Tuesday 10 February 2015

Garner Ted and Total Depravity

Image of GTA by Kerry Waghorn
Gary Leonard has unearthed an old quote from Garner Ted Armstrong.
"you come to really SEE yourself as you ARE--as GOD sees you--as a self-centred, hostile, shrivelled-up, rotten, vile, filthy, sinning hulk of rotting human flesh, unworthy to breathe the free air God gives you!"
Colourful! Gary is rightly critical of this kind of vicious assault on our sense of self worth, and I agree wholeheartedly. Yet Ted was only elaborating on standard Reformed (Calvinist and Puritan) dogma. There is a direct line that runs from Calvin to Jonathan Edwards to GTA. God, under this paradigm, is so holy, so pure and so unlike us in all our "creatureliness" (a ghastly word when used in this context) that we are reduced to total worthlessness. Such a god can justly consign people to an eternity of suffering. We deserve nothing better.

And on this hateful nonsense is built the 'need' for a saviour. First build a spiteful fiction about our humanity, then trot out a snake-oil panacea. I'm not sure whether Ted believed what he preached on this subject... one rather got the impression that he did indeed believe what he preached when he was preaching it (but not necessarily five minutes later). He himself was almost certainly a victim of this kind of poisonous stupidity given his upbringing... which could certainly help explain his own infamously inconsistent moral behaviour. More than once he lived up to the description.

But this kind of self-loathing, projected on humanity as a whole, is not something confined to one fringe sect. It is endemic to many streams of Christianity. As Don Cupitt remarks, your average mainline minister would probably say "we wouldn't put it quite like that now."

But beneath the well-intentioned veneer of enlightened modernity, it's usually still there.


  1. Gavin, I agree with you that such statements are "hateful nonsense." However, such wrongheaded statements do not negate our need for a Savior. Although we are not the horrible and rotten creatures that some folks have made us out to be, we are all quite capable of wrongdoing or bad behavior. The presence of evil (or bad things for those who don't like that word) in this realm is acknowledged by most folks, and it still makes sense to many of us to suggest a remedy/cure (or whatever other label one wishes to attach to the concept) for this phenomenon that sometimes intrudes on our humanity and world.

  2. Colourful, indeed!
    The quote may help explain why Garner Ted wrote his thesis, the child rearing book.

    It's not an unusual viewpoint, and is indeed "beneath the well-intentioned veneer of enlightened modernity"

    If a preacher can convince a person of such nonsense, it makes the person more putty-like and moldable.
    The preacher can then run the person through his Play-Doh machine, ending up with an American Christian.
    In some scenarios that's a person who is likely to be influenced by - and endeared to - pigslop.
    Some have even then been run through the "Promise Keepers" machine and gotten indoctrinated with that garbage!

    It's time the well-intentioned veil was rent, so people may have better chances at choices based in reality.

  3. Perhaps more than any other antidote, Max Ehrmann's poem "Desiderata" was helpful to me in my recovery from the mentality expressed above by GTA. My brother shared it with me.

    The basic problem with Armstrongism is that precepts and teachings were lifted from the Bible, and taught and enforced, and these teachings were just things that naturally appealed to Herbert W. Armstrong and his own innate perverseness. He did not allow the balance of the book to speak to his soul, just the savagery. I've had Jewish friends ask me, "Bob, how could your people derive such hate and anger from Torah, the sabbath and holy days?" The answer is of course that it isn't so much the course materials that were detestable as it was the teacher. HWA had an ungodly talent for evoking hatred and anger even in response to benign and goodly things. He felt he had to do this to control people.


  4. In some Protestant religious circles, people compete to confess greater sins than others, because they falsely believe that Paul was preaching, "Let us do evil, that good may come?"(Romans 3:8).

    However, Jeremiah described the human condition thus: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"(Jeremiah.17:9). The phrase "who can know it," obviously means, who can know what malevolence it might get up to, for we already know it is "desperately wicked. And the Chosen Vessels inspired to observed: "O wretched man that I am! who shall delivery me from the body of this death?"

    So according to the bible, ever since man was taken captive by the devil, he has been goaded to bring about his own destruction by being evil. As for GTA, who know what evil used to go through his bloated mind?

  5. Tom, I've seen people "compete to confess greater sins than others", and not just in Protestant circles: That dynamic occurs in a variety of venues, from family situations to sales seminars to self-improvement seminars.
    It raises a red flag for me when there's almost a competition to confess sins, etc.

    And yes, who knows what evil used to go through the bloated minds of Garner Ted and Herbert W Armstrong.
    "Bloated" is a term that applies to them both very well, especially HWA.
    We have some good clues, though.
    (And you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure them out, either.)

    1. Norm, you may have witnessed people confessing their sins in other circles other than religious, and that form of self abasement is an inverse form of pride. But one must not ignore the reality of the human condition! Men and women are capable of committing some very heinous crimesl, especially when they are motivated by envy, greed or jealousy.

    2. Can we find a righteous man in all the land - save Phil Rudd? (quietly tending his fish&chips shop in the far north)

    3. Well, Minimalist, Phil may be having his legal problems right now, but at least he's in better shape than poor Malcolm. Dementia is slowly robbing Mal of everything.


    4. Finally, someone got my Phil Rudd reference ;-)

  6. It would have been interesting if we could have seen the 'real GTA', unfettered by alcoholic boozing: I suspect we would have seen an entirely different person.

  7. This does bring up a question, though: If a person has the Holy Spirit, are they evil?

    This whole 'Jeremiah' thing completely ignores Christianity and the Epistles of John (as an example).

    Or do Christians merely remain evil after receiving the Holy Spirit and there's no transformation at all, except from the outside using physical rituals in Pharisaical pretense of righteousness?

  8. It is given that Christianity portrays humans as sinners in need of salvation. This valid model like other aspects of Christianity may be abused. This is what was done in the WCG and other similar organizations. Instead of creating a valuable point of reference for spiritual formation, this model was used to create oppressive fear. WCG members understood that their salvation was entirely in the hands of HWA and his ministry. The laymember's relationship with God passed through and was controlled by this uncaring group of men. If you are a true-believer in Armstrongism, this is a frightening circumstance to be caught in. It makes you want to submit to authority in every way possible and to the financial benefit of the WCG. And it creates a pompous ministry that feels that God has placed extraordinary powers of life and death in their incompetent little hands. Bragging about sins to appear to be deeply converted is just one of the many bizarre fruits of this system.

    But should we reject the concept of charity because of instances of abuse? I think not.

    -- Neotherm

  9. But what if you are happy being evil? What if you rejoice in your evilness? What if you rise every morning with a smile on your face and contentment in your heart, knowing that you are completely evil? Is your joy therefore evil? Is the smile you give to others evil? Is your peace of mind evil? Can not evil therefore be good? Can you be so evil you are good? Perfectly evil? There's a lot of prejudice against evil, much of it promulgated in the pages of the Bible. Let us turn from our evil attitudes towards evil, and see evil as good.

  10. The real problem I have with what Ted said is that it is another attempt at one size fits all theology. There's nothing wrong with introspection per se. But, we've learned that there is a wide variety of personal psychological make-ups, hormonal influences, environmental factors, educational levels, range of IQ's, and other influences. Someone could actually be exactly as GTA described, and very likely, if that person were not verbally adept, or if he lacked other redeeming social factors, he would be in prison or jail.

    The problem I have with GTA's theology is that it locks people into a bad place, from which there is no redemption during one's human life. If you can convince someone of his statement in perpetuity, holding them artificially in a never improving mindset, you can manipulate and control them. It is diametrically opposite to victorious living type theologies, and it precludes even the possibility of learning from one's mistakes and therefore optimizing one's life as one progresses. Nobody gets it right the first time. That is patently ridiculous, and only a narcissist would claim otherwise. It's almost as ridiculous as someone claiming never to have committed a major sin since their WCG baptism! However, there are varying degrees of aggressiveness, and mental filters through which one sees the people around one. Some people are just naturally inclined to be altruistic, and these folks do less damage in their journey.

    The important function of "know thyself" is placing yourself in a position where you can be flexible, learning from mistakes, and continually evolving.