Among the religious developments of the 1960's was a single anomaly called Discordianism, founded by Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley. This philosophy and its holy scriptures were published in the "Principia Discordia." Discordianism is a playful mix of Greek mythology (centering on the goddess Eris) and the crazy wisdom tradition in Zen Buddhism. It is unique in that it has no commandments and no fixed rules on how its adherents should behave. Far from declaring that the universe is a stable, orderly place, the Discordians maintain that everything is Chaos with one little orderly bit thrown in just to confuse you. While Discordians maintain that they are a "non-prophet, irreligious dis-organization," they are just being modest. In reality, they are America's first viable "joke religion". As author Peter Lamborn Wilson (member of the Moorish Orthodox Church) said in a recent "bOING bOING" magazine interview, the "joke religions"..."remove the problem of authority by laughing it out of existence."
The problem of authority is central to any vision of a just society that we may create. How we see the church and state will determine what kind of government we have and how we will live our lives. Many people are familiar with the phrase "That government is best which governs least", but few recall the next line in Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience":"...Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,"that government is best which governs not at all;" and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."
Thoreau was a visionary, and his words apply just as well to the church as to the state. When you take responsibility for your own belief system (as opposed to one prepackaged for you) you may find the idea that a small group of rulers telling you how to live no longer appeals to you. As the Reverend Ivan Stang (Church of the Subgenius) puts it: "If you want a rational belief system, you have to make it up yourself!" The Church of the Subgenius, incidentally, has a political party known as the"Patrio-Psychotic Anarcho-Materialists". Discordian Kerry Thornley has just published "Zenarchy", which outlines his political beliefs. Peter Lamborn Wilson also advocates a form of anarchy and has lectured on pirate and Native American governments.
In his book, "Our Enemy The State," Albert Jay Nock discusses the fall of the church as the ultimate authority. He writes of the parallels between how modern man views the State, and how medieval man viewed the Church. The Church during the Dark Ages made all the rules, and if you followed them, you could live relatively free from the threat of punishment (unless an official happened to want your property). Gradually, this role was later turned over to the State (which also wants to run your life, and makes trouble if you disagree with its principles).
Most Americans seem to view politics as something that just happens, like a TV show. Sure, they'll whine about various forms of government nastiness -- inflation, Savings and Loan fiascoes, and what have you, but they fail to see that if the State was viewed as an actual menace, rather than as a necessary evil, it would fall of its own weight. This may sound like an overly simplistic view, but all societies are eventually run by consensus. When that consensus erodes to a substantial extent,the present form of government goes away, just as it has in many communist countries lately. If enough people become convinced that big government is superfluous, it will fall. The question we must ask is: how far away is the United States from that mysterious breaking point?
Ironically, political scientists have suggested that compliance with traffic laws is one valid indication of how much consensus exists in our society. Are the traffic laws obeyed? A recent survey of drivers showed that 76% regularly exceed the speed limit. How strange it is to imagine that people who drive fast may be helping to create a better nation! Colorado police officers routinely stop drivers who flash their headlights to warn other drivers of impending speed traps. Yet, people continue this practice, in effect delivering the message that speeding is not considered a crime worth punishing. The Fully Informed Jury Amendment (FIJA) is ultimately based on the idea that a jury of your peers will be more fair and rational then the written law, not to mention more friendly. And if your jury were made up of Subgenii and Discordians? If I were to be arrested for a victimless crime, I'd prefer to be tried by the followers of Eris than take my chances with the State-approved religion!
I'd like to take a little more time to discuss the Church of the Subgenius. This church is literally "hundreds of weird beliefs rolled into one weirder meta-belief". The churches main doctrine, "Slack" can be favorably compared to the "Wu Wei" of Taoism, which involves doing nothing effectively. The Subgenius church also enjoys the UFO - cosmic-space-rescue squad scenario of the flying saucer cults, the Islamic doctrine of short-term marriage, the mantras of Hare Krishna (dubbed the "Holy Mantrium," theirs goes: "Larry Curly Larry Curly Larry Moe Larry Moe Larry Larry Larry Larry"), and an external enemy called simply "The Conspiracy". The church sells absolutions, "Certificates of Ordination" and the popular "All-Inclusive Excuse." Just tracking the different doctrines in the "Book of the Subgenius" is fun for religion buffs like me. If you think this intermingling of religions is rare, you might be interested in reading "The Origins of Christianity" by Martin Larsen, published by Prometheus Press. You'll find that the Christian Bible contains Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hebrew, and Hindu doctrine, as well as some Egyptian soterology, not to mention Mithraism and many others.
Now for some real fun, let's make up a new religion right here! Since it's my church, I've decided to name it the First United Church of Chaos, with the Youth Organization Unlimited auxiliary corps. The doctrine of Chaos I'll sum up like this: there are two opposing forces: Order and Chaos. Order is expressed as: "All that is not forbidden is compulsory, and all that is not compulsory is forbidden". Chaos goes like this: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law". The choice for potential believers comes down to Anarchy or Absolute Dictatorship. Given this choice, most of us know what we prefer. I'll introduce Dogma ("Catma" to the Discordians)
and modify the Chaos doctrine to read: "Do what you want without harming others, except in self defense", which makes me sound a little less like Aleister Crowley. The F.U.C.C. will not apply for IRS tax-exempt status, as that would constitute a violation of the 1st Amendment prohibition against free exercise of religion. If you don't believe that, remember that a 501(c)3 non-profit loses its exempt status by taking part in politics! Ah ha! So that's why the State Church doesn't speak out against evil!
Next, you've absolutely got to have immortality. I propose to achieve this through cryonics, rather then by some mystical mumbo-jumbo. Physical immortality is what we want, and science has a better chance of delivering it than metaphysics. Our new church will give out information on life extension, as well as connect people up with Alcor and TransTime, Inc., the major players in freezing cryonauts.
As for marriage, the Church of Chaos will witness, though not perform, the executing of short or long term contracts for the purpose of co-habitation. (See "How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World" by Harry Browne, Avon Books, for more info.) This procedure will allow couples who are tired of one another to split up, without the hassle of a divorce, or the insult of seeking State permission to marry. Also, contingencies like children will be fully arranged for in advance. Since a contract is enforceable, no judge will have to order child support or alimony.
Since several of my friends are atheists or agnostics, I'll make belief in any deity strictly optional. What will our church be like? Well, I'm partial to Irish pubs, so darts and ale will be the sacraments. Then again, many enjoy football and video games, so a big screen TV will find a prominent place in our cathedral. A large stage will be essential for loud rock 'n roll. How about a sing-along from the "Jimi Hendrix Hymnal?"
Of course, the First United Church of Chaos also believes that whatever you decide to put in your mouth is your business, and may be a sacrament for you, thus imitating the Neo-American church's position on psychedelics. Since Chaos is antagonistic to most, if not all government bodies, let's make being a law-abiding citizen sort of a dereliction of duty. Sin is limited to harming others, so you can get away with a lot at the 'ol F.U.C.C. Y.O.U. Naturally, Discordians and Subgenii's are always welcome to attend services. If you don't like my church, why not start your own? As "Bob" puts it, "Pull the wool over your own eyes!"
The Church of the Risen Elvis and the Church of Tina Chopp (Worship Tina or Die!) are fine examples of a do-it-yourselfers. I also tip my hat to the Boo-Hoo's, the John Dillinger Died For You Society, and the Church of Beaver Cleaver.
If you'd like more information on these and other weird religions, I suggest looking for the "Principia Discordia" at your local bookstore. It's just been published in a new edition by Illuminet Press, with a fine introduction by Kerry Thornley. To order the "Principia," send $9.95 to: Illuminet Press, PO BOX 746, Avondale Estates, GA 30002. Remember to send $1.05 for postage. "The Book of The Subgenius," by Ivan Stang, is published by Simon and Schuster. While searching for the strange and funny, don't neglect Loompanics, at PO BOX 1197, Port Townsend, WA 98368. Another worthy field guide to fun religions is "High Weirdness by Mail," another book by Rev. Stang. And, of course, Discordianism is woven into the plot of the cult classic "Illuminatus!" trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea. Many readers of this series are unaware that Discordianism actually exist, and pre-dates the trilogy.
Is it too much to hope that weird religions may end the reign of Church and State? Yes. Still, while our economy collapses and our government leaps from the cliff of reason (with our money in its pockets!), at least some of us will get a good (sacred) laugh out of it.