Blocking Trolls the Star Trek Way - I Didn’t Want to Do It

I blocked quite a few trolls yesterday. I didn’t really want to block them—it is a first for me—but the nature of trolls everywhere is that they do nothing but insist upon their own view. If answered, they just repackage and run it through again, and they get downright ornery when countered. Soon you find that they have taken over your day, because they will not let your counterview stand—they must demolish it.

They are not even wrong, necessarily, in the basic facts they may present—but they insist upon skewing them and imputing motives, invariably bad ones, to their former friends. It is like that job you left—either you quit or were fired, You are unlikely to speak well of it again, unless it clearly was a stepping stone job or a career change.

All their chums join the fray. In time, you are doing nothing else but countering these characters. They will not be swayed—as trolls never are. In our case, it is the verse: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” They have tasted and pronounced him bad. Are you going to turn them around in a few 280-character tweets? I don’t think so.

There is a part of me that will miss them, but they just will not behave. A writer needs a muse, but he also needs a villain. Social media is VillainsRUs, but you soon find that they are taking over your life—plus the neighbors begin to complain. It is like when you change to another genre and find trolls that insist Trump must hang for anything that has happened “on his watch,” and then you switch channels to find those insisting that Obama or Hillary must hang for whatever happened “on their watch.” Who can deal with that vitriol? We will know what is what when the fat lady sings—a reference that I soon will not be able to use due the latest development of political correctness—“fat-shaming”—although I did learn over the weekend that Brother Herd, who may not even know what political correctness is, will never reprove me for it.

When the time came, I cut them down like Captain Kirk used to cut down Romulans. I deliberately mixed up two Star Trek series so that they would tell me how stupid I was to think that Wesley Crusher was Dr. McCoy’s son. It is like when Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its nuclear missels toward the U.S. People of good sense run for the hills. Trolls run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right. Whether they actually did it or not, I will never know—for they had been blocked:

“Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the StarShip TrueTom, whose mission is to boldly go where no one has gone before to tell us what’s out there! Report, TrueTom. What have you found in your valiant quest? What’s out there!”

“Roger that, Houston. I am afraid that the report is bad. It is a universe of trolls! Aren’t there any parallel universes around anywhere? They’re everywhere! In the cupboards, in the closets, in the toilets...mostly there. Let’s beam them over to the Klingon ship!”

“You have go-ahead, TrueTom. Use you digression.”

“Got it, Houston. Phasers locked. Fire at will! Mr Solo! Let’s take out the first wave of these vile aliens. Shields, up! There may be a second wave!”

“Captain, the engines—they can’t take it!”

“Suck it up, Scotty. What do you think I pay you for?”

“Mr. Spock, get Roy Romulan on the phone. Let’s patch up our little spat. He’s not such a bad guy after all.”

....

“Jean Luc, Wesley says that you are wuss for not staying to fight the trolls.”

“Tell the young snot to return to the helm. And tell him to try not to graze the side of the Ferengi ship this time. See if you can renew his learner’s permit once again.”

“Captain, are you certain that you should block all these Trolonians, like that hothead McCoy wants? I advise that we preserve some for study.”

“What! Are you, too, a Trolonian? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up from Trolonia! Blast away, Jim!”

“Captain, one of those vile aliens exploded in my face! Look at all this green goo!”

“Wesley, you young idiot! Did you learn nothing from that “Men in Black” training video? Listen, ride outside on the wing for awhile until the stench wears off! I’ll tell your mom that you went fishing.”

“Captain, it isn’t logical that you should have put up with those trolls all that time.”

“Zip it, Spock! He was going for the StarFleet world record for Troll Endurance. Now that he has it—it came in the mail today—blast away at all those suckers!”

“Captain, the first wave has fallen, but it is as you said: “Kill a fly and 50 come to the funeral!” What can we do?”

“Hmm. What! Solo, you idiot! I said phasers! You have activated the tractor beam! Gasp! Are you a trolonian, too—et tu, Brutus?”

“Captain, the engines!”

”Oh for crying out loud! You are such a pain, Scotty!”

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The Loaded Words - Infallible, Inspired, and Perfect

It is revealing to me that those who taunt JWs endlessly over just how “inspired” are the ones at the helm today seem to take for granted that there should be ones who are that way. It gets even more crazy when words such as “infallible” are thrown in. “Perfect” makes matters worse. 

“Look at what Brother Jackson said,” they gloat. “Guess he’s not so infallible after all, is he?” they say. They take for granted that for the Christian life to have validity in modern times, there should be ones who ARE infallible, who can and SHOULD spoon-feed members, so there is a lessened need for faith, and hopefully (from their point of view) none at all.

These ones wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the first century, when the ones taking the lead were manifestly not that way. A local speaker with a dramatic flair enacted a fictional encounter with an irate householder from back then, a forerunner of today’s “apostates.” “What! You’re going to tell me about love?” he hammers the visiting brother. “Look, I was there at that meeting of Paul and Barnabas after John took a leave of absence! You see those two kids there? [motioning to his young children playing on the floor] They do not fight as I saw those two grown men of yours fight! Why don’t you learn love yourself before you come here to lecture me about it!”

(For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark.  But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pam·phylʹi·a and had not gone with them to the work.  At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus. - Acts 15:37-39)

For that reason, I shy away from such loaded words as “infallible.” Maybe the insistence on infallibility is a holdover from the Catholic Church, which for centuries insisted that the Pope was that way. “Inspired” will also blow up in your face, because you end up doing backflips in translating just what the word should effectively mean now—or even then, when the “leading men” fought like kids. I even put the word “apostates” in quotes, increasingly, because it comes in many varieties and it means different things to different people.

It is enough to say that the written record, which includes the dealings and interactions of imperfect ones at the first-century helm, is deemed “inspired:“ All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

This is so even though it includes the account of Peter’s astounding cowardess (given his leadership role at the time) of changing his association once the Jewish-based brothers came on the scene—before they did, he mixed freely with the Gentile-based Christians; after they did, he “withdrew” from them.

(However, when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class.  The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barʹna·bas was led along with them in their pretense.  But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: “If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?” - Galatians 2:11-14)

It is still “inspired.” It is enough for us to go on. It is enough to make the Christian “fully competent” and “completely equipped for every good work.” Even though it includes the blunderings of the “uneducated and ordinary” ones that were the leaders back then—and the leaders today hold to that pattern—that is still the case. It is not at all what opponents today think that it should be—a true and unfailing human anointed one to wipe away every tear and smooth the path, removing all pebbles so that the people of God can sail along blithely without really having to develop faith. 

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Skirmish #150819 - The Unreluctant

If this hadn’t ended in a threat, I would have forgotten all about it. Even so, I am not sure that it was worth the effort to put together. Don’t I have other things to do? And didn’t the Librarian (that old hen) once tell me to knock it off when I got into a long squabble with Alan the Juggernaut? “I call all to witness that Tom has not answered my question,” he said. “It’s just you and me, you idiot,” I replied. “What! Do you think that you are Clarence Darrow arguing “Inherit the Wind?”  Nonetheless, I did reassemble the tweets in this instance, which is not easy to do chronologically when they fly back and forth quickly.

What saves me with these trolls  is that I have a body of work stretching back 15 years. It has a way of discouraging them, because eventually it dawns upon them that, though they vent their spleen, they really end up retarding their cause—they submit 30 words, and I, by including a link to something already written, respond with 1000. For the time being, that gives me a leg up, and whenever brothers exchange remarks with these characters without that advantage, they usually get beaten up badly, not just by the villain, but by all his chums who join the fray. I don’t recommend it, and maybe even for me I do not recommend it.

“The Unreluctant” appears out of nowhere to challege the post about the Phoenix New Times article,  but it quickly escalates. He is becoming frustrated with the posts I link to. I mean, these fellows want to drag out some pissy little complaint for a few pages, and you respond with a link that covers that complaint, and much more. Presently, they start to lose it: [Warning: this gets graphic on his part...I have edited as lightly as possible, for the sake of readability. I have added nothing (except a bracketed running commentary) I have deleted a little so as not to be redundant.]

UnR: Although ur writing style is unique so if you are up for some advice, sometimes less said is better. Just being constructive mate.

TTH: It was once thought permissible to make a defense when under accusation.

UnR: Of course it is Tom. Mate do you have a problem with comprehension? You always bring another argument into it I didn’t bring up...straw man much Defend Tom, just learn to be more constructive less arrogance....if you want my brutal honesty.

TTH: It is ever the way with zealots to hone in laser-like on their issue and their issue alone—to the exclusion of all else. Considering context was once thought wise. Today it is raising a straw man argument. Such zealotry is seen in many areas, not just that of religion.

TTH: Don’t tag me in a @jasonwynee reply because he has blocked me, the big wus. Of course, if I was abusive, foul, or harassing, that might be expected, but you well know from our exchanges that I am not. As an example of things misrepresented, here is a post on “mentally diseased.” Most of the rest is you chest-thumping over your hoped-for events.

UnR: Correct they categorised them [he is referring to “apostates”] all as ‘sub-human’ We see such terms being used by the GB as Vermin (exactly what the Nazis stayed) Mentally diseased (removed from the 2013 NWT perversion as it was too damaging to leave in) [that removal is covered in my above link]

TTH: Off the top of my head, I do not know where this is. [only the “mentally diseased was ever in print] But the Bible itself speaks of “animalistic men” and those enthralled with the “teaching of demons” It was probably said [once] in that context. They certainly don’t overdo it.

UnR: That’s right Tom,they didn’t overdo it at all when they copied the Nazi slogan & slaughter 6mio Jews by calling them vermin, and using it in a public setting in 2019! Tom forgive me please,but piss off and pull your head out of Gerrit Losch’s backside. You have now crossed a line

TTH: Uh oh. I think it is you crossing a line, not me. As to the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews, by the time it got underway, virtually everyone BUT Jehovah’s Witnesses had a hand in it. They were in the camps for their refusal to go along with Adolf.

TTH: There is also an current account, and I will be unable to back this up because I do not know that the involved parties want publicity, of JWs asking for very accommodating terms in hotel negotiations with a high-priced facility, being dismissed by hotel personnel, who were then countermanded by the manager on the basis that her grandfather was in the Nazi camps and she wouldn’t be here were it not for him. Yes, I have not cited my source, but you know well that I do not lie. Let’s see if you also explode in vitriol at that one.

UnR: Pathetic Tom of how you cross a line and condone the rhetoric and then try to tramp on 6mio lives with 1300 JW’s somehow that because they were allowed to shave an SS Gaurdian somehow means something! Pathetic man you are Tom...you crossed the line with me! The first letter Rutherford wrote you did have a hand in it, you by proxy and your organisation condoned the ideals of the Third Reich. You had your hand in it up to your neck in killing 6mio Jews! It was only when Hitler confiscated the assets did he write second letter. Dont try an rewrite history with me,I know more about your Orgs dirty little secrets than u ever will. Recent talk at the convention given by Geoffrey Jackson states the real reason hitler was killing Jews was to get to the anointed is nothing short of holicaust denial! Pathetic.

[This is so unhinged that I just leave it here without rebutal. There is an early letter (1933) from the Watchtower president to Hitler’s brand-new government to assure it that Witnesses were apolitical and not a thread. It does not avoid certain stereotypes common in that day. Professor Patrick Allitt, an historian at Emory University in Atlanta, speaks in the GreatCourses series of a “low-level anti-semitism” that was near universal in North America, and considerably worse elsewhere leading up till WWII. After that war, with the Holocaust having come to light, it virtually disappeared. I suppose you can make the case that the Wt president could have risen above it—still, that is all that you can say. It is ever the mark of zealots that they extrapolate the standards of the present day into the past to condemn those whom they don’t like.]

UnR: You back up nothing, your blogs are Watchtowers rewritten, a wannabe elder who gets turned down by the CO due to you being ‘odd’ not Elder material, hence you come on twitter to find your calling...am I close Tom, has the nerve been struck my brother? Tom, you so dearly want that position

TTH: I do shake in fury over that—probably you have heard the heavens rumble. [I played with this some more]: Again!! It happened again!! The CO left and he DIDN’T MAKE ME AN ELDER!! What is that—200 times? ARRRGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!  [How did he know?]

TTH: Oh, and [besides the post on standing up to Hitler, here is one] on Rutherford, [you may enjoy this] And on the intellectuals that you try to join, here is something appropriate to the Nazi era. ...Please consider adopting a human photo for your profile, so that the reader doesn’t suppose you an adolescent stuck in a fantasy world.

UnR: And there it is, the gas lighting. I kept this whole conversation on a level until you told lies about 6mio Jews and how you had nothing to do with it, yet your organisation condoned it at the highest level and what do you come back with....gas lighting. You crossed the line Tom

TTH: Feel free to cross back. I did not invite you here, you know. Nor did I engage you on your feed. Nor do I even want you here. This is so typical—you enter with remarks that get more & more heated till they outright lose it & burst into profanity. [Isn’t there something in Revelation 12 about ones who “accuse your brothers day and night before God?”]

UnR: You crossed the line and you will pay for it.

TTH: I crossed line and I will pay for it? Will screenshots help [my cause]? I mean, just when I think that you cannot get more abusive, you reach new heights.

[At this point, “NoFucksGiven” felt it appropriate to weigh in for the first time. She reached back into her treasure trove of words and found the same one that she would have found on the front burner]: YOUR FUCKING CULT IS GOING DOWN!!

TTH: Another visitor. Look, if I didn’t block the one that posted a photo of an erect penis, I will not soon block you. Best to let such things hang out there, where they will soon be buried, and until they are they make her look unhinged, not me. As to “going down” try this:

[She responded with a GIF of a dancing turd.]

I haven’t actually blocked anyone yet. I am not adverse to doing it. They do sully up things, they are a distraction, and if I hang with them long enough, I will probably tell my someone to “piss off” and get his head out of whoever’s backside. I mean, there really is something to that verse: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” It may just be that I’ve not blocked anyone yet because I recall the wise words of Bud: “Kill a fly and 50 come to the funeral.”

It was the threat that decided me: “You have crossed a line and you will pay for it.” What did I do to trigger THAT? Maybe I jumped the gun in charging profanity. Perhaps “pissing off” and urging one to “pull your head out of Gerrit Losch’s backside” is polite dinner banter where he comes from. He plainly drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid, and it sends him into a rage when he is countered.

Maybe I shouldn’t have played around with his theory of a frustrated wannabe elder. I mean, that IS a little like brushing the teeth of a charging Rottweiler. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. Oh, and perhaps I shouldn’t have asked him to shed his mask, so people would not think he was a pimply comic book-world adolescent. Actually, maybe I had it coming. But, come on! These guys materialize out of nowhere, just like—well, they materialize—and they make all sorts of charges. But give them any pushback, and they lose it. You also can’t call them a name because if you do, you will be complicit with Hitler in killing 6 million Jews. So let me just say for the record that I had a misunderstanding with this gentleman.

It is probably not a real threat. These are the days of 2 Timothy  3, in which people are said to be “without self-control” and “fierce.” It happens all the time on social media. Still, I am a sensitive soul, a “very gentle man, down to my fingertips/the sort who never would, ever could, let an insulting remark escape his lips” (for the most part), and it gave me pause. As long as I was pausing, I thought I’d write it up as a post.

Maybe I can engage JTR, that big-mouthed quasi-brother from the hills who packs a gun—something practically unheard of in JW-land. He will watch my back, and if I get into trouble, he will approach smiling, parting his suit jacket so that UnReluctant will see his holster, at which point he will mumble and slink away. Trouble is, JTR is prone to posting incendiary material of his own. Still, when push comes to shove, he will probably have my back. I think.

Or maybe I should just do it the way of Peter, who, when he pulled out a sword, the Lord told him to put it back.

....

[Edit: JTR was a good egg about this, even if he is a bad egg in some ways. He is a good egg as a driver, too, and he once proved it by turning his vehicle once over easy. At any rate, he said: “Of course I will defend you, TTH. That’s what I do.” 

To acknowledge this, I sent him a “tough-bro” story—he likes that kind of thing and there aren’t that many of them:

”There is a report of someone dear to me, an MS, being similarly threatened by a—I don’t even think that he is a brother, but he attends some meetings. The MS was worried about it, relating to me: “I hope that he does not come after me in the restrooms, because if he does, I will take him down” and he called the different elders as to what he should do. One laughed, as though it were a contest that he would love to see. The COBE got back to him presently, to say that he need not worry if he felt it necessary to “take care of his business.”]

 

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Did you Find Everything that You Were Looking For?

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the clerk said. I told her that I had.

But then I added that it had taken me all day. In fact, more than all day. I had arrived last night and had camped overnight in the produce section. She started laughing uncontrollably at this, and it only increased when I told I had slept in the bin with the cantaloupes.

Then she told me the total. “Are you still thinking about that?” I asked. “What do you think this little diversion is all about?—to get you laughing so hard you’ll forget all about it!” That made her laugh even more. Still, she didn’t forget the total, telling me that she had to charge.

I told the guy behind me that he would probably benefit. She had nailed me, but he could probably get through scot-free. “She’s clearly taken her eye off the ball,” I told him. But he said that she would probably charge him double.

She was still laughing as I was boxing up the groceries. The other fellow added to the joke in a way I did not hear, and her guffawing continued even as I walked out the door.

 

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“I Ain’t Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm no More”

I haven’t written any Bob Dylan posts for a long while, and I wouldn’t have written one today, except that the dryer broke. That meant—with my wife looking on approvingly—that I would be spending precious time hanging stupid wash on the line! It’s ridiculous!

Of course, as I was doing so, the lyrics of Maggie’s Farm came to mind:

Well, I wake up in the morning/Fold my hands and pray for rain

I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin' me insane

It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor

I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more.

This prompted me to investigate further in (of course) Wikipedia, where....gasp!....I discovered that the most bedrock and undisputed fact in the musical universe is, in fact, not so!

Bob Dylan rose to fame on the strength of his folk ballads. We all know that. We also all know that he reinvented himself, and has done so several times since. We all know that, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he was roundly booed, and we know the reason why: he went on stage with electifried sound, and the snooty purists there stuck up their nose at anything not acoustic. I mean, we all know this!

We all knew wrong! It is another “Everything You Thought You Knew About Such and Such is Wrong” headline. I am coming to think that there is no reason to accept anything anymore. If a pitch is not to your liking, just lay back like Casey and wait for one that is. Unlike Casey, you will get more than three. You will keep getting pitches until the cows come home. Just wait for one you like. Everyone else does—why should you not as well?

They booed because they didn’t like the electric guitars? No, they booed because the sound was terrible and they couldn’t hear the words! Look at what Pete Seeger (termed Dylan’s harshest critic that day) said:

“There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the '65 Newport Folk festival, but that's wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing 'Maggie's Farm' and you couldn't understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, 'Fix the sound, it's terrible!' The guy said 'No, this is what the young people want.' And I did say that if I had an axe I'd cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn't mind him going electric.”

It was all a lie! The folk people didn’t mind him going electric that night. Someone else on the program had already gone electric and nobody had lost their cookies over it. This is just the result of some revisionist falling over himself to paint a titanic “Clash of the Cultures” when in fact there was none! “Bob’s going electric?” is more like it, “Well, what d’ya know? Wish we could hear the words.”

Now, if this is a big lie about a bedrock and undisputed fact, it must be conceded that it is not a big lie about a very important bedrock and undisputed fact. (Unless you are a musician, in which case it overshadows everything else) “Who cares?” is a reasonable reaction. However, though trivial—or maybe it is even magnified because it is trivial—it serves to illustrate the quicksand that those of critical thought stand upon as they presume to instruct those less mentally disciplined. As with the Christian ministry, the “ministry” of conveying human knowledge is carried in earthen vessels—humans. In fact, not just “earthen vessels,” but sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you. In fact, worse than sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you, but sievelike earthen vessels that leak the most of the water while various yo-yo’s are replenishing the supply with their own water, which turns out to be contaminated—so that what finally gets to you is not the real water at all.. I mean, if you can’t believe that the folk singers booed Dylan because they were elite and snooty, what CAN you believe?

This is only the beginning of the woes for ones who suppose that critical thinking will save us. For the ones steadfastly filling the leaky vessels are not the careful and wise ones, intent upon safeguarding knowledge. As often as not, they are yo-yos and liars, concocting their own version of events so as to sway viewpoints their way. Sometimes they are deliberate frauds. More often they are sincere persons truly doing their best but, since we are all molded and skewed by our own individual experiences, one must analyze in detail even the most mundane and obvious statement—in this case that the folk singers were shocked at Dylan changing the genre. With him, there is almost nothing that has been related accurately. Even his supposed leadership role as a counterculture icon is all wrong.

Are people inclined to analyze in detail even the most “mundane and obvious” statement? You know that they are not. But even when they are, the fact remains that nobody has the resources to do it—the disposable time of any given individual is very, very small. For many, it is effectively zilch. Plus, there is much to compete with that disposable time, and most often entertainment wins out over research. Stacking the odds even more is the habit of some to hide matters in a barrage of irrelevance (that is not to say that THEY regard it as irrelevance), muddying the waters, to the point where people say: “Ah, to blazes with it! They’re all liars anyway!” When this happens, as the saying goes, “the terrorists [to human knowledge] have won.”

And yet those of critical thought strut around on the world stage as though their grasp on the “facts” makes them invincible. It is as Jack Nicholson said to Tom Cruise in the movie: “You can’t handle the truth!” We leak away the true facts in no time at all, and compensate for it by tapping the minds of pillars who have also leaked away the true facts. 

Alas, “critical thinking” will not save us. It may even make matters worse, for who has not noticed that those who harp with greatest tenacity about critical thinking invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff? One of our first conclusions as to critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it. Nope. It is the heart that will save us—not the head—the heart refined by spiritual principles that are true, that have emanated from a Higher Source, that have the greatest odds of mending the earthen, leaky, flawed vessels that are us.

.....

Now, as long as we are at it with my hanging clothes on the clothesline until the repairman comes—if he comes, because when this post is written I will explore fixing it myself—I fixed the dishwasher, after all, when it did not heat, so maybe the dryer will also surrender its secrets to me, even though I still remember that time decades ago when I scorched the clothes in an attempt to fix another recalcitrant dryer. At any rate, Dylan’s Clothesline Saga comes to mind (I am done with ramifications to critical thinking; read on only if you care about Dylan):

After a while we took in the clothes

Nobody said very much

Just some old wild shirts and a couple pairs of pants

Which nobody wanted to touch

Mama come in and picked up a book

An' papa asked her what it was

Someone else asked, what do you care

Papa said well, just because

Then they started to take back their clothes

Hang 'em on the line

It was January the thirtieth

And everybody was feelin' fine

 

The next day, everybody got up

Seein' if the clothes were dry

The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed

Mama, of course, she said, hi

Have you heard the news he said with a grin

The vice president's gone mad

Where? downtown When? last night

Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor

It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma

Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

 

I reached up, touched my shirt

And the neighbor said, are those clothes yours

I said, some of them, not all of them

He said, ya always help out around here with the chores

I said, sometimes, not all of the time

Then my neighbor blew his nose

Just as papa yelled outside

Mama wants you to come back in the house and bring them clothes

Well, I just do what I'm told so I did it, of course

I went back in the house and mama met me

And then I shut all the doors.

It took me years to realize that this song is a parody of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Jo,” which dominated the charts in 1967. That song revolves around a horrible tragedy—Billy Jo jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and what hidden and unnamed inner torment might have caused him to do that? The event is related in the first person at a rural Mississippi dinner table, where it must compete for attention with the most banal and ordinary conversation of the adults. It is a “teenage self-pity song,” as Garrison Keillor would have put it.

In Dylan’s parody, the conversation is even more banal, and the “tragedy” is outright ridiculous:

Have you heard the news he said with a grin/The vice president's gone mad

Where? Downtown When? last night/Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor/It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma/Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

and Bob sings it in the most laid-back and uninterested drawl that is a hoot in itself. He really is pretty clever. Alas, I can no longer find it on YouTube. There is a pretty good version of it from The Roches, but to a purist, such as I used to think they were at the Newport Folk Festival, only original will do. It may even be that the song will get increased recognition in a modern context, from political zealots, on account of it underlying tragedy: “The Vice-President’s gone mad.”

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Jehovah’s Witnesses Slammed in Phoenix

If you fill to near capacity a 40,000+ seat stadium for a volunteer event, put on by volunteers, surely those of the local media will be impressed. Not the Phoenix New Times reporter! who is “weirded-out” by aspects of the gathering that most would find commendable, and barely mentions the event anyway, as she immerses herself in the narrative of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ harshest detractors. Plainly, the packed stadium photos and the gist of the article do not match.

I could be wrong, but I think most will recognize this piece as a hit job, and it might even motivate some to go there to investigate, where they will see that the tone of it is nonsense. “Three days of music-video presentations, prayers, songs, addresses, symposiums, and dramatic readings from the Bible,” according the event program, will intrigue some as a refreshing rarity.

Are they so “cultish” as the reporter charges? Stadium and hospitality personnel often cannot praise JWs enough, rarely encountering such orderly and pleasant people. A reporter in Miami wishes that the Marlins could fill their own stadium to capacity as have Jehovah’s Witnesses. A shock jock in Rochester a few years back waxed ecstatic over Witnesses when he found that they categorically reject violence. “These are my people!” he gushed on-air. Another stadium is said to accept as payment-in-full the thorough annual scouring that the Witnesses give the facility. Others reporters, such as this millennial in New Orleans, wrote it up that, while they certainly are different in beliefs, still they are just ordinary folk come together for religious instruction.

Not everyone will be as shocked and disdainful as the Phoenix reporter that there are still some people who dress up. Not everyone will gasp in disapproval at counsel that we ought watch who we hang out with. If the New Times reporter felt “conspicuous in pants,” well—that’s hardly the fault of the attendees. She could have chosen to be not conspicuous had she been concerned about it. When I invite people to conventions, I observe: “You are perfectly welcome to come just as you are. But if you don’t have one of these [I flip my tie], everyone will assume you are a visitor, and they may just come to preach to you.” Householders smile at the heads-up.

The blatant ill will and bias of the New Times article is evident even in trivial matters, such as the reporter’s disdain that “attendees listened rapturously,” as though they should be expected to nod off. In fact, some of them do after lunch on long afternoons, and it was worse before the days of efficient air conditioning. Don’t attendees of concerts or rallies also listen rapturously? Why come if you do not?

Not all will smirk at the “lowest rate of retention on all religions” that Witnesses suffer. Many will realize that it is more than offset by the high rate of participation from those that stick. After all, there are many faiths where members might not actually leave, but how would you know if they did? The high participation rate actually accounts for the lower retention rate, for inevitably some will tire of it and opt for something less strenuous. Similarly, not everyone will be shocked that should you do a 180 and ardently attack what you once embraced, relations with the family may suffer. Of course they will. It is not brands of automobiles that we speak of.

But the bulk of the article deals disapprovingly with how Witnesses have grappled with the same child sexual abuse plague that has shown itself pandemic throughout society—be it in segments religious or irreligious. The recent Epstein “suicide” only underscores that the evil reaches into the highest echelons of society, some members of whom appear desperate to cover their tracks. If, in the opinion of the ARC, “children are not adequately protected from the risk of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation,” frequent news reports make clear that they are not “adequately protected” anywhere. Even the Boy Scouts of America, that iconic institution that has taught generations of boys responsibility, did not succeed in purging all pedophiles from its midst, and is at risk of going under for it.

Arguably, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have attempted to police their own, they have faltered in coordinating such internal “policing” with the actual police. Still, this must be countered by the consideration that few faiths make any attempt at all to look into wrongdoing within the ranks. When a member is nabbed for child sexual abuse, it is as much of a surprise to the minister as anyone else. Moreover, with some groups, the minister is the perpetrator—not just the one who investigates the sin.

Jehovah’s Witnesses live, work, and school in the general community. They are politically neutral, and as such, are pacifist. The same Pew source that tells of their “low retention rate” also says of them: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in America.” Just how sinister can they be? In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were declared “extremist” and banned in 2017 for entirely separate reasons, the topic of child abuse having never once arisen—and their woes are exacerbated by the same critics attempting to take them down in the West with diatribes that are embraced by the New Times.

One almost senses that the reporter’s discomfort at being offered help three separate times by three separate attendants to find a seat might stem from an uncomfortable sense that they have somehow discerned her intention to accept their hospitality and then lambaste them on the media. Charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses that she has showcased here—which are certainly not nothing—are dealt with in the free ebook TrueTom vs the Apostates! which includes 10+ chapters on the core charge of child abuse.

As society increasingly becomes disillusioned with God, it is inevitable that participatory religion will be regarded as cultish. What Jehovah’s Witnesses think of articles such as in the New Times is immaterial. Historically, they rise to fight the battles laid before them. They are used to presenting their faith through its most appealing lens. Let them become used, if need be, to presenting it through its least appealing lens, for both are to be expected of imperfect persons attempting to apply Bible standards in a world that increasingly shrugs them off.

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We Should be Proud of our Apostates—Ours Are the Best.

What surprises me as I go through the sequential schedule of Bible reading, now focused on the letters of Paul, is how well they anticipate current “anti-cultist” complaints—about being brainwashed, misled, duped, and so forth. What would appear to be a brand new scenario is just history recycled, today intensified by modern viral methods of communication. Given that the following was said then, when the only communication was word-of-mouth, it is not at all surprising that it would be so prolific today:

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” says the apostle at 2 Corinthians 7:2, as though the accusation of those things was commonplace.

“Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery,” he says again at 2 Corinthians 12:16. For sure, Solomon had a point: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles 1:9)

Do “apostates” proliferate today, as though something new? It appears to be the oldest game in town. “For there are many—I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping—who are walking as enemies of the torture stake of the Christ. Their end is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory is really their shame, and they have their minds on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)

“Having their mind on earthly things” is where it is at today, and there are endless people who obsess over petty freedoms at the expense of totally missing the real ones. Their “critical thinking” has sold them down the river; they have shipwrecked whatever faith they once had—just like Paul says about two actual malcontents in the first century, when he advised Timothy to “go on waging the fine warfare, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside, resulting in the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these, and I have handed them over to Satan so that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 3:18-19)

What exactly is it to be “handed over to Satan?” The only other use of the expression (1 Corinthians 5:5) makes clear that it is expulsion from the congregation. Today Hymenaous’s and Alexander’s counterparts on social media loudly decry that discipline.

They decry another sort of discipline as well. “Just as I encouraged you to stay in Ephesus when I was about to go to Macedonia, so I do now, in order for you to command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies. Such things end up in nothing useful but merely give rise to speculations rather than providing anything from God in connection with faith.” Today the ones so “commanded” would hop on social media to rail that you can’t even breathe a word different from the tyrannical men on top to be muzzled at first transgression, and ejected at second.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult if and only if the Bible is a cult manual.

Nobody has apostates like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nobody has apostates more prolific, more determined, and in some cases, more deranged—I mean, if someone so much as farts at Bethel, there is one of these yo-yos to start a thread on it, and that thread is not ignored, but is joined in by countless persons in sympathy, some of whom are coherent and some of whom are pure loons.

It is as it should be. We should be proud of our apostates. Nobody else has anyone like them. What if they did not exist? Would you not have to wonder why? No writer of the New Testament fails to deal with them. What if there were no mention of them today? Would it not indicate that the faith had strayed so far from its roots, to embrace contemporary thinking, that there was little to apostatize from?

I will admit that the only apostates that interest me are the ones that go atheist, which partly accounts for my take on the 2 Thessalonians “Man of Lawlessness.” Having learned the man-made origins of Trinity and the immortal soul, and having come to appreciate the damage these teachings do to to a close relationship with God, can one really go back to them? Often the “believing” apostates do not—they simply become ambiguous on such doctrines, thinking that they hardly matter—to each his own. Essentially, they want to retain God, but they acquiesce to the greater world molding their thinking as to outlook, goals, and morals. They want to “throw off all restraint” and in no time at all, they have lost whatever unity they once had. When they can be distracted from attacking their former roots on social media, they are to found attacking each other over differences in matters scientific, medical, climate, politics, etc.

 

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If Hymenaeus and Alexander go bad on you, to be sure, it is a downer, but it does not destroy faith and a good conscience.

I think he means that with Jehovah’s Witnesses there is a combination of pure teachings that are found no where else. Some of them are individually, but the combination is not. They involve such things as the Name, the kingdom, no immortality of the soul,  no Trinity, the reason for suffering, the preaching work, the need to keep watchful, transformed personalities, and so forth. The Christian ministry is a treasure, however it is a treasure carried in “earthen vessels”—that is, people, who are not unflawed. “However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves,” Paul says at 2 Corinthians 4:7. Context reveals that he is speaking of the ministry, which he regards as a “treasure.”

Although a certain malcontent fights so much and so bitterly with the bus driver that I can’t imagine why he doesn’t just leave—it would make the driver happier, the bus company happier, the passengers happier, and one would think, him happier—yet he does not do it, probably for the above reasons. (except for the ministry, and the nearness of the end, which he doesn’t seem to think is so)

People are a collection of their experiences, both those that have happened to them, and those they have manufactured. I have called him a loon. Maybe he is not, but he so closely resembles one that I cannot tell the difference. My bad.

As much as he carries on about worshipping the GB, he cannot seem able to understand that it is factors in the first paragraph that form a Witness’s faith, and following the direction of the GB is no more than not fighting with the traffic cop or the coach or the mentor. 

Let us humor him for a moment. Let us grant his dream come true, that malfeasance will someday be uncovered ....gasp!’....high up in the ranks. So? It would hardly affect one’s faith. They are men—everyone knows that. There have been many times in the past when the earthly organization was shaken practically into rubble—in America during WWI, in Axis countries during WWII, in Russia now—and as soon as the heat is off, God’s people rebuild like ants, because their faith was never in human arrangements—those just exist to facilitate and enhance spiritual things—their faith was in the spiritual things themselves.

Many times in the past brothers in responsible positions have proven unfaithful, sometimes even duplicitous, hiding who they are, and when discovered, have been removed and replaced. So says 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men [their sins] also become manifest later.” Sometimes it is now. Sometimes it is “later.” Still, I would have to see some evidence before buying in. The fact that opposers “accuse them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10) does not count, for that has never not been the case.

It happens. Even GB members have been removed—sometimes with fanfare and sometimes not. Faith itself continues. It was never in human arrangements. It was in spiritual things. Enemies of the faith make the same mistake here that they do in Russia. Failing to grasp spiritual things, they imagine that if the shut down the earthly coordinating organization, the faith will collapse. Instead, it is like stomping on the anthill. The ants run for cover, but almost immediately they commence rebuilding. Their faith was never in the anthill—that was just their to magnify their ant-life.

The Bible reading last week in 1 Timothy 1:18 encourages ones (Timothy) to hold “faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside, resulting in the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these, and I have handed them over to Satan so that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” As long as you hold faith and a good conscience, you are fine—and the faith is with regard to God and his Son, as accurately represented by the factors of the opening paragraph

If Hymenaeus and Alexander go bad on you, to be sure, it is a downer, but it does not destroy faith and a good conscience. 

......

Likely they will say of these courtroom battles, as they did of Russia banning the entire organization within its borders, that it is an area of “concern” but not “worry.” They don’t get overly attached to things, even things of their own construction. They put it all on the line routinely as they do their best to advance kingdom interests, not cowering before their enemies. They plow where they plow as they apply their view of the Bible, unconcerned, sometimes unaware, of the quicksand that may get them into, confident that, should that happen, God will somehow get them out of it.

They do not deliberately court opposition, but they do expect it. The king makes a law and Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. He makes another law and his friends are thrown into the furnace. Another king makes another law and the entire nation of Jews faces extermination until Esther the queen opens his eyes to the murderous scheme he has been maneuvered into. It happens to their spiritual descendants to this day. The modern Witness organization expects no less. They are “insular,” separate from the world, and the latter finds no end of reasons to oppose them for it.

From “TrueTom vs the Apostates!”

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“I came to start a fire on the earth, and what more is there for me to wish if it has already been lighted?”

“I came to start a fire on the earth, and what more is there for me to wish if it has already been lighted?”—Luke 12:49

What fire? How did it get lit?

Doesn’t it refer to God’s ways versus the ways of a world estranged from him? That fire was lit long ago. Jesus fans it into fever pitch, introducing a preaching activity that will ultimately put the choice in everyone’s face—is it the kingdom that they want to rule over them, or the present human system of 200 squabbling nations? Jehovah’s Witnesses who speak for him today do nothing to bring that future kingdom about, but they do publicize it:

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Daniel 2:44

Moreover, those who want and expect that kingdom rule versus those who do not want or expect it assume different priorities in their lives that reflect their desires and expectations. It makes for significant conflicts, even within families. That must be what Jesus meant as he went on to  say:

Do you imagine I came to give peace on the earth? No, indeed, I tell you, but rather division.  For from now on there will be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against [her] mother, mother-in-law against [her] daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against [her] mother-in-law.”—Luke 12:51-53

It manifests itself today in people changing sides—for the allure of both sides are as strong as the are different. In the case of a Witness family that some members depart from, it takes the form of the latter charging that they were misled, manipulated, and so forth. No wonder the apostle seems to anticipate the charge:

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.”—2 Corinthians 7:2

and

“Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery.”—2 Corinthians 12:16.

Jesus doesn’t buy it, either, about being obtuse regarding the end of this system of things approaching:

“Then he went on to say also to the crowds: “When see a cloud rising in western parts, at once you say, ‘A storm is coming,’ and it turns out so.  And when you see that a south wind is blowing, you say, ‘There will be a heat wave,’ and it occurs.  Hypocrites, you know how to examine the outward appearance of earth and sky, but how is it you do not know how to examine this particular time?—Luke 12:54-56

The trick may be to check your “critical thinking” skills at the door, so as to focus on what he next says: “Why do you not judge also for yourselves what is righteous?”—vs 57 God’s kingdom is “righteous.” Human governments, whatever their intent, whatever their ideals, whatever their sporadic successes, are not.

That being the case with God’s kingdom approaching, why make oneself an “adversary of him?”

“For example, when you are going with your adversary at law to a ruler, get to work, while on the way, to rid yourself of the dispute with him, that he may never hale you before the judge, and the judge deliver you to the court officer, and the court officer throw you into prison.”—vs 58

I liked this point as well (most of these verses were considered at the Kingdom Hall meeting this past week, and the ones not will be considered next week):

“But if ever that slave should say in his heart, ‘My master delays coming,’ and should start to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day that he is not expecting [him] and in an hour that he does not know, and he will punish him with the greatest severity and assign him a part with the unfaithful ones.”—vs 45-46

Practically speaking, the “slave” that doubts that the master is coming anytime soon (or at all) begins to reappraise all the effort he has put into publicizing that event. What once seemed as natural as breathing air now comes to seem wasted time, in fact, worse than wasted time, since it served to put he/she behind the curve as regards the goals of the greater world. In no time at all, such persons have joined “the unfaithful ones.” They are deriding what they once embraced—in effect, “beating their fellow slaves.” They are almost forced to carry on about how they were misled and manipulated, because the alternative is to explain how they could have been so stupid to go along for so many years with what they now reject. So they frame matters as a “sinister religious corporation” taking advantage of the minions. They are nuts—the only reason members incorporate is so that they can do things legally, such as owning land or publishing, that will not all fall apart with the death of the founders.

Let us visit the parallel verses in the Book of Matthew, noting that the slaves doing business have always been associated with the preaching and disciple-making work. Let us consider it in the satirical Sheepngoats Translation, which is not accepted by all scholars—in fact, most of them assume that the translators must have been smoking something:

“After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.  So the one that had received five talents came forward and brought five additional talents, saying, ‘Master, you committed five talents to me; see, I gained five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

“Next the one that had received the two talents came forward and said, ‘Master, you committed to me two talents; see, I gained two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

“Finally the one that had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I didn’t do squat. I thought about it, but you see, to do business, I would have had to work with the others, and they are all jerks. I also would have had to work with the bankers, and it is all about money with them. And I for sure didn’t want to work with any non-profit organizations who might lean on me to do something I didn’t want to do. I shouldn’t have to put up with that—I have rights. After all, we all know that you reap where you did not sow, and gather where you do not winnow. You want disciples? Then get off your rear end and make them yourself! Don’t foist your corporate agenda on me!’

“In reply his master said to him, ‘Wicked and sluggish slave, you knew, did you, that I reaped where I did not sow and gathered where I did not winnow?  Well, then, you ought to have deposited my silver monies with the bankers, and on my arrival I would be receiving what is mine with interest.’”—Matthew 25:19-25

The master could have worked with that attitude, it appears! Just take it to the bank if you feel that way, he says. Instead, the loutish slave dug in the ground and hid the silver money, (vs 25) working up a sweat so as to thwart the master’s will. it is as opposers do today. They go to considerable effort to thwart the work that they once took part it.

 

 

 

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The Soviets

Emily Baran hatched a hagiography when she wrote Dissent on the Margins, according to one reviewer. Perhaps I should not admit it, but I had to look up the word. Having done so, as with all new words, I afterwards spied it everywhere; it must have been there all along and I had till then relied upon context for sufficient definition. For less enlightened ones who are where I recently was, it essentially means these people are too good to be true, and therefore the critic does not believe that they are true. He even heightened the “hag” to “gag.” The word he actually used was “gagiography,” perhaps revealing a personal distaste for the subject. Or was it just a typo? One mustn’t give in to paranoia. Baran takes it as a typo1 but maybe only to control her rage. She disagrees with either term due to their implication that she is not objective, the worst of all possible sins for a historian.  She is a historian of Witness persecution in Russia—the only one that I am aware of. She covers exclusively the Russian government’s campaign against the religion from Stalin times to her book’s 2014 date of publication.

In her forward, Baran thanks everyone under the sun who had helped her, as a writer should. Then she specifically thanks her university mentor for never asking: “Why Jehovah’s Witnesses?” If he didn’t do it, I won’t do it. We don’t have to know everything. She is probably glad she did choose the Witnesses, though, since the story for anyone else would be duller. All minority religion is bullied in Russia today, but only the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization has been formally branded extremist. I will draw upon her book heavily for background. This particular chapter could not be written without it, and other chapters are spared many obtuse statements because of it.

Perhaps the hagiography criticism stems from the palpable impression Baran conveys that Jehovah’s Witnesses walk the talk, and not just talk the talk, and the reviewer, having not seen it before, supposes it not possible. Baran mentions the Soviets’ dismay when there appeared no difference between a Witness’s private person and his or her public person.2 They had just assumed that the two would be different, as they always are, and that they could appeal to the private person in pursuit of their goal to undermine the faith. But with the Witnesses they discovered essentially no difference between public and private. The description of Ezekiel’s countrymen that so universally applies seemed not to apply to them: “For them you are only a singer of love songs, with a pleasant voice and a clever touch. They listen to your words, but they do not obey them.”3 Witnesses would agree with the words. They constitute a “love song” to many persons of religion. They are inspirational: the stuff of stirring song, moving poetry, rousing prose, but as to obeying them? No. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, to the best of their ability, obey them. Ham-fistedly they do it sometimes, for they are not diplomats, but they do strive to obey.

Dissent on the Margins is not a hagiography at all. This account one might label a hagiography, if one must, and I would dispute it only half-heartedly, but not hers. Would Baran’s unflattering critic also label the Book of Acts a hagiography? During trialsome decades of unrelenting Soviet opposition, Baran relates that many Witnesses stumbled, failed, or even betrayed their own—nothing hagiographic about that. She relates that the churn rate of Jehovah’s Witnesses was very high in Russia, higher than in the Western world, where it is also high.4 Witnesses there lived with the prospect that they might, at any time, be arrested, fired from employment, and even have their children taken from them, all threats that are being revisited today. Censure from their neighbors was likely, and censure from the press a near certainty. Many left, though they were replaced by new persons, and their departure is more than offset by the fact that enthusiasm and participation among Witnesses is high. After all, in many religions, persons may not formally leave, but how would you know if they did?

Perhaps the Witness history is called a hagiography because their core continued to grow overall despite concerted efforts to stamp it out, despite many who left—and that growth exploded after 1991. The Soviets had conveyed mixed messages through the years regarding Witnesses, never having figured out how to handle them.  On the one hand, they were loyal Soviet citizens who had simply been misled by fanatics and needed patient rescue. On the other hand, with no clergy-laity division, it was difficult to know just who the fanatics were. Therefore, Soviet policy was that all should be considered potential fanatics until re-educated.5 The government maintained constant efforts to defame them, “uttering every kind of evil,” against them.6 Through it all, overall membership rose.

Failing to eliminate the faith outright, communist officials continually sought to divide it, planting their own agents as “false brothers,” a ploy that caused much damage.7 Nonetheless, at Witness headquarters, they considered that they had the playbook on how to deal with such methods. It is the Book of Acts, in fact, the entire New Testament, which details the spread of first-century Christianity despite continual, even violent, opposition. Under Joseph Stalin, there were mass deportations of Witnesses to Siberia. The Witnesses, however, readjusted, to regard these deportations as opportunities to continue proselytizing, just as is related in the eighth chapter of Acts.

Typically, Witnesses would meet secretly in private homes. They resisted the draft, withstood atheist schooling, and avoided participation in government-sponsored activities. They believed all governments were controlled by Satan: that of the U.S, that of the U.S.S.R, and all the remaining ones. They saw the Cold War as a manifestation of the clash between the king of the north and the king of the south described in the Book of Daniel, a conflict which was to lead to Armageddon. Soviet authorities seem never to have fully understood the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Despite their pacifism, they were accused of war-mongering due to their expectation of Armageddon. Despite their conflicts with the U.S. government, they were branded as agents of American imperialism. This author well remembers working in New York State with the tract Jehovah’s Witnesses – Christians or Communists, a tract designed to counter just the opposite impression among Americans.

The Witness organization didn’t help their own cause by designating Russia the “king of the north,” who “floods into many lands,” and puts trust in the “god of fortresses.”8 It is an interpretation of the eleventh chapter of Daniel that others have shared; Witnesses are hardly the only ones to put those verses under the magnifying glass. It does not necessarily sit well with persons not religious. Did Soviets export communism into other lands? The king of the south did no less with his brand of government. Even if the Soviets did parade around weapons in public, did not the southern king also project military might, these days in countries numerous than he? And what is to make of a religion that opines about the United Nations, as the Witnesses have? For Russia, the United Nations has traditionally been an arena in which to get beaten up: Western countries outnumber Eastern countries in the Security Council. Soviet officials perhaps checked in the Bible and didn’t see the term “United Nations.” What sort of a “religion” is this? the atheistic Soviet government said, which could hardly be expected to pick up on religious nuances.

With the fall of communism in 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the last faiths to be legally registered. After 26 years of legally operating, they are the first to again be banned. The move did not come overnight; it had been building. Most Russian Witnesses of Jehovah in Soviet times were shipped via boxcar to long Siberian exile in 1949, and more in 1951.9 The Soviet government never acknowledged those exiles.10 The media since 1991 has only rarely done so, opting instead to reinforce derogatory cult perceptions. No Witness member was caught flat-footed with the present ban and the Russian Witnesses always thought the efforts to belay it would come to naught—though one can always hope. Opposition to the Witnesses was not universal. Powerful factions worked against them, but there were also friendly factions to defend them, usually comprised of those who actually knew some, as happens everywhere.

Documents smuggled out of KGB archives were published in the 2000 book The Sword and the Shield. According to the FBI, they represented the “most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source.” A tiny section of them reveals Soviet obsession over the “Jehovists,” an obsession far out of proportion to their numbers. The documents reveal dismay that, once exiled, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give up. They “did not reject their hostile beliefs and in camp conditions continued to carry out their Jehovist work.”11 Moreover, those not exiled persisted in aiding those that were, supplying them with money, food, and clothing. The KGB had thought it would be out of sight, out of mind. Jehovah’s Witnesses proved that with them, it would be otherwise.

One Witness of the time stated: “The more I suffered, the more I preached.”12 His course was not unique. Witnesses’ refusal to cease religious activity challenged labor camp order and undermined the purported goal of reforming criminals into honest Soviet citizens. When broken up, they preached to a new audience. When isolated, they formed a “theological seminary” and worked to spread their Bible literature. During Soviet times, the Watchtower organization, though based in the United States, made persistent efforts to instruct members that they had rights under Russian law.13 Those rights were invariably trampled. Nonetheless, they knew that they had them and that they were not criminals.

Relatively few outside, or even inside, Russia, know of the intense persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during Soviet times, though they will be familiar with religious persecution in general.  Baran offers some reasons for this. Since Witnesses put no trust in human governments, whenever outside governments spotlighted religious persecution in the Soviet Union, they generally took no notice of Witnesses. The same characteristics that kept them on the KGB’s watch list kept them off that of the outside media’s: that of being “no part of the world.” Excepting the Witnesses, most buy into the notion that God rules by working through the existing arrangement of nations. The Witnesses differing viewpoint is a circumstance too puzzling for media to deal with, and so they at times resort to the response mentioned by the apostle Peter, by turning hostile toward the unfamiliar.14 Jehovah’s Witnesses were simply too far out there. They were too far off the grid of contemporary thought. It didn’t help that they were often rural and uneducated persons, who never rank highly on the world’s watch list. They were self-isolated from ecumenical movements—so that when the outside world became aware of Christian persecution, it stayed unaware of that aimed at Jehovah’s Witnesses.15 The religion was as obscure as could be to outsiders. In many ways it is still, despite members continually knocking on people’s doors.    

No religious group in the Soviet Union was persecuted with more determination than Jehovah’s Witnesses. Baran relates an account from Soviet dissident writer Vladimir Bukovky, then in London. He relates how he chanced to come across a nondescript building with a simple sign out front that read “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The words inspired in him a sense of “shock” and “almost fright.” It was as though he had seen a sign: “Cosa Nostra Limited: Mafia Headquarters.” He thought, “So these are the same Jehovists, the same sectarian fanatics that the Soviet authorities used to scare children? This is that same underground, that most secret of all the ‘sects’ in the USSR?” The idea that this religion could operate in the open seemed almost inconceivable to him as a Soviet citizen. After all, he noted, “One only sees real live Jehovists in prisons and even there they are underground.” Soviet Witnesses were the stuff of “legends.” Folks used to say that even a Witness in a punishment cell in the strictest of camps could still manage to receive the latest Watchtower issues from Brooklyn. This sort of power inspired an “almost mystical horror” in the authorities, who hunted down every last Jehovist they could find and sentenced them to long terms in the camps.16

One Soviet official complained at his collective farm in 1957, “We have people belonging to the Jehovist sect. Those of you who do not know this sect, God help you never to know.”17 The sheer tenacity of Witnesses vaulted them head and shoulders above all other groups, though they numbered far fewer. A survey Baran cites of atheist literature directed toward religious sects between 1955 and 1966 revealed that 17 percent was dedicated to Witnesses, 12 percent to Baptists, 9 percent to Pentecostals, 7 percent to Seventh Day Adventists, and about 50 percent to “sectarianism” in general.18

The pattern has reestablished itself. No group in Russia today is persecuted more than Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not that they take delight in leading a race to the bottom, but in a way, they do. They have inherited the mantle of the true followers of Christ, who can depend upon persecution. As the Bible states, “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”19 a recognition of Jesus own words that “No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”20 Baran points out that the full expectation of persecution served to solidify Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia even as they suffered it.21

Therefore, (let us admit it) Witnesses are gratified to take bottom prize, which they regard as top prize. If the world hates them, they reason that they must be doing something right. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom awarded them just such a top prize among groups professing Christianity in its report on Russia in January of 2018. A chapter in the report is entitled “Muslims,” another “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and the remaining is “Others.” Protestants receive “honorable mention,” but they do not get top prize. “Christian Protestants, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists also regularly face harassment in the press and pressure from the Russian bureaucratic machine. They have difficulties in obtaining land plots for their liturgical buildings; they are visited with inspections, and so on. However, up to the present, besides the Witnesses, only Pentecostals have faced prosecution under anti-extremist legislation,” says the Commission.22 Of Scientologists, who do not profess Christianity, the report says: “Adherents of the Church of Scientology have been less affected by anti-extremist measures than Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the existence of their communities in Russia can hardly be called comfortable.”23 Mormons also experience much resistance, yet when they sought to build a church in 2018 Moscow, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, despite fierce local opposition—so fierce that local officials are prepared to defy the court. Possibly the Mormons’ quest is aided by the circumstance that the current U.S. ambassador to Russia is a Mormon, from which a TV special concludes “The round-up of our souls is continuing.”24 Nonetheless, they do get to build their church at a time when existing properties of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being confiscated.

Of course, there are always reasons for persecution, and they are seldom going to be: “We don’t like God around here.” It remains in the eye of the beholder whether, for any given group, it is an unjust reason or a it serves them right—they had it coming reason. If a group “meddles in politics” or even aligns itself with activists who would peer into the pants of officials to tell of their soiled underwear, Witnesses will say “It serves them right—what did they expect?” But they will maintain that their own reasons are part of the package of being Christian. This writer will maintain it, too, and will explore them more thoroughly in Part II. He strives to be fair, but he makes no claim to impartiality. He is an apologist for Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the early Christian sense. The other groups will have to speak for themselves.

So heavy was the cost one had to have been prepared to pay during Soviet years, it is little wonder Baran found that so many Witnesses left the faith, even as others joined. But the cost of being a Witness is significant everywhere, for theirs is a serious religion, one which does not suffer being kept “in its place.” Or rather, it does suffer it, but insists that place is first place, not last place. Those who choose to become Witnesses do so for exactly that reason. They are like the biblical merchant who finds the pearl of great price and promptly sells all that he has to obtain it. Witnesses find answers in Bible verse that they find nowhere else, answers to questions generally deemed unanswerable. They think it proper to keep interests related to those answers in first place.25

The pearl they find they regard as the true news, contrasting with what they find fake. Yes, of course! they say: The earth is to be our home, as it was originally intended to be. It is not merely a testing ground, to serve as a launching pad into heaven for us and a trap door into hell for those we don’t like. The sole sizable religion teaching this is surely not the one to eliminate. Baran relates that “one former gulag prisoner recalled how Witness prisoners offered one another spiritual encouragement. Noting with some admiration that Witnesses even sang in the camps, he commented ‘Truly only someone who has internal freedom can become a Jehovah’s Witness.’”26

Chapter two of the Book of Acts tells of a period with overtones more communist than democratic. The Catholic NABRE translators label the section: “Communal life.”27 Says the scriptural passage: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life…all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”28 It is not communism—it is but a temporary arrangement—but clearly it is not the “rugged individualism” of American thinking.

All clergy handling the Word of God mangle it to some extent, say Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the American clergy gives it an additional peculiar twist. The Bible does not celebrate fierce independence. More often it celebrates submitting to authority. The Bible does not celebrate free speech. Sometimes it celebrates shutting people up. The Bible does not celebrate standing for one’s rights. More often it celebrates yielding to the greater good. Jesus, the founder, the Christ, leads the way in yielding to the greater good. It wasn’t for insisting upon his rights that he was killed.

During the 1970s, when Czechoslovakia was under communist rule, a satellite country it was called in the West, I studied the Bible with an elderly Czech woman, a refugee who fled to the U.S. with her son. In hindsight, she seemed to have adopted me as though a grandson. I used as a study guide the book The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life in English, and she the same book in Czech. Several times she mentioned that Jehovah’s Witnesses in her country were the most crude and backward (she actually said “ignorant”) of people. Several times she mentioned that her book was a terrible translation. What is remarkable is that it was a translation at all. Witnesses at the time were denied education. The regime saw to it they were fired from their jobs. They subsisted because they had picked up shoe repair skills or some other work-a-day skill.29 Others found it too inconvenient to be prohibited from buying or selling without the mark of the beast. Jehovah’s Witnesses steadfastly refused the mark, but their refusal was not without cost.

Though they were persons uneducated, they encountered many intellectuals and educated people who had balked at the communist regime. These had been made outcasts, and as a result many embraced the Witness beliefs as they were searching for answers to the meaning of life. There are many stories of Witness members starting studies with such individuals in prison. Even former president and playwright Vaclav Havel, once imprisoned for dissident views, received a witness. He is known to have said something to the effect of “That all sounds very wonderful, but I don’t think I can wait. I want change now.” In later years, his library included several Witness publications.30

Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed to register with the Soviet authorities on February 28, 1991. Without direction from Bethel headquarters in the U.S, it would not have happened. Few Russian Witnesses could imagine it. Not all were keen on it. They and the authorities had been at loggerheads forever. How could they possibly register and maybe cede control to the government? Few could know that government officials had been rethinking their policy regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses, a rethinking motivated in part by recognition that past policy had consumed massive reserves of energy to little avail.

A changing government began to think the time had come for Russia to join the world community in accommodation of the religion. It was during the time of glasnost (openness). Visiting the U.S. for other reasons, certain Soviet officials dropped in at Brooklyn Bethel for a chat to clarify points strange to them. It is much to their credit that they would do so. Many never step out from their comfort zones. As though they were Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, they came calling unannounced, and those they wanted to speak with were “not at home.”31 Most likely it was during Regional Conventions time, when Governing Body members skirt around the globe to one stadium after another and their wives become “convention widows.” Nonetheless, those who did receive the visitors from Russia were gracious, showed them around, and arrangements were made for a subsequent meeting.

One can only admire the Soviet officials of that time, for the Governing Body didn’t give an inch, and all meaningful concessions were to be on the part of the officials. It is not that they would not give an inch; it is that they felt they could not, for obedience to their perceived will of God had from the start dictated the course they would take. Government officials were noble-minded enough to see that such a course constituted no threat to them. They struggled valiantly to grasp “some notions strange to our ears,” just as the Athenians did long ago with the apostle Paul.32 They struggled to get their heads around biblical notions that flew in the face of their atheistic training, notions that even the mainline churches found strange. It was enough to crack open the door to “church” Christianity, but this! One can only admire these ones. Their course evokes the sentiments of a noble Gandhi counseling Lord Kelvin that if nations would actually apply Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the world’s problems would soon dissipate—an oft-repeated grapevine quote that the Watchtower has recently rejected, even though they love it, since there is no proof that the two ever met.33

The authors of A Sword and A Shield note that “the Jehovist obsession of senior KGB officers was, perhaps, the supreme example of their lack of any sense of proportion when dealing with the most insignificant forms of dissent.” But Baran doesn’t buy the suggestion that all churches are the same and it is a matter of: why pick disproportionately on the most insignificant? She gets the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the traditional churches. She gets the nuances. She avoids the red herrings. She knows what is significant and what is anomaly. Writing about Jehovah’s Witnesses, for one who is not one, is not easy. She does it with assurance.

It was not easy for Soviet officials in 1991, either. There were things to clear up. “Christians today can no more take sides in the cold war between the East and the West than Jesus and his disciples took sides in the political strife between the Romans and the Jews,” stated a 1961 Awake article. Does that not clearly denote neutrality? Nonetheless, Witness publications originating from Brooklyn had at times used such expressions as “totalitarian” and “iron curtain,” especially in the days of previous Watchtower Society presidents Rutherford and Knorr—expressions the Soviets would not have applied to themselves. Neutrality, too, is in the eye of the beholder.34

The Witnesses looked to God’s kingdom to bestow peace and plenty upon all. But that is what the Communist government of Russia had also promised. Did not persons embracing the kingdom hope imply that they were rejecting the secular version—the “official” one? It had been a major stumbling block for years. The Russian visitors worked at those strange notions—that the one-day destruction of earthly governments was based upon Bible prophesy, and was not an invitation to revolt, for example. In fact, it was just the opposite, for Jesus tells Peter to put down his weapon, since “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” If Witnesses announce the coming end of human rulership, still they have no role in bringing it about. That is to be God’s move. Moreover, their God doesn’t have a complaint with any present government in particular—it is human government itself that is the problem.35

If world media outlets ignored Jehovah’s Witnesses back then, they would find it harder to do today, even were that their intent. Today, the Witness organization has become more visible. God has “beautified” it, as believers would say, taking a phrase from Isaiah. Doings of the Watchtower organization today are too big to ignore. Yearly it arranges well over a thousand annual summer gatherings, filling stadiums and arenas, to serve its entire membership. At times, facilities, in ill-repair beforehand, are revitalized and left in spotless condition.

With any natural disaster, Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the first upon the scene. Theirs is an organized response unequalled, quickly restoring the homes of their own, with spillover efforts benefiting the general community as time and volunteer efforts hold out. The website JW.org employs every advance of digital technology and releases content thoroughly professional. An experience related in the Witnesses’ 2017 yearbook relates how an Italian information technology firm declared JW.org the best website in the world for general layout and recommended it as the premiere example for imitation.36 In these and other ways, the organizational visibility of Jehovah’s Witnesses is much improved from what it was a few decades ago. Mark Sanderson, of the Witness’s Governing Body, present during both the April 20th trial and its appeal, related how he was approached by diplomatic persons worldwide, all very aware of the true nature of the Witnesses’ work, extending offers of assistance within their capabilities. They would hardly have been so aware absent the website and increased visibly.

No nation has succeeded in ridding itself of Jehovah’s Witnesses once they appear, Baran observes in Dissent on the Margins. Soviets succeeded in removing Witness “fanatics” only to find that their non-fanatics rose to the occasion and became so themselves. Give them a good solid punch to the gut and they collapse like everyone else. But they regroup. They stumble seven times, as the Proverb says, but each time they get up. Some are like Peter, who caved under unexpected trial, and denied his Lord three times. Some of those are like Peter again, who beat himself up over it, and who, when extended the invitation to straighten up and fly right, did just that, in time serving more mightily than he had served while his Lord was walking about.

To be Russian Orthodox is part of what it means to be Russian. In a survey of the 1990s, 42 percent of self-identified atheists and 50 percent of self-identified nonbelievers identified themselves as Orthodox.37 It constitutes more than a religion. It is Russian culture and Russian national identity. Almost unanimously, Russians think it a positive institution. Even atheists do. A personal friend who travels to Serbia, where there is also a national Orthodox church, reports locals will say the most horrible things about clergy and proceedings38 – but that doesn’t mean you can do so. The Church preserved national unity through perilous times, and for that a multitude of sins are overlooked. It is likely the same in Russia. There are similar patterns that play out everywhere.

The Russian Church did not take well to the onslaught of competition from, not just the Witnesses, but many other groups unleashed in the aftermath of Soviet collapse. In time, Aleksandr Dvorkin, a one-time priest of the Church, coined the term “totalitarian sect” to designate any organization which “violates the rights of [its] members and inflicts harm on them through the use of certain methods known as ‘mind control.’”39 The definition of mind control is so loose that it is essentially triggered by persuading anyone that the Russian Church is not the only game in town. Many minority faiths are charged with this offense, not just Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The latest tightening of Russian anti-extremism law comes in the form of the two “Yarovaya laws” enacted in 2016, so named after their sponsor. The Russia Program Director of the Huffington Post, Tanya Lokshina, writes in that outlet that the laws were “rammed through” the State Duma legislature.40 She writes that because they were published in their revised form only on the day they were to be voted upon, which was the last day before summer recess, and thereby were “without any meaningful debate or scrutiny”—worrisome given the “draconian” limits they place upon free expression. It was her opinion that the most onerous provisions (stripping the most serious miscreants of citizenship), generating outcry and subsequently dropped at the last moment, served to distract from provisions only somewhat less onerous.

To the extent the law involves religion (most of it does not), Lokshina says it bans proselytizing, preaching, praying, or disseminating religious materials outside of “specially designated places,” such as officially recognized religion institutions. In theory, if you discussed at home the sermon you just heard even at the Orthodox Church service, and it upset someone, that person might report you and you might find yourself in hot water. Let religion be dispensed only by the professionals, “mercenary ministers,” as Witness lawyer Victor Blackwell (whom we shall hear from later) called them decades ago. Discuss it, and even pray, outside of the designated places, and you are potentially in trouble, should someone complain. Moreover, they are obligated to complain, per another provision of the law, and “failure to report” anything deemed extremist makes them liable to a possible prison term. Even children as young as 14 are subject to arrest for this “crime.”

Share your religion without the “required paperwork?”41 No. “Virtually any religious practice, including rituals, sermons, reading of religious literature, and sharing religious views online” becomes the proper subject of police and public prosecutor investigation, as they are called upon to “clarify what is a worship service, a sermon, or a meeting of believers and what isn’t.”42

The terminology is new, but the pattern is old. Though there are new standards of regression, it has played out in most lands. The dominant church has a monopoly. Despite a captive audience, it has not seen fit to educate them with regard to the textbook most parishioners simply assume provides its underpinnings. Along comes Jehovah’s Witnesses to do what they have declined to do and they scream to high heaven. In her book, Baran states “In contrast, however, to many of the Western Christian organizations setting up shop in the region, the Russian Orthodox Church was not well prepared to handle competition.”43 Well, whose fault is that? Had they not neglected their main charge, they would have been prepared. Jehovah’s Witnesses do nothing more underhanded than to show up and point to what the Bible says. Church loyalists cry that a huckster can misrepresent scripture, but even that concern is remedied where persons have been taught to be fluent in the scriptures, so that they can spot the hucksters themselves.

It played out this way in the United States even before the modern manifestation of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. The dominant Catholic church kept people in the dark about the Bible—declaring it was for the priests to teach it and the priests declined to do so. Having a certain amount of Bible knowledge, which is superior to none, leaders of the strengthening Protestants, active in their communities, made Bible reading a part of public school curriculum, to the displeasure of many priests. The book: A Separate Identity tells of one such campaign in Pennsylvania during the mid-1800s: “The Pittsburgh Catholics protested, saying that Bible reading and teaching caused ‘irreverence.’ They believed Bible reading undermined church authority. For many Catholics, public school Bible reading was their first exposure to the book, and some asked questions the priests found uncomfortable.”44

The Protestant Reformation retained the main doctrines of the much-older Catholics. In this, the movement could be called more a rebellion than a reformation. What it did dispense with were certain clerical abuses plainly seen by merely reading the Bible. Verses so simple as “Call no one on earth your father”45 caused consternation for priests who insisted upon being called just that. Later, Catholics and Protestants alike closed ranks upon Jehovah’s Witnesses who demonstrated with ease from the Bible that even their agreed-upon common doctrines were unsupported in Scripture. Nikolai Gordienko, of the Herzen Russian State University in St. Petersburg, has stated “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”46

Most church teachings are not explicitly found in the Bible. It is the attempt to read them in that makes the book incomprehensible. One cannot assemble the puzzle with damaged pieces. Everyone knows the experience of giving up on a puzzle whose assembly has proven impossible, as it surely will if pieces are missing or damaged. Such frustration is where many atheists are born. It is where many agnostics are born. It is not solely where they are born, but they would birth in numbers far fewer if they understood that the Bible is logically coherent. One doesn’t have to believe it to take in knowledge of it but take in knowledge is what should be done. Only upon seeing that the book makes internal sense can one begin to assess whether it is to be believed or not.

The mainstay beliefs of immortality of the soul and the triune nature of God are part and parcel of church tradition, be it Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox. Jehovah’s Witnesses will tweak minor things right down to this day. It is “the light getting brighter,” they say. Yet their rejection of those major doctrines has been firmly in place for over a century. The triune doctrine, to them, makes god incomprehensible and thus, unknowable. The torment-in-hell doctrine makes him fearsome and cruel, someone whom you would not want to know. The doctrines Witnesses discarded 100 years ago were popular with various intellectuals and philosophers of Christ’s time. Later church leaders, wanting to curry favor with such ones, and possibly secure their conversion, incorporated their ideas, even if they made God unknowable. Some people like God unknowable. Some people even like him cruel, so long as he reserves his cruelty for their enemies, which they always manage to have him do.

Baran’s book cites occasions of the Russian Church warning when Jehovah’s Witnesses were active in an area.47 You cannot read them without being reminded of warnings from the first-century Jewish leaders, alarmed over rapidly-spreading Christianity back in those times. In L’viv [Moldavia] flyers proclaimed: “Warning!!!The totalitarian sect, the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very active in your district!!” From the Book of Acts: “These people who have been creating a disturbance all over the world have now come here.” From a Russian priest: “Caution: Life Threatening Sect!” From Acts: “Fellow Israelites, help us. This is the man [Paul] who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law.”48 The same warnings have been raised in many countries.

In 2000, with just nine years of free operation under their belts, and with opposition already moving in for the repeat kill, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia distributed twelve million tracts entitled Could it Happen Again? recalling the exiles of 1949 and 1951, defending against certain charges, and pointing out that the Russian Constitution guarantees religious freedom. It also pointed out that 40 human rights experts in Russia and Eastern Europe had appealed for an end to the harassment and repression that Witnesses were increasingly being subjected to. A Witness from the Russian branch said: “Sixty years ago in the Soviet Union, Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced an unprecedented wave of persecution and repression. Lately, a new wave, a systematic campaign of harassment is being carried out against Jehovah’s Witnesses; this time, some want to classify our literature and activity as extremist. Our meetings for worship are raided; worshippers are illegally detained, questioned, and searched. Their personal possessions are confiscated. In view of the seriousness of this situation, we, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, consider it necessary to provide our fellow citizens, not excluding government officials, with accurate information about ourselves, as well as about cases of the religious intolerance that we have encountered.”

Similar campaigns to expose persecution (perpetrators usually wish to avoid public scrutiny) have proven effective elsewhere. But Baran opines that the campaign fell flat in Russia, both for reasons unique to the country and for reasons not.49 Jehovah’s Witnesses there triggered little public sympathy, she observes, but that is true almost anywhere; the crux of the matter lies elsewhere.  Outrage over the prospect of religious repression didn’t occur in Russia on any significant scale, as they were used to little else. Moreover, the sudden wave of religious openness in the 90s was associated with other Western ideas, such as sudden democracy, which has not worked well in the eyes of many. It has opened the country up to charlatans and manipulators. Notions of freedom that the West think as natural as breathing air, Russians view with less enthusiasm.50 Like the Israelites of old, they like the idea of a strong king, and most think restraining him is not a fine idea.51 Perceiving that the West woefully mishandles freedom, perceiving it has proven only a mixed bag at best for them, few cared when Western ideals of religious freedom were cast aside. Overall, they like the Orthodox Church, if not for religious doctrine, then for culture and national identity.

Even the recent Witness innovation of “cart witnessing,” portable displays of literature free for the asking, was looked at askance prior to 2017, and is vanquished now. Many people have welcomed the appearance of such carts, if only because they think it lessens the chance of a sudden awkward appearance of an uninvited Witness at their door. Nobody is thrilled to see an unexpected visitor of any sort; I run for cover whenever I spot one. Literature carts are therefore welcomed in most places, and a website is less intrusive still. But if the literature offered is extremist, and Russians are told that it is, how can even that be seen as a good thing?

Russia is repentant of past Stalinist repressions, but not necessarily those against Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Putin says nothing can justify political persecution as Russia commemorates Stalin victims,” ran an RT.com headline on October 30, 2017.52 The accompanying photo was that of Putin, Patriarch Kirill, and a human rights spokesman standing before the newly unveiled Wall of Grief in Moscow. The wall includes stone fragments collected throughout Russia, from sites where prison camps of the infamous GULAG system once operated. It was co-funded by the government and the general public.

During Stalin’s reign, Putin remarked, “any person could face made-up and absolutely absurd charges…Millions of people [an estimated 39 million] were branded as enemies of the people, were executed or crippled, underwent torture in prisons and forced deportations,” he said. “This terrible past cannot be erased from the national memory [nor] justified by whatever imaginary greater good of the people.” Some episodes of Russia’s past were debatable but not this one, the president said. “The persecution campaign was a tragedy for our people, our society, a ruthless blow to our culture, roots and identity. We can feel the consequences now and our duty is not to allow it to be forgotten.”

Stalin’s persecution of general transgressors continued throughout his rule, peaking in the so-called Great Purge of 1936-1938. His exiling of Russian Witnesses came toward the end of his tenure, and constitutes but a tiny part of the whole, just as Witness persecution in Nazi Germany constitute but a tiny part of the whole Holocaust. Putin says that those days are over. However, for those bound by conscience toward God, those days are manifestly less “over” than he indicates.

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. This was her expressed opinion, per personal email.
  2. Emily P. Baran, Dissent on the Margins - How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 7
  3. Ezekiel 33:32
  4. Baran, Dissent on, 131
  5. Ibid., 170
  6. Matthew 5:11
  7. Ibid., 91
  8. Ibid., 137
  9. Ibid., 60
  10. Ibid., 149
  11. Christopher M. Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive & the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999) as quoted in: Elizabeth A. Clark, “Will Trump Confront Religious Repression in Russia?” Nationalreview.com, May 5, 2017
  12. Baran, Dissent on, 87
  13. Ibid., 90
  14. 1 Peter 4:4
  15. Baran, Dissent on, 67
  16. Ibid., 244
  17. Ibid., 151
  18. Ibid., 145
  19. 2 Timothy 3:16
  20. John 19:20
  21. Baron, Dissent on, 246
  22. “Inventing Extremists: The Impact of Russian Anti-Extremism Policies on Freedom of Religion or Belief,” United States Commission of International Religious Freedom, January 2018, 22
  23. Ibid., 19
  24. The film “Espionage Under the Guise of Religion” is included in the program “Conspiracy Theory,” Television and Radio Broadcasting Company of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation “ZVEZDA” TV channel Star, October 17, 2017. See also “TV Channel Zvezda Exposed Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses,” SOVA Center, October 23, 2017, accessed March 3, 2018 http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/harassment/theoretical-struggle/2017/10/d38118/ For English translation, see also, both accessed March 6, 2018, http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171023b.html and https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/180202a.html
  25. Matthew 13:45
  26. Baran, Dissent on, 88
  27. See YouVersion, bible.com, NABRE Commentary at Acts 2:42, accessed March 6, 2018, https://www.bible.com/bible/463/ACT.2.nabre
  28. Acts 2:42-48
  29. Baran, Dissent on, 131,172. Baran’s examples are Russian, not Czech, but denial of education is a staple of totalitarian regimes. I am reminded of the film ‘The Lives of Others,’ incorporating in plotline the same threat of denial from the Stassi.
  30. Per conversation with Veronica Coelston, an American Witness who was born in Prague, emigrated from Czechoslovakia with her parents in 1968, and subsequently would return for summer vacations. She confirms the story through personal conversation with the one-time Coordinator of the Czech Bethel branch, who indicated it was a Br. Jiricka who witnessed to Havel.
  31. Baran, Dissent on, 190
  32. Acts 17:20

33.

  1. Baran, Dissent on, 50, 140
  2. Matthew 26:52
  3. Baran, Dissent on, 209
  4. For a Russian Orthodox example, Katerina Chernova writes in Suchan of those who “murmur” of “priests in gold and jeeps, but candles in churches are only for contributions.” Katerina Chernova, “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Are They Banned or Not?” Suchan, April 2017, as accessed March 26, 2018 at https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170426a.html
  5. Baran, Dissent on, 210
  6. Tanya Lokshina, “Draconian Law Rammed Through Russian Parliament,” Huffington Post, June 23, 2016, Accessed March 8, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/23/draconian-law-rammed-through-russian-parliament
  7. Evgeny Berg, “Russia’s Controversial ‘Yarovaya Package’ Targets Missionaries, Threatens Privacy,” Legal Dialogue - Topics from Civil Society, November 2016. Accessed March 8, 2018, http://legal-dialogue.org/russias-controversial-yarovaya-package-targets-missionaries-threatens-privacy
  8. Roman Lunkin, “Sacred Extremism. In the Theological Dispute About the Bible, the Court Supported Unscrupulous Experts,” Slavic Center for Law and Justice, December 2017. Accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=487&ELEMENT_ID=7732 For English translation: https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171221c.html
  9. Baran, Dissent on, 209
  10. B. W. Shultz, Rachael de Vienne, A Separate Identity: Organizational Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watch Tower: 1870-1887 (Self-published, available widely: 2014) 19

45:  Matthew 23:9

  1. Baran, Dissent on, 237-239
  2. Acts 17:6, Acts 21:28
  3. Baran, Dissent on, 240
  4. Baran, Dissent on, 222 Baran cites several surveys revealing mindsets far from Western minds: “A 2003 survey of Russians found that 78 percent considered democracy “a façade for a government controlled by rich and powerful cliques. Fifty-three percent stated that they disliked the idea of democracy.” She cites another study of the same time period that found “only 11 percent of respondents would not trade their basic freedoms for stability; 29 percent would forfeit these freedoms even without a promise of order.”
  5. 1 Samuel chapter 8
  6. “Putin says nothing can justify political persecution as Russia commemorates Stalin victims,” RT.com, October 30, 2017, Accessed 26, 2018, https://www.rt.com/news/408266-putin-stalin-persecution-memorial/

 

 

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