Who was Robert Roberts?

by Phynnodderee


Growing up, I had an image of Robert Roberts as a clear-sighted, intelligent man who cut through the tangle of religious ideas that had accumulated over the centuries to establish a simple, rational, authentic religion. But I actually knew very little about him. Years later, when I decided to find out who he really was, I discovered he wasn’t quite the man I was taught to believe.

 

Brief bio

Robert Roberts was born on 8 April 1839 in Aberdeen, Scotland. As a child he heard John Thomas preach and a few years later he started reading the magazine The Herald of the Kingdom and the Age to Come. So excited was he by this new take on religion that he eagerly read Elpis Israel, which began a lifelong obsession. At 14 he was baptised (the first of two immersions, as he would later decide that this first baptism was incompetent). At 20 he moved to Edinburgh, where there was an ecclesia, and married the similarly serious and devout Jane Norrie. The couple moved to Huddersfield and – encouraged by Dr. Thomas – eventually settled in Birmingham, where RR made a living as a reporter.

Zealously supported by his wife, he devoted the rest of his life to preaching. He did a phenomenal amount of lecturing and writing, with an intensity which sometimes put considerable strain on his health. He became the editor of The Christadelphian and the de facto leader of the Christadelphian community in Britain. He died in San Francisco on 23 September 1898, aged 59, on the way back from his second preaching tour of Australia and New Zealand. He is buried in New York beside John Thomas.

 

What sort of man was RR?

RR’s defining characteristic was his intense preoccupation with the Bible and promoting his own understanding of it. The Thomasist approach to religion – rigid and brutally logical – seems to have appealed to his type of mind. Above all, he desperately wanted Christ to return. With his single-minded belief that the only thing in life that mattered was preparing for the Kingdom, he had no time for frivolity. Everything had to be about Bible study and preaching. He did not appear to need or want any other form of mental stimulation. In his biography of RR, Islip Collyer notes how frequently he slipped into discussion of the Bible from ordinary conversation.

RR was a plain, unsophisticated kind of man. In photos, he always seems to need a haircut. I believe he was rarely insincere; it seems to me that he was only trying to convince people of what he genuinely believed was true, in the only way he knew how (clumsy and insensitive though it may have been). He did not care about giving offence so long as he could make his point. As a result, he could turn friends into enemies. He was also very stubborn and would not tolerate opinions that differed from his. He was involved in disagreements with other brethren that essentially amounted to personal rivalries. Although he claimed not to have any authority, he behaved as though he did.

Although Collyer’s biography is rather fawning, he is not always blind to RR’s faults and notes that it was all too easy for him to imagine “that his personal prejudices [had] a scriptural sanction which in point of fact [was] wholly lacking. … A candid critic could have shown that there was a much stronger Scriptural case against that somewhat too long hair than against many of the little things which RR condemned.”

Like Dr. Thomas, RR favoured a style of religion that was intensely logical almost to the exclusion of all humanity. He disliked the contemporary trend towards what he considered ‘effeminate’ religion, which allowed for more nuance and acknowledgement of uncertainty. He had no time for contemporary social concerns or the desperate plight of the Victorian poor; his job was far loftier, the exalted task of getting the right doctrines into people’s heads.

I suspect that RR had Asperger’s. He had a straightforward, rather literal way of thinking. His all-consuming focus on the Bible (and John Thomas’s interpretation of it) seems like the kind of intense special interest that people with Asperger’s sometimes have. He also had a degree of naivety and gullibility (as demonstrated by the fraudulent investment schemes he fell for in the 1880s and 1890s). His social skills seem to have suffered not only from his intense religiosity, which made him turn every conversation towards his beliefs, but also from his tactlessness. It’s possible that Collyer was inadvertently describing the artlessness of many autistic people when he wrote: “He was almost devoid of dignity as it is usually understood in the world.”

 

Family life

RR had a lifelong affection for his wife. They seem to have been well suited in terms of character and tastes, both being very zealous and serious-minded. They weren’t, however, a particularly endearing couple: in my opinion the pair of them needed a serious grounding in reality and perhaps even in ordinary humanity. Collyer points out that, lacking a close circle of friends to provide him with tactful criticism, RR had no source of feedback except his wife. She was probably the only one who could have persuaded him to broaden his thinking, but instead she reinforced his beliefs and encouraged his obsession.

The couple had seven children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Commenting on the deaths of two of their children within days of each other, Collyer says:

“Robert Roberts gave to some of us the impression of being a hard father with a Victorian firmness reinforced by an exceptionally severe religious discipline; but taking a distant view from very different times we can understand. He regarded human life as of very little value except as a possible preparation for the Kingdom of God. Always he took the long view, and no doubt he expected too much from his children, but there could be no question as to his love for them.”

Two of the children grew up to be good Christadelphians – but there was one who got away.

 

Final journey and death

Some time after leaving England on his second trip to Australasia in 1897, RR received word from his son Edward that he and his wife Mary no longer wanted to be Christadelphians. (We can speculate on whether the timing was significant: did Edward deliberately wait until his father had departed on the long voyage in order to avoid a scene?) By the time he finally landed at San Francisco on his way back to Britain, the shocking news seems to have been weighing heavily on him. According to RR’s own intransigent doctrine, there could be nothing but annihilation for his son and daughter-in-law at Christ’s return unless they had a change of heart. His daughter Sarah Jane believed that this burden of sorrow contributed to his death. On the morning of 23 September 1898, some local brethren found him dead in his hotel room. He had apparently succumbed to heart failure.

 

Influence on subsequent generations

Now I know more about RR, the culture I grew up in makes a lot more sense. The insistence on study and correct doctrine; the inflexibility; the lack of emotion; and the general dreariness. Along with the Bible Companion, which he drew up aged 15, RR bequeathed to subsequent generations of Christadelphians a very particular mindset. Much of the culture (at least in Britain) seems to be the product of his personality.

 

What do I think of RR now?

During the course of my reading I felt ambivalent about RR. Sometimes I felt downright contempt and dislike for him, at other times I felt sorry for him in his narrow, cold isolation. If I were being brutal I would say he was a narrow, ignorant, small-minded, self-righteous, irritating, unimaginative, stuffy, humourless bore. If I were being more charitable, I would say he had the misfortune to have the kind of mind that is prone to obsessiveness, and to encounter early in life a form of religion that seized hold of his mind and wouldn’t let go, depriving him of a normal life.

I used to hold him in high regard, but now I can see he was just an ordinary person – an odd, obsessive little man. His fanatical commitment to his religion was almost like an addiction. He spent his life in a self-inflicted loneliness, separated from the vast majority of other human beings by what he would doubtless have called his ‘love of the truth’. And at the end of it all, to die alone in a hotel room in a foreign city thousands of miles from home, perhaps broken-hearted with the knowledge that his only surviving son had rejected the religion that he, RR, believed was the only acceptable way to think, the only acceptable way to live.

Robert Roberts, the energetic driving force behind the spread of Christadelphianism in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, was largely divorced from reality and saw the world through a very limited, distorted lens. Rather than looking up to him as someone gifted with wisdom and unique insight, I now realise he had no more of a clue than anyone else.

 

35 comments:

  1. Wow. Being a member of a cult, or a cult-like group, is specifically damaging in that it narrows your world view very thoroughly. It pens you into a cage beyond which you cannot see or reach. Perhaps much of organized religion does this.

    There was a documentary on TV last night about the Nexium Cult in Albany, New York. The cult included slavery and the branding of slaves. It was especially interesting to listen to some of the former members defending the now disbanded cult group. One was a well regarded physician. Another was a well known actress. The defenders were intelligent, articulate, sincere, lucid and clear-eyed. In their sincerity and rationality, they reminded me very much of my own relatives, with whom it is entirely impossible to reason. To disagree with their disturbing religious beliefs is to become the outsider, the nonconformist, the one who is regarded as irrational.

    One of the first disturbing things I noticed about my own CD relatives was that they were incapable of being around other human beings without entering into a rant about their religious beliefs. They would sell the crap really hard. I would sit and wait for the rants to begin, and it usually took less than two minutes, without fail. After a time, I found it nauseating, and found myself wondering, "How is Christadelphianism NOT a cult?"

    They were like well rehearsed circus seals.

    The older I get, the more I see all religious beliefs in this vein. We are each here temporarily, yet we put on these theist straitjackets. In the course of normal living, even now I encounter people who want to sell me their religious beliefs, with varying levels of zeal. I smile politely, advise them that someone is waiting for me to pick them up at the airport, and then absent myself.

    But, then, again, perhaps Jesus indeed is standing at Terminal A, awaiting my Volkswagen.

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    1. Growing up in Christadelphia certainly does give you a very narrow worldview. Maybe that narrowness is part of RR's legacy. As far as I can make out, he never read anything except the Bible and things that he saw as directly related to it. Because he was so influential, in a sense I think his character became the archetype or ideal that CDs are supposed to aspire to (heavily into Bible study, pedantic fixation on the text, insistence on doctrinal correctness, etc).

      He was also a man with whom you certainly could not reason - he was so utterly sure that he was right and his opponent was the one who couldn't see the obvious!

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  2. In the last ecclesia of which I was a member before being disfellowshipped for "long continued absence"(back in the late 70`s), almost all the(mostly elderly) members there had an reverence for Robert Roberts and John Thomas, which was very close to that of worship.

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  3. I've never been a member of an ecclesia that revered "the Pioneers", though I've spent time in youth groups of ecclesias that did. I was all about "the important thing is the message taught by the Bible, not the particular expositor". And one of my earliest comments here, 10+ years ago and safely anonymous, was actually being critical of a former editor trying to point at problems with John Thomas to dismiss Christadelphia, since I felt my faith was based on the Bible, not the Pioneers.

    And yet at the same time I guess it made more of an impression on me earlier. For my baptism, a relative gave me Robert Robert's The Visible Hand of God, and I enjoyed it, and I think had read biographies of both John Thomas and Robert Roberts (the one you mention here) before I was 18. Not sure I was so keen on hearing some of their faults or odd behaviour, but I probably still thought of them as the founders of the religion and somehow important, even though I thought the Bible was the only authority.

    I guess, as you point out, his influence on the direction of the denomination will have affected the environment I was in even if he was only rarely directly referenced. My family did "the daily readings" following the properly approved Bible Companion, and it's from that that I make the claim I will have read every verse in the Bible at least 15 - 20 times. Going further, I think from what I've heard that John Thomas was more resistant to codifying a statement of faith, and that's why it's due to RR and Birmingham that we have the BASF as something to wrangle over and view as (non-inspired) gospel. Then there were the things like the Ecclesial Guide - again, I don't think I ever belonged to an ecclesia that officially subscribed to the Ecclesial Guide, and I'm not sure I've ever even read it in full, but some of its provisions seemed pedantic and unnecessary and yet they did provide a baseline for ecclesias interacting. Debates over the Bible are bad enough, but when it gets to debates about whether brother X's Bible teaching is consistent with the particular wording of a particular clause of the BASF or whether ecclesia Y should have followed the steps in the Ecclesial Guide in restoring someone to fellowship that I felt like banging my head against a wall.

    OK, you've sold me: Coming from a non-Pioneer worshipping ecclesia, Robert Roberts still had a far greater influence on my life than I realised.

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  4. Even though Christadelphians claim to be all about "the truth" and having the "correct" interpretation of the Bible, I don't think you can really separate the Christadelphian movement from JT and RR. Those two personalities are kind of imprinted on many aspects of the religion. In RR's case, most notably the BASF and related documents.

    One of the details about RR's life that I find most interesting is his debate against Charles Bradlaugh in 1876 entitled "Is The Bible Divine?".

    It is my opinion that Bradlaugh convincingly won this debate primarily due to RR's lack of familiarity with the material and his flawed understanding of what constitutes prima facie evidence. It's well worth a read if you're interested in this kind of thing.

    In any case, probably the bigger story is that a Christadelphian managed to share a stage with one of the more prominent atheists of that time. I cannot see that happening nowadays. Even a debate between a Christadelphian and a prominent Christian debater would be newsworthy, though I doubt (m)any of them are both educated and skilled enough for a formal debate.

    Christadelphians are largely unheard of now, almost intentionally so. That's a fairly significant change from their beginnings, I would say.

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    1. Thom, I've downloaded the Kindle version on your recommendation. I have yet to get past the many pages where they are arguing about whether the debate should be held in Leicester or Birmingham! :)

      Your comment set me thinking though. Christadelphians have had a year now in which most of their meetings and Bible Schools have been moved to online Zoom meetings, and their skills in that area must be growing fast. Perhaps that is an area that they could expand, challenging leading humanists/atheists/evolutionists to livestreamed debates?

      It is doubtless true that there are many highly qualified (by worldly standards and in worldly subjects) Christadelphians, but also my limited experience that for the most part, such people keep their heads below the parapet because of the career damage that overly obvious links to such a group would bring, or else fall foul of speaking outside of the field in which they are qualified (John Hellawell, Stephen Palmer, etc) and are quickly exposed.

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    2. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the debate as well. It was one in a series of three debates but I have not read the other two as the topics didn't interest me at the time.

      As for Christadelphians debating scientists or Christian theologians, I think they would very quickly realise how naive they have been regarding the state of both disciplines. They would be in well over their heads.

      I've listened to several Christadelphian lectures on evolution including one at the Adelaide Town Hall, and it's safe to say that most Christadelphians are simply unaware of the discoveries of science over the last 150 years. They argue mostly from a perspective of "argument from design", seemingly unaware of the various scientific responses to such views. I think the reasons for this are primarily because they've spent so little time actually engaging with the public or with the actual scientific evidence.

      The same is true of their theological knowledge. Christadelphians have been telling themselves for 150 years that they've gotten it all correct while never taking the time to listen to anyone else, and as such they just haven't kept pace with what scholars today generally understand about the Bible. It's quite the echo chamber.

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    3. I've listened to a couple of lectures on creation and flood geology lately, and their grasp on scientific facts is laughable at best.
      Their only source of scientific "facts" appears to be a handful of wacky creationist websites written by authors with a tenuous grasp on reality.
      The usual lines are trotted out to their eager audience such as "evolution is only a theory", "NASA has proved that the moon is less than 10000 years old", "the Himalayas were created by the flood", "the human eye could never have evolved" etc. Such falsehoods can be stated ad nauseum from the platform, with no fear of them ever being questioned or contradicted.
      It amazes me how much nonsense will be accepted as fact, just because the listener wants to believe it. I suppose it shows the power of confirmation bias, if nothing else!

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    4. yep, their understanding of actual science is typically so poor that most high school students should be able to do better (maybe not students of creationist schools).

      They don't really understand the whole scientific enterprise, and the work, evidence, and process that has gone into understanding the natural world and why scientists have reached the conclusions they have. This information is readily available online and in textbooks so there is really no excuse for not understanding it in 2021.

      I was recently talking to a creationist who told me that science can't explain how the bacterial flagellum formed. I wanted to tell him that "2005 called - they want their argument back". A quick google search is all he needed to do and he would have had all of the information he wanted on the subject. But creationists just aren't interested in learning the truth.

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    5. Thom, have you ever come across the Great Trinity Debate from ten years ago between Dave Burke and Rob Bowman? (I think you might at least know Dave Burke?)

      I remember at the time there was online voting over which of a collection of non-Trinitarians would be chosen to debate, and it was a surprise but kinda cool when the Christadelphian candidate topped the polls. But I think I was too busy then to do more than skim through the arguments, and I can't even be bothered doing that now...

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    6. Yes, I do know Dave and I followed that debate with some interest. From memory I think afterwards the upshot was that all the trinitarians thought Rob clearly won and the Christadelphians (perhaps some other unitarians as well?) thought Dave won. At the time I was still somewhat of a believer IIRC so it would be interesting to go back and revisit now and see if my perspective has changed on who put forward the better arguments.

      Obviously I now believe in fewer gods than either of them but it's still interesting to think of it from the perspective of what the intended message of the Bible's authors was. From a literary perspective, which side was more true to the text?

      It gets trickier when you consider that there are multiple ways to interpret the Bible as well. The only interpretation I am interested in is the historical one. That is, what the original authors personally meant to convey. If you could speak to each author today and ask follow-up questions about what it was they meant on any point, what would they each tell you? My view also allows for individual authors to disagree with one another, so I would take each writing both in isolation (and factoring in what other writings they had access to, and what the likely interpretation of those other writings were at the time). And of course all of this has to incorporate the cultural context of the time.

      As I understand it, most Christians (including Christadelphians) are not really interested in this interpretation. The authors and their opinions seem to be taken as merely incidental and of no real significance. Rather they view the Bible as a divine message that was merely "channelled" (for want of a better term) through the human authors, and so the cultural context and the authors' own opinions shouldn't factor in so much, or at least that would be the logical conclusion. Now obviously certain passages like 1 cor 7:25 explicitly say that the author is sharing their own opinion, so Christians have to perform at least a few contortions to reconcile those verses with the claim of divine inspiration. But it rarely seems to bother them.

      So if I do get around to re-reading the debate I'll be sure to let you know my thoughts on it :)

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    7. While I think about it, the actual doctrine of the trinity as commonly stated today did not come into existence until well after the gospels were written. The only passage in the Bible that states it explicitly is in 1 John 5:7 and that is known to be a later addition to the text.

      So the only thing to argue about would be whether the authors of the canonical new testament documents actually intended to convey ideas of a trinity despite apparently failing to say so anywhere near as clearly as later Christian writers did. I find that unlikely. I think it's rather more likely that the idea of a trinity is simply further down the chain in the evolution of Christian thought from the first to the fourth centuries and beyond. It wasn't the only view. It was merely the dominant view, at least by the time it was codified in creeds. The phrase "history is written by the winners" applies squarely to the trinity as it does to Christianity as a whole.

      Now, that said, there is a view that the evolution of Christian thought throughout the early centuries CE actually represents an unfolding of ever-improving clarity around what the Bible really taught, and what the greater significance was. I think this tends to be the view held by most Christians today, whether implicitly or explicitly.

      Also there is clearly some evolution in many of the ideas contained throughout the new testament if you order the writings from earliest to latest. It is a collection of documents and as such contains a plurality of voices. However Christians tend to insist this isn't the case.

      So the question of what the gospel writers really meant might be an entirely different question to the one that debate was trying to answer.

      Indeed, the debate begins by listing 6 statements about the trinity and then claiming: "In this debate, I will be seeking to defend the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that each of these six propositions is taught in the Bible."

      Read it carefully - that's not the same thing as saying that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the trinity. If no single author agreed with all 6 points, in what way could you say that the Bible taught such a thing? I don't know if that's the case, but the odd wording intrigues me.

      So, in the trinitarian view, the New Testament's authors are not the whole story, whereas in the Christadelphian view, they sort of are (with the previously-state caveats about whether those authors' thoughts and opinions were original to them and whether those opinions even mattered).

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    8. Interesting comments, Thom. WRT the Trinity I would agree with you that the Trinity probably wasn't a firm concept to the original writers. More interesting perhaps is whether any of the authors of the New Testament believed and intended to convey that Jesus was divine?  Or that he existed in some form before he was born as a human? I'd consider both of those at least possible. There was a reason Christadelphians had problem verses to explain (as did non-Christadelphians, of course).

      That's a good point about the six propositions. Looking at them, I would think most Christadelphians and other non-Trinitarians would accept the first three without much question, so I'm not sure what establishing them proves. Though on the third one, as a believer it never ceased to amaze me how people could see "Son of God" and read "God the Son". I'm like, "No, those aren't even remotely the same thing".

      I think if I were to read the debate I'd either waste far too much time on details that no longer interest me or I'd get bored quickly. And as to the original intent of the author: Yes, I think it matters, and yes, I think an important consequence of it is that Biblical books should be studied independently rather than nicely reconciled and glued together into one supposedly inspired message from God. But when it comes to considering the (often harmful) effect of those books on society, I find I have to consider both what the original intent might have been and how it has actually been interpreted over the years. So, for example, when looking a couple of years back at the Christian appropriation and often spiritualisation of the Jewish scriptures and customs, I concluded that the original intent of most of the anti-semitic verses was probably criticising a rival religion and its adherents and trying to encourage devotees of that religion to switch to Christianity, not attacking people for their race. But at the same time I can't overlook the many extreme statements and the trail of bodies through history as interpreters in century after century took the message as anti-semitic.

      Going into some beliefs - particularly Christadelphian ones - at length to show the problems with them has been helpful for me to be confident there is no good reason to believe them. But I'm not sure I need to over-analyse quite so much, because it just feels so much more obvious now, and so much part of a former life that no longer makes sense.

      I have been thinking it would be interesting to look at the minimal reasons to completely disregard any argument believers bring. For example, I don't see any reason to believe that Jesus was the son of a deity, that he fulfilled OT prophecies, or that he was resurrected. Maybe there was a radical preacher called Jesus who grew up in Nazareth, was popular for a time, then was crucified. I don't know, but it really doesn't matter to me given how important the virgin birth and the resurrection are meant to be. Rejecting them is enough. And perhaps I could go one step further and just simply say "Historic texts aren't sufficient evidence for supernatural events that we wouldn't accept if they happened yesterday".

      In fact, one step on my journey out of Christadelphia was "Well, if I can't come to one interpretation of the Bible that I'm completely confident with and I'm starting to wonder whether God actually exists, maybe I'd better work out the 'do I believe in God and listen to the Bible?' question before getting tied up in the details of how to interpret the Bible".

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  5. Mark, you might like to join in the fun later:

    https://christadelphiansoriginsdiscussion.wordpress.com/2021/03/10/bingo-anyone/

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  6. Really glad to find this article and understand a little bit more about Jane and Robert Roberts who have impacted my life so much.

    Yes, I guess RR is likely to fit the diagnostic criteria of high functioning autism (aka ‘Aspergers’). However plenty of people who might be given the same diagnosis don’t behave with such tortured drive and brutality.

    My own father in the 1970s seemed to find a kindred spirit in RR, even though they never met of course. My father’s safety and sword seemed to be that little red book: ‘commandments of Christ and daily reading chart’. He insisted we read all three prescribed texts every night after dinner - even if it meant thrashing one of his daughters (usually me) with a cane until we both wept, if she didn’t sit still and follow along. I survived, and would love to protect every child in this world from ever suffering the same wounds.

    Reading this article leads me to reflect that my dad seemed to be of a similar tortured mind to RR.

    As well as perhaps a neurological predisposition to the traits of autism, I wonder if RR’s behaviour was also shaped a great deal by unrecognised relational trauma (as described by relational neuroscience peeps such as Daniel Siegel, Steve Porges, Gabe Mator, Bonnie Badenoch). For my own dad, I would say that is certainly true. From the safer distance of my own adulthood, well out of reach now of my father’s rages or gaze, I can see many events in my father and his parents lives which contributed to his wounded and wounding behaviour. Which is not to say having experienced childhood trauma means we are destined to be violent to our children or ourselves. Thankfully there were enough warm human experiences in my life (usually teachers and friends at school) that helped me awaken gently to the possibility that I didn’t have to remain a christadelphian or keep believing in its god.

    Your article is helping me ponder how strange it is that Robert & Jane Roberts have impacted my life even though I never knew them. How bizzare that words in books travel so far and fuel both meaning as well as suffering in homes the authors never knew personally.

    Thanks for sharing your research.

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    1. Glad you found the article helpful, Heartful. I'm sorry your own story was so traumatic. It was certainly eye-opening for me to realise where a lot of Christadelphian culture came from - not so much the Bible as one domineering individual and his personal idiosyncrasies!

      As to where his idiosyncrasies came from, I think it was a combination of a strict religious upbringing and certain autistic traits. His dislike of anything he deemed frivolous (which meant virtually anything not Bible-related) may have been the result of his strict religious upbringing by his mother (whom he later either cajoled or bullied into becoming a Christadelphian).

      As you said, it's weird how the shade of RR still haunts the community to this day. Christadelphians claim that they seek to emulate Christ, but I think they spend a lot of time - whether they realise it or not - trying to emulate Robert Roberts.

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  7. In our childhood home there was lip service to the traditional CD belief in pacifism, yet, behind the scenes, great violence. We were considered property (by our mother) that could be molded to her tastes and desires and beliefs. Most of her opinions/beliefs were derived from Scripture: "Spare the rod, spoil the child," etc. The result was continuous extremely violent physical abuse.

    One neighbor, seeing my siblings' meek behavior around adults, requested a lesson in parenting. She came to our home, and was sitting on our balcony receiving my mother's advice, and I was in the next room, the living room, with the TV playing. I was visible through a sliding glass door. My mother repeatedly asked me to lower the volume on the TV. I kept lowering the volume, and she still kept making the request. It was a set-up. Finally, the characters on the TV could not be heard at all. "I can't hear the TV at all now," I said. "I can only see their lips moving."

    My mother immediately entered the living room, and, to instruct the neighbor, took her fist and punched me hard in the face. Returning the balcony, she said to the neighbor, "That's how you do it. But note that I usually don't strike them in their faces, because it can cause a child to develop a stuttering problem." The neighbor looked astonished, then rose quietly from her seat and departed from our house without speaking another word. She never returned for additional "advice."

    Such abuses -- and much, much worse -- were commonplace in our home, and considered to be a parental right. If I could go back in a time machine, there were so many times when I should have immediately dialed for the police. But we felt we had nowhere to which to run. The Bitch is now in failing health and, despite her history of extreme abuse of family members, seeking assistance from those same family members. The moment I hear her voice on my answering machine, I push the delete button.

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  8. This psycho evil twisted person also believe them by the measurements of the size of your school it could work out how intelligent you are

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    1. I assume you mean "skull"? I'd remembered John Thomas being the one obsessed with phrenology, but looking online it does seem that Robert Roberts was heavily involved with it too.

      You can read John Thomas' phrenograph HERE if it helps...

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    2. I'm not criticising the article but would add a few thoughts of my own, please feel free to correct errors, I'm working from memory, Robert's biography went to landfill along with my other Christadelphian books, a decade ago.
      One of his income streams was being a reporter/journalist, a trade that to be a good one, requires one NOT to have a strong opinion, but to merely report the facts. The article does not mention his other income stream, that of a Phrenologist, the pseudoscience of examining the bumps on peoples heads to determine their character traits. Phrenology had been exposed as pseudoscience before Roberts was even born, so the juxtaposition of his quest for biblical "truth" on the one hand, and phrenology, could not be more marked. Thomas did have some things to say on the matter, but I cannot remember them clearly enough to quote with any accuracy. Several chapters of his biography cover this, it was not a passing fad for him.
      The writer also seems to "excuse" Robert's later life money making schemes/ investment advice (think: electric sugar), that cost the brethren plenty.
      At the risk of provoking outrage, I don't go with the retrospective diagnosis of Asperger's at all. I think he was just dominating, abusive and greedy man, and my experience is that others in the religion have successfully impersonated his style in this respect, and others, right down to the silly beard.

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    3. Having had memories dragged up tonight by this, I remember concluding some while ago, that what Roberts suffered from was actually "crank magnetism"-as described by rational wiki:

      https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Crank_magnetism

      I recall thinking that when "The Christadelphian" recently published that letter from a vaccine hesitant reader/ Bill Gates conspiracist.

      Roberts- odd religious ideas- believed he would live forever-phrenology-mad cap investment schemes-making electricity from sugar. Crank magnet.

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    4. For me there are some very strong indications that RR was on the autism spectrum - his single-minded focus, straightforward mind, sometimes childlike naivety, lack of social sophistication, and the ease with which he could be deceived. These are all typical of Aspies. It's impossible to diagnose someone posthumously, but since I know something about Asperger's, certain traits of his seem highly suggestive to me.

      I'm not trying to excuse him or his domineering personality, I guess I just find him fascinating to analyse. We all have influences that shape us, and I'm interested in what influenced RR. Many CDs believe(d) that the main influence acting on his life was Providence, but I don't believe that.

      The Electric Sugar Refining Company was a fraud perpetrated by an American couple who claimed to have found a way of refining sugar with electricity. The supposed method never existed and a lot of people lost money from investing in the venture, mostly Christadelphians. RR became involved in it through an American brother called James U. Robertson, who gave him some shares. RR thought that profits from the venture might provide much-needed money for the many impoverished CDs in Britain (from whom appeals for help were constantly being received), and encouraged brethren to invest in it. When the fraud was eventually discovered, he was roundly criticised and seems to have felt genuinely guilty about the losses incurred because he tried desperately to recoup the money in other ways. Unfortunately, his subsequent attempts to make up for the losses through further business ventures were equally disastrous and eventually the community asked him to promise not to engage in any more money-making schemes. It was soon after this that, after trying to sort out the mess, he left for Australia. I can imagine that a collective sigh of relief was heard when his ship set sail.

      Some people at the time accused him of greed, but as far as I can tell, his only offence was gullibility and an atrociously poor head for business. He certainly would have had no reason to risk his fellow CDs' money. That would only harm the community he was trying to grow (and growing the faith was his sole purpose in life). That doesn't make him any less of an overbearing ass, it just reveals his gullibility.

      I have another article in the pipeline about RR's interest in phrenology.

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  9. He probably killed his own children because they disagreed with him

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    1. I think this comment is crossing a line. Strict religious beliefs have led parents to do many terrible things. Beating their children growing up to enforce compliance and disowning them if they leave the family religion are both far more common than I would like. Killing children is a completely different level - I won't say it doesn't happen, but it's much, much rarer. We know Robert Roberts didn't do it, and I don't know of any evidence that he would even have considered it, so this comment is out of place.

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    2. Jon, you are of course correct, however I do have some sympathy for the line of thinking that Peter has introduced. The article does state that Robert's daughter (in effect) accuses her brother of contributing to her father's fairly early death (strictly speaking his "falling asleep", since he and all his followers would have simply seen it as his dodging the suffering of old age, and being catapulted directly to ruling in the kingdom with Jesus). If that were the case, then it simply further exposes him for the petulant individual he appears to be, and is yet another trait that latter day Christadelphians seem to have cultivated amongst themselves.

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    3. It still does Jon. I have a family member who works in child protection in a major UK city. She reported to me recently that "spare the rod and spoil the child" still means literally that in some communities in the UK in 2021. With secular tax payer provided services left to pick up the emotional, physical and financial bill.

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  10. 1922epignosis makes a point. One of my siblings, while still a minor, later died. The family members meting out childcare were aware of the impermissible nature of their behavior, because almost all of the "discipline" was hidden from public view. A few times, the neighbors viewed some of it, but on those occasions they rationalized it. On one occasion I was with two neighbors and the sounds of a beating were audible. The one neighbor said to the other, "Now don't worry. That's only their parent hitting a mattress with a broom or something."

    We see what we want to see.

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    1. Albert, firstly, I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. Parents and guardians taking Christianity (and probably other related religions) seriously do far too often beat their children and justify it using scripture. And that can cause severe physical and mental damage to those children. When I said children dying was much rarer (whether as a direct or indirect result of their guardians' beliefs) I didn't mean to imply it was unimportant: One such case is too many.

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    2. Not to worry. Thanks for the consolations. When you examine the founders of many religious movements and see how their feet are made of clay, in some ways it warns you away from the beliefs they are trying to sell. My family is now very distantly associated with Methodism, and in studying Methodism's founders, it quickly becomes clear that they struggled with the rationality of the religious beliefs they were promoting. In fact, some struggled with having any religious beliefs at all. And then everyone else is supposed to confidently follow along behind these people? What an absurdity. There is something innate in human beings that makes us search for meaning; perhaps that is good and entirely predictable. Just be careful what clown's parade you join.

      We are currently happily agnostic, leaning strongly toward atheism. There is no reason to believe anything our senses and grey matter cannot logically confirm. We still have a firm moral code, and we don't need religion to have one. Tolstoy wrote that humans have an innate knowledge of right and wrong, and don't need religion to confirm good and bad behavior. For example, that we intuitively know not to steal things that do not belong to us, because they are the possessions of others. It's not rocket science.

      I think this kind of moral code will work fine for us for the rest of our lives. It is relatively stress free, and appears to be getting prominent in many parts of the world, especially in Western countries. In my childhood, the ends justified the means, and if the end goal was something you thought God would like, then it was entirely permissible to beat the pudding out of your children to achieve it. Such is the fubar nature of some religious zealotry. And they can keep it. In fact, they can sit on it and spin.

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  11. I'm not a Christadelphian, never have been, but this writing is nothing but a character assassination irrelevant to any serious consideration of the scriptures... shame on you!

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  12. Who ya kidding, "anonymous?" You are of course a Christadelphian, or someone closely associated with them. It is always amusing to me when people appear on sites like this and pretend to be neutral parties. It exhibits the extent of the deceptions in which such trolls will happily engage.

    And, yes, folks, sometimes both the message (Christadelphianism) and the messengers (the sect's founders and disseminators) both give off a very special stink that alone and jointly should warn normal people to flee.

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    1. It is interesting that you should state that about christadelphian deception, for I too have witnessed that, when they bought out a web site in my country which was for "Learning the Bible" open for FREE. Learn the Bible for Free with special courses. No mention who was running it, just knew some christadelphians involved because of their t shirts promoting the site. Deception somehow justifies the means.

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  13. Who was Robert Roberts? Robert Roberts had a very unusual relationship to the older moodier John Thomas, and a dislike of going to Church, so he changed "church" into "meeting" (the people) and "church" into "hall" (the place) and told everyone what he thought of them and then complained that "he was the sect most spoken against" which somehow means he is preaching the truth. He also had sections cut out of his books for being inappropriate. Read the bumps on your skull, kicked out brother Andrew, split a small group down the middle (BUSF BASF) and then wrote the "good confession" a seemingly parody of the Catholic of Anglican terminology however with phrases such as "Until I met the christadelphians I never understood that". Also wrote the Doctrines to be reject section which prevents christadelphians from leaving?

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  14. In 1889 Robert Roberts was made fun of by newspapers as far away as the USA and Australia for his gullibility over the electric sugar-refining hoax-scam. British Investors lost most, with Birmingham the city hardest hit (20,000 pounds) and Robert Roberts the biggest investor from Britain! Indeed The Brisbane Courier for 11 Jan 1889 said its readers would get 'much amusement' reading Robert Roberts assurances at a meeting of investors three months before the collapse that their investments were safe because he had witnessed sugar coming from nozzles and heard machine noises from rooms above. The Telegraphic and Eletrical Review, 11 Jan 1889, in the USA called Roberts 'gullible' and the leading spirit of an obscure and superstitious religious sect call the Christadelphians'.

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    1. Interesting. By coincidence, I was last night listening to a podcast called "when you want it to be true".

      https://hiddenbrain.org

      It deals primarily with romance fraud, but also makes mention of Leon Festinger's study of the "seekers", and his stuff regarding cognitive dissonance, from the book "when prophecy fails", very worthwhile reading for Christadelphians questioning the teachings, or indeed those who have left.
      I'm still not sure if we should feel pity for Roberts and his latter day followers, or just distain, despite realising that we all got sucked in and ultimately made fools of by his and Thomas' crackpot religion, it is hard to say if we as "victims", are just lesser victims than those still trapped within the religion who are still wishing for it to be true, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
      Thank you for the comment. I greatly enjoy any form of mockery of the Christadelphians and their ancestors.

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