The Church of the SubGenius, usually regarded as a “parody religion,” offers a sophisticated critique of Western values focused on resistance to a consumerist conspiracy. This article draws on Guy Debord’s contention that the capitalist spectacle has replaced the religious worldview, rendering everyday life mysterious and the acquisition of goods compulsive, and argues that, when stripped of science fiction tropes, the Church of the SubGenius’ vision of a world in the grip of a totalitarian materialist conspiracy is largely realistic. Yet, this ‘rational’ rejection of consumerism is undermined by the portrayal of J. R. “Bob” Dobbs, the salesman messiah, based (partly) on L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), and the science fictions trappings of the extraterrestrial conspiracy. It is argued that humor is the key to making sense of the Church, as it integrates the bad taste, shock value, and contrariness of the religion into an effective spiritual path of resistance.
Norman Paulsen (1929-2006) founded the Brotherhood of the Sun (Sunburst Farms) in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Paulsen, a disciple of the Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), taught a melange of alternative spiritual beliefs, drawing upon ufology, Theosophy, esoteric Christianity, Hopi traditions, Kriya Yoga and meditation. He established a commune on Sunburst Farm near Santa Barbara. After Paulsen’s death in 2006, his widow Patty Paulsen became the spiritual leader of Sunburst. Fifty years after it was founded in 1969, Sunburst continues to exist, an impressive fact given the high failure rate of both new religious movements and utopian communal enterprises.