As a fugitive from organized religion, I am so happy to be free that it continually amazes me when I read letters to Ed and others in which people go to great lengths to defend oppressive religious systems. It puts me in mind of people living in countries with totalitarian governments, where the garbage is never collected, sewage runs in the streets, and the police drag people off into the night--yet the people curse the United States because of its "oppressive capitalism".
Years ago, when I still believed in Herbert Armstrong and the Bible, I used to marvel at the Israelites. Moses had just completed his diplomatic mission to Pharaoh, God had delivered unspeakable plagues upon the Egyptians, and after 430 years of slavery the Israelites had escaped through the Red Sea via a narrow pathway of dry ocean bottom. Then, as soon as the drinking water ran out, these recently-freed slaves began to demand that they return to Egypt, where they would have been put back in chains the moment they arrived.
Why? Why would they even think of going back? They had just been delivered supernaturally!
In 1992 I obtained my freedom from the Worldwide Church of God--my emancipation, if you will. A few people tried to talk me out of leaving. They had no idea what I had learned, and when I shared some of it with them, they really didn't care. "Sour grapes!" one man told me. Another simply laughed it off. "You never believed everything the church taught, did you?" he asked. (Yes, dammit! I did! Didn't you?)
Yet another man had learned that a few doctrines were in error. He was running around trying to convince people it was okay to fellowship with members of the Church of God 7th Day (the "Sardis church"). He knew about HWA's lies and incest and rape and flog-log, but all he could get out of it was that we should go back to the "faith once delivered", i.e., the faith originally delivered to HWA, which he had rejected to start his own church.
I was flabbergasted.
Where were these people's heads? The Worldwiders, the Israelites, and the defenders of Worldwide Church of God that we see writing to the PT website. What are they thinking?
Today I believe I know the answer. These people--all of them--suffer from a slave mentality. They have been under the whip so long that they are simply unable to conceive of what it means to be free.
The Israelites are a good example (assuming the story is true, which I simply do not know for sure). According to the Bible, the Hebrews had been almost four and a half centuries in slavery. Some seventeen generations under the whip. Those who were set free had been born into slavery, and had no point of reference for what freedom might mean. They knew that slavery was not fun, but it was at least understood. It was comfortable. They knew what to expect. They knew the rules and how to play the game.
But freedom? That was like a big city driver who suddenly finds himself on a country road--where do you go when there are no cars to follow? What do you do when there is no one to give you orders?
The story of the Israelites may well not be true, but the phenomenon is not unique. After the American Civil War, when the slaves had been set free by proclamation, many of them opted to remain where they were. Perhaps their masters had not been so cruel. They had housing, food, and work. They were willing to accept a little pay to stay put and not be thrust suddenly into the terrifying world outside. (This was especially true of the older people, whose lives had already been wasted in servitude. They simply did not have the energy or the courage to forge a new life, with the attendant fears and unknowns, so they continued to work for their old masters.)
We see the same phenomenon today in the "battered wife" scenario. Women whose husbands have beaten them within inches of their lives frequently will not press charges against their abusive spouses. "He didn't really mean it." "He loves me. It's my fault for upsetting him." "He won't do it again. He promised." But the real truth is--"Where will I go if I divorce him? How will I make a living? How will I feed my children? It isn't very good now, but it might be a lot worse if I leave."
And so they stay.
And all too often, they die.
"Yes, Mr. Armstrong was wrong about a lot of things. But he did lead a lot of people to God. We need to overlook his shortcomings. After all, he is only human."
One man I know, who left Worldwide Church of God for GCG, asked me if I had heard the incest story. I was surprised that he knew of it, and asked him if he believed the story. With a straight face, he said to me (and I'm not making this up):
"Yeah, it probably happened. But the way I look at it, any one of us could have done the same thing."
! ? ! ? !
I didn't even answer him. I was so stunned that my brain ceased to function. I have a daughter, and there is no way that I could ever do such a thing. Not even if I was falling-down, shit-faced drunk. It simply could not happen.
I have never spoken to him since.
Another man, one who tried to talk me out of quitting, told me point blank, "I need someone to guide me. I need the ministry. I couldn't make it without them."
In his case I think I believe it. He was nearly fifty years old, never married, still living with his mother. A classic Worldwide Church of God loser.
No self confidence.
No self esteem.
No sense of self worth whatsoever.
Lock me up. Feed me. Tell me what to wear. Tell me what to read. Tell me when to shower and shave.
Tell me what to believe.
Take my money. (Here's my wallet--give me back what you think I should have. You are so much wiser than I am.)
The Worldwide Church of God fostered the slave mentality. When someone left the church or was disfellowshipped, you frequently heard stories about them. They were miserable. They were depressed. Their lives were terrible. They were "the most miserable people on the face of the earth"! They died of terrible diseases, had horrible accidents, their kids went to prison, they committed suicide, and on and on and on. (How many such stories were true I have no idea.)
But many such people were, in fact, miserable. Because they had bought into the slave mentality. They believed they could not be saved without the Worldwide Church of God, yet they were now "enemies of the church", and thus were lost forever.
Frequently you heard the statement, "When you leave God's church, there is nowhere else to go!"
I said that myself, many times. For it did seem that those who left never seemed to join any other church--or if they did, it was rare. (It never occurred to me that maybe some of them simply did not need to join another church.)
During numerous conversations with people after I had left, I discovered that several of them had known for years that many of the doctrines taught by HWA were false, and some of them knew a great deal about corruption in high places. Yet they stayed on, believing that it was not their business how things were run, that it was "up to God to correct it".
Certainly an individual has a right to remain in bondage if he or she so chooses. But it mystifies me to this day. I see an analogy with a concentration camp. The inmates are being held without legal or moral justification, and have been locked up for years. Their children are prisoners as well, growing up behind the barbed wire. Subject to beatings, starvation, torture, disease, without adequate food or medicine. Then someone comes along with a key and unlocks the front gate. The guards are removed and the gun towers are dismantled.
But the people remain in their barracks. Freezing. Starving. Suffering.
They refuse to accept freedom.
It scares them.
In 1994, for a few months, I corresponded with a woman who was trying to set up an exit network to help cult members escape the bonds of their religion. Her stated goal was to continue in her efforts until every cult in America was shut down and all the inmates were free.
I don't know what she is doing today, but I do know one thing--she will never achieve that particular goal. The proof lies in the fact that the Tkaches (as much as I dislike them) did in fact reverse most of the doctrines of the old Worldwide Church of God and turned the organization into what looks very much like a "mainstream" Christian church. But when they did, tens of thousands of the members turned and ran the other way. They fled in terror from the (limited) freedom offered by the Tkaches, stampeding over the horizon toward the holding pens of PCG, UCG, GCG, and ICG.
Freedom was not an option.
Freedom was not acceptable.
They were slaves. It was the only life they knew. Anything else was too frightening, too terrifying.
It's really sad, but unfortunately true. Cults will never go away, because there are too many people who need them. People who have no self esteem. People who need to be told what to do. Who need to be punished (for what, they aren't sure, but they need it). If you shut down a cult, the inmates will find another one, or create their own.
All any of us can do for them is to be here, waiting, when they find their own way out.
Only then can we offer our assistance.
But many will die on the plantation. It's the only life they know, the only life they can accept. They are slaves for life.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
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