The Cash Register Tolls For Thee

There's a piece of fannish folklore which seems to lurk subcutaneously at conventions, changing and crossbreeding in readiness for the moment when it bursts from someone's mouth like Alien Jnr from whatsisname's chest … excuse me, this metaphor is getting out of hand. To cite the version I've heard most often: "I say," said Ken Bulmer to L. Ron Hubbard some time in the 40's, "I have always thought there might be a lot of cash in starting a new religion."

Opinions vary as to whether Hubbard then mumbled, "Hmm, maybe," or whirled and ran for the Astounding editorial office with loud and persistent cries of "Eureka", typing furiously as he went. It's certainly true that L. Ron subsequently rose step by dianetic step to fame, power, enormous wealth, a ban on his setting foot in England (immigration officers complained they had "information to the effect that scientologists are disguising themselves as people …" the cunning fiends), exile at sea from all civilised nations, and now ignominious accusations of being dead, senile, bonkers or in line for the 1983 novel Hugo. It is also true that the words here shoved into Ken Bulmer's mouth were written by George Orwell in 1938, which may or may not cast doubt on the whole story. (Wait a minute … 1938 … 1983 … no, surely not.)

Anyway, the fascinating point at issue is what chance I have of building up a nice, profitable, little religion of my own. (Bill Tidy cartoon vicar to wife: "At this rate we'll have enough for the church roof and that new religion I've always promised you.") Greystoke Mobray Ltd (R.L. Fanthorpe), Southmoor Serendipity Ltd (Brian Aldiss) and Brunner Fact and Fiction PLC might suffer the indignities of corporation tax, but surely special treatment would be accorded to the Church of Langfordian Literary Revelation, whose high aim is to disseminate the texts miraculously sent from heaven to the platen of the Sacred Sperry-Remington SR-101? My editors and agents would receive the status of minor prophets, while I'm already making lists of publishers clearly guilty of religious persecution.

Like L. Ron Hubbard, I too could then command hosts of faithful followers to join the Worldcon and vote me a Hugo … something which started as a paranoid fantasy of Andy (SF Chronicle) Porter's concerning Hubbard's Battlefield Earth and the Scientologists, but now Charles Platt has evilly written to the book's publicity promoters, proposing that all Scientologists be urged to join the Worldcon and swing the Hugo vote, concluding: "I think it would be just wonderful if L. Ron Hubbard could win the award in competition with all those big-shot writers whose work has gotten stale."

Similarly, anyone who failed to obey my merest whim could be declared a Suppressive Person and humiliatingly expelled from the Langfordian faith – something which may also sound like a paranoid fantasy in these enlightened days when Charles Platt walks the streets openly, but which just happened to Ansible's Scientology informant, George Hay. Quoting the fearsome document called a SUPPRESSIVE PERSON DECLARE AND EXPULSION ORDER (signed by an INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE CHIEF), George fails to say whether the "11 separate charges of 'suppressive actions' plus various definitions of what is wrong with me" include anything about leaking strange truths concerning L. Ron Hubbard to the gutter press or Ansible, as the case may be. All he does say, in fact, is: "This gives one a splendid insight into the workings of the early Christian Church." Pardon?

Actually I am too nice, unforceful, conciliatory and drunk a person to set up a brutal organisation like Hubbard's, or the Rev. Moon's, or the BSFA. The Scientological message is that you can only be saved through unremitting dedication and enormous sums of money. Taking a tip from Asher Sutton in Simak's Time and Again, I fancy spreading the more palatable message that everybody is already saved. No sweat. No penances to do, no coupons to fill in. Just send a reasonable sum to the Church of Langfordology, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, in gratitude for the good news of our infallible salvation guarantee. (Money back if following a diagnosis of irreversible clinical death you have complaints about the glorious promised afterlife.) And if out of further gratitude you'd like to do a purely token amount of voluntary work for The Religion That Cares (soon to incorporate the Social Democrat Party), you merely xerox several copies of the flyer which relates all this, and pass them on to your delighted friends. Our trained liturgical hacks are working on the insertion of an implication, never actually expressed in so many words, that it's bad luck and possibly even a mortal sin to break the chain.

For gloomier folk who prefer to spread a message of alarm and despondency, Paperback Inferno critics and the like, there would be the sister church of Langfordography – I'm still tinkering with the name, which should suggest close alliance together with an irreparable doctrinal split. This would offer a triple-tested guarantee, underwritten by Lloyd's, of an eternity burning in hellfire while being subjected to fiendish torments. Nonstop readings from Lionel Fanthorpe or "The Number of the Beast –", raging thirst and parched mouths slaked only by thimbles of beer from the Royal Angus Hotel, while amid the background noise a sempiternal sentence from Joseph Nicholas writhes and coils its way into illimitable futurity, and in the foreground Jim Barker forces the damned victims to play Fan Turn Challenge. This grim destiny is not merely for the masochists: converts would give hugely and gratefully for the opportunity to spread the Bad News among less-loved neighbours and relatives. While people afflicted with both church's flyers would doubtless spend generously on the one they prefer, in response to pleas for cash to fund research into stamping out the vile opposing heresy. You see how it goes.

I call you all to become agents of the Church of Langfordology, or Langfordography, as you prefer. You merely do the work. I merely hire out my wondrous revelation and collect a modest 50% of the income to help renovate our central shrine at 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire. There the research laboratories work night and day, opening up new frontiers of theology and developing still more selfless religious uplift.

Our latest catalogue features the Church of Revealed Fannish Truth, which is less worldly, less concerned with vulgar finance, even than Taoism, Langfordology or the Astral Leauge. All is based on the central sacraments of deafness (not absolutely essential), self-help and, inevitably, Performance. In this faith one acquires merit through pursuing the Upward Path, by producing fanzines, running conventions, buying pints for Pope Langford, and the like. The beauty of the concept as I see it is that merit does not decay, or not much, should you lapse into inactivity. Anyone who attains the rank of fannish demigod, saint or even antipope can look forward to a perpetuity of offerings from humbler Church members, upward toilers who with all respect will lay oblations of fanzines upon the holy ones' altars and will respond with a thrill of pleasure and obedience to the blessing "Fetch drink" … even if said holy ones have done nothing whatever for years!

You must admit this to be a truly beautiful and spiritual idea. But has someone thought of it already?