The bitterness label is perhaps one of the most irksome and cliched things that practicing Armstrongites can hurl at us. When someone plays the "B" card (actually quite an identifying shibboleth!), it is a device intended to leverage or invalidate us, and to cast doubt upon our opinions and statements. Once employed, it momentarily stops meaningful discourse while the accused suddenly find themselves confronting the topic of bitterness before being able to continue the original discussion. I believe that most people hurling this label know exactly what they are doing, too. They are pressing one of the buttons which their programming has taught them to press. Unfortunately, after about fifty years, it has become so unoriginal that one almost expects it to be accompanied by parrot squawking! "Wwaaakkk! Root of Bitterness! Wwaaakkk!" Yet, so deeply embedded is this in the minds of the cultically programmed that it is something we are unlikely to be able to correct. Best course might be to take it for what it is, and simply ignore it, depriving the utterers of its impact. We should realize that perhaps using it is the only way that the programmed can process our posts, mentally deflecting themselves from some of the very valid issues which we raise from time to time.
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.