Articles by

Mark Salyer Manning

Editors note: The Posts below start with the last down to the first in order.

Having recently registered and found great interest in the new (and beautifully designed) website for AC Big Sandy students of the distant past, I wanted to insert comments here to introduce my Painful Truth blog posts. If anyone catching up with my life through the marvelous site recently launched by Tom & Nancy Williams should want to read what I have posted here, welcome to more of my writing. I do hope you’ll go to Feb 1, 2011 post to begin.

Please understand one over-arching truth about me: I am a Live-and-Let-Live Humanist. Noticing that several of my long-time friends and acquaintances from ACBS have included in their new website profiles, comments as to their faith, beliefs, pains, wanderings, etc., I need to say to all of you that nothing I have posted here was ever intended to be incendiary or purposely off-putting. It isn’t even personal! I often state flatly my philosophical views just to put something out there that may be of help in any way to anyone reading. There is nothing judgmental in anything I say or in how I relate to others. If anything seems too harsh for your tastes, I am sorry for any ill effect on you. I certainly would not want anything to prevent our having new conversations and the opportunity for a casual friendship. I am always pleased to see that someone has found peace and happiness in any way; these are difficult to attain and no one’s views need be similar to mine for me to still be called “friend.”


New note added 2/26/11

In the event someone I know from my early years, maybe an AC friend, happens to go back to read my posts here, I wanted to say a cheerful “Hello” and encourage you to make contact, if my entries here are not too upsetting.  I’m also on facebook, so go there if you prefer.

Now the original post:

Does this fit under “legalism?”

This being my final post as guest editor for February, I thought I’d have a little more fun with words and meanings before concluding with a few sincere personal thoughts.

No, I’m sure the above heading doesn’t strictly relate to the term legalism as typically used, but I thought I’d toss it out there. The reason the odd header came to mind goes back to 1963 and my introduction to the way the RCG treated words. It was a cavalier approach to the words others had written and a kind of abuse of copyright. This is probably why I see it as bordering on the legal field.

When I began attending church services, I suddenly had to learn to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic with a change in lyrics. This was merely the first time I noticed the fix-the-words phenomenon within the true church (I speak as a fool), but it instructs me more today in retrospect. Almost as jarring to a person who loved singing and had spent some early childhood time learning lots of songs while going to Baptist and Nazarene church services, was the change applied to Onward Christian Soldiers. In the CoG, we had to sing “With the word of Jesus …” in place of the originally written “…cross of Jesus” because it was HWA’s very pointed instruction that the term “cross” in the King James Bible was a mistranslation of the word for “stake;” therefore, we couldn’t sing about a cross… going on before, as the song phrase concludes.

[Re-reading this now I wonder if memory serves me correctly on where I ran into the Battle Hymn “fix.”  It could have been while singing this song with the Ambassador Chorale a year after I began to attend services.  Someone with access to the gray paperback hymnal from RCG days could correct me on this.]

So Herb had a thing about semantics. This was something I shared – still do today – and my interest in semantics was well established prior to my interest in the CoG.

In the Battle Hymn (a revolting oxymoron as a title, but legally the choice of its Civil War period composer), it was the [lack of] the word lilies that caught my attention. More than that, the words born and borne. They were completely and absurdly misused and blown out of proportion by either HWA himself or his brother Dwight or other devoted follower, perhaps Dr. Bogdancik at the Big Sandy Campus.

When I found myself singing the well-known old song and stumbling over lilies as others sang the printed replacement word of autumn, I didn’t know what to think. Someone later explained that Jesus wasn’t born in spring, when there would be lilies about, therefore the word was simply changed to autumn to fit with when He was actually born. Even as a minimally educated teen, I found this incredible. Yet if it was the way this wonderful church wanted it, so be it! Yuk! Sickening now to even reveal my blind acceptance of all that crap back then.

Just think of this! If the leaders of the church were going to take liberties with composers’ written words, which was unethical and probably illegal, at least it should never have been done without clear and meaningful reason. This very subject of changed lyric lines was a huge part in my excitement over the new hymnal that came out in the early 1970s.

To the blog participant who goes by PurpleHymnal, my sincere apologies.  I realize now that you might have been one of those toddlers on the floor during some of my own rousing sessions of song-leading, then were probably forced to stay on the drafty floor next to that purple monster placed at your mother’s feet during the sermons.  No surprise you have a far different perspective!  The same shout-out goes to all others who began your developmental years on the drafty floors of WCG meeting halls.  Hopefully you developed much more than colds and hatred for the hymnal! 

My reason for liking the new hymnal was that most of the lyrics of the many new songs were fairly direct quotes of biblical passages (which I thoroughly approved of at the time) and no longer so many strange aberrations of old protestant songs.  Of course, many of the old songs remained, just fixed and reprinted (illegally) in the new book.  But back to words. Borne being mistaken for born? How utterly foolish! The context didn’t even make any sense with that slant.

Even back in high school choir (prior to my conversion) when we had performed this song in four-part harmony, I was aware that the word borne meant carried. I probably wasn’t aware that the idea was related to the “Lord” being carried on the back of a donkey and brought to the place where he “died to make men holy.”  But when we singers in the choir reached that moment of beginning the last verse, we were coached in the need to retard the tempo and slip into a reverent pianissimo to begin the phrase, “In the beauty of the lilies…” and I somehow understood it had to do with the biblical reference to the traditional time (in spring) when the crucifixion had taken place.

Imagine my surprise to find that someone had decided the line needed fixing because it was important to avoid any connection between spring and the likely time when Jesus was born. Amazing misapplication and lack of logic!

Many such examples of correcting texts or lyrics could be cited, and most of them are now quite as laughable. That’s right, Mr. Becker, I choose to laugh about it all now. Because I can! We can and probably should laugh at much of our past foolishness if we want to find any sanity. Were we all, in the WCG, guilty of many misguided actions and ideas? You bet. Did we all follow too willingly without enough intellectual curiosity? Oh, yes! Was I personally guilty for being so caught up in what I perceived to be right when I was in my late teens, that I should apologize to all who even knew my name back then? Okay, again, I am very sorry. Not only to PurpleHymnal but to thousands of others who might have seen in me a solid connection to truth which later crumbled and ceased to exist. Our connection is what crumbled; it did so because I finally discovered that the truth I wanted so much apparently had never proven to exist.

Insert:  A just-added comment from admin has suggested I sign an apology page.  Maybe this is the same thing Becker’s note was suggesting by placing a link for me.  Never checked out the link; don’t do blanket apologies for anything!  Part of being a complete independent is not adding my name to lists. There are also degrees of guilt; my offense was like a misdemeanor in the scheme of things.  A duped kid, groomed to be a minister, preached at others for eight years and then said “forget it.”  I readily and openly apologize for anything I actually do or have done that may ever hurt anyone.  This has been evident throughout my writing in this blog, though it appears some have missed the apologies because they weren’t couched in heavy language of loathing, hating myself and those who abused me.  I do not wallow in hatred and I do not do sack cloth and ashes!  If my involvement in this “dumping ground,” as admin has named it, is to be of any benefit, I can see no route more hopeful than to reveal myself as a survivor who can speak from a new, happy place.  Pushing someone up from quicksand is quite difficult; far better to lift from a footing on solid ground.  

If we could learn to laugh at ourselves and our past delusions, we would all likely be happier. Yet those of us who are managing to do this come under criticism of some who cannot or will not laugh. In your own words, Mr. Becker, in a comment following my previous post: First, there is nothing true about Armstrongism. It is stupid. Everything based on British Israelism is stupid. No one here seems to care about which Armstrongist group survives over another. They should all fail. They are wrong. Some of us here are actively working to hasten the fall of Armstrongism. [You have my total agreement and appreciation! – markman]
Now if it were only for the fact that Armstrongism is wrong, then a great approach is to just walk away. But that’s not all there is. What there is, is a great deal of abuse going on, as a legacy of what Herbert Armstrong started.
Abuse is the real reason Armstrongism should die permanently.

My sincere effort has been (from the beginning contribution to this blog) to be of help to anyone who might find something positive in my words. That includes the encouragement for anyone capable of taking that step (as a fish with new-found legs) to completely reject the black fishbowl and all its environs. It is your own admission that “a great approach is to just walk away.” This approach could become a reality for you and many others. I have tried to give everyone the handle on my life of freedom by pointing out that though Armstrongism is quite unquestionably wrong and damaging, it’s merely a tiny part of the massive blight on a humanity that looks to phantoms.

An apparent need still exists to punish HWA, GTA, RCM, the WCG, UCG, and/or others from the alphabet of madness, because there is still “abuse going on.” Ending all abuse at the hands of crackpots and their legacies would be truly wonderful. I hope there are people (other than myself) actively working to end the abuses begun by Ellen G. White, Oral Roberts, Billy Sunday, Pat Robertson, Joseph Smith, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell,  Pope Benedict, all the former popes, Saul of Tarsus, Jimmy Swaggert, Mary Baker Eddy, Mohammed, John Calvin, Ron Hubbard, Martin Luther, etc., etc., ad nauseum. From my perspective, now free of the tyranny of belief, they are all part of the one insanity.

[There are actually many people trying to help others to better understand life and humanity. Bob Kuhn, former Armstrong follower, as many of you know has an impressive website called closertotruth. Three other websites I appreciate are longhighsurvival, ageofreason, and thebrights. And many sites relating to Humanism are quite interesting.]

Later in your own comment to me, Mr. Becker, you seem to want me to be a personal extension of Armstrong so you might have someone still living who can be blamed and cursed in some way – perhaps wanting to see me also “die permanently.” Alas, I shall eventually satisfy that desire and be dead permanently. As will we all. Living for today, however, is something I intend to continue with pleasure and not wallowing in guilt. You think I should be apologizing more, which I thought I did in proper measure.

To sum up, let me use a simple analogy. Religion, to me, is a disease, of which Armstrongism is a minor strain. As with physical maladies, some people contract virulent strains and die; others fight off major illness and live long, happy lives. Some are exposed to AIDS or other horrible strains and suffer no ill effect; others get germs through simple blood transfusions (are totally innocent) and die painful deaths.
I fought off the ill effects of Armstrongism and the experience inoculated me against other belief germs. My life is peaceful and strong because of the fight and the recovery. Some of you have not been so fortunate. I have deep compassion for you, but I did not infect you. That was just the luck of the draw, as it was with me. No point in blaming my late mother who was a carrier. I possessed free will; I made my own decisions. In the last few weeks here I have tried to share my story of recovery with any who want to hear it. No single remedy works for all, but you’re welcome to mine if you can use it.


How I see the whole CoG milieu, as though visiting a museum

This blog is all about and for survivors of Armstrongism, RCG, WCG, etc., so I will dive in again with more comments about myself and others in that shared relationship.

If I am to continue contributing to this (or any religion-based) blog, I want to make a clear statement up front: I am an unbiased, detached observer in all this. Don’t misunderstand. In a discussion of the concept of religion vs. no religion or god vs. no god, I am very biased indeed. To me the whole pool of belief systems could be drained and we’d have a solid starting point for humanity to thrive. To those who care to read any more of my thoughts then, be advised that I care nothing whatsoever about who is “right” or “wrong” within the context of believers slogging through the muck of confused and time-wasting searches for the truth. All I can do is offer a view from afar.

I am a positively oriented individual. An optimist. To my way of thinking, there are incredible numbers of ways to be right. The most egregious way of being wrong is in mistreating one’s fellow humans. I don’t give a damn about trying to please any god!
* *

The names of some old acquaintances from my WCG years will be brought up in this post. This is due to my continuing amazement at the interest being shown for the bad old days by many who are apparently still in turmoil.

Interesting to me is the amount of rapt attention given UCG, on the Painful Truth website and several more blogs. Otagosh from New Zealand seems to cover it almost continuously, as do others. Is this interest and microscopic observation based primarily in United’s take-over of maybe half of the original WCG membership in the mid 1990s?  Or is it perhaps in the minds of many that UCG might be the so-called “true” church? It does appear obvious that folks making up the general format and readership of the PT site believe there is some true church carry-over concept. I wonder where that true church is perceived to have resided earlier. Was it ever in the WCG, now so maligned?  Or maybe in its progenitor, the RCG, before corruption set in?

 When I was introduced to this site, I was surprised to see the banner just below the heading on the opening page – the one with the picture of a broken seal, the strike-over line of “Preparing a People” and the replacement wording of “Splitting the Church.” What can this even mean?

Is it not clear to everyone that the very idea of the church, which connotes a singular institution, would have to refer to some organization established many centuries ago? If there ever existed such a singularity, surely it wasn’t what we were taught – purely Armstrongism via direct feed from a supreme being, bypassing millennia of false prophets. Yet that must be what is meant by accusing the UCG group of splitting “the church.” Or else the term church here means something more fundamental and far pre-dating HWA, in which case (since UCG split from Armstrong’s WCG body) Armstrongism can lay as much claim to having been part of that original church as can Catholicism, Lutheranism, any other Christian organization, or for that matter, the self-appointed apostle named Paul.

That being the case, surely the group of dedicated WCG followers who scrambled (or even pre-planned, as has been claimed by some writers) to incorporate under the “United” banner are still carrying on the same work as the old WCG, no matter how well or weakly. After all, wasn’t it the direct aim of the founders of UCG to try desperately to unite believers under the faith once delivered as they were having the original CoG rug pulled out from under them? So how can it be said that they “split” anything any more than Ted caused division by his corruptions? Or more than any disgruntled minister or even HWA in his reportedly corrupt end? No doubt the Tkach debacle (by Sr. & Jr.) split things pretty well and, if we’re to believe what we read, young Joe is now dividing the notable spoils among his friends. So I wonder what is meant by that accusation of “splitting” leveled at UCG. And why did there appear to be some I told you so vitriol being spewed at floundering and frustrated UCG leaders during late 2010 when it appeared the group might disintegrate? Where’s the Christianity in all this?

Any chance Rod Meredith might be the one representing the church? After all, his was about the strongest drum-beat heard in the HWA band when I was involved in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Or was he guilty also of splitting something sacred? Pardon my lack of insight here; I didn’t hang around to witness the demise.

Do you get where I’m going with all these questions? Isn’t it about time everyone takes a step back so the intrigue and the futility of it all can be seen in perspective? Your life is worth more than this, is it not? Mine certainly has been worth more since dumping the whole shootin’ match!

From the WHO CARES? Corner:

In the various blogs I’ve been reading there are articles, letters, comments and rebuttals, etc. galore. It’s a bit weird for me, without context, to read about people and events.  One post was a very serious and strained letter from a fellow named Joel Meeker to some legal eagle. I know nothing at all about Joel. Perhaps he’s related to George, maybe a son who was very young when George and I were colleagues. Then there’s the Ken Treybig update to his website that shows how devoted he and his friends are in the effort to work out kinks in a new splinter from another UCG splinter; very important stuff about how best to “care for those God calls.” I don’t believe I know Ken. Seems I once knew a member named Harold Treybig; probably they’re related. Then I notice (through many a listing on a number of sites) the names of prominent men (are women still unacceptable as leaders within “the true church”? How very Pauline!) who are resigning from UCG – men such as Les McCullough and Leroy Neff who were strong in the RCG/WCG in the 1960s. I certainly knew them pretty well. Don Waterhouse I knew casually; I knew his older brother Gerald better because he taught me some valuable golf techniques. And Lyle Welty, a fellow who went through AC Big Sandy with me – nice Indiana boy who, if memory serves me, was in the car with two or three others of us Hoosiers driving to Texas in 1964 to begin college.

Then there’s Dick Thompson, a delightful southern boy who also attended when I did – apparently he has resigned the UCG ministry and a notice credited to him simply states “Follow Me.” Well if he’s one of those bright ones who is opening a new HQ in Florida rather than snowy and cold Ohio, seems like someone you might follow. Climate seems a better reason than many others in choosing a true church nowadays! And so many other familiar names of fellows who went through AC when I did (again, no females here!) – Roy Demarest, Greg Sargent, Dave Register, Jim Haeffele, Jim Servidio, Larry Neff and yet more are in the wind, lacking a place to hang their spiritual hats.

My point in all this? Well, it’s just another excuse to say how shocked I am at all this information. For all I personally have known over the last three decades about the activities of these and hundreds of folks like them, they might have A.) died; B.) gone to prison; C.) gone into hiding; D.) formed a singular new congregation of the Infinitely Faithful (the IF church) and set up shop in Zimbabwe. Yet they have apparently been plodding along in the trenches of this-or-that branch or splinter of something that used to be, and their motives could all have been perfectly godly, whatever that means. For all they have accomplished*, in my estimation, they might just as well have tried A, B, C or D!

This goes for thousands of other erstwhile Armstrongites, possibly including you, the reader, and it certainly goes for billions of decent people who live and die all over this planet without ever knowing the peace that freedom from religion offers.

* Note: allow me to detour here to explain this perhaps harsh criticism. It is aimed at me, first and foremost. I have found myself at times asking the deep question of “What did I really accomplish?” Most of us surely do this self examining, but our answers to ourselves come back highly slanted toward whatever bias we are currently harboring. No doubt Les McCullough, Leroy Neff and thousands of other present and past ministers (of all religious groups, Christian and otherwise) – would usually answer themselves in a positive way that best suits their beliefs.

Without the cocoon of belief surrounding any questions, I now can perceive quite different answers. Now I have to wonder whether anything I did from 1963 to 1976 was of real value in any way. Frankly, I doubt it. Then again, that word “anything” deserves more leeway. Surely a few things I did or said in those thirteen years can still be credited in some small way as good things. However all has to be suspect. It would be easy to conclude that some past actions or words of mine were accomplishments if it could be made clear that a benefit to humanity was involved. For example, if a member of one of my congregations from way-back-when were to contact me today and tell me of having been brought back from the brink of a planned suicide by my caring or counsel, then I would have to admit I did some real good. If that person might have been inclined to take a weapon to work or to a public place and wipe out several others on the way to a police-assisted suicide, then my timely help obviously did even more good.

But the type of clear message given in the above scenario is typically missing. So practically all of us can, on a particularly dismal day of feeling negative, say that our lives have been meaningless. Most days of my life have not been so negative, and even now I can feel that many people were likely somewhat better-off for my words or deeds back in my ministerial days. However, the question then becomes, “Were my helpful actions enough to override the burden I placed on people?” Burden; yes, I said burden. My job was to thump people hard with the hand of God. If any members of my former congregations are still believers, it’s apparent I did considerable damage! Would that they might listen to me as intently today. Yes, I remember the old biblical advice, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” but my firm conviction today is quite simply that fear of almost anything, especially phantoms in the heavens, is the most egregious limitation placed on the progress of mankind. My former active devotion to the dogma promoting that fear places me in the ranks of the most detestable and guilty.

I am compelled here to add, without braggadocio, that at least as many good results have come of my words and efforts to help others since I dropped the cloak of religion.
* *

Reading through only portions of the enormous amounts of CoG fall-out information found online, I am dumbfounded. Again, I do not sit back and laugh; I commiserate. Please recall that I was once a deeply dedicated (the deeply being my assertion, but with living witnesses who could testify to some of the dedication) minister in the old WCG. I recall well that at the time I was in that dedicated mode, nothing said from without could impress me in the least! Some yokel who tried (as this writing is now doing), to get me to look at my beliefs in any other way than that view to which I was already solidly committed […come to you and bring not this doctrine, blah, blah, etc.), would be ignored with iron-clad resolve. We humans cannot even hear our own ludicrous words clearly when we are in this lock-down mode of operation. Witness the last paragraph of the Ken Giese post of November 26, 2010. I do not personally know this man but I’ve heard of his devotion and strength, his Godliness. Yet this letter did, in fact, force laughter from me. The man could not hear his own words ringing in his ears as he wrote glaring contradictions into his resignation letter.

So you likely cannot hear my words either as I speak from a platform of post-belief, but imagine this, if you will:
You join a military unit with absolute conviction it’s a life-or-death need to go into battle on behalf of your nation. (A detestable concept but I’m stuck with it for the analogy.) The top general speaks in front of your vast army and relates that his orders come from a supreme commander who is elsewhere. He finally admits, the “elsewhere” is somewhere beyond the clouds, beyond the atmosphere, beyond the solar system – yes, beyond anything possible to describe. He’s just “out there” in the beyond! And the general can’t actually talk to the supreme commander in a war room or in real conversation, as in hearing direct answers to his questions of what to do next, but the Supreme commander does guide everything, you are told with conviction. “Trust me” the general says to his army. “Follow me as I follow Him.” “Wow!,” you gush with confidence. “Nuff said! Hand me my gun; I’m going out to kill or be killed!”

Sure, the premise is completely foolish – today!  But since a concept of belief in a supreme commander (with ten commandments and countless amendments) began for all of us thousands of years ago, we actually accept the foolishness and somehow let it pass for reason.



A Vital Subject with a Vexing Aspect

On the Painful Truth and other websites, there is a genuine effort being made to protect people from deception, abuse and pain at the hand of cults. Laudable efforts because we should all be afraid of the cult mentality.  But as usual, the typical advice goes only part way.

A sidebar link on the “Banned by HWA…” website is to a site called “Cult Awareness and Info Network.”  (I thought immediately that it is surely just coincidence that the initials spell CAIN.)  Clicking on this link, I was taken to a page with a heading of “Cult Awareness and Information Library.” Then the site guide posed the question, “what is CAIC?”  Having already lost touch with the Network and now lost in a Library, I admit to not having a clue. Much copy was then laid out as good reasons for this site’s existence (what it “stood for”), but I still had to search for a while for the meaning of that “C.” Finally I located a footer on the page that showed the final C stood for “Centre.” [I just now added this to my Word program dictionary to get rid of the wavy red line.] Webster says that this is a British spelling, so perhaps much has been lost in translation!

This is not about picking a fight with some other writer; it’s about a wide-spread problem in semantics. In my estimation, the real loss in translation has been the meaning of the term, “cult.” Back to Webster, the first meaning of the word, cult is “worship; the system of outward forms and ceremonies used in worship.” The first singular, blunt synonym for cult in Roget’s Thesaurus is “religion.” Amen!

With respect for the person and work of the late founder of the CAIC website, Jan Groenveld, I still must offer critical comments here. Finding no open method of contacting those who now run the site, I hope they might encounter this writing and perhaps consider some foundational thoughts. It is also my sincere hope that whoever is carrying on the work begun by Ms. Groenveld is doing so with the utmost care and deep concern for the many who are seeking answers.  I humbly submit alternative views.

The opening salvo on the CAIC page states: “Both Cults & Isms are listed here. Not every group mentioned on this site is considered a destructive cult. Some are ‘benign isms’…” This is, in my humble opinion, a completely misleading (actually, false!) and dangerous assertion. Is this meant to imply that religious groups such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses [Ms. Groenveld had been involved with the two sects and apparently wanted to protect others from these and similar cults.] who take their beliefs seriously and try to live every day by their tenets are more to be avoided than, say, Methodists or Presbyterians who practice a more “social circle” type of religion? That appears to be the gist of the website’s content. And maybe that’s what she found desirable. Perhaps she saw the “old-time religion” practiced by millions of folks wanting simply a “form of godliness” as a good thing.  But none of it is benign!

Give me some of that ole’-time benign Catholicism, Vicar! Make me so comfortable in your huge presence that I forget completely how murderous you have been. Give me Baptists or some other “mainstream” Christians to save me from “the cults.” Make me feel safe inside your large benign group of believers who still march to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers;” make me blind to the fact that even without your guns and swords, you are still ready to kill for your beliefs.

Yes, I realize my views are going to seem radical. After all, doesn’t everyone have to believe something? W. C. Fields said, “I believe I’ll have another drink!” I personally believe life can be better for humans if we would simply become better humans! Who needs all the grief offered by all the gods?

There has been much said, especially among respected (!) religious teachers  about cults and the need to recognize them. Recognition should be easy! Do they preach tenets of belief? Cult! Have we lost all dictionaries and good sense? Or have we developed newer meanings, as yet unwritten, that give “good” cults respectable titles while giving “bad” cults an apparent slur by calling them what they all are? They’re equal, folks!

Okay, okay – they’re equal in the sense that cult means religion or worship.  Admittedly some fanatical groups are especially hazardous to one’s health because they preach against medicines or doctors. Others get people all emotional and fearful of the outside world, then pull a Georgetown or similar suicide ending. But really, how many of these outliers have there been and how large are the total numbers of duped people dying because of them? Not a fraction of the number who died at the hands of mainstream crazies in the Middle Ages who took up sword and marched in crusades to cut down all heretics. For sheer death toll reduction, it would have been better if these godly nuts had done the suicide thing.

Question: where does the “mainstream” designation take hold? Would you say Anglicanism has made it to mainstream? Quakerism? Seventh Day Adventism? How about Lutheranism? Shintoism? Sikhism? Or possibly Christian Scientism? And maybe even Scientology.

I don’t mean to sound harsh or deprecatory toward CAIC because I do appreciate the effort anyone is making to try to help people; it just astounds me that these folks sound so authoritative. Where do you suppose is their foundation for flat statements of “fact?” Here’s a bold quote from the site: “World religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism etc are NOT cults!”
Holy jokes, Batman! Is this some kind of smoke?

Screaming for attention by its absence in the above listing is Christianity! Are we to assume the writer means that (A) Christianity is not a “world religion” equal to these mentioned? Or (B) Christianity is so huge and so dominant (so correct?) that it need not even be mentioned? Perhaps there’s a (C) option (a quite logical one): Christianity is so broken into tiny splinters, many of which are “destructive,” that the huge Abrahamic following called Christianity should not be listed as a singular religion. In that case, why didn’t some of the bigger groups of benign Christians such as Lutherans, Methodists or Catholics make it into the list of acceptable world religions which are NOT cults?  [Interesting that Buddhism makes the cut here, even though their fundamental beliefs do not include a god!]

Yes, it is some kind of smoke – a thick smoke screen laid down by a progression of adroit religionists even more artful than Herbert Armstrong! There have been frauds who managed over millennia to brand all newer or smaller groups with the derisive cult label so they, the big names, can stand above all others with pride. Real godliness, no?

So Armstrongism didn’t reach the all-important “mainstream” designation. Then again, old Herb isn’t necessarily done just because he’s dead! Many popes and other ancient religious leaders lived, pontificated and died long before their legacy spread to become the powerful forces the various main cults are today. Saul of Tarsus started a cult based on this-and-that, rumor, fantasy, etc., and established it on his letter writing and salesmanship skills. Sound familiar? And until nearly three hundred years later, when his little sect was promoted by an emperor, it was practically unheard of.

Catholicism, prior to its huge growth and eventual acknowledgment as a “major” and “mainstream” religion, was the new cult on the block! It was concocted to suck up the Pauline Christian sect and all other willing (and unwilling) believers of all types, long after the supposed god in human form was purportedly sacrificed for mankind. Exactly when did this rag-tag little sect lose the cult (in Latin) label? No doubt it was when the emperor ordered the term to be halted, sometime after proudly announcing his new Roman state religion was a universal (catholic) church. And remember, the growth of the Catholic Church has been at the expense of innumerable (perhaps millions) of humans. These once breathing, walking, worshipping, sincere folks weren’t just duped and left complaining of confusion; they died for their beliefs and/or heresies. Its eventual size and acceptance did not lift the Catholic Church above its amorality and elevate it to some status above cult; it merely made it more powerful, hence more destructive.

Anyone truly in pain due to the “destructive Armstrong cult” should consider that proverbial leap from the frying pan into the fire: become a part of the Catholic cult!  Or the Judaic or Islamic cult!

Again, the above point fits all religions equally. All are cults! The only thing HWA lacked was the dumb luck that would allow him to gain enough in numbers to dominate more of the world’s believers, or to find an emperor ready to stamp his particular sect as a state religion. Armstrong himself stamped his cult as “the one true church,” but try as he might, he just never got to the right emperor with his gifts of crystal!

People contributing to this and other blogs write passionately about the destructiveness of the WCG. Yet in my reading of so many passionate words decrying deception, it appears people are inviting yet more of it!  The majority of former Armstrong followers seem to be headed blindly into some new search for – what? The one true church? Really?! That blinding light in the head needs to be quenched! One venerable fellow (now deceased), a former HWA friend whose long and well-written letter is linked to this site, stated near his conclusion that Armstrong’s followers have been so brainwashed that there is possibly no hope now to guide them into “right channels.” And where might these “right” channels exist? On your television where glib god mongers continue to dupe millions as did Herb & Ted? In local assemblies of god-fearing friendly neighbors who just want to practice the old-time religion? Or in the large denominations which must be “safer” because they are “mainstream?”

Credit where credit is due (to a point), here’s a fine premise and summation found on the CAIC website: “A goldfish living in a bowl that is painted black on the outside will never know it lives in a bowl unless someone takes it out and shows it the rest of the world. Mindsets can be like that — locked into a `thinking box’, unable to see outside because the web of beliefs is so all-encompassing.”

I sing the praises of the above insight. But why stop so short? Apparently the fish analogy has to be accommodated by keeping the fish in a big tank after showing it out of the tiny black bowl. But there’s a much bigger world still outside the tank. So let the fish grow legs! Let it walk away from that web of beliefs the writer mentioned. Let it explore the far horizons and scale the high peaks!

My fellow goldfish, we can leave the bowl and the tank! We have the power!

But let’s get a little closer to logic here, if anyone wants to actually think. It’s doubtful a goldfish will know the difference even when shown the outside of the painted bowl which had been its prison. Humans should be able to do so; humans have not only legs but brains – the ability to grasp the concept of thought. As an ultra-free escapee from all cults, I can tell you it’s pretty beautiful out here in the larger world with the clear view back at the prison. These old legs can no longer take on mountain climbing, but the brain is free to climb, soar, dart and weave as though no limits exist anywhere in my universe. Seeing it all from my new vantage point, I can say that nothing, in my estimation, has ever been as limiting to humankind and to the future of all life on the planet as has been the burden of belief in a supreme being.

Why do people continue to follow any of the thousands of disparate belief systems? Why is it seemingly impossible for mankind to civilize yet farther and finally grow away from religion? Because of tradition and fear. We were all, including Herbert, Loma, their parents, their grandparents, your ancestors and mine, born into the need to believe because belief required it. Fear to not believe required belief. Original ignorance guides all!

I dream, as did Bertrand Russell, of a time when belief is finally overcome by education. A time when fear is overwhelmed by knowledge. A time when humans finally stop hating each other because of their traditional divisive sectarianism. I wish all humans could be simple humanists; that we all could guide our actions by the simplest of all moral obligations – the Golden Rule. Little more is needed, other than traffic lights!



(Calling any dream “strange” is redundant, I suppose!)

This short story is not intended as “filler” for the blog, except in the way it “fills in” a little more of my history with the WCG of the nineteen-seventies. I thought this, my second post, could remain personal and not yet say much that’s controversial. Prepare for that kind of post next time!

This piece is here to clarify a terse summation in my earlier post that merely stated: “By spring of 1976 I had lost interest in riding a train to nowhere and resigned in July.”

One recent morning, in a half-sleep around five o’clock, I realized I was in the throes of a vivid dream (or nightmare).  I stayed still in bed with eyes closed to assist the dream to a conclusion.  It didn’t work.  I merely awakened further and moved from bed to keyboard.  The typical oddities of dreams – misplaced and mismatched people and places – were all there.  But the stranger part was the clarity with which my subconscious mind arranged some of the players and events.
* *

In the dream:  The Powers-That-Be at church headquarters were sending me on a ministerial mission, back to my original home area. Rumblings of mutiny were supposedly advanced in the congregation and I was proposed as the one best equipped to bring unity and peace to the group. Arriving at my destination for a first “look-see” at a congregation I had not visited in many years, I was unimpressed by the mix of tired-looking, old guard stalwarts and the new youthful converts, many of whom seemed to wander about distractedly. Some of the younger congregants, though dressed in the requisite attire and looking dutifully uncomfortable, had earphones in place and were obviously hearing tunes from a device. Others were perched casually on a surrounding brick wall near the meeting room, playing chess or scrabble, anything but studying their bibles and exhibiting dedicated Sabbath conduct.

Leaving the immediate confines of the meeting place, allowing the officious deacon/emcee and his piano player to get things underway, I sought out the leading elder for a preliminary chat. His name was just “Butch.” I found him standing alone in an area under construction, several yards away from the meeting room.

We launched into a talk which immediately left the main subject of the local congregation and its needs of the moment, and meandered through fields of reverie.  “Butch” was, suddenly, the only Butch I can recall ever knowing, my friend in elementary school. [In reality, we have not spoken to each other since 1956.]

As we walked, then mysteriously got separated and had to re-connect after visiting various stores and other venues in the area, our talk finally got back to the trouble at hand: what to do with the unrest in our midst. It was already past the time for me to stand up as honored guest (not yet to be introduced as their new pastor), and begin my sermon. And my sermon was going to be a problem for me. As I intimated to Butch, my personal beliefs no longer were in sync with the old church line. I felt these people had more than a good reason to mutiny; they should walk away and not look back. Butch thought I should leave without revealing anything at all of my personal beliefs. I agreed and we shook hands solemnly as I turned to leave the scene.
* *

Dreams usually seem this nutty and disconnected – actually more so – but this one at least had ample reason to lollygag in my subconscious. As I gained full consciousness on this particular morning, I realized I needed to write these things down for reflection. Obviously the reading I’ve been doing of late has put me into a reflective mood. Check out the parallels from the dream in this actual history:

In 1975, when I was told I was needed in the Chicago (south) church area for WCG, some interesting tidbits were in place. Clearly, these items were the framework of my early morning dream. For one important point, the main reason I was given by my superiors for this transfer (for real, in 1975) was to bring a unifying attitude to the Chicago region. For another, Chicago south actually met for services in northern Indiana (not far from my boyhood home).

It would be interesting today to know whether George Meeker ever knew of my somewhat “clandestine” and unwritten mission as I was moved from Texas to become one the four pastors in the Chicago area. (Of course, due to his seniority, he possibly was told quite a different, perhaps more complete, story.) George was pastor, for some few years there, I think, of the Chicago (north) congregation. Carl Gustafson had fairly recently been brought to Hinsdale, Illinois to pastor the Chicago (west) group. In this old and expanding domain of Dean Blackwell’s pastorate of the early 1960s (where I met Joe Tkach as a new deacon, once called by Dean Blackwell in my hearing “the hard-headed Russian”), the fourth congregation was the Chicago (black) group, pastored by the late Harold Jackson. Too bad I never got to talk with Harold again in later years; he could have enlightened me quite a lot, I suppose.

Here we were, in the mid 1970s, still gradually adapting to the need to practice racial equality in this land of the free, etc., and part of my “mission” was to see that all the players in the ministerial group could get along and cooperate. And within the mix was a segregated congregation! Apparently, as I was surreptitiously told without clarity, the white pastors were not making enough effort to locate meeting halls for the holy days, and other potential occasions, where all members in the Chicago area could meet together. There was obviously concern on either side of the race issue about bringing large numbers of whites to the south side of Chicago or, conversely, to bring (any!) number of blacks into one of the other districts. Not only this, it was hinted to me with the old “Mission Impossible” style of secrecy, (the authorities would disavow any knowledge, blah, blah, blah) that I might have to use polemic persuasion to get all the actors to perform in harmony. In fact, it was perhaps going to take magic (my word) to assist even the other two white pastors to interact with each other in a more positive way.

So we see my dream’s old stalwart (George) and the young renegade (Carl), who probably would have been carrying an Ipod with tunes in his ears, had such technology been around then. [I got to know Carl quite well and really like the guy. My wife and I visited him a few years ago in Casper, Wyoming, where he owned and operated a lounge. He also sang with his band, performing very well a few jazz numbers he had composed.]

Then the most respectable of all, probably, Harold the black pastor, was being discriminated against even by our own directed church policy. The mutiny of my dream was observable, in 1975, in the ministry itself, and I was sent there with the understanding that bringing unity to this region was right in my wheelhouse.

Keep in mind here that in 1975, I was still blissfully ignorant of much of the previous year’s mass exodus. Yes, I had helped to “rescue” some “lost sheep” in that eastern seaboard mission for a few weeks in ‘74, but I really did not know the magnitude of the uprising. Years later, looking at the whole Chicago arrangement through disassociated eyes, I could see clearly why headquarters sent me there.  And guess what; within a few months there was, in fact, more unity evident. George had enthusiastically joined me in finding a great meeting hall somewhere on the north side of town and Carl went along on some of the planning trips, joining George and me for lunches, dinners and drinks as we worked out the details. I believe we convinced Harold to come along on one finalizing meeting. Then for the two holy days before heading off to the FoT, we met as one large congregation with the four of us pastors sharing the speaking duties. No racial undertones ever seemed to tense up or cause any fear for our African-American members as they ventured bravely out of Chicago’s south side and into “whitey” country.

By early 1976, all pastors were getting along well, services were being planned for spring all in one hall, peace seemed to reign in Chicagoland, and I was bored out of my wits! My value as a political pawn was now minimal but my sudden awareness that the church was playing politics stirred something deep inside. The willful naiveté of my ministerial years was gnawing at my conscience and questions of my own worth began to emerge.

Also, the longstanding personal struggle I had been feeling, that of having to judge people in their personal lives, to separate couples who were judged “not married in God’s eyes,” to instruct young couples in the details of what would be allowed and disallowed (after marriage!) in their sexual activity, etc., etc., all came to the fore. I looked in the mirror one morning in late spring of ’76 and asked one question of myself: “Do you like what you’re doing with your life?” The instant answer was an unequivocal, “No!” So I was living in a “good-news, bad-news” joke. The bad news was that I was not happy with what I was doing; the good news was that, if I did it right, I could keep on doing it for eternity!
* *

Oh yes, the dream. I figured out the part about Butch. Though it wasn’t clear why no actual elder, such as one irascible fellow who owned a mushroom farm out south of Chicago and often partook of wine in the close company of a Catholic priest, made it into my dream at all; it is clear why Butch, the innocent bystander, was there. In my current (2011) consideration of whether I might make it back to northern Indiana in a couple of years for a fiftieth-year reunion of my 1963 graduating class, I also suddenly thought I might locate some fellow students from the first school I attended up to sixth grade. Maybe some of those will be getting together some miles from where I would probably be visiting with a few of my actual graduating class. If this other reunion of students occurs, perhaps I could visit with them also. And who knows, I might find my first best friend there as well – Butch!

If Butch and I should get together, I’m confident we will not discuss unrest in the CoG!

Next time, look for some words on the subject of cults.  Quite a lot has already been thrown out there in blogland, and I definitely have my views.



Mark Manning
February, 2011

New note added 2/26/11

In the event someone I know from my early years, maybe an AC friend, happens to go back to read my posts here, I wanted to say a cheerful “Hello” and encourage you to make contact, if my entries here are not too upsetting.  I’m also on facebook, so go there if you prefer.

Now the original post:

Prior to my comments, I want to encourage folks to watch the video James  placed on the PT Home page: Karen Armstrong’s Golden Rule message.
She is NOT a part of “Armstrongism” but a British scholar and religion historian.

* *

A respected friend from my college days at AC, Big Sandy, recently gave me some sage advice: “If I were you, I would just forget all this drama and keep moving forward.” Of course, I am inclined that way and will certainly continue moving forward after a brief detour into the HWA,WCG blogosphere. My friend pointed out that my life has been good since I left all the CoG business behind, and I agree. However, as a humanist, I cannot refuse to at least try to be of help to my fellow humans. Perhaps other lives could improve.

It is quite possible that I do not belong on this blog. Then again, after much recent reading here and on other fall-out blogs, I see that my words might be of value to a few. I am both shocked and fascinated as I scan so many websites devoted to the Armstrong phenomenon. Scanning is about all I can do to cover only a small part of probably millions of words on the subject adrift in the ether. So quite naturally, I will add more! However, noted blogger Greta Christina advises to keep it brief; I will do so.
*  *

In 1963, the Radio Church of God became my entire world. (That moment “a light went on in my head,” as described by Donal from Ireland in his recent letter to the editor, happened for me at eighteen and fresh out of high school. I gave my youthful best years to “the work.”) This past fact is what today links me to others reading and writing here. When I was approached by the PT editor who wondered whether I might make a contribution, I simply replied that having suffered virtually not at all after my departure from all WCG contact, I may not be helpful in any way to this readership. But I will offer what I can.

My maiden name (!) was Salyer. So when I say “departure from all WCG contact,” I mean contact with a church group. My relationship with my brother Larry has, over the long haul, not suffered fatally from the complete severing of our “spiritual bonds.” Our worldviews are now worlds apart, but we maintain personal contact and we respect each other as individuals with individual rights and interests.

About the name change – as I told James, I have never been in hiding! My name was not changed to protect the guilty, it was simply a name not conducive to inter-action with the world at large. Within the confines of that small organization in which Larry and I had become known, I never ran into anyone who couldn’t spell or pronounce my last name. Immediately following my exit from the WCG, I was amazed to find that the name presented a challenge to many people I met. The first time “Salyer” was printed in a program for a play in which I appeared, it was spelled “Slayer.” Not helpful to someone hoping to become known on stage or in television and film! So I chose “Manning” as a comfortable stage name to go along with Mark, which I’ve always liked as my given name. After it became clear in the early 1980s that I would have a career in the acting profession, I made the new name legal. That’s it. I’ve even clarified this on my facebook profile.

[Note: I didn’t glom on to a famous name! There was no hint in 1979 of the fame the two Manning quarterbacks would bring to the name later. Their father, Archie, had also been an NFL quarterback prior to this, but he played for the hapless Saints who blossomed much later.]

Following four years at AC in Texas (1964-68), I was sent to Amarillo, TX as a ministerial assistant and some months later ordained as an elder. Ordination to “preaching elder” in 1971 made it possible for me to be sent to “raise up” a new congregation in Wichita Falls, TX in 1972, taking over also the responsibility for Abilene, TX and a bible study group in Lawton, Oklahoma. Fort Worth, TX and Chicago (south) were to be my later assignments.

After more than twelve years of devotion and service in the WCG, I resigned my pastorate and made my personal declaration of independence on our nation’s bicentennial day, Saturday, July 4, 1976. I recall the specific details because I gave the sermon that day and then revealed to the congregation that it was, by choice, my last day as their pastor. My departure then was with honor; I had no gripes to air and took no one else with me. Indeed, I wanted no part in guiding anyone; that’s why I left! I was to be, in Ron Dart’s words, a “lay minister,” invited to speak here and there when practical – was even asked to lead songs at that fall’s FoT. But I declined invitations and stopped attending any services because I was simply not interested any longer in religion.

I mention the above details because it has likely been assumed I was part of, or even one of the instigators of, the “falling away” that took place in the mid 1970s. Not so, and the point is of no major consequence. However, I need to say here that in slogging through the blogs during the final week of 2010, I was surprised to read that an estimated 70 ministers and 11,000 members left WCG in 1974. I was not aware the numbers were anywhere close to that reported.

Interestingly, I never pursued more information at the time even though it was in 1974 that my brother Larry and I were told to stow our small children somewhere and take our wives with us to work for an unspecified time in Washington D.C.  Ours was “not to reason why…” We were taken to a kind of “mission control office” and settled into rooms in a hotel where Wayne Cole and Dean Blackwell were ensconced. From there we traveled to services, meetings, bible studies, homes – wherever we were directed, and “rescued lambs” left astray by some renegade ministers. We stayed in the D.C. region for perhaps four weeks.

My wife and I were sent into Richmond, VA and Buffalo, NY, to name two cities I recall from the speaking schedule. Quite frankly, I knew little of any similar happenings in other areas of the country. Until now, I was never aware that more than four or five ministers had left and I thought our little team had heroically “saved” the flock! [You cannot imagine how surreal all this sounds to my own ears as I read it back now!] My wife and I were allowed to return to Ft. Worth for the time being but asked to consider Richmond as a new pastorate. Somehow I found the guts to decline then, but within a year, the headquarters team decided (without asking this time) that I would be moved to Chicago (south) in 1975.

By spring of 1976 I had lost interest in riding a train to nowhere and resigned in July.
*  *

The “shock” I mentioned in the opening has to do with my thirty-five years of total and peaceful disinterest, jarred by this recent introduction to so much written material available on what I considered a tiny and minimal-impact sliver of the world’s religion pie. And I had tossed out the whole pie as unfit-for-human-consumption! Many of you who are contributing to this body of commentary have obviously not walked away unscathed as easily as I did, and I am sorry to see that a website about pain is needed. I am also sorry to have been unaware of a possible chance to help anyone who might find in my chosen world sans religion a way to move forward painlessly. One post-Armstrong blog comment I noticed said, “Welcome to the asylum.” I’d prefer to welcome folks out of it! Maybe you too can find a way to douse that counter-productive, blinding light in your head and wake up to the real light outside – the light of a brand new day in a far bigger world.

Since I very well may be a bore to your blog, I am wrapping this up now with the offer to contribute more if it’s desired. Seeing the way Dick Armstrong’s writing was received/not received, I simply don’t care to insert myself into some ongoing discussion where my views on life would not be productive. Much can be said from my vantage point and much of it might be considered outrageous. However, there is a chance a few of my thoughts could be of help to someone, so I make myself available to write more if and when requested to do so.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark [Salyer] Manning

More from Mark HERE.


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