In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction

The new book is now out. Available in print and digital at Amazon. Soon to follow is Apple, Barnes and Noble, others. From the book’s metadata:

“Those of the Enlightenment laud the “human experiment” that is democracy, Jehovah’s Witnesses laud the human experiment that is worldwide family. Theirs is John Lennon’s brotherhood of man not rejoicing that there is above us only skybut instead seeking direction from that sky. A family all but solving racism, a family uniting nationalities and social classes. Who wouldn’t want a double-shot of it? But even a recent circuit overseer likened it to “one big, united, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family,” a phrase I suspect is not in any outline.

Witnesses are ordinary folk, with all the foibles of ordinary folk, and maybe a few extra thrown in since “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are ill do: I [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

What makes the Witnesses tick? Examine the pressures facing these ordinary folk who star in a world-stage role that is alternately noble and strange. Some pressure is external: “A large door that leads to activity has been opened to me, but there are many opposers.” Some pressure is internal: “We have this treasure [of the ministry] in earthen vessels.” Translation: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Either way, “Do not be puzzled at the burning among you . . . as though a strange thing were befalling you,” says Peter. Don‘t be puzzled. Tackle it head-on. Start with the pure bonus, ‘Things that drive you crazy about the faith--and how to view them,’ for the goal is to endure: “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” says Jesus. ‘Not if we have anything to do with it,’ reply ever increasing enemies.

"If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” asks the psalm. Is watching errors not the mission statement of today’s culture, typified in its media? Nobody stands as their enemies magnify, enhance, and even concoct evil reports—see it play out on the internet with any public figure, “admiring personalities,” until they destroy them. Ought Christians play that game?

"Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I am not incensed? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” says Paul. Three times the apostle entreated God to remove a “thorn in his flesh” Nothing doing, God said. I look better when you are flawed. If brilliant people achieve brilliant things, it’s easy to see why. But when flawed people do it . . .”

Tips on the ministry within. How did Witnesses fare in the face of COVID-19? How to regard ever-present conspiracy theories that ripple through society? And what about those overlapping generations? How long can they overlap? What is at stake? What facts on the ground identify the times? Venturing to the edge of the universe, rewriting the textbooks, and dressing down the god of good luck is all in a day's work. Meet Mephibosheth, that faithful man of old whom nobody can pronounce his name at the New System Dinner Table. A bad boy turns over a new leaf, a theodicy that works, and my favorite circuit overseer finish up the offerings.”

 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CC6DYJRD?tag=namespacebran320-20&linkCode=ogi

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Theologians Delight: the The Priestly and Prophetic Traditions

If you get involved in politics and make a big stink over some issue so as to fix it, you are following the prophetic tradition of biblical writings. Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah—all those fellows are your forebears. Whereas, if you just want to keep the stuffy status quo—“what is good for General Motors is good for the United States”—you are operating in the priestly tradition. So it is that theologians apply biblical writings to the modern world, whereas Jesus says that you ought not get involved in politics. “My kingdom is no part of this world,” he told Pilate.

Theologians, however, are heavily a part of it; they are all in for fixing it. It is part of human evolution—upwards, hopefully. The idea that God might one day replace governments with the rulership that is God’s kingdom makes all their efforts pointless, and for that reason they ignore that interpretation. Instead, the prophetic tradition back then warred with the priestly tradition back then, setting the template for societal struggling today. Don’t think for a moment that evolutionary theory is confined to science class.

So, why didn’t the Israelites listen to the prophets who warned of destruction at the hands of Babylon lest they mended their ways? Because they operated in separate spheres and, locked into a survival-of-the-fittest power struggle, they related to each other even less than the political parties of today. Everything is disunity in the eyes of theologians, who assume the prophetic and priestly writings were fused together later by canon editors, where they present as a frozen-in-time struggle for Darwinian theology—theologies developed entirely separately via the evolution model applied to social settings. It does not occur to them to integrate the contrasting traditions into a whole.

In contrast, see how the Watchtower puts it, in a study article designed for the congregation, an article entitled, ‘Keep Following Jehovah’s Guidance.’ (February 2024) All meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses incorporate Bible study. You can prepare for them:

“Years later, Jehovah raised up judges to guide his people. Afterward, during the time of the kings, Jehovah appointed prophets to guide his people. Faithful kings heeded the counsel of the prophets. For example, King David humbly accepted correction from the prophet Nathan. (2 Sam. 12:7, 13; 1 Chron. 17:3, 4) King Jehoshaphat relied on the prophet Jahaziel for guidance and encouraged the people of Judah to “put faith in [God’s] prophets.” (2 Chron. 20:14, 15, 20) When in distress, King Hezekiah turned to the prophet Isaiah. (Isa. 37:1-6) Each time the kings followed Jehovah’s guidance, they were blessed and the nation was protected. (2 Chron. 20:29, 30; 32:22) It should have been obvious to all that Jehovah was using his prophets to guide his people. Yet, the majority of the kings as well as the people rejected Jehovah’s prophets.”​—Jer. 35:12-15.

There. Isn’t that better? Here, there is the prophetic tradition interacting with the priestly tradition on the same plane. The latter is not really the priestly tradition per se, but is the authoritarian tradition which the priestly tradition took good care not to cross, for therein lay its power base, so in a sense the two are synonymous. It is not inherent that they fight like cats and dogs. The Watchtower paragraphs highlights times where they did not, though concluding, “the majority of the kings as well as the people rejected Jehovah’s prophets.” But they were same time, same place. They didn’t have to be shoved together after the fact by revisionist theologians.

Historians might assume it was the kings leading God’s people, at that time, the Jewish nation, back in the day—David, Solomon, Rehoboam, and so forth. Nah, even then, that was politics. God was never keen on there being kings in the first place. Judges, forerunners of the prophets, had worked just fine from his point of view:

It displeased Samuel when [the Israelites] said: “Give us a king to judge us.” Then Samuel prayed to Jehovah, and Jehovah said to [judge] Samuel: “ . . . it is not you whom they have rejected, but it is I whom they have rejected as their king. They are doing just as they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day; they keep forsaking me and serving other gods, and that is what they are doing to you. Now listen to them. However, you should solemnly warn them; tell them what the king who rules over them will have the right to demand.” (1 Samuel 8:6-9)

Whereupon, Samuel went on to point out what pains in the neck politicians would be.

It was the prophets (the prophetic tradition) leading his people back then, sometimes even correcting the kings (and sometimes not; riled kings were known to toss prophets into the hoosegow; just ask Jeremiah down there in the cistern). God hadn’t welcomed kings; they weren’t his idea, though he worked with it. So today there is also politics—not exactly the same, but close enough—often honorable people who want to solve problems (though as the world gets more and more polarized and crazy, so do they).

Now that Christianity has spread throughout the earth and there is no longer one nation to contain them, Jehovah’s Witnesses remain neutral to politics and instead focus on ‘the prophetic tradition.’ They don’t imagine that prophetic tradition exists to reform politics. They assume it exists to replace it, once the obscene experiment of human self-rule comes to its end.

 

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What Axiom to Start With—Unity or Disunity: A Starting Point for Theologians

Why don’t those theologians from the previous post see the exile to Babylon as a consequence of violating the covenant? Why do they put cart before the horse and carry on as though that covenant was remembered (if not concocted) much later? Is it not because theology as a field assumes disunity? Yes, there may be a tradition that says that, they will acknowledge, but that was a different people with a different theology. When you model your view of religion upon evolutionary theory, you do not see worship devolving from one-time purity. You see it gradually assembling itself from chaos.

When you assume disunity, it never occurs to you to put the puzzle pieces together. After all, you didn’t find them in the box at the craft store. You found them in the landfill. What are the chances they might fit together? It never occurs to you to try. Such is the case when disunity as an opening axiom.

Assume unity or disunity; it makes all the difference in the world. G. K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown short stories, sides for unity. He doesn’t really care how the unity comes about, whether “[1] achieved by some supernal spiritual truth, or by [2] a steady national tradition, or merely by [3] an ingenious selection in aftertimes, the books of the Old Testament have a quite perceptible unity. . .” (I believe he would extend this perception to the New, but he does not here do so, this excerpt being taken from his commentary on the Book of Job.)

Jehovah’s Witnesses, too, assume unity. Witnesses are known to observe how 40 different writers were used to compile the Bible, that they came from every conceivable background, social, and economic class, yet their writings all harmonize with a steady development of God’s purpose—and what are the chances of that happening? But you have to look at the puzzle pieces as a whole to discern that. You have to make a study of the Bible itself as a whole. Relatively few of these theologians have. They have only studied the individual pieces, assuming them from the landfill. Whereas, there was a time when most everyone assumed the unity that Chesterton and JWs assume, the new crop of critical thinkers does not; they assume disunity. Should they come across something that implies unity, they either attribute it to coincidence or maintain after-the-fact editing made them that way.

Some of these theologians come from religious backgrounds that themselves incorporate disunity. In short, they wouldn’t know unity if it bit them in the rear end because they have never seen it. Bart Ehrman comes from that school, that fellow I have called ‘the Bible-thumper who became a theologian, but you can still see the Bible thumper in the theologian.’ You can. ‘Why did the early Christians do this and not do that’ he asks? “Because they didn’t want to go to hell!” Coming from such shallow theology, it is no wonder that when he turns scholar, he continues that shallowness. Note here, his book entitled ‘Heaven and Hell,’ in which he has painstakingly uncovered what every child of Jehovah’s Witness knows, though he seems entirely unaware of their existence:

James Hall, another theologian, does the Great Courses lecture series entitled ‘Philosophy of Religion.’ He, too, relates his evangelical origin. He thinks that the opposite of going to hell—that is, anticipation of heavenly bliss—works equally poorly as a Christian motivation. Neither Hall nor Ehrman seem aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses have said nearly their entire existence. Hell just makes people mean; if enemies will get torment in the hereafter, where’s the harm in giving them a little foretaste of it now? And, just hanging in for the reward has all the depth of nasty children being nice as Christmas and Santa approaches.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, have said from their beginning that the sanctification of God’s name is the all-important issue before creation, not human salvation. The later is a pleasant consequence of the former, but it does not usurp it in importance.

The point is that when theologian come from a religious background incorporating chaos and disunity, they may not know unity when they see it. And, theologians from a non-religious background are even less likely to look for it; all their background tells them it is a ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ world out there. It is not a once-united world breaking down. It is a naturally disunited world trying (in vain) to build up. They won’t expect to find unity in ancient writings, and hence, will never look for it.

 

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Witnesses and Higher Education—Coming Up on the GB Update List?

Huh! Ocala invites me on a Bible study he is conducting for about a month. Turns out to be a ‘textbook’ study, exactly what HQ would enact if they wanted to demonstrate one.

Unprompted, the man said how, in a moment of spiritual desperation, he had got to his knees and prayed. ‘God, if you exist, please—I only seek to be happy.’ Within the hour, Ocala had knocked on his door and made his acquaintance.

So, I said to Ocala later, ‘Had you prayed for a Bible study?’ He told me he had. ‘I’ve read about these things happening, but it never happened to me,’ he added.

Ocala asks me at the study if I have anything to add. I put in some remark, something grounded to the theme that does not launch off into another direction, upon which he says, “Thank you for that personal expression.” If the student thinks that a little stilted (he may not), he attributes it to Ocala’s African background. He does not connect it to the mannerisms of the Witness broadcast channel.

Ocala appeared out of nowhere a year or two ago as a full-blown graduate student on scholarship at the local university. So unusual is this among the congregations that some did not quite know what to make of him. The brother I have dubbed ‘Barnabas,’ in answer to one of his public meeting comments, mentioned his publisher cards had arrived from the home congregation and elders in African. Congregations keep such minimal records. That way, no scam artist can just breeze in and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes (as they can most anywhere else). Since then, Ocala has established himself as solid in every way, now pioneering and a ministerial servant. Few have a more steadfast ministry. He doesn’t overcomplicate things.

***

They’re all rather trivial matters—all these GB updates of late—adjustments to the ministry, changing norms of dress and grooming. Still, they are changes to long-standing policy, so people make a big fuss over them. A brother at our hall, commenting on fast-moving changes we all must adjust to, mentioned “sisters wearing pants,” (did he also mention no ties?) as though aghast that someone had run the chariot into a ditch.

With several of such updates in a row, people start anticipating the next one. What other thing that we have not done will we start doing? Might it be a lightening up over ‘higher education?’ Not that such has ever been outlawed—how could it be?—but you can find yourself running a gauntlet of peer pressure should you choose to go there. Might there come an underlining that it is a decision of the family head, leave him be to make it, and don’t think everyone else has to put in their two cents on whatever that one decides.

Witness publications have not had a kind word for higher education. Just this past week, the Watchtower study included a paragraph of Marcia, who “was offered a four-year scholarship at a university. But I wanted to pursue spiritual goals.” She didn’t throw caution to the wind. She “chose to attend a technical training school to learn a trade that would support me in my ministry,” and counts it “one of the best decisions I have ever made.” (Feb 2024 Wt) It is an example of the article’s title: ‘Keep Following Jehovah’s Guidance.’ That’s not really trashing university, of course, but it certainly is not presenting it as the preferred goal.

They are not wrong to be leery of the place. Moreover, who else has the guts to discourage it? Most faiths think it an honor to have churches bristling with lettered people. Most faiths say, ‘Christians may have started ‘uneducated and ordinary,’ (Acts 4:13) but look at how they pulled themselves up! Most faiths replace Paul’s encouragement to be a ‘workman, with nothing to be ashamed of’ (2 Timothy 2:15) with ‘a professional—so you don’t have to be ashamed.’ Not many are like the Witnesses, who expect the passage of 1 Corinthians 1:26 to hold just as true today as it did then: “For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” They don’t care if people sneer at them for it. Train yourself for a skill that is both portable and scalable, they recommend. That way, you have time for the ministry.

Their caution is validated in the remarks of Great Courses lecturer James Hall, who covers the topic, ‘Philosophy of Religion.’ A university professor himself, he relates how, “I have parents who come to the university perplexed and amazed that young Susie or young Johnny, who has gone off to the university and has come home for that first holiday, isn't the same that they used to be. And all I can do is lower my glasses to the end of my nose and look over my glasses and say, Why did you send them to university in the first place?”

Got it? The purpose of university is not to accept a student’s childhood values as a given. The purpose is to overhaul them. It’s all agreeable to Hall, who says you send them there “to grow up . . . to be exposed, to expand their horizons, to increase the scale of their life,” with the implicit understanding that he, as faculty member, he, who “lowers his glasses to the end of his nose and looks over those glasses” at the plebian parents, is just the one to do it.

Now, no problem here with growing up. Who doesn’t want that? Go for it. But, is this the setting in which to do it? Here, Hall sits atop the repository of knowledge that has collectively made the world what is—and he should be the one to expand those horizons and increase those scales? Only the educated can look upon the trainwreck that is modern society and congratulate themselves on their understanding. Spit back what Hall tells you if you want a passing grade—not necessarily verbatim, but you’d better not stray too far from it. The ‘safest’ correlation to his remarks will be what was said of P.D.Q. Bach, that his music bore a relationship with that of a certain great composer, and the name of that relationship was ‘identity.’ He wasn’t one for plagiarizing, but he did believe in recycling.

Ocala doesn’t know anything about this. It is not something he has encountered, or if he has, he weathered it so effortlessly that he does not remember encountering it. In his homeland, he tells me, additional education after primary school is common, common enough that Witness youths encourage and stabilize one another. Some go “off the rails,” (his expression), to be sure, but some go off the rails in any setting. Jobs are scarce where he comes from, he tells me, and employers take full advantage of the fact, reminding their workers at every opportunity that they are easily replaceable. He doesn’t yet know if he will stay in the States or return home upon graduation. He has a quiet confidence about himself and does not appear to be one easy to shove around. But, he is hurt when people think he does what he does ‘because he wants the good life,’ and he tells me sometimes people do think that.

Hall and the Witness organization are in agreement on one thing, though for different reasons. That answer to Hall’s question as to why parents sent their youngsters to university? He continues, “I'm afraid sometimes the only answer is, ‘Well, because that's what you do,’ or, ‘Well, all of our neighbors were sending their children to university so we figured maybe we [had] better too.’” Going with the crowd, in other words. Hall doesn’t want children to go for this reason. He wants them to purposefully go so he can mess with their heads, expanding them beyond whatever parochial values they absorbed from back home, such as Bible training. The Witness organization doesn’t want them to go because ‘everyone else is doing it,’ either. They’d rather the parents not give Hall and his cohorts their shot; head youngsters off into the full-time ministry instead. For all the furor of ‘anti-cultists,’ it is the university, not the Witness world, in which newbies are cut off 24/7 from all that once stabilized them—a classic technique of ‘brainwashers.’

You can look like roadkill when you stand against the common stampede. Witness HQ will never stop cautioning about university, I don’t think. They will never recommend liberal arts degrees. They will never stop recommending technical training and trade schools. But they may yield more to the view that secular education is a family decision, not something to be second-guessed by others, much less micro-managed. There is just too much variety in people and circumstances. Maybe that will be on one of those future updates. It may be happening already. Another youngster in the congregation went off to college about the time Ocala arrived and nobody had anything to say about it at all; I checked with his mom. Will he evade Hall or even stand up to him? Maybe. Maybe not. But it turns out that Hall has cousins in all walks of life, trying to shoot down biblical values wherever you happen to be.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

My Meeting Notes: Week of May 9, 2024

Think of a deep intimate, heartfelt connection—how can good not emerge? The phrase itself all but guarantees it.

Sigh….not with this lout:  “Transgression speaks to the wicked one deep within his heart. Ps 36:1

“There is no fear of God before his eyes.” (vs 1b) That’s half of the problem.

“For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect and hate his error.” (vs 2) That’s the other half.

1b and 2: Therein lies the remedy. If he learns to fear God and gains a realistic view of himself, even this character can turn around.

 

Peter entering Cornelius’ home after three times having the vision of unclean foods descending from heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)

This is like Ananias being directed to bring Saul in. ‘No way, Lord—the guy’s an animal!’

“Be on your way” (9:15) says the Lord. The man is a chosen vessel to me.

“Be on your way”—Andy Laguna the CO’s said long ago at the Pioneer School—Andy loved this scripture that typified his own life. He didn’t say it, but he may as well have: ‘Don’t give me any bunk! Be on your way!’

I remember working with him in service one 10 degree day on an endless street. Didn’t take a break. Only a handful answered. When they did, they may as well not have because I was too cold to speak coherently.

 

They’re all rather trivial things—all these updates of late. Still, they are changes to long-standing policy, so many make a big fuss over them. A bro at our hall, commenting on fast-moving changes we all must adjust to, mentioned “sisters wearing pants,” (did he also mention no ties?) as though aghast that someone had run the chariot into a ditch.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Who Wants the Same Religion as Fred Flintstone? What Happens When You Subject Faith to Theological Scrutiny.

Babylon invades Jerusalem, exiles its residents, razes its temple, and a long-held Jewish paradigm is destroyed: that God will fight for his people.

Theologian Peter Berger (1929-2017) cites this as an example of a gnomos, a coherent system of understanding the world. People must have one of those if they are to stay sane. The Jewish system of understanding the world being destroyed, it had need of emergency repair. What would it consist of, according to Berger?

He tips his hand. Wasn’t there some ancient contract that stipulated the Israelites were to behave if they expected God to back them? Wasn’t there a clause in that contract that if they didn’t behave, neither would he—in fact, he would abandon them to enemies? Yes, there was! And so, that must have been what happened! God could have protected them, but he chose not to. Gnomos restored! Too bad for them, but gnomos restored.

Save us from the world of critical thinking theologians. It is as though someone runs a stop sign and a horrific accident results. Thereafter, survivors are desperate to impart meaning to the event, to understand how such a horrible thing could happen. Whereupon, one of them recalls a long-ago contract that you are supposed to stop when you see one of those things, as though no prior connection had ever been imagined before.

Why not just say we ran a stop sign and got creamed? Why not just say we reneged on God and, as a consequence, he reneged on us? He even said that was going to happen. Just like, in the U.S, you can’t come across a stop sign that is not preceded by a ‘stop sign coming up’ sign emblazoned with the shape and color of that sign. So, that, if you run a stop sign, having also run the stop sign coming up sign, it’s a little lame to pretend you don’t know what is going on. So it is, in ancient Israel, there were plenty of prophets running around with ‘Babylon coming up’ signs. Why do theologians not make that obvious connection, instead spinning it that the Babylon coming up signs, maybe even the stop sign contract itself, was concocted after the tragedy to preserve gnomos?

Don’t flock to religious leaders if you learn they have theological degrees appended to their name—for fear they will engage their flock like George Bush engaged the terrorists upon landing on that aircraft carrier: ‘Bring them on!’ For all their so-called weapons—bring them on! So it is that these theologically-trained leaders are likely to view you, with your weapons of faith: ‘Bring them on! We’ll fizzle all their weapons! Are there warnings in the scriptures? We’ll convince them they were written after the fact! That way, religion can grow! Do any of them think they’re doing things the first-century way? Forget that! Religion must evolve. Who wants to have the same primitive religion as Fred Flintstone?’

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Philosophy of Humor

Can you believe that philosophers have undertaken to analyze humor? Of course they have—they analyze everything else. This should not have come as a surprise to me, and yet somehow it did. The very name philosophy is a marriage of ‘philo’ (love) and ‘sophia’ (wisdom). Their modus operendus? Put anything under the scope, subject it to enough thought-power, and it will yield its secrets.

New disciplines, once they reach critical mass, split off from philosophy to become entities of their own. What is known today as ‘science’ was once known as ‘natural philosophy. James Hall, the lecturer, tells of spying test tubes and bunsen burners advertised as ‘philosophical instruments.’* A more recent breakaway from the mother ship of philosophy is ‘psychology.’

Will humor also one day yield its secrets to philosophical scrutiny? Let us not sell these people short, but for now, we encounter few ‘humorologists.’ For now, we can content ourselves with people who know how to tell a good joke. For now, my self-description stands as one who not only appreciates self-deprecatory humor but also the kind of humor where you make fun of yourself. For now, no humorologist undertakes to explain why that statement is funny (or not).

Humor is not a favored child of philosophy. That, I learned in ‘Philosophy 101,’ a book by Paul Kleinman. Plato took a savage view toward it, as the lowest form of human interaction that did nothing but detract. His ‘philosopher kings’ were not allowed to engage in any humor at all! This seriously messes with my premise that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Governing Body is today the most manifest application of Plato’s ideals. Those guys joke all the time. True, some of the humor is lame—raising or lowering the mic for short or tall speakers, for example, a modest humor exists throughout JW-land. At our Assembly Hall, the human mic-adjusters have been replaced with a mic stand that does the job sans hands, being remote controlled from afar! Our crazily tall circuit overseer creates a disturbance when the auto-mic seeks to adjust for him, inching up, pausing, then inching up again, each time emitting a hum, because someone forgot to mute the thing. He just grins, being long used to it. That’s the kind of collective humor we’re used to, though individually, there are no end of brothers who just live to tell knee-slappers. Pause for just a moment to consider that there are far few sisters who do this. Is this variation an attribute of the sexes in general?

No one has sought to banish humor in the JW-world, least of all individual GB members themselves, but according to Plato, they should. They should become dour sourpusses who never crack a smile. Every time they do crack one, they destroy my theory that they are the modern day application of Plato’s philosopher-kings. So, they should stop doing it.

What grabs me is that church history is replete with sourpusses—stern-faced men who take everything with life-or-death seriousness, men to whom a joke would have been the ultimate sacrilege. Think the iron-faced Puritan leaders of ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ for example. Yet, such a revulsion to humor is not a Bible product. The Bible is fine with humor. The revulsion is a Greek philosophical product fused into the early Church when that Church ‘broadened out’ to increase its appeal and thus gain new converts.

Every Witness knows that the spread of ‘apostasy’ in the early centuries added ‘immortality of the soul’ to the belief system of Christians—it wasn’t there originally and must be read into the Bible to find it there. The immortal soul was infused in order to increase Church appeal to the educated philosophical class, the Greeks who prided themselves on their pursuit of wisdom. ‘Maybe some of these desirable fellows will come our way if we yield a little for them,’ Church fathers reasoned.

What I didn’t know was that a humorless view of life is also among the Greek imports. It is not a biblical product. It is a product of human philosophy! Yet, a life of devotion to God today is assumed by overall society to be a humorless one. It is anything but. Granted, you don’t cackle over everything under the sun. There is a time to be serious. But there is a time for laughter.

On a roll as to human philosophy infusing Christianity, whereupon Christianity itself is blamed as the source of it, one might consider resistance to investigative science itself. The notion that Christians are loathe to examine and look into things does not stem from Christianity. It stems from Aristotle—Greek philosopher of the 4th century BCE, whose views on the revelation of anything worth knowing was adopted into the early Church in order to increase its appeal to that ‘educated’ class.

With these early, evolving, church leaders; It was not biblical writings that ultimately carried the day. It was the writings of the philosophers. Yet historians retroactively assign that role to those worshipping God, as though worship makes a person backwards. It came from philosophy, not Christianity! Christianity’s mistake was to adopt it. When the pig-headed church leaders lit into Copernicus and Galileo for writing the earth is not the center of the universe, scholars assign pigheadedness to worshippers of God, whereas they ought to look to their own forebears. Human thinkers contaminate the product and then the biblical writings take the rap!

Back to the initial topic: humor. It’s not horrific in itself that philosophers should undertake to explain humor for the rest of us. It is more the eye-rolling dread at how they tend to get so full of themselves when they do that. But, even worse, it is the fear that it’s only a matter of time before they extend their research to other intangible qualities, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so forth—determined to examine spiritual things through the physical lens. Watch out when they do that, as when love is said to ‘evolve’ since without it, back in primitive days, predators would be eating your offspring while loveless you just shrugged and twiddled your thumbs. Beware the field of evolutionary psychology.

In recent years, much has been made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to identify these above qualities, listed at Galatians 5:22, as ‘fruitage’ of the spirit, rather than ‘works’ of the spirit. They contrast with the unpleasant traits listed just before (5:19), which ARE works: works of the flesh. The idea is that you can’t fully develop the former good qualities without God’s spirit, whereas yielding to the unpleasant traits is simply taking the path of least resistance. Anyone can do that. So, if they are fruitage of God’s spirit, good luck to human philosophers trying to analyze them. While you can put physical things on spiritual trial, you cannot put spiritual things on physical trial. You can achieve the knockoff imitation through physical means, and in many cases it is good enough. But if you want the variation that holds up through thick and thin, it is only through God’s spirit that such traits are developed. Sure—let the philosophers have at it—those fellows for whom it is pulling teeth to get them to agree that there even is a God. See what they have to tell us.

*’The Philosophy of Religion’

 

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Getting to the Point in a Crazy World

In America, one must get to the point quickly. Often I begin house-to-house visits by observing, ‘The world’s crazy. We think the Bible can help—how did it come to be that way?/what hope for the future?/how to best live in the meantime? I want to read you a scripture on that, you tell me what you think, and then I’m on my way. Good idea?’

This is not some laid-back land where you must ask about family, tell about yours, and if you don’t, you are rude. No. Tell why you came quickly. One man responded that he was not a religious person. ‘That doesn’t mean that the world isn’t crazy,’ I replied. He agreed that it didn’t.

His neighbor instantly agreed that it was—crazy—even repeating the words. What people had to do, she said, was to ‘stand up.’ Well, sure, it’s hard to disagree with that, and I didn’t. But it’s a little vague. Won’t people, when they stand up, stand up with different fixes and so work at odds with each other? Whereupon, she pointed out that she didn’t believe in any ‘second coming of Christ.’

She was not like still another neighbor, who was concerned that we were ‘recruiting.’ I told him we were not. Or rather, that on my 200th visit, I would ask if he wanted to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me, but it would not happen until then, and what were the chances engagement would go on for so long? In the meantime, it’s just conversation. No. This woman instantly got that it was just conversation—though after ours, when I floated the idea of coming back, she did ask, ‘To what end?’

I initially feared the call would be a clumsy disaster. When she first appeared at the door, so did a couple of noisy dogs, eager for engagement of their own. They weren’t mean or anything. They were more like, ‘Oh wow! Visitors! Lemme go check them out!’ Some people get crotchety trying to curb their dogs for a visit they never asked for in the first place and I thought she might be one of them. She wasn’t. She just wrestled with the creatures.

‘Did I ever tell you how much I like dogs?’ I said to one of them while petting it. That eased tension. It’s true. I do like them. Ever since the days my daughter moved overseas and left us Samson, a boxer/lab mix. Sometimes I would introduce it with, ‘Do you know the Samson from the Bible, who pushes apart the pillars? This the Samson that pees on them.’

The scripture I read was the one some are already familiar with, ‘Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ from Matthew 6:9. It packs a lot in few words. God’s will is done in heaven, no doubt. He must have it all together up there, but it sure isn’t done on earth. And it won’t be until ‘thy kingdom comes’—so just what is that kingdom?  This is where she said she didn’t believe in any second coming. But in time, I suggested she might want to rethink that. She did believe in God. She did believe he cares for us. So will he really just leave humanity to go down the drain as they are so plainly doing at present?

When she had mentioned chaos in her family over the last few years, I asked her what bad things had happened. Turned out it was all pandemic related; some family members were no longer on speaking terms over accepting the vaccine. As for her, she said she ‘reads scientific papers.’ If it helps, I told her—you get on the same page with your householder whenever you can—I also passed on the vaccine. (as had my companion) It was easy for me, being retired, and there were a few supplements I took instead. (which she also took). But, in answer to her question, the Witness organization mostly did get vaccinated. Here they were, sitting on their hands, and you weren’t allowed to do anything without vaccination, so they monitored those they found easiest to track—a few tens of thousands of other volunteers—detected nothing immediately unpleasant, and so went ahead with the program because they did want to do things.

When she said she didn’t accept Jesus as God, but thought he was a man, it was time for another ‘if it helps.’ (The teaching that Jesus IS God all but dooms any attempt to understand either the Bible or God’s purpose—nothing makes any sense with that albatross strapped around one’s neck.) ‘If it helps,’ I told her, we also believe he was a man, and in a nutshell I told how only a perfect man can exactly counterbalance what Adam had lost—‘repurchasing’ what he ‘sold.’ She played with the thought, not sure how she felt about it. People need time to adjust to anything. I left her the card that has one of those computer things you can scan and bring up the Bible study course. It works best when you do it with someone to guide you, I said, but there’s no reason you can’t look it over yourself. I showed her the lesson that expanded on just how Jesus offsets Adam for those who put faith in the arrangement.

I did caution her, though. She had said she reads scientific papers. Most people don’t. Don’t be put off to find the material is written very simply. It’s not the course’s intention to talk over the heads of the vast majority of people. As was true in the first century, it is the ordinary people most likely to respond, whereas the educated people are sometimes prone to be all full of themselves; there’s not much God can do with people like that, but with humble ones he can do a lot. The caution proved unnecessary. She offered up her view that university was mostly ‘indoctrination’ these  days anyway.

People are busy. I’ve had so many discussions with someone I find once, and then I never find them again. So, these days I have my text number on that QC card. I’ll pop in eventually, but in the meantime, if anything grabs her attention, she has a text number to respond to.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Is it Accurate to Refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a ‘Cult’?

Q: Is it accurate to refer to Jehovah's Witnesses as a "cult"? Do they meet the criteria of a true cult?

If it is accurate to call first century Christianity a ‘cult’ then it is also accurate to call Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult.

Take, for example, Paul’s direction that: “Now I urge you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you should all speak in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you may be completely united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

You know that would be spun as a ‘cult’ today.

The ‘cult’ label exists to punish anyone who thinks out of the mainstream. Again, the apostle Paul:

“And stop being molded by this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, so that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

‘You WILL be molded by it,’ says the anti-cult faction, ‘and if you refuse, we will call you a ‘cult.’

Thing is, there doubtless are some crazy ‘cults’ out there. Yet, if the mainstream managed to deliver the goods (of peace, contentment, justice, meaning in life, etc), non of these groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, would succeed in gaining a toehold.

Seemingly, it is new, the non-stop accusations that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a ‘cult.’ Yet, it is just the latest permutation of what has been the case since the founding of Christianity. “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake,” said Jesus (Matthew 5:10)

Depend upon it. Christians would be spoken against. So it is that when Paul rolls into town (Rome), he asks the local Jewish leaders whether anyone has been talking trash about him. His answer? “We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” (Acts 28: 21-22)

Nothing has changed. It was a ‘sect’ that was ‘spoken against everywhere.’

So why is it they were nowhere in Scripture specifically called a ‘cult’? Because the definition of the word ‘cult’ has been changed to fit them. It used to be that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, separated from society, and began to do weird things, you just might be a cult member. By that traditional definition, Jehovah’s Witnesses are anything but a cult. Charismatic leaders? Many of them are cultivated tastes to listen to. Separate from society? They work and school with everyone else. Practice weird things? Only if you consider speaking about the cause of their faith, as laid out in the Bible, weird.

The old definition doesn’t fit them at all. So a new definition is concocted that does. But it equally fits Christianity as outlined in the Bible. Even the modern notion that Witnesses take advantage of people, rather than benefit them, is countered in Scripture—so the charge was apparently made, even if not couched in modern ‘cult’ jargon: “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” Paul says at 2 Corinthians 7:2.

As far as I’m concerned, you should turn that nonsense on its head, doing what the police did when radicals began calling them PIGS, doubling down when they saw it got under their skin. One innovative officer redefined the acronym as, ‘Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service.’ 

Same here. Call Witnesses a cult? Redefine it: ‘Courage, Unity, Love, Truth.’ In short, you can call Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult if you like—the word means different things to different people—but then you must also call first-century Christianity a cult, because Witnesses do no more than emulate them.

“No, he was talking about guys like you! Your organization perfectly fit the description of the evil slave.”

“Oh yeah? You didn’t mention destroying families, allowing children to bleed to death, allowing child abuse, failed prophecies!”

A: Forty years into all-out societal war against child abuse, you can still throw a stone in any direction and hit ten pedophiles, so how anyone can say the problem is JWs is beyond me. Nevertheless, if there ever was a problem in the JW realm, it has been settled with a study article ensuring all that there is no stigma whatsoever in reporting an abuser to authorities. Details here:

As to blood transfusions, doubtless the JW stand has aided more people that it has harmed. This is because, here and there, courageous doctors have worked to accommodate it and in so doing have made medicine much safer for all. If there was equity, the JW organization would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for improving treatment. Details here: 

On ‘destroying families,’ that is mostly a matter of individuals insisting upon bringing into the congregation something God forbids, for example, some matter of modern sexual morality, and being disallowed by faithful family members.

As to failed prophesies, these are mostly analogous to misreading the bus schedule and consequently showing up early. This is no more calamitous than if someone showed up early at an actual bus stop. A little embarrassing, but people adjust.

 

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Why No Theological Terms in Watchtower Publications?

The author of a theodicy consents that his case be tried before the court of reason, and offers to represent the accused by refuting all the accusations of the planitiff.’ — Immanuel Kant. (1704-1804)*

Is that why publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses never use the term theodicy—nor any other theological term? Why submit to trial in a kangaroo court run by rationists, replete with myriad ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ rules, some of which you suspect are specifically designed to ensure that ‘the accused’ is found ‘guilty?’

Witness governing members look to those taking the lead in the first century, men they strive to emulate, men described in the Book of Acts (4:13) as “unlettered and ordinary.” They ask, ‘Would these ones know a theological term if it bit them in the rear end? Taking as self-evident that they answer is no, they say, ‘If it worked for them, it should work for us.’ They hold to the thought expressed by Paul to Timothy. “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 3:16-17)

If Scripture really has that effect, that of setting things straight and making the man of God fully competent, then aren’t theologians out of a job? Isn’t in their interests, therefore, to maintain that it doesn’t? They become like the agency head who insists ‘much work remains to be done.’ The moment he says that the work is done, he faces the unemployment line. Those above words of Paul are a threat to the theological machine. So, with regard to Scripture, the theologians make themselves a middleman. ‘It sets things straight’ when we say it does,’ they say. Thus, the Book of Job is not, per them, a record of a man who actually lived. It is the work of a writer presenting his theodicy, perhaps his evolving theodicy. Or, perhaps it is the work of multiple writers presenting multiple theodicies, of which you may take your pick or reject them all.

The Jehovah’s Witness Governing Body will have none of it. ‘Try God’s ways in a human court, will they?’ they say. It is the other way around. You look into a mirror so as to adjust your skewed appearance. You don’t look into that mirror and wonder what is wrong with it for reflecting such an appearance. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, So my ways are higher than your ways And my thoughts than your thoughts,” are the words attributed to God at Isaiah 55:9. Should higher thoughts be tried in the courtroom of lower thoughts?

Dr. James Hall is a theologian setting up such a courtroom. Introducing his Great Courses Lecture series, entitled, Philosophy of Religion, he says, “Let me assure you up front I'm not going to tell you what to think. The real purpose, the real goal of this course, is to encourage you to think, to push you to think and to help you organize your thinking equipment so that you can think more effectively.” Is it worrisome that five variations of ‘think’ are included in this mission statement? All of those thoughts, per Isaiah, will be ‘lower thoughts’—even though enhanced (or lowered still?) by embracing the modern critical thinking. Should such thoughts be the criteria for judging the higher ones?

Exploring the merits of the ontological argument for God—a term that,  once again, you will never hear from Jehovah’s Witnesses, though possibly a Watchtower article somewhere quotes someone uses it and the editors figured it was more trouble than it’s worth to pull it out, Dr Hall cites an earlier philosopher and churchman (Anselm of Lucca) who quoted Scripture: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” He then (incorrectly) repeats the phrase, apparently so his audience can mull it over: “The fool has said, ‘There is no God.’ (dropping the ‘in his heart’) Then, he contrasts ‘God’ and ‘no God.’ From there, he goes on to explore the attribute of ‘existence’ as opposed to non-existence. He holds aloft two identical books with identical attributes, attributes he describes at length, save for one: The one in his right hand “has a counterpart in reality.” The one in his left hand (which holds nothing) does not.

About this time, the unkind reader may think of a certain internet profile which begins with an apology for “not having a PhD in whatever b******t your PhD is in.” Be that as it may, he or she may also note that the only point of significance is how the doctor, seemingly unaware, changed the underlying ‘fact’ of Psalm 14:1. Is the fool saying something in his heart the same as the fool saying it aloud? Or doesn’t the in his heart imply that he doesn’t say it aloud? Were there even people in that ancient Hebrew society who said there was no God? Isn’t the reference, in reality, to those who act as though there is no God—who think they lack accountability to God? You probably don’t want to use that scripture in calling atheists ‘fools’ because that is unlikely to be its intent. Whether they are or not is another matter, but this is not the verse to clinch it either way.

This is the fellow you want running your rationalist courtroom, who passes over what is significant to quibble over word salads of existence and non-existence?  Who can be confident submitting their theodicy before a such a court that may even disbar the defense attorney for failing to take that nonsense seriously, who just wants to focus on what is meaningful? Why would anyone feel obliged to submit their case to it?

*as cited in Kraeling, ‘The Book of the Ways of God,’ (1939) p243

To be Continued (maybe)

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

What of All These Changes in Recent Months? Part 3

Q:  “With all of these changes that have happened so fast, are Jehovah's witnesses slowly morphing into mainstream religion?”

No, but they are learning to adapt to a changing world. As long as you can do this without abandoning core principles, you’re okay.

All changes from Part 1 and Part 2 are relatively trivial things. One that is not has to do with discipline policies, which ex-Witnesses seek to portray, with some success, as draconian. For the time being, ‘activist’ woke courts, the type that try to mandate ‘inclusion,’ rule against the Witnesses for their policies to stay ‘no part of the world.’ Higher courts, where the woke mindset has not yet permeated, overturn those rulings.

Already, Jehovah’s Witnesses were, from a review of Joel Engardio’s documentary Knocking, “an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully.” Despite their public visits, Jehovah's Witnesses are a "live and let live" religion. Their "weapons" are ideas only. Tell them "no" and they go away. Sure, they try to be persuasive, but it's still only words. They don't afterward attempt to legislate their beliefs into law, so as to force people to live their way, much less resort to violence.

But now, a world that increasing stresses ‘inclusion,’ the very opposite of the scriptural directive to remain ‘no part of the world’ presents new challenges. JWs must revisit their policies of discipline, as these are now under attack. Can they be tweaked without being gutted? Turns out they can. The result is somethng that both improves the Witnesses and permits them to navigate the greater world’s changing standards.

The judge that ruled against Witnesses in Norway observed that he found it perfectly reasonable that teenage boyfriends and girlfriends are going to have sex with one another. You can be sure his ruling would have been different if he did not find such ‘perfectly reasonable.’ He may still have thought the Witnesses’ discipline policies harsh, but he would not likely have found them illegal. It was once commonplace for parents to be greatly concerned that their teens might be sleeping around. It no longer is. These are the shoals the Witness organization must navigate. Temporarily, with new policies on how to deal with teens veering from the family values, they have found a way to do so.

I like that Knocking quote because it presents Jehovah’s Witnesses as the most progressive of organizations, a description we don’t ordinarily enjoy. They are “perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully.” It is axiomatic in this world that ‘strongly polarized views’ in time results in violence. JWs have disproved this ‘axiom.’ Are they given credit for it? No. But they should be. With recent reports of ISIS taking credit for the horrific attack on that Moscow collosium, I posted that several times in ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses; Searching for the Why’ I had observed that one would think ISIS would have taught the Russian government what extremism is.

Far from JWs being the intolerant people who finally received comeuppance in a Norwegian court, as opposers try to present it, they are already bastions of peaceful coexistence who encounter problems with their discipline policies amidst a world that increasingly despises discipline. In the process of adapting, they end up making themselves better.

 

*******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'