The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

A Review of the book: "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer (1951)

Having just endured a world war and facing an uncertain peace because of the power of mass movements, the author sought to compare and contrast all previous mass movements to sift out the commonalties of both the leaders and the led. What type of a person can begin a mass movement? "Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonies); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness..... a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of loyal lieutenants."

The potential converts? Not necessarily those whom you would think. The abjectly poor make poor recruits because they spend so much of their effort in survival (as the street people of Delhi) ; slaves, because they have so little control over their destiny. Paradoxically it is when food is adequate and freedom achieved that frustration with the present can blossom and yield converts. "Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some." The fanatic of any stripe is easier to convert than the person of no passion , firm beliefs, or apathy.

Saul to Paul conversions are not the exception. The author finds 11 sources of potential converts, from the poor ,to minorities and sinners.

Self sacrifice and identification with the collective whole are integral to the mass movement and this is achieved via the use of 7 unifying agents.

Finally the phases of mass movements are analyzed. The fever cools with time and the product at the end, bears little resemblance to its beginning. The converts insist that there have been "no changes".

The insights offered in this book apply to so many things. The ex wwcog member will find at least one quote per page which applies to our experiences "in the church". ( I would encourage you to offer your favorite quote or quotes and what it means to you). When applied to everyday life, you can see the pattern at work in religions, environmentalism, vegetarianism, nationalism, and all the other isms. At work or in any organization you will see the techniques in action. People who excel at leadership use them all the time. Successful businesses (like that famous multi-level soap company based on the American way) have been built using them. Mr. Hoffer has succinctly identified, organized, and presented the blueprint. Read and learn; discern; examine yourself; and don't get fooled again.

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Ed:

Like you, I found Eric Hoffer's book "The True Believer" to be an eye opener. Here are a few quotes which I found to be applicable to my Worldwide Church of God experience.

"Thus when the frustrated congregate in a mass movement, the air is heavy-laden with suspicion. There is prying and spying, tense watching and a tense awareness of being watched. The surprising thing is that this pathological mistrust within the ranks leads not to dissension but to strict conformity. Knowing themselves continually watched, the faithful strive to escape suspicion by adhering zealously to prescribed behavior and opinion. Strict orthodoxy is as much the result of mutual suspicion as of ardent faith." "...Fear of one's neighbors, one's friends and even one's relatives seems to be the rule within all mass movements. Now and then innocent people are deliberately accused and sacrificed in order to keep suspicion alive. Suspicion is given a sharp edge by associating all opposition within the ranks with the enemy threatening the movement from without." (page 124-125)

This describes the environment I found in the Worldwide Church of God. One could not have an opinion that differed with Herbert W. Armstrong's opinion, even in minor matters. I lost count of the number of dirty looks I got when I told people I didn't like the Young Ambassador films. Snitching on fellow church members was always encouraged, and reporting on close friends and family members was especially praiseworthy.

As for innocent people being sacrificed to keep suspicion alive, one example of that is Wayne Cole, who is discussed in another one of your web pages. Here is a man who loyally served Herbert W. Armstrong for decades, and he was tossed aside during the 1979 power struggle, along with David Antion and several others. Both men were held up as examples of the fate that befell those who departed from "the truth."

Another passage that I find especially applicable to Herbert W. Armstrong is the very first one you quote: "Exceptional intelligence [in a leader of a mass movement], noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it; a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive. The uncanny powers of a leader manifest themselves not so much in the hold he has on the masses as in his ability to dominate and almost bewitch a small group of able men. These men must be fearless, proud, intelligent and capable of organizing and running large-scale undertakings, and yet they must submit wholly to the will of the leader, draw their inspiration and driving force from him, and glory in this submission." (page 114-115). Armstrong was a success because he mastered the art of manipulating human beings. He was unbelievably crass and brazen, making the most extravagant claims for himself, and he was able to control a small cadre of capable subordinates who with unquestioning loyalty ("when Mr. Armstrong tells me to jump, I ask 'how high?'") held his empire together.

It seems that the most successful of Armstrong's heirs are the ones who make the most ridiculous claims for themselves. The leadership of the now defunct Global Church of God, acting as responsible members of the board of directors, came out second best when they challenged a man who made the preposterous claim that he was "God's anointed." Rod Meredith made monkeys out of Raymond McNair, Larry Salyer and the others who dared to challenge him. And, of course, let us not forget Gerald Flurry, who is leading the remnant of the Philadelphia Era of God's Church, while all of the other offshoots are mired in Laodiceanism or worse. Flurry's group is growing and getting stronger, while the United Church of God, led by dull bunch of suit wearing talking head ministers continues to lose members and sometimes whole congregations.

Eric Hoffer's book is brilliant, and all who have a background in Armstrongism would benefit by reading it.

Best regards, Marc A. Mojica

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Eric Hoffer Quotations

On Accountability:
...when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom- freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement.

On Arrogance:
The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breeds pride and arrogance.

On Belonging:
Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.

On Conservatism:
Conservatism is sometimes a symptom of sterility. Those who have nothing in them that
can grow and develop must cling to what they have in beliefs, ideas and possessions. The
sterile radical, too, is basically conservative. He is afraid to let go of the ideas and beliefs
he picked up in his youth lest his life be seen as empty and wasted.

On Credulity:
There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They asked to be deceived.

On Cynicsim:
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.

On Faith:
When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism. We merely prevent its leaking out at a certain point, with the likely result that it will leak out at some other point. Thus by denigrating prevailing beliefs and loyalties, the militant man of words unwittingly creates in the disillusioned masses a hunger for faith. For the majority of people cannot endure the barrenness and futility of their lives unless they have some ardent dedication, or some passionate pursuit in which they can lose themselves. Thus, in spite of himself, the scoffing man of words becomes the precursor of a new faith.

On Fanaticism:
When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism. We merely prevent its leaking out at a certain point, with the likely result that it will leak out at some other point. Thus by denigrating prevailing beliefs and loyalties, the militant man of words unwittingly creates in the disillusioned masses a hunger for faith. For the majority of people cannot endure the barrenness and futility of their lives unless they have some ardent dedication, or some passionate pursuit in which they can lose themselves. Thus, in spite of himself, the scoffing man of words becomes the precursor of a new faith.

On Fanatics:
A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.

The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness or holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold onto.

On Humility:
The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breeds pride and arrogance.

On Idealism:
The great crimes of the twentieth century were committed not by money-grubbing capitalists but by dedicated idealists. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler were contemptuous of money. The passage from the nineteenth to the twentieth century has been a passage from considerations of money to considerations of power. How naive the cliche that money is the root of evil!

On Identity:
To ripen a person for self-sacrifice he must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness. He must cease to be George, Hans, Ivan or Tadao- a human atom with an existence bounded by birth and death. The most drastic way to achieve this end is by complete assimilation of the individual into a collective body. The fully assimilated individual does not see himself and others as human beings. When asked who he is, his automatic response is that he is a German, a Russian, a Japanese, a Christian, a Moslem, a member of a certain tribe or family. He has no purpose, worth and destiny apart from his collective body; and as long as that body lives he cannot really die.

On Ignorance:
Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know. One often obtains a clue to a person's nature by discovering the reasons for his or her imperviousness to certain impressions.

On Incompetance:
Those who lack the capacity to achieve much in an atmosphere of freedom will clamor for power.

On Independance:
When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual- the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker- and that every device they employ aims at turning men into a manipulable "animated instrument" which is Aristotle's definition of a slave.

On Intolerance:
To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.

On Knowledge:
Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know. One often obtains a clue to a person's nature by discovering the reasons for his or her imperviousness to certain impressions.

On Lies:
We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.

On Mass Movements:
The technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure.

All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.

The vigor of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice. When we ascribe the success of a movement to its faith, doctrine, propaganda, leadership, ruthlessness and so on, we are but referring to instruments of unification and to means used to inculcate a readiness for self-sacrifice. It is perhaps impossible to understand the nature of a mass movement unless it is recognized that their chief preoccupation is to foster, perfect and perpetuate a facility for united action and self-sacrifice.

A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaningless of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring upon them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves- and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.

On Obediance:
There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at this alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience: they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power- God, history, fate, nation or humanity.

On Power:
Those who lack the capacity to achieve much in an atmosphere of freedom will clamor for power.

People unfit for freedom - who cannot do much with it - are hungry for power. The desire for freedom is an attribute of a "have" type of self. It says: leave me alone and I shall grow, learn, and realize my capacities. The desire for power is basically an attribute of a "have not" type of self.

When the weak want to give an impression of strength they hint menacingly at their capacity for evil. It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak.

Absolute power turns its possessors not into a God but an anti-God. For God turned clay into men, while the absolute despot turns men into clay.

On Pride:
In man's life, the absence of an essential component usually leads to the adoption of a substitute. The substitute is usually embraced with vehemence and extremism, for we have to convince ourselves that what we took as second choice is the best there ever was. Thus blind faith is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves; insatiable desire a substitute for hope; accumulation a substitute for growth; fervent hustling a substitute for purposeful action; and pride a substitute for an unattainable self-respect.

The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.

On Propaganda:
Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.

The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients.

On Prophets:
The well-adjusted make poor prophets.

On Proselytizing:
Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others.

On Purpose:
The burning conviction that we have a holy duty towards others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like a giving hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.

On Questions:
Language was invented to ask questions. Answers may be given by grunts and gestures, but questions must be spoken. Humanness came of age when man asked the first question. Social stagnation results not from a lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions.

On Rape:
We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind.

On Religion:
Religion is not a matter of God, church, holy cause, etc. These are but accessories. The source of religious preoccupation is in the self, or rather the rejection of the self. Dedication is the obverse side of self-rejection. Man alone is a religious animal because, as Montaigne points out, "it is a malady confined to man, and not seen in any other creature, to hate and despise ourselves."

On Responsibility:
...when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom- freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement.

Thus we find that people who fail in everyday affairs show a tendency to reach out for the impossible. They become responsive to grandiose schemes, and will display unequaled steadfastness, formidable energies and a special fitness in the performance of tasks which would stump superior people. It seems paradoxical that defeat in dealing with the possible should embolden people to attempt the impossible, but a familiarity with the mentality of the weak reveals that what seems a path of daring is actually an easy way out: It is to escape the responsibility for failure that the weak so eagerly throw themselves into grandiose undertakings. For when we fail in attaining the impossible we are justified in attributing it to the magnitude of the task.

To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.

There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at this alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience: they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power- God, history, fate, nation or humanity.

On Ruthlessness:
The ruthlessness born of self-seeking is ineffectual compared with the ruthlessness sustained by dedication to a holy cause. "God wishes," said Calvin, "that one should put aside all humanity when it is a question of striving for His glory."

On Satisfaction:
The less satisfaction we derive from being ourselves, the greater is our desire to be like others.

On Savages:
One might equate growing up with a mistrust of words. A mature person trusts his eyes more than his ears. Irrationality often manifests itself in upholding the word against the evidence of the eyes.

Children, savages, and true believers remember far less what they have seen than what they have heard.

On Self-Confidence:
The real "haves" are they who can acquire freedom, self-confidence, and even riches without depriving others of them. They acquire all of these by developing and applying their potentialities. On the other hand, the real "have nots" are they who cannot have aught except by depriving others of it. They can feel free only by diminishing the freedom of others, self-confident by spreading fear and dependence among others, and rich by making others poor.

On Self-Contempt:
The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.

On Self-deception:
To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats- we know it not.

On Tolerance:
Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.

On True Believers:
The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious
individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breeds pride and arrogance.

On Tyranny:
Absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep.

On Weakness:
Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.

 

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