Scientology: Quackery or a Way to Know the Ultimate?
By Cynthia Gorney, Washington Post Staff Writer
July 9, 1977 - Saturday, Final Edition
Scientologists call it "spiritual counseling," a cleansing of the soul. They say their church knits Buddhism and Hinduism, the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita, modern science and the world's great philosophies.
Its detractors call it expensive nonsense. Federal Judge Gerhard A. Gesell has referred to its founder as "a facile, prolific author," whose "quackery flourished throughout the United States and in various parts of the world."
The Food and Drug Administration fought it for 10 years, the town of Clearwater, Fla., has erupted into controversy over its arrival, and now the Church of Scientology has been raided by the FBI.
Scientologists see the raid as just one more assault on their church. "We feel that there's some basic religious prejudice underlying all of this," said Hugh Wilhare, a Church of Scientology minister, in a telephone interview yesterday.
The church was founded in Washington 23 years ago by Lafayette Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer, an explorer, a photographer, and who is also described by church officials as philosopher. Using a coined name from both Latin and Greek - scio, from the Latin, was meant to convey "knowing in the fullest sense of the word," church literature says, and the Greek Logos to mean "doctrine" - Hubbard defined his teaching, according to church literature, as "the doctrine of Knowing the Ultimate."
Now claiming 4 million followers worldwide, the church teaches that human failings grow out of early traumas - the accumulation of spiritual burdens that scientologists compare to the eastern concept of karma. Those traumas can be located, scientologists say, with the help of a small machine called a Hubbard Electrometer, or an E-Meter for short.
The meters are 7 1/2 volt, transistor operated boxes, each equipped with two handles, that measure what Wilhare described as "resistance in the body." A scientologist sits with an E meter and a church companion - called an "auditor" in the sometimes bewildering language of the church - explores, by watching the signals of the E meter, the stages of his own past.
Exploration means confrontation, scientologists say. And when the church member has confronted each of the damaging stages of his past, he is "clear" - clear of "unwanted spiritual travail," the literature says, "free from the thralldom of the physical universe."
Scientology is taught in courses, and the courses cost money. A program in "communication," which might include such drills as learning to gaze directly into another person's eyes, goes for $35, Wilhare said. A course in "how to study" might cost $100, he said. It is through these fees, which Wilhare referred to as "donations," that each of the four Washington area churches, and the many others nationwide, supports itself, he said.
There has been constant tension between scientologists and the federal government since the church's incorporation in 1954. Particularly aggravating to federal health officials were the E meters, which the government said were being advertised as medical devices, and in January 1973 a group of deputized Baltimore longshoremen raided the scientologists' Washington headquarters for the Food and Drug Administration to confiscate from 85 to 100 E meters, along with thousands of scientology books and pamphlets.
Scientologists, declaring that the E meters were not medical devices but rather religious artifacts, like holy water, fought the FDA in a battle that lasted 10 years. In 1971, Federal Judge Gerhard A Gescll ruled that the devices could be used in "bona fide religious counseling," but could not be advertised as treatment for disease.
Two years later, in a ceremony attended by 100 gratified members of the church, the E meters and pamphlets were returned from the storage company where they had been locked away since 1963.