HBM085: Ascended Fiction

There’s an office in every church of Scientology dedicated to the founder.  It’s a full reconstruction: desks, chairs, books and memorabilia.  The church says these offices are traditional, a way of honoring the memory of L. Ron Hubbard, who died back in 1986.  

L. Ron Hubbard’s office in Copenhagen, Denmark sits on a busy street.  There’s a big window that allows passersby to speculate on its utility.  

Elisabeth Pedersen heard a rumor that the office was more than traditional.  She heard that it might be needed by the author upon his alleged reincarnation and return to earth.  

Sussing out the veracity of this claim is difficult, because Hubbard and his successor David Miscavige choose to keep much of Scientology’s scripture out of the public’s reach.  And therefore, many of the Church of Scientology’s core beliefs must be sifted either through church officials, court documents, or the religion's detractors.

One of those detractors is Tony Ortega, who’s been writing on Scientology since the 1990’s. He thinks Elisabeth’s rumor is a garbled understanding of a belief that might be held in an secretive wing of Scientology known as the Church of Spiritual Technology.  The CST is the group that holds and protects the copyrights to Hubbard’s body of work.  Tony says a defector from the CST told him about preparations being made for the return of L. Ron Hubbard.  His source later denied this.  

When a religion has scriptural gatekeepers, how can you know if a rumor’s been debunked?  A friendly person at the church’s info center pointed out that the internet is full of misinformation about scientology and suggested that listeners of this podcast consult Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination for factual information about the religion and its beliefs.  They also suggested Freedom Magazine.  Scientology’s press officers were contacted several times in the months before release, but never responded.  

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  This episode’s title was inspired by TV Trope’s article on Ascended Fanfic.

Music: Serocell | | | The Black Spot


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HBM055: Ghost Tape Number Ten

All is fair in love and war... even mind games. The United States military employs psychological warfare in nearly every war it's part of. From creating a "ghost army" of inflatable tank fleets in World War II, to blasting heavy metal music toward enemy territory during the Gulf War, the purpose of these tactics is to decrease morale and inspire enemy combatants to surrender or defect. The US Military calls these tactics "Psychological Operations", or "PSYOP".

The Vietnam War was no different. Threatened by the growing popularity of communism in North Vietnam, the United States joined the conflict in the early 1960's in support of anti-communist South Vietnam. Within a few years, U.S. Army 6th PSYOP Battalion tried a new form of psychological warfare, they called it "Operation Wandering Soul".

 

Operation Wandering Soul was designed to exploit a Vietnamese belief that death far away from home meant becoming a restless spirit, doomed to wander aimlessly for eternity. The PSYOP unit hired South Vietnamese voice actors to play the role of ghost soldiers and their families lamenting in an echo chamber. They played these recordings at full volume from helicopters and airplanes flown over enemy territory in the middle of the night. The hope was that North Vietnamese soldiers, exhausted by combat, would drop their weapons and go home.

In this episode, Sergeant Major Herb Friedman (Retired) explains how Ghost Tape Number Ten was created and its effect (or lack there of) on the course of the Vietnam War.  Friedman did not work in the U.S. Army 6th PSYOP Battalion nor any other psyops unit, but in his civilian life he became an expert U.S. psychological operations. You can read more about him and other psyop tactics at psywarrior.com, including his article about Operation Wandering Soul.

This episode included excerpts from Lynden B. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union address.

Caitlin Pierce produced this episode. Caitlin is an independent producer living in New York, and is the creator of the podcast Borders. This episode was edited by Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman. Our editor at KCRW is Nick White.

Music:  Phantom Fauna ||| The Black Spot

HBM051: Sister Bethany, Proxy for the Dead

Bethany Denton was about five years old when she learned that she was a Mormon. When she was eight, she learned that she was an eternal spirit destined for an eternal afterlife.  The idea of eternity terrified her, and made her afraid to stargaze into the boundless universe.

When she got older, Bethany was allowed to enter the Mormon temple in Billings, Montana to act as the proxy in baptisms for the dead.

"Mormon Baptism" by Frederick Hawkins Piercy (1830-1891), a Mormon artist.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was founded in 1830, and has practiced baptisms for the dead (or "baptism by proxy") since 1840. This practice intends to give dead people the opportunity to join the church in the afterlife from Spirit Prison, where all souls wind up. Mormon teenagers are eligible to serve as a proxy when they turn twelve years old.  Over the course of her adolescence, Bethany was the proxy for about 30 dead people. 

When Bethany was seventeen, the late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley tasked the youth of the LDS church to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. Bethany took him up on his challenge, and started noticing inconsistencies that made her question (and ultimately lose) her faith. She doesn't go to church anymore and hasn't for almost ten years, but she's still a member of the church, and always will be...unless she sends a formal letter of resignation.

Today, Bethany Denton is the Managing Editor of Here Be Monsters and loves to marvel at outer space.  She co-produced this piece with Jeff Emtman, along with help from Nick White, our editor at KCRW. Track image by Kyle Keenan.

Music: The Black Spot