December 29, 2008
Continued from: Belief Changes
Up to that point, before reading all those books attacking the foundation of Christianity, I had tried to hold on to Christianity, but the idea of adopting the mainstream doctrine of hell really bothered me. It hadn’t been a problem in the past because the Church I belonged to, the Worldwide Church of God, at that time was similar to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and rejected the idea of the immortality of the soul and rejected the idea of an eternal conscious hell. The doctrine that the soul is destroyed in the Lake of Fire and ceases to be conscious after death – before and after a temporary resurrection – is called annihilationism. This was part of the original appeal of the Worldwide Church of God.
The Worldwide Church of God, until the early 1990’s, had followed the teachings of the late Herbert W. Armstrong but had also begun massive reforms under the new leadership of Joseph Tkach Sr.
Many members maintained the old belief system by leaving the Worldwide Church of God, so the old Armstrongist belief system continues today in different breakaway groups. I tried to work my way through the changes in doctrine and adopt a more orthodox and mainstream type of Christianity. But part of the original appeal of the old doctrines was their rejection of the eternal hell doctrine, and it was really impossible for me to adopt such a conscience-violating teaching that I felt was very unjust. From my perspective, the Church went too far in even hinting at overturning the annihilationist hell doctrine.
There is a book I found helpful when I struggled with my questions about the biblical view of hell, Four Views on Hell, which included conditional immortality (annihilationism), purgatorial, literal, and metaphorical views. I found a lot of support for my annihilationist beliefs but it seemed to me the Bible wasn’t definite enough about the subject. I wanted to believe in the Bible. Ultimately this topic just helped prove to me that Christianity and the Bible are a mass of vague confusions and even moral errors.
The first reforms were launched by the Church leadership, and they moved some of us away from Armstrong’s doctrines gradually. I paid close attention to their new doctrines and found their arguments very convincing. Unfortunately, they did not discuss openly the abusive cultism of the Church’s past, but their teachings were part of my transition. I started learning about other types of Christianity because I was open to them at that point. I was impressed with the play Shadowlands which became a movie soon after, and I started to read some of C.S. Lewis’ books. Also I was very interested in U2’s involvement with Christianity.
Since I was open to different types of religion, I read this amazing sensationalist book, supposedly on real-life exorcisms, by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, which is also loaded with heavy passages on theology. I also listened to Malachi Martin’s conversations with Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM.
In the early 90’s, I read online much of the facts about the Church’s corrupt past. Bruce Renehan’s book, The Daughter of Babylon, The True History of the Worldwide Church of God told the truth about the Church’s past and abusive history. Then later, someone started the Painful Truth website (different url in those days), which I found also very helpful in dealing with the changes.
I read through the entire Ambassador Report series by John Trechak, which documented the history of the Church from a critical point of view, and I really recommend this as an excellent resource on subjects concerning Herbert W. Armstrong and his doctrines. You can download the whole thing here.
By the way, a couple of famous members of the Worldwide Church of God included the chess player, Bobby Fischer, and the late J. Orlin Grabbe, a libertarian, who was connected with a site called Laissez-Faire City Times, which I discovered. See Memories of Pasadena.
Describing the appeal of the Worldwide Church of God in its early form is a long story. But I had been exposed too thoroughly to the authoritarian, fear-mongering, self-sacrificial and self-hating nature of Christian teachings which teaches us to hate our own nature. Such doctrines – turn the other cheek, don’t get angry, don’t “lust” – there is value in self-control, but taken to an extreme, they deny the self and amount to a religion that seems to be designed to keep people passive and controlled for the sake of others doing the controlling. Ultimately, as I mentioned, after a lot of study, I had to let my Christian beliefs go.
Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged was a powerful dose of medicine that helped rejuventate me after these massive belief changes. Her message was basically about freedom, that our lives matter, and that we should stand up for ourselves. I don’t think her job was to be moderate and correct about everything, so I didn’t adopt her exact belief system either. But I certainly believe there can be more stability and love in the world IF people begin with the principle of loving themselves first. Self-hatred leads to powerlessness, which allows unscrupulous people to dominate others. And this is the world we live in, and as individuals we need to assert our own power and rights.
Note about Ayn Rand: Jan 14, 2019 – I found Rand’s ideas helpful in the way I described, but I wouldn’t recommend adopting her over-emphasis on the individual or her ideology in general (or related ones either such as libertarianism), but to sift through ideas and pick what makes sense to you and reject what doesn’t. I believe that pre-existing ideologies of all flavors are laid out for people as traps to fall into, with most of them it seems having a destructive element that leads towards the “Brave New World” agenda.