What the #@%! is Next?

Can you really put a smiley face on the world, with but a little tweaking, or even none at all? I wouldn't think so, but there are plenty who disagree.  Sometimes, trying to make me mad, they scour Watchtower publications for pictures of Armeggedon, and post them on their websites. Jehovah's Witnesses are mean, they charge. Look how they print such pictures, traumatizing the little children! What is armeggedon cover Many of these grousers, amazingly, are ex-Witnesses, who have tired of organized cooperation with a Bible educational work. These have reassessed their former view that today's world merits God's disapproval, instead concluding that it's a nifty place to find fulfillment.

 

Typifying this view, here's a comparative religion website accusing the Watchtower Society of "maintain[ing] a state of high anxiety in their membership by stressing the imminence of the end." We would not have phrased things this way.  Instead, we would say that recognition of where we are in the stream of time goes a long way to allay anxiety. It's as though these web writers think all is just peachy worldwide and everyone would know it were it not for JWs fouling the air with their “high anxiety.”


Well, two can play at that game. Take a look at Newsweek's cover for March 28, 2011:Newsweek cover apoclayse

“Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Nuclear Meltdowns, Revolutions, Economies on the Brink!” No anxiety here, is there? I tell you, for anyone with a memory, it's absolutely amazing to see such despairing words on the cover of a national magazine. Surely Newsweek, representing the world's collective wisdom, has some reassuring words for the children? Ah...yes, here it is, just below the list of calamities: They say “What the #@%! is next?!”

And to think that my 7th grade social studies teacher had us all subscribe to Newsweek, on the premise we would thereby become well-informed. Was I anticipating future covers of that magazine when I began my World News Oral Report with the words “What the #@%! is next?” and spent the rest of the semester writing “I will not swear” on the chalkboard? As adults of this system have failed the children in so many ways....in morals, in education, in personal and group and financial security, they now fail them even in reassuring rhetoric. “What the #@%! is next?” is the best they can manage. Why not further say: “We haven't a clue, kids. We've screwed things up in every way.”

For that matter, why not say “Jehovah's Witnesses are Right?” For Jehovah's Witnesses have been saying for decades that the present system of things is doomed to extinction, to be replaced by God's Kingdom. Everyone else says or hopes that God will somehow bless the present hash of human governments, so as to collectively bring us all a happy future. Well who doesn't want a happy future? But a happy future is not something humans can provide. It comes only under God's Kingdom. No human has the slightest role in bringing that Kingdom about. God himself does that. But we can position ourselves to benefit from it. That is the long-standing message of Jehovah's Witnesses, coupled with an invitation to study the Bible itself.

Hey, it's not been an easy job. It still isn't. “Aw, go soak your head,” people tell us. “What a bunch of alarmists! We've always had bad things happening!” I can hear the refrain now.  Naturally, the Bible reader thinks of 2 Peter 3:3,4:

First off, you need to know that in the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday. Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings, they'll mock, "So what's happened to the promise of his Coming? Our ancestors are dead and buried, and everything's going on just as it has from the first day of creation. Nothing's changed."   (the paraphrased Message translation; it may not be literal, but it sure is fresh)

Well....we sure haven't always had magazine covers like this one of Newsweek's! It's as if the editors are collectively throwing up their hands and crying “Sheesh! Everything humans touch turns to shit!” (Normally I would never use such unsavory words as “shit,” but I am unwholesomely influenced by Newsweek's #@%! It really is true that “bad associations spoils useful habits.)

The only time I said “What the #@%! is next?” was when I saw the price of the magazine. $5.95! Weren't these things under a dollar when I was a kid? With more pages? And better written, not dumbed down like it is today? I know, I know, it's unfair to be critical of a mass publication for “dumbing down.” The Watchtower is dumbed down, too. We all know it. As the world's education system steadily goes down the toilet, so do collective reading skills. If you want to reach a broad audience, simple writing is the way you have to go, however painful it may be for guys who cherish reading. But there's hardly any need to rub it in: Note above the Newsweek banner is the byline for another story: “How Ignorant are You?” Am I being too sensitive when I read between the lines: “We're not ignorant.....you are!”?)
 
To be faithful to the Bible, you need to talk about things not so pleasant. You just do. And destruction of “the ungodly” is not so pleasant. Nobody says otherwise. The only caveat.....and it's a significant one....is that a person can be saved from it by adhering to divine direction. Isn't that, when push comes to shove, a good thing?

Now....see if you can spot the spurious words I've cleverly inserted in the following passage: Revelation 6:12-17 (Message Translation, again) in which John prophesies

“…..a bone-jarring earthquake, sun turned black as ink, moon all bloody, stars falling out of the sky like figs shaken from a tree in a high wind, sky snapped shut like a book, islands and mountains sliding this way and that. And then pandemonium, everyone and his dog running for cover—kings, princes, generals, rich and strong, along with every commoner, slave or free. They hid in mountain caves and rocky dens, calling out to mountains and rocks, “What the #@%! is next?”

There. Did you spot it? What they actually cry is "Refuge! Hide us from the One Seated on the Throne and the wrath of the Lamb! The great Day of their wrath has come—who can stand it." But I try to keep up with contemporary jargon per Newsweek.

Or, what about the words of Jesus:

The time is coming when they'll say, 'Lucky the women who never conceived! Lucky the wombs that never gave birth! Lucky the breasts that never gave milk!' Then they'll start calling to the mountains, “What the #@%! is next?”  Luke 23:29-30

Nope. What they actually call to the mountains is “Fall down on us! Cover us up!”

We take a lot of flak for adhering to the Bible's teaching of Armageddon, great tribulation, destruction of the wicked, paradise earth under Kingdom reign, and so forth. Jehovah's Witnesses are a serious religion that doesn't hedge its bets. We're not all over the board. We unabashedly hold to key Bible tenets, no matter if they find scorn elsewhere. For, to be sure, if you don't think God will call “the ungodly” to account, if you don't think God will one day intervene dramatically in world events, then Jehovah's Witnesses and all that they represent are ridiculous, a perfect target for derision. It all depends upon where you're coming from.

But pertaining to Armageddon.... look, I don't know just who will and who will not go down at that time. Nobody does. Can you be some distance from theocratic provisions or not one inch? Dunno. But why not stay in a known place of safety and take part in a work in which it is good to take part in any event, simply on the basis of Rev 4:11?

“You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”

God created all things. The massive experiment of human self-rule is turning out exactly as he said it would. He deserves our service.

Is it coincidence? In the same month Newsweek throws up its hands in mass despair, Jehovah's Witnesses intensify their ministry as never before.  Here in Rochester, most congregations have 50-80% or more of members in some form of “pioneer service,” volunteering 30-50 hours of their time in Bible teaching. As they visit neighbors, they don't say “What the #@%! is next?” Instead, they point out today's disintegration is all foretold, and is a precursor to God fulfilling his promise to bring peace and paradise on earth through his kingdom.

We like verses like the following one in Psalms. We think they're soon to come true. And we don't just sit on the information, we do our best to tell others so they can benefit too:

And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more; And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.   Ps 37:10-11

Does not this Psalm recall Jesus' words “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” They certainly haven't to date. But Jehovah's Witnesses believe this promise is soon to be fulfilled, and they invite others to examine the evidence.

See here, here, here, and here.

 

[EDIT....58% was the figure of those in some sort of full-time service during April, so reported our C.O. recently. (figures in your circuit may vary)]

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No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


Proposition 8, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joel

Is it really so that Mormons brought us Proposition 8, that 2008 California referendum that banned gay marriage, and that Jehovah's Witnesses overturned? Really? Well.....no, it's not really so. But there is something to it.

Mormons didn't originate that campaign to change the state's constitution. A group called Pro Marriage was responsible. Mormons did, however, rally in a big way to ram it through. “We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this."

Just like politicians before election day, or Jehovah's Witnesses....bless their hearts....any old time, Mormons canvassed California to stoke Proposition 8 support and get those recruits to the polls. 80-90% of all Proposition 8 “foot soldiers” were Mormons, says the New York Times. Their efforts succeeded. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state's voters; thus gay marriage was banned in the California.

But on Aug 4th, 2010,  U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, asserting it violated the state's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Jehovah's Witnesses, who within their congregations, also oppose gay relationships, had nothing to do with that, did they? Well, no, they didn't.

But on the other hand, they did. At least a little.

On page 116 of the judge's lengthy judicial opinion is cited West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. That's the 67 year old Supreme Court ruling stating that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever (1940), which stated they could. Didn't I write about those two cases here?

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of  West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, noted that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities." In present day 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant," he wrote.

Now, it was Joel Engardio, director of Knocking, a 2006 PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses, who first noted the JW connection in Proposition 8's demise. This prompted another blogger, who, as may be discerned from his narrative, has little use for Witnesses, to opine:

The reference by Judge Walker to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. “How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?” they will be asking themselves.

To which I replied: “No they will not.”

Well....... “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserts.

“Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

Unlike many groups that stand for something, Jehovah’s Witnesses views on homosexuality, or anything else, are theirs alone. They apply them to themselves. They don’t attempt to force them upon general society...say...by writing those views into law, or even resorting to violence. They are respectful of those holding opposing views. To be sure, JWs don't keep those views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world, many groups feel sanctioned to go well beyond that. Mr. Engardio has stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since, as our aforementioned blogger points out, JW beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation: Mr Engardio is gay. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn't.

Roam online, and you'll find countless gay websites that absolutely loathe JWs. I've never found any that praise them. Jehovah's Witnesses, after all, make no accommodation for gay relationships within their congregations. How can they? They're a Bible organization and they don't assume the authority to change scriptures. I don’t think they harp on it. I even think they’re sympathetic to those claiming a different sexual orientation, but they are bound to represent scripture, or else change their mandate entirely. It does make it challenging for anyone gay within their ranks....no question about it. Don't they have to do what swimmers do caught in a rip tide? You don't swim against it; you can't, in any conceivably short time, will yourself or even pray yourself straight. You don't swim with the tide, buying into prevailing propaganda that holds ones sexuality is irrevocable and ought be a source of pride. You have to swim parallel to the current, maybe for a long long time, maybe for the duration of this system, with faith that the influence of God's spirit and congregation will, over  time, serve to readjust sexuality. No, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? That's why I have the greatest respect for anyone following that course, and none whatsoever for Westboro-church types who rail against homosexuals. They've never fought battles the like of which they would have others fight.

But my mention of Joel Engardio prompted a minor skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my opponent, “he is promoting himself and his film.” Is he?…..well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? God knows it would find a larger audience than one praising them. To which my adversary  (I'm not sure he's really an adversary, for I've stomped around his blog and there's much I like about him....he advocates for the disabled, for instance, so we overlap somewhat. And how can one not like a guy who appreciates Bob Dylan?) acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50+ cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940's and 1950's, but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court, and their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens.  Said U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." (the same can be said in several other countries)

Advocacy groups of all stripes benefit greatly from the groundwork JWs have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, however, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses. Even Rochester's beloved City Magazine piled on, prompting this rebuke from our own Tom Weedsandsheat.

It's a curious fact ...let us acknowledge it...that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah's Witnesses is an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? Regularly, you'll find Joel Engardio's writings in mainstream publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post. In many ways, he explains Jehovah's Witnesses better than the Witnesses do themselves, at least from a certain vantage point and to a certain audience. Here he writes about Proposition 8. Here about Russia's persecution of JWs. Here even on Michael Jackson. Here he explains JWs for Beliefnet.com.   

Not to suggest that everything he writes is about Jehovah's Witnesses. By no means. Check out his own page on the ACLU blog:

Jehovah's Witnesses don't have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren't political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. (see Dan 2:44) How's that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today's elite? Mr. Engardio's one of the few who will speak up for them. He's certainly in a unique position to do it, knowing both worlds well.

Joel Engardio states that he was raised a Witness, but left early on, breaking his mother's heart. He broke it again, he adds, when he later confessed he was gay. But sexuality was not the cause of his departure. Rather, he writes, he didn't want to wait for God to set matters straight. He thought he could set them straight now, as a journalist. He explains it all here. He worked his way through the ranks, and by the time I first heard of Knocking, his name was well-known among NPR newspeople.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we're coming from, so they're quick to buy into stereotypes. Knocking was the first fair shake I've ever seen from the media. It won a few awards. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN: "Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.”

As to Mr. Engardio's motives, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values JW contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his Mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what's true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don't have to know everything. His motives are his. Moreover, the 'fat lady' hasn't sung yet. Maybe he'll be like that guy who hauled Jeremiah out of the muck and so made out just fine when the Babylonians stomped in. (Jer 38:7-13) I haven't a clue. But I'll tell you one thing. He writes about us both accurately and respectfully. I do appreciate that.

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[Edit: Joel himself emailed me shortly after the post appeared, to say "......thanks for writing your blog about Prop 8 and me. It was a good read. I wouldn't call myself an "apologist" for JWs (plenty of doctrines I don't agree with), but I certainly value our Constitutional rights to speak, believe and live as we see fit."

I called him an apologist after seeing him described that way on the web. Plainly he doesn't view himself that way, notwithstanding that he's posted plenty of good material about us.]

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More Supreme Court history here and here.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


 


 


Chief Superintendent Maigret

My all time favorite author says he's slept with 10,000 women in the course of his life. You gotta admit, that's a lot. From my virtuous vantage point, one wonders if it is even possible. Actually, he didn't say it himself, but it was some reporter who knew his habits made the calculation, and he said 'yeah....that sounds about right.'

The author is Geoges Simenon (1903-1989), largely unknown in the U.S, but one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, and familiar everywhere else. Many of his novels are so sordid - should one be surprised? - you almost can't read them. I haven't gotten through many, and my motivation to do so quickly wanes. His own mother complained “"Why don't you ever write a book about nice people and good Catholics, instead of all these criminals?'" Indeed, I might not know of this author at all were it not for one remarkable fact: his most famous character, Chief Superintendent Maigret, protagonist of over 100 books and short stories – all murder mysteries - is as upright as his creator is decadent. One almost imagines the author inventing him as a sort of therapy, as if pining like a Michael Jackson of yesteryear for a normality that was never his. (not that he ever expressed any regret over the 10,000)
 
The impossibly cozy home scenes of Chief Superintendent Maigret and Mdm. Maigret play almost as novelettes within novels – typifying that old-fashioned safe harbor that a person longs for after slogging it out in the rough-and-tumble world. Was marriage ever so tranquil, its participants so companionable? Don’t expect any racy sex scenes here nor even strong emotion, just pure domestic pleasantry. After solving a tough case, there is no better pastime for Maigret than to stroll arm in arm with his wife to the movies.

You wouldn’t expect a series of murder stories would be joyful, but joy, good humor, and a sheer love of life, permeate the Maigret series. Maigret loves nothing more than to roam the streets of Paris, tracking all clues himself, interviewing whomever he can – page after page is unattributed dialog – defying superiors who want him to focus on bureaucratic drudgery and delegate the interesting stuff to underlings. Its from him I learned to savor bistros, sipping coffee or some such beverage (always alcoholic for him) absorbing the comings and goings of passerby. If he must catch a bus, hopefully its an open platform one, not one of those new-fangled jobs that imprison its passengers. He employs patience and plodding police work, and he benefits from the easy camaraderie of his staff. He absorbs scenes and people and clues almost subconsciously, and he arrives at the truth as much through intuition as deduction – not like that insufferable smart-ass Sherlock Holmes on the other side of the channel, who barely notices it’s people he’s dealing with - an atheist, I'm sure - who is wont to reduce everything to ciphers, and who, when case is closed, doesn't go home to his wife but snorts cocaine instead. 

It’s as though Simenon channels all his love of life into these Maigret novels, and reserves his darker broodings (of which he has many) for other works. If there are sordid characters in a Maigret mystery, they are to be found among those he must investigate – do the French really do nothing but tipple and visit mistresses? Or is that only in the author’s mind? Meanwhile, Maigret and his colleagues embody the very essence of normality (just like the police in real life!).

Maigret mysteries explore subtle psychological themes, themes rarely touched upon in popular literature - the interactions of class distinction, for one. Here, Maigret does not have the advantage. He's not an Hercule Poirot, able to look down on all the rest of humanity. The Chief Superintendent is solidly middle class, son of a peasant. Here are excerpts from one of my favorite Maigrets – Maigret in Retirement, in which the Chief is summoned to investigate shadiness amongst the upper crust, and the sleaziest fellow turns out to be an old schoolmate, lowly enough back then, but wealthy and full of himself now:

As the two men were walking along the river bank, it must have looked as though one was holding the other on a leash, and Maigret, as sullen and clumsy as a big shaggy dog, was letting himself be pulled along....The fact was that he was ill at ease….Moreover, he hated people who suddenly spring up out of your past to pat you on the shoulder and address you familiarly....Ernest Malik, in short, represented a type of humanity that had always aroused his aversion.

The fellow strode along with the utmost unconcern, free and easy in his beautifully cut white flannel suit, physically fit, with glossy hair and no hint of sweat on his skin despite the heat. He was already playing the great nobleman showing off his estates to a yokel. "This is where my domain begins...I've a few small boats, since one's got to amuse oneself somehow in this Godforsaken place...Do you like sailing?"

What irony there was in his voice as he asked the heavily-built Superintendent if he liked sailing in one of the slender skiffs visible between the buoys!

And Malik, with an ever more casual air, like a pretty woman toying carelessly with a jewel worth millions, seemed to be saying: "Take a good look, you great lout. This place belongs to Malik, to little Malik whom all of you contemptuously call the Tax-Collector because his father spent his days in a dark office, behind a grating."...Some Great Danes came up to lick his hands and he accepted their humble homage with indifference.

…And in fact Maigret was ill at ease in this setting. Even the surroundings, too smooth and harmonious, irritated him. He felt no petty jealousy but an actual loathing of that immaculate tennis court, of the well-fed chauffeur whom he had seen polishing the sumptuous car. The landing -stage with its diving boards, its small boats moored all round, the swimming-pool, the trimmed trees, the smooth unblemished gravel paths were all part of a world into which he entered reluctantly and in which he felt terribly clumsy.

What Witness of Jehovah hasn’t been there, and felt the subtle condescension of the la-de-da, the stifling atmosphere of wealth? It’s a curious fact that in the public ministry you might find yourself discussing the Bible in a run-down inner city home one hour and in some great imposing manor the next, and be comfortable in both. I’m grateful anytime that happens - that experience of transcending class boundaries - somewhat mirroring this description of Jesus from The Man From Nazareth:

Alike in public and in private he associated with men and women on equal terms. He was at home with little children in their innocence and strangely enough at home too with conscience-stricken grafters like Zacchaeus. Respectable home-keeping women, such as Mary and Martha, could talk with him with natural frankness, but courtesans also sought him out as though assured that he would understand and befriend them . . . His strange unawareness of boundaries that hemmed ordinary people in is one of his most characteristic qualities.

Of course, you're not as likely to be invited inside in the wealthier areas, for the loftier a man's home the more full of himself he becomes, so that he readily imagines himself above fraternizing with some door-to-door minister - a visitor with an inherently humble role. Still, it does happen - receptive people may be found anywhere - and no sooner do you start judging people when you come across someone who overturns all your tidy notions of what to expect.

Again, from Maigret in Retirement (for as usual, the Chief Superintendent does get his man):

With such men, one had a difficult moment to go through, the moment when in spite of oneself one is impressed by their fine houses, their cars, their servants, their manner....One must come to see them like the rest, naked and unadorned...

Isn’t it really just as Prov 18:11 observes?

The valuable things of the rich are his strong town, and they are like a protective wall in his imagination?  

The definitive web resource for all things Maigret is https://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm. Check it out. Here is a webmaster who keeps up with things both substantial and trivial. If Life Magazine ran an article on the Chief Superintendent sixty years ago, Trussel has it. There is even a forum section. Many months ago, I submitted a review of one of my favorite Maigrets, but it wasn't published. I sulked and sulked but then I got over it. Is the forum even open to all and sundry? Or maybe Truffle didn't think the review was any good. That's always plausible. These folks are really into Maigret...real aficionados, and perhaps not too indulgent with amateurs.

I'm never certain how many Maigrets, if any, I've yet to read. Simenon wrote in French, and only gradually did they trickle into English. His last Maigret I just discovered browsing in the library: Maigret and the Killer. (not to be confused with Maigret and the Killers, an entirely different book) It wasn't on the shelves, though. The librarian said it was in storage, deep in the bowels of the building, and she'd go get in for me. Um...were there other Maigrets down there? I thought to ask only upon her return. Yes, there were quite a few, was the reply. Cool!!! Now there’s a summer pastime! If I'm late with an upcoming post or two, you'll know why.

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


What We're Allowed to Read

I'm wondering, Tom, if you've even taken the time to read any of these "atheist" books? asked one of my interrogators. Dawkins and crew had come up in conversation.

Well....um...ah...ahem...that is to say.........(no)

Perhaps in fairness I should read one or two. Moristotle positively used to plead with me to do it. Trouble is, I've read atheist arguments singly, through blogs and so forth, and have not been impressed. Why think that would change were I to read them in orchestral form? I come from that point of view in the first place, or if not from that point of view, at least from the agnostic point of view. I worry these books would exasperate me, since I'd agree with much of them. By all accounts, they expose hypocrisies of religion. I've no problem with that. But it would be "been there....done that." Jehovah's Witnesses were exposing hypocrisies of religion before these guys were born, and doing so when it took guts - that is, before it became trendy. But by trashing religion, these authors think they're trashing God. How are they doing that? When it comes to fraudulent religion, the Bible foretold that development exactly:

For example:

....there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. (2 Pet 2:1-2)

and

They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.  (Titus 1:16)


Furthermore, these atheist books keep calling me a deist. What an idiot word! Wait until they find out I'm a married man. No doubt I will also be called a wifist.

Besides, one can only do so much reading. Alas, the long-suffering wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats, thinks I read too much as it is, to the detriment of nobler tasks like fixing things around the house! She accuses me of living by the motto "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, don't fix it." Can you imagine such an accusation?!

But that opening question - about reading atheist books - was a trap!! My interlocutor responded:

My question to you was actually a bit loaded, (he never asked me one that wasn't) because the organization that you are a part of would not wanting you reading such things at all. My church, on the other hand, would encourage such reading because we know we have the truth and have nothing to fear.

Actually, I've heard it put more strongly than that. From time to time, you will hear characters, even some who were once Witnesses - carrying on about how they weren't "allowed" to read anything but what was Watchtower-published. I swear, I don't know how grown people can make themselves such children! Who do they think is going to "not allow" you? One might hear counsel that it's well not to waste ones' time on drivel. Is that the same as "not being allowed?" These days, cigarette packs feature the caution: "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy." Does that mean people aren't allowed to smoke? To make the point, I stated "I assure you, though, that if congregation elders were to pay me a visit and the entire Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity was lying on my coffee table, I would not be in trouble." Some opposing website quoted the line, to howls of disbelief. What is it with these people? It's as if they write Dear Abby, recieve an answer, and obsess that Dear Abby will punish them should they deviate from the "rules" she's laid out!

Oh, I suppose if one of those meddlesome persons is coming around - you know, the sort who delights to put in their two cents on everything - we all know them when we see them - then you might tuck those books out of sight, unless you deliberately want to get a rise out of said persons. And you might do the same if ones whom you respect are coming around, the same way you might silence a CD with smutty lyrics, out of embarrassment, mostly, since you tend to ask yourself "if I'm embarrassed listening to this stuff in their presence, why am I listening to it in the first place? These are purely human factors at work and have nothing to do with "getting in trouble."

Actually, I'm not likely to have those books laying around anyway, on account of 1 Tim.6:20:

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.

Of course, this counsel was given to Timothy, not me, so it obviously doesn't apply, but I take it to heart anyway. And, lest I offend my atheist friends.....man, do I hate that expression! Some religious blogger speaks about his atheist friends! I don't have any atheist friends. Hard-core atheists, I mean, and not just agnostics. I mean, suppose someone absolutely cannot stand your wife, and never misses an opportunity to trash her....is it possible that person can still be your friend? It's not exactly the same, of course. One can see my wife....indeed, it's hard to takes one's eyes off her....whereas one cannot see God. But it's still close enough. Yes, there are atheists who are decent enough people, with whom I can get along, and for whom I can garner respect, but they don't quite cross that boundary into "friend" territory. It's a special word.

Um....but we weren't talking about that. We were talking about "the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." I might not have put the Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity in that category at one time, as I would now. Once I was searching, and when you're searching you explore many different things.

From time to time, in the ministry you run into those who offer you things to read, just as we might offer them things to read. This, if not a little awkward, is at least not what you would expect. After all, by the time you've mustered up boldness to call upon complete strangers, it's not likely that you're yet searching. When I was searching, I would have read all of that stuff. But I'm not really searching anymore. My search has ended. There's tweaking, exploring, and yet more learning ahead. But the basic framework is intact. It's been tested with much shaking. It holds.

To hear the grousers carry on, you'd think persons new to the faith were bound, gagged and shoved into cloisters. Look, before anyone decides to "join" Jehovah's Witnesses, they go through a period of Bible study, seldom lasting less than a year. They weigh what they're learning. They sift and compare. They consider how it applies. By degrees, they make various changes to align their lives with the Bible. Throughout this time, they function in general society just as they always did - it's not as if they're suspended from daily life. If that's brainwashing, (a common accusation) then so is every other endeavor upon which people may make a stand. (and one new Witness observed that, given today's world, our brains can use a good washing) Should they eventually become Witnesses, they may well decide thereafter to read mostly Watchtower published material, from which they learned Bible teachings in the first place. They trust the source.

In the late 1960’s a newspaper editor in Trenton, Ontario commented on Watchtower literature. “Among the interesting plethora of publications, some come regularly from the Watchtower Bible Society, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is an organization which, by any man’s standards, must command respect. The magazines are well written, with plenty of research, and quite apart from the special religious theories advanced, with which many may disagree, the society touches on every aspect of human life and the world God gave man. It upholds Biblical principles, and inculcates in its adherents the ideas of honor and purity, good citizenship, and impeccable behavior, which a world rent by the distortions of so-called freedom would do well to read.” It's not bad stuff, and there's no end to it.

Frankly, there is only so much time most people have for reading, and in some cases, only so much interest. So if somebody chooses to read only Watchtower publications - and we do have many people like that - what problem would I have with it? They prioritize reading material as they see fit.

Christian values are poles apart from those of the world in general. Not in shallow surface ways, but in the most basic fundamental of ways. So.....once you decide to diet, why stuff the fridge with ice cream and the cupboards with chips - things that will serve only to undermine your newfound determination? No, I have no problem should someone decide to read mostly JW published material. Some do. Some don't.

What I like about the JW organization is that they're unafraid of verses like 1 Tim 6:20:

O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called “knowledge.” For making a show of such [knowledge] some have deviated from the faith.

Everyone else embarrassedly pretends those verses don't exist, fearful lest they be seen as narrow and restrictive, the worst of all possible sins in today's world. Watchtower applies them, unconcerned with how the world will react, so long as they discharge their scriptural responsibility to warn against specious reasonings. They want Christians to "attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.....in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error."  Eph 4:13-14

Specious (defined):

1. Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious
2. Deceptively attractive

It's a stand that takes guts, that exposes them to sneering ridicule, or absurd charges that they want to "control" people.

Yes, there is caution about what we read, what we view for entertainment, and so forth. It's GIGO - computereeze for "Garbage "In, Garbage Out." You can find such counsel in Watchtower material. You ought to be able to find it in other religious organizations. Perhaps then they might stand out as separate from a decaying world, rather than an intricate component of it.

But counsel is just that - it's counsel. It's advice. It's not rule, nor law, and it's not presented as if it is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have the latest issue of Reader's Digest to plow through. But don't tell anyone. I don't want to get in trouble.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


John T Gatto and Growth without Educators

When did we lose teachers and gain educators? Isn't that new word pretentious? Doesn't it imply that we'd all have empty heads without them?

It's just just the opposite. It's hard to prevent children from learning. Witness their ability to pick up a language. Without any instruction at all, they absorb whatever language is spoken in the home. If two languages are spoken, they absorb two. If three languages are spoken, they absorb three. We read a lot to our children when they were infants and toddlers. Classics like Go Dogs Go! and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. They picked it right up and were both reading before kindergarten. Beyond pointing to the words we read, we never showed them how. 

If learning is so natural why do so many kids not do it? It's not because we have too few educators. It may be because we have too many.

John Taylor Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989 and 1990 and 1991. In 1991, he was named New York State Teacher of the Year. But then he turned on his fellow educators! Yes, he agreed, he was a good teacher. But it was only because he bucked, at every turn, the stifling strait jacket of the school system. The district where he worked twice suspended his license for insubordination. He was too innovative, and the bureaucracy too inflexible to accommodate. In 1991, he quit. Writing to the Wall Street Journal, he declared that he could no longer "hurt kids to make a living."

But might he have waited for "school reform?" He observed: "Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard....School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." [italics mine]

Visit Mr. Gatto's websiteand you'll see he's working on a Ken Burns style documentary about the education industry, The Fourth Purpose. "The time for pussy-foot measures with the forced schooling institution is long past," he says. "....What justice cries out for to break this logjam is shock treatment." It promises to be good.

In the right environment, flowers will grow all by themselves. It's a natural process. They don't need professional "sprouters" to measure and critique every move. Our homeschooled son never went to school, save for a brief stint in the 6th grade. He went through a phase in which he would read for hours on end. Huge tomes, mostly history. My wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats, had some allies in the school system and she went running to the local principal. "I don't know what to do," she pleaded. "He won't do any of his workbooks. He just sits and reads all day!" "He reads? said the principal incredulously. "Don't do anything!" Yet had he been in that principal's school he would not have been allowed to read. They would have made him do those workbooks. Thus a naturally enjoyable experience (learning) would be made hateful.

Our boy entered 6th grade mid-year. It was time to give it a try. Rochester City has an odd system of school assignment. You are usually but not necessarily assigned to your neighborhood school. But since our boy went suddenly, he had no say whatsoever and was assigned to a gritty school with a cross-city bus ride. Never being in school before, how would he fit in? we wondered. Would he be a nerd? Would he be beat up and picked on? Somewhat to our surprise, he had no difficulty whatsoever, turning the "socialization" myth on its head. At the end of the year, he had a choice to continue in school or to homeschool again. He chose to homeschool. "I had no time to read when I was in school," he said.

During that 6th grade year, his teacher declared pi was 3.14. My son, because of things covered before, knew that 3.14 was a rounded number, and the actual decimal value stretched on forever. He stated such, and the teacher was upset to be contradicted!

Every parent likes to think their kids are naturally bright. We do too. Yet we fear that their brightness may not have been allowed to flourish without homeschooling.

The next time the boy saw a classroom was age 16, at the local community college. They gave him placement tests since they weren't sure how to regard homeschoolers. Consequently, he was assigned remedial math (remedial from a college point of view. In other words, he was age-appropriate) Yet his reading comprehension, they informed us, was "off the charts" They were slow to believe that he had not already had college courses. Interestingly, he never regarded himself as abnormally bright. "I had no idea there were so many stupid people," he said afterwards.

Not everyone will be in position to do as we were able to. Nor was it the answer in every way. I don't mean to suggest that you can't attend public schools and thrive. You can. They hold some advantages over homeschooling. But they're not very flexible. You have to skirt around many shoals.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                  No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Isaac Asimov and Ignaz Semmelweis

I once worked with a girl named Casey who positively loved science fiction. In the context of other things, I mentioned the film I, Robot.

Oh, that was terrible! she said.

But as we kept talking, it turned out she had never seen it. Um...Casey, how do know it's terrible if you've never seen it? I asked. The answer was that she was a purist. She knew the movie did not follow Isaac Asimov's storyline, and that was enough for her!

For an Asimov purist, the movie would indeed be blasphemy. Asimov, who wrote literally almost all the time, having 500 books (written or edited) and 90,000 letters to his credit, with works in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal system, penned the Foundation trilogy and the I, Robot series, both pillars among science fiction. His plotting was ingenious, and had he been able to empathetically sketch people as well as ideas, he might have gone down as one of literature's true greats. Alas, his characters are cardboard, like those TV characters who are freely interchangeable save for one or two superficial features: this one is mean, this one likes to eat, that one is a geek, etc. Too bad - for every other aspect of Asimov's writing is extraordinary.

Asimov was an atheist, but I always imagine that, if current atheists had been taught the Bible by Jehovah's Witnesses instead of the churches, they may not have turned atheist. It's probably not so but I dream it anyway. For example, in his last autobiographical book, Asimov observes that hell is "the drooling dream of a sadist" crudely affixed to an all-merciful God; if even human governments were willing to curtail cruel and unusual punishments, wondered Asimov, why would punishment in the afterlife not be restricted to a limited term.  [Wikipedia entry on Isaac Asimov] Yeah! Man, I wish he had heard first from Jehovah's Witnesses! Virtually alone among Christian faiths at the turn of the last century, Jehovah's Witnesses exposed hellfire for the vicious rubbish that it is. JW "founder" C. T. Russell was known in his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire!"

At any rate, had he been a Witness, it would have benefited him personally. He died in 1992, of AIDS contracted from a life-saving blood transfusion nine years prior.

Still, I am grateful to Dr. Asimov, not only for the hours of intriguing science fiction he laid upon me, but also for his non-fiction works. Asimov's Guide to Science probably was my springboard to individual branches of science. If Asimov lacked in sketching fictional characters, he was gifted in sketching real ones. Not only the pillars, but also the buffoons, he succeeded in portraying the humanity of scientists. It is from him (Asimov's guide to Biology) that I first read of Ignaz Semmelweis, early advocate of antiseptic surgical practices and forerunner of germ theory.

In the mid 1800's, Semmelweis got it in his head that fever and death following doctor-assisted childbirth could be curtailed by washing hands and equipment frequently. Doctors back then would deliver a baby, having just emerged from an autopsy, only wiping their hands on their smocks! There were some sort of tiny "particles" contaminating the women, Semmelweis proposed. Doctors howled with laughter at such nonsense. Asimov's book vividly portrays Semmelweis' presenting his ideas at seminars, with his esteemed audience mocking him, hurling catcalls! Doctors argued that, even if Semmeweis' findings were correct, washing one's hands each time before treating a pregnant woman would be too much work. Semmelweis enforced strict antiseptic practices at the hospital under his supervision, cutting deaths to under 1%, and it made no difference in their attitude! Colleagues ridiculed him his entire life, he suffered a nervous breakdown and, says Asimov, died in an insane asylum tormented by memories of women screaming in their death-agonies following hospital-acquired infections. With Semmelweis out of the way, his own hospital went back to familiar practices and the mortality rate climbed to 35%.

You can read the bare facts in many places, but Asimov's account is the most vivid I have come across, remarkable in a book that purports only to be an outline, a "guide."

Whenever those atheists start prattling on about how scientists graciously change their views at the first hint they may be off-base, whereas it's only the pig-headed religionists who "stay the course" come hell or high water, I play the 'Semmelweis' card.

Athiest or not, I miss Isaac Asimov.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Tiny Funnies? That's Not Funny!

When the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle shrunk the Sunday comics to microscopic size, it made Edward P Curtis, Jr. hopping mad. He fired off a sharp rebuke to the offending paper, but they didn’t print it. So he sent a copy to rival City! newspaper. They did.

Why shouldn’t he be mad? Is there a newsprint shortage? Will tiny funnies house the homeless? Feed the hungry? Support the troops? No, no, no and no. It will help the shareholders, saving a fraction of a cent per hundred papers.

Truth be told, we were all furious that horrible Sunday morning when we saw what the misers had done. We all wanted to give them a piece of our mind, but we were afraid to. This type of letter is tricky.

Deep down in our heart of hearts, we all know that the funnies aren’t too important. Maybe our letter of protest will hit on a heavy news day. The Opinion page will be stuffed with gut-wrenching letters about genocide, AIDS, earthquakes, stock market meltdown….and smack dead center will be our silly little letter sniveling about the funnies.

It can be done, but you can’t be clumsy. You must saturate your letter with humor, self-deprecation, and mock outrage. That way, if it appears alongside weighty stories, it is the editor who looks like a dork, not you.

Mr. Curtis has brilliantly met the challenge. Thank you, sir, for you did what we all wanted to do, but didn’t have the guts.

Unfortunately, Mr. Curtis’ letter reached the D&C too late. They had already published a letter of protest from a less experienced writer, who fell headlong into the above trap.

Dear Ms. Editor:
How truly tragic that a feature which brings all of us so much joy each week, the Sunday funnies, has been reduced in size. It’s now so hard to see the detail in drawings that I so cherish. Of course, we all must cut costs, but surely not at the expense of the uplifting Sunday funnies! I am not angry, and I can forgive, for I feel you do not know what you do. But please, please, oh please, Ms. Editor, reconsider and restore our beloved Sunday funnies.

The letter was printed on a day of heavy news. They sandwiched it between a letter from Osama Bin Laden and another from a tsunami survivor. That night, the embarrassed author left town, and hasn‘t been heard from since.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Spinning Cars and Words into the Drink

Some kids were driving on frozen Irondequoit Bay, spinning round and round the way we all love to do in wintertime Rochester, [BTW, nearby Redfield NY has 11 feet of snow, all in the last 2 weeks!] when they discovered the bay was not so frozen as they had thought. Near shore, the ice gave way and down went the car! Of course, this was top news for the Democrat and Chronicle, whose lead story showed the car's top poking up from the bay along with this gem: "It's likely to cost thousands of dollars to retrieve, said one towing expert."

It was true. Neighbors and cops and ice fishermen and bay officials converged on the scene and debated what the final price tag would be. Would it be $1? Or $10? Or maybe that figure was too low. Maybe it would be a million dollars! Nobody had any idea, but then they called a "towing expert" who opined it was likely to cost "thousands of dollars." Blown away by his confidence, they gave him the job and....sure enough....when he hauled the thing out, he charged thousands of dollars!

They tried to be gentle at first, but in the end they salvaged little more than scrap metal, just like that engine repair you did where you started with the screwdriver and box wrench, then escalated to the vicegrips and crowbar, then escalated again to the jackhammer and cutting torch, then gave up and bought a new car. The drama took three days to unfold, and each day the dunked car was front page news, trumping Bush, Iraq, Hillary, Spitzer, everything.

No wonder nobody knows anything! They're dumbing our papers down and we can't do a thing about it. The D&C is practically a comic book now, and if you have any doubt, go to the library and check out some issues from decades back. They are scholarly tomes by comparison. Ditto for the newsmagazines. Ditto for all kinds of popular press as they follow reading skills to unheard of depths, desperately trying to keep readers who hate to read. Even my beloved Watchtower is right there riding the trend, just like Slim Pickens astraddle the falling bomb. What choice do they have if they want to reach people? Since trends like this are usually too gradual to notice, the fact that we can notice it is depressing.

In 1990, documentary producer Ken Burns presented The Civil War on PBS. For nine evenings PBS stood toe to toe with the big networks. People didn't watch the usual tripe, they watched The Civil War. The series won 40+ film and television awards. Burns panned through thousands of archived photos, narrated scores of personal stories, diary entries and letters from great men and plowboys alike. And you cannot sit through the program without being struck by how literate they all were back then. Not just the educated people. No, but also the bumpkins, the plowboys, the commoners. Not only did they narrate facts clearly but, more remarkably, they expressed emotion gracefully and without embarrassment.

But that was then. Now is now. Several years ago Watchtower released the brochure What Does God Require of You? The writing is extremely simple, perhaps (just guessing here) 3rd grade level, so that you run the risk of offending people when offering it, in case they are scholars reading at the 4th or 5th grade level. But you must have a tool for everyone and the brochure's plus is that it offers a complete overview of God's purpose, along with what we must do to fit in with it. It's no good to write everything like the New York Times and thus miss 80% of the population. Anyway, simple people respond more readily to the Kingdom message than do educated ones. It's not the education that messes people up. It's the pompous and full-of-themselves baggage they tend to pick up along the way. God despises pride.

For Jehovah is high, and yet the humble one he sees;
But the lofty one he knows only from a distance
                 Psalm 138:6

And....

For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are....
                                                                                             1 Cor 3:26-28

So if I offer that brochure and I'm not sure about reading level, I avert trouble by saying up front that it's written very, very, very, very simply. Think of it as an outline. We could make it big as a phone book if we wanted, but we've deliberately written only enough words to glue the scriptures together, to bridge from one to the next. That way the Bible stays front and center, not our own pontificating.


Ask Your Doctor if Reading is Right for You!

People don’t read like they used to and that’s not good for the Democrat and Chronicle. They want to boost circulation, not cut it. So they fired the clods that had been handling their publicity and entrusted their entire advertising budget to the Carriertom Into-Wishen Research Institute. True, Carriertom has no experience in that sort of thing but, as Tom persuasively argued to the D&C, you have to start somewhere.

It was a wise move. The Institute realized right off that the trick was to make people read the paper. And who has more authority today than one’s own doctor?

 

Ask your doctor if daily newspaper reading is right for you.

Ccf07162006_00005_1 I always wanted to be an intellectual but I didn’t know much.

Ccf07162006_00008_1 I only knew a few really big words for conversation, like rhinoceros.
       "So, whatdya think of those Rochester Rhinoceroses?"

Cci00000_1

Whenever I agreed with something I would say yeppur!

I know what I want, and I don’t want to be dumb! So I asked my doctor if daily newspaper reading could help.

Ccf07162006_00003_1 And he said yes!

How about you? Why not ask your doctor if daily newspaper reading is right for you!


Daily newspaper reading is not for everyone. Blind or unconscious persons may experience impaired results. Editorials may cause busted guts due to anger or laughter. Pigheaded and pinheaded editorial writers may induce high blood pressure. Do not attempt to read while showering, sleeping, or water-skiing. Sourpusses should avoid comics. Do not attempt to follow all columnest advice, especially not that of Dr Ruth. In some cases, severe reactions can occur when you read that your mutual fund is going down the toilet. Ditto with the Buffalo Bills. (though you should be immune to that by now) Those over 110 years of age are at elevated risk of death within one year of reading a paper. Newspaper reading should not be used to avoid communication with one’s spouse or significant other. Unread newspapers should not be used to housebreak puppies. Speak with your linguist before beginning a reading program.

Daily newspaper reading is not for everyone. But maybe it’s right for you.
Ccf07162006_00006_1

Ya, know, I really am kinda stupid. What should I do?

 

 

      Ask your doctor if daily newspaper reading is right for you!

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash