Childhood Lost 02
That proved to be the last Christmas I ever celebrated. My parents joined Herbert Armstrong's Radio Church of God late that winter and were full fledged members by April.
Herbert claimed to have made a thorough study of history and the Bible. In so doing he had discovered that Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween were pagan holidays of the most idolatrous sort. They were principally Babylonian in origin, he said, and had been adopted as Christian by that great harlot in Italy, the Roman Catholic Church, in a nefarious attempt to corrupt and deceive honest Christians the world over.
As God's prophet he had been called, he declared, to "Cry aloud and spare not! To lift up his voice like a trumpet and show America and Britain their sins!" He was not slack concerning this divine commission, either. These laudable assignments not only came straight from God Himself, but the good book made mention of his Holy Mission, as well. He had no doubt that the sacred scriptures spoke of him.
By early summer, my brothers and I had been rather forcibly introduced to Armstrong's god and he was a demanding piece of work. All unnecessary social contacts with the heathen world, such as playing baseball at school or hide and seek with the neighbor children were terminated. God's people, including their offspring, were commanded by God (through Herbert) to "Come out from among them and be not partakers of their sins!"
The sect's marching orders were simple and succinct coming nearly straight as they did from the Lord via Armstrong. "Fear and Tremble," to question Herbert, his hand picked ministry, or their god. While the enduring task of the laity, on the other hand, was to listen and obey. All else emanated from the evil one.
This new deity didn't mess around. He was extremely touchy. One never knew what might set him off. But there was nothing prejudiced about the way he evidenced, in general, an unbiased and unmitigated disgust for all his children. He was an equal opportunity destroyer.
Besides wreaking vengeful havoc upon rebellious teenagers, lipsticked females, and skeptical males, he was a killer of disobedient children. He waited his chance, bided his time and kept the most meticulous records imaginable of every six year old's felonious crimes and gross misdemeanors. For soon enough they would all add up into a veritable mountain of blasphemy, and carnal depravity which no amount of forgiveness could ever expunge, and they would dwell in the lake of fire forever, amen.
He was like parents in that regard, only worse. At least with parents, kids had a chance because, no matter what they did, if it was never discovered, they were home free. But God was not blind. He cataloged everything everyone did, what they were doing, and what abominations they were planning on committing. Hell, he knew what the entire world was going to be doing the year after next. With that kind of foresight, the only mystery left in life was why He had created it at all.
I was dealing with a being who refused to be placated no matter how much good I did. If I helped a little old lady cross a street or low crawled fifty miles over broken beer bottles on my hands and knees to rescue some luscious damsel in distress, it was to no avail. Two or three minutes of bad in one's life canceled ten years of good out in a heart beat and I knew it.
Sooner or later (sooner knowing me) I'd spit on the sidewalk, say "Ah, shit," or be thumbing happily through the pages of the National Geographic to gaze in wonder at the dark naked ladies and remember: HE was watching, listening, taking it all down, and I would be toast.
I discussed this (and other) theologically weighty problems with school yard buddies to get their slant on the matter, but they were all of different faiths and persuasions (if one could believe first graders had faiths and persuasions) and what I learned was shocking. None of them knew the truth, at least the truth as I'd heard it. Furthermore, they'd never even heard of the fundamentalist church I was forced to attend, the Armstrong congregation of the called and the chosen.
That being the case, they could lie, steal, and fornicate to their hearts' content...and still have hope in salvation! That really sucked, and for the first (but not the last) time in my life I looked heavenward and mentally asked, "Why me?" What offense could I possibly have committed to be unfortunate enough to have parents who'd stumbled across "The Way" and worse yet dragged me along with them? For I knew the truth, but instead of setting me free it seemed determined to slit my throat.
I knew the year of my execution as well. Herbert had written a book on the subject entitled 1975 In Prophecy. 1975, he publicly proclaimed, was the year a merciful God had lovingly chosen to show humanity the error of its ways. Privately, however, church members were instructed to be prepared for their Lord's return by 1965. As religious tracts go, 1975 In Prophecy was crude, even for its time, full as it was, of prophetic invective and coarsely drawn pictures.
For all of that, it was still a nightmare booklet designed to strike terror into the hearts of all who read it by purporting to show the ghastly end of a corrupt and decadent world, a world which had stubbornly refused to heed the dire warnings of God's last true prophet, Herbert W.
In his artist's conception, the earth, circa 1975, was a radioactive wasteland wracked by supernatural plagues and unimaginable disasters. Volcanoes erupted in suburban housing developments while earthquakes and tidal waves devoured what was left. In the midst of all this outpouring of divine love, high flying caricatures of nuclear bombers overflew the smoldering ruins of a devastated planet, while far below huge earth moving machines plowed their mindless way through endless miles of rotting corpses, pushing them unceremoniously into heaps and trenches.
But, the inspired text continued, in spite of this unprecedented display of concern and affection from God, there were still unrepentant survivors, incorrigible recalcitrants who refused to give up Christmas, Easter and ham on Sunday so, in Armstrong's macabre liturgy, God had to come back to earth in person to smite degenerate heretics, abolish evolutionary science, and ban sex education in high school forever.
Having never knowingly met a heretic, scientist or sex educator, I was unsure just what iniquities they might be guilty of committing, but to warrant that kind of loving attention from the Lord, I figured they had to be big ones, perhaps even worse than mine, so big in fact that by the time he got around to toting up the tally on my sins, mine might seem small by comparison! There might, I thought, be hope for me yet. That being the case I was eager to make their acquaintance. Hell, I was eager to make the acquaintance of anyone whose heavenly ledger was as black or blacker than mine.
With all this excess religious baggage hanging off my spiritual shoulders, I was usually too mentally exhausted to do school work; I barely had enough physical energy to play. Besides, I saw no reason to bother with the three R's. The way I read Armstrong's calendar, the world was going to come to a rip roaring halt sometime around my fifteenth birthday, so why bother? I did, however, continue to excel in those areas of academic endeavor which appealed to me.
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