Things We Should Have Learned
From the Worldwide Church of God
By Bob E.
Let's face it. We are all graduates of what Robert Ringer (Winning Through Intimidation) calls, "Screw U", his alternative term for the school of hard knocks. As graduates of "Screw U", hopefully we have become a bit more wary, suspicious,
cynical, and self protective. If not, our entire Worldwide Church of God experience was a total waste! Reading many of the experiences and articles here on this site has triggered a virtual flood of thoughts, both positive and negative regarding my own personal experiences with the cult, and I've identified seven very basic lessons which are worth sharing. Now I know, some of you are probably thinking: "Hey, Bob, seven lessons? Aren't you getting just a little too Herbal?"
Well, yeah! Everything always was seven with him! But we're not saying that there are only seven lessons, or trying to be Biblical numerologists here. Seven has always been my personal lucky number. And, are we not all very lucky not only to have survived the Worldwide Church of God, but also to be stronger so that we cannot be victimized again? In fact, I think that at this point, a moment of silence out of respect for those who didn't make it, is totally appropriate.
Here, then, are the lessons. Take what you need:
1) Any strength practiced to extreme becomes a weakness. In fact, there is a clinical psychological term to describe much of the behavior we learned as part of the Worldwide Church of God. It is called obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it followed many of us when we left. Let me demonstrate how it works: Many people, both male and female, have discovered the long term and short term benefits of weight training. In proper balance, this can help one maintain strength throughout life to perform well at one's place of employment, in bed with a sexual partner, playing with one's children, with one's hobbies, etc. A good physical fitness program can prolong life, instill confidence, and help one avoid illness and even injury, due to better dexterity. But, suppose one were to take this to extreme, to lose balance to the point where his or her entire life were centered around weight training exclusively. We might expect to see that individual spending extreme amounts of time at the gym, purchasing special, expensive foods and vitamin supplements to support the rigorous activities, not having time for proper balanced social interaction, limiting social contact to casual conversations with those met at the gym, and possibly being too physically tired to perform well at work. With ensuing job loss, and spending all disposable cash on issues surrounding body building, perhaps the person's family might be called upon to support him or her. In fact, soon all else might be crowded out of that person's life, taking what in moderate dosages could be beneficial, but practiced to extremes such as described, actually becoming a liability not only to the participating individual, but also to those around him or her.
Now, think of all the many activities we were called upon to practice to extreme in the Worldwide Church of God. Is it any wonder that we were all stuck in a position of perpetual weakness? And, didn't we all assume that to become stronger, we needed to be more diligent, to become even more extreme? Losing one's job due to the Sabbath or Holy Days was fairly commonplace. But, I knew a very successful salesman who found that after becoming part of the WCG, if he continued to spend the proper amounts of time preparing for his work activities to maintain his success, he would not be able to spend the huge amounts of time the church encouraged for personal prayer and Bible Study, and would miss out on the regular WCG Wednesday evening Bible Study held in a city several hours' drive away. He resigned from the profession, losing a company car, and drastically lowering his family's standard of living in the process. He did it willingly, because after all, the WCG fostered an anti-sales mentality, probably to keep us all from realizing that in reality, the ministers were all salesmen (of a grossly defective product), and we were their prospects and customers. His family remained impoverished for as long as I knew them, and he floated from profession to profession.
Remember the exorbitant amount of time required for weekly grocery shopping, because one had to thoroughly read the list of ingredients on every package searching for words such as "pork", or "ham"? There were also the nebulous code words, such as "shortening", which could mean lard, so you couldn't take a chance unless there was a little P in a circle, which stood for the Jewish word Parve, and meant that the product was basically Kosher. We were also proscribed from wearing items of clothing made from mixed materials, in accordance with Old Testament Law. In fact there was a gentleman in the headquarters area who took this so literally, that when he couldn't find white cotton socks without elastic reinforcement, he dutifully removed the elastic from the calves of the socks with his tweezers. He was seen every Sabbath walking around with his socks sagging limply above his shoes, and kept doing so, until the ministers later proclaimed that it was acceptable to mix a natural fiber with a man-made material. The Worldwide Church of God was an organization based on fanatical interpretation of laws, many of them irrational and idiotic. Not only is it easy to trap fanatics in moral dilemmas, because they tend to see all possible choices as either completely right or completely wrong, but, as we've demonstrated, their extreme compulsiveness keeps them in a state of perpetual weakness, which makes them subject to victimization by the very people they are trusting for guidance! Remember our friend "Socks", and be happy that you broke this cycle.
2) Religion is a very powerful intoxicant. There are certain very good behavioral patterns common to about 85% of humanity. These include love for family, drives for stability and self preservation, pursuit of health and happiness, to name a few. An intoxicant such as a narcotic, alcohol, power, or money can cause deviation from these good patterns, in favor of destructive behavior. A drunk will choose another drink over helping a friend or relative out of a dire life-threatening situation. A Worldwide Church of God member, chooses religion over "carnal" or "worldly" family members. Drunks and addicts are often very abusive to family or children. WCG members, intoxicated on religion, frequently beat the crap out of their kids, and used their wives as a foot wiping mat, or slave! Addictive personalities always victimize the financial stabilities of themselves and those close to them. Those intoxicated on the Worldwide Church of God, gave up financial stability, their kids' college educations, and retirement plans to respond to each of HWA's emergency letters. See the pattern? But it gets worse. Even a drunk or addict would eventually take his or her child to obtain medical attention in case of injury or severe illness, but not someone intoxicated on the WCG! Religious intoxication is perhaps the most insidious addiction of all. First of all, who is going to believe that it even exists, let alone condemn it as evil and recommend treatment? Then, how do you treat it? Do you treat it as you would treat some addictions, with a 12 step program, total abstinence, and surrender to a higher power? Ooohhh, watch those last two words, aren't those the ones that got us into trouble? So maybe we treat it as we would an eating disorder. You need food for sustenance, so you are forced to learn moderation. But, Herbert W. Armstrong time-bombed you. If you practiced his religion in moderation, didn't he then brand you as Laodecean? That is why the greatest number of those exiting this abominable cult practice total abstinence from religion. When I tried to explain this once to a minister from another faith, he literally broke down and cried, and marveled at how Satan had been so effective in actually killing the whole concept of religion for a great number of people! Another pitfall for those with addictive personalities is that of replacing one addiction with another seemingly less destructive addiction. I've known people who, upon discovering that the WCG is a fraud, have joined the Church of Scientology or one of the Pentecostal holy roller churches!
3) Question authority. The WCG had its own version of this. They wanted us to prove all things. Unfortunately, their game plan was that you would read their materials, become brainwashed, regurgitate their teachings back to a minister convincingly enough for him to baptize you, and then switch off your mind and simply blindly accept everything they dished out thereafter. There is a word for such a person who does this, and it's not "converted" as the Worldwide Church of God so quaintly put it. The word is, once again, victim! Hopefully we have all learned to question arbitrary authority, to hold authority figures accountable, and to be very careful of the amount of intrusion we allow them to have into our lives. When one person claims he or she hears voices, a medical practitioner, upon establishing that there are no voices, diagnoses that person to be schizophrenic, a serious form of mental illness. That is, unless the patient is a minister, and claims that the voice is that of Jesus Christ! Once he tells you that, society gives him a pass! In apostolic times, the messenger was generally validated by paranormal occurrences. In modern times, apparently the closest such occurrence with mass witnesses was in the early part of the century, and is now known as the miracle at Fatima. Regardless of whether or not you believe in the miracle at Fatima, in which the Virgin Mary purportedly spoke with two young Portuguese girls in front of their entire town, I certainly don't know anyone who ever witnessed paranormal occurrences to support Herbert W. Armstrong's claims that he was God's end time messenger and/or apostle. During his life, the only background information we had on him came from his own autobiography, and that might possibly have never changed, if the prophecies God had supposedly inspired him to make had actually come to pass. Their nearly complete failure caused the inevitable questions, and interviews of those present during his germination period in the Church of God, Seventh Day. If his background had been a matter of public knowledge early on, those who do question authority would have been spared some really unfortunate experiences. But, even today, he is blindly revered by many in the sub-cults, most of whom have been confronted with the truth, yet willingly practice denial. In contrast, the one surviving sister from the Fatima experience, today a nun in the Catholic Church, was 100% accurate in the prophecies which were allegedly revealed to her.
4) Random circumstances happen to everyone. By labeling these as blessings or cursings, the WCG made the recipients personally responsible for whatever happened to them, even if it was something blatantly non-Karmic, and totally beyond their control. One used to hear laughable methods of explaining this away, as the time someone unashamedly proclaimed
that God was blessing them by allowing Satan to curse them so they could recognize and correct a character flaw. How absurd! Ministers were never able to credibly explain why there was no difference between the ways in which a worldly person was blessed or cursed, and the way church members were blessed or cursed. You couldn't make a case that WCG members were protected from disease, poverty, or accidents any differently than, let's say, a Catholic or Presbyterian. WCG members often fared worse! Members frequently died from totally treatable maladies, lost their jobs, businesses, and farms due to various church beliefs, and died in horrible car crashes enroute to compulsory attendance at remote Feast Sites to which they could barely afford to travel in old, ratted out, unsafe automobiles. If there were any measurable difference in favor of Worldwide Church of God members, it would be that they were incarcerated at a lower rate, due to adherence to the spirit and letter of virtually every imaginable law. That is not a bad thing. But, the lesson here is that "Shit Happens!" to everybody. The successful people are those who confront and deal with it, instead of waiting for some imaginary external force to take it away.
5) A situation which starts out bad generally becomes much worse. By the time the tragedy occurred in Jonestown, Guyana, I had been away from the WCG for several years. Initially, I wondered whether Jim Jones might possibly be a WCG pastor in South or Central America. While there were many extremely close parallels, my fears proved unfounded . What had concerned me the most was that amongst the WCG faithful, Petra was always held out to be a special place. It was where we were to receive our final training before Christ's return. Having watched for years as justice based on gossip, innuendo, and hearsay evidence which would never hold up in a court of law, was dispensed by the Worldwide Church of God, I suffered no such illusion. Petra would not be a place where a brother first confronted a brother, then repeated the process in front of a witness, then ultimately took it to a minister, all else having failed, who with Solomon's wisdom, would mete out an equitable resolution. I knew that at "God's West Point", students out and out ratted, and unsubstantiated allegations frequently appeared as fact on disciplinary reports which, when treated credibly, had serious impact on people's lives. The ministers, who wanted you to believe that everything which they did was inspired by God, obviously lacked the divine ability to determine the truthfulness of the allegations. So, to me, this, combined with the reinstitution of Old Testament Law, would make Petra a place where lot's of people got stoned, and I do not mean in a pleasant recreational way! Lesson: if it looks bad in the beginning, get the hell out, and run, don't walk. If you are a reader, who happens to be a member of one of the WCG splinter groups, you may want to very carefully reconsider the wisdom of spending 3-1/2 years in a place of "safety" presided over by Gerald Flurry, David Pack, or Rod Meredith. At least at Garner Ted's place of safety the massages (with optional masturbation!) will be good!
6) Self denial works best when practiced voluntarily, not under coercion. This is why there is so much bitterness among former WCG members! Supposing an amazing hypnotist was leading you thru some acrobatic tricks which you would not and could not perform in your normal state of consciousness. While performing a trick, you lost control, fell off the stage, broke your back, and became a paraplegic. Your angst and bitterness would be centered on the fact that you had given full control to another, assuming that he had your best interests in mind, but that because he was proven unreliable, you would pay the consequences for the duration of your life. In fact, if someone you have come to trust as your religious or spiritual leader persuades you to do something extreme and permanent, such as mortgage your home to finance yet another "gun lap", and you later discover that the one you trusted is in reality an incestuous old fraud who literally plagiarized the religion which he has taught you, after having been defrocked by the church which had originally ordained him, you might become just a little bitter. Isn't it strange, the sheer number of people who became bitter as a result of exposure to the WCG? A veritable epidemic! Now, contrast this with Henry David Thoreau, who separated himself from civilization, and went to live in a box at Walden Pond, eating only what he could pick and catch. He wrote a book chronicling his ascetic experiences. So what was to be bitter about? In Thoreau's case, it was all self-imposed. Ergo, it's not the self-denial that makes ex-Worldwide Church of God people bitter, it's that that self-denial was induced by the fraud and deception of people who actually knew better, and avoided suffering the pain themselves.
7) Compassion for minorities. Because of some of the situations chronicled by my good friend John B, in his excellent article, "Catch 111", most of us know very well how it felt to be ostracized by people we admired, to have been held back from opportunities, and often to have been viewed as pariahs. We were a pseudo-minority! I, for one, appreciated it very much the few times when others helped extricate me from various situations of peer-imposed helplessness. The lesson from the help offered by others, often at personal cost, has remained with me for many years. This White Boy is not your typical Casper. I have great empathy for persecuted people from all backgrounds, and will not hesitate to use my strengths to defend others who are being unfairly singled out and maligned. There was a truly great movie filmed during the '70's, called "Billy Jack", which dealt with this subject very eloquently, and re-shaped public perception of what our interactions with those different from ourselves could be. We are all of the same race, the human race. Now that human DNA has been mapped, a leading geneticist has postulated that there is not adequate biological difference to support the theory that there are separate races. We are all that similar! If we were cats, you as a Siamese cat would not have different needs than I, as, let's say a Tabby. As humans, we all get up in the morning looking forward to a new day, and greet the day with similar emotions. Our needs and goals are similar. The same things hurt us or make us happy. Unfortunately, we are all confronted by what police officers refer to as "Adam Henries" (assholes, to those with no cops as friend or relative) from time to time, who would use how we look, what we are, or what we believe as justification for their acts of bigotry. Each of us has an opportunity to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Empathy and compassion, walking a mile in the other guy's moccasins, makes the world a better place.
Someone once said that the more painful the learning experience, the more lasting the effect. The lessons enumerated above are priceless. I thank Herbert W. Armstrong and his cast of merry pranksters for the education, but not for the unnecessary pain. Fortunately, pain and bitterness diminish with the passage of time. Strength replaces them. Being a victim is never fun, but with what we've learned, we really are in a better position to deal with life's problems and disappointments than others who have no idea who Herbert W. Armstrong was, or what the WCG was all about. That is our lemonade! For those who have just left one of the splinter groups, and feel despondent, remember, others have gone before you. No, it's not easy, this new odyssey on which you have embarked. A true survivor doesn't concern himself or herself with the past, it's gone, and there's nothing you can do about it. A true survivor is not overly concerned about the future, because it has not happened yet. A true survivor remembers that today is the first day of the rest of his or her life! And, now that you've broken the cycle, life is good!
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