Former members of the WCG who are willing to talk openly about their experience with the church are by no means common. In this, the second in a series of interviews with people who are willing to share their story, Gavin Rumney talks with Jim Baldwin.
Many of our long time readers will recall that former WCG local church elder/minister, Jim Baldwin has published more than a few articles here on the Painful Truth. Today we received his biography and a article entitled The Cult Attraction. But today I would like to introduce Jim to our readership who may be unfamiliar with his journey out of the WCG.
Below is a interview that Gavin Rumney did with Jim over a decade ago. More will follow later this week.
All the links below were active when the interview was done and are stored on the Wayback Machine for viewing.
Gavin: What led you to join the WCG?
Jim: First, a little background is necessary.
Luckily, and I might add, happily, I was raised by unchurched parents. I grew up in a small machine tool town in Vermont. I attended public school and entered one of the manufacturing plants as had many young men before me. It was the thing to do if one wasn’t going on to college.
I spent my late teens and early twenties in the sensible pursuits of babes, booze, dancing and dice. I had no interest in discussing anything more serious than speculations about UFOs. I read much science fiction. I was also intrigued by the book, “The Search For Bridey Murphy”, a study of reincarnation.
In 1961, when I was 24, my father was killed in a car crash. That event brought about a wondering about life for the first time. I had seen my dad work very hard for 14 years to build up a nice business. He was successful in the acquiring the American dream and was planning on early retirement and travel. All of it was wept away because another man who’d had one or two drinks too many at a local club was heading home the same time as my dad.
I was really troubled by the death. At the same time I was growing bored with my job and I was having trouble with the girl friend of the moment. I was restless. I wanted some changes.
So I quit my job and went to California to see some friends from my town who had moved there a short time earlier.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was adrift, looking for something I knew not what. I went to junior college for awhile, worked at a drafting job in a missile plant for a bit, and partied a lot.
While there I shared an apartment with two other fellows. One was taking Bible lessons from an elder in the Christadelphian Church, a small offshoot of the Adventist movement of the mid-19th century. He told me some of their beliefs. That was the first time I heard about the ancient man, Abraham. I thought that someday I ought to read the Bible.
I spent only seven months on the west coast and returned to Vermont in the spring of ’62. I got my old job back and started dating a young woman whose mother was a Christadelphian. I began attending a few services and Bible studies. I was learning much about what the Bible taught. I was amazed that so many things Christians believed were not in the Bible.
About this time I had my first contact with The World Tomorrow radio program and one Garner Ted Armstrong. I sent for some of the basic booklets and the Bible Correspondence course. I was on my way to captivity in a cult. But then I was receiving answers to life’s questions. I was very naive and not at all educated beyond the basics. I never considered that anyone would lie, cheat and steal in the name of a god. I was the perfectly ignorant, gullible, troubled person cults look for. But I delayed any commitment for another five years spending some time with the Christadelphians, studying WCG
literature and not neglecting my four youthful pursuits.
The early sixties were difficult times–public demonstrations against the Vietnam war, assassinations, the sexual revolution, the Cuban missile crisis, cities on fire and the growing “hippie” movement. I wanted something I could cling to amidst seeming mass confusion. The WCG offered it. I was baptized in 1967 and busily engaged myself in throwing twenty-five years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars down the toilet. But I got what I wanted–delusions.
Gavin: Looking back, were there any positives that came out of that experience?
Jim: I would have to say that my association with the WCG awoke the student in me. I sent for all the booklets and articles I could get my hands on. I bought alternate translations, Bible atlases, word study books, concordances for different translations, Greek and Hebrew concordances and other study aids. I couldn’t get enough. As a result I became quite knowledgeable about the Bible. In fact, I was rather shocked at how little the ministers I worked with knew outside of the indoctrination they received at AC.
It seemed to me that Herbert only provided the basic framework of the “truth” and there was much more there waiting to be discovered. I began to purchase multi-volume commentaries, theological dictionaries, encyclopedias of religion, histories of religion and just about anything related to fundamentalist Christianity including old Sabbatarian studies. I felt that Christian studies of the 19th century were more likely to be closer to the truth. I dug deeply into Christian theology of all flavors. I frequented a local college library to study what they had. I even photocopied rare books and theological journals I needed for my research.
I also will have to say that I learned that I had a fair ability for public speaking awakened by the Spokesman Club. I presided over a number of different clubs over the years and filled in for the pastor once in a while. I was the first graduate of the Spokesman Club in the New England region. I was ordained a Local Church Elder (not on the payroll) and gave sermons about once a month for the last 16 years of my association with the WCG. I loved teaching. Too bad most of it was trash.
I also learned much about the human condition. And Pogo was right; we truly are our own worst enemies. “What fools we mortals be” to quote one unknown.
And I have to say that my experience in the Armstrong cult helped me better understand the workings of historical totalitarian systems like Hitler’s Germany and Stalinist Russia. I, as a low-ranking thug, now have a better idea why higher-ranking thugs are the way they are.
Gavin: What were the issues that led you to leave the WCG?
Jim: I exited ten years ago this past July. My story has been posted on the Painful Truth website in thirteen parts. (They are open letters to my friend “Lani”. She and her deacon husband spent 30 years in the Armstrong Gulag.) I wanted to recall the events that led up my leaving and I wanted the story to be thrown in the faces of the “friends” who stayed. I had a number of e-mail addresses of people I had known in the cult. They were handed the lie by their WCG masters that I had left over personality clashes, bad attitudes, hurt feelings and the like–they were told anything but the truth. I obtained a number of e-mail addresses of ministers I had known and worked with over the years. I gave them the account of my leaving.
Gavin: Tell us a little about how your views have developed since then.
Jim: After I left I obtained the balance of the Ambassador Reports. I also read all the relevant “insider” books, sickening though they were.
I had a burning desire to know what had happened to me and why. So I started reading the books on cults and how they operate. This research was before I had a computer and access to the internet. Today the research is so much easier.
I made contact with Charles Hunting, an Evangelist who had left in the 70s at about the same age I was when I left, 55. He preferred to correspond by tapes. He told me many things of his experience. He also was obsessed with the “One God” idea. That was foremost in what he wanted to share with me. I frankly had no interest.
I made contact with friends who had exited years before me. I was wanting to know how they coped with life after the cult. One friend got on with his life and was successful in business. He refers to himself as a non-practicing Christian.
Two of my friends were engaged in paying some medium to channel thoughts from beings in other dimensions. I wondered how this was different from paying Herb and his goons to do the same thing in the cult. These two went from a very controlling cult to a more loosely-organized madness in the “New Age.” Something was wrong.
I wondered if there was anyone who had actually questioned the assumption of believing in gods after leaving a religion of whatever persuasion.
I read a helpful book, Leaving The Fold, edited by Edward Babinski. The book has a series of stories by ex-fundamentalists. The stories of those embracing atheism made much sense to me. But I knew little of atheism as I had only studied those things that bolstered my beliefs. That is what one reads in cult life.
I read George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God. This is an excellent primer on the subject. So is What Is Atheism? by Douglas E. Krueger. Ex-WCGers who are quite willing to attack my atheism should get a little basic education on the subject first. The only thing they usually know is a scripture or two and the inept little booklets and articles distributed by the cult. And one wanting to gain a little education on the subject doesn’t have to load himself up with books today. There are many helpful sites on the subject on the internet.
Anyways, after about three years of reading and critical-thought I began to see that atheism was the only sensible course. It helped save my sanity. I entered a wonderful world of freethought.
I had exited the WCG cult because I had started asking questions. The cult always suppressed questions. If there was a legitimate question there was always a booklet or article covering it. If not then you would be advised to “put it on the shelf.” The self-serving answers the cult did provide tended to lull one back to sleep. After years of doing this one becomes dulled to making inquiries. You just walk around thinking all is okay.
So I kept questioning. The questions answered allowed rejection of Herb as an apostle, the rejection of the WCG as the true church, the abandoning of the god assumption. Then I tackled the Bible.
I asked after exiting, just how did the things in my head get there. I wasn’t born with them. My parents didn’t teach them. They didn’t come from the public school system. I had allowed them in by listening to people tell me what I wanted to hear. I was willingly deceived into surrendering my freedom, time and money. I went ahead over hill and dale happily chasing delusions.
And the source of the power over me and the delusions was the Bible. I went into the cult never questioning the book I wanted so to believe. In the cult any questions about the Bible were handled as “difficult scripture” sermonettes. We were spoon-fed the answers. We assumed the Bible was the word of some god as well as assuming there was a god. This was perfect state of mind for Armstrong and his successors to manipulate.
Well, a careful and critical study of the Bible will show that it is nothing more than the collected writings (and incomplete at that) of uninspired and uninspiring men. And as the writings of man it is filled with internal contradictions, absurdities, myths, folk-stories, unfulfilled prophecies, irrational thought and anti-intellectualism. And one major teaching is control of the great unwashed by a priestly class closer to the gods than others. All the cults can quote their favorite verses of control. It’s all about power and money, not about concern for the “dumb sheep”, to use Herb’s favorite phrase which revealed his contempt for us.
The sad part is that when people leave the WCG they often head to another branch of the cult business and bring with them the very foundation of their captivity–the Bible. Or they stay in their homes and study it. They don’t stop to question it. They are dulled by their assumptions. They are still pretty comfortable with the propaganda fed them from the cult. Some go on to set up their own little religion businesses, some online, still using the Bible to keep people dependent. These new handlers are not really interested in seeing people set free.
Well, I rejected the book and reclaimed my freedom. I denied that the WCG had any further power over me because I rejected the source of their power. They cannot rule you if they cannot quote a scripture or two to control you. How ridiculous the cult seems if one strips away the Bible. The emperor really is naked.
Gavin: Why Atheist Rather than Agnostic?
Jim: First off, I can say that all of the visitors to your website are atheists. Likely, you are an atheist. Shocking you say? Let me explain.
To be a theist is to hold some belief in one or more gods of whatever persuasion. The a-prefix is the negative of that statement. An atheist is without belief in any god singular or plural. That’s the basic of the view I hold.
Now, over the millennia men have held beliefs in the gods he created. Some of those were Egyptian: Anubis, Bastet, Hathor, Horus, Osirus, Ra, and Thoth. Some were Norse: Woden, Thor, Loki, Frey, and Idun. Then there were the colorful Greek gods: Apollo, Ares, Eros, Cronus, Dionysius, Hermes. The female gods were: Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, and Hester. These male and female gods had different names under the Roman rule. And I am only mentioning some of the 2500 different gods men have devised over the centuries as means of either answering questions or gaining
control over the gullible. Remember, it’s not about doctrine. It’s about money and power.
So, if I should ask if any of the visitors to your site believe in these gods I have listed, I would expect that there would be no takers. In that case they are atheists. They do not believe in some of the gods. In my case, it is only a matter of degree. I just lack belief in one more god than they do. It’s quite simple.
In fact, early Christians were considered atheists by some in that they denied the Roman Emperors were gods.
Now, regarding agnosticism, one has to consider that this is not some acceptable and intellectual third way of a belief system. It has to do with knowledge and its limits. It is a form of atheism. It does not advocate belief in a god. So, if one doesn’t have belief in the gods for whatever reason, he is an atheist. It’s all discussed in the literature. Agnosticism is not the comfortable escape clause it is often thought to be.
You have to realize that atheism has received much bad press from the Christian side as atheism interferes with the flow of coins to the church. Again, it’s about money and power.
Also, as an interjection, just what is the bigger threat in our world today–theistic religion in its many forms or atheism?
Gavin: What do you say to people who respond: “Just look at Jim. That’s what happens when you turn your back on God’s Church.”
Jim: Well, I don’t know what they are referring to. I guess I would just consider the sources. They are holding to delusions–a god and one of the churches of that god as being somehow special. And of course the phrase “God’s Church” means different things to different people depending on which flavor of Christianity one is discussing.
As far as my present standing, I guess I would have to point to the fact of recovering my family members adversely affected by my 25 years in a cult. Also, once I got out of the WCG, and got the WCG out of my wallet, I was able to sell my business, pay off the mortgage on my home, and retire four years early. I have made new friends and I am busy with the life I have left.
Also, I don’t have to pay any attention to particular days of the week or times of the year. I also have freedom from religious exploitation. I am free from the madness of trying to reconcile the various teachings as put forth by the different splits within the COG movement. Trying to deal with the differences is a recipe for insanity.
I am also free from wasting more time in prayer, fasting, meditation, and Bible study. I am a free man. Oh, yes, and I have
been free for ten years from over 600 boring, manipulative sermons. I used those Saturdays and “Holy Days” to pursue the pleasures that appeal to me. That’s what can happen if you “turn your back on God’s Church.” Even after ten years I still celebrate my freedom from the cult every Saturday.
Gavin: Quite a number of former members now describe themselves, as you do, as atheists. Probably more than, for example, ex-Adventists and refugees from other sects. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be?
Jim: I cannot speak for people who have left other cults but I have found very few from the COG tradition abandoning their faith for atheism. In fact there is one site available for postings of those exWCGers who have embraced atheism. There are less than two dozen there. Consider that small number among the thousands who have left the WCG. I can say that there would be much more happiness and peace of mind among the exiters if they would adopt atheism as I have. But I realize many are emotionally unable. Atheism carries a peace that surpasses all make-believe which is only what faith is. I can paraphrase one here: I wish that all men were as I, except for those wasted years.
I was on a forum for WCG interests where some 70 or so people posted or lurked. Not one came forward to admit atheism as I did. In fact, the postings had to do with interminably boring discussions of which branch of the WCG or which new leader, doctrine, or calendar was right. Boy, is it great to be free from all that!
Gavin: For anyone wanting to explore the issues you raised further,are there any particular books or websites you’d recommend?
Jim: There are many books that helped me to freedom. But one has to read them; it doesn’t come by some kind of osmosis. Happily, there are some who will want to learn and I’m willing to share my experience. We need to remember that our captivity in the cult depended on the reading of great quantities of the cult’s literature. To reclaim freedom requires the copious reading of the literature of freethought. I’ll mention a few good books and sites:
Leaving The Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.
Edward T. Babinski; Prometheus Books, 1995.
This deals with people from Bible-based religions who have adopted other ways from liberalism to atheism. Eight atheists give their brief stories. Prometheus is an excellent source of freethought books. Some are listed here.
The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements.
Eric Hoffer; Harper, 1951.
This one book will give you such an education on the human condition that it is criminal to ignore it.
Combating Cult Mind Control.
Steven Hassan; Park Street Press, 1988, 1990.
“The #1 best-selling guide to protection, rescue, and recovery from destructive cults.” –Publisher’s blurb.
Find out how you were captured by the WCG. http://www.parkstpress.com/titles/cocupb.htm
(One should be careful of some of these books to help ex-cult members. I noted that many want to free you from the cults like the WCG to come over and join their branch of the Christianity business. Again, it’s all about money.)
The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You To Read.
Tim C. Leedom, Editor.
“…I am afraid those addicted by controlled religion wil never read The Book. Because of fear, laziness, or the attitude don’t bother me with the facts, they will avoid getting a documented menu of archeological evidence, biblical critique, and historical fact. Hopefully, enough of these people will break away just long enough to read The Book.” –Dr. Bob Beck, Physicist.
The ‘God’ Part Of The Brain: A Scientific Interpretation Of Human Spirituality And God.
Matthew Alper; Self-Published, 1998.
How come there are so few atheists? Could it be a genetic flaw? Are humans “wired” to believe in the universal concepts of a god, a soul, and an afterlife? Read the author’s premise.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why The Evidence Of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design.
Richard Dawkins; Norton, 1987.
“As vigorous a defense of Darwinism as has been published since 1859.” A book for those who think evolution to be a crock.
The Seven Mighty Blows To Traditional Beliefs.
A. J. Mattill, Jr., Flatwoods Free Press, 1995.
A basic course in biblical studies and in science and religion.
Randel Helms; Prometheus, 1988.
“I write as a literary critic, not as a debunker. The gospels are imaginative literature, fiction.” –The author.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark.
Carl Sagan; Ballantine, 1996.
“Powerful…A stirring defense of informed rationality…Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing.” –Washington Post.
Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist.
Dan Barker. He runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Days Of Delusion.
C. E. Sears, 1924. (Online)
This book will give you insight to the COG roots going back to the Millerite movement of the mid-1800s. The author shows the terrible impact on the people of that day who awaited “The Second Coming.” A bitter root carries bitter seeds to our own time.
The Meaning Of The Millenium: Four Views.
Robert G. Clouse, Editor; Intervarsity Press, 1977.
The WCG used to preach a view called Historic Premillenialism. There are other views to consider using the same Bible for support.
Bob Brinsmead is a refugee from the Seventh-Day Adventists. His writings helped the WCG see its errors. I was introduced to his marvelous writings in the late 70s.
Atheism: The Case Against God.
George H. Smith; Prometheus,1979.
Publisher’s Weekly said, “Smith’s book should appeal to all thoroughgoing rationalists. It may also appeal to some Christians as a welcome, hard-hitting challenge to their faith.”
What Is Atheism? A Short Introduction.
Douglas E. Kreuger, Prometheus, 1998.
An excellent primer as an educational source. A reading of this will help you understand me, the atheist.
Paul O’Brien; (Online)
This fellow has a less in-your-face approch to his atheism than I. He can afford to–he was an atheist at 14. He comes from a different perspective. He didn’t waste most of his life.
Two women exited the WCG. Both are bright and articulate. One started questioning her assumptions leading her to adopt atheism. The other continued to trust her emotions leading her to more “perils”, to use her word. Fascinating reading for those aquainted with the WCG madness.
The Encyclopedia Of Biblical Errancy.
C. Dennis McKinsey; Prometheus, 1995.
This is a massive collection of the absurdities, errors, internal contradictions, injustices, myths, and false prophecies of the Bible. Has a general index and scripture index.
The Jesus Mysteries: Was The Original ‘Jesus’ A Pagan God?
Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy; Harmony Books, 1999.
“Rarely have the roots of Christianity been disentangled to such disturbing effect. I shall never be able to read the gospels in the same way again.” –Presenter on BBC.
Dumbth: The Lost Art Of Thinking.
Steve Allen; Prometheus, 1998. (Yes, the humorist.)
All of us involved with the WCG have had problems in how to think. This book gives 101 ways to reason better and improve your mind. Dumbth is Allen’s coined word meaning that combination of ignorance and stupidity that kept us as true believers in the WCG.
Ayn Rand; Penquin Books, 1946.
This brief novel will introduce one to the kind of world Herbert wanted to create. This slim volume is a good stepping point to the writings of one of the women considered by some to be one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century. In our American culture her book Atlas Shrugged is second only to the Bible in influence.
The 48 Laws Of Power.
Robert Greene; Viking, 1998.
Defend yourself against the manipulators of any persuasion. Or learn how to manipulate others. Understand the inner workings of the Armstrong cult. Start your own cult.
The Skeptical Review.
Farrell Till, Editor.
Till exited the cult known as the Church Of Christ. He served for decades as a minister. Then, after he started to question the Bible, he turned his attention to teaching logical thought and how to see the errors in the Bible. His writings are free online.
A site for exWCG atheists. Read here the stories of fellow travelers
who escaped from Armstrongism.
“Genea.” A study into the Greek word in Mat. 24:34. Was Jesus a false prophet? Here’s evidence to the fact.
The Skeptics Annotated Bible. An excellent site for critical study of the Bible.
Logical Errors. A site to aid one in thinking more clearly.
American Atheists: http://www.atheist.org
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.
The Secular Web: http://www.infidels.org
The Skeptics Society: http://www.skeptic.com/
“Ingersoll’s Vow.” The great advocate of freethought offers a paean on freedom from the god assumption.
Well, that will do for starters. I hope that your visitors keep in mind that one who won’t read is no better than one who can’t read.
Gavin: Well, you’ve succeeded in doing something I thought I’d never see happen on this website – provide a positive reference to Ayn Rand. We’ll have to agree to differ on her contribution. I’ll cheerfully admit to having several of the titles you list on my bookshelf including The Jesus Mysteries, Gospel Fictions, and The True Believer. I really appreciate your taking time to answer the questions and share your insights.
Jim: I look forward to any e-mail of whatever persuasion.