Despite modern claims to the contrary by the current
crop of womb to tomb social engineers, the tobacco
industry's advertisements of those days were entirely
correct. Winston did taste good like a cigarette should,
Chesterfields most certainly satisfied and I not only
would, but often did, walk a mile for a Camel. There was
something inherently romantic about zipping the crystal
cellophane off a fresh pack of coffin nails, inhaling
the pungent aroma emanating from the pack, then lighting
up a forbidden fag deep in the evergreen forests which
surrounded my house; something invigorating; a sense of
control over the entire f__king universe which was
horribly absent at nearly all other times.
Tobacco, of course, was forbidden both in
sociological and fundamentalist lore. The usual reasons
were given; it's expensive (twenty-five cents a pack);
it will stunt your growth (this to 4'11" nine
year-olds); it will stain your teeth (does the tooth
fairy care?). Cool was never mentioned, however. I
suspect because, had cool been a religious requirement,
the Unitarians themselves would have been tried in the
balances and found wanting. For whatever else might have
been said of the called and chosen, none of them were or
ever would be in the slightest danger of being cool.
Neither were any of the little Herbert's (and there
were far too many of these). Their only dream in life,
other than getting laid by Annette or Bridgette Bardot,
was to be among that favored group of individuals who
had so impressed the ministry with their pre-conversion
feats of gluteus maximus osculation that they were
considered, at last, to be bona fide Ambassador college
material. For it was only by ministerial recommendation
that commoners could be initiated into that mysterious
My prospects for attending Ambassador College were
dim at best. I had neither the moral nor spiritual
capital necessary for such a great endeavor. Only once
was I asked by a group of tentatively called and
partially chosen teen aged disciples, "Don't you
want to go to Ambassador College when you grow up?"
"No," I replied. "My current goal in
life is to be hung for rape when I'm a hundred and
This was, admittedly, the wrong answer. All mental
and spiritual processes temporarily ground to a halt
while pious faces froze in shocked disbelief.
My older brother hissed at me, "I'm telling
Mom!" in response to which, I gleefully prescribed
a multifaceted regime of violent self abuse for him and
his entire group, slipped outside, into the trees to
light up a fag. After four hours of unmitigated horse
shit I felt I owed it to myself.
Life for a child under the benign auspices of Armstrong's church consisted largely of staying as far away from all future saints, (including ones parents), as possible. Moreover, their theology was so twisted and draconian that it virtually guaranteed complete social isolation from ones normal peer group in the dreaded "world". And, as we all knew, other than inadvertently sitting on a Grizzly Bear trap disguised as a toilet seat, the "world" was the last place one would want to get caught up in.
The world, it seemed, was populated by unworthy
heathens whom "God had, at this time, not seen fit
to call". These pagans engaged in all manner of
detestable practices which, according to Armstrong were,
"A vile stench in the holy nostrils of God
Almighty," loathsome practices such as throwing a
child a birthday party, a worldly custom alleged to
encourage greed while fostering a carnal attitude of
sinful self esteem.
That there were no specific Biblical injunctions
against the observance of birthdays proved no impediment
whatever. God's truth as revealed to HW was regarded as
self evident to the spiritually discerning.
Halloween got the ax, as well. A diabolical
celebration glorifying Satan and his demons, it had no
chance in that church from day one. Participation in
such abominable activities as extorting candy from
defenseless adults (obviously quite terrified by
marauding bands of pillaging nine year Olds) might
inspire young minds to begin worshipping Satan without
even knowing it! He was clever, that one, a master of
That children might have neither the capacity nor inclination to worship anything was not a thought which occurred to them.
Thanksgiving was, for the most part, left intact.
'Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's
house' was acceptable with the following proviso; when
we sat down to enjoy the sumptuous feast which Grandma
had labored several days to produce, we were told to eat
the same everyday amounts we would at any other meal.
God's people were not gluttons, that was that!
A slight problem arose, however, when this titanic
theology abruptly collided with an icy reality which
was, just how normally can one eat a twelve course meal
plus four different kinds of dessert? The answer, alas,
was one couldn't. And so, by meal's end, theology had
sustained critical damage far below the water line...and
was sinking fast.
Christmas, of course, was out. We'd already had our
last one, but an even dicier and totally unexpected
problem cropped up. I either had to tell everybody at
school about the deep end my parents had cheerfully
jumped off of or invent a respectable list of presents.
I unhesitatingly selected subterfuge over honesty and
the sleigh full of booty Santa was alleged to have
deposited underneath my tree was the envy of the school.
Too late, I realized my mistake (not in lying; after all
I might want to run for public office some day), but
rather in ignoring a simple crucial axiom: Don't over do
Good news traveled fast and it soon seemed to me that
nobody in the entire f__king school wanted to talk about
their own loot at all. I'd fabricated such an incredible
assemblage of technological wizardry (some of which
remains un-invented to this day), that all they wanted
to know about was mine. Finally, in the early hours of
the afternoon, five minutes into math class and right
after receiving a note from three aisles over requesting
pertinent data on the submachine gun Santa had so
thoughtfully stuffed in my stocking, I stood up and
looked wildly around, yelled "F__k this shit!"
ran out of the school, into the woods, lit up a Camel,
and vowed never again to grace civilization with my
I realized from the outset that such public
disclaimers as mine were likely to exact a heavy toll.
Freedom, after all, always has its price, and thus I
loitered in the cool evergreen forest for the better
part of that day. Needless to say, the half mile walk
through the pines, later that evening, was an
extraordinarily long one.
I presented myself to the gathered faithful at around
eight p.m., just before the demons came out. By this
time I was resigned to my fate, prepared for the
severest of repercussions, and thus, I stood before them
with that easy air of nonchalance which only the
condemned can muster knowing full well, as I did, that
my future was of no further consequence.
I'd been treated to the Herbert Armstrong concerned
parent routine so many times in the past that I could
sing the song by heart. First I would get yelled at,
next would come a sorrowful addendum about how this
beating (for which I should be thankful and of which I
was surely about to receive), was going to hurt them a
lot more than it did me. After the beating I would then
be incarcerated in my room until I was ninety-five or
the second coming, which ever came first. No matter, I
At the merest mention of parental agony by osmosis, I
was going to say, "Well, why don't you just beat
the shit out of each other then and eliminate the middle
man?" But, as I strode into the living room that
evening to meet my doom, all my parents said was,
"Are you all right? Where have you been? Don't ever
do this to us again, we were worried sick about you. Now
sit down and eat your dinner."
Temporarily devoid of the rebellious winds which
usually filled my sails, I ate my dinner in
puzzlement...without even mentioning that it was very,
New Year's was another casualty of the truth and the
way. But, since my parents had heartlessly refused to
ever let me get drunk anyway, it was no great loss.
Valentine's Day was another forbidden revel celebrating
as it did the unbridled lust, licentiousness and sexual
depravity of the carnal human masses. As a nine year old
listening to the enlightened discourse of my elders, I
wasn't sure exactly what those big words meant,
especially that bit about sexual depravity, but it
I had, I believe, unconsciously begun to develop
certain behavioral equations succinctly codifying the
parent/child relationship. Cardinal of these was,
"If they're against it, I'm for it." In an
effort to discover just what it was I was newly for, I
retreated to my bedroom with the family dictionary.
My fifth grade education had ill prepared me for an
assignment of this magnitude; my command of the English
language was definitely inadequate to the task so, after
about a half an hour and with book in hand, I confronted
my mother and father who at this time were knee deep
with the visiting minister in some theological quagmire
or other. Speaking softly so that my voice would not
carry beyond the generally accepted boundaries of the
continental United States I hollered, "Hey Dad, how
do you spell sexshell gravity?"
That all the more meaningful holidays, Christmas,
Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween were consigned to
the slag heap of iniquity was bad enough and obviously
more than any preadolescent heretic should have been
made to put up with in one life time, but Herbert
continued to have revelations, among which were his very
own set of shanghaied holidays.
The Jewish Passover was to be celebrated, sort of, on
the day before, actually. All baptized brethren were
required to wash each others feet on Passover evening,
then retire to their respective homes to contemplate
their utter unworthiness to call on God the Father for
anything other than their own damnation.
The following day was the first of seven annual
Sabbaths, the first day of the week-long Festival of
Unleavened Bread. It was called this because the ancient
Israelites, prior to fleeing Egypt, had apparently all
been afflicted with both selective amnesia and a sudden,
terrible compulsion to bake bread.
To this day, no one knows why hundreds of thousands
of allegedly sane people who, having been advised that
Pharaoh was pissed and that it would behoove all who
desired health and longevity to round up their flocks,
mount their asses and camels and head for the promised
land, that the first thought on everyone's mind was,
"What the hell, let's bake some bread."
But there was more to it than that. Every Israelite
baker that night, to a person, unaccountably forgot to
include yeast in their recipes. As a consequence, all
modern day spiritual Israelites were required to
eliminate any product containing or capable of inducing
leavening from their homes. Members' homes were then to
be thoroughly vacuumed and diligently scoured from top
to bottom to eliminate even the slightest particle of
bread, cracker, or cookie. Only then could the Feast be
Children of the faithful were not required to attend
school on Holy Days. In point of fact, they were not
allowed to...but it was far from a vacation. The called
and chosen would gather at some rented hall or other,
lugging in potluck dishes for the midday feast then,
from eight till noon, everybody sat and listened to the
ministry's inspired discourse on whatever facet of human
perversion appealed to them that week.
The actual feast itself was, from the point of view
of the unconverted at least, the bright spot of the day.
Not because of the cuisine but because it meant a two
hour recess between services. The food, like the
spiritual sustenance which preceded it was, for the most
part, unpalatable. Each accomplished little other than
to create a gnawing void which only unpardonable amounts
of sin and countless packages of twinkies could ever
hope to assuage.
To begin with, the obligatory omission of leavening agents precluded the construction of sandwiches, at least any of which were native to planet Earth because, as any child with even a marginally developed palate knew, sandwiches required at the least some reasonable facsimile of bread. Of course, there was (and usually remained to the end of the feast) copious quantities of unleavened bread. But this was because no mortal could possibly choke down more than a couple mouthfuls per millennia.
To be fair, this fact was not lost upon the ladies of
the congregation whose job it was to concoct these boot
leather offerings. It was just that, after years of
trying, they were unwilling to admit defeat. They
remained cheerfully confident in the face of each new
failure. Theirs was a holy crusade, this quest for an
edible unleavened bread. It existed. It was out there
somewhere and they would find it. And so it was that
year after year at the appointed time, they would sort
through volumes of obscure cookbooks and reams of mostly
Scandinavian lore in a futile search for the missing
ingredient to the Israelite's mythical manna.
But a lack of recognizable sandwich material was not
the only gastronomical impediment one faced at these
joyous gatherings. Health foods were in vogue in the
church of the fifties. More than in vogue, they were
touted by a rather vociferous majority of the called and
chosen as an absolute prerequisite to salvation itself!
"Lukewarm" members who profaned such holy
dictums by drinking Coca Cola (which was rumored to be
made out of pig's blood), or got caught eating a Hershey
bar (which allegedly contained unhealthy amounts of
cocaine), or any thing at all made with white sugar,
white flour, or an incredibly long list of other morally
debilitating ingredients were initially gently reproved.
If these subtle hints fell on deaf ears, offending
parties were somewhat rudely confronted. When all else
failed, they were suspiciously regarded as wolves in
sheep's clothing and openly ostracized until their
decadent behavior was corrected.
Lavish amounts of garlic, rumored to precipitate
longevity, enlivened a majority of feast dishes whether
they needed it or not. As did primitive cruets of
Italian salad dressing, also laced with garlic and
cheerfully blended in a succulent base of homemade
vinegar and cod liver oil, the latter so necessary for
the development of strong bodies and minds. The desserts
were little better.
If a poll had been taken of all responsible children
present, which is to say that handful of the patently
incorrigible with a penchant for circumstantial honesty,
the verdict would have been unanimous, "We find, in
the utter and complete absence of any compelling
evidence to the contrary, that it is humanly impossible
to create an appetizing meal, and criminally negligent
to concoct a dessert when lacking such essentials as
sugar, white flour, chocolate, and yeast. Be it also
noted that we hereby sentence those who attempt to
produce such abominations, that they be forced to dine
on their own swill until it is either totally consumed
or they die of boredom which ever comes first."
By two p.m. we were once again ensconced in our
comfortable fold out metal chairs where, for the next
four hours, we were condemned to sit and listen to
Herbert's plans, as revealed by God, for the Wonderful
World Tomorrow. These homilies were always prefaced by
grim exhortations to "Fear and tremble before the
Lord our God and his appointed ministers lest we fall
into rebellion and miss out on this great
opportunity." A few vivid examples of what had
happened to indolent and insubordinate of the past were,
then, interlarded (Remember Lot's wife!) and even the
marginally ungodly who knew the truth but had failed to
diligently heed it was then sketched out.
A child who went fishing on the Sabbath was drowned
when a sudden and terrible storm blew up out of the
heavens and his boat capsized. Several members in good
standing and their families who, alas, decided to skip
Sabbath services one bright and sunny day were struck by
lightening from out of a cloudless sky and fried to
death right where they sat at a metal picnic table.
Others who had not heeded Herbert's prohibitions against
eating clams, lobsters and, especially, pork were now
dying slow, agonizing deaths from cancer and other
maladies which doctors had, as yet, no names for.
The (by now) properly chastened congregation was then
treated to the sermon's twin main courses which
consisted of equal amounts hellfire and veritable
mountains of brimstone which, God willing, would pour
down from heaven and devour damn near everybody who did
not believe as they did.
As the chosen faithful however we, if we were good,
would be whisked off to a place of safety while the
Satanic world burned. It was no mythical place we were
going to either. We were told both what and where it
was. It was called Petra.
Petra was a city carved out of rock in the
inhospitable deserts of southern Jordan. That it had
lain abandoned since 1200 AD, was largely in ruins and
was located in the midst of a kingdom traditionally
hostile to Israelites, spiritual or otherwise, was of no
importance. Neither was the region's total lack of food,
drinking water, showers, or sanitary facilities. God
Once there we would loiter around, all one hundred
and forty-four thousand of us, for approximately three
and a half years while Satan and his cohort, the Pope,
waged unrelenting war in the form of a ghastly
tribulation against God's Church which had already
escaped and was secluded in Petra. Then Jesus would
return and change us all into gods, just like him. We
would then be crowned kings and priests over the various
nations, states, and towns of the world and would, with
our new found powers, then proceed to lick this
disgusting planet and its blind, deluded, inhabitants
As the sermon ground wearily on, poignant pictures
would be interspersed of the lion laying down with the
ox and a little child leading them. Peaceful agrarian
communities were penciled in devoid of strife, bickering
and, unfortunately, rock and roll. Overshadowing these
Norman Rockwell pictographs of basic Americana straight
from the early nineteen hundreds would be...US! For we
were born to rule. Make no mistake about it.
God had drowned out the entire planet in Noah's day, and he was determined to lay it waste once more in the very near future.
But even in the face of these coming supernatural
catastrophes there was no reason to suppose that a
decadent and perverse humanity had, or ever would, learn
its lesson. Left to themselves they would, without a
doubt, swiftly return to a lifestyle of iniquity and
This then was our calling and in Armstrong's world
tomorrow it was going to be an eternal one. As literal
members of the God family we would be immortal spirit
beings, champions of truth, justice, and righteousness.
As such, we would bear rule over the squalid human scum
who had somehow escaped the almost total destruction God
had so lovingly wreaked upon his children and this
planet. We would teach them the truth and show them the
way. Either by word of mouth, or if that failed, by rod
of iron...which ever struck our fancy.