Wednesday, 20 January 2010

AW comes to an end

This is the last posting to appear on AW. After more than eleven years - beginning with a very small website on Geocities, then moving into a fairly massive site under its own domain before finally being downsized into this blog - AW is bowing out.  

But, don't worry, some relevant content will still appear over at Otagosh, which has a broader focus than AW. If anything of significance in the crazy world of COGism crops up, I daresay it'll get a mention there. I'm still committed to commenting on events in the Churches of God, albeit a little less obsessively. But there will be no blog specifically dedicated to news of GCI and its splinters - unless of course someone else cares to take up that task.

Otagosh is a little different. For one thing it will continue to take a wider view, reflecting my passionately held belief that the problem isn't just with the dying world of Armstrongism, but with fundamentalism, evangelicalism and conservative Christianity in general. Unlike many of those who comment here however, that doesn't mean - for me at least - a rejection of either the positive side of Christianity or the fruits of biblical scholarship, any more than spurning quack remedies means rejecting medical science.

I invite you to update your bookmarks to Otagosh. I'd also like to thank those of you who've been part of AW in various ways, perhaps simply by coming back again and again, perhaps by contributing your own thoughts as comments. It is an almost impossible task to adequately list those people who have had a special role in making AW what it has become, but it required a team approach for one guy in New Zealand to keep abreast of events half a world away. Membership in that small team has been fluid, and most have been keen to preserve their anonymity, but I owe a particular debt of gratitude to the correspondent formerly known as Dateline Pasadena.

AW has been quite a journey, but it's time to turn some of my limited time and energy into other channels. I don't believe there's much more to say here, in this format, that hasn't already been said - much of it many times. After eleven years I'd like to think I've earned my parole!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Future Shock

Commentary by Dennis Diehl

I'll get right to the point. Can human beings know the future? No they cannot.

The future is an illusion, as is the past. We think the future is something ahead of us that is laid out in some way that is knowable only to the "chosenites" in the world of religion. Our experience in the WCG and all those who continue to base most of their ministries on the fallacy that the future is knowable either in the form of some revelation or prophecy is that, indeed, if we just work the dials correctly, we can know the unknowable.

The Bible is not really 1/3 prophecy as we have been assured. It has prophecy. It has failed prophecy. It has text that is made to look prophetic which , in fact, has been redacted into the text and written after the events it pretends to foretell will happen. If you want to make the head of a COG prophetic type spin, just tell him that the entire Book of Daniel was written as prophecy in reverse. It was written long after the events it foretells happened and when it gets to the parts that are really future, it goes vague. It was written to encourage the Jews in just the same way it's knock-off, Revelation, was written to encourage the Jewish Church. However in both cases, the Romans won.

Matthew, in his gospel was notorious for his "fulfillment" texts about the birth of Jesus being foretold in every detail from the flight to Egypt to the murder of the children and the Virgin Birth. Matthew needed to tell a story about Jesus and went back into the OT for hints of what to say. No one knew anything about Jesus birth, so stories had to be written.

NOT ONE of his "thus it was fulfilled" passages was a prophecy about Jesus. NOT ONE was ever meant to mean what meaning Matthew assigned it. NOT ONE is prophecy and ALL are taken grossly out of context. But since it is "Matthew" who wrote it, (the author's name was assigned to the anonymous book many years after it was written), we assume he must know what the scoop is or was. Since it is "in the Bible" it must be true. We suspend critical thinking and we pay for it by perpetuating ignorance and pious conviction salted with marginal information.

The Apostle Paul was a bit more subtle in his misquoting of the OT to make his points. For example, since he wanted to promote his approach to faith and grace over works, he made a text that really said, "The just shall live by HIS Faith," into "The just shall live by faith." Big diff. And why the Pharisee of Pharisees who was the smartest pencil in the box and a Hebrew of the Hebrews used the Greek renditions in all his OT justifications for his Gospel, we can only guess. I suspect Paul was not a Pharisee at all and only God knows why if he was the top dog in Jerusalem at the same time as the Gospel Jesus, why he never showed up to persecute him. But I wander.

The very lifeblood of the major splinter's of WCG depend on prophecy and their "time is short" rendition of it for their survival. It is their schtick. It's the Goose that lays the Golden Egg for them. It is also bunk.

A close reading of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel will show that much of what they predicted failed to occur. Yet in our day we can project those past failed prophecies into the future as if they have yet to occur the first time and keep the hokum alive. Most would never understand that competing factions in the OT inserted failed prophecies into the text to make fools out of their rivals.

The further back in history prophecy seems to go the more we lionize the author of it. We all know today that ANYONE who laid seige to a frying pan, crawled through a small hole he punched in the temple wall, cooked his food with his own dung, laid on his side for a year and flipped over for a bit more time and heard voices constantly in his head was not well. However as the Prophet Ezekiel, we look the other way. What if modern Christianity is based on the perceptions of men with temporal lobe epilepsy, bi polar difficulties or schizophrenia? These conditions would make fascinating personages and easily attract the religious among them, but today we would put them on medication.

Even in the NT, any man who cast the demon out of a human being, in reality, having an epileptic seizure, and restored him to normalcy in about thirty minutes, would feel he had done something amazing. Of course, it takes about thirty minutes to get over a seizure. Mayan Priests used to get up before sunrise and beckon forth the sun. Sure dawned on them. What miracle workers!

The Book of Revelation, the very lifeblood of the COG splinters is a failed prophecy and it failed in either 56 AD or on October 8th, 70 AD depending on one's chronological tendencies. Revelation is a marvelous astro-theological text adapted to encouraging the Jewish Christians before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans who were not often held to prophectic timetables in their running of the country. It's a book that bashes the two most hated people in the minds of the Jewish Church....Vespasian and the false prophet and destroyer of Jewish Church Customs, the Apostle Paul. (All this is IMHO.)

In the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation we find this simple reality:

The Apostle Paul: I am the Apostle to Ephesus
Jesus to the Jewish Church: You have tried those who say the are Apostles and found them wanting."
Jewish Church to Paul: "Sorry, but we hate you."
The Apostle Paul to the Church: "All those in Asia (where Ephesus is) have forsaken ME." (You'd think he'd ask why? instead of just asking God to forgive them all for being wrong about him)
Jesus to the Jewish Church: "Well done."
Jewish Church to Jesus: "Thank you."

Time, past and future is an illusion. It is not real. It either is a present moment now past or a present moment not yet here at which time it will not be the future but just another present moment. It is unknowable because it has not yet occurred. And the story can go ten million ways before it ever arrives at another present moment.

Are we so blind that we cannot admit that 100% of all speculations both in and out of the Bible about how it will be and when it will all go this way or that depending on one's beliefs, have proven 100% false 100% of the time for the past 2000 years?

Do we not see that "God does not see time as you do," or that "a day with God is as a thousand years," is the apologetic for getting it wrong...again?

It is said that not even God can change the past. Dare we say that not even God knows the future? I dare say we can and it is men who dabble in such silliness and not God at all. Jesus said he did not know the day or the hour and assumed only God did. At least he admitted he did not. Jesus did not know the day or the hour because it is unknowable as it has not yet happened or not happened depending on which event actually occurs.

It used to be intriguing to me but now is quite sad and not a little frightening to witness the battle of the ministers in the splinters for top dog. I think it takes a mentally ill human being to put his name in the same sentence with Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus. I'm not a little annoyed that the Apostle Paul said he was called from the womb ranking himself right up there with Jeremiah and Jesus. Nothing has change in the world of title taking. I think it takes a mentally ill human being to demand his congregation "send it in," or claim to be the only one true Chosenite cult and follower of one man. It certainly is a delusion. I think a man who see's himself in the scriptures needs medication not encouragement or a following.

Can human beings know the future? Does the Bible accurately predict the future as if it is all neatly laid out and all the Chosenites have to do is get the combination on the dial correct to unlock it's mysteries? I say no. I believe it is inherent in humans to feel safer THINKING they are both special and in the know about what is going to happen and how they are going to both survive and thrive through "it." I believe they are wrong.

The present moment is all human beings really have. Don't squander it spinning and basing your present moment life on tales full of sound and fury...signifying nothing.

What say you?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

COGs on the Internet

Who's having an impact on the Web, and who isn't? Here's the current list of Alexa ratings. Anything below the million mark has been left off.

1. UCG, 57,077
2. The Good News (UCG), 73,606
3. Flurry's Trumpet (PCG), 74,270
4. Alan Ruth (Indep.), 91,374
5. Bible Tools (CGG), 130,159
6. Pack (RCG), 144,453
7. Tomorrow's World (LCG), 159,161
8. Tkach (WCG/GCI), 173,342
9. Weinland's Sticky End (PKG), 182,537
10. The Real Truth (RCG), 195,250
11. Thiel (Indep./LCG), 199,068
12. LCG, 225,539
13. Ritenbaugh (CGG), 306,774
14. Hulme/Vision, 331,902
15. Ambassador Watch (Indep./critical), 367,941
16. LCG member site, 382,898
17. Born to Win (CEM), 513,005
18. Wally Smith (Indep./LCG), 547,700
19. Beyond Today (UCG), 558,837
20. Albrecht (PTM), 595,826
21. The Journal, 655,874
22. Kubik (Indep./UCG), 710,578
23. PCG, 774,569
24. Coulter (CBCG), 805,521
25. Billingsley (FF), 845,824
26. Sielaff (ASK), 876,322
27. World News & Prophecy (UCG), 853,984
28. CGI, 967,237

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Fred apes Greg

Church at home. It reminds me of the cartoon where the kid, about to be dragged off for services, asks "if I can be home schooled, how come I can't be home churched?"

Greg Albrecht has made this a speciality with PTM. Not a particularly successful speciality, judging from the "I'm eating beans" begging letter he sent out last year, but he gets a B minus for effort.

Now along comes dour old Fred Coulter, staring down the barrel of the camera and practising his humorless speech techniques. Yes folks, welcome to Here you can view the Grate One (nope, that's not a typo) preening for the camera. None of this limp-wristed five minute stuff, Fred certainly couldn't restrict himself to that. Here you get a near thirty-minute monologue, chock full of Fred's rambling, ill-tempered pontifications. British-Israelism, law-keeping, the deception of "born again" and promos for Fred's very own "translation" of the Bible (a mere $119 - quite the bargain!) Are we all excited? Unless I'm much mistaken, Fred has spent a good deal of tithepayer moolah on this one, but making the team at Vild Productions ecstatically happy.

Fred left WCG shortly after Garner Ted Armstrong was booted, circa 1978. He initially founded the Biblical Church of God then, apparently after a spat, walked off to found the Christian Biblical Church of God. Listening to some of his stuff on the new website it's apparent that he hasn't learned much since. Frankly, you're probably better off with Greg.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Meeker - Digging Up the Dirt

There might be those who, in the wake of recent events concerning UCG's Council of Elders, suspect that Joel Meeker has something of a penchant for digging up the dirt. Now we have independent confirmation, and from none other than that august publication Biblical Archaeology Review.

The latest issue features the Meeker family, Joel, his wife Marjolaine and daughters, mucking in at Megiddo in 2008. And yes, there's even a photo of a smiling t-shirt and shorts clad Joel.

In fact it's a nice, warm human interest article with daughter Tatiana, for example, remarking that "sometimes it seems like all parents do is embarrass you!" Nothing to indicate Joel's profession as a UCG minister though. You could be forgiven for thinking he was just your regular used car salesman from Santa Barbara.

Elsewhere in this issue is an excellent article by April DeConick on the Gospel of Thomas.

Sadly, the Meeker feature (on pages 35 and 36) isn't available on the BAR website, but I'm sure Joel wouldn't mind if you deducted $5.95 from your next tithe check and used it to buy the hard copy!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Bulldozing date for campus buildings

Townhouses will replace Ambassador College offices and classrooms: LA Times story.

How does he do it?

David Ben-Ariel (original name David Hoover) operates at least forty blogs, and that's not counting various websites. How does he keep track of them all, let alone manage to update so many?

Hoover/Ben-Ariel is a hard-line Armstrongist (a former member of WCG in Toledo) who supports the doctrinal positions and wild prophetic speculations taken by the most rigid splinters (he has fallen afoul of PCG after a dalliance with that group.) In addition he posts extreme far-right political and pro-Zionist material. He made the news in 1996.

Friday March 15, 1996

Israel may deport American tied to mosque bomb plot

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

JERUSALEM -- Israel's internal security service has requested that a U.S. citizen living in Jerusalem be deported because he was involved in a plot to blow up a mosque here.

The American, identified as 35-year-old David Ben-Ariel
of Ohio, was reportedly detained for questioning recently by Shin Bet officials.

He was released several hours later, but his passport was confiscated and he was ordered to report regularly to police.

News reports indicated that Ben-Ariel -- and several others who remained at large -- allegedly planned to blow up Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem's Old City.
Ben-Ariel strongly denied the allegations and said he was being unfairly treated.

Security sources reportedly preferred that he be deported, and not brought to trial because they lacked hard evidence to convict him.

Ben-Ariel reportedly belonged to the Temple Mount Faithful, a group that seeks to rebuild the Jewish temple at its original location, where two mosques, including Al-Aksa, stand.

Ben-Ariel is said to have arrived in Israel about nine months ago and recently applied for citizenship.

In view of this, it's interesting to note that Hoover's fanaticism appears to have had little effect on his lifestyle, at least prior to 1999 when he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He writes, perhaps with an element of understatement: "I've been far from a disciplined Christian when it comes to sex outside of marriage."

Despite being the most prolific COG blogger by a country mile, Hoover's influence appears to be minimal - in fact almost non-existent - within the various factions of COGdom. Though he might be "a one-member sect," any attempt to track developments in Armstrong's shattered empire using the Internet will shower the searcher with links to Hoover's many, many entries.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

From the original AW: Tkach's death grip on the church

Moves are afoot to make 2010 the year Joe Tkach can't ignore the call to accountability, with the initiative coming from the Purple Hymnal blog site. AW supports that unreservedly. Here - in condensed form - is an editorial from way-back-when (2004 actually), and a series of graphics, that appeared on the precursor to this blog. Nope, the call for Joe to finally get a conscience and surrender his sinecure is hardly new, but the old boy apparently has a hide as thick as a rhinoceros: the man apparently has no shame. This year, maybe, the hammering on the door will be loud enough, and insistent enough, to force some movement at last. If that amounts to GCI belatedly signing up to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, it would be a good start.

Americans elect their president every four years, and wisely limit any one incumbent to two terms. The same cautious approach is evident in the constitution of many churches. A church, like a nation, should not become the personal fiefdom of any individual, no matter how sincere or gifted they might be. Yet Pastor General Joe Tkach was appointed, not elected. Moreover he's already served a lengthy term as spiritual leader of the Worldwide Church of God, and apparently has "life tenure". Doesn't that sound more like a fringe cult than an evangelical denomination?

Almost all churches, including related movements like the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the United Church of God, have systems in place that hold their leaders accountable to the membership. Church presidents serve a limited term. Not so the WCG. Joe Jr. (he prefers to be addressed as
Doctor Tkach) holds the very same title and office that Herbert W. Armstrong held. And while Joe is happy to trash any number of church traditions and doctrines from the past, he shows no enthusiasm for seeking endorsement for his position as the church's top dog. No General Conference exists to provide a counterbalance to the Pastor General's authority. The power of the ministry has been shown to be severely limited: stand up to Joe and Co. and you're likely to become a "pastor without portfolio".
The traditional argument that the Pastor General is accountable solely to Christ won't wash. The theology on which that particular bit of self-deception was based has long since been swept away in the flood waters of change. Has Joe heard about "the priesthood of all believers"? His friends in the wider evangelical community certainly have. In practice, "accountable to Christ" means not accountable at all.

But it gets worse. Legally it appears that the Worldwide Church of God is still "privately owned", and Pastor General Tkach is "sole proprietor". Caught off guard in a radio interview, he was asked what would stop him from just taking the money and leaving. The only reply he could come up with was that his
family would stop him.
While Tkach might deny that he "owns" the church, with the current legal structure of the organization the reality seems to be that he can hire and fire all board members at his personal discretion with absolutely no reason given. That's in writing. He can do whatever he wants with the corporation as long as it complies with government rules for a non-profit organization.

Here's what Michael Feazell said back in 1996, speaking to a conference of regional pastors.

"The church needs to be a priesthood of believers... It needs to be doing ministry. Everybody in the church has a stake in that--whether it's women, men, teens or children."

Stakeholders must have a voice. They are not powerless, passive observers.

The simple truth may well be that Joe doesn't trust the church he presumably serves. He won't risk relaxing the reins lest people come up with ideas he doesn't endorse. Perhaps Joe considers himself indispensable. Perhaps he's a control freak. Could it be that he is unwilling to lose his comfortable sinecure?

Pastor General Joe has been chief shepherd of his dwindling flock for far longer than is decent without, at the very least, endorsement from the membership. How long will he remain on his pontifical throne? (even the pope is elected by a college of cardinals). Will he be Pastor General for life - a religious version of Fidel Castro?

Michael Feazell writes in the July 2001
Worldwide News: "If your church is a spiritual detriment to you, then you should consider finding another one... When the leader of a church indicates that he is God’s unique messenger or special representative in comparison with other Christian ministers... then you have another example of a church that is spiritually detrimental to its members."
Wise words. But what about churches where the leaders have safely elevated themselves beyond the influence of the members? A church, for example, that permits only token involvement of it's members in governance at either local or denominational level? How can Feazell justify the office of Pastor General and the hierarchical structure of the church in light of his own statement?

Tkach is on record as saying: "This fellowship has always been Episcopal, which is hierarchical..." Perhaps so. But this fellowship had always been Sabbatarian too, but that wasn't allowed to stand in the way of change. Even if an "Episcopal" model is to be used, there would need to be a long hard look at the parliamentary procedures actually used by the groups like the Episcopal Church; procedures which do indeed involve representative bodies of lay members at all levels. The Worldwide Church of God is out on a limb when it claims "episcopacy" as some kind of precedent for leadership by a clique or self appointed oligarchy. It is no such thing.

Joe has been single-minded in his efforts to inveigle his way into the evangelical mainstream. But despite cuddling up to evangelical leaders, his leadership style arguably has more in common with Louis Farrakhan than Billy Graham.

They used to say in Pasadena that the only thing that would topple Herbert Armstrong from his throne would be the Second Coming.

Apparently some things don't change.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

From the original AW: Future Shock

Former Plain Truth writer Keith Stump wrote this article for the original AW site.

Twice during the past month I was asked, in chance meetings around town [Pasadena], about my views on recent events in Europe and the Middle East "in light of Bible prophecy", since I often used to write on these subjects for the Plain Truth magazine and World Tomorrow telecast. Twice I explained, at some length, that the question is meaningless, since the prophecies (as I now believe) were fulfilled nearly two millennia ago. And twice I looked into the face of stark, unreasoning fear, as the questioners--for a brief moment, before composing themselves--entertained the terrifying prospect of not living in the "end times" after all.

I have seen this fear many times in recent years. It is the panic that surfaces when one's defining worldview is challenged and doubt momentarily takes hold.

"Preterism" is the name given to the view that biblical prophecies about the "last days"--including those about the "Beast" and the "Great Tribulation"--were fulfilled in their entirety in the first century, during the lifetimes of Jesus' disciples (the "last days" of the Old Covenant). COG ministers dismiss this view out of hand, believing that they heard and refuted the preterist arguments years ago at Ambassador College--when, in fact, they were never truly exposed to preterism at all. Further, as I've been informed, many of these ministers, through intimidation, insist that their congregations avoid looking into preterist "heresies", lest they fall prey to "deception".

The churches of God profess reverence for truth, yet many seem to go out of their way to suppress members' exposure to viewpoints that potentially threaten the party line. Why? Is not truth invincible? Should not true teachings be able to stand up to close scrutiny? As I asked in a previous letter, how much is a faith worth that fears to take an honest look at itself? Only lies and falsehoods fear examination.

I know, from personal discussions, that some current ministers in the COGs harbor doubts about the "futurist" approach to prophecy, as taught by Herbert Armstrong and others. Yet they remain silent for fear of their jobs and livelihoods. Their fears have grown larger than their faith. Others fear what they might discover if they were to seriously look into preterism, so they simply don't look into it. They realize that if they were to be convinced of its truth, they would face agonizing personal decisions.

As the familiar saying goes, "What is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark, or the man afraid of the light?"

Through conversations with ministers and members, I have learned that few have any real idea of the biblical case for preterism. They think they've heard all the arguments, but are, in fact, largely ignorant of them, as revealed by their naive Spokesman-Club responses. I challenge everyone reading this letter to spend ONE HOUR [researching the Web on this subject.] Many will find themselves compelled to spend far longer, as long-held assumptions are challenged and--for some--light begins to penetrate the dense, tangled layers of fundamentalist jungle that have long suffocated the truth in their minds. Christians must have the courage and humility to reevaluate their views, to test their beliefs, to look at other perspectives, giving them fair and honest consideration. A true man or woman of God follows the path of truth no matter where it leads.

Why does this matter? It matters because fundamentalist prophetic foolishness percolates through the thinking of COG members, producing a warped and distorted spirituality, an obsession with trivialities, a squandering of lives on irrelevancies, a burying of talents and potentials because of a myopic focus on a nonexistent "gun lap."

Experience has shown that deliverance from a "last days" worldview causes many people to focus for the very first time on what a true Christian life really consists of--being agents for good in the world NOW--rather than fixating on a fantasy future that exists only in their imaginations. It often leads them to reevaluate other false beliefs, like the entire mindset of clock-and-calendar-based spirituality, and the abysmal silliness of the so-called "18 restored truths". It's liberating, it's empowering, it's life-affirming.

There is no "tribulation" ahead other than the same types of trials and tribulations that humankind has experienced throughout its history, and that will still be with our great-great-great grandchildren in their "Star Trek" world of the future. Amid these tribulations, we are here to grow and to help others grow--to become stronger, better, wiser--to be agents for good and for God on the earth--not to waste our lives obsessing over the minutiae of dead prophecies and playing at religion in a fundamentalist fantasy world.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

From the original AW: Beware the Anti-Christs!

This piece originally appeared five years ago - part of the editorial series "Southern Exposure." Karen Ray still has a website up, but the article refered to has since been pulled.

Did you know that Herman Hoeh was an atheist and an anti-Christ? It came as a surprise to me too. A bigger surprise, though, was to discover that I am as well.

Okay, so let me explain. Karen Ray, a former ghost-writer for Dave Pack, decided to list all those dangerous folk who were wicked atheists and unbelievers on her website: Darrell Condor, Herman, Dennis Diehl... And there was my name – no doubt about it – and no less than 36 quotes (I counted them!) to prove the point. I don’t want to boast, but Dennis only rated 3 quotes, so if we get demoted to the Two anti-Witnesses I want it clearly understood that I’m in charge!

Naturally, Karen is entitled to an opinion, and having expressed a few of my own I’m not averse to other folk doing the same. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. But anti-Christ?

Only 5 of the 36 quotes provided were actually mine, and 4 of those were comments about various books Karen judges to be beyond the pale. 28 were from reader reviews on Amazon, the remaining 3 came from others who had contributed to AW.

And the objectionable books? Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and Living in Sin (John Shelby Spong), The Jesus Mysteries (Freke & Gandy), Jesus - 100 Years Before Christ (Ellegard), Remedial Christianity (Laughlin and Jackson), A History of God (Karen Armstrong), Good as New (Henson)

So let me confess right from the start that I’ve read John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. It’s a provocative book with important things to say. If that makes me an anti-Christ, so be it. Do I recommend it? Yes. Does that mean I agree with everything Spong has ever said? Hardly.

And yes, it’s true, I also once recommended Living in Sin by the same author. Not “living in sin” as such, you understand, but the book of that title. I have taken the time to read it, and not just react in knee-jerk style. I doubt this fully qualifies me as an atheist though.

Having admitted to these depravities let me shock you further. I have a copy of The Jesus Mysteries on my bookshelf. Here’s what I once wrote:

The case is put strongly, and builds on the work of scholars like Elaine Pagels. While the authors are not specialists in the field of Historical Jesus/Early Church studies, they have produced a well documented and tightly argued case that can't be dismissed too lightly. This book will reach an audience not usually exposed to concepts like these, and it seems to mesh in several essentials with earlier studies. After completing it I had the same mixture of astonishment and conviction that I felt after reading Ellegard's Jesus—One Hundred Years Before Christ. If you want a swift kick in your Christian comfort zone, this is the place to start.

So I am certainly guilty of saying that the “case is put strongly”, as indeed it is. I did indeed say that the argument offered “can’t be dismissed too lightly” – a very wicked thing to admit. And I did offer the thought that it would administer “a swift kick” in the Christian comfort zone (I bore the bruising for days!)

But I’m not sure that means unqualified approval or agreement. If it does, I'm embarrassed, for I do have problems with some of the authors’ arguments. Then again, apparently I'm an atheist, which also comes as something of a surprise, but maybe the word means something different where Karen comes from... but let's not quibble, there are yet more books to burn!

Yes, I have read Ellegard’s book (it’s sitting next to The Jesus Mysteries and glowering down on me at this moment). It's a fascinating reconstruction, but highly speculative. Alas, just referring to it is enough, it seems, to lead to reprobation. A History of God (Karen Armstrong) is notably absent from the shelf though. I lent it to a relative and, well, you know how it is with books you lend to others… still, it's a mind-stretching book, and well worth the effort.

I’m also guilty of mentioning a book called Remedial Christianity. And so I did, based on a recommendation from a reader, but I haven’t got around to reading it myself yet.

Then there’s (and this is the last one on the list of subversive literature) a New Testament translation I mentioned, but never got around to reviewing, called Good as New. This is the clincher in the case to declare me an atheist and anti-Christ. The translator is a Baptist minister (John Henson) and the foreword is by Rowan Williams. I suspect Karen is unaware that Rowan Williams is indeed a celebrated atheist and anti-Christ in his own right – he is the current Archbishop of Canterbury.

But then I doubt Karen has actually read any of these books.

In any event, this ends the case for my infamy. But why stop there? I have even more terrible volumes in my possession: a biography of Joseph Smith, Mystery of the Ages, a gaggle of books by F.F. Bruce, the Book of Concord (Lutheran Confessions), and (gasp!) every single book in the Harry Potter series… now I wonder what someone might do with that information.

Monday, 4 January 2010

From the original AW: "Hic"bert W Armstrong

A short item from oAW... includes some interesting quotes about Herb and his booze addiction.

The Worldwide Church of God during the Armstrong years had an extremely permissive attitude toward alcohol quite out of place among other Adventist sects. There was no precedent for this in the Church of God (Seventh Day), the group from which Herbert Armstrong split in the 1930's. Yet conspicuous consumption of alcohol was a definite feature of the WCG's Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Those who preferred not to imbibe were regarded as "weak in faith". The sad reality was, however, that many of the WCG's leading ministers had alcohol problems. Herbert W. Armstrong was no exception.
Holly Ruiz, wife of Enrique Ruiz, the church's office manager in Mexico, made this statement about HWA when asked by Mary Jones of Ambassador Report whether she'd ever seen him drunk:
I've never seen Herbert Armstrong sober after 8:00 at night. I used to notice this when I stayed in his home during conferences and on trips. He would fall asleep in his chair, and (Stanley) Rader would have to take him to bed. His daughter (Beverly) once told me never to call Herbert after 8:00 because he was always in a stupor by then.
John Tuit, writing in 1981, quoted Herbert Armstrong's grandson Mark:
"His liver is pretty bad, you know. He's got whatever it is you get from drinking too much wine and cognac. Boy, that's a real problem with him. He tells the Church people to drink in moderation, and for years he's been getting himself smashed just about every night... I've even helped carry him to his bed when he was just plain wiped out from too much booze."
Al Carrozzo, a minister who left in 1974, quoted Garner Ted Armstrong: "They have to pour my dad into bed every night." He stated: "I have seen him drunk on many occasions" (William Hinson. Broadway to Armageddon, p. 96). David Robinson, writing in 1980, told of Armstrong's slurred speech over a bottle of fortified wine (Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web, p. 76). Armstrong himself admitted to excessive drinking as a young man, but "not at all even the fraction of the volume of an alcoholic" (Autobiography, p. 240, 1967 edition).
In Tangled Web, Robinson relates how HWA pressured him to name "liberal ministers" so he could fire them. By this stage of the conversation the "Apostle" had begun to slur his speech slightly because of the Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry. "To name names in this context over a bottle of wine", wrote Robinson with a droll sense of humor, "seemed at the time to be injudicious" (pp. 75-76). He remained tight lipped.
Robinson commented on HWA later in his book: "Solace and sleep, such as it was, had to be induced by drinking much wine."

Sunday, 3 January 2010

From the original AW: "Difficult Scriptures" reviewed

It isn't quite on the same scale as recovering the Great Library of Alexandria, but just before Christmas I stumbled on the long lost flash drive that held the original AW (oAW) archives. Now they're backed up on the desk-top computer, it may be timely to reinject a few bits and pieces back into cyberspace...

To begin with, here's a review that appeared on oAW of Dave Albert's book "Difficult Scriptures." It's a straight copy and paste, and hasn't been revised or updated.

A belated review of Difficult Scriptures: Coming to Grips with the Law of Moses in the Worldwide Church of God by David Albert, Tyler House, 1996
Dave Albert was best known to the public as one the presenters for The World Tomorrow in its last years. That such a high profile minister would come out in favor of the changes within the Worldwide Church of God must have been a huge asset for the church's leadership. That he would set his hand to writing a book about it was surely a much-needed gift for the beleaguered sect.
And yet, Albert's book seems to have quickly disappeared without trace. Published under a largely unknown imprint (Tyler House), it “did the rounds” for a time, going through at least three print runs, before sliding into oblivion. It didn't even rank a mention in Michael Feazell's later Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God.1 Today, the only way you're likely to get a copy is through a second-hand book service like Alibris.
Yet this book is the only one targeted at church members, the people most affected by the WCG's about face. Joe Tkach wrote Transformed by Truth for the larger evangelical market, and is seen by many as another part of the church's PR campaign to gain wider acceptance. Mike Feazell's Liberation also explains the church's journey (or, more accurately, the leadership's journey) to those on the outside. Albert however, took on the more difficult (and urgent) task of convincing those within the community he served. More than that, he was prepared to vigorously confront the proof texts and arguments that were being used to counter the new teachings.
Albert summarizes his case in three steps (p.188):
  1. The law of Moses is no longer required of Christians.
  2. The food laws and sacred day laws are part of the law of Moses.
  3. Therefore, the food and day laws are now matters of conscience and are no longer binding on Christians as matters of obligation.
WCG members will know that both the literature and sermons of the Armstrong era had a certain style and delivery which set them apart from most other Christian traditions. Even in a closely related sect or denomination (the Church of God (Seventh Day) or Seventh-day Adventists, for example) the difference was easily noticeable. Albert's strength is in knowing – and using – the familiar approach. In some ways the book is an extended sermon crafted to resonate with members.
How successful was David Albert? In doing research for this review2 I found that for a number of people it had been an important step in moving beyond the old teachings. In fact, several found it more helpful than anything the church itself produced. In contrast, one correspondent3 provided a copy of comments he had written that critiqued Albert's thesis from a pro-law perspective.
Albert's key thesis, that the Ten Commandments, Sabbaths and food regulations were an integral part of the Old Covenant, and that any distinction between the “spiritual law” and the “law of Moses” is illusory, is argued with relentless logic and passion. It is to the author's advantage that he already knows the likely objections, and his treatment of these is often devastating. It's hard to imagine anyone holding the assumptions most members have about the Bible, coming away from this book with any ideas about the timeless value of Old Testament observances unshaken.
Albert is at his best when addressing the weaknesses in Herbert Armstrong 's theology. Chapter 3 tackles the inconsistencies in the church's former position on clean and unclean foods, with Albert taking the reader through the article “Is All Animal Flesh Good for Food.” He is clear in his rejection of the old teaching:
Unfortunately, the logic used by Herbert Armstrong is without Biblical basis. He declared the food laws not part of the laws of Moses simply on his own authority. He then indicated that we ought to keep them because they're good for our bodies, and that's that! ... What begins not as spiritual sin, but merely as “physical sin,” proves in the end to be real sin after all because lusting after something wrong. (p.49)
It becomes obvious that Herbert Armstrong 's reasoning is not a sound Biblical treatment of the subject of the food laws. It wins support by inventing an extra-Biblical law, language, and logic. Worst of all, it contradicts the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. (p.50)
Does the book have weaknesses? I believe so. Albert seems, for example, unfamiliar with recent Biblical scholarship (though he does cite a few credible sources), and still holds firmly to a hierarchical paradigm.4 Chapter 15, an excursus into eschatology (why the Sabbaths seem to reappear during the Millennium) is particularly dodgy. None of these factors, however, detracts from the force of his overall presentation, which makes the failure of the WCG's leadership to use this resource to their best advantage stunning.
David Albert expresses his confidence in the way reforms are proceeding in the church (remembering that he wrote in 1996):
To its credit, the Worldwide Church of God has adopted the Biblical teaching and policy [referring to Romans 14:5] that no longer finds it warring with itself and others on matters of conscience. It is a policy that promotes peace and preserves unity, a policy we can live with.
Such rose-colored optimism seems a little unjustified in hindsight. He concludes with a plea to those who have left to “come home”.
May I say that I think your place is here – here in the same fellowship of which you have always been a part. Your place is is with us, your brethren, your spiritual family. We are not the same without you. Please come back to that part of the body into which you were called.
However, the most telling factor among those who have expressed a warm appreciation for David Albert's book to me is this: the overwhelming majority5, who were members at the time they first read those words, were, eight years later, no longer associated with WCG.
Perhaps he did a better job than he realized.
1. Feazell also failed to mention Earl Williams. See the AW review of his book.
2. I asked for impressions on Mark Tabladillo's JLF group, and Douglas Becker's Missing Dimension group, as well as receiving further unsolicited comments from several readers who had seen the book review mentioned as a pending item on the Ambassador Watch website.
3. Available at
4. In chapter 6 Albert describes Peter as “pre-eminent church elder”, and is at pains to relegate James to a lower status, although it's unclear why he sees this as significant. The concept of the priesthood of all believers is notable by its absence from the book. He states “the living Christ has mandated change for the Worldwide Church of God” (p.187), but seems to have little concept of what the term mandate involves.
5. One gentleman, WCG elder Oleh Kubik, constitutes the main exception. Mr. Kubik's congregations, however, seem to have failed to "catch the vision". Once with more than 450 attending in two locations, the faithful have been reduced to a mere handful which meets once a month.

Accountability check

Friday, 1 January 2010

2009 - the year that was

January: Fred Coulter splashed out on full page magazine ads to promote his new Bible version. Weinland's "The End" website was drawing more traffic than any other COG contender, but the Obama inauguration demonstrated that yet another of his amazing prophecies had crashed and burned: "... there will not be a new president take office in January." Oops.

February: Publicity emerged about the forthcoming Wolverton Bible. John Morgan's Flying Free appeared in hard copy for the first time. Weinland was overtaken in web traffic by UCG's Good News.

March: News that LCG had spent megabucks on a flash new set for their TV show. AW scraped into the top half-million websites (as measured by Alexa). The Wolverton Bible was released to mixed cries of both hosanna and rhubarb by the ex-COG community. With flawless timing the Flurry cult (PCG) knicked some of Wolverton's artwork for their Trumpet magazine, while the local Distinctly Oklahoma rag provided Gerry Flurry with shamelessly facile publicity for his Ambassador Auditorium knock-off.

April: COG members observed Passover. AW linked to AC alumnus Jennifer Armstrong's intriguing travel book Dreaming In Arabic. Sheila Graham asked for submissions from Journal readers on women's experiences in WCG. Weinland's website dropped another place - behind both the GN and Flurry's Trumpet. Joe Tkach officially announced WCG's rebranding as Grace Communion International. James took over the helm at The Painful Truth, becoming the fifth editor. News that Gerry had been out shopping and returned with Big Sandy's bird sculpture to grace his cloned auditorium. Jonathan Meredith, son of Spanky, tried his hand at a spot of twittering, only to find that his unguarded comments were accessible to more than his mates.

May: News that the balance on UCG's Council of Elders may have shifted with the election of new board members. Weinland's website continues the slide... down to number 5 on the COG hit parade. Bill F. announces the closure of the Ekklesia site, while Norm Edwards resurrected Servants' News.

June: UCG's Paul Kieffer floated the idea of a cautious rapprochement with LCG. Gerry's Trumpet predicted Christ's return in less than a decade. Weinland appeared at IdeaCity in Toronto to smirks and chuckles.

July: Tkach announced that he had "tried and tried hard" to reconcile with disaffected members. Living University was authorised to issue worthless, non-accredited degrees. "Sientspirit" launched a series of short but powerful YouTube videos relating to her experiences growing up in WCG. Tom Mahon fulfilled a long-standing promise and uploaded a photo of himself to the Web. Willie Dankenbring raised his anti-Obama scripture-twisting to a new level of lunacy. Former Painful Truth editor John Bowers published a sci-fi novel. Dianne McDonnell had a hernia over Sheila Graham's article in The Journal. P.Z. Myers had a hernia over UCG's creationist ads appearing on his openly-atheistic science blog, and sent for a copy to review (which was, wouldn't you know it, never sent.) Pam Dewey made some pertinent observations on misogyny in the COGs. The first signs appeared of problems on UCG's COE with Richard Thompson leaving ("for personal reasons") and el Presidente Clyde Kilough making a discrete sideways shuffle.

August: The Living Armstrongism blog chalked up a remarkable success with an email campaign to put a spoke in PCG's efforts at distributing their rag via a South African firm. Weinland warned his devotees to stay away from social networking sites.

September: Willie Dankenbring discovered how to put his stuff up on YouTube. Australia's ABC noted the 40th anniversary of WCG co-worker Rohan's attempt to blow up the Al Aqsa mosque. Dave Pack appeared on a History Channel doco about Nostradamus. Greg Albrecht claimed he was reduced to eating beans in his efforts to preach the PTM gospel. Bob Thiel launched a book choc full of 2012 garbage. Carla Powers, a high-profile corporate lawyer with a WCG background, launched a book that dealt with her early years in the church, Matches in the Gas Tank. "Sideshow Bob" popped up again with the claim that he held a Th.D (Doctor of Theology degree) from "TCU," which later morphed to "TC of U" - an institution nobody could identify. Trumpet hack Ron Fraser had a rush of blood to the head and claimed that the Plain Truth magazine was "the most widely circulated of all periodic publications during the 20th century."

October: The 2009 FOT. More and more questions about Bob Thiel's so-called Th.D, culminating in some Internet research which suggests Bob picked it up by correspondence from a third-rate degree-mill in Kochi, India called Trinity School of Apologetics & Theology. No response from Bob.

November: LCG climbs on the 2012 bandwagon with a cover story (but no acknowledgement of their own in-house expert, Dr. Thiel.) Rumors of more internal strife on UCG's Council of Elders. Bob Thiel removes mention of the Th.D from his site, but indulges in rampant speculation about the new EU president's place in prophecy.

December: Paul Kieffer steps down - or maybe was pushed - from the COE after a long, bitter campaign by UCG's more gestapo-friendly elements. Weinland infers that he is the End Time Elijah - kind of. And finally, UCG's COE sends out an unprecedented appeal for unity to its ministry in the wake of ongoing trauma and the destabilizing activities of hard-line malcontents: 2010 could be a make or break year for the largest COG of them all.

And so to AW's 2009 awards.

For continuing chutzpah in the face of undeniable disconfirmation: Ronnie Weinland.

For services to amateur Biblical scholarship and translation, Fred Coulter.

For services to the Arts, with particular reference to collecting Herbal memorabilia and erecting monuments, Gerry Flurry.

For keeping up appearances, despite a guaranteed job for life handed down from his dear old dad, Joe "whataya mean a sinecure?" Tkach.

For promoting healthy food options, Greg Albrecht.

The AW "Watch this Space" award: the elected members of UCG's Council of Elders who have had to contend with vicious behaviour intended to destabilize their church and bring back "the colonels" who would, in turn, bring back on old-style, top-down regime.

Finally, AW's Person of the Year.

[Drum roll]

An individual who in 2009 has dueled with talk-show hosts and created video clips to promote his new book, suffered silently the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when his eminent qualifications were churlishly questioned, tirelessly defended the reputation of ad-man turned Apostle Herb Armstrong, and loyally promoted LCG through thick and thin despite ingratitude... [insert fanfare!] the most remarkable "Th.D" the Churches of God have ever produced, ladies and gentlemen... Dr. Bob Thiel.

Rediscovering Xmas

A link to this article appeared on Purple Hymnal's blog on Wednesday, with the "get it while it's hot" hurry-up, as the Globe & Mail, a Canadian newspaper with a national circulation, only archives stories for a week. Thus, you should click across pronto, immediately, if not sooner. Here's the opening section.

I don't have traditional Christmas memories. No green and red lights strung through cedar boughs. No Christmas tree hung with silver bells and tinsel and ornaments. No carols, no Santa, no stockings, no presents, no choirs of angels. No angels of any kind.
Our family didn't celebrate Christmas.
My parents were part of an extreme sect of fundamentalist Christians who believed that celebrating Christmas was a perverse form of idolatry. For my brother and I, that made us different, odd, freakish. We weren't Jewish or Muslim. There was no acceptable reason for our celebration-less Christmases. It felt sinful to even ask and our parents offered no explanation. Ever.
In my Winnipeg childhood, my brother and I stood with our mother in the cold slush of Portage Avenue, enthralled as we gazed into the world behind the windows of Eaton's or the Bay. Apple-cheeked children glided over mirrored ponds, elves and reindeer cavorted in cottony white snow and the ubiquitous train circled the snowy village, tooting its little horn as it sailed past lamp-lit shops and tiny churches. It was a world that surely encompassed every child's Christmas dream.
Traditional COGophiles may scream "bah, humbug!" but it's a great bit of human interest journalism. Though the church is not identified by name, we're apparently talking pre-Tkach WCG.