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Ex-COG atheists beware: HWA may have the last laugh yet!

Herbert W. Armstrong passed from this earth on January 16th, 1986. As might be expected, many of his followers were left feeling somewhat unsettled and abandoned at his death. I know that as a devoted follower at that time, his death really bothered me. A quick check of my old 1986 journal showed that on that fateful Thursday I took his death pretty hard – it was nearly as hard as losing a parent, I wrote. I even shed a few tears (foolish me). But I took comfort in the “fact” that HWA now had it made. Talk about deluded thinking! (Where was that good swift kick in the pants when I really needed it?) Conversely, while some were mourning Armstrong’s death, there were quite a few people out there who had no use for the man, and had uttered a sigh of relief at the news of his demise. 

The passage of the past 17 years would tend to prove out that the latter group was much more justified in its reaction than the former. Facts uncovered in the years since Armstrong’s death have revealed that while he presented to the public the image of a white-haired, hard-driving, somewhat cultic but moral preacher, his true nature ran more toward a lifestyle of greed, lust and debauchery. As it has turned out, the world has been better off these past 17 years minus one Herbert W. Armstrong.

But the only problem is, even though Herbert Armstrong has long since been removed from the scene, his teachings and influence remain. The wake from the now sunken “S.S. Harmstrong” still radiates ever outward, however, and continues to capsize unsuspecting lives much as it did before its sinking, although on a much smaller scale. 

We’re all familiar with the plight of those whose lives continue to be held in the vise-grips of legalism and fear as taught by HWA. These are people who latched onto a man and an idea, not because it was God’s truth being revealed to them by a man of God (for indeed it wasn’t), but as I see it, for the following reasons:

1) they happened to possess the type of personality that is trusting, gullible, and easily persuaded

2) they had a spiritual hole in their soul that needed to be filled

3) they never regularly attended a healthy, gospel teaching church 

4) they had the need to feel important and special (don’t we all!)

5) they tended to react to things emotionally and intensely, and

6) time and chance brought them into contact with a super-salesman/deceptionist – Herbert Armstrong.

When all six of the above factors happen to converge in one hapless person, the stage is set for the creation of “the true believer.” This term I’ve borrowed from Eric Hoffer’s book, “The True Believer.” Eric basically defined a “true believer” as a person who insists on blindly continuing to hold on to his beliefs, even though he has seen ample proof that those beliefs are totally in error. The “true believer” finds so much comfort in his beliefs that he simply will not allow something as trivial as the truth to get in the way. This is a very fitting definition of those who have come under the influence of Armstrongism. 

The “true believer,” in my estimation, lives a life of extremes. His view of life is not normal by any stretch of the imagination. His thinking process could actually be compared to the swinging of a mental pendulum of reasoning, quite often going to the extreme right of normal (i.e., ultra-conservative, law-driven, legalistic, viewing God as harsh and demanding). 

The “true believer’s” beliefs are often originally based upon Biblical truth, but those beliefs have been enlarged and added to without proof until they are so blown out of proportion and extreme that they no longer resemble the original truths they were first based upon. I believe that these “right-swinging” Armstrongism believers were originally drawn to God and the Bible because of factors #2 and #4 above, but were led into extreme and unbalanced thinking and doctrines because of factors #1, #5 and #6.

Probably few of us, however, ever give thought to the fact that the “true believer’s” pendulum also swings to the left of center on occasion. While Armstrongism has created its own share of right-swinging extreme “true believers,” when that pendulum swings to the extreme left (i.e., ultra-liberal, “do your own thing,” atheistic or “God is a nebulous being”), without doubt the ultimate consequences can be much worse than those of its right-swinging counterpart. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed (how could one not notice?), but there are a lot more agnostic and atheistic postings on the ex-COG websites nowadays, such as “The Painful Truth” site, than there were just a few years ago. This phenomenon of a shifting to the left ties in perfectly with what I am talking about.

Remember this truism: In Armstrongism, the pendulum never swings to the extreme left until it first swings to the extreme right. The swing to the extreme left is actually an attempted correction of the original erroneous swing to the extreme right, except that, once again, it is overdone. 

Let’s examine the above statement. Every once in a while a certain number of Armstrongian “true believers” discover that they have been duped into following teachings that are neither the will of God nor taught in the Bible. They begin to realize that their legalistic and extreme right thinking and practices have not only cost them much of their freedom, but also have been systematically depleting their bank accounts. Once this light goes off in their heads, they usually react in one of two ways: 

1) After they get over their shock and anger, they calmly and thoroughly study the facts, begin to read widely from various Christian and secular sources, pray for guidance, and eventually correct their thinking so that their pendulum stops its swing and it becomes more or less centered on balanced truth; or

2) because of factor #5 above, they sometimes overreact. It is this overreaction that creates the swing to the extreme left. “True believers,” upon discovering that they have been made a fool of in the name of religion and God, often, in an angry overreaction are now primed and ready to read and believe articles by those who reject God and the Bible. They believe that God and religion have betrayed them, and they want to strike back at the cause of their pain. 

Or they may have lost all confidence in their ability to discern between truth and fiction regarding God and religion, and in a self-defensive mode, have decided to reject all that they once thought of as true…just in case they were wrong. This, combined with the fact that the very mention of the subject of God or the Bible now gives rise to feelings of gullibility and vulnerability, sets them up to view God and religion in general with revulsion, even hatred. 

Just as bad, sometimes the exhilaration of throwing off the burden of legalism is so great that they decide to carry it one step further, and throw off all moral restraint. Not that they intend to begin living an immoral lifestyle, it’s just that they find it very liberating to no longer have to recognize God or a church as having any authority over them. Because of factors #1, #3 and #4 they will once again bypass the step of doing the thorough research of studying articles and books giving the pros and cons of God’s existence and of the Bible’s reliability. Instead, they will focus their energies on anti-God literature and websites, and will begin to actively espouse the exact opposite of what they once believed, based solely upon having read and believed one-sided inflammatory articles. This knee-jerk reaction is more typical than you might imagine.

This flip-flop in belief does not occur because the former believer has now proven that God doesn’t exist, or that the Bible can’t be trusted; any more than they first began to follow Armstrong because they had proven that he taught the truth. It’s not a matter of proof, but of gullibility and emotionalism. They have not stopped to analyze what it is about their own nature and personality that always seems to have them “leaping before they look” or believing before they investigate. They fail to see that their very nature causes them to respond more emotionally than reasonably. 

And they are paying the price for this folly. Their lives are lacking in true peace and happiness. In many cases bitterness and revenge lie just below the surface, tainting everything they do. As the Bible so accurately states, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” There are more than enough ways for each of us to personally verify the existence of God, and the basic validity of the Bible, if we are open-minded and seeking real truth. No one has to keep stumbling from extreme to extreme in their beliefs, if they are willing to unemotionally assess their situation. But alas, it appears that these “true believers,’ forever unaware of the history of what caused their deception in the first place, are doomed to repeat it. 

This “once bitten, twice shy” attitude regarding God can be much more eternally destructive than having stayed in a cult, because now they have not just rejected false religion and two-faced preachers (which is fine), but God himself (a definite no-no). These newly proclaimed atheists have gleefully leapt from the frying pan into the fire, smiling all the while. Their cock-sure attitude regarding the demise of their belief in God and/or the Bible is reminiscent of the attitude of the extreme right Armstrongian true believer. This is not surprising, as it arises from the same stiff-necked spirit of “I’m one of the few who now knows the truth! I’m special, and you’re deceived!”

Little do they realize that the “master potter” who has molded the clay of their thinking into what it is today is none other than Herbert Armstrong. They despise this man and all that he stands for, but nonetheless, as a direct result of his influence in their lives, they proudly stand as atheists today. He has been the prime shaper of their destiny, and therefore it appears that he will be having the last laugh. 

For Herbert has not only (from all appearances) destroyed his own chance for eternal life and damaged the chances of many of his followers, but he may have even managed to reach out from the grave and snatch the chance for eternal life from many of those who somehow were able to see through his schemes and lies. What bitter irony! What “a revoltin’ development this is!” - to quote Chester A. Riley from 1950’s TV. To allow one of such low character to not only steal one’s past, but to compound the injury by allowing him to also steal one’s future! I guess in the final analysis this would be equivalent to allowing someone to cut off your nose in order to spite your face! 

Just think … these spurners of God may someday have to stand before a God that they didn’t even think existed, and to possibly face a fate that will make them wish they had never been born. I am not so foolish as to assume that all atheists and spurners of God will necessarily be condemned, as only God can read the intent of the heart and make proper judgment. But why would any truly thinking individual want to put themselves into the hands of the living God with a sneer on their face? Because they didn't believe he existed? 

Not a good excuse, as the awesomeness of creation literally screams out that there is a creator. Romans 1:20 states, "For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."

What a shock it will be to them to find that they are in the very same boat as the person that they regarded as the lowest of the low! To have rightly rejected falsehood but along with it truth….that’s like winning the lottery but then losing the ticket! Arrrrrgh!!! Talk about having a bad day! 

Yes, Herbert Armstrong will likely have the last dry-mouthed, fear-filled, wobbly-kneed laugh, as he looks into the face of God at some future judgment date. At that moment you may be sure that Herbert will lose control of every orifice and sphincter muscle in his body. It will not be a pretty sight. 

But also at that moment he will likely gain just a tiny bit of selfish solace in the knowledge that he brought some hapless souls along with him to share in his agony. Yes, misery certainly does seem to love company. There will no doubt be many joining him there who will wish desperately that they hadn’t been so foolish as to have allowed him his final laugh. 

Final Note:

All is not lost, however. These Armstrong-created atheists can even yet escape from this potential future nightmare. Where there is life, there is hope. If there were ever two subjects that would warrant a little more open-minded research on their part, the subjects of the existence of God and the validity of the Bible would definitely qualify. It would behoove them to realize that there exists the very real probability that they have become stuck in a vicious cycle of extreme thinking and overreacting, and steps need to be taken if they are ever to get back to balanced, fact-based thinking.

The steps for getting out of atheism are the same as for getting out of Armstrongism or any other cult or unbalanced belief system:

1) Admit that you could very well be wrong in your beliefs. Face the fact that it just might be possible. Realize that you have nothing to lose by re-examining your beliefs.

2) Put aside all of the preconceived ideas and one-sided “facts” that you have accumulated regarding the subject under study, and be willing to start a new, unprejudiced investigation from scratch. 

3) Do extensive research. Use an internet search engine (such as google.com) to help you get information on both sides of the issue or subject. (For example, in researching about the existence of God, one might choose to study evolution vs. creation. An excellent site for doing this is at www.scienceagainstevolution.org. Once there, click on the “topical index.” This site makes available information both supporting and opposing evolution, but as the name suggests, emphasizes the evidence against evolution, as that is where the credible evidence leads.) 

Find books and literature in the library or through the internet on the subject. Look for discussion groups on the internet or in your neighborhood on both sides of the subject or issue, and compile a list of the strongest and weakest points they make.

4) Get counsel from those who have had experience with and are knowledgeable about the subject you are investigating. Ask them for further contacts you might talk with, and other books you might read on the subject.

5) Even if you do not believe in God, humble yourself enough to admit that you may have been mistaken about his existence (see step 1 above), and say, “God, if you do by chance exist, please make yourself real to me and help me to make right decisions. Help my research to succeed in finding the truth.” If God does not exist, you have lost nothing, but if he does exist (and he does), then you have tapped into the greatest source of power in the universe.

6) Evaluate the results after taking the above 5 steps, and make your conclusions accordingly. If you have followed the above steps with sincerity, honesty and energy, the chances of your conclusions being accurate are very high.

Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya! ,o)


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