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Herbert W. Armstrong's Inside Joke
by John B
Have you ever been in a group of people when one of them says something completely not funny and everyone else laughs? You stand there looking from one to the other, questions in your eyes. Someone notices and says, “Oh, inside joke. You weren’t here then.”
I think we’ve all had that experience, and it’s no big deal. We just shrug it off, and later we find inside jokes of our own. In fact, some inside jokes are so private that you can actually make fun of someone right in their presence and they don’t even know it.
I think Herbert W. Armstrong probably had some inside jokes, too. I think he probably shared them with his closest and most trusted henchmen. One such inside joke that became public (thanks to Ambassador Report) was the nickname “Buffy”, which Herbert used to refer to Raymond McNair. According to the legend, Herbert thought Raymond was a “buffoon”, and began calling him “Buffy” behind his back. Probably everyone on the inside knew who “Buffy” was except for Buffy himself.
Another example of an inside joke that became public was the nickname “Spanky”. I don’t know who hung that label on Rod Meredith, but it stuck. I don’t even know for sure what “Spanky” refers to, whether it’s a reference to spanking your wife or spanking the monkey. And it doesn’t matter anyway.
I suspect Herbert W. Armstrong had another series of inside jokes that only he and a trusted few could laugh at. Those inside jokes would have been aimed at us, the membership. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we were trained to sit up, bark, roll over, fetch, and urinate on command. All it took to activate us was the right stimulus, which the ministry pounded into us week after week. And the poor slaves in the splinter cults are still performing.
I’m sure there were lots of inside jokes (on us) that I can’t even imagine. But below is a list of a few such insiders that I can see Herbert laughing all the way to the bank with.
The Way of Give and the Way of Get
Herbert W. Armstrong had to love the irony of this one. Some time in the late 70s or early 80s he began to hammer us with a new phrase: “The way of give and the way of get”. Like Josef Goebbels, who said that if you repeat a lie long enough everyone will believe it, Herbert used repetition to indoctrinate his masses. He used this one in just about every sermon he gave for many months, if not years.
But the irony is this: Herbert’s way was the way of get; our way was the way of give. We gave and he got. I’m sure he loved that.
I know Herbert W. Armstrong had to laugh at the concept of “tithes”. He must have gathered the top-level men around him, poured himself a glass of Dom Perignon, and had them roaring with laughter as he explained that: “Fellows, can you imagine how stupid they are? The word ‘tithe’ means ‘tenth’. Therefore, by definition, there can only be one tithe! ‘Tithe’, by definition, is singular! And yet we’ve got them thinking in terms of multiple tithes! Can you beat that? Not only that – they’re paying it!!! [tears of mirth rolling down his cheeks] Ah-hah! Ah-hah! I tell you, fellows, it’s brilliant!”
When 1975 came and went and none of Herbert W. Armstrong’s predictions had panned out, he came up with a new strategy to keep our wallets pried open. The new catch phrase was “gun-lap”. I was never sure what “gun-lap” meant, but after a quick internet search it appears to be the final quarter-mile in a long race, when the starter fires his gun to signal the final lap.
Herbert W. Armstrong used this term to convince us that, even though he had lied about 1975 (Herb lied, kids died), the church was still right about the end of the world and we were just a short distance away from it.
I suspect Herbert W. Armstrong found great amusement in the fact that the “gun-lap” continued for year after year, yet we still swallowed the concept. A gun-lap is supposed to be the very end of the race, yet our race never ended. Herbert must have taken delight in our ignorance. He knew there was no gun-lap; he knew there wasn’t going to be any tribulation – but he had us convinced. He had us terrified. He had us digging a little deeper into our pockets and credit cards so he could maintain his standard of living (while urging us to reduce our own). I’m sure “gun-lap” gave him a huge laugh.
People Who Are Deceived Don’t Know They Are Deceived
Remember that one? How many times did we hear Herbert W. Armstrong, speaking of the "world" and its churches, tell us that people who are deceived don't know they are deceived? He said it often, and we believed it. Imagine the hard-on he must have got when he savored the double meaning of that phrase -- WE were the ones who were deceived and didn't know it! Herbert W. Armstrong knew it -- he had to know it, because he was the one who deceived us! Yet he could sit there, right in front of us, and tell us with a straight face that deceived people were unaware of it, knowing all the time that he was talking about us to us! Laughing inside at what fools we were!
When you get to be 90 years old and you've been preaching for 50 years, I imagine you eventually get tired of trying to sustain interest in order to keep those dollars rolling in. After all, Herbert W. Armstrong had tried just about everything under the sun (and successfully, too!) to keep us praying and paying. He used drought, famine, war, rumors of war, earthquakes, flood, fire, nuclear war, and the Germans to terrify people for half a century. It all worked.
But how long can one keep it up? Apparently Herbert finally got tired. His bag of tricks was running low, and he just didn't want to work all that hard any more.
So he came up with a sure-fire topic that would take him to the end of his life, and he preached it continuously those last few years. This was the topic of "two trees". Herbert would meander through boring sermon after boring sermon, even sending boring tapes out to his boring congregations, all of them talking about "two trees". His conclusion was always the same: "You brethren just don't get it!"
Of course we didn't get it -- there was nothing to get! It was a stupid sermon that didn't mean anything, and it was never intended to mean anything. I think Herbert got quite a laugh out of that too, along with his inner circle of dutiful yes-men. "They just don't get it! You can see it on their faces, the puzzlement, as they try to figure it out. They're too stupid to realize there's nothing to get! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!"
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