How Will the World Speak My Name… In Years to Come?
“Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant…?”
So asks Marcus Aurelius in the film Gladiator. It has a lovely ring to it, but no basis in history. In fact, these words are wholly discordant with what we know about the tenor of this one of Rome’s Five Good Emperors. Aurelius was a Stoic, and his musings survive mostly in one major work, Meditations (literally translated as ‘To myself’), a series of short, sometimes enigmatic reflections apparently penned for Aurelius’ eyes only.
Stoic philosophy posits that how we are remembered doesn’t matter at all, and Aurelius often reminds himself in Meditations that, in the fullness of time, he will be forgotten. This doesn’t mean either Stoicism or Aurelius reckon that our actions are meaningless. Quite the opposite: Both hold that how we live matters immensely—not for concern over how we’re recollected in life or in death—but because the purpose of life is to use whatever power, reason and intelligence we have to be a good citizen of the cosmos, to cooperate with others, and be truthful, compassionate, reverent and just.
In a nutshell, all that matters is acting as virtuously as we can.
My thoughts drifted to the famous Caesar and his chosen school of Hellenistic philosophy not while watching Gladiator, but while taking in the L. Ron Hubbard Birthday Celebration 2015, which took place in Clearwater, Florida, on March 13. Melissa Schlaich was also in attendance, having traveled from her home in Los Angeles to the Church’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater—its spiritual headquarters—to celebrate the occasion of the Scientology Founder’s 104th birthday.
“When you’re there you see people you’ve met from all over the world who fly to Clearwater for this event. So it’s really exciting and special. You feel very much connected with what’s going on with your Church, and its accomplishments over the year,” Schlaich says.
To those who practice the Scientology religion, L. Ron Hubbard (LRH to Scientologists) is far more than merely symbolic and—even 29 years after his passing—isn’t a figure considered in terms of “remembering.” His ‘spiritual technology’ is pervasive, indelible, vital and very much alive in his legacy—and in the people around the world who follow his prescription for living, which is, in a nutshell: act as virtuously as you can.
Schlaich, 58, has been using and studying Scientology technology since she was 15. She says, for her, L. Ron Hubbard figures large because of that technology he discovered, and the fact that it can help “people from all walks of life—whether they are a criminal or a drug addict or a leader of men.”
And of course people like her, who fall somewhere in between.
“LRH found a way for man to achieve spiritual freedom,” says Schlaich. “And I know you’re thinking: What the hell does that mean?”
“Let me explain: I’m 58 years old and I’m super energetic. Spiritually, I don’t get bummed out. I’m not besieged by angst that I can’t deal with.”
I think I get what she’s talking about—there’s a lightness about Schlaich, and at this point in our phone interview, I was surprised to hear that she’s nearly 60. I’d pegged her at about 35, her vigor registering like a full-up balloon, smooth around the edges—not puckered from leakage through the weak membrane of middle age. “It’s a spiritual freedom that makes life just enjoyable, and makes it easier to be there for other people,” she continues.
“I’m a teacher, and I work with teenagers. When I tell this to people, they say something like, ‘Oh poor you.’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I love working with kids at that age, helping them become grown ups and achieve their goals and get into college.”
Schlaich’s been teaching at the Delphi school in Los Angeles for 23 years. Her tenure in Scientology is longer than that by two decades, and in that time she’s seen the religion benefit many people, in many ways. “All through my life I’ve seen Scientology help people improve their lives, save their marriages, relate to their children—and just improve their general attitude,” she says.
Schlaich goes on to speak to the notion of time’s wide and deep folds, noting that while LRH is a pervasive and prominent figure even a quarter-century after his passing (The Smithsonian Institution last November named L. Ron Hubbard one of the 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time), he was always quick to say Scientology isn’t about him, it’s about the help it offered, and the religion’s overarching ideals of freedom and decency.
“There’s so many aspects of life that he’s addressed and improved conditions in that it’s not immediately traceable anymore back to him,” Schlaich says.
In addition to writing stories like this one, I am Freedom’s editor. In that capacity I develop stories that fit with the magazine’s editorial mission, which is—as you would expect—aligned with the broader public service goals of the Church of Scientology: halting the erosion of individual liberty, and remedying the problems of judicial inequity, political chaos and social decay.
But it was not until we were midway through putting together this issue that I learned that the Church has a long and significant history of Freedom of Information Act advocacy (the subject of this month’s cover story), flowing from L. Ron Hubbard’s unwavering support for transparency, the hallmark of a democratic government. And that Freedom has long been a vehicle for this work. In the 1970s and 1980s, the magazine carried out a variety of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigations that exposed harmful drug and chemical tests covertly carried out by the United States government. One Freedom report based on FOIA documents revealed that the U.S. Army had secretly sprayed harmful bacteria in Washington, D.C.’s National Airport and in bus terminals in Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco in 1964 and 1965. A similar investigation broke the story of how the CIA continued biological warfare development in apparent defiance of a 1969 presidential order.
It also turns out that L. Ron Hubbard himself was for years a regular Freedom contributor, and it wasn’t just government secrecy that Mr. Hubbard was all up in the business of. His essays that were published in these pages address virtually every aspect of social, political and economic existence: forms of government, questions of individual liberty, the structure of monetary systems, and the preservation of human rights. In his words: “If there is a fruitful source of suppression, then it is a legitimate field for comment.”
While L. Ron Hubbard is a pervasive and prominent figure even 25 years after his passing, he was always quick to say that Scientology isn’t about him, it’s about the help it offers, and the religion’s overarching ideals of freedom and decency.
Though it’s not widely known, those writings were offshoots of a larger project LRH was at work on in the last 20 or so years of his life—a book with the working title “The Cause and Prevention of Revolution.” It was never published in that form, but what Mr. Hubbard intended to be the book’s opening chapter is an essay titled “Strong Voices in the Land.” It is a beautiful piece of thinking and writing that reflects Mr. Hubbard’s enduring view that all those who work for individual liberty represent a voice no government can ignore.
This is a conviction shared by all Scientologists, manifest as it is in their religion—and that, of course, traces easily and directly to LRH.
So it was that the 2015 L. Ron Hubbard Birthday Celebration last month was an excellent opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of what has been a banner year for the Church.
The main event in Clearwater featured a presentation of Scientology’s recent expansion. It also looked to the future, to the imminent launch of Scientology Media Productions in Los Angeles and the planned 2015 opening of Ideal Narconon Drug Rehabilitation Centers in many locations around the world. Also announced: The future L. Ron Hubbard Hall in Clearwater, a 3,500-seat auditorium and adjacent green space set to enliven that city’s downtown.
“The main thing about the Birthday Celebration is that it acknowledges the accomplishments of Scientologists and Scientology organizations everywhere,” says Schlaich.
She’s referring to the Birthday Game Awards, an annual tradition honoring Scientology missions and churches that have most expanded the religion’s reach. As the story goes, the Birthday Game was born when L. Ron Hubbard was asked what he wanted for his birthday and he quipped in reply, “Five times the stats” (‘stats,’ for statistics, measuring the religion’s growth). That wish became the game (and its catchphrase) and the game, over the years, grew into a religious tradition.
As has the annual event honoring L. Ron Hubbard on the occasion of his birthday.
David Miscavige, Scientology’s ecclesiastical leader, presided over the festivities, and—it’s fairly safe to say—summed up the sentiments of all in attendance. Melissa Schlaich, for one, says Miscavige’s words that night certainly resonated with her.
“Never has he been more prominent. Never more manifestly evident. Never closer to the consciousness of seven billion people on Earth,” David Miscavige said in his opening address. “So not to overstate it, not to stretch the point, but, the fact is, LRH is everywhere this evening.”