This is the MA Thesis of Richard Lloyd Smith III, BA, presented to the University of Virginia Sociology on Discordianism, the Church of the Subgenius and Cthulhu cults and their effect on the World Wide Web. I present this in full, for your reading pleasure. Its long, and I will provide the link to the original source, but I hope you enjoy this.
Audience Cults and the World Wide Web
The unprecedented growth of the World Wide Web signals the emergence of new forms of communication in the so called Age of Information. Social groups are reevaluating the manners in which they conduct relationships and form organizations. Religions are no exception. Many faiths have online sites where members and nonmembers can gather facts about the group's beliefs, history, and locations of worship. Groups utilize electronic forms of communication like e-mail or newsgroups that bridge the distance between members. Audience cults, a term used by Stark and Bainbridge in The Future of Religion, are dispersed, unorganized religious groups. Three will be the focus of this paper: Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and the cults of Cthulhu. I have attempted to show that the 'members' of these groups are actively involved in the construction of the World Wide Web. Due to their intimate affinity for the computer interface and lack of interest in traditional organization, these audience cults are better categorized as neophilic irreligions, diffuse groups of individuals committed to chaos and the unfamiliar that find meaning in supernatural forces embedded in parodies of conventional faiths. These irreligions construct social space and provide meaning for, instead of retreating from, the confusion and unpredictability so rampant in cyber communication. These groups provide members with ultimate meaning and general compensators that are in tandem to what the Web, and more generally, the Information Age, is all about.
RELIGIOUS NEWSGROUP MADNESS AND IRREVERENT RANTS
"Our cause is a secret within a secret, a secret that only another secret can explain; it is a secret about a secret that is veiled by a secret."
- Ja 'far as-Sadiq, 6th Imam, quoted in Rev. Karl Musser, Episkopos of the Cartographer's Conspiracy Cabal's signature file (alt.discordia: 15 Sep. 1996)
"We all chip in, see? We get these cameras of our own," Hal Phillips types on alt.discordia, an internet newsgroup (17 Sep. 1996). "We spy on police headquarters all the time. We just take turns, rotating shifts, time. Nothing illegal, see." Hal is hoping to revive a pastime of the 'Diggers,' an anarchist group active in the 1960's. "We just take turns, rotating shifts, sitting outside various police-related buildings and filming through the window, telling them it's just in case we ever need to know what was happening in there." Hal is a member of Discordianism, a free-wheeling religious group bent on exploiting and manipulating as much chaos and disorder as it can muster (Adler: 1985, 332). "Then we trade shifts," he continues. "And take the tapes home with us. If we organize it, we can actually pull it off. The best weapon," Hal finishes, "is that which is used against you."
On another newsgroup, alt.slack, Reverend Unibomber posts (9 Sep. 1996), "Well...aside from the fact that I couldn't understand half of what was happening due to the fact that it all went by so QUICKLY, I can honestly say that last night's devival on another.net was a success." The Reverend (an online pseudonym) is speaking of the weekly on-line 'meetings' of the Church of the SubGenius, an unpredictable, in-your-face religious group that promises to trounce all "false prophets and faiths" (Stang, 1996) that stand in the way of their teachings. He concludes, "If I remember correctly, (which I probably don't, but oh, well...) about 30 or 40 people showed up during the course of the evening. All of them throwing verbal assaults at one another AT THE SAME TIME! CHAOS! CHAOS! But, a GOOD chaos."
More clicks of the mouse brings up alt.horror.cthulhu. Tenebrous, a cool-headed newsgroup aficionado introduces the 'Aeon of Cthulhu Rising': "By the same token, those initiates of the Esoteric Order of Dagon who are working towards the Opening of the Gate of Yog-Sothoth must be prepared to undertake this most dangerous descent into the Abyss of Daath (the so-called 'false knowledge') in order to activate these formulae effectively" (Tenebrous, 22 Nov. 1996) Tenebrous can be called a member of the cult of Cthulhu, a group worshipping a misanthropic God chained "beneath the waves" (Lovecraft, 1992) which will eventually ("when the stars are right") wipe out humanity and reclaim earth once again (Alquier, 1996). Howard Phillips Lovecraft, a pulp horror writer in the 1920's, invented Cthulhu. Both the author and his Gothic creations have been raised to a prophetic level over the years. Tenebrous writes, "In his pivotal Mythos tale, 'The Call of Cthulhu,' Lovecraft has adumbrated the first portents of this return..." ( 22 Nov. 1996)
The above messages appear on newsgroups catering to three quirky, unorthodox, and downright odd religious groups. The Web in general, and newsgroups in particular, are mobilizing these new religious movements in ways never comprehended. At one time, these groups would wreak the havoc and chaos they worship in localized spheres. Cyberspace is bridging the gaps between small groups and transforming the clusters into national movements. It is doing this without any of the rules commonly associated with the institutionalization of groups. Members of Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and the Cthulhu cult abhor conventional social groupings, methods of organization, and hierarchies. The Web has none of these. It is a wild no-man's land, or, "an additional parallel:...the nineteenth-century American frontier" (Burstein and Kline: 1995, 8). The Web is electronic in form, post-modern in spirit, and altogether chaotic. No wonder members like Hal Phillips, Reverend Unibomber, and Tenebrous thrive in the virtual forum offered by the Web. They worship Chaos. They are committed to Chaos. But, like the Reverend stated in his post..."GOOD chaos."
How do religious groups that thrive on chaos create and maintain solidarity among members? Do they even wish to? What does solidarity mean to these groups? What about beliefs, morals, and loyalty? Members, if they can be called that at all, hold conventional ways of life in disdain, including 'traditional' conceptions of solidarity and commitment. They forage for creativity and discord in conversation, action, and belief. They spread pluralism and walk the edge of social fragmentation. Post-modernists in action, Discordians, SubGenii and Cthulhuvians are constructing global on-line social realities that mirror the unpredictable local worlds they live in off-line.
These global social realities are being molded through the medium of the computer screen. Whole worlds in the shape of bits and bytes are constructed in the name of these groups' beliefs and tenets. This social reality is cyberspace: a surreal, nonempirical world that is growing at an accelerated pace in many social environments.
Cyberspace has its own laws, rules, language, morals, etiquette, and structure...though almost all of them are violated at some time or another, making way for constant innovation and change. The individuals putting together cyberspace find power in the fact that they are the dominant order in this brave new world. They hold the keys to its creation, maintenance and destruction. Though, like anyone in power, they know that their world can retaliate in the shape of viruses, other 'cyberconstructionalists,' or sheer outage of electricity.
Thus, they recognize that power in cyberspace, and the order that arises from it, can disappear as quickly as it arrived. The social reality of cyberspace is chaotic and utterly unpredictable. Individuals involved in cyberspace find meaning and establish culture in the gods and beliefs of Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius and the cults of Cthulhu. Like cyberspace, these religious groups are built (and indeed thrive) on chaos.
ORIGINS FROM BEYOND TIME AND SPACE, WITHIN YOUR PINEAL GLAND AND IN THE PIPE OF A MAN NAMED 'BOB'
This Incredible New Faith, Authorized to Blaspheme by the Gods Themselves, is the First All-Purpose Beliefe System to be Compatible With Most Major World Religiona and Many Weird Cults--Without Expensive Interfaces!!
-The Church of the SubGenius Pamphlet #2, page 2 (Stang, 1996)
They are referred to as 'joke religions' or 'parodies' on-line. Their deities are a smorgasbord of kaleidoscopic imagery: a Goddess of Discord, an insanity-wreaking cephalopod, and a pipe smoking, drill equipment salesman. Beliefs can be summed up in a number of Zen-like sayings: "Orthodoxy is the only heresy," "Don't believe what you read," or "Cthulhu loathes you." Their members are bound with a mysterious code borne out of new worldviews incorporating technology and underground cultures. The origins of Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and the Cthulhu cultists are as unusual as the gods and goddesses they worship.
The human race will begin solving it's problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously. To that end, POEE proposes the countergame of NONSENSE AS SALVATION.
-The Principia Discordia (1994: 74)
An important concept behind these groups should be dealt with before beginning an investigation of their origins: the "ha ha only serious" mentality of the members, their scriptures, and their beliefs. The Graz University of Technology define "ha ha only serious" in their "Hacker Lexicon" as,
A phrase (often seen abbreviated as HHOS) that aptly captures the flavor of much hacker discourse. Applied especially to parodies, absurdities, and ironic jokes that are both intended and perceived to contain a possibly disquieting amount of truth, or truths that are constructed on in-joke and self-parody. Indeed, the entirety of hacker culture is often perceived as ha-ha-only-serious by hackers themselves; to take it either too lightly or too seriously marks a person as an outsider... (22 Nov. 1996).
Graz University uses the term to describe hackers' perceptions of the social environment, but goes on to apply it to the members of the members of the Church of the SubGenius, Discordianism, and the cults of Cthulhu. A "ha ha only serious" mentality resides in many of the postings on each of the group's newsgroups. There is a fine line (and it is drawn in each group with various labels) between those who "get it" and those who don't.
In sociological circles, these groups typically are not researched, due mostly to the jeopardy one faces in studying "nonsense." The "ha ha only serious" worldview has not yet been considered as a socially learned skill. Until it is, groups like the Church of the SubGenius, the Discordians and the Cthulhuvians will not be taken seriously as subjectss of study. In essence, the "joke" will continue until the groups engage in activity that merits traditional attention placed upon them, either in the media or in academia.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn.
In his house in R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
- from "The Call of Cthulhu," by H.P. Lovecraft (1992: 120)
It is appropriate, in a conventional sense, to begin with H.P. Lovecraft and his offspring, Cthulhu. Theirs is the earliest appearance, at least in terms of the history timeline accepted by most. The author introduced his oozing monstrosity in 1928 in Weird Science (Alquier, 1996), one of a slew of pulp magazines spewing out horror and what was to become science fiction. Lovecraft was a reclusive author; he had already been divorced and was back living with his aunts in Rhode Island when "The Call of Cthulhu" was published (Alquier: 1996). He stuck to himself. He didn't get out much, and his mind was as curious as the strange and horrible fiction that emerged from it. Philip A. Shreffer, in The H.P. Lovecraft Companion, writes
Lovecraft was a fairly hard-boiled scientific materialist who tended not to believe in what could not be measured or perceived sensorily. But, at the same time, he had a deep sensitivity to the horrific qualities of antiquity, an understanding that the further back into history he could trace the patterns of human belief and behavior, the further he could remove his fiction from the known. And in approaching the antique unknown, he felt, the easier it is to stimulate fear.
This is why so many of Lovecraft's tales root themselves in a mythos of unseen and undimensioned monsters that existed before the advent of man on earth, or else involve fantasy lands that are at once strange and familiar, often having derivative place names, like Sarnath, which is an archeological site in India (1985: 37)
Cthulhu was a moderate hit among consumers of the pulp magazine (Alquier, 1996). Most readers preferred action- packed tales of two-fisted monsters and buxom babes in tear-away clothing. Lovecraft's myths had neither. He describes Cthulhu in the twisted pages of his short story:
It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery- looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence...(Lovecraft, 1992: 129)
Lovecraft's mythology is rooted in insanity, fear, and darkness. His Gods arrived on Earth eons ago, and after ruling for millions of years, are now resting, or are imprisoned in various space/time continuums. In his stories, characters inadvertedly unearth these misanthropic deities, which inevitably leads to insanity or death. Cthulhu was no exception. A gigantic, dripping horror who "lay dreaming, but not dead" (Lovecraft, 1992: 124) beneath the waves of the Pacific ocean, Cthulhu conjured up Biblical visions of Leviathan, Jonah's whale, and the Devil. The story would become one of Lovecraft's most famous ventures into the mythos he constructed. Lovecraft died of syphilis in 1938, a hermit finding solace only in his dark creations (Loukes, 1996).
His writings would lay dormant for decades. Some interested parties compiled and published collections of his works in the 1960s and 1970s but it was the decade of the 1980s that exhumed Lovecraft, freed Cthulhu from his watery prison, and incited rabid interest in both (Gaiman, in Lovecraft, 1992: preface). This can be credited to a number of sources. Stephen King's enormously popular fiction (see 1981, and especially 1983) were often mass marketed derivations of Lovecraft's work. Many people saw more of Lovecraft through King (and other heirs to his throne of Gothic horror) than they did in his own works. King's novels paved the way for a re-released deluge of Lovecraft's work. Second, a move in fashion towards Gothic- toned clothing, make-up and attitude influenced a small portion of youth in the 1980's (Fine, 1984: 274). This Gothic attitude was sponsored by, in large part, authors like Lovecraft. Finally, Chaosium Inc. published the role- playing game, Call of Cthulhu. The game sells thousands of copies a year (Appel, 1996), and its spin-off products have been doing well also.
From these humble beginnings, the various cults of Cthulhu have spawned new role players, avid interest in Lovecraft's literature, and a number of individuals and groups who believe that Cthulhu is real and that Lovecraft the prophet knew it all along. What it all boils down to is that Cthulhu is returning eventually, and he is going to destroy humanity. This comforts most Cthulhuvians. The ones who aren't comforted will go to all ends describing the fruitlessness of escape, or will simply flash a cybersmile [:)], and leave an empty space in their newsgroup message. It's timely, apocalyptic chaos that reveals the fear of the unknown in all of us.
Before the beginning was the Nonexistent Chao, balanced in Oblivion by the perfect Counterpushpull of the Hodge and the Podge.
- The Principia Discordia, 'Bible' of the Discordians, (1994: 44)
Following a chronological pattern, Discordianism is up next. Discordianism originated in 1957 at a bowling alley in southern California (Malaclypse the Younger, 1994: 7-8). Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill allegedly experienced the cessation of the time/space continuum in a bowling alley for a few seconds, and reached a state of enlightenment. When everything returned to normal, they sat down and formulated a reason: chaos. Soon afterwards, the two published a book, the Principia Discordia. In it, they describe the situation that prompted the revelation:
Just prior to the decade of the nineteen- sixties, when Sputnik was alone and new, and about the time that Ken Kesey took his first acid trip as a medical volunteer; before underground newspapers, Viet Nam, and talk of a second American Revolution; in the comparative quiet of the late nineteen-fifties, just before the idea of RENAISSANCE became relevant...
Two young Californians, known later as Omar Ravenhurst and Malaclypse the Younger, were indulging in their habit of sipping coffee at an allnight bowling alley and generally solving the world's problems. This particular evening the main subject of discussion was discord and they were complaining to each other of the personal confusion they felt in their respective lives. "Solve the problem of discord," said one, "and all other problems will vanish." (1994: 7)
The next evening, one of the young men had a dream. Eris, the Greek goddess of discord visited him in his sleep, saying, "I am chaos. I am the substance from which your artists and scientists build rhythms. I am the spirit with which your children and clowns laugh in happy anarchy. I am chaos. I am alive, and I tell you that you are free" (1994: 8-9). Principia Discordia, and the belief structure surrounding it, revel in the discord caused by Eris who started the Trojan War when, perturbed at not being invited to a gala of the Gods, threw a golden apple into the crowd of deities On the apple was inscribed the word kallisti, or "to the fairest." Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite bickered over who should possess the apple, and eventually Paris made off with Helen after choosing the Goddess of Love (Lee, 1996).
Eris, according to Thornley and Hill, has been causing havoc since the 'beginning' (1994: 55). After the first run of the Principia Discordia, cabals centering on the worship of Eris began appearing in the San Francisco Bay area. Through the second and third run of the book (all by various publishers), more cabals appeared across the United States. Margot Adler writes, "Discordians and Erisians are very much present in the Pagan community today. They make their presence known at Pagan festivals, and there are several journals with a Discordian point of view" (1985: 336). Some were small, others only had a member or two. None could be considered great in number. Today, there are over thirty different groups advertising their activities on the Web and inviting others to join the ranks of the 'Apple Corps.'
As well as a revival of esoteric Greek and Roman mythology, Discordianism is a "self-subverting Dada-Zen for Westerners" (Buxton, 1996). Members revel in the mysteries of Eris while often harboring curiosity and fear of a millennia-long war between the discord of their Goddess and the authoritarian order of a secret society, the Illuminati. They hold the pineal gland to be the highest of all parts of the human body: it is there that all change takes place. Crucial to their belief structure is the hodge-podge, or Sacred Chao, a symbol similar to the yin-yang that characterizes the twisting relationship of chaos and order.
YES -- AFTER ALL THESE CENTURIES of organized "belief" -- a religion that finally comes out and admits that "IT" CAN'T BE SAID because "IT" IS WHAT IS BEING SAID AND DOING THE SAYING AT THE SAME TIME.
- Church of the SubGenius Pamphlet #2, Page 3 (Stang: 1996)
The Church of the SubGenius is a "mutant offshoot of Discordianism," (Graz University, 1996) founded in Dallas, Texas. It was created by 'Reverend' Ivan Stang in 1981 as a spoof on fundamental Christianity. Instead of God as an almighty force, Stang puts the spotlight on the individual. The Church makes grand claims (evident in two of the above quotes from its ubiquitous pamphlets distributed across many American College campuses) about the universe, society, and people who have "bought into the Conspiracy" (Stang, 1996).
Stang and the other SubGenii focus on individuals who are different, who stand out from the crowd. The SubGenius Pamphlet #1 asks readers, "DO PEOPLE THINK YOU'RE STRANGE? DO YOU??...THEN YOU MAY BE ON THE RIGHT TRACK! 'UNPREDICTABLES' ARE NOT ALONE AND POSSESS AMAZING HIDDEN POWERS OF THEIR OWN!" (Stang: 1996) And later asks, "Are You Abnormal? THEN YOU ARE PROBABLY BETTER THAN MOST PEOPLE!" The Church appeals to elitists and losers, individuals of the same coin who feel too different to 'join up or die.' Stang uses this quality to pool these people under the term SubGenius. SubGenii, Stang writes, are part of "A SPAZZ- CHURCH OF MACHO IRONY!!!" (Stang, 1996)
They also recruit from the ranks of the angry youth who are tired of the rampant institutionalization taking place in the United States (Stang: 1996). The Church of the SubGenius has as its 'host' the mysterious quality of slack, or "something for nothing." Until we don't "have to work for living," the SubGenii will battle the forces of the 'Conspiracy' (Stang, 1983). The Church grew, due in part to Stang's unusual "gift for promotion" (Graz University: 1996). Yet it was the 'graven image' of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, the smiling salesman (and deity of the SubGenii) and his theory of slack that propelled the Church forward in terms of membership growth and prevalence in a variety of social groups. Dobbs, a straight laced, pipe smoking icon of the 1950's, was a drill equipment salesman until he discovered a flying saucer in his backyard. Dobbs became relatively infamous in the area where he worked.
Stang chose "Bob" as the omniscient symbol for slack that the Church of the SubGenius espouses in published material, paraphernalia like bumper stickers, and web pages. The SubGenii pride themselves on their lack of a work ethic or an appreciation for the status quo, and consider those who possess such an appreciation to be "Pinks" or "Normals," both derisive term. The SubGenii utilize mantra-like sayings that are part of their "Brain Toolkit" to show that "everything you know is true" (Stang, 1992: 2), a statement that is opposite to the Discordian sentiment, "everything you know is wrong" (Malaclypse the Younger, 1994: 34). Members gather together infrequently for "creative consumption" parties, "short duration marriages," or rap sessions that lead to new ideas for the religion's goals. Most consider themselves to be a Pope or Reverend of something or other, a quality of elitism that inhibits organized group activity. Preferably, the SubGenii subvert surrounding environments on a collective level, by communicating ideas on-line and in print.
I (Thaddeus "navarone" Gunn) am putting together a CARAVRANT to X-Day '97...a ponderous serpentine juggernaut of supercharged RV's that will cross this country from sea to bleeding sea, preaching the words of Dobbs all the way from Seattle to Sherman, NY.
- a rousing message posted on alt.slack which eventually garnered 23 responses of approval (alt.slack: 15 Oct. 1996)
When the groups gather together physically, it is either through close friendship networks, disordered meetings replicating the blaze of cyber-messages on the Web, or vast Dionysian festivals that are driven by the will of chaos. The groups claim to have gathered for years outside the on-line community. Discordians state that they hold "Discordian Days Out" where members romp on highway exits blocking traffic for miles. The Church of the SubGenius hold X-Day Drills in anticipation of the world ending. Cthulhu cults engage in a number of activities: arcane magical rites, brooding role playing games, and discussion groups that support the eerie Lovecraft tradition. These gatherings (and others like them) still occur on a local level. Although some of the activities are questionable (for instance, the Discordian Days Out) others have been seen by other researchers (like SubGenius devivals), or are public affairs (like Cthulhuvian gaming conventions).
It is the Web, however, that has propelled the groups to a whole new level of contact and networking. The Web allows anyone to exchange ideas with anyone. These cults are no exception. The groups communicate beliefs, thoughts, and ideas via messages on websites and newsgroups on the Internet. The Web has provided the groups a crazed, ever- changing forum in which to gather. The Web complements the ideals and practices espoused by members since their inceptions. In essence, the Web and the newsgroups amplify the locally constructed, loosely organized organizational structures and beliefs that had existed before their expansion (Burstein and Kline, 1996: 54).
Discordianism has spread localized chaos by inflicting SNAFUs (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) and OMs (Operation Mindfuck) on taken-for-granted social norms. Now they can inflict more discomfort by teaching thousands who read their messages and sites the 'Garfinkling' techniques that have made them famous in such areas as the San Francisco Bay Area. Newsgroup participants arrive from Ohio, Florida, even Great Britain. The Church of the SubGenius recruits heavily in Dallas and along the West Coast. With the Web, their pool of 'converts' grows a hundred fold. The cults of Cthulhu, born in the mind of a pulp writer has a well established community on the Web. Lovecraft's writings are explained, members can critique ideas, and discover secrets about the magical tomes mentioned in Cthulhuvian texts. The local has become the global.
The unique nature of growth and expansion of these groups in recent years can be credited largely to the cyberspace movement and the individuals involved in its creation. These groups find life in cyberspace, as opposed to established groups who use the Web and its many facets to simply enrich the already existing movement. The Web is the lightning rod for disparate non-joiners who abhor stability and feed off of discord, mayhem and anarchy (Slatalla and Quittner, 1995: 3). To purists, this is what the Web is all about. It is no wonder these individuals are attracted to such religions as the Church of the SubGenius, Discordianism and the cults of Cthulhu.
How does chaos give meaning to the lives of these individuals? Better: why is it the center of worship? Chaos is often used in the prophetic mode to derail dominant orders. This is happening in cyberspace as different parties vie for control of the bits and bytes and how to use them.
In the case of these religious groups, chaos becomes the beacon of rebellion (Michaels, 21 Nov. 1996). The religions, in essence, form a belief structure and philosophy around the concept of chaos. They are intent on disrupting the order they claim has stagnated society.
The members accomplish this task by preparing and conducting "inversion rituals" that parody traditional rituals and beliefs found in more established faiths. These "inversion rituals" aim to deconstruct what members claim to be mindlessly ordered social reality. Once deconstructed, the pieces can be put back together in a playful fashion. This tactic is thoroughly post-modern and has been used in artistic circles for decades (Sarup, 1993 and Kumar, 1995).
Thus, chaos compels individuals of these three groups to find new meaning in old symbols. In reveling in the unholy and discordant throes of chaos, members perceive these rituals as unshackling tools; rites which allow them to fully explore the creative, innovative, unpredictable, and novel.
This playful nature extends even to the very worlds they are constructing online. When members critique the onslaught of goverment regulation and capitalistic tendencies on the Internet, they, in essence, are critiquing the system from within. They have created this world, and now they are in a constant batle with it; always hoping to push it further before it can be entrenched by more ordered social circles.
Members of the three religious prosper in these ongoing "inversion rituals." The rites keep them active in their community, in their religion, and prompt them to continually voice support or disdain for ideas that cross their path. In a way, these individuals are audience members in a digital age. In another, they are active participants in a medium that has not been fully explored.
DRIFTING AUDIENCES AND DYNAMIC NEOPHILES
CRUZIO: In Illuminatus!, you talk about neophiles and neophobes, the lovers and haters of things that are new. Might that not be a measure a person's ability to deal with unpredictability?
WILSON: Yeah, I think people are going to have to get used to a lot more uncertainty which is what all my books are preaching, the acceptance of uncertainty, a high tolerance for uncertainty.
- from an interview with Robert Anton Wilson, author, futurist, guerilla ontologist (Cruzio, 1996)
Are these groups in fact religions? They have beliefs in supernatural forces, are organized to the extent that they can be named, and are committed to chaos. They've been around for awhile and have enough resolution among members to keep dialogue, gatherings and literature in the public domain. Yet they frown upon stability, spit upon dogma, and continue to change scripture held 'sacred' by members. They gather together, but never at periodic sessions (except on the Web, which is itself not fixed in any spectrum except the use of programming language). Anyone can declare themselves a Reverend in either Discordianism or the Church of the SubGenius. Anyone can take the risk of reciting arcane magickal spells in the name of Cthulhu. In the end, it is the groups themselves that decide whether they're religions.
Discordians and SubGenii are quick to declare religiosity (see Kumar, 23 Aug, 1996; Phillips, 21 Oct. 1996; and Sutter, 21 Aug., 1996). The cults of Cthulhu are slightly less apt to do so, since they are fragmented into a variety of classifications, though there are a number of groups who are open in their faith in Cthulhu and his minions beyond the stars (see Damerall, 1996). Due to the snarled, disperse nature of worship, some sociologists will classify the three groups as audience cults (Stark and Bainbridge, 1979: 126 and 1985: 26).
Audience cults are part of a model of new religious movements established by Rodney Stark and Bill Bainbridge in 1979. The authors divided new religious movements into three categories: audience cults, client cults, and cult movements. First and foremost, the authors asserted that members of audience cults (and the cult leaders) simply attended lecture circuit talks, never really participating, and thus never finding (nor establishing) solidarity (1985: 210). "Three degrees of organization (or lack of organization) characterize cults," they write. "The most diffuse and least organized kind is an audience cult" (1985: 26). This broad category includes UFO conventions, astrology column readers and devourers of occult literature. Without organization, the authors declare, a religious group is no more than an audience cult, an aggregate of individuals who have only indistinct interests in common.
Discordians, SubGenii and the Cthulhu cultists demand a category that does their way of living, manner of thinking, and belief systems justice. Indeed, they do thrive on a diffuse, unorganized form of worship. They originated in the writings of a small number of individuals. But their acceptance of new forms of communication prevalent in computers today warrants an expansion of the term audience cult that considers both their acceptance of novel types of organization and the unpredictability of the Net and communication in general. The term audience cult needs a sibling for two reasons.
The first is the fact that The Future of Religion was written in 1985, and was based on work published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1979. Before 1988, the Web was being used by the military, the government, and a small group of academics. Hardly anyone knew about it or its potential. In fact, the Third Wave had not even begun yet. Audiences lapped up written material and attended lectures and seminars. And then moved on. It was one-way communication. This is why commitment to a certain group was nonexistent. The audience could simply get up and leave when it was tired or bored. There were always other audience cults to visit. The Web changed all this. It introduced global two-way communication and it used the computer monitor to incorporate all kinds of media into the equation. Suddenly, the audience could talk back. The audience became a dynamic, active force, instead of a passive aggregate.
The second reason for a new term is what some parties call the post-modern age. Post-modernity has changed many of the ways Western society looks at social grouping, organization, and solidarity (Sarup, 1993: 130). Krishan Kumar writes, "The idea of a national culture and national identity is assailed in the name of 'minority' cultures - the cultures of particular ethnic groups, religious faiths, and communities based on age, gender, or sexuality" (1995: 122). Zygmunt Bauman described the new social groupings of individuals as a stream of water, lapping here and there, and then moving on (1992: 180). There aren't any more social classes. In their place are regional, local organizations that are linked globally through technological communication breakthroughs, like the Internet and the Web.
The grandfather of post-modernism, Lyotard states that post-modernity "accepts and reworks the past, often in a playful, parodic or affectionate form, rather than rejecting it wholesale" (Kumar, 1995: 111). This quality in the groups will become evident later in the paper. And Ihab Hassan has declared that unlike modernity (which had as its focal point 'Authority'), post-modernity has 'Anarchy' (1995: 108). Discordianism, the Church of the Subgenius and the cults of Cthulhu embody this spirit. In a way, they have held the chaotic flame high since their founding days, whether they be fifteen, forty, or seventy years ago.
Now that the theories of post-modernity and the Web have vindicated their unorthodox methods of organization and solidarity, they have begun convalescing, growing out of the term audience cult towards something new, active, dynamic.
These particular audience cults would be better defined as neophilic irreligions. Neophilic, a term coined by futurist Robert Anton Wilson (1975), refers to the quality in individuals that accepts or relishes the 'new' or unfamiliar by actively participating in its construction. The neophile is not opposed to altering his belief structure, or the organizational structure of his group, so long as it aids in the dispersal of stagnation and eternal truths (as they have been understood in modernistic terms). Like post-modernity, a neophile "braces itself for a life without truths, standards, and ideals" (Bauman: 1992, ix).
An irreligion uses the protocol of conventional (read "established") religions to dismantle reality tunnels, or singular perceptions of a lifeworld by disrupting norms and social conventions. This is the playful, parodic nature of post-modernity. Like architects and artists who define themselves as post-modern, the neophiles would welcome this term (and if not, at least act on the principles that are currently in vogue).
Audience cults warrant this augmented definition for a number of reasons, most of which are in response to Stark and Bainbridge's definitions in The Future of Religion. Stark and Bainbridge write that audience cults are "...even less close to being religions" (1985: 209) than client cults, and "membership remains at most a consumer activity" (1985: 340). They assert that "[s]sometimes, audience cults make rather grand claims about the nature of the world and of the human species" (1985:209). They resolve that "although each audience cult is far from being a religion, collectively, they communicate a pale reflection of the religious" (1985: 210) and that "[t]his interpretation may explain why audience cults seldom solidify into cult movements" (1985: 211).
To some extent, the characteristics detailed by the authors are correct. However, the members of these diffuse webs of individuals display attributes of cult movements, albeit in novel ways unrecognized or unappreciated by researchers who use previously established "cultic templates" as gauges for new areas of study. First, the irreligions are more organized than other audience cults previously studied by the two sociologists (however, members condemn the word 'organized,' preferring instead to appear disorganized and diffuse). They establish weekly newsgroup sessions, organize meetings where all members can voice opinions, and allow individuals to express beliefs on personal websites.
Second, they provide unique ultimate meanings for members, invalidating Stark and Bainbridge's claim that they "communicate a pale reflection of the religious" 91985: 210). The irreligions have a strong belief system resting on metaphysical, deity-oriented mythology. Third, there are general compensators that provide a context, culture, and worldview for members. These compensators, resting on the ultimate meaning systems erected, are created by members, and determine their behavior in far greater ways than the compensator "diffuse hope" (1985: 210) proposed by the authors. Fourth, the groups establish antagonistic ties with the surrounding environment and conventional, or normalized, social and religious groups.
The three groups find strength in the unpredictable nature of communication, and thus, the social environment. They activate religious and social change not in group oriented services or rituals (although some members gather for such events), but by proposing archetypal, ever-changing reality loops backed with strange new imagery that capture, confront, and cooperate with the new communication paradigm emerging from and producing the Information Age. In this way, they are audience cults. However, it is an appreciation for new organizational structures, unpredictable deities and beliefs, and a sense of competition with the surrounding environment that make these three groups full-fledged cult movements in the making.
THE GROWTH OF THE WEB AND UNPREDICTABILITY IN COMMUNICATION
The groups were created long before the Web was invented, but much of their recent growth can be attributed to and correlated with the blossoming Web. There are as many, if not more, web sites and newsgroup messages posted for these irreligions than other established religions. Although "web counters" are an imprecise measure of growth (web designers can 'set' counters to any number they desire when establishing a site), many individuals visit these sites on a daily basis.
This, I contend, is because a majority of members in these neophilic irreligions participate actively in the construction of the Web and its many facets and attributes. The Web is owned by no single entity, and no laws dictate the design and quality of the gear that run it. The same applies to the three groups researched for this paper. 'Members' of both groups (the Web community and the irreligions) pride themselves on these characteristics.
Before discussing the three groups' roles on the Web and in the Information Age in general, a brief discussion of the Internet and communication are necessary in order to provide a backdrop for these religions, and to illustrate the relationship between ways the Internet functions and members interact with others, both in the groups and out.
Despite the demise doomsayers have predicted for the last four years, most agree that the Web is here to stay (Ziegler, 1996: B1). It serves as a novel communication device, binding groups of people together in a way never thought of before: the computer interface. Comments like "I'm talking a catastrophic collapse, which I'm pretty sure will happen this year" (1996: B1) are evident in some circles, but they are antithetical to the concept of the Web. Netscape Communications Corp.'s chairman, Jim Clark says, "It will get to the breaking point just like the phone system has throughout time" (1996, B1) And then, he adds, new service providers will add capacity to avoid losing customers. The Web is controlled by no one, and thus will probably always crash, but never burn.
The number of Web sites on the Internet has grown from a few thousand five years ago to an estimated 50 million today (See Ziegler and Burstein and Kline). These sites form a conglomerate forum, a virtual marketplace of information for users. Access to the forum is often slow, but it is always there. It is this feature that makes the Web a new form of social organization. The name World Wide Web illustrates this attribute beautifully. A metaphor for a spider's habitat, the Web is linked everywhere by hypertext, a program used to design web pages.
Individuals are organizing themselves differently because of the Web. Groups can form, gather, and disband in a number of hours. E-mail, newsgroups and web sites make group cohesion an immediate possibility. Groups have realized they no longer have to physically gather in order to bring about the social changes on their agenda. Loyalty is judged in terms of availability and online conversation. Those who get in the way of the group's greater goals are flamed, killfiled, or shunned (Graz University, 1996).
These words are still alien to most social groups, but they are part of the hacker vocabulary. Hackers created the Web, e-mail, and the newsgroups that millions engage everyday. The hacker, originally meaning "someone who made furniture with an ax," (1996) is "a person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary" (1996). Another definition from the Hacker Lexicon of Graz Technical University: "One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations" (1996).
The factors of time and proximity in communication networks are some of these limitations they have bested, or continue to confront with zeal. Hackers worked on the radio, telephone, and the television. Now they work on the Internet, breaking down the hindrances space and time present to communication networks.
What they have created is an increase in the flow of information. The social environment is experiencing a flux of ideas due to the increased alacrity of messages that technology affords. The hackers are responsible for this (Slatalla and Quittner, 1995: 230). They are producing technology at a far greater pace than most can keep up with. This is the reason why the media and other labeling agents have coined this period the "Age of Information." With this opened faucet of information, however, comes, as futurist Robert Anton Wilson states, social chaos (Cruzio, 1996).
Social chaos theory rests on the idea that as communication increases in a system, chaos increases. Discordians are proponents of this theory and 'disguise' it in all of their literature. A number of scientists have accepted chaos theory as the foundation for their work (see Wheatley, 1994, Gell-Mann, 1993). Chaos Theory in mathematics has been applied for a hundred years since the work of Henre Poincare.
Its application in the social sciences is cutting edge now, seeing that chaos theory disrupts linear models of system analysis. Chaos theorists often focus on information as a source of chaos in the social environment. Wilson writes:
Information: A measure of the unpredictability of a message; that is, the more unpredictable a message is, the more information it contains. Since systems tend to disorder (according to the second law of thermodynamics), we can think of the degree of order in a system as the amount of information in it (1979: 542).
It is apparent that with the growth of the Web and the frenzied work of programming hackers in the last few years, the amount of order in the social environment has decreased, and the amount of unpredictability and chaos has increased. So, hackers have created more chaos and confusion in the flow of information by making it easier to communicate. How does this affect their worldview? Well, in many ways. Most of which I experienced while conducting research into these somewhat troublesome groups.
METHODS OF RESEARCH OR, HOW I CAME TO BE 'PINK'
I can't fucking believe the number of people that responded to the gang of zit-faced mental defectives that are posting worthless shit here!!!! Use your KILLFILES, that's what they're here for. Ignore the worthless fucks!
You can't embarrass Net-Scum because the don't have any fucking brains to start with. If you try you just slide to their level. [lower then whale-shit]
If you don't read their worthless posts, then they don't exist anymore. Anyone that habitually responds to this shit is going in my kill-file, as ell, just like that worthless bitch NOMAD!
-Bill, on alt.discordia and alt.slack (alt.slack: 24 Oct. 1996)
Researching the Web is both an exercise in futility and an activity of fruitfulness. It is, as Burstein and Kline write in Road Warriors, a no-man's land (1996). Better, there's an every-man-for-himself mentality that governs the medium. It can run harmoniously like a pure democratic community, or erupt into an anarchic motley of 404 error messages and electronic dead ends. The cyberworld of the three irreligions embody both aspects. Their websites are some of the most organized, beautiful, and extensive on the World Wide Web. Their newsgroups are some of the discordant, frustrating around. Their sites represent the well honed ability at HTML coding and linking while the newsgroups they participate in express the randomness that constitute their worldviews.
The methodology used to collect data for this project was as eclectic as the data itself. In a way, I was a participant observer. In another, I was an infiltrator, drawing the members out into the open, exposing their beliefs and ideas about the religions they belong to.
May 1996 began the search for the secrets behind the ironic and unconventional veils of the three irreligions. I began exploring the byways of the Web, compiling information on as many sites I could find that related to the three groups. In hacker jargon, I was a lurker, an individual who views a web site but offers neither praise nor criticism of the content. Most people 'cruising' the World Wide Web are lurkers. Hackers liken lurkers to mere television viewers. They use this term with a tone of disdain and contempt. Most hackers believe that the Web should be interactive. If you stumble into a no-man's land, they reason, better be ready to converse with the locals or other travelers.
But the Web allows lurkers to abound. Despite historical records stored in bits and bytes inside hard drives by bots (programs that collect and retrieve information for users) most lurkers can go undetected in the journeys around cyberspace. This is how I proceeded from May to July of 1996.
I decided to "come out of the closet" to many of the individuals participating in the groups near the end of the summer. I contacted the webmasters (creators or maintainers of the Web sites I visited) via e-mail to conduct interviews and glean any information from them that wasn't apparent on their sites.
Most responses were terse and to the point. Neophiles don't trust researchers. They feel labeled, packaged for an academic paper that'll categorize and box them. This is something no neophile, and certainly no irreligion wishes for. So I changed my approach in the beginning of September. I joined the three major newsgroups introduced at the beginning of the paper.
Newsgroups are like a Hollywoodized Old West Saloon. There are the regulars who grunt over their cards, and stick with others at their card table. These are the individuals who post all the time, and end up having on-line conversations at least three to four times a week.
There are the heroes in white Stetsons and spurs who drop in, try to clean things up, and then move on after meeting with failure (or death: read killfiled). On newsgroups, this is the individual who hears about the ideas of one of the irreligion, and tries to convince the regulars that they have it all wrong, that they're steered the wrong way (wrong beliefs, wrong attitude, etc.). They get killfiled or shunned out of existence.
There are the young guys who don't necessarily want to prove anything, want in on the card game but don't know the rules yet. These are the infamous newbies, so called because they are 'net babies who haven't learned the ropes of adult life on the Web, or on a particular newsgroup. They blunder into closed conversations, offend regulars, or stumble over beliefs and customs. Most of the time they're escorted out of the newsgroup to the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and told to stay there until they've learned enough to post something worth talking about.
Finally, there are the troublemakers who achieve the reputation of "most hated poster." There are at least four of these on alt.discordia, for example. They're a little like parasites, and a lot like cancer. They gnaw away at posted messages, and stick around even though they're avoided. They're usually the regulars who get shot at the Old West Saloon table after they get too annoying during many hands of poker.
I decided to enter the newsgroups as a lurker, just to get my bearings. I even read the FAQs for each of the three groups before testing the waters. But I was pegged as a newbie immediately on alt.horror.cthulhu and as a hero on both alt.discordia and alt.slack. It might have to do with the messages I posted. On alt.cthulhu:
Does anyone actually believe in Cthulhu? I have seen the site for the Chaos Cult of Cthulhu CCCXXXIII, but everything else seems to revolve around his presence in role-playing games.
I was handed a copy of the 'Principia Discordia' yesterday and I decided to check out the messages on the Discordian newsgroup.
I don't get it. If you guys call yourselves a religion, how can you foster commitment among members if you like chaos so much? A faith is built upon solidarity and stability, not discord and strife.
Most the messages I've read have to do with flaming one another and contain snide comments.
A faith needs to go further than this in order to survive. There needs to be a place of worship, a set service time and no tongue-in- cheek irony behind all that you believe.
The book was interesting, but it seems that the Discordians won't last long if they keep telling people 'not to join' or 'don't believe anything.'
The individual who handed me the copy of the 'Principia Discordia' also handed me a copy of the Book of the SubGenius. I've decided to go ahead and post a similar message at their newsgroup.
And on alt.slack:
All right, I've posted with alt.discordia and gotten a reply. But I need to ask the same questions of alt.slack:
I don't get it. If you guys call yourself a religion, how can you foster commitment among members if you encourage them "not to join." I've read the Book of the SubGenius (it was handed to me by someone who bought it, read it, but still doesn't get it) and it says nothing about gathering together, how to form solidarity among members etc.
A faith needs to provide stability and security among its members, not spread discord, strife, and confusion.
How will you get anything done as a group if you never gather together...join together?
It seems to me Bob has a message but everyone on this newsgroup is afraid to ask what it is because "if you have to ask, you'll never know.
I don't know, maybe I'm 'pink.' But it seems that this group won't last long if it doesn't plan regular meetings and establish bonds among members.
Responses varied from the quote at the beginning of this section to a friendly response that contained examples of commitment among members, ideals to live up to, and explanations of beliefs that are private testimonies to the worldview of the members. Most responses from the Discordians and SubGenii were flames. Most from the Cthulhuvians were niceties. The flames came predominantly from the regular card players (of the Old West Saloon metaphor) and most kind responses from lurkers or 'irregularly posting' regulars.
The Web is full of incongruities. Because so many different individuals and organizations participate in its construction, the Web does not lend itself to many forms of statistics. Even counting web sites to establish a preponderance of a group is fruitless. Instead, what should be noted is that the more sites a religious group has, the more computer-oriented members it has. Web sites are difficult to start for a number of reasons, including knowledge of the computer and simple programming, time drain, access to a server, and the monetary investment of a computer, if one is not available for web site creation at work or school.
What the following numbers describe is that there is a correlation between people interested in computers and people interested in the three irreligions. I conducted a search on two different engines to tally the number of web sites for a number of groups, including the three studied in this paper. The other four groups were the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, the Presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church. The two search engines were HotBot and Metacrawler. Metacrawler is actually nine search engines in one. So the total number of search engine was in actuality ten. This means little, however, as webmasters can list their web site many times with the same engine, thus getting more 'hits' from users. For example, "Hacker Jargon," a helpful site established by the Graz University of Technology, establishes a link to a search engine for every term listed. So it is apparent that numbers are always skewed. But this tells us even more about the people involved in the Church of the Sub Genius, the cults of Cthulhu, and the Discordians. They know what they're doing on the computer, and are getting people to their sites through technological manipulation.
Here are the numbers of web sites mentioning or dedicated to religious groups:
Table 1: Number of Religious Organizations' Web Sites Listed in Two Search Engines
The first number after the irreligions corresponds to the number of hits on Metacrawler, the second on HotBot.
Church of the SubGenius: 65 2440
Discordianism: 61 1237
Cthulhu: 80 10173
Unification Church: 53 440
Hare Krishnas: 64 686
Presbyterian Church: 93 32063
Catholic Church: 94 91052
It is easy to see that one of the largest religious faiths in the world, the Catholic Church, has only 29 more sites than the Church of the SubGenius, 33 more than the Discordians, and 14 more than the Cthulhu people. Proportionately, results are skewed towards the irreligions. Considering the number of people in the religion compared to the tiny number of members in the three irreligions, it is apparent that the irreligions are created by and recruit heavily from, individuals interested in computers. In fact, the ability to list web sites more than others is an ability of hacking.
Metacrawler is a more reliable source of information; HotBot, put together by the publishers of Wired magazine, cites every web site that remotely mentions the term asked for. HotBot's numbers echo Metacrawler's, albeit on a massive scale. For instance, it is telling that the search term "Cthulhu" turned up 10,173 times, while "Hare Krishnas" only turned up 686 times. These three audience cults are obviously cyber-oriented. Members use the web sites to recruit, broadcast, and display their beliefs and interests for their respective irreligion. They proselytize not through ordinary means, but through complete proliferation on the Web.
Newsgroups provide similar results. alt.discordia has gone from 18 messages posted by 15 different people (from November 1, 1995 to November 8, 1995) to 416 people posting 1349 messages on the same dates in 1996. These messages are a random assortment of ideas and beliefs focusing predominately on Eris and the ideals of discord.
alt.horror.cthulhu has gone from 4 messages posted by 3 different people (from November 1, 1995 to November 8, 1995) to 96 people posting 206 messages on the same dates in 1996. Most messages revolve around H.P. Lovecraft's writings and trivia about the Great Beast, although some talk of cult activity abounds irregularly.
alt.slack has gone from 88 message posted by 53 different people (from November 1, 1995 to November 8, 1995) to 323 people posting 1274 messages on the same dates in 1996. The Church of the SubGenius has even branched out, using under.net and another.net to conduct Sunday night "devivals." These impromptu, chaotic hours of message postings function as a cyber-service free-for-all. Members spend an hour hashing and rehashing beliefs each week with the "elect." Individuals who are new to the Church are not encouraged to participate until they are more fully immersed in the group. The individuals participating in the "devivals" mean business.
THE FRAGILE WORSHIP OF CHAOS AND THE NUANCES OF IRRELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
Protests of SubGenii being "non-joiners" notwithstanding, there are regular meetings every weekend on irc.another.net. Not to mention the horrifying touring schedule Jesus is planning for Stang in '97. What more do you want?
-Michael Townsend on alt.slack (26 Oct., 1996)
Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius and the Cults of Cthulhu were chosen because they exhibit characteristics of Stark and Bainbridge's audience cult and cult movement typologies. The groups are diverse and unorganized (and choose to be so), provide ultimate meaning and general compensators for members and have conflictual relations with the surrounding environment. Although they accept no formal dogma, they nevertheless accept what the Discordians have called catma (Pieri, 1996), which is only different from dogma in that it prods members to dedicate themselves to the unfamiliar and novel. This blending of characteristics makes it necessary to typify another kind of religious organization: that of the neophilic irreligion.
The irreligions began as audience cults and would have stayed as such (in terms of Stark and Bainbridge's model) if not for the rise of post-modern thinking, a welcoming of the irrational in society that has taken place for the last thirty years and advancement in technology.
Each of these groups began with an individual publishing for and speaking to audiences. Lovecraft wrote pulp Gothic fiction like the story "Call of Cthulhu." Thornley and Hill published the Principia Discordia. Stang published The Book of the SubGenius and Revelation X (among many others related to slack). However, due to the chaotic mood and atmosphere that has prevailed and grown in numerous circles in society, groups formed and rallied around their writings. The literature took on life in the activity of individuals who espoused the beliefs within the pages.
As post-modernity grew in scholarly circles, artistic cabals, and marketing businesses, theses localized groups spread, albeit slowly and in esoteric, hidden ways. The neophiles in the groups wanted none of the organizational tactics found in other cults at the time. They wanted neither leaders nor institutionalized beliefs. The growing trend toward communication as a commodity and the Information Age in general validated their belief structures and legitimated their manners of organization.
The Third Wave, or the Information Age heralded the globalization of the beliefs of these localized, tiny groups. The World Wide Web, the Internet, and other kinds of technology allowed for organization outside the classical paradigms (many of which are touted by Stark and Bainbridge). The cybervillage allowed neophiles to define their own reality in the terms they felt comfortable with. In fact, because they were the individuals designing it, they controlled the power to construct it the way they wanted.
Before the advent of the World Wide Web, the three irreligion gathered in localized, regional clusters. These local groups banded together under the auspices of the literature published by the 'inventors' of the groups. Groups stayed together only as long as new ideas emerged from discourse and rituals. Once members had learned enough about others in the groups, they moved on to other groups centered on the same beliefs and literature or practiced the irreligion on a solitary basis.
In this respect they can be considered audience cults. Stark and Bainbridge state that audience cults are "the most diffuse and least organized kind" (1985:209) of cult and "there are virtually no aspects of formal organization to these activities, and membership remains at most a consumer activity" (1985:340) This is true of much cultic activity, especially individuals and groups interested in the occult and New Age beliefs and principles. Bainbridges work in the early seventies at a spacecraft convention demonstrate the previous characteristics. Stark and Bainbridge write that "[p]ersons with a cult doctrine to offer rely on ads, publicity, and direct mail to assemble an audience to hear its lectures" (1985:25).
This scale (based on level of organization) is meaningless when irreligions are included; they resist organization in the sense Stark and Bainbridge have elevated as a measure of success. These groups find stagnation and obstacles in religions that function superbly on Stark and Bainbridge's scale.
Thus the free-flowing, ever-changing structures of the organizations must be seen as an asset to the irreligions that focus on chaos and discord. They desire these qualities. There are definitive groups that have persevered through the years in each group. These local organizations have continually redefined their reality and continually reconstructed the worlds in which they live.
Discordian cabals are an example of this. The Eris Society, the Apple Corps., the Cartographer's Conspiracy Cabal and others like them are all examples of local Discordian groups that have stuck it out and still produce discord among members, just to, as one member put it, "keep things hot" (Burton: 1996).
The Church of the Subgenius has a central Foundation based in Dallas, Texas that collects dues ($30 for a lifetime membership), administers pamphlets and other paraphernalia, and deals with legal hassles and the like. Although the Dallas Foundation can be seen as a headquarters, it is not viewed as such by members. Ivan Stang and his base are but another facet of the widespread and disperse SubGenii.
The cults of Cthulhu also have local branches which base their activities on the creations of Lovecraft. Most people involved in Cthulhu play the roleplaying game, 'Call of Cthulhu,' published by Chaosium, Inc. There are others, however, who view Cthulhu as a living (though asleep and dreaming) God. The Esoteric Order of Dagon, the Yaddith Lodge, the Chaos Cult of Cthulhu CCCXXXIII, the Miskatonick Society and various Satanic groups believe in and worship the Great Beast.
The quality all three irreligions have in common is that they are composed of neophiles. Neophiles are 'non- joiners,' individuals who abhor conventional means or organization. This is exactly the reason why they band together. Their organizational structure is based on not organizing.
SOLIDARITY AND COMMITMENT AMONG THE NEOPHILES
The responses to my inquiries concerning commitment and solidarity on the newsgroups were, as stated above, wide in range. Coupled with the literature, they revealed individuals who feel strongly attached to groups in which attachment is disparaged.
I will begin with conversations held at alt.slack concerning commitment and solidarity among the Subgenii. The SubGenius Pamphlet #2 published at SubSite, the "unofficial home page" of the Church, states,
Technically, this organization cannot exist -- because it is composed of people who are not joiners. The only thing most SubGenii have in common is that they're ALL DIFFERENT -- and they have NOTHING in common with the C.O.N.S.P.I.R.A.C.Y.!!(Cliques of Normals Secretly Planning Insidious Rituals Aimed At Controlling You) The SubGenius, because it does not "fit in," is actually better than anyone else (Stang, 1996)!
[emphasis in original document]
Upon being asked about commitment, Dennis McClain wrote on alt.slack:
You don't join the SubGenii. You either realize you were one all along, or you don't, weren't and aren't gonna be. That small portion that gives the appearance of being organized exists only to attract the new members so that they can sign up, and according to Church dictates, immediately schism.
We are not about communions. We are about epiphanies (27 Oct. 1996).
Tarla responded to my post (detailed above in the research section) on alt.slack:
If you can get them to send in $30, they're committed. We don't really encourage solidarity among the members. This is why the Internet is such a boon for the church. We can be members, and yet not have to deal with each other on a personal basis. Aside from the difficulties of just getting groups of SubGenii together, there's always the fact that most of us don't agree with each other on just about everything (27 Oct. 1996).
In response to my statement, "A faith needs to provide stability and security among its members, not spread discord, strife, and confusion," Tarla wrote:
That's what YOU say. "Bob" says differently. How can you be secure when you know you're leaving the planet in just a couple of years? How do you promote stability when stability is exactly what you're fighting AGAINST (27 Oct. 1996)?
Asked, "How will you get anything done as a group if you never gather together...join together?" Tarla responded:
We got you to consider us a "group" and half of us are barely speaking to the other half. It's magic (27 Oct. 1996).
She responded to my comment, "It seems that this group won't last long if it doesn't plan regular meetings and establish bonds among members."
Well you'd be wrong then, Rick. We have no regular meetings, we bond and then break and then bond again. What keeps us here is mutual insanity and inertia. I'll have been here two years in Jan. and I'm relatively new to the church (27 Oct. 1996).
George, another poster on alt.slack responded to my comments about bonds between members with classic, ironic, tongue-in-cheek glibness:
Establish bonds, huh? Commitment, huh? Establish bonds? Hey.. now we're talking. I've heard curtain trimming cord recommended (was it Friday who recommended it?), because it doesn't have the wire center most other ropes do.
I've heard that bungee is fun too, since it allows a limited range of movement. Hooke's Law will never be the same again.
look for the codicil. they always fuck you with that...(28 Oct. 1996)
George finally got around to resonding seriously to my message concerning commitment later in his posting:
Answer: we don't try to foster commitment. But you're confusing religion with group-thinking. The two need not go hand-in-hand. A person's spiritual beliefs can and SHOULD be completely personal, and not subject to alteration simply because someone else said so. The Church of the SubGenius is one of the first religions (palatable to western tastes) that emphasizes what YOU believe, not what is written in the official texts.
There's a reason why the main book is called "The Book of the SubGenius" and not "The Book of 'Bob'": because this religion is ultimately about YOU, not "Bob" (28 Oct. 1996).
I then told George, "I've read the Book of the SubGenius (it was handed to me by someone who bought it, read it, but still doesn't get it) and it says nothing about gathering together, how to form solidarity among members etc." He responded,
Sure it does! The chapter on Clenches and schisms. And that's the key here: schisming is a primary concept, because the point is to follow yourself and no one else. Not even Stang, except to buy some crap from him.
No, the irony is not lost on us: following instructions that say to not follow instructions. The key out of the paradox is to take the "not follow instructions" part to heart: then if you choose to schism, or whatever you care to do, it's because YOU want to and you're ignoring everyone elses's dictates. THAT'S what they're trying to teach (28 Oct. 1996).
I then offered the idea that "[a] faith needs to provide stability and security among its members, not spread discord, strife, and confusion." He responded:
Untrue. Many faiths shoot for this as a goal, but that doesn't mean that all faiths have to follow this model. Consider that most faiths make their followers feel "stable" and "secure" by telling them that God loves them above all others and they're going to get a big chocolate chip cookie when they get to heaven. All of which, of course, is a lie, but at least it makes the followers feel very happy ... makes 'em feel almost bovine, in fact. (Sorry, Jools.) But a *realistic* religion needs to admit that there's a hell of a lot of uncertainty in any metaphysical ramblings, and this is one of the few religions that concedes as much. Maybe it doesn't provide us with fuzzy answers, but by damn at least we know that we can't stop looking (28 Oct. 1996)!
I asked, "How will you get anything done as a group if you never gather together...join together?" He answered,
A good question. Follow-up question: what do, say, Christian groups ever get done? Not a whole lot of good, if you ask me (28 Oct. 1996).
Finally, I wrote, "I don't know, maybe I'm 'pink.' But it seems that this group won't last long if it doesn't plan regular meetings and establish bonds among members." George wrote,
We've GOT bonds. We use the Internet to interact. So we don't operate like a well- oiled machine ... I think that's a *good* thing.
And no, you're not "Pink" for asking. But you're looking at this like it's a normal religion and finding it doesn't operate that way. That's good. That's part of the deprogramming lesson: to look at things in new ways. Now apply that to everything else and you've got it (28 Oct. 1996).
Rev. "Big" Steve A (stands for "Aha!") Confessional Box Clagscraper Of The Order Of The Small And Petulant Domestic Rodent responded to my 'commitment' posting on alt.slack as well. He wrote,
If you "get it", that commitment is there. It might be a commitment to avoid commitments, but it's there nonetheless.
One thing that's nice about the CoSG is that, unlike other religions, where you're being carried along on some sort of tide, this one positively DISCOURAGES you from getting too far in - your friend is an example: he won't find people proselytising and trying to explain it all to him, because if they have to do that, there's no point.
Although there are the "Bobbies", who think that Slack and the CoSG is "cool", but they're not about to hand over their stash of 'frop or get nailed to a cross for it, who'll prolly try to sell you the whole thing. They don't "get it".
It's like "getting it" is the holy sacrament of the Church (27 Oct. 1996).
In response to my comment, "A faith needs to provide stability and security among its members, not spread discord, strife, and confusion," "Big" Steve wrote,
Does it? Where is that written?
"How will you get anything done as a group if you never gather together...join together?" George wrote,
I think I spot a little bit of Protestant Work Ethic creeping in there. Why do we need to "get anything done"? Not all religions have to be about Eternal Salvation, etc. In fact, I happen to think that all that stuff is basically nothing to do with religion, but is rolled into the belief system to control us, like a sort of promise of a return on services rendered. IMO, it sucks. And the CoSG gives you 3x your money back if you don't get eternal salvation (28 Oct. 1996).
I wrote, "It seems to me Bob has a message but everyone on this newsgroup is afraid to ask what it is because 'if you have to ask, you'll never know.'" Steve responded,
No-one can tell you "Bob"'s message, because it means nothing in mere words. You have the message inside your head, and all that the CoSG can possibly do, with the united aid of Slack and 'frop, is to open your third ear so you can hear the message (27 Oct. 1996).
I don't know, maybe I'm 'pink.' But it seems that this group won't last long if it doesn't plan regular meetings and establish bonds among members.
No, you're not necessarily "pink". But you have obviously bought into the pink conspiracy big- time, if you're thinking in terms of "doing things" and planning regular meetings.
Lemme tell you my take on this. When I was a kid, I could sing. Not badly, either. This resulted in my ending up in a church choir, sort of by default. Even back then, I never bought into this Christianity schtick much, especially when I realized that a lot of these so-called Christian values being rammed down my throat appeared only to apply to Other People (i.e., those not doing the ramming). That, and a paedophile singing teacher at the church, just about confirmed it for me, and I bailed out.
Ever since, I've quietly denied the Christian faith, even though I know that there is some core of my being that wants to believe in something. As I've grown older, and seen and experienced things happening, piece after piece of what I always though was "religion" or "faith" has dropped away.
The final pieces disintegrated just about when I hit Usenet, probably because of the illness of my nearly-Mrs. I had to contemplate mortality as a very real thing, and had to ask myself a lot of stuff about who really was "up there". You could say I became a skeptic, but that's putting it a bit strongly. What I *did* realise was that there is nobody "up there"...they're "in here". That works for me, and the CoSG & "Bob" are nice hooks to hang that hat on.
The point is, I don't WANT a religion that tells me what to do, or makes me pray on Sundays. I'll "pray" when I damn well want to, and I'll do it to whichever god is giving out the most coupons that day. And if the world's going to end soon, I want to be on the winning side. That's the side where the preachermen aren't fucking whores on my donations, paying politicians, forming lobby groups, or buying automatic weapons under the table.
But thanks for asking, anyway.
Oh, and incidentally, I'm a Freemason, which involved me stating that I believe in a Supreme Being. I joined before all this change in my religious outlook, which did make me wonder a bit. Now, when I'm sitting in a meeting listening to the various references to 'I'm Upstairs, I just see it all in terms of "Bob" and the Cogs, and it all hangs together very nicely.
In fact, the Bible works quite nicely like that, too. Especially the Old Testament (27 Oct. 1996).
An anonymous SubGenius posted:
Oh, lord. This guy wants COHERENT EXPLANATIONS OF THE CULT? OK, since I'm the first one here, and posting actually seems to be working again, I'll have to break the bad news to you. There ARE no coherent explanations of the cult. We're all monkeys with keyboards.
The Discordians have similar sentiments. The Eris Society, founded by best-selling financial writer Doug Casey, originated in Aspen, Colorado in 1981. Their web page declares,
The Eris Society is a unique organization, if it can be called an organization at all, since it has no formal structure. It is not incorporated, it is not a partnership, is owned by no one in particular. We pay no dues and have no bylaws or voting. Rather, it belongs to those who are invited to its annual meeting (Jewet, 16 Nov. 1996).
I began a thread of messages called 'commitment' among the Discordians on alt.discordia and the following materiel is from the posts that followed. I posed the question, "I don't get it. If you guys call yourselves a religion, how can you foster commitment among members if you like chaos so much? A faith is built upon solidarity and stability, not discord and strife. If you guys call yourself a religion?"
What bearing does what we call ourselves have to do with the fostering of commitment? Nothing. We could call ourselves Penguins and it would have no bearing. We are a religion, but the big mistake you are making is to try and ascertain exactly what we are within the narrow minded confines of your aneristic categorizations. The "if you call yourselves a religion has no bearing. Now "how can you foster commitment if you like chaos so much..." is a valid question. The answer is simple. Chaos and order are really the same thing there is order in chaos and chaos in order. Therefore there is chaos in commitment and commitment in chaos. One does NOT preclude the other (Phillips, 21 Oct. 1996).
I wrote, "A faith needs to go further than this in order to survive. There needs to be a place of worship, a set service time and no tongue-in-cheek irony behind all that you believe."
You are trying to judge the chaos by your presuppositions i.e.: concepts of order. There needs to be a place of worship, or a pen to put the sheep in, only if you need to retain some control (order) over the sheep. This is the aneristic way. Discordians don't need order. As for getting together with no tongue in cheek irony behind what you believe, this is only valid within the narrow minded aneristic system as well. It is out firm believe that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs. So how in Eris' name could we get together to formulate out what we believe is a mistake in the first place? Which in itself is a firm belief, and so on and so on till we arrive at the belly button lint of a Fnord's navel (21 Oct. 1996).
Hey, it's worked for 30 years. As long as there is chaos we'll be around (and I don't see the world running out of chaos anytime soon). Our place of worship is our pineal gland, you should visit yours - it's probably a bit dusty.
I then asked my question about non-joiners: "The book was interesting, but it seems that the Discordians won't last long if they keep telling people 'not to join' or 'don't' believe anything. Episkopos Galactus I (Keeper of the Sacred Bacon) answered:
Nope Erisians have been around for over 3000 years. For that matter All religions are really Discordian in nature but just don't realize it. Even if we vanished tomorrow, there would still be Discoridians, but they would call themselves something else and simply not realize it. Nuf said. HAIL! ERIS! ALL HAIL! DISCORDIA! (25 Oct. 1996)
The Cthulhu cults are less stringently against formal organization when it comes to forming role-playing game circles. Because they are often involved in role playing games, they must provide structure for group activities, or risk losing members. The following thread between a newbie and Marc on alt.horror.cthulhu demonstrates the camaraderie apparent among Cthulhu aficionados:
I'm just starting out at this. My friends and I are new to this game, and I need some help coming up with ideas for a 1990's campaign. I was wondering if someone could sort of hold-my- hand through the early stages. Any help would be appreciated.
I've run CoC off and on for years, but haven't for a long time. My next campaign has the PCs as Police Officers in the '90s. One thing I feel is necessary in a modern campaign is to use the era, like the majority of the 1920s adventures seem to.
Do scenarios involving the evils of man, not just those of the Mythos. The evils of post- modern technology, of rampant immorality, of the callous inhumanity of the average man. Perhaps your players are among the few that would even CARE if the Stars Came Right----what if it doesn't MATTER if the cults of the Old Ones remained secret? Do they even need to?
The forces of the Mythos might use designer drugs to accomplish their goals, instead of magicks.
Perhaps the Tcho-Tcho claimed to be an "oppressed minority" hostile to the Communist Chinese---does the US give aid and "advisors" to Tcho-Tcho "rebels" in northern China and/or southern former-USSR, and how much does the US know about them? More then they're willing to admit, I would guess.
Just a few ideas for anyone to use...be creative, update 1920s scenarios if you have to; IMO, modern Cthulhu is more true to the originals; Lovecraft wrote about the era he lived in, not the 19th Century; why should 1990s Keepers and /or writers be bound to the 20s?
However, groups that worship Cthulhu as an entity follow the same chaotic patterns as the Discordians and the Church of the SubGenius. The Chaos Cult of Cthulhu 33 is one group of the Cthulhu irreligion that focuses on Cthulhu as an actual living entity (or claims to do so in literature). They write, in the Manifesto,
Standing between heaven and hearth, and by divine command, the Crimson Council of Cthulhu of the CCCXXXIII has decided to appear before the eyes of humanity as a Cult...The Chaos Cult of Cthulhu has risen (Tenebrous, 1996).
The Cambridge University Worshippers of Cthulhu Society have a web page that details the beliefs of the group and, with tongue-in-cheek, write,
Welcome to the home of CUWoCS, the society for the discerning individual (the individual who would rather not end as lunch when the Big C Wakes Up, that is). Here you will find out all you wanted to know about CUWoCS, lots that you didn't want to know about CUWoCS, and several things about CUWoCS that will ensure that you will provide psychologists with research material for a long, long time. Enjoy (Damerall, 1996).
Like the CUWoCS (and Discordian and SubGenii groups), the Campus Crusade for Cthulhu organizes around the chaotic. In this instance, the group organizes so as to "keep his belly full." The full introductory quote:
Hi welcome to the Campus Crusade for Cthulhu homepage. This page and soon to be organization is to be devoted to the God Cthulhu. The great one needs groups like us to keep his belly full. The choice then becomes pretty easy ither follow or become food (Giekes, 1996).
The newsgroups for these groups also provide a bulletin board for individuals seeking out information about physical meetings and times. The following thread is from alt.slack and concerns an upcoming devival. Eddy Nix posts information about the happening:
Temple of the Absurd announces it's March 97 west coast Tour of "Wilhelm Reich in Hell", a punk rock opera by Robert Anton Wilson....
We are currently looking for a few more brave souls to drop their meaningless lives and join the circus. Our tour will begin in Tempe Arizona around March 1, and end in Vancouver Mid April.
We need to set up a few more shows in cities along the west coast during this time, so if anyone out there has info, or would like to host or help us in any way, please respond.
If you would like to join the circus, and tour with us, well...respond too (Nix, 26 Oct. 1996).
David Lynch responded:
And I *STILL* don't have a ride to the Devival next Saturday, dammit. Any help would be appreciated; it's just a couple miles from Hilliar, Ohio (Lynch, 26 Oct. 1996).
I got involved and asked David Lynch what went on at a Subgenius Devival, and he responded,
I got my priorities straight, hell yeah. My priorities right now:
2. Stimulating spiritual and intellectual conversation.
3. Tape dubbing.
4. School work/boring crap.
5. Wasting time.
Sometimes alt.slack crosses from category 2 to category 5 (Lynch, 27 Oct. 1996).
Another SubGenius, His Most Feathered Eminence, The Ur- Beatle responded,
See, that's your problem, Dave, alt.slack needs to cross over to category 1 (Ur-Beatle, 27, Oct. 1996).
Rev. Pee Kitty, of the order Malkavian-Dobbsian responded to my question also,
Sex, lots of it (Pee Kitty, 27 Oct. 1996).
The cults of Cthulhu hold many different conventions, most of whic surround the gaming world. Groups like CUWoCS and CCCXXXIII show up, and most participants get involved in the religiosity of the affairs. The Third Annual Cthulhu Mythos NecroniCON held in Providence, Rhode Island features a sermon and prayer for Cthulhu at the Marriott Hotel every year:
CTHULHU PRAYER BREAKFAST: Though many expected Yog-Sothoth to smite us for this blasphemy, the NecronomiCon membership has now been spared twice. Once again, the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast will offer a loathsome "sermon" by the Rev. Robert M. Price, as well as other surprises. Will those attending be spared from Yog- Sothoth's wrath once again? There's only one way to find out . . . and, of course, NecronomiCon's Guest of Honor Brian Lumley and Special Guest Dirk Mosig will also be in attendance, whether they want to be or not (Necronomicon Press, 1996).
The groups, as Stark and Bainbridge point out (1985: 340), do thrive on the consumer activity of members. The Church of the SubGenius publishes, along with short stories and anthologies, two 'gospels:' The Book of the SubGenius and Revelation X. They also distribute thousands of brochures, stickers, bumper stickers, and other products. The cults of Cthulhu see H.P. Lovecraft's and other writers' works printed every year. There is also a role-playing game centered on Cthulhu as the nemesis. The Discordians fare less well, seeing that the Principia Discordia (which is not copyrighted) has been printed countless times. These products are not different from the countless Bibles, tapes, prayer books, rosary beads, statues, candles, rugs, and the like that are sold by more organized and established churches. The irreligions, like other religions state that they are "not about money," but "about ideas."
One Cthulhu adoree searches for a statue of Cthulhu on alt.horror.cthulhu:
I've seen in a magazine a huge statue of Cthulhu. Does anyone knows how to find one (and order it).
And is answered:
There's an excellent one just released from Bowen Designs, created by Stephen Hickman. If you've seen the paperback of Robert E. Howard's Mythos stories, Hickman painted the cover art showing a Cthulhu statue. The sculpted version is the same one, and it looks terrific. It sells for $100, and is limited to 1,000 copies.
THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF IRRELIGIONS
It is my firm belief that the mistake your mistake is trying to understand. How can one understand the Goddess of confusion? Then again it is our firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs. If you believe it. Hail Eris!
-Episkopos Galactus I, Keeper of the sacred Backbacon (23 Sep. 1996).
Order falls, fear reigns...It is just how the wheel turns...Chaos is the only thing real...but then is it? Couldn't categorized chaos be order? misplaced order chaos? Real/unreal....live with it or die....what does it matter...What are we but marionettes dancing in the masquerade...forever lost. Chaos is empty. People place their fears in the gap. And they see disorder where there is nothing.
- Timothy Sutter, on alt.discordia with a response from alt.slack (21 Aug. 1996)
Although Stark and Bainbridge write that audience cults provide no ultimate meaning for members (1985: 28), neophilic irreligions in fact, do. The authors state that "Conversations...revealed these people are not the stuff of which social movements can be made. They accept everything, more or less, and in effect accept nothing. They are interested in the general area of the eccentric and the mystical" (1985: 28). It is true that these traits make the "attendees at spacecraft conventions" whom Bainbridge studied open-minded to the degree that it "makes it impossible for them to develop a strong commitment to any complete system of thought" (1985: 28). Irreligions, however, find strength in ultimate meaning systems that encourage open-mindedness within the belief system they have constructed. Neophiles accept the new or unfamiliar, but apply it in ways that comply with deities, beliefs and tenets of the faiths they belong to.
In an alt.discordia newsgroup message, J. Calvin (Bimp) Smith writes, "Order is not implicitly moral -- or immoral. Neither is chaos. The above statements are true. The above statements are false. The above statements are meaningless" (Smith, 26 Aug. 1996). Discordians are involved in amphorous beliefs and seem uncommitted to a "complete system of thought." Yet they are: the complete system of chaos, embodied in social action, in Eris, and in all forms of communication.
Quoting the Principia Discordia, James Burton posted another message concerning Eris and her importance in the chaotic belief structure of the Discordians,
This was on the fifth night, and when they slept that night each had a vivid dream of a splendid woman whose eyes were as soft as a feather and as deep as eternity itself...she spoke in a warm and gentle voice: 'I have come to tell you that you are free. Many ages ago, My consciousness left man, that he might develop himself. I return to find this development approaching completion, but hindered by fear and by misunderstanding. You have built yourselves psychic suits of armor, and clad in them, your vision is restricted...your spirit broiled by the sun. I am chaos. I am the substance from which your artists and scientists build rhythms...I am alive and I tell you that you are free (Burton, 23 Aug. 1996 from Malaclypse the Younger, 1994, 23).
The ultimate meaning in Discordianism is chaos, embodied in the form of a woman "whose body was the spectacular dance of atoms and universes" (1994, 23). Stark and Bainbridge do not perceive that acceptance of "everything" can be an ultimate meaning system. The Discordians have achieved it by wrapping their view of the universe as chaotic in the robes of Eris and the pages of humorous literature. Members must be committed to this meaning system in order to understand and participate in the irreligion.
The Church of the SubGenius establishes a rich mythology centered on "Bob" Dobbs to disrupt current reality tunnels and imbue members with the ultimate meaning system of slack. To the Subgenii, the world is trapped in perceptions of the world that are outdated and constricting. The Church promises to "operate on your brain" (Stang, 1996) to break these narrow reality tunnels. It invites readers, in many web sites,
You seek out the "different," for its own sake, and that odd trait of yours has led you to peruse this site. Or has it? What if some catalyst stronger than your enigmatic programming, more powerful than the combined forces of the spirit-world, compelled you to read (Stang, 1984)?
The Church prides itself on an ultimate meaning system that rests on the idea that "everything is true," and that the only way out of "the brittle, false, stability of the artificial structure imposed on society by invisible authorities" (Stang, 1996) is to accept the mysterious quality of slack. Slack is the antithesis of the conventions of modern religious structures. It prods readers to "slack off," disrupt work environments (or not work at all), and challenge everything. Slack is a supernatural force embodied in "Bob" that gives members a meaning system. This system is centered on the "different" and members are committed to it.
The cults of Cthulhu also provide ultimate meaning for their members: that of an unpredictable universe full of insanity-wreaking monsters. Agency, which plays a large part of the other two irreligions, has no role in the cults of Cthulhu. Members favor the utter fear that will accompany the annihilation when Cthulhu and his minions rise again from the waves. So unpredictability and chaos, accompanied by insanity is the price humans pay for thinking they have complete control of their environment.
GENERAL COMPENSATORS AND THE REWARDS OF CHAOS
Stark and Bainbridge define compensators as "...the belief that a reward will be obtained in the distant future or in some other context which cannot be immediately verified" (1985: 6). Each group possesses general compensators different form the "diffuse hope" Stark and Bainbridge offer as the only compensator evident in most audience cults.
Compensators for the three irreligions are grounded in supernatural assumptions: members exchange the perceived reward of order in society in return for compensators that promise everlasting chaos and discord in the social environment and on earth. This is a strong (not "diffuse") hope for "a reward of immense value." Each group perceives the reward in terms of an apocalyptic "end" where social order and control is either nullified or demolished by supernatural agents.
Discordians willingly exchange ordered lifestyles (by actively disrupting social norms and conventions) for the greater compensator of chaos. Members look at chaos as a reward that will come when the tapestry of social order (as it is defined by social groups in positions of power) is rent and disordered creativity pushes individuals and groups to make choices based entirely on novel triviality. Two members write in the alt.discordia newsgroup,
Kerim: I wonder, often, of our existence as order-making machines.
Rainer: Most people need this type of pigeon- holing to get through life, it seems. Such as shame. I know I often have to work hard to get away from it.
Discordians believe that by 'releasing' order from their lives, they will unleash chaos and disorder, prompting new thoughts which can lead to innovation, or, simply, different thought processes not yet experienced. The Discordians strive to keep the hodge-podge rotating so that order (or disorder) does not dominate the social realm. They do not believe that disorder should dominate, only that order has been in a position of power for too long. Their compensator of creative chaos is achieved by sacrificing 'normal ties' to the social environment to which they belong.
The Church of the SubGenius provides a number of compensators for members. First, the SubGenii established July 5, 1998 as X Day, or the day that flying saucers from a Mother Ship will come and whisk away all those who have joined the Church. Although tongue-in-cheek, the events of X Day are an important aspect of the Church's activities. They provide a reason to gather (X Day drills) socially.
None of the members of the cults of Cthulhu know when he will awake from his slumber to spread chaos and horror across the Earth. But they find power in the knowledge that it is going to happen. His appearance in the Pacific Ocean will signal the end of the ordered existence that humanity has foolishly tried to preserve for so long. Although they understand that they will be destroyed along with unsuspecting citizens of human nations, members believe they will perish with the secret knowledge that Lovecraft wove into his fiction. This knowledge is far more important to members than their lives. This compensator is brutal, but members of the cults of Cthulhu talk of it openly and use the story as a weapon against the "uninitiated." Those who don't know about Cthulhu and his imminent return will suffer a far more insidious death than those who possessed knowledge beforehand.
CONFLICTS WITH SURROUNDING ENVIRONMENTS
Christian morals try to suppress our natural ways, so I think it's a shame that such an anti-life religion is allowed to be taught at schools and that we even have to pay for their heresy!!! The state and the church should be separated and "god" should be banished from our schools. Children are defenseless against xtian brainwash. We should try to prevent the further spreading of that unnatural arabian religion.
The Christians must be exterminated. I support the CHRISTIAN HOLOCAUST for its cleansing properties.
-GOAT, on alt.discordia (30 Oct. 1996)
One of the defining features of a cult movement is its antagonistic relationship with the surrounding social environment. The irreligions are no exception. Antagonism arrives from within the group, and without. Members tend to view outsiders as people who 'don't get it.' They tend to have elitist attitudes that set them apart from "those who don't know." Conflict is raised from the surrounding environment who view the irreligions as "joke" religions, or simple parodies of conventional faiths. Although the irreligions do ridicule established faiths, they do so in order to appear different, or uproar to them. These irreligions have an agenda, and subvert other religions in order to achieve it. Conflict also is raised from the surrounding environment who view the members of such groups as "weird" or "strange." These words have taken on negative connotations in many social groups, and so set the members of the irreligions apart from the "norm."
The three irreligions have faced little large-scale conflict with the social environment. This is due mainly to the fact that the the groups are more an aggregate than a social movment in Marwell and Oliver's model (1984, 215). Yet there are always at least two or thre messages floating around the newsgroups that detail the troubles with the groups' belief systems and how their actions are subverting social order.
For instance, the Church of the SubGenuius was faced with the following message from Lou Minotti:
We have created this folder for the exchange of information connected to SubGenius Ritual Abuse...(3 Nov. 1996)
To which P-Lil responded:
I've been accused of ritually abusing SubGeniuses before. I've also been accused of abusing SubGenius rituals--thanks, Dennis! But most of the abuse I've seen performed by SubGeniuses were totally unritualized, so what do we tell the Feds? "Sorry, we may be sadistic, but we're hardly organized..."?
Don't mean to be a wet blanket, but we're not going to get any additional points on the Federal Whack-A-Cult meter through cheap ploys like claiming ritual abuse. Can't we do better than THAT?
Most conflict, however, comes from close relations with the members. David Lynch writes about his troubles with a roommate as well as his problems getting a ride to the next devival,
No, I'm going, that's for damn well sure. I'll actually go out and SPEND MONEY to TAKE A BUS up to Columbus, dammit! I have to get away from Paul.. He wants me dead, and makes no effort to hide it.
The latest wonderful news is, a week after a moved out of my cramped little study upstairs so the computer didn't have to sit out in the living room, Paul decides he likes my old bed and starts sleeping there. He doesn't move all his shit from the basement up there, of course; he lives it littered with pizza boxes and potted plants he stole from Subway. Of course, the computer with the modem is in.. duh.. the COMPUTER ROOM. And, being the lazy fuck he is, he usually doesn't get up until around 1 PM. Being the lazy fuck *I* am, I usually get up at about 6 AM, to check my email. And I don't intend to stop doing that because Paul has started sleeping in the computer room. This is not, however, why he hates my guts. He hates my guts because I exist. While you may say this is not exactly sound reasoning for hating someone, it's worked for hundreds for centuries, so why complain?
The groups sometimes use the threads in the newsgroups to vent hostility against the social environment surrounding them. They usually accomplish this in a playful, parodic manner, as James Kenney did on alt.slack (about Lovecraft's Mythos; a dhole is an enormous worm beneath the surface of the earth),
I was overjoyed when I saw a thread here, finally, aimed at placing minions of the old ones in the White House. But alas, I find that the cross-posted thread was actually for Bob Dole. Sure, you may be thinking, 'Republicans are Old Ones,' but they can't cut it. GOP may be mindless sometimes, and chaotic sometimes, but the REAL old ones are mindless and chaotic at the same time.
So my sole purpose in life is to start the Dhole for President thread. Enjoy (2 Nov. 1996).
The audience is taking the stage. In many social environments the audience, once relegated to passivity, now has a strong voice and autonomy. This is due to a number of advancements in technology, acceptance of novel forms of organization, and a irreverence for hierarchies. The audience has already usurped previous traditional roles. The audience has taken the stage in Karaoke bars. It acts out roles during screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." And the audience puts on its own shows in parking lots before the band Phish (and at one time, the Grateful Dead) go on stage.
The Discordians, SubGenii and Cthulhuvians are no exception. These irreligions were once grouped with other audience cults under Stark and Bainbridge's model. Now they thrive as neophiles: active participants in the construction of the sacred. Much of this dynamic behavior can be linked to the Internet, and more particularly, the World Wide Web and interactive newsgroups. These advancements in technology facilitate ease of communication between audience members, erasing passivity and encouraging autonomy.
The Internet has provided a social space for Discordians, SubGenii and Cthulhuvians. There, on the computer interface, thousands of programmers and users alike can engage in modes of communication and the exchange of information unheard of ten years ago. Web pages and newsgroups are the medium for the message. In the case of these groups, the message is chaos, and this message reflects the discordant world of cyberspace that members thrive on day to day.
The audience cult has not disappeared, but the existence of these three groups (and the reasons they exist) warrants a sibling term. That term is neophilic irreligions: parodies of traditional religious groups composed of individuals who hold novelty, discord and unholy equality among all members in the highest.
With this research I have attempted to establish the Discordians, SubGenii and Cthulhuvians as worthy of study. I have shown that the Web has allowed these localized groups to foster growth on a global scale. I have elucidated their beliefs, and attempted to grasp members' concepts of commitment, ultimate meaning and conflict with the surrounding environment.
Like any research, this work is a prelude to future endeavors. These groups have hardly been touched by academic fields, and sociology is no exception. I offer some suggestions for further research: a socio-historical analysis of the groups, a look at the groups through the lens of deviance theory, further elucidation on "inversion rituals" (including the mysterious idea of "ha ha only serious")," more contrasting and comparing of other interactive audiences, a demographical study (both on and offline), a cultural study of cyberspace and the construction of sacred space by the members of these groups, and finally, more work on the irreligions using social chaos theory.
Each of these ventures will reap new rewards and cast an investigative light on the esoteric, post-modern and elusive groups that have been studied here. Whether they will ever be fully understood is up to the neophiles involved; following their trail may simply lead to more chaos...but GOOD chaos.