Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I would just start by saying that I have had many great opportunities in my life and many of my occupational endeavors have kept me busy day to day, but some have offered me plenty of time for reflection on my life. I lived in the Chetco, Illinois and Wild Rogue River wildernesses of Southern Oregon for many years in the early 1980s, working as a Forest Service caretaker at a historical guard station built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. in the 1930s, I also worked in the same area at McCaleb Ranch. During these times I was able to form myself as a young adult and decided who I was and what I wanted to be in life. In 1985 I reunited with my grandfather Herbert W. Armstrong and was blessed to spend much of the last year of his life with him, living with him for a time at the Ambassador College Pasadena campus. I attended college there in 1985 and left after his death in 1986.
I have many great fond memories of the church and the people I knew and grew up with. When I look back on my memories of the Church, Imperial School and Ambassador College, I'm reminded of how blessed we all were to have the fellowship we shared. The tumultuous things that have transpired over the years since the late 1970s and especially since my grandfathers death in 1986 are sad and it's a shame that the Church organization was not able to continue into the future with the same goodwill and co-operation that was the hallmark of the Church and it's people from inception until the breakup and selling off of the Church and it's holdings. I think there may be a time and place to write about some of the really bad things that have transpired within the Church over time - I have personally been affected by things like Stanley Rader influencing my grandfather into terrible decisions, also the much publicized personal turmoil of my uncle Garner Ted, the accusations of abuse by grandpa by my late Aunt Dorothy, the receivership by the state of California in the late 70s, also - perhaps most disappointing to me - the way the Church was handled by those who took over after my grandfathers death in 1986. However, one thing I have been able to do with my adult life, is to not dwell on negative things any longer than is beneficially necessary. Sadly, I know many people who have been hurt and have not been able to pick up and move forward. I have had to work hard my whole life and I'm still working on my own personal dreams and goals. My purpose in writing here is to share what has been a wonderful upbringing and life within the church from my birth in 1958 until the day I left my job at the college library in Pasadena in 1979 and moved to Oregon to "find out who I was" and make a life for myself and my family. I too have been close to the negativity and harm that has happened within the Church and it's affiliated organizations - the reason I left my job at the college library in Pasadena that early summer day in 1979 was that people there were constantly trying to talk to me about "what was going on" and some were trying to convince me that my own Mother was complicit in a plot to overthrow my grandfather and put Garner Ted at the helm of the Church - NOT TRUE and I knew better. My family is very loving and supportive of each other - for the most part. In any case, I would be glad to relate these things I experienced at some point - but for the most part, I have great memories I'd like to share of happier times and that will be the purpose of my writing here. I am not ignorant of the negative things that transpired within the Church and it's affiliations, yet there were so many fine things to recall and that is what I'd like to share with people. Lots of water has gone under the bridge, so I am choosing to recall the good things, I'll let God sort out the bad things as I don't feel it's my job to focus on the negative black hole that so many people get caught in.
My intent in writing here is to share memories with any interested readers of what it was like to grow up in the thick of the Worldwide Church of God, Imperial Schools and Ambassador College. My memories are of wonderful people, wonderful gatherings, people working together and helping each other. I will share with you how lucky I feel to have experienced growing up on the campus in Bricket Wood England, then Big Sandy Texas and eventually Pasadena California. I was blessed to be part of the Church and it's workings during a wonderful period of time and my memories are 99% great memories.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of growing up at my grandfather Armstrong's home in Bricket Wood England, then eventually living in the cottage next door to the Raymond McNair family after my Mom remarried to Ben Chapman. My Mom has related to me how she basically "blacked out" upon the death of my father, after they had a very special and almost "fairy tale" relationship. It is understandable that this would devastate anyone - and it was especially hard on my Mom who was a new mother with a 6 month old baby. My grandfather suggested to her that it would be best if she got a new start in Bricket Wood and we were moved there and initially lived with Grandpa Armstrong at his home. As my Mom got involved with the Church and College there, I had allot of babysitters from the college (college students) and I remember very much of these experiences from ages as early as age 2. I distinctly remember being pulled through the snow in a cardboard box my Mom had rigged up with rope, so she could run through the snow, pulling me behind her - of course I thought life could not get any better than that! I also vividly remember being looked after by Andrew Silcox and his father, who was the groundskeeper in Bricket Wood. I'm sure that like any young boy with a tricycle and a ton of energy, I must have been a real pest - though Mr. Silcox always seemed to love having me around. He would give me "missions" to go on - "Dicky, take your tricycle out and get me as many worms as you can find!". I was so happy to go digging around the rich English soil and come back with a trunk (my tricycle had a trunk on it) full of night crawlers. I also have fond memories of my grandpa telling me he had gotten 2 shetland ponies that I could ride and at a very early age I was out riding with Andrew Silcox who was so good to me - we had an absolute storybook good time, out riding the English countryside looking for lost swords and treasure - how could a kid forget wonderful things like that? I certainly remember more than I have time to write about here, but my early life in Bricket Wood was very special and I've talked to my Mom many times about the things we did - she has been amazed that I remember that far back and I've reminded her of many things that she had forgotten. I remember playing with Ruth and Bruce Mcnair at the cottage next door - so great to have kids to play with from the church. I also remember that the McNairs had taken a trip to the English countryside and somehow ended up bringing back a wild goat, then tying it up in the back yard. One day - I think after a day at Church, they returned home to find their back yard very much re-arranged by the goat and I'm pretty sure they ate it after that, but I'd have to ask Raymond about the particulars - he might not want to admit to whatever the goats fate was - HA! I also remember every day of a car tour we took as a family in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in a Jaguar my dad Ben Chapman had purchased. Along with the spectacular scenery we saw, I remember Mom and Dad kicking me out of the back seat where I slept, when their air mattress gave way on a rainy English night. I remember being very frightened for my Moms safety as she made her way along slippery rock steps at a waterfall in Wales. We camped at Loch Ness and drove through the mountains in Scotland - I remember seeing it all like it was yesterday.
There came a point where my Grandpa thought dad (Ben Chapman) would be a good fit for the campus in Big Sandy Texas, so we packed up and boarded the S.S. United States for an Atlantic Crossing. The story has been told to me, that grandpa would have had the presidential suite, but the President happened to be on board for this trip - this is true, Dwight D. Eisenhower was on this crossing and I remember seeing him. I also remember the theatre on board, where we watched a Johnny Weismueller Tarzan film, also I recall dad tossing me into the water (sink or swim) in the Olympic pool. What a ship this S.S. United States was - the ring toss on board was very cool too - I remember stopping from the ring toss game and just staring out at all that water - it seemed so magical and so infinite. As we approached the New York Harbor, grandpa Armstrong got me out of bed early to see the sun rise on the statue of Liberty - I will never forget him telling me the story of Lady Liberty and what that meant to Americans. After a trip through Immigration, we were in an apartment in New York City for a time, then we drove the Jaguar across the U.S. to Big Sandy where we set up camp in a home that was still being worked on. I will write more later, picking up there when I have time next. Best Wishes to you all and I'd love to reconnect with anyone who I knew from the Church, College or Schools.
Friday, May 28, 2010
God is in control---ALWAYS!!!!!
Aren't You Glad You Went Green?
6 billion people try for 5 years.... then the earth burps, and it's all for naught!
For all of you out there in America and across the globe who have fought so hard to tackle that hideous enemy of our planet, namely carbon emissions, I have some really bad news that will be very painful for you to process. But it is my duty to pass it on to you anyway.
Are you sitting down?
Okay, here's the bombshell. The current volcanic eruption going on in Iceland, since it first started spewing volcanic ash a week or so ago, has to this point, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet. Not only that, this single act of God has added emissions to the earth estimated to be 42 times more than can be corrected by the extreme human regulations that have been proposed for annual reductions.
I know, I know.... (now have a group hug)...it's very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids, buying reusable fabric grocery bags, sitting up till midnight to finish your kid's "The Green Revolution" science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat,
going on vacation to a city park instead of to Yosemite, nearly getting hit by a car every day while riding your bicycle to work, replacing all of your one dollar light bulbs with ten dollar fluorescent light bulbs that don't give as much light or last as long (and you cannot dispose of ANYWHERE legally)...well, all of those things you have been doing all this time, at great inconvenience and great expense, have all gone down the tubes in just the past week...
The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth's atmosphere in the past week has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce that evil beast, carbon. And, those hundreds of thousands of American jobs you helped move to Asia with expensive emissions demands that were put on American businesses... you know, the ones over there that are creating even more emissions than when the companies stayed
home creating American jobs, well that must all seem really worthwhile now. I'm so sorry. And I do wish that there was some kind of a silver
lining to this volcanic ash cloud but the fact of the matter is that the brush fire season across the western U.S.A. will start in about two months and those fires will negate your efforts to reduce carbon emissions in our world for the next two years!
So grab a Coke, give the world a hug, and have a nice day while Al Gore contemplates suicide!
I forwarded this on to some of my freethinking friends. None of their responses were positive. In fact, they were a bit disgruntled that Christians have this attitude. Here is what one of them, with a background in Christian fundamentalism before “seeing the light“ of unbelief, wrote back to me:
I think you should respond to this, Betty. [I didn’t. What good would it have done?] He is really nasty, isn’t he?? Just what the world needs now . . . folks like him. The last line is just about as “nice” as his fellow Christians that are “praying” for Obama’s death… So now, with this attitude, we’re supposed to “give up” trying to do any more green things for our planet? Oh, I forgot, we shouldn’t care . . . Armageddon is near . . . and all these wonderful folks will just be “swept
up in the clouds,” and to hell with future generations that have to live here on this planet….
If you’re interested, here is an interesting website with an article from a Russian scientist who says that volcanic eruptions slow global warming:
Whether this scientist is correct in his assessment, I simply don’t know. Actually, I hope he is.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Wide variations in belief exist in all religious systems partly because of three main methods of scripture interpretations: (1) formative; (2) normative; (3) cultural.
- The Formative Method, according to some Biblical scholars, includes glossalalia which was not intended to be used throughout the life of the church. Speaking in tongues is only addressed at any length in the Book of Acts (where actual languages seem to have been spoken somewhere on earth to establish the legitimacy of the church) and the first epistle to the Corinthians where "unknown" languages were spoken and interpretation had to be given. These "spiritual gifts" might have been given because there was yet no New Testament. The Formative Method is also sometimes used to explain the deaths of Ananias and Saphira after they lied to the Holy Spirit in the person of Peter. Their deaths, also, may have been recorded to give the new religion God's sanction. And even though lying still goes on in the church worldwide (no pun intended), I don't see wholesale death occuring in "holy" sanctuaries today because of deceit and lying.
- The Normative Method of interpretation establishes an unchangeable standard or pattern for believers everywhere and at all times. Examples in this case would be proper Christian conduct (especially for women) at home and in communal worship, prophesying and preaching (which many believe are quite different), and the Lord's Supper. (References: 1 Corinthians 11 and Galations 3.)
- The Cultural Method is used by denominations claiming that the entire Bible was influenced by cultural conditions at the time of its writing such as length of hair for both sexes. And especially concerning women, since females today are most often as educated as males are, it is, therefore, so say some scholars, appropriate now for women to teach, pray, and preach in worship assemblies. But this argument from cultural bias could be used to dismiss anything in the Bible if it does not suit someone's sensibilities in the modern world.
I am not lobbying for either the formative, normative, or cultural methods of interpreting scripture. To me, the real question is whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and how one can tell. As I read it, there are many unfulfilled prophecies, scientific inaccuracies including the mention of mythical beasts and the belief that the earth has corners and is flat in this revered work. And a perfect God is its author?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I simply answered, "How can I fear or be afraid of anything that doesn't even exist?"
I went on to say, "Frankly, in certain situations, I'm actually much more afraid of militant religionists. I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley somewhere."
(Of course, I can't even remember a time when I was ever in a dark alley.)
Many followers of religion malign and kill each other in great numbers over insignificant issues. Austin Cline, in an article about fear of God and atheism, stated: "Beliefs [of religious adherents] can cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved. This does not mean, however, that any of their beliefs have any basis in reality or that their gods, spirits, fairies, and whatnot are anything to be afraid of."
Fear based on religious faith that cannot be proven true often leaves emotional scars. Many of those who were in the Worldwide Church of God and other legalistic belief systems can attest to that fact.
Of course, I know that atheists are in the minority, but our numbers are growing. Fear would most probably greatly diminish if we understood what Clarence Darrow articulated in a most astute article. This agnostic (primarily famous because of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee way back in 1925) said:
"When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death."
I admire that man. We need more like him.
To me, the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, but the end.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
One of the most tragic murders I've heard or read about locally in recent years happened on Halloween in 2005. The victim was an attractive, unmarried woman, 25 years of age, who earned her living as a freelance pholographer. Apparently she was a happy, family-and-church-oriented daughter, sister, and aunt who lived with a friend next door to her parents.
While on a photo shoot, from what newspapers reported and what scant information can be pieced together from one of the two convicted perpetrators, she alledgedly was kidnapped, stripped naked, spread-eagled and bound in a bed, repeatedly and brutally raped, tortured with a knife and finally shot numerous times. This young woman was humiliated and tormented until her life was snuffed out. Her lifeless body was then burned.
A shirttail relative of this horribly abused, victimized woman and one of my co-workers expressed to me her belief (faith) that the murdered woman did not experience any pain during her ordeal since God was watching over her!
"Why would you think that?" I asked.
"Because it just makes me feel better," my friend pitifully replied as tears welled in her eyes. "And she was a wonderful Christian!"
I said nothing in an attempt to reason with her. I just gave her a big hug and let her cry.
I would describe this dear friend as devout, morally scrupulous, generally thoughtful, and polite. She is a widow and a caring mother and grandmother. She is a dedicated, knowledgeable employee in a women's health clinic. She works tirelessly for her church and attends mass regularly. Yet, she had no objective proof for the validity of her statement. She only had "faith" that her God protected this young woman from actual, physical pain because, otherwise what happened was too horrible to contemplate. I wonder if my friend thinks that God also watched as the young woman cried out for mercy while she was raped and mutilated; or did he simply turn his back on her after he fixed it so she at least wouldn't feel physical pain.
To me this is a graphic example of what faith (firm belief without logical proof) does to a person. It distorts rationality. If my friend's God has the kind of power to eradicate pain, why didn't he step in and prevent this senseless atrocity from happening in the first place?
In several thesauruses (or thesauri), the words "faith" and "hope" are synonyms. To me, no matter how strong a person says their "faith" is, it's really just "fervent hope."
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I just finished reading a science fiction novel (Book IV of Voyagers: The Return by Ben Bova) set far into the future. It depicts earth suffering from disastrous greenhouse flooding. Almost all countries have been taken over by ultraconservative religion-based governments such as the novel’s New Morality in the United States. Population is ballooning throughout the globe, and resources are running out. In addition, the planet is heading for nuclear war with nations refusing to dismantle whatever stockpile of warheads they have.
In the novel, the memoirs of a very old retired schoolteacher are shown in about three places. She says that it took her a long time to understand what was happening in the schools. The kids didn’t read T.S. Eliot or Shakespeare anymore because they were too difficult. They didn’t even read Dr. Seuss. And forget Hemingway because he used foul language and openly depicted sex. The New Morality took smiling advantage of what was going on and used it for their own purposes.
The retired teacher says there was a slow, patient, inevitable dumbing down of the schools including the students, teachers, and the administrators. And she admits that “we let them make things easier.” She describes the process:
"The overarching goal of education was to achieve equality…[A brilliant child] is no better than the intellectually challenged [child]. [We can’’t hurt the feelings of children who are autistic, have attention deficit disorder or were born with Down’s syndrome]…by putting them in separate facilities with specialists to look after them. [It was decided that they deserved] to be mainstreamed and attend school with everybody else….
"Equality of outcome…was our aim. Everyone was to be treated equally; every student would finish school the equal to every other student. And what was the easiest way to achieve equality? Teach to the lowest common denominator. Make certain that every student got exactly what every other student received. No fast lane for the so-called bright ones. That wouldn't be equal….
"Self-esteem. We tried to teach the kids to have pride in themselves. It took me years to figure out that for a youngster to have pride in herself she had to be able to accomplish things, achieve something to be proud of. But somehow we left that part out of the curricula….
"So we taught less and less of the things that made the kids feel unhappy with themselves and spent more and more classroom time on teaching them self-esteem…Arithmetic made them feel bad, so we eased off on the math. And the spelling. And the reading assignments. And homework….
"…Parents didn’t want their kids exposed to political beliefs that went against their own politics. So we stopped teaching civics. When an activist group decided that the Declaration of Independence was a subversive document…we stopped teaching about the American Revolution altogether….
"Darwin. When I first started teaching we were forbidden by the state legislature to use the word 'evolution' in class. Then we stopped teaching biology altogether. And physics. And chemistry. Instead we taught general science, including 'alternative' concepts such as intelligent design and astrology. It was a lot easier on the children, and we teachers didn’t have to defend ourselves against righteous parents who got blue in the face over 'godless secularist ideas.'
"We went along with it. The kids were happier; the pressure groups were happier. A few die-hard scientists and university academics warned that we were turning out a generation of ignoramuses, but they were happy ignoramuses and we could keep our jobs and avoid all the painful conflicts."
The retired teacher goes on to say that in spite of all this, there were a precious few kids who managed to get ahead anyway. A handful of schools managed to cater to those budding geniuses thirsting for real knowledge, but they were always distrusted and carefully watched. Their work was closely controlled by the government and the New Morality.
To me, much of this sounds like our present, dangerous, unstable world. These are alarming times.
I agree with Biker Bob that we need to get involved in helping all people--believers and nonbelievers--to help “minimize whatever societal problems we can.” How can we do this? Is cooperation between individuals and nations even possible?
Friday, May 7, 2010
My Christian mechanic is a kind, gentle, honest person and married to one of my late husband's high school classmates. Before he became ill and died, Fred had told this man--I'll call him Karl, but that's not his real name--that I was no longer a believer. Until over a year after Fred's death, nothing was mentioned to me personally by Karl or his wife about my unbelieving status.
(And, by the way, I didn't hold it against my Fred for talking to his Christian friends about my de-conversion. He needed to confide in believers just as I need to confide in my unbelieving friends for support. I'm quite sure Fred asked many to pray for me. When I left relgion, this was one of the few times in our long married life that Fred and I weren't able to express our deepest feelings to each other. Our love was just as strong, but a "knot" formed in our otherwise smooth relationship.)
Anyway, during the course of a conversation around the first of this year, Karl told me that Fred had informed him of my leaving religion and church behind. We then had a short discussion about my humanist atheism. My first book (Dare to Think for Yourself) was mentioned, and I asked Karl if he would like to read it.
"Well," he said, "I'll take a look at it if you will agree to watch a Lutheran TV program that I think you'll find interesting and may change your mind and bring you back to God."
"Okay," I replied, "I have no problem with that." In fact, I watched two of the telecasts and later told Karl that the man was a fine speaker, but he didn't convince me that I am wrong. I told him that he sounded like any other conservative televangelist and offered no proof for his beliefs.
Karl said nothing about my assessment of the messages from the Lutheran pastor whom he no doubt respects and admires other than, "You have too many questions, Betty."
Later, Karl returned my book through an employee of his without a note or a relayed "thank you" or any other comment. So at the recent encounter mentioned in the beginning of this short article, I asked if he read the book and what he thought of it.
I had never heard this gentle man gossip about another person, utter one curse word, or denigrate anyone (except maybe politicians). On that day, however, the expression on his face hardened; and he said, "Betty, I think you're a tool of the Devil."
I just smiled, shrugged and replied, "Well, Karl, I don't even believe there is a devil. In fact, I don't believe there is any so-called spiritual entity of any kind."
"Then I suppose you think that when you die, that's it. No afterlife, no looking forward to heaven or fearing hell?" he spat out.
"That's right, Karl. But I enjoy this life. I look forward to every day. I enjoy helping others and doing what I can to alleviate pain, loneliness, and suffering. I volunteer at a local food bank, contribute what little money I can afford to help those in disaster stricken areas as well as animal welfare agencies."
"Why do you do all that? What do you get out of it when you are an admitted atheist? What do you hope to gain?" he asked in bewilderment.
"I don't know that I personally get anything out of it except the satisfaction of helping others," I responded. "Unlike when I was a Christian I don't expect a reward for doing something good or to earn points with some sort of god or even with other people."
Karl just glared at me without comment, and I took that opportunity to excuse myself and let him get back to his work.
I don't think I'll ask him if he would like to read my recently published second book (The Homemade Atheist). I don't want to antagonize him further and maybe lose the services of a good mechanic--or, more importantly, friendship, if I already haven't, of a couple whom I've enjoyed knowing for about 19 years.
But such things happen. Believe me they happen.
I wonder how many others (both believers and unbelievers) have had similar experiences.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
The primary definition of "religion" is a belief in a superhuman controlling power, i.e. a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship. Without this description, the word "religion" has no meaning. If individuals want to be free of the pressures to conform why don't they simply take hold of that precious freedom to think for themselves while it still exists? Religion, traditionally, is the institution that is said to give safety, peace of mind, and community which is what most postmodern people are seeking. If this is so, then I wonder why there is such misery, even among believers, and evil throughout this world.
The Unitarian-Universalist (UU) fellowships embrace people of all faiths and non-faiths. Their membership includes disgruntled or disheartened Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus, agnostics and atheists, pagans and Wiccans, humanists and Taoists, perhaps a few Muslims, etc. They come together without a unifying creed or theological interpretation to which members must subscribe. Attendees, ostensibly, are encouraged to freely and responsibly search for truth and meaning for themselves in their own way.
These fellowships, obviously, are not communities of wholly like-minded individuals. I once attended over a period of a few years a UU fellowship (and still do on occasion if the advertised sermon topic appeals to me). Even though I never signed their membership book, for the most part gathering with the UUs for Sunday services was a pleasant, educational experience. It served as a peaceful transition from orthodoxy as I struggled to come to terms with my growing unbelief. By then I had severed my membership in both the Worldwide Church of God and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Eventually and ironically, the UU meetings became too ecumenical for me as I became more familiar with the many different religious viewpoints in that fellowship. I was searching and trying to "pick brains," but not one person ever gave me objective reasons for their particular belief positions. Even though I met a number of nice people, they seemed somewhat threatened if I questioned how and why they came to adopt their positions. My experience with the UUs was little different from the orthodox church I had left after I started asking pointed questions about its doctrines and creeds.
I did not become an unbeliever because I was angry with any deity or human being, for that matter, nor because my life was filled with disappointment or anguish. My humanistic atheism developed gradually through intensive personal research and study over many years. I began my investigation of religion because I had so many questions about the Bible and what I was taught it means, what others of different denominations say it means, and why a presumably loving, all-knowing god allows evil to perpetuate.
In a recent Gallop poll, 60% percent of Americans say that religion can answer all of today's problems, while 26% say religion is old-fashioned and out-of-date. I don't know what the remaining 14% say. Perhaps they include the many people who are looking for a religious or spiritual high without the burden of religious or spiritual baggage. They want to believe in something without objectively investigating their beliefs. They want to be a part of a community that gives them a sense of security but doesn't require religious doctrine or rules.
As a sometimes-despised atheist, I know that the majority of people, especially in the United States, do not respect my stance. Religionists would much rather have nominal believers or even those who say they're agnostics in their midst. After all, they might say, there is hope for them.
I respect sincere, nonmilitant adherents of any religious faith even though I disagree with all of them. I do, however, have a hard time with those who want community and meaning from a "spiritual" group but don't even know the meaning of the word "spiritual." (Please see my recently published second book, The Homemade Atheist, for an explanation of my feelings on the subject of spirituality).
If you want community without religious attachments, then join a country club, the Rotarians, or a bowling team. But be assured that you can't be a member in good standing of an established church without at least an outward appearance of conformity to certain rules or commandments of the god or gods which church members say they worship.
Like a TV commercial for a popular cookie once advertised, "If you're going to eat a cookie, then eat a cookie." And I say, "If you're going to believe in god, then believe in god--but know objectively why you do--uncolored by emotion, fear, or bigotry.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I don't know to what extent I'll be participating here in the coming months. I do have a business to run, private studies, and about ten hobbies in which I'm active. There is quite a bit of emotional involvement, and time and thought that goes into producing articles for a blog site, even as a guest editor. Anyone who can do this for an extended time period has my complete respect!
In the inimitable words of Porky Pig: "A ba beya ba beya, That's all Folks!"
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I know that many things fade with time. They certainly did for me. Also, there are things I'm now learning that I never knew. I thought I'd take some time and share some information, out of love, and in the spirit of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. We've entertained the theory that prophecy was written after it had already been fulfilled. There are some notable exceptions to this, and the case of Jesus would seem to be one of them. One resource we have during our own lifespans is proof of the relative intactness of the Old Testament scriptures, at least over a 2,500 year time span, because of the ways in which these compare to the so-called "Dead Sea" scrolls. So, any theories involving Catholic tampering do not apply. There are some fairly specific prophecies, part of the ancient Jewish literature, which pertain directly to Jesus Christ, and were written well in advance of His life, death, and resurrection.
First, lets turn to Luke 24: 44-45, where we read:
"He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."
There are two major Old Testament passages which describe and directly apply to the experiences of Jesus. Psalm 22, and Isaiah 52, and 53 contain some amazing descriptive language, and there are certainly others. Bible Scholars have identified scores of references in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms which foreshadow, prophesy, or describe Jesus Christ.
I'm going to highlight, or excerpt these chapters, because I know from experience that if I just list chapter and verse, most people will never look them up and read them for themselves.
1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
6. But, I am a worm, not a human being. I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7. All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8. He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.
9. Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me feel secure on my mother's breast.
10. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.
15. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18. They divide my clothes among them, and cast lots for my garment.
25. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly, before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him-may your hearts live forever.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship, all those who go down to the dust will kneel before him--those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn. He has done it!
Isaiah 52: 13 See my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness--
15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
1 Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He that hath an ear, let him hear!
In Christian Love,
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
"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.
Monday, April 26, 2010
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.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
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.
Monday, April 19, 2010
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.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The ACOGs believe that it is their "Great Commission" to preach the Armstrong version of the gospel around the world prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Yet, compared to the early pioneering efforts of both HWA and GTA, they are virtually invisible. It was once true that when one mentioned the name "Armstrong", there was instant recognition, and the ministry of HWA, or later GTA, was considered to be just as recognizable as that of Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, AA Allen, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and others. No ACOG splinter member in his or her right mind would even attempt to compare the World Tomorrow "cookie cutter" offspring of any of the splinter groups to some of the major evangelists of today, such as Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, James and Betty Robison, Jack Van Impe, Charles Stanley, and a plethora of others.
If indeed, much of the shakeup at UCG is due to differing opinions on diverting funds to increased usage of the media, (and rumors of this type of discord have surfaced before), then it would be of interest to consider one of the primary scenarios available to them.
In the sixties and seventies, there were no huge Christian networks. Religious broadcasters negotiated directly with the management of the stations which they considered desirable in terms of ability to reach their core audience. Many of these broadcasters used what was called "clear channel" AM radio stations. In any given area, smaller, local AM stations were compelled to sign off, or finish their broadcast day at sunset, if they happened to be operating on the same frequency as the huge powerhouse 50,000 and more watt "clear channel" stations. The large stations would then "turn up" their power, giving them incredible coverage throughout their region. At ten in the evening, one could receive WABC, New York in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Or, WLS, Chicago in the mountain towns of Pennsylvania. On the West Coast, one could listen to
the Wolfman Jack program, broadcast from XERB, Monterey Mexico, up in Oregon! (Remember American Graffiti?). These "clear channel" stations were very desirable to radio evangelists, and if you happen to have a very old Plain Truth, you would see from the radio log that most of the stations carrying "The World Tomorrow" were such stations. But, something happened! With improved technology, the ability to broadcast in stereo, FM radio all but ghettoized AM radio, starting in the 1970s.
Paul and Jan Crouch suddenly came into the picture. They had a very small Television station in Orange County, California, which carried Christian programming. With much work, the support of the Christian Community, and the advent of satellite technology, they turned this into a powerhouse that revolutionized televangelism. Anyone who wishes to have any impact in terms of preaching the gospel today both recognizes, and is often overwhelmed by the incredible superiority of TBN around the world to any other Christian media capabilities.
Before I began to include TBN in my daily television watching experiences, I had focused on the word "trinity" in the acronym which defines the network. I had imagined that those who presented the individual shows were somewhat united in their doctrinal approach, probably, in fact, some of the evangelicals we had all heard about that seemed to be taking over the schools, the government, wooing Rush Limbaugh, and in general having a huge impact on the politics of the USA. But, that is simply not true. Many of the hosts or evangelists are evangelical, and some are Baptist. They preach classic Christianity, and are very mainstream. But, there are also Messianic Jews, who refer to Jesus as Yeshua, and tell of the blessings realized by those who keep the sabbath and holy days. Walter Pearson is Seventh Day Adventist, and recently has lectured not only on sabbath observance, but also on clean and unclean meats! Jack and Rexella Van Impe, Grant Jeffries, and David Jeremiah all base their ministry on prophecy and the end times. Now, they don't handle this topic in the angry, manipulative way to which we became accustomed, partially because they also believe in the Rapture. Considering the sheer diversity, I can picture ACOG ministers blending into this gumbo of Christianity. They would be accepted, no doubt. But, would they be as accepting of those who did not believe or preach their own views? That, IMO, would probably constitute the largest obstacle!
Many of the shows on TBN are funded by megachurches. The show consists of the evangelist's sermon or lecture the previous weekend (many have 4-5 identical services spread out over Saturday and Sunday). Some of the ACOGs, although geographically spread out, do have the same overall population as do these megachurches, which often, as it turns out, also believe in tithing. So, the financing would be there, and the financial picture would improve because viewers would also contribute, send in donations, and request CDs and monthly devotional booklets. Other shows are not set in a church congregation. Some are in the format of a variety program, others in the classic HWA form, in an office, behind a desk. Still others are organized in the talk show format. Again, there is no question that an ACOG evangelist would fit into all of this.
Finally, once one splinter made entry into the weekly schedule, and began enjoying success, there is no doubt that others would follow suit. In fact, some of the evangelists on TBN appear in one anothers' personal appearance conventions as featured guest lecturers. So, one could almost envision a Roy Holladay convention, in which Rod Meredith and Gerald Flurry are featured guest speakers. If one of the ACOGs succeeds in getting on TBN, it could actually end up reunifying the entire splintered Armstrong movement.
Clearly, there would seem to be an opportunity here, but somehow, I don't see it as ever coming to fruition. Within the Armstrong movement, there has always been the pervasive belief that there is "one true church", and that non-sabbatarian Christians are in fact "Christians, falsely so-called". This type of culture has isolated them from any type of Christian cooperatives, and it is a self-imposed three lock box. Following the Wisconsin LCG massacre, there was an outpouring of sympathy from the local Christian community. All ministers and members could seem to do was to complain about all of the "pagan" crosses used symbolically in this outpouring. When disasters occur, ACOG ministers warn members against sending any of their tithes to relief funds. While the World Tomorrow did appear during timeslots following the evangelists representing other church groups, it would be difficult to imagine an Armstrongite minister contracting with an evangelical network owner, or want to appear complicit with trinitarians, Sunday keepers, or cross wearers. The owners of the radio stations were secular. The owners of the Christian networks are competitors (read "Satan's People")
Is any of this even remotely being considered at UCG? I have no idea. Clearly, if the ACOGs are to survive and grow, they will need to come up with a more contemporary approach. We here on this website have a history of providing information for those who might be considering Armstrongism as their sole-source spiritual solution. I would suggest that we watch this situation carefully, and to be prepared to continue sharing our experiences in ways that help others avoid the toxicities which could come into their lives courtesy of these cults.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
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.