Saturday, June 9, 2012

Andrew On "Aspiring to Second-Rate Dreams"

Aspiring to Second-Rate Dreams

When you go to college, everyone has their first choice, and then a string of other colleges for safety. It’s more important to go to college, than to go to THE college you want to go to, so, if your first choice school rejects you, then you wind up spending four years at a “safety” school. That happened to me, so I know what it feels like. It feels like the world is telling you you’re actually something less than you hoped you were. But, on the other hand, no one is immune from having their dreams abridged by circumstances in one way or another.

Herbert Armstrong was born into 19th century Victorian society, a society whose values would persist until he was 22 years old, when the First World War would destroy everything. Nevertheless, Herbert would attempt to recreate that society and its values within all his spheres of influence for the rest of his life. Make no mistake, the European social order prevailed in America just as much as it did in any of the other European colonies around the world. But unlike the old world, because of the early independence of the United States, as long as you were white, membership in the new world’s social upper classes was up for grabs. Any man of the superior race who could make his fortune could make a case for his own elite status among the other American “nobility.” This appears to be the singular thing about which Herbert was most acutely aware.

Even as a young sales and advertising executive, Herbert always believed in his own aristocracy. He saw himself as someone who ought to belong to the most elite class of society. He dreamed of becoming a powerful businessman and rubbing shoulders with captains of industry, senators, and kings. However, one does not usually make the kind of fortune necessary to join the ranks of American aristocracy without being able to benefit financially from the efforts of others. Also, in order to be a card-carrying member of the elite club and gain the respect of other aristocrats, one generally needed to not only have money, but also to demonstrate his power and status. This means that one really ought to be able to boast that he has his own company when he goes out to mingle at the country and yacht clubs.

Unfortunately, Herbert would somehow manage to lose his fortunes as quickly as he could make them. Luckily for Herbert, he could avoid taking responsibility for his mismanagement by spinning it as no fault of his own, because it was god’s doing all along. The entire point of his autobiography is how, although Herbert wanted to be a captain of industry, god wanted to make him into his one-and-only end-time apostle, just like the story of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. At least, that’s what Herbert wanted to sell to his followers. And sell it he did. Herbert was a born salesman.

Where Herbert failed to become a captain of industry, he succeeded in the non-profit sector, by building a Victorian-era church. Within this church, he reinvented the old social class order of the previous century, despite the fact that within broad society, all of these class structures were steadily being eroded. Nevertheless, he realized that either sector could be just as financially lucrative for him as an individual. As a non-profit, he could conscript an army of volunteers, and pay his employees below-market wages, leaving sufficient funds so that he could still manage lead his own personal “life of Riley.” It did not matter that those funds were donated, rather than earned, because at the end of the day, a dollar is a dollar and every dollar talks the same language. Herbert eventually used "god's money" to buy his way into elite circles and lived out his lifelong dream to rub shoulders with kings.

Unfortunately, this was not the original plan, but a strictly second-rate “safety” dream. I think Herbert was privately disappointed with himself that he didn't wind up as the CEO of his own advertising firm. Herbert wanted to be able to stand toe-to-toe on equal terms with the Kennedys and other members of the elite, but as a churchman, they would never quite take him completely seriously. It must have felt like the world was telling him he wasn’t quite as elite as he had hoped. Nothing could make up for this. I bet that upon his deathbed, he must have been secretly miserable.

One conclusion that can be drawn from a private “behind the scenes” viewpoint on Herbert’s life is that the only people he could ever have respect for were other members of the elite social class to which he aspired. By definition, anyone in his own organization, either as paid employees or as paying members of the volunteer army were merely among the "help," and I am sure he had nothing but private contempt for any of us. Our job was to keep his silver polished and shut the eff up. Maybe we were deserving of a certain amount of contempt for being such credulous fools, or maybe we weren’t, I am not sure. (It is not my point to here discuss how much contempt we ought to have for such hucksters as Herbert.) At any rate, the abuses within Armstrongism are easily explained by understanding that Herbert was committed to using all the tricks and tactics that the upper classes had always used - religion being chief among these - to keep the lower classes down in their "proper" place.

When you realize that this is the hard truth, it makes Dave Pack, Ron Weinland, Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, and all the other Herbert Armstrong wannabes seem totally ridiculous. If they really wanted to be another Herbert Armstrong, they ought to have aspired to Herbert’s first-choice dream by starting their own Fortune 500 company so they could mingle with other CEO's. Instead they have aspired only to Herbert’s second-rate “safety” dream. But even so, why would anyone want to be a carbon copy of someone else in the first place? Why don’t these overinflated minions of Herbert have dreams of their own? I guarantee that if Herbert were to rise from the grave today, he would have nothing but contempt for his many impersonators. On balance, that contempt would definitely be justified.



Douglas Becker said...

For those of us with a copy of the DSM IV, this all points the picture of a narcissist with a very sick mental disorder, further complicated by the fact that he was also short and fat. He didn't have the money, he didn't have much of an educated and he was not well-born to be any kind of royalty. He was a totally self-made man, missing some parts, badly constructed and not having the tools to make himself into a high quality human being.

He bragged so many time that he made someone or other "eat their words" showing he was a small petty man who had to win at any cost.

He had to buy his way into the presence of those who could give him the status he perceived he wanted, but pretty much anyone who ever was with him for any length of time generally ended badly (and today former egyptian president Hosni Mubarak seems to be in jail, while it seems just like yesterday Herbert Armstrong was dangling a $100,000 check in front of him).

He sort of got what he wanted in his pasionate lust to "be someone" but at a great cost: His own humanity and our dollars that went nowhere but to build his gigantic ego.

Now that I have discovered who he really was and in light that I am far more technologically competent than he could ever hope to be, I find him useless to me in the scheme of things (except as a curious artifact as a narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, nutjob and kook -- of the which I have long ago tired of) and hold him in complete contempt as being stupid and worthless.

As for Dave Pack, Ron Weinland, Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, and all the other Herbert Armstrongists, they have picked the wrong star to follow, striving to hold together a 19th Century Victorian Society alternative science fiction type alternative which should not have existed, never has existed and cannot ever exist, no matter what level of psychosis they achieve in the remnants of their dead false prophet pattern of ultimate failure as a human being.

Anonymous said...

Very good analogy.

I am still in disbelief that I ever became part of the HWA fraud.

Lake of Fire Church of God said...

Excellent and insightful post, Andrew.

Andrew said, "Why don’t these overinflated minions of Herbert have dreams of their own? I guarantee that if Herbert were to rise from the grave today, he would have nothing but contempt for his many impersonators".

MY COMMENT - You bet your ass HWA would have nothing but contempt for his many apostle wannabes - all of them. No truer words were ever spoken!

John said...

Re: Herbert Armstrong's motives, it turns out he got into it for the money, and that's what no one less than his own wife, Loma, admitted to a minister's daughter whilst reminiscing with her about how it all began. Even William Dankenbring relates the story a friend was told by Garner Ted himself about how "when his father was in the aluminum siding business back in Oregon, he got a call from far away to make a bid on a job. Herbert jacked up the price because he didn't want the job, the location was so distant. To his surprise, the customer said, 'When can you get started?' It turns out the customer was the minister of a Seventh Day Adventist Church, and had plenty of money from tithes and offerings. According to Ted Armstrong, upon returning home that evening, Herbert--who all his life wanted to be considered successful in business and make lots of money--told his wife, 'Honey, I now know how we're going to get rich!'" And we all know the rest of the story...

Lake of Fire Church of God said...


Thank you for your post. That is the story I heard in my youth sometime in the 1970s. I can't remember who told it to me, but the event you describe probably happenned just prior to or simultaneously with Mrs. Runcorn and Loma's sabbath challenge.


John said...

It certainly does make you wonder Richard what others knew at the time that's for sure! I didn't learn of it until a few years ago myself, but I couldn't remember where I had heard or read of it. And then I recall you related a similar story in a post not too long ago and it sounded vaguely familiar and so I did some more research and came across Dankenbring's article. I'm starting to look up other works that document the controversial history of WCG during that period, including Robinson's "Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web," McNair's "Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-off?," Hinson's "Broadway to Armageddon" and Renehan's "Daughter of Babylon". The former three are actually available as PDFs from Exit and Support Network. So I've got a lot of reading and further learning to do! And I'm no longer under any naive illusion that it's all disinformation circulated by detractors since there's so many people, many who were once loyal to HWA or WCG, who've come out and corroborated others stories and experiences--they can't ALL be wrong now can they?! I only wish I had known then what I know now, but like a recovering addict it's what I do today with the lessons learned that will help me overcome the demons of yesterday and bring some measure of peace for tomorrow, I guess.