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The church without origin — and its origin

William Irvine started the religion that would become known as "the Truth."

The narrative within the church when I was growing up was that "this way" had always existed. To us, this was the one true way, continuous from before time; the way of life that Jesus Christ had come to fulfill — the one that he would come to enforce at the end of time. (Or however that works. It's a complicated story.*)

In 1897, the Scottish Irvine started preaching in Northern Ireland to people in the format that would evolve into "the Truth." He was a tent-preacher, an evangelist in the protestant tradition of the day, attempting to bring people to the literal teachings of the Holy Bible.

Before long, he declared that only this way could save people. Apparently this was acceptable to the members of the church. (It's not an uncommon religious idea.)

But Irvine's thoughts continued to expand. He apparently suffered from an evolving delusional sickness. He had some kind of apocalyptic vision concerning the year 1914, and preached about it. His ideas started to become less popular with his followers.

As we know, the year came and passed without apocalypse.

When he went to Jerusalem in 1918, Irvine he was persuaded of his own grand importance. He was fond of the Book of Revelation, the wildest and most-delusional part of the Bible. He believed it literally; and he believed that it referred to him personally.

Irvine became a bit too much for the people he'd converted. They kicked him out of the church, even before he went to try to meet up with Jesus. Apparently, the final schism was more the result of a scandal about Irvine's sex life than it was about his eccentric theology. But — details aside — Irvine had to go.

His previous supporters didn't want to talk to him. And — more significantly for the evolution of the church — they didn't want to talk about him.

So they didn't. Irvine became persona non grata, and at some point a taboo subject.

The oral history of the church lost William Irvine.

Without its founder, the story developed its own explanation of the origin of the sect — that there was no founder. None human, anyhow.

Until more information became available, members of "the Truth" believed it was the only true religion. Maybe some do still — but contrary evidence is well-demonstrated in the early 21st century.

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* The role of Jesus in Christian theology is complicated with explanations that do not tell a real story.

It is possible that Jesus did not exist at all, and indeed there exist no contemporaneous records that he did.

The possibility that the story of Jesus is fictional may represent the simplest explanation of the phenomena surrounding his legend.

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