Eric Fromm commented:
It becomes ever increasingly clear to many students of man and of the contemporary scene that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century (now the 21st); the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself. Man represses the irrational passions of destructiveness, hate, envy, revenge; he worships power, money, the sovereign state, the nation; while he pays lip service to the teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the human race, those of Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammad–he has transformed these teachings into a jungle of superstition and idol-worship. How can mankind save itself from destroying itself by the discrepancy between intellectual-technical over-maturity and emotional backwardness?
— Escape From Freedom
Escape from Freedom probes the illness of contemporary civilization as witnessed by its willingness to submit to totalitarian rule. The analysis concludes that if humanity cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities inherent in freedom, it will probably turn to authoritarianism.
Herbert Armstrong established totalitarian rule, not as a mass movement, the basis of analysis of The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, but as an individual movement promising something for nothing: He appealed to the greed of human nature, but convinced his followers that his motives and theirs were pure. The individual was conned into compartmentalizing truths behind walls in order to accept the distorted perceptions of Herbert Armstrong, the con. It’s like entering the fun house at the circus with all those mirrors which make everything look funny: Things that are smaller, look bigger; things that are bigger, look smaller; things that are taller, look shorter; things that are shorter, look taller; things that are narrow, look wide; things that are wide, look narrow. Perceptions are distorted for fun at the circus in the fun house; perceptions are distorted for profit in Armstrongism. Nothing is as it seems. It must be so, to accomplish the purposes of the man at the top of the one man show — to live as an Oriental Potentate at the top of a Ponzi Scheme.
The first act of a con man is to establish credibility, and coincidentally torpedo the credibility of anyone or anything which will wreck the credibility of the con artist. There are a multitude of ways to do this, but in the end, the con man establishes an anti ad hominem around himself to make himself invincible: That is to say, he establishes himself as the expert so that people will accept anything he says, simply because he said it. Once this is accomplished, he is able to say pretty much anything and those following him will accept it as the one and only truth and make people feel special because they personally believe the crap he’s pedaling.
Herbert Armstrong had several “truths” to establish his credibility: Invented Church History, the utterly stupid idea of British Israelism, the misguided idea that if you obeyed God’s Ten Commandments (including a few of Herbert Armstrong’s own), you would have material prosperity in this life and become God as God is God with power as a ruler to make people bend to your will and all the Wealth of the Universe at your fingertips — forever.
One of the greatest weapons in the arsenal of Herbert Armstrong was the Feast of Tabernacles: Even though he was robbing people of their peace of mind, stability — financial and otherwise — family relationships, sanity, independence, self-respect — taking the very lives of people into a world of dysfunctional chaos and making them proud that they somehow made it all work (even though it didn’t) — the people compartmentalized away the confusion of their lives, looking for the one time in the year they could have all the nice things they did without the whole rest of the year. No one noticed or seemed to care, that they did it all on their own time and Herbert Armstrong really had no skin in the game: We all payed our own money to attend the annual circus and spend time in the Festival fun house of distorted perceptions. Three tithes was a masterstroke of manipulation to create an impressive impression of delusion deformed into a personal truth of prosperity for 8 days, while living a life of dystopian self-sacrifice the rest of the year. Of course, it wasn’t just self-sacrifice: It was sacrificing the children and spouse on the altar of self-serving idolatry to achieve something unattainable for one brief shining moment once a year.
The three tithe tithing system was certainly advanced for its time and predated the financial manipulation of the documentary Inside Job outlining the cause of the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008, which took over four decades of preparation by those of less than stellar morals (and none of whom have been convicted for their actions). Financial wizards devised Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), Credit Default Swap, Derivatives (including futures), Hedging, leverage with high margins, Residential Mortgage Backed Securities, Securitization and deregulation to create their own prosperity, taking trillions of dollars of profit. [The terms are defined here.] Scientists and mathematicians who worked for the United States Government during the Cold War lost their jobs when the Cold War was declared to be over. They sought new vistas to apply their considerable expertise and in the 1970s settled on the Financial Sector to leverage their knowledge of technology to financial markets. It was not long before they created new financial instruments so sophisticated that the average person on the street could not begin to fathom the methodologies behind them, nor the potential impact they would have in the future of the world.
One analogy in the movie was used to describe the financial instruments this way: Suppose you were buying a house. The seller insists that your house be insured. If something happens to the house, both the seller and buyer would be covered. Suppose, though, that not only the buyer had the insurance, but 20 other outsiders took out insurance too. If the house burned down, not only would the buyer / seller get the insurance money, but the 20 outsiders would too — with no interest or stake in the property at all: It would just be free money.
Now it turns out that AIG was the major insurer. When one of the firms against which other companies insured went bankrupt, AIG could not cover the payout of the insurance and had to get a bailout — and so did several other companies. The people behind this Ponzi Scheme who were CEOs, Presidents and Directors of the companies which fell, managed to bail out just before the crisis to go to work for the Federal Government as regulators and financial consultants, insisting that Derivatives did not need to be regulated (oops!). In the process, they sold off hundreds of millions (cumulatively, billions) of dollars, all — due to the vagaries of the system they helped create — of which were tax free. And before Congress in the aftermath of this disaster, as these people were brought into account for their manipulation for their own profit (and for which they were not ultimately penalized), they explained that they didn’t do anything legal and they did what they did because no one stopped them.
Watching the movie (recommended to watch several times), is a disturbing experience.
What is even more disturbing in its own way is that Herbert Armstrong created financial instruments of his own without one whit of remorse to accomplish pretty much the same thing: To make himself rich, without accountability and — like those testifying before Congress — never admitted he did anything wrong. The Worldwide Church of God was one giant Corporate Ponzi Scheme, just as the Financial World was one giant Worldwide Ponzi Scheme.
Some people objected to the revelation in the movie that Cocaine stimulates exactly the same regions of the brain as financial gain activates. The truth is that it is science. Make no mistake: Herbert Armstrong’s brain was highly stimulated by the $2 Billion to $4 Billion dollars he ran through in the era of the Worldwide Church of God. He had an addiction to fine things and had quite an expensive habit we all paid for and that addiction was very likely the same as found in Cocaine addicts, lusting for the rush of the feeling of power.
Now maybe Herbert Armstrong was nowhere near as sophisticated as the Cold War scientists and mathematicians turned to churning out financial instruments, but he certainly was clever enough to distort Scripture to say what it did not say through Proof Texting and carefully compartmentalizing anything which would detract from his high concept ideas of control and manipulation. He was ahead of his time. He created a Sythetic Religious Corporate Disney World in the form of Ambassador College and he created his own corporate conventions for his “employees” (who paid for the privilege and not the other way around) to have fun consistently once a year to hold them captive and to continuously escape from freedom. Many religious people accept the premise that they should give 10% “to God”. But another 10% to be used to attend a church corporate convention once a year — money which cannot be used for any other purpose? And yet another 10% given every third year in a seven year cycle? It’s preposterous and decidedly Unbiblical. Scripture does not support such a thing, no matter how much of Herbert Armstrong’s distorted perception is employed to force fit it to try to make it true.
Herbert Armstrong was only the beginning. Not unlike Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff — and from the Inside Job movie — Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, and our fave, Alan Greenspan, the Armstrongist co conspirators have expanded the financial debacle perpetrated upon the dupes in the Armstrongist community. Herbert Armstrong bought gold diamond cuff links on church money, along with renting a yacht for family to sail on the Mediteranian. He spent money on gold and silver flatware for the table, and managed to take $50,000 cash everywhere he went as “mad money”. Ronald Weinland followed in the footsteps of Herbert Armstrong, spending $3.5 million as personal money out of CoG-PKG funds and the IRS caught him at it and the Federal Court convicted him. Nevertheless, Herbert Armstrong did worse and never got caught. We all should note Art Ferdig had a scam going in his Ponzi Scheme which cost his investors $35 million. He too has been convicted and is going to prison. He learned from Armstrong at his side as Herbert’s personal assistant. There are so many others (some of which are not offenders in the financial realm, per se, but are corrupt too, such as Kevin Dean). Herbert Armstrong not only was a scoundrel who made off with the money, he also taught his sycophant lackeys a thing or two about being a con artist. The entire venue of Armstrongism is a realm of ministers and administrators who are greedy for our money and they don’t stop. Those of us who listened to Dennis Luker for those decades know very well his self-concern over his salary and retirement. Everybody there is greedy and wants to live off of us in the social equivalent of the welfare system — only with much higher stakes. And yes, the UCG today is pushing its Million Dollar Faith initiative, promising to spread the gospel to the Arabs. It is another useless grab for money which will end in tears — for those who contribute to the folly.
Herbert Armstrong was certainly a corrupting influence.
No sane person would accept such a thing.
Let us return to Eric Fromm:
It seems useful to differentiate between “static” and “dynamic” adaptation. By static adaptation we mean such an adaptation to patterns as leaves the whole character structure unchanged and implies only the adoption of a new habit. An example of this kind of adaptation is the change from the Chinese habit of eating to the Western habit of using fork and knife. A Chinese coming to America will adapt himself to this new pattern, but this adaptation in itself has little effect on his personality; it does not arouse new drives or character traits.
By dynamic adaptation we refer to the kind of adaptation that occurs, for example, when a boy submits to the commands of his strict and threatening father — being too much afraid of him to do otherwise–and becomes a “good” boy. While he adapts himself to the necessities of the situation, something happens in him. He may develop and intense hostility against his father, which he represses, since it would be too dangerous to express it or even to be aware of it. This repressed hostility, however, though not manifest, is a dynamic factor in the character structure. It may create new anxiety and thus lead to still deeper submission; it may set up a vague defiance, directed against no one in particular but rather toward life in general. While here, too, as in the first case, an individual adapts himself to certain external circumstances, this kind of adaptation creates something new in him, arouses new drives and new anxieties. Every neurosis is an example of this dynamic adaptation; it is essentially an adaptation to such external conditions (particularly those of early childhood) as are in themselves irrational and, generally speaking, unfavorable to the growth and development of the child. Similarly, such socio-psychological phenomena as are comparable to neurotic phenomena, like the presence of strong destructive or sadistic impulses in social groups, offer an example of dynamic adaptation to social conditions that are irrational and harmful to the development of man.
— Escape From Freedom
The more we examine each of the irrational premises of Herbert Armstrong in his seriously deluded distorted perception sociopathic follies, the more we see the superstructure of his interlocking logic crumble as we pull the pin from the underlying key supports of the structure. In this case, we can compare Herbert Armstrong to those who are responsible for creating the worldwide financial meltdown, even though the scope was limited to only tens of thousands of personal financial meltdowns.
More disturbing is the aspect that the irrational forces created by Herbert Armstrong have led to the dynamic adaptation of over 100,000 (at a time — with more going through the revolving doors of the WCG in the 1970s), to produce in most of us psychological phenomena comparable to the neurotic, with the presence of strong destructive or sadistic impulses. In the mental disorder, Folie à deux, the patient will generally recover from the insanity passed on by the one possessing the madness because of static adaptation — the induced delusional disorder does not become ingrained in the character of the afflicted. It appears that the folly of the daft kook, Herbert Armstrong is not a simple Folie à deux — the shared psychotic disorder — and thus requires more stringent measures for its removal.
It is incumbent upon us all to guard ourselves against all the various cons. It requires constant vigilance. We must be aware of the methods and practices of the con.
It takes considerable effort to win against totalitarian forces. As Eric Fromm says:
If we want to fight Fascism we must understand it. Wishful thinking will not help us. And reciting optimistic formulae will prove to be as inadequate and useless as the ritual of an Indian rain dance.
— Escape From Freedom
We must also embrace freedom and sacrifice our desire to be dominated by others for security, a desire of belonging. We must be willing to accept the responsibility and accountability to stand alone.
Freedom can have a high price.
It is only when we realize that being dominated by authoritarianism has a much higher price — in this case, measured in Trillions of Dollars — that the price of freedom is so much less than the Escape from Freedom.
Go forth and make the life of the con man miserable: From such turn away.