11 Upstart Religions Rooted in Pop Culture


Fans of movies, books and even animated mice have translated their love for specific brands of pop culture into cults, organizations and federally recognized religious groups, with varying degrees of seriousness and success.

1. The Sect of Gadget Hackwrench

Golly. If you’re going to worship one of the main characters from Disney’s long-canceled Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Gadget is probably the best option. A group of Russian individuals, apparently ignoring the fact that her inventions usually failed at particularly inconvenient moments in nearly every episode, decided that the animated begoggled tinkerer was worthy of more than mere admiration.

Membership activities for the Sect of Gadget Hackwrench include plastering large Gadget stickers all about Russia, singing to and playing music for a Gadget poster under the cover of night, having group meals (attended by said poster), and maintaining utter devotion to a cartoon mouse. Followers, when asked “But… why?” say Gadget Hackwrench is “strict, cute, optimistic and her level of technical knowledge is unachievable for a mortal being.”

2. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude

Maybe you think building a religious sect from the philosophy of a fictional movie character is silly. Yeah, well, y’know. That’s just, like uhh… your opinion, man. And 150,000 ordained Dudeist priests would disagree.

The self-proclaimed “slowest-growing religion in the world,” based on Dude Lebowski from The Big Lebowski, is just like Chinese Taoism, “before it went all weird with magic tricks and body fluids.” So sit back, abide, and whatever you do, don’t call female Dudeists “dudette.” That’s not cool.

3. Matrixism / New Matrixism

Do you have your own hacker alias and a lingering suspicion that our world is a simulated reality? You may be a Redpill. That’s OK! The terms of Matrixism clearly state that students of the science and philosophy of the Matrix need not renounce any other religious views (or sports, or even pornography) in their quest to become the One. So go ahead and ponder the semi-subjective, multi-layered nature of reality, have a sandwich with Neo, but try to brush up on your quantum physics basics and elementary calculus skills before deciding if you really want to know whether the matrix is real. This 1968 Matrix Theory textbook, an official “tool” of Matrixism, should help. For deeper philosophical reading, see The Promulgation of Universal Peace, which New Matrixists cite as the earliest explicit reference to the Matrix—way back in 1911.

4. Jediism

If you’re thinking of becoming an ordained clergyperson of the Jedi faith, put away your childish dreams of lightsaber battles and Obi Wan cosplay. According to the official site for The Temple of the Jedi Order, “We are real Jedi… George Lucas' Jedi are fictional characters that exist within a literary and cinematic universe.” True Jediism is for those who wish to be instruments of peace and as such all practitioners must agree to live by the Jedi Creed and an adapted list of beliefs from A 2001 census in Australia recorded 70,509 self-proclaimed Jedi Knights, but nearby New Zealand holds the record for highest per capita rate of Jedi citizens, with 1.5% of the population listing themselves as such in 2001.

5. Arceism

The Arceism Facebook Page

If you choose Pokémon, you can also choose to join the semi-serious (mostly-not) community of polytheists who worship Legendary Pokémon as deities and believe the world was created by Arceus, who was emerged from an egg in a place where there was nothing. Collecting Pokémon memorabilia is also strongly encouraged.

6. Society of Cylon

Cylonism is a sort of philosophical takeaway from Battlestar Galactica. Odds are most members of the Society of Cylon more closely resemble the thirteen humanoid models than the robotic Centurions (or the reptilian race of creatures who created them), but at any rate there’s no focus on the destruction of humankind; rather the Society focuses on the responsibility of all sentient beings to secure a healthy future for the human race, with a focus on scientific progress and the advancement of “liberty and knowledge of humanity.”

7. Church of All Worlds

It turns out that a book about the first man from Mars to make his way to Earth can change the world, or at least the way some people look at it. When Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961, there was no expectation that a fictional church founded in the novel would be recognized in real life by the federal government six years later as a legitimate religion. The Church of All Worlds is a neopagan organization based on spiritual and social concepts outlined in Heinlein’s work, emphasizing “living in harmony with Nature, self-actualization, deep friendship and positive sexuality.”

An interesting subsidiary group had a few minutes of fame in the 1980s after creating unicorns by manipulating the horn buds of (goat) kids. Ringling Brothers adopted a few and took them on tour.

8. The Church of Ed Wood

The followers of Woodism look to the life of late film director Ed Wood for guidance, seeing him as a savior and a religious entity. And if you’re wondering: Yes, they are “TOTALLY serious,” or so claims a pop-up on the church’s site, Created in 1996 by Reverend Steve Galindo, the Woodists just want to “lead happy, positive lives.” And if 3,000 global members of the Church of Ed Wood can’t convince you that this is a Real Thing, that’s okay, too. Galindo says, “We don't expect you to believe in Woodism. We expect you to respect the OUR belief in Woodism.”

9. Juggalo Faith

A 2011 FBI report might call them a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” but fans of Insane Clown Posse call themselves juggalos and each other family. But sharing a love for face paint and (alleged) random acts of vandalism isn’t enough to classify a group as a religious organization. For that, there’s, a group of Faygo soda-baptized ninjas who carry the quasi-mystical message of the Dark Carnival to juggalos everywhere. The site features regular sermons and counseling from a group of volunteer “reverends,” who just want you to know that the message of the Carnival, behind the horrorcore and onstage Tila Tequila assaults, is “the gospels of Jesus Christ.” ICP’s stance on this message wavers a bit, saying liner notes from The Wraith: Shangri-La and lyrics in both "Miracles" and "The Unveiling," while overtly religious, aren’t “hidden messages.”

10. Festivus

OK, so the Seinfeld-inspired observance isn’t so much a religion as it is a holiday, but a strange legal precedent means that if you happen to be serving jail time, you can probably air your grievances in court to get better food. After a plea in the name of “healthism” failed, California inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was awarded double portions of kosher meals after arguing his case for better dinners as a requirement for followers of Festivus. He’s since served his term and, thanks to a Festivus miracle, has been released. No word on whether he practices the Feats of Strength every December 23rd.

11. Missionary Church of Kopimi

While file-sharing isn’t precisely grounded in pop culture, it’s highly likely that the majority of files shared are culturally popular. The Church of Kopimi, a congregation comprising filesharers who would rather not face jail time for downloading Napoleon Dynamite, gained recognition by the Swedish government in 2011. According to Isak Gerson, the founder of Kopimism, “information is holy and copying is a sacrament.” The group’s sacred emblems are CTRL+C and CTRL+V. Despite its official registration, Kopimi isn’t expected to halt any government crackdowns on illegal sharing sites like The Pirate Bay.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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