Is it Time for Jehovah's Witnesses to Apologize? Part 2

First, it may be well to catch up with Part 1.

Jehovah’s Witnesses did fail in this regard. Let us admit it. They failed to ‘go beyond the law.’ The stakes are so high that law is thereafter reinterpreted to mean that they did violate it. Why did they fail? Ms. Chuck accurately states that any Witness victim or family of victim was always free to report child sexual abuse and that congregation justice did not preclude outside secular justice. Arguably, then, they failed because they were insular, as she says, and they may not realize just how firmly she has put her finger on the reason. They were not inclined to air their dirty laundry before the public.

It is not hard to understand. In some cultures, the concept of ‘saving face’ is so firmly entrenched that your efforts to communicate are doomed to failure if you ignore it. The very reason there is an expression ‘skeletons in the closet’ is the universal human instinct to keep them there. It is even found in the scriptures that Ms. Chuck acknowledges underlie everything Witnesses do. Decrying the spectacle of early Christians taking one another into court over personal disputes, the apostle Paul writes: “I am speaking to move you to shame. Is there not one wise man among you who is able to judge between his brothers? Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and before unbelievers at that!” If Jehovah’s Witnesses today are ‘insular,’ it is because Christians back then were ‘insular.’

In this case, however, insularity, and the failure to ‘go beyond the law’ has resulted in child abusers who did not take their turn in the police lineup, as well as victims thereby deprived of justice. Whether they would have received justice otherwise is arguable, for no end of persons manage to evade the wrath of the law. But that is not the point. They should have been turned over to police, the argument goes, for the latter to either nail them to the wall or let them beat the rap. The victims want justice. Like victims anywhere, they don’t always get it. But don’t get in the way of their quest for it. Since the Witness organization is perceived to have gotten in the way, with law being reinterpreted so as to more damningly point to that conclusion, should they apologize to victims or issue a public statement of regret? You could certainly build a case for it.

When the cop speeds in hot pursuit and a horrific accident results, pointing out that he had permission to speed only goes so far. There are times when only a sincere expression of regret stems the tide of outrage, for who is going to dismiss a run-over pedestrian as ‘just one of those things’?  At such times legal matters become technicalities and you look tone-deaf if you harp on them. Best to say that, in pursuing one’s mission, even within existing rules, a terrible tragedy has resulted for which there is sincere regret.

Were the Witness organization to ever do that, it would cut them no slack with the Reddit group. They would merely drop down a notch on their list to highlight the next reason they hate their former religion before surfacing briefly again to declare the statement insincere. No, there will be no placating these folks. But it might very well clear the air for all other persons, who know very well, simply through personal experience, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are very fine people. Even arch-enemy Barbara Anderson concedes this, as she somehow manages to insinuate that this is despite their evil governing body, rather than the much more reasonable ‘because of it.’

Not because of it solely, of course, for Witnesses’ decency stems from the God they worship. But in the sense that the Witnesses’ governing body keeps them clearly focused on the Bible, the source they signed on for, they surely deserve credit, not condemnation. Almost all other faiths have swayed with the changing winds of contemporary culture. Witnesses have not. They merely update now and then, as they have with their procedures of child sexual abuse investigations. Is it intimidating for a victim of child sexual abuse to appear before the three men of a investigatory committee? Well, they never thought of that. Maybe they should have. So now it is that a child’s recorded testimony can serve itself as the witness and he or she does not have to appear personally. If he or she does, it can be with any congregation member they choose, whether male or female. The religion’s fiercest critics say they will never stop opposing until Witnesses fix their child abuse policies. Arguably, they already have, since almost all cases tried are from 20-30 years ago.

Not everyone likes Jehovah’s Witnesses. Probably more do not than do. But people are mostly fair. A statement of regret would go a long way for them to say: “Oh, I see. They did screw it up, but now I can see why. They really do abhor child sexual abuse over there.”  Otherwise, their enemies find it a cakewalk to portray those in leadership positions among Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘arrogant,’ and in some cases, careful cultivators of child sexual abusers. They are probably the least arrogant people on earth, but that does not mean they cannot be painted that way.

They do Bible education work. They do it extensively and effectively. In the developing world, a person is stuck with some 200-year old turkey of a Bible translation that he can neither afford nor understand because nobody other than Jehovah’s Witnesses thinks it is inappropriate for Big Business to handle distribution of the Word of God. The Witness Governing Body does think it is inappropriate and they have invented an entirely new production and distribution channel so that the person can obtain a modern Bible at minimal cost, or even free. That accomplishment is not nothing.

They do not do all of this personally, of course. Detractors routinely spin it that Witnesses are ‘controlled’ by ‘eight men in New York.’ It makes no sense. They are modest persons. Many of them cut their teeth performing their trademark door-to-door ministry in the developing world, carrying out a work more lowly than that of the ones they ultimately lead. They have a certain knack at administration, as with any effective organization, but other than that, they have little expertise in anything. But they know where to find it when they need it. From a field of eight million members, where there are no paywalls nor turf battles, they can quickly assemble whatever they deem necessary.

Their latest offering in the field of Bible education consists of an online, self-guided, and anonymous course of Bible study offered on the front page of their website, JW.org. The Bible offers convincing answers to important questions of life, Jehovah's Witnesses feel, questions not readily answered anywhere else. The course is all available online for free, now. After each lesson there is the option to 1) go deeper, for the presentation is necessarily simple, 2) attend a group study at the Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, 3) request a personal instructor, or 4) say ‘none of the above’ and proceed to the next lesson. It’s a relatively new feature. I don’t know how it will be incorporated. But with only some exaggeration, I am looking forward to saying: “I don’t want to study the Bible with you. Do it yourself. If you have any questions or want to go a level more, I’ll be around.” With only slightly more exaggeration again, the new feature illustrates that, if need be, the main Bible teaching component of the Witnesses’ work could be run out of a server in someone’s dorm room.

They always will be ‘insular,’ or to put in their terminology, ‘no part of the world.’ Surely, they must be permitted to be, for the alternative is to snuff out the type of Christianity that existed in the first century, arguably the most 'true' model. Snuffing out this model in favor of societally evolved ones would be a very fine outcome in the eyes of today’s ‘anti-cultists,’ who will allow that religion can have a place only so long as it is clearly subservient to contemporary life and leaders. Anything not meeting this description they are inclined to label a ‘cult’ that ‘brainwashes’ people through ‘mind-control.’ Those of that spirit of Western anti-cultists have used exactly that reasoning to fuel the furor that has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and confiscated all of their property, with many other faiths shaking in their boots that they will be next. Of a prominent Russian anti-cultist, Alexander Dvorkin, who shares Western connections via an French NGO, a human-rights expert has said: he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech.” It is no less with anti-cultists here, who further their goals through whatever avenues present themselves.

It may well be time to acknowledge that this avenue, this one involving child sexual abuse reporting, is one that became riddled with axle-bending potholes, express sincere remorse, help out to whatever extent is necessary to fill them in, so as to move on with the overall program.

End of Part 2. Part 3 to follow.

 

 


Governing the Modern Day Congregation

Like Plato's philosopher kings, the "apostles and older men" in Jerusalem set policy for the first century congregation. They determined how scripture applied for the rapidly growing Christian faith, much as modern govenments apply principles contained within national constitutions. If they did not do so, constitutions would quickly become inapplicable, lost among new developments not explicitly spelled out. They'd become relics for debate, and nothing else. (Some people would like it that way.) But the Bible was not to suffer the same fate. It was to be applied to changing times by a governing agency.
 
Traveling ministers carried decisions of that early governing body to the ever-increasing congregations, which within decades had spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Acts 16:4-5 reports:
 
Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.

Alas, for those who suppose Christianity ought to be based upon Western democracy! It wasn't guidelines being delivered. It wasn't suggestions. It wasn't proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decrees which were to be observed.
 
It's not just the New World Translation. Nearly all English translations use the terms "decrees" or "decisions." The New International Version calls them "decisions for the people to obey." Of the few variations, only the Message translation waters the phrase down to "simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful." But the Amplified Bible uses "regulations," Moffatts Bible says "resolutions," the Good News Bible offers up "rules."
 
Isn't this what one would expect? If God's ways are really higher than our ways, as Isa 55:9 states, and people become Christian converts precisely for that reason, does anyone truly think God's ways would be determined by majority vote? If that's the case, who needs God? Unless you want scripture to be no more than fodder for debate. And as already observed, that's exactly what many folks want; the more learned they are and thereby fond of their own opinions, the more they want it. That way no one has to really pay any attention to it, even if it's their own that opinion prevails. It's just academic hot air. No, there has to be a governing agency. God saw to that in the first century. The apostles and older men governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They weren't ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession.
 
Is this arrangement to be extended into the present? Jehovah's Witnesses say yes. It's what they glean from consideration of Matt 24:45-47: Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.  

At first glance, one might wonder if these verses can really refer to governance for the modern-day Christian congregations. I've had someone try to tell me the verses are no more than a nice little story with the moral to always do your best. But consider that the verses are embedded in Matthew 24-25, two Bible chapters filled with prophesies and parables about Christ's return. Matt 24:3 leads with the question posed by Jesus' disciples: "what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?" Matthew 25 consists of three parables in which the Master returns after a long absence and settles accounts with his slaves....what have they been up to while he was gone? Some have been diligent. Some negligent. Some have kept alert. Some have fallen asleep.  Some have done well by his "brothers." Some have ignored them. As always, Jesus speaks in illustrations, largely so as to throw off people whose interest in spiritual things is only superficial. (see Matt: 13:10-15)
 
From time to time through the years, various persons have claimed to be "the faithful and discreet slave," presuming that whatever they have to say constitutes "food at the proper time" for the "domestics." However, Christ departed in 33CE - wouldn't he have made his appointments before leaving?. And he arrived....Jehovah's Witnesses (alone) are on record stating his invisible presence as reigning heavenly King began in 1914 (another claim which, at first glance, seems far-fetched, but which is substantiated with reasonings reproduced here and here and here.) Therefore, the faithful and discreet slave must be, not an individual, but a group, or class, of individuals. A small remnant of Christ's followers recognized through Bible study that the Master's presence would commence in 1914. They gave the matter wide publicity well beforehand. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of traveling evangelists who, representing this strange creed [today known as Jehovah's Witnesses], have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ wrote the New York World newspaper on August 30, 1914. Early Watchtower President C.T. Russell wrote weekly sermons which were published, all told, by more than 4000 newspapers. The early Witnesses were off on some applications, but they were surely right on enough of them so as to be uniquely recognizable.
 
Can that small anointed remnant not be "the faithful and discreet slave", found by the "master on arriving" to be giving "food at the proper time?" The passage points out that this "slave" is thereby appointed over all his [the Master's] belongings. Thus, today, a governing body, drawn from members of this anointed class, oversees kingdom interests on earth. As closely as possible, it models itself after the pattern set by that first century governing body. In this way, congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are governed. They thereby maintain unity. They actually stand for something, and don't just reflect cultural norms of the day slightly modified by a God smiley face.
 
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Appendix: Acts chapter 15 (reproduced below) offers a specific example of how Christians were governed in the first century. It provides a template which the governing body uses in directing Christians today. Note the dispute (regarding circumcision), and the agreed upon channel of redress. Note how, prior to reaching a decision, scriptures are considered, both historical and prophetic. Witnesses are heard, who testify to the role holy spirit is playing....what God is then doing among the congregations. The resulting decision is put into writing and sent to all the congregations. Delivery must have taken some time, given means of travel back then.
 
From Acts chapter 15:
 
And certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the [newly converted Gentile] brothers: “Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.  Accordingly, after being conducted partway by the congregation, these men continued on their way through both Phoenicia and Samaria, relating in detail the conversion of people of the nations, and they were causing great joy to all the brothers. On arriving in Jerusalem they were kindly received by the congregation and the apostles and the older men, and they recounted the many things God had done by means of them. Yet, some of those of the sect of the Pharisees that had believed rose up from their seats and said: “It is necessary to circumcise them and charge them to observe the law of Moses.”
 
 And the apostles and the older men gathered together to see about this affair. Now when much disputing had taken place, Peter rose and said to them: “Men, brothers, you well know that from early days God made the choice among you that through my mouth people of the nations should hear the word of the good news and believe; and God, who knows the heart, bore witness by giving them the holy spirit, just as he did to us also. And he made no distinction at all between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you making a test of God by imposing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we were capable of bearing? On the contrary, we trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people also.”
 

At that the entire multitude became silent, and they began to listen to Barnabas and Paul relate the many signs and portents that God did through them among the nations. After they quit speaking, James answered, saying: “Men, brothers, hear me. Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I shall return and rebuild the booth of David that is fallen down; and I shall rebuild its ruins and erect it again, in order that those who remain of the men may earnestly seek Jehovah, together with people of all the nations, people who are called by my name, says Jehovah, who is doing these things, known from of old.’ Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.”


Then the apostles and the older men together with the whole congregation favored sending chosen men from among them to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was called Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brothers; and by their hand they wrote:
 

“The apostles and the older men, brothers, to those brothers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the nations: Greetings! Since we have heard that some from among us have caused you trouble with speeches, trying to subvert your souls, although we did not give them any instructions, we have come to a unanimous accord and have favored choosing men to send to together with our loved ones, Barnabas and Paul, men that have delivered up their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are therefore dispatching Judas and Silas, that they also may report the same things by word. For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”
 

Accordingly, when these men were let go, they went down to Antioch, and they gathered the multitude together and handed them the letter. After reading it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. And Judas and Silas, since they themselves were also prophets, encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them. So, when they had passed some time, they were let go in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them out. 

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The new policy wasn't at once accepted by all, which in itself offers a template for modern-day similar situations. Jewish converts, in particular, had taken circumcision as a rite for generations. But now it was to be simply a personal choice, not an obligation to be imposed upon new believers. Long after the governing body supposedly settled the matter (49CE), its representatives were reasoning with those who opposed it, becoming more forceful with the passage of time:
 
(circa 51CE - 2 years later): For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery. See! I, Paul, am telling you that if you become circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Moreover, I bear witness again to every man getting circumcised that he is under obligation to perform the whole Law.  (Gal 5:1-3)
 

(55CE - 6 years later): Was any man called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised. Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God’s commandments [does]. (1 Cor 7:18-20)
 
(circa 61CE - 12 years later): Look out for the dogs, look out for the workers of injury, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are those with the real circumcision, who are rendering sacred service by God’s spirit and have our boasting in Christ Jesus and do not have our confidence in the flesh.   (Phil 3:2-3)
 
(circa 63CE - 14 years later): For there are many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision. It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain. (Tit 1:10-11)
 
Did such resisters eventually find themselves removed from the congregation? It seems likely, in view of such directives as:
 
As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned. (Tit 3:10-11)
 
So it is in the modern-day congregation. Not everyone agrees with everything. But they strive to come into agreement, rather than cultivate divisions, having bought into the way of thinking that "God's ways are higher than man's ways," including his ways of providing organization. They subscribe to the wisdom from above (tell me if this isn't different from the wisdom of today): ...the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey....(Jas 3:17)

Occasionally individuals decide they can no longer acquiesce to this type of arrangement. Should they get to that point, they leave. It's the only reasonable course. It's really the only viable course. As in real life, you can't grab hold of the wheel. You get tossed off the bus should you try that.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


Who're You Calling a Cult? Part 1

 

Serving humanity, websites like CultBeGone.com keep us up to date on who the cults are, so we can watch out. Lately, trying to make me mad, they've started including us! My people! Jehovah's Witnesses! They never used to do that. They used to just call us a religion, albeit an oddball one. Cults used to be Jim Jones or Waco or that Japanese Subway Poison Gas gang....groups that physically isolate themselves, fall under control of some highly charismatic character, and act downright weird....I mean, socially destructive...so much so as to trigger a shoot-out with the Feds or a mass suicide. But in recent years, the ranks of those who track such groups have swollen beyond mere religious academics to include folks with an agenda, most notably evangelicals and atheists. To the former, anyone rejecting the Trinity is a cult. To the latter, anyone not rejecting God is a cult, save only the mainest of the mainstream faiths. So here we are stuck between these two overbearing factions, just like our Lord impaled between two thieves. Both readily throw the cult label at us, altering the traditional definition so as to include whoever they don't like.

If you don't like a group, it is a sect. If you really don't like it, it is a cult. Is it really that different from the first century, the birth-century of Christianity? Representing the new Christian faith, Paul, a former Jewish leader, checked into the synagogue at Rome to see what sort of slanderous reports they'd heard from opposers: "They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against." (Acts 28:21-22)

The whole of Christianity was a "sect." And it was "everywhere spoken against."

Ironically, during the time we might conceivably have been called a cult, at least by one measure, we weren't. Joseph "Judge" Rutherford, second president of the Watchtower Society, was the outspoken public voice of JW publications throughout his term. A larger than life character...a man of pure charisma. His was the booming voice of Enemies. I don't accept the 'cult' label for even back then, mind you, but at least by that one measure...having a charismatic leader...we qualified.

But Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford as WBTS President in 1942, and he was plain vanilla, no razzle-dazzle at all. Brother Knorr was the visiting Bethel convention speaker one summer here in Rochester....I think in the late 1970's. As he spoke at the War Memorial  (since renamed Blue Cross Arena) the bright lights overhead showed up clearly the wrinkled mess of a suitjacket he wore. Probably from sitting in those arena seats, when you'd take your jacket off because the AC back then was temperamental, and it would slip to the back of the seat where it was promptly scrunched into a wad....I've had it happen to me often enough. Trust me....we were glad to hear from him knowing his role and responsibility....but he was not charismatic.

In the 1970's, duties were divided up among a governing body, men with equal rank, the number varying, from what I've heard, between 9 and 18. Now...it wouldn't be kind to call them colorless. But they didn't stand out. If one of them came to town you'd probably go hear him speak, but that's only because you were with the program. They had no drawing power in themselves. Though I'm sure their pictures have been published, I wouldn't recognize one were he to knock on my door....they just don't strive for prominence. They live in modest circumstances at Watchtower worldwide headquarters. Paradoxically, they resemble (I'm sure not by design) Plato's philosopher-kings, described in The Republic. As outlined in Michael Hart's The 100:

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description fits the governing body almost to a "T". Only the "mates in common" does not apply.

They're not known to be especially riveting speakers. Maybe some a bit like Paul? who was a little.....ahem....dull in speaking, or at least rough. He summed up his own reputation: "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."    (2 Cor 10:10)   Paul even killed a person with his late night speech: "Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead." [!] (Acts 20:9  NIV) Fortunately for him, his is one of a handful of resurrections reported in the NT. As it should be. If you're going to bore someone to death, you ought to at least be able to raise him up again. But that might not happen today.

No they have no star power, these GB members, neither then or now. "Unlettered and ordinary," is how the Jewish high court described Christian leaders of the first century. (Acts 4:13) It's not so different today.

GB member Maxwell Friend (now deceased) actually showed up one evening at a Service meeting, much to my surprise. Turned out he was personal friends with someone in the sister congregation, which met in our same Kingdom Hall. His visit was a bit distressing to me, since, as a Ministerial Servant, I'd been assigned a Q&A part that night, and didn't feel optimally prepared. Great...just great! I fretted...I'm going to be stumbling and stammering in front of a governing body member! But the part went well. Brother Friend sat in the audience like everyone else, and raised his hand....I called on him....and he made some ordinary comment...not some Great Profound Biblical Truth comment.... just a regular comment like anybody else. Nobody made a great fuss over him. He didn't put on airs in any way.

I crossed paths with another one of that group, sort of. By odd coincidence, one of my pals has the same name, Christian and surname, as this other governing body member. Only the middle initial is different. My friend entered Bethel himself around 1980, and while at Bethel, he married. Mrs Sheepandgoats and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary and it was the governing body member who replied! (I discovered later they get their letters crossed all the time) He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related what he and his wife had been doing lately...how they'd been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa....boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, said I to Mrs Sheepandgoats. But the wives' first names didn't match. Hmmm. Maybe the name we had was just a nickname, we mused, but then the truth dawned on us. And blew us away. Here is a GB member taking time to respond to an anniversary card....writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he did not know, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings...I mean, these are not pretentious people.

Jesus once said to his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave."  (Matt 20:25-27) In my experience, this description fits very well members of the JW governing body. Not cult-like at all.

 

[Edit  11/3/11   A brother emailed me to say that, although Max Friend had been in Bethel forever and ever, and had done many things, he was never on the governing body.  Naw....can't be, I said. But then I checked and....sure enough, it was true. Where did I ever get this idea in my head? Gasp.....does this mean I could also be wrong on other things?]

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News buy Plenty of Hogwash


Things Younger than McCain and the Governing Body

We know now we‘re in a sexist country.

We know it because the first woman ever to campaign for President was rejected. What reason could there possibly be other than sexism?

But there is yet one more “ism” that will condemn us before we’re through. Racism, if Obama goes down. Ageism, if McCain is defeated. Such is the nature of this election. It’s a win-win-lose for the politically correct.

Opponents are painting McCain as too old to be President, same as they did two or three elections ago with Bob Dole. Back then, someone pointed out that Dole’s social security number was 6. Of course, it was actually much higher. Similarly, some wise guy has come up with a website collection of things that are younger than John McCain……things like Scrabble, polyester, the minimum wage, teflon, and duct (or duck) tape. I read about this site in the Economist magazine. In fact, since two of the things younger than McCain (Mildred Loving and LSD synthesis) are two things prominently featured in recent Economist issues and nowhere else, and since the website itself is only 2 months old, I suspect the author reads Economist. Perhaps he is even an employee.

Now this “younger than McCain” idea is intriguing to me because I have often thought of doing the same: putting together a list of things that have come about during my lifetime.

Tamper-proof bottle caps, for example. I well remember how you could once buy a bottle of pills or anything else and simply pop the cap and take one. You didn’t have to be a safecracker. It was inconceivable that anyone would tamper with a product. Oh, you might want to poison a specific person, like in an Agatha Christie novel, but to contaminate a product so as to harm random people? It had never happened and was impossible to imagine.   

The Tylenol scare changed all that. In 1982, someone laced bottles on Extra-Strength Tylenol with cyanide. Seven people ultimately died. Johnson & Johnson pulled the product promptly, redid the packaging, and we’ve had to dynamite open containers of anything ever since.

I am also older than airline hijackings. It used to be you could park your car at the airport, buy a ticket, and hop on the plane. Nobody wanted to strip search you. You didn’t have to walk through wands and buzzers. Show up ten minutes before departure time? Not a problem.

According to this report, there were 15 hijackings worldwide between 1948 and 1957, one a year. Between 1958 and 1967, it was about 5 a year. But in 1968 alone there were 38, and the next year 82! For the next ten years: 41 per annum.

Strictly speaking I am not older than all hijackings, but almost. I am older than all hijackings in the western world. The first instances here involved flights to and from Cuba. I vividly remember public dilemma following one of them….how old could I have been? The hijackers had made some demands. This was a new tactic. Nobody in the media knew what to do. Should they report every tidbit of information they learned? Or, by providing a stage, would that only encourage future hijackings? Maybe they should treat the hijackers as simple thugs, and publicize neither their demands nor cause.

The uncertainty lasted a day or two. Then the news people decided to spill all, moralizing that the public “had a right to know.”  I’ve often thought the popularity of hijackings would have fizzled had they not played along.

I have no idea if a young person makes a better President than a old person. I suppose you can’t be taking your afternoon nap when some crazy launches World War III, though the Economist reports that McCain’s indefatigable energy leaves the kids covering his campaign panting and exhausted.

But in a spiritual organization, age is a great virtue. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is comprised of people who are old. Sometimes ancient. The downside, I guess, is that they don’t know much about ipods and reality TV. But the upside is that they don’t go carrying on as if skyjacking and lacing medicine is normal. They’re old enough to realize human society is getting sicker and sicker, and they’re human enough to realize that increased gadgets and technology don’t compensate for that.

Over the years, the governing body has delivered on its promises. Unlike politicians, they've not promised that the world will get rosier and rosier. They’ve said all along that world conditions are rough and will get rougher as humans display their total inability to govern themselves. The present day reeling in view of energy and food spikes is entirely in keeping with the Bible’s take on the “last days” and just one more evidence of human ineptness and mismanagement. “Light at the end of the tunnel” does not shine from any human leaders, but from God’s promise of renewed conditions on earth under Kingdom rule. Focus on those promises, despite unceasing and deafening claptrap about human efforts, and the specific accusations of some soreheads that the GB is out of step with modern times, is a monumental achievement.

Human leaders usually don't lead. More typically, they figure out which way the wave is flowing so as to ride the crest and give the appearance of leading. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has not been afraid to lead, pressing ahead with a message distinctly unpopular with those who put all their trust in human efforts. Telling about the four horsemen....on the gallop for most of the past century....doesn’t win you friends from that crowd. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it.

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I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.


When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.    Rev 6:2-8  NIV

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Sure, the politically correct today would have the second horseman wailing about sexism, the third ageism, the fourth racism. But the ailments afflicting humankind go even deeper than that.

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Plato and the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses

In general, Jehovah's Witnesses don't know a whole lot when it comes to ancient Greek society. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables, and not "So crates." Oh, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time in which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don't consider knowledge of them indispensable for enriched life. The rapidly ascending Chinese and Indian populations most likely are completely ignorant of Greece....the root of Western civilization, but not theirs....and don't bemoan the loss.

Nonetheless, there is this atheist fellow I've been conversing with lately who throws Greeks at me right and left. He's even assumed a Greek moniker....Moristotle....and he's prompted me to consider changing my own name to Tom Sheepandgoaticus so as to win some respect. So it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?

Plato put into writing his concepts of ideal government. He advocated rule by "philosopher-kings." Several times in Moristotle's blog I've read the term. (If his blog has a search feature, I'd provide links. C'mon, Moristotle, get with it!) Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected (by already existing rulers) on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff.....so lengthy that it seems nobody under age 50 would be eligible for consideration.

Consider this excerpt from The 100, an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history: (Plato is #40)

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description almost exactly describes their "governing body," the agency that governs members of the faith. Only the "mates in common" does not apply.

Compare Plato's dream government with this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter(which appears to be a Kiplinger-style newsletter, and which may include some sort of a sales pitch....I'm not familiar with it):

They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I've ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. *All* of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I've toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I've seen it with my own eyes.

Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it's amazing......I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.

They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF....I could go on.

But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs. *

This organization is duplicated in the one hundred or so branch organizations that exist around the world.

Of course, one may object: Plato's recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah's Witnesses number between seven and seventeen million, depending on the criteria you use in counting. That's more than the population of a great many nations. Moreover, Jehovah's Witnesses are correctly viewed as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no mere accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration, governing if you will, since there are ever so many groups who claim to follow the Bible but whose lifestyles beliethat claim. Jehovah's Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose, as the above letter points out. They would appear to be Plato's dream come true.

Author Hart actually allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato's ideal. He suggests "there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato's guardian class." I assume he is referring to the Church before the Inquisition. Otherwise, Hart acknowledges, Plato's ideals have never been adopted by any human government.

Oh, this is too rich! Here is Plato, poster boy of the modern atheist rationalists, devising a system of government which none of them have come close to reproducing, but which is adopted, without fanfare, by a group they can't stand, Jehovah's Witnesses! The reason, of course, is that Plato's system depends on persons who are neither ambitious nor materialistic nor overly proud. It's not that such persons can't be found among the general population. It's that the values of this world are such that these persons can't rise to the top. Indeed, they are often dismissed as impractical nuts (as with Jehovah‘s Witnesses).

By the way, what happens when atheists themselves try to adopt Plato's ways? Hart continues: "The role of the Communist party in the Soviet Union has also been compared with that of the guardian class in Plato's ideal republic. Here, too, we see a self-perpetuating elite whose members have all been trained in an official philosophy."

Aren't communist systems atheist, indeed the only governments officially atheist? Yes....and when the atheists try to implement Plato, their creations are hijacked by bullies and mass-murderers: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, and so forth. Look at these guys crossways and you do ten years hard labor.

No, those atheists are unable to implement the ideals of their hero. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, have done so. Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I don’t suggest it. But I can picture the highly educated “wise-in-their-own-eyes” elite rushing to embrace him as one of their own, and he, upon accessing how they have failed to implement any of his ideals, wanting nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, he could not help but be appreciative toward the one sizable organization on earth that has managed to transform his dream into reality.

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Tom Wheatandweeds of the Whitepebble Institute submitted the above item. I told him not to gloat, it's not becoming.....I strictly warned him....but he could not resist. His communication included the following, which I have deleted from my published edition:

"Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho haw haw ho ho ho ho ho yiiiiii....THUD!

ow...........(he he)"

He never had an ounce of dignity, that Wheatandweeds. That's why I'm the blogmaster, not him.

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*It should be noted that the writer to the Halbert letter incorrectly recommends that one may donate to the Watchtower as an efficient way of providing disaster relief to post-Katrina New Orleans. In fact, JW disaster relief is a sideline, aimed mostly at getting their own people on their feet again so that they may resume normal Christian activity. The disaster relief teams are almost entirely individual JWs using vacation time or taking unpaid leaves of absence. They are not in position to do a general rebuild of the city and have never represented themselves that way.

 

More on Governing Body here.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Pope Benedict and Maxwell Friend

They think they've found the tomb of the apostle Paul. It's been unearthed from beneath the altar of Rome's second-largest basilica, St. Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica. It dates from 390 CE or before. Tradition has it that Paul was beheaded during 1rst century persecution of Christians.

Hence, at the end of "Prayer Week for Christian Unity," Pope Benedict and three other churchmen, a riot of luxuriant color amidst matching surroundings, are seen peering over the tomb. Yet if Paul were there in death as he had been in life (the tomb hasn't yet been opened) he would seem out of place. His clothing would be course and drab. His hands would be used calloused and blistered.

It's hard to think otherwise based on what the New Testament tells us of Paul's life. When he traveled, as he did on three missionary tours, he roughed it.

Are they ministers of Christ? I reply [with regard to local "luminaries," softies, who were trying to make themselves prominent in the Corinthian congregation] like a madman, I am more outstandingly one: in labors more plentifully, in prisons more plentifully, in blows to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from [my own] race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness.     2 Corinthians 11:23-27

While on the road, he worked to support himself.

After these things he departed from Athens and came to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus who had recently come from Italy, and Priscilla his wife, because of the fact that Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. So he went to them and on account of being of the same trade he stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks.     Acts 18:1-4

Though, as a full time minister, he might reasonably have lived off his ministry, he did not do so, so as not to abuse his authority.

If we have sown spiritual things to you, is it something great if we shall reap things for the flesh from you? If other men partake of this authority over you, do we not much more so? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this authority, but we are bearing all things, in order that we might not offer any hindrance to the good news about the Christ. Do you not know that the men performing sacred duties eat the things of the temple, and those constantly attending at the altar have a portion for themselves with the altar? In this way, too, the Lord ordained for those proclaiming the good news to live by means of the good news.

But I have not made use of a single one of these [provisions]. Indeed, I have not written these things that it should become so in my case, for it would be finer for me to die than—no man is going to make my reason for boasting void! If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news! If I perform this willingly, I have a reward; but if I do it against my will, all the same I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What, then, is my reward? That while declaring the good news I may furnish the good news without cost, to the end that I may not abuse my authority in the good news.

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As a Ministerial Servant, I was tending to some duties just before the meeting when I heard an unmistakable voice followed by a greeting that spelled doom:

"Brother Friend! What a surprise! What brings you here?" It was Maxwell Friend, from the Governing Body! And what did bring him here, far from his home turf? It turns out he was chums with an elderly couple from the sister congregation, and he was in town to visit. Friend's voice was very distinctive, easily recognized from recorded dramas.

Of course, normally this greeting would not spell doom at all. I would be happy to meet him. But I had a teaching part on the evening's program, a Q & A session, and I hadn't really prepared to the extent I would have liked. I wasn't unprepared, you understand, just not prepared enough to be brimming with confidence. "Great," I thought, "just great! Here I'm going to show myself an inept ass before one of the Governing Body!"

But I'd done these parts before, and this one went fine. Brother Friend sat in the audience just like anyone else and raised his hand to comment just like anyone else. I called on him. He made some brief remark just like anyone else.

Among Jehovah's Witnesses there is no distinctive garb nor any segregation for those who take the lead. Understand that, as a member of the Governing Body, Brother Friend would correspond rank-wise with the Pope's inner circle of Cardinals. [yes, yes, I know, we don't really think of "ranks," we think of ones serving, but you get my drift] Yet here he was indistinguishable among brothers of the congregation, obediently answering my Q & A questions!

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Maxwell Friend came from Germany and he was a Holocaust survivor. And since this post began with an observation of Pope Benedict, it is irresistible to contrast the two. Benedict, as a youngster, was a member of the Hitler youth and later served in the German military. Of course, I write this not to denigrate Benedict, but rather to elevate Friend. Benedict was a kid at the time, and without a strong support system [which, alas, the Church was not], he could hardly have been expected to refuse Nazi cooperation. Nobody says he embraced it wholeheartedly. I'm sure he did not. He later deserted from the military, to his considerable credit.

Nonetheless, we sure have some irony. If visitors from another planet were to play "match game," surely they would connect the guy who cooperated with that despicable regime, albeit as a vulnerable youth under duress, with the future governing body member of a derided, fringe nutcake religion, while the fellow who refused any fellowship with those felons would certainly be the one later to lead the world's largest and most prominent church denomination.

But they'd be wrong.

And in this age of "victimization," it's only a matter of time till cooperation with the Nazis is seen as a growing, learning experience, whereas outright refusal is just pigheaded and impractical, the expected course of a closed-minded religious nut.....in the odd tradition we have today of converting a plus into a minus and vice versa.

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“All those who suffered persecution because of their religious or political beliefs and who were willing to accept death rather than submit deserve our great respect, such respect as is hard to express in words. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only religion that completely refused to accede to the demands of the Hitler regime: They did not raise their hand to give the Hitler salute. They refused to swear allegiance to ‘Führer and State,’ just as they refused to perform military and labor service. And their children did not join the Hitler Youth Movement.” Peter Straub, president of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg - from a speech made on the 58th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

 

[Edit  11/3/11   A brother emailed me to say that, although Max Friend had been in Bethel forever and ever, and had done many things, he was never on the governing body.  Naw....can't be, I said. But then I checked and....sure enough, it was true. Where did I ever get this idea in my head? Gasp.....does this mean I could also be wrong on other things?]

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash