Tuesday 10 July 2007

Changing of the guard?

Stan Gardner is another talented blogger who richly deserves a mention and a link. His blog is called Ambassador Reports, and I'm not sure why I hadn't much noticed it before. Stan has some fascinating material, including data on PTM finances. Another must-have URL for your favorites list.

Every few years there's a changeover in what's available in the ex-WCG online world. In ancient times (i.e. more than 7 years ago) the shakers and movers were Mark Tabladillo's site (inactive), Bill Ferguson's Ekklesia (gone) and The Painful Truth (which is still with us.) In recent history there was (ahem) the late AW site, a rambling love-it-or-hate-it affair (I started off loving it but ended up hating it.) These days the center of gravity is changing yet again, and I notice that Gary Scott of XCG and the Most Reverend "Kscribe" are both making noises about winding their sites back. Stan, "J", Felix and others are going to be busy.

Recently I was encouraged to put the old AW (passed away December 2005) back online in archive form, hosted in the US. I thought about it for a day or so, and even got as far as copying the files onto a CD and slipping it in a mailing envelope before sanity reasserted itself. The site would need extensive editing, and, well, there are other fish to fry at the moment. Some material may start to reappear - selectively - later in the year, but then again, maybe not. I find it hard to even look at some of that stuff now, like re-reading those ghastly yellowed school reports your mother turns over to you on your eighteenth birthday: "could try harder."

Unrelated: here's a quote that struck me between the eyes today. Next time I'll provide the source and some comments, but for the moment, considering "the Church" here refers to Christianity in general, what do you think? Agree or disagree?

"... the Church is not and perhaps never was chiefly for people who have a deep and serious intellectual interest in religion. On the contrary, the Church is for people who want to keep up comfortable old habits and associations, who want a feeling of reassurance and self-righteousness, and are happy to live by a ready-made Truth. They are content to go on slumbering peacefully. They want to be delivered from the extreme terrors and joys of real religious thought, and nothing is so effective a protection against religious terrors as conforming church membership."


Anonymous said...

...considering "the Church" here refers to Christianity in general, what do you think? Agree or disagree?

I totally agree and that is a generic denominational thing and not just COG. People feel they were either miraculously born into the exact and right true church or at some early time in life, find it and stick with it. I never met anyone who belonged to the false church.

Once you settle in, all is good. The minister is the sacrficial male who must be and do or not do all the members aren't being , don't do or do that which they shouldn't. But it's all good. Goof off memebers, who contribute, get forgiven and counseled with no one knowing, but goof off ministers get bounced with everyone knowing. The perfect male sacrfice must be above it all or pay dearly for slippage.

Humans thrive in perceived knowns. It does not matter if the knowns are true or mere beliefs. It feels safe and the social network of similar believers is reasurring.

The reason mainline denoms don't implode as often is their knowns are less dramatic, predictive and they don't insist in living in the last days, 3-5. They just live. The more a denomination insists on it knowing the mind of God, the meaning of prophecy, the time scale, and insists on an urgency that wears out the membership and ministry, they suffer more.

Those who have guru's suffer the most eventually as we all know. With no plan B, that is when he fails or is just a guy like everyone else, it's chaos. I've always wondered why we have such great detail about the Apostle Paul, except his ending. There are traditional endings but the Bible itself, which should contain tales of his great fight to the end, is silent. Perhaps Paul's demise was an embarassment to the church, and like other embarassing moments, such as Jesus brothers and mom coming to get Jesus, "because they thought he was mad," (Mary forgot he was baby Jesus), it got edited out. both the Presbyterian and COG experience, few were interested in deeper theological study. If they were, they went to seminary or into missions but never brought it up in church that much. It was either an "oh brother" to the Presbyterians or a "oh no" to the COG's. Most Christians are Bible readers only and not critical thinkers. They can be staring at blatant contradictions and never note them or if they did, not care.

In short, we join to feel safe, have God's worldview so we can explain it's horrors adequately and social network with non-threatening folks of like mind.

And let me say, the fault for all this is in the text of the Bible. Men don't make this "time is short" stuff up. It's the Bible itself that misleads, misrepresents history and politics amongst it's leaders who DO NOT all believe the same thing. The book of Revelation is the most abused and manipulative text ever left in the Bible. The "prophecy" in it is long past and it was at first a Jewish work encouraging people about the Roman occupation. It was later added to by Christians and like most things, hijacked for church motivation. It's a cosmic tale and the Jesus of the Gospels is in no way the Christ of Revelation. How much hay has been made for churches today over this book that keeps the fear of missing out in the souls of men.

Sadly and of course, what a burden someone like Dr. Thiel places upon himself to just know how it all is, who the TRUE players are and how wrong others are in questioning the details that he has down pat.

It weareth out the Saints and sometimes being able just to say:

"I don't know.."
"That's an interesting question..."
"I don't think so..."
or "I don't care..." is liberating

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's time to pass the scorch.....:)

Neotherm said...

This morning I watched an interview of Tony Snow conducted by George Stephanopolous. George pointed out that Bush's ratings are at an all time low, the percentage of people who want the government to terminate the war in Iraq is at an all time high, key neo-conservative republicans are breaking ranks with the President and the Iraqi government is not going to make any of its benchmarks.

Snow's interpretation of all of this, in so many words: The American people are frustrated with the war and we need to pursue our present course more vigorously so we can give them good results.

This is an incredible and pathetic statement of denial. It taxes the most bizarre reaches of one's imagination. Snow spun a blatant negative into a bright positive and fooled nobody.

You see, the Armstrongites do not have a corner on denial, uncomprehension and spin-craft. When Armstrongites and evangelicals support the conservative agenda of this administration, they are in like company with neo-conservative ideologues.

I hope that blogs like AW continue so that Armstrongites will be incessantly be cross-examined. For these blogs to disappear is like the days when G. Bush had a republican congress. Nobody ever called anything he did into question.

Regarding the statement by Anonymous: Making generalizations about the Church never works -- it is too complex as an organization. Moreover, not everyone who warms a seat in a congregation can be considered a Christian -- not even remotely.

Hence, the error that can be made is to base conclusions on the behavior of a bunch of nominalists. Inevitably, your conclusion is both wrong and right. You have correctly charcterized the nominalists and you have incorrectly characterized the whole church.

-- Neo

Douglas Becker said...

The core of the truth seems to be that mostly religion is seriously wildly dysfunctional, and this is particularly true of the churches of God.

It appears that the core of the dysfunction is the extremes of the heights of the mountain pinnacles and the depth of the plunging abyss below, without any intervening ground of green pastures beside still waters on a level playing field. The insanity is particularly intense when the personality of some unbalanced guru, narcissist or flat out psychopath is superimposed on the entire mess.

The whole venue is not unlike Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares where the staff is overpaid, too many resources are too expensive, the result is terrible, not because the product is bad, but because it is too complex and unfocused and cannot be managed, while the environment is inappropriate and in a declining venue, the customers are disappearing because the service is terrible, the kitchen uncoordinated and the staff cares more about itself than those they serve. It's a mess that's difficult to untangle, and often, there are too many egos unwilling to face up to the reality that drastic changes need to be made immediately or the whole thing will be sold out and disappear.

While it is true that most of us have benefited from the enlightenment of disclosure by the dysfunction being uncovered, the basic problem can never be resolved. The Churches of God in particular are going to continue in diminished form, even though they are chaotic and dysfunctional -- often competitive to extremes to the destruction of all concerned.

The best solution is to leave the dysfunctional environment. As my good friend, Mark Lax, pointed out, that may never be a reality. In my particular case, it is a matter of family ties and trying to make the best of a bad situation, even though it is quite impossible to make the whole thing work. That is always the trap: Maybe it will get better; try a little harder; give it some time. The record of history is that it never does. It just gets worse and worse and worse. The extremities keep getting more extreme; more and more resources must be poured into diminishing returns; we must drink the poison and pretend it is pristine water.

The things that forums like this provide are valuable. First they expose the dysfunction for what it is -- at least parts of it. Next, it gives people a sounding board to "work it out" to ascertain what the real issues are. It gives people an opportunity to examine the facts and make choices. The trap is that it is addictive and the final step of leaving is intellectually and emotionally never completed.

Having yet another forum, as good as it might be, may only extend the Twilight Zone of dysfunction for many people.

It should not be any secret that it is a little late for me and my own family. I work in a seriously dysfunctional governmental unit which is so very off track that it doesn't look like it will ever really recover. The sickness goes on and on and on -- it gets worse every single week. The best anyone can do is put in their time and get a paycheck because the chaos will not be mitigated. Any family which has mentally ill members is going to be dysfunctional by definition. It is bad enough to have someone who has schizoaffective disorder, but it extends to a member who has bipolar disease married to a psychopath. Sanity is a hard concept to grasp.

The church of gods is little different: It is run primarily by psychopaths, narcissists, the mentally challenged and ill, with alcoholics strewn about for good measure. My family's recent experience is with a minister who told us over the third glass of wine at a 5 star restaurant, "I am a wicked, wicked man" and went on to ask for help. My wife and I were speechless. His warm and fuzzy little group have hied off to the wilderness in happy alcoholic dysfunction. And folks, this isn't the past, this is the present -- leaking on into the future.

Near as I can tell, there isn't much hope. If I were a groom waiting for my bride, I'd wait for a whole heck of a time longer, or maybe switch brides. More likely, this woman is just a hussy claiming to be a bride, pretty much without the innocent guy's knowledge as some sort of weird stalker [of the which there is still today quite a lot of in United].

The more that is revealed the worse it gets and it never ends. Going over it and over it is actually quite unhealthy. Oh, it's cathartic at first in small doses, but after awhile it just gets plain sick.

It isn't that I would ever want all witnesses to the truth to disappear. That would allow people to fall into terrible dysfunction if they are not warned. On the other hand, it is much more productive for those of us who have been around for awhile to keep participation to a minimum unless there is something really vital to say. It's time for the youngsters to take over with a little coaching at the first from the old timers.

DennisDiehl said...

It would be nice if more who monitor AW would comment on AW instead of the same six. I can't imagine there are not those that observe that have somewhat to offer as well.

Anonymous said...

... the Church is not and perhaps never was chiefly for people who have a deep and serious intellectual interest in religion.

Nor should it be.

On the contrary, the Church is for people who want to keep up comfortable old habits and associations, who want a feeling of reassurance and self-righteousness, and are happy to live by a ready-made Truth.

But Jesus was all over people like that. So this isn't a description of any real Jesus-ian church.

They are content to go on slumbering peacefully.

I agree with this, with some caveats. It describes many or most of us in the American Church probably. One of the things that has interested me, reading this and other church-related blogs, is that contemporary American Christians (IMHO) grossly underestimate the effect of culture on the American Church. Christians in other countries really seem to have a much different take on Christianity than we do. For example, after 9/11, some evangelicals said "This is it! This is The End." All because America was attacked. American Christians seem to be very nationalistic, and to tightly integrate their faith/religion with U.S. culture. We think we're the navel of the Christian universe.

They want to be delivered from the extreme terrors and joys of real religious thought, and nothing is so effective a protection against religious terrors as conforming church membership.

I'm not sure I buy this. It probably applies to the COGs, but I'm not sure it applies to everyone.

C.S. Lewis gives some of these ideas wonderful treatment in The Great Divorce...

The Implacable Berean said...

Oh most High Priest of Marduk, may your days be many and thy beard be be not scorched!!
Come near, incline now thine ear, and allowest thy servant to instruct thee and instill upon thyheart and mind some wisdom.
Hast thou not considered that many who post not perhaps have not the time as thou dost? Many of thy brethren toil night and day at tasks too menial for thee to consider, and they are blessed not as thee, with the ability so fair as thou hast to be able to put words into the blogsphere so large, to give wings and prose to the thoughts of their hearts and minds. Many, ye, most, of thy servants findeth themselves not blessed to be able to rub costly oils and ointments upon the fairest of the species with delight, and thence receive tribute for doing so!
Have mercy upon thy servants, and they shall not fail to serve thee and those of thy household with delight for many generations.
To Lord Gavin, we request that thou continue to publish as thou hast found delight in so doing, thou lightest a lamp for those still in darkeness and chains, thy words give hope to those in transition.
To Prince Becker, keepest though thy persistence and determination, for thou shalt be rewarded in the later days.
Pray tell, sir, how didst thou try to be disfellowshipped from that body known to not a few men as the UCGia?
Hast thou not considered they are more concerned with retaining that which they havest so dear, seeings how the numbers do not favor long life and growth, and not scourging those they have, unless severely provoked?
Fellow brethren, I shall pause here, before the whips of my master be felt upon my extremities, and in so doing, be found by some to be of sore mind and body, and shall find myself in dire need of the services of our most high Priest of Marduk!

Anonymous said...

Implacable Burrito:

Thus sayeth the Servant of Marduk.

Well hast thou spoken and well have I considered what thou sayest. For in the heat of summer do I, High Priest of Marduk, time between warriors and maidens have to well perceive the mind of Marduk. Perhaps Marduk smiles upon me betimes so that I might speak and yet pay the bills most high and live. Or maybe it be not so.

We all appeal to Lord Gavin of the South with us all to hang. Well, perhaps that cometh not out as the gods may have intended. But, if we hang, then hang we!

In all I do, shall I, High Priest of Marduk, never build a house for Marduk for he lives not in houses made with hands. Neither soar I into the heavens in the stream called Gulf. Yeah shall my yeah be and nay shall be nay. "Doh" shall oft be heard betimes betchutobelieveit, in the times to come. If it be "doh" then "doh be it!

Lord, bless us, for we are but a small people and do not crush us in thy wrath for all our eyes have seen...Bless the one called Becker and make maleable... maleeible...maleeable...doh, make pliable, the implacable Burrito.

So let it be bogged, so let it be posted.


Gavin said...

Dennis Diehl
High Priest of Marduk
Anointer with oils

That'd look great on a business card Den!

Bart Ehrman points out that to Gentile Christians of C1 the title Messiah/Anointed would in the first instance just denote someone who'd just had a rubdown.

Dennis, creator of messiahs


BTW Den, I was highly impressed that you'd rubbed (that word again) shoulders with Finkelstein and Halpern: men of renown in the field. I have 2 of Finkelstein's books on my shelves and would give an upper molar (I happen to have one in a plastic box!) for such an opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Dennis here:

Hi Gavin, Yes, that would be a great business card here in the Bible belt.

I lucked out with Halpern and Finkelstein at my BAR won dig at Megiddo. They were both in charge of it and we'd sit at picnic table and chat over the days finds. Baruch could drink any three men under the table, which is where I had to go to talk with him at times..ha.

Messiah? hummmm, catchy title. I like it..Better take it before Dave Pack does!

Anonymous said...

Dear Gavin,

Concerning your citation on _the Church_, I wrote the following paragraph in a 1989 essay, published in From the Margins, 2001. The paragraph I think addresses why those who fill pews do.

"A voyage into the unknown is living life itself, the unknown representing tomorrow, holding, perhaps, danger and excitement but most often the mundane. Literary heroes dared sail 20,000 leagues under the sea, or to the center of the earth, or more realistically, to trek over the Great Silk Road or mush dogs to the South Pole. A few of us humans have even walked on the moon. For more of us, though, a drift or fishing trip down Alaska's Kenai River is enough venturing into the unknown. We want to know most of what tomorrow will bring. We are not really looking for excitement, only for interesting things, those things that John Haines concedes to travel writers. The thrill seeker is considered abnormal. We would like to have control of our lives. In literary shorthand, we want heaven when we die; we want to believe an idealized destination awaits us at the end of this voyage called life. Then the obstacles we encounter won't matter. The distance of our voyage doesn't matter. Only arriving matters. We can leave all of our problems in that metaphorical river we travel as if those problems were old tires or tin cans, oil slicks or biotoxins."

Homer Kizer

Anonymous said...

DennisDiehl said...
It would be nice if more who monitor AW would comment on AW instead of the same six. I can't imagine there are not those that observe that have somewhat to offer as well.

Dennis, I've commented a couple of times. I've started to comment many more times but had so much trouble logging on that I just said "O forget it" and gave up. I'm not very computer savvy and I'm often pressed for time, so I just can't be hassling with a difficult sign-on.

Skeptic said...

DennisDiehl said...
It would be nice if more who monitor AW would comment on AW instead of the same six. I can't imagine there are not those that observe that have somewhat to offer as well.

Dennis, many a time I've started to post a comment and have not been able to sign on. I'm not very computer savvy and I'm often pressed for time. If it gets to be a hassle, I usually just give up.

Sorry, I'd like to contribute more. Several times I've written a long message, only to have it wiped out when I sign in incorrectly. Then I'm faced with either typing the whole thing over again or just moving on.

Jim Butler said...


Before you sign in, copy what you have written. Then after you sign in, if your message has been wiped out, which happens most, if not all, of the time, just paste what you have copied.

You can copy by pressing the control and C buttons or going up to edit and clicking copy. You paste by clicking the control and V buttons. At least that's the way I do it.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

When I have the time I usually post fairly frequently, however with an increasingly demanding work schedule, a pregnant wife, and the summer months, I have less time to spend here with my online ex and current cog friends...and sometimes I just don't have anything relevant to contribute.

Stan said...

Thanks for the plug, Gavin.

Stan Gardner