Sunday, 30 July 2006

Birth of an Apostle?

114 years ago tomorrow, July 31 1892, Herbert W. Armstrong was born in Des Moines. Not a man to encourage the celebration of birthdays, he nonetheless - unlike the children of his later followers - had the pleasure of receiving a 9th birthday party his mother organized, a photograph of which remained with the man-who-would-be-apostle throughout his life.

Like John Brown, Herb Armstrong's body lies a-mouldering in its grave. A man who built a religion and recruited his family into key positions (brother Dwight, son-in-law Vern Mattson, son Garner Ted), there remains only a shadow of the church he built and an absence of his descendants among its adherents.

Devotees of Armstrongism will scarcely mark this day, any more than they mark their own birth dates, but for those of us who've moved beyond his baneful influence (around 80% of the membership just over a decade ago) it's a chance to pause and consider the man, his motivations and his impact.

His impact on the world, or even the religious world was minimal. He barely makes the footnotes in reference works. But his impact in our lives was of another order.

As for his motivations, that's a complex question. Did he really believe what he preached? If not, how do you understand the attitude to medical intervention following his son Dick's fatal car crash? If he did, how do you explain his convenient rewriting of church doctrine to allow the marriage to divorcee Ramona? Perhaps he ended up convincing himself of his own fictions. As David Robinson observed, the web is so tangled it is almost impossible to peer beyond it.

While it is certain that Herbert Armstrong's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, it's less certain that his soul goes marching on. Perhaps its appropriate that for each one of his imitators in 2006, the followers of Pack, Meredith, Flurry and a gaggle of other wannabes, there are so many more who have reintegrated into a life unconnected with Herbert's grandiose vision.

And that, I think, is a cause for optimism.


Harry said...

Herbert didn’t do anyone any good but himself—and that’s debatable. I’m glad so many people have finally taken the blinders off and can take a truly objective look at who he was and what he produced. Why so many still admire and look up to him is beyond my ability to comprehend. Maybe their just afraid to admit they were wrong, I don’t know. I do know that we are not to worship men—there’s too much of that going around as it is. And no Gerald, Herbert was NOT the Elijah to come. Get over it!

xbeliever said...

I don't think Herbie used doctors when his wife, Loma, was sick. But he sure did when he was sick(like Rod). A utter self centered boob.

Felix Taylor, Jr. said...

Xbeliever, the term self centred boob is too nice. He was a psycopath and probably proud of it too.

Lussenheide said...

Well happy birthday to me too!

I was born on HWAs 65th birthday, and also interestingly enough his 40th wedding anniversary on July 31st, 1957.

Can someone come up with some kind of Da Vincish numerology code to annoint me as "The Next Apostle"? ...You know something like 65 meaning "retirement" or "end of era" or something, and 40 being the number of "testing".

I need an excuse so people can start sending me "tithes and offerings"

xbeliever said...

BC, I got slammed once for calling some psychopath(I forget who) a psychopath but I'm still not opposed to the term. Herbie was truly a dangerous criminal who wrecked countless lives.

Anonymous said...

I guess I will round out the number to seven, one of his favorites with 12, 19 etal.

However, if you really look, there are so many even in the SDAs talking about the Feast Days, John Hagee and many others have written about them too.

Did you know that amongst the Chinese he is considered a philosopher, not sure, maybe it was because he told them Europe would unite and they laughed at him.... who knows.

He had a lot more impact then we will know in our lifetimes.

Kscribe said...

"Once he had gold, once he had silver than came the rain...."

For his worth to humanity, Herb joins all the others that came before him in the "Name Of God"

HWA, a nobody that did immense harm and destruction during his 90 some years on this earth. This is his legacy. Money, power, prestige, a self promoting pompous ass that the world would have been better off without, if his father had only let him "drip down his leg!"

In honor of the great late herbie, watch "Birthday Bash 06" over at

Anonymous said...

Allow me to say at the outset I am NOT a defender of HWA. If I were this is certainly not the place to defend him. I did know him, however, which is more than can be said for just about anyone else on this blog and my feeling is that he DID believe what he taught. True, we have to separate some of his core beliefs from some of the fringe stuff that was promulgated and emphasized by others like RCM and HLH. Of course much of it was faulty! Of course people got hurt following his teachings! But let's get real, guys. What did he take from you and why did you allow it? Or is all your comment based on secondhand information?

At the very maximum there were 150,000 members of the WCG ... at least that was one count during one FoT. (That was worldwide and isn't there one evangelical congregation in Houston alone that is that big?) Now there are around, what? 20K? You tell me. Big deal.

What incalculable harm did he cause? He was around for 92 years, active for around 60 of them, what was the damage? Be specific here. How many drank KoolAid? How many did he personally murder or torture? Am I overstating it? No, I don't think so but let's get our heads in order here! Please!

Most of the people who write on this blog have an undying hatred and loathing of all things Armstrong. That is part of its attraction. This is a self-selected group with absolutely no objectivity when it comes to HWA or GTA. Are you feeding on that hatred? I have no admiration for the man but why are some of you still foaming at the mouth? He's been dead 20 years, for God's sake!

By the way, since this has come up, I know FOR A FACT, that HWA wanted a doctor to see his wife and she was the one who forbade it. Remember, he did bring in doctors to help with his son Richard after the horrendous car crash that killed him. Many have wilfully misunderstood the teaching on medical treatment, I am one myself. It was always a personal choice but became so reviled by the congregation at large, led by some in the ministry, that the peer pressure was intolerable for many. Not all but many. Some to my knowledge did use the medical profession without any sanctions. Not just ministers but lay members. I know because I visited them in hospital.

I have heard of the ruined lives, the bankruptcies, the failed marriages, the dead babies, the suicides, all of which have been laid at the Church's feet. No one has any personal responsibility, it seems. As I look around the world I still see it going on ... while both Armstrongs are dead and WCG is virtually extinct.

Let's get a sense of proportion here.

Tom Brown

Michael said...

Most of the people who write on this blog have an undying hatred and loathing of all things Armstrong. That is part of its attraction. This is a self-selected group with absolutely no objectivity when it comes to HWA or GTA. Are you feeding on that hatred? I have no admiration for the man but why are some of you still foaming at the mouth? He's been dead 20 years, for God's sake!>>>>>>>>>>

Wrong kiddo, I don't hate HWA or his son, GTA. I hate the fact that they went public claiming the authority of Jesus Christ to bilk hundreds of thousands of innocent sheep for all they were worth and then some. He's been dead for 20 years—that's true, but his adherents are still here—Meredith, Flurry, Pack, et al—using the same 'ol tactics on a new generation that did not know HWA or GTA nor ever went through the AC-WCG experiences. It is imperative to keep alive the history of what went on during those days as a warning to others who may feel drawn to the teachings of HWA's "little boys" out there baiting their hooks for more suckers.

Anonymous said...

Then I guess you are not one of the "most", Mike. Good for you.

Hundreds of thousands? How did you get to that? WCG never exceeded 150,000 at its peak ... and the lot led by Meredith/Pack/Flurry are not more than a couple thousand. Let's give a few of these the benefit of the doubt that do what they do voluntarily. Is there any room here for personal responsibility?

Consider that the Plain Truth once had a circulation greater than Time magazine. Over the years millions and millions of that publication were read, and sometimes believed by them, yet the church was never really all that big. In addition, the TV program was the biggest in religious television and it still was unsuccessful in attracting a large following. Consider also that the church had a turnover of membership which has been reckoned at 50% and today is only in the small thousands. Pretty soon you begin to see that in percentage terms not that many were "bilked" as you put it.

There were, and still are, other groups much more pernicious and grasping than WCG ever was. We just happen to be somewhat familiar with the WCG that's all. They were neither the most evil nor the most righteous. They just were and no longer are. They are history. It's over.

Tom Brown

xbeliever said...

Tom Brown, the Church had no where near 150,000 members. The most that I can estimate is 50,000 at it's peak. The PT didn't have a circulation more than Time. Most of the PT's printed ended up in the garbage from the stands. The church used to estimate how many people read each magazine and that was put into the figures. It was all lies, HWA was a crook and you're full of #@%$.

xbeliever said...

BTW, old herbie wrote the booklet "The Plain Truth About Healing" which condemned doctors and medicine in no uncertain terms.

Anonymous said...

FYI, here's a link to another anniversary ( July 27th "marked the 350th anniversary of the excommunication of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam in which he had been raised....Spinoza argued that no group or religion could rightly claim infallible knowledge of the Creator’s partiality to its beliefs and ways."

Anonymous said...

I think HWA believed when it didn't apply to himself personally. Somehow he was always the exception to the rule. - Mickey

Harry said...

Tom, you’re forgetting about the gullible “co-workers” that were not members of the WCG, so the figure “hundreds of thousands” does apply here regardless of the “official” membership roll. Many people send money to televangelist without being members of the corporate structure that the evangelists are tied to. How many people are members of Billy Graham’s church, or Oral Robert’s, or Jerry Falwell’s, yet they support them financially hoping for some “blessing” from the Almighty for doing so?

Jered said...

I believe HWA was partially sincere in his beliefs, at least as time went on. His enormous ego is what makes me think he actually believed what he spouted but I do think he started out trying to find a way to make money and live a lavish life.

This is unlike L. Ron Hubbard who was a science fiction writer who was completely aware he was full of it when founding Scientology. After all he hit upon the idea that the best way to make money was to found a religion several years before founding one. I think HWA came to the same conclusion and then bought into his own lies.

Dennis said...

Like Evangelical Christians who are "God haunted", and this taints everything they feel and do, one can be "HWA Haunted." I made choices about WCG when it seemed right to me, as we all did, I assume. Sooner or later one has to either get unstuck and leave Herbert W. Armstrong in the grave along with Ted and the yet living, or spend the rest of time blogging their observations and yarns about it all to their own death...thus missing most of what is real now in the process. Lots of people were born this day x number of years ago. Some famous, some infamous but most just plain folks who we'll never know and who will never have had one ounce of influence on our thinking or life experiences. HWA was someone who crossed our paths and we have the drama of our WCG experience to show for it. I don't know if it was totally bad or totally good, well I know it wasn't that, but I do know it has forced me to face and grow through things I may have forever left unexamined had I stayed too comfy in the womb of "God's true church" or one of the many splinters or slivers. I would not have deliberately chosen the experience and I certainly would have NEVER guessed it's outcome, but it happenend and stuck just doesn't work for me. Lots of humans have lots of theories that are appealing to others until they aren't. I'm amazed that one can go from WCG to Catholocism with the same zeal as the had when they found WCG. To them it's part of their growth, to me it's a continuation of their wishful thinking and a mere swapping of one small cult for a large one.

But that's what choices are all about and we're all here to learn. May as well use the experience to move forward, but it's also easy to use it to stay stuck in endless recollections and church stories that mean absolutely nothing now in reality.

Alan said...

I have a comment. Blogs and similar outlets continue to provide me with perspective on the experience of being in the WCG. Like others, I was taken there as a child through no choice of my own, scared silly by the claims of imminent takeover of the U.S. by the Germans (got taken to see a Third Reich movie during a Feast, I remember, as a child). I distinctly remember being told that I would never reach age 18 and would probably be brutally killed, but it would be okay because I would be in the good resurrection. 30 years later I still have trouble making sense of some of this. Hearing others' experiences helps. I don't hate Armstrong. I actually feel pretty sorry for him because he was the most deceived of all. I wouldn't want to be him now.

charlie kieran said...

"I distinctly remember being told that I would never reach age 18 and would probably be brutally killed, but it would be okay because I would be in the good resurrection."

This buttresses my statement about the terrible things armstrongism does to a child's psyche. "How good and how pleasant" it is to grow up thinking every newscast was going to cover the "Beginning of Sorrows". I would have made very different choices in my young life if I thought I was actually going to live long enough to graduate high school, never mind reach 35.

Also - I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Tom Brown isn't exactly who he claims to be. I smell a rat.

xbeliever said...

Once an elderly Jewish woman said to me in relationship to parent's and children, "It's not what they say to you that counts, but what you say to them." She meant that the words of a parent have a great, lasting impact on children so be careful what you say to them. What the child says to the parent, like I hate you, is understood by the parent as a childish emotional outburst and no parent takes that seriously. But if you say that to your own child it could have negative lifelong affects. So any parent in the church should not be telling their children that their world is going to be devastaed soon and the parent should shield the child from the words of ministers who say those things like they would from a sexual predator.

charlie kieran said...

xbeliever wrote: "But if you say that to your own child it could have negative lifelong affects."

Like telling my nephews that "America has won its last war"?

And so it begins with another generation.

I love my parents, but I forbid them to talk about their religion to my children. My sister needs to make the same thing clear with them, for her children's sake.

Alan said...

"Like telling my nephews that 'America has won its last war'?"

This brought back a memory for me. I remember being in a WCG service during the Falklands war and being told that prophecy guaranteed that the British would lose, that we should all look to this outcome and know that the WCG had the truth this happened as it inevitably would. Don't remember what they said when the British won :-^. They were already losing me at that point.

Neotherm said...

I am distantly related to both HWA and Loma. We are descended from a common Quaker line. I have developed an interest in HWA as a personality and also spent 30 years in the WCG. But I must admit, he is still a mystery to me. Was he sincere or was he a con artist? My guess is that he was whichever one was convenient to the circumstances. When people began to adore him and spin up the idea that he was an apostle, no doubt that had an ego-inflationary effect on him. And no doubt it resulted in decisions that could not be trusted.

Did he really harm anyone? Most assuredly. We can argue that we all have free will and are, hence, responsibile for our own destinies. If we wanted to follow that line of reasoning to its ultimate terminus, we would find that God is really responsible for everything. He instantiated the university/reality that we experience. He could have prevented HWA from ever becoming influential. GTA could have been born not nearly so personable. The list of alternative, less destructive scenarios goes on ad infinitum.

But God permits free will interaction among humans (disregard this if you are a 5 Point Calvinist). And these humans have a responsibility for what they do. I was attracted to Armstrongism at the age of 17 for a variety of reasons. I was responsible for stupidity and HWA was responsible for concocting a pseudo-religion. But I am now, after following this twisted road, a Christian.

I believe that HWA ultimately affected nobody's Christianity. Those whom God intended to be Christians, are Christians in spite of any contact with Armstrongism. Those who claimed to be off on Christianity because they were embittered by Herbert would never have become Christians anyway. I don't think Herbert can trumps God.

What was Herbert really? He was a pain.

jorgheinz said...

Herb, the strong-arm, yes indeed,
For your tithes he oft' did plead,
And your generous offerings,too,
Always in financial pooh.
We know where all the money went,
On wasteful lifestyle ever spent.
And if the members did not well,
Let them sink and go to hell.
For Herb he wanted just the best,
His greedy minions did infest:
In Christ's footsteps few did walk,
It surely was hot air and talk.
A humble face so few did show,
And Gentiles did they never know.
Each Gentile used a penny seat,
Unworthy the pastor to so meet.
And still they spin a woeful tale
That one day soon just may fail.