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When Lerma arrived at Flag Land Base in Clearwater in 1977, he says he hoped to marry one of Hubbard's daughters. This, Lerma maintains, was his real offense against Scientology: falling in love.
A church spokeswoman, Karin Pouw, says Lerma "left the Church because he could not maintain the ethical standards required of Scientologists." She confirms that Scientology agents left the confessional "declaration" for Lerma to sign that day in November.
The Guardian's Office no longer exists, but in the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), Hubbard's spirit is alive and well. "We know that you used to work in Clearwater," OSA's Kurt Weiland informed me at the National Press Club, "and we know exactly what you wrote." In a follow-up fax to Washington Post editors, the church called me a "known propagandist."
I admit that Scientology's version of truth and my own findings rarely correspond. Consider one example, taken from the new media guide.
Question: Did L. Ron Hubbard state that the way to make money was to start a religion?
Answer: No. This is an unfounded rumor.
The rumor got started in 1948, according to the church, when "one individual" claimed he heard Hubbard make such a comment during a lecture. "The only two people who could be found who attended the very lecture in 1948 denied that Mr. Hubbard ever made the statement," says the media guide?
But the man who invited Hubbard to speak, Sam Moskowitz, a 74-year-old science fiction editor in Newark, swears to this day that Hubbard made the remark in front of 23 members of the Eastern Science Fiction Association, most of whom are now dead.
The church also ignores a 1983 book by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, "Over My Shoulder: Reflections of the Science Fiction Era." Eshbach recounts a 1948 meeting with Hubbard and two others in New York:
"The incident is stamped indelibly in my mind because of one statement that Ron Hubbard made. What led him to say what he did I can't recall -- but in so many words Hubbard said: 'I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is!' "
Two other Hubbard contemporaries quote him similarly in the unauthorized 1987 biography "Bare-Faced Messiah." And two science fiction experts contacted for this story confirm that Hubbard made such remarks before he wrote his treatise on Dianetics, which was first published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. But church officials maintain that these people are sorely confused. The church says another famous writer said the exact same thing -- George Orwell, who wrote to a friend in 1938 that "there might be a lot of cash in starting a new religion."
"It seems that Orwell's comment has been misattributed to Mr. Hubbard," the church media guide tells reporters.
Only one problem: The Scientology operative who says he came up with the Orwell "explanation" is Robert Vaughn Young, who quit the central church in 1989 after 20 years as a spokesman. While researching the life of the Founder, Young says he talked to three Hubbard associates from the science fiction days who remembered Hubbard talking about getting out of the penny-a-word game for the more lucrative field of religion. Young ignored those comments, of course, and, by a stroke of luck, came up with the Orwell quote.
The irony is beyond Orwellian. But the man who wrote "1984" would certainly relish the scenario. The Hubbard quote gets sent down the memory tube, replaced by another, more suitable source. Over time, as Orwell understood, a lie can become the truth. Who will dispute it?
Postscript: In 1950, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" was published and became a best-seller. "You are beginning an adventure," wrote Hubbard. "And you may never be the same again." Its sales to date, the church claims, exceed 15 million copies.
Richard Leiby is a Washington Post reporter.