"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
I believe that there are many “walking wounded” exCOGers out there who are in dire need of what Mr. Peale has to offer in his books. Many feel alienated from God and religion and desperately need help. Many of those who have escaped Armstrongism have been left so disoriented and confused about God and religion that they no longer wish to have anything to do with either. And quite a few of those who are in this unenviable condition probably find themselves sitting in a darkened room on occasion, scratching their heads and wondering how, oh how, they got into this sorrowful state of affairs; for they started out with a sincere hunger for God and a desire to have a real relationship with him.
“A drunk will choose another drink over helping a friend or relative out of a dire life-threatening situation. A WCG member chooses religion over "carnal" or "worldly" family members. Drunks and addicts are often very abusive to family or children. WCG members, intoxicated on religion, frequently beat the crap out of their kids, and used their wives as a foot wiping mat, or slave! Addictive personalities always victimize the financial stabilities of themselves and those close to them. Those intoxicated on the WCG, gave up financial stability, their kids' college educations, and retirement plans to respond to each of HWA's emergency letters. See the pattern? But it gets worse. Even a drunk or addict would eventually take his or her child to obtain medical attention in case of injury or severe illness, but not someone intoxicated on the WCG! Religious intoxication is perhaps the most insidious addiction of all.
Killing Bible Study
Closely allied with its (the WCG’s) hatred and suspicion of creative activity
is its severe censorship. Creation and communication are vital components of
freedom and individuality, but these are states the organization wishes to
discourage. Members are forbidden to discuss religious subjects, which is seen
as "preaching" or "holding a private Bible Study," a serious
usurpation of the ministry's role. Thus, the pleasure of sharing things with
your peers, comparing experiences or texts, or discussing new discoveries are
all put under the cloud of "heresy," a word of warning heard
repeatedly on members' lips. This fear cuts the member off from one of the ways
that Bible study can be kept interesting--the sharing of new insights on
Inch by inch, the Worldwide Church of God begins to kill the member's
individuality and his genuine religious experience. Bible study goes from being
a joy to a burden, by making it a duty whose insights cannot be shared--indeed,
by putting a fear of heresy into a member's mind, the organization makes him
afraid of making any new discoveries: after all, heresies can exist also in your
This is less honest than my own mother's upbringing: as a Catholic, in those
days, she was forbidden to look at or own a Bible, because of the danger of
reading and misinterpreting something best left to the priest. Opening her first
Bible, as a grown woman, was an act of great moment for her. The Worldwide
Church of God, however, extols personal Bible study, then begins to create a
dread of it in the members' minds. This puts the member into a double-bind, or
dilemma: he's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. All of the WWCOG
teachings which have hidden opposites set people up in this no-win situation.
This is useful to the organization, because, as in this case, once the member
begins avoiding Bible study, he develops a guilt he can be manipulated by.
Prayer is another area slowly eroded by the atmosphere of the church. Since the
overriding emphasis is on reaching God through the medium of the church, private
prayer begins to feel somehow disloyal to the church, and God begins to seem
farther and farther away, and less and less real. Many times, the honest member
will want to talk to God about what is happening to him, what the church is
doing to him. He feels too paralyzed with guilt to do so.
If the agonies of his heart are off-limits in prayer, because God is on the
organization's side (isn't He on the Organization Chart?) what Advocate can a
member have--or what hope? Is it any wonder that the fruits of the spirit of the
Worldwide Church of God are fear, dread, and despair, rather than the fruits of
the spirit of God, which are love, joy, and peace? St. John tells us that
"perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment" (I John
4:18); he also says that those who hate their brothers and claim to love God are
liars (v.20), which ought to give this organization serious pause.
The member has now been robbed of the joy of Bible study, and the comfort of
prayer: he is consumed with guilt because he is not praying or studying like he
used to, he doesn't understand why, and fear of the Lake of Fire begins to
insinuate itself into his daily thoughts. On top of this, in order to keep the
spirit of the Sabbath, the member must not only refrain from unnecessary
work, but devote himself to those two things he has learned to dread (emphasis
mine). He now has the third sin of Sabbath-breaking on his conscience,
and with each mark against him he becomes ever more vulnerable to the molding of
the organization: after all, aren't they telling him repeatedly to do those
things he is neglecting?
It must be his own sin. Of course, it is easy to lose interest in something once
the first flush has worn off, but this is where the organization's history
clarifies the situation. If all this were merely the flagging of interest after
the first conversion experience, why did this vicious cycle of guilt followed by
inability to pray or study, uncommon enough before 1979, become epidemic in that
year when, due to the Receivership on the church, the organization was starting
the first of several purges to come? At that time I saw fear, doubt, and despair
replace the earlier interest and joy. Certainly so many hundreds of people did
not lose the first flush of conversion in one year!
Most members did not connect the two. They were afraid of being purged, and
tried their best to get right with the organization, in the belief that this was
the way to a place in God's own heart. Meanwhile, their spiritual life began to
wither rapidly, the more they believed and identified with the terror tactics of
I think that both Bob and Jesse have really put their finger on several of the
causes of “religion burnout” so
common among those exposed to Armstrongism.
I have at times myself felt this very strong pull to just chuck
everything relating to religion. How
many times have I picked up the Bible, intending to read from it, but ended up
laying it aside as I realized that just the act of opening it and looking at a
few familiar verses, for some strange reason, brought with it an inexplicable
cloud of gloom.
I think that both Bob and Jesse have really put their finger on several of the causes of “religion burnout” so common among those exposed to Armstrongism. I have at times myself felt this very strong pull to just chuck everything relating to religion. How many times have I picked up the Bible, intending to read from it, but ended up laying it aside as I realized that just the act of opening it and looking at a few familiar verses, for some strange reason, brought with it an inexplicable cloud of gloom.
I received a letter from a lady in Philadelphia whose little boy, named Carl, was troubled with fears. He was having nightmares; he was afraid of his playmates; he had grown thin and was constantly tired. She wanted to know if she could come to see me. Well, there is nothing sadder than a little boy full of fear and I wanted to help if possible, so we fixed an appointment.
When the time for the appointment arrived, it was a beautiful spring-like day, which was a bit unusual as it was the fifteenth of January. When this mother walked in (she came without Carl), I made some passing remark about what a fine day it was.
“Sickness weather,” said this woman. “It’s not healthy to have it warm this time of the year. Watch out for influenza when you get a warm stretch in January.”
That was just the start. This woman was afraid of everything. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, she mentioned that she had not brought her son with her from the hotel because she was afraid of the “dirty” air in the subways. She was afraid of all the “foreigners” she saw on the streets. She was afraid to go up on the Empire State Building for fear of the pressure on her ears. This was the tone of her talk. After we had visited in this way for a while, I brought the conversation around to Carl. I mentioned to her that his problem was by no means unique.
“So many children have fears,” I said. “Where do you think they come from?”
This woman didn’t know. She thought perhaps children were born with their fears.
“Not at all,” I said. “Most fears are acquired from the people around them, especially, of course, from their parents.”
“What you’re trying to say is that Carl gets his fears from me?”
“I assure you this is nothing to be ashamed of,” I said. “It is the way of human nature. You probably picked up your own fear thoughts from your parents and they came from their parents and so on. The important thing is to break the chain.”
“And how can I do that?’
“With positive thinking. Fear is a negative thought, and one helpful way to get rid of it is to think of your mind as a scale, a balance. On one side of the scale are all your negative thoughts. On the other side are all of your positive thoughts. Right now, our scale is pretty badly out of balance; your negative thoughts far outweigh your positive thoughts…and, of course, these are being reflected in your son. The solution is to outweigh your fears.
“Try this method. The next time you have a negative thought, put a positive thought in the other scale. Take, for instance, the weather. It’s a beautiful day outside. When you leave here, say to yourself, ‘What a health-giving day! In fact it’s so unusually clear that this would be a good day to take Carl up the Empire State Building to see the view.’”
The woman laughed—but doubtfully, “Do you think it would really work?” I replied, “It will work. Stick with it until that emotional scale is completely balanced; and then stick with it some more, until your positive thoughts outweigh your negative thoughts. When you have done this for, let us say, three months, let me know how Carl’s fears are coming.”
It was more than three months before I heard from this woman, nearer six, actually. But she really did make the experiment. When she finally wrote me, her letter reflected a state of healthy, happy excitement.
“You’ve no idea what an amazing effect on our lives this simple plan of outweighing your fears
has had. We have had to do a lot of struggling with them, but I do believe they are under much better control. Carl is much more relaxed and has fun with his playmates. He no longer seems so afraid or tense. I like to feel that I have, at last, broken that chain of inherited fears. One of these days I hope I can report that they are conquered altogether.”
(Mr. Peale continues) The basic idea employed here is an indirect approach to the problem of handling fears. Instead of tackling the anxiety and fear directly, by which process they often refuse to budge, we tried the indirect method of floating the fears out. This is one of the best strategies for ridding yourself of fears; much better than trying to force them out by mustering your will power, which may be weak anyway. Rather let the rising tide of faith do the job for you. Fill your mind with such a large quantity of faith that your fears will actually be floated away. By this method God’s power will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Your part is simply to believe, trust and surrender yourself to His power. Let His tremendous strength lift you above fear.
Those who have used this principle of positive thinking in dealing with fear have had amazing results. But how do you fill your mind with faith to this degree? One of the methods is what we call the practice of the presence of God. Next time you are afraid, next time your heart pounds or anxiety clutches your mind, repeat the following seven confidence-building words from Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not; for I am with you.” Say them over and over to yourself, listen intently to them as if God were actually with you speaking to you. He is, of course, so try to sense His presence. When you are able to do this with a sense of conviction, then you will experience release from your fears.
Wow! I think we can really relate to the above account. HWA trained us in the ways of fear, not of faith. The real spirit behind Armstrongism was not one of faith, as he purported, but was in actuality the spirit of fear and self-preservation. He placed such an unnecessary burden upon our backs regarding making it to the place of safety, observing days and food laws, three tithes, and trying to avoid “worldly” customs that, more often than not, that was all we could focus on.
1. Say to yourself, “Fear and worry are very bad mental habits. And I can change any habit with God’s help.
2. You became a worrier by practicing worry. You can become free of fears and worries by practicing the opposite and stronger habit of faith. With all the strength and perseverance you can command, start practicing faith.
3. How do you practice faith? First thing every morning before you arise say out loud, “I believe,” three times.
4. Pray, using this formula, “I place this day, my life, my loved ones, my work in the Lord’s hands. There is no harm in the Lord’s hands, only good. Whatever happens, whatever results, if I am in the Lord’s hands it is the Lord’s will and it is good.”
5. Practice saying something positive concerning everything about which you have been talking negatively. Talk positively. For example, don’t say, “This is going to be a terrible day.” Instead, affirm, “This is going to be a glorious day.” Don’t say, “I’ll never be able to do that.” Instead, affirm, “With God’s help I will do that.”
6. Never participate in a worry conversation. Shoot an injection of faith into all your conversations. A group of people talking pessimistically can infect every person in the group with negativism. But by talking things up rather than down you can drive off that depressing atmosphere and make everyone feel hopeful and happy.
7. One reason you are fearful and a worrier is that your mind is literally saturated with apprehension thoughts, defeat thoughts, gloomy thoughts. To counteract, mark every passage in the Bible that speaks of faith, hope, happiness, glory, radiance. Commit each to memory. Say them over and over again until these creative thoughts saturate your subconscious mind. Then the subconscious will return to you what you have given it, namely optimism, not worry.
8. Cultivate friendships with hopeful people. Surround yourself with friends who think positive, faith-producing thoughts and who contribute to a creative atmosphere. This will keep you restimulated with faith attitudes.
9. See how many people you can help cure their own fear and worry habit. In helping others to overcome, you get greater power over it within yourself.
10. Every day in your life conceive of yourself as living in partnership and companionship with Jesus Christ. If He actually walked by your side, would you be worried or afraid? Well, then, say to yourself, “He is with me.” Affirm aloud, “I am with you always.” Then change it to say, “He is with me now.” Repeat that affirmation three times every day.
These are steps that can really help those recovering from a destructive cultic experience. This is why I am recommending Norman Vincent Peale’s books – they may be just what the doctor ordered! They are just chock-full of story after story of changed lives, and pointers on how to achieve change in one’s own life. I have found his books to be inspiring from cover to cover. Those who have read his books have in many cases had their lives totally changed, whether they were previously involved in a cult or not. One of my favorite stories of just such a changed life comes from the chapter entitled “Excitement and the Power,” from “The Positive Power of Jesus Christ,”(1980). As Mr. Peale relates:
The more completely the power (of Christ in us) takes hold of one, the more exciting life becomes. Indeed, it has been my observation that the power enhances the capacity to be excited. An in-depth spiritual experience inevitably brings an effervescent, though emotionally controlled, excitement. I have known dull and lethargic persons to come alive, astoundingly so, when they began living on a Christ-centered basis. People for whom life was only an uninspired routine of one thing after another suddenly became vital, even vibrant and excited about everything.
They were actual demonstrations of the Scripture, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Such persons began to “walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:4) every day a new and thrillingly fresh experience. Everything for such persons became wonderfully different because they were themselves different when Christ took over within them. Even their awareness was sharpened to a keener sensitivity; excitedly they tell about ordinary light and color being enhanced, the songs of the birds sweeter, common things suddenly endowed with amazing beauty.
An example of this is the man who made an appointment with me to discuss his personal problems. He poured out a mass of negative and unhappy thoughts and fulminated bitterly on how “absolutely lousy everything and everybody is.” He said he had made the appointment to get my advice, but instead of giving me a chance to do any advising he went into a tirade against the church and religion generally and preachers in particular. “How come you take the time to talk to me if you dislike preachers so much?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re different,” he replied. “You’re not religious; you’re a positive thinker. And let me tell you, I’m not going to have anyone telling me that I need God. As a matter of fact, I hate God – if there is a God. So please tell me what I need to get some meaning out of this no-account life,” he concluded dejectedly.
“God,” I said.
“What’s that you say?” he sputtered.
“God,” I repeated. “You need God, for only He can straighten out the mess in your mind. Only God can give you healing and peace and joy, and He can do all that and more, that’s for sure. You need God.”
The man glared at me and, jumping to his feet, shouted, “So, you are just like all the rest – just a God-talker! I thought you were a better educated, intelligent, and sophisticated man, same as I am.”
“I guess you don’t know what the word sophistication means” I interjected. “It means to know your way around in the world. Obviously you don’t know your way around very well, for you are mixed up, hurt, and unhappy. So once again I say you need God.”
My visitor apparently was angry with me, but perhaps even more so with himself. “God, God – always God,” he muttered, and growling a short good-bye, he stomped out into the late afternoon winter darkness.
An hour later, just as I was about to leave my office in the church, my secretary called on the intercom. “That man is back, and he looks wild. Says he’s just got to see you.”
“All right, send him in.” The man came rushing in and, indeed, he was rather wild-eyed and bewildered looking. “For God’s sake,” he exclaimed, “what has happened to me? Am I going nutty? Help me, Dr. Peale, please help me!” He told me a strange though not necessarily unique story. He said that when he stomped out of the church he turned to the right on 29th Street walking toward Broadway, muttering angrily, “God, God, that’s all those fools know – God. God – !”
Then suddenly, to his astonishment, it seemed that everything was bathed in brilliant light; the drab streets became beautiful, as did the faces of the people he passed. The sidewalks seemed to undulate and he felt that he was walking, or rather, floating upright above the sidewalks. He could not understand why the passersby took no notice of him or the blinding light that enveloped him. He was uplifted, wondrously happy, and as light as air. But frightened also, and puzzled. Ah, he knew now. He had gone crazy!
He turned and rushed back to tell me about it and to implore help. “For God’s sake, help me,” he pleaded.
“You’ve said it,” I replied. “It’s for God’s sake you have had this experience. God is calling you to Himself. He wants you to be His own. My friend, you have had a rare and marvelous experience of the mystical presence of God Himself, such as is given to very few people. God must love you very much and believe in you to so reveal Himself.”
He was stunned. I watched as he passed through kaleidoscopic emotions and a series of reactions. “It’s unbelievable! Absolutely unbelievable. Even now I feel …” he struggled for the word “…exalted, that’s it—exalted! And clean—so clean. As though I had been washed. Fresh and clean. Everything is so very different. I never felt this way before.”
“Some other people have,” I told him. Then I took up a Bible and read to him about a similar experience that another and perhaps not too different type of man had once, a man named Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, on the road to Damascus.
“But why me?” asked my visitor. “I’m not spiritual.”
“The answer is that I don’t know why,” I replied. “But you can count on it that God has His reasons. As for not being spiritual, I can only say that you have just had an overwhelming spiritual experience. God will tell you what He wants of you if now, this very moment, you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.”
He nodded. “I do, indeed,” and after a long silence he said, “I guess maybe that is what I’ve wanted for a long time and didn’t realize it.”
Again my visitor went out into the winter night, but this time as a very different person. He returned to Brooklyn and, as he later told me, spent a long time in prayer, during which guidance came that he was to dedicate his life to witnessing to the “intellectuals” with whom he associated. He himself was engaged in the international banking field and was a member, though not active, of Alcoholics Anonymous. He became outstandingly effective in bring people to Christ, who, because he had been so completely turned off, might never have known God had it not been for this remarkable man. His excitement for Christ was boundless, and he communicated an equally exciting new life to many others. The total occurrence was an impressive and unforgettable demonstration of the positive power of Jesus Christ.
As I have since considered this extraordinary story of life-changing, it was evident that at first this man was deeply hurting for lack of exuberance or zest in living. He was afflicted with a deadening case of ennui and even disgust with everything and everyone, including himself. Actually, he was starved for excitement. More and deeper life was his need. He was looking vaguely and inexpertly down the usual dead ends for that vibrant quality that makes life exciting. But when, through an astonishing circumstance, he encountered God and Jesus Christ, his life became filled with excitement, both within himself and outwardly toward life itself. He then proceeded to convey the inherent excitement of Christianity to all who had the good fortune to touch the activated personality of this reborn man.
Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya! ;o)