Church of Golly
The Church of Golly is a religious organization dedicated to spreading the teachings of Golly of Nazareth. Gollyism, or Golism as it is sometimes called, is a phenomenon of American religious sensibility, as are Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses. It has its beginnings in mid-nineteenth century Midwestern middle-American upper income homes, where many other middling attempts at making sense of the history of religion were also born, bred, and raised. The difference between this religion and those referenced above, as well as most others that might be mentioned in the same breath, is that Gollyism is based on a profound sense of doubt. Most religions are based on belief. The religion (if it can actually be called a religion) which developed out of the teachings of Golly of Nazareth is founded on a core of surprise and doubt--in other words, it is the polar opposite of the typical religion so-called. Understandably, such a religious philosophy--or philosophical religion--was squelched, suppressed, and ruthlessly stomped into the dust by the Christian Church from the time of Christianity's ascendancy to the throne of The Church Imperial. It wasn't until the Enlightenment had produced the American and French revolutions, and the Americans had produced the Profit Motive, that such a notion as Eternal Doubt could find a foothold on the treacherous heights of the cliff (notes) of Religion.
If one looks at the few extant texts referring to the teachings of Golly the Prophet which can be verified as having their origins in the centuries following the time of this supposed contemporary of Jesus, we can see two important facts: 1) that the gospels attributed to followers of Golly are highly doubtful as to their authenticity, and 2) that the followers of Golly are highly doubtful as to the authenticity of Golly himself. This presents one of the most challenging and fascinating paradoxes in the history of religious thought--rivaling even the contrived contradictions of Zen Buddhism. How could a religious philosophy which doubts even its own origins be taken seriously? The followers of Golly would probably say: "We seriously doubt it". This is nothing if not difficult for the average historian of religions to get his mind, teeth, hands, or legs around.
The modern sects of Gollyism that flourish today do indeed use, publish, and refer to several "gospels" (for want of a better term) that purport to be based on the teachings of Golly of Nazareth, and to have been written, or at least handed down, by direct disciples of the prophet. Among these are the Books of Either/Or, Jim, Mark-off, Zackadaka, Persians, Confusion, Costly, Dubious, Conclusions, Questions, and Make-Up. These writings are gathered together in The Big Book, the admittedly presumptuously-titled text of the Church of Golly. This institution, which can claim to be scarcely forty years old at this writing, is among the fastest-growing religious organizations in America. This is largely due to the work of one man, Oval Rubber, founder of the Church, and his television program "The By Golly Show", which is syndicated on hundreds of stations nationwide and is produced by a cadre of fervent Doubters which include his wife, Ethyl Rubber, his son, Galvin, and his young daughter, Michelin, as well as his unofficial co-pastor in evangelism, Ben Simple.
Gol of Nazareth was a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. They may actually have gone to school together, Nazareth having had only one public school in those days. The birth date of Gol is not certain. The same is true for Jesus. The reason for this is that the method of calculating dates has changed since those days. For example, while it is commonly held that "Anno Domino", the year that Jesus was born, should be considered the first year of our current era (not the year Dominoes was invented as a game), it is not logical to say that this was the year 0. There can be no year 0 even if referring to the beginning of the Universe. So, we have to assume that history is off by one year. Of course, this is true when calculating the age of any person. At any rate, there is enough doubt as to the birth date of Jesus, that to feel certain about the birth date of Gol would be intellectually dishonest. Therefore, it is prudent to overlook this conundrum and go on with the serious stuff.
Gol's family were poor folk, living in a houseboat near the shores of the Sea of Golilee. Unable to find work offshore, Gol's father moved the family onto land and set up a carpet installation business in Nazareth. Joseth, as he was known, may have been the first carpet installer to offer a three-room deal, thus upstaging his competitors who were hung up on installing carpet by the square foot. This made a big impression on the young Gol, who apprenticed with his father while studying Buddhist philosophy with some itinerant monks from India. The combination of the three-room one-price concept and the idea that all life is suffering led Gol to one of his early revelations: Life is better in a fully carpeted home.
While there was much about the young Gol that he held in common with his contemporaries (i.e., his schoolmates), e.g., hating to be called to the blackboard to demonstrate the equations of Pythagoras, there was something different about him which his parents, Joseth and Marly, could not ignore. For one thing, there was his penchant for going to the shore and talking to fishermen. Now, fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Golilee were held in similar regard as, say, would have been panhandlers on the shores of Lake Tahoe in the 1850s American West. There simply was nothing worth fishing for, or panning for. But Gol was fascinated by these ever-hopeful line-casters and row-boat trollers. They would tell him, "You never know what you may bring up when you cast a line." It seemed to Gol that they were willing to wait endlessly for the big surprise: that there might be something on their lines that would bring them a handsome buck, drachma, clam, or whatever the currency of that place and time was. Gol would lie awake at night in his nicely carpeted room, thinking about the concept of Surprise. Little did he know that, a few short years later, he would become the messenger of just such a vision to the world.
About 15 years after his birth, which is to say at the age of 16, a pivotal--one might say even circular--event took place in the life of Gol. It happened like this: One day Gol felt an urge to go off into the desert. This in itself was enough to get him committed to the local school for the insane. No one in their right mind in Nazareth would consider going off into the desert. Have you seen any pictures of the countryside around those parts? It is pretty grim. Usually, people who went off into the desert thereabouts were never seen or heard from again, and good riddance to them most would say. It's hard enough to eek out a living in this god-forsaken town without mystics and visionaries taking up good rooms and competing for what good produce happens to find its way into the market. So, it was a big surprise to Gol's mother Marly (his father Joseth was out on a job at the time) when Gol said to her, "Mother, there is a great confusion on me, and I must go into the desert." (Golly 1:15 for those of you following along in your Book Of Gol). His mother replied, "Why?", although she already knew the answer, having asked the same question to her husband Joseth many times in connection with his business deals: "I don't know." So, she packed him a lunch of dried dates from Palestine, some day-old bread she had baked in the common oven up the street, and a goatskin flask of water pumped from the well in the yard (the water, not the goatskin). Frankly, she had seen this coming for some time now. Gol's association with fishermen, Buddhists, and other dreamers had made him the target of sarcastic remarks among the neighbors since he was about 8 years old. Some of Marly's girlfriends had even suggested to her that she should get ready to lose him to Religion, as had happened to Mary down the street with her son Jesus. Of course, Mary was generally agreed to have lived a loose life, having given birth without benefit of marriage, and while on vacation no less. Her husband, Joseph, was a well-respected carpenter, and such was the business climate in Nazareth that good craft skill was able to overcome much that was otherwise suspect in a family tree.
Gol took the goatskin, his meager lunch, and his ass, and started toward the edge of town. Persuaded by one of his neighbors who was a dyed-in-the-wool opportunist to leave his ass behind, Gol headed for the hills, brothers, and within a few minutes was out of sight of Nazareth. At this point he became filled with a kind of visceral excitement usually only felt by partakers of the local specialty mushroom known as Silly Sibling. Yet he had not eaten any of that fungus. He was, rather, suddenly in the throes of mystical vision the likes of which had not been seen in those parts since John the Southern Baptist had passed through, dancing in the streets and offering to push anybody that would give him a crust of bread into the water at Golilee Beach--claiming to have a commission from God to baptize and cleanse the sins of the wicked. All this aside (as indicated by the footnote), it became clear to Gol that he was on a strange trip indeed. His head began to ache, and when he reached for his aspirin, he found that the bottle was full of pebbles. He poured them out onto the ground and said to no one in particular, "Oh why dost thou give me a headache and turn my aspirin into rocks?" Then he heard what was the first of several voices out of nowhere that day: "Gol, Gol, now you know the nature of my Surprise." "I do?" he replied. "Tell me plainly, for I am a simple fisherman." (Speaking metaphorically.) Then the earth around him began to shake, and he fell to the ground, skinning his knees. "What's going on?" he cried. Again the voice from the air: "I will make you my messenger. You will take my Surprise to the people." (Note: this is taken from the Reviled Standard Version of The Book Of Gol. Other sources say "You will take my Sopapillas to the people"; however, most scholars do not accept this translation, as sopapillas were not invented until about a thousand years later in Spain. Still, the connection between surprise and fried food is generally considered valid.) Gol got up, brushed off his knees, and stumbled ahead until he came to what appeared to be a foaming bush. That is, as far as the various translations can agree, a shrub of unknown genus was putting out some kind of foam, perhaps whipped cream, perhaps Burma Shave, which again caused Gol to cry out, "What's going on?" To which the voice from nowhere replied, "Wait and see!" Thus it became clear to Gol that he was indeed tripping. However, the voice continued: "I will send you back to reveal my awesome secret to the waiting masses: The Secret of Eternal Doubt. And to demonstrate the truth of my message, I will change your name from Gol to Golly, as a symbol of my Surprise. Go now, and take your Doubt to the world." Of course, we cannot be sure of the veracity of this conversation, since only Gol and the voice from the air were witness to it. Besides that, there is the fact that the purported events took place over 2000 years ago, at a time before history as an intellectual pursuit had been invented. Still, there is little or nothing in the background of Gol of Nazareth to indicate a tendency to proselytizing, mystical adventures, or even hallucinations. And anyway, when have such matters prevented a good Sunday School story? But it is at least an indication of his dissatisfaction with his own family ties that he took the opportunity to start calling himself Golly. So, when he returned from the desert and began preaching a life of Surprise and Doubt, many took him seriously. Others took him for all he was worth. By the time he had assembled a crew of 12 disciples whom he felt he could trust with the work, he was dead broke, having been convinced by every con man in town that they would get his message out there for the paltry price of such and such. Thus, when Golly the Prophet began his serious mission of bringing Surprise to the world, he was, to put it bluntly, destitute.
It is not the purpose of this article to delve into the sad details of the career of Golly the Prophet: how his disciples turned against him, leading his life to a surprise ending, nor how he watched his colleague Jesus swept away on a tide of political treachery, never knowing that his teachings would guide the course of Western history for thousands of years, and not necessarily in a good way. Rather, all this background is given for the benefit of a discussion of the Church of Golly--from the early arguments and debates in the drawing rooms of 19th century American intellectuals to its flowering, or some might say its mutation, taking form as it has in the likes of The By Golly Show on television and the progeny of surprise which that has sired in satire and doubt, as seen in the work of Babylon Theatre and others, in the late twentieth century. Still, the phenomenon of the Church of Golly has given new life to the message of the prophet, such as it has not received in the many hundreds of years of rationalism and pragmatism that have intervened between now and the first revelation received by that underrated and overshadowed seeker from the Middle East.
The Church of Golly
Although the message of Golly of Nazareth has been available more or less continuously since the time of the prophet in the early years of our era, it was never formulated into a bonafide church and registered under the tax laws of the United States until 1976. The bicentennial fervor of that year in America led to many excesses, of which the founding of this Church by the young Oval Rubber was probably not the greatest; however, it may have been among the silliest. Rubber had recently graduated from Antioch Seminary, an early venture into free education (free in the sense of being open to any class or program that anybody might want to teach), and he was casting about for a denomination that would accept his credentials and allow him to preach on salary. This was difficult even in those heady days. A degree with the name Antioch on it was already not worth much more than the paper it was printed on. Oval, probably realizing that idealism was no substitute for connections, quickly assessed his situation and decided to take the bull by the horns. He picked an obscure philosophy that had been touched upon in one of his Religious Thought classes, namely Gollyism, and decided to run with it. According to his diary, which has been published in its entirety by the Church of Golly as a sort of latter-day "Letters of the Apostles", Rubber immersed himself in the materials available on the teachings of Golly and after an intensive 3 days of study, emerged with the foundations of his new Church. In what amounts to little less than a conspiracy, he engaged his wife of three years, Ethyl, and their eighteen-year old son, Galvin, in his plot to invent a new religion with the intent of creating an income for them as well as (yes, Oval was actually an idealist at heart) creating a home for what he perceived as a vast majority of Americans who were disenchanted with the current menu of religious choices.
Oval Rubber, it turns out, was a natural evangelist, and before long not only was the Church of Golly bringing in new members at the rate of up to 10 per month, but the young preacher was inspired by a visit to Oral Roberts University to start his own school, which would be centered around the teachings of Doubt and Surprise--the fundamental tenets of Golly's message as he saw it. Thus in 1978, Surprise University held its first class in Houston, Kansas, a small town not far from anywhere which would soon become the headquarters for a media empire that would rival (at least in terms of pretention and production value) Pat Robertson's 700 Club, Robert Schuller's Hour of Power, and other religious media hoaxes of the time.
Basic Tenets of the Church
The Church of Golly is centered around a seemingly simple but deceptively complex pair of ideas: Doubt and Surprise. To demonstrate this complexity, it is only necessary to interview a few Church members. Some Gollyites doubt that Surprise is necessary, while others are surprised that Doubt is given priority. This shows the potential for intellectual debate that has given the Church such elasticity and allows for a wide range of interpretations, all of which are embraced by leaders and congregations alike. Chronologically speaking, Surprise is the first concept that was revealed to the young Gol of Nazareth, the progenitor of the religion, by the Great Man (Gol’s name for the voice he heard coming from the sky) while he, Gol, was wandering in the wilderness looking for answers. It wasn’t until towards the end of the episode that the words Eternal Doubt were heard.
The concepts of Surprise and Doubt are really two sides of one coin, and one can be seen as not possible without the presence of the other. As Oval Rubber said in his book The Surprise of Your Life, and as he often reminds viewers of his television show: “Surprise strengthens our Doubt.” This duality was explored by the great proto-Gollyite Hassidic scholar, Martin Babbler, in his book I Doubt Thou. In actual practice, Surprise and Doubt quite often become merged into a single experience, according to many lay Gollyites. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to by the code words Surdoubt or Douprise.
The mystical experience of Surprise/Doubt has been described in detail, along with the methods used to achieve it, in several well-known but little understood books that have come down from early centuries to the present day. Among these, one might well be commended to The Doubtful Night of the Soul by St John of the Crass, as well as the Autobiography of St Theresa of 6th & Avila, and of course the inscrutably anonymous Cloud of Unbelieving. A discussion of mystical Gollyism inevitably brings up the intersection of Golly and the believing world. Numerous examples could be cited of well-known Christian writers who have grappled with Doubt and have referred to the teachings of Golly for solace. One such example is St Augustine, who wrote a little-known sequel to his book City of God, in which he developed a theory that Golly was not only a contemporary of Jesus, but was actually a partner in developing the Christian message. This book, which some scholars see as Augustine's attempt to get back to his Gnostic roots, was quashed by later Church authorities because of its obvious message of doubt. City of Gol has never been admitted by mainstream Christian intellectuals as being from the hand of the Bishop of Hippo, yet stylistically it is doubtful that it could have been written by anyone else.
Golly has not only influenced the course of Western spirituality, but the insights of the prophet can be seen in the practices of Eastern religion as well--and vice versa, it might quickly be added. Buddhism in particular has much in common with Gollyism. There is a strong element of doubt and high regard for absurdity in Buddhism that was appealing to Gol, particularly after his conversion to Golly. This is not surprising (although it should be), considering that Gol spent time with missionaries from India while growing up in Nazareth. Some of these missionaries in fact settled in the area, and were instrumental in the founding of several Agnostic sects; among them being Candaeanism (whose adherents claimed that God was addicted to candy and only was interested in this world to the extent that he could get chocolate and caramel; otherwise he did not get involved in his creation), the Valentinians (who tried to sum up their beliefs in the form of Valentine's Day card verses), and Zorroastrianism (which claimed that God was a swordsman who created the world so that he could thrust his shaft anywhere he wanted to.)
While Doubt and Surprise can rightfully be said to constitute the whole teaching of Gollyism, there are corollary principles which can be gleaned from the Book of Gol, and which come into play in the daily lives of Gollyites. Obviously, antiauthoritarianism is a logical result of Doubt. The slogan “We think you are stupid”, which was seen on many placards during the protest years of the 1960’s, is a well-known Gollyite aphorism. So is "Hell no, we won't go", but that one was of its place and time and has not really weathered the end of the Draft, not to mention the Vietnam War, which we just mentioned. Similarly, there is a high rate of absenteeism in the workplace among members of the Church. Not only is it considered evidence of advanced spirituality to doubt whether making a living is necessary, it is also encouraged, by inference, to surprise one’s employer by not showing up. Golly himself was a confirmed slacker, and taught that if one must work, one should take every opportunity to bring uncertainty into the lives of fellow workers. Of course, this attitude can easily be extended into all aspects of citizenship. Democracy itself begs the question of Doubt. There have often been campaigns, undertaken with varying degrees of secrecy, among Church congregations to subvert elections by encouraging their members to vote for candidates they do not believe in. Some close national races in fact may have been decided by the “Golly vote“. This kind of political action, known ironically among Gollyites as non-voting, puts the Church of Golly squarely in the camp of Unitarians, Quakers, and other religious organizations that have used their teachings for social purposes. Not surprisingly, there are many Gollyites among the membership of Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Oval Rubber and The By Golly Show
As alluded to earlier in this article, it is doubtful whether the teachings of Golly would have become the force they are today if it had not been for the vision--some might say hallucination--of Oval Rubber. The son of a steel-worker in the Rust Belt and the grandson of an itinerant preacher from the Bible Belt, Oval could not escape the influence of the Leather Belt throughout his childhood. This experience led not only to a calloused backside, but to a calloused opinion of religion and authority in general. By the time he was eighteen in 1970 Oval had become disenchanted with everything his ancestors stood for. He tried briefly to join the Counterculture youth movement, but his inability to smoke marijuana and drink beer at the same time without becoming nauseous made it difficult for him to fit in with his peers at college. He then flirted briefly with the Jesus People, only to be told that his belief was not strong enough. After four years of college in which he failed to accumulate enough credits to graduate, Oval had accepted, not Jesus, but the idea that he was facing life as a janitor. This eventually brought him to a crisis of identity which he likened to that of Holden Caulfield, the hero of Catcher In The Rye, whose attitude he embraced for a time while living a dissolute life in a cheap apartment in upstate New York. In an attempt to find direction in his life, he convinced his father, who was by now retired on a steelworkers pension, to loan him the money to enroll in Antioch University in their seminary program. Two years later, having had a wonderful time sitting around with liberal professors, studying subjects of doubtful value such as Comparative Religion and History of Religious Movies, he again found himself on the street as it were, unemployed and newly married. Undeniably influenced by the need to make a living, and given his total lack of enthusiasm for the mainstream sects and denominations he had to choose from upon receiving his theology degree, it is almost miraculous that he chose Gollyism as the focus of his work. Not only was this backwater of philosophy languishing in the oppressive humidity of Fundamentalism and Evangelical Christianity, but Rubber was starting his new career at just the time when the political climate of the United States had seemingly embraced these, heading down a road of unquestioning belief fueled by the bigotry and fear-mongering of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart. Yet for some reason, which Rubber himself describes as the result of a Crisis of Doubt, he saw an opportunity not only to make a name for himself, but to make a bundle of money in the burgeoning cable television medium. Thus Oval (along with his wife Ethyl, whose enthusiastic skepticism of her husband's sanity became the model for the New Woman of Doubt) surprised not only the media savants of the time, but probably also himself, when he took his last $5000 dollars, which he had managed to hold on to by not paying the last year's tuition at Antioch, claiming that he had paid it up front at the time of his enrollment (a lesson in surprise which the post-hippie management of the college learned never to let happen again), and invested it in a broadcast license that was up for renewal in the little town of Houston, Kansas. According to his biography, A Man Called Oval, written by Ethyl Rubber in an attempt to give some legitimacy to the whole doubtful enterprise, Golly himself visited Oval Rubber one night in a hot tub at the Motel 6 where the couple were staying after having fled the environs of Antioch in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There, in the steam and chlorine fumes, a nearly naked Rubber was forcibly baptized by the apparition of Doubt and came up out of the water filled with the Spirit of Surprise. This incident, which he described in a series of letters sent to himself at a post office box in his hometown of (address unknown) and which he later referred to as The Jacuzzi Papers, became legendary in his own mind and allowed him to accept Surprise into his life. Convinced that he had not been simply a victim of one too many gin-and-tonics followed by a dip in an overly-heated motel hot tub, he never looked back, but forged ahead into the media spotlight with a gospel of Doubt and Surprise, convinced that he was the chosen messenger of Golly. For her part Ethyl Rubber saw the writing on the wall and realized that her fortune rested on convincing the world that her husband was not insane. She accepted Doubt into her heart and became the Apostle of Surprise who, more than any besides Oval himself, ran headlong into the believing world with the message of Golly.
The By Golly Show premiered in early 1978 on Oval Rubber's WSAD, the newly renamed station in Houston, Kansas, where he had set up house in a government-backed tract development and enrolled his children in the local school district. Galvin, the couple's eighteen-year-old son, who had spent the first seventeen years of his life being home-schooled by Oval and Ethyl, entered the local high school as a senior. Michelin, their twelve-year-old daughter who had been living with Ethyl's parents since birth, was reunited with the family and became a cheerleader in the middle school. This experience held her in good stead as she soon became the darling of the television audience, providing the wholesome teen image which softened the somewhat slippery persona that Oval presented. WSAD, (the call letters stood for Surprise And Doubt), had been garnering local loyalty with reruns of Green Acres, I Love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone, while attempting to develop a local news show supported by advertising sold by a couple of indigenous con men whom Oval saw as potential team members for his new religious enterprise. Just before the first broadcast of By Golly, Oval met Ben Simple at the local feed store, where he was a salesman and Oval was stopping by to look for rat poison. Simple, a young African-American, was the only non-Caucasian in town. He later claimed that he had been directed by God to settle in Houston, Kansas, in order to find a ministry he could be part of. The doubtfulness of this story is all the more endearing to the fans of the show and the members of the Church. When Oval met Ben he knew he had found the innocent foil he needed to complete the sofa-and-desk style that he hoped to borrow from the likes of Johnny Carson and Pat Robertson. And indeed, Ben Simple was an immediate hit with the home-spun audience that tuned in to the first broadcast of The By Golly Show.
That first show was somewhat strained and on the verge of panic, but having survived the hour, Oval and Ethyl began seriously plotting the format, while Ben Simple enthusiastically engaged himself in reading everything Oval had on Gollyism, determined to convert himself from his Christian background into a true Gollyite, and determined to take this opportunity to get himself out of the feed and grain business. He also took it on himself to lead the sales team in the direction of promoting the new program. It was Ben who devised the idea of selling the image of Houston, Kansas as a new religious mecca, convincing the local political machine to get behind the show as a money-making engine for the town. Not long after the second broadcast was behind them, stations in other nearby towns began to exhibit interest in carrying the show. The BGS Network was born.
In the world of so-called evangelical religion and the preachers who inevitably rise to the top of that world, there are not many of those preachers who have had the audacity to start their own educational institution to back up their teachings. The aforementioned Pat Robertson was one of these, with his CBN University. Oral Roberts was another with his ORU. But perhaps topping both of these, Oval Rubber's founding of Surprise University was the most audacious of all. Roberts and Robertson (is there more than a little similarity in those names?) were coming from a tradition that was well established in America, and which they had not invented: Fundamentalist Christianity. But Oval Rubber had only recently created out of whole cloth, as the saying goes, a new religion which had only been up till now spoken about in back rooms or at most in the smoking parlors of wealthy upper-class scions who could afford to be seen as eccentric. He not only had the vision to proclaim a new take on the old time religion, but then he upped the ante by deciding that he could present an institution of higher learning based upon this fledgling religion and actually expect that students would come to study there. And come they did, although modestly at first. The inaugural session of Surprise U. boasted an enrollment of just 27 students. A number of these were disadvantaged youth from the local area who were signed up with the promise of basketball scholarships. And although the school never has become a sports power, it is notable that most of these recruits stayed on and were among the first graduates of the Doubtful Studies program, the first degree offered by the school and the model for the many courses which came later. Rubber and his advisors, whom he personally selected from among the business leaders of Houston, Kansas, hired a handful of professors through a nationwide search which brought together some of the most surprising and doubtful experts in unorthodox religion ever assembled in one place. Mostly renegades and outcasts from traditional religious studies, they quickly coalesced into a surprisingly cohesive and charismatic faculty. Inspired by the vision of surprise and doubt which Oval relentlessly pushed, they organized themselves into a team of professionals dedicated to inspiring a similar enthusiasm in their students. More than any other aspect of his amazing career, Surprise University demonstrates the innate ability of Oval Rubber to combine sheer runaway Surprise and Doubt with the ambition for easy money, into a political, economic, and religious engine that would take at least a small part of the country by storm.
By 1979 The By Golly Show was successful enough that The Rubber Foundation was able to make a gift (tax-deductible of course) of a sophisticated new television production complex to Surprise U. This became the home of the Show. The facility included a studio with audience capacity of 500, equipped with all the amenities that Oval had envisioned as a fan of late-night TV talk shows. There was a sound stage for musical acts, as well as a pulpit set where Oval and Ben could give their lectures in a church-like setting. As Oval became confident in his own position in the preaching pantheon, he even made the studio available to other churches. Several of the local ministries used the production facilities to broadcast or tape their own Sunday services, paying a cut-rate fee which Oval offered as a professional courtesy and as a tax write-off. And of course, the technical staff was made up of students enrolled in the parallel Religious Broadcasting program, so that the cost of running the studio was basically the power bill. Thus, Surprise U. got a state of the art broadcast and recording studio, which provided its own income through student fees and from a percentage of the donations which the Show generated from its fans, and The By Golly Show had essentially no production costs for its growing network, which at the same time brought in increasing income from syndication fees. Oval Rubber was not shy in boasting about this collaboration of religion and capitalism. He also was not ungenerous with his success. He provided a stipend for his father, the itinerant preacher of the many belts, and created positions in the company for Galvin, Michelin, and Ethyl with profit-sharing aimed at providing them with income for life. As of this writing, the Rubber Foundation supports a wide variety of surprising causes, the criteria for donations being that the organization requesting such support must be able to cause a high level of doubt among the selection committee.
The future for Gollyism and The By Golly Show
As of this writing (April 2011), the Church of Golly has a surprisingly high membership, which sources number anywhere from five thousand to half a million, depending on the level of doubt involved. One problem with the numbers is that local congregations tend to inflate their membership records to include anybody who has signed the guest book, while there is also a natural tendency among Gollyites to want to surprise any researcher or reporter who happens by. Doubt being the watchword in any contact with media, it is a gullible journalist indeed who will take at face value the response of members or clergy to any question regarding the Church and its membership. This of course makes it extremely difficult to get a handle on the actual size of the religion. Many local congregations are still small enough that they rely on other churches for use of their facilities, or in some cases are simply meeting in members’ homes. The established congregations in major urban areas are abetted in their attempts to generate doubt by well-disguised support from Church headquarters in Kansas. Equally daunting to any statistician or historian of religion is the fact that a Gollyite will do almost anything to cause doubt and surprise. It is not unusual for a reporter to be told flat out that there is no such thing as Gollyism, despite any indications to the contrary. It is generally agreed among reporters on religion that to be put on the Golly beat is akin to being thrown down Alice’s rabbit hole. It is not surprising that Oval Rubber has sometimes been called the Mad Hatter of Houston, Kansas.
As for The By Golly Show, the size of its network and the amount of money generated is kept as close to the chest or cuff as possible within the rules of the Internal Revenue Service. Having managed to maintain status as a charitable organization directly under the Church, the Show’s board is famous for its ability to create doubt and surprise while still maintaining just enough records to satisfy the government. In 1978 the Show’s producers, including Oval Rubber himself, were subpoenaed by a House subcommittee who wanted to know just what this church and its media empire were all about. The resulting examination and testimony brought such a climate of doubt and surprise to the House chambers that the representatives were often reduced to laughter, and the proceedings were adjourned several times because no one could think of a question to ask. In the end it was agreed that there seemed to be a genuine religion involved, but that no one could actually deduce what that religion was. Oval Rubber was advised to walk the line of tax credibility. He in turn gained the doubtful confidence of the committee with a closing speech in which he promised to give his full support to any candidate whatsoever, regardless of party or politics. This unequivocal bid for political non-partisanship sealed the deal, and the Church and the Show have received full if doubtful suspension of disbelief from oversight ever since. Oval Rubber for his part has made good on his promise by giving a nominal but dependable check to each party in every major race. As for his own real political leanings, perhaps only his wife Ethyl really knows. In an interview with People magazine in 1985, she said, “Oval is the most open-minded man I have ever known. I have never known him to close his mind to any subject. The only certainty when it comes to Oval Rubber’s beliefs is that he has none. This makes him, in my opinion, the classic religious and political figure of our time."
- Many had taken him up on this offer, since the recession and the current Administration in Jerusalem were causing people in the outlying districts to feel distinctly neglected and sorely over-taxed. Jesus himself had allowed his head to be thus dunked, but in his case it was more from a sense of intellectual curiosity than any desire to escape his mortal condition.
- Of course, adherents of Gollyism are taught to doubt everything, including their own teachings. It might well be considered surprising that the Book of Gol was ever published, or that it continues in its original form through every new edition. This is actually a point of pride in the Church: that this most basic surprise is maintained against all doubt, for the benefit of upcoming generations.
- Babbler, a German mystic and intellectual, was an early champion of the teachings of Gol. Many see him as the Grandfather of the Church.
- He was unwilling to sell his stereo equipment, the only thing of value he possessed, and follow his friends to an unknown commune in the Rocky Mountains.