The Armstrongist Hydra: Why the Movement Survives its Prophetic Failures

By Matt Hilhorst, Contributor.

I’ve been following several of the Armstrongist splinters for a while now. I stumbled across them while researching cults and their internal mechanisms, and they struck me as a particularly interesting example. Not only do they subscribe to an end-of-days worldview, but several have gone so far as to repeatedly set dates–often only five to ten years in the future. These dates then pass without anything untoward happening, but the cults simply rearrange their teachings slightly and then carry on.

On the surface it seems ludicrous that any organization (or person) which claims to be in direct contact with an all-powerful supernatural being should make clear predictions and have them fail repeatedly without this having a serious impact on their follower base. But while it is true that some leave, or head for a different Armstrong-based group, the essential belief in prophesy and the core tenets of Armstrongism often remain intact despite the perennial reality checks.

This phenomenon seems to defy all logic. In a logical world, people would see a ‘prophet,’ listen, and then simply watch to see if the prophecies come true. In the event of a failure, then the ‘prophet’ is either mistaken or out to deceive people. In the event of a mistake the ‘prophet’s’  judgement is obviously impaired–it’s a big step to go out and declare yourself the direct recipient of a divine message, and then tell people to arrange their lives accordingly. On the other hand, if the ‘prophet’ stands to gain power, influence or money by propagating a fraudulent belief system, then it is much more likely that he is seeking personal aggrandizement to the detriment of his followers.

So how do the Armstrongist splinters defy the logical outcome? What keeps people inured, even after they witness failure after failure? … Continue reading