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L. Ron Hubbard is widely rumored to have said "The way to make a million
dollars is to start a religion." There are also variant rumors. For
some reason, this is often mentioned on Usenet. Evidence is discussed
below, but the short answer is that it's almost certainly true.
The Church of Scientology has actually taken German publishers to court
for printing this story. _Stern_ won (see below).
One form of the rumor is that L. Ron Hubbard made a bar bet with Robert
A. Heinlein. This is definitely not true. It's uncharacteristic of
Heinlein, and there's no supporting evidence. There is, however,
inconclusive evidence that Robert Heinlein suggested some parts of the
Another variant is that Hubbard talked of starting a religion to avoid
taxes. Jay Kay Klein reports that Hubbard said this in 1947.
The Church's media guide tells reporters that the rumor is confused, and
that it was George Orwell who said it. In 1938, Orwell did write "But I
have always thought there might be a lot of cash in starting a new
religion...". However, Robert Vaughn Young, who was Scientology's
spokesman for 20 years, says that Hubbard learned about the Orwell quote
from _him_. Young further states that he met three people who could
remember Hubbard saying more-or-less the famous quote. Nor did Hubbard
write a rebuttal of the rumor -- Young claims to have ghost-written the
rebuttal in the Rocky Mountain News interview.
I found the following in books about Hubbard and Scientology:
"Whenever he was talking about being hard up he often used to say
that he thought the easiest way to make money would be to start a
-- reporter Neison Himmel: quoted in _Bare Faced Messiah_** p.117 from 1986
interview. Himmel shared a room with LRH, briefly, Pasadena, fall 1945.
** _Bare-Faced Messiah, The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard_, by Russell
Miller (N.Y.: Henry Holt & Co., 1987) ISBN 0-8050-0654-0. $19.95 London:
Michael Joeseph Penguin Book Ltd, 1987. See the Access FAQ for reviews.
"I always knew he was exceedingly anxious to hit big money - he used
to say he thought the best way to do it would be to start a cult."
-- Sam Merwin, then the editor of the _Thrilling_ SF magazines:
quoted in _Bare Faced Messiah_ p.133 from 1986 interview. Winter of 1946/47.
"Around this time he was invited to address a science fiction group
in Newark hosted by the writer, Sam Moskowitz. `Writing for a penny
a word is ridiculous,' he told the meeting. `If a man really wanted
to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his
-- _Bare Faced Messiah_ p.148. Reference given to LA Times, 27 Aug 78.
Supposed to have happened in spring 1949.
"Science fiction editor and author Sam Moscowitz tells of the occasion
when Hubbard spoke before the Eastern Science Fiction Association
in Newark, New Jersey in 1947:
`Hubbard spoke ... I don't recall his exact words; but in effect,
he told us that writing science fiction for about a penny a word
was no way to make a living. If you really want to make a million,
he said, the quickest way is to start your own religion.'"
-- _Messiah or Madman_***, p.45. No reference given. Yes, the spelling
of Sam's name differs: this book got it wrong, it has a "k". I
don't know why the two books disagree by two years.
(Oddly, the same misspelling occurs in _The dangerous new cult of
Scientology_, by Arlene and Howard Eisenberg, Parents Magazine, June
1969, pages 48-49 and 82-86. From this and other similarities, it
seems likely that Corydon is quoting the Eisenberg article, rather
than quoting Moskowitz directly.)
*** _L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?_ -- by Bent Corydon and L. Ron
Hubbard Jr. a.k.a. Ronald DeWolf.(Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1987)
ISBN 0-8184-0444-2 In 1992, from Barricade Books, dist. by Publishers
Group West, $12.95 See the Access FAQ for reviews.
_The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction_ lists Sam Moskowitz as the first
good historian of science fiction [among other things]. In 1994
Moskowitz wrote an affidavit which states: "After speaking for about an
hour at the meeting, Mr. Hubbard answered questions from the
audience. He made the following statement in response to a question
about making money from writing: `You don't get rich writing science
fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.'"
The affidavit states that this was the 7 Nov 1948 meeting of the Eastern
Science Fiction Association, of which Moskowitz was the director.
Now, there is a problem with the three Moskowitz reports. Specifically,
the Church obtained affidavits in 1993 from David A. Kyle and Jay Kay
Klein. Both names are well-known in science fiction, and both say that
they went to the 7 Nov 1948 talk by Hubbard. Both say that they didn't
hear any such statement. Puzzling.
I believe that these dueling affidavits have met in court. _Stern_, a
German magazine, was sued by the Church, and the suit was thrown out
of court after they obtained the Moskowitz affidavit.
On 9apr94, jit...@gumby.cs.caltech.edu (Mike Jittlov) posted:
<about a conversation with Theodore Sturgeon>
>Back in the 1940's, L. Ron Hubbard was a member of the Los Angeles
>Science Fantasy Society (when its old clubhouse was just north of
>Wilshire Blvd). Ted vividly recalled being a few yards from Hubbard,
>when he became testy with someone there and retorted, "Y'know, we're
>all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanta
>make _real_ money, you gotta start a _religion_!
>Though I didn't ask, I think Ted would've mentioned it if the second
>person was Heinlein or another author of note. He had an extremely
>accurate memory, and I'd trust Sturgeon over anyone else's account.
Reportedly Sturgeon also told this story to others. Theodore Sturgeon
was one of the truly great science fiction writers, and someone whose
word and memories were trusted. (John W. Campbell commented that
Sturgeon should have written the definitive history of SF fandom.)
Mike Jittlov is a respected Hollywood filmmaker and stopmotion actor,
and can be found on the net at "alt.fan.mike-jittlov".
Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was a science fiction writer and publisher between
1929 and 1957. His autobiography, _Over My Shoulder: Reflections of the
Science Fiction Era_ ( Oswald Train: Publisher, Phila. 1983, limited
edition) says on pages 125 and 126 (about the events of 1948 and 1949):
I think of the time while in New York I took John W. Campbell,
Marty Greenberg, and L. Ron Hubbard to lunch. Someone suggested
a Swedish smorgasbord, and I had my first--and last--taste of
kidney. Yuck! Afterward we wound up in my hotel room for
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!"
Eshbach based his autobiography on detailed records and dated diary
entries, and is therefore likely to be quite accurate on this point.
Harlan Ellison is a science fiction author and movie scriptwriter. In
an interview ****, he has said such things as "I was there the night
L. Ron Hubbard invented [Dianetics]". In a 1999 telephone interview,
Mr. Ellison gave more details. In 1950, when he was 15, Ellison
attended meetings of the Hydra Club. This was a New York club of
science fiction writers, and he remembers Hubbard taking part in a
discussion of how well a religion would pay. Ellison quoted the phrase
as "what you need to do is start a religion", but did not claim to
have remembered it word-for-word after 49 years.
**** _The Saturday Evening Wings_, Nov-Dec 1978, p.32. Reportedly
Ellison also said similar things in _TIME OUT_, UK, no. 332. Ellison
informed me in a 1999 interview that the Wings article is only a
unverified transcript of a casual conversation, although it is broadly
Reportedly, a Vonnegut biography mentions the Hubbard quote. If anyone
can find an exact reference, I would appreciate email. Randall
Garrett also supposedly talked about this. Again, I would appreciate
To summarize: we have nine witnesses: Neison Himmel, Sam Merwin, Sam
Moskowitz, Theodore Sturgeon, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Harlan Ellison,
and the three unnamed witnesses of Robert Vaughn Young. There is some
confusion and doubt about one of them (Sam Moskowitz). Two are
reported via Russel Miller: one is reported via Mike Jittlov: one
reported in his autobiography; one reported in an affidavit; and one
reported to me in person. The reports describe different events,
meaning that Hubbard said it at perhaps six times, in six different
venues - definitely not just once. And the Church's official
disclaimer is now reportedly a flat lie.
Conclusion: He definitely said it more than once.