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.”


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Short answers, Cult BITE


Whatever it is, it is the same nutty mindset that made first-century Christianity a cult. This is seen in what Paul felt compelled to write at 2 Corinthians 7:2.

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.”

Why would he have had to say this? My guess is that they were the same loons then as there are today, quick to cry they were being in some nebulous way, wronged, corrupted, taken advantage of, as if accusing Paul and companions of trying to ‘control’ them, directing them toward new goals that they, in retrospect, came to despise.

The very fact that they are called ‘cult members’ is a strong indication of it. It is, to them, the fact that ‘everyone else’ chooses not to address them reasonably, instead falling back on name-calling.

It is because the people obsessed with ferreting out cults are a bunch of loons. They see it where they want to see it and ignore it where they don’t. The founder of the BITE model, used to ‘identify’ cults, is reliably leftest in all his views. He has written a book entitled ‘The Cult of Trump.’ When you think half the country has fallen under cult influence, it is an indicator to me that you have drunk too much of the Kool Aid yourself.



The greatest hang-up with critical thinking is that those who most ardently espouse it usually do so with the assumption that they themselves have a lock on the stuff.



Whatever it is, it is the same nutty mindset that made first-century Christianity a cult. This is seen in what Paul felt compelled to write at 2 Corinthians 7:2.

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.”

Why would he have had to say this? My guess is that they were the same loons then as there are today, quick to cry they were being in some nebulous way, wronged, corrupted, taken advantage of, as if accusing Paul and companions of trying to ‘control’ them, directing them toward new goals that they, in retrospect, came to despise.



They point out that if you don’t believe in God, of course you would think faith that motivates people is a cult. They also point out that Paul indicated such in his writings, such as at 1 Corinthians 15:19

“If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone.” That is why if you don’t hope in Christ, you really ought not be among people who do. You should stay outside and call those people a cult.

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Theologians Move Away from Satan—Why?

Modern theologians have discarded Satan. It is so yesterday. Satan makes Christianity a dualism, a bad to offset the good. The devil is a good concept to have around, since you can blame all your troubles on him. But modern theologians of the monotheistic religions have long since moved on from him, as though an embarrassment from their childhood.

I think this is because they are very much into fixing the world via human solutions. They are really not too much different from secularists, only with a light God-seasoning sprinkled on top. A Devil makes all their efforts moot. How can you fix the world if the basic problem is outside your influence? When they do devil at all, they present him as an analogy for ‘the evil that is within us.’ That is something they imagine will yield to their repair efforts.

Then too I think they suffer an overreaction to how the churches have portrayed the Devil, as the master torturer of hellfire, somehow commissioned by God to do his dirty work of punishing sinners. What logical person wouldn’t want to break away from that?—and these theologians are nothing if not those who pride themselves on their logic.

Chasing down a lecture series that Tom Whitepebble pointed me to, I found the lecturer, James Hall, told that he was raised Lutheran Evangelical. Nobody does hellfire more than they. So when he described himself as an “ethical monotheist,” I just assumed that his worldview incorporated a devil. Instead, he tested theodicy after theodicy, punched holes in all of them, and only last did he consider a “dualism” solution that involves the devil. (A theodicy, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an attempt to explain how God could coexist with evil) He conceded this one made the most sense, but also that it was very unpopular, so unpopular that he seemed to think portions of his audience might not have heard of it.

This “unpopular” theodicy only posited that there was a devil. It did not touch on how that one came to be, why God permits it, how he will resolve it, or any other aspect of the Universal Court case scenario—just that there was a devil whom you could pin all the bad stuff on. I had asked Whitepebble if he knew where our court case scenario originated. Based on something he had heard, he pointed me to this lecture series. But it really didn’t touch on the essence of it, just that there was a master villain devil.

Imagine. The fellow reviews theodicy after theodicy, rejects them all as unsatisfactory, and ignores only the one that works. It recalls what a certain friend used to say to me, a friend who is fond of alternative medicine: “If it works, insurance won’t cover it.”

It is not a contradiction in terms to find a given theologian might not believe in God. Some are atheist. This is because theology is not a study of God, as the uninitiated might assume, but a study of man’s interaction with the concept of God. Thus, there doesn’t even have to be a God for the ‘concept of God’ to be valid. It is entirely a human field of study, like sociology or anthropology.

It is all a part of my current work in progress, a review of our ‘court case’ theodicy. It begins with discussion of the Book of Job. In fact, that’s where I first got the idea to write it, when we were doing Job in our congregation Bible readings. It had been vaguely kicking around in my head before, but it needed those Job readings to gel.



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Assume Unity of Scripture or Disunity--the Choice

Back in the days of cloth diapers, it was easy to accidentally flush one down the toilet, rendering the contraption inoperable. Many times I recall my father fishing them out, which was not an easy task and might even be beyond him, entailing the call for an expensive plumber. Once, a certain false-flushing only partially disabled the upstairs toilet. It thereafter worked for liquid waste but not solid. My fed-up dad apparently acquiesced to that become the new norm. If you had to pee, you could use the upstairs toilet, but if your bathroom needs were more serious, only the downstair powder room toilet would do. In time, people forgot the reason why. I grew up thinking that this was just the way it was for houses, that upstairs toilets in any home were unusable for any matter of substance.

Similarly, as a boy, I would get carsick riding in the backseat, but riding in the front seat solved the problem. In time, I always rode shotgun on family trips, and my mother and other two siblings, who did not get carsick, rode in the back seat. Again, I grew up thinking this was normal. I was surprised to find the families of my friends loaded their cars the ‘wrong’ way. Normalcy is often determined by how you were raised.

Might this be why theologians are so quick to assume disunity over unity? People don’t agree in their world. Things are not united in their world. Do they assume, therefore, that they never do, never have, and never are? In time, rubbing shoulders with less brainwashed others served to convince me that moms usually rode in the front seat and that you could use the upstairs toilet to defecate, but what if I had never encountered such people? What if, even as I grew up, I encountered only persons who thought backseats were for moms upstairs toilets were no good. Might I not be deluded to this day? Nobody thought of fixing that upstairs toilet till my dad died and we were preparing the house for resale.

So it is that views of disunity are so popular among scholars today. Why are they so quick to assume that nobody cooperated back then? It is because nobody of their world cooperates. They impose their world upon the ancients rather than allowing for the reverse. Everything they encounter is disunited. Why should it be any different with textual scholarship? Hall, assuming disunity, reviews biblical tale after tale and declares them all ‘ambiguous.’

Hall assumes disunity, and consequently, he sees only scraps of this and scraps of that. He never sees how they fit together because he never thinks to look there. He assumes they don’t. Consequently, everything is ambiguous to him.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do experience unity, put them together without undue fuss and do not assume that they are all there to compete with each other for attention.

You will have to assume something. Something must serve as your starting point. Assume unity and seek to reconcile when it is not manifest. Assume unity over disunity. It’s as great a paradigm shift as seeing the glass half-full over half empty, and it has just as much consequence. Be like Einstein, who labored all his life to connect the dots. He never even wanted to call his theory relativity, a name that suggests a certain disunity. He wanted to call it the theory of invariance, a name that does not; quantities could be changed from one form to another, as though exchanging currencies, but the rate of exchange was invariant: E=mc2. That Einstein was outmaneuvered in naming his own theory says something of his (and our) times. Isaacson’s book on Einstein describes the breakdown of seemingly unrelated elements of society following relativity, as though ‘everything is relative’ and so who can know anything? One wonders if such psychological consequences would have followed a Theory of Invariance.


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The Clock Ticks on Emotion: A Correction to Theology

If you are trying to please the ology people—those whose specialize in theology, sociology, psychology, and add philosophy to the stack—you do not present God by his personality and attributes. These are not matters of the intellect. The thinkers do not have the tools to measure it. They are uncomfortable when not strictly in the realm of the head, strictly in the realm of critical thinking. A diversion into the heart may do as an enhancing spice, but if the goal is to discern the truth of a matter, the heart is considered untrustworthy since it introduces emotion.

The clear bias towards head over heart is found in the very characters invented for science fiction. Spock, the Star Trek Vulcan, has no emotion at all; he is pure logic, even when his half human origin interferes. Data, the android, is likewise the epitome of brains and is barren of emotion. If you want to know something, you ask one of these characters. You do not ask one of their human shipmates. They might be right but they might just as easily be wrong. The problem is that their judgment will be clouded by emotion. In the world of science fiction, mental capacity is elevated to the highest heights and everything else plays second fiddle.

It must have been a setback to these ones to discover that people who have suffered brain injury, so that that they cannot experience emotion, thereafter are unable to make even simple decisions in matters supposedly having nothing to do with emotion. Decisions as to what to wear, what to eat, what to buy—they cannot make them. Plainly, it is too simplistic to view emotion as the enemy of rationality, a contamination that must be ferreted out, lest it interfere with the quest for truth.

Emotion is part of the quest. It is not to be shoved aside as useless. “A physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually,” says 1 Corinthians 2:14. Remove the quality that feels emotion and you will be just as impeded in spiritual examination as is the emotion-deprived person towards examining strictly physical things.

What the Bible writer calls “the things of the spirit of God” remain elusive to those whose specialty is critical thinking. Therefore, some of these ones come to focus their analysis on the effects of religious belief, since they don’t know how to evaluate religious belief itself. They give up on the task, for example, of discerning whether God rewards the good and punishes the bad. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) called such questions antinomies. He considered them unknowable, since they lay outside the access of his sole tool, reason. However, the effects of believing in them were not. Does such belief help or hurt society? He felt splendidly equipped to analyze that derivative topic.

 The change of focus is not a bad consolation prize for them. You would hope that your beliefs contribute favorably to society, and if they don’t, maybe there is something wrong with them. If your beliefs make you behave better, make you kinder, make you industrious, make you honest—what’s not to like? What is good for the believer is good for society. That is the original basis of favorable government tax treatment for religion: they did the government’s work for them.

It can be awkward, however, when society itself veers in a certain direction and religion doesn’t embrace the change. Peter spoke of ones who were “puzzled that you do not continue running with them in the same decadent course of debauchery, so they speak abusively of you.” (1 Peter 4:4) When society begins to frown upon separation because inclusion has become their guiding principle, even your good qualities begin to be looked upon with suspicion. When society becomes intent on fixing this world, and here you are like the early Christians proclaiming it slated for replacement, that too is regarded warily. The Scriptural counsel to stay “no part of this world” is viewed with suspicion by those who see nothing wrong with it. Jesus expressed it alarmingly with, “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.” (John 15:19) Even trying to sit out the war that all are determined to rush into can cause you trouble. It is not enough to point out that your religious counterparts on the other side are also sitting it out. It is not enough to ask that both you and they be allowed to do what you both do best, to bring scriptural comfort. During such times, the pressure is on that all must participate in determining which brand of human rulership will prevail.

Another ologist to consider is William James (1842-1910), who taught psychology at Harvard. He is known also as a philosopher, as well as theologian, since he has written his own theories of religion. He is another one analogous to the math teacher whom you assume is there to teach math, but no—he is only there to teach about math, since the topic itself is beyond his field of expertise. He is another one of these who dodges the question as to whether God exists or not and is only concerned with the effects of believing that he exists or not. And—it’s not a huge concession, but I’ll take it—he is another one who, like Stark and Baimbridge (preceding chapter), does not think it his duty to cart religion out to the curb or oversee its downfall. He hasn’t concluded, like most of his ology forebears, that it is ‘bad science.’ He isn’t perplexed as to why it hasn’t imploded by now.

He breaks ranks with many of his fellow ologists by allowing a significant role for emotion, which he calls “our passionate nature.” In selecting our worldview, be it religious or not, you cannot use rationality and logic to make all the decisions, he contends, because the clock is ticking. As a case in point, he considers a hypothetical young woman you are thinking of marrying (after you are past the ‘bloom of youth,’ thank you very much). The clock is ticking. While you are off doing your endless background checks, you are killing what could be some very pleasant years and the rewards of joint accomplishments. The facts will never be all in. At some point, you must decide on a basis that is not 100% logic.

So it is with religious faith, as well as the choice between religious faiths. You look them over closely. You seek to bring in all the facts. But they will never be all in, and the clock is ticking. At some point, unless one wants to be a law unto oneself (an island, said Paul Simon), one must commit to a greater worldview, be it religious or not, and thus benefit from its direction, guidance, and support.

The choice was thrust upon the Boreans when Paul and Silas paid a visit in the first century:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica [where the two had been run out of town], for they accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

That they were rational is evident in that they carefully examined the Scriptures daily to see that what Paul and Silas were telling them was so. But from where does the eagerness come? That one will be emotion, not logic—heart, not head. That one will be people conscious of their spiritual need, and so determined to fill it. That one will be people who intuitively know they have a spiritual need and that it is analogous to their need for vitamins, without which one gets very ill and never knows why. Nobody hungers for vitamin C or vitamin D. Instead, they make themselves conscious of that need. That those of Borea put such a premium on spiritual matters explains that they are called noble-minded. It’s a nobility that has nothing to do with the intellect, the head. It has everything to do with emotion, with what a person is at heart.

The challenges are greater today. It was enough then to study the scriptures as to whether “these things were so.” Today, in a more pluralistic world, one must also tackle the subject of whether the scriptures themselves are so. The learned ones of today increasingly lean that they are not. Even the theologians are apt to maintain that, while it contains glimmers of ‘being so,’ in the main it is not.

(See: Introduction to the Study of Religion--Charles B Jones, Great Courses, Lecture 10)

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Who We Are and Why We Are and Where We Are Going?

How can people believe Bible texts the way they do? People were superstitious then. And it is violent.

Maybe because they are enamored with its main character, God. Those not enamored with him are not attracted to the text. Psalm 34:8 is a favorite of mine: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” Some people think he tastes bad. Taste is not a provable topic. It resonates with some and not with others. It is not primarily a matter of intellect. Some people hate asparagus. Good luck trying to ‘prove’ to them that it tastes good.

The reason God and the texts long associated with him ‘taste good’ to people of faith is summed up in this quote from a newspaper editor, as true today as when he wrote it 60 years ago: “Here is a curious thing. In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.” (Vermont Royster) People of faith want to know “who we are and why we are and where we are going.” They are convinced secular society has no answers (“we are little further along than when time began”), so they look to God. They are not put off by the fact the Bible is old. (You would hardly expect a message from God to all mankind to have been written recently) They don’t consider those ancients inferior. If anything, with less to distract them, they had the time to think deeper thoughts.

Nor do they think science answers Royster's question. Professor Viskontas* addresses how our present life is but an hour or two on the year-scaled cosmic timeline. "Does this mean that our short little lives hold no meaning? I would argue that it certainly does not. In fact, it gives us a sense of how far we've come and how connected we are even to the very beginnings of the universe. And surely life gains meaning through the connections that we make to each other and to our world," se says. I dunno. It's not nothing, but it doesn't compare to the thought of everlasting life. Isn't it more akin to persuading a speed bump to find meaning in its role on the highway of life?

Too, God’s revealed personality attracts some. To Moses, he presented himself as “a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love and truth, showing loyal love to thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34) Those are good qualities to have in a God, particularly in a world not typified by such qualities. They draw people. He ‘tastes good’ to them. They see a world deteriorating at an almost visibly increasing rate. They see human governments have no answers. They look for one in the Scriptures, and there they find it.

They do not find it offensive that God would have requirements, as is intimated at the end of the Exodus phrase. It instantly strikes them as right that he would. They like the illustration of an owner’s manual for a product, say a new Ford. It makes perfect sense to them that Ford would be the one to consult as to how to care for the product it created.That’s why “people have believed in this text for so many years.” It is a vehicle through which one may get to know one’s Creator. Ordinary people find that very comforting, even if some more independently minded others find it offensive.

Is there concern that there is much violence in the OT? Don’t think people are any less violent today. It is just that modern societies have found a way to sanitize and corporatize violence, so that it can be inflicted from afar by horrific weapons, while the ones congratulating themselves at their supposed moral progress safely watch on TV. Some have heard the terrorist argument for attacking innocent civilians. There are no innocent civilians, they say, because these ‘innocent’ civilians willfully empower governments that go on to commit atrocities in their homeland.

No need to fuss about things that happened 4000 years ago, which is when most of the OT violence occurred. Parties have had plenty of time to reform, if they see fit to do so. Besides, you can always assign that Bible reading of Elisha calling down bears on the jeering children to a bald brother, who will tap his own shiny dome as though to say, ‘Don’t mess with me.’

...* Indre Viskontas, lecturer of 12 Essential Scientific Concepts, from Great Courses


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Like a Bad Accident: You Know You Shouldn’t Watch, but You Can’t Look Away.

Our next-door neighbor likens the news to a bad accident. “You know you shouldn’t watch, but you can’t look away,” she says. Is that a great analogy for ‘Man ruling man to his injury’ or what? And she is not even a Witness.

It’s a trainwreck! You really should look away, for you will see some horrific things—but you can’t. It will cause you less angst if you look away. On the other hand, there are survivors of that accident. Witnesses encounter them, even going out of their way to search for them. It can help to know where they are coming from and what they have been through.

I was assigned the 5-minute talk last mid-week meeting. Our next-door neighbor’s analogy served as the introduction. The first scripture considered was Psalm 46:2-3

We will not fear, though the earth undergoes change, Though the mountains topple into the depths of the sea, though its waters roar and foam over, Though the mountains rock on account of its turbulence.”

Recall that mountains, when not literal, can picture human institutions, often nations or political parties within a nation, because the are big, they tower over people with seemingly rock-like stability. Nobody runs to the valleys in time of emergency; they run to the mountains. And, the sea with its waters pictures restless, unstable humankind, forever kicking up seaweed and crud. “But the wicked are like the restless sea that cannot calm down, And its waters keep tossing up seaweed and mire,” says Isaiah 57:20

So we have two ancient symbolisms, mountains and seas, to accompany the one new one—that the news is like a bad accident. Seldom have we seen the open hostility between political parties within nations. In the U.S, not only do Democrats and the GOP not agree on answers to the questions, but they don’t even agree on what the questions are, Pew Research recently stated. With no starting point for discussion, there can be no hope of reaching anything but more rancor.

What people need to do is in the words of Psalm 46:10, which was the theme scripture of the talk: “Give in and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” They have to give in to the idea of rulership by God. In the New Testament, it is expressed as God’s kingdom, that when it comes, his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. In the Old Testament, it is the stone that smashes into the feet of the idol of successive human seventies, toppling the entire statue.

Even religious people have to ‘give in,’ since for the most part it is human rulership they want to fix through their religion, choosing from a sorry lot of human candidates the one they think most likely to do it. The thought of God’s ruling through his Son is a turn-off to them. Ideally, they do ‘give in’ and it doesn’t become a matter of brute force, as when Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. ‘You going to give in?’ he told that one. ‘What’s with the persecution? What! You think I’m going to lose here? You only make it hard on yourself.’

Jehovah’s people too may need to ‘give in’ from time to time. Basic neutrality means no one will openly campaign for this candidate or that. But might they drop down a notch and ‘fact check’ ‘misperceptions’ about one side? You know, just in the interests of establishing truth, whereas they would never correct misperceptions of the other side—which are probably not misperceptions at all; they are probably true, that person being a fraud and a liar. We can be not so neutral as we imagine ourselves to be. It is good not to bring it into the Kingdom Hall, lest we encounter someone whose experiences and perceptions have led him to ‘fact check’ the other way.

Give in and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” It is a role Jehovah’s people are glad to have. They even feel privileged to have it. Paul wrote on how “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the good news. (1 Thess 2:4) He didn’t write of God saying, “Look, clear up a few of those issues of yours and then maybe we can talk.” No, he “approved” of Christians, flawed thought they were, and “entrusted” them with the good news of God’s kingdom.

There is a brother I know who frames it that we have a ring-side seat for the greatest show on earth: human kingdoms go down locked in mortal combat, with God’s kingdom on the ascent. But it is not really a ‘seat’—it is a participatory role from a position of relative safety. Through the many venues typifying Witnesses—whether door-to-door (because everyone lives somewhere), or literature displays, informal chatting up people and writing to them, since some are not at home or live in places inaccessible. At any rate, this brother tells how he rearranges his entire life to have a large role in that activity.


***After the mid-week meeting, someone approached to say that they had liked my talk. I knew it was a trap. I knew they were just waiting to see if I would get all puffed up and so be eaten by worms. Herod’s demise had also been covered at that meeting. I slunk out of that Hall so modestly you could hear a pin drop.


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Sociologists Recognize the Practice of Religion is Rational--it Only Took Till 1987 (Stark and Baimbridge)

When an LDC couple moves into town, or any person of the full-time-servant variety, there is some flexibility as to which congregation they will attend. I try to woo them into mine. ‘Frankly, in some of those other congregations,’ I tell them, ‘I’m not sure they even believe in God.’ It’s a joke. Everyone knows it’s a joke. They laugh.

But in the world of theologians, it’s no joke. Theologians may not. And if they do not, their credentials as theologian are not diminished. Rank-and-file religious believers may assume a theologian believes in God as much as they, the only distinction being that they know more, having made the divine a special topic of study. They are wrong. Theology is a study of humans, specifically, of their interaction with what they regard as the divine. As such, it does not even assume that there is a divine. It is a study of humans interacting with the concept of one, whether that concept be real or not.

Theologians occupy themselves with arguments as to God’s existence, arguments categorized as ontological, cosmological, and teleological—usually finding flaws with each one. James Hall considers numerous examples of each argument and in every case arrives at what he calls a ‘Scottish verdict’—undecided.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the believers who don’t fret about such things. Few of them even know the terms. Instead, they present God according to his attributes and personality revealed in Scripture. If people like those attributes and personality, they take care of the theology all on their own. If they don’t, all the theology in the world will not sway them.

In short, the worship of God is not an academic discipline. It need not hold to the latest standards of intellectual rigor, standards which change over time. It is enough for the believer to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘sound in mind.’ Accordingly, while a few bones are thrown to those who insist on evidence, such as how the Bible conveys knowledge far ahead of its time—the shape and position of the earth in space, an understanding of the water cycle, the value of sanitation and quarantine—the primary draw will ever be on God’s attributes and personality. When God passed by Moses’s face, it was not to explain that the earth is round and hangs upon nothing. It was to declare, “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love and truth, showing loyal love to thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, bringing punishment for the error of fathers upon sons and upon grandsons, upon the third generation and upon the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

That last phrase, which sounds ominous, is best explained in terms of people inheriting the consequences of their progenitor’s prior actions. Since concepts of normalcy originate from observing our parents, a parent decidedly abnormal sabotages his children for generations to come. Many people know the determination to do things ‘not like my old man did,’ succeeding to a point, and then one day realizing to their dismay that beneath the veneer, they are just like the old man.

There is also the unsettling findings of epigenetics, which upends the universal understanding of my youth that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. Ruin your health—say, through alcohol or tobacco, and it was once thought the damage stops with you—your children would not inherit the defect. In fact, they can. The epigenome may not change the genome—the genome is inherited intact, except for evolution’s deft touch—but it does change whether various genes will be expressed or not. Again, the Exodus 34:7 passage is validated.

It is the attributes and personality that draws one close to God, including the attribute implied by that final passage—that God would have requirements for us. For the longest time, Jehovah’s Witnesses used in their ministry the brochure What Does God Require of Us? That God should have that attribute immediately resonates with some and immediately repels others. It either ‘tastes’ good or it doesn’t. “Taste and see that Jehovah is good,” says the psalm. Taste is not a provable topic. Some people think he tastes bad. The head has little to do with it. Yet, today’s philosophical theologians focus almost exclusively on the head. One might imagine a mechanic approaching auto repair with its least applicable tool.

Up till now, I have been sloppy with terms such as theologians, philosophers, and sociologists. If I rectify this only to a degree here, it is due to a conviction that they are mostly like that ill-equipped mechanic. Little useful about God is derived from them; humanity is their specialty, not God. The terms are important only for the sake of speaking about them and distinguishing among them. Their fields bear relationship to each other. At times, as with P.D.Q Bach, the name of that relationship is identity, but at other times, they are quite diverse. Think of a Venn diagram, with disciplines sometimes overlapping and sometimes not. Thus, theologians can approach their topic from a philosophical, sociological, or psychological orientation.

It took until the 1980s for sociologists studying religion to admit that religious believers were even engaged in a rational activity. Since the time of the Enlightenment, the prevailing assumption had been that religion was ‘irrational’ and, as such, it would eventually be crowded out by scientific advance. But in time, that premise came to be viewed as a recipe for failure. What if one approached economics, for example, with the assumption that the use of money was irrational? The feeling grew that prior ‘theories’ were really just metaphors—that the worship of God was a neurosis (Freud) or the opium of the people (Marx). Begin by insulting those you wish to study; just how much might you expect to learn with that approach? A Theory of Religion, by Stark and Baimbridge (1987) posited for first time among sociologists that religion was a rational endeavor.

Well, it’s a nice concession. Believers will appreciate knowing they are no longer presumed nuts. But don’t think the concession extends too far. The academics are simply willing to dignify their objects of study as not the irrational loons their colleagues made them out to be. Any recognition that God exists remain well beyond these fellows; no one has broken ranks to that degree. Some have only opined that, given certain assumptions, the very practice of religion is not hogwash.

The Stark-Baimbridge team framed religious belief as though it were goods rationally bought and rationally paid for. Suppose you want to live forever but you are discouraged by the fact that it’s not possible. In that case, the team posited, as a thoroughly rational decision you might accept an IOU from a religious figure who promises that in an afterlife. Suppose you want to up the ante and not only live forever in an afterlife, but also enjoy good health, community support, and family support in the present life. Well, then you might join the Mormons and pay a rather high cost in terms of tithing, time, and ridicule incurred from defending the ‘third testament’ called for by that religion. (Stark uses the Mormons a lot in his research, they being especially numerous in his neck of the woods)

They even think their theory explains why Christianity spread in early times whereas Roman and Greek religions died out. Christians accepted the IOUs of everlasting life. The Roman and Greek gods had nothing to compare with these IOUs—their Hades, the abode of both the meritorious and villainous deceased, was a miserable existence. The Christian community cared for and supported one another through good times and bad; their God encouraged that. The Greek and Roman gods didn’t give a hoot about people, and thus their worshippers tended not to either. Self-reliance is a useful thing, but it may not get you through hard times as much as neighbor helping neighbor.

Okay, okay—so Stark and Baimbridge have jumped light-years ahead of their contemporaries, who will still be muttering as they are lowered in their graves, ‘Faith is irrational’—but it is still all wrong to look at faith as though it were a series of economic exchanges. No true believer would ever look at it that way. To explain religious faith in terms no person of religion would ever employ—isn’t that more than a little contemptuous? It is all wrong to focus on the benefits of faith while ignoring the source of it. It smacks of savoring the peel of a banana while ignoring the interior. It also smacks of committing the grand faux pas of equating correlation to causation, something we are told one never must do, though the ones who tell us that do it all the time. The question as to whether God exists is not irrelevant but forms the very core of belief.

This ass-backwards approach correlates with why you don’t get all excited when you hear Hollywood is making a movie about the Bible. You know they won’t do it right. You know they will turn out some product in which Moses pops Pharaoh in the nose and gets the girl; that approach is just so much sexier and in accord with popular values. So is the product of the sociologists, examining religion from the premise that humans created god rather than the reverse.

I would have liked it had Stark chosen Jehovah’s Witnesses as his ‘hard-core’ religious example, but he didn’t. He chose the Mormons. The Witnesses, too, are a high-cost, high-commitment, high-benefit faith and occasionally the two faiths are mistaken for one another. But, he may have chosen the Mormons because the bar of credulity is higher with them, thus putting his theory to greater test. With the Mormons, you must explain the Book of Mormon. He also likes it that they have solved what he calls the free-rider problem (the name speaks for itself) with their insistence on tithing. Solving the free-rider problem is another key element in his theory of economic comparisons, a problem which must be solved for the religion to survive. But, the Witnesses have not worked to solve such a problem. If someone wishes to ride free, so be it. They are convinced that not enough people will choose to do that so as to sink the entire enterprise. ‘Let the giver give freely,’ says the scripture. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

In recent years, Mormons have rebranded themselves as Latter Day Saints. I don’t wish them ill on this, but I think it will not take. Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their name, too, in 1931, from that of the International Bible Students. That name change did take. No one calls them International Bible Students anymore. But the Mormon name change is heading from specific (Mormon) to general (Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ), whereas the Witnesses went from general (International Bible students) to specific (Jehovah’s Witnesses). You can go in one direction but not the other. People don’t trade the specific for the general, particularly if they want to deride you as a cult.

Are either religions ‘cults?’ The criteria for cult classification used to be: If you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from society, and began doing strange things, you just might be a member of a cult. By this definition, neither faiths are cults. Their leaders are anything but charismatic—some are an acquired taste to listen to. They don’t withdraw from life, but continue in work and school in the greater community. Do they do ‘strange things?’ It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but there was a time when speaking about one’s faith was not considered overly strange. They are not cults by the old standard. Scholars of religion call them ‘new religions’ so as to avoid the incendiary connotations of ‘cult.’

The definition of cult has changed dramatically over the years, expanded to include unpopular, out-of-the-mainstream, groups, attributing that out-of-the-mainstream aspect to ‘undue psychological influence.’ Accordingly, some faiths that were once on one side of the C-word are now on the other. Mormons must speak for themselves, but Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t really care which side of the word they are on so long as the Bible is on the same side. And they believe that it is. If they are a cult, it is because the Bible is a cult manual. If it is, they are. if it is not, they aren’t. When Demas abandoned Paul because “he loved the present system of things” (2 Timothy 4:10), would Demas himself have chosen those personally unflattering words? ‘These guys are a cult,’ is what he probably said—if not immediately, then with the passage of time.

The latest manifestation of a ‘freedom of mind’ obsession that derides religion, and particularly organized minority religion, is found in a recent commentary on the young, which summarizes it thus: “They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.” That sentence (if it is one) says it all. I know the following is symbolic, but as symbolism goes, it doesn’t get any better. Today’s ‘freedom of mind’ people are so fiercely independent they can’t even stand for words to be organized properly, lest one unduly influence another.

You organize to get things done. If you don’t care about getting things done, you don’t organize. To spread the news of God’s kingdom worldwide in a way that does not quickly devolve into a theologian’s quagmire of individual opinion seems to Jehovah’s Witnesses a project worth organizing for. So they do it. And they put up with how in any organization, there will be flaws, since everything humans touch is flawed. “We have this treasure [of the ministry] in earthen vessels” [us—with all our imperfections] the NT writer advises. (2 Corinthians 4:7) But cast aside such organization and one presently becomes indistinguishable from the evolving and declining standards of the greater world. So Witnesses hang in there, repeating if need be the Rolling Stones lyric, “You can’t always get what you want.” It works so much better than the Stone’s other mantra: “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

(See: Introduction to the Study of Religion--Charles B Jones, Great Courses, Lecture 9)

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The Theodicy that No One Takes Seriously Today: Is it Because it Works?

People run in herds and theologians are no different. New ideas replace old and these fellows jump ship en masse. New ideas come along and they abandon the old for the new. It is today almost taboo to mention what was once widely accepted. ‘Functional dualism,’ the notion that there is not just a good supernatural being (God), but also a bad supernatural being (Satan) to oppose him—it is as unpopular an idea as could be today. “Nobody takes this kind of thing very seriously anymore,” Hall says of it, even though he acknowledges that, as a theodicy, it makes sense. He does this after considering several theodicies in his preferred ‘ethical monotheism’ realm and finding fault with all of them. None of them work. The ‘functional dualism’ one that does work, theologians don’t like. Sometimes you suspect that is the reason they don’t like it—because it works. They don’t like the source of evil being outside their grasp. They want it strictly in the human realm where it can be fixed. Assign it to Satan, and human efforts to reform and remold are largely doomed.

Everything boils down to the universal question of, ‘Who will rule the earth—God or humans?’ The theologians of today want it to be humans, hopefully humans molded by the fine morals that religion may instill, but they want it to be humans. Hall speaks of the current trend in theology “that wants to put satanic powers, and anything that has to do with them, sort of in the attic of theological memories, to be forever forgotten and ignored because they're part of our theological childhood, or something of the sort.”

Theology is not a study of God, as the uninitiated may think. It is a study of humanity’s relationship with the concept of God. It is primarily a study of humanity, not of God. It makes no assumption as to even whether God exists or not. Following the herd of today, theologians may conclude that he doesn’t. They are not like me, trying to sway the new visitors to choose our congregation over others, telling them, ‘Frankly, in some of those congregations, I’m not even sure they believe in God.’ It is a joke. Everyone knows it is a joke.

But in the world of theologians, it is not. They may not believe in God at all, and if they don’t, this does nothing to downgrade their credentials as theologians. In the cases high-brow churches in which pastors hold degrees in theology, you can almost take it as a challenge to your faith, as though George Bush III landing on the aircraft carrier and saying of terrorists, ‘Bring them on!’ It is hard not to draw parallels with religious leaders of Jesus day, who elevated tradition over the ‘Word of God.’ It is even harder to not do it upon learning that they are embarrassed but the very expression ‘Word of God’ and strive to avoid it.

Mind you, the theodicy of ‘functional dualism’ that works, according to Hall, he does not flesh out—and without fleshing it out, it really doesn’t work. It just shows potential as a viable idea. Hall says nothing about how this ‘dualism’ came to be or why God puts up with both it and the mischief it causes. He leaves it untouched, it being “very unpopular,” a topic that “nobody takes . . . very seriously anymore,” a matter tucked away and “forever forgotten.” If I didn’t know better (and I don’t), I would call it an example of ‘the god of this system of things blinding the minds of the unbelievers,” just like Paul does at 2 Corinthians 4:4, as though making them blind to his very existence—all the better to flimflam the learned ones so they can flimflam everyone else.

Let us posit another reason that Hall and his cohorts flee from the Devil as a means of explaining anything. It is because the Devil to them (Hall states his upbringing as evangelical Lutheran) is the one who stokes the fires of hell! Hellfire—the teaching that Isaac Asimov called “the drooling dream of a sadist.” Even human justice knows that punishment ought be proportional to the crime. Even human justice knows that wanton cruelty ought be disallowed. The Devil and Eternal torment are bound together forever in Hall’s mind—he cannot separate them. To admit the one is to admit the other. If only he had been exposed to C. T. Russell, popularly known as the founder of what is today Jehovah’s Witnesses. The man was known within his lifetime as the one “who turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.”

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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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