By Bob E.
The last time you shared a nice steak dinner with your family, or if you are more adventurous, went on an exciting hike, or maybe did some exhilarating sky-diving, chances are, you were not thinking about a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger in your brain, called dopamine. In a normal human brain, dopamine affects the brain processes which control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience both pleasure and pain. It has been found that illicit stimuli, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can temporarily increase the amount of dopamine in the synapse, or gap between one’s nerve cells, thus causing euphoria, or a prolonged sense of pleasure. The unfortunate consequence of this temporary pleasure enhancement is that the use or abuse of such drugs will ultimately disrupt the balance of dopamine in the nervous system, by desensitizing the nerve cells to what would be considered normal levels of this neurotransmitter. So, when an addict is in recovery, as the brain attempts to normalize, there is usually severe depression in the initial stages. The recovering addict is caught in a state where he or she, until normal living skills are re-learned, temporarily finds little or no pleasure in life. Regaining normal brain balance and function often requires years, during which the addict knows that a false sense of relief is just a snort away. I have observed the day to day struggles of such individuals, and although I’ve never been an addict myself, believe that I understand the struggle these folks must go through.
The Worldwide Church of God parallel is self-obvious. The enslaving teachings of one Herbert W. Armstrong have acted as a type of spiritual dopamine inhibitor in most of our brains, and many exiters have had to deal with very real, severe depression along with cult-recovery. Herbert W. Armstrong, if nothing else, was a brilliant salesman, and he had the dope for you! He knew the classic sales formula, which is, expose a need, magnify the need, and then offer a solution. To create or expose the need, he first smashed everything in your little world which you found to be of value or pleasure. With great authority, from the power of his radio microphone and TV camera, he told you that the world as you knew it was coming to an end. There would be war, famine, disease, pestilence, and you couldn’t do a thing about it, period! From a standpoint of sheer shock value, what could be more devastating to your feeling of happiness and well-being than this? Talk about altering neurotransmitters! Suddenly, nothing in this world was worth your time, because everything you saw around you would soon come to an end. While you were attempting to recover from the disorientation of this all, he came in for the kill. He told you that now that you had this special knowledge, you were having your chance. Your life could never be the same. You had an opportunity and needed to act immediately, because you see, if you repented, accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, and were baptized into His church, you could be spared the cataclysmic events soon to descend on the world. You could not have become part of the Worldwide Church of God without undergoing this painful initiation.
A good salesman often will re-sell the value of his product to you, and Herbert W. Armstrong was no exception. Every Bible Study, every Holy Day service, and every Sabbath service, he or his henchmen resold you on the product. The magazines and booklets were a constant reminder to you of what was soon to transpire, and he even had you reselling yourself on the product thru your daily prayer and Bible Study. You sat there in Sabbath Services, waiting anxiously for your fix!. It’s the only thing that made it all work. If you just had the so-called knowledge of the end of the world, without the system of religion, you would have been totally depressed. Of course, you didn’t find this out until you began painfully considering leaving, or had that choice made for you. Upon exit, you were hit with the impact of your actions from years previous in which you had gradually alienated yourself from your blood relatives, old friends, and neighbors, as you became ever more enmeshed in this dastardly cult. Worse, when you left or were disfellowshipped, you even lost your surrogate family, as the brethren could no longer associate with you. At about the same time, you began to realize that your health might not be what it was supposed to be due to years of not seeing your doctor, your career had languished because the effort you might have put into it all went into the church, your children had become nerds because you had sheltered them so severely, you had no retirement savings, your house had been mortgaged to finance a Worldwide Church of God emergency, and all of your clothes were hopelessly out of style. See the parallels with recovery from substance addiction? If you’ve never volunteered at a mission or halfway house, try it sometime. The homeless and recovering addicts are facing these same challenges, brought on, of course, by an entirely different type of addiction.
The good news is that the dopers and alkies find new reasons to survive, and most of us did, too. Situation hopeless, but not terminal.
Let’s address for a moment the whole concept of disfellowshipment. Here we have a church leader who is smart enough to lift the concept of after-dinner speaking clubs from Toastmaster’s International, and to re-name it Spokesman’s Club. But for some reason, in spite of having authored a book on human potential, he doesn’t appropriate the concept of developing human resources from Xerox, or any other organization which has taken the time to research what actually motivates people and then assists them in reaching their potential. He shoots himself in the foot by adapting management techniques from Hell! Why all the bitterness? Why all the splinter groups? Why all the dissidents? It is all perfectly predictable. Look at all of the examples of how people are being governed around the world. Anywhere you see leadership by draconian authority, you see enslavement, and miserable subjects. Ultimately, such government has to be enforced by state-sanctioned murder! Aren’t we all glad that Herbert W. Armstrong was restricted in his enforcement techniques by the U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights? It is rather sobering to realize that even these documents did not stop Jim Jones or David Koresh. Disfellowshipment was not designed to be rehabilitative. Its sole purpose was control.
What is the alternative? If you rule out the use of militaristic authority, you have to dig deeper and actually think to lead people. Instead of saying “do it, or else!”, you have to learn the specifics about what motivates individuals for whom you are responsible, and employ that as a leadership technique. This is not a one size fits all exercise! That would be overly
simplistic. Being terminated from employment is somewhat analogous to disfellowshipment. In the Xerox style of management, if your performance suffered a sudden lull, your team manager (analogous to your local elder or pastor) would issue a letter of concern to you, and meet with you for discussion. He would then tell you that for the next 60 days you would be under supervised plan. He would provide a measurable goal, which should be attainable by a person filling your job description. If you failed to meet the objectives during this time, you would receive a second letter, warning you that if you didn’t meet the objectives over the next 30 days, your services would no longer be required by the company. In the meeting accompanying this letter, your manager would tell you that he really wanted you to complete your probationary duties successfully, and that he would work closely with you to ensure that you succeeded.
Now, what if the valued employee were not typical in some way? Xerox also had that covered. Managers were trained to recognize personal problems, physical limitations, illnesses, etc, and to get to the bottom of them, and to use resources to get them resolved, to the benefit of the employee and the company. This is all very basic, we live in a time when even pre-school teachers are required to recognize and correctly analyze problems in the lives of their students, and must even be trained in CPR. Now, some exceptional Worldwide Church of God ministers, believe it or not, were thinking people, and cognizant that each person in their congregation was different, and may have special needs. Let me illustrate. In Ambassador Club one evening, the Tabletopics Master asked us how we might advise one of the brethren who suffered from constipation. Discussion, given a subject of this nature, degenerated rather quickly, but not before some of the club members expressed that Exlax or stewed prunes might be of help. Dr. Zimmerman, our faculty advisor, who had a real education, accredited degree, and a wealth of experience, cautioned us about making such recommendations, as there were certain medical conditions such as epilepsy or even common pregnancy, where one would need to be very careful about laxatives! Wasn’t the good Dr. basically saying, get to know the individual, get as much personalized information as possible, and be sure that your advice is appropriate to that person’s well-being? Unfortunately, not all of the ministry were as deep thinkers!
Quite frankly, how could they be? What passed as education at Ambassador College was tantamount to what Adolph Hitler accomplished with his Hitler Youth Corps. Squeaky clean, naive youth were recruited, subjected to extensive indoctrination, and then unleashed on unsuspecting congregations throughout the world. It was like, well, here I’ve graduated, here’s my wife, where is my lease car, and where in the field am I going? Where the wisdom and experience to actually counsel, let’s say, a minority single mother living in the ghetto, whose son was always being beat up by a neighborhood street gang, was going to come from, was something which I never could quite figure out. Following Rodney Lain’s tragic suicide, one of the names which came out was that of Mark Flynn. Now, it is clear from Mr. Lain’s urinating cartoon, who he held responsible for much of what went wrong in his life, but it might be instructive to also consider Mark’s role in this, because it is obvious from Mark’s E-Mail message which he intended for Rodney Lain’s survivors, that he had no clue that anyone was holding him even remotely culpable for this tragedy. The young Mark Flynn whom I counted as one of my friends at SEP, and for a few years after, was a sensitive young man who didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. Being raised in the church, it was all that he knew, and some of us at SEP camp realized that he was a bit more sheltered perhaps than those of us who attended public schools. But, he was very well liked. Did the system corrupt him? Was he following orders? Did he act beyond his training? Whatever the case might be, I’ve known a number of very decent, well intentioned persons, who, upon their ordination, became intoxicated on their own power, and ran roughshod over a lot of people, ruining lives by mishandling people who trusted them, and creating tons of resentment. Herbert W. Armstrong took impressionable young people, tested their loyalties for about four years, and sent them out to spout his party line drivel. Having no real experience, that is all they could do. And, like Mark, they didn’t realize they were accountable!
Think about what might have been if the ministry had followed the precautions which Dr. Zimmerman gave to us that evening in 1967 in club. You might not have had blanket statements about vigorous corporal punishment being made, because some in the congregation might have suffered child abuse in their youth, and might go way too far with discipline on their own children. The benefits of alcohol might not have been described so glowingly from the pulpit, because some in the congregation could have a propensity towards alcoholism. Statements regarding healing might have been downplayed, so that young diabetics wouldn’t feel compelled to go cold turkey off their insulin. Ministers might have come to know that everyone is not exactly the same, people do not all see the world thru the same filters, and there are individuals with various maladies, phobias, and disorders, to whom life may not have been so kind in failing to warp, who needed individualized, personalized advice with their very real problems. When we give advice, we are responsible for the results, so if you don’t know about something, farm the case out to someone who does! Unfortunately, they were attempting at our expense, to appear to be all knowing, and infallible. This illusion was apparently more important to them than what actually happened to their charges, and the results speak for themselves. Good people who have long since escaped their clutches are dying to this day!
I always have to laugh when someone writes a critique to this or other sites, stating that all we do is to pick apart, when we should be communicating this or that religious truth or message to everyone. They are completely missing the point! They base all of their ethics, morality, and lessons in human relations on the same antiquated book, replete with lessons from medieval, tribal, agricultural times. From a historical perspective, there is a great difference between the ethics and morality espoused by the Old and New Testaments, alone. When seeking medical attention, would you look through the Yellow Pages for a doctor who practices medicine as it was circa 2318 B.C? Major companies today, have spent millions of dollars, to hire the best minds to write the policy papers which guide their management techniques, most of which are based on Confucius’s Law, or the Golden Rule, whatever you choose to call it. Aside from countless anecdotes regarding what can only be categorized as blatant human rights violations, that is really the only relevant principle which can be distilled from the entire Bible! The bottom line is that a human being is far too valuable to be discarded, thrown away, and reviled. A human being should be worked with, mentored to, and helped thru this difficult process we call life. If we expect any less than this from our religion, we deserve exactly what we get! Fool me twice, shame on me! Each of us is unique, and in some way, indispensable. Until religion develops a better sense of ethics, unfortunately, we can expect only more discord, war, bigotry, hatred, and, yes, casualties.