A collection of Facts, Opinions and Comments from survivors of Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong,  The Worldwide Church of God and its Daughters.
Updated 04/03/07 01:27 PM PDT

The painful truth about Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Arrmstrong and the Worldwide Church of God

Articles Pertaining To Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong and The Worldwide Church of God

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O thou of little doubt, wherefore didst thou believe?

(Compare Matthew 14:31.) 

By Retired Prof

Part II

In Part I, I explained how disappointing the intellectual climate of Ambassador College was, compared to what I had hoped for when my high school friends and I scattered to our various colleges. In high school I had loved bull sessions with a group of iconoclastic friends, but at Ambassador I learned to bottle up irreverent questions. Instead of risking
disapproval by speaking out, I withdrew and puzzled over my unexpressed doubts while sitting alone in a prayer closet.  “Quite literally,” I wrote, “I was becoming a closeted skeptic.”

One question I tackled was (as you might expect) the big one: did the universe have as its ultimate origin an eternal creator? The more I pondered, the less sense it made to think so. At that time the Big Bang theory had not been proposed; the dominant scientific model was the steady state universe, and to me it made sense. [For a good take on creation and the Big Bang theory see Betty Brogaard, Dare to Think for Yourself: A Journey from Faith to Reason
(Baltimore: Publish America, 2004), pp. 33-34. It is also available here on the PT site. Alert readers will note that many of my points in this essay can be found in Brogaard’s book as well. She didn’t get them from me and I didn’t get them from her. We came to the same conclusions independently.]
It seemed much simpler to assume that light and matter have always existed than to claim they were the product of a third entity, all-encompassing and all-powerful but nevertheless completely undetectable, and declaring that to be eternal instead. My fellow student’s excellent question, “So who created god?” implied the rational idea that the “eternal, omnipotent creator” explanation for the universe doesn’t really solve the underlying mystery of ultimate origins at all. It just pushes it farther back and deeper down by adding an extra, entirely hypothetical, layer. Both he and I, without knowing the name for it, were operating on the principle of Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor: if two descriptions can both explain the same phenomenon equally well, the simpler one is better. [You can learn more about Occam’s Razor at a number of Internet sites. This one gives a simple but not oversimplified explanation: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/OCCAMRAZ.html ]

Occam’s Razor works whether one knows its official name or not. So as long as it was all whetted up and ready to shave off extraneous elements, I also applied it to the chronology in the WCG version of the creation doctrine.

Armstrong preached a mixed figurative/literal interpretation of the Genesis myth. Life as we know it started miraculously only about six thousand years ago. But since it was necessary to explain why the earth looked millions of times older than that, he adopted a strained reading of the first five verses of Genesis; he said god switched from one way of counting time to another. The first “day” of creation, the one narrated in Genesis 1:1-5, when god created the heavens and the earth, was a day only in a figurative sense. It might actually have been billions of years long.  Sometime during that first long stage of development, Armstrong maintained, the earth became without form and void, as a result of a cataclysm—a supernatural war in which god and his loyal angels defeated Lucifer and his rebellious demons. That violent clash threw up mountain chains, dug deep ocean trenches, and obscured the globe under vast clouds of dust.
Somehow god forgot to include these scenes in the text of Genesis 1 and 2, even though they were appealingly dramatic, and crucial to the story besides, but Armstrong enthusiastically made up the lack.

So afterwards, god had to clean up the mess and repair the damage. His last job on that first incomprehensibly long “day” was to shine light on the situation and divide that light from darkness. Then, beginning with the second day’s account in Genesis 1:6, Armstrong preached that god’s word suddenly switched over to a literal accounting of time and stuck with it. It is a heretical error to maintain that the following days stretched out for eons the way that first
one did. No, those days and all the days from there to the end of the Bible were but twenty-four hours long. It took god only five of them to shape all the topographic features and create all the life forms we see around us today, approximately six thousand literal years later.

So in his reading of just that part of earth’s history expressed in the first six verses of the bible, Armstrong committed two Occam’s Razor fouls: into the spare and simple text he inserted (1) a cosmic-scale war and (2) an equally vast shift in the meaning of the word “day.”

His convoluted argument here is only one example of many that made me doubt the official Ambassador College history of humankind. Though this example alone is probably enough to make my point, indulge me a little and let me mention two other problems.

Using a process called radiocarbon dating, scientists can estimate the age of manmade artifacts and human bones with good accuracy back to about 60,000 years. They have determined that some such objects are even older; to find out how much older they have to switch to some other dating method because so much of the radioactive carbon-14 necessary for indexing the age has decayed. [For an overview, see http://science.howstuffworks.com/carbon-141.htm ] Since the history of humankind measured by this method stretched back at least ten times as far as the 6,000-year span of biblical creation, the church fathers had to either abandon its official chronology or deny the validity of radiocarbon dating. Naturally, they chose the latter, and they did so by means of a spectacular violation of Occam’s Razor: at the time of the Great Flood, they said, god had miraculously changed the rate at which the radioactive isotope is produced! These days living things soak up a lot of it; before the flood a lot less. So antediluvian relics look far older than they “really” are, because their low radioactivity levels “mislead” testers to conclude the C-14 has decayed, whereas in Armstrong’s version it was never there in the first place.

How in the world could anybody who believed that god is the same yesterday, today, and forever also believe that he had suddenly and drastically changed the rules of nature? What’s worse, faith in this particular rule change would require a person to believe that god was leading his most prized creatures, the children made in his own image, step by step into a trap. He had endowed them with rational minds; if they used those minds properly, they would miscalculate the earth’s age. That miscalculation would then lead them to reject his word, and their rejection of his word would justify dooming them to the lake of fire.

Want to hear a good motto for this deity? “I, the Lord your God, am a deceitful God.”

And speaking of deceit about human development through time, there was British Israelism. The church said the ten lost tribes of Israel had wound up in Western Europe and its colonial extensions. Britain was populated by descendants of Ephraim, and the U. S. by descendants of Manasseh. France was Reuben, and I forget what else. Dogma had it that god had arranged all the migrations and all the marriages in all ten tribes of Israel so that members of each tribe could
keep their separate genealogical heritages—get this: without being aware of them!—over thousands of ancient, medieval, and modern generations and wind up in the 20th Century within the political boundaries of ten separate countries. Even though the Israelites’ cultural identity was so completely hidden that nobody could provide any shred of credible evidence for it, Armstrong “KNEW and KNEW THAT HE KNEW” this had all happened.

Yeah, right. The entire course of European history was secretly controlled by an unbroken string of divine miracles, but god hid the evidence so thoroughly that no trace can be recognized by the fields of history, archaeology, anthropology (either biological or cultural), or linguistics. How could anybody believe that?

Let me admit this, though: I doubted not only the official church origin stories, but also the evolution narratives told by paleontologists and anthropologists. In 1960, gaps in the fossil record were even larger and more numerous than they are now, and evolutionists filled in those gaps with speculation. They also speculated about the future course of evolution. Since any one theorist’s speculations seldom agreed with those of others, I doubted them all. Let me present only one example. Somebody predicted that the human little toe would eventually waste away and become vestigial so that, far in the future, our descendants would have eight toes and ten fingers. But this idea would make sense within an evolutionary framework only if people whose little toes were especially small produced more grandchildren than those with bigger ones. Could anyone ever find evidence that such was the case? Very doubtful.

In spite of disagreements among scientists about particulars, I did note that none of them claimed that natural law at some point had started operating on different principles. Therefore even their weakest evolution narratives made more sense than Armstrong’s creation story simply because they avoided such egregious violations of the principle of Occam’s Razor.

Another thing the scientists all had in common was their method for increasing the store of human knowledge, a method that depends on the thorough and systematic exercise of doubt. Scientists suggest an answer to a question, which they then treat with deep suspicion. They test it by systematically gathering evidence and holding it up against the proposed answer. If they determine that the facts don’t fit the answer, they change the answer, not the facts.

So I came to realize that doubt is nothing to dread. In fact, faith is what’s scary. Faith stifles questions. Faith makes believers cling desperately to the answers they’ve already got, in defiance of evidence screaming that those answers are wrong. Doubt raises questions that spur independent thinkers to seek out interesting new facts that often lead to exciting new answers. Faith closes doors. Doubt opens them.

Therefore I felt free to doubt church dogma about god’s plan for salvation. Odd that I needed to take up this question, since I already doubted the existence of god himself, but somehow I felt compelled to ponder it anyway.

Armstrong said the overall scheme was to recruit new members into the divine family in a process that would require billions of human beings to get born, get dead, and get resurrected. However, one general resurrection was not enough; for some reason the plan required three. People who learned “The Truth,” and accepted it while they were alive the first time would triumph in the first resurrection. People who died without ever learning about the plan (or who for some other reason needed more time) were to be brought back to life in the second resurrection for another go-round. In the third resurrection, sinners who rejected god and thus failed to qualify for membership in the god family would be brought back from the dead, judged, and cast into the lake of fire to kill them again. God had commissioned Herbert W.
Armstrong to sound a warning about this arcane and convoluted plan, knowing all along the warning would serve no real purpose other than to give god an excuse to cast those wretched souls who ignored it into the lake of fire.

The deity’s vindictiveness in this story of the last judgment intensified my doubts raised by his trickiness in the creation myth. If a sinner is dead, and in your omniscience you already know there is no way to salvage the worthless wretch, why not just leave him dead? The three extra steps of raising him to life, bringing him to trial in a kangaroo court, and then killing him again are all superfluous.

Want to hear another good motto for this deity? “I, the Lord your God, am an inefficient god.”

Mean, too. His earlier deceit would now give him an opportunity to be cruel. Not so cruel as the god of orthodox fundamentalism, who tortures lost souls for all eternity as punishment for, at most, a few decades’ worth of transgressions, but still . . . . Would a truly loving creator wake up the unconscious products of a failed experiment for the sole purpose of tormenting them till they wept, gnashed their teeth, and died? How could anybody believe such a monster exists?

These questions were fascinating, but there was nobody around to share my fascination with. Part way through the second semester I wrote a letter to my old high school buddy Eddie and told him how hemmed-in I felt, how intellectually stifled. He wrote back and reminded me I was all grown up now. I didn’t have to stay at Ambassador; I could apply at the University of Arkansas, where he was studying. We could be roommates. Glenn lived down the hall. They were learning interesting things in their classes and having good times outside class with plenty of people who enjoyed a good bull session as much as we did. That gentle nudge was enough; eagerly I sent off for application forms and made a firm decision: once the semester was over, I was through with Ambassador College. Nothing could persuade me to return to Pasadena the following fall.

Hiding in the prayer closet, mentally editing deadly earnest bull sessions, sermons, and doctrinal booklets so as to inject them with irony and call their logic into question, I had taken on an identity that Armstrong and his followers held in utter contempt. I had become a frank and thorough skeptic. It felt right. Coherent. Consistent.

My doubt had made me whole.

Post Script

As it turned out, I never roomed with Eddie. The University of Arkansas accepted me as a student, but because Ambassador was not accredited, the registrar would not accept my freshman credits; he would have required me to take that year over. I nixed that idea and went instead to John Brown University, which agreed to transfer, on a probationary basis, my Ambassador transcript. Because JBU was less than thirty miles from the U of A, I did sometimes visit Eddie, Glenn, and their new friends, and even sat in on some of their classes. It was amazing how much more insight my friends had developed about art, literature, and the life of the mind than I had in the year we had been apart. I envied them. Not so much as you might think, though, because I expected to catch up in those matters before long. But my friends who did not attended Ambassador College would never gain the first-hand knowledge I had of
repression, tyranny, and unreason.

(...back to Part I)



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