The New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright on the Church of Scientology is getting a great deal of attention. The article details the departure of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis from the church after 35 years. However, I found one of the most interesting aspects to be Wright’s confrontation of Church officials over the alleged heroic record and severe battle scars of founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The Church has long maintained that Hubbard was a war hero who was left blind and a ‘hopeless cripple’ at the end of World War II. The story is the basis of Hubbard claim that he healed himself with his own science that later became the basis of Dianetics.
Wright asked Church leaders and large contingent of Scientology lawyers to back up the claims. Church official Tommy Davis responded with what Wright says were forged documents:
Eventually, Davis sent us what is called a notice of separation — essentially discharge papers from World War II — along with some photographs of all of these medals that [Hubbard] had won. … At the same time, we finally gained access to Hubbard’s entire World War II records [through a request to the military archives] and there was no evidence that he had ever been wounded in battle or distinguished himself in any way during the war. We also found another notice of separation which was strikingly different than the one that the church had provided.”
What I find interesting about this account is that, if true, it is hard to believe that these Church officials actually believe that stuff that they are instilling in followers. Self-delusion is rather difficult if you are actively creating false documents. This would tend to support those who insist that the Church is a criminal and fraudulent organization so I am waiting to see the response of the Church to this particular allegation.
What is also interesting in this account is the possible legal consequences of forging U.S. military documents. Here they were not used commercial purposes technically, but it could still run afoul of the federal code. It is also an ironic twist on the “stolen valor” debate — here allegedly stealing valor for a dead man. Of course, if true, it was Hubbard who could be accused of building his church — and deriving financial benefits — from these claims.