A Journey out of Armstrong-ism and into the Evangelical Church

My Journey from Armstrongism and Agnosticism to a Personal Relationship with God.


—Fallacies Which I Used to Find Comforting

—Musings on Science and Creation

—Why Did God Come Crashing Back into my Life?

—The Sadducees


—Could an Armstrong-style Movement Begin and Prosper Today?

—Objective and Subjective

—The "B" Word

—The Future

—The Game

"The Road From Sheol"


Byker Bob








      Fallacies Which I Used to Find Comforting

      We often accuse the Armstrong movement of "proof texting". What does this mean? Well, let's take history as an example. Person A is a legitimate history scholar. He knows precisely what happened in given eras, and there is noticeable depth to his comprehension. He can share incredible detail. When history is being discussed, his overview and insights become invaluable. Person B may or may not have a basic, very general idea, and knows the names of some individuals, or locations, as well as some of the events which transpired during a given period. In a discussion, in support of his side, he knows enough to go back, find a quote which supports his particular contention, and in many cases, this makes him appear equally authoritative. However, his knowledge is not as deep, and because of this, he sometimes misses information which directly counters or reverses what he has posted as his "proof text". One guy knows it cold, the other scurries around looking for information to support his contentions. Who would you trust? How could you ascertain whether there was an agenda at play, guiding the evidentiary trail? Most of us realize that there are fewer Person A types than there are Person B types, yet in a highly polarized environment, it is usually the Person B types that get the "high fives". (Hooray for our side). The problem is that both believers and non-believers do this. It is embedded, learned behavior, a hangover from our Armstrong days.

      I've always said that I am not a good welder. But, I do recognize good welding when I see it. And, I believe most of us have a certain gift of discernment. Something deep inside of us tends to either validate, or reject incoming information. But, we've also got the ability to "override" those gut feelings, if we have a preference as to the outcome.

      Over the past years, we've all encountered people who lift various myths, personalities, and other little clues from history to support the theory that Jesus Christ never existed. Some have stated that He was either loosely based on some mythological character who in fact predated Christianity, or on a composite of teachers, magicians, or alleged do-gooders or miracle workers from the period, or from word of mouth legendary tradition that would not pass Snopes if we were discussing a possible contemporary character. However, it should raise a cautionary red flag that the broad majority of legitimate historians do not question the historicity of Jesus. There is much dispute over whether He was who He said He was, but little doubt that He existed. In fact, there is a documented progression of teachers and students, one having taught the other, extending from Antenicene Fathers of the first, second, third and fourth centuries back to the original disciples and Jesus Himself. The proto-Catholics, and later the Catholics were incredible record keepers, preserving what they felt was an oracle, much the same as were the Jews before them. Though they can't be the entirely secular sources that non-believers would prefer, the Vatican has amassed and preserved, in addition to the Bible, an incredible number of period documents. The Antenicene Fathers were very prolific writers. And, church historians documented the minutes of council meetings such as Nicea and Laodecea, decisions which were made, and often the activities of those considered as exemplary or leaders. There are some "fringe" or radical historians who have advanced theories involving the non-existence of Jesus, but these are not considered to be completely credible. They bear more similarity to our modern holocaust deniers, or those who believe that the astronauts' walk on the moon was actually faked on some back lot of a movie studio in Burbank, California.

      I recently watched an episode of 7th Street Theater, in which a young woman had gotten a speeding ticket, but insisted that she was not going over the speed limit. As she agonized over how to approach this in her court appearance, with the help and commiseration of her theater group, a discovery was made. While driving on the freeway, and keeping pace with the freeway traffic, she noticed that her speedometer stuck at 51 miles per hour. So, she ended up paying her fine rather than asserting her innocence in court. As the story developed, her breaking of the speed limit had been caused by reliance on wrong information, and the consequence was that she was still legally accountable. Of course the moral lesson of the episode was that one must be sure that one's sources are accurate, especially when making critical decisions!

      How could one possibly have been part of WCG without having been primed to be receptive to conspiracy theories? HWA actually set the blueprint up for this type of thinking via his Simon Magus theory, in which the first century Gnostics were accused of having hijacked the original teachings of Christ, morphing it into what eventually became the Roman Catholic Church. I think it might behoove us to look at the concept of conspiracy theories, and what they do. In many cases, originators of these theories base them loosely on certain facts, draw conclusions, and then extrapolate wildly, imputing sinister and very scary intentions to people perceived as being in power or control. Often, the people advancing these theories utilize them to leverage conventional wisdom or commonly held opinions, and to alter peoples' intentions. This can be very effective, as we've all witnessed, in destroying individuals' confidence in one thing, and subsequently redirecting that confidence to another. It's usually done to combat a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and is not unlike a magician's sleight of hand. Right now, breaking news has the Securities and Exchange Commission taking Goldman Sachs to court, allegedly for conspiring, putting together, and selling packages of worthless investments, partially causing the recent meltdown in the global economy. Whether or not they did what is alleged remains to be proven in a court of law. Some astute observers find the timing of this SEC suit questionable, in that it seems to be happening just as Congress considers a new package of regulatory legislation pertaining to banks and investment firms. Thus, speculation as to leverage has already begun!We can nearly guarantee that, regardless as to the outcome of the lawsuit, if this is leverage, it is going to further erode trust. And, this erosion of trust is bound to influence the public's perceptions, and the pending legislation. Just seeing how a conspiracy theory works, I am not encouraged to buy into any of the conspiracy theories which people concoct in support of the alternative origins of the Bible, or of Jesus. For one thing, there are far too many of them! Overkill tends to make me suspicious.

      There is what is known as oral law, or oral tradition. The Jews have this, in the form of their Talmud and Cabala, and the Catholics have it as well, supposedly the cumulative effect of the primacy of Peter. The Protestant Reformation was all about shedding much of the Catholic oral tradition, and getting back to the Bible as the basic core or source for human actions, rather than the authority of the church. Coinciding with the Reformation was the translation, mass printing of, and availability of the Holy Bible to the masses, so that each individual believer could be responsible for doing the due diligence required by their faith. In the early stages of this, people were actually killed for making the Bible accessible, because it was seen as eroding the power of the church, and even that of secular Kings and Queens.

      There are questions and theories regarding the authenticity of the Bible. The Old Testament was available during Jesus' time in the form of the Septuagint, and today we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which differ very little from what was available prior to the discovery of these scrolls. That is probably a factor as to why there are more questions and theories surrounding the New Testament than the Old. It becomes difficult to imagine, however, how we, two thousand years removed from the selection and canonization process, would be in a better position to make some of the related decisions today than those who were actually part of that process. Those compiling Christian documents treated the materials at hand very reverently. They felt they were preserving an oracle, and did evaluate them very carefully and even agonized over them! We know this based on conflicts such as that between Marcion and Irenaeus. Canonization seems to have been a gradual process, but regardless as to the timing, those actually involved were closer to the time period of the actual early Christian events which the books and letters describe than are those of us living today. They had testimony, materials, and criteria available to them which have long since been lost to antiquity. So, in many cases, the absence of evidence which seems to pose great problems for us today was not a problem for them. For believers, the authenticity of scripture has an additional basis. We believe it to be Spirit protected.

      Because Christians have oft cited Josephus as an authority, his account of Jesus is frequently attacked as having been inserted later, and not conforming to his general writing style. And, frankly, this may or may not be true. But, the bottom line is that Josephus is just one of numerous resources. Jesus most certainly does not rise or fall just based on Josephus. You see,
      we don't just need to deal with Jesus, but also with Peter, John, Paul, Pilate, the Ossuary of James and other archaeological artifacts, Egyptian Christian traditions, the Antenicene Fathers, the Jewish Talmud and associated historical records, and even the apocryphal gospels and people attacked as having been heretics. They all, in their own way, give testimony of Jesus' existence. If this were all a huge, global conspiracy, can you imagine all of the people who would need to have been complicit? Even the detractors! Plainly, there are odds and the laws of probability in play here, with both believer and non-believer alike placing their bets. Some derive encouragement from the so-called Dark Ages, and cite it as support for the idea that there could have been an all-encompassing black out and control, but the Dark Ages were not global! Some nations existing today never participated in these Dark Ages! Mohammed and the entire early Islamic movement were seen as being on the cutting edge during this era, as compared to the Catholic nations. It is difficult to imagine this today, but apparently they were quite advanced (Incidentally, they also believed in Jesus! They just saw Him as being a prophet)

      And, speaking of some of these other nations, I used to ask, "What about the Chinese people? There are some areas of China where nobody has even heard of Jesus. Would a loving god hold them accountable?" This was supposed to be another one of my escape hatches, but the flaw lies in the fact that it applies to the Chinese, not to me regarding my own situation or salvation. It is nice to have brotherly concern for others, but their plight is their plight, and I am responsible based on my own conditions. Lack of knowledge amongst Chinese people is not something which I could logically present to God on judgment day, and expect Him to cut me some slack!

      All of the above was at one time used in constructing my "wall", a protective structure which I had built following my exit from Armstrongism. It was designed to keep me from being fooled and hurt again. Judging from discussions and comments on forums and blogs, I believe that others have also used some or all of these in their own walls of non-belief. As one comes in from that deadly and dangerous "road to Damascus", one's perceptions change. My hope is that there are some nuggets here that might either provide food for thought, or perhaps help some other people, those who may also be in the midst of some important decisions in their lives. Non-belief isn't a bad intermediate stage. It serves as an excellent neutral buffer, and helps clear out all of the old baggage. My opinion, though, is that it is not altogether optimal or satisfying as a final stage.

      Musings on Science and Creation

      I was watching a PBS special program recently, part of their Nova series. I find Nova to be absolutely fascinating because it frequently deals with the natural historical record of the universe. This particular episode was on the topic of "blue hole" diving in the Bahamas. I had never heard of blue hole diving, but soon learned that it is a type of very dangerous, but potentially highly rewarding cave diving. Thousands of years ago, sea level was not so high as it is today in our era. The Bahamian Islands are composed largely of coral, and natural erosion forces have created a network of spectacular underwater caves which often have a depth of 250 feet or more. In these miniaturized ecosystems, there are eons worth of sediment, stalactites, mixtures of fresh water and salt water (responding to the ground table and sea level), and assorted chemistries attributable to the life forms which inhabit such caves. The caves are a natural museum for the preservation of the skeletal remains of past life which at one time surrounded the blue hole. Bones and shells which are frequently found are of nearly museum quality, naturally preserved by the waters, and virtually undisturbed for nearly their entire existence.

      Many ideas raced through my mind as I processed what was unfolding on my TV screen. At one point, geologists were shown slicing one of the cave's stalactites, using a high speed diamond tipped saw blade. The cutting revealed many layers, each of which indicated a season, and the climactic conditions that existed in each season, extending back even through several ice ages. While there is no natural iron content in the Bahamas, there were deposits of iron dust in the layer immediately preceding each ice age. I learned that each ice age is anticipated by a massive build up of dust from the Sahara Desert across the ocean, known for its high iron content. Interesting.

      Those who watched this show, depending on their particular beliefs or agenda related to God, might see this and think to themselves, "Ah, more evidence invalidating the Genesis account of creation!" But, does it really, or is this yet another example of seemingly sophisticated but in reality simplistic thinking in which we humans often indulge? Who told us that the earth is only approximately 6,000 years old? That is written nowhere. It is a guess, based largely on interpretation. Even if one embraces the so-called "gap theory" creationism, who told us that each day of the Genesis account is an actual 24 hour day? Certainly, we're all familiar with the scriptures which indicate that for God, a day is as a thousand years, but who is to say that even that is literal, as opposed to a figurative description to make the relativity of time and space understandable for a generation of humanity which largely predated modern science? These are all man-made assumptions, some of which are actually taught as part of the official doctrines or dogma of different church groups. But, they are no different from any other extra-biblical teachings which frequently dog organized religion. It is an attempt to legalistically spell out all of the specifics, and to provide answers that are often not even implied. If a Creator wanted us to focus primarily on our own human lives, wouldn't there be a little mystery behind the ultimate beginning of mankind, and the ultimate fulfillment, or end?

      Time as we know it is relative to a fixed point in the universe, broadly our own solar system, and specifically our planet. Our time is not absolute for the entire universe. As an example, as we examine what might constitute a day, or a year, relative to the rotation and orbit of the planet Uranus, it's a no brainer that these values will differ quite widely from what we experience on planet Earth. Since these values would vary exponentially throughout the cosmos, for an eternal, omniscient being to communicate with His charges, He would need to link Himself to their own understanding of these things, although He Himself is not constrained or confined by such boundaries. He would have no problem understanding us, but the probability of our own human miscommunication, or misunderstanding relative to Him and amongst ourselves would be high. This is especially true of the generations of people who lived prior to Copernicus, Galileo, and our own Albert Einstein. The time periods in the creation narrative, at least as seen from the Creator's perspectives, would be subject to skew as interpreted by man.

      The only terms a writer could use to describe elapsed time to a bunch of pre-Einstein goat herders would be the relative words "day" and "night". If this written description was indeed inspired by the aforementioned Creator, He would have known that once mankind developed sufficiently to understand relativity, the description would still remain appropriate in its reinterpreted, or expanded form. Whether a creator used a slow, gradual method of creation (evolution), or a fast, instant process is largely irrelevant. The creation narrative in Genesis can lend itself to the "Big Bang", expanding universe, and the evolutionary process just as well as it can to instantaneous creation, although to me it makes more sense for an eternal being to take His time. There would be no need for hurry.

      Some might wonder about Adam and Eve, whether they were literal created beings, or byproducts of a guided evolutionary process. Part of any creative process involves introducing components into a project at the time the project is prepared for them. Those who have maintained aquariums and terrariums have a deep appreciation for this ecological principle. Anthropologists acknowledge that the human species made an incredible, observable leap forward in terms of accumulated intelligence and ability to preserve and share this intelligence dating from approximately 10,000 years ago. Despite the denials of the 6,000 year/literal 24 hour types of creationists, we know that there are distinct sets of fossils related to specific stages of mankind's development. There is adequate room for the introduction of an Adam, and an Eve into this system. At some point or other in an evolutionary process, one would expect to find the first beings with modern brains, both hemispheres communicating under single control, and for these to be common ancestors for all people with some version of that modern brain today. A Christian would be quick to point out that the writers of the New Testament believed in Adam. Both Jesus and Paul seem to have been convinced that the characters in the Old Testament literally did exist.

      Do our geological records invalidate the Bible? As a truth seeker, I don't know that I'd be comfortable rushing to such a judgment. Science presents a neutral evidentiary trail, and often seeks to interpret or explain it. In its purest form, it neither presumes, nor denies a creator. That is left to the individual. The modern church has no problem whatsoever in incorporating Galileo's now much confirmed model of our solar system, and the other astral bodies into belief, although this must have been a source of residual confusion and debate during the generations surrounding his lifetime. What of Darwin's more recent research, and much of our modern science? Is it not possible that the church today and some prominent Christians are behaving in a way similar to the that of the church during the time of the Renaissance? And, would we really respect their integrity if they did not treat their cherished beliefs in a loving, repspectful way, cherishing them, and attempting to preserve them? That is exactly what we'd hope for them to do.

      Why Did God Come Crashing Back into my Life?

      I really don't know. Certainly, I recognized the irony, having spent perhaps seven years on these blogs and forums as a member of the ad hoc Atheist Sanhedrin, interrogating and challenging the Christians. I hope that I was a kinder inquisitor than some of the examples whom I've seen since, but I fear that I probably was not.

      At first, in my vanity, I imagined that perhaps God planned to use me to assist some of my former WCG brethren whose minds had similarly shut down towards Him as a result of the false teachings to which we've all been exposed, but I've since realized that there is nothing I personally can say or do, either logically or by example that will re-open peoples' minds. Only God can prove that he exists, and only God can open a human mind.

      I tried to dissect and deconstruct the process by which I was brought back from my prodigal condition. I remember an Australian lady, who somehow in the course of a forum discussion got me to open, and read a few passages from an old Bible which I'd inherited from my Grandmother. I hadn't cracked the cover of a Bible in over twenty-five years at that point. I also recall the enthusiasm and determination displayed by a Christian lady from Texas, in spite of horrible persecution on the forums, and some severe trials in her life. She was very knowledgeable and was of great help to me. I remember overhearing a bowling friend in a supermarket when he didn't know that I was listening in. He was consoling a friend who was undergoing a cluster of severe problems, and he suggested to her, "Ask God to walk with you!" Over the coming months, I thought many times of the beauty and simplicity of that short statement. Nonoffensive. Unintrusive. But, also, very powerful. I remember my neighbor Chris asking me to go down to the mall with him to jumpstart his wife's car. While I was hooking it up, he asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about "the Lord". It irritated me at the time that someone would be evangelizing me, but later as I watched how his family always seemed to have guidance and blessings in the face of trials, unemployment, and problems their children got into, I became convinced that something special was going on there.

      The pastor at our church (non-ACOG, non-GCI!) has told us many times that witnessing to people does not arouse their interest in God. Changed lives, however, are very effective in this. I had two incorrigible people in my life whom I loved more than life itself. One was my son, and the other was a very special lady. I had rescued both of them from some particularly bad circumstances. I had tried to set a good secular example of stability and balance for them, and to help them make a few minor but very positive changes in their lives. It ended up being a hopeless exercise, and I found myself being very deeply enmeshed in two codependent relationships. As a matter of fact, I could very easily have ended up either bankrupt, or in jail. Sadly, although I put much effort into my relationship with both of them, there was nothing I could do as a human being to help them. I finally and gut-wrenchingly, walked away from both of them. Shortly after I did this, God came into both of their lives. He changed them, whereas I could do nothing. With my then agnostic mindset, in the beginning stages, I thought, "Well, that's just great! They're both OK now, but I still lost them. It's just that I lost them to Jesus!" That turned out not to be altogether true of my son. We have a better relationship now than we ever did in his entire life. As for the lady, she ended up happily married to a Christian gentleman, and just knowing that she's happy and with the stability that I always wanted for her is enough for me. I had left WCG in 1975 because I could find no evidence that the Holy Spirit was working through it. I had by that time witnessed so much blatant fakery that, religiously or spiritually speaking, I was toast at that point. But, decades later, as I got to have a front row seat, watching the Holy Spirit very powerfully transform two formerly incorrigible people, I immediately knew exactly what was happening. These two made no secret of the source of their help! It is no accident that the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind. You do not see him/it, but you can surely see the work that has been done!

      One of my first fears was, what if these people who seem to have been placed in front of me as an example are drawn to the Armstrong doctrines? Believe me, I watched very carefully for all of the signs. But, it never happened, and that became part of the lesson. In fact, I am more convinced today than ever that HWA was very superficial in his understanding of the Bible. There is an incredible understanding, and deep Biblical foundation to classic or mainstream Christianity, the type that was spawned by the Protestant Reformation. The core of this is taught by many of the Baptists and Evangelicals. That is the vehicle through which all of the help became available to my son and ex-girlfriend. What is true, is that most of us who entered Armstrongism were not firmly rooted in the Bible, or basic study and research techniques, making us easy targets for the many cultic fringe doctrinal approaches, as well as HWA's personal theories.

      I must admit, it was very difficult to pray again after nearly thirty years. The first prayer was the most difficult. But, soon, it became very natural and actually a pleasure to which I look forward. As a WCG member, I had always done this from a sense of duty, and in the ways that were taught by the church. Perhaps that's why it had always seemed so dry and mechanical, and caused me to wonder if it was going beyond the ceiling. Also, some of the changes in my attidudes were pretty scary. I had always had a kind of a hard edge, an extreme survival mentality, and was afraid that in becoming kinder and more forgiving, I was becoming weak. I worried, too, about losing friends, but in reality have not lost any friends who were real ones to start with. If anything, I now have more friends, and they are not all Christian. That's another potential pitfall which concerned me. I didn't want to become cloistered, and only capable of hanging out with what I used to call the "Bible Thumpers".

      I had just enough of a hangover from my WCG intoxication experience that I became worried about some sort of special calling or purpose. The reality is that there are so many more people, and with greater knowledge, understanding, and articulateness than I, that I really need not have worried about this at all. I'd heard of some people from old WCG who immediately came into the forefront of the mainstream New Covenant churches that they found when "the new" WCG became not a very attractive alternative. But, that's just not me. Probably my best value is in quietly doing little things behind the scenes, and below the radar to help and comfort others. Still, one must put God first, and if there is some sort of special calling, one should be willing to do whatever He would have us do for Him.

      About a year into the Christian experience, I came upon a very interesting book that described a transformation experience that had many parallels with my own. Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the acting Baldwin brothers, was perhaps the brother to whom I related the most. He played confident tough guy roles on the screen, and created some characters to whom I could really strongly relate. Through the influence of one of their maids, his wife had become a Christian, and spent a number of hours praying for him. I honestly wonder if someone had been doing the same thing for me, without my knowing. At any rate, Stephen, or Stevie B as he calls himself, soon found his entire life changing. He likens his adventure with God to being dropped from an airplane, every morning, without parachute, from an altitude of about 50,000 feet. He's written a very remarkable and inspiring book, titled "The Unusual Suspect" If any one is even remotely interested in taking another look at the Christian walk, I'd highly recommend it!

      Just in case some people are wondering what kind of life I have lead, it is probably important to also share that when I left WCG in 1975, I pursued my passions to the full. In my professional life, I was always a hard worker. I met a lot of people, and sold and repaired quite a bit of machinery over the decades. This provided opportunities to travel, to stay in nice accomodations, and to indulge in business related partying. In my free hours, there are and were a number of hobbies and activities that I was passionate about. I built and raced (on the street!) an endless string of hotrods and motorcycles. My wives and girlfriends, who were amongst the most beautiful women on the face of the earth, and I rode the motorcycles everywhere! We went to the mountains, the beaches, the deserts, you name it. Having also been a lifelong fitness nut, I spent many hours running, bicycling, weight training, and learning karate. This lead to gigs as a body guard and bouncer at the race tracks and in the performing arts community, with opportunities to meet a number of celebrities. There were also legendary Saturday nights, dancing to live music at the blues bars, and more arena style rock, country, and blues concerts than I can remember. I've been to hundreds of professional NHRA drag races, and hundreds of dirt track sprintcar races. Skiing, parasailing, bungee jumping, deep sea fishing, rafting and tubing down rivers, hours of body surfing at the California beaches, hiking and mountain climbing, I and whoever was with me lead life to the full. As I remember and describe all of this, it's difficult for even me to believe that one person could have done all of these things. And, lest anyone feels that I might be exaggerating for the purpose of dramatizing, I'm not. I've deliberately held back on the X-rated, and occasional recreational/illegal stuff. The problem is, that in the end, none of it ever filled a deep void which I had always felt inside. Ultimately, I was left with a decidedly Ecclesiastes point of view.

      Anyhoo, this is one of the things which I've been asked to share. I'd been told that people wondered what made me a believer again. There were no visions, no burning bushes, no talking asses, and no psychotic breaks or addictive breakdowns. Just an unlocked mind, and ensuing unexpected transformation, one for which I am just so grateful every waking hour. It would be naive and presumptuous of me to believe that my words are going to touch everyones hearts. I know better. But, if just one person gets a little encouragement, a gentle assist in life, or perhaps just a temporary boost for the day, it will have been worthwhile sharing.

      The Sadducees

      Humor me for the moment. I fully realize that some of my dear readers question the historicity of Jesus, the Apostles, or even Moses for that matter, seeing those individuals as perhaps fictional characters in an elaborate anthology of novels produced by the ancient Jews and proto-Catholics. But, even if I have just described your particular viewpoint, the Sadducees would appear to be a most remarkable, and very curious group! They are described in the pages of the Gospels, and in other historical documents, along with other sects of the day, the Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots.

      Here is a list of the beliefs of the
      Sadducees, as enumerated in the Jewish Sects list found in Zondervan's TNIV Study Bible:

      1) They denied that the oral law (Talmud) was authoritative and binding.

      2) They interpreted the Mosaic law more literally than did the Pharisees.

      3) They were very exacting in
      Levitical purity.

      4) They attributed everything to free will.

      5) They argued that there is neither resurrection of the dead, nor a future life.

      6) They rejected a belief in angels and demons.

      7) They rejected the idea of a spiritual world.

      8) They considered only the books of Moses to be canonical Scripture.

      What do you make of this? My own take, assuming that this list is accurate, would be that the
      Sadducees appear to be first century Jewish atheists or agnostics, who simply relied on the code of Moses as the most advanced, logical, and humane system of government known to them. History tells us that this sect had its genesis during the time of the Hasmonean kings (166-63 BC), and ceased to exist shortly following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

      Normally, one would tend to think of Judaism as being
      YHWH-based. Yet, here we have a sect with numbers and noteworthiness sufficient to merit mention in the New Testament, fully embracing the laws and rituals for which YHWH is credited in the works of Moses, yet apparently totally disassociating these laws from any type of spiritual implications. While that might seem mind-boggling, we would appear to be living in a modern parallel of this in the USA today, which is now well advanced into the post-Christian era. Many non-believers today have a great love for the system of justice and the founding documents which were created by a group of predominantly Christian and Deist forefathers, based on a combination of logic and principles found in the pages of the Holy Bible. Truly the Ecclesiast was accurate in his observation that there is nothing new under the sun!

      Despite their non-belief in the spiritual world, or in the resurrection of the dead, the
      Sadducees would not have qualified for any more humane treatment from the occupying Romans than would their believer brethren. The Romans considered all peoples who did not believe in the Roman gods, or the godhood of their emperor, to be atheists. Would it be any different today, in the USA, if suddenly we were conquered by Muslim jihadists? No. Our modern day agnostics and atheists who refused to worship Allah, even though their decision would be based totally on logic, would be executed right along with Christians who refused to worship Allah because he or it is a false god.

      Some people, upon reading their Bibles, seem to have a black and white concept of the Jews and Israelites of Jesus' time as being an
      homogeneous group, with unified beliefs. Not only is this clearly not the case, but it presents an overly simplistic picture of the civilization of ancient Jerusalem and the covenant lands of Israel. Consider the sizable population of Samaritans, the mongrel spawn resulting from the Assyrian and Babylonian occupation, in addition to the Jewish sects. Later, Peter and Paul had even more complex challenges in their ministries to the Roman Empire nations surrounding Israel. There was a sizable Jewish diaspora in these nations, as well as a very diverse Gentile population. Throw in a couple of tax collectors, factor in the balance of power between Jewish leaders and the Roman occupation, and you have a pluralistic society rivaling our own modern civilizations.

      It seems obvious that in the time just preceding Jesus, and the times shortly thereafter, that the challenges in building and maintaining relationships were just as great, and just as complex as what we experience in our own era. Though perhaps ignored by most of us in the past, although
      they were a part of the Septuagint (the "Bible" of Jesus and His disciples), the books of the Maccabees are quite fascinating as historical documents. In these books are described some very troubled times during which apostate Jews actually assumed the roles of persecutors of their former brethren, often even worse than the gentile peoples who held areas of Israel captive. In our modern vernacular, we'd say that these apostates "ratted out" their neighbors, turning them over to the captors for punishment and torture. Though shocking, this is yet another variant of man's inhumanity to fellow man, and has not been as uncommon throughout history as one would hope. Knowing this propensity of human nature, and reading the narratives in the Maccabees might serve to help all of us as former guinea pigs of the Armstrong experiment in dealing with certain challenges today. The lesson lies in seeking not to make the same mistakes, and in seeking not to cause or incur the pain which accompanies these mistakes. And, I believe that it is important to include current splinter group members under our umbrella of humanity. I'm sure that many of us still have relatives who are part of these groups, and one of the things which could possibly help influence some of their major decisions in the future would be the love which we feel for them, and can show them.

      Since the Apostle Paul was such a pivotal character of the New Testament, the one who presented a well-developed theology, and basic practical applications for the teachings of Jesus Christ, he is somewhat of a lightning rod, a controversial person about whom virtually everyone has some sort of opinion. He is not a person that it would be easy to be neutral about. What is noteworthy from his ministry would be the principles we find him fighting for, in other words, his passions. We find him preaching amazing tolerance amongst the various factions of Jewish and Gentile Christians. In ministering to his Gentile churches, he had to deal with a number of gut wrenching situations, not the least of which were the expulsion from Rome and eventual repatriation of the Jews, including Jewish Christians. He also had to deal with
      Judaizers from Jerusalem who insisted that Christians first became Jews before they could become followers of Jesus Christ. These carpetbaggers made numerous attempts to co-opt Paul's ministry. Somehow, he had to manage these situations not only while enjoying personal freedom, but also from a Roman jail cell, sometimes all but deserted by his students and personal friends. His harshest words were reserved for those causing dissension and contempt amongst the brethren, disrupting relationships, causing elitism, and violating the Golden Rule which encapsulates the New Covenant.

      These provide some timeless examples of human behavioral patterns, both good and bad. It so happens that they are described in the versions of scripture native to and used by several different cultures. I'll leave it up to the individual reader, rather than actually quoting chapter and verse, whether or not to delve more deeply into the books of the Maccabees, or the epistles of Paul. I fully realize that in some cases, and for many reasons, people who were once
      Armstrongites actually require years or even decades of recovery before they have the stomach to revisit scripture. Whether we find lessons like the above in scripture, or whether we find them in the works of Shakespeare, Freud, Aristotle, Gandhi, or Dr. Martin Luther King, the best and most timeless precepts for human behavior would seem to be rooted in love and tolerance. Knowing that an unusual group, a seemingly anomalous group, such as the Sadducees could exist somewhat harmoniously in the mainstream of first century Judaism, no less during a period of Roman captivity, certainly we who are dealing with the aftermath of Armstrongism can peacefully coexist in the face of diversity of opinion.


      I had originally planned to post a previously written entry here today, but since the topic of 1975 spawned some interest in some of the comments yesterday, here are some of my thoughts and recollections of what conditions were like in Pasadena during that era. It was indeed a pivotal time period for many reasons. Let me preface my remarks by noting that I personally did not leave WCG because of cruelty. I left because it became obvious to me that WCG was a bogus church, did not in any way have the witness of God behind it, and had been propped up and supported by intellectual dishonesty (end justifies the means) in many ways. I think that by the end of this article, we'll plainly see that following the events of 1975, the church took on a decidedly harsher undertone.

      Looking back on the latter portions of my childhood and teenage years, I'd have to say that we did not have cruel, authoritarian, snoopy ministers, at least not in our area of the country. If you like Allen Dexter, you probably would have liked most of the people who preceeded him, those with whom he worked on a daily basis, and those who immediately followed him. Frankly, I have never seen any of these gentlemens' names on the lists of abusers here on the PT website, or any of the other ex-WCG sites over the past ten years. Let me list a few of them for you. There was Wayne Cole, Carlton Smith, Guy Englebart, Raymond Cole, Walter Sharp, Reg Platt, and Ivan Sell. While I don't pretend to know everything that went on in our district, I only knew of about 6 to 10 disfellowshipments over about a decade. Some of those were due to out of control alcoholism, and a couple more were due to schizophrenia, which of course was labelled as demon possession. When these people were marked, the minister generally expressed that he hoped they would repent so that they could be welcomed back. It was not as if they were seen as suddenly being enemies of God and country.

      From my list above, Wayne Cole eventually got the axe during the receivership era, because he favored cooperating with the state authorities. His brother Raymond started one of the early splinters immediately after HWA modified some of the original church doctrines. Raymond passed away a few years ago. At last report, there had been a Walter Sharp sighting in Pasadena at the former AC campus, as he and his wife were touring the USA on their Harley Davidson. I have not heard any recent news concerning the other gentlemen on my list.

      For those of you who came along sometime after 1975, let me just say that during that era it literally appeared that World War III was breaking out at headquarters. On a day to day basis, we did not know which way events were going to turn. For the previous ten years, some in the field ministry had had grave misgivings about the interpretations of certain scriptures and the ways in which this influenced the church's doctrinal approach and in many cases negatively impacted individuals in their congregations. HWA had been approached, had agreed to review the concerns, but had postponed and procrastinated until there was an increasingly open revolt. If memory serves me correctly, the main issues concerned divorce and remarriage, the church's teaching regarding medical care, and some of the details related to tithing. Dr. Ernest Martin, who was one of the primary researchers, and one of the few actual legitimate Biblical and historical scholars apparently became so frustrated with the endless delays that he began openly sharing some of his research. Others in different areas of the world were also doing this on a local basis. As if to add gasoline to this fire, the full depth of GTA's addictive sexual activities became known, churchwide. At one point, he had actually been reinstated to his position within the church and college, only to relapse into what was by this time a pathology.

      As HWA, Stanley Rader, and others wrestled to regain control, an alarming percentage of the field ministry left, for reasons of conscience. This mass exodus caused a radical change in the corporate culture of WCG. The fallout from this affected lay members and employees as well. One morning, I showed up for my shift at AC Press, and was ushered into a rather somber meeting. Forms were passed out, and we were told that in order for our employment to continue, we had to sign oaths of loyalty to HWA. Long term deacons, using some of the college's vans and camera equipment, parked surreptitiously in the vicinity of meetings conducted by Dr. Martin, Al Carrozzo, Richard Plache, and others. In this undercover sting, the deacons photographed any WCG members whom they observed entering the meeting halls. The dormitories at Ambassador College were also electronically bugged. The accounting department, in a joint project with the MIS department, was instructed to review the payroll and tithing records of employees in various departments, an early detection of possible mixed loyalties. There were also frantic member letters, exemplifying HWA's most embarrassing overuse of punctuation and variations in type size, telling of Satan pulling out all stops in his war against what he called "God's Church".

      There had been persistent rumors for months amongst employees, staff, and local members in Pasadena concerning secret overseas bank accounts, expensive art collections secreted in the basement storage areas of some headquarters buildings, and extravagant overseas junkets involving HWA, Stanley Rader, Osamu Gotoh, and others, some of it allegedly funded by misappropriation of third tithe funds. A cadre of members and former members contracted with a prominent Southern California attorney in an effort to force financial accountability. The courts felt that there was sufficient merit to their allegations to institute receivership proceedings, but over a period of months the church managed to totally obfuscate the effort, and ultimately had enough lobbying power with the state legislature to get a special law passed that essentially quashed the receivership and investigation. While church officials later credited themselves as having helped preserve the civil liberties of churches throughout the USA, and protecting the Constitutional separation of church and state, the end result was that there never was any sort of financial accountability. As if this were not enough, in the background of all of this, a number of prominent ministers' kids were both indulging in and selling various kinds of dope at Imperial Schools and Ambassador College.

      It is difficult, in retrospect, to imagine how WCG could possibly have survived this perfect storm.
      They were on the front pages of many newspapers, and the lead story on TV news, day after day after day. This fact did not lend itself to the recruitment of new members!

      I was not around much after 1975. Having discussed this with those who were, and having read extensively on the subject, I believe that policies and procedures were gradually put into place to prevent even the remotest possibility of a similar revolt ever again. You'd have to guess that the field ministry, after that point, was instructed to be very suspicious of members, and to take a hard line with possible dissenters to the official doctrinal stances, and even to closely monitor the tithing patterns of members. Eventually it was a total lock, the final ones being applied during the "back on track" era. As we look back on all of this today, it is plain to see that all of the additional suffering, confusion, and general misery were for nought. Gamaliel, in the end, was proven right, in living color right before our eyes!

      To learn more about the Worldwide Church of God during the mid 1970s, check out Ambassador Reports, archived conveniently right here at The Painful Truth Website.

      Could an Armstrong-style Movement Begin and Prosper Today?

      One Friday night a number of years ago, I had put my son to bed, was working on an icy 16 oz can of Budweiser, and reading an Easyriders Magazine. Spider, as usual, had written an excellent editorial, and in this particular one had opined that if an inventor had just obtained the first patent for a motorcycle today, it was very doubtful that his invention would ever come into production, knowing the government, insurance industry, and the general public's preoccupation with safety. The motorcycle had been grandfathered in from a much more naive, and vastly less sophisticated era in societal evolution, and that and only that was why we still have them to enjoy today.

      The fact is, we could probably examine any number of practices, commodities, pieces of machinery, or ideas which we have today, but which were more specific to, and appropriate for times long gone. These relics from the zeitgeist past still exist, but not in the massive numbers in which they once did. Take the oil light, for example. It was totally appropriate for its day, and makes for a nice conversation piece, decorative touch, or auxiliary emergency equipment yet today, but who could be bothered with the sheer messiness, odors, and perhaps hazardous nature of the oil lamp in our modern age? The incandescent light bulb is self-contained, turns off and on at the flick of a switch, is easily regulated for intensity, and is readily available at the local store. Much better!

      I am one of the baby boomers, a demographic whose disposable income every manufacturer, every marketer, and every investment counsellor, health care organization, and virtually anyone else who wished to exploit Keynsian economics at its zenith actively solicited. Although I spent the latter half of my youth in WCG, even at that time, I could not fathom how a thinking adult could possibly be so radically indoctrinated into what seemed to be an intoxication based on religious obsessive-compulsiveness (think Philadelphian as opposed to Laodecean). Clearly, the marketing approach of Herbert W. Armstrong was designed for my parents and their contemporaries! These people knew what the Great Depression, Hitler, and World War II were all about, and were just learning about the awful potential of the nuclear bomb. Television might have been a new phenomenon, but radio had been somewhat ubiquitous for several decades. And, of course, we all know the history. Here was a polished, authoritarian voice, seemingly in control of the air waves, warning of a horrible apocalypse which would soon befall all of those who did not repent of their sins, and become part of a small elite group which would be spared from what was soon to occur. Obviously, this technique was both believable, and successful. The booklet "1975 in Prophecy" was freely given, but had it been sold, it most likely would have become a best seller!

      Using the same techniques, could a similar group be started, and could it enjoy the phenomenal growth (30% per year) that the WCG once did? I believe that the prospects for such an event would be slim to none. The very concept has been marginalized by a number of external factors, to say nothing of the destructive powers wrought by internal factors specific to that particular group.

      Whether or not you personally define Armstrongism (including variants and splinter groups) as a cult, there is today a much greater public awareness of cults and the damage which they do. This was largely unexplored during the 1920s through perhaps the first half of the 1970s. The hip generation explored virtually everything, leading to a much higher level of sophistication. So,
      call it cynicism, or perhaps hyper awareness, but the public's current immunity to cults would tend to limit the growth potential of any non-mainstream religious organization, and even make people cautious about the mainstream! Bottom line is, whatever the non-mainstream beliefs happen to be, nobody in their right mind wants to wake up one morning in some compound (or place of "safety"!) owned by the next Jim Jones, or David Koresh. Think this can't happen to an ACOGger? Koresh's movement was actually another offshoot from Adventism!

      Let's also examine the topic of fear motivation. This is something which has really come into its own. The World Tomorrow broadcast, and Plain Truth Magazine blatantly and shamelessly created and exploited fear! Today, politicians, environmentalists, conspiracy theorists, and other callers to action have discovered the amplifying qualities of a good dose of fear. How many existential threats do we have today, in addition to the bomb? I believe at last count, the number fell somewhere between ten and twenty. HWA, of course, exploited the bomb, the Germans, and the end times. Later on, GTA introduced environmental concerns into his broadcasts and articles, a passion which he apparently shared with the hippies. Taken in today's context, because of the fear over avian flu, global warming, golden algae, terrorism, horrific disease epidemics, the reversal of the earth's magnetic polarity, fear based preaching is not going to produce the effect it once did. It is a turnoff. Mainstream Christianity recognizes this, and emphasizes God's love and protection, as opposed to deliberately fomenting fear. Subtle difference, but very effective. Perfect love casts out fear. Meanwhile, the Armstrong movement has figuratively shot itself in the foot, destroying its own credibility by continuously setting or approximating dates for the start of the tribulation, or return of Jesus Christ, in spite of Jesus' own words on this topic. It would be downright comical if their actions were not so detrimental to their members' lives, and the lives of the members' innocent children. Yet, time and again, we've witnessed the splinter groups attempting to fan the flames, co-opt the existential threats, and use every tornado, tsunami, or earthquake to cause prospectives to bow to their agenda.

      Not everyone who entered Armstrongism was attracted because of the scare tactics. There were a number of people who were attracted because "he teaches from the Bible." I really can't vouch for what mainstream Catholics and Protestants were doing back in our pre-WCG days, because my parents dropped us off at Sunday School while they attended church. But, if TBN,
      Christian radio, Internet sites, Barnes and Noble, and Berean Bookstore are a small indicator, it would appear that mainstream Christians of today are doing a much more effective job of documenting their teachings with scripture. The basic problem shared by most Armstrong followers was always that the bulk of them were relative Bible illiterates before HWA began influencing them. Most obtained their entire methodology, logic, and interpretive skills directly from HWA! That is why so many long term members experience such incredible immunity to the works of vastly more educated scholars.

      Imagine, prior to the advent of the Internet, how difficult it would have been to check into such things as the so-called lost century of the early Christian church. This is the time period during which a minor character of the New Testament, Simon Magus, a gnostic, had according to Armstrong hijacked the original Christian church and morphed it into Catholicism. Even if a typical working person had been willing to spend countless hours in the public library, how would he have known how to refute this theory? Would he have known to investigate the works of Irenaeus, or even known what an "Antenicene Father" was? Would he have taken the time to read the real history that existed, or simply take HWA's word that there was a lost century? For most of us, when HWA, or his top researchers such as Herman Hoeh lifted a quote from an historical doctrine, ignoring its original context, and creating yet another spurious proof text, we would never have even known what the original work was, let alone where to find it. Footnotes were rarely used to authenticate their contentions. Today, in many cases, all a prospective member need do is to Google "British Israelism" (a common example), and these cults are all finished before they ever get a foothold to begin their dastardly influence.

      One of the very wonderful aspects to today's charities and church groups is that they have discovered accountability. There are standards for such things as the loading costs which tend to detract from accomplishing the stated mission of the organizations. The salaries of administrators, one of these loading costs, are held to public scrutiny. It all ends up being good business, and facilitating due diligence, but unfortunately this accountability has been instituted because of past abuses, the reporting of them, and the public's normal and healthy skepticism. This skepticism has been fueled by horror stories regarding expensive art collections, palaces and mansions, sex for hire, thousand dollar dog houses, tithes gambled away in Las Vegas, alleged overseas accounts, and just about every type of fiduciary irresponsibility or mismanagement possible. This accountability, or the lack thereof, factors in very heavily as a potential member considers single sourcing his or her spiritual guidance to one church corporate.

      The leaders of Armstrongism, past present and future would probably all give God the credit for the past successes within that movement. Yet, for some reason, none of them seem to be able to completely duplicate that success. Some of the more charismatic ones have attracted significant numbers of the old school, long term members. But, unless you have been prompted as to where to look, the work that these groups are doing is largely invisible. And, they are not growing, at least not on the same level experienced in HWA's heyday. It is not as it once was back in the 1960s when there was tremendous street buzz, and heavy name recognition for both HWA and GTA. Truly, this is a movement which would do well to heed the observations of Gamaliel! Herbert's denials to the contrary, the original WCG was largely based on his personal modifications of Adventism, which as we know today had sprung from the Seventh Day Baptist churches. HWA took a very radical approach, often adapting fringe doctrines from the reject bin of historic Christianity. Most extreme or radical schools of thought cannot be sustained or perpetuated. They die out. Their primary role, when all is said and done, becomes one of either stimulating or influencing the mainstream.

      Objective and Subjective

      How many times have we read or heard people attempt to analyze our thought processes and life's philosophies by using the terms objective thinking and subjective thinking? I submit that we humans utilize a blend of both. Our lives consist basically of the events or occurrences of each day, our appetites, and how we feel and react. Drama happens inside of our heads, tailored and personalized to each of us as individuals. It is, in fact, an integral part of what makes each of us unique and human. And, no way has ever been found to rid oneself of something so completely innate.

      Nobody I've ever "met" is a 100% "objective" thinker, except possibly original Star Trek's Spock character, portrayed by the excellent actor, Leonard Nimoy. But, Spock is a fictional, hypothetical character, not a real person. What became painfully and often humorously obvious throughout the run of this TV series was that while Spock's contributions were often valuable, the fact that he was purely a creature of logic became a detriment. There's an axiom, originally taught to me by one of my managers about twenty years ago during one of my career opportunities: "Any strength, practiced to an extreme, becomes a weakness."

      Seemingly, we humans must accept the fact that we are occasionally going to be able to detach our personal involvement and emotions from our thinking processes and to indulge in objective thinking, but since we are deeply invested in our own experiences, reactions, and governing beliefs, in most cases our normal patterns will involve subjective, or personalized thinking. This is one of the reasons why we sometimes seek the opinions of, or counsel of professionals, valued friends, or relatives who do not share our emotional investment in a particular situation. As with our Mr. Spock, their detachment is often beneficial in assisting us through some of life's difficult patches.

      To eliminate the subjective is to divest oneself of one of the basic components of humanity. To suggest excision of it as part of our healing process is an indicator as to the graveness of our wounds. That would be considered to be an extreme measure. It would be preferable to concentrate on healing rather than excision, rehabilitating the damaged elements so that one can remain a functional human being with the full range of healthy emotions.

      As victims of the Armstrong problem, not only was our concept of God misinformed and distorted, but also our basic sense of humanity, family, and community. Cause and effect. It has long been my contention that as a person reads a book, the parts which become memorable are largely a function of his or her own personality. When this is done with a book about God, the process becomes anthropomorphic. Herbert W. Armstrong, consciously or unconsciously, lifted from context and overly dramatized the elements of the Bible with which he personally identified, and which served his purposes. He taught us about a God whose primary way of expressing love was extreme punishment for the slightest hint of disobedience to His laws. This was a way of thinking that was not lost as it filtered down into the parenting skills of church members. HWA's distortions did not provide us with a full and accurate picture, and remain a source of the problems many of us have had with God throughout our lives. They were more of an intoxicant than an aid to mental or spiritual health. So, it is hardly surprising that in order to deal with this, some of our fellow travelers have explored and embraced the importance of objective thinking. I know a little bit about this, because it is a technique which I've explored myself. But, it's all too easy to take extreme measures in an effort to invalidate, eliminate, or compartmentalize activities and channels which have been used to hurt or damage us. Defensive measures often leave visible scar tissue, a remnant which serves as testimony to past injury. Others can sense this scar tissue, although they will not usually know the nature of the wound which produced it. Optimal healing involves regaining as complete functionality as possible, with minimal scarring. Hopefully with a dash of education seasoning the process.

      For some reason, while I've been sharing this, the words to the Linda Ronstadt song (later covered by the Eagles) "Desperado" have been going through my head. (If you are unfamiliar with this song, Google it for the lyrics). In some way, they might illustrate the need and importance for healing which all of us share. I think it might even be a good soundtrack for this article.

      Probably most people would agree that if there is a God, much of the way in which He could work with each of us as individuals would be through normal, healthy emotions, and a positive outlook towards spirituality. It would by very nature be a mental, highly subjective process, and produces passionate commitment. People of faith honestly believe that God is working in their lives, and many of us find evidence of this on a daily basis. Even while I was an atheist or agnostic, I was constantly amazed at the resilience and sense of well being and purpose of Christian people. This is awesome, and encouraging to watch sometimes, although there are some occasional cliff hangers! But, is what we seem to be seeing real? Isn't it subjective, and in the mind, possibly even imaginary? Some say that we would be better off in detaching ourselves from such subjective thinking, and focusing solely on objective thinking. They say that in so doing, we will become enlightened. But, is this true, or does it constitute yet another set of filters or blinders? How we treat it would seem to be a choice. The fact that some choose one course, while others choose the polar opposite proves this. Apparently, it's an area of our lives in which we can exercise some degree of control. And it would be a shame to make such a decision based on the hurt caused by false teachers.

      We humans have five senses, recognized as being limited to specific areas of various spectra. And, if we're fortunate, we get to utilize these senses over a period of roughly 70 years. Science has helped us in building devices to help us perceive some of the events which are occurring outside of our human range, and over greater periods of time than a normal human lifespan. That seems to have expanded our capabilities and understanding, but we are still extremely limited in our perceptions. Seemingly, we are faced with two general paths to greater awareness. One is to look more deeply within. The other is to look to an external source, one more knowledgeable than our own species. One limits us to the here and now. The other would seem to expand infinitely. Each of us must decide which one has greater potential and reliability. Your mileage may vary.

      The "B" Word

      The bitterness label is perhaps one of the most irksome and cliched things that practicing Armstrongites can hurl at us. When someone plays the "B" card (actually quite an identifying shibboleth!), it is a device intended to leverage or invalidate us, and to cast doubt upon our opinions and statements. Once employed, it momentarily stops meaningful discourse while the accused suddenly find themselves confronting the topic of bitterness before being able to continue the original discussion. I believe that most people hurling this label know exactly what they are doing, too. They are pressing one of the buttons which their programming has taught them to press. Unfortunately, after about fifty years, it has become so unoriginal that one almost expects it to be accompanied by parrot squawking! "Wwaaakkk! Root of Bitterness! Wwaaakkk!" Yet, so deeply embedded is this in the minds of the cultically programmed that it is something we are unlikely to be able to correct. Best course might be to take it for what it is, and simply ignore it, depriving the utterers of its impact. We should realize that perhaps using it is the only way that the programmed can process our posts, mentally deflecting themselves from some of the very valid issues which we raise from time to time.

      In considering bitterness, these folks fail to be able to identify, isolate, and recognize a basic cause and effect relationship. Obviously, there can be, and frequently are spiritual problems, but good theology does not automatically escalate activities from physical to spiritual unless there is a valid reason to do so. And, granted, there can be spiritual undertones to many physical problems. In this case, church practices recognizable as being bad, combined with a sense of having been "ripped off" have caused a very proper and appropriate negative reaction amongst many of us here. Unfortunately, the very ones who would spiritualize our "problem" for us also happen to believe that there is no remedy, save for us to return as members in good standing to the organization which largely caused the problem.

      When one is exposed to a person, organization, or situation that has served as a long-term "net taker", as opposed to a "net giver", it is not unusual for there to be some residual sensitivity about the things of which one feels robbed, deprived, or having lost. Many Christians believe in sacrificing everything for their Creator, and for their Savior. The specific set of problems we see today has been caused by the fact that to some people it has become obvious that the Armstrong movement never did have the witness of God behind it. So, any sacrifice was largely useless. Lacking the witness of God, WCG was unable to deliver what was promised as inducement for the sacrifices, either on a personal level for members, or in terms of world events. And it was most certainly anything but a nurturing church! Some, although I can't imagine how they are able to continue to do this, apparently still feel that God is involved in their church or splinter. The bottom line would seem to be that in most cases, these churches have been their own worst enemies. And, now they want to blame the victims. Had a little bit of intelligence, or humanity been part of their equation, much of the suffering and alleged bitterness need never have happened. They are the jetsam and flotsam left in the wake of all false teachers.

      In analyzing some of the practices which later resulted in bitterness, it becomes obvious that the roots lie in uncaring, exploitative treatment of members. This is no mystery, curse, or temptation from Satan. There is a very physical, simple, direct cause and effect relationship in play here. People have been treated inconsistently with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, inconsistently with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. A church institution, to insert, assert, and preserve its own authority and to meet its own objectives, has chronically devalued humans and human relationships, the same humans and relationships that Jesus placed a premium upon. They made them readily expendable. A church taught about the loving shepherd who is unwilling to lose any of his sheep, yet failed to "go and do likewise". Obviously, there do exist some incorrigible people, horribly addictive personalities, sociopaths, and others who for one reason or another need to be taken care of. These, the few but highly visible, do require a highly structured environment, perhaps emphasizing legalism and authority. But, is it reasonable to expect that every member of an organization supposedly devoted to mentoring, and to providing spiritual guidance would be treated as some of these "at risk" people whom I've catalogued? Most humans learn very successfully how to exercise control over the personal details surrounding their lives. Most, also, know to seek advice when situations become overwhelming. The most advanced Christian groups know of this, and factor it into their curriculum, teaching and practicing "good stewardship", not only with financial resources entrusted to them, but also in terms of developing their human resources. Paul speaks of the "great freedoms" of being a Christian.

      There was a time in my life when I was involved in assisting some very troubled people close to me. This was gut wrenching for a time, but I actually emerged with a fresh perspective towards humanity, caring people, and spirituality. During that time, you might have seen me visiting someone in jail, or at a halfway house, or traipsing the streets looking for them. Those activities were for me a regular fact of life. I became aware of some of the programs which are commonly used to help such people back into a more mainstream, responsible, and productive lifestyle. Because of many of the negative events in my own life, things for which the ACOG perpetrators claimed authority from Jesus Christ, I have to admit that I saw belief in perhaps some of the same ways those recovering from addictions see the drugs and alcohol which were involved with their lifestyle problems. In a sense, I identified with some of the people whom I sought to help, because, like them, I recognized that my experiences had been damaging. So, imagine the paradox I faced! I saw people actively being counselled to seek their Higher Power, and I was very skeptical. For me, in my somewhat unique position, seeking the Higher Power seemed to be the moral equivalent of relapsing back into a drug which had ruined several decades of my life. Yet, of course, some of these people who were being exposed to God and Jesus, for the first time in their lives, were experiencing results. If you spoke to them you would learn that Jesus was seen as the one who could heal, could put back that which had been lost, or taken away, a just setter of standards, a giver of blessings, and a source of justice in a world cursed with injustice. Whether any of us can make the incredible mental leap to acknowledge this, it was an observable fact that the beliefs of these people either facilitated or enhanced their healing processes. Granted that humans can alter behavior based on secular logic and experience, but adding moral imperatives provided by a Higher Power increases the possibility of a changed life exponentially. Organizers of 12 Step programs retain that as part of their program because it works!

      What a surprising trip, considering the places where I'd already been, courtesy of the WCG! One aspect to this which ended up irritating me was the way in which these new Christian people would answer my questions and challenges with almost pre-scripted cliches. I'd challenge them, asking what I thought were deep questions, honestly wanting to know tangible benefits of a Christian life, as compared to my own of non-belief, and get all too familiar cliches. Now, years after the fact, in spite of some of the "novice" answers I had frequently received, I finally got the answers to many of my questions from people who had delved beyond the initial learning stages, and beyond the superficial. And, there was more education. As a non-believer, I had always thought that one could find all of what I then called the "non-imaginary" benefits of Christianity through other sources. What I've learned since, is that so many of these good things and benefits are concentrated within a church community, with the key being whether you can find one with which your are comfortable. The majority of the people who say that you can find some of these benefits in an assortment of other places, while I sincerely believe they are telling the truth, simply don't go to the trouble. They do without. In a way, it becomes like being homeless. Without the very salving nourishment of the soul, many of the things which gnaw at us don't go away. Yet, just like some of the diseases and illnesses ignored because of WCG medical doctrines, these conditions are treatable! We don't need to be living with them.

      So, how do we treat or get rid of bitterness? I've never read some of the atheist textbooks, so have no clue as to what their teaching on this very relevant topic might be. Don't know what an Ayn Rand objectivist would do. But, I believe I've learned a very effective method from Christians. Fortunately, it is one of those universal principles which we all can share in, regardless of belief or not. You forgive the people whom you hold responsible for causing the bitterness, and it frees you up to go on with your life. By the way, it won't make a scintilla of difference to these people whether we forgive them, or not. In fact, we don't even need to tell them. You can be sure they would handle your forgiveness in the same arrogant way in which they handle everything else! But, the act of forgiveness provides immediate and tremendous release, something only we can do for ourselves and obtain noticeable results.

      The Future

      One of the first things people seem to want to ask Christians about is what they believe may happen in the near future. Frankly, I'm not sure we know any more than does anyone else. It's not quite so important to fully understand in advance what God is going to do as it is to realize after the fact that He is always faithful in the fulfillment of His prophecies. But, prophecy was such a hot button issue for those of us who were exposed to the Armstrong problem, because "the end" was used first as a marketing hook to get us or our parents involved, and later as a fearsome cat of nine tails on members once they were inside, always whipping them into shape. Most of us, today, are tired of hearing about it in any form, because of the ways in which it was used to manipulate and exploit us. Oddly, I don't recall the spectre of the end times being raised by mainstream Christianity until the so-called "Jesus movement" of the 1970s. Yet, who hasn't heard of the "Left Behind" series these days? It would appear that "the end" has permanently entered the popular lexicon, and not only from Christian sources.

      Politicians have jumped on this bandwagon, and although they are not quoting Bible verses, they are quoting statistics related to the accelerated rate of melting of the glaciers around the world, the accumulation of CO2 and destruction of the ozone layer, the radical changes occurring in the oceans, the destruction of the world's rain forests, and the near extinction of numerous species of animals. While these are all problems which may respond to scientifically oriented solutions, it is unlikely that man would be able to effectively remedy other problems, such as the anticipated reversal of the earth's magnetic polarity.

      The news media also seems to want to weigh in on all of this, selling newspapers and boosting ratings as they go by fanning the flames of avian flu, "mad cow" disease, Ebola, the golden algae threat, the resistance to antibiotics of strains of diseases once thought eradicated, the growth of the atomic club, and other issues. Clearly, we have a growing number of existential threats, and everybody seems to want to audition for the role of Chicken Little.

      Some or all of these problems or challenges will end up needing to be dealt with, while others will simply fade into insignificance, dying a quiet and natural death, becoming non-issues. In the intervening time, we can expect people to utilize these issues to mold opinion to their own agendas, whether such agendas be scientific, religious, political, or humanitarian.

      I am not the type of Christian who claims to have all the answers, or to use information to manipulate people. I did not appreciate being kept on edge about many of these things, in a perpetual state of limbo by WCG, because this kept me from enjoying the peace, tranquility, and many blessings that Christian living is supposed to bring to us on a daily basis in the here and now. Of course, it could be argued very persuasively that we never were Christians, as WCG members, but it is not until we begin to experience some of the good and wholesome things which were obviously missing from WCG culture that we can fully appreciate their value. I don't believe that God intended for us to be continuously whipped into a state of anxiety over what we see around us. I believe that He wants us to trust Him and not focus on "the wind" (remember Peter's attempt to walk on water?). Conversely to WCG teaching, I also believe that God wants us to get involved in helping ALL people (not just members), and helping to minimize whatever societal problems we can. Christians, right in there, at ground zero, helping others, and helping them by example to make sense of it all! Isn't that what "let your light shine" is all about?

      There are some general theories floating about, some of which may or may not have a bearing on our future. Though the ACOGs have largely missed this one, because they believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the "Great Whore" of Babylon, one could almost conceptualize a revival of the Roman Empire nations, doing the many things they say it will do, if another "Great Whore", (Islam) were to take root and become the dominating political force there. Jihad co-opting all of the might of Europe would not be a pretty sight. I never could see the Catholics attacking us, but I can most definitely see radical Muslims doing so.

      There is also the theory concerning the prophetic sprouting of the tender branch, supposedly representing the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Now, the presence of Israel is actually required for the end time prophecies in Revelation to take place. If in fact this theoretic interpretation has validity, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the time period is linked to the "baby Boomer" generation, since Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948. So, for all of the younger people here, the baby boomers should nearly all be gone in about twenty years, placing a bit of a timeline on this theory. You'll know a bit more by then........or not.

      The Christian community in which I participate is aware of possible end time scenarios, but is not hung up on them. We're more concerned with our daily Adventure with Father God, and the blessings and education we are experiencing. Building a "kingdom" skill set. In the past several years, I've participated in several high profile events where the focus has been prayer for a spiritual awakening, a healing and revival in our nation, and around the world, returning our nation to the largely Christian principles and practices on which it was founded. We believe that the current economic crisis has caused many people to turn to God, and frankly, considering the volatility of past decades, that in and of itself is counter intuitive. It is amazing that we are not experiencing massive civil unrest in response to the hardships people are experiencing. But, in fact, many of our core crime statistics are actually trending downwards.

      We may be in the end times, or we may not. So, to me, the only way to live life is to do it in as ethical and loving way as possible. Frankly, that's good advice in any case. Be on the side of good, part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Think of each act in terms of its implications for those around us, be they individuals, animals, or other nations, or our planet.
      I don't believe that we have any stupid people on these blogs and forums. Opinionated, yes. Stupid, no. Back when I was a non-believer, in a discussion about the end, I said something which I feel still makes good sense, and bears repeating: If the events outlined in the book of Revelation suddenly begin unfolding in an unmistakable or undeniable way, exactly as they are written, I believe that all of us, be we believer or nonbeliever, will at that point know exactly what is happening, and what to do.

      The Game

      I'm going to expose a certain stereotype for the purpose of discussion. It's a prominent and identifiable one, but what I'm about to share does not apply universally to everyone, so bear with me. I've noticed that this game has been played wherever our former religious experiences have been discussed. It starts with:

      "Hi, I'm an atheist, and I'm just so intelligent! Let me acquaint you with the only logical method of determining valid information, and the only rational and acceptable way of interpreting it, and then you'll become an atheist, too, unless of course you are just plain stupid!"

      Why don't more believers take this bait, and cross over? The fact is, people make benefit assessments in their lives, related to purchases, friendships, relationships, career choice, and even their faith. For some, faith provides benefits which non-belief simply cannot replace. In fact, it often acts as an all purpose solution, or a one-stop shopping center for a wide collection of needs and desirables, especially if one is raising a family. How can an evangelizing atheist replace these tangibles and intangibles with something of greater or equal value? He can't. All he has to offer is a vacuum. Nothingness. It's like a eunuch going to a dance club to try to pick up women.

      Back when I built and rode Triumphs, there were always Harley guys who acted as if they were bigger and badder, had bigger dicks, and were more authentic bikers, just because they rode HD.
      One of the lessons from life's school of hard knocks is that, no matter our talents, there is generally someone else who has greater talent. Name the criteria. If you start a contest, sometimes you're going to win and sometimes you're going to lose. What you have is what you have, and successful people learn to use what they have effectively. There will always be someone with a higher IQ, more wealth, bigger muscles, hotter cars or bikes, more lovers, better fighting skills, or more persuasive and magnetic personality. What is true is that often people will become jealous and resent formidably strong or obviously superior types. Idolization and imitation are not universal reactions by any means.

      The WCG was a seeker group. The ministry was dedicated to attracting people who either had not thought much about belief, or were looking for solutions to some of life's more vexing problems. The church would seek and pick up whatever stragglers they could find, usually by pretending to provide special information which nobody else had, and to use this information to intellectually back prospectives into a corner, leaving them no other logical course but to join up. No matter that the vast majority of the people who heard the message simply tuned it out as being ridiculous. Many ex-members still have retained this methodology, and since it worked at one time on them, they use it in attempting to spread their new ideas, often with missionary zeal.

      I'll concede the fact that many non-believers are indeed happier and better adjusted than those like ourselves who have had or are having a bad religious experience. However, for the most part, Christians have some pretty awesome coping skills, and quite a sense of community. Generally, they help one another, and humanity at large, sharing many of their talents and resources. And, yes you can find these qualities and sense of community elsewhere, if you know where to look. It's just that they seem to be concentrated in the Christian community. In terms of intelligence, interests, and abilities, believers mirror society at large, making it easy for anyone to find and form friendships. Friendship is also a very powerful motivating factor in keeping people attached to any collective group. It's one of the major adjustment problems many of the people who left WCG have cited in their lives.

      Benefit assessment is the reason why happy believers do not succumb to the charms and persuasive powers of the "Elvis of Atheism" types. Just in case anyone happened to be wondering.

      A word from the author: To me, one of the universal cravings of humanity is for unconditional love. And, it really doesn't matter if someone is down and out, has been abused, or has made great sacrifices in their lifestyle to rise to the top of their profession. We all feel that this universal love (is 1 Cor. 13 the love chapter?) would vastly improve our sense of human well-being, and general quality of our lives.

      Non-belief didn't work for me. It left me totally flat, and empty. I'm a hard-headed person, and it took 30 years for me to realize it, probably because I'd arrived at non-belief as a reaction to an organization which painted a picture of God, not as the author of unconditional love, but as a harsh judge, spying on us and anxious to punish. This organization had also, in advance, destroyed my confidence or trust in any of the Christian churches which had the true understanding of love and grace. Unfortunately, this sent me into a state of spiritual homelessness, and twice as many lost years as I'd initially spent in Armstrongism!

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