Armstrongism: Religion…Or Rip Off, by Marion J. McNair
This is not a very good book, but it is a bad book in ways that are deeply interesting and worthwhile even if they do not make the book any better. As someone who has read a fair amount of books whose contents are fermented with sour grapes of one kind or another, this book strikes a familiar tone to other books by frustrated former insiders who are embittered at what they once believed in and who strike out as a way of making them feel better about where they are now. The author is obviously familiar enough with the facts to present a funhouse distorted picture of that reality and to treat it with scorn and contempt, but the book is worth more in showing how the author himself engages in the same sort of wild speculation and bad prophecies that he accuses Mr. Armstrong of doing and the work as a whole has a tabloidesque and gossipy feel to it that most readers who approach it at this point will find to be in poor taste besides being potentially libelous in nature. It is perhaps telling that the author refuses to address the matter of religion as much as the political power struggles that have lamentably long been a part of the Church of God.
This book is about 300 pages long and written with all the commitment to fairness and truth of a political pamphlet (which is basically what this is). Published in 1977, the author begins with a prologue, acknowledgements, foreword, preface, and introduction. The author then spends several chapters talking about the worldwide empire of HWA (I), introducing the subject (1), talking about how to get donors and get money (2, 3), his fondness for jetsetting (4), an unfriendly psychological profile (5), GTA (6), various men who have were influential leaders in the church of the 1960’s (7), and the supposed media psychology of the Plan Truth and Good News (8). The second part of the book discusses the religious order of Worldwide (II), including chapters about the conflicts at the heart of HWA’s time with the Church of God 7th Day (9), through strangely enough not dealing with doctrinal matters, the question of credentials and the Radio Church of God’s start (10), questions about HWA’s prophecies (11), and Ambassador College and more discussions about failed speculations (12) between 1960 and 1972. The third part of the book discusses the supposed decay and decline of Worldwide (III), with a look at the top-down governmental model (13), early divisions (14) and doctrinal disputes (15), the problem of poor administration (16), the 1973 split (17), and the author’s own speculations on where Armstrongism is to go next (18), after which there is an epilogue, reference notes, bibliography, index, and abbreviations.
This book is largely forgotten today if it was ever particularly well known, and it is forgotten for good reasons. Yet if this book is instructive, it is as a lesson for caution for two sorts of people. The first sort of person is the one who makes wild speculations and desires a reputation for being an insightful prophet or commentator on world events, because this book is largely a collection of prophetic and speculative cold takes by Herbert W. Armstrong and others over the course of decades of writing and speaking. Obviously, it is worthwhile to preface what one is saying when one is guessing or speculating or supposing as opposed to speaking with presumed authority on a matter. The second group of people who need to view this work as a cautionary tale are those who seek to take advantage of the careless speaking and elite status of religious leaders and view them as objects of contempt rather than people to be respected and taken seriously. This book is a reminder that dishy and embittered reportage work seldom ages well, as this book looks particularly bad in retrospect when one looks at what happened to Worldwide and its leaders that demonstrated that whatever else can be said about the Church of God tradition, it has not been undertaken for the money.