“The very structure of the family is historically shaped,” says Bruce Mazlish. 5 Herbert Armstrong was born on July 31, 1892 in a red brick two-apartment flat on East 14th Street and Grand Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa. His early life was thus shaped and conditioned by life on the upper Great Plains of North America, a land of seemingly boundless promise but a region that could be described, in 1892, as a zone of hard-scrabble farmers trying to get by. The Panic of 1893 in New York City accentuated wild market fluctuations that left many Midwesterners in debt. 1893 was also the year of the psychic chill felt by the announcement of the closing of the frontier as elaborated in Frederick Jackson Turner’s address before the American Historical Association. 6 Iowa’s uncertainties summoned forth native visionaries. Her two most famous sons were far-seeing public servants from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Vice President Henry Wallace (1941-45) and President Herbert Hoover (1929-33). Herbert Armstrong’s mother, Eva Wright Armstrong, was a third cousin to Herbert Hoover, a man whose technocratic bent epitomized Midwestern functionalism and a no-nonsense attitude toward the world. In perennially Republican Iowa, at the time of Armstrong’s childhood, Theodore Roosevelt was an admired public figure and Armstrong would boast of standing only fifteen feet of him at a Chicago business meeting. “TR” would be an important source of identity reinforcement for Herbert Armstrong. 7

The economic crisis on the Great Plains was softened by solid family ties. The gentle strictures of Quakerism and a benign relationship with his parents secretes from Herbert Armstrong’s writings. “I remember absolutely nothing,” he wrote of his birthday, “But of course my mother always remembered it, especially since I was her firstborn.” Eva Wright Armstrong would live to be 95 ½ years old and Herbert would later violate his own puritanical aversion to birthdays to honor his mother. “You’re the best mother I ever had,” he would joke with her, and she would jovially reply: “And, Herbert, you’re one of the best sons I’ve ever had.” Armstrong’s first memories are of age 3. He recalled living in a modest cottage with his mother and father, Horace Elon Armstrong. Horace was a Quaker descended from some of the earliest English settlers in Pennsylvania. Armstrong remembers scampering through the rear side door of his grandparent’s house next door in Des Moines to sample delicious, home-made apple pie – a typical Midwestern upbringing by all accounts. However, there are tell-tale references about his home and school years scattered across his first chapter that can be seen as important for his later development. “I started kindergarten at age 5. I can still hear in my kind the mournful clang of the school bell, one block south,” Armstrong wrote, “I was an average student in school. But in final exams I always got grades of 95% to 98%.” 8

The school, he tells us, was North High School in Des Moines which is still there, though relocated. Ages 3 to 5 falls within Erik Erikson’s Stage Three of his eight stages of growth. Erikson’s stages, as critiqued and elaborated by James Loder and others are an important analytical paradigm. Each stage underscores important life lessons that the developing individual must master at each stage or pay psychological penalties. These are:

  1. Basic Trust vs. Mistrust – the important attributes here are a close relationship with the parents. The goal is to develop a basic life drive and experience hope.

  2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. This is the stage of muscular and anal development. The goal here is growth in self-control and will power.

  3. Initiative vs. Guilt. Locomotor and gential concerns predominate here. The goal is a basic sense of direction and purpose. A spirit of equality is experienced in parents and child doing things together.

  4. Industry vs. Inferiority. The young child is off to school, usually at age 6. At age 7, according to Jean Piaget, real thinking begins. This is a time of wining ego recognition and doing things with others. The goal here is to achieve overall competence, develop an exterior coping methodology.

  5. Identity vs. Role Confusion – usually demarcated as Puberty and Adolescence. “Life begins again,” in the words of James Loder. The goal is devotion and fidelity.

  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation – the time of Young Adulthood. One’s true love appears – or may not. Affiliation and Love are the developmental goals most desired.

  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation. This is full adulthood. Production, progeny and productivity are the key values. This is the time to “make it” in most industrialized societies. Yet, ego-centricity is not enough. The mature adult must also seek to invest in the lives of others, to become a mentor and pass on vital skills. Care is as big of a developmental task as Production.

  8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This is the stage of maturity and old age. It is a time of both Wisdom and Renunciation. It is a time of assessment and passing the baton. 9

  9. Erikson’s model has been critiqued as arbitrary and programmatic. Development theorists such as James Loder teach that real life is lived in the transitions between these stages. ”Erikson misses the fact that there is a purpose for the upheavals as we go through life,” says Loder. “The purpose is to deal with the meaningless and nothingness at the bottom of the ego structure that has developed. The human spirit inside us is seeking the Face of God to make up for the mother’s face we have missed since infancy.” 10 Nor does Erikson pay attention to what Howard Gardner refers to as “sticking to the story,” the particular life script or paradigmatic theme that outstanding leaders embody and to which their audiences, collaborators or followers respond. 11

    The above is important in analyzing the life achievements of Herbert Armstrong. His stages four, five and six overlap considerably. As a church founder he embodies further complexity as an Eriksonian homo religiosus. For Erikson, the identity crisis faced by the unusually gifted religious figure begins very early and continues through life as a perpetual crisis of integrity. In Loder’s terms, they early sense the void of cosmic loneliness. “The late adolescent crisis,” writes Erikson, “can at the same time hark back to the very earliest crisis of life – trust or mistrust toward existence as such.” Then, in a telling remark that Erikson applies to Martin Luther but which can fit “religiously and artistically creative men” in general, Erikson says this:

    These older souls…often seem to be suffering from a barely compensated psychosis, and yet later prove superhumanly gifted in conveying a total meaning for man’s life; while malignant disturbances in late adolescence often display precocious wisdom and usurped integrity. The chosen young man extends the problems of his identity to the borders of existence in the known universe….He acts as if mankind were starting all over with his own beginning as an individual, conscious of his singularity as well as his humanity; others hide in the folds of whatever tradition they are part of because of membership, occupation, or special interests. To him history ends as well as starts with him; others must look to their memories, to legends, or to books to find models for the present and the future in what their predecessors have said and done. No wonder that he is something of an old man when his age-mates are young, or that he remains something of a child when they age with finality. 12

    There is much in this analysis that explains the career of Herbert Armstrong as a religious rebel and innovator. Now it is necessary to apply Erikson’s eight stages, beginning at Stage Three.


    5 Bruce Mazlish, “What is Psycho-history?” in George M. Kren and Leon H. Rappoport (eds.), Varieties of Psychohistory (New York: Springer Publishing, 1976), page 28.

    6 Gilman M. Ostrander, A Profile History of the United States (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), page 276; Gerald D. Nash, Creating the West: Historical Interpretations, 1890-1990 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, page 16.

    7 Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979), page 184.

    8 Herbert W. Armstrong, The Autobiography, page 12.

    9 Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993), pages 247-274.

    10 James Loder, Class Notes: Faith and Human Development (Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary) July 31, 2001.

    11 Howard Gardner, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (New York: basic books, 1995), page 14.

    12 Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1962), page 261-262.

Presented To: Dr. James Loder
For: CN 531 Faith and Human Development
Fuller Theological Seminary
Copyright © 2001, 2004, Neil Earle

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