The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God. The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

Childhood Lost 04


After a year or two of weekly indoctrination, the church became both a way of life and, in the words of its founder, the only way to life, and if it hadn't been for an unguarded cigarette machine down the road at the Brookdale Golf course it is unlikely I would have survived those pre-pubescent years with my sanity intact.

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 inner sanctum.

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 ten."

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 deception.

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 it.

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 presence.

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 was prepared.

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, very cold.

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 sounded interesting.

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 properly observed.

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 would provide.

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 into shape.

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 corruption.

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.

Chapter 3


Chapter 5

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