Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Book: Fooled Into Thinking: Dylan, the Sixties, and the End of the World

Buy it here 

Sunday afternoon in the Catskills in August 1969. An irregular column of young people straggled along a road half-blocked by abandoned cars in the tired, haze-filtered sunlight. 
I was one of them, a slender 21-year-old clad in a pale blue chambray shirt and jeans. My eyes, as pale as my shirt, took in the sight through plastic tortoise-shell glasses. My shaggy light brown hair was shorter than that of many ambling alongside. A canvas backpack from an Army-Navy surplus store held a new Nikon camera, which served as my ticket to the event, my reassurance that I was merely there to observe; I was in the midst of what was happening yet not a part of it. In addition to the camera, the pack held a second lens, a few rolls of film, and two steak sandwiches on rye bread. 
My press pass for the festival was good for the entire three-day weekend. Why then was I among the last arrivals, shortly after noon on the last day? 
The day before, I had been in my home state, New Jersey, attending Sabbath worship services of a strict, Bible-believing group living in expectation of the end of the world. A group into which I had been baptized less than four months earlier. 
What was a member of a fundamentalist sect doing at Woodstock? Or, to turn the question on its head, what was a baby boomer rock fan doing in a conservative apocalyptic church? 
To approach an answer to this two-sided question, let’s go back six years, to another event that helped define the young lives of those born in the U.S.A. in the aftermath of World War II.

Chapter 6 (excerpt)
On the following Saturday, a married couple with two boys arrived at the dorm to pick me up and were disconcerted to find Sian there as well, intent on accompanying me. They were momentarily flustered, having been told only to bring me, but when she assured them that she had met the ministers as well, they figured it would be all right. The two of us arranged ourselves in the back seat with one of the two small boys, and we set off for the drive to services in Manchester, New Hampshire, an hour away. The church may have been “worldwide” (it had only recently changed its name from Radio Church of God), but their congregations were few, and widely scattered.

We arrived and found that services were held in the Odd Fellows Hall, a name that seemed appropriate as we entered the auditorium. The people we met were friendly, but shabbily-dressed, and seemed, for the most part, ill-educated. It was nearly time to begin services, so we found seats near the back. A mother sat in front of us with her small children; their frequent squirms were answered with sharp swats. Even though I had accepted what I had read in the book on child rearing, I found this disturbing, but it was more upsetting to Sian for the memories it evoked. 

There was a buzz of excitement in the hall. A leading minister, called an “evangelist,” was visiting that day. Raymond C. Cole was there to give the sermon; he pastored congregations in New York and Newark, close to my home, and oversaw the churches throughout the northeast as district superintendent. He occasionally contributed articles to The Plain Truth, and I was impressed that, on the occasion of my first service, I would see such a personality. It took a while, however, to hear from him. First, there were hymns, more like the Baptist hymns I had heard on visits down south than the Lutheran hymns more familiar to me. Many of the melodies were written by an Armstrong; it turned out that Dwight was Herbert’s younger brother. There was no organ. Again, like Sunday morning down south, the accompaniment came from an upright piano in the corner.
After three hymns and a prayer, Platt came to the lectern for what was announced as a sermonette, something I had never heard of before, although it was clear that the word must mean a small sermon. “Small” was a relative term, though; it was certainly shorter than the message that followed but was longer than sermons I was used to. Apparently, he had spotted my uninvited fiancĂ©e, and he peppered his message with what seemed to be gratuitous impromptu anti-Catholic remarks. The discomfort level rose. There was another hymn, but still no sermon. Instead, Cole was introduced for what were called announcements. Cole spoke of various events in the news, to which he assigned prophetic significance, and developments in “the Work,” which turned out to be the term used for what the Worldwide Church of God was doing. Although he rambled, the tone of these remarks, as well as the lengthy sermon he eventually gave, was on a more refined level than the first message. More than two hours, and many squirms and swats later, a closing hymn and prayer ended the service. Sian and I were eager to leave, began gathering our things, but the sidekick from Platt’s first visit tapped me on the shoulder and told me that Mr. Platt wanted to see us in the counseling room. We joined a line and waited for our turn. He may have planned to interrogate me about why I had brought Sian, even though only I had been invited. In those days, the church expected persecution, due to be part of the “Great Tribulation,” which at the time they were sure would begin in five years, in 1972. Services were closed to outsiders, the time and location not published; those who were curious were told about the gravity of hearing things they were not spiritually mature enough to understand. If they heard them anyway but failed to act on them, they could be held accountable in the judgment. For this reason, church members and ministers spoke of “dangerous knowledge.” This is what I assumed Platt planned to say, but he never got the chance. Not only had Sian been disturbed by what she heard and saw, but I was agitated as well. We were both ready to burst, and our question was urgent: “Where is the love?” Platt mumbled something about how we express love by keeping the commandments, but the conversation had the feel of a stand-off.

Perhaps the question was provoked in part by the fact that this was summer 1967, the media-acclaimed summer of love, the height of Hippiedom, a movement in equal parts non-stop party and spiritual yearning. But even without this, it was clear that a vital aspect of what we read in the Bible was missing. The protagonist of the Bible, God, is spoken of with many attributes, but only once does it say what he is: love. While it was impressive that the congregation, in addition to being multi-racial, was multi-generational, more so than most worship services we had attended, the display in the row in front of us, as well as the steady stream of parents with a child in tow for a short visit to the “family room,” the room that after services became the counseling room, had seemed hard to reconcile with that definition of God, as was much of what we heard from the lectern.

The interview ended, with both Platt and I convinced that maybe I wasn’t quite ready to attend services. 


Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting. I just ordered the paperback version. I cam into eh church at the same time, though I regrettably never got to attend Woodstock.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of reading several books, so I'm hard pressed to find the time to read another. But I wouldn't mind reading several reviews of this book.

Anonymous said...

oh god, another memoir about the church. I actually volunteered to edit someones book (a memoir about his time in WCG) and he allowed me to. It was interesting, actually I found his life way more interesting before he came into the church, and after that it followed a familiar formulaic path, and ended with his leaving the church but finding the 'real Jesus', which he of course encouraged his readers to embrace. He even had a sequel book which I did not read. (I was editing more for factual details and not for grammer or spelling.)

My comments to him were that his book was well written. I told him he should try to make it more universally appealing to an audience other than WCG or ex-WCG people because this was a very limited audience. I find I get a bit of indigestion reading these books.

There was another book written recently which I haven't read, about a young black male growing up in a 'white supremist' church (WCG). That book sounded more promising because it hit on other areas like the race question and perhaps would be more universally appealing outside of WCG.

But it is being indulgent of me to criticise something I haven't read (Henry's book), and I hate people who do this. So now I hate myself. Perhaps I should write a book too, but I would like to spin it into fiction somehow to make it more interesting to people without a WCG background. An example of this is the book 1Q84 by Haruki Marukami, which is science fiction but does take at good knock at the Jehovah Witnesses.

Byker Bob said...

During my freshman year at AC, one of my dormmates who was into photography, went as an observer to a "love in" which I believe was in Griffith Park. He took some photographs, presumably for the church publications of the day, and to most of us in the dormitory, they were shocking and disgusting because we knew that in less than a year, there had been a diametric shift in American youth trends. This was nothing like we had experienced the previous year in high school. Even pictures we had seen of the Hells Angels in, say 1965, showed them with shorter hair, greasy ducktails perhaps, but certainly not styled in the mode of the hippies.

So, we all took this in as being perhaps the most compelling evidence that indeed the late sixties were the endtimes, and it was happening all around us. Some of the international students at AC who had come to Pasadena from Germany would say such things as, "What better excuse would our countrymen need than to invade and destroy this decadence?"

At the time, although I had my own philosophical questions about and differences with the curriculum at Ambassador College, I considered the campus to be somewhat of a sanctuary, one in which I could shut out all of the ugliness, and perpetuate an environment which bore more resemblance to what we had experienced in high school than what we were seeing unfold on the outside, as the final countdown was definitely on to 1975.

As we all know now, 1975 failed. The hippie movement ran its course, and baby boomer trends all transmogrified into GQ yuppiedom when Ronald Reagan entered office as our new president. Perhaps the only thing I really liked about the hippies was some of their music. And that was actually an acquired taste. Originally, my tastes had run towards the more commercial rock on Top 40 radio, particularly on the Oldies Weekends. That was "rebellious" enough. Even it was banned at AC.

Those days seemed deep and dark. And there was much more going on in international finance, geopolitics, and with the environment. What it is is a lesson. There are always going to be the Chicken Littles running around proclaiming that the end is near, and that we'd all better get with their agenda. Somehow, the USA survived the Great Depression, won World War II while other empires decimated themselves and permanently lost their former status, and we survived what appeared to be the collapse of our civilization in the 1960s.


Gerald Bronkar said...

Henry, just read your chapter 6 exerpt, and ordered your book from Amazon. I'm sure I will relate to much of your story.

I remember those days of needing to be pre-qualified to attend church services and all the "secrecy and intrigue" that goes along with general cult thinking. "We are so special".

As of late, I have been asking myself, "What was the most destructive and harmful doctrine taught by HWA and the WWCG?" I can think of dozens, but one really stands out in my mind (no, it has nothing to do with make-up). This idea is even taught in mainstream Christian Churches, in a watered down form. I am very interested in comments and ideas, and will follow up with my numero uno if there is interest and response.

I attended last week's AC Reunion in Las Vegas, and began to wonder about HWA's most hurtful teaching, and I have settled on one, but, indeed, there are many.

Black Ops Mikey said...

Lest we forget the context, this was during the Vietnam War. The hippie movement was partly a segment from the Beatles and the Vietnam War. It was also the coming of age of the Baby Boomers who were given what they wanted and needed from birth by their Generation Zero mothers who couldn't stand to have their babies go through being deprived the way they were -- a generation who learned to have their say, go their way and have someone else solve the problems. They were suddenly faced with a cruel reality that it wasn't all rainbows, lollipops and unicorns. There was conscription. Many of that era fought in the undeclared war and came back deeply scarred, physically, mentally and psychologically, if they came back at all.

So the hippy counter-culture of love and peace developed among the youth, hoping to hold on to their ideals and prove to their elders that the elder way was wrong. This was reflected in their yearn for freedom and their music and the way they dressed. Also sex, booze and drugs were involved.

So in this context, this little island of seeming peace, prosperity and order, promising world peace, decrying the ways of this world and promoting a brave new world tomorrow, Ambassador College arose on the hopes and dreams of a generation. Unfortunately, it was as so many things were of that era, an illusion and around the time President Richard Nixon was plunged into the Watergate Scandal, that all began to crumble.

All was not well in the A.C. utopia which wasn't. By 1974, the first wave of rebellion took hold and it's been down hill from there. Oh, sure, Herbert Armstrong had a resurgence between 1979 and 1986, but that was a temporary peak which ultimately led to the present doldrums. The truth began to come out. The Ambassador Report appeared and the cracks began to widen.

Meanwhile, the hippies cleaned up, put on suits, got an education, became Democrats and began their journey to transform the world to liberal globalism, proving that the Vietnam War was a very bad idea with the only high point of the 1960s decade being landing on the moon with a man named Armstrong to first set his feet there and among the last, since the attention span of the American public is usually as long as that of a cat or a corporate CEO.

Civilization has collapsed -- it's just that in the chaos nobody has noticed.

Those were the worst of times and the worst of times.

Until something worse came along.

Black Ops Mikey said...

Gerald, I wait for your exposition.

Until then, I think that Herbert Armstrong's most hurtful teaching was that he was the most important man on the face of the earth (it was totally wrong in so many ways and was the basis for most of the harm he did).

Byker Bob said...

Herbert W. Armstrong always distanced himself from the descriptive term "prophet", even at the height of events when his work was being likened to that of an end-times Elijah. If you accept a prophet's title, you are opening yourself to the possibility of being called a false prophet if what you forecast does not come to pass in the time frame wihin which you designated it.

In his own slippery ways, he claimed to be interpreting contemporary news events in light of what he read in Bible prophecy. He also said after the failure that they had never set dates, despite the three math equations which were presented as corroborating evidence.

In view of Henry's book, and my reminiscences above from that same era, we can certainly see the foibles inherent in all of that. HWA should have never used the authority which he had created for himself to analyze the news so that it had the appearance of prophecy. Even if we restrict ourselves to holding him accountable soley on that level, he still created the impression that what he analyzed and forecast had come from God. It did not. It came from HWA's imagination, and his own extrapolations and theories.

Again, this is why we should never get past 1975. HWA taught that having and keeping the "correct" doctrines (and that may be a correct premise) was what God looked upon as criteria for whom he would reveal the meanings of end time prophecies to. The prophecies and dates failed, therefore HWA did not have correct understanding, therefore it follows that he also did not have the correct doctrinal package. Period and exclamation point! There can be no legitimate excuses, delays, or second chances. Once wrong, you are a false prophet. The man was very dogmatic, very specific, claimed it came from God, and God failed to validate it all!

Sadly, since the lesson was masked through lies and backpedaling, it was never learned. The ACOGs are still doing this today!


Anonymous said...

The most destructive belief of WCG and was that they were Gods true church and only they were chosen and knew the truth and that we all had to send them lots of money so that we could tell more people that and get more people to send in money.

Byker Bob said...

They attacked, debunked, and destroyed anything in the current world from which humans derive pleasure, and attempted to substitute their little weird piss ant church for the stuff they took away and destroyed. It was warping, and many people could not shake those modifications to their world view even decades after they left. That has had a cluster of effects on the psyche of ex members who search for equillibrium.


Gerald Bronkar said...

Realizing the often short shelf-life of the comments on this site, I am opting to go ahead and disclose my number one most destructive HWA doctrine, per the request of Black Ops Mikey. BB posted after my request for responses, but I don't think his comment directly related to my question, though possibly by accident it may have.

I certainly cannot argue with Black Ops that HWA's self importance was a major factor leading to all the garbage he dreamed up or stole and put in print. I've known some big egos, but none larger than his.

Based on my observation and experience, I would say HWA's most harmful doctrine was his continued proclamation that the Return of Jesus was just around the corner---at most 2-5 years. And not only that, if I just hang on to HWA's coattails, I will be with him, ruling and reigning (quite a few rungs down on the ladder, of course) over the tribes and nations of the world!

If you really believe in that kind of a promise/declaration, why would there be any incentive to do anything with your current life?

Why buy a house, or have it painted? Why get an education? Why look for a better job? Why plan for your children's education? Why have a savings account or plan for retirement? Why try to help the poor or feed the starving? Why vote, or become aware of political issues? Why do anything to improve the here and now?

Very soon, it will all be taken care of for you. All you need do is wait, have faith, and presto, you will be part of the ruling class in the World Tomorrow! You may be an ignorant slob today, but in the World Tomorrow, magic will occur and you will become a decision-making, political genius.

The real problem is that this may be (most probably) the only life you will ever have to live. Please, don't waste it believing in the stupidity of false prophecy. You may be squandering the most precious gift you will ever be given. The magical promise from HWA is a cruel and devastating myth. Many generations since Jesus have wasted their entire lives, waiting on the promises of these liars.

There a ton of hurtful HWA doctrines: God will heal, divorce and remarriage, church government, avoid the world, even your unconverted family members, tithing, abusive child-rearing, Holy Days vs. pagan holidays, ministers standing between you and God. It is all pitiful, but prophecy (if you believe it) will steal your life, the only one you have, and give nothing back in return.


Anonymous said...

The most destructive belief of Herbies church was that the ministers owned church members lives. Secretly believing that they own other people, is a psychopathic trait. So teenage like ministers and their bootlicking minions, rob members of their adulthood, treating them like rightless idiots.
This was a informal belief since Herbie and his henchmen knew that the bible condemned such behaviour, and couldn't be intellectually defended.
It's still this way in the slivers. And they believe it's OK since Herbie said so. The 'I was just following orders' defence.

Anonymous said...

The Worldly Church Of Armstrong Teachings Was Complete Cluster-F**k.

Connie Schmidt said...

This song , from Bob Dylan , unedited or altered, actually applies to many COG situations, past and present...


Well, they'll stone you when you're trying to be so good
They'll stone you just like they said they would
They'll stone you when you're trying to go home
And they'll stone you when you're there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they'll stone you when you're walking on the street
They'll stone you when you're tryin' to keep your seat
They'll stone you when you're walkin' on the floor
They'll stone you when you're walkin' to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

They'll stone you when you're at the breakfast table
They'll stone you when you are young and able
They'll stone you when you're tryin' to make a buck
Then they'll stone you and then they'll say "good luck"
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned alright

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

nck said...

The reason why I usually find books like this uninteresting is exactly the quoted part which often should include "and then I worked/stayed some 25 years for/with that organisation, rendering the entire story a hindsight story worse than historic revisionism.

But still the fact parts can be interesting.


Byker Bob said...

Good song to describe a church member's daily life. And then, as you are leaving, Desolation Row provides many allegories and metaphors.

You had to be very careful about what table you sat at during meals at AC. There were spys to worry about, and people who had some really stupid ideas and said some very stupid things. I remember a mealtime discussion in the Student Center at AC with a friend whom I had known from six years earlier at SEP. After the estupidos at the table had left, we were discussing outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels. My friend said, "You know, Bob, those of us who grew up in the church, if we let it happen, could be some of the worst, most disillusioned rebel outlaws that ever existed." And, I had to agree. Without the costumes and makeup, we lived a pretty Goth existence, way before the Goth trend emerged. It was an existence like the life portrayed in the Doomsday Girl cartoon which is written by a former WCG member.