By This Standard: The Plain Truth About Partiality

As I note from time to time, people often send me things to read [1].  The reasons for this are somewhat straightforward.  As someone who reads voluminously and also rather widely, and who shares my comments on what I read rather freely, people who want to be heard and believe their writing is worthwhile as part of a conversation generally find me a willing and tolerant audience.  This is not too surprising, I would think.  This world is full of people who want to be heard, and knowing that one has allowed someone to share the thoughts and feelings of their heart, however they would be evaluated, is something that is immensely worthwhile.  Sometimes someone has to lay down the role of the critic and simply be someone who listens to other people as they work out their own frustrations and the burdens of their own mind, as difficult as it may be to avoid being critical.  Sometimes this task is full of irony, as was the case this weekend when I turned to the writings of an acquaintance whose wife and daughters I drove to and from the airport for Preteen Camp last year and plan to do so again later this week.

As is often the case with the writings I am sent, the ending is the most important part.  So let us begin with the ending, because it says what the author was trying to say:  “If Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormons), Charles Taze Russel (founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), Joel Olsteen (of Joel Olsteen Ministries), or Creflo Dollar (Creflo Dollar ministries) had made similar claims to those included in this document, few COG members would have difficulty in reaching the conclusion that such individuals were false prophets who were greedy for gain.

Is it logical, or defendable, to reach a different conclusion about Mr. Armstrong? (42) [2]”

As is the case with many writers, myself included, the author simply stops writing when he reaches his conclusion.  That conclusion says what he wants to say and he does not belabor the point.  He assumes that his audience is made up of readers from the Church of God, and assumes that they wish to be fair-minded.  Having made his case (which we will discuss below), the author presents the reader with a comparison, encouraging the reader to make a fair judgment that lacks partiality for the subject of the author’s critical analysis.  The implicit appeal of the writer is for the subject to be viewed as a con artist and false prophet and charlatan, a judgment that many readers would be loath to make, for understandable reasons.

In terms of the structure of the paper as a whole, much of it consists of quotations that deal with a select set of issues:  did the speculations of the paper’s subject reach the level where he would fairly be considered a false prophet, and what can be said about his dedication to preaching the gospel as opposed to living the jet-setter lifestyle on the tithes and offerings of members and coworkers?  Overall, it can be said that the conclusions the author comes to are pretty damning, and the book has page after page of citation from the subject’s own voluminous writings dealing with predictions, the inevitable back-peddling when predictions have gone awry, as well as incessant calls for money in a state of permanent financial crisis despite a lifestyle of living high on the hog.  It is not hard to read the author’s frustration even decades after the death of the person being written about, and it will not be hard to imagine the outrage that some readers would have about reading this immensely and fiercely critical analysis of the subject’s writings on these subjects.

As a fairly voluminous writer myself, my own feelings are somewhat complicated.  In reading this, I winced more than a little bit at the ferocity of the analysis, wondering how unkind later readers will be to my own body of text.  What real or imagined sins will I be accused of with my own words being used to condemn me?  That is the sort of horror that induces a great deal of anxiety in those who are already prone to a great deal of worry about matters of honor and reputation, and I am certainly deeply and even obsessively concerned with such matters.  Aside from this, though, my feelings are complicated even apart from being a writer for whom critical analysis may not always be kind or accurate.  The complication that arises is to what extent does being highly critical of the subject of this fierce paper involve one’s feelings about the content of the belief system that one learned.

This is likely a big part of the objection that many people will have to this essay and others like it.  I suspect it is a big part of the criticism I have received myself for my own somewhat free criticism of certain aspects of my own religious background.  I think one has to be clear that if one is critical about people making merchandise of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and that is something worth being critical of, one has to be mindful of the fact that one is not saying that what was made merchandise is necessarily corrupted as a result.  To use a metaphor not taken at random, the Gospel itself is like a child in an abusive family, and whose who abuse such a child are like those who make merchandise of the Gospel and behave in abusive ways towards believers.  One may have very positive feelings and a certain fierce protectiveness of the one and a feeling of strong aversion or anger towards the other(s).  One gets a sense of that reading this paper as well.

So, what is one to make of this paper ultimately?  The author confines his point to dealing with the character of his subject as taken from his own words and actions, and the results are not particularly pleasant.  That said, that point cannot be so narrowly confined, as to deal with the subject of this ferocious paper one has to come to grips with our own past, and the way we make sense of the message that was delivered by the subject and whatever complicated messages we may have about the paper’s subject as well says a lot about ourselves.  How we wrestle with the dark truths about ourselves and others, about the meanings of our own experiences and the contexts of our lives ultimately tells us and everyone else about what sort of people we are.  In this world some of us are compelled to wrestle with God and with man–what will the result of that wrestling be?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/31/i-read-bad-books-so-you-dont-have-to/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/15/better-half-a-loaf-than-none-a-textual-analysis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/04/20/the-other-side-of-the-coin/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/07/08/in-vulcans-forge/

[2] All citations are taken from the following unpublished manuscript:

D.K.C. “The Plain Truth About Mr. Armstrong.”  Unpublished Manuscript. 2017.  42 pp.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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