Friday, April 7, 2017

Dennis Rohan and how he almost drug the Church of God into a Middle East War

Some of my old friends in what was the Radio Church of God, which was later renamed the Worldwide Church of God, will remember well enough Denis Michael Rohan who in 1969 brought their cult religion (and Australia) into international notoriety when he started a fire in the Al Aqsa mosque in order to hurry up apocalyptic end-time events.

Australian Radio National has what looks like a fairly comprehensive archive of interviews, videos, images, literature, court proceedings about Denis Rohan and what can lead a person to do such a thing. See their Background Briefing archive Rohan and the Road to the Apocalypse.

I suspect members of the Herbert Armstrong cult (Radio Church of God) at the time were more focussed on what the publicity meant for them - cultic fear of persecution and all that - to have noticed that this one time one person crazy event had a profound significance on Arab politics vis a vis the State of Israel. This is discussed in the Background Briefing archive. It appears that the threat of the destruction of this mosque actually catalyzed a united front on the part of the Arab states that not even the 1967 war only two years earlier had failed to accomplish.
One interesting point that emerged (new to me at any rate) was the notion of the Jerusalem Syndrome. Apparently (unsurprisingly) there is something about just being in the vicinity of Jerusalem that can activate unstable mental tendencies in some.
There's an interesting comment by Tel Aviv Professor of Religion and expert on the Jerusalem Syndrome, Alexander Van Der Haven, at the end of a program interview:
You can either use religious language to make people more extreme, make people jihadists, or you can try to in the case of Islam, you can try to emphasise more moderate beliefs in the Qu'ran, more moderate traditions. So this is the very interesting thing of religion, that people tend to regard religious beliefs as very absolute, they mean one specific thing. But in reality you can do many different things with it. Somebody might have been able to convince Denis Rohan that that you shouldn't act upon your beliefs, this is something allegorical, instead you should pick flowers in this and this garden , and one might have been able to convince him. I think what you can learn from these cases, religion is very flexible, it can lead to the most aggressive destructive behaviour and it can also lead to more quietistic behaviour. The Jerusalem Syndrome is an instance of people who act in a very strange way on certain religious discourses and stories, which of course religion has, especially in Christianity, you have the Book of Revelation, in Judaism you have this emphasis on the Temple and the hope for the restoration of the Temple. So our religious scriptures offer these extreme possibilities. I think basically you can manipulate these for the good and for the worst.
It appears Rohan was converted to the beliefs of the Radio Church of God by well-meaning members while he was in a mental institution. Rohan came to see himself as The Branch prophesied to become king over Jerusalem - partly as a result of a message given from the "Rowan tree" outside the window of his mental institution room.
I seem to recall a rumour that he also found his name in the Bible as Nahor, which of course was the Hebrew right to left reading of Rohan. 
The interesting potentials that can arise from our propensity to look for and find patterns around us! 
Background Briefing also includes an interesting article by Scott Lupo, University of Nevada, describing one of the processes by which Armstrong persuaded many to join his church. 
No doubt Rohan found religion helped him become an outwardly healthy person in many ways, giving him a sense of purpose in life. But like so many things dear to humans, it is also a two-edged sword.


Redfox712 said...

Shocking, horrible, awful incident that was. A priceless pulpit dating back to the time of Saladin was destroyed in the fire. And according to the Israeli author, the late Israel Shahak, it almost provoked an intifada eighteen years before the First Intifada.

"Before the Intifada the single instance of resistance which swept through all Palestinian society in the Territories occurred in 1969 in protest of the arson of al-Aqsa mosque. All other protests were either geographically or socially limited. Many of them were limited only to the Gaza Strip refugee camps. Calls for strikes or other forms of protest were not widely observed. Many villages, which Israeli authorities described as 'loyal', never participated in protests before the inception of the Intifada." (Israel Shahak, "The Real Significance of the Oslo Accords," September 10, 1993, Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies, 1997, Chapter 13.)

DennisCDiehl said...

Ah those memories. When digging at Megiddo and over a free weekend, I hired a Palestinian guide to take me around and under the Temple Mound back in the '90s. He took me into the nooks and crannies of the Temple Mount and we ended in the Al Aqsa Mosque . He was showing me around up front inside and then burst into a tirade about "Some Christian fool tried to burn this all down...." and he ranted on an on about it all. I had forgotten about it up until that moment not even realizing that it was here in the Mosque that occurred. was a relief when changed over to "Come... let us go into the Well of Souls" It was a big thing to the Palestinians .

Inside the Dome of the Rock, stood in the space formerly known as the "Holy of Holies" on the backside of the Rock. Still alive! Although some believe the Temple was more on the Al Aqsa Mosque site.

nck said...

Yes. In your face to the peope claiming HWA had no lasting impact on world affairs.

I have hinted many times on how "we" affected and to this day have affected billions of people in international affairs. This occurence is just one of those instances I hinted at.

Redfox calls the Rohan affair an "incident" as in one time. But as Dennis clearly showed this occurence to this day has an impact like "Pearl Harbor" on the mental state of the people over there. Ask any muslim in the region about this occurence.

The arson is and was not taken lightly. Certainly not now that the Red Heiffer has supposedly been found on an Arkansas farm.

btw Dennis are you saying that you "walked the templar" tunnels underneath the mount or did you just ended up there. I was granted a half hour stay before the ridiculous Palestinian police chased us of the grounds. Probably so that they could destroy more evidence of jewish presence as they have done the past 10 years. I hate it when people do not compromise to respect faiths of other people. But I guess I am making it to complex. Those policemen were only in their twenties after all. It is in the testosterone of young men to make a fuss and wallow in self importance that's why they need excellent officers as examples (like the centurion of old//which was not only a rank but a designation of seniority, example for all, primus inter pares).


Black Ops Mikey said...

What we can take from this is that Armstrongism appeals to the mental.

You can make of that what you will.

For those who are mental, they are international incidents waiting to happen -- waiting for some stimulus that leads them in unpredictable and sometimes tragic directions.

For the rest of us, the lesson is that we should avoid institutions such as the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia because even if it doesn't make us mental, we will be in the company of those who have gone mental who were attracted to it.

Black Ops Mikey said...

Well, OK then.

Herbert Armstrong did have a very small impact on world affairs indirectly.

Extremely negative ones.

From which we may recover some day.

Anonymous said...

The links in the article are broken.
This one will take you to the transcript:

Byker Bob said...

Rohan had a more lasting influence on the world than did Herbert W. Armstrong or any of the splinter group leaders. Rohan was a mental patient who distorted the teachings of Herbert Armstrong, and used them to formulate his own brand of zealotry, forcing prophecy in a way that HWA did not himself advocate.

This is not to say that Armstrongism is not ridiculous, toxic, or harmful. It was and is. it would be a mistake to credit HWA for this, rather than Rohan. Mentally unstable people will often take existing fanaticism beyond its normal level of craziness.


nck said...


Me taking the extremist pose turns BB into the voice of reason.

This talk about "levels"....perhaps there is some reason in the scientology comparison.

Well done.


nck said...

The deeper one goes the more frightening it becomes. The allies stopped investigating the roots of Nazism after a while. All this digging into the root causes made them look


Byker Bob said...

If all Hitler had done were to fight Russia, perhaps we'd have a different world today, and remember Hitler differently. But he was a racist who perpetrated systematic ethnocide, and he attacked and conquered his fellow Europeans. He became the prime evil of his time in history.


Hoss said...

And Rohan's action also altered doctrine, as HWA dropped his "Third Temple" teaching.
I remember HWA writing after June 1967 that "time was short" for Israel to build the temple. But thanks to Dennis, he buried that snippet so well that Bob Thiel claimed he never said it.