On Scientology

L. Ron Hubbard, 1950.

Much of Linus Pauling’s immense success as a scientist can be attributed to his analytical approach toward the world. As a boy, in addition to participating in typical childhood activities, he often entertained himself by furthering his knowledge of the world. He became an avid reader at a very young age and collected rocks and insects with enthusiasm. The uncannily intelligent Pauling meticulously classified these collections, and always closely scrutinized what he read.

At times, these traits caused Pauling to form opinions that clashed with ideas that he had been raised to believe, and this led to a life crisis on at least one occasion. When he was eleven years old, Pauling spent some time reading the Bible and concluded that the stories related there must not be true. This resulted in him becoming an atheist – a conversion that he kept to himself for many years.

Although Pauling decided to keep religion out of his personal life, he undoubtedly encountered individuals from all types of faiths during his lengthy, prolific and very public career. One interesting and timely example of this is Pauling’s contact with Scientology in the 1960s. Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, who would have celebrated his centenary birthday on March 13, 2011.

Hubbard was born in 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. In 1930 he enrolled in George Washington University, where he studied civil engineering for two years before dropping out. In 1934 he embarked upon a career as a pulp and science fiction writer and, with time, became rather successful. He served in the Navy during World War II, and after his transfer to inactive duty in 1946, his life took a rather tumultuous turn when his first marriage dissolved and he encountered money problems.

By 1950, however, Hubbard was more or less back on his feet and his book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, was published. This manuscript put into words a self-improvement process that Hubbard had been refining for much of his life, and which would later form the basics of Scientology.

The Scientology Cross

In 1954 Hubbard established the Church of Scientology.  The faith grew slowly at first, but eventually attracted a large following, and by the 1960s, Scientology – as well as Hubbard himself – had begun to attract a fair amount of controversy, derided by some as a cult or even a financial pyramid scheme.

With time the controversy increased, and in 1980 Hubbard disappeared from public view. It was rumored that he had died, but he was actually traveling around the Pacific Northwest in a recreational vehicle. In 1983 he settled in Creston, California, where he died on January 24, 1986 from a stroke. He was 74 years old.  Today, Scientology remains a controversial subject but continues to be quite popular, particularly among celebrities.

Record of Pauling’s interaction with Scientology comes primarily in the form of two series of letters that he exchanged with different members of the church. Given his religious background, it comes as little surprise that Pauling was not particularly impressed by the tenets of the faith. In the first of the two correspondences – a letter sent to one Prentiss Choate on September 4, 1962 – Pauling writes:

I may say that I have read a certain amount of material in this field. It has, however, made a rather poor impression up on me. I don’t mean to say that there might not be some people would benefit by this sort of treatment, but I doubt that I could become convinced that it is worth-while – even though I am interested in mental disease.

His second exchange with a Scientologist serves to reiterate his disinterest. In a letter written on October 4, 1967, Pauling states unequivocally:

. . . I must say that I am not interested in Scientology and I never have been interested in Scientology.

In this same letter, however, Pauling mentions that there had, in fact, been a minor link between himself and Scientology.

My only connection of any sort with Scientology has been that some years ago I checked up on some statements about the connection of L. Ron Hubbard with the California Institute of Technology and with Washington University.

The incident that Pauling was addressing occurred in 1963 when he was reading the book All about Radiation, which features excerpts from lectures delivered by Hubbard in April 1957. In this book, Hubbard mentions that in 1945, he and another man went to Caltech to “organize these people so that some sort of sensible control could be monitored across the [atomic] bomb.”

This statement as well as others that portrayed Caltech scientists in a slightly negative manner understandably piqued Pauling’s interest. However, in looking in to Hubbard’s visit, he found no evidence that it had actually occurred.

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The Paulings and Unitarianism

Stephen Fritchman and Linus Pauling, La Jolla, California. 1969.

In Unitarianism I have found a religion without dogma: A growing, changing, open-minded willingness to learn and, above all, to work.

– Ava Helen Pauling, “Why I am a Unitarian,” September 18, 1977.

Though both Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were avowed atheists,  they did maintain a long and friendly relationship with the Unitarian Church.  This relationship was rooted in their friendship with Stephen Fritchman (1902-1981), a Reverend of the Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, as well as an active and influential member of several peace-oriented organizations.

When Linus and Ava Helen joined the Hollywood Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions in 1945, Fritchman held one of the vice-presidencies of the organization. Though they were familiar with Fritchman in this regard, the Paulings did not become better acquainted with him until after the memorial service for Linus Pauling’s trusted physician and friend, Dr. Thomas Addis, who died in 1949.

In the early 1940s, Pauling was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis, a condition that most doctors at the time considered fatal. Pauling was referred to a specialist, Dr. Addis, whose alternative treatment is widely credited with having saved Pauling’s life. The respectful and dignified memorial service that was held by Rev. Fritchman for Dr.  Addis left the Paulings feeling comforted, hopeful and interested in the Unitarian Church itself.

Both Linus and Ava Helen had rejected organized religion at very young ages. Notions of an anthropomorphic god and salvation dependent on intercession from a third party were discarded, in favor of a doctrine of reason, ethics and morality. In various interviews over the the years, both of the Paulings evinced similar reasons for joining the Unitarian church, but took great care to mention that a creed or means of salvation were not among them.

To this end, Ava Helen once listed seven principles of Unitarianism, formulated by a Unitarian committee in 1930, to highlight the similarities of outlook between science, Unitarianism and her own personal beliefs. They included:

  1. Use of scientific method in approaching religion.
  2. Rationality of the universe and progressive discovery of truth.
  3. Humility and reverence toward vaster forces of the universe.
  4. Conviction of infinite possibility of human progress.
  5. Free exercise of intelligence in religion.
  6. Conviction of self-sufficiency of humanity to solve its problems.
  7. Sense of human brotherhood.

Linus Pauling claimed on several occasions to enjoy his independence within the peace movement, but he was also very fond of the connections that he sometimes made with the “like-minded individuals” representing any number of peace-oriented organizations. As with his participation in many other peace- and science-related activities, Pauling’s involvement in the Unitarian church offered an opportunity to network, share ideas and practice public speaking.

When Dr. Pauling spoke of the value of certain religiously oriented institutions, he sometimes likened them to gaps which he felt science could not fill. In a speech crafted for the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles in 1969, Pauling observed that “despite our increasing power over nature, the amount of suffering in the world remains very great…The major reason for the continued misuse of our power over nature, for the continued existence of a great amount of human suffering, is that the world is not operated on the basis of an accepted ethical principle.” Though he was openly averse to supernaturalism, mysticism and dogmatism, Pauling was a humanist who believed that both humanism and modern Unitarianism were rational philosophies that could be a source of good in the world.

In due course, the Paulings became active church members, and Linus was invited to join the Unitarian Service Committee, a “nonsectarian, voluntary agency whose purpose [was] to promote human welfare through service.” The Paulings also came to greatly admire Rev. Fritchman’s tolerance of diverse opinions, his respect for individualism and what they often referred to as his “great social conscience.”

Soon after the resolution of Linus Pauling’s initial bout of passport problems, Fritchman himself was denied a passport to Australia, where he was scheduled to speak at a Unitarian celebration. Pauling wrote a letter to the State Department, protesting the passport denial. In Fritchman’s defense, Pauling wrote:

I have known Mr. Fritchman for several years. I consider him to be a great man. He is one of the most honest, forthright, straightforward and high-principled men that I have ever known. He is an honor to the United States of America – the world would be a great world indeed if one percent of its people were comparable to Mr. Fritchman.

During the 1950s, the Unitarian church became embroiled in a controversy involving California loyalty oaths. A case condemning the group was brought to trial, but the church was eventually vindicated by a United States Supreme Court ruling. This event, among many others, did much to strengthen the bond between the Paulings and the church.

Above all, Linus and Ava Pauling found in Unitarianism a unique forum to fight against the grave problems facing the world. Their participation in the church was not often separated from fervent activism or an acknowledgment of difficult political realities. The connections that they made fit well into their condemnation of war, nuclear proliferation, militarism and inequality.