Saturday, 31 October 2009

The WCG that was

If you haven't been across to the Shadows blog recently, make a point of checking out this posting; a belated guide for the prospective WCG member of the early seventies. Here's a brief sample:


  • Ten percent of your money is to be sent to the Church in Pasadena. This is ten percent of your gross income. This is mandatory.
  • Ten percent of your money is to be saved to go to the Church Festival, wherever we tell you you are to go. This is ten percent of your gross income. This is mandatory.
  • Once every third year, a third ten percent of your money is to go to a fund for widows and orphans. However, it is ultimately up to us what we do with the money. Do not question the use of these funds. It is mandatory to give this money.
  • You are required to give offerings above and beyond your tithe on Holy Days.
  • You are not to ask, question, or otherwise have any concerns over what this money goes to. You are to give it. We do with it what we want.
  • If you fail to follow the above directives, you will be either suspended or disfellowshipped from the organization, and we will tell you you will have likely lost your chance at eternal life and will end up in the third resurrection.
  • You will survive on what money is left for yourself. If you find yourself in poverty due to giving 30% or greater of your income to us, after the government has already taken 20 to 30%, don’t ask us for help. We are always in a crisis and we need you to give more!

Of course, it all depended on exactly when you were recruited into Herbert's "crusade for sanity." The church's requirements morphed with every wind of change, and there were plenty of gales blowing in the seventies! It was possible (and often desirable) to be in blissful ignorance of the latest shift in teaching for months, especially if it didn't appear on the front page of the Worldwide News. For the not-so-zealous among the flock, the trick was to keep a very low profile.

If you don't end up screaming in rage, you'll get a good laugh.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Same old, same old...

The self proclaimed "bishop," Brian Tamaki, is in the news in my little corner of the multiverse. The New Zealand Herald, via columnist Garth George, is labeling the prophet of many hairstyles a cult leader. In a sudden rush of blood to a bodily appendage unused to such things - his head - Bishop Brian, founder and boss of Destiny Church, has had seven hundred male members, uh, yes that's the term the Herald uses, swear a loyalty oath to him. And, oh whoopee, they even get to wear loyalty rings!

...the church document says that proof of a man's covenant with God is how they "submit to God's chosen man ... We are blessed to our spiritual father through whom this principle is being restored."

God's chosen man? Deja vu: I think I'm going to be sick. I'm told some ex-WCG members now sit in Destiny services each week. Out of the frying pan...

Now, to be honest, I'm no fan of Garth George. He is a former editor of the loathsome Challenge Weekly, the fundamentalist tabloid. I have never yet read a column of his that I agree with, though that may partly be because I make a point of not reading his columns. Nevertheless, in this case, I was prepared to make an exception after a copy of this one was emailed to me by a former WCG member (thanks Seamus.) Tamaki reminds me of a tithe-sucking vampire, preying on the credulity of decent, everyday folk who are just trying to make sense of life.

So Garth George - and it pains me to say it - does have a point. And if someone doesn't slap Tamaki down, the very stones may cry out. One positive aspect of the Herald column is that George does have a degree of "cred" with the very people who are most vulnerable to Tamaki and his ilk. Hopefully this punch will have connected.

There is a real difference between the blather that comes from the fundagelical heartland, and the loon-call of someone like Tamaki, but the irony is that it's arguably people like Garth George who prepare the ground for movements like Destiny. Tamaki simply takes the same fundagelical agenda and drives it off in the direction it's already pointing - over a cliff. Garden-variety evangelicals, on the other hand, may picnic at the edge of the cliff and admire the scenery below, but usually have enough nous not to jump.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

This one is for you, Seamus!

(The year is 1978)

Brethren, if you'd all open your hymnals to page 103, we will sing the words of Psalm 137, "By the Waters of Babylon."

Seamus (sotto voce): "Which version?"

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Egg White

Will Herbert Armstrong ever surpass the reputation of the woman whose footsteps he, at least partly, followed in?

Ellen G. White is often referred to as the founder of Seventh-day Adventism, and this report indicates that her influence endures some ninety four years after her death. The SDA movement may have a lower profile, but is actually larger than its brasher cousin, Mormonism.

SDAs have also impacted on the everyday lives of all of us living in the West, thanks to Corn Flakes, peanut butter and, may God forgive them, Young Earth Creationism.

Ronald Numbers, whose name comes up in the item linked above, is himself a former Adventist, and author not only of a leading biography of the prophetess, but The Creationists,a hugely enlightening history of creationism that should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to express an opinion on that subject. Even cut down to size by twenty first century academics, the lady is formidable.

But what will be the legacy of Herbert Armstrong, whether for good or ill? His followers have built no hospitals nor given the world a breakfast cereal. Ninety four years out from his death, in 2080, will he be anything other than a minor footnote in an obscure volume on twentieth century sectarian figures?

TPM - COGism's very own UFO cult?

A new face emerged during Triumph's Feast of Tabernacles this year. Haile Keita led a series of "studies" on UFOs, Nephilim, Aliens and the Occult. Keita's speculations might seem completely loopy anywhere else, including in most of the COGs, but at TPM they're positively mainstream.

Putting aside the cogency or otherwise of Keita's material, he comes across as a personable and well-spoken guy, and in his opening comments he was duly deferential to TPM founder and end-times guru Willie Dankenbring. When Willie goes to his eternal reward, could Haile be the one to take on the reins at Triumph?

Certainly, if his five-part chat is anything to go by, he has as many off-the-wall theories to peddle as his master and mentor.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

In Search of... Bob's Th.D

The mystery of Bob Thiel's Th.D may be solved, and it's a pretty strange tale.

Bob may have acquired a mail order degree from Trinity School of Apologetics & Theology in Kochi.



Following up on an anonymous tip in the previous comments section, a web search revealed that Trinity is a fundamentalist institution in India which has a Calvinist orientation, and offers "Free Apologetics/Theology Graduate Distance Programs." It's listed in places like Conservapedia and Creationwiki, and is sited next to Cochin University, but from what I can tell is definitely not part of that institution (although to read the Trinity website you might assume it was!) T of CU would then mean Trinity of Cochin University, which seems to be a clear misrepresentation.

Here's what Walston's Guide to Christian Distance Learning has to say about this institution (see graphic).

Not exactly positive.

And lo and behold, there is a Bob Thiel listed under "graduation news" on the Trinity site.

Now let's recap.

(1) If this is the source of Bob's Th.D, one can only wonder at his choice of an institution which wears its trinitarianism on its sleeve.

(2) To all intents and purposes, the accreditation that this institution claims is highly dubious.

(3) Bob has misrepresented it by calling it TCU. The correct acronym is TGSAT. The impression that he has graduated from Texas Christian is highly misleading. The impression that TGSAT is part of Cochin University is also misleading.

It appears that Bob's Th.D - if this is its source - isn't worth the paper it's printed on. No wonder Bob has been less than forthcoming about its provenance: it's a huge embarrassment.

However, on the positive side, Bob was being at least partially truthful. He does have a piece of paper with a recently minted Th.D., the quality of which is fully commensurate with the quality of his scholarship.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A Case of Beams and Splinters?

Over at COGwriter, Bob Thiel is busy nuking some guy called James Malm. It's completely justified, as Malm has been slagging off Thiel. Never a dull moment in the sandpit.

What this clearly demonstrates is that Bob is quite capable of standing up for himself, and assuming a posture of peevish outrage. The current entry is entitled "James Malm Continues to Mislead."

Instead of repenting for being a false accuser of me, James Malm remains an accuser (cf. Revelation 12:10) as he continues to attempt to mislead people about me and my writings... The Apostle Paul faced false accusers as well who could not prove their false accusations (Acts 24:13).

Well, bully for Bob. But isn't it interesting that Bob has still failed to respond to questions about the legitimacy of a claimed Th.D from TCU. These claims are in his bio at, and on his own website. Hardly a good look to accuse someone else of misleading while being unable to provide the most rudimentary documentation for one's own claims. A case of beams and splinters?

The thing is, Bob gets a lot of traffic on his site, but where does it come from? Have a look at this breakdown from

Sweet mystery of life, nearly 15% of Bob's click-through traffic comes from - gasp! - AW! No other source, search engines Google and Yahoo excluded, sends more visitors through for a dose of Bob's "Th.D" fueled Biblical expertise... Most of those would go directly to the COGwriter "news" page, while most of the search engine hits would go to one of the countless ratbag pages of opinion Bob has up on things like "Catholic prophecies," Mayan calendars, and whether Barack Obama is the Antichrist. If that's the case, most of Bob's upstream traffic would come from curious and confused nutcases outside the COG fold, which means the news blog - the part of Bob's site most of us are familiar with - has been hugely overrated in its influence.

Yes brethren, I'm very tempted to rain on Bob's parade by withdrawing all links to his site... after all he doesn't link here. But that would be boorish and small-minded, so I guess he can continue to hang out in the apologists' section of the side bar.

But there'll be no more direct links from blog entries until Bob explains that alleged Th.D.

Question: Exactly which institution issued the Th.D? Full name required, as the obvious candidate for "TCU" is Texas Christian University, and they don't seem to know anything about it.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

After Wolverton... Teague?

Is David Teague the new Basil Wolverton?

The comparison isn't in style, but in affiliation. Teague is a UCG member, and his depiction of the second resurrection hangs in the office of church president Clyde Kilough. You can view this painting here. Judging from comments on Mike Bennett's blog, opinion is divided over whether the work is inspiring or just plain disturbing.

For another taste of Teague, try his impression of the Red Sea crossing. I quite like this one.

The greater COG movement has attracted relatively few artists or musicians, so it's interesting to see an exemplar. Has there ever been a commercially published COG novelist - other than the terrific Ellen Hart (who doesn't really count, having found a new life.) How about musicians who have achieved at the highest level (sorry, Ross Jutsum is good, but not that good.) I have no way to evaluate David Teague's talent. Anyone here who can offer an informed opinion?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

UCG's inane, cheesy, cheap creationist fraud

Are the lads at The Good News hiding under the bedsheets and hoping the wicked world of science will go away? It seems so. After promoting their anti-evolution booklet (a decadent confection of wishful, woolly thinking and bad science) via Google ads on P. Z. Myers' blog (big mistake!), they got a whole lot of orders. But not the sort of orders they wanted it seems. What to do? Maybe if we shut our eyes really tight the problem will go away!


Way back in July, I proposed that an appropriate response to the inane creationist ads that were appearing on scienceblogs was for people to take advantage of one, an offer of a free booklet on creationism, and then we'd all tear it apart mercilessly. I ordered mine, a lot of you did likewise, and some of you have even written critical posts already.

I forgot.

It wasn't my fault, though. They didn't send me my booklet! I jumped through their hoops, I filled out their form, I did everything they asked, and I set the issue aside, anticipating that the arrival of tripe in the mail would be my wake-up alarm to get going. It never happened.

Anyway, we'll salvage something. If you already wrote a dissection, leave a link in the comments here. I'll try to pull off a web copy of their garbage, and use that instead. Let's set a date — a week from today — on which I'll post my criticisms and link to everyone else's. Cheesy cheap creationist frauds,[grumble, grumble, grumble]

Myers titles this entry Hey, where's my booklet? Good question Good News. Or do we only send the lit (short for either literature or litter, I forget which) out on a selective basis to folk who are more likely to be less capable in the critical analysis department?

Whatever. Regardless of the GN's side-stepping, fallout is pending, and it'll be interesting following the thread. Do you think "Super Mario" Seiglie might deign to poke his head up from among the pillows to defend his writing?

Update: Here's one pretty cool response to the UCG booklet.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Lovely Bones

COG preachers may like to make fun of the Roman Catholic practice of holy relics, but you have to wonder at the bravado of doing so when you consider the dessicated corpses that are regularly trotted out in the cause of the COGgish gospel.

Of course, we're not talking actual body parts here, but the analogy is still pretty close. In Edmond, Gerry Flurry can hardly complete a sentence without referring to "Mr Armstrong." Herbert's body lies a moldering in his grave, but he still gets trundled out in each and every issue of the Philadelphia Trumpet to validate Gerry's ministry. Lo and behold, the same thing is true in Wadsworth, Ohio; and other locales where splinter ministries have sprung up like weeds in a cemetery.

Out in Texas, the holy family endures in the form of Mark Armstrong, grandson of Herb, son of the once heir apparent. Mark recycles his father's TV shows, and you'd scarcely know that Garner Ted was dead judging from his website. Presumably the aging tapes still ensure a steady income stream.

Ernest Martin is also long gone, but you can still "ask ELM" over at the ASK website, where David Sielaff dusts off his master's finery each month like a high-class rag and bone merchant.

Maybe we're just a remarkably backward looking bunch. The glory days of slick magazines, saturation TV and radio, and carefully coiffed college campuses has passed into history, and the giants of the faith - or is that ogres? - have toppled (or soon will!) None of the inheritors, despite healthy egos, has the chutzpah of Herbert Armstrong who, unlike his pale imitators, felt absolutely no need to call on the authority of his predecessors - men like Andrew Dugger.

The COGs are walking backward into the future, eyes firmly fixed on the past. It's not a recipe for survival.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Doctor of Thielology

The Last Great Day has been and gone, and thousands of Feast-goers are toddling their weary way home. The "best Feast ever"? Well, maybe.

I'm looking forward to Bob Thiel at last having time to share the details on his acquisition of the Th.D which suddenly appeared on his resumé , so to speak, just days before the Feast. This may seem a bit obsessive, but I think it's important that we all can feel Bob's honesty is not in question here. We may disagree with Bob, but nobody has had reason to question his sincerity and integrity before.

As late as March last year Bob didn't seem to know about his own Th.D. Here's what he wrote in answer to a critic on another blog (you can read the whole rebuttal here):

I do have a Ph.D. and it is from the Union Institute & University. And Union is regionally accredited (the highest accepted accrediting standard in the United States for universities and colleges). I also have a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern California (which, of course, is also regionally accredited).

I believe Bob unreservedly, and these qualifications are not in question. But note, no mention of a Th.D from TCU (or anywhere else.) Has Bob acquired his prestigious doctorate in theology since then? If so, how? If Bob wants to continue to be regarded as credible, he needs to come clean on this, and sooner rather than later.

Friday, 9 October 2009


From Robert, a correspondent in Vancouver:

Today was one of those days when my past life and my current life intersected in an unusual way. I rode my bike downtown with a graduate student studying ecological goods and services to view a film at the Vancouver International Film Fest. Strangely enough the film, “Homegrown,” was about a family with a WCG background.

Jules Dervaes might be best know amoung xCOG followers for penning an article that got plagiarized by Gerald Flurry. But among climate change activists, those concerned about food system sustainability and locavores he is famous for something else. He and his family have created one of the most successful and well known examples of urban agriculture.

The film only briefly touched on religion. There was passing mention of moving to Pasadena to study theology and the family was shown praying before the meals. But most of the film dealt with the inspiring story of how this family has managed to create an amazing example of sustainability and self sufficiency in an urban environment.

The film brought up a few memories. There was a scene at the Rose Bowl where I spent some time doing fundraisers for AC. And some old family pictures from the 80s that somehow looked familiar. I had probably seen that family at church services during my time at college in Pasadena. I smiled when one if them is shown riding an Xtracycle to the grocery store. How many people that I used to go to church with even know what an Xtracycle is?

The audience at the film fest seemed inspired by the story. There was enthusiastic clapping at the end. And I overheard people sharing the Dervaes project website with each other. My companion and I joked about finding 1/5 of an acre in our city to replicate what the Dervaes family had done.

But for me there was another element to the story that probably no one else in audience appreciated. Here was a family from a fundamentalist WCG background who found themselves part of larger community that was quite different than the church environment that they came from. They found themselves, perhaps accidentally, at the forefront of a movement that is deeply concerned about the health and welfare of our planet and future generations. A movement that is concerned about finding practical solutions to issues of sustainability – not just praying and waiting for messianic intervention. And I also found that inspiring.

Here are a couple of links to information on the film:
Urban Homestead

Feasts Galore

It's a bit late for 2009, but if you're already thinking about next year's festivities, you might like to bookmark this site which lists various Tabernacles options on offer, with a heavy emphasis on COG splinters.

And yes, there's merchandise! The obligatory t-shirts, coffee mugs, greeting cards (!) and buttons. Awwwwwww...

My suggestion is a special post-Feast button: I got fleeced at the Feast, but then I'm obviously a cynic.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Purple Praise

You know you miss it, so here's your chance to get it. The purple hymnal is online in pristine PDF format. All your favorites plus your least favorites. Dwight Armstrong's greatest hits. Download it while you can.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Complete Journal Issue Online

The Journal team have provided access to the complete September 29 issue online. That's all 32 pages including the unique offerings in the Connections ad section. It's a nice gesture, and an opportunity to see what subscribers get.

Ian Boyne (who features in this issue) has a couple of his own articles online at the Jamaica Gleaner: The problem of evil, the rise of militant atheism, and Atheists' problem with the Bible.

In case you missed it, the Living Armstrongism blog has an interesting piece about LCG leader Rod Meredith wheedling money out of his festal flock. Thus spake Spanky:

Yet, mainly because of the recession—which is now ending—the Work of Christ is experiencing a very “tight” financial condition. Though we have budgeted 5.3 percent increase in income for this year—and deeply need this in order to sustain our current programs—our current income is only running about two percent increase year-to-date. So unless we receive truly generous Feast offerings this year we will have to make more cuts in our television stations and other parts of the Work. But, in all honesty, we have tried to run a “lean” operation and do not have any extravagance that I am aware of. So we do deeply need the prayers of all of God’s people and their sacrificial offerings in the weeks to come!

Therefore, please announce this to the brethren and tell them of the unusual need at this time. Let them know that as they come to worship God and picture Tomorrow’s World at the Feast of Tabernacles, they should think of these coming Feast offerings at Trumpets, Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles in that context. This is worshiping our Creator and being truly thankful that most of us in the western world still have far more material wealth and “things” than the vast majority of mankind. Even though some of us, at times, think that we are “giving until it hurts” we do not even begin to commence to have the “hurt” others have in less fortunate circumstances. So encourage everyone to be generous—though we do not want any of our widows or less fortunate people to put themselves into financial hardship because of this.

Also, brethren, as Mr. Armstrong stated a number of times, we do want the brethren to know that it is all right to give any of their “excess” second tithe as Feast offerings—especially as part of the final Feast offering on the Last Great Day. A number of people have actually “enjoyed” this opportunity to give of their substance to the Work—knowing that they did not need to use it all up during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Ah, the joy of throwing money at Meredith! Dig deep brethren; give till it hurts!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Haj

(This is a reprise of a piece that originally appeared prior to the 2006 Feast of Tabernacles.)

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims gather in the holy city of Mecca. The haj is a pilgrimage all good followers of Islam are encouraged to make at least once in their lifetimes.

The haj is prefigured in, of all places, the book of Exodus, chapter 23:17. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

John Collins (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, page 133) comments.

These were occasions when the males were to “appear before the Lord” by going to a sanctuary. The Hebrew word for such a pilgrim feast is hag, which is related to the Arabic name for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj.

In a sense, then, the Church of God observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is a haj. Thousands of people travelling to far away places in obedience to what they believe is a divine command.

The similarities don't end there. Islam has a prophet, Muhammed, and so does Armstrongism. At a minimum we're talking about Herbert Armstrong (Apostle, Elijah), but others have claimed a similarly exalted status (Gerry Flurry for example.) The COGs talk about dwelling in tabernacles or booths (though they prefer nice solid motel rooms) while the Muslim pilgrims literally do dwell in tents, whether rich or poor. And as anyone who has read the embittered ravings of Mark Armstrong will know, there is a certain mullah-like disposition to many of the preachers of Armstrongism. As worshipers in some (but by no means all) mosques are exposed to disturbingly overt political messages, just so are many (but not all) Church of God members lambasted with not-so subtle conservative political rhetoric parading as “Bible truth”.

For others the Feast is a great occasion, and they return home feeling genuinely recharged and renewed in their sense of identity as Christians. More power to them. I've listened to a number of feast sermons that were positive and upbuilding. It's simply not true to characterize the Feast as something inevitably negative or legalistic. I've never attended a Friday prayer service at a mosque, but I suspect something similar is true there too.

For those departing for the eight days, happy haj!