Weather on Steroids

At the end of each year, media looks back to recap just what went down in the past 365 days, even as they brace for the new year. Didn't Ogden Nash point out that every new year is the direct descendant of a long line of proven criminals? It was a light and breezy line when he said it, long ago, but over time the criminals are getting nastier and nastier. PBS ran a story Dec 28th titled “How 2011 Became a 'Mind-Boggling' Year of Extreme Weather” Anyone halfway observant knows that last year blew us away (sometimes literally) for extreme weather, but people of scientific bent demand evidence! So here it is:

Whereas normally there are three or four “significant” weather events per year in the U.S, last year chalked up twelve. The prior record breaking year, 2008, ImagesCA1EWC8Wregistered nine. “So, we went a third again in the number of events each of which had greater than a billion dollars, many other events, of course, that just fell below that billion-dollar threshold through the course of that year, quite a remarkable string, quite a remarkable array,” said Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground, added: “we talk about the Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Well, this summer pretty much matched that for temperature, almost the hottest summer in U.S. history. We also talk about the great 1974 tornado outbreak. Well, we had an outbreak that more than doubled the total of tornadoes we had during that iconic outbreak. And, also, we talk about the great 1927 flood on the Mississippi River. Well, the flood heights were even higher than that flood this year. So, it just boggles my mind that we had three extreme weather events that matched those events in U.S. History.”

The story focused on U.S. weather events, but worldwide extremes were not ignored: “Weather around the world showed equal extremes. Australia was hit with record flooding, followed by one of its worst tropical cyclones ever. Floodwaters also ravaged parts of Thailand and China, while the Horn of Africa suffered its worst drought in decades.” Jeff Masters especially keeps track of drought, since that corresponds with social upheaval. Russia cut of wheat exports in 2011, so bad was their drought. Food prices surged, and it's thought that the Arab spring revolts were caused, in part, by that woe.

For my money, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it best in his 2012 State of the State address. He didn't want to get into a debate on global warming, he prefaced, but “100 year floods are now happening every two years, so something is clearly happening.” ImagesCAOK6GNE

Does rotten weather count as one of the signs of the last days that Jesus ticked off? You have to force it a bit. I mean, it's not so directly mentioned as are earthquakes, food shortages, wars, and so forth. Does it fit under the “fearful sights and from heavens great signs” of Luke 21:11? Or is it a factor, among many, that when put together, give relevance to Jesus' fig tree remark? “Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:30)

No one in the story's comment section pays any attention to Biblical relevance, of course. They just debate over whether the extremes do or do not indicate global warming, since upon that question hangs major economic policy. One character remarks weather may not be getting any worse at all; we simply have miraculous scientific measurements today so that we notice things more, as though the flattened town of Joplin, Missouri might not have registered upon less enlightened folk of a generation ago.

Weather Underground's Jeff Masters thinks global warming is positively a factor, and by pumping more heat energy into the atmosphere, the result is weather events “on steroids.” If he's correct, then surely extreme weather is but another manifestation of humans “ruining the earth” today, as Revelation 18:11 says.

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What We Learn From Earthquakes

240px-AlaskaQuake-FourthAvePreachers can' resist natural disasters as opportunities to beat people up. They just can't. See?.....they'll say, that's what you get....God's dishing out the punishment. You must have done something pretty bad.They won't agree as to just what that bad deed is, necessarily. Instead, they assign their own pet peeves to God, as though their gripe must be His gripe. Thus, when Katrina hit New Orleans, Pat Robertson right away said that God did it to show how mad he was about gays and abortion. Ron Nagin (mayor, not clergy) had no problem with God doing it, but changed the reason: God was steamed over America's foreign policy and treatment of blacks!

With characters like this, it's a wonder we're not all atheists! Perhaps the greatest public service Jehovah's Witnesses render at such times is to tell people God doesn't do it. He doesn't cause calamities. After all, why New Orleans? Why them? They're not exactly creampuffs up here in Rochester, either, but God hasn't smitten us. (though He has caused Kodak to flirt (quite promiscuously) with bankruptcy, humbling our once-proud city, causing that company even to blow up some of their empty buildings so as to get them off the tax rolls.)

Almost to a person, Haitians believed the quake that leveled Port-au-Prince (Dec 2009) was punishment from God. But Jehovah's Witnesses, preaching tent to tent afterwards, repudiated that preachers' pet notion and told them it wasn't. “We assure them,” says a local Witness in the December 2010 Awake magazine, “that the earthquake was a natural disaster and not God's doing. We show them Genesis 18:25. There, Abraham declares it unthinkable that God would destroy good people along with the bad. We also show them Luke 21:11. there, Jesus foretold great earthquakes for this time [“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;  and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”], and we explain that he will soon resurrect dead loved ones and remove all suffering.” The article goes on to relate the rebuilding work JWs carried out, both physical and spiritual.

But if God doesn't cause natural disasters, that doesn't mean they might nonetheless be a sign of the last days of this system of things. Just like the earthquakes mentioned above. Are they? And, regarding earthquakes, if God doesn't cause them, just why do they happen now in such numbers so as to validate Jesus' words? Has there really been a collosal increase in earthquakes? I used to think I knew. But I'm not so sure now.

However, it may be that in the new system, we'll have the good sense not to build in earthquake prone areas. Perhaps we won't build big cites, period...you've never seen a city in any of those paradise tracts, have you? Maybe we'll build with quake-proof materials and techniques....the Port-au-Prince Bethel, built that way, hardly suffered any damage at all, even as most of the city was reduced to rubble. Or it may even be that in choosing human rulership over God's Kingdom, people demonstrate preference for the government that cannot control natural disasters over the government that can. As we read about Jesus: "But they felt an unusual fear, and they would say to one another: “Who really is this, because even the wind and the sea obey him?” Maybe earthquakes will obey him in the new system, too. They don't obey Presidents, Prime Ministers, or Premiers, but maybe they'll obey Jesus.

Great earthquakes are right in there as one of the signs of the last days, even if we can't put our finger on exactly the cause. And I'm not dissuaded by full-of-themselves people who point out, with much self-satisfaction, that the “great” in great earthquakes is because of increased population. So? That doesn't mean they're not “great.” You think they measure things up there by the Richter scale? Might it be human suffering that triggers the “great?” Nor am I impressed when they carry on about how “better news coverage only means we're aware of earthquakes more than we used to be.” Nah.....that might be the case if we were tracking “earthquakes,” but we're not. We're tracking “great earthquakes.” A “great earthquake” always makes it's presence known, even if you don't have satellite TV.

But you have to keep up with changing times. You don't go plotting earthquakes on your world map time line trying to prove that they once were scarcer than hen's teeth, whereas now they shake things up every time you turn around.  It may not be that way. “The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center reports that earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater remained "fairly constant" throughout the 20th century,” writes Awake! of 2002 March 22 p.9. “Note, though, that the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy does not require an increase in the number or power of earthquakes. All Jesus said was that there would be great earthquakes in one place after another. Furthermore, he stated that these events would mark the "beginning of pangs of distress." (Matthew 24:8) Distress is measured, not by the number of earthquakes or how they rate on the Richter scale, but by the effect that they have upon people."

Or take this excerpt from the Watchtower 2011 May 1 p.4:

The Bible does not emphasize the number of earthquakes during the last days. However, it does say that great earthquakes will occur in one place after another, making them one of the notable features of this momentous period of history.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? [this is a subheading, and subheadings are capitalized] Are we seeing great earthquakes, just as the Bible foretold? Earthquakes alone may not seem to be conclusive evidence that we are living in the last days. Yet, they are only one prophecy that is being fulfilled."

I've even heard some grousing from grousers that these quotes represents substantial JW toning down of prior statements regarding earthquake activity. Nah. All it shows is we're keeping up with advancing knowledge. What's wrong with that? We do it in the fields of earth geology and life development. Why not here?

In some ways, Jehovah's Witnesses are like the Lord impaled between two thieves, only in this case the thieves are so intractably opposed to one another that if you please one, you infuriate the other. If you do anything to keep up with advancing knowledge....a commendable feat in any other discipline....you incur the wrath of religionists, who accuse you of flip-flopping. And if you stay the course in any way, you tick off the scientists, who take for granted that when they say “jump,” you and everyone else ought to respond (and make it snappy!) “how high?”

Okay, okay, I'll back down a little on increased earthquake activity. But I'm sure not going to do it with regard to increased natural disasters. The ground is firmer here, practically quake-proof. For instance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State address, observed that, while he didn't want to get into a debate on global warming.....is it or is it not happening?......“100 year floods are now happening every two years, so something is clearly happening.” I heard him. It's not in the printed transcript; like any decent speaker, Cuomo speaks extemporaneously a lot, and his speech was engrossing, whereas the transcript itself is a little dull, a bit like reading Cliff notes. So you'd have to dredge up his speech on YouTube. Someone must have put it there.

So....let's do natural disasters as the next topic.

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No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


WALL-E and the Gulf Oil Spill

What's not to like about WALL-E? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash (what else?) with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. See, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, so they evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied; they've become pretty much helpless, though good-natured, blobs. But before departure, they left robots to tidy up things, so they might eventually return. Only WALL-E remains on the job, for reasons I forget, and as you might imagine, he's lonely. All that changes when a pretty girl robot (EVE) show up. Robot sparks fly, they save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for humans' return.

So if I liked the film, and Mrs Sheepandgoats liked it, which we both did, everyone must have liked it – right? But when Mrs. Sheepandgoats mentioned it to a co-worker, the latter lamented how sad the movie was. Sad? “What we're doing to the earth, what we're leaving behind for our children, is an absolute tragedy,” she said. Well...yes, the film would have that effect on many, wouldn't it? Look, we're sickened by the degradation humans inflict upon the earth, make no mistake, but, it's also true that when considering each new nail in the coffin, there is a tiny asterisk in the back of our mind that says “God's Kingdom will solve human mismanagement once and for all.” His “bringing to ruin those ruining the earth” is even foretold. (Rev 11:18) So it's always there, that asterisk, cushioning every blow. If you didn't have it....wow...no wonder some are just crushed by what's happening


Now, this verbal exchange was well before the gulf oil-spill, that mother of all environmental catastrophes.  “How to clean up the mess? And who's at blame!” declared Time Magazine's cover of June 21, 2010,  against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. (I was mildly surprised that the questions were not posed in reverse order) Time listed a “dirty dozen” which included the prior President, of course, and his Secretary of State, but also the current President and some of his underlings. A handful of oilmen, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver, since he fuels demand for oil in the first place. Got it? We're all to blame. There are no good guys in white hats, only bad guys in black, oily ones.

And to think I was upbraided just a few weeks ago, along with all my people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah's Witness preaching, already!” scolded my interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then proceeded to wax poetic on how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up crud that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, I'm not against cleanup days, but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we're saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, the entire gulf can be ruined by one big-industry blunder. In fact, reports have it that local picker-uppers are showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost – this is a job for pros!

No, I won't stand for it – to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And don't mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment! When the kids were little and we hiked trails at Allegheny State Park, we'd take trash bags with us and make a treasure hunt out of it, collecting beer and pop cans along the way – some had been there for years. (there were even some of the ancient tin types, cans that had been opened, not with pop-tops, but with can openers such as I remember from when I was a kid – extra points awarded for such finds!) And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Sheepandgoats is driving behind you! Steam comes from her ears. She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you to the sheriff in citizens' arrest.

One fellow is griping here about Jehovah's Witnesses: "They don’t even need to recycle if they don’t want to." What kind of an accusation is that? Are there groups that maintain their people MUST recycle, whether they want to or not? Where recycling is the law of the land/community, JW compliance is higher than most, I've no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely JW compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet. Look, when financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause, I admit, they may outdo the average Witness. But we surely shine when compared to the population in general. I attended a wine festival over the weekend. Each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in one-use plastic cups, or plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I doubt it. All trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is one-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. Again, all trash is mixed together. I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country's largest consumer of AAA batteries. Do you imagine those batteries were recycled? When I asked about it, they laughed at me. In the trash they'd go....each and every one of them. 

Look, I'm all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days. None of Jehovah's Witnesses will ever speak against such things, unless you count observations that such are, at best, a stop-gap measure, and that the lasting solution will come only when God carries out his promise to “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” We tend to use our free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, counts. My experience is that it's only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway – it's not as if JWs are thwarting the whole effort. And surely it must count for something that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't among those who caused the mess in the first place.

“This [JW belief that God's Kingdom only can permanently solve earth's environmental woes] leads to the undeniable fact that Witnesses take almost no initiative towards making the world we live in a better place in any way:” someone tries to sell me that line. Hogwash! Not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in a better place. This, because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. Law-abiding to the core, honest, working, not abusing government services, not contributing to the criminal element freely operating in most lands, promoting stable, monogamous families – all this by virtue of making Bible principles a way of life. Thus, merely propagating Witness beliefs is a step toward making the world a better place.

Meanwhile, I had to go to Canada (the Globe and Mail, June 19th) to discover that at least half of the leaked gulf oil is being recovered through various means, such as salvage ships that corral surface oil and burn it. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus only the overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President's declaration that he's looking for “asses to kick,” even while insinuating that his own “ass” might be among them, that the oil spill is his Katrina, and so forth. Sigh....that's what we're good at here: kicking asses.

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Mean Things God Doesn't Do - Part 1

When Katrina flooded New Orleans back in 2005, Pat Robertson promptly announced the reason. It was God. God did it, he declared, because of the city's abortions and homosexuals. This made New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin mad...hopping mad, and he jumped in to set the record straight. God did not destroy New Orleans because of abortions and homosexuals, he stormed.

He destroyed it because of the war in Iraq and disunity among its black residents.

No one thinks, apparently, that locating a coastal city below sea level yet in the path of hurricanes might have anything to do with it. No! It's all God. God destroyed that city for....well....pick your reason. But whatever reason you pick, have no doubt that God did it. Even insurance companies have long acquiesced to the language; natural disasters, they tell us in their policies, are "acts of God," whereas every non-religious person says, quite sensibly, if a bit crudely, that "shit happens." Which is it - "acts of God" or "shit happens"? Moreover, if such calamities are not really caused by God, does not church instruction that they are amount to monstrous slander against him?

Now, I recently came across a religious blogger who says he can accept God smiting New Orleans, or anywhere else, because "God is Sovereign" and thus can do whatever he wants! I swear, it's a wonder we're not all atheists! You don't think it might be nice for God to warn the "non-guilty" so they can clear out before the smiting starts?  And what's so especially wicked about New Orleans? People aren't creampuffs up here in Rochester either, I assure you - why single out Louisiana folk? Atheists may say rotten things about God, but the really nasty things come from those who claim to be his friends! They don't do it on purpose, of course, but they buy into longstanding doctrines - nonsensical and unscriptural doctrines- that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. With friends like these, so the saying goes, who needs enemies?

There is an explanation for disasters. The churches don't offer it, but it is this: If you've voted the Republicans into power, you can't be upset that Democrat policies aren't being carried out (or vice-versa). Everyone knows that. And with only minimal exaggeration, the same reasoning can be applied to spiritual matters. There is a "party" that offers control over natural forces. That party is God's Kingdom, as in "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt 6:10) Alas, last time there was an "election" back in Genesis days, God's rulership was rejected in favor of human rulership - rulership which can't control the weather or the economy or health or peace or very much else.

Control of natural forces? An attribute of God's Kingdom? Why not? Consider the account at Mark 4:37-41:

And on that day, when evening had fallen, he [Jesus] said to them: “Let us cross to the other shore.” So, after they had dismissed the crowd, they took him in the boat, just as he was, and there were other boats with him. Now a great violent windstorm broke out, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was close to being swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping upon a pillow. So they woke him up and said to him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are about to perish?” With that he roused himself and rebuked the wind and said to the sea: “Hush! Be quiet!” And the wind abated, and a great calm set in. So he said to them: “Why are you fainthearted? Do you not yet have any faith?” But they felt an unusual fear, and they would say to one another: “Who really is this, because even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

Rejecting God's right to rule, as was done in Eden at man's start, has had long-standing, terrible consequences. God has responded by allowing humans to make good on their claim that they can govern themselves without him. He's set aside a block of time during which humans can devise schemes of government, harness the power of science, improvise their own economies, philosophies, moralities, and so forth. When that time runs out, and all such schemes have fallen flat, (aren't they doing that now?) God brings about his own rulership, the same rulership he purposed from the start but which he allowed to be briefly diverted so that humans might carry out their experiment of self-rule. That, in a nutshell, is the Bible's explanation for present abysmal conditions, as outlined here and (for atheists) here.


It's an explanation that makes splendid sense, but accepting it means rejecting some cherished church beliefs, such as the dogma that earth is but a temporary home upon which people prove their fitness for their ultimate destiny in heaven or hell. Unwilling to part with such unscriptural notions, what is there left to church teachers other than to defend each and every natural disaster as part of God's plan? Thus, Katrina, 911, tsunami 2004, earthquake after earthquake - tragedies that haphazardly ruin rich and poor, good and bad, old and young, all such calamities are manifestations of God's will, say his friends! He's Sovereign. He can do what he wants. Don't try to figure it out. His ways are higher than ours. Though such events give not the slightest appearance of wisdom, love, or justice, we're told to accept them as such! (And to think some detractors accuse us of being told what to believe!) Does God really need enemies, with friends that say such things about him?

One reason people become Jehovah's Witnesses is that they don't buy into such a moral vacuum. They look, instead, to when God's permission of human rule runs out, at which time he brings about his own 'kingdom.' The Lord's prayer points to that time:


Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  (Matt 6:9-10)

The Book of Daniel points to it:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.  (Dan 2:44)

Revelation points to it:

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  (Rev 21:2-3) 

Note above that they're not angels; they're men - people -  and New Jerusalem stands for God's government over all the earth, just as literal Jerusalem stood for God's government over his ancient people.

Several Old Testament verses prophetically point to it. For example, Ps 93:1

Jehovah himself has become king! Let the earth be joyful. Let the many islands rejoice

But here we run into something peculiar. Most Bible's don't say "has become," as the New World Translation does. Some do, such as Young's Literal Translation, J.B. Rotherham Emphasized, and Douay-Rheim. But most say that God "is reigning," or something similar. What's with that?

It turns out that the Hebrew verb has two tenses: perfect and imperfect. The perfect tense is used to convey action completed. Events in the past would likely be described with the perfect tense. But, oddly, future events may also be conveyed with the perfect tense, when the writer regards their fulfillment as absolutely certain. The imperfect tense, on the other hand, denotes a work in progress, an ongoing action. Also, everyone acknowledges context plays its part in determining how to translate the perfect or imperfect tense.

The verb "reign" [malakh] in Ps 93:1 is in the perfect tense. It therefore seems that malakh should be rendered as an action completed, and not "reigning," as in an ongoing process. The New World Translation, and a handful of others, has thus translated it that way. And why do most others translate it "reigning?" Apparently due to their perception of doctrinal context - if God "has become king," they reason, there must have been a time when he was not king, and they can't get their heads around that. However, Jehovah's Witnesses side with Sigmund Mowinckel, who wrote in his 1962 book Psalms in Israel’s Worship:

 ...it is not a valid objection to say that Yahweh had, according to the Israelite view, always been king. The latter statement is correct enough . . . but in the cult the fact of salvation is re-experienced as a new and actual reality. Yahweh is ever anew witnessed as ‘coming’, ‘revealing himself’, and doing works of salvation on earth. The Israelite idea of God was not static but dynamic. Israel did not regard the Lord principally as sitting in calm possession and execution of his divine power, but as one who rises and seizes the power, and wields it in mighty works. And this is as a rule concretely pictured; from the ‘mythical’ side this is seen epically and dramatically: at a certain time Yahweh became king. To the Israelite way of thinking there is no contradiction between this and that he is king for ever; such a contradistinction is modern and rationalistic.

And with Charles H Spurgeon, who points out with regard to Ps 93:1 "In the verse before us it would seem as if the Lord had for a while appeared to vacate the throne, but on a sudden he puts on his regal apparel and ascends his lofty seat, while his happy people proclaim him with new joy, shouting "The Lord reigneth." Though he prefers "reigneth," probably out of convention, reading his remark makes apparent he'd have no objection to "has become."

And with  Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, who "sees this psalm as reflecting the various pronouncements that will be voiced in the Messianic era and, therefore, the past tense is syntactically uttered in the psalm in retrospect."

Go here for some of these arguments, scroll ahead to page 67. The New World Translation agrees, not with the paper's author, Gerald Randall Kirkland, writing his Master's Thesis, but with Mowinckel and Feuer, whom he has cited.

So.....Ps 93:1 and similar verses take some time to discuss, but in the end they agree with the other verses cited. Though always king, God has granted a stay of his kingship for a time while humans try to prove their boasts of self-rule. The stay will run out soon - such is a prime import of the Jehovah's Witnesses position. In the meantime, we don't accept disasters and calamities as manifestation of God's will. They're an integral part of a rapidly decaying system of things under human domination.

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Mormons and Jehovah's Witneses on TV

Dear WXXI:

I am writing with regard to the Independent Lens documentary Knocking, which reviews the contributions to society of Jehovah's Witnesses. I had long supposed it would appear, in time, on WXXI.

Tuesday I watched and enjoyed the excellent film The Mormons, and my memory of Knocking was jarred. But it does not appear that WXXI has scheduled the film, at least not for it's national airing date of May 22. That's too bad.

Jehovah's Witnesses' District Conventions fill the Blue Cross Arena for three or four three-day weekends each summer. JWs are thus an active part of the Greater Rochester community and would like to hear their story told. Among the film's contents, I understand, is a review of 46 Supreme Court appearances by Jehovah's Witnesses over the years which have clarified rights of free speech and assembly with benefit to all. No other group has appeared more often before the Court. Knocking sports a long list of awards, highlighted at it's website www.knocking.org

I urge you to schedule the film, if not in time for its national airing, then at least during the rerun season.

Off topic a bit, you may care to know how we used WXXI while raising our kids. Like many parents, we were concerned with the corrosive effects of TV on children. We gave an allowance of  "TV tickets" to the kids. Using them as they saw fit, they could view a maximum of two hours per week of commercial TV. WXXI, however, was unlimited.

Very truly yours,

Mr & Mrs Tom Sheepandgoats

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I admit I've long had a soft spot for Mormons. Fundamentally, of course, we're poles apart, Jehovah's Witnesses rely on the Bible; Mormons have a sacred book absolutely unique to them. Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral; Mormons are deeply involved in politics....both a Presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) and Senate majority leader (Harry Reid) are Mormons. Jehovah's Witnesses stress living simply; Mormons (I think this is fair to say) stress career advancement. This may account for the fact that half of all Mormons live in the United States, the mecca of career advancement, whereas only one sixth of Jehovah's Witnesses do so.

Yet on a surface level there are many similarities, and they are good similarities. Mormons are upright and honest. They are the only group besides us in which religious affiliation alone is enough to convey trust. Sure, you can find the occasional clunkerin both groups, but they are clearly anomalies. And honest people can be found throughout the world's religions, without question, yet religious affiliation alone does not guarantee it.

Both groups trace modern day roots to the 19th century United States, Both faiths enjoy unity. Neither faith has paid clergy. Both have highly organized and completely volunteer disaster relief functions; both were in New Orleans after Katrina and repaired homes, generally those of their own people, in no time flat, whereas federal and private agencies whose charter purpose is disaster relief are still fumbling around almost two year later.

Both groups have a public ministry. Both will remove individuals who persistently and unrepentantly violate key tenets of the faith. Membership is about the same; Mormons count 12 million worldwide to our 6 million, yet we count as members only those with active public ministries. Our most heavily attended meeting, the Memorial of Christ's death, last year attracted 17 million.

Both groups present their beliefs as the truth. This, in an era where most faiths have learned to offer beliefs al a carte; take them or spit them out according to your own tastes. This saves hassles. People don't accuse you of dogmatism. Instead, they praise you for enlightenment. But, at the same time, doesn't this stand place your beliefs on the level of pop psychology?

Both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses even had a child superstar of the 1970's! Mormons had Donny Osmond. We had Michael Jackson. Alas, our guy got weirder and weirder, not like Prince, and in time, left the faith. But maybe he'll come back some day. I'd like that. He never really had a childhood. I always thought the child molestation charges against him unlikely. I mean, when you're going to court, you lead off with your most credible witness. The government used a kid whose family had made false allegations in the past, shaking people down for money.

But in Rochester, at least for the present time, those Mormons got "their" documentary on TV, and we didn't get "ours!" PBS affiliates are all independent, I'm told. They pick and choose. Only 75% have scheduled Knocking.

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From the website www.knocking.org:

Anderson Cooper, CNN --
"Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.

Lynn Schofield Clark, Director, Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media, University of Denver --
"Throughout the film, viewers are challenged to think about the relationship of religion, government, discrimination, family life, and civil liberties in unconventional and surprisingly human ways. This film will be useful for classes on freedom of expression, civic engagement and religion. Students will be surprised that Jehovah's Witnesses have played such a key role in establishing and guarding many of the civil liberties we enjoy in the U.S. today."

Arthur Caplan, Chair, Department of Medical Ethics, University of Pennsylvania --
"KNOCKING contains a wonderful surprise: It shows how science and religion, with worldviews that rarely overlap, can reach a common goal - the use of less blood in medicine - even if for very different reasons."

KNOCKING was produced by Joel Engardio and Tom Shepard.


Belief over Bureaucracy

The race is on to see who can rebuild flattened Lebanon after the 5 week war. (assuming that war is really over) The international community hopes it will be the Lebanese government. The smart money, though, is on Hezbollah, the grass roots guerilla group that provoked the war in the first place.

Onlookers wish it were otherwise, but Hezbollah represents people with convictions, while the government represents……well…..coalitions and bureaucrats and politicians and (sometimes) scoundrels.

So far, it’s no contest. Changing hats, and flush with cash from neighboring Islamic nations, the recent guerillas now run backhoes and bulldozers. Was your home destroyed in the war? They rebuild it free of charge. This builds good will. Even those fed up with the group for its militancy are nonetheless happy to receive their aid….why would they not be? As for the international funds channeling through the Lebanese government, they are in transit, being appropriated,  just around the corner, perhaps being siphoned, what have you.

Haven’t we heard this same story lately, closer to home?

One year after hurricane Katrina, although $17 billion has been approved by Congress to rebuild homes, not one house has been rebuilt! (from that source - some rebuilding has taken place from private sources, flood insurance, and charitable organizations)

Typical are reports such as this one:

“In a state where 60,000 homes suffered severe damage, only around 30,000 households were eligible for the initial program, and now less than three dozen checks have gone out,” said Oxfam America’s Minor Sinclair, director of its US regional programs. “Very few families will have made any progress by Katrina’s first anniversary. People are stranded in gutted-out houses, overcrowded trailers, and slipping deeper into debt, with no real help in sight.” Oxfam blames lack of political will, bureaucratic bungling, and poor policy decisions.

If it didn’t involve real people, it would be laughable. But it does involve real people. “I think people have lost hope,” says one Biloxi resident highlighted here. “When people don’t have any hopes, they don’t have anything to drive them to work, to do something good. Hope is long gone.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are to Hezbollah as Tony the Tiger is to the Tamil Tigers, but there are two similarities. Both groups have conviction, and they can both rebuild.

3200 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were damaged by Katrina. They’re all rebuilt now. (I am extrapolating, based on previous reports.)

Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized to build. Regional Building Committees, comprised of volunteer JWs, exist worldwide to construct Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls. When disaster strikes, these teams converge and form the core of relief efforts. Other Witnesses swell their ranks, putting their own businesses on hold or using vacation time. Materials are supplied either from donations made to the parent organization’s worldwide work, or made expressly for any particular disaster.

Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those who are related to [us] in the faith.....Gal 6:10

Belief will trump bureaucracy every time.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Who to Blame for Human Suffering...Katrina

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans last year. People lost everything and they asked, some of them: where was God?

Fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson had the answer right away. God destroyed New Orleans, he declared, because of abortion and homosexuality. But the mayor, Ray Nagin, disagreed. Sharply. And at his own news conference, he set the record straight. God did not destroy his town because of abortion and homosexuality.

He destroyed it because of war in Iraq and disunity among black residents. That’s what steamed God, Nagin said, not abortion and gays.

Either way, God is the heavy. But is he really the one to blame?

After Katrina, for a few days in the ministry you could focus on the theme of humans ruining the earth. You could use Rev 11:18.…..God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” You could ask: “do you think human activity is causing the destructive weather?” Even those who thought not would listen, out of respect for Katrina.

I used this scripture in the 1970s when only means of ruining the earth anyone could imagine was nuclear holocaust. That was then. Today, there are so many ways humans might be fouling the nest. Global warming, global dimming (a new one), pesticides, air pollution, water pollution, ozone depletion, contamination of food supply, species extinction, deforestation. All debatable to different degrees, but all plausible.

It’s as if a man runs his automobile without concern for maintenance. He doesn‘t care about oil changes. He doesn‘t care about brake shoes. He doesn‘t care about tune-ups. Little does he know the consequence of his ignorance, but if it comes, he can hardly blame the manufacturer.

And it’s the same way with earth’s manufacturer. God knows the right maintenance for the planet. Plus, the Bible account tells of His Son walking on water and silencing a violent storm….in other words, showing mastery of the elements. Adam gave up a lot when he rejected God’s rule. For God’s rule would implement knowledge and ability that humans don’t have.

And we won’t even mention the smarts of building a city next to the sea yet below sea level. Hardly God’s wisdom, it barely passes for human wisdom.

So you can’t blame God when human shortsightedness brings suffering. Moreover, the real answer, his kingdom rule, is approaching. Best thing to do in the meantime is clean up the mess, and alleviate human suffering.

In our own organization, volunteers have arrived from across the country and even outside. They report, strangely, that not too much is happening with rebuilding. Being volunteers who travel at their own expense, they focus on our own family first. The June 2006 Awake! tells of 3200 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed by the flood. Half were renovated by February. It would be about two thirds by now.

They don’t blame God for their inconvenience.

Prov 1:31,31, Mark 4:37-41, Matt 6:9,10

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash