Saturday 28 March 2009

Fast or flick?

It's an interesting contrast. Saturday March 28 is a day of hope as millions of humans across the planet take the symbolic step of turning off the lights for one hour - Earth Hour - beginning at 8.30 PM wherever they are, a project developed with the World Wildlife Fund. It won't solve our ecological problems, but it isn't designed to do that. It will raise our consciousness about an important issue, and maybe inspire us to work harder to conserve this precious planet on which we live.

But those who've bought into the apocalyptic package are unlikely to "get it." Why bother? Things are prophesied to get worse. Why waste the energy - or in this case, why not waste the energy... The one thing that puts a smirk of superiority on any sect member's face is a contempt for activism. Bah, humbug! Let the world go to hell in a handcart, I'll keep my nose clean and focus on the really important stuff, like, er, not eating ham and turning up for services on the Sabbath.

Saturday March 28 is also, apparently, a designated fast for members of the Living Church of God. Exactly why isn't immediately apparent. Guru Rod Meredith calls these things with little reason, other than perhaps whether he's feeling a bit depressed. Rod is on the wane, mind and body are letting him down - alas, the fate of all who are fortunate and blessed enough to live a life to their three-score and ten and beyond. What to do? Let's call on the brethren to share the misery! That'll show God that we're good people and deserve a break!

The whole concept is infantile. What's more, it's introverted. It does nothing for anybody outside the ghetto. I suppose it does help shore up the sense of identity, specialness and separateness from the wicked world - and those in deviant Laodicean pseudo-COGs. But then, is that a good thing?

Earth Hour, on the other hand, is an act of solidarity with all people who want to leave their ghetto for a while - regardless of nationality, culture or even religion - and work toward a greater good. Contrast that with the apocalyptic mind set which throws up its hands in horror and sulks and mumbles in a corner, hoping for "a strong hand from someplace" to reach down so the real work of building a better, sustainable world can be avoided. It's the equivalent of a petulant nine year old (a subject on which I have some experience.) If you want a little kid to learn to care about the world they'll inherit, I suspect that getting them enthused about getting some candles out and turning off the lights during Earth Hour wouldn't be a bad place to start.

It's not enough to cry "thy kingdom come" while burying the proverbial talent in the back yard. What kind of logic is it to decry the observance of Lent (because it isn't biblical) and then observe a twenty-four hour fast at Rod's behest (which also isn't biblical)?

In any event, Earth Hour has now passed over New Zealand, and in this household the lights were turned out only after the preparation of a little snack.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Stroking Gerry's Ego

More brain-dead bumf from the "hand me a press release and we'll print it" school of Oklahoma journalism. Oh gee, a full color two-page spread extolling the virtues of the Flurry cult's concert series. Be still my beating heart!

This travesty appeared in a lifestyle rag called Distinctly Oklahoma. The PCG leadership is delighted and is trumpeting the feature on its own website. Obviously its clientele is easily impressed.

All the sweeter then to see that Alexa ratings have Bob Thiel's amateur LCG-devotee blog and website consistently pulling a hugely better rating (162,186) than the horrendously expensive Flurry website (485,610). In fact AW itself - another highly amateur effort - is also currently a couple of tads ahead of PCG (467,077). Sadly, unlike the Edmond empire builders, neither Bob nor myself accept money.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Son of Rambow and playtime in Jerusalem

Son of Rambow: No, it's not a typo. This is a 2007 British film that's done the Sundance circuit. Set in the 80s, and produced by the same team who brought us Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it tells of a couple of kids - one a classic tearaway and the other raised as a dutiful member of the Plymouth Brethren - who set out to make a film inspired by Rambo. Apparently Stallone himself gave it his blessing, and it's a great tale of childhood meshed with a whole lot of subtexts including commentary on restrictive religious movements. Actually, if it was a choice between the Brethren and the COGs, I'd choose the COGs every time. This film is very different, very humorous, and, IMHO, Son of Rambowis unmissable.

Son of Perdition: It seems Stephen Flurry has been waggling his tonsils to a suitably compliant journo at The Oklahoman, a publication that appears to have difficulty making the slightest sense of the term "investigative journalism." It seems kudos are being cast like confetti over the cult's participation - through their unaccredited college - in the archaeological dig in Jerusalem led by Eilat Mazar. The article is online. Also online are these apt comments from biblioblogger Dr Jim West.

I don’t know who this Stephen Flurry is, but if he’s looking for David’s ‘temple’ he really is barking up the wrong tree. But I bet whatever he and Eilat and the others at the site find, they will trumpet it as proof that they found exactly what they expected to find. That’s the way ‘biblical archaeology’ works- presuppositions chart the course and whatever’s found is forced to fit in. And then of course those claims are made into political statements intended to support Israeli occupation of this or that bit of dirt.

Actually the entire purpose of Mazar’s work is to legitimize Israeli occupation. It isn’t archaeology she’s doing, it’s pure ideology.

Jim is a perceptive chap. My understanding is that Stephen's only qualification for the position he holds as Dean of Students/College President is being Gerry's little boy - however if anyone can provide details of any relevant qualifications I might not be aware of, feel free to email them in.

Sunday 22 March 2009

The Way It Was

And almost certainly the way it still is in many of the pig-pen splinters of Armstrongism even to this day.

I have every reason in the world to hate religion. And after 20 years of only talking about this subject with very very few people I thought it was high time to face myself a little and open the door to my experience to those who have been abused in the face of religion, and if I can, to ferret out as to why I still love religion itself, why I study it, and why I feel that beauty can be found in matters of faith. Above all, I hope that my personal experience will help victims of abuse, particularly victims of spiritual, physical and mental abuse in conservative Christian churches. A recent study found that abuse in conservative Christian churches is five times higher than in secular society because it is not reported...

I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God during the period 1979-1992. Worldwide is a non-denominational church that used to be fairly restrictive, very conservative, and, I suspect, like many conservative non-denominational churches had a dirty secret that nobody talked about – spousal abuse. Spousal abuse is a difficult subject to talk about anyway, but when you add religion to it, it becomes a prison like no other for the faithful who are abused. For the woman who is faithful, abuse becomes a matter of faith and submission a religious maze that is impossible to navigate through. And by the time an abused woman navigates it, she uses precious time that she could have been using getting help.

My mother was severely beaten for the entire time we belonged to Worldwide. My father claimed he was beating her in order to “get her under submission” to him because the church taught that men were head of the households under Jesus Christ. My dad would try to explain to me while he was beating her that he was “saving” her soul for God by “beating Satan out of her.” He was always careful to not touch her face. He left bruises where they could be covered up. And lest you think my dad was somehow justified for beating her, he would also call her a whore. He called her a bitch. He called her every filthy name under the sun while he beat her. He even beat her with the Bible, beat her with a book that is supposed to be holy. He beat her so hard he broke the binding on one of his Bibles. He abused her psychologically, and the mental headgames that went on was like walking through a minefield.

You never knew what would set my dad off. Ever.
My mother tried to get help. She appealed to the pastor. The pastor made more trips to our house than he made to the grocery store. And the result was not in my mother’s favor. The pastor told my dad that my dad was in the right. He told my dad in front of my mother that my dad, as head of the household under Jesus Christ had the right, even the duty to “do whatever it took” to get my mother to submit. Over and over for 15 years my mother heard that tired litany, not just from one pastor, but from three and four pastors. And she tried. She stopped talking about anything controversial. She stopped offering opinions. She stopped drawing, because drawing annoyed my dad, because pursing anything she was personally interested in took time away from him. She stopped being a person and became what she would nervously jokingly term “a puppet.” When my dad was around she did exactly what he told her to do and said exactly what she thought he wanted to hear. The difficulty was in my house, saying “pass the salt” could start World War 3.

The violence escalated to the point where there came a day that my dad nearly killed her. He picked her up and threw her under the kitchen table and he threw her so hard she slid across the kitchen and hit her head on the kitchen sink cupboard doors hard enough to render her unconscious. I lived in fear for years, and suffer from anxiety today, which I take medication for. I lived in my room, with books, because I couldn’t bear to see that evil played out, and because I felt so powerless to stop it.

We’d go to church and be all happy and normal and the abuse was effectively–hidden. But not really. Worldwide broke up in 1996, and people I used to go to church with came forward and confessed they knew “something bad” was going on, but didn’t know what to do about it. I also heard stories of horrors going on that nothing was ever done about – spousal rape being near the top of the list. Again, nothing was done, because in most Christian churches “rape” doesn’t exist if you’re married.
In the 80’s, spousal abuse was just starting to be widely publicized.

My mother never called a crisis counselor. She never sought outside help. The reason why was because Worldwide told everybody that psychology was bunk, and if you trusted psychology, then you weren’t trusting God. Marriage counseling was only for pastors, and seeking outside professional counseling was taken as a lack of faith not only in the pastorate, but worse, in God. How many countless abused women hid their abuse like my mother did, never daring to seek outside help, because they feared what God would think of their lack of faith?

Never mind that the pastorate was woefully undertrained in issues of abuse, even in marriage counselling. The pastorate of Worldwide never went to a secular college; Worldwide had their own college to train ministers and ministers’ wives, and I can assure you that Abuse 101 was never a course you could take. It got to the point where our pastor didn’t know what to do anymore. And so by his poor counseling, which effectively okayed the abuse anyway, and by turning his back on us, and this elephant in the room that nobody talked about, he allowed a great evil to perpetrate itself for years on end.

And the worst part was watching my mother punish herself. If she could be more submissive, the abuse would stop–or so she thought. She prayed more, she submitted herself to the point of subjugating who she was until she no longer knew who she was. For her the abuse was a matter of faith. If she had enough faith, she reasoned, God would stop the abuse. And of course, this never happened. I prayed too. I prayed to God to make the violence stop. And he never did stop it. And so the abuse was looked at by our family as a test of faith. Suffering makes a person more holy according to Christian tradition, and this was the very thing that enabled the abuse to continue and escalate.

The pastor eventually lost his job due to escalating complaints about him from others in the congregation. I consider the loss of his job well deserved karma. He was never a man of God, and should never have been a man of God. He was a one man dictator, and he hurt a lot of people because of the way he wielded power. He got to decide everything, from what we wore to what we ate, what we participated in outside of church.

For my part, I was never allowed to participate in school activities because most of them were on Friday night and Saturdays, and Friday night to Saturday night was the Sabbath. It was that way for all the youth in our church. Girls were told their great goal in life should not be education, or self improvement, but to be married. The pinnacle for girls was to be married to a minister, so many girls went to Ambassador College to get, a lot of us joked, their MRS. degree. Women were second class citizens in that church, and I notice in conservative churches that women are second class citizens in those churches too. The focus on Quiverfull, the conservative church in which women function as baby machines is only one example of spiritual abuse that goes on in conservative Christian churches today, which is finally starting to get attention by the media.

You may want to check out the full account. Incredibly, this is the church that published screeds of material on building happy marriages and families.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Wolvertoons and Six-pack Gerry

We've been discussing the release of the Wolverton Bible, and one of the concerns people have raised is the copyright of Basil's art remaining with the WCG. Copyright means that something can't be used without permission of the copyright holder.

So why does the April issue of the Flurry Trumpet (page 37) use a Wolverton image as part of a "Commentary" article by Stephen Flurry? And why is no credit given to either the artist or owner? Actually that's not quite correct, in very small print at the bottom of the page it seems to indicate that it is a Trumpet image.


See for yourself by downloading the PDF (there's no picture with the html version.) Is this an act of wanton stupidity by the Flurry cult? Is there an understanding between PCG and WCG? Are the Wolvertoons actually in the public domain despite the copyright claims in the Wolverton Bible?

And what about the reproduction of all Wolverton's BS artwork by the Billingsley sect?


Monday 16 March 2009

UCG - fiddling with the World Wide Web

There's no doubt that UCG has an effective Internet presence, so much so that it runs rings around the doddery old fossils operating out of Charlotte, NC. But why rest on their laurels?

Enter GN Internet guru Aaron Booth, who dredges up a veritable fusillade of explosive ideas for the common herd to implement - all designed to further ratchet up the church's online impact.

Oh those UCG strategists... is there no end to their fiendish cleverness?

Brilliant! But I wonder if Aaron is familiar with the concept of "a two-edged sword"?

Saturday 14 March 2009

Mad Genius Bible

Word is out that the Wolverton Bible is now available on Amazon. The ultimate coffee-table book for all those who've been scre..., er, blessed by the WCG experience.

It's an art book, not a theological tome, and it's all the better for having lost the tendentious text. If your current church affiliation is all love, light, and warm fuzzies, this'll put the fear of God into your kids - or grandchildren - guaranteed!

Check out the cool page-turning preview on Flickr!

Gotta have one? Why, of course! Zip across now to Amazonand secure your copy for a special price of under twenty bucks ($16.49) while you can.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

BAR BAR Black Sheep

Unlike some of the worthier bibliobloggers, I quite like Biblical Archaeology Review. Dying disciplines need intelligent popularizers, for without them they would disappear in a puff of elitist self importance.

But the devil not only can quote scripture, as the old adage claims, he can also place ads in publications that will take cheques impregnated with brimstone. Hershel Shanks will take anybody's moolah it seems, and the latest issue proves it. Many of the ads are "Journal quality," and in fact two of them are COG-related (and both full page promotions).

The first is an updated ad for the Coulter Bible. We read now that Fred's version has been "heartily recommended" by something called the "International Society of Bible Collectors." From what I can tell this is a group of elderly enthusiasts with few academic pretensions, whose chief pleasure in life is collecting and displaying obscure translations. No wonder then that Fred's tome is recommended - it is certainly obscure! Fred is apparently desperate enough to take any endorsement he can get.

The second is for Century One Bookstore, based in Pasadena. There's an obvious if indirect COG connection here too (hey, you can pick up a copy of Restoring Abrahamic Faith there - knock yourself out!), but COB handles a wide variety of conservative fundagelical resources, including a few with scholarly "cred." These folk are in a different category to tithe-farming operations, so I don't think we need expect BAR to, um, bar them from their august pages. In fact, if you haven't cruised their website, you might enjoy checking it out.

Fred, though, is another matter. Why does BAR accept goofy ads for even goofier products? If the Reader's Digest could turn down booze ads, why can't Hershel Shanks demand that potential advertisers meet a few minimal criteria?

Of course, COG items are only part of the story. BAR is also promoting a musical rosary box (open it and it plays Ave Maria!), a two-foot tall stained glass cross bearing a picture of a bearded bloke in a sheet along with the words I am the Way the Truth and the Light, and "Believe" earrings.

Here's the weird thing. The actual magazine content - idiotic ads aside - is a cut above anything you'll find outside specialist publications and academic journals. At a time when serious publishers like Fortress Press are feeling the pinch, you'd think they'd be scrambling to buy space in BAR to grow their market. Instead we get shonky Bibles and crappy kitsch. Go figure.

Monday 9 March 2009

Thursday 5 March 2009

Wicked, wicked Bart!

You must not listen to Bart Ehrman on NPR. For starters he sounds just too darn reasonable. No, stay away. Even better, pull out a copy of The Good News instead, and maybe hum a little tune to help yourself ignore the evil fellow.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

AW scrapes into top half million

It may be a blip, and Alexa rankings are based on a limited sample (there's no absolute way to rank the countless web sites and blogs that pop in and out of existence), but today AW has nudged its way across the half million threshold to stand at 496,251. I might go crazy and break open a can of Diet Coke...

So here is the list of COG-related sites that constitute the shakers and movers, and in whose august company AW is honored to abide... if but for a short while... as a lonely critical voice.

1. UCG's Good News flagship: 80,884
2. Ronnie Weinland's 82,722
3. Gerry's Trumpet: 94,877
4. Alan Ruth's BS... meaning Bible Study: 117,254
5. UCG's official site: 126,262
6. Ritenbubba's Bible Tools: 150,088
7. Packatollah Dave's RCG: 159,740
8. Bob Thiel's spiel: 161,818
9. David Hulme's (COG-aic) Vision: 179,158
10. Spanky's monthly - Tomorrow Swirled: 185,013
11. Joe Jr.'s WCG: 191,584
12. David Sielaff/Ernie Martin (ASK): 347,678
13. Ritenbaugh's CGG: 358,709
14. Kubik: 412,565
15. The Living Church of Rod: 439,568
16. Gerry's PCG cult site: 464,429
17. AW: 496,521

Meanwhile renovations have been completed on our new World Headquarters building south of Auckland. As a gesture of goodwill I'm prepared to offer Greg Albrecht a swap of facilities (with PTM languishing at 504,999).

Monday 2 March 2009

Only the set has changed

On Thursday, February 26, Dr. Meredith and Mr. Ames each taped a new Tomorrow's World telecast on the new set, in our new studio building two doors down from the main Headquarters facility. Our thanks go out to all the brethren who prayed for God's blessing on the acquisition and renovation of the new building, and the design and implementation of the new set. (LCG media spin)

The gerontocracy that rules LCG has a swish new TV set at its disposal. There are two versions, one for Dick Ames (who is still able to stand) and one for Rod, who now needs to be wired into an upright position behind a desk.

But while Rod may be only too happy to slap around his audience with a state-of-the-art backdrop, what he is actually saying is likely to be nothing more than warmed-up left-overs from as far back as the 1950s, as is clearly demonstrated in a recent post on Living Armstrongism. It seems poor old Rod hasn't had an original thought - and few original words - in decades. Talk about "holding fast"!

But TV sets are another matter. Image is everything, and the Presiding Evangelist certainly learned from a highly competent ad man.

The measure of any one of us as a mature, growing human being, is our capacity to change and adapt, to extend our vision and horizons. To be thinking the very same thoughts as one did thirty (or fifty!) years ago is a confession that very little cranial activity is taking place.

But no mind, it is a very attractive set...