Statistical Improbabilities


“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, 

but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.


Toxic Leaders

When a fire swoops through your life, as it did for me, you are left to wonder how it is possible to be so gullible for so many years. How is it possible to “just go along” with some pretty crazy and, on a few occasions, even illegal notions? Certainly, it was not all crazy, but there were some really stand out episodes I completely ignored. Over the years I have pondered this a bit, and occasionally I run across books, articles and videos that help answer some of these  questions. I recently discovered a book called “The Allure of Toxic Leaders” which I have just begun to read. This book addresses why mankind seeks out leaders, toxic or not, then describes this phenomenon very effectively. Below is part of the opening statement regarding toxic leaders and the enchantment that draws people to them. 

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul uses the word "bewitched". Or, who has placed you under such a spell that you abandoned what is right? In this book, he describes the same thing as Paul, but uses the word "enchanted" instead.

… More often, however, we followers deny how truly enchanted we are. We may grouse about toxic leaders, but frequently we tolerate them—and for surprisingly long periods of time.

Tolerate, in fact, may be far too weak a word to describe the complex relationship between toxic leaders and their followers. These intriguing leaders first charm but then manipulate, mistreat, undermine, and ultimately leave their followers far worse than they found them. Yet many of the followers hang on.

… Followers of toxic leaders often do much more than simply tolerate them. They commonly adulate, abet, and actually prefer toxic leaders to their nontoxic counterparts….”

The book continues on to describe some of the ways toxic leaders behave. Some, of course, are worse than most; Jim Jones in Guyana for example; but those who profess to be a “leader” usually fit into at least one of the bullet points he references. The book  points out not all leaders are toxic, but the truth is many who seek leadership positions do so to support their ego, not out of a desire to be of service to others. The result is often a very toxic environment. The book section is extended so I have abbreviated the list here slightly. Ellipses mark the gaps.

·         Leaving their followers worse than they found them…

·         Violating the basic standards of human rights of their own supporters, as well as those of other individuals and groups they do not count among their followers.

·         Consciously feeding their followers illusions that enhance the leader’s power and impair the follower’s capacity to act independently…

·         Playing to the basest fears and needs of the followers.

·         Stifling constructive criticism and teaching supporters (sometimes by threats and authoritarianism) to comply with, rather than to question, the leaders’ judgements, and actions.

·         Misleading followers through deliberate untruths and misdiagnoses of issues and problems.



·         Maliciously setting constituents against one another.

·         Treating their own followers well but persuading them to hate and destroy others.

I single out the Assembly of the Body of Christ (ABC) on this site simply because that is the only point of reference I have from my  life experience. There are toxic churches, and church movements, everywhere that behave very similar to the ABC. If the shoe fits elsewhere, the phenomenon is exactly the same. Within groups there are also factions of the approved and disapproved and this has always been evident in the ABC. For the disapproved, life can become very toxic and that toxicity can be chronic or acute. There are indications in the letters to various churches written by Paul, and others, that leaders back then had also become overbearing in the early church days. Paul even confesses that he too can be overbearing at times. These overbearing leaders and "lieutenants" brought about the same wars over words, laws, and practices we have today.

The book diagrams and lists the marks of a toxic leader; however the primary focus of the book is to explain why so many degrade their own lives to the point of blindly following men who are, in many respects, toxic. It speaks also to the reason a “whistleblower” ends up as a pariah, hated, and put out, even by those who agree they were right in their assessments. There were many that expressed to me dissatisfaction with the overbearing toxicity in the ABC, but when I was falsely accused of blasphemy these same persons slipped into the shadows, afraid they too would be targeted. This scenario happens frequently in the secular, political and religious world.

In 1974, a social scientist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to see how far “followers” would allow a “leader” to push them. Wearing a gray lab coat, Milgram put “followers” in a windowless room with a “test subject” hooked to electrical wires on the other side of the wall. The “follower” was given a list of questions to ask the “test subject” and, with each wrong answer, they were to give the “test subject” a simulated shock. The “follower” was completely in control of when the shock was given and how far increased that shock would be. As the test went on the “follower” was told by the “leader” to incrementally increase the voltage with each wrong answer. By the end of the experiment the “test subject” appeared to be in excruciating pain, and possibly even dead. If the “follower” hesitated to push the button, and put the “test subject” in intense pain, the “leader” would simply say to them blandly “the test must go on”. The “follower” would then, having now lost all empathy or compassion for the "test subject", push the button and continue to inflict larger and larger amounts of pain.  The “test subject” was, of course, just acting and not actually being shocked, but the “follower” did not know this. They assumed they were placing this person in extreme pain and life peril, but still considered it their duty, as a “follower” of the “leader” to blindly obey. After all, he was wearing a lab coat, the mark of a true scientist. 

But he was a wolf in sheep's clothing as it were. The "follower" assumed, since the “leader” said it was OK, nothing bad would actually happen, even though they could see how much pain they were actually inflicting and many expressed concern the "test subject" had dies but still followed orders and thus absolved themselves of personal responsibility They were "just following orders". The same excuse used by the Nazi's at the Nuremberg trials when asked about their torture and killing of Jews in Auschwitz and other camps. It was not a valid excuse.

In the Milgram experiment, it took very little time for the “follower” to become numb to the pain they were inflicting. Not a single one ever opened the door to even see if the "test subject" was alive or not. For those in the ABC, and other toxic churches, it is similar to when Paul talked about those having a conscience seared with a hot iron. Apparently there were those back then in Paul's era that had also fallen into a pattern of untruth and hypocrisy.

I have, in my years in the ABC, seen this similar scenario play out. Not with electrical shock of course, but instead with psychic and spiritual pain administered through concerted attacks by “leaders” and  then through their “followers”. Once a person is perceived as being a “leader”, whether by choice or by force, those that “follow” this human being will do anything they prescribe, potentially losing all sense of compassion and decency. Even if it seems extremely painful to a person they once liked or loved, and even if that treatment totally destroys the individual, or their life, they just continue on and  justify their behavior by attaching the name and instruction of an elder, a prophet, an evangelist, an apostle, etc. to their actions. But these are all men  who have no right to condemn another person to pain. 

How does this fulfill love? How does this fit into the parameters of “the fruit of the Spirit”? Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness… In these circumstances, this is not a simulation, but is indeed very real, inflicting real pain on a person's life. I have seen this pain inflicted on many. I too have been one of those who followed along as a “follower”, held the coats, all while holding my nose at the smell of it all. For that, I am ashamed. There is a long chain of damaged individuals left behind in the tail of the ABC. What does this say about those who have thrust themselves into “leadership” positions in the ABC such as Gilbert Larson, Andy Atwell, Bruce Leonard, Steve Patton?  Are we not to follow God and not follow man?

When we become an adult, we still maintain the desire to have an authority figure in our life. A boss, a religious leader, a politician... We leave our parents then fill that void with religious, political, and career-based leaders that may, or may not, have our best interest at heart. We don’t actually need leaders. What we really need are mentors who will speak to us from their own experience, with empathy, compassion, and meekness on a level plane, knowing their own imperfections are just as great as the one they mentor. Paul said it well in his letter to the Galatians,

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.

For many, God is not tangible enough so they seek to fill that void with a tangible human leader. One who is just as frayed or defective as they are, but usually has a larger ego so they appear to be strong. In fact, the opposite is likely true. These “leaders”, puffed up with pride, use fear, not respect, to maintain their “followers” in their orbit. The book lists six factors that cause us to seek out a leader:

1.       “A need for a reassuring authority figures…”

2.       Our need for security and certainty, which prompts us to surrender freedom…”

3.       Our need to feel chosen or special.

4.       Our need for membership…

5.       Our fear of ostracism, isolation, and social death” (I would add to that list “spiritual death”)

6.       Our fear of personal powerlessness to challenge a bad leader

When I attended college in San Diego I was pressured by my father, and several others, to dis-enroll in a Psychology course. To get a transfer certificate I needed this class, but I was essentially tormented into dropping it. This was another one of those occasions where I was commanded by my "father in the Lord" to do something that was against my best interests. The reason given, is it would “lead me away from God”. This was not true.

I also, at this time, discovered the show “Nova”, a PBS documentary series, available in the college library on Betamax machines.  I was fascinated by the series and began inhaling these videos in my free time between classes. This caused my dad some concern when I mentioned them so he followed me to the college one day to review what I was watching. He seemed displeased some of the shows spoke of theories that may not line up with his biblical teachings. As if I would believe everything. As if I was completely incapable of determining fact from theory.

I had the power to end these intrusions in my life but I was locked in to being a “follower”.  That was my mistake. I regret my inability to stand up to my father to this day. I often wonder if he actually did not want me taking that Psychology course because it might set me free from the stranglehold he had on my life through intimidation. Speculation, of course, but I was very gullible and compliant.

Statistical Improbability

One of the key components of following after toxic leaders is they offer a feeling of exclusivity. It feels great psychically to be “special”, to feel all others are "not the chosen", and you are "one of the chosen" simply by affiliation with "the group". In this post I address that exclusivity  “followers” in the ABC and similar groups feel. 

The ABC believes they have the exclusive franchise on the knowledge of salvation of men’s souls. They believe this  because of one book published by a man named John Stegenga in the 1960’s.  There were originally only two-thousand of this book printed, and a few can still be found on eBay for a princely sum, due to its rarity. This book, it is theorized, allows one to rightly interpret the scripture through use of extensive Greek word study. This book allegedly allows one to find the most precise and exact path to salvation. These studies are then matched together in just the right sequence to “prove” a seven-step path to salvation. It is a long and convoluted process to reach this exact understanding and has led to many rules being implemented and wars over words. 

The ABC also uses a Bible translation based on supposed numeric principles. This Bible was constructed by a man named Ivan Panin and it is interesting to note Panin’s formulas were also applied to the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and a book of secular poetry and all of these were also “proven”, mathematically, to be “inspired by God”, just as his numeric theory proved the Bible was "inspired by God". The subsets of numbers Panin used in his formulas were not drawn from ancient texts, Aramaic or Greek, but were instead constructed by Ivan Panin himself, of his own design, and his results are questionable.

Taking the lead however, of following numeric principles when seeking God, I examined the probability the ABC has THE only knowledge of the keys to salvation, to the exclusion of all other persons, churches, or movements on the planet. The accepted teaching is that all other churches, and church movements, are “Mystery Babylon” and are therefore not acceptable to God. I am not defending any other church or movement as being valid, nor do I seek to prove any church invalid. That is far beyond my ability or scope. If someone were to ask me directly, I can only point to following God and not choosing any man as your leader. We ourselves are the temple of God. Paul said it best to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Listen, but examine; trust, but verify. If someone tells you “God spoke to them" then gives you some advice, try that spirit and ask why God didn’t just speak to you directly. Often individuals will put out their own opinions, then try to make that opinion bulletproof by attaching God's name to it. Humans have agendas. Humans can be toxic and injurious. Attaching the name of God to our own opinions is the utmost example of using God’s name in vain. It is a way to puff up our own vanity and ego, not build up others.

Here are some basic statistics. In all of recorded time, not accounting for the potential for human life prior to that first man (Adam), there have been about one-hundred and nine-billion people that have lived and died on earth. Give or take a few billion, I suppose, since there is no general census to verify that exact number.  Since population growth is exponential, about half of that number lived after the time of Christ, roughly fifty billion with some change. In earlier times, before our modern era of antibiotics and medical miracles, only about half of the population ever escaped childhood.

There are currently about eight billion people alive on the planet.  The ABC, in all of its history, has touched the lives of perhaps two to three thousand people, at most. Likely much fewer than that sum, but I am being quite generous. Currently the membership of the ABC is assumed to be about two to three hundred people, but I’ll be generous again, since I have no actual proof of an exact number, and will assume it is is now about five hundred. These five hundred individuals, among a population of eight billion other earthlings, is roughly .000000625% of the population. Even bumping up those numbers fourfold, or ten-fold, the reach of the ABC message is not even close to reaching the current living population of the earth. Yet, they feel they have the exclusive franchise on salvation. 

The mandate, if we believe the scriptures, is to go out into all of the world and “preach the gospel” to every person. Yet, in fifty plus years, using the ABC model of intense Greek word study to prove oneself worthy, they have touched the lives of a maximum of .0000025% of the earth’s population. Sharing the gospel, ABC style, requires a variety of books and tedious hours of studying Greek words, tenses, and moods. That method is not transportable enough to reach the entire globe as mandated. It can take the average person one year, or several years, to finish a complete foundational word study. There are then further steps to follow to "reach perfection". 

I know from the meetings in Mexico, translating from English to Greek, then into Spanish was quite challenging. It led to a lot of courteous head nodding from attendees who really had no clue what was being taught. Do we truly believe God is that small? Can this method of intense Greek study really be justified in a universal scope? Is John Stegenga’s copyright 1963 book the only way to find God’s path to the eternal? In all of human history, Stegenga’s book, through the ABC, has touched the lives of approximately .0000000183 of the human population. Nearly all of that population lived prior to the publishing of this book so that’s not even coming close to meeting Jesus’ mandate of “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  

The Stegenga book runs for several hundred pages. Assuming this is about one-hundred and fifty double sided sheets, the ABC would need to photocopy one point two trillion pages to give these out to the entire world. The book weighs about three pounds when printed so it would be necessary to ship twenty-four billion pounds of paper all across the globe. The current population would need eight billion notebooks to house all of these trillions of pages and it would require the conscripting of an army of workers to print, package, ship and deliver all these books, then keep delivering them to all new persons becoming an adult. It would take immense feats of leadership to get all eight billion sets out to individuals, teach them how to use them, then assure they stay in line with the ABC doctrines, and all see eye to eye. It’s an impossibility.

Well, naturally I understand it is not possible to reach all eight billion people on earth, and most won’t even choose to listen anyhow, but even if one were to tackle just one percent of that number (eighty million), or even 1/10th of one percent (eight million), or even 1/100th of that number, it is a staggering task for just a few hundred people. It is indeed sheer folly. Using the evidence at hand I can  surmise loading people up with hundreds of pages of Greek studies at the weight of three pounds each is not feasible in the larger scope of things. In fact, it’s absurd in the light that technology to produce these economical bound books is actually very modern. Photocopiers were developed in my lifetime. High speed printing was developed in 1814 but still not very fast. Typesetting machines were developed in 1822 but they required a number of workers to use and load.  Paper mills began churning out less expensive paper in 1803. Paper was once a highly prized, and expensive, commodity using plants, not trees. When I was in high school it took minutes to duplicate just one page of text. We used these weird greasy pink sheets and fed the paper through the machine twice for each page. The print would then fade quickly if hit by rays from the sun. But it was progress.

The conclusion is this, and I stole this from Solomon. Of making many books there is no end and much studying is a weariness to the flesh. To quote another man I once knew. We should not become so heavenly minded we become no earthly good. Those who threaten the egos of leaders, puffed up in their self-righteousness, are put away, the memory of them killed.  Jesus spoke of this work of the fleshly mind in Mark twelve when addressing the Sadducees, Pharisees and others taken in their ego. The end? Only the Lord knows those that are his.

"Their actions were motivated by hate. Hate is not from God. People who use religion to hate can’t love God. It is impossible." 

              From: The Broken Circle, Memoirs of Leaving Afghanistan"



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