Herbert Armstrong created a cult of sociopaths.
Herbert Armstrong created a cult of sociopaths.
A review by William E. Adams at Amazon.com says:
This work first saw print in 1956. It is the story of a UFO cult in a large city in the Midwest…how it developed, how the leaders recruited followers, how predictions about the coming end of the world started flowing from the psychic members who allegedly channeled messages from the spacemen/pilots. The cult members were told they would be saved, picked up by saucers on an appointed date. The members quit jobs, sold possessions, and gathered, only to be disappointed. Did they all quit in a huff? No way. The first failure only made them more determined they were right, more anxious to be ready for the next announced departure date. Then a second failure. A few members fell away, a few suffered doubts, a few challenged for leadership themselves. The point of this book is that it takes “three disconfirmations” to kill a movement of true believers, and even then, some still hang on to the discredited “theology” by grasping at excuses. I found this book by accident about 30 years ago, and have read it at least four times. I find it fascinating. In the 1970’s I knew two women in Albuquerque who were amateur psychics. They started bringing forth “space brethren messages” and eventually, although they failed to attract a following, they went up into the nearby mountains one night sure they would be lifted off before the coming unspecified disaster. They waited, but no ship appeared. I think people inclined toward UFO beliefs haven’t changed much since this book was published. The basic data shown in this study can apply to religious or political groups as well. I am sorry it is out of print, but if you have an interest in this field, get a used copy…the prices are reasonable and the book will not disappoint!
Support for the study was obtained through the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations of the University of Minnesota and help received through a grant-in-aid from the Ford Foundation to one of the authors. The study is to answer the how and why people take on new fervor when they have contradictory evidence which they should not be able to avoid. There are five conditions under which the authors would expect to observe the increased fervor:
The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must, therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.
Luckily, the authors found a group they could observe during the study. A woman of a very religious persuasion began writing messages she just ‘knew’ was from a contact in outer space. This ‘source’ warned her to tell the world that there was going to be a great flood to purge the world.
Along the way, she was told that those within the inner circle of her group would be rescued by flying saucers.
And in the end, we all know how that turned out. They waited again and again to be picked up, but, alas, there was no saucer shuttle and no flood. Yet, many of the group continued to believe even after a number of disappointments, illustrating the workings of the 5 premises. The people really did hang on to their beliefs even after they had been demonstrated to be patently silly.
Of course, those of you currently in the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia know perfectly well there are no such things as flying saucers and the whole thing is patently silly on the face of it.
Just in case you Armstrongists get off the hook because you don’t believe in flying saucers, think again! The authors of When Prophecy Fails spend over seven pages of the first chapter on William Miller! The CoHAM should be getting mighty nervous. After all, those of us blogging to refute Armstrongism have shown that the Worldwide Church of God and its successors are cults. We’ve debunked British Israelism and shown up the same sort of ‘prophecies’ ‘disconfirmed’ by the book. There are no excuses. You Armstrongists are doing exactly what the study predicts you would do. For example, consider the British Israelism Church of God: It has the gall to just make up excuses why DNA doesn’t disprove British Israelism. The problem is that Y-Chromosome DNA has been found to be stable over thousands of years and just doesn’t magically morph to some other haplogroup. Idiots.
Then we need to consider Herbert Armstrong’s Prophetic Record:
Major fail. Again and again. And yet, people keep believing and making up excuses, just like the study says. If you really want to be embarrassed by what you believed, re-read 1975 in Prophecy:
If there is any group that illustrates the truth of When Prophecy Fails, it is the PKG. Ron and Laura Weinland — the two witnesses of the Church of God – Preaching the Kingdom of God (CoG-PKG) — have conned the PKG to continue giving them money even after their major prophecies failed… again… and again. What’s worse, Ronald Weinland is currently serving his sentence for felony Income Tax evasion, but the PKG membership sticks with him and continues to make excuses.
Others, such as David Pack continue to exhibit hoof in mouth disease — Dave prophesied a specific date that three major leaders in the other churches of God would die and members of all the ACoGs would come flocking to him. That was years ago and still… nothing.
Now it is true that the Armstrongist Churches of God have something that little group in the Midwest in the 1950s didn’t have. It would have been so much better after the flying saucers failed to show and take them away from the flood that didn’t happen if they had some way to find out how the various members of their group fared after The Great Disappointment. They should have had the benefit of some sort of periodic newspaper which had stories and articles about the group and the individual members. They could keep up much better, even if the editor didn’t particularly believe in the tenets of the group and held the ‘floodists’ and ‘farmer UFOlogists’ in contempt. He could still publish something called The Journal. Maybe out of some town like say, Big Sandy. What’s important is not what the group believes — what’s really important is to keep the social group together in its completely delusional dysfunctional existence.
It’s called journalism.
Armstrongism is on the nutty fringes of the outer limits of human belief, some how made to seem perfectly reasonable until some objective analysis is done by societal standards and scientific observation. How is it that if you don’t agree with the daft rubbish that some how it’s your fault and you just don’t understand?
The Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia isn’t the only daft religion and the new series, Dig on the USA Network brings to light what happens when extreme religion goes to great lengths to insure the establishment of their view of the world:
The really scary thing is that the creators of the series did a lot of research and found that there is a basis for what they present: They may have dramatized, but there are groups out there plotting and scheming to do the things portrayed in the show, to bring about the apocalypse, Armageddon or something (we’ll know more as the series unfolds). Look at Dig – inside the Episode: Episode 1:
About midway, they bring to light the story of the red heifer. As they say, if you Google the “red heifer” you will see there are people who believe that this could happen. Do you have questions? You will be rewarded. Of course, you will end up with ever more questions. Be warned: These groups aren’t just messin’ around. They’re serious. This is life and death stuff to them. Dig deeper — to coin a phrase, trust no one.
The red heifer is being raised in Norway. The Rabbis inspect the newly birthed heifer to see if there are any stray hairs that are black, which would absolutely ruin the sacrifice — but thankfully, this particularly young cutie is perfect for sacrifice, and so we are off and running. Apparently, the red heifer sacrifice is really, really, really important to Jewish prophecy for some reason. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it sure does to them.
It turns out that there is a connection to Armstrongism. The USA Network TV series is about people of extreme faith and the lengths they will go to when they believe God is on their side. Of course, He isn’t, so you can be certain this will all end in tears. Nevertheless, one of the features of the series is the Jews seeking out the Perfect Red Heifer™ for some sort of funky sacrifice signifying the… well.. it’s not clear, but it’s truly important to somebody to bring about the end of days, the coming of the Messiah or something.
I know The Perfect Red Heifer™ well. In the WCG, I knew a Jewish lady and her husband who certainly was in the center of things — at least in her own mind. She was a prophecy buff, and the main reason she joined up with Armstrongism was the prophecy of the end times. Of course, you know that couldn’t have lasted, particularly with the advent of the Tkach era, so she and her husband hied off to the Messianic Jews in hopes to find more of what she wanted. I was in her home one Sabbath post-WCG and she nattered on and on about The Perfect Red Heifer™ rather obsessively. I told her about the Herbert Armstrong incest and she accepted it, saying that it did not surprise her.
Well, here it is over a decade later and I’m pretty sure she’s still looking for that Perfect Red Heifer™. She was certain over 10 years ago that the Jews already had one picked for sacrifice on the altar to bring the Messiah or some such. I’d say that the best use of the Perfect Red Heifer™ is stew meat by this time if the poor thing is still alive.
It’s just plain nuts.
And the Cult of Herbert Armstongism Mafia sects aren’t much different than this kooky Jewish lady looking for the coming of the Perfect Red Heifer™.
It never ceases to amaze how extreme Armstrongists can be: Strongly held daft cult ideas which just has to be!
This is just one such example.
Kudos to USA Network.
Although… here’s hoping it doesn’t give anyone any ideas….
Herbert Armstrong was the master of self-deception. Not only that, but he trained us all to be adept at self-deception. And self-deception is exactly why people stay with the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia.
Watch this TEDx Event Presentation by Dr. Cortney S. Warren in her talk, “Honest Lies: The Psychology of Self-Deception”:
At the core, we lie to ourselves because we don’t have enough psychological strength to admit the truth and deal with the consequences that will follow. That said, understanding our self-deception is the most effective way to live a fulfilling life. For when we admit what we really are, we have the opportunity to change.
There are core strategies which we use to practice self-deception:
From an existential perspective, we deceive ourselves to avoid the ‘Givens’ of life, the fundamental realities of “being human” that we must face:
To avoid these realities, we frequently lie to ourselves:
Self-deception leads to massive amounts of pain and regret. To avoid being honest, we frequently make choices with harmful consequences to ourselves and others — we may use drugs, alcohol, eat, shop, gamble, steal, lie, leave people or pass our emotional baggage down to those we love the most. Or, we may choose not to change even when we are miserable or causing profound harm to those around us. Looking back at life with regret is incredibly painful, because you can’t change your choices in the past.
When we don’t take full responsibility for who we are, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us.
The way to change is:
Not changing when confronted with the truth is a choice. Although we cannot control the many circumstances we encounter in life, we are responsible for our reactions to all of them.
Confronting our self-deception is a lifelong journey. We change and the world offers us new opportunities to understand ourselves. There is always more to learn.
It is now time for those who embrace the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia to be honest with themselves.
Here are just a few of the truths Armstrongists need to face:
Herbert Armstrong was not an apostle;
Herbert Armstrong was a false prophet;
Herbert Armstrong committed incest with his daughter for ten years at the beginning of his ministry and, therefore,
Herbert Armstrong was not actually converted, and,
Herbert Armstrong was never qualified to be a minister;
Herbert Armstrong is dead;
Herbert Armstrong knowingly allowed his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, to be second in command as the top evangelist, even though GTA was an adulterer, alcoholic boozer and a gambler;
There is no place of safety and there never will be (and Petra is an absolutely terrible place to try to survive);
British Israelism, as the key to prophecy, has been thoroughly debunked and no prophecy based on it will come true… ever — it’s extra Biblical;
The True History of The True Church was nothing of the kind, plagiarized from Ellen G. White and thoroughly, provably wrong, particularly about Waldensians supposedly keeping the Sabbath and Holydays (they considered themselves to be good Catholics);
The leaders of the major sects of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia have proved themselves inept and to be false prophets;
Jesus isn’t returning in your life time;
There may be tribulation, but the Great Tribulation won’t happen in your life time;
The Bible commands “from such turn away”;
There is no such thing as a Christian narcissist;
Armstrongism is a religion of physical rituals, not of spiritual content;
If you are an alcoholic, you must stop drinking or you will not just die badly, you may seriously injure and kill others;
If you are diabetic, you cannot drink alcohol;
If you are diabetic, you need to manage your condition because it’s not just going to ‘go away’;
Anointing for your chronic diseases will not make them go away;
There is not and never was any such thing as ‘second tithe’;
If you are a farmer and you try to keep the seventh year land Sabbath, you will either go broke, have to borrow money or lose your land because you simply won’t get double income in your sixth year because, just like the Feasts, the land Sabbath was given only to ancient Israelites in the land of Israel — the land ‘the Lord gaveth thee’ — under the Old Covenant only — a physical covenant for a physical people devoid of the Holy Spirit given promises of physical prosperity only;
The United States and British Commonwealth are not lost tribes of Israel, and, more importantly, none of the doom, devastation, destruction is going to occur because of their supposed sins against an ancient religion which was never given to them;
Your ministers are in it for the money and the ego trip — they are totally selfish and don’t really care about you;
Your ministers and leaders know nothing of morals and ethics;
Your ministers are terrible at counseling;
Your ministers are liars;
Your ministers don’t actually know how the Bible was put together, or if they do, they are lying about it;
You still can’t put new wine in old wineskins, even though that’s what Armstrongism is all about;
You don’t really know what other members of your sect really believe, even though you think you’ve known them for decades;
There is no loyalty — you can incur someone’s wrath and be disfellowshipped at any time;
Your family isn’t really safe;
You are wasting your money;
You are wasting your time;
You don’t really believe in science, you believe in magic;
By allowing someone else to define right and wrong for you, you’ve become a sociopath with a flexible adapted conscience;
No one is exactly what they seem;
It’s all quite insane.
Once you get through and eliminate these lies of your self-deception, you will still have a long way to go.
The only way to be free of your self-delusion is to stop feeding it by severing contact with those in the cult who are holding your mind hostage.
From time to time in my adventures, as I read the letters and articles of people on this website and elsewhere, I come across references to the “true church”. When my eyes were first wrenched open by the unassailable facts of corruption at all levels of the Worldwide Church of God, almost the first question that entered my mind was: “If this isn’t the true church of God, then where is it?”
For forty years I had been immersed in the doctrines and prophecies of Herbert DoubleYou Armstrong. Though I did not consider myself a Bible “expert”, I did know without a doubt that no other church on the planet had what we had. What we had was a theology that was so logical that it was perfect. No other church was aware of, nor would they accept, these fundamental “truths”. In a nutshell, these truths were:
The Seventh Day Adventists seemed to believe that the United States was the beast power. I read one of their publications in which they indicted the entire U.S. Government, but ignored the entire rest of the world. Russia, China, Europe, and the Catholic church were never even mentioned. Other “prophets”, such as those on the 700 Club, the PTL Club, and the Trinity television network were so pathetic as to be laughable. They didn’t have a clue.
Our theology was perfect. The Bible was perfect. We read the Bible, believed it, and let it “interpret itself”. There was no way we could be wrong about any of this, because it came right out of the Bible.
Then I discovered the Plain Truth about the Worldwide Church of God. I learned of homosexuality at Headquarters, of incest and rape within the Armstrong family, of adultery and fornication and (probably) statutory rape by Ted Armstrong, of Herbert Armstrong’s alcoholism and “flog log”. I learned of Herman Hoeh’s connections to the Nazi party (his parents were members), of his picture collection of little boys, of the Manpower Meetings held by Rod Meredith, of a putrid cesspool of corruption of all kinds at every level of the Worldwide Church of God. (I already knew in my heart that the Tkaches were corrupt, but it was quite a shock to discover the rest.) And I learned emphatically that tithing not only was no longer required, but was being administered incorrectly (indeed, feloniously).
“In the mouths of two or three witnesses shall it be established. . .” There were piles of evidence, hordes of witnesses and first-person accounts. None of this could be disputed. It was not a suspicion, there was no “reasonable doubt”. In fact, there was no shadow of a doubt. It was true. All of it. For four decades my life had been ruled by people so corrupt that their equal could only be found within the ranks of the KGB or the SS. These “men of God”, these “ministers”, these “spiritual leaders”–were the biggest crooks of the century. And they had done it all in a way that none of them would ever fear legal consequences.
The entire organization was rotten to the core. I was rocked. I was stunned.
And I was puzzled. The question popped over my head like a balloon in a comic book, with a huge question mark in the center. “If this isn’t the true church of God, then where is it?”
It was a good question. Really, it was the only question. A question I had to answer. Because I could no longer remain in the Worldwide Church of God with a clear conscience. I didn’t even want to. But if I were to avoid leading my family into the very fires of hell, I had to know–“If this isn’t the true church, then what is? Where is it?”
There was no point in investigating other churches. I had already done that. One thing Herbert DoubleYou was very good at was knocking down the teachings of other religions. Yet I did talk to various “Sunday Christians” that I knew, read some articles, read a few books. Nothing answered the question. The people I talked to knew a lot less about the Bible than I did, all the literature talked a lot about Jesus and little else. What about the prophecies? What about the plan of God? What about the Millennium? What about a lot of things?
I could have consulted experts, but where to find them? And how to determine if they knew what they were talking about? All the books I had read were written by people with letters after their names, and they each had their own personal axe to grind. Finding a disinterested or neutral “expert” seemed unlikely.
I was left with only one avenue of approach. And that was one the Worldwide Church of God had ridiculed for decades: I was left to my “own understanding”. More precisely, I had no option but to think it through as logically as I possibly could.
You may laugh. Who the hell does he think he is? What degrees does he have? I’m nobody, of course–the Worldwide Church of God made sure I understood that. I have no degrees. But I can tell right from wrong (in a moral sense), I know the difference between up and down, black and white, right and left. As a computer programmer I can track down a bug that no one else can find, which means I have to think in logical terms to do my job.
And I had never had a more open mind in my life than I did at that moment in time.
It took time. I don’t remember exactly how much time, but I left the Worldwide Church of God May 29, 1992, and it was probably late 1994 before I knew the answer. I can’t recount here all the avenues of thought that I went traveled. I don’t even remember them all. Certainly every day in my car (I drive 35 miles to work each way) I thought of little else. Many hours each week went into the sorting down of facts, fiction, and fables. I went back over sermons, articles, discussions, lectures, announcements, and various other data in my mind. And I found myself returning again and again to two fundamental quotes:
The first one, Prove all things, is a scripture unknown to most of the Christian world. If they ever read that, or believed it, most of them would never be able to believe half of what they do. If the Bible was ever right about anything, it has to be right about that one.
The second one, a favorite of Herbert Armstrong, turned out to be much more revealing than he ever intended. He used it in the context of world history, pointing out that we are born and live our lives at a certain era in the history of the world and our perceptions are colored only by what we can see, with little or no knowledge of what went before. A very good point. (The same is true, of course, of the Worldwide Church of God itself. Those of us who came in the Sixties or later had no knowledge of what HWA himself had done or taught in previous decades.)
These two quotes made my job a little easier. The first was incentive to make sure I finished the task. The second offered a clue as to how to do it.
To make a long story short, it boiled down to this: Everyone assumed that there had to be One True Church. Period. There was no recognition of the historical saga of church and churches, of orders and groups and unions and cliques and brotherhoods. The apostles who wrote the New Testament were generally accepted as the founders of the new religion called Christianity, but since their time the evolution of that religion had been constant, to the point that today what was called Christianity bore very little resemblance to that original philosophy (with its creeds and tenets and rituals). That was Herbert DoubleYou’s major appeal (or one of them, anyway), that what passed for Christianity today did not square with that original faith. And he was right. It does not.
Neither did the one he instituted.
Where does it say, in the Bible or elsewhere, that there has to be one “true church”? The Bible speaks of the “body of Christ”, but what exactly does that mean? Many who left the Worldwide Church of God in the early 90s adopted the idea (and I was one of them, initially) that “the body of Christ” consists of “true believers” wherever you may find them–in the Worldwide Church of God, the COG 7th Day, among the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the myriad fundamentalists–even Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. In other words, if they individually have that “personal relationship” with Christ, then they are “true Christians”.
Was this, then, the “true church”? Was there no single organization, but rather a scattered congregation of individuals mixed in among the hordes of traditional Christians like nuggets of gold among so much slag? It seemed likely for a while, but then how would one obey the admonishment to “forsake not the gathering together” of believers? How would you know who to congregate with? How could such a disorganized mob be effective? How would such powerless individuals carry out the great commission to carry the gospel to the world? How could God reveal his intentions to such people through his prophets, if they didn’t even know each other, if there was no network, no means of communication?
Gradually it dawned on me that the “great commission” had already been achieved. There was no need for an “end-time apostle”. If the New Testament were true, there had already been twelve apostles (one for each tribe of Israel, I suppose). They had already done the job. We have the Bible, which supposedly contains all their writings that are important for us to read. The Bible has been published for centuries, is available throughout the world in purt-near every language. There is no need for an “end-time work” such as Herbert DoubleYou established, or like those we see and hear on the airwaves today. The word has been spread. The world knows about Christianity. So communication between individual believers, for the reasons I considered, is unnecessary.
That still left questions hanging, of course. What about the place of safety? What about escaping the tribulation? What about prophecy? What about . . .
What about. . .
Hm. What about what?
Slowly I realized that everything I thought I knew about anything was suspect. Talk about your paradigms–I was asking all the wrong questions, based on my Worldwide Church of God training. I assumed there had to be a true church, because I assumed that prophecy was important, because Herbert DoubleYou had said it was. I assumed that Christians had to be able to identify one another–I assumed a lot of things, but I didn’t really know very much at all.
I had to ask new questions. For example, What is required for salvation? Membership in the One True Church? Subscription to the correct set of beliefs? Did you have to keep the sabbath on Saturday? Did you have to keep the Passover and the Jewish holy days? Would you be condemned for keeping Christmas or worshiping on Sunday? Did you need to understand the subtle variations of meaning between the Greek and Hebrew text? Was it necessary to be able to translate the precise meaning between the original text and the modern English equivalent? Did you need to understand the precise archaic context of every parable spoken by Christ?
Just what the hell did it take to avoid crashing and burning?
Even in the Worldwide Church of God no two people ever completely agreed on every single nuance of scripture. Not even among the ministry. Hell, especially among the ministry! They were more divided than anyone. And if no two Worldwiders could get together on these issues, then none of them were going to be saved, and the rest of the world didn’t have a prayer (assuming that Worldwide Church of God theology was correct–which it wasn’t).
I asked the question: What about some poor sod in Africa or China who meets up with some smiling missionary who tells him about Jesus, and he buys it? The Bible said that anyone who “confess that Jesus is the Christ” is a Christian. So this poor sod confesses that Jesus is the son of God. He is therefore a Christian. This poor sod can’t read, write, or use the internet. He has no Strongs Concordance handy. How in the hell is he going to distinguish between the three words for heaven or the three words for hell? How is he going to figure out the punctuation in the King James Bible when Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, today you shall be with me in paradise”, as opposed to “Verily I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise”? Hell, even educated Americans can’t find that one!
So is God going to burn up this poor sod just because he can’t read?
If he is, then he’s no god of mine! And if he doesn’t, then all this legalistic crap is nothing but the dung of an ox (i.e., bullshit).
So where did that leave me? Where does it leave you? When you consider that a “church” in today’s environment is nothing but a legally organized corporation (i.e., a business), it really takes away any question of which church is the “true” church. After all, who is asking which store is the One True Store? Or which team is the One True Team? Or which factory is the One True Factory?
We were led astray, totally, to the point that we could no longer think. We were told that God had to have a “true” church. No proof was offered. No questions were tolerated. It was stuffed down our throats, and we never really thought much more about it, except to say that, “Once you’ve been in God’s true church, where else can you go?”
I finally arrived at my bottom line. Simply stated, it is this: There is no True Church. You are either with God or you aren’t. Christianity is an individual endeavor, pure and simple. As for churches–well, we’ve already been there and done that. Any organization that attempts to catalog its beliefs and structure its membership has already lost the battle. It has become man-made religion. You can attend any church you want, from fringe-lunatic cult to Catholic or anything in between, and take whatever you want from any of them, but don’t look for the “one true church”. As an organization, it does not exist.
Thank God for that!