Sunday, 17 April 2016

Hanging out in Plato's cave

In a high school English class, we worked through a textbook titled, "Philosophy & Literature: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Commitment". It opened with Plato's "The Allegory of the Den" which asserts that most individuals are victims of illusion when it comes to recognizing Truth. At the time, I thought all of the time and effort spent on discussing what is or what isn't Truth was pretty silly, a waste of my time.

I knew the Truth, my family knew the Truth, after all our home was filled with stacks of the Plain Truth. We had no question about what was true or false because we were members of "The Church", the one true church that Christ was personally leading through his sole end-time Apostle, HWA. We had grown certain of this fact because HWA reminded us of it over and over again and we felt blessed to know THE TRUTH! If his claims had not been enough, we were also living in a bubble where all those around us reinforced this concept with repeated expressions of gratitude for how 'fortunate' we were to know the Truth.

And furthermore, there were the booklets... Yes, the booklets. My father, thinking he was doing us a favor, made a list of the 40 or so booklets that he had at the time and put columns for each one of us kids. Well, once one brother started checking a few booklets off the list, we were all jumping head first into reading them as well. It didn't matter what they were about, we were going to check off all the boxes. So, reading, "How to Quit Smoking" at age 10 didn't seem that odd to me. Come to think of it, this may have been the most valuable one for me as it did make smoking very unappealing. It's probably good that he hadn't included "The Missing Dimension in Sex" on the list.

To make a long story short, we lived in that bubble of common believers for decades without hardly having a clue that our reality was distorted in many ways. Even with the distorted reality, our lives were pretty good, fortunately. Most of our ministers were reasonable men and our parents maintained a balanced perspective on most issues. They took us to doctors, they made their own decisions, they did not 'over-discipline' us, and they saved for retirement rather than giving all they had to WCG. We also weren't pushed to go to Ambassador College. Overall, we were lucky.

Nevertheless, my bubble eventually popped. It wasn't one, dramatic moment but a gradual deflation that occurred for various reasons. In part, the accumulation of so many inconsistencies between various teachings and between what was taught vs. what was practiced tended to make people like me become cynical.

You stop and think about it and realize that WCG had dogmatically taught us many things that were later changed, or once examined, proved to be completely false. A few examples:

1. HWA was the first to preach the true Gospel in 1900 years
2. HWA learned from no man and he restored 18 truths to the church
3. God specially trained HWA for his unique, end-time mission
4. HWA was given key to prophecy (Identity of Israel) from God
5. HWA was highly accurate in foretelling future events
6. The WCG was God’s government on earth; HWA was God’s sole end-time Apostle
7. WCG was the one, true church and could trace its’ roots back through the ages
8. All universities are bad because they turn almost all students into God denying atheists
9. Members that were not donating enough money would go to the “the lake of fire”
10. Petra was the place of safety, the final training ground
11. HWA completed his work in 1972 (...but, oh, um, well, actually HWA was given a special
commission to “preach the Gospel to heads of nations”)
12. HWA preached the gospel to world leaders
13. Existing members would go to “the lake of fire”; existing ministers were deceived and rebellious
14. Doctors, modern medicine, and make-up were; divorce was unacceptable
15. The church would not compromise 1/100% of the Truth
16. HWA’s marriage with Ramona was God’s will
17. Divorce was ok, makeup was a non-issue, and doctors and medicine were ok as well
18. The State of California’s investigation into fraud was “the most MONSTROUS conspiracy and
attack Satan ever launched against God's Work!”
19. WCG knew what positions David, Moses, Joshua, HWA would hold in the kingdom of God
20. God would not let HWA die before Christ returned; loyalty to HWA was paramount
21. Post HWA, Mr. Tkach would lead us into the kingdom and loyalty to him was now paramount

One could have a lot of fun expanding such a list but better to get back to the point. Other things that helped be "break the spell". The continual splintering of the church. After theUCG/COGWA split, it made sense to start digging around to try to determine, "What is wrong with us?" Here I'd like to give credit to all of those that many of us had previously looked down upon. Thank you to all of those that had caught on years before and then documented what had really been going on at headquarters to help wake up others and try to stop the idolatry of a man. I read books like Armstrongism, Religion or Rip Off, Ambassadors of Armstrongism, The Broadway to Armageddon , Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web, and The Armstrong Empire and found websites like Ambassador Report, The Painful Truth, Banned, and Keith Hunt's). I may not have appreciated some of the attitude and over-generalizations here and there, but the well-documented history and thought provoking questions were eye openers. It was time to put down the cool-aid, wake up and start smelling the coffee.

About thirty years after discounting Plato in my English class, I was ready to give him some well-deserved respect. I located the same textbook online and reread that introduction with new eyes... Yes, now it made much more sense. The author summed up Plato's Allegory of the Den quite well - "If one has been a prisoner in a den, condemned to see only reflections of the truth, he will assume that these reflections are really true. He will believe so firmly that he will not believe a fellow prisoner who has escaped his bondage, has seen Truth and has returned to inform the prisoners of their mistaken confidence in the "truth" of their shadow world."

Exactly! Much like those of us in the past and those still in HWA's Den.

Truth is not always so easy to discern and any given statement is not the Truth just because an arrogant man is able to confidently claim that God revealed it to him. However, now comes the hard part... What of my beliefs are true and which ones are false? When a man borrows from others, he may be borrowing truth or he may be borrowing lies. Most probably, he will have borrowed some of each. But for those who lived in HWA's Den for most of our lives, it may not be easy to rapidly discern one from the other, nor to recognize what part or our confidence comes from our present examinations vs. our bias from the indoctrination of the past.

I must admit that when I read the Bible, keeping the Sabbath still makes sense to me. Is that because of what the Bible says or because of my decades in WCG? Hard to say at this point. Like Ian, whom I respect, my overall experience has been good and I'd like to think that there is a way to make some of the basic teaching work without the corruption of the past, and most certainly without relying on or giving credit to one man. My wife comes from a primarily Catholic country and her family had learned of the Sabbath and Holy Days completely independent from HWA, any COG, or even another splinter from the Millerites. Just the Bible. Is this belief Truth or error? One day it would be nice to know for sure. It is easy for her to ignore HWA completely.

For me, it is more complicated. Reading HWA's own writings led me to conclude he was not sincere as others continue to believe. Therefore it is hard to accept the position that even though HWA was incredibly flawed, God still worked through him to reveal new truth. I could better understand that a man was going to profit from the ministry (as many do) and he got lucky with a few things that he borrowed from others. To me, there is a big difference between these two assumptions. A question for my friend Ian. Hypothetically, what are the odds that a greedy, dishonest man who had abused his own child would be the one that God would select to work with to reveal new understandings? And for this case, the greed and dishonesty were ways of life, not just occasional slip ups. And the abuse was not a single incident followed by acknowledgement and repentance but more along the lines 10 years of abuse during the critical, initial years of a 'ministry' while the revelations were coming from God... and followed decades later by an extremely odd gesture - the gift of a signed copy of the "Missing Dimension in Sex" to the abused child). Extremely unlikely in my view. Perhaps I do need to visit you in Jamaica where we can talk face to face as we adjust our eyes to the true light outside of the Den?

God has choices. It seems that, in terms of character, it is reasonable to assume there is a type of Bell curve just as there is for intelligence or physical agility. Nobody is perfect for sure but there seems to be those we can confidently identify as being above average and others that are below average. Doesn't it make sense for God to select an individual with above average character rather below average? That would be consistent with the Bible's instructions when it comes time to select deacons and elders. As a parent, I'd place anyone that abused their own child, lied to and stole from the poor to enrich themselves, and made repeated huge false claims about their own purpose and abilities well towards the left end of the scale.

There is a lot of gray in life but child abuse by a self-proclaimed Apostle of God seems to be one matter that remains in the black or white category.


(Postscript: This post was submitted to both AW and Gary's Banned blog. After being published here it subsequently appeared on Banned under the heading "What is Truth?")


Byker Bob said...

The problem, Kev, is that most people who hold to the classic HWA doctrines will simply not even consider the possibility that HWA could have molested Dorothy. They quickly blame Satan for what they feel must be a groundless attack. In their minds accusing HWA is just like accusing Jesus Christ.

This is why it is so important to be well-grounded, to study other exigetics rather than blindly accepting the system of WCG proof-texts, also to make certain that we understand genetics as the key to unlocking the falseness of HWA's prophecies, and to hold HWA (retroactively) and the ministers who teach Armstrongism accountable to actually live by the standards that they have taught.

Once we know that they used bogus and shoddy research to complete their "True History of the True Church" and to establish other issues, does it really make any sense to believe that their research into scriptures and deep doctrinal matters could be other than shoddy? HWA and his chosen lackeys totally bought into Hislop's research methodology. You might say that Hislop was allowed to set the standards for Ambassador quality research, a condition that still exists in the ACOGs today!

Reliability cuts across the board. There is enough regarding Armstrongism that is known to be questionable and or false that logic dictates that one cannot trust any of it at all.

About the only truth I've retained from HWA is that we should be sure to drink plenty of water each day.


Miller Jones said...

I like the spirit of Kevin's comments, but I think Byker Bob's caution regarding the entire system is not without merit. Although I no longer believe that Sabbath and Holy Day observance is a prerequisite for salvation, I do believe that most Christians would benefit from a better familiarity/understanding of them.

Anonymous said...

I inhabit two worlds:One of the fierce,strident,belligerent and trenchant anti-Armstrongism as represented by this blog as well as by Banned,Painful Truth ,Silenced , and the more irenic such as Bereans ;and the other of passionate,deeply devoted,thoughtful adherents of distinctive doctrines associated with Herbert W. Armstrong.

I am just back home from a moving,ecstatic baptismal ceremony where I immeshed two exultant ladies into the waters of Armstrongism,as readers here would classify it. Byker Bob should have been here to witness the pre-1970s zeal which characterised Armstrongism before The Age of Scandals.But in contradistinction to that era of Armstrongism,this morning we had rousing praise and worship, instrumental music,special solo selections(You Raise Me Up) and testimony service.

These women who were baptised are highly intelligent, middle class persons who run their own businesses. They printed official invitations to their friends and business associates, booked a hotel for them to have a special all-day celebration, starting with a formal breakfast after early morning baptism.

They gave testimonies at their baptism, telling their friends how delighted they were to have finally found the truth ,though they had been Sabbatarians from children.But they didn't know the plan of God,the explained,until they came in contact with CGI.

One mentioned how she would often ask her Church of God 7th Day pastor father what would happen to all the good people who never heard about the gospel before they died. God would be unfair and unjust to send them to hell through no fault of their own,she would tell him. She flung her hands In the air ,shouting, "Hallelujah ,thank God, I now have the answer!"

The other spoke about walking away from her lover to now live a consecrated life. Ther testimonies were tear-jerking. At the breakfast their friends and business associates told of their changed lives.Both were now more loving, more peaceful .

These persons have never heard a sermon on BI .They have not heard about nineteen- year time cycles,Petra,third tithes',one man Government, Satan's living forever,Hislopianism,or of Americans' being taken captives into slavery by modern-day Assyrians. The prophetic failures and BI which you guys obsess over as constituting the heart of Armstrongism are foreign to them and hundreds of other members of CGI in this dynamic geographic area of Armstrongism .

You guys would have to focus less on scandals ,corruption, obscurantism ,failed prophecies and BI to be relevant to a significant section of Armstrongism which has ,quite frankly,moved on from your guys' center of orbit.I am not saying you don't have a constituency.But I am saying that is not all of Armstrongism.

Byker Bob, they had better take your advice and find some time to critique doctrines such as conditional immortality, postmortem salvation,millennium on the earth,Sabbatarianism,holyday-keeping,Deification, restoration of ethnic Israel(and rejection of replacement theology),necessity of works for final justification ,though not for initial justification, Gospel of the eschatological kingdom.
Kevin, my brother, I suggest that before you finally reject all Armstrong taught as a knee-jerk reaction to all the scandals and corruption you have discovered, that you do some sober thinking into these doctrines ,which are out there in in various groups but not packaged together as in that unique product known as Armstrongism.

But forget about the name Armstrong for all its painful for all its pain deeply painful associations. Do the dispassionate,objective, analysis of these doctrines .Read accredited scholars,not the amateurs and theological incompetents who inundate the Internet.
Get back to us after you have done that. In the meantime have a meaningful and rejuvenating Passover and Days of UB .Ian Boyne
Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

It may have been better to be a bit more specific than saying, "I'd like to think that there is a way to make some of the basic teachings work..." in this post which implied more support for HWA or the current COG structures than had been meant.

I realize there was a lot of faulty, convenient "research" by WCG in the past that was aimed at proving what was already believed and that this approach continues today. It also seems to be true that DNA refutes BI and many of us have shown that HWA's prophetic record demonstrates it was not the key to prophecy as he had claimed. I am not suggesting any reliance on HWA at all.

Imagine a reasonably intelligent family reading the Bible together in a remote area of the United States 200 years ago. Not too unlike it would be for a large percentage of the world's population even now. No internet, no research books, no theology degree. Could these individuals, apart from any expert, figure out something as simple as whether God meant the Sabbath to be special or not? Could they determine whether God meant for the 10 commandments to remain intact or not? Would they consider the Holy Days to be of value (not as a matter of salvation, just of value)?

Who knows, with a family of 5, they might end up with 3 opinions. For some reason, the Bible does not seem to be very clear on a number of issues. Even ignoring the fact that "leaders" have divided churches for personal gain, we have to admit that there are numerous sincere, educated, intelligent individuals that end up with different opinions on many biblical topics.

To me it almost seems like God's intent was not to be clear. Maybe we are better off using our judgment vs. following a rigid code of conduct and the details really do not matter. The other option seems to be that not every word is inspired and one must consider this. Any thoughts in this area would be appreciated.


Anonymous said...

Well,Kevin, your angst over Scripture demonstrated here assails a major doctrine of some Protestants, particularly Calvin . It is called "the perspicacity of Scripture" .Armstrong taught us otherwise and this should be abundantly clear to anyone who reads the Bible: Scripture is NOT clear. In Armstrongite theology,it was not meant to be clear in a world blinded and cut off.
It is only clear to the called, the Elect. Dismiss this as modern-day Gnosticism or rank arrogance and self-delusion characteristic of the Armstrongite mentality ,if you like. It is self-evident that Scripture is not clear and we have over forty thousand
denominations to prove it. Armstrong's teaching as to why Scripture is anything but clear makes better sense than all the other conservative theologies on offer,in my considered view, Kevin. Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

Byker Bobs case can be made about some 20.000 priests in the Catholic Church (through the ages). The Dorothy case, which I assume is true (although I would still like to see the deal made in the divorce case). Not the testimonies of disgruntled family members who got a "free education from their granddad, with parents getting salaries from the church achieving nothing in return. Still it might be true (I lean toward 60% true although legally the proof is zero.)

To me it sounds like Ian has a community with a body of beliefs that have been around for ages and probably will.

To point at the 40.0000 denomitions Christianity has spawned and therefore claim that scripture is not clear is very much an "christian insiders" discussion.
I have seen most countries and peoples in the world and been in all major belief centers of humanity current and from thousands of years ago.

All of the "non" christians, past and present would identify ANY of the 40.000 (christian) sects as Christian in the blink of an eye. Even if some of these sects would like to think they are special in the eyes of their Lord.

Man I was watching Superman man of Steel the other day. I thought I was back in Church. There were two El's (Yor El and Kal El) The Father was in the background as a spiritual being. The Son was send to earth to mediate between man and the kryptonites to redeem man.
They were all powerful beings. The evil one was equal (in spirit) but he was programmed for one task and one task alone. The ones accompanying his cause were send into a black hole or the abyss.

The ENTIRE world can recognize Superman as a Christian story. Who are we to claim that our church is superior to the Superman story or the Catholics or the Calvinists.

It is what we DO in life that defines us and that echoes through eternity. (re Gladiator)

Just an outsiders opinion.


Anonymous said...

If it is only what we do in life which defines us ,as Nck asserts with great authority and confidence, then one can be a unitive pluralist, existentialist,agnostic or atheist .No religion has any monopoly on ethics, and a number of religious groups are downright malevolent. Nck's ethical minimalism ,which collapses into subjectivism, is epistemologically problematic .It has become part of pop philosophy to name that unreflective claim but it is philosophically vacuous ,, though noble-sounding Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

I meant to "make that...claim".Ian Boyne

Gavin R said...

Ian, I apologise in advance if what follows seems "fierce, strident [and] belligerent", but you laid down the challenge.

I think it's interesting that none of the "passionate, deeply devoted, thoughtful adherents" of your Jamaican CGI - other than yourself - have ever shared their boundless enlightenment on any of the blogs you mention. They seem a remarkably quiescent and incurious group.

I think it's interesting that you re-baptised a COG7 member, indicating that you didn't regard her first baptism as valid. That's disturbing - and highly sectarian. Salvation is a matter of intellectually embracing a boutique metanarrative? Even if the lady wanted to be re-baptised, your responsibility was to encourage her to see baptism as one stage of an ongoing process of growth, and to recognise that you don't get baptised into a sect, but something much broader in scope. Pastoral fail.

I think it's interesting that you regard your Jamaican CGI as normative for healthy Armstrongism - BI-free being an endorsement in the same vein as MSG-free. Every major COG teaches BI --- UCG, LCG, PCG, COGWA, RCG --- 99% of the movement. And CGI? It certainly has up till recent times. A goodly number of CGI members will still be committed to it, perhaps the majority. I seem to remember that you've already conceded this point. Or can you point to a statement on the website or in print to the contrary? Until you can, I'm of the view that you're whistling in the wind.

I think it's interesting that you distance yourself from predictive prophecy. But a look at the booklet list on the CGI site indicates that this is a continuing issue in CGI.

I think it's interesting that you challenge us to do "the dispassionate, objective analysis... Read accredited scholars, not the amateurs and theological incompetents who inundate the Internet." Can I put up my hand and say yes, I've done that. A legitimate degree in theology from a recognised university. Not that I'm even remotely saying that everyone could or should put themselves to that time commitment and cost. But I would strongly argue that every ordained person who sets out to instruct others should. Have you, Ian?

And then you sidestep the incoherence of your views by saying "Scripture is not clear. In Armstrongite theology it was not meant to be clear in a world blinded and cut off. It is only clear to the called."

You put yourself and your syncretistic reconstruction of Armstrong's already highly syncretist doctrines beyond any objective criticism. You can drive a truck through that.

The pastor doth protest too much, methinks.

Anonymous said...

Thks Ian for your thoughtful and interesting response.

To put it in other words.

The Egyptian father wanting to send his children to a good school, raising them ethically. The Budhist children in Sri Lanka being ethical, observing the "rich Christians". The Hindu burning their loved ones before chucking them in the river.

I met them all and do not feel superior to them.

THEY needed to identify me as a Christian though. What ETHICAL person would want to associate with a Godless man?

Call me pop or unrlective. That's ok.
I have seen the entire world. I have noticed that some cannot see the forrest focussing on the trees.

btw I am sympathetic of your work in Jamaica as one of the trees in the forrest. But I will not state that too often since I am regarded on all boards a anathema for my unusual and unreflective witnessing of all I have seen around the world. So it is good to keep me on a distance to save credibility among the disgruntled, beaten and downtrodden.


Anonymous said...

I am back in my cage since Gavin is out there.
I seriously thought the "it is what we do" claim would resonate with Ian.
Since HWA's philosophy centered around the "doing" instead of the studying.
It is one of the tennets what the cog has in common with Islam.
It is also my claim that the cog and islam have common roots since muhammed knew many jews and refugees from jerusalem, also the quaran clearly quotes Syriac christianity..
(But that is opening an entire new can of worms.) I just mention it because the "doing" is very armstrongite, jewish, early christian, as compared to the philophising of the church of rome.


Black Ops Mikey said...

MSG-free? Perhaps.

But Gluten-free?

Might not pass the test.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I wrote a lengthy response to your post and I lost it ...I could cry Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

Trying to reconstruct:Always a delight to engage you,Gavin.Re your charge of sectarianism as you define it,guilty as charged.

I would hate to think that your litmus test for intellectual curiosity and the lack of quiescence is engagement on your blog and other such fora.I thought we had the monopoly on such arrogance. I take umbrage to your encroaching on our sacred space! The fact is,Jamaican Arnstrongites would probably consider that they could make better use of their time than to share my indulgence on these blogs .As I am not in the habit of commanding them how to use their time ,outside of advising that they observe sacred times, they get to decide.

I do not consider BI as inherently racist ,nor do I believe that the true church has to be error-free.Therefore, I do not hold that CGI,COGWA,or UCG can't be considered worthy of support because they have this error.I am not as obsessed with BI as you guys, Flurry, Pack and Meredith are.

Now to a more sensitive issue. I feel awkward to address this ,lest it comes across as immodest, but you forced me to.Though I do not have a theology degree, my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level .I have wide exposure to the main areas of Old and New Testament theology and am acquainted with all the major theologians in the main areas. I have a very lucrative journalistic career which allows me to splurge on books, and I order an average of six books a week(It is hard to keep up with reading them, of course, but I am a bibliophile who ritualistically devotes every Sunday except Pentecost and feast says to reading, until two thirty on Monday morning. I also usually devote Wednesday evenings to reading .)
I read even more widely read in philosophy
On my table right now as theological works are these which came in recently :

Jesus Did Not Exist. Ralph Lataster and Richard Carrier (Carrier is one of my favorite atheists. I have all his books ,including his massive "On The Historicuty of Jesus".

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier

The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures. 1,200 pages, edited by Don Carson

40 Questions Abiut The Historical Jesus

Faith Alone:The Doctrine of Justification Thomas Schreiner

The Crucifixion. Fleming Ruthledge

Evidence for the Rapture... John Hart
The Sin of Certaunty. ..Peter Enns
Wrestling with God...James Colaiaco
Evangelical Exodus...Evangelical Seminaruans and Their Paths to Rome. Douglas Beaumont
The Inerrant Word...John MacArthur
God and the Gay Christian...Matthew Vines
Ian Boyne

Miller Jones said...

Kevin, you are a thoughtful and articulate person, and I've enjoyed your article and comments. Some of my thoughts on the topic:

Anonymous said...

Miller, Thank you for your kind words and for the link.

nck, in 1995 I was told about the abuse from one of the four World Tomorrow presenters. I ignored it as I though it a convenient time to bring this up as people were choosing between remaining loyal to HWA's teachings or accepting the new direction. Between 2010-2014, I found much about it on the internet and in Robinson's book. Still, why accept something you cannot check up on? Well, the newspaper article acknowledging the 'understanding' between HWA and Ramona made me pause. This was more serious than a wild claim from a bitter former employee. Still, it wasn't enough.

Eventually, I learned of a few high ranking ministers/administrators from the 1970's that had acknowledged the abuse had occurred when asked about it. I spoke with two of the three individuals personally. These individuals were not bitter nor had they anything to gain by lying about this issue and they both confirmed that it had happened. When one of them was asked, "How did you know this really happened?", his reply was that he had heard Floyd Lochner's taped confession.

This is merely a brief answer. Perhaps it warrants a full response at some point.

Byker Bob said...

On the "deliberately nebulous" side, Mormons and others have an interesting take on this. By way of interjection, I personally believe that God has made it all but impossible for moderners to know and keep the rituals associated with the Sinai Covenant, either through the loss of time-related specifics, or through the loss of the physical surroundings required (Temple, etc.) Having said that, a Mormon elder who was a personal friend and customer once shared with me that it is their teaching that on judgment day, God is going to explain precisely to each of us what His truth really is. We will then be asked if, now with full irrefutable knowledge, and with a lifetime of experience, we will commit to God's way.

In a sense, isn't this essentially the same presentation which people would hypothetically be given at the start of HWA's "second ressurrection"? It is never theologically sound to glean "doctrine" from the ifs of prophecy, but really there is so much human thought, error, philosophy, and ministerial malfeasance floating around, that direct revelation from God is the only way in which man could possibly be held accountable. Let's face it. The only way, citing a popular example, that most Armstrongites would ever give up British Israelism would be if Jesus Himself revealed that BI was a load of what our British friends refer to as "bollocks".

HWA did too much of a botched job, and let fly with way too many mixed messages for a merciful and perfect God to hold anyone accountable based on a WCG experience. At best, we might have a John the Baptist precursor to the real deal. And that would, logically, apply not only to the hearers of HWA's deeply flawed message, but to the hearers of everyone else's message as well!


Gavin R said...

Ian, I'm at a loss in that three different but nearly identical emails were forwarded to my email account but only the last appears here.

I am in admiration of your reading habits, and it has always been clear to me that you are well read. I don't think that it's a substitute for a moderated course of study however for someone who claims ministerial authority. When you and I self-select our reading material we inevitably lean toward what we find agreeable. The benefit of pursuing a qualification is that we have to step outside our comfort zone and deal with ideas we'd normally not engage with. In my view ministry is a professional responsibility, and a bachelor's degree in the field (religious studies, theology) is now regarded as a minimum standard in most churches. To make the kind of plea that Herb Armstrong did after spending time in the Portland Public Library - claiming it was the equivalent of a qualification... well, sorry, not convincing.

Regarding BI, I was reacting to these comments: "These persons have never heard a sermon on BI... The prophetic failures and BI which you guys obsess over as constituting the heart of Armstrongism are foreign to them and hundreds of other members of CGI in this dynamic geographic area of Armstrongism." I take this as further evidence, if this is true, that the Jamaican church that you lead is indeed quiescent and incurious. Clearly, nobody much is doing any research beyond what you deliver up. In my Lutheran days (age 15 or thereabouts) I was well aware of the issues around Luther's antisemitism and his rage against the so-called peasant's revolt. Sanitised history is no history at all.

Your current reading list is fascinating, but I do hope you take some time out for escapist fiction and non-fiction completely outside the religious field.

The Skeptic said...

Sounds like Ian Boyne and HWA are of the same ilk. Both lack formal educations but have the equivalent of a doctorate. How? By reading books of their own choosing.

Now, I myself have only an MBA degree in Finance, plus some professional designations (CPA, CFA, MAI). Nothing in the religious field nor in the education field. But, with my limited educational experience, I have found that people learn best by reading both deeply and broadly, then discussing what they've taken from these books with other sharp minds from varying backgrounds and varying points of view. Reading by yourself, and discussing only with those of similar belief is of very limited benefit.

The statement "my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level" shows extreme self-delusion and, frankly, silliness. What can be discussed with such a person?

Black Ops Mikey said...

Not MSG-Free.

Not Gluten-Free.

Not even all natural.

Not seeing much value in the product unless you're into spiritual junk food.

(It mainly puts on fat in the head.)

Stephen said...

Kevin wrote:

"Imagine a reasonably intelligent family reading the Bible together in a remote area of the United States 200 years ago...Who knows, with a family of 5, they might end up with 3 opinions...To me it almost seems like God's intent was not to be clear."

I came to the same conclusion.

Let's just generously assume that there was a veridical deity who genuinely intended to disseminate a specific message to, well, all of mankind (and that the bible's many disparate texts are not an anthology of ancient semi-pulp fiction never intended to be read together, be coherent with one another, or be taken completely out of their original, ancient, Jewish mystical contexts and radically reinterpreted into first a Roman context, followed by many, many, subsequent radical reinterpretations)...

What percentage of people that ever had the privilege of reading this tome got "the message"?

How intelligent must one be to get this message? How observant must one be? How sophisticated™ must one be?

How much special pleading must one do before concluding that the sophisticated™ ones in your tribe were the only sophisticated™ ones to receive the real intended specific message?

How many reasonably intelligent, reasonably observant people will go into perdition simply because they weren't sophisticated™ enough to be able to receive the intended specific message for themselves, and didn't have the right sophisticated™ priesthood to give them "the message"? Oh, but all of a sudden, all roads lead to Rom— er, I mean, Pasadena? (...but it's the dreaded atheists who don't like the idea of "absolute truth"?)

Heavens and hells aside, would this deity be worthy of worship? Why or why not?

Anonymous said...

In the interest of accuracy, may I correct The Skeptic's assertion that with reference to Herbert Armstrong and me, "Both lack formal educations (sic)". I graduated with distinction in mass communications from the Caribbean's premier, accredited university, the University of the West Indies. Gavin would know the rigour of the British educational system, after which the UWI is patterned. The UWI has produced persons who have held professorships at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton and other prestigious universities.

There is a mean-spiritedness and boorishness occasionally displayed on these blogs which is quite unnecessary, and is certainly no substitute for cerebral engagement.
I was disappointed , Gavin,(whom I exempt from this charge) that you could equate my self-study over decades---I have been reading philosophy and theology intensely since I was a teenager--- to HWA's six-month study at the Portland Public Library. And while I must confess that as a rule I look not only at people's qualifications in a field before I buy their books, but also which university they attended, I would not be so uninformed as to believe that unless someone has a degree in a particular field, he has nothing useful to say, or that his knowledge could not even surpass those certified in that field. That is a very backward, outdated notion.

I could tell you of some world-renowned intellectuals who never had university training in their fields of excellence.
Because of my own wide reading, I can read just a few pages in a work and know whether the person is well-read in that area. I know from reading this blog that Gavin has exposure to philosophy and theology beyond just from browsing the Internet or checking Wikipedia.

I recently heard someone give a talk on philosophy and while he was trained in law, not philosophy, it was clear from listening to him that he was widely read in philosophy. It is said of intellectuals, "it takes one to know one" I don't need to prove to anyone my level of knowledge in a particular field.

The foolish assumption that one who reads outside of the university context necessarily only discusses ideas with "those of a similar belief" is just that--foolish.

Gavin, reading back over my post, I saw where that statement you quoted was really misleading. When I wrote that "the prophetic failures and BI...are foreign to them", meaning Jamaican CGI members, I meant that they don't hear those kinds of prediction-addiction, date-setting sermons. I did not mean they are not aware of Armstrong's prophetic failures. Indeed, I regularly talk about his over 200 prophetic errors, but making the point that that does not disqualify his theology. They are aware of his unsanitised history, Gavin.

I can assure you, Gavin, that the VAST MAJORITY of the books I read are radically opposed to my own view. I deliberately seek out views opposed to mine. That's why I have every book written against Armstrongism, scandal-revealing and scholarly. I put out two challenges. I bet there is absolutely no one on these blogs who can mention a book or thesis on Armstrongism that I have not read. None of you, I bet, has a more extensive anti-Armstrong library than I have.

I challenge anyone here, too, to mention a liberal theologian of note whose work I am unfamiliar with. But then again, no one on these blogs would trust an Armstrongite minister to tell the truth. My naivety. Ian Boyne

The Skeptic said...

Ian, I stand corrected re my "lack of formal education" assumption. Congratulations on your university degree.

Of course, millions of people on this earth have university degrees. Many even have advanced degrees. That doesn't make them (or you or me) right or wrong in their opinions.

My prior post reacted to your statement "my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level". This statement says much about what kind of person you are. Your further statement "I can assure you, Gavin, that the VAST MAJORITY of the books I read are radically opposed to my own view" says much more about you. As does your braggadocio about having read every book about Armstrong and your further braggadocio about knowing every major liberal theologian.

Who are you trying to convince? Us or yourself? Or the "sheep" under you?

Please forgive my boorishness. I lack the finesse that comes so naturally to you.

I predict you will do well in your chosen field. You are probably already doing quite well in terms of fame, power and wealth. I predict continued success. While you will probably never achieve the level of HWA, nor of the major well-known television preachers, you appear to be the right kind of person for your role.

My heartfelt condolences go out to those ladies you recently baptised and all the others who have fallen into your net.

Gavin R said...

Ian, I think it's really simple. I expect my kid's teacher to have a recognised, earned qualification in education. I expect my dentist to have completed a rigorous degree in dentistry. I expect my builder to have been certified and preferably be a member of the master builders association. I expect the journalist who writes for my morning newspaper to have graduated in journalism.

I congratulate you on your degree from the University of the West Indies. I can only point out, however, that it wouldn't qualify you to teach in a school classroom, perform dentistry or build a house. What it does qualify you for is to be a highly credible journalist, and I know (having read a number of your articles for the Jamaica Gleaner) that you do an outstanding job.

What it doesn't do is qualify you in any professional sense as a minister or theologian. I assume you do counselling. I hope you've done more than read a book on the subject. Not to say that you don't have a perfect right to express a view. We all do. In the world of journalism you are regarded as a professional. In contrast, I'm just a bumbling, enthusiastic amateur. Happy to concede it. Needless to add I'd be completely incompetent in dentistry, disastrous in trying to build a shed. I'd like to think I was a reasonable sort of teacher in my time (and yes, I have a B.Ed).

But without a relevant qualification in the field --- and you're hardly alone in this --- you can hardly expect to be regarded as a minister in the same professional sense as someone who has put in the hard yards. You're a talented amateur, and I'm not knocking that. Reading a lot of books and having an impressive library is brilliant but insufficient. I'd advise you to shun any high-stakes medical advice from someone with nothing more than broad reading habits as well.

Herein lies one of the big underlying issues with "Armstrongism" --- as others have pointed out long before me. Very, very few of those gentlemen who rattle their tonsils on a Saturday (excepting yourself) have any credible or up-to-date knowledge in the field. Moreover, like you, they don't see it as a problem. In fact, most of them see it as "intellectualism", and that is supposed to be something bad.

To be absolutely clear, I'm not saying that everyone holding a degree in theology is brimming with insight. But it's a minimum guarantee that they've reached a certain attested standard, are familiar with the parameters of their field, not just blowing hard. I think it's a shame that you never bothered.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to ask another question about recognizing Truth. So, HWA developed a package of Doctrine like no other. Some have termed him the "Great sifter" who was able to cast aside the error and latch on to the truth as he read the work of others. If truly guided by God, this would be a great thing for all of us. But is it really all Truth? Just because we like the package? Just because it makes sense to us?

Other groups firmly believe that their leader did the same. Joseph Smith did for the Mormons, Ellen White did for Seventh Day Adventists, Charles Russell did for the Jehovah Witnesses. Or did they?

Well, each group claims so. And if you are not part for the group, you will be unable to realize that because the Bible is confusing for all but those called.

Ian, you know for sure that you are right because being called, you recognize the Truth. My uncle believed just as firmly as you do that he knew the Truth and tried to convert me until the day he died. The only trouble was that he was a Jehovah Witness and did not believe what you did.

How can one know who is right? You both are sure but you both could be uncalled and blinded, yet not realize it.

Which of these two churches taught the Truth? The one with better packaging?

I can remember many people in WCG that loved the idea of being "Kings and Priests". It didn't much matter whether the church taught one thing and the next week another. This church had the Truth because we were going toe be God as God is God!

Maybe I'm a fool in this area, but I cannot help but feel much less certain than you are or than my uncle had been.


Anonymous said...

Gavin ,I don't know what's happening ,but I just sent another post which I am not seeing here. If like two previous ones ,this came to you please post here Ian Boyne

Byker Bob said...

Belief, if we are not careful, can often overwhelm or supercede any input that is available for us to read or learn, even if the new input is irrefutable. This can often happen without an affected individual even realizing it.

I am also reminded of various types of bias. Rush Limbaugh refers on a daily basis to the mainstream media as "the liberal media". And, of course, there is also a corresponding conservative media. Some reporters have made themselves salespersons for an agenda. Probably either side believes that they are accomplishing good by "reeducating" their audience from
one mindset to another. It skirts traditional boundaries in that the writers or newscasters probably see themselves as being honest, yet their bias is readily detectable to an objective thinker. The same holds true of sectarian bias.

Given the sheer number of faith groups, the ministry is probably not a profession which can be practiced with impartiality or neutrality. There is a wise synopsis of Christianity on the main page of the Painful Truth website. It is contained in the red cross-bar, and was orginally written in an article by a very good long term friend of mine, the brilliant novelist John Bowers. I believe it reflects much wisdom, and that it is potentially invaluable to all of us in our walks.


Gavin R said...

NB. POSTED ON BEHALF OF IAN, who has been having posting problems.

Gavin, this is my final post on this very awkward and embarrassing issue of my theological qualification or lack of it. I think The Skeptic's latest response and characterization of me amply justifies my original reluctance to respond to your direct question to me about my theological education. I decided to respond out of deep respect for you. I stressed how awkward this was for me and reading The Skeptic's dismissal and caricature of me reminded me that my apprehension was spot on. I am assailed for my "braggadocio"and psychoanalyzed.

Damned if I do,damned if I don't. How do I answer you about what right I have to be inveighing against relying on theological incompetents and mere Internet sources and to be encouraging people here to expose themselves to accredited scholars without engaging in "braggadocio" about my own deep exposure? I have no degree to show, so how do I demonstrate that my reading would amount to graduate level work? Well I do so at the peril of the ridicule to which I have now been predictably subjected. If I ignored your challenge, I could have avoided The Skeptic's scorn.

Why I didn't bother with a theology degree, Gavin? At the risk of now removing any shadow of a doubt about my braggadocio, self-delusion, narcissism, egocentricity etc. etc., I tell you why I never bothered to get a theology degree. Because my intellectual interests are too eclectic.

I read widely not only in theology and philosophy, but in economics,development studies, political science, sociology, psychology, international relations. As a journalist, I have to be a generalist. I am Jamaica's longest-serving columnist in the leading newspaper in the Caribbean and the host of the longest running,non-seasonal television show on the country's most popular television station. My apology for all this boasting (another similarity with that despised Armstrong).

There is no academic program I know of which would cater to my inter-disciplinary interests. Pursuing a theology degree would not suffice my intellectual interests. In a globalised environment, it is far easier for individuals like me to educate themselves outside of brick and mortar universities.

I tell you this, finally. I do a television show,too, on religion and I have interviewed people with doctorates in theology. But I assure you that Vance Stinson, now CGI overseer, who does not have a degree in theology, has a theological exposure and sophistication above many formally trained in theology. I do the reading so I can make that assessment.

For those who want to make their own an assessment of my intellectual cosmopolitanism, I invite you to read my book, available through Amazon, titled "Ideas Matter".

Ian Boyne

Byker Bob said...

Looking past Armstrongism for the moment, it takes a lot of courage for a respected celebrity, a man of status and stature to lay himself open to this sort of thing.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for making that statement, Byker Bob, which I take as not being made tongue-in-cheek.Objectively, being a part of a group that Time magazine described in March 1974 as a "clannish, bizarre...sect" does nothing for my ego.I could certainly do better than this! Just recently I was saying to my wife that it is manifestly foolish for a critic to say that I sought leadership in this weird ,obscurantist group for ulterior motives .For for the fact is the name of the group itself is an embarrassment in polite society, let alone the sordid history, so well documented ,of its founders. I am relieved that at least one critic sees that it makes no sense to ascribe motives of seeking power over people as my motivation for being a leader in Armstrongism.

Byker Bob ,you are sure you don't want to come down to Jamaica where you could listen to some cool reggae music and I buy you a beer? The invitation is out. Ian Boyne

The Skeptic said...

Ian is attempting to paint me as the "big meanie" here. He bares his soul and evokes our sympathy. Ian is indeed superficially charming and can be very convincing. But keep in mind what he really is.

Ian Boyne is an xCG minister, still practicing his craft, actively indoctrinating others and convincing them to join. He argues his case very well. He is even trying to convince us (a very tough audience for an xCG minister).

A reading of Ian's many posts show MANY similarities to HWA. Superficial charm, grandiose claims, seemingly logical bible-based arguments. He's like mini-HWA all over again. And we all know the fruits of THAT.

HWA was not a man who had a few flaws but discovered many of God's truths and improved many lives. He was a man with a talent for advertising, i.e., convincing others, and who found great success in the religion business. He was a sociopath: he could be very convincing, but he cared not one whit for anyone but himself. He built himself a good life by ruining thousands of other lives.

HWA was not unique in this. Many in the religion business are of the same ilk.

Was Ian brave to come here and join our discussion? Should we "go easy" on him? I don't think so. He is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who is actively recruiting members to his flock. He would love to add a few of us. I'm not reluctant to call him what he is.

Byker Bob said...

Ian, as I stated several weeks ago, in the nearly 15 years that I've been on these blogs, to my knowledge you are the first practicing minister who took the time to dialogue with us. I believe that everyone realizes even in hardness of heart that that makes you different from all the stereotypes we have held of the ministry. And, I meant what I said about the courage.

Because of the pain of the past, most ex-members cannot regard people who practice or teach any of the elements of Armstrongism neutrally, as perhaps they might regard practicing Jews. I've known even ex-ministers to face a real struggle in gaining acceptance amongst former members. You should have seen the trouble Dennis Diehl first faced for daring to conversate on one forum without signing a blanket apology. Our collective past is a powerful modifier, and there are some very strong opinions and feelings.

I appreciate your invitation to visit you in Jamaica, and I am certain from what I've read that you have a wonderful and beautiful country. Unfortunately, I'm somewhat paranoid about stepping out from under the umbrella of the U.S. Constitution, and also regarding flying. But I will take a raincheck on the beer and reggae music for when we get to meet in the Kingdom!


Anonymous said...

"I'm somewhat paranoid about stepping out from under the umbrella of the U.S. Constitution, and also regarding flying."

I solved both issues by boarding at FT Lauderdale for an incentive cruise some 10 years ago.

If I had known then I would have usurped the beer you're passing.

I had no qualms looking at a Garifuna SDA7 church service in Guatamala at the turn of the millenium, Pelicans flying by. So one must be able to survive a visit with a "brother". I love the Caribean, their people. They have tax free also. But beware, some have tithing. :-)


Retired Prof said...

BB, maybe you should think twice about waiting till Kingdom Come to accept a beer from Ian. Here in Wisconsin, a popular polka has these lines:

"In heaven there is no beer.
That's why we drink it here!"

Anonymous said...

I suddenly had a thought I presumed was burried for 26 years.
"Yeast is a main component of Beer."
That gives BB a 24 hour ultimatum a cruiseship only goes that fast if Sandra Bullock is on board.

The brain is a miraculous thin indeed.