Herbert Armstrong created a cult of sociopaths.
Many Armstrongists want us to believe that ‘cult’ is a pejorative term which has no real definition and can be used in opinions any way anyone would want to employ the term. That is not the case. ‘cult’ does have a standard definition and there is no more excuse for not acknowledging that Armstrongism is a cult.
Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias has this to say:
What is a Cult?
Most people know remarkably little about cults before they join one. Typically when people leave cults, self-education is a large part of their healing process. Many former members read just about everything they can about cults and social control. The following definitions and characteristics of practices and behaviors will help you understand the basic traits all cults share.
For several decades, the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA, formerly the American Family Foundation), a nonprofit research and educational organization, has provided useful information about cult groups and processes. ICSA uses the following definition, adopted at a 1985 conference of scholars and policymakers:
A cult is a group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, power group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.
According to the ICSA’s executive director, psychologist Michael Langone, three characteristics, which may be present to a greater or lesser degree, help to distinguish cults from other communities or groups.
1. Members are expected to be excessively zealous and unquestioning in their commitment to the identity and leadership of the group. They must replace their own beliefs and values with those of the group.
2. Members are manipulated and exploited and may give up their education, careers, and families to work excessively long hours at group-directed tasks, such as selling a quota of candy or books, fund-raising, recruiting, and proselytizing.
3. Harm or threat of harm may come to members, their families, and/or society due to inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, psychological and physical abuse, sleep deprivation, criminal activities, and so forth.
The authors continued with this comment:
… Cults can be chameleon-like, changing their focus or their mode of operation. Over time many cults grow or shrink in size, move locations, take on new names, refocus (sometimes abruptly) immediate goals and projects, shift recruitment targets, and so on. And most importantly, even though their patterns of structure and behavior are similar, not all cults are alike, Cults may be placed on a continuum of influence and control, and their effects range from benign to mildly damaging to harmful or dangerous….
Armstrongism to one degree or another has exhibited these characteristics. It is a cult.
Some people, particularly those who have read Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Dr. Robert Hare and Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare, realize that a psychopath is defined by:
- Lack of empathy
- Lack of conscience
- Poor behavior control
- Games playing
Simple lies. I had x for breakfast, when you know full well they did not have that.
Triangulation. They’ll let you in on their feelings, or gossip, about another person. This partially makes you feel special, like they are confiding in you if you are not aware of this tactic.
Stories to show their power. Anything from how they humiliated an incompetent waitress to how they yelled at an old man, or scared the crap out of the neighbor kid.
Sense of entitlement. They believe they should get the best service anywhere. They think they are the center of the universe and everyone else should recognize that and prostrate themselves to them.
Superficial charm, but this can be deceiving. Someone raised by a psychopath can exhibit this characteristic. Some extroverts can be very charming.
Need for adoration. They, like narcissists, are hollow. They cannot live without your attention, affection or adoration. Deny them that and it’s crazy making.
No long term friends. Psychopaths cycle through people like most of us change our undies. They are incapable of forming reciprocal, long term relationships. They probably have no contact with their family either.
Pity party. They often will tell you how someone else has wronged them so horribly. Once they have your pity, they have you wrapped around their finger.
Generally, the Armstrongists have their fair share (and more) of psychopaths, particularly among the leadership and top man / founder. Those of the cult should beware.
It is the case that the Diagnostic and Statistical Disorders (4 and 5) use the antisocial personality disorder to define characteristics of a psychopath. Dr. Robert Hare disagrees, which leads to the question, how is a sociopath different from a psychopath?
There are significant differences. A sociopath may or may not be narcissistic. A sociopath may or may not lack empathy. The distinguishing difference is that a sociopath has a [conditional conscience]: A conscience which is adapted to the particular social group and leaders of that social group, which differs, usually significantly from the social norms at large. The Mafia is an example of a social group of sociopaths: It is OK to murder, promote prostitution, run illegal drugs, lie, steal or commit any number of crimes and / or social deviancies as long as it is the standard behavior of the Mafia to facilitate their ‘business’. Of course, there are strictures on behavior of the conditional conscience: There is not to be murders within the group (unless sanctioned by the leaders), for example.
There are generally accepted commonalities between psychopaths and sociopaths:
- A disregard for laws and social mores
- A disregard for the rights of others
- A failure to feel remorse or guilt
- A tendency to display violent behavior
Armstrongism demands a conditional conscience of all its membership: There is no choice. Members give over their conscience to the leader to define patterns of behavior and it is the leader who defines what is ‘right’ and ‘good’, while the members have no choice: Go along or be disfellowshipped.
The flexibility of the conscience within Armstrongism has been illustrated many times. For a long time, it was forbidden to go to doctors to be ‘healed’ because it demonstrated a lack of faith in God. Many people died. Others had chronic illnesses for the rest of their lives when they could have been treated and been relieved of suffering. Then there was makeup: For decades makeup was wrong to wear, then it was right, then it was wrong again. Who knows the status of this doctrine at present? It probably depends upon the sect in which you find yourself a sociopathic member. Another example was third tithe. Some keep it. Others do not because it’s taken care of by government social programs. It all depends. The list goes on.
Of course, within the cult there is a hierarchy of power, prestige and privilege. The rules of conscience are absolute when it comes to those who do not rank, but for others with rank, it is a wonderland playground where they can do pretty much what they want to do. A frail little old lady 92 years old will faithfully keep the Day of Atonement. Herbert Armstrong? We know from his personal chef that he had coffee and a donut ‘to keep up his strength’.
All of you who still are a part of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia need to realize that you are in a cult and you are sociopaths. Those who deny it are too incompetent to realize how incompetent they are. Denial is not an option as a life choice.
If you want to stop being a sociopath, you need to leave Armstrongism, the same way that an alcoholic needs to stop drinking alcohol.
About this time, some will be saying, so what? Isn’t being able to adapt your conscience harmless? After all, we all may have to compromise on certain things from time to time.
The problem is that like lying — and compromising your own conscience to adopt another’s is lying to yourself — alters brain structure. We know from the research that lying destroys brain cells, making it easier to lie the next time the opportunity presents itself. Adopting the conscience of another individual, or in the case of an entire cult, permanently changes the structure of the brain: To do so is to alter the mind to adapt to whatever the ‘new’ standards are. It is always the case that there are certain standards a person would normally refuse to accept, but after becoming a sociopath of your group, unacceptable behavior becomes acceptable. Values become twisted and distorted. Moreover, the membership engages in cover ups and excuses. At the top of all this is the leader(s). The leader(s) provide your conscience for you and are arbiters of all you hold as moral and ethical — you have no right to decide for yourself. Can women wear makeup? Your leader(s) decide. Do you pay 30% of your income to support the life style of your leader so he can live in luxury at your expense to pursue his selfish interests? It’s up to him. You have no rights. You have no say. You do what he demands. You have allowed him to alter your conscience to accommodate him. You have no recourse if you disagree. You have no options if you have to sacrifice your family to provide what he wants from you. You have lost your freedom — even to determine for yourself what is right and wrong.
Meanwhile the leader(s) have every right to do as they please. Perhaps the group ethic is to fast on the Day of Atonement, but the leader is free to have a cup of coffee and a donut because he is special. While you must submit to those who are above you and grovel, he has no incentive to cooperate with anyone. He can break the law and the rules. You cannot. If he commits a crime and you know it, you must cover it up for his sake and for the sake of the group. He can commit the most heinous of crimes, such as incest and you must accept it without comment or reaction — actually, that’s not quite true: You must make excuses, claim he is not accountable, because he is Mafia Don or Apostle (Evangelist / Prophet) as the case may be and he has brought you the ‘truth’. Everything is excused because he is the core of your cult and without him, you have no existence. You are validated to the ethic that the end justifies the means: Whatever it takes to do what the group ‘needs’ to do is fine, no matter what.
Adapting your conscience to the whims of your cultmeister changes the physiology of your brain, particularly the neural networks located in the prefrontal cortex, damaging not just your brain, but incapacitating the ability to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad and compromises ethics and morality. In addition, the alterations are incomplete, leaving some perspectives in place, supplanting others and mixing and matching what’s there in a chaotic confused mindset which is unstable with cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, the cognitive dissonance is resolved by assuming that the leader and group ethic is correct and assuming that any ideas of your own are valueless. Furthermore, what is not explicitly demanded by your leader(s) and group becomes an arbitrary choice of what you may surmise will be acceptable to them.
Of course, the Cult of Herbert Armstrong is akin to the Mafia: The head honcho is the Mafia Don and the Evangelists are his Lieutenants — or in the case of Roderick Meredith, he is the Mafia Don and his preaching elders are his lieutenants, with Herbert Armstrong retaining the title of Don Emeritus while he is temporarily dead awaiting the time he will be God as God is God. Members are directed that all the Mafia Don and his faithful Lieutenants say is law, doctrine and gospel. They are always right and the lowly members are wrong if they disagree with those above them. Those who do not comply are murdered, even if the murder takes the shape of being disfellowshipped. The leadership can commit crimes, be immoral and unethical, but because they are in charge, they cannot be impugned. Here are the unwritten rules from The Orange Papers:
- The Guru is always right;
- You are always wrong;
- No Exit — like Hotel California, you are welcome come but can never leave;
- No Graduates — you never get to grow up;
- Cult-speak — try explaining third tithe to someone who doesn’t know anything about Armstrongism;
- Group-think, Suppression of Dissent and Enforced Conformity in Thinking;
- Suspension of disbelief — British Israelism… really?
- Denigration of competing sects, cults, religions, groups or organizations — which is why the ACoGs will never recombine;
- Personal attacks on critics.
Moreover, when you join your brand of sociopaths, you always start at the bottom and have to prove yourself. If you go to a new group, you have to start all over again — even minor variations in ‘understanding’ your new conscience means that you cannot be trusted until you are fully indoctrinated and put to the test.
When internal conflicts arise, conscience may become entirely undefined. For example, in third tithe year, you may find that you do not have enough money to pay for essentials like food, clothing and shelter. How can you solve this problem? Your priorities have been set to give everything you can to your cult to support its insane selfish leader. Some will go without and suffer. Others will ‘cheat’ by taking from ‘second’ tithe — this violating their conscience. Others will give up and not pay anything for awhile or ignore third tithe entirely. In any event, the person is compromised by violating their conscience. Furthermore, they may damage other people by making a choice out the many bad choices they have. In any event, the ethic of all cults is that the end justifies the means. No other ethic applies, even though it might be completely inappropriate.
To illustrate how bad this is, consider the following scenario:
I was told by a minister in PCG to “get rid of” my mentally handicapped son (who also had cerebral palsy) or don’t return. He told me to put him in some facility, or if I couldn’t afford that, then take him somewhere that he would not know and abandon him in the mall or somewhere that people were. He said someone would find him and put him away, and that I was to turn and not look back, and just leave him there!
The Philadelphia Church of God minister was George Witt, who has died since giving the advice.
Another person commented:
Reading this story that is exactly what happened to William B. Hinsom. He became a WCG minister in the 1960s. However he had a mentally disabled son. He was advised by people within WCG to leave him in a facility for such people in Franklin, Tennessee. He strongly suspected that his son would die, but he trusted them, he thought the Great Tribulation would soon start in 1972, so reluctantly he agreed. His son died as feared.
And the Great Tribulation has never started.
One has to ask: Where’s the outrage? Where are the demands from the majority of the group for reforms and demands for resignations of the leadership? No one really gets excited: It’s just another odd occurrence that people take in stride as being, if not normal, at least tolerable.
People assume that the United Church of God an International Association is free from such things, but that is a very wrong assumption. Early on, an elder was fondling teens and the whole thing was covered up. The married woman who was being stalked by a pervert in the church got no help from the UCG Council of Elders (with registered letters to such as Aaron Dean), the Chairman and Chairman of the ethics committee, Robert Dick or even other members in the church. Instead, she and her husband had to take the matter to Superior Court to get a restraining order, where the pervert, two elders, deacon and deaconess defended the pervert. The judge had none of it and issued the restraining order. Richard Pinelli had been sent to preach an entire sermon to castigate the woman with a sermon, “Tipping Over the Barrel”, September 9th, 2001 — and that Monday after the Sabbath, the 9/11 attacks occurred. It should be noted that Pinelli didn’t mention any prophecy about God tipping over the barrel by punishing the United States at the Twin Towers, though he did speak of the ‘barrels’ of members being tipped over by God for rebellion. Rex Sexton went to the couple and asked, “What will it take” (to make this all go away)? He was willing to give them the funds to attend the Feast in Alaska.
One has to ask the question, Why didn’t the UCG just do the right thing according to Scripture and kick the chain-smoking pervert out of the church until he ‘repented’. The answer is, of course, that it is not how sociopaths work and it’s not how cults work. You cannot trust anyone in a cult — not the leaders, not the members. Today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies as they betray you to keep the chaotic irrationality of the cult intact.
There are other stories over the years. A woman in the church went to court to keep her children. The church was funding her defense. The night before the hearing, Dennis Luker called Victor Kubic who then cancelled the funding of Davies Pearson PC Attorneys and, with no defense, she lost her children.
There is a certain irony that while most people entering the cultic state are greeted with suspicion, those who are wealthy, famous / well-connected or boozing alcoholics are accepted immediately. In one church, an ex-Marine learned of the cult through some people who worked for his enterprise. He was married without children, living on the side of a mountain. He was quite the drinker and with Bible Studies on Friday nights, Sabbath services in the afternoon and Spokesman Club on Saturday night, he immediately had quite a circle of drinking buddies. Because so many traveled long distances from out of town, he and others would host Saturday night dinners with 6, 8, 12 or more people. There was plenty of booze and not just beer and wine, but the hard stuff with whiskey, rum and other ‘strong drink’. He became really close buddies with two other men. One was an elder and the other an out of town business man. They were thicker than thieves. He soon became Spokesman Club President. He also had a Pastor rank minister from Canada visit occasionally from out of town — a man who was an alcoholic and who had to overcome alcoholism later in his ministry — after having had a divorce.
It was all great fun until the night this man gave his attack speech. He gave much of his speech about an idiot who didn’t take proper care of his baby daughter and while giving the speech, he had his hands in his pockets. That didn’t prevent him from destroying the lectern however. It was in multiple pieces before his speech concluded. The top was broken clean off. The evaluator was so shocked that and impressed he didn’t have much to say except to keep up the good work. The Over All Evaluater, Local Elder Valden White was not impressed. He recognized it for what it was. Next week, the President was deposed and his alcoholism was exposed. This story has a fulfillment several years after this. I had occasion to call his wife. It turns out that they had a divorce. She told me how her teen aged son (around 15 years old) was ‘the man of the house’ and how great it was that he could be with her. This is one of those unintended consequences of a boozing alcoholic: Sometimes when the family breaks up, the abandoned spouse engages a role reversal with the child making the child take the place of the former spouse.
This was not the end of the fiasco with boozing alcoholics in the area. Over a decade, many people in the cult began to experience severe hypoglycemia. The sufferers saw it as ‘a sugar problem’. What they did not realize is that 90% of the occurrences of hypoglycemia is a red flag that a person has entered into the third stage of alcoholism and the primary body organs are beginning to shut down. The minister who had come into the area, Donald Weininger, complained of hypoglycemia. He was an alcoholic. Now boozing it up, from the time of the ex Marine, was considered godly manliness — highly encouraged among ‘the real men’ of the church. As one might imagine, Donald Weininger had problems. His wife had gotten her realtor’s license and was making a living on her own as a realtor. She had also filed for a divorce. Donald Weininger came to her attorney’s office with a gun. He shot her and then himself. The entire church was in shock from their deaths and it isn’t clear that the cult ever really recovered.
No one should be surprised, however. Herbert Armstrong was a boozing alcoholic as was his son, Garner Ted. Since we know that the genetics for alcoholism is passed from the mother to the children, we can be assured that Loma Armstrong was an alcoholic as were all the children, including Richard David and Dorothy. Those of us who have suffered being dominated by either alcoholic parents or alcoholic managers can appreciate the dysfunction: Nothing is as it seems; there are lies, excuses and cover ups; there are broken promises; strife is a given; abuse and neglect abounds. Unfortunately, Armstrongism was founded and directed by people who were alcoholics, resulting in the chaotic insanity which became such a part of Ambassador College, the Radio Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God and all the spit offs which came in the wake of the death of the incompetent minister and false prophet, Herbert Armstrong. When dealing with a sociopathic group grounded in alcoholism, no one should expect to deal in realities, particularly when it comes to morals and ethics, even if the alcoholics appear to be able ‘to hold their liquor’. As GTA said, that’s booze, brethren.
As for violence… the stalkers, the pedophiles, child abuse, spouse abuse and the murderers in the CoHAM should qualify.
Some of the other sects are really over the top. There isn’t enough space here to consider the nutso insanity of David Pack and his Restored Church of God, Roderick Meredith and his Living Church of God, Gerald Flurry and his Philadelphia Church of God, and — for heaven’s sake — Ronald Weinland and the Church of God – Preaching the Kingdom of God with his failed prophecies, not to mention that he is a convicted felon who spent three years in prison. No, there’s no space here, but you can go research them. The picture is really ugly.
Some people insist that even though the doctrines are completely nuts and simply don’t believe in British Israelism and the faux so-called history of the church, along with lots of other nonsense, including long-standing (unfulfilled and unfulfillable) prophecies, the group should be kept together — after all, walking away from all those ‘friends’ and social contacts would be too painful. That’s nonsense — as much nonsense as insisting the the Mafia stay together for the same reasons — and maybe, just maybe, the Mafia group will reform enough to be a viable healthy organization. It’s a totally unworkable proposition that’s terribly unhealthy to boot. It’s better to leave and stop giving your money and life to selfish narcissistic greedy leaders than to continue to life in an insane dysfunctional environment. There’s still the strong hierarchy, unhealthy cover ups and an insistence of loyalty to the group, its leaders, its policies and doctrines. There’s no win there and people remaining cannot even think about becoming healthy. It’s also just the sort of environment that appeals to psychopaths because there’s so much fertile ground. This also does not even begin to cover the vast problems with alcoholism which remain unaddressed for Armstrongist groups.
People in antisocial cults have lost their concept of ‘normal’. In fact, they have such unbelievable distorted perceptions that they arrogantly maintain their superiority, claiming We are better than you because we have the truth. They can never accept that they are so beyond the bounds of human behavior that their activities and belief not only defy society but become a threat to segments of it. This hubris blinds them to the fact they are pathetic losers whose leaders are so very wrong. They have never and will never achieve what they seek. The tragedy is that they can never see themselves as they are. Participation in the group dynamic shields them from having to address the problems they create for themselves and others. They are proud to be different. This excessive arrogance is reflected in the statements by both Roderick Meredith and David Pack that they have never committed a major sin since baptism. Denial means that those in the cult will never escape their dysfunctional lives until they leave the cult.
Herbert Armstrong created a cult of sociopaths.
If you are in one of the sects of the cult, now is high time to be honest with yourself.