientology as a religion continues to be seriously questioned in some quarters and has been the subject of multiple court cases. True, it has been recognized as a religion in many countries of the world, including the United States; but opposition continues in some quarters. In the modest space allowed, this chapter cannot cover every point at issue but does attempt to provide (1) an overview of the life of L. Ron Hubbard anchored by the generally agreed upon facts; (2) an introduction to the church’s beliefs, practices, and organization; and (3) a summary of the major points of the controversy.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911–1986) began life in the rural Midwest, born in Tilden, Nebraska, to U.S. naval officer Harry Ross Hubbard and Ledora May Waterbury.2 Six months after his birth, the family moved from Nebraska to Oklahoma, then settled for a time in Montana, eventually establishing itself on a ranch near Helena.