I was born into the Worldwide Church of God (Houston East) in 1976. I have mixed feelings about the experience. I was spanked (with a belt, never a paddle) frequently, couldn’t associate with school friends outside of school (although there were a couple of exceptions), had to abide by all of the restrictions on diet and of course, the Sabbath, which prevented me from participating in extracurricular activities and, along with the Holy Days, made me an oddball to my public school mates. Mr. Armstrong died when I was 9. In the first grade I told all of my friends there was no Santa; that their parents were lying to them. It caused quite a ruckus and led to an intervention by the school faculty. I believed the doctrine of the church. There were truths (commonly accepted by many outside of the WCG), such as Christmas having origins that were prior to Christianity, and the Sabbath originating in Genesis that made sense to me, even as a little kid. The Feast (despite the homework that I usually fell behind in rather than avoid activities) was the highlight of the year; I loved it, especially the freedom of the Piney Woods in Big Sandy, and the forested, natural environment that contrasted greatly with the heavy industry of southeast Houston. I had many friends in the church, adults too, who were talented and kind to kids (the skilled pianist and children’s choir director had a gift for humor and was very maternal). My closest friend early on was the red headed daughter of the other regular pianist in our area, also a very warm lady with a pleasant smile.

My mother was strict, but very loving. Each spanking was followed by a hug and an explanation; that the purpose was the development of character, though in the moment I hated it (and maybe her, and I suspect that sometimes the spankings were more the result of frustration and anger than a principled discipline). My father was not in the church, and worked in industry. He did not interfere with my mother’s beliefs, but made sure we were vaccinated (and we were not burdened by the tithing system, though my mother was allowed to save for the Feast and contributed her own income when she had it).

As an early teen the doctrinal changes began and accelerated after a few initial reforms that were welcomed. The well liked children’s choir director stopped attending in 1992 and was ostracized. It was very upsetting. I thought of her like an aunt – no much closer – it’s difficult to describe the kind of solidarity and connection one can have to people growing up in such an insular group. She’d come to believe the church was a off base doctrinally and had embraced mainstream, nondenominational Christianity. Not long afterward, we heard that the other pianist and her family had left the church for Global. This was also upsetting, but was to set up a kind of contrast, and in 1993/1994 I started a dialog with both, through the mail. Each implored me to study the Bible and I found myself agreeing with many things both would write, and hating the disunity that made my core social group (with an intensity of belonging I’ve never experienced anywhere else – work, school, people I enjoy hanging out with at home) unable to be friends any longer. Eventually my mother also went to Global, and later to Philadelphia. In 1995 I went to Big Sandy as a freshman at AU. Having grown up regularly experiencing that campus, I felt an overwhelming nostalgia and a sense of loss. It was apparent things were falling apart rapidly, and it did not have the same atmosphere. Everywhere the zeitgeist was one of apostasy, and people embracing the ideas I grew up thinking were at best erroneous, at worst the work of the Beast (or the Harlot). I went to services with Global, and made friends with people who did not. My RA was in United, but my primary social group all transitioned to the position of Mr. Tkach, very happy at that age for the freedom that brought. For me, having grown up in public schools, it wasn’t a problem, but it was odd to be at Ambassador, among people who had previously believed, but were now more the anti-WCG than the WCG they claimed an allegiance to. I remember roaming the campus and thinking about my past and the fun my family and friends had had there. The services on campus were on Saturday, but they were alien to me. There were Protestant hymns, banners proclaiming “Jesus!” were marched about, the sentimentality was ratcheted up compared to the rather sedate mood of traditional WCG services. I played viola in “God With Us”, an evangelical musical choral/orchestral production, but it was conducted by Ross Jutsum. Then there was the time he got the students to come to a showing of the old Feast videos from the 80s to reminisce… so I’m sitting next to the same people listening to the Young Ambassadors sing that I should “Remember [my] Creator in the days of my youth, before the time of trouble will appear…”

I fell in love with my best friend, a freshman from Colorado, who seemingly loved me back, but even in the bizarre atmosphere of new paradigms and change at the site of and among the people who had once embraced Mr. Armstrong’s thought, we could not broach the subject of homosexuality. He resolved the issue by cutting me off entirely, and I went through my first depression. Over a decade later he contacted me and told me he still loved me. It was difficult to process that someone was rejecting me because they loved me, and he only confirmed what I knew at the time, even if I tormented myself with uncertainty.

Then the college announced it would close, and in frustrated moment, I called my dad and asked to come home before the end of the semester. I didn’t even withdraw. The registrar had to email me and ask where I was.

I became an atheist, no an antitheist. I was very angry and felt duped and betrayed. What was I supposed to do now? I reconnected with a friend from elementary school, who’s parents were intellectuals and very left leaning socialists. They had participated in the anti-war movement in the 1960s and had strong views that in some ways were similar in intensity to what I had grown up around. In a way the similarities were striking. They understood the pagan origins of Christmas, and were opposed to war, and subscribed to a revolutionary worldview that in some ways paralleled the ideas of New Testament Christianity and The World Tomorrow.

It was after being immersed in this milieu for awhile that I began to wonder about what the Worldwide Church of God really was. Something had to cause it (as HWA would have said). Then I noticed the timeline of the church. It began during the Great Depression, it intensified and grew during the tumult of the 60s, and then it dismantled its own beliefs from the top, just as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were doing right at the same time. I wondered, perhaps, if the WCG wasn’t reflecting a much broader sweep of history.

America spawned many new millennial, apocalyptic religions during the Industrial Revolution, and the origins of the WCG can be traced to William Miller and the Great Disappointment. I began to wonder if doctrine in the WCG, taken figuratively, was perhaps the result of a reaction to these events in history. This feeling was only confirmed when video of old WCG productions from the 80s became available in 2009 on YouTube. If you watch (especially films like the 1985 Behind The Work), you’ll notice the themes are really political, and the religious rhetoric serves mostly as a canvas to make the image real to a religious audience. Also, I noticed that mainstream Christianity often serves the status quo, and supports imperialist maneuvers of the United States. This seems to be what the metaphor of the Harlot riding the Beast is all about.

I find myself wondering if WCG was exploiting events of history to prey on people legitimately concerned about current events in their lives, or if it was well meaning, but steeped in a crude kind of religious consciousness that could not understand events any other way. R.D. Laing writes about the delusions of schizophrenics being allegorical, and the Wikipedia entry on David Icke (a bizarre conspiracy theorist who believes the world is run by lizard aliens) comments on the allegorical possibility of his strange ideas.

Today my mother doesn’t speak to me or my brother (as ordered by Gerald Flurry in 2005). Well, she might not speak to me because I stood up to her in a way that didn’t respect who she was in my life. It happened around the same time so I don’t know why exactly she is not responding to me, but I shouldn’t have asserted my independence with the language that I did. I was never baptized, so she is probably just hurt and hiding behind an order that she’d already submitted to for my older brother.

I read these blogs and I have similar feelings, but I also feel alienated and I notice many of the same problems in modern life that led my mom to the church in the first place.

I wonder, does anyone else ever wonder about the historical context of WCG, from a sociological, rather than a religious perspective?

There was a magazine that ended in 1934 called The World Tomorrow. It seems very similar in perspective, but it was a socialist journal (but religious, not atheistic.)

Is it possible that in a country where socialism finds very little expression, similar sentiments come out in cults like the WCG and the Witnesses?

My mother sent me Steven Flurry’s “Raising the Ruins”. Check out this HWA quote:
“Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since – the system of organized competition – of man-ruled governments and empires, based upon the competitive and profit-making economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, and many other cities. He organized this world’s first kingdom.”

HWA was wiped out by the Great Depression. Is it possible that what we have experienced is a religious reaction to having been brutalized by an economic system?

For me, for it to make sense at least, helps a lot with the emotional scars and losses that cannot be fixed.

48 thoughts on “Jeffery”

  1. An excellent book to understand the WCG phenomena and Herbert Armstrong is Ernest Becker’s book entitled The Denial of Death. It won the Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction in 1974. It is a powerful book which synthesizes human actions and culture, drawing on all the observations of the greatest psychologists of all time. Read it carefully and slowly and more than once. The WCG was a textbook example of group and individual psychology in action. I am a former WCG member and when I read and reread Becker’s book, the whole WCG experience was explained. Herbert’s megalomania and why he was able to successfully do what he did for so many years is explained in careful detail by the greats of psychology and presented in concise form by Ernest Becker. This book uncovers the real motives behind human actions and when fully abosrbed, may very well leave a permanent impression upon your way of viewing human culture and individual actions.

  2. What did Becker write about homosexuality that provoked a one-star review on Amazon? Homosexual desire is universal (look at Bonobos and the ancient Greeks) and anyone who makes an argument against its universal presence in every person is being dishonest. It is not unconscious, it is corralled and made use of in single-sex institutions (especially the military, which is why the military is so sensitive to open homosexuality). The end of conscription (and women’s liberation) make open homosexuality possible, albeit in a conformist sort of way that doesn’t interfere with the broader aims of the state.

  3. I find it interesting to study the Scientologists. Their church is going through a lot of similar things the WCG went through. They are anti-psychiatry (pharmaceuticals); they trump up their numbers amid rumours that their church is falling apart; they try to separate members from “suppressive persons” (people that question their weird, weird ways), and their doctrines (written by L. Ron Hubbard) mix psychology with fantasy science-fiction much like HWA did with the bible and his own ‘historical’ accounts. I think psychology is like religion (it can be used for good; but mostly it’s used for evil); and many times the two are mixed – studying the Church of Scientology has made this much clearer to me.

    Anyhow, it’s awesome that you shared so much of your personal experiences with everyone so openly. I hope you are able to figure out what you need to, in order to move on. It took me about 15 years; and it will always sort of ‘be there’… Whatever you do, don’t go to the WCG survivor group on facebook You will be eaten alive by the crazy religious rhetoric 😀

  4. I agree, there are clear political motives behind psychology/psychiatry, and when people in the US look at the Soviet example it is taken for granted that it was a political tool. But it is in the United States too, and it’s a good illustration of what I was saying earlier – that I think issues that are taboo here find their expression as allegory in “cults”. This makes the whole situation much more complicated than just the cult being a fraud. Ironically, these movements express something that is unspeakable in a forthright way in the mainstream. And the allegory resonates with those who are particularly affected by the issues they address.

    Even Jim Jones’ cult was pseudo-revolutionary. It was racially integrated and used strong anti-racist rhetoric when this was the major focus of a broader struggle. The “People’s” Temple was explicitly communist; you can hear it yourself if you listen to the death tapes online. They debate on whether or not to seek help from the Russians, and their suicide is not haphazard or meaningless, they really believe they are about to be slaughtered by some black ops American brutes, and choose a peaceful, dignified, less traumatic and self-inflicted death over the kind of massacre they were used to hearing about in places like Vietnam.

    But you don’t ever hear that sort of complexity when people use the expression “Drinking the kool-aid”.

    In a way, there is a potential for a much greater consciousness of our condition after having been immersed in a counter-cultural cult that tried to reform itself, and just prior to a major crisis of the mainstream system that it formerly criticized.

  5. I think it should be uncontroversial to acknowledge that the essence of the Worldwide Church of God, the reason why people joined and committed their lives to it, was the spreading of the good news of the plain truth of the World Tomorrow. The Feast of Tabernacles, the Ambassador Campuses and SEP were all institutions employed to make a utopian alternative real to people.

    Whether or not there were ulterior financial motives, sexual scandals, etc is irrelevant. These vices and counter currents are not unique to the WCG, and certainly not the purpose of the organization or what drew people to it. Cult techniques are also not unique to the WCG. They are employed in EVERY HUMAN ORGANIZATION, automatically and unconsciously. Identifying particular techniques of persuasion and mind control and using them to attack demonized organizations is a sophisticated hypocrisy. It’s hilarious (or disturbing) to watch counter-cult videos where ex-WCGers weep and praise Jesus for his mercy in letting them escape. What kind of impact do you think that makes on an atheist? (starting especially at 9:30)

    Look at this recent GCI video:

    She sounds so brainwashed.

    But what is the political significance of an allegorical message that reduces to utopianism, and its opposition, a message that reduces to freedom from guilt, in the context of a century of wars and revolutions, imperialism and exploitation? And the destruction of the former by the latter?

    Who is writing about this? Where are they?

    Just the fact that the church was so unwillingly converted is suspect. The two videos above sound like they are orchestrated by the same people, as if the outsiders of the 70s became the insiders in the 90s.

  6. Becker does not deal with homosexuality in his book so I don’t know what this Amazon review is all about. Perhaps you should read the book first before labelling it. I mentioned Becker’s book in helping one to understand group dynamics and the phenomena that is religion.

  7. I generally read Amazon’s reviews before I get a book, and that particular review turned me off. I cannot stomach any more hypocritical anti-homosexual views from a culture that is so ripe with homosexuality that it is common for a person to spend their entire childhood and adolescence without so much as a glimpse of the opposite sex in the nude while daily sharing intimate physical space with the same sex. And the same goes for emotional bonds – overwhelmingly homosocial, yet ostensibly “heterosexual”.

    I don’t think I labeled the book. I am admittedly sensitive to and vocal about this particular hypocrisy. But this is only a reflection of the constant focus it is given every single day in modern life. Which, in my mind, means it must somehow be central to social control (which conservatives loudly proclaim it is – by warning of dire consequences for tolerating it).

    My conclusion – homosexuality is reserved for the military. It is essential that men (women are less relevant in this prohibition and this is instinctively understood) sublimate their homosexual desire to military and political service.

    This “mind control” psych-technology is so old that I can quote Plato ruminating on its contrivance:

    “And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?”

  8. Dear Joseph, I’m sorry, but you’re a douche. This site has all sorts of diverse opinions on it. The only type of comments that get deleted are the preachy bullshit ones that just re-victimize people. And how does one ‘agree to agree’ with someone? Go away.

  9. Jeffery,

    Please avoid large amounts of copypasta. Just provide a link and, if necessary, directions to the passage you want to point out.

  10. I was in the WWCG from 1974 till the late 80’s, when Tkach Sr was alive. Too many “new truths” made me question all the old ones. I left, and am glad I didn’t; fear of the Lake of Fire notwithstanding. Threw the baby out with the bath water, and now find Buddhism a more meaningful alternative.
    The only upside was it provided me with structure and stability during some strange, trying times.

  11. Comment removed: As much as I am a civil libertarian and advocate of gay rights, and despite the fact that we agree on that, you’re still proselytizing.

  12. My mother was a member in the 70’s when I was between the ages of around 8 to 18…yes the “formative years”. I never felt a part of the church even as a kid because I did have years before that in a mainstream middle class life. Shortly after joining my parents divorced…and were later forced to remarry by the church…can’t believe my dad went along with it since he was not a member, but he did. I felt alienated through my childhood because of not being able to do anything associated with after school activities, my mom tithed religiously…pun intended…even when we were living in poverty ourselves during the time that my parents were divorced. Mostly it was the isolation and the feeling of being different as a kid because my mom belonged to what was perceived as a weird church. Then I had a falling out with my mom after I graduated when she claimed that ” she had failed as a mother when I mad the decision to quit attending church and was of an age when she could no longer force me to go. I feel that growing up in such an isolated kind of an existance contrinuted to my being very introverted and very uncomfortable around people I don’t know well. I saw something in an earlier post about mind control and I felt at the time as I grew older that there was an element of that in my mother’s case. In the beginning, at the time that she joined the church was lead by Herbert W. and more hardcore controling. Seems like at first, she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, we always followed the diet, always observed the Sabbath, always tithed the full 10% no matter the impact on our own finances and there were some years where they were commanded or expected to tithe 20%. I wonder how many kids from that era stayed in the church??? Or, is it mostly new people that join the church?? Of course now, it seems from my research that it has changed alot since my experiences in the 70’s…which even as a kid I felt was quite wackadoo..,which for me is a sign of growth that I can call that experience “wackadoo” and nnot still be filled with bitterness is quite great.

  13. I also find the historical context in which HWA operated fascinating.

    The 1939 World’s Fair was highly influential to HWA and to architecture, literature and popular culture. “The eyes of the Fair are on the future … these are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made.” – from a fair pamplet The World of Tomorrow was the reacurring theme of the fair that appeared everywhere. Utopian futurism was rampant in the early twentieth century in art, architecture and science. The fair promototed the future and a faith in emerging technology as a cure of social ills. Television was introduced for the first time to the public.

    Ironically, HWA used this emerging technology of television to his full advantage. As an advertising man, HWA simply hitched on to this familiar theme by naming the future television broadcast “The World Tomorrow” and instead of emphasis on the promise of technology, he harped on the failure of technology to solve social problems. He used the familiar to promote fear. HWA’s future of America was always apocalytic unless it woke up and listened to his “Plain Truth.”

    The covers of “The Wonderful World Tomorrow: What It Will Be Like” always featured gleaming white futuristic World’s Fair type buildings! His spin was that following all his rules would result in a feast/worlds fair utopia on earth after Christ returned. God apparently liked Of course, controlling 30% of ones pre-tax income goes a long way to increasing the building fund.

  14. Well, 30% is an exaggeration. 2nd tithe was spent on the Holy Days for oneself, and 3rd tithe wasn’t every year, only every 3rd year in a 7 year cycle, or something to that effect. Tithing was hardly unique to the Worldwide Church of God and most people pay more in taxes (which are never voluntary – at least one could leave the WCG or not worry about a WCG version of the IRS).

    I wonder if The World Tomorrow magazine, which ended the same year that HWA’s broadcast began (1934) had any influence on his choice for the name of his program. It was a religious socialist magazine edited by Norman Thomas (a recurring presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America).

    I think the bland Christianity which condemns Armstrongism misses his point: that the world as it is presently organized is unsustainable. This is an economic argument. Capitalist theorists valorize self interest and greed as the engine of wealth generation (e.g. Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman). This is true, but with an enormous price paid in environmental devastation, social strife, mental illness, war, racism, etc. Even homophobia, from one angle can be seen as a way of ensuring maximal growth in the production of human labor power. After all, the word “homosexual” didn’t enter the English language until the 1890s. It simply did not exist as a construct for a type of person to terrorize people into heterosexual marriage before the Industrial Revolution; previously there was only unacceptable sexual behavior which varied in time and place. These are points that are made in Armstrongism via Christian allegory (except the homophobia part).

    I think Armstrong’s emphasis on giving, sharing, cooperation, worldwide integrated government, and production transcending even the heights of capitalism without its pitfalls qualifies him as a type of Christian utopian socialist. That is what makes the WCG experience interesting to me (especially in light of today’s economic upheavals which presage another round of political dislocation, wars and revolutions). HWA anticipated this, but was a bit early (though the Bretton Woods system did fail in 1971, they managed a way to avoid a financial meltdown until this year).

  15. Jeffrey, I have to say 30% was not an exaggeration in our house! My family gave 30% as a sign of their commitment (or stupidity). Every 3rd year it was 40% for us. There were many people who also gave like this because Herbie accused ‘us’ of just ‘doing the bare minimum’. And yes, 2nd tithe did go to the feast (and more offerings at the feast), we did miss lunch all year long in order to observe the stupid holiday.

    I think Herbie was an asshole. Just my 2 cents :)

  16. When it comes to the Worldwide Church of God, there are two general categories of reactions:

    1) HWA was the end time Elijah or at least God’s true messenger for the 20th century, and his doctrine is literally true.

    2) HWA was a heretic who perverted the “true” gospel and a false prophet who needlessly scared people to take advantage of them.

    I’m not interested in either of these opinions. I’m not an Armstrongist, and I’m not a Christian. I was, however, born into the Worldwide Church of God in 1976 and remained affiliated with it until Ambassador University closed on me in my sophomore year in 1997 when I was 20. So the organization had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life. My mother is a member of Flurry’s PCG and we do not speak. My brother went the other direction into mainstream Christianity, and while there is no edict forbidding our contact, we don’t really say much to each other.

    I have an interest in the significance of the WCG as a movement in the CONTEXT of the upheavals of the 20th century. I am not posting here to complain about personal bitterness or to try to argue biblical doctrines. I think the WCG worldview was antithetical to capitalist economic dogma (and yes, I recognize the contradiction in HWA’s lavish lifestyle – he was, after all, originally a successful advertising man – but one who was devastated by the crash of 1920 and shocked by the World Wars and Great Depression). I am not sure if he consciously used religion as a way to promote a progressive, socialist agenda that would not be tolerable in American media without the trappings of Christianity. But it would be a shrewd, complex man who would take a socialist message to an American audience alarmed by current events, cloaked in Christian allegory so as to promote himself as a religious leader and distinguish himself from bland Christianity and appear particularly relevant, and give himself access to world leaders and hoards of cash all at the same time.

    Given that we really do live under capitalism, there really are economic collapses built into the system that lead to nationalist rivalries and wars, and the hydrogen bomb really does exist now, and New Testament Christianity really does proclaim a socialist message (self interest and ruthless ambition are the crimes of Lucifer), there is a relevance to the “work” of the WCG, even though the literal doctrine is superstitious (but perhaps of allegorical value), and the man who spawned it very likely was motivated by the very sort of ambition he railed against.

    That puts the WCG in context and explains why it sprang up when it did, why it was put down by mainstream Christians who are not critical of capitalism (on the contrary, they tend to be its most vocal supporters and could conceivably be self conscious of HWA’s constant lambasting of their hypocrisy on national television).

    It explains the unique appeal of the WCG, and the irony of its relevance, even though its doctrine is literally untrue. That is what I bring to this discussion.

    There was a communal experience in the WCG that is unmatched in other church organizations. At least for me, local church families were family. Most relationships under capitalism are completely transactional (including marriage) and an extreme sense of alienation (as Marx said, from oneself, from one’s labor and from each other) is the hallmark of living under this “way of get” and the root of many mental illnesses and antisocial behaviors.

  17. I read points 1 & 2. I fit into neither of those categories. I stopped after that – maybe you should write a book or something.

  18. Why the hostility? Because I don’t emphasize the horrible, awful experience of growing up in the WCG? Well it wasn’t horrible for me. It was optimistic, communal, full of friendships and love. I enjoyed being the odd man out – telling classmates in the 1st grade that there was no Santa Claus and that their parents were lying to them. And you know what? That’s still the truth.

    It was the breakup and forced apostasy that devastated everyone and destroyed what people worked their lives to build up.

    I’m an atheist. But I’m also a socialist and those values germinated in the WCG.

    It won’t be long now…

  19. I just didn’t feel like reading a novella. Nothing personal. I’m sure it was interesting.

    I also have socialist sentiments. The WCG was more like communism, in my opinion.

  20. As I state in the introduction to this site, my life was profoundly shaped by my upbringing in the WCG, and not all of it was bad. Some of it was quite fun (I particularly enjoyed being in choir.) Some of it was educational— I know the Bible better than most Christians, as well as a lot about the history of religion, including the holidays most people take for granted. And some of what I went through was, unfortunately, emotionally abusive, causing me a huge amount of cognitive dissonance and self-alienation, and only really makes sense in looking back at it from the outside.

    The tithing really sucked, though, especially because I was taught that it was to come “off the top” i.e., to be calculated on gross pre-tax income… and yes, two years out of each seven year cycle there was the third tithe, which was to be sent to Pasadena “for the poor.”

  21. ex-WCG gal,

    It’s absolutely personal. You are criticizing me for writing 6 paragraphs. You mock my post by calling it a “novella”. You are insisting that any positive spin on the WCG be ridiculed and dismissed outright without any consideration. Your analysis is that we were simply abused by an asshole. Great insight there… What a mean man he was. Mean mean mean! And he cajoled us out of all our voluntarily given money so that we skipped lunches because we believed in something he was doing! Did you really not each lunch every day all year? Really? Is that the typical WCG experience? Literal starvation? I guess you had meager offerings at your local potlucks and growling stomachs at school. In my experience, good meals (with good company) were routine and thoroughly enjoyed.

    What do you suppose communism means? I suggest you check out the Socialist Party of Great Britain. An article on a member’s blog dated August 19th would go a long way in disabusing you of your unconsidered, default-American anti-intellectual thoughts on “communism”.

    Emotional abuse, tithing, and difficulties with people in positions of authority are not defining features limited only to Armstrongism and the WCG. It is not as if outside of the WCG, there is this pristine harmony and innocence where these things are never experienced.

    I’m a little sick of the worn out “oh, if only we hadn’t been in the WCG” argument. This, in my mind, is a residue of a theme propagated by the “real” Christians in the middle of the 90s apostasy, to manipulate the membership into accepting the “new” religion of a bland Christianity with no relationship to politics or current events (or perhaps a right-wing relationship).

    Check out Queen Sirikit’s comments on the respect Mr. Armstrong commanded (and why), starting at 1:00 at this youtube link:

  22. I am similar to Robert in that not all WCG was bad. I had some wonderful times with my grandparents camping in Big Sandy at the feast year after year (I just block out the seventeen two-hour services I sat through).

    While I am not religious anymore, HWA and his vision of an apocalyptic World Tomorrow profoundly influenced me. For the last 20 years, I have worked for the Defense Department as a cultural resource specialist. I specialize in Cold War material culture, studying the military industrial complex from 1946-1991 and help determine what is historically significant from the period and compliance with federal regulations regarding historic properties.

    My cubicle is filled with gas masks, fallout shelter signs, photographs of Nike Missiles and Basil Wolverton drawings of bumpy-faced people clawing themselves in the barren landscape after we thought the unthinkable. As a six year old looking at Wolverton’s drawings, I was convinced I would be in a cave in Petra escaping it all and would never believe I would be 52 with the same picture thumbtacked to my wall. But here I sit.

    What interests me now is how HWA was a product of his time and how he blended advertising with religion and used emerging technology of radio and later television to produce a message of fear that resonated with a section of society that was motivated by fear of the “end times” and how to escape its horrors. He wrapped whatever was happening to further his message. I think he actually believed it, at least in the early years. The WCG was simply a microcosm of America, distilling the nation’s civil and religious fears into a singularity – a black hole of doom sold as hope with early twentieth century advertising techniques. A great recipe for cognitive dissonance.

    I recommend Dr. Paul Boyers book “When Time Shall be No More” as a great social study of early twentieth century eschatology (I have had contact with him on another of his books – By the Bombs Early Light – a cold war study).

    HWA proported to focus on current events an thier interpretation but his true focus was bending them into the worldview of what he said would happen during a time America was motivated by fear of what the “godless” Soviets were up to in a percieved quest for world domination. Who would have thought these would be the good old days when the world was black and white and there was only another superpower to worry about instead of rouge terrorists?

    My point is that even though I have discarded religion entirely, understanding it in a social context is fascinating. As much as HWA thought himself an original, all his concepts were drawn from his historic context.

  23. There are several currents of Marxism that do not consider the Soviet Union to be any sort of socialism. It in no way overcame the relationship of capital between owners and workers. It utilized the most advanced political rhetoric of its time to criticize and isolate itself from advanced countries that might otherwise have dominated its development. This is, in my opinion, the purpose of ostensibly “Communist” parties. It served the interests on both sides of the iron curtain to call that system socialism, but socialism is post-market, post-wages, post-worker, post-property. Think Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity or the Zeitgeist Movement.

    HWA criticized the Soviets, but he explained why they would articulate the theory that they did, and that in fact, a world government was coming (and he expressed this in Christian allegory), and it would be utopian. He did not think capitalism or American (or any other national) hegemony would continue indefinitely.

    Here’s my thoughts on basic biblical allegory:

    The Garden of Eden is an ancient memory of the irrevocable transition from hunter gatherer society to an agricultural one. Having been deceived by Satan (who represents ruthless self interest), and opening a Pandora’s Box of knowledge (perhaps the knowledge that sex reproduces people – something woman might have come to discover (expressed as a penis-shaped symbol informing her)), man is forced to till the soil and woman experiences the pain of childbirth (some feminists argue that with the advent of agriculture and animal domestication and the connection between sex and reproduction comes trade in women as their bodies produce more people, which is useful for acquiring more human labor power. Animals do not understand that their sexual instincts lead to reproduction – it has to be discovered at some point in evolution). Sex becomes regulated and is no longer innocent. Adam and Eve clothe themselves. War is represented by brother killing brother. (surpluses can only arise to fight over after the advent of agricultural society and stationary tribes). A messiah is needed to return humanity to its communal state of existence. This is represented by Christ in Christianity. The New Jerusalem is a metaphor for utopia, Babylon for hierarchical civilization based on exploitation of people by ruling classes. Christ’s resistance to Satan’s temptation is faith in humanity’s ability to overcome self interest over and above the needs of others and embrace a way of relating that corresponds with tens of thousands of years of human evolution (primitive communism – man’s state of nature in the Garden). This is an anticipated future event – the 2nd coming. All of this allegory serves to describe the human condition poetically, and memorably.

    The only way this is possible is to locate some method other than human exploitation to enable production. Aristotle answers this:
    “There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates, and masters not needing slaves.
    This condition would be that each (inanimate) instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which Homer relates that
    “Of their own motion they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus”
    as if a shuttle should weave of itself, and a plectrum should do its own harp playing.”

    In our time, this becomes a real possibility, and Marx recognizes that capitalism makes it possible, even as it simultaneously threatens the survival of the species, since technological advancement is based on competition between producers and nation states, and the engine of development is “Satanic” (ruthless self interest and ambition at the expense of others). And those nations are using technological developments to create arms and industrial processes that can destroy the planet entirely.

    HWA mentions this “paradox” repeatedly.

    Now I’ll post some links to HWA clips that support my theory that he was a Christian utopian socialist.

  24. Not much time left… but even after Christ returns it will take 3 generations to achieve peace. This is revolution, not supernatural magic…

  25. Not defending PCG (which is not in any way equivalent to the WCG in my mind), but here’s a piece by “The Philadelphia Singers” that is clearly utopian socialist. “Faith of SLAVES is turned to truth”.

  26. Notice in my previous post by the Philadelphia Singers the “rising” imagery isn’t Christ, but a call to believers to Rise up.

    “Arise Shine! For thy light is come! And the glory of the Lord, is risen upon thee!” Stated again and again.

  27. One last post – another Philadelphia Singers piece utilizing the utopian imagery of the New Jerusalem.

    Religion isn’t literally true. But it allegorically expresses true human aspirations. And humans have a way of realizing their aspirations. That is what Marx calls our species-being, what makes us uniquely human.

    WCG and Armstrongism religiously express a desire for socialism – that is, a way of relating that transcends market relations, human exploitation and “Satanic” motivations presently valorized by capitalist orthodoxy.

    This is not the message of mainstream Christianity, which preaches a personal salvation in an afterlife through acceptance of Christ as savior via “grace”, and threatens eternal hellfire for those who don’t go along with it. It’s a guilt trip with a built in release from guilt, and supports the status quo and is used to control populations in partnership with secular authorities.

    Armstrongist salvation is a new state of humanity on Earth.

  28. Oh, and if that isn’t enough for you, check out their Album cover titled “Onward”:

  29. Jeffrey,

    To be completely factual, WCG was neither Socialist nor Communist. It was just a dumb religion.

    Don’t get all butt-hurt because I don’t want to read your works of fiction.

  30. Whether or not the WCG was a form of religious socialism, and whether this was the reason for its unique appeal, is the point of my post. I don’t see how simply stating that it wasn’t contributes anything at all.

    Socialism (from the New Oxford American Dictionary): The term “socialism” has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market.

    From “The Plain Truth About Christmas” (pre-1987): “Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since — the system of organized competition — of man-ruled governments and empires, based upon the competitive and profit making economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, and many other cities. He organized this world’s first kingdom”.

  31. Jeffrey,

    Please keep in mind that every comment posted sends an e-mail to everyone who has chosen to follow comments from this post. To avoid stacking peoples’ in boxes with very short mails from you, which increases the chance that someone will report them as spam (even though they are not, someone who couldn’t figure out how to unsubscribe already reported one of these e-mails to my mail provider as spam). Therefore, I recommend less frequent, more substantial comments that clearly state how they tie into the themes of your original story. Thanks!

  32. “When the Earth is filled with peace again, and all the world is free, then that will be, the greatest wonder of all…”

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