Lafayette Ronald Hubbard once said, “If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” In 1954, he followed that advice, founding the Church of Scientology and making it a multi-million-dollar operation. Better known as L. Ron Hubbard, the recluse died of a stroke January 24 at his ranch near San Luis Obispo, California. He was 74.

Hubbard, who was last seen publicly six years ago, first became known as a science fiction author. He had more than 500 science fiction works published, including the novel Battlefield Earth (1980), a national best seller.

However, Hubbard was best known for starting the controversial Church of Scientology, incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1954. Its teachings are based on theories published in Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard coined the word “dianetics,” which he defined as “through soul.” The book has been published in 11 languages, and the church reports more than seven million copies have been sold.

Hubbard taught that the human race began 74 trillion years ago on the planet Venus, and that in the course of countless reincarnations, humans have accumulated “engrams.” Engrams are best defined as “emotional hangups,” comparable to repressed memories stored in the subconscious.

Sessions with Scientology “auditors” supposedly eliminate engrams. These sessions cost $300 an hour. One man is reported to have spent $250,000 trying in vain to eliminate his engrams. According to the church, only about 30,000 people have reached the engram-free state, known as “clear.”

The church’s history is laced with controversy. In 1983, Hubbard’s third wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, was sentenced to four years in prison. She ...

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