The Little Church of Horrors

Apocalypse now in Wisconsin: Carnivorous plants and the "end times"

This photo of Pinguicula cyclosecta, a butterwort, was circulated via the Web to an fellow carnivorous-plant enthusiast by a person named Terry Ratzmann who claimed to have grown it and nurtured it. The genus Pinguicula lures insects "onto the sticky surfaces of its leaves, which retain the prey and suffocate them with mucilage." The leaf edges then "slowly curl over the prey item, trapping it and allowing it to be digested over time by enzymes secreted by the leaves."

IF THE CURRENT news reports are true, it looks like the suspected gunman in the church massacre in suburban Milwaukee grew carnivorous plants as a hobby. He's described as an avid gardener, press reports say he raised such meat-eating vegetables as Venus flytraps, and I found on the Web what may be Ratzmann's photo (see above) of a carnivorous plant.

But the Living Church of God, the small sect he belonged to, was also one of Terry Ratzmann's passions. Perhaps he was driven past the edge by the right-wing sect's nonstop apocalyptic warnings—a set of scare-tactic teachings similar to those used to great effect by the Bush regime's religious zealots.

Incessant fear-mongering is a proven strategy of evangelists and other politicians. It worked in the last presidential election. As for Terry Ratzmann, who knows what was going on with him? Reports are that he was about to lose his job and that he was upset about a sermon he'd heard a few weeks ago. Well, considering the sermons he got a steady dose of, no wonder he was even more agitated. Yes, yes, he was such a "mellow" fellow, his neighbors recalled. Aren't they always?

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The Living Church of God is a splintered offshoot of once-famed radio evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, a Pasadena, California, empire noted for Plain Truth magazine and "The World Tomorrow!" radio broadcasts warning everyone, in typical '50s fashion, to duck and cover because the end was near. Setting that denomination apart was the avid participation by legendary cartoonist and illustrator Basil Wolverton, a gifted contributor to Mad and other mags and comic books.

Check out the unbeatably weird combo of Wolverton's end-times drawings with Armstrong's exclamatory doomsaying in this 1956 work titled 1975 in Prophecy!, featuring Wolverton's creepy deathscapes juxtaposed with the preacher's equally scary captions:

    This scene of utter destruction—the grim, lifeless result of misused human inventions—would take place but for God's promised intervention to save man from this terrifying end.

Take a look at for Wolverton's apocalyptic drawings in color.

Armstrong's son, the slick and suave Garner Ted Armstrong, later took over the empire, but it fell apart amid accusations of adultery and financial hanky-panky. The Living Church of God was one of a few sects that arose from the ashes of Herbert W. Armstrong's nightmarish vision.

If Terry Ratzmann went bonkers, it's no wonder, considering how much doom and gloom was preached at him—with the typical crapola about how the world is divided into good and evil and how Satan is responsible for bad stuff. Take, for instance, the Living Church of God's commentary after the Columbine massacre a few years ago. The sect's Richard F. Ames wrote:

And Ames, of course, provided answers that had nothing to do with the real world and simply stirred up even more fear and helplessness:

    My friends, let me tell you why! Certainly there are many contributing factors, but No. 1, contrary to the unreal world of video games, there is a real spirit of murder and evil in the world.

    Ever since Cain slew Abel about 6,000 years ago, the nature of hate and murder has characterized much of human history. The Bible reveals the existence of a REAL, UNSEEN EVIL SPIRIT called Satan the Devil. In the gospel of John, Jesus of Nazareth uncovered the Devil's battle plan.

Sounds like mad General Jerry Boykin, the Pentagon Pentecostal. (See my item "The Christocrats" from last September.)

Ames ends his screed like this:

    The famous 19th century American statesman, Daniel Webster, stated this about the Bible and our national future—listen to this: "If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity."

    How true and how prophetic those words are! That's what's going to happen to all Bible-rejecting peoples, particularly those who claim to be Christian nations. We applaud those teenagers who actively seek to live by the Bible and the commandments of God. But the REAL TRAGEDY is a society that rejects the TEN COMMANDMENTS and rejects the instructions of the Creator God who gave us all the blessings we enjoy in the first place! When our whole society increasingly IGNORES the instructions of the true God, when it continues to embrace the wild, amoral influences of the media, when it fails to seek the way of life as taught in the Bible, we, my friends, will see more and more such tragedies. Perhaps then you will understand the real answer to the question, "WHY?"

Or perhaps you won't.

Anyway, after Saturday's church massacre, the cops had their own battle plan. The New York Times reported that cops and feds "swarmed" the home where Ratzmann, a church member, lived with his mom and sister. The Times story continued:

    Neighbors said Mr. Ratzmann was a computer programmer and prolific gardener who mostly kept to himself but dressed in a tie, jacket and dress pants every Saturday for church. "He's a normal Joe, you know, he's the guy that you'd never suspect to have done this," said Shane Colwell, who lives across the alley from the Ratzmanns. "I don't want his mother thinking that she's raised a lunatic that she should have known was going to do this."

    Mr. Colwell said that Mr. Ratzmann had built a garage, a greenhouse, and a filtration system that collected rainwater for fish tanks where he raised trout and that he took his Toyota pickup truck on camping trips to "listen to the coyotes under the moonlight," but did not hunt.

    "He said he never even shot a thing in his life," Mr. Colwell said. "The guy caught bunny rabbits in a humane trap and drove 20 miles to release them, because he didn't want to kill them."

Uh-huh. Even though he belonged to a religious sect that fervently believed that worldwide carnage was just around the corner.

You'd think that growing carnivorous plants (see photo) would have been enough of an outlet so that he didn't have to shoot anyone. Reports are, however, that he was about to lose his job. Well, in those circumstances, nothing like a gloom-and-doom sermon about the frightening end to all life on Earth to brighten your spirits.

Dave Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives a flavor of the sect's teachings:

    The slayings came on Saturday, the church's day of worship as practiced in the time of the Old Testament. Members, who believe the Bible is the literal word of God, were gathering as they do throughout the country in small groups at rented halls, hotels and other locations.

    Members believe that the "Great Tribulation"—war and famine as prophesied in the Bible—is nearing and that Christ will return as "King of kings."

But listen for yourself to Roderick C. Meredith, the head guy of the sect, ordained more than half a century ago by Herbert W. Armstrong himself. Meredith's recent epistolary "Are You PREPARED?"—all the underlines, boldface type, and exclamation points are his—starts this way:

    Events prophesied in your Bible are now beginning to occur with increasing frequency. In this Work of the living God, we are able to warn you about what is going to happen soon. We are not talking about decades in the future. We are talking about Bible prophecies that will intensify within the next five to 15 years of your life!

    Please understand. We are not "scaremongers." We love our fellow man. So it is our responsibility to warn our peoples—ahead of time—to prepare for the future. Most of our advice is spiritual in nature. However, in this editorial I want to give you some common sense advice involving your physical survival and your financial well-being.

    We must always remember the "Big Picture" prophecy of Matthew 24:6-11. Christ explains that there will be smaller wars within "nations" and major conflicts between "kingdoms." He indicates in Luke 21:11 that "fearful sights"—or, as a number of translations have it, "terrors"—will come upon us, as well as truly "great" earthquakes at the time of the end. Concurrently, there will be famine and disease epidemics.

    If we are truly Bible-believing Christians, we need to prepare for these situations. We are reminded of the old adage, "God helps those who help themselves!" Many examples indicate that although God will often intervene supernaturally to deliver us, He expects us to use wisdom and do our part to protect ourselves.

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