No Laughing Matter
One of the more curious paradoxes you’ll find within Scientology organizations is how they deal with humor. L. Ron Hubbard must have had some degree of understanding on the subject, since as a writer of science fiction, he most certainly dealt with the elements of humor more than a few times. In his ten-volume sci-fi series Mission Earth he notes in the introduction, “. . . there is another aspect to science fiction: by its nature most of it has an element of satire.” Hubbard also made a point of defining humor and its relationship to Scientology. In the Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary, you’ll find this entry: “. . . humor is rejection. The ability to reject. The ability to throw something away.” The word also appears in Hubbard’s Modern Management Technology Defined: “. . . laughter is rejection, actually. And humor you will find usually deals with one or another out-point put in such a way that the reader or audience can reject it.”
In 1977, Hubbard issued an odd bulletin titled “Jokers and Degraders,” that limited the scope of what Scientologists could consider funny. Hubbard declared Scientology off limits to humorous expression. He wasn’t opposed to joking in general, but in his view, those who made jokes within the Church environment were destructive people. He said, “In some cultural areas, wit and humor are looked upon as a healthy release. However, in the case of orgs, this was not found to be the case. Intentional destruction of the org or fellow staff members was the direct purpose.”
American humorist Will Rogers once observed, “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.” Maybe this was Hubbard’s frame of mind when he determined that making jokes about Scientology was a suspect activity. There’s a difference between being able to tell a joke and being able to take one.
Hubbard’s take on humor is peculiarly inconsistent. On one hand, he acknowledged that humor could be a healthy release, even therapeutic. For example, laughter is considered a good indicator within the Scientology counseling environment. Yet when it comes to the organization, displays of humor are seen as a sure indication of trouble. Not only is the jokester displaying his own destructive impulses but, “He is also advertising an area of the org where there is enturbulation and down statistics as well as staff members being victimized.”
In spite of Hubbard’s dim view of laughter in the workplace, Scientologists aren’t much different than anyone else when it comes to humor. While you might find some Scientologists who don’t seem to laugh much, you’ll also find those with an excellent sense of humor. Unfortunately, funny Scientologists are discouraged from displaying their talent. But it wasn’t always that way.
During the Seventies, Scientology humor was frequently evident, especially in the Missions. Staff and public used to come up with all sorts of “Scientologist jokes.” And around Christmas time you could always find someone who just wrote a Christmas carol parody using Scientology terms. I remember a high-ranking Scientology counselor who used to rewrite popular songs and turn them into songs about Scientology. I recall a Scientologist doing a hilarious impersonation of Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood doing a drill on the Communication Course. There was another Scientologist who liked to perform old TV shows as if the characters were all Scientologists. All of it was funny, and all of it was harmless.
L. Ron Hubbard considered himself a consummate expert on any subject he touched. Humor was no exception. In his Policy Letter “Situation Finding,” Hubbard claims that humorists really don’t have any idea of what they’re doing. He said, “Even humorists have no real idea of illogic. Reading their ideas of the theory of humor shows them to be off the mark. They really don’t know what is ‘funny.’” I guess Hubbard, in all of his in-depth research, never got around to reading the works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or Oscar Wilde. And somehow he must have missed the work of two of his contemporaries, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, whose classic humor dates back to the Golden Age of Television. Hubbard’s absurd claim that humorists have no idea of illogic is as unfounded as it is ridiculous. Comedians like George Carlin and Steven Wright can masterfully pit logic and illogic against each other in countless hilarious combinations. Hubbard might have been better advised to leave comedy to the professionals.
Hubbard may have displayed a sense of humor at times but it certainly had its limitations. He had no trouble poking fun at the traditional institutions of society which he saw as inferior to his own organization. But he never for a moment saw a speck of humor in anything that he ever did. Hubbard could dish it out, but he sure couldn’t take it.
We all know a few people that just can’t take a joke. Take Fidel Castro for instance. It’s a crime in Cuba to exhibit satirical portrayals of their Communist dictator. Totalitarian Marxist regimes just aren’t very funny, apparently. Neither is Scientology, it would seem.
Hubbard and Castro aside, most of us can usually laugh at our own foibles. It’s how we maintain our dignity in awkward situations. How would Hubbard have responded to humor at his expense? Would he have fired back with a snappy one-liner like Groucho Marx, or would he have reacted indignantly like Margaret Dumont?
Believe it or not, Hubbard himself may have provided us with the answer. The “Introduction” in “Volume One” of Mission Earth is essentially an essay on the subject of humor and satire. In one passage, Hubbard might have revealed more about himself than he knew. It’s L. Ron Hubbard in perhaps his most ironic moment:
“. . . the targets of satire are always the last to laugh. Due to various personal reasons, they cannot see the joke. But satire is not written for them. It is written for others so that, like the fable, they can see that the “emperor has no clothes.”