Keith W. Stump
I recently ran across Bob Thiel’s letter (in response to a letter of mine – see the inset box) alleging that “intellectuals have a place in the LCG.” I will take a few minutes to reply.
As a matter of definition, no true “intellectual” would long remain a member of the LCG, nor would he or she long be tolerated as a member. Like virtually all COGs, the LCG is a church that rewards conformity instead of original thought. It has no place within the intellectual sphere.
An intellectual, by definition, is guided by the intellect–his or her capacity for rational and intelligent thought. One does not have to leave one’s intellect at the church door–though many do. As Galileo rightly said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”
An intellectual is one who is willing to continually challenge and re-evaluate his own thoughts, theories and views, using his rational faculties to distinguish truth from error, wisdom from folly. A true intellectual does not close his eyes to facts, however inconvenient they may be. He is not manipulated by his biases. He does not feel threatened by new concepts. He does not blindly accept ideas because they’re backed by “authority”. He values fair-mindedness. He respects evidence. He looks at all viewpoints, giving them honest consideration, not automatically dismissing them because they do not fit into his worldview. And he will change positions when reason leads him to do so.
Education has little to do with this. Anyone who functions in this manner–regardless of his level of schooling–is an intellectual.
Thiel notes that he is highly educated and that the LCG leadership allows him to write what he wishes to write. He confuses education with intellectual rigor.
When my attention was called to his website last year, I honestly thought it was a parody. Its arrogant and condescending put-downs of other groups, combined with its fawning reverence of Herbert Armstrong, seemed too overdone to be anything but tongue-in-cheek. Alas, it was not so. OF COURSE the LCG allows Dr. Thiel to write what he wishes to write, because what he wishes to write is the “party line”!
The LCG, like other COGs, is willing to overlook higher education as long as it doesn’t get in the way of dogma. Saul Bellow hit the nail on the head when he observed that “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
The LCG’s rejection of scholarship and intellectualism is evident in many ways, but perhaps most blatantly by its perpetuation of the myth of the so-called “18 restored truths”. Thiel has written that the Living Church of God believes and teaches the “18 restored truths.” These were allegedly revealed to Herbert Armstrong by God during the years that he was raping his daughter.
A true intellectual would investigate, firstly, whether these 18 teachings were actually “revealed” and “restored” as alleged. He would quickly discover that most have demonstrably been in circulation for centuries, including some that were shamelessly plagiarized by HWA from previously published sources such as the writings of G.G. Rupert and J.H. Allen. (These are facts, not matters of opinion.) Secondly, an intellectual would investigate their legitimacy as “truths”, carefully assessing their theological underpinnings, historical and cultural context, internal consistency, etc. If a “truth” cannot stand up to close scrutiny, an intellectual will reject it, no matter what its source.
As an example, an intellectual would evaluate the LCG’s prophetic teachings, including the so-called “truth of what the Millennium is” (“restored truth # 9”), against preterist literature such as the writings of Gary DeMar and others who take opposing viewpoints. By contrast, those in the LCG with whom I’ve spoken appear to know little about the great body of work arguing against pre-millennialism. When challenged, they give pat Spokesman-Club rebuttals–smugly imagining that they have delivered a devastating blow to the opposition–when, in fact, they are naively unaware that those stale retorts were addressed and rejected by competent theologians centuries ago.
One LCG member told me that they (LCG members) are not supposed to be “polluting their minds” with “satanic literature” that is “obvious heresy”. How can it be “obvious” heresy when there is no basis for comparison? They are ignorant that they are ignorant. This is not intellectualism.
To make such an incredible assertion, one has to completely close one’s eyes to countless indisputable facts about HWA’s dissolute and reprobate lifestyle, his perversions, his crimes, his corruption, his lies and misrepresentations and his hypocrisy.
The “18 restored truths” are not intellectually sustainable. They provide classic textbook examples of logical fallacies that would be readily apparent to a true intellectual–inductive fallacies, fallacies of ambiguity, fallacies of distraction, causal fallacies, syllogistic errors, etc.–not to mention theological errors too numerous to detail. But the LCG has no intention of subjecting them to honest intellectual scrutiny. Why? Because they’ve been “restored” by “God’s apostle”, and they must “hold fast”. As with other COGs, anything that threatens their worldview triggers an absolute and total defense. It belies any pretensions to intellectual rigor.
The LCG’s intellectual blinders also explain Rod Meredith’s astonishing pronouncement (as reported by Thiel) that Herbert Armstrong was “the greatest minister, perhaps, in the past 1800 years.” To make such an incredible assertion, one has to completely close one’s eyes to countless indisputable facts about HWA’s dissolute and reprobate lifestyle, his perversions, his crimes, his corruption, his lies and misrepresentations and his hypocrisy. By the Bible’s own criteria, he was unqualified and totally unfit for ministry. God is no respecter of persons.
LCG leaders will not admit that HWA was a child rapist and sexual libertine. They are no better than Catholic bishops who cover up the pedophilia of priests and allow them to continue in office. They are, in fact, worse, because they elevate and revere the perpetrator as an “apostle”. I draw your attention to the glaring absence in Thiel’s letter of any response to the issues I raised in this regard.
Were the LCG (or PCG or UCG, for that matter) to acknowledge these facts and admit HWA’s gross unfitness for ministry, they would have to abandon all appeals to “apostolic authority” as support for their teachings. They would thereby open those doctrines to closer scrutiny on their merits alone. This they fear to do. They simply preach louder and with more “authority”. It is the self-protection of fundamentally fearful men, who talk loud and fast for fear of hearing the other side. How much is a faith worth that fears to take an honest look at itself?
I lament the absence of intellectual discernment within the LCG and other COGs. So much time and energy is being wasted by its members in meaningless rigmarole. They are burying their talents and potential, squandering their lives on irrelevant trivia. For many, partisan loyalty trumps their intellectual scruples. In abandoning their intellectual integrity, they are guilty of aiding and abetting the LCG leadership in its unconscionable “ministry” of exploitation, deception and abuse.
There is no salvation in a truckload of sabbaths, holydays, tithes, foods, prophecies or prayer quotas. Spirituality has nothing to do with the clock or the calendar. Nothing whatsoever. To think that it does reveals an extraordinarily warped view of God.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that there are many capable and well-intentioned persons, such as Dr. Thiel, in the LCG and other groups–which makes it all the more a tragedy. They are sincere but misguided, in bondage to cultic ways of thinking, addicted to a loathsome combination of doctrinal deception and spiritual abuse. As Thomas Carlyle observed, “That there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy.” I pray that Dr. Thiel and others will summon the strength and courage to reexamine their presuppositions, and to honestly and critically reevaluate the toxic teachings that are insidiously poisoning their lives.
There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when the LCG–like the now-obscure work of G.G. Rupert, from whom HWA stole some of his “restored truths”–will be but a vague, residual curiosity in the footnotes of religion–if that. But for the moment, it continues to perpetuate its deceptions. (Fortunately, its “evangelism” is virtually without impact, except in the fantasy world in which they live, where it “thunders” the “gospel message” to eager “millions” at 3:00 a.m.)
But there is hope. Case in point: I believed and taught that nonsense for years, including as an Armstrong-era Plain Truth writer and editor, and occasional “ghost-writer” for HWA and numerous evangelists. “I squandered my past on nonsense,” as Uncle Vanya says in Chekov’s play. But no more.
In my view, the bottom line is this: God wants companions, not beggars and pleaders and supplicants. He wants a spirituality that transcends religious trappings. He’s concerned about one’s inner state–the condition of one’s soul–not obsolete, external irrelevancies. There is no salvation in a truckload of sabbaths, holydays, tithes, foods, prophecies or prayer quotas. Spirituality has nothing to do with the clock or the calendar. Nothing whatsoever. To think that it does reveals an extraordinarily warped view of God.
What to do? Love God and love one another. Grow and help others grow. Be an agent for good in the world. It’s just that simple. Don’t let purveyors of unsound theology bind on shackles of irrelevant obligations, burdens and restrictions that are nowhere mandated in scripture and of no interest to God.
I have talked with a fair number of ministers and members of the LCG and other COGs. For many, the truth is even now in the under-level of their thoughts, but they fear to look at it. They abide by the rules, but underneath they’re not sure. One day, the truth will finally force its way to the surface, and some will awaken to freedom and a chance to be better. I hope it’s the many and not the few.
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