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Saturday, 15 September 2007

Stir Away!


Dear John Halford

Your Christian Odyssey editorial, Stirred but not Shaken, gave me pause for thought. You wrote:

These are stirring times to be a Christian. Critics are having a field day, questioning, undermining and ridiculing every aspect of our beliefs. Nothing, it seems, is sacred.

This struck me as a remarkable observation from a longtime WCG functionary. After all, "questioning, undermining and ridiculing" was the evangelistic strategy of choice in the old WCG. The nightly World Tomorrow monologues by Garner Ted Armstrong (imitated in the pulpit by the humblest local elder) raised ridicule to a near art form.

The whole idea of God is a delusion, argues the enthusiastic atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins... What are we poor ordinary Christians to make of all this?
Perhaps you'll bear with me for a moment John, but I'm old enough to recollect Plain Truth articles where science was attacked mercilessly and evolutionists were clearly portrayed as blind fools. Now John, fair is fair: what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If I'm not mistaken, you were around back then too - and in more elevated circles than the common herd. Surely you haven't forgotten!

But you can be sure that there are capable men and women out there who are more than able to defend the Christian turf. They have education and experience, and they are not intimidated by clever arguments. When given the opportunity, they can more than hold their own, and show that the opposition has not really done its homework.

In your footnotes you reference prominent Anglican evangelical Alister McGrath. I enjoyed McGrath's discussion of the King James Bible, and am currently wading my way through his tome on Christian Theology (not by choice, it's "required reading" for a course.) McGrath is a gifted writer, but let's be honest, he's an apologist, though an eminently scholarly one, and whether or nor he does a convincing job in defending the ramparts of conservative orthodoxy, ultimately he's a refined version of GTA in a roman collar.

If any branch of the Christian church has less legitimate cause to get its knickers in a knot over issues like these, it's the Worldwide Church of God. Not only because of the contemptuous treatment it doled out to others in years gone by, but also because that same contempt was poured out upon its own people during its so-called reformation.

You know, John, you could do worse than actually reading Dawkins. He has some important points to make, even if you don't go the full way with his argument (as I don't.) And you could do worse than tackling some of the material on documents like the Gospel of Thomas - which you also seem to find threatening - with an open mind (Marvin Meyer is a great place to start.) Why not leave the pre-Copernican apologetics to the nice people over at the Good News: Mario Seiglie has it well covered.

Nothing, it seems, is sacred.

I guess they said that in Rome during the Reformation, but there are no questions that shouldn't be asked. It's by grappling with the tough questions that we grow. Trying to shield the "poor ordinary Christians" from that responsibility is just plain presumptuous. Given the opportunity, some of those folk could be extraordinary instead!

In the post-modern world a gentle stir may not be enough. Sometimes the foundations need a decent shake-up. It's tragic when Christian leaders counsel their flock to avoid the opportunities - and the insight - by circling the wagons and bleating about how awful things are.

Stirring times indeed!

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

"They have education and experience, and they are not intimidated by clever arguments."

Educated and experienced in what? It certainly isn't making critical observations of the world around them and then making conclusions based on that data- and then changing their worldview when the data contradicts it.

As to clever arguments, I suppose that simply asking for evidence could be construed by some as "clever."

Paul

Corky said...

These are stirring times to be a Christian.

I should be embarrassing times to even admit to being a Christian, considering the revelations of modern science.

Critics are having a field day,

Gee, I wonder how that could have happened?

questioning,

Yeah! What right do ordinary people have to question priestly authority? Kiss a priest's foot today!

undermining and ridiculing every aspect of our beliefs.

...And should have been done a long, long time ago. When the "christian" geologist had investigated the entire geologic column (200 years ago) and finding no evidence of a worldwide flood whatsoever, people should have had their suspicions about the "word of god" and its priests.

Nothing, it seems, is sacred.

If it's any consolation, the family is sacred to some people and should not be shunned because of them not belonging to the same cult of religion you do.

Anonymous said...

Given the opportunity, some of those folk could be extraordinary instead!

But then where would the elite be?

Reduced to the ordinary?

What an awful prospect: To reduce the self-made experts to mere ordinary mortals who know no more, and probably a lot less, than the people who work out their own salvation for themselves as Scripture demands.

Extraordinary indeed!

The elite must find more innovative ways to put a stop to this before it spreads and everybody knows how ordinary the elite really are and their power base is undermined.

Anonymous said...

"What an awful prospect: To reduce the self-made experts to mere ordinary mortals..."


Who would be the first to tell you that they are ordinary mortals.


"...who know no more, and probably a lot less, than the people who work out their own salvation for themselves as Scripture demands."

They know more about their particualar field, just as you would know more about your interests and career. Does this make a person an arrogant elite? No. But I would venture that these people are grounded in reality, and not in mythological delusion.

You guys don't change very much do you? Same old derision of people who try to learn of the world around them.

But your post is dripping with irony, considering that Armstrongists consider themselves, by virture of pretending to obey an imaginary being, the elitists of the Entire Universe. What arrogance. What madness. How pitiable.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Paul, you missed my point: I was speaking of the ultimate elitists, the Armstrongists.

Anonymous said...

Oh God. My worst fear. Someone more whose powers of subtle sarcasm are beyond me.

You have defeated me, Sir Knight.


Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Paul

Anonymous said...

John Halford is still an Armstrongist.

Nothing ever changes in Armstrongism except the doctrines.

Anonymous said...

I know John Halford and have done for some time and can assure you he is no Armstrongist.

Lochinvar

Anonymous said...

At first blush, it may seem that John Halford is not an Armstrongist. After all, he has abandoned the faulty notion of British Israelism and all the doctrinal trappings of Herbert Armstrong.

The problem is that the approach remains.

And that is the problem.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I would love to say, "Ouch!" But I guess you had something to say to John in that strong manner. I also agree that John Halford is truly no Armstrongist. On a side note, I wish he was on more WCG video presentations (esp. that trinitarian one) than Joe Jr. and his gang. John Halford's a lot more entertaining (and should be proud of it)!

Anonymous said...

"McGrath...ultimately he's a refined version of GTA in a roman collar."

Too funny - I luv it !

Anonymous said...

Gavin said :

If any branch of the Christian church has less legitimate cause to get its knickers in a knot over issues like these, it's the Worldwide Church of God. Not only because of the contemptuous treatment it doled out to others in years gone by, but also because that same contempt was poured out upon its own people during its so-called reformation.

Gavin, your comment struck me like a flounder slapped across my face! And in an awakening way.

I've frequented many religious forums over the past 10 years or so. Many of which have been Armstrongological in nature. And I must say, your quote from above certainly characterizes some of the Armstrong zealots on those forums!

Case in point: a certain self-righteous and obnoxious female on the WCG Alumni forum has been ticking off long time posters there to the point that this is now one of the main threads on that forum. (I left there a few weeks ago on the same account of her "religious" blathering.) She dishes out this same haughty disrespect for other peoples opinions that the WCG of old did. Because she is still part of that same system (albeit now with the Dart Board)!

Again, you just hit the nail on the head as to why these self-righteous people act the way they do. They learned it all at the feet of the Herbster and his mis-ministers. And they like to continue to dish out their calloused and haughty disregard toward other people who were spiritually & financially raped by the Armstrongs.

Anonymous said...

Gavin wrote:
"McGrath is a gifted writer, but let's be honest, he's an apologist, though an eminently scholarly one, and whether or nor he does a convincing job in defending the ramparts of conservative orthodoxy, ultimately he's a refined version of GTA in a roman collar."

From this it is clear that Gavin does not understand the meaning of "apologist". GTA was certainly not one, unrefined or otherwise.

Lochinvar

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Christian Odyssey is published six times a year by the Worldwide Church of God, PO Box 5005, Glendora, California, 91740. The WCG is a denomination with about 64,000 members, living in about 90 nations, worshiping in 860 congregations.

John Halford supports this statement? Isn't 64,000 people in the WCG a rather inflated figure?

Pretense is just one of the marks of true Armstrongists, no matter how their doctrines change.

We believe that bigotry and
ignorance from the Christian community are far more damaging to the cause of the gospel than all the cleverly constructed attacks from outside.


Actually, the hypocrisy of deception, lies and setting a terrible example are more damaging than all the cleverly constructed attacks from outside.

The WCG could stand to have yet another major shakeup. Stirring them isn't going to be enough.

One should not confuse Christianity with whatever the modern WCG is pushing -- it's just not the same: The WCG is made up of Armstrongists in sheep's clothing, but it's the same old wolves underneath.

Anonymous said...

Halford:
"..you can be sure that there are capable men and women out there who are more than able to defend the Christian turf.."

This is a Logical Fallacy: APPEAL TO ANONYMOUS AUTHORITY !

As the gloves come off and criticism of Jewish/Christian claims sharpens, the Christian response is disappointingly weak.

There are not many willing to be "apologists" (including Halford who defers to "Authorities") and those few who do step up are pathetic - including "superstar" McGrath.

Unknown said...

Sadly, John Halford is in the same boat as the vast majority of former WCG ministers, who had spent many years preaching and writing in defence of WCG's doctrines, and claiming, like the noble Bereans, that they had searched the Scriptures daily to prove that those things were true. But now, the vast majority have repudiated much of what they once preached, defended and claimed to have proved. So why should any sane person believe that what they now claim to understand, they will not repudiate in future?

In 1995 during the turmoil in WCG UK, John was sent by Joe Tkach to replace Les McCollough, and wield the hatchet. I still have the letter he wrote to the members bribing them to support the changes. And those who did were ordained as deacons, deaconesses and local elders, however unqualified they were.

Since then, until his resignation about a couple of year ago, he presided over an apostate church in terminal decline. Many marriages have ended in divorced, some members have suffered nervous breakdowns, there have been reports of adultery, fornication, alcohol abuse and couples living together!

But the ministers in UCG, LCG, PCG, etc., are all, as I said, in the same boat as John. None had the courage to challenge Joe Tkach or speak out against his heretical changes. Most quietly resigned or were asked to resign, and those who comply, were rewarded with a financial package. Which is described by Jeremiah as a bribe, to betray the people of God.

In reality, John and most of his fellow ministers, whether in WCG or cog-land, are hirelings. They are in it for the money. So they are in the same boat, because they all jumped out of the same rotten potato.

Tom

Anonymous said...

Tom said:

In reality, John and most of his fellow ministers, whether in WCG or cog-land, are hirelings. They are in it for the money.

Agreed. But do you know anybody (save a Mother Teresa) who is NOT in it for the money?

And speaking of money, the Herbster was pretty good at gathering the green stuff too. His reported salary near the end, according to Ambassador Review, was $600,000. And if the Pasadena Star News can be cited, his salary for 1978 was $200,000. GTA's was a mere $80,000. Nice little raise he gave himself there.

Oh. I forgot. The Herbster said he didn't own anything, save a Rolls Royce or two. One of which he would have shipped overseas when he went on his world tours, sprinkling Steuben Crystal around like Hershey's Kisses. Yes, he didn't have to own anything. Because he could fly, drive, live or dress in anything he wanted to, and all at tithe payers expense. Nice work, if you can get it.

And speaking of flying, that dirty old G-III wasn't enough for Armstrong, according to Stan Rader. No, the Herbster wanted a Boeing 737! (Presumably so he could load his Rolls in the back.) But even Rader knew the financial limits of the WCG empire and said, "No way, Herb."

And all these riches came about from one of the most kooky and half-baked concoctions of doctrine that the world has ever seen, enuf to make even old Joseph Smith and his "Peep Stone" blush. Trying to out Jewish the Jews at their own religion was Armsrong's main schtick.

Thank God (or your deity of choice) that in a few short years people will be saying "Herbert WHO?" Even his zombie offshoots, which are subdividing faster than amoeba, won't warrant more than a foot note in religious history.

Anonymous said...

Since then, until his resignation about a couple of year ago, he presided over an apostate church in terminal decline.

But the ministers in UCG, LCG, PCG, etc., are all, as I said, in the same boat as John. None had the courage to challenge Joe Tkach or speak out against his heretical changes.

In reality, John and most of his fellow ministers, whether in WCG or cog-land, are hirelings. They are in it for the money. So they are in the same boat, because they all jumped out of the same rotten potato.


Amazing admissions from an Armstrongist. Let's see now, the WCG is apostate and those who carried on the legacy of Herbert Armstrong were 1) weak, 2) compromised and 3) are hirelings. That's certainly no recommendation. The whole venue is a poisoned spring and really, not too much can be done at this point. Unity? Bah, forget it. Hirelings don't do unity. As for the scattered sheep: They are on their own.

This begs the bigger question: If the whole tree is corrupt and the fruit rotten, when did it turn or was it always that way?

With the revelations of Herbert Armstrong from public documents such as his divorce papers [for which we collectively paid $5 million for to get him out of a marriage to a divorced woman], it seems unlikely that the source of all this was ever all that moral, ethical or even legal.

People have held up Herbert Armstrong as their hero as someone who founded something that is "the truth" and spread "the gospel" to the whole world. The results are a tempest in a teapot. There is no remaining legacy of any worth. The participants have taken the money and run.

Once a cult, always a cult.

Since John Halford is a part of a corrupt organization and acted as a hatchet man to completely screw up whatever Herbert Armstrong developed and the Tkaches transmogrifried (sp -- a new word), little credibility can be ascribed to him and after all the shouting, he remains as weak and ineffective without one shred of credibility as anyone else in this whole sorry affair.

But do you know anybody (save a Mother Teresa) who is NOT in it for the money?

A few of the leaders of some of the smallest xcgs don't take any money for themselves. However, you should see the horrid misprints in their magazines, things like Herbert Armstrong as Pasture General. Sincere they may be but pathetic they are. As for the rest, one only need listen to their sermons over the years and hear how often they mention how concerned they are about their retirement: What a message that sends to the great unwashed masses.

Thank God (or your deity of choice) that in a few short years people will be saying "Herbert WHO?" Even his zombie offshoots, which are subdividing faster than amoeba, won't warrant more than a foot note in religious history.

20,000 years from now when pockets of weird cultists still keep traditions which origins will be long forgotten and the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated Christmas week, no one will remember Herbert Armstrong. They'll just keep a further warped and twisted echo of the shadow of the original concept. L. Ron Hubbard [who died the same week as Herbert Armstrong] has a better chance of being remembered and having his legacy kept intact. Besides there are scores of times more Scientologists than there were Armstrongists [although the setup of the two are quite similar].

People will remember Bart Simpson.

No one will remember Herbert Armstrong.

Anonymous said...

I assume the open letter to JH was sent off to Odyssey - good luck seeing it in the next issue.

There's already a rather sharp letter in this issue accusing Halford of turning liberal on Genesis. Perhaps they are not far from following what Odyssey's grandaddy magazine, Signs of the Times, just did: drop the Letters to the Editor section completely. It's this section that offers a window to 'dangerous' critics (not good for nece$$ary information control).

Piece on back cover of latest SIGNS: "The Christian and the Skeptic"-

Skeptic:"We aren't even sure who wrote some of the books in the Bible"

Christian Doctor: "Who wrote the multiplication table ?"
---------------------------

More great Christian apologetics

Anonymous said...

"Skeptic:"We aren't even sure who wrote some of the books in the Bible"

Christian Doctor: "Who wrote the multiplication table ?""

Who can gainsay such logic? This forces me to rethink things. Perhaps, in the light of this extraordinary response, I must rethink my foolish un-belief. This "Christian Doctor" is dangerous. I could see how thousands of rational human beings could be swayed by his words. He must be silenced!

Paul

Anonymous said...

If we could all agree that HWA, the WCG, all the daughter splinters, and the "reformed" or "new" WCG were all totally FUBAR, and move on, we'd all be better off, and the world would be a better place.

The problem, or obstacle to this, lies in the fact that some seem to want to find redeeming factors, or nuggets which can be preserved from our collective experience. That's unfortunately (crudity alert!) like searching through dog poop for good kernals of corn. Some even feel, despite all the proof to the contrary, that Armstrongism was God's truth, and HWA was the endtime apostle.

So, in diverse venues, and on varied levels of intellect, there is endless debate over something which seriously needs to get gone. How could any rational human being believe that Jesus had anything to do with HWA/WCG in the first place? That notion is preposterous.

Someone, right here, several days ago commented, using a biblical figure of speech, that the splinters appear to have been "spewed from the mouth of God". There's a deep lesson in that statement somewhere, and I'm afraid it's one that the brainwashed will never understand.

BB

Anonymous said...

"The WCG is a denomination with about 64,000 members, living in about 90 nations, worshiping in 860 congregations.

John Halford supports this statement? Isn't 64,000 people in the WCG a rather inflated figure?"

Why don't you write to Odyssey and ask? No one on this blog has any more idea than you do!

Lochinvar

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...


.....the vast majority have repudiated much of what they once preached, defended and claimed to have proved. So why should any sane person believe that what they now claim to understand, they will not repudiate in future?


Your question implies a much more fundamental question, why would anyone think ANY human (or institution of humans) can give them all knowledge about God?

HWA always said he'd change if proved wrong (I suspect that was mostly bluff). Tkach's said the same the thing, and DID change the doctrine (they just kept the abusive church structure).

Now you're pissed because they did change?

It would seem logical to hope they would continue to change if they gain more understanding and insight. That is if they are sincere. I am yet to be convinced on the latter. I think marketing plays into it all more than conscience.

Anonymous said...

The problem, or obstacle to this, lies in the fact that some seem to want to find redeeming factors, or nuggets which can be preserved from our collective experience.... Some even feel, despite all the proof to the contrary, that Armstrongism was God's truth, and HWA was the endtime apostle.

There are no redeeming factors. There may be some things worth taking away from the venue. Only one springs to mind: The idea through the Festivals that there is a plan to redeem all of humanity, remembering that the Feasts themselves were an adoption of the ideas of Gilbert G. Rupert.

It doesn't appear that there is much of anything else worth preserving.

There are definitely things which I cannot personally stomach under any circumstances. On the top of the list is British Israelism and prophecy.

It should also be noted that the idea of renting halls and not having church property is an aberration from the norm of traditional churches. It not only suggests an instability of the congregation but also a lack of commitment to anything in particular which will last awhile -- at least a generation or two after the founder dies.

The church of God experience is a lot like experiencing a Franz Kafka novel, but much more confusing.

Anonymous said...

((The church of God experience is a lot like experiencing a Franz Kafka novel, but much more confusing.))

Armstrongism (and Tkachism) is truly Khafkaesque. Also a reminder of that brilliant '60's British show The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan.

Anonymous said...

Ahem.

Those interested in Felix Taylor's new blog should go to:

http://lifeafterwcg2.wordpress.com/

In The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan kept asking, "Who is Number One"?

He kept getting answers like, "I am #2" and "you are #6".

In the church of gods, we all have sort of asked, "Who is Number One?" after noting that it was neither God nor Jesus Christ.

Some would say that Herbert Armstrong was #1. After all, he is at the top of the short list in all the various xCGs and he started the whole mess.

However, given the chaos (remembering that God is not the author of confusion, and the whole venue is more confusing that a Franz Kafka novel), pundits will probably delight in saying that Satan the Devil was #1 with the Armstrongists.

Anonymous said...

One must ask oneself, "Is vacation planning enough to continue with the xCGs?", because in most cases, that's all that's really left.

Anonymous said...

Quite right on this:

It's by grappling with the tough questions that we grow. Trying to shield the "poor ordinary Christians" from that responsibility is just plain presumptuous. Given the opportunity, some of those folk could be extraordinary instead!

In the post-modern world a gentle stir may not be enough. Sometimes the foundations need a decent shake-up.


As someone said earlier, the problem is the approach. 99% of Christianity has this problem. Instead of being so 'poor-me-the-persecuted Christian' focused how about following Christ? He did not go about whining about how tough it was - He got on with the work: which is serving and helping others. If someone wants be believe we started off evolving from pond slime several million years ago who cares? That has nothing to do with the mission of Christ. If someone does not believe in God or "undermine and ridicule every aspect of our beliefs" who cares? That is not my, or any follower of Christ's, problem - that is for God to sort out. The whole point of following God is to realize He is in control - not us - and to let go of earthly things. "Christians" are so easily drawn offsides by the advesary and our own vanity to chase around miles away from the straight and narrow. If we would focus on the Spirit and humbly serve one another, with our eyes on Christ, then many supposed critics would be silenced and then the critics may even commit themselves in service to God and their fellow man by our example. But, we continue to replicate our awful "church" culture so the chance for real improvement is very, very tiny.

By the way, on the Mother Teresa comment, another person who followed God and was not hung up on money was George Muller. In fact, back in an issue of the Good News in the 40's, the Herbster himself called George Muller an apostle of God. But, HWA backpedaled on that claim mightily later on. If you read the story of George Muller you will see why he had to and did. I think there are others who follow Christ and are not focused on the $$$, but they are few and they toil in anonymity in this life - which may be for the best.

jds

Anonymous said...

Edited:

'If someone wants be believe we were magically created from a lump of dirt six thousand years ago who cares? That has nothing to do with the mission of science. If someone does not accept scientific fact or "undermine and ridicule every aspect of science" who cares?'

Paul

Neotherm said...

Gavin, you seem to have missed the point of discontinuity between the old, Armstrongite WCG and the new WCG aligned with orthodox Christianity (for the most part). Certainly, sarcasm was a major problem with GTA and many people attracted to Armstrongism. (Sarcasm really plays prominently on this Blog. People with low self-esteem. I try to contain myself.) But how does that history, under a different regime of leaders with a different philosophy, disqualify Halford from pointing out presently that others engage in ridicule?

And in the perpetual and tiresome conflict between evolutionists and Christian Theists, there has been sarcasm on both sides, especially, it seems among those who know the least about boundaries of the conflict.

Richard Dawkins is fine to read. But his responses to the argument of Irreducible Complexity are both imaginative and implausible. He is entertaining. He can construct interesting scenarios for large systems but fails to convince at the molecular level. This makes his explanations sound more like anecdote, which they are, than science. So I can see why John Halford might not want to spend a lot of time with Dawkins. Dawkins is of more interest to people who have already made up their minds to be evolutionists, based on personal proclivities, than to someone who is undecided and wishes to be convinced.

-- Neo

Anonymous said...

"But his responses to the argument of Irreducible Complexity are both imaginative and implausible. He is entertaining. He can construct interesting scenarios for large systems but fails to convince at the molecular level."

Such as?


Paul

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

Felix Taylor, Jr. said...

The church of God experience is a lot like experiencing a Franz Kafka novel, but much more confusing.
Armstrongism (and Tkachism) is truly Kafkaesque.....

....a reminder of that brilliant '60's British show The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan.


AC was just like that TV show, complete with Mediterraean style Cottages, golf carts, and smilely people all wanting to know your past. And like the TV show, nothing drove them up the wall more than a private discreet person.

Only thing missing was the weather balloons....