Let God Sort Them Out
by John Bowers
Reading the articles, letters, and forum discussions on the Painful Truth website can be very thought provoking. (The insight is truly amazing, when you consider that everyone who contributes has been through approximately the same thing (some worse than others), yet very few of us have ever met.) Many times when I read something by someone else it sends my own mind in a direction I have never gone before.
Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the Bible is flawed and religion in general has created more problems than it has solved. Certainly religion has rescued some people from dreary lives, but far more have been damaged by it than saved.
Christianity is one of the most destructive faiths on the face of the earth.
A while back someone asked Ed to explain "what is so bad" about the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Ed responded with his usual fine eloquence, but I would like to take some time here to consider the question from one particular perspective. And that perspective is this:
Were it not for Christianity, how many people would never have died needlessly?
Clearly this is a big subject, and I can't possibly do it justice. To do so would mean cataloging such historical gems as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Jewish holocaust, and the Armenian genocide. Not to mention the "intraChristian" bloodbath that has consumed the last 400-plus years of Ireland's history. (To be accurate, in the case of the Armenians, Christians were the victims of Islam, but in the Crusades it was just the opposite.)
Rather, I would like to examine this question from the perspective of the Worldwide Church of God. I was a member, so were most of you. How many people did we kill (literally) because of our attitude and our "faith".
By now you are probably wondering "What the hell is he talking about? Enough riddles, already!"
Okay, here it is.
The doctrines we were taught, the dogma we believed, generated a careless, callous attitude toward life and death that may have--literally--caused some people to die. We can blame it on Herbert Armstrong (rightfully, because he taught it to us), yet we still believed it. We were part of the organization. And in our daily lives, we may have contributed to tragedy.
I know I did.
In 1988 my aunt contracted cancer. The doctors wanted to perform surgery. The tumor was still localized, could have been removed, her chances were excellent. She was torn. She didn't want to die, but she also didn't want to give up her "eternal" life. Fearful of both, she forced herself to "depend on God" for healing.
Standing in the parking lot outside the Masonic temple where we held services, she told me one afternoon that she had decided not to have the surgery. She was going to wait for God to heal her.
I told her she had made the right decision!
I told her I was proud of her!
What a God damned fool I was!
She died the following year. She was 53.
Somewhere, in a movie, maybe about Vietnam--I don't remember exactly--there was a quote. It was a military situation, soldiers facing the enemy, but mixed in with the enemy were civilians, noncombatants. Some were friendly, some were hostile, no one could tell who was who. A gunnery sergeant settled the matter once and for all when, in a booming gravel voice, he yelled:
"KILL ALL OF 'EM! LET GOD SORT 'EM OUT!"
That's great drama. It's also how we were taught to think. In the Worldwide Church of God. Many times I heard people say, "Well, he's probably better off. He'll come up in the second resurrection."
Are you sure?
Can you prove that?
I take you back to 1971. I was 22 years old. I had been in Pasadena for better than two years, performing alternate service in lieu of going to the army (as we Worldwide Church of God boys were taught was the right thing to do). Having returned home, I worked for the summer at a feed lot where my dad worked, but that was only a seasonal job. Winter came and with it the agricultural layoffs. I had no college degree and no clear idea of what kind of career I wanted.
Wayne Shiflet was our pastor at the time. He "invited" me to his house one afternoon for a conference (call it a summons for interrogation). He demanded to know what I was doing about finding a job (as if it were any of his fucking business!) I had been door to door and around the block and there wasn't much moving. But I did have an idea. Just a few months earlier I had been with a friend who went into convulsions on the street, and I had called for an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived I rode along, of course, and I was mightily impressed with the way those ambulance guys did things. They were cool, collected, and very professional. And they weren't much older than me.
I told Shiflet I was thinking about becoming an ambulance driver.
He went ballistic. He went nuts. He became apoplectic!
"What do you mean?" he shouted. "You're not a doctor!"
No, I told him, ambulances don't carry doctors. They carry emergency medical technicians. (In those days California had no paramedics as we know them today.)
But Shiflet was unmoved.
"They're just gonna have to go through the tribulation!" he shouted. "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAAAAAVE THEM FOR!"
I don't remember much of the conversation after that. But the ambulance company in the town where I lived was hiring, and I needed a job, so I took the training and for the next two years I did work as an ambulance driver/ attendant.
I was good at it. I learned first aid (and became a Red Cross instructor), took the EMT course, and I saved a few lives. I liked it. It was exciting, it was exhilarating, at times it was terrifying. But it was something I could do that not everyone could, and some people actually admired me for it.
People at church generally did not.
Memorial Day weekend, 1972. Friday afternoon.
I got off work a half hour before sundown. My shift ran from Saturday sunset to Friday sunset, six days straight, 24 hours a day (I was single at the time). My relief hadn't shown up yet, but we had two units and one was fully crewed. The odds they would both be called out at the same time were remote (it rarely happened in our small town). So I went home.
I was standing in the back yard, drinking a beer, when I heard a siren coming. Right down my street. I stepped out the gate in time to see the ambulance go by with red lights flashing. They gave me a wave and a grin, and I held up my beer in a toast.
Two minutes later my phone rang. Another call. My relief still hadn't arrived. The second ambulance had to roll, and they needed me. Right fucking now!
The sun was down. It was the Sabbath.
But the call was from the California Highway Patrol. Millerton Lake, motorcycle versus pickup, Code 3.
What was it Jesus had said about the ox in the ditch?
What was it Jesus had said about healing on the Sabbath?
I didn't hesitate. I jumped in my car (minus the beer) and hurried the eight blocks to the office. As soon as I jumped into the ambulance we were off.
The accident was in the foothills, twenty minutes away. We arrived to find the motorcyclist gasping for breath, still alive, still conscious, but hurting bad. He was 21 years old. The cops on the scene told us they had already alerted St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno (we were from another town), and we were to take him there.
Well, you don't argue with the CHP. We headed for Fresno. From where we were, the hospital was thirty miles away. I was driving. The highway was under construction, rutted and broken, with detours and missing pavement, and every city dweller in California coming right down my throat, because this was Highway 41, which leads to Yosemite, and it was the beginning of a holiday weekend.
As we left the scene, Ed in the back put oxygen on the patient and told me to proceed Code 2 (no siren, no lights --make tracks, but don't push it). With me in the front seat were two girls from the pickup, minor cuts and scrapes. Giggling, giddy, just a little wired because they had survived a traffic accident without serious injury. It must have seemed like a terrific adventure to them.
Ten minutes later I heard the resuscitator kick in, and Ed stuck his head through the window from the back.
"Better make that a three," he said, which meant the patient was losing ground.
I switched on the red lights, set the siren box to WAIL, and added as much speed as I dared on that shattered roadway. The girls fell silent, and pretty soon one of them began to sob.
Long story short, it was one hell of nightmare ride. Every car I met looked like it was going to come right through my windshield, and they were bumper to bumper on that messed-up road. We got to St Agnes and the patient was still alive. Drowning in his own blood, but still alive (and he survived).
The next day, at church, our most righteous deaconness (a twice-divorced single mother who was so obnoxious that no man could live with her, which apparently qualified her to be ordained and rule over the rest of us), approached me and wanted to know "how my job was going".
Like an idiot, I told her about the call the night before. (Why? Hell, I don't know. I'm an honest person. Ask me a question and I'll try to answer it. Stupid!)
Her response was immediate.
"He would probably be better off dead!"
How many people died? How many were talked out of medical attention? How many times did Worldwiders refuse to help non-members because they weren't "converted"? I once heard Herman Hoeh say "Let the dead bury the dead", meaning we had better things to do. After all, anyone who died without being "called" would be resurrected and get another hundred years of life. So why save them so they could live in "Satan's world"?
Shortly after I left the Worldwide Church of God a devout member tried to talk me into coming back. During the conversation he admitted he was unhappy with Joe Tkach for donating $100,000 to charity to aid the victims of Hurricane Hugo. "God is spanking these people!" he complained. "If God is spanking them, then why are we trying to relieve their misery?"
(I swear-to-god, that's what he said!)
Lester McColm, the last pastor I ever endured, said in a sermon once that the American settlers made the same mistake Joshua made. When they settled the Old West, the settlers (Mr. Mac believed) were performing a "type" of claiming the Promised Land (because prophecy is dual, dontcha know!), and just as Joshua failed to utterly destroy the Canaanites, the American settlers failed to utterly destroy the Indians.
(Well, Mac, they damn near succeeded. Sorry to disappoint you.)
Paul Royer, in a sermon in the sixties, told about taking a trip during which he stopped at a roadside stand to buy something to eat. He described the poverty-stricken family that operated the stand, how shabbily they were dressed, their grubby children looked up at him with hungry, hope-filled eyes--and said to himself, "Why should I prolong your miserable life one more day by buying something from you?" Whereupon he got back in his car and drove away, without leaving any of his precious money behind to feed those whom he deemed unworthy to live.
Total absence of compassion.
While in Pasadena I once spent the Night to be Much Observed with a family who had once lived in the Fresno area. During the course of the evening the subject of compassion came up. I told them about driving home from a holy day one night and passing a terrible accident. Flares lining the roadway, CHP all over the place, the ambulance just pulling away with injured on board. I admitted that I had said a prayer for the people in the ambulance. Mistaaaaaaaake! I was roundly ridiculed, not only by the man of the house, but by one of his other guests. Those people were worldly! They were sinners! They deserved only judgment! I had no right to pray for them!
I was shaken. I couldn't believe it (this was before the Shiflet incident). I tried to argue--how did I know that God might not one day call those people? I had known several church members who had been "called" after suffering some horrible cataclysm. Who was to say. . .
Nope. Shut up. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Just drop it.
How many people didn't have to die? Christianity fosters the idea that life is not that important, because something better is waiting. It's okay if I kill you--you will go to heaven, or be resurrected later.
Well. . .
What if you won't? What if it ain't true? How do you know? How does anyone know? No one ever came back to talk about it, did they? It's all speculation. It's blind faith. (The true definition of faith is "belief without proof", Hebrews 11 notwithstanding.)
I remember Mr. Pickard. If ever there was a single Christian in the Worldwide Church of God, he was it. Mr. Pickard was a businessman back in the sixties. He had a beautiful wife, three healthy kids, plenty of money, a fine home--and he was handsome. The picture of success.
Mr. Pickard used to spend many hours hauling church kids to and from youth events (this was years before YOU). If you've never been to California's San Joaquin Valley, it is huge. Larger than some eastern states. Larger than Rhode Island, larger than Delaware, larger than Israel. It is a big place. Tens of thousands of square miles of nothing but flat, flat, flat farmland.
Fresno sits right in the middle of it. The nearest church to the south was Bakersfield, 110 miles away. To the north, the nearest church was in Modesto, 100-plus miles away. I lived forty miles from church, other kids lived even farther. Most of us were poor. Our parents got us to church, but parents were discouraged from attending the youth parties simply because there was not enough room in the private homes where they were held. But the distance was too far for most of the parents to come back later and pick up their kids.
Enter Mr. Pickard. He had a big 1966 Ford station wagon, the kind with the fake wood on the sides. Big and square and powerful, and it would seat approximately eleven (seat belts were still a luxury in those days), give or take two or three smaller kids. Mr. Pickard spent hundreds of gallons of gasoline hauling kids all over the valley, to and from events.
I don't remember if he was a deacon, but he probably was. He was the president of Spokesman Club the first year I joined (at 17 I was the first teenager ever to be admitted to the Fresno club). When I was in college I worked for him for a season in his heating/AC shop. He was a good man. A good Christian man. Mr. Pickard could actually have been a poster boy for New Testament Christianity. He lived it that well. Kind. Gentle. Considerate. Caring. All the so-called "fruits" of the spirit.
Mr. Pickard had faith.
He also had an airplane.
In 1971, still living in Pasadena, I heard the tragic news. Mr. Pickard and his wife and a church family from Modesto had gone on some kind of trip. I don't know the details, but they took his airplane, a six-seater. The Pickard kids stayed home, but the other family took their two kids. Six Worldwiders, setting out from here to there.
Along the way they ran into heavy weather. Mr. Pickard landed for fuel (somewhere in Northern California). He was advised to park it until the weather blew over. He opted to continue. So, with everyone on board, no doubt having said a prayer for God's protection. . . Mr. Pickard streaked down the runway and into the air--for the last time ever.
The plane went down. Six people died, two of them children. The Pickard kids were orphaned. Two church congregations were in shock.
Why did Mr. Pickard continue? I never flew with him, but I knew him well enough to know that he would not have done anything in an airplane without adequate preparation. He was just that kind of man. So why did he take off into the teeth of a thunderstorm against the advice of the airport weatherman?
I can only speculate, but I'm willing to venture a guess. I suspect that Mr. Pickard believed he and his passengers enjoyed divine protection. I suspect he believed that God would keep the plane in the air. I suspect that if he hadn't been a Christian, he would have waited out the storm.
He stepped out on faith, and it killed him.
Mr. Pickard didn't have to die. Neither did his wife, nor the four members of the other family. Most of them might be alive today, except for one thing: The Myth of Christianity.
How many others? How many diverse, unexpectedly related circumstances? I knew people who didn't like seat belts, and wouldn't wear them. Why should they? They had God's protection! Members of the Worldwide Church of God were special--God would look out for them.
(The same is true in many other churches. Some congregations in Appalachia actually handle poisonous snakes, because Paul did it and the Bible promises protection for it. Dozens of them die from snakebite every year. All because of the Myth of Christianity.)
How many of us also took needless chances? How many of us became ill, were injured, almost died because of stupid decisions that were made simply because we believed in the dogma of the Worldwide Church of God cult? My aunt died because she thought she should have faith in God. I could name several others who also died, who could have been saved from cancer if they had heeded medical advice. Instead they heeded Armstrong, and they are dead.
Many people committed suicide. Some might have done so anyway, but people who kill themselves usually do it from a lack of hope. The Worldwide Church of God took away all hope. The only "hope" they offered was subject to constant threats if we didn't obey them implicitly (and often even if we did). Most of us, I now realize, never truly thought we would "make it". Those who did believe they would make it were usually so arrogant and self-righteous that no one could stand them. Yet they were often the ones with the power. And they squeezed the hope out of people until some took their own lives.
Whereupon they frequently proclaimed that the deceased probably had "never been converted" in the first place. How convenient! The individual is still dead! And what if there is no resurrection? Then they are dead forever.
The Bible says that "if we in this life only have hope, we are of all men most miserable" (as near as I can remember without looking it up). They used to beat us over the head with that one a lot. But you know what? That statement simply is not true. If we assume it to be true, we risk throwing away the only chance at life we will ever have, which is this life, right now.
Christianity does that. It oppresses you, robs you, rapes you, kills you--and assures you that it doesn't matter, because you will live again.
But it offers no proof!
I don't believe there is a hell, but if there is (and this would be nice!), the only people who should be sent there are religious leaders. They take your money and rob you of the quality of your life, all the while assuring you that your real treasure awaits you in heaven. They get theirs now, but you have to wait until the next life. Even though, very likely, there is no next life.
Not all religious leaders are like that, of course. But far too many are. It is often difficult to tell which ones are sincere and which ones are simply exploiting their people.
So I say, send 'em all to hell.
Let God sort 'em out!
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