Thursday 28 September 2006

Hull Breach

The LCG has lost one of their "evangelists" and Bob Thiel has been "marked." More fun from the fringes.

Syd Hull is a "Meredith evangelist", one of the privileged few to be raised to the highest ministerial office on Earth (other than Rod's of course!), and Regional Director for South Africa's LCG.

Or at least he was. Syd has defected, or "seen the light", depending on your perspective. Now he's teamed up with Dave Pack and launched a broadside at poor old Bob Thiel.

What is interesting is that the LCG keeps losing high profile people, and that, judging from the ones we know about, they're drawn to even more dubious ministries rather than, for example, the more moderate United Church of God. Pack has done very well by picking up disenchanted Meredith elders (bearing in mind that he is, himself, a rat who also fled the leaky galleon.) But so has Gerry Flurry (remember Fred Dattolo?) It seems the Lord is delivering quite a spanking to his faithful servant Rod.

Mister Hull (will Dave let him keep his Evangelist rank?) has immediately delivered a slap in the face to his former co-religionist Bob Thiel. Bob gets called a lot of colorful things:

"...ridiculous statements and poor logic on an unofficial LCG website hosted by Robert Thiel... this site lists a host of invented reasons why one should not go with RCG. The shallow reader will be taken in, but those with common sense will see the utter falsehood of this man’s misinformed confusion. God’s Spirit always cuts through the faulty logic of the unconverted." (Emphasis supplied)

Misinformed? Confused? UNCONVERTED? Now now Syd, don't hold back.

"Robert Thiel misrepresents these facts to paint Mr. Pack as teaching contrary to Mr. Armstrong and the Bible, when even cursory investigation proves otherwise. Given such circumstances, only a calloused self-promoter would say it’s more important to concentrate on people in the world, for whom eternal life is not yet at stake, than on those who have the Holy Spirit and who don’t just face physical death in the tribulation, but eternal death in the lake of fire! Mr. Pack should be credited and the LCG leader faulted, not the other way around! I have been a shepherd for over three decades and I know. In any event, the Work of RCG now dwarfs that of The Living Church of God, and has reached this point in much less time."

Calloused self promoter? Bob? Um, how 'bout that deeply humble statement "I have been a shepherd for over three decades and I know."

But, praise be, ain't it great to hear the sizzling of the Lake of Fire in the background!

Syd may have been a shepherd for over three decades, but it's hard to find much in his tirade that's reminiscent of the Good Shepherd parable. And let's just think for a moment about "ridiculous statements and poor logic." Syd states: "the Work of RCG now dwarfs that of The Living Church of God".


By what criteria?

Which sect has the most members? Which sect has the greater media exposure? Which sect has the larger mailing list? Which sect garners the most tithe income?

LCG. But Syd, feel free to set the record straight if I've got that wrong.

Apparently Syd thinks "the Work" means something else. Number of "hits" on a website perhaps? Syd, Syd, Syd; you really should drop Gary Scott an email so he can explain the facts of life for you.

On his own website Bob comments: "I have apparently been marked by RCG and my repentance to support RCG essentially is now publicly being asked for."

There are days I think the old soap opera has "jumped the shark", and the latest episodes are a mere shadow of seasons past. And then someone like Syd comes along and I know I'm still hooked. "Hull breach on deck 12 Captain Meredith! We're losing containment!" "Erect a level 6 force field Mr Ames and arm the phasers."

Stay tuned.

Monday 25 September 2006

Point of Inquiry

What do David Hulme and DJ Grothe have in common.

They're both former WCGers, and both have recently interviewed Amy-Jill Levine.

DJ Grothe? Amy-Jill Levine?

I discovered DJ courtesy of an entry on Robert McNally's blog. McNally reveals that “DJ Grothe is an Ambassador College graduate and former member. But these day’s he’s a tireless advocate of science and skepticism, and the host of the leading humanist and skeptical podcast Point of Inquiry.”

A quick click across revealed that DJ has an online interview with Amy-Jill Levine, the New Testament feminist scholar. The last time I came across that name was in the David Hulme DVD on the Apostle Paul, where the COG-AIC boss trotted her out as one of his talking-head authorities (see Armstrongism in drag.).

Lucky Amy-Jill, running into two very different ex-WCG types eager to cite her as confirmation for their views (it's not obvious, though, that Levine produced the answers either gentleman wanted to hear. The POI interview is actually quite a good one despite the leading questions.)

Intrigued I did a little more digging. First quote:

"I'm the right's worst nightmare," jokes D.J. Grothe, who came out as both gay and atheist at Ambassador University, an Evangelical Christian school in Big Sandy, Texas. Coming out as atheist, he says, was by far more difficult. "I was the Christian in my dorm in college who reminded people that they weren't behaving like Christians," says Grothe. "I had my little niche, and it appealed to my spiritual vanities." Then, in his sophomore year, he read ex-nun Karen Armstrong's A History of God (1993), which treats the Creator as a cultural construct. When he attempted to discuss the book, one of his favorite professors suggested he throw it away. Shaken, Grothe had a minor nervous breakdown... "If God exists, you ain't gonna prove it on paper, you need personal experience. And I never had it. God never spoke to me."

Tempted to leave the school, Grothe nonetheless decided to remain in what he generally found to be a loving and secure environment. The very professor who had discouraged his reading made a trip to his room to see whether he was okay. He remained discreet about his atheism, telling only a few friends and professors. Still, word spread: "I wasn't shunned, but it was a shock, and it sent ripples. I got emails saying, 'you of all people, this is a test of your faith, you'll be a minister, just wait and see.'"

End of quote. I gather DJ gave up waiting.

And Amy-Jill Levine? Second quote: "A self-described "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Protestant divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt," Levine combines historical-critical rigor, literary-critical sensitivity, and a frequent dash of humor with a commitment to exposing and expunging anti-Jewish, sexist, and homophobic theologies."

Levine has a new book due out early in 2007 called The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. It's sure to raise a little hell. Just what was David Hulme thinking when he went cap in hand to secure an interview with a figure so distant from his own narrow views.

Grothe and Levine both sound interesting people, one born-again atheist and one stroppy freethinking Jewish scholar. Beside these two you'd have to suspect that Hulme, the patriarchial, besuited sect leader, might appear just a tad colorless. What is his purpose in pointing cameras at Levine and other Biblical scholars who agree not one whit with his own distinctive beliefs and probably find his hierarchical inclinations offensive?

Perhaps DJ might like to invite him onto a future Point of Inquiry and ask just that.

Trade War!

“...your Bible predicts a great TRADE WAR between the economic power in Europe and the United States. It predicts terrible financial collapse of this country...” (The Plain Truth, December 1963)

Trade War has been a constant jeremiad in COG circles. The bad guys vary: Germany, Japan and now China. The good guys? Well shucks, it's the US of A, who else?

I was introduced to the concept with the second or third issue of The Plain Truth that I received as a teen in 1970. I may be misremembering, but I believe the bad guy de jour then was Japan.

But lo, nothing changes in the copycat sects. The latest issue of Meredith's Tomorrow's World (he even stole the title of his magazine from the 1970s WCG) is “U.S. - China Trade War: Coming Soon?

Notice the question mark. The strategy is to suggest very strongly – so strongly the reader is meant to conclude that there's no doubt about it at all – but not actually say it. Weaseling is also a fine COG tradition.

Then there's that helpful little word “if.” “If China were to stop buying U.S. Treasury notes...” “If China were to sell its U.S. Securities...” “If the dollar declines in importance as the international currency...” (All quoted from the article in TW.)

All of this ties into the wacky prophetic scenarios advanced by Herb Armstrong and his Adventist predecessors. If the path to Last Trump appears to disappear behind an occasional fog bank, fear not, the outcome is assured: “The Bible reveals that at the end of the present age...” “Regular readers of Tomorrow's World understand that the prophecies concerning the house of Israel just before Christ's return tell the future of the U.S. And the British Commonwealth nations.” “Tomorrow's World will continue to keep you informed...”

Ironically the Editor in Chief, Rod Meredith, has an editorial in this same issue entitled “Biblical Ignorance: A Real Problem.” Naturally, he's not talking about brain-dead ignorance in his Living Church of God, he simply doesn't exhibit the degree of introspection to make that even a faint possibility, but then Rod was always more enthused over splinters than logs.

So maybe it's apt to end with a quote from someone who can address this Biblical ignorance issue with a little more authority. John Collins isn't a COG member and, as far as I know, has never speculated on Trade War with anyone. He is a past president of the Society for Biblical Literature, a professor at Yale, author of a commentary on Daniel, along with many other books including Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (from which the following quote is sourced):

“The responsible use of the Bible must begin by acknowledging that these books were not written with our modern situations in mind, and are informed by the assumptions of an ancient culture remote from our own.”

If that's where you begin, then Spanky and his band of merry men in Charlotte have yet to step up to the starting line. In fact they're running in quite the wrong direction.

Saturday 23 September 2006

Trumpeting on

Today, September 23, is the Feast of Trumpets. Next up, the Day of Atonement, and then the FOT.

At least, that's the calendar cycle for faithful Church of God households. But what, in particular, is Trumpets all about?

Wikipedia to the rescue. The biggest encyclopedia in history has an article dedicated to the "Christian holiday" of that name. "Disciples of Herbert Armstrong observe the day." As the article winds on it gets quite herbertesque with stuff like this:

"...when they are seven years apart and when they comprise 86 moons on the metatonic cycle, (and not 87 moons), is 2550 days.

"86 moons = 86 x 29.530589 days + 10 days = 2550 days (inclusive). This is the timespan that begins on Tishri 1 in year X and extends out seven years to Tishri 10 on year X + 7.

"2550 days is a very special number of days. It happens to very precisely encompass the timespan of the 70th week of Daniel with the 30 day extension of the second half of the 70th Week going beyond the 1260 days to the 1290 days. This period of 1290 days was prophesied by Daniel in Dan.12:11. The number of days for the final seven years of this age then becomes, - 1260 days + 1290 days = 2550 days.

"There is a perfect agreement of the two timespans..."

Yeah, okay, if you say so. Dear old Ron Dart is a bit more to-the-point when he concedes:

"The Feast of Trumpets is an anomaly among the holy days. When it was instituted, it had no obvious meaning... it has no particular meaning attached to it, there is nothing specified. It doesn't say "You're going to have a memorial of blowing trumpets because we blew trumpets at such and such a time or in such and such a situation" or "all you people are to blow trumpets or all of you people are to do this." There is nothing..."

Of course, Ron goes on to find this hugely significant for determining the true significance of the festival. If you're sufficiently desperate to find out how he pulls it off, here's the link.

Or, you could just hunker down with a collection of Ritenbaugh audio sermons on the subject, but be sure to prepare thoroughly with a wide margin KJV, highlighter, cushion, a six-pack of Red Bull and a lobotomy.

Friday 22 September 2006

Good News for Melvin

A right-wing newspaper commentator in Philadelphia has put the neo-con seal of approval on Melvin Rhodes' Good News "journalism." Herb Denenberg is "a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and professor at the Wharton School." Denenberg begins by shrieking and tearing his garments over the state of the New York Times and what he sees as "its anti-American, anti-conservative, anti-Republican, anti-military, anti-war-in-Iraq, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slant." Ouch. Then he finds a exemplar of the kind of journalism he approves of... The Good News! He writes:

"What struck me is that this magazine delivers more value, more insight and more honest reporting than The New York Times... Let me tell you a little about that article in a free publication, which puts The Times to shame."

It seems ol' Herb (great name that!) had read Mel's latest article on ""Radical Islam: An Arc of Extremism That Threatens the Globe." Herb was struck with admiration. Here was someone saying all the things he wanted to hear, fondling his political sensibilities and whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Enough so to provide a free promo for the mag: "If you are interested in Good News and the organization that publishes it, you can go to its Web site, or write for a free subscription to Good News, PO BOX 54198, Cincinnati, Ohio 45254-0198."

How sad that Herb should be reduced to praising a British-Israel prophecy-obsessed apocalyptic splinter-sect publication (sorry Scott, nothing personal) in his bilious compulsion to slag off the NYT. I guess there'll be those in the UCG who puff out their chests at this unexpected paeon of praise. Groveling sychophancy obviously brings its own rewards. But as the good book saith, they probably have all the reward they're going to get now. Lap it up while you can Mel.

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Neanderthal Meanderings

A news item on the BBC reports the discovery of Neanderthal remains on Gibraltar as recently as 24,000 years ago. Perhaps they were guarding the "sea gate" till the Ephraimites turned up and planted the Union Jack.

Our proto-human cousins used to be referred to as "Neanderthal Man." In these gender-sensitive times that obviously is a thing of the past. Neanderthal persons anyone? A quick check through the BBC article reveals that the acceptable terms are now Neanderthals and Neanderthal people. I think we can all breathe a little easier knowing that.

Enter Dennis Diehl (no, that's not him in the picture.) As most AW readers know, Den is a former pastor in the WCG, and a rare individual who has emerged from that vocation with a keen insight into the perils of Biblicism. An excerpt from his most recent article:

"There are no Neanderthals on the earth today, but there are Neander-thoughts. A Neander-thought is an idea, way of thinking or being, that no longer works. Just as Neanderthals seemed incapable of insight and foresight, creative solutions and critical thinking, Neander-thoughts today are holding humans back from making any real progress and actually expose us all to being consigned to some trash heap of history for not recognizing it."

As always, Dennis aims true. If you read nothing else even faintly paleoanthropological this month, you owe it to yourself to check out Neander Thoughts.

Friday 15 September 2006

Death cult?

Garth Macdonald, a young Australian in his twenties, son of John Macdonald, PCG elder in Perth, was granted the coveted opportunity to study at Armstrong College (formerly Imperial College) in Oklahoma. He is described by someone who knew him as “a very kind and well liked young man whom I believe had a lot of potential.” Another remembered Garth as “athletic and intelligent.”

Garth is no longer with us. These are the details as they have been posted elsewhere on the Web.

“He became very weak some short time before the start of the Ministerial Conference at Edmond in June of 2006. He had no medical attention, and probably didn't want to either or else it would be considered a "lack of faith." ... Garth's parents attended the Conference and were shocked to discover that their son was so emaciated. So Garth was put into a hospital somewhere in Edmond for "tests" which showed that he had a weakened immune system...

“The PCG brethren were asked to pray for Garth, and (due to the hospital giving him steroids) he picked up and people thought that God was healing him... The next thing anyone knew was that his parents were putting him on a plane with them to take him home to Perth... PCG brethren were shocked when he died, a few weeks later, as they believed that God was healing him, but it was because he stopped taking the steroids once he got back home to Australia. He had to be on them to have the strength to be able to get onto the plane...

“There was the stress of his brother getting kicked out of the PCG and college while he was there... One of Garth's three brothers is Brad Macdonald who is married to one of Dennis Leap's daughters.”

Perhaps there are factors involved that aren't apparent to those who've expressed these concerns, and there's no denying that this is a tragic situation for the family, or that their grief should be respected. But there are also wider concerns that need to be aired. These comments also come from a former PCG member:

“I attended PCG in Australia for approximately 10 years (as a child) and witnessed a number of members who refused medical treatment, and instead opted to rely on God to heal them, which in a lot of cases lead them to a slow and painful death. Not once did I see any miracles. Many of those members would still be alive today if they had of followed the doctor's advice and/or start treatment for their otherwise curable medical conditions. The PCG should be held accountable because of their healing doctrine. What they are doing to innocent and na├»ve people is just wrong. It's time for the PCG to come to an end once and for all. I hope and pray that becomes a reality before any more members die due to a lack of medical care.”

If there was any hope that incidents like Garth Macdonald's death might act as a wakeup call to PCG's leadership, they have been dashed with the release of the October issue of the Trumpet. Two articles by Robert Morley lambast medical science, emphasizing the rigid doctrine that faith and medical intervention are mutually exclusive. Morley writes:

“There is only one Being who has all the answers, the Being who designed and created man in the first place. It is He who created the physical laws by which our bodies function correctly—laws we should do our utmost to abide by. Following these physical laws does not merely treat the effects of disease and sickness—it eliminates the causes. These laws include regulating what and how much we eat and drink, upholding cleanliness and hygiene, getting plenty of sunshine and fresh air, sufficiently and properly exercising, sleeping and resting the right amounts, avoiding bodily injury, and maintaining a positive mental attitude.

“In addition, only God has the power to heal you—and in His Word, He has spelled out iron-clad promises to heal those who satisfy certain basic conditions. Herbert W. Armstrong expounded upon these in his booklet The Plain Truth About Healing, which we offer to you free upon request.”

In a separate article Morley writes: “The question we should be asking is: What is causing our ills? Then the challenge is to really accept the hard answer that we are not living our lives the way God designed us to, and set our minds to fix that. That can truly give suffering individuals and their families hope.”

"Hard answer"? Indeed.

Well, he's certainly correct about needing to ask questions, but not the patsy ones suggested. PCG, by promoting an inflexible doctrine of "healing", continues to endanger the lives of its members. Contrary to Morley's glib claims, how many good, decent, trusting brethren will suffer because they take these articles to heart? This latest issue of the Trumpet – attractively laid out and appealing to people who desperately want to believe in PCG's literalistic variety of fundamentalism – is surely nothing short of a death sentence for many of these same folk.

Thursday 14 September 2006

Middle East Ignorance

Why is it that COGism is so obsessed by the Middle East? I don't mean the Middle East of antiquity, the cradle of Judaism and Christianity; that would at least make some sense. To understand the Bible you need at least a little knowledge about the way societies operated back then, otherwise you just end up projecting modern assumptions onto ancient writings.

And of course, COGism does just that. Herbert Armstrong knew nothing about the culture of "Bible times." When someone came along who did know something (Charles Dorothy or Lester Grabbe) the old fossil quickly sidelined them.

No, you could line up all the scholarly articles WCG, UCG, LCG and the CG-tiddlers have published on the world of the Bible end-on-end and not reach the distance from the couch to the refrigerator. However, it's another matter entirely when you're talking "profussy."

COG magazines are saturated in what they call prophecy. Whole periodicals and websites are dedicated to wanton speculation parading as insider knowledge. The UCG isn't the only guilty party, but consider the not-so-subtley titled World News & Prophecy. Month after month of drivel as writers (and now even podcasters!) "cry wolf" again and again and again. If it's still around ten years from now you know they'll still be trotting out their one-trick pony.

Herb used to claim that one third of the Bible was prophecy. That's bunk. The only reason he thought so was that he knew next to nothing about the Bible (though he was pretty good at sewing out-of-context proof texts together.) What he did, at its simplest, was buy into discredited Adventist scenarios. Garbage in, garbage out.

Currently COG publications are in shriek-mode about the Middle East. One more article by Melvin Rhodes and I'll be shrieking too. Things are dire enough in that part of the world without a bunch of fringe fundamentalists racing around like Chicken Little. All that energy could surely be far better spent in doing something, well, Christian.

Monday 11 September 2006

Bits & Pieces

The Journal

The latest issue of The Journal is out (it reached the email in-tray on the same day the snail mail copy of the previous issue hit my letterbox.) The new issue includes:

* The shortest essay I've ever seen in The Journal. Congratulations to James McBride, who knows that an economy of words is worth more than an avalanche of over-explanation.

* Mark Kellner has a travel article (for lack of a better description) after visiting the sites of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Kellner's name last cropped up when he produced an article for Christianity Today that effectively pulled Rod Meredith's nuts out of the fire after the Wisconsin Sabbath shootings (many sins can be forgiven, Mark, but I'm not so sure about that one...) The writer has become a devotee of Ellen G. White and Seventh-day Adventism, and now serves as a PR official for the General Conference of that denomination.

The first and last pages of The Journal are available as a free download.


The Marmite mystery has been solved. John Morgan's otherwise excellent book contained a minor gaffe on the famous yeast extract (see the review.) A correspondent clarifies: "it was Vegemite that we were told not to eat, because Kraft would, in those days, neither confirm nor deny whether Vegemite contained extracts of animal blood in the recipe. Blood was the point at issue, whereas Sanitarium, as you pointed out, vigorously denied using any such ingredient on account of their religion! I remember it well. Marmite was rather too sweet for my taste, and I remember the sigh of relief I passed when Vegemite was at last "kosherised", around 1978."

Ambassador books

An American correspondent - one of the heroes of the old AW - passed on a Press Release concerning the Ambassador College library in Big Sandy. You can read it here.


The following comments were posted after the Dennis Leap item.

"LCG’s last update reported:

"This morning, Mr. Meredith called a Headquarters staff meeting to motivate us just before the Feast of Tabernacles. He told us to work harder, with more zeal and determination. He exhorted us to become bigger and sharper minded, to improve our skills—and not to waste time.
"A friend at LCG headquarters told me what really happened at that meeting. Meredith went on an angry rant, threatening to fire or demote people. He said the staff wasn’t working hard enough, and said they were stupid and lazy compared to the businessmen (the big tithers?) who advise him. Meredith was so cruel and harsh, he made some of the women cry.

"My friend said office morale has been trashed, and said last week's meeting isn't an isolated incident. Meredith has recently been screaming at people a lot... Many in LCG believe Meredith has lost his mind."

Mark Kellner take note.

The Devil's Web Browser

And finally, I confess that I've been trying the new Internet Explorer browser (IE7), and, um, *sob*, it's good. Up till last week I've used Firefox almost exclusively, with an occasional switch to Opera. Now I'm tempted to return to Holy Mother Microsoft. Somebody slap me QUICK!

Sunday 10 September 2006

Land of Hope and Glory

Friday morning: A ten year old eyed a clutch of CDs on my desk and enquired what they were. I was caught off guard. "Really old stuff, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't know any of these."

"Old stuff?" replied the kid, reading the name Schubert. "Like classic?"

"Yup," I smiled.

"That's okay," the youngster said, "my dad still listens to Simply Red."


Sunday morning: It is one of wonders of our age that on an overcast Spring day in a small town half a world away you can listen, live, to one of the great cultural events on an Autumn Saturday evening in London. It's the Last Night of the Proms, and BBC Radio 3 is streaming the event over the Internet.

I'm not an Anglophile by any means (even the thought of watching Coronation Street makes me queesy), but a children's choir singing the Skye Boat Song, or the massed voices accompanying Parry's Jerusalem, can turn even a cynic into a temporary fan.

The good natured flag waving and the gusto that drives people out into parks in Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester and Swansea to add their voices at parallel venues, is notable for its lack of jingoism. The days of Empire are gone, thank God, but a benign afterglow remains, hauntingly tangible in Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia.

“Ephraim's Gentle Yoke” was, of course, no such thing. The fictions of British Israelism served to validate and reinforce the iron will of the British East India Company and countless inhumanities, not least amongst the poorer subjects in the United Kingdom.

But the Last Night of the Proms isn't an elite occasion: the laughter, the stomping, the whistles and honking. There's a certain delightful irony in the way the anthems of empire have been appropriated so subversively.

Now, let me think, I'm sure I had a Simply Red CD somewhere...

Saturday 9 September 2006

Dennis takes a flying leap

Dennis Leap has gone. The PCG's Grand Vizier has been dumped by the Supreme Ayatollah, according to reports on the Web. There are rumors about depression, and the removal of ministerial credentials. Excerpts:

1. "It seems that the PCG just had a Ministerial Conference this summer and Dennis Leap was conspicuous by his absence. Absolutely no announcement has been made about him, but the speculation is flying through the PCG."

2. "I was told that Dennis Leap was at the 2006 ministerial conference in Edmond, Oklahoma, but that he had no speaking role, which was highly unusual for him. No one will say why, but it is strongly believed by others there that he has had a nervous breakdown."

3. "Saturday, the last tape of the Ministerial Conference was played. At the end of it, it was announced that Dennis Leap was no longer Regional Director or Minister. Nothing was said as to whether he was suspended or put out, or whether he would have to move out of his house. The members were further told that they had nothing to fear about reporting abuses directly to Flurry."

4. "There was a taped announcement about Dennis Leap in services this Saturday (August 26). It went something like this: Dennis Leap in a deep state of depression and has "suspended" himself. He will not be back to services."

5. "I can't help but wonder if Leap will now form a splinter group."

From the same source comes news of the death of Garth Macdonald, a young Australian studying at PCG's college. The sect's rejection of medical intervention is apparently a factor.

Then there's a lovely example of cult-think. The AICF (American-Israeli Cultural Foundation) has taken exception to the Flurry front organisation, Armstrong International Cultural Foundation, using its acronym. Ryan Malone writes: "We believe this is quite a positive step. Pastor General Gerald Flurry strongly believes God wants us to use Armstrong International Cultural Foundation and that not using the acronym will help people more quickly draw the connection between the PCG's college and its cultural efforts. Whereas using AICF might take a while before others started connecting it to us, having to use the full name allows us the opportunity to forge a more immediate connection with the community and perhaps even those in places where Mr. Armstrong worked with the Ambassador foundation."

So there you have it, the bad news is good news, Big Brother says so!

Monday 4 September 2006

David Hulme and Clive James

Lord have mercy; David Hulme has written a book. It has the riveting title: “Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.”

Not a book about the Bible or church history, which you might expect, but a $65 (£40.00) 260 page tome on the contemporary Middle East.

Oh, well done David! How many people in his mini-sect will be able to afford a copy? And will anyone outside his forgettable fellowship even be bothered?

Yes, this is David Hulme the COG-AIC sect leader, reputedly one of the most secretive, exclusivist Church of God splinters. The David Hulme who was once something of a poster-boy for the Tkach reforms. The David Hulme who was dumped as founding president of the UCG.

The blurb doesn’t give much away: “Exploring the lives of fourteen key Palestinian and Jewish leaders, this fascinating study examines the roles of identity and ideology in the search for a resolution to the final-status issue of Jerusalem.”

I’m not sure why David thinks he’s qualified to pontificate on this issue. I’m not sure why the sect is promoting his book for him on their Vision website. Does David think this is “preaching the gospel”?

Palgrave Macmillan, an academic publisher, describes the book on their website: “Using the clinical method of (recalled personal history) to examine the crucial place that Jerusalem has occupied in the identity and ideology core of fourteen key Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli leaders in the more-than-100-year Arab-Zionist impasse, this fascinating study explores the roles of identity and ideology in preventing or promoting a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians on the final-status issue of Jerusalem.”

Sounds like a real page-turner. Too bad Dave didn’t use the clinical method in question to examine the shattered lives of people a little closer at hand, the followers of Herbert Armstrong. Now there's a subject where Dave has unchallenged expertise.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Hulme book is reviewed (if it is reviewed.) Will it live up to its PR, or just fade into obscurity, another expensive “think big”, ego-driven, tithe-funded white elephant?

Of course, we all hope Dave's book will sell quadzillions of copies. To that end a little blessing from Clive James is called for. Enjoy!

Saturday 2 September 2006

Flying Free and Marmite sandwiches

This is the second part of the Flying Free review.
John Morgan's book, Flying Free, has had me engrossed for several days. I thought I'd heard it all, but John surprised me more than once. Chapter 4 on the marks of a cult (using Steven Hassan's experiences as an ex-Moonie) was among the clearest I've come across. Chapter 6, addressing HWA's genuineness (or lack thereof) is excellent.

Flying Free is generally supportive of the new WCG, but the discussion on tithing also makes it clear that Joe Jnr's position on that subject is backtracking on a commitment to freedom.

John is the only person I know who can proudly state that he no longer attends any church, and is better off for the fact!

"When I talk to fellow Christians, and they find out that I no longer attend any church, most of them look on me as someone in need of spiritual help. They look on me as a weaker Christian – if a Christian at all! They talk to me as though I have fallen from a position of spiritual strength.

"The truth is the opposite. I feel spiritually stronger now, than at any other time in my life. I feel that a Christian who doesn’t attend a physical church, has a spiritual freedom that churchgoers probably are unable to experience."

I've often thought that, but saying it publicly is something else. Chapter 7 is intriguing. It seems clear that the author is still a Bible believing Christian in the first pages, and then wham, he launches into a very useful discussion on the gaping holes in Biblicism. It's this balanced approach that makes the book unique. You might not agree with John on everything, but you surely have to respect his position.

Being chained to a whiteboard most of the working week, I really have issues with writers who can't be bothered with spelling or proof reading. So it was a delight to find this self-published work was virtually bullet-proof. I can't argue with John's account of the way it was: it's honest and accurate. I liked the fact that Flying Free avoids polemic (something I'm frequently guilty of) and preachiness. My advice? Get a copy.

(But lest this sound too uncritical...)

So, what's the beef (so to speak) with Marmite?

"Then there was Lev 17:12: “None of you may eat blood”, so we could not eat marmite – a breakfast spread containing dried blood – or black pudding."

I remember some of the urban legends that circulated in WCG, related in that peculiarly sincere tone of voice and received with a wide-eyed "is that so!" But this is one I hadn't heard. The local version of this pungent spread (a yeast extract) is an iconic item in the Australasian diet, and completely vegetarian (produced by the fastidious Seventh-day Adventist company Sanitarium.) Bad enough for any Kiwi to be deprived of whitebait and sausage rolls, but to forego Marmite sandwiches on a misunderstanding... only an Antipodean would know the pain!

To find out more about John Morgan's Flying Free, click on the link in the sidebar.