The Church of God the Wholly Incompetent is a Christian church based mainly in North America and Western Europe. Adherents believe God is omnipotent but generally unqualified for his role as deity, citing the Great Flood, the Roman Empire and their own personal failings as proof. Worldwide membership was 15.1 million in 2004.
The sect has been controversial since its foundation, and faced persecution in several countries for its allegedly heterodox views. The church (whose followers are known as "compies") believes in a "fractured Trinity", holding that Jesus is the Son of God but "got in over his head" when he let himself die on the cross. Compies deny the resurrection, arguing that Jesus is still knocking around somewhere below the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a victim of God's omniuselessness. Where other sects revere Early Christian martyrs as witnesses of Christ's message, the Wholly Incompetent Church believes their deaths are a prime example of God's fumbling, bumbling ways.
The Church was founded by Sidney Trammell, an Oxford divinity student, in 1612. Trammell, the youngest son of a minor noble from Kent, had shown great promise as a student, mastering Greek and Latin by the age of three. At age eight, he completed his first theological work, On Whether the Pope Should Be Burn'd in a Great Fyre or Stabb'd, Stuffed With Straw and Displayed Before Bear-Baytings. An Oxford faculty member said Trammell "show'd the sayme adherence to truth as Wycliffe," and another predicted he would become Archbishop of Canterbury.
Trammell was a passionate devotee of the Anglican Church. When Baptist preacher Edward Wightman was burned at the stake on April 11, 1612, Trammell organized a celebration nearby, widely regarded as the world's first tailgate party. Four days later, Trammell had what he described as a "Road to Damascus" conversion. On April 15, Trammell arose at 5 a.m. to begin his studies. Suffering from a headache, he found he could not concentrate and decided to walk the grounds. While outside, a group of drunken frat members, claiming he was "only a moderately pious curate," threw eggs at him and chased him around the school. No sooner had Trammell lost his pursuers than he ran into his fiancee, who dumped him for Sir Walter Raleigh, saying "a prisoner about to lose his head is more lively than you." Dejected, Trammell returned home, to find that neighborhood children had taken his Greek grammar and used it as a football.
Attending mass that morning, Trammell prayed for guidance. As the service began the presiding bishop announced, "This is the day the Lord has made." As he wrote later in Grace Inefficiently Handed Out to the Chief of Sinners:
- The words pierc'd my care-worn heart and seem'd to restore balance to my soul. I rose, and shout'd "You speaketh the truth, bishop, for a daye like this could only stem from a God wholly out of his depth." They stood stunn'd, amayz'd by this.
Growth and Early Persecution
Trammell was forced to leave Oxford the next day. Making his way to London, he began preaching and writing his first major work, Prayers to Almighty God, With Helpfull Suggestions For His Improvement (1613). Although Trammell did not expect his new sect to be popular, he quickly converted all of London's lawyers and was able to purchase a meeting house, which drew a large crowd of people eager to bring the Supreme Being down a peg.
Authorities soon learned about the church, and Trammell was summoned before George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to defend his beliefs. Abbott accused Trammell of denying God's omnipotence. "Nay," Trammell replied, "I merely deny his fitness to be in charge of the universe." Shocked, Abbott ordered him to recant, but Trammell replied "Here I stand. I can not do otherwise. Keep your distance, God, because I know you'll screw it up. Amen."
A sustained persecution began, with many Compies dying for their beliefs. Warned on the scaffold that he risked hellfire, Henry Carver replied "It matters not; God hath no clue what he's doing." Trammell escaped with most of his followers to Holland, writing that he did not fear God's anger, as incurring a bumbling deity's wrath could be tolerable, and even amusing.
Immigration and subsequent history
Trammell attracted more followers in Amsterdam and continued writing, his works smuggled into England by faithful Compie followers. Trammell wrote furiously, and published Synners in the Hands of a Idle God (1622), Meditations on a Dysfunctional Trinity (1623) and On Living With a Confused God (1625). Trammell was condemned in absentia in England and sentenced to death; the preacher wrote that he would resign himself "to whatever destiny the Lord plans for me, or whatever emerges from his unorganized mind."
Compies began migrating to America in 1635, attracted to Roger Williams' promise of religious toleration. After Williams published The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Trammell praised him in a letter, saying:
- Yea, fore we hath known that each man must follow his consience; and that no man may be bounde justly to one religion. Fore truely, a God with such a consystent record of failure can not be trusted to establish a single church on Earth.
Trammell died in Amsterdam in 1650. The church proselytized throughout Europe and North America, and continues to do so today.
The Church of God the Wholly Incompetent shares some of the same teachings of the Church of England, with a few significant modifications. Accepting the trinitarian view of God, Compies believe Jesus is the Son of God but insist that he died on the Cross and never rose again. The Church teaches that God could conceivably resurrect his son, but has not or has badly bungled this part of salvation. Accordingly, Compies reject traditional interprations of the resurrection narratives of the gospels, saying that God accidentally raised a guy interred next door.
This belief colors the Compie perception of the afterlife. The Church holds that neither faith nor good works lead to salvation. The Church accepts predestination, but believes that with Jesus' intercession absent, God has "seriously messed up" the list, meaning people go to heaven or hell through sheer chance. By this formula, Lenin, Spinoza, Elvis and Ivan the Terrible are in paradise, while Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, your grandmother and Hildegard von Bingen burn in hell. Despite this dire scenario, Compies take comfort in the fact they have a 50/50 chance of making it to heaven.
Compies believe that God has always been incompetent, although this proposition was fiercely debated in the Church's early years. Nicholas Stewart, a young Compie preacher in Scotland, taught that God has only been incompetent since Jesus died and that his resurrection would, in theory, "bring the Almighty up to speed." Hardline Church members condemned this teaching at a synod in 1687, holding that "God was, is, and always shall be in over his head." Stewart later led his followers out of the Church, and joined the Unitarians.
Compies strongly believe in individual conscience and the right of every person to find God's screw-ups in their own way. The church encourages members to study the Bible for evidence of God's mistakes. Compies have gained a considerable reputation for their understanding of the Old and New Testaments, although many theologians are uneasy with Compie theology, grounded in relentless bitching.
Compie masses deviate from standard Christian services. The Bible is read near the beginning of Mass, but instead of a sermon, individual Church members rise and offer critiques of biblical characters' actions. "This is where Amos lost it" and "Here's who Jesus should have healed" are common statements in mass.
Communion is also different. Compies consider the sacrament important but reject consubstantiation and transubstantiation. As in other masses, the priest raises bread and wine and repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. After the blessing, the priest kneels, rises and begins shouting at the Eucharist:
- Hello? HELLLOOOOOO??!! Can you hear me, Jesus? HELLLOOOOOO????? (Knocks on the chalice) Knock back if you hear me. (Places ear on chalice) Not a word. Well, looks like God screwed up the presence of his son in the Eucharist. Who's surprised?
Since its founding, the Church of God the Wholly Incompetent has been derided for allegedly making a mockery of God. John Milton wrote 62 pamphlets attacking their errors, and conceived Paradise Lost as a long litany of tortures for Trammell to endure. Others argue that Compies can not believe in a God both omnipotent and klutzy, arguing that an omnipotent being would necessarily be perfect in thoughts and actions. Trammell defended his belief in Synners in the Hands of a Idle God, using numerous biblical citations claiming that God "could have done it better." Trammell was especially critical of God's handling of King Ahab, writing that "I woulde have struck him down at the first sighte of Jezebel."
The church has also aroused criticism from outsiders, who wonder why Compies would worship a god they hold in contempt. Compies reply that God is the only God in the universe, and needs all the encouragement He can get.