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The cult of "Bob"

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The suicide of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult has proved a public-relations bonanza for the Church of the SubGenius, a self-described "anti-cult" in Dallas. In the aftermath of the incident, the church has attracted media attention while earning new members, according to the Rev. J.C. "Steve" Bevilacqua, the group's business manager.;;Seizing the day, the group has packed its website (www.subgenius.com) with commentary on Heaven's Gate and a tongue-in-cheek comparison. But while there are similarities, their approaches are diametrically opposed. Heaven's Gate proved deathly serious. The SubGeniuses "are very serious about not being serious.";;For $30, the Church of the SubGenius offers "Guaranteed Salvation or Triple Your Money Back," according to a news release bearing an Orlando postmark and addressed to the Orlando Weekly's cult editor. Membership reserves a seat on flying saucers piloted by sex goddesses expected to carry the congregation to salvation. (Heaven's Gate members were waiting for a spaceship to carry them to a higher consciousness.) The SubGeniuses also throw in a packet of certificates and a wallet card.;;Heaven's Gate was influenced by the Hale-Bopp comet; the SubGenius website says the spaceship trailing the comet is emitting the signal, "Hail Dobbs" (as in Dallas millionaire J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, the alleged spiritual leader of the SubGeniuses.) Every few seconds, a spaceship flies across the computer screen, the message "Don't Kill Yourself Yet!" appearing in its wake.;;There is a slight problem. "We lost contact with Bob in the mid-'80s," the Rev. Steve said. "He'll probably show up at the last minute." ;;That would be 7 a.m. sharp on July 5, 1998, when the goddesses will collect those who have anted up $30. Clearly, the Church of the SubGenius is out to poke fun, at religion or anything that takes itself too seriously, a philosophy that might be the best defense against all seriousness no matter its source. "There's no way to fight against them, except with Bob. The only thing to do is to laugh at them, and laugh at yourself." Amen.

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