The Church of the SubGenius is a parody religion that satirizes better-known belief systems. It teaches a complex philosophy that focuses on J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, purportedly a salesman from the 1950s, who is revered as a prophet by the Church. SubGenius leaders have developed detailed narratives about Dobbs and his relationship to various gods and conspiracies. Their central deity, Jehovah 1, is accompanied by other gods drawn from ancient myth and popular fiction. SubGenius literature describes a grand conspiracy that seeks to brainwash the world and oppress Dobbs's followers. In its narratives, the Church presents a blend of cultural references in an elaborate remix of the sources.
Ivan Stang, who co-founded the Church in the 1970s, serves as its leader and publicist. He has imitated actions of other religious leaders, using the tactic of culture jamming in an attempt to parody better-known faiths. Church leaders instruct their followers to avoid mainstream commercialism and the belief in absolute truths. The group holds that the quality of "Slack" is of utmost importance, but it is never clearly defined. The number of followers is unknown, although the Church's message has been welcomed by college students and artists in the United States. The group is often compared to Discordianism. Journalists often consider the Church an elaborate joke, but some academics have defended it as a real system of deeply held beliefs.
The central doctrine of the Church is that certain portions of humanity are actually superior mutants known as Yetinsyn, the result of crossbreeding between humans and the superior Yeti, or "Atlanteans". Novice SubGenii must prove their worthiness by sending thirty-five dollars to Church headquarters. By unleashing their Abnormality Potential, they seek to unlock dormant psychic abilities, gain the mystical quality of Slack, and defy the Conspiracy that secretly controls the world and makes all humans dance like puppets.
Church leaders have issued specific instructions to their followers; Robert Latham of the University of California, Riverside, calls their ideology "anarcholibertarian". Five specific commands particularly embody the group's values:
- Shun regular employment and stop working. This encapsulates the Church's view that to repent is to "SLACK OFF", as opposed to working for a living. SubGenius leaders say it is permissible for members to collect public assistance in lieu of maintaining employment.
- Purchase products sold by the Church, which its leaders say Dobbs founded to gain wealth. Unlike most religious groups, the Church proudly admits it is for-profit (presumably mocking religious groups that seem to have ulterior financial motives). Cusack sees the instruction to buy as an ironic parody of the "greed is good" mentality of the 1980s, and Kirby notes that although the group emphasizes "the consumption of popular cultural artefacts", this consumption is "simultaneously de-emphasized by the processes of remix".
- Rebel against "law and order". Specifically, the Church condemns security cameras and encourages computer hacking. Cusack notes that this instruction recalls Robert Anton Wilson's critique of law and order.
- Rid the world of everyone who did not descend from Yetis. SubGenius leaders teach that Dobbs hopes to rid the Earth of 90% of humanity, making the Earth "clear". The group praises drug abuse and abortion as effective methods of culling unneeded individuals.
- Exploit fear, specifically that of people who are part of the conspiracy. Church leaders teach conspiracy members fear SubGenius devotees.
According to SubGenius dogma, "Bob" was a drilling equipment salesman who, in 1953, saw a vision of the god JHVH-1 on a television set he had built. The vision inspired him to write the "PreScriptures" (as described in the Book of the SubGenius) and found the Church. The theology holds that "Bob" is the greatest salesman who ever lived, and has cheated death a number of times. He is also revered for his great follies and believed to be a savior of "Slack". He was assassinated in San Francisco in 1984, though the Church claims that he has come back from the dead several times since then.
The quotation marks in "Bob"'s name are always included when spelling his name, according to the Church.
The Conspiracy and Slack
The Church of the SubGenius's literature incorporates many aspects of conspiracy theories, teaching that there is a grand conspiracy at the root of all lesser ones. It says that there are many UFOs, most of which are used by the conspiracy leaders to monitor humans, though a few contain extraterrestrials. In the Church's view, this conspiracy uses a façade of empowering messages but manipulates people so that they become indoctrinated into its service. The Church calls these individuals "pinks" and states that they are blissfully unaware of the organization's power and control. SubGenius leaders teach that most cultural and religious mores are the conspiracy's propaganda. They maintain that their followers, but not the pinks, are capable of developing an imagination; the Church teaches that Dobbs has empowered its members to see through these illusions. Owing to their descent from Yetis, the Church's followers have a capacity for deep understanding that the pinks lack. Cultural studies scholar Solomon Davidoff states that the Church develops a "satiric commentary" on religion, morality, and conspiracies.