Tweeted Richard Dawkins one fine day (11/13/19): “You could easily spot any Religion of Peace. Its extremist members would be extremely peaceful”
Can it be? Is Richard Dawkins referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses—universally known for being “extremely peaceful” yet declared “extremists” in Russia? If so, I will take back the relatively few bad things I have said about him.
I have not really said THAT many bad things about him. At times, I have even been complimentary. When he blessed the atheist buses rolling out in London, I said that he raised a good point—his was a reaction to existing “hellfire’ buses, with advertising from the church. He did wuss-out, though, with a: “There probably is no God.” Probably?
It wasn’t until I began following him on Twitter, though, that I noticed how breathtakingly contemptuous he was toward anyone who disagreed with him—not merely about God, but also on geopolitical things—and then I did say a few mean things. For example, I said of him that “he does not suffer fools gladly, and a fool is anyone who disagrees with him.”
However, he has largely repented over this online meanness. I’ve noticed it over the months. He has not banished it entirely, but it is much less prevalent, so that I regret that I ever said what I did.
The temptation to be disdainful of opponents is well-nigh irresistible, particularly if you think that they are willfully choosing ignorance. I have (more or less) mastered the temptation, of course, but I have a source of effective and unending counsel that he does not.
This is no more concisely stated than it was at a recent Watchtower Study. A Bible verse considered how we ought “do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) Practically speaking, this advice is not easy to implement. It may even strike one as nonsensical—how can everyone be superior to everyone else? Said that Watchtower: “The humble person acknowledges that everyone is superior to him in some way.—Phil. 2:3, 4.”
Of course. In some way everyone is superior to everyone else. Search for that way, hone in on it like a laser beam, and it will not be so difficult to treat even opponents with respect. “Disagree without being disagreeable” is the catchphrase today.
But Professor Dawkins does not have this advantage. Much of his tradition would sway him in just the opposite “survival of the fittest” direction. So he must be given credit for his new, somewhat softer, online personality. Possibly someone who has his best interests at heart—perhaps his wife—said, “Richard, you sure do come across as a cantankerous crank on Twitter,” and he deliberately walked it back. It’s commendable.
Now, I don’t think Richard had Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind with his tweet. He probably has formed his views of them through the contributions of their “apostate” contingent, and those views could hardly be blacker. I looked down among his comments to see whether any of those nasties had reared their heads. Perhaps here was an example:
“Not entirely true. Extremists usually have their own misinterpretation of scriptures.”
I responded to this one: “If “misinterpretation” results in a religion of peace, perhaps it is not a misinterpretation after all. Perhaps the mainline view is a misinterpretation.” Is that not a no-brainer?
Another one, disagreeing with the above tweet: “Actually no. Most extremists do exactly what is written in their book. ‘Misinterpretation’ is used as an argument by believers that cherry pick morals that fit our secular ethics today.”
I know this type, too. This is the type that finds slavery in the Bible or war in the Old Testament and rails at the “hypocrisy.” I responded to this fellow as well:
“Everything has a historical context and to deliberately ignore such context is to be intellectually dishonest. If our side does it to theirs, we never hear the end of it.”
He blew up at this reference to context. Evil is evil, he carried on, across all places and time-frames. These characters are very predictable—you could even write their lines for them and not be too far off.
Has “critical thinking” made us all nincompoops? It was once thought the most intelligent thing in the world to consider historical backdrop; one was irresponsible, even deceitful, not to do it. Very well. If he is going to trash, with blinders affixed, the source that I hold dear, I will do the same with his source:
“You should turn your critical thinking skills upon Ancient Greece, the definer of it. When time travel is invented, history revisionists will give a friendly wave to American slaveholding forefathers as they race back in time to fetch wicked Greek pedophiles—it was an enshrined value of that world—back in irons.”
He was not chastened by this. Hijacking Twitter as his personal courtroom, he cross-examined:
“Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
I countered: “Is the raping of children as endorsed by Ancient Greek society morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
Incredibly, he was not dissuaded. “Last chance!” he shot back. “Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
“To the blockheads, I became a blockhead.”—Paul (sort of) —1 Corinthians 9:19-22,” I tweeted back: “Two can play the game of obstinacy. Last chance: Is the rape of children—it was enshrined in Ancient Greek society—morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
Then I went away, and when I came back, he had deleted all this tweets so that it was hard for me to reconstruct the thread. However, someone else had pointed out a grave sin I had committed:
“Thomas you are guilty of the moral equivalence fallacy.” Am I? I suppose. You can sort of guess by the wording just what that phrase means—I had not heard it before. At least it is in English. I once heard a theologian quip that if there is a Latin phrase and a perfectly clear English phrase that means the same thing, always use the Latin phrase so people will know that you are educated. But my “moral equivalence fallacy” is still is no more than considering historical context, a praiseworthy intellectual technique for all time periods except ours.
Besides, I actually had posted something about slavery long ago. But it is not a topic so simple that it can be hashed out in a few tweets, and so I declined to go there with this fellow, who would debate all the sub-points. If God corrected every human injustice the moment it manifested itself, there would be nothing left. The entire premise of the Bible is that human-rule is unjust in itself and that God allows a period of time for that to be clearly manifested before bringing in his kingdom—the one referred to in the “Lord’s prayer”—to straighten it all out. In the meantime, the very ones who work themselves into a lather at religion “brainwashing” people are livid that God did not brainwash slavery away once humans settled upon it as a fine economic underpinning.
If Dawkins’s tweet and my response hangs around long enough before burial in the Twitter feed, I would expect some of our malcontents to observe as they did in Russia, where the only evidence of extremism cited is proclaiming “a religious view of supremacy.” Huge protest will come at how Jehovah’s Witnesses practice shunning and thus “destroy” relationships and even family. But views inevitably translate into consequences and policies. Refusal to “come together” with those who insist on diametrically opposed views is hardly the “extremism” of ISIS—and yet the Russian Supreme Court has declared that it is, with the full backing in principle of those from the ex-JW community—the ones who go crusading, which is perhaps 10%.
I’m going to write this up as a post and append it to his thread. Let’s see what happens. Probably nothing, but you never know.
Plus, let’s expand on that particular Watchtower some more. The particular article covered was entitled: “Jehovah Values His Humble Servants” (September 2019 issue—study edition)
Unlike nearly all religious services, Witness meetings are ones that you can prepare for. You can comment during them. They are studies of the sacred book, not just impromptu rap sessions, acquiescencing to ceremony, or sitting through someone else’s sermon. You can prepare for them, and you are benefited, as in any classroom, when you do. The focus here, as it so often is, is on practical application.
Humility draws persons to us. Haughtiness repels them, and thus makes next to impossible the mantra to “come together.”
My own comment, when the time was right, was that haughty people can only accomplish so much—it may be a great deal, for haughty people are often very capable people—but eventually they run up against the fact that nobody else can stand them, and so people are motivated to undercut their ideas, even if they are good ones, out of sheer payback for ugliness. Humble people, on the other hand, may be far less capable individually, but their efforts add up. They know how to cooperate and yield to each other in a way that haughty people do not.
Someone else on that Dawkins thread, an amateur wit, played with that them of unlikely extremists: “Jehova's witnesses are peaceful but their extremists are better extremely annoying...”
Why fight this? It is a viewpoint. Viewpoints are not wrong, because they are viewpoints—right or wrong doesn’t enter into the equation. Better to roll with it. I was indeed on a roll, and so I tweeted back:
“I will grant that they can be. Still, if you had a choice between a team of JWs approaching your door and a team of ISIS members, you would (hopefully) choose theformer. Those 2 groups, and only those 2 groups are officially declared “extremist” in Russia.”
And with that, I included a link to my ebook, “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” I am shameless in that. No matter how many books I sell, it is not enough. I don’t sell them, anyway. The book is free, a labor of love. It is an application of the theme: “If you have something important to say, don’t hide it behind a paywall.” It is the only, to my knowledge, complete history of events leading up to and beyond the 2017 ban of the Witness organization in Russia.
Dear TrueTom: There were only EIGHT humans in that Ark and the rest were dumb animals that were controlled by those EIGHT humans. Um how many members of the Governing Body are there ? Oh yes EIGHT. And who in control of the Org ? Those EIGHT humans. Does make a person wonder exactly what the Governing Body thinks of all the rest in their Ark.
Sigh.....you see the questions that I have to deal with? Sometimes I think the best thing I can do with my help desk is to chop it into a thousand pieces, toss it into the river, and make all the Israelites drink from it.
Dear Person: You may think that you have done fine detective work, but it falls far short. You call yourself astute?
If you would use the head God gave you and focus, you would note that one GB member is eating a lot to be big as an elephant, one is stretching his neck like a giraffe, another growing stripes like a zebra, yet another shrieks like a macaw, and so forth.
Look, everyone knows this. Why do you come to the table so ill-equipped in knowledge?
”My, what wolflike teeth you have, grandma”
”All the better to control you with, my dear.”
Guys my age watch Perry Mason so they can see the old cars. They also like the courtroom drama of Counselor Mason zeroing in to finger just who is the scoundrel. As often as not, it is someone in the audience who jumps to his or her feet and confesses, even with tears, but sometimes just with hostility:
“I did it! But I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted to change his mind, but he wouldn’t take....I didn’t (sob) mean to hurt him!”
”I did it! That rotter had it coming! Yes, I did it! And I’d do it again!”
That doesn’t actually happen in a real courtroom. Nor does it happen that the witness himself confesses under Mason’s relentless questioning.
”I checked you story, and it’s a lot of hot air! Didn’t you just make it up to hide the fact that you killed Mr. So-and-So yourself?”
”Yes! Yes, I killed him! (sob) But I never meant to hurt him! (or: “He was a good-for-nothing rotter! He needed killing! I did what was necessary!”)
No. Doesn’t happen in a real courtroom. The defense lawyer (which Perry Mason is) just works to get his client off. It’s not his problem who did the deed. Still, we forgive the show these excesses. It makes for good drama—not gripping by today’s standards—but acceptable entertainment to have running in the background.
It takes itself seriously, though. Check out this statement:
“When both sides properly prepare a case, the adversary system can effectively guarantee the revelation of all the facts bearing on an issue. The more experience you have with it, the more you’ll find it a surprisingly scientific method of trial preparation.” — Perry Mason. (Season 5, Ep 13 The Case of the Renegade Refugee)
Come now, that is not a religious statement? Thrust upon us by a new world of “science” that has despaired of finding impartial judges the like of Exodus 18:26: “capable men fearing God, trustworthy men hating dishonest profit?”
The reason they are hard to find is that the world embraces values to the contrary. Not so in the Christian organization. I will take the congregation justice system any day, which only deals with the spiritual matters that are of no concern of secular courts. But a hostile world tries to reframe some of these spiritual matters as grist for the legal machine.
Such was the case a few years back with a Canadian man, disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation, who sued over it. Disfellowshipping is the last ditch measure of discipline, to be employed after all else has failed, so that those claiming to be members of the congregation hold to the moral standards that they signed on for. This fellow lost a lot of business as a real estate agent and he blamed the congregation for it. The Supreme Court declined to intervene in the internal affairs of religious beliefs and dismissed the case, but lesser courts had sided with him.
What is happening is that those who refuse discipline are airing their complaints to a world that downplays, if not despises, discipline and thereby finding common sympathy. The apostle John says it well: “They originate with the world; that is why they speak what originates with the world and the world listens to them.” (1 John 4:5)
It brings to mind the trademark of those describe in 2 Peter as “apostate”—they “despise authority.” They will not be held accountable for their actions.
You don’t think that those who come out on the short end of the world’s court system don’t also complain about how they were abused and unjustly sold down the river? It is human nature to do so in a system that downplays responsibilities and upplays rights.
The effort today is to hinder those wanting to stay separate from the world—ideally, even making it illegal to do so. Several Bible statements would outrage the “anti-cult”-driven legal climate of today:
“But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1 Corinthians 5:11). The Bible writer would be challenged legally today for trying to “control” people; who is he to tell them who they can eat with?
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 10) Ditto. He is “controlling people.” Let them greet whoever they want, even those whom HE finds “wicked.”
“It is necessary to shut their mouths, because these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they should not for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:11) Oh? It is “necessary” to restrict someone’s free speech for the sake of “enforcing” your religion? See you in court, Paul.
From time to time, the earthly organization rewords something—like the disfellowshipping announcement or the questions for baptism—to make clear that members are voluntarily adhering to Bible counsel rather than, as opposers try to present it, suffering the bullying of an “evil” “oppressive” “corporation.” It may fail in this one day, because the intent of those hostile to Christianity is to make the Bible verses themselves illegal, or at least make it illegal for anyone to actually follow them.
The goal is to deprive Christians of organization. That way they can more easily be assimilated into the greater word. This is framed hypocritically, even obnoxiously, as an attempt to liberate them. It is no more better realized today than in Russia, where Jehovah’s Witnesses are not illegal, but only their organization is. ‘It’s not the foot-soldier they want to kill off. It’s only the generals that must go. That way the foot-soldier can more easily switch sides—and he will be all the happier for it,’ so the thinking goes. Of course, a scheme so devious cannot be comprehended by the average person, and so whatever local authorities there are who don’t like Witnesses simply feel free to beat up on them.
It is far far far easier—and thus more alluring—to tear down than it is to build up. However, it is more noble to do the latter.
Pictured above is the bus terminal of Binghampton, NY. It is no longer just for Greyhound—all county buses now launch from the site. Built in 1938, it is of the Art Deco design known as Streamline Moderne—I love this design!—intended to convey aerodynamics and speed. Only a half dozen of such terminals still exist—there were once ten times that number.
This particular station was the inspiration for Rod Serling’s “The Mirror,” an episode of the anthology series The Twilight Zone. That episode terrified me. All Twilight Zones did, but I didn’t see too many as a boy because it was past my bedtime. Every so often, however—due to circumstances I no longer recall—I succeeded in outmaneuvering my parents and scared myself silly with the off-limits show.
The Mirror is a story of a woman waiting for the bus who becomes unnerved when her exact double appears from another world, intent on replacing her. She is assured by others that such things are imaginary and do not happen, but then she looks up from outside the bus and—gasp!—there is that double seated on board, gazing down upon her.
Rod Serling narrated every opening and closing of The Twilight Zone. For “Mirror Image,” he began with:
“Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night. Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes: not given to undue anxiety, or fears, or for that matter even the most temporal flights of fantasy. Like most young career women, she has a generic classification as a, quote, girl with a head on her shoulders, end of quote. All of which is mentioned now because, in just a moment, the head on Miss Barnes' shoulders will be put to a test. Circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block. Millicent Barnes, who, in one minute, will wonder if she's going mad.”
A young man in the episode, concerned for Millicent’s visibly deteriorating mental health, settles back in his seat at the terminal after the officers he has summoned have taken the woman away for help. He notices his bag is missing. He spots the thief absconding with it. Overtaking him, he discovers that—gasp!—it is his double!
“Obscure and metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon. Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it 'parallel planes' or just 'insanity'. Whatever it is, you'll find it in the Twilight Zone.”
Rod Serling was a favorite son of Binghamton, born and raised there. You can run around and view, as we did on a recent visit, the homes in which he grew up—well, two of the three, anyway. It is a small city. Getting from anywhere to anywhere else is a snap. The Rod Serling Archive produces a map that lists other sites. There is the site of Serling’s Market Sanitary—it is a parking lot today. There is Serling’s Market—now a vacant lot, as is the former site of the Arlington Hotel, the inspiration for an episode of Night Gallery, a show he later hosted. The temple where his family once worshiped is now the Binghamton Housing Authority. His six Emmys and Peabody Award are housed at Ithaca College, about 45 minutes away. His own nondescript gravesite is at Interlaken Cemetery, another 45 minutes to the northwest.
Other episodes of the Twilight Zone were fashioned in his home town. The carousel and bandstand of Recreation Park serves as the setting for “Walking Distance.” This is the episode—not particularly scary, though it probably terrified me at the time—in which a man named Martin has his car break down—they often did back then—necessitating repairs in his hometown that he happens to be driving through. While waiting, he wanders into the park that he remembers so well, and finds that time there has stood still. Why—he spots himself as an eleven-year-old riding the carousel! He calls out to his younger self. His call distracts the boy, who tumbles off the horse and breaks his leg. Instantly, the adult Martin feels the pain. And so forth—on goes the storyline.
“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too, because he'll know it isjust an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.”
We stopped at Recreation Park. The bandstand is still there at an intersection of sidewalks. It is dated, a bit ragged, and is perhaps no longer used for its intended purpose, but the nearby carousel was only closed up because fall had arrived—during summer it sees regular use. Sturdy trees tower over both structures, indeed over all of the park except for what looks like a more recent addition of athletic fields. The leaves were turning—yellow and oranges predominated—and only some had fallen. The small city itself is surrounded by hills—bursting with color during our visit. The day was sunny. The autumn air was crisp.
Then there was Fowler’s (now Boscov’s), a department store on the corner of Court and Water streets. In the old days, the Boscov’s salesman told me, a piano player entertained shoppers. This site was the inspiration for “The After Hours,” an episode featuring a woman named Marsha, who chances into the store and passes all the mannequins. For a transaction, someone asks her for ID, and hers only goes back a month! More strange things transpire. She tries to run away, but freezes into plastic as she does so. The show ends with her a mannequin on display—her turn to be a human has expired—and another store mannequin, one that she passed earlier, is now taking his turn walking about shopping as a human!
“Imagine standing forever still, unable to act, to speak, to touch a reassuring hand. If you were released from such a fate, even for a while, wouldn't you hope to forget that in reality, you're only on a short leave of absence...from the Twilight Zone?”
Boscov’s proved an interesting find in itself, if only because downtown department stores are a dying rarity in most cities. This one is growing—not dying at all—and it is one of a chain of 48. It began as a single dry goods store in Reading PA purchased by Solomon Boscov, a Russian immigrant who arrived in 1914 speaking only Yiddish. 26 Boscov stores are scattered throughout Pennsylvania—it’s first (1962) out-of-state store is this one here in Binghamton, just a few miles over the state line—with four floors, escalators at center, elevators on the side, adjacent to a four-story parking garage, so that you can exit on any level and walk straight to your car. Mirrors make the interior seem larger than it actually is.
Is Boscov’s the department store equivalent of Wegman’s, the family-owned supermarket chain from my home town, Rochester, which opened its 101st store in Brooklyn this week? I left my wife in the store while I walked around the downtown area to snap a few pictures for this post. When I returned, she was exactly where I would have imagined she would be—in the bargain nook on the 4th floor—the Auditorium, probably a preserved holdover from Fowler’s. “This place is like a mall in itself—it has everything!” she exclaimed. I left her there to stroll the floor, where the salesman mentioned previously tried to interest me in furniture. “I might buy a couch if you could deliver it to Rochester,” I responded.
We fell into conversation about my visit to Binghamton. He knew about the Twilight Zone episode at his store, but he hadn’t seen my Archive map of Rod Serling destinations. He didn’t endorse our previous visit to the Cracker Barrel for lunch because each year the chains take about 2% from the business of the struggling Mom and Pop diners that he favors—he had been one of the Pops himself and now he is selling furniture at Boscov’s. So I told him about Dave back in Rochester from my season or three of carrying newspapers.
Newspaper carriers arrive at a ridiculously early hour to pick up and bag their papers for morning delivery. They do this in one of several large warehouses, and I got used to preparing my stock across the table from old Dave, who was preparing his. I lamented the morning that Wegman’s Chase Pitkin home repair store chain went down. Wegman’s had declared that they wished to focus on their core grocery business. The real reason, I said, was that they were steamrollered by the out-of-town corporate Home Depot’s and Lowe’s, and wasn’t that too bad. But Dave didn’t have a bit of sympathy for them. What goes around, comes around, he said. He had once been the Pop of a Mom and Pop hardware store, and Chase Pitkin had sent him packing—now here he was, in his 70s, delivering the morning paper. Karma might be a bitch for Chase-Pitkin, but it but it didn’t bother him even the slightest.
87 Court Street is the former home of Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel, which inspired the Twilight Zone episode “Where is Everybody?”
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call, The Twilight Zone.”
In this episode, a man in an Air Force uniform—he cannot recall why—enters a town, finds it completely deserted. As he wanders, he grows increasingly paranoid that he is being watched. His fears grow upon spotting the paperback on the spinning book rack—who set it spinning?— “The Last Man on Earth, Feb, 1959”—his time! Panic mounting, wildly running through the street, he hits a pedestrian call button and screams for help. The pedestrian call button turns out to be a panic button. Military personnel stop the experiment. He has actually been in an isolation booth, and they have been running tests to see if he can endure the long periods of isolation he will encounter on his upcoming space launch to the moon.
“The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in The Twilight Zone.”
There is no Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel anymore. It disappeared long ago, as though it, too, had been part of the experiment. The street-front building now houses university students.
Housing students is a growth industry for Binghamton today. The students like to move off campus and into town—same as I did when I was in school. Binghamton University is growing, even though the Bundy Museum docent told me that only 10% of those who apply are admitted. Its prestige shot up recently when one of its professors was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry—highly unusual for a college in the state SUNY school system—it is a prize that generally goes to the most prestigious universities. Professor M Stanley Whittingham had, years prior, conducted research that led to the development of the lithium-ion battery. “I think it’s no question this will make more people know of the university and make people look up, ‘Where is Binghamton,’” he said at a press conference.
“Professor M Stanley Whittingham, a brainy type, a man whose claim to recognition came and departed long ago. Some would call him a has-been, his deeds overlooked by time. A pedant who now teaches ordinary students at an ordinary college in an ordinary small town in upstate New York, the professor long ago resigned himself to a slow downward slide into obscurity. Impossible for such a forgotten man to receive the Nobel Prize, you say? Ordinarily yes. Unless that college happens to be located in the town that forever remains the birthplace of...the Twilight Zone.”
[Paragraphs in italics are the words of Mr. Serling, except for the last, which is mine.]
Running for US President in 2010, Beto O’Rourke said he thought that religious organizations should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage.
Though it is not in an area of the Bible thought prophetic, the most striking prophesy of all to me—and this holds true regardless of one’s view on homosexuality—is Romans 1:26-28:
“That is why God gave them over to uncontrolled sexual passion, for their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; likewise also the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males.”
The tenor of the verse is “anti-gay,” but for the purposes of this post that need not be considered. When I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s and first encountered it, I thought the verse was way way out there—not realistic at all. Of course, there had always been homosexuality—and there always would be—but to suggest that it would one day go viral seemed absurd. Yet it has happened. Even gays themselves, though they will be happy at the extent of their progress, must be surprised at how quickly it has come about. From an historical point of view, it is as though in a few minutes.
The pace accelerates and spreads to new frontiers. Whereas gays have taken decades to enter the mainstream, the embrace of the transgender movement has taken mere months. Gayle King (I heard her say this on CBS This Morning) did not know what the Q stood for when she obediently appended it to LGBT. Did it mean “questioning?” Or “queer?” She didn’t know. But she didn’t dare not include it.
Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to “fundamentalist” views with regard to sexuality—the norm that has held sway throughout history—until recently. Still, during their entire 3-day Regional Convention program for 2019, not one sentence mentioned homosexuality. During the entire 3-day Regional Convention of 2018, a mere two minutes were devoted to the topic. Witnesses don’t go on the attack is the point, as many fundamentalists groups do.
The two minutes in 2018 was of a video in which a Witness woman in the workplace declined to sign the wedding card for an upcoming same-sex marriage—maybe Beto’s own, for all I know—and she took much verbal abuse from one of her colleagues. The video was quickly condemned by gay activists. With activists of any stripe, if you do not align with them, you are said to “hate” them. “So that’s how they portray gays,” was the complaint, “as shrill and abusive!” Well, no—but clearly some are.
Courtney Kirchhoff, of louderwithcrowder.com, who identifies as gay herself, calls them the “Gaystapo,” and she is fed up with them. They are “small in numbers, shrill in voice.” She makes a point, and then makes it again: “As stated before, the Gaystapo, and now the Hollywood Gay Agenda Pushers DO NOT represent millions of gay people who just want to live their lives in peace. Okay? Okay.”
Okay by me, too. Ms Kirchhoff is fed up with Hollywood’s gay agenda. It’s overkill. Homosexuals make up 3.4 percent of the population, but 14 percent of films released in 2014! The percentage is higher still on television: “The one and only modern show I can think of without any uber-gay plot line?” she writes. “Breaking Bad.” (Traditional moralists ought not seek the out show on that account, however, for its theme involves manufacturing meth.) Thanks to Hollywood, most Americans believe the gay population is 23 percent or more, not the 3.4 percent it actually is, she says.
Didn’t the Watchtower (or was it Awake?) write decades ago of a powerful Hollywood homosexual entertainment lobby?** What were they smoking? “Get your head out of New York City!” some said. But now it becomes evident that they were merely standing upon the shoulders of giants, seeing farther than others of their time.
It is not mere numbers but also how incessantly something is pushed that determine its visibility. If Ms. Kirchhoff is right, (her article was written in 2016) gays are 3.4% of the population, Most people think 23%. Yet even that number understates influence, because God help you if you withhold acceptance. That’s all the Witness woman was doing in the video, the purpose of which was not so much about homosexuality, anyway, but about standing up to opposition. She didn’t attack anyone. She didn’t tell anyone else not to sign the card. She just didn’t do it herself—yet that is enough to be labeled a “hater” today.
Transgendered persons are a far tinier sliver of the population, yet with similar disastrous social consequences should one reveal oneself unwilling to remodel society to accommodate the trend. Educators are seldom the ones unwilling—they are frequently on the cutting edge of such things.* In some British schools, segregated restrooms give way to common restrooms, and—could no one have foreseen this?—young girls refrain from liquids all day so as not to use the restroom, and if nature calls anyway, they simply “hold it.” Educators have their work cut out for them. Try though they may, they have not succeeded in convincing girls that a boy can be a girl because he “identifies” as one.
*Lest anyone doubt that educators are on the cutting edge of moral paradigms, consider the 2017 summons to “inclusiveness training” directed to the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. The acronym “LGGBDTTTIQQAAP” heads the announcement, and the letters stand for the newly discovered divisions of humanity that all teachers must know: Lesbian, Gay, Genderqueer, Bisexual, Demisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Twospirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Allies, Pansexual and Polyamorous.
One sarcastic so-and-so complained on social media: “Couldn’t they have selected an acronym that doesn’t remind one of some old guy ripping one?” The heading was selected by its creators as light humor, still the conference and the mandatory training was real.
**It was the Watchtower of August 1, 1988
*** (There are no 3 asterisks in the post, but—in response to a question about whether there is a scriptural basis for any particular stance on transgender people:
Certainly nothing specific. Doubtless it would be thought a psychological issue. But what would happen if a man identified as a woman and had hormone therapy & surgery to physically become one (or vice versa) and, in that state, accepted a Bible study and came into the congregation. I have no idea. Probably she would be accepted as she now is. But if she later grew discontent and wanted to revert into a man again (it does happen), I haven’t the foggiest. I suspect there would be no consequences in the congregation, but I don’t really know. I do not know where it has happened among Witnesses. Being gay and being transgendered are two separate topics that don’t necessarily overlap. I combined them because they are both included in the LGBTQ acronym. Strictly speaking, maybe I should not have. Sexuality turns out to be much more fluid than anyone my age would have thought.
The stressor that triggered a mental breakdown in “They’re coming to take me away, ha haa” was a runaway dog, not a girlfriend! The artist included the line, “They'll find you yet and when they do, they'll put you in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt" to defuse the charge that he was making fun of mentally ill persons. “And it worked!” said Jerry Samuels, the songwriter.
It didn’t work for Rochester’s WBBF, the station for kids throughout my childhood. I well remember the 1966 novelty song. It instantly soared to the top of the station’s playlist—and then it disappeared. A most unusual public service announcement (as though from God, from the perspective of a child) then stated that the song had been pulled because it made fun of the mentally ill.
Apparently, WBBF’s action was as unusual as their PSA. Wikipedia (accessed 10/15/2019) makes no mention of the song’s being unwelcome anywhere. And yet it clearly did make fun of the mentally ill—WBBF was right. “And I’ll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, and they’re coming to take me awaayyy ha haaa! — to the ‘funny farm,’ where life is beautiful all the time”—you don’t think that’s making fun of the mentally ill? What difference does it make whether the trigger is a runaway girlfriend or a runaway dog?
In fact, I remember that line about the “mangy mutt” and I took it for just bitter words directed at the girlfriend—I’m not sure that I knew what the ASPCA was back then. Had the lyrics been, “Lollypop Farm,” it would have been a different story for anyone in Monroe County, even if meaningless for those anywhere else.
This makes me reflect on the AM radio of my youth, WBBF. Only that station, and the more avant-grade and unpredictable WSAY played the songs popular with my g-g-generation. All the rest played Perry Como. There was no FM radio at the time.
Was WBBF unusually responsible back then—a pillar among young-people stations? I am inclined to assign it that grade retroactively. I certainly know that it could be hilarious. Jack Palvino was the morning host, and he intertwined jokes that still hold up, decades later. I still remember them, and smile whenever I do.
“Friends, do you have bills to pay?” one seeming commercial began. “Well, please give it back. Bill’s head is getting cold.”
Jack ran a lot of spots like that. It must have been some subscription service for jokes—unless he just made them up, which is possible. Even the more raucous ones like the teary, “I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it!” and a sympathetic Jack would say, “You poor man! You can tell me—what is it you can’t stand?” to which the answer would be, “YOUR FACE!” still prompts a grin, juvenile though it is.
And don’t get me going about Chickenman, a spoof on Superman! Chickenman offered his services to the city as crimefighter, and they would have just as soon that he dropped dead. A horrible klutz with a secret identity like Superman—he woke the police commissioner’s secretary, Miss Helpinger, out of a sound sleep, disguising his voice (which she instantly saw through) to report that he had been kidnapped. Somehow he managed to set his wings on fire with his utility laser light and as the approaching fire truck sirens could be heard in the background, the exasperated secretary advised him to flap his wings, for this would serve to put out the fire—or perhaps it would serve to spread it, which may have been her real aim.
As young teens, Jack Palvino inspired us to try our hand doing the same. My best chum, a few houses down, was a hobbyist with electronics. He built a radio station. We named it WNOR. It’s antenna stretched from his bedroom window to a weeping-willow tree 100 yards away. WNOR station had a radius of about a mile—we walked around the block to check—and we would spend much time after school spinning our limited number of records during on-air sessions. The “Evil One” in our mind, at the time, was the FCC, which supposedly raided and shut down stations such as ours—this reputedly was the fate of one such pirate station (I loved the term—pirates!) several miles to the south of us.
We copied Jack Palvino’s techniques, inventing the series of short snippets, “Golf tips—-(cue a golf swing by the mike)—with Jack Bogey”—Jack Nicklaus was all the rage back then. A listener would ask Jack if he preferred his woods, and Jack would say that he did not because he lost too many balls there. We were kids, you must remember.
The creative phase even carried through when I later attended Potsdam State and volunteered for the student radio station—I forget what the call letters there were. Another chum and I took the morning slot—just like Jack had done in my childhood. A few minutes after the sports report, read off the AP wire, we wrote alternating “special” sports reports, with mine running down his team (Syracuse) and his running down mine.
Jack Palvino made his life career in radio, though he was only behind the microphone during my youth. From time to time, his name would pop up in local news, as would that of Nick Nickson, another WBBF mainstay. I wonder where they are today—and even if they are yet alive. I will look it up after finishing this post.
And—coming back to the topic of mental illness—if you had a mental breakdown in Rochester, they would take you to the R-wing of Strong Hospital. Throughout my adult life this has been so. It still is. It has never occurred to me to ask, “Where does the R come from?” Nevertheless, I discovered the answer to the question I had never asked during a recent visit to the Jello Museum in nearly Leroy, NY. Heir to the Jello fortune, Helen Rivas gave $2.1 million to the hospital for the purpose of a facility to treat those suffering mental illness, and the R stands for Rivas.
At trial’s end, in a Russian court, Konstantin Bazhenov’s turn at last came to make his closing statement.
He “hardly talked about the legal aspects of the persecution and emphasized his spiritual side. ‘It is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil ones,’ he quoted the words of Jesus Christ. Then he briefly talked about what Jehovah's Witnesses believe in and how they live, and in the end he read a poem of his own composition.”
Yes. This is exactly what you do. The law is so convoluted that nobody can get their heads around it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned, but only their organization is? People cannot get their heads around it. President Putin says words of support, yet it makes no difference? People cannot get their heads around it. Forget those things and just give a witness to all present, a witness that embodies Christian qualities of joy even under persecution, and a determination to serve God under any circumstances.
Konstantin starts with wanting “to recall one interesting aphorism, which is quite well-known: ‘While the truth was on my shoes, the lie managed to get around half the world.’ This aphorism emphasizes that sometimes some inaccurate data, false information spread very quickly, and the truth remains somewhere in the backyards,” and he applies it to the misinformation spread about Jehovah's Witnesses. Mark Twain’s version of this saying (or is this a version of his?) is: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”
Be that as it may, he is very glad that during court hearings “the truth nevertheless sounded,” albeit with “delay,” but it did. He thanks his God Jehovah “that he trusts [him] to represent His interests in court, that He helped, gave strength, wisdom to understand the legal nuances.”
Represent His interests he does, fully getting the sense of Jesus’ words: People “will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)
He has Revelation 2:10 down pat: “Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” He is a fanatic to those who have discarded God, and even to some of those who have not. But he is the very embodiment of Jesus’ words to endure (with joy) under persecution, and he goes on to explain how that can be.
“Everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12) he cites. “This is like the law of physics, so I am not personally surprised that this is happening. Maybe a little upset. But the fact is that persecution is inevitable. They were in the 1st century, and they are now. It convinces me even more that I am on the right track and gives me confidence.”
He uses that confidence to thank participants. He thanks his wife, first of all, but also the judge for “carefully listening to us and trying to understand the essence of the issue.” He thanks the investigator “for permitting visits with his wife, as well as a request for our release from custody. It was a gift for my wife and I.” He thanks his lawyers, co-defendants, friends who came for support, and even the prosecutor “for listening carefully and outlining the main thoughts.” Why throw stones? Be like the early Christians.
“If according to the verdict of the court, I have to go through the punishment of imprisonment, [he does, said the court] then I am sure that this will strengthen my faith.” He has already been there almost a year in pre-trial detention, and has found that “neither high walls, nor bars, nor barbed wire can prevent the Holy Spirit from penetrating and giving support. There are such words in the Bible: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ It may seem at first glance: well, how, in prison is freedom? What kind of freedom is there? But in fact, for example, freedom from fear, freedom from sinful deeds, freedom from bad habits, freedom from foul language, from envy, greed, freedom from remorse, this freedom can be regardless of where we are.”
“For, if you please the will of God, it is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil,” he cites at 1 Peter 3:14-17. “Indeed, I am happy that I do not suffer for crimes, that is, I did not steal, I was not a mortgagee, I did not rape anyone, I did not blackmail, I did not cheat, but they accuse me. I suffer for worshiping God.”
“And it does not surprise me that such events occur, but sometimes it surprises others. For example, when I was in a pre-trial detention center, many prisoners said: ‘We are here for crimes.’ That is, scammers, hijackers, mortgages, counterfeiters - there are many articles with whom I sat. And they said: ‘We really did something. But what are you doing here?’ And they were surprised. Moreover, in my case there are no victims. Indeed, I have a clear conscience before God and before people.”
“If I find myself in a colony, there also live people who need to learn the truth from the Bible about God, about his plan for the earth and people. This is a huge field for activity. If this happens, I will consider that Jehovah found there sincere people whom I should help to learn the biblical message. I see no other reasons. Psalm 50, verse 15 says: ‘I will teach the wicked in your ways, and the wicked will turn to you.’ The psalmist David wanted to help others so that they would not take the slippery slope. So, I also have a desire to help others turn from their lawless deeds, their criminal way of life, so that they turn to God. The fact is that the Word of God, the Bible, has tremendous power to influence people for the better. Thanks to the Bible, people get rid of bad habits and criminal lifestyle. And it benefits both themselves and the state, because, in fact, they become useful members of society. Of course, I do not want to lose my freedom, but if at least one criminal cleansed of the criminal past, it means that I was not in vain hurt.”
He then launches into what can only be described as his “Adam to Armageddon sermon”—his talk touching on basic Witness beliefs regarding the:
- theme of God
- authority of the Bible
- role of Jesus Christ
- Kingdom of God
- Christ’s ransom
- reason for God’s permission of evil and suffering
- what happens at death
- how to find happiness as a family
- our worship of God
- Christian unity
- our behavior as Christians
- our relationships to others
Well, why not? He does have a captive audience, after all, and they made themselves captive—specifically convening to pass judgment upon him. Trust me on this: nobody said on their drive home, “That fellow doesn’t know his Bible very well.” We live by the Bible —JWs do. We make no apology for it. If we experience adversity, make it clear that it is due to a dislike of what the Bible says.
Commendably, the Russian court participants did not stone him to death, as the Sanhedrin did with Stephen when he pulled such a stunt. They just put him on the prison bus and off to a new assignment. I love his flexibility. I pray that I can match it should my turn come. We can’t necessarily choose what our new assignment will be or what hardships it may entail.
(No Bible citations in this post are taken from the New World Translation. This is because in Russia that book has been declared not a Bible at all—as that country discredits itself before educated persons the world over who know very well that it is. No, that translation is actually an extremist work, the High Court maintains, so it cannot be quoted. Where I, and not Konstantin, have inserted verses, they are from the New American Bible - Revised Edition, the “house” Bible for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” That book itself comes in “safe” and “unsafe” versions—identical except the unsafe version quotes occasionally from Watchtower publications, and the safe version does not. The version linked to above is the “safe” version—you can read it without going to the hoosegow, at least, until the entire work is declared extremist, if that hasn’t happened already.
Comment meant for Paul Goble:
I don’t know what it is with a blogspot account, but I cannot comment on the stupid things, even after entering gmail. It just gobbles up the comment (that you spent time on) & it disappears! Fortunately, I have learned not to trust blogspot and I save my comment in the event that it does disappear—which it did.
So I’ll put it here.
“Not to be an apologist for him, for my primary identity is of a religious group opposed in Russia—-nor to challenge you expertise, which FAR exceeds mine, but he has spoken forcefully about the abuses of Stalin. I see no reason for him to do it unless it is a reflection of how he thinks. The NYT has speculated as to whether he is even in control of the country.
I’ve written of this some, with the view of understanding what is happening with my people. To the extent possible for a Westerner, I have tried to present from a Russian point of view, if only as to not aggravate him. An example is chapter 6:
The comments denouncing Stalin are here:
Appreciate your work and expertise.
(This post will be taken down in time, or worked up into a better format)