Messiah news: Real Estate and Sushi Edition

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Ana Performing Arts and Event Center building may soon leave behind the things of this world, and take on the fight against the evil alien power from beyond the stars that's keeping you from fulfilling your potential and living like Tom Cruise. In other words, the building's owner Mike Harrah is in negotiations to sell the place to the Church of Scientology. Harrah needs the money to realize his plan to build the tallest building in Orange County (a whopping 37 stories– not exactly the Empire State Building, admittedly, but still taller than any building in all of South Dakota), and the church needs the room. The fight against the evil power is going so well in OC that its facilities in Tustin, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa just aren't enough anymore.

If you want to get to know the potential new neighbors before they move in, try Laura Miller's review of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, which appeared last year in Salon. You'll have to click through an ad to read the review, but that's much better option than actually reading Dianetics, since, as Miller points out, "The first thing you notice about "Dianetics" is that it is spectacularly dull."

The review doesn't get much kinder than that, but Miller still has a certain grudging respect for Hubbard:

In a way, it's impressive. Hubbard not only managed to get... [Dianetics] published, it actually became a bestseller and the founding text for Scientology . It's not your garden-variety crank who can take a crackpot rant, turn it into a creepy gazillion-dollar church with the scariest lawyers around, and set himself up as the "Commodore" of a small fleet of ships, waited on hand and foot by teenage girls in white hot pants.

(Note for any who find that description appealing: the teenage girls in white hot pants are not available at the entry level.)

Miller's review is particularly good at uncovering an underlying narrative in the book, one that gives you "a picture of Hubbard as a man wrestling with mental illness, who saw his mind as a potentially superhuman machine beset by invaders and parasites." Of course, that didn't stop him from founding a highly profitable religion. It's tempting to say, "Only in America", but the capacity for people to believe anything is so widely distributed throughout the world that other countries can even export their do-it-yourself messiahs to the U.S. Take for example, the Unification Church's Reverend Sun Myung Moon– whom you've probably given money to sometime in the last year.

Don't consider yourself the type who would contribute to the Moonies? Eaten sushi in the last year? If you did, your tuna may well have come from, True World, a Unification Church owned business, which as the Chicago Tribune explains, is "an enterprise that reaped millions of dollars by dominating one of America's trendiest indulgences: sushi... Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants."

Moon started building his sushi empire more than three decades ago, the Tribune reports.

Moon predicted in 1974 that the fishing business would "lay a foundation for the future economy of the Unification Church." In fact, while Moon and businesses affiliated with him reportedly have poured millions of dollars into money-losing ventures including The Washington Times newspaper, the seafood ventures have created a profit-making infrastructure that could last-and help support the church-long after the 86-year-old Moon is gone.

L. Ron Hubbard might have his e-meters and other tools, but Moon has the "Way of the Tuna", and those mass marriages that account for most of the attention Moon has gotten in the American media play an important part.

In the late 1970s, Moon laid out a plan to build seafood operations in all 50 states as part of what he called "the oceanic providence."....

He even suggested that the church's mass weddings could play a role in the business plan by making American citizens out of Japanese members of the movement. This would help them avoid fishing restrictions applied to foreigners.

"A few years ago the American government set up a 200-mile limit for offshore fishing by foreign boats," Moon said in the 1980 "Way of Tuna" sermon. But by marrying Japanese members to Americans, "we are not foreigners; therefore Japanese brothers, particularly those matched to Americans, are becoming ..... leaders for fishing and distribution" of his movement's businesses.

Sushi's popularity had flowered enough by 1986 for Moon to gloat that Americans who once thought Japanese were "just like animals, eating raw fish," were now "paying a great deal of money, eating at expensive sushi restaurants." He recommended that his flock open "1,000 restaurants" in America.

In fashioning a chain of businesses that would stretch from the ocean to restaurant tables across America, Moon and his followers created a structure uniquely able to capitalize on the nation's growing appetite for sushi and fresh fish.

One of the many things Reverend Moon uses his fishy money to pay for is the Bush family. The Tribune doesn't mention that, but investigative journalist Robert Parry has carefully tracked the connections between the Bushes and Moon– you can find his stories here. Warning: it's almost enough to put you off your sushi.


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