There’s currently a story getting big hits on Reddit, linking to the original post on Gawker: Time to Audit Scientology’s Anti-Medicine Stance – The tragic death of Travolta’s son could spell the end of Scientology, sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard’s loopy, medicine-hating cult from the 1950s. (That’s the full link title on Reddit and the headline/first sentence of the Gawker story.) That’s a bittersweet statement, since it reports on the death of an innocent child but optimistically predicts the downfall of a dangerous cult. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
The Gawker article adequately sums up the mysteries surrounding the recent death of Jett Travolta, who suffered from an illness that some doctors suspect was autism, but which the Travoltas claimed was a rare condition called Kawasaki disease, supposedly contracted through exposure to household cleaners. The article does a good job giving the main points as to why this is all very fishy, but the most notable point is that Scientologists are very much opposed to proper medical treatment of any mental disorder, which has led to senseless deaths in the past. Considering that the Travoltas are affirmed Scientologists â€“Â as are the two people put in charge of the disabled son, neither of whom have any training in caring for disabled children â€“Â this can be considered a huge, very public black mark on the “religion.”
Unfortunately, it won’t be enough.
In 1952, Martin Gardner published his excellent skeptical tome Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science in which there is a chapter called “Dianetics,” focusing on the “science of the mind” invented by L. Ron Hubbard. Gardner writes near the end of the chapter:
At the time of this writing, the dianetics craze seems to have burned itself out as quickly as it caught fire, and Hubbard himself has become embroiled in a welter of personal troubles. In 1951, his third wife, twenty-five-year-old Sara Northrup Hubbard, sued him for divorce. She called him a “paranoid schizophrenic,” accused him of torturing her while she was pregnant, and stated that medical advisers had concluded Hubbard was “hopelessly insane.”
He goes on to describe the Dianetic Foundation of Witchita declaring bankruptcy the following year, at which point Hubbard fled to Phoenix where he sold pseudoscientific gadgets and mailed out donation requests begging for followers to pay his living expenses.
Little did Gardner realize, Hubbard was preparing at that time to transform his pseudoscience cult into a religious cult using the new keyword “Scientology.” Executives in his company became “ministers,” and offices became churches. The trick worked, and the popularity of the new Church exploded. Hubbard remarried again, and had a son named Quentin, who was homosexual and (possibly as a result) grew up to be deeply depressed. In accordance with the laws of Scientology, Quentin was sent to the church’s rehab instead of getting support for his sexual orientation and real psychiatric help for his depression. In 1974 he attempted suicide, and two years later he succeeded (more info in this Channel 4 biography). It was a very obvious and public tragedy that highlighted the dangers of Hubbard and his Church’s bigotry and rejection of psychiatry.
Scientology has survived incredible amounts of bad publicity, including the deaths of people unknown and unloved, as well as the deaths of those in the spotlight. In the ’70s, Hubbard himself was the one shining star of his religion. Travolta may be the Church’s star these days, but he’s not the only one: Kirstie Alley, Jason Lee, that hot chick married to the fat guy on that one sitcom, and yes, even Tom Cruise, who’s slowly learning to come across as less of a whacko and do less obvious proselytizing, which could benefit both himself and the Churh. Those celebrities and many more are standing by, ready to distract you with their super-happy-perfect-clear-Scientologist lives. The worst part is that Scientology may not need the celebs to succeed. All they need is an unending supply of average Joes who are willing to spend what money they have on a phony chance at happiness.