Saturday 23 August 2014

Who Killed the Worldwide Church of God? Part 2

Herbert Armstrong was a remarkable man. It takes a remarkable individual to found a successful new religious movement. In that same sense Ellen White was remarkable, as were Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy and Judge Rutherford.

Obviously 'remarkable' doesn't mean unique.

While he lived Armstrong ran a tight ship. He was a paranoid leader exercising sole authority. His own unyielding doctrines were enforced. But when it became inconvenient for the great man himself, however, such doctrines could be speedily flushed. Medical intervention, coffee on the Day of Atonement, D&R, interracial marriage, makeup (oh the lure of Ramona's painted toenails!)

At the end of the day it was all about Herb. He was the measure of all things. Anyone who got in the way, including family members, was expendable.

After building his empire - an empire that seemed rock solid for decades - Herb Armstrong failed to ensure its survival. He totally failed to see - perhaps refused to see - beyond his own lifetime. He built on sand. As David Barrett has clearly documented in The Fragmentation of a Sect, there was no clear line of succession.

How could there be? He was the sole apostle, the End Time apostle. As Louis XV was reputed to say; "Après moi, le déluge" (after me, the deluge).

And a deluge there was, though on a more limited scale than the anticipated Great Tribulation. This deluge merely washed away all the hard-won baubles of Herb's apostleship.

Armstrong dismally failed to ensure any enduring heritage. He surrounded himself with Yes-men. Anyone with the talent to take the movement on beyond his death was purged. They were seen as threats.

The failed prophecies of 1972 and the rebellion of '74 had shaken the organisation, but did little permanent damage. The debacle of Ted's ouster in 1978, followed by the receivership crisis - the church emerged more or less intact. In fact it then continued to grow in spite of scandals, defections and the brilliant journalistic endeavours of John Trechak. But it couldn't survive Herb's passing.

At this distance out most of us are probably grateful the Worldwide Church of God disintegrated. But the cost to many was huge, the collateral damage intolerable.

The Internet age may well have speeded up the process, but the rot was evident even before Bill Ferguson, Mark Tabladillo, The Painful Truth, the so-called Exit & Support Network (and shortly thereafter Ambassador Watch) came on the scene. The die was already cast.

Who killed the Worldwide Church of God? In my view, not Ted, not Stan, not Spanky. Not even Tkach, junior or senior. And brethren, it wasn't 'Satan' either!

It was Herb Armstrong.


  1. The WCG continued after HWA but in a different form. The WCG split up into many fragments that essentially believe the same thing. They are united by belief but separated by personal agendas. I am not even sure that these fragments are in decline. An ex-WCG minister who used to visit various Armstrongite congregations in this area told me that there were just as many sabbatarians in a nearby large city as there always had been. They are just dispersed among many different competing congregations. HWA certainly was a big contributor to the fall of the WCG but he was not the entire story. There is a mystery. Why did the Mormons survive relatively nicely the demise of Joseph Smith but WCG imploded after HWA? I am not sure how this happened. I think the WCG would have not fallen into decline, for instance, if Rod Meredith had been appointed the clear successor to HWA. Maybe it was all just the luck of the draw.


  2. I'd agree with you Gavin, except you can't kill something that was never alive in the first place.

    People are only now beginning to realize that Armstrongism isn't a religion, it's an artificially crafted social group bringing together people who had nothing in common by force of personality. Once the Force was gone, people discovered they didn't really have that much in common except the commonly shared abuse. Some stuck by their man, others didn't, but the social group itself could not be sustained because of entropy and began to fragment.

    People have discovered that Armstrongism just doesn't work. They may still try to make it work, but to do so entails using contorted exercises in futility that are just plain daft, in the face of rubbish beliefs easily disproved by science -- and as if that isn't enough, then history.

    It's tempting to say that you killed Armstrongism single-handedly. Or maybe me. All those postings and forums with so many people sharing the crazy insanities. it's tempting, but at least somewhat inaccurate, although proving British Israelism was a fraud destroyed the fundamental foundation of the delusional belief system -- and you got most of us started on that path to realize the core foundation was made of sand.

    So we have a closed society which has no viability in the real world because it is too extreme. Herbert Armstrong seemed to make the daft craziness somewhat workable with the three tithes, the holydays (not supported by the New Testament), the bogus church history -- all by force of personality... or we could just say by force. The problem even there was that some segments, like the farmers began to realize that keeping the Old Testament Laws intended for a particular people at a particular time not only didn't work, but the physical (non spiritual) rituals led to bankruptcy and ruin: There was no double income in the sixth year to pave the way for the seventh year. It didn't work. None of it really worked.

    Herbert Armstrong committed incest with his daughter for 10 years, indicating that he was a sociopath or psychopath, was an alcoholic, had manic depressive disorder, low foresight, no structural visualization, dropped out of high school and was so narcissistic that he required extreme narcissistic source (requiring tons of money to support his ego habit), was defiant and did no obey those over him in the CoG7, he lied, was a false prophet and was a really short fat roly-poly false prophet false apostle. What's not to love?

    In the end, Herbert Armstrong created an extreme society which couldn't work without him holding it together. And that is why it failed.

    It reminds me of the Dr. Who episode where he travelled 100 trillion years into the future at the end of the universe, where entropy was about to claim the universe, but the surviving humans had hope in Utopia.

    And we all know how that turned out.

  3. Herbert, as an advertising guru, must certainly have been aware of the phrase "new, and improved!", as he seems to have originally imposed an expiration date on his product: 1975. He was a shaman who established a tribe consisting of people who believed that if they indulged in certain forgotten rituals, one's worldview would become realigned, and enlightenment would take place, leading to one's eternal destiny. And, it all made sense to some of those experiencing the zeitgeist of my parents' generation. But, alas, nobody can live indefinitely under totalitarianism, deprivation, and usurpation of the soul. A time limit still applied, whether Herbert and his followers revised it, or not.

    We're aware of our own mess, and the ridiculous rituals and explanations we once accepted as given. However, there were other equally ridiculous messes, involving other tribes, also invalidated by the onslaught of time, accumulated knowledge, and experience. The hippies, persons who believed that psychedelic experiences were the key to mind expansion and enlightenment, had unwittingly become some of Herbert's "signs of the endtimes" by 1966. Some of the influential and articulate spokesmen for this tribe, such as Terrence McKenna, had their own theories to explain the presence of mankind, one of which was the "Stoned Ape" theory. As goes the theory, simians living in areas where magic mushrooms, morning glory seeds, and peyote existed naturally were speculated as having ingested these things as part of their normal diets, leading to their ability to visualize and perceive things which the other apes could not see. This supposedly gave rise to such innovations as language, enabling cooperative efforts in matters of survival. McKenna believed that similar mind expansion would give rise to the next advancement during our lifetime, just prior to the end, which he forecast for 2012. As with Armstrong, no authentic scholars, historians, or scientists took McKenna seriously.

    Individual tribes, such as those described above, would seem to be components of the collective. They come and go, influencing thought, or accepted wisdom during the time span in which they are memorable. However, they frequently become obsolete, and are replaced by tribes which are based on new discoveries, and different understandings and perspectives. They all seem to have their natural time and place, maxing out, and then giving rise to whatever next level manifests itself. The Armstrong movement has always attached unwarranted spiritual importance to the manifestations of natural cycles, such as floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires, economic recession, disease, war, morality, etc. What they failed to realize is that cycles also often govern religious movements, and their own cycle is on the wane.


  4. Just as HWA put an expiration date of 1975 on his product, so did JC and the boys: "this generation". Yes, Christianity expired 1,900 years ago and yet, here it still is, chugging along with billions of adherents. Why? Because, even as adults, most folks were raised by parents who told them what to do, what not to do, what to believe, what not to believe etc - and people still desire that same control and guidance in their adulthood. You would think that folks would mature beyond that - and some have but most have not and will not because they want, desire, that guidance in their lives. They want to feel "special" in some way and they find it hard to accept mortality and that their lives will soon be over - forever. Some see unbelief as nihilism but it doesn't have to be that way - there's always humanism and opportunities to pass on a better world than they inherited from their ancestors and parents. In many ways JC was a humanist; feeding the poor, healing the sick, the hope for a better world to come, condemning war and violence, preaching peace and love...if it were not for the apocalyptic element, torture, murder, hatred, threats of hellfire and forcing people against their will...which was introduced by JC's followers, the world today might have been a peaceful place.