Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Every year tens of thousands of Muslims gather in the holy city of Mecca. The haj is a pilgrimage all good followers of Islam are encouraged to make at least once in their lifetimes.
The haj is prefigured in, of all places, the book of Exodus, chapter 23:17. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.
John Collins (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, page 133) comments.
These were occasions when the males were to “appear before the Lord” by going to a sanctuary. The Hebrew word for such a pilgrim feast is hag, which is related to the Arabic name for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj.
In a sense, then, the Church of God observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is a haj. Thousands of people travelling to far away places in obedience to what they believe is a divine command.
The similarities don't end there. Islam has a prophet, Muhammed, and so does Armstrongism. At a minimum we're talking about Herbert Armstrong (Apostle, Elijah), but others have claimed a similarly exalted status (Gerry Flurry for example.) The COGs talk about dwelling in tabernacles or booths (though they prefer nice solid motel rooms) while the Muslim pilgrims literally do dwell in tents, whether rich or poor. And as anyone who has read the embittered ravings of Mark Armstrong will know, there is a certain mullah-like disposition to many of the preachers of Armstrongism. As worshippers in some (but by no means all) mosques are exposed to disturbingly overt political messages, just so are many (but not all) Church of God members lambasted with not-so subtle conservative political rhetoric parading as “Bible truth”.
For others the Feast is a great occasion, and they return home feeling genuinely recharged and renewed in their sense of identity as Christians. More power to them. I've listened to a number of feast sermons that were positive and upbuilding. It's simply not true to characterise the Feast as something inevitably negative or legalistic. I've never attended a Friday prayer service at a mosque, but I suspect something similar is true there too.
For those departing for the eight days, happy haj!
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Excellent observations, Gavin. You're right on the money to draw analogies between the Armstrongist autumnal "chag" and the Muslim Hajj. Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s I made a similar observation when talking with the "Zen Presbyterian" elder who taught my Comparative Religions class. He had explained how Muslim religious disciplines help to create or maintain a sense of unity and belief in Islamic teachings, and how the experience of the Hajj in particular builds a powerful sense of transcendant, mystical unity. He said that there's really nothing in the worship life of Christians that is quite like the Hajj, where thousands upon thousands congregate for worship, where a Muslim joins in unity of action and faith with an innumerable crowd of like-minded believers. So I told him about the Feast of Tabernacles, and that I think I know something of what Muslims must experience on the Hajj. He, of course, wasn't familiar with the WCG and its practices, but he commented that our Tabernacles experience would in some ways probably be comparable in effect to the Hajj.
I had only two words for you after reading your post - "so what?"
Doesn't seem to have been worth the effort for you to bother posting your comment at all, Anonymous.
So now the question is, what is the Muslim equivalent of "Hag [Chag for Jared] Sameach!"?
[Not the same Anonymous as the first guy/gal.]
All religions have to have their equivalents. It is the creation of the mystical and profound that motivates and inspires. The massive Baptist churches, that while not a long journey to get to in a community, serve the same purpose. Same with Cathedrals and such. For the most part, WCG always DIS-couraged the mystical and profound as evidenced by the "any old hall will do" for services mentality, while at the same time building "the House for God" concept was being promoted at HQ. And yet, it was a simple house in actual fact, not any more inspiring than a glorified recital hall with no discernable spirituality present as one might feel in a Cathedral. But a Haj to Headquarters was a lifetime dream for some of the members who when they came back home, realized what a shitty little church hall they had!
I have always marveled at the number of people killed each year on the way to or at the Haj. They get squished, squwashed and smooshed by the hundreds, blown up, burned, run over. What a great festival!!! Makes Living Church of God look downright safe! I suppose they consider that dying in the faith, so it's all good.
I always missed a sense of the mystical and unknown when in WCG. I have personally always found a calming in candles and inpiring music. Believe it or not...I play the great hymns of the church CD's when I want to feel that comfortable feeling, even though I do not agree with their content literally. It's emotions at that point over mind.
Arena's for WCG always served the utilitarian function for a large crowd, but it had no soul, save a few times they turned the lights down or a choir did a very nice rendition of something.
Now, a Haj for me personally would be the Badlands, or one of the many Moundbuilder sites in the Southeast or perhaps Holland where my roots are. The difference for me is that I get to pick the place to go that best serves ME and not someone elses agenda or vision. I so do not want to view the world through the eyes and minds of others again. When the Church, in my last days, was almost requiring a "Good" minister to attend Promise Keepers, I balked and just would not go even though the elders and deacons were all going, in one case to Washington DC. I told them I hated large crowds of weeping manipulated men and that I was not about to get up or sit down or lay flat to pray on cue. This refusal to go, and I can't tell you how much I hate the concept of Promise Keepers, was the beginning of the end of me being seen as non cooperative and finally being told that HQ felt I "knew a lot about Jesus," meaning history, background, literalism, origins etc, but that they also felt "I did not know Jesus..." It was a rather long stare across the table, I do remember that.
At any rate, good comment Gavin and Jared.
Jared Olar said...
Doesn't seem to have been worth the effort for you to bother posting your comment at all, Anonymous.
You are correct. Tripe like what was posted - which passes itself off like wise and balanced insight - does not require any other commentary.
(not the first or second anonymous guy/gal)
We wish all the feisty feasters festive felicitations.
And may the cups of their salvation be continually replenished and overflowing with the Spirit thereof, yea to a bottomless statute HOGSHEAD.
And indeed, all the flapping mandibles will mouth manipulating messages mastered to maintain compliance among the mentally flaccid menagerie.
The term Haj would seem out of place in orthodoxy Christianity, in spite of the fact that it has its roots in the Hebrew of the Bible. But it would not be out of place in the strange amalgam of Biblical elements known as Armstrongism. Herbert W. Armstrong originated a religion that is a composite of ideas from the Old and New Testaments. Armstrongism, nevertheless, is artificial and man made. Herbert's religion is composed of an eclectic melange from the Bible without regard to Covenant. This is the part that Armstrongites have perpetually stumbled over: Even though Armstrongism is a stew of authentic Biblical elements, in its final, total configuration, it becomes a secular, non-Christian religion. Armstrongites cannot understand how all this Bible stuff thrown together could possibly be unholy. But Peter speaks of people twisting genuine Bible scripture to their own destruction.
After the twisting, Herbert W. Armstrong or one of his minions, then re-interpreted parts of it, especially the Old Testament parts, to make it more palatable. So instead of building brush arbors for the Feast of Tabernacles (or confining, for example, your wife to a separate little hut when she has her period), as commanded, lodging is in hotels, condominiums and motels. There is no valid argument for not building brush arbors as the scripture specifies. So none of the Armstrongites, that I know of, will actually be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles as commanded. They are all "debtors to do the whole law."
What I find interesting is the original restriction on the festivals to men only ("all your males.") How this got turned into a family observance isn't clear, can anyone remember it being explained?
PS. I love the language in Jorgheinz and Neotherm's replies: feisty feasters, flapping mandibles and eclectic melanges... delightful!!
"Tripe like what was posted - which passes itself off like wise and balanced insight - does not require any other commentary."
Hmm, seems like Gavin has touched a raw nerve.
"There is no valid argument for not building brush arbors as the scripture specifies. So none of the Armstrongites, that I know of, will actually be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles as commanded."
What you say is true, there is no "valid" argument; but as you know, they have an answer for everything. I brought this one up with a minister years ago, and his reply was that God binds and looses according to the administrative decisions made in the 'spirit of the law' by HWA and church leadership. Of course, that answer is wide enough to drive a truck through, not to mention any other questionable doctrine HWA wanted to modify .
The one item Armstronger's don't want to tackle, or have any answers for, is the fact that GG Rupert (loosely affiliated minister of the CoG Seventh Day) came up with all of the doctrines that HWA claimed were unique to himself fifteen to twenty years before HWA joined that church. Oh, and how to explain that Armstrong had a box of Rupert's literature in the Loma Bld. basement discovered after his death. Now, how did that get there...?
"I brought this one up with a minister years ago, and his reply was that God binds and looses according to the administrative decisions made in the 'spirit of the law' by HWA and church leadership."
The extreme implementation of this was something I heard in Big Sandy in the Seventies. A student told me that one of his instructors at AC told his class that HWA disagreed with Paul on the topic of marriage and HWA had promulgated a different point of view. This was possible, acccording to the instructor, because HWA was and Apostle rank minister, just like Paul, and had every right to issue his own doctrinal positions and these assertions were just as valid as Paul's.
If you can believe that, the Bible becomes useful only for historical reference and HWA had the ability to dynamically alter the substance of Bible truth in current time. In other words, Armstrongism must be true, no matter what the Bible says, because "God's end time apostle" is greater than the Bible.
While that seems facetious, this is clearly what the Armstrongites scattered around the world believe in fact. "Don't believe me, believe the Bible" apparently was a call to do just the opposite.
"A student told me that one of his instructors at AC told his class that HWA disagreed with Paul on the topic of marriage and HWA had promulgated a different point of view. This was possible, acccording to the instructor, because HWA was and Apostle rank minister, just like Paul, and had every right to issue his own doctrinal positions and these assertions were just as valid as Paul's."
I heard pretty much that same anecdote in a sermon once. As I recall, in the version I heard, HWA reported said that both her and Paul are apostles, so we'll just have to wait until Christ comes back to find out which of them was right.
Yes, that does give the lie to the Armstrongist claim that they follow the Bible instead of manmade traditions. No, they follow whatever Armstrong's interpretation of the Bible was (or in the case of him changing his mind, they follow either his latest interpretation, or else the interpretation of his that they like best -- and in the case of the Neo-Armstrongist leaders, they follow their current leaders' interpretation of Armstrong's interpretation of the Bible).
Jared Olar wrote, "Yes, that does give the lie to the Armstrongist claim that they follow the Bible instead of manmade tradition." Not necessarily true. It depends on the individual and why they believe what they believe. It is true that many who hold to HWA's teachings do so, not because they follow the Bible, but because they follow the person of HWA. But there are also those who believe HWA's teachings only because that is what they themselves see in the Bible. In other words, some COG believers put the Bible first and HWA second as the source of their beliefs. If I see a contradiction between what HWA wrote and what Paul wrote, I will believe Paul, not HWA.
The "primacy" arguments, as advanced by HWA, are really self defeating. If you literally believe in the primacy of Peter, you would have to conclude that the Roman Catholic Church of today is simply a product of the cumulative primacy of Peter, passed in a continuous chain to each generation over the past 2,000 years. (I realize that there are Catholic posters here who do actually believe this is true, and am not attempting to mock them or their beliefs)
HWA/WCG would never allow for even the remotest possibility of this being true, although it is more logical than believing that the binding and loosing, or primacy, began back in the early '30s with HWA himself. By claiming primacy, HWA put himself at odds with those who actually can trace their history with it.
But there are also those who believe HWA's teachings only because that is what they themselves see in the Bible.
This is a fair statement. I'm sure these people exist. (Perhaps the author is one of them.) But it unfortunately can also be read "...only because that is what they themselves see when they read the verses (and only the verses) that they're told to read." When I left the church (after 18 years, from birth), some of these verses scared me to death because it seemed so clear that everything HWA said could be true. It wasn't until I actually read the WHOLE Bible that I saw how screwed up the theology was. Even now, with my father still in the "new and improved" WCG, I've encouraged him to read the whole Bible rather than just the "selected texts" and he doesn't want to do that. He wants to forge ahead based on the meanings of the minutia, the individual passages. I don't think many in the COGs actually read the Bible cover to cover. There's no way (I can see) that you can buy into the theology given a holistic reading of the book. The book's not that complicated. You don't need all of HWA's (or anyone else's) notes. It'll take months to do. And you'll come out of it with a lot of questions. But you'll also have a very firm base on which to evaluate the COG or anyone else who claims to be Biblically based.
To toss another log on the fire, HWA and GTA used to say "Don't believe me, believe the Bible." In about 1974, when there was all the trouble with GTA and the Systematic Theology Project, I heard HWA say that this principle of "Don't believe me, believe the Bible" was only for new people coming into contact with the broadcast for the first time. After someone became a member they should desist in this questioning attitude and simply believe HWA and the ministry.
It is clear that HWA intended to put a firm lock on the Bible. One of the contributors wrote "If I see a contradiction between what HWA wrote and what Paul wrote, I will believe Paul, not HWA." This is also the way to exit Armstrongism through disfellowshipment. The Armstrongite ministry would never see a contradition between what HWA wrote and what Paul wrote. Somehow they have been able to twist the book of Galatians into an Armstrongite foundation block. You cannot reason with people like that.
"It is true that many who hold to HWA's teachings do so, not because they follow the Bible, but because they follow the person of HWA. But there are also those who believe HWA's teachings only because that is what they themselves see in the Bible."
Practically speaking, it's a distinction without a difference. It's still HWA's interpretation of the Bible that they believe, not what the Bible itself says or doesn't say.
"In about 1974, when there was all the trouble with GTA and the Systematic Theology Project, I heard HWA say that this principle of 'Don't believe me, believe the Bible' was only for new people coming into contact with the broadcast for the first time."
Yes, I remember him saying that, and I think he or some other WCG minister may have even written it in a WCG publication. "Don't believe me, believe the Bible" was just an advertising gimmick to hook people and get them to believe HWA's teachings were true.
From Pam Dewey's website, http://www.isitso.org/guide/believe.html
Excerpt from the article "Should We Listen to Others?" by HWA, Good News magazine, May, 1960
"But some will say, "But didn't you say, over the air, for us to LISTEN to you, and also LISTEN to all others, but not to believe you, and not to believe the others, but believe what we see in the Bible"
BRETHREN! When I speak on the air I am speaking to the outside WORLD-- to the unconverted. I am not speaking just to those who should already KNOW the truth.
These people all around the world, who listen to me on the radio, do not know if I am a false prophet, a minister of God, or WHAT. To them, YES, I say, DO NOT BELIEVE MEN-- BELIEVE YOUR OWN BIBLE! That is what you should have done-- before you knew the TRUTH. Probably it was because you did do that, that you saw TRUTH with your own eyes in your Bible. Perhaps that is what brought you into the truth, and led you to God's one and only true Church!
To the people who do not KNOW that this is the ONLY true Church of God, I do say those very things.
But to you who have PROVED this is GOD'S CHURCH, it is different."
I agree that a person should read the whole Bible cover-to-cover. You cannot prove something by only looking at selected verses.
In the matter of HWA's article, "Should We Listen to Others?", when he talks about speaking differently to the world than to the Church of God, I believe he is talking specifically about listening to ministers of other churches, not whether a member should believe the Bible or not. He is not saying, "believe what I tell you about the Bible." He is saying, "don't listen to ministers of other churches", which after all is the title of the article. That is how he spoke differently to the public than he did to the Church. He told the public to listen to him but also to listen to other ministers. To the Church of God he says, once you have proved that these other ministers are false, don't listen to them. This is the context, not believing the Bible.
Later in the same article he wrote: "But suppose, when you study your own Bible, you come across something you feel is contrary to the teaching of the Church? Must you hide your eyes from what you see in your Bible? CERTAINLY NOT!". He then went on to say that if a member disagrees with the Church, he should not promote his opinion among other members, but to take it to the ministry. He wrote, "If we are wrong, we will correct it BEFORE THE WHOLE CHURCH, so that ALL the Church may, with one mind, believe the TRUTH, and speak the SAME THING!"
"Excerpt from the article "Should We Listen to Others?" by HWA, Good News magazine, May, 1960 "
I believe what he said in 1974 supersedes what he said in 1960. The fact that this is contradictory should be a red flag to Armstrongites. You cannot treat the "Word of Herbert" as if it were canonized scripture. He said different things at different times. Attempts to integrate all of this will require some logical gymnastics.
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