‘Using’ the Pandemic to ‘Recruit’ - Sheesh! What is it With These Nutcases?

It must really confound those who accuse the JW organization of being a cult that few people are behaving better these days, or more reasonably, with more of an eye toward the public good. That #CultExpert tweets about how Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate people, and I reply that their followers put his to shame for vanquishing COVID. Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately transferred all gatherings to Zoom and issued strong counsel to observe government-recommended social distancing—which our people will observe because they strive to be obedient. But his followers? Some will observe social distancing, no doubt—probably even most, but is his mission statement ‘Freedom of Mind’ really compatible with obedience to secular authority? You don’t think some will use their ‘freedom of mind’ to tell the government to buzz off—‘We’ll party on the beach if we feel like it!?’—thus spreading COVID far and wide?

Doubtless they expected ‘scare-mongering’—‘using’ the present crisis to scare new ones into the fold—and in fact, there have been accusations of that. But you really really have to stretch the point if you go there. The lead post on jw.org is the most socially responsible contribution imaginable, replete with suggestions on how to cope with isolation and resulting loneliness. With people beside themselves with anxiety, unable to cope in many cases, you don’t think that is a valuable contribution, perhaps THE most valuable? After all, if your psyche breaks down, all the physical relief in the world does you no good.

It reminds me of the verse on muzzling the talk of the ignorant ones by doing good. To be sure, hostile ones are still criticizing—but in doing so,  they are also plainly revealing their ignorance, and in some cases, their hate.

In fact, I don’t quite go there with the CultExpert, for some of the groups he monitors really DO seem pretty strange—so I don’t go there, though I do think about it—I almost want to say: “LET them join a cult if it helps them get through this and save their sanity! What are you offering in lieu—that we should put our hope in the next crop of politicians? Haven’t we been down that road countless times before?”

Affirming some cult idiot’s charge that I am ‘using’ the pandemic to ‘recruit,’ (to anyone concerned about that, I reply that on the 200th contact I will ask if they want to convert and then they can say ‘no’—in the meantime, it’s just conversation—don’t worry about it) I have many times tweeted that lead post to persons, sometimes in response to a specific plea like with Mr. Fiend, and sometimes I just throw it out there—with good results in both cases. Sometimes the tweets are retweeted. Unless you are a snarling ‘ain’t-cultist,’ people do not misunderstand—they know that you are trying to help.

As always, you tailor your tweet to the person. To persons who appear secular, you say (this one was lamenting a suicide she had read about): “It is a terrible thing. Healthy people struggle when their routine is uprooted, let alone persons unwell to begin with. I sent this to someone who tweeted that he was frankly losing it. There is a spiritual component to it, but it is mostly on combatting isolation and loneliness”—and I attach the link.

To someone decidedly irreligious, you might say: “As a suggestion—nothing more—here is a series of posts on how to cope with isolation and loneliness. Upended routines are driving everyone up a tree. My turn is probably next. Like Bob Dylan: ‘The riot squad is restless, they need somewhere to go.’” I like to play the Dylan card—it doesn’t mean that you have to. You also don’t exempt yourself—hence the ‘my turn is probably next,’

My new pinned tweet is: “With #mentalhealth under assault and even balanced people buckling under the stress, I can’t imagine a better read than this one on coping with isolation and loneliness from #JehovahsWitnesses,” as I include a link to the post.

Note the hashtags. Ages ago my daughter said to me: “They’re hashtags, Dad, not crosstags.” Hashtags are fair game on social media, whereas tagging individuals directly is generally considered rude, unless you know full well that they will welcome it. Hashtags will draw in anyone else who monitors the subject—as an experiment, enter a hashtag anything on social media to see what comes up. You can even use it as your own filing system if you choose a hashtag unique enough.

It can, however backfire. If the hashtag is of any controversial topic, it can bring in people who want to argue, even insult. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are disgruntled former members—‘apostates’—that can be attracted—in fact, they almost surely will be. “Oh, yeah,” you can mutter. “They’ll come alright. As surely as flies to dung, they will come!” But you should not say this because, while you are comparing apostates to flies, you are also comparing yourself to dung—so you should seek another metaphor.

My #mentalhealth hashtag drew in some mental health people, some of whom expressed great appreciation. But true to warning, my #jehovahswitnesses hashtag drew in some ‘apostates.’

“The rather large elephant in the paragraph [about the comfort JWs offer] is the Jehovah’s Witness shunning policy.”

But I replied (in three tweets):

“There is hardly an issue here. Those who would trigger a ‘shunning policy’ are those for whom, at the present time, the last thing in the world they would want is to abide by the principles of those who wrote the article. Even so, they are welcome to take from it what they will.”

“The thoughts expressed in the article are non-denominational, offered freely to all, even those on the outs at present with JWs. It’s meant as a public service. One need not take it. One can always put trust in the politicians, medical staff, and economists to fix matters.”

I looked at the detractor’s profile and discovered that she was one who was trying to torpedo the JW organization’s status as a charitable religious organization, something that they plainly are:

“In fact, it is an excellent post for consideration of the @CharityComms, though not written for that reason. Look, nobody is everything to everyone. But they will recognize that we are well past the time for nursing grudges—not with C19 threatening the mental health of the planet.”

It shut her up! I couldn’t believe it! It is unheard of! ‘Apostates’ never ever EVER give up—I’ve had to block some—and yet she gave up. There is no finer proof of 1 Peter 2:15 than that: “For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorant talk of unreasonable men.”

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Avoiding Masks in Public—the New Snake Handling. The Huffington Post Weighs In

The Huffington Post is an irreligious source that works fairly hard to exalt “reason” and persuade that faith is for chumps. Alas, religion behaves in such a way as to give them plenty of easy shots. Like this one from a former church missionary, now a skeptic, who says:

“The best testimonies in church were always from addicts and ex-cons who started with, “If it weren’t for God, I might be dead by now.” In 2020, I wonder the opposite. If it weren’t for no longer believing, I could be dead by now.”

This is because, in the writer Karen Alea’s view, the more Bible-believing someone is, the more likely they are to blow off “COVID-19 [as] a hoax, or even if it’s not a hoax, God will protect them from it.” She cites a study that say 55% of believers are convinced that God will protect them from the virus. They gather in defiance of government advisories and see efforts to curtail services as tricks of the devil to which they will not fall victim.

In the effort to convey that those who believe the Bible are nuts and even harmful, since they downplay (or ignore) masks and social distancing, the Huffington Post does not mention that the largest group of evangelizers BY FAR (since every member preaches the good news—until not long ago, from door to door) had no problem at all with complying with the recommendation of government and health policies—even acting ahead of them. We always take a hit from these religionists, because their deeds are ascribed to us, even though ours are 180 degrees opposite.

Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately shut down all congregation gatherings, even before governments starting decreeing it. There was about a week in early March when it was stated to congregations that the group whose turn was to clean the Kingdom Hall would sanitize every touchable surface both before and after meetings, but this lasted only a week. A letter from the Branch subsequently stated all physical meetings would be suspended. And yet congregation members missed nothing—the succeeding week all meetings were held via the Zoom app.

At the same time, the trademark feature of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the house to house ministry, was suspended for the first time ever. It was one of the constants of life—“there is death and taxes and Jehovah’s Witnesses” and then it was no more. The New York Times acknowledged this shift—it is a tidal wave historic shift—though because they share the same “enlightened” view of Bible-believers as the HuffPo, they managed to convey it as though it was only for outward appearances, that contrary to the Governing Body’s statement about putting life first, they didn’t give a hoot about life and were frustrated the pandemic would deprive them of their powers to “manipulate people”—oh yeah! these anti-cult crazies have guzzled far too much of their own Kool-Aid—still they did acknowledge it.

Why doesn’t the Huffington Post acknowledge this example that flies in the face of their “Bible-believers are reckless” narrative? The answer is contained in the question—they don’t want things to fly in the face of what they believe. Man, that is irritating! It is like the Black Nationalist I spoke with in the ministry who allowed that Jehovah’s Witnesses know their Bibles more than others, but he still looked upon them askance because he thought they were Trump supporters. It’s like Jen, who told me how people just assume that she, as a Christian woman serious enough about the Bible to visit their home, must necessarily be a Trump supporter. How she answered I do not know, but I know how I answered the Black Nationalist: that the Pew Research people report that Jehovah’s Witnesses are apolitical, and to the extent they are not, they lean slightly Democrat. But the feature of the chart that immediately strikes one is their distinct lack of participation on either side—in sharp contrast to any other religion surveyed. In fact (this is just my guess), if it were not for the fact that participants in such surveys self-identity, even the low participation rates revealed would be much lower still.

So here we have the Huffington Post striving with all its irreligious might to convey that Bible-believing is reckless, when in fact, not only are Jehovah’s Witnesses more responsible than the church Christians they consider, but they are more responsible than the Post’s own skeptical readers! They must be. The Cult Expert’s hashtag—he of the BITE model—is “freedomofmind.” You don’t think at least some of his followers will use their freedom of mind to tell the authorities where they can go with their advisories?

Now, this is not to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses have given up on their ministry, but they have shifted to methods not necessitating personal contact—letters, phone calls, online, informal situations, and the like—not as thorough, probably, but the best that can be done under the circumstances—maybe a little like how the ministry slows notably, but does not stop, during the atrocious months of winter.

So the Huffington Post ignore the example of Jehovah’s Witnesses that flies in the face of their ‘Bible-believers are reckless’ narrative because they are irreligious. Writer Karen Alea ignores it however—well, who can say why she ignores it?—but it is very likely that she does not know about it. And why does she not know about it?

Because the church community she hails from collectively does all it can to spread the fiction that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian. And why do they do that? Because they buy into the completely illogical trinity teaching, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not. The verses that can be used to support the trinity would, if seen in any other context, be instantly dismissed as figure of speech, and yet they take it all literally. No wonder her former chums declared that her problem was “logic” that was holding her back from God’s blessing. Now—in fact, there is something to not thinking you can figure God out, but that is not the same as incorporating completely irrational notions into your definition of him.

Portions of what Alea observes about her previous church connections would be unsettling to any of Jehovah’s Witnesses—even given that the Huffington Post will not paint faith in a flattering way and when they cover Jehovah’s Witnesses, they rip them apart, too.  For example, with regard to her pursuing the “gift of tongues,” she followed the advice to “Just let it come,” the leader said. I decided I needed to break through this rational thinking stifling me and so I followed their directions and emulated some of the sounds of speaking in tongues I heard coming out of the mouths of the people surrounding me. As I did, their prayers got louder with excitement. Adults, leaders, people who had put their lives on the line for God could tell I was being blessed and it roused their souls. I repeated the same odd five sounds again and again like a child starting to talk.” Most of Jehovah’s Witnesses would regard this as flirting with demonism—you don’t try to override your common sense—if it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it.

This one is more than a little screwy, too: She writes: “I believed God would put things in my path to bless me or test me. Both would make me stronger in my faith.” In fact, overcoming trials does make one stronger—this is true for believers and non-believers alike—but does God “put things in her path to test her?” How does that square with the verse Witnesses read all the time, and now reading Karen’s article, I can better see why: “When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) It is a seemingly subtle aspect of belief—that God causes suffering—that translates into a huge and deleterious shift of outlook.

Of course, Karen’s moved on from religion, now—she’s “currently a skeptic”—but how much of it is due to the nonsense she was required to swallow in the first place? She is preaching her new gospel: “Christianity is based on one singular belief: Jesus raised from the dead. Once you believe in one miracle, the pathway is paved to believe in the next. Not all branches of faith go as far as handling snakes, but they’re all rooted in the one miracle that overrides our intellect.

Does it really “override our intellect” or is it just something that we don’t know? Now, the trinity—that overrides our intellect. That is said to be beyond our powers of understanding even by its most ardent advocates. But the resurrection? Once you accept the premise that God created life, what is so hard about accepting that he can restore it? Haven’t you ever fixed something that was broken?

At any rate, she has described the course she once embraced as “spiritual terrorism.” She writes of how “gathering together [was] the best way to get out the message and be heard. But accompanied by their belief that God is protecting them against a government mask mandate, these particular groups of Christians are spreading more than the Word of God.

Well, if it kills huge swaths of people, as appear to be the case, I guess I can see her point of view as to what is “spiritual terrorism.” Still, somewhere along the way, even in a footnote, I would have been happy had the Huff Po said Jehovah’s Witnesses do not carry on that way—and they are the most evangelistic of all.

 

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How Do You Answer When Asked “What do you Do?”

As far as I am concerned, what pegs the “faithful and discreet slave” as faithful and discreet and effective is that they have redefined how most Witnesses view their own vocation. This came up in recent discussion of the daily text about Jesus being “the carpenter, the son of Mary.” He may have been “the carpenter,” but when he “began his work” (Luke 3:23), it is not carpentry that the verse speaks of. It is preaching and teaching the Word.

So it is that under the direction of the Governing Body, few if any of Jehovah’s people regard themselves first according to their occupations. They regard themselves as preachers of the good news first, who just happen to be doing this or that in order to pay the bills.

This is a huge accomplishment—to motivate people to redefine themselves.

They did it by steadfastly persuading the many who would say—I have said it myself—“Why can’t we be Jehovah’s Witnesses and just live normal lives?” Their answer would be: “How can you live a normal life in an abnormal world?” 

They have won that battle. It is an abnormal world. How can you live a normal life in it? Secular work occupies its place with our people, of course, but seldom do they define themselves by it. At the drop of a pin, they will chuck “career” aside totally for the sake of part-time work if they can figure a way to make it work.

Just about the time of the Proclaimers book, I thought there was a shift to speaking of the Witness way of life in terms of a “theocratic career”—is that my imagination? That way when our young people encountered classmates ecstatic at the careers they were going to have—being pushed that way by guidance counselors—they could come back with a career concept of their own. They wouldn’t have to answer, “Well, I’m just going to get a job somewhere, maybe in a tool shop,” much less, “Well, I think I’ll just be a janitor so I can have more time for door to door preaching.”

Now, as it turns out, I was a janitor for many years. And when my newly married wife was asked by a set of well-to-do non-Witness relatives what her husband did for a living, she said “He’s a janitor.” This occasioned a disappointed “Oh.” She added that “He owns his own company.” The same syllable followed, this time with opposite impressed inflection! It’s all a facade! It’s all a joke! It doesn’t mean a thing. While I was a janitor, I checked out just about every Books on Tape there was in the library that wasn’t contemporary fiction, I listened while working, and I find myself better “read” than almost anybody.

If there is one thing I regret in my past (actually, there are quite a few), it is that when I was asked—it is the 2nd line at any introduction—“And what do you do?” I would answer as to my secular work. This might lead to a discussion of how, with brilliantly shined floor, people’s spirits lift, yet they can’t put their finger on just why—or how when the floor is dingy by the baseboards, it is the fault of the janitor for slopping it there with his mop as he goes back and forth—how else could it possibly get there? But why in the world would I care about that? If you answered the question “What do you do?” according to what people expect, then you had to change the subject into one more interesting or suffer through one that you barely care about yourself.

Don’t play that game. Answer according to what you are and what interests you most. In time, I got so I would do that, but it took long enough. “Well, I do various things to pay the bills,” I would say, “but what gives me the most satisfaction is....” I should have done it years before I did.

Fay said how in Ireland (she had been there recently) when people ask that question, they really do want to know about you, and not just what you do for a living. I like it that the faithful and discreet slave (Matthew 24:45-47) has taken membership and persuaded them to define themselves and think of themselves as an army of preachers, diverse though their backgrounds might be. Can’t get more faithful than that.

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The Last of the Last Days—Over the Top?

We are now in the last of the last days?

My wiseacre answer would be that I’m not doing nothing until we reach the last of the last of the last days. Why inconvenience myself unnecessarily? It’s the same as when over the years the pioneer hour requirement is progressively lowered, then such a thing as ‘auxiliary pioneering’ is concocted, then the hour requirement for them is over time lowered, then it is even devised how to lower it still more during months of special activity. “I’m holding out for 15,” I tell people when I’m feeling punchy. And I have both pioneered and auxiliary pioneered, and I have auxiliary pioneered in all its varieties. (When it was a new concept, I recall someone telling another that they could always ‘artillery pioneer.’)

But why be that way—a wiseacre? I forgive it all. It may sound a little clunky, but I forgive it. I even recommend it—or at least acquiesce to it.

Soon we’ll be away from here—step on the gas and wipe that tear away!” That’s what the Witness organization does. They step on the gas. They don’t sit in stuffy boardrooms discussing schematics of the car. The hop in the driver’s seat and drive that sucker! It is not an armchair activity for them. It is a participation sport, and they are not afraid to push pedal to the medal.

It is a little like Carl Jung after the Holocaust, his values shaken to the core, because he had lived during its horror and had read a lot about it, and so he completely misses the meaning of Job as he takes shots at God in ‘Answer to Job.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, didn’t just observe it. They didn’t just read up on it. They endured it. They lived through it. They were sent to the camps well before the far more numerous Jews, and their integrity saw them though. 

So it is that the Witness organization today consists of doers to match their prowess as thinkers, maybe even outrunning it at times, convinced the latter will catch up. Do they counsel obedience for others? They are that way themselves. They obey first, then they think it through more thoroughly afterwards. Should this result in a clunky expression from time to time, so be it. They are not afraid to go all-in, and I so prefer them to the bland people of this system who cannot do anything without hedging. 

Nor am I not going to be forewarned by it. I’m not about to let my ‘sophistication’ cause me to miss out. They deal with and want to counter the opposite view: “Why, from the days of our forefathers, all things are continuing as at Creation’s beginning!” People are rocked by unheard of calamities today—and yet in no time at all they have adapted to them and accepted whatever is the latest outrage as ‘just one [more] of those things.‘ The urge to spiritual sleep is strong. One week it is some new obscenity that rocks people back on their heels. The next week, it is “Que sera, sera. What ever will be, will be.”

Maybe the best indication the Witness organization is on to something is the line I’ve seen on social media, and the avalanche of ‘likes’ it invariably attracts: “In the future, historians will be asked what quarter of 2020 do they specialize in.”

 

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“This is the Carpenter, the Son of Mary”

This is the carpenter, the son of Mary.​—Mark 6:3

Talk recently during the Daily Text discussion was about what Jesus was known for. Was he executed for anything having to do with carpentry? The commentary cited Luke 3:23: “When Jesus began his work, he was about 30 years old...” What “work” was he known for? It wasn’t carpentry, yet he was described as “the carpenter.”

Curiously, the first Witness to be jailed in Russia after the 2017 ban in that country has a surname, Christensen, that indicates whom he follows. His occupation? A carpenter—just like that of the one he follows—and the last noteworthy thing he did as a carpenter was to build a playground for the neighborhood children. But he wasn’t arrested on account of his carpentry, was he?

They came from humble roots, those first-century Christians did, and for the most part that is true today. Their leading ones were said to be “unlearned and ordinary” (Acts 4:13) and for the most part, that is true today. These days, without letters appended to one’s name, people are barely worth noticing. Same thing back then. Doesn’t that explain why, apart from the early Christians themselves, there are only four figures in contemporary history (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Philo, Josephus) who mention early Christianity at all—and all of them only in brief passing paragraphs, about one per writer—it’s never their main topic—almost the priority you might assign in discussing what the plumbers were doing back then. The doings of the common people are beneath the notice of the upper classes.

The apostle Paul wrote about letters. “Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) They did the work. They preached and made disciples. That was their letter, not some honorary title appended by some school to their name. Jesus said you could even be distracted by such honorary things: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God? (John 5:44) They’re okay, those letters are—no harm in them and they do denote some study, but it is possible to hide behind them. They are not what cuts it from God’s point of view.

Another verse cited in the text commentary was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” If you say you are expecting a workman to arrive at the house, what sort of person do you expect? A lawyer? Once again, the ministry of Christians is linked with humble work. Accordingly, the Christian organization today has taken to gathering together a “teaching toolbox” of materials, video and otherwise, for use in the ministry. It is not a portfolio. It is not a briefcase. It is a toolbox.

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“Do Not Say ‘The King of the Jews,’ but ‘He SAID ‘I am King of the Jews!’”

Then two robbers were put on stakes alongside him, one on his right and one on his left. And those passing by spoke abusively of him, shaking their heads and saying: “You who would throw down the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are a son of God, come down off the torture stake!” In the same way also, the chief priests with the scribes and the elders began mocking him, saying: “Others he saved; himself he cannot save! He is King of Israel; let him now come down off the torture stake, and we will believe in him....In the same way, even the robbers who were on stakes alongside him were reproaching him. (Matthew 27:38-44)

The theme of the midweek meeting was ‘don’t dish dirt on people, don’t speak injuriously of others, don’t follow the crowd to evil ends.’ Since the assigned Bible reading for the week was Exodus 23 and 24, verses such as 23:1 and 2 were discussed: 1– “You must not spread a report that is not true. Do not cooperate with a wicked one by becoming a malicious witness,” and 2–“You must not follow after the crowd to do evil, and you must not pervert justice by giving testimony to go along with the crowd.”  Even Aaron fell victim to this, being leaned upon by the crowd to make the golden calf, being leaned upon by his sister to speak against Moses, and I think there was something else he screwed up by yielding to the crowd—the speaker mentioned three—but I forget what it was.

The finest example at that meeting content of not going along with the crowd was the one set by the wrongdoer hanging next to Jesus! At first he did go with the crowd—carried along with how everyone on the ground below was reviling him—but he reached a point of saying: ‘Enough!’ He broke ranks and rebuked the other criminal: “Do you not fear God at all, now that you have received the same judgment? ...We are getting back what we deserve for the things we did; but this man did nothing wrong....Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43)

(It is completely translator’s choice as to where to put the comma—before the ‘today’ or after—and it hugely changes the meaning of the sentence. Since Jesus is said to be resurrected on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4), he plainly was dead until then, which is why the NWT places the comma after the ‘today,’ though most translations place it before.)

It’s hard to believe how rotten were the chief priests and elders in mocking the tortured Jesus, but their previous cunning left them almost no choice. Pilate was set to release Jesus—he tried hard to do it, and would have, until those chief priests said ‘we’ll have your job if you do it—and maybe your head!’ What they actually said was: ““If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” (John 19:12) It was enough to make Pilate cave.

So what does he have written to post over Jesus’ head? “Jesus the Nazareneʹ the King of the Jews,” says John 19:19. “Many of the Jews read this title,” says the very next verse, so did the chief priests not have to keep the crowd in a froth, lest those ones reflect upon how their leaders had killed their king? “The chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written.” (21-22) I’ll bet they didn’t push him very hard on that one. He had had it with that bunch of liars—furious at being used by them once, he was going to turn the tables on them.

See Part 2–Sticking up for Pilate.

 

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Sticking up for Pilate, and Battling the Trolls

I always felt a little bad for Pilate. He tried to free Jesus. He really did—the four Gospel accounts make that very clear—declining only to fall on his own sword for him. For a military leader that’s not bad. It is not promising that when he says (and displays) that he is washing his hands of the blood of Jesus, the enemies of the Lord shout: “Let his blood come upon us and upon our children.” (Matthew 27:25)

Partly to divert attention from the actions of those religious leaders, who after all, have descendants, history has cranked up the volume on Pilate’s (who does not) vileness. In time, it became almost politically incorrect to connect Jesus’ death with those leaders. However, when Mel Gibson, director of the gory film The Passion—which I have never seen, though it was almost required viewing for evangelicals, I am told (I can take the Gospel’s word for it that it was gory) was asked whether it was the Jews (not really them, but their leaders at the time) who killed Jesus, he replied: “Well, it wasn’t the Scandinavians.”

There was a book long ago recommended to me by an older sister in the congregation—a historical novel titled simply ‘Pontus Pilate.’ It followed Pilate’s exploits through life. It presented everything from his point of view. It made him not unlikable at all, and its portrayal of Jesus was completely believable, though when it later moved on to consider reports of Paul, it presented him as a loony fanatic that many would not be able to stand for too long—it wasn’t as I picture him at all. Now I spot a review of that book here:

Anyway, along comes someone on Twitter named Lee to challenge me over Pilate’s actions per the Bible accounts Naw, Pilate wouldn’t have done that, he says, because he was rotten as can be without a shred of decency—a tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. Besides, the Gospel accounts are hooey, and the Watchtower scholarship is nil—full of insults this fellow is. Presently, he reveals that his source is Bart Ehrman.

Now, Bart exists for the purpose of destroying people’s faith—or at best, transferring it from faith in God to faith in man. That’s not in his job description, of course, but it is the effect of him doing his job. He sits at some university chairing the Religious Studies department, and students sign up for his courses thinking they will increase their knowledge of the Bible—how can that be a bad thing? He teaches them that it is—that is, if they regard the book a source of faith. If they just regard it critically, that is fine with him, but if they think they can extract faith from it, he works to disabuse them of that notion.

Rather than the common sense view that the four gospels are written by four credible sources covering the same events more or less like four newspapers might cover the same events, each supplying details that the others leave out, he presents them as warring factions each trying to repackage Jesus after their own image. I remember decades ago giving the public talk ‘The Harmony of the Gospels’ and remarking how well it is that Matthew supplements Mark, because otherwise you might think that the first time Peter and John ever laid eyes on Jesus, they dropped everything to follow him after just a single sentence, which makes no sense at all. Matthew’s account makes clear they already knew each other well, and so Jesus’ saying “Come be my follower,” is just an invitation into a more intensive ministry.

Bart presents Mark’s version as though they really do abandon everything first time they see him!—how can anyone be so stupid? I’ll know I’ve arrived as a minister when I can invite people to study the Bible as Witnesses do, and they say as though in a trance “Must...follow...Tom” as they leave home and hearth, with their lawn mower still running! Bart thinks that according to Mark it actually happened that way!—since he thinks Mark’s purpose is to present Jesus as the mesmerizing miracle worker. You know, it would help if he hadn’t had come from an evangelical background where they believe all sorts of things that make little sense, so if he pats himself on the back at breaking free from that—well, who can blame him? If only his Bible knowledge had been well grounded in the first place.

So Lee has read Bart, and he thinks he thereby knows more than anyone else. He says: “As far as I know there are no non-Biblical accounts of this practice (freeing a prisoner, such as Pilate offered with Barabbas) and the Romans tended not to free insurrectionists to go round causing trouble all over again. I find it interesting that Barabbas means "son of the father" which is a good description of Jesus. A natural conclusion to draw is that this is a literary device and not reporting of real events.

I replied: “It is also a good description of anyone. Who can say? The account is specific enough and (atypically) in all four gospels. I see no need to blow it off as an invention. Maybe it was one of those deals that politicians are wont to pull every four years—releasing a few prisoners sometimes because they deserve it and/or sometimes because it makes them look good.”

He tipped his hand more, and this time revealed that his source was Bart—linking to a post Bart had written on the topic, along with his own: “Why look for chinks of light to defend a sectarian interpretation rather than look to the most reasonable explanation of available evidence?

It’s time to reveal to this character that I, too, know of the great, educated, and all-knowing Bart. I replied:

“Bart says that our sources for Pilate are almost nil, yet it is still enough for him to know Pilate through and through!? I think my take is more reasonable. Leaders throw out a bone or two today. Why not then? Maybe Barabbas was old and toothless by then, all the fight out of him. As to Bart’s recent book, Heaven and Hell, I have written that any JW could have written the bulk of it.

He responded in a flurry of tweets. When that happens, and if you want to continue, don’t respond to each one. Just because he thinks in a muddle, it does not mean you have to. Pick just one. He bombarded me with (I’ll number them—they all came at once:

1. Given that little time was spent prior to execution, if the Barabbas character was old and wrinkly that doesn't seem to have stopped his sedition and would not prevent his execution.

2. Yes, from what I've heard of Bart discussing it, I also noted how similar to JW's a lot of his position is. It seemed odd when he was attacked without being named in the March 2020 JW broadcast. [not that I noticed, but then if he was not named, who can say?]

3. I'm not sure where you get the idea he's been cribbing JW teachings. An annihilationist hell has been a feature of some Christian denominations for hundreds of years. Martin Luther and Tyndale for example. It is also common among Millerite offshoots including the JW's.

4. "the scholarship of the Watchtower must be elevated . . .  their critics generally assume that they have none." No, just largely only carried out at Bethel whilst the rank and file are asked not to dig too deeply into the secular scholarship the writing department accesses.

5. JW writing department treatment of scholarship is more to give a partial presentation to fit pre-conceived theology, not to ignore scholarship altogether.

6. JW writing department treatment of scholarship is more to give a partial presentation to fit pre-conceived theology, not to ignore scholarship altogether.

I was tempted to respond to #3. What is anannihilationist hell” other than no hell at all?—which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and almost nobody else! People just make up terms they hope you don’t know to make themselves look smart.

Instead, I decided to ignore this point, along with his other insults, and stay on topic—his appeal to Bart for authority: I replied: “Bart has only two sources regarding Pilate [Philo and Josephus], both Jewish upper class intellectuals, both with every reason to deeply resent occupying Rome. Why does it not occur to you or Bart that they just might not be unbiased sources? The Gospel account is probably more unbiased and true.

He shifted into high gear spinning theological terms: “Did you adopt this view of Johanine neutrality and historicity after a careful meta-analysis of scholarly work or after adopting a position of Biblical infallibility without such a scholarly exercise?”

“Come, come,” said I. “Your argument is weak. Don’t just keep flailing away nor “pull rank” with PhDs as though only they can think. Lots of Trump people are smart, too. Will you trust two of them to give an honest appraisel of Biden? Or vice versa? The gospel writers are more reliable, and infinitely more detailed. Brilliant and learned as your two sources may be, they wrote exceedingly little, not just on Pilate, but on the entire Christian movement.”

He next revealed that he had no idea what he was talking about, and didn’t really care. He just thought he could score a few points:

He: “I've no idea what Philo said about the Christian movement and doubt Josephus wrote what is attributed to him. How do you judge the reliability of NT writers accounts of miracles?”

See how he sweeps aside the fact that he doesn’t really know anything, and presses on with the fight anyway. It’s not happening on my watch. He already knows how I feel about the reliability of NT writers because he knows I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—he just wants to start a fight after awing me with credentials he does not have. There are only four brief “real time” mentions of first-century Christianity apart from the Bible itself. He had mentioned two—Josephus and Philo. I asked him if he knew the other, too. [They are Tacitus and Pliny the Younger] Of course, he did not—or at any rate I never heard from him again.

I thus never got the opportunity to point out that the reason there are only four extremely brief contemporary mentions of first-century Christianity outside of the New Testament itself is that the movement was (and is) one of the common people—who are ever beneath the notice of the “educated” class.

 

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Biased Reporting. Et tu?—Even Us?

“The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source.” This I wrote here, and it attracted an answer:

This is more and more true as the world gets more divided, more partisan, and more nationalistic. Pride in one's own cause, nation, religion or ideology causes one to be more apt to defend one's POV with bias, and condemn, with bias, those of an "opposite" POV . It happens to the best of us, and by that I mean that there have been several documented examples even within and among our own religion. 

I have learned to live with it, and perhaps even acquiesce that it must be that way. Of course, I don’t know what examples this person may have in mind, but...

Do you think I can persuade anybody that the (largely) atheist anti-cult movement is behind our woes in Russia? No. It is all the machinations of Babylon the Great is all anyone wants to hear. We are so hung up on Babylon the Great that we do not recognize that she is mostly licking her wounds these days, and a powerful atheist faction has arisen that would eradicate everyone clinging to worship of God—us no less than they. Yet we still, in the main, carry on as though publishers in Judge Rutherford’s day, announcing that religion is a “snare and a racket.” It is, but here in the West, it does not play as the most timely theme. The atheists and the skeptics perch above it all and ridicule the different religionists calling each other false. As rude as some trolls are here, I see brothers equally rude on social media with regard to tweets mentioning religion—appending insults that have little to do with the topic under consideration. Do they think themselves witnessing? It doesn’t leave a good impression. I could wish that we got training about social media besides the refrain to “be cautious” of it.*

Trained, we might be able to do some good with it. The articles posted on JW.org lately—about coping with anxiety, safeguarding children from the horror of world news, adapting them to “distance learning,” and so forth? These are excellent contributions—exactly what is needed today by anyone wishing to preserve sanity. It would take so little for ones who know how to use social media to judiciously spread this all over the internet, to the benefit of countless people. But we are advised to be cautious as to our use of it. We are not trained, and most of those who venture there with the idea of witnessing are horribly clumsy—saying outrageous things, oblivious to what their audience potentially might be.  It could be used to such powerful effect, but it is not in a nod to “caution.” 

Still, maybe the fixation on Babylon the Great, and turning a (it seems to me) blind eye to the atheists and skeptics is what one must expect of Bethel. They, more than anyone, strive to be “no part of the world.” Over time, they get to know little about it. They live primarily in the world of Scriptures, and the scriptures say that it is in the skirts of Babylon the Great (not the atheists or skeptics) that is found the blood of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth. Primarily, the sin is one of omission, not commision. Had religion not neglected to teach the Word of God, there would not be the bumper crop of atheists and skeptics of today. So who can say that Bethel is wrong to keep on harping over false religion—that picture is the overall picture, and the skeptics are but a resulting subset—even though (someone said to me) “the denunciation of Babylon the Great was needed at that time because religion was still powerful. Today it is not needed any longer.“ The way that I have phrased it is: “Why kick the old lady when she is down? We kicked her while she was up.”

Another area of seeming bias is how we speak of ex-members—as though they are all train-wrecks, and will remain so until they come to their senses and return. This is a point of great ridicule among ex-Witnesses, who take bows before each other each time one emerges who is not a train-wreck. I mean, it really does seem an example of “confirmation bias” on our part.

Still, the Word indicates that those who leave after knowing the truth are like Vic Vomodog, whose name I changed from Vomidog to please @anna, who didn’t like the image. “A dog that returns to its own vomit” is how Peter puts it, so from there comes the notion that the world will “chew one up and spit one out.” If the brothers find someone who says it in exactly those words based upon his own experience, they eat it right up and cannot relay it quickly enough. 

It used to drive me nuts. It still does, a little, but it does so less. The brothers don’t know because they obey the Bible’s own counsel to not go where they might find out. “Keep an eye on those who cause division and stumbling and avoid them,” says Romans 16:17. So they do avoid them, and thus the only window they have to look upon them is that of scripture. 

Ah, well. I would like it if they didn’t do that, but who is to say they are wrong? It’s a little like God declaring that Adam and Eve will die the day they disobey. It the long run, it makes little difference whether that “day” is one of 24 hours or 1000 years.

...
*You settle in social media like FB and Twitter just like you would settle in a physical neighborhood. As you interact with your “neighbors,“ by degrees people come to know of your faith and what makes you do what you do. I wish we did more of this, but in fact we do almost none. When we “friend” only those we personally know, whatever witnessing we do, barring some fluke, reaches only the brothers. 

I rather like it that the hour requirement of pioneers has been suspended, and yet people are still being appointed as pioneers—which begs off the obvious question of...well, you know what it is. Counting time inevitably leads to curious notions of being “on duty/ off duty.“ I don’t mind seeing it suspended, in favor of witnessing that is seamlessly integrated into our lives—sometimes distinctly “on duty”, sometimes, for the most part, “off duty,” but generally so seamless that it is hard to tell.

If I was to count all the time I spend on social media, primarily my own blogging here, in that case I have been special pioneering for many years. But the notion of counting time is a provision of the organization, so it is for them to define how it Is to be done. Since they are decidedly unencouraging on witnessing via social media, I count none of it.

 

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“New Light” - The Writing on the Tablets of Moses—How Many Items on Each Side?

Moses descended from the mountain with the two tablets—the ones containing the Ten Commandments of Exodus chapter 20—but there was a difference this time around. This time around the tablets were depicted in Watchtower artwork each with three items per tablet. It is in the meeting workbook for August 2020. Previous artwork has depicted them with five each. What gives?

Well, someone figured out that since the writing is said to be on both sides of the tablets, if you put all ten on the front, what would remain for the back? Says Exodus 32:15: “Moses then turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hand. The tablets were inscribed on both sides; they were written on the front and on the back.” So in this latest depiction, there are three items on the front of each, and presumably two on the back of each.

Is this “new light” or what? It wasn’t presented that way. No one made a big deal over it. To my knowledge, no one even noticed it. I certainly didn’t. But about two weeks after the meeting that revolved around Exodus chapters 19 and 20, some sharpie did. Sure. It’s kind of interesting. What reason would there be not to get the details right?

The soreheads didn’t see it that way—the ones who go out of their way to harp on every picky little thing. “Oh dear is it really important though?” said one such dodo with a particularly annoying style. “We know they had the exact information from God, that's more than we get.”

I wasn’t in the mood. I followed up with: “Oh my, no. Oh dear. God could have just shot him an email and it would have made the same dif. Why people waste their time striving to learn things I’ll never know.”

Another muttered: “And it took Jehovah over 100 years to relay this truth to them...sheesh!”

What is this idiocy? It is the most childish view that these louts have—as though anything spiritual should have been known from the get-go.

When Columbus sailed the oceans blue and discovered America, Queen Isabella said: “And it only took you 1492 years to find it...sheesh!”

When Einstein revealed that E=mc2, the science community said: “And it only took you 6000 years to find it....sheesh!”

Ludicrous examples. But these immature characters expect it to be just that way with respect to spiritual things—that Santa should deliver all the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve, and he had better not drag his rear end and be tardy with any of them. The idea of research is abhorant to them—everything ought be handed them on a platter.

These yo-yos deserve each other.

Besides, one chum of mine who used to work in the art room back in the day said he noticed it long ago—with 5 on each side, what would remain for the reverse? But he said, “Who cares? For all we know there was five on the reverse, too, so both tablets could be read from front or back.”

 

 

 

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Cults—Does One Prefer the Broad Road Leading Off to Destruction or the Narrow One?

Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. The Epoch Times represents the publishing arm of the Falun Gong religious sect, much as, I suppose, the Christian Science Monitor represents the publishing arm of the Christian Scientists, but not as the Watchtower represents the publishing arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Christian Science Monitor and the Epoch Times are full-scale newspapers with corresponding digital outlet. The Watchtower is a religious journal that rarely even names and of the players on the world stage. 

As for me—naw—I skimmed that Epoch Times some, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.

Now, I know next to nothing about Falun Gong, but those who wish to discredit their newspaper will do so on the basis that they are “weird.” Are they secretive? Are they uncomfortably effective in spreading their message? Do they withdraw from “normal” society? Do they learn to lead “double-lives?” Do they mislead the regular people as to their true mission? Do they have some offbeat (and therefore ‘dark’) beliefs about what the future holds? Do they have members who die because of not embracing all that modern medicine has to offer? Do they even have an elaborate “compound” in New York State? Are they non-violent, but still a cause for concern, since “all cults are non-violent until they are not”—that cute line from the #cultexpert—in his wacko world, the more peaceful people are, the greater the cause for concern.

When I see how Jehovah’s Witnesses are slammed in the media as a “cult,” do I imagine that all the other “cults” are getting a fair shake? 

In TrueTom vs the Apostates! I wrote of the Moonies something to the effect of: Is is possible to lead a fulfilled life as a Moonie? They’ll have to make the case for it, not me. However, if the “mainstream” and “normal” life resulted in happiness, fulfillment, and provided answers to the deep questions that vex people, none of these cults would succeed in people giving them the time of day. Let them deliver a little bit before they condemn everyone else. 

I might even prefer committed religionists to the vanilla people of today because you can “talk shop” with them. You are not faced with, as we are here in the US, people in a panic over discussing a Bible verse, people scared of going off the mainstream of conventional goals for fear of where that might take one, people who do not roll their eyes when you speak of what a verse might mean, and people who do not distrust your explaining a verse by appealing to another one—as though they already indulged you by listening to one, and what more could you possibly want?

As far as I can see, joining one of these “cults” is getting off the “broad road leading to destruction,” in favor of the “narrow road that leads to destruction.” (Matthew 7:13) They both lead to destruction, one no more than the other. I don’t view “cultists” as a threat to people any more than the “normal” life is a threat to people. 

Broad road or narrow road, the one factor that indicates they “lead off to destruction” is their rooting for various leaders of the world to succeed and for other ones to fail. They are part of the world when they do that. The “cramped and narrow road that leads to life” is marked by not being part of the world—not claiming that this or that human is God’s gift to humanity, not claiming that this or that leader must go down, but taking a neutral attitude towards them. “Pray for the king,” Paul writes to Timothy. “That way maybe he’ll keep out of our hair.” That is as “involved” as the religion that is true to God gets with regard to this world’s political structure of good guys and bad guys. Anything else, be it Falun GOne or conventional media, is equally part of the world in my eyes. Your “eyes may be opened” when you leave the Falun Gong, but it is only so they can be blinded by another source rooting for this world.

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With Regard to Religion, if You Know What You’re Talking About, You’re Biased.

The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source. You would think that those with experience would be the first ones consulted, but they are the last. It is a skewed approach that really only applies with regard to religious views—with anything else, membership in a cause does not interfere significantly with their ‘expertise’—but it does with religion.

However, you cannot stay neutral with regard to the “word of God” because it “pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and ...is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart,” says Hebrews 4:12. It separates people, either “for” or “against.”

The “for” will be counted as biased under today’s system of news, and thus discounted. The “against” will not get the sense of it—whatever they say will miss the lion’s share of what matters. They will be like the “physical man” of 1 Corinthians 2:14 who “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.”

As for the opposite of the physical man who “cannot get to know” things of which he tries to report?—“the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” So the only one who can report accurately is dismissed as biased in favor of the one who can’t possibly come to know what he is talking about. Is that a great system, or what?

It doesn’t matter what is said, as much as it matters who says it. This rule plays out time and again. From the German concentration camps prior to and during WWII, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who preceded the far more numerous Jews, smuggled out detailed diagrams of those camps. Those diagrams were published in the Watchtower—and dismissed by more respectable outlets as Time Magazine because they were not deemed credible. It turned out that only Jehovah’s Witnesses had “the scoop.”

The rule played out once more when Gunnar Samuelsonn, an evangelistic researcher, published that Jesus had not been put to death on a cross but on an upright stake  He received his 15 minutes of fame—his place in the academic community solidly cemented. Jehovah’s Witnesses have said the same for well over a century, only to be told to shut up since they didn’t go to college—what could they possibly know?

Can the Falun Gong make the same claim—that if the “right people” do not say something, it means nothing? They will have to state their own case—not me. For all I know, they are the nutcakes that people make them out to be, but when I see how the media butchers stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I do not assume that other “new religions” are given a fair shake. (“New religion” is the scholarly term for movements a century or two old. The term is preferred to “cult” for being non-incendiary, and those who prefer “cult” reject it for exactly that reason.)

Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. As for me—naw—I skimmed a little bit, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.

It may be that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Falun Gong are getting to know each other quite well in the remote areas of China. Bitterwinter.org reports:

According to a document issued in 2018 by the government of a locality in Xinjiang, members of three banned religious groups—The Church of Almighty God (CAG), Falun Gong, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—must be sent to transformation through education camps and kept indefinitely until they have been “transformed,” i.e., become atheist. Their release depends on whether they have implemented five musts. These are a written pledge to stop attending religious activities; relinquishment of all religious materials in their possession; public criticism of one’s faith, promising to break up with it; disclosure of information about fellow believers and group’s/church’s affairs; and aiding the government in transforming other believers.”

The two groups are anything but “two peas in a pod.” The Falun Gong are intensely political and hostile to the CCP, whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses are neither. “Mandatory singing of revolutionary songs was particularly hard on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who practice the so-called political neutrality and refuse to sing national anthems, salute flags, or serve in the army,” the report said.

BitterWinter is a subset of the Center for Studies on New Religions, headquartered in Torino, Italy. It is chaired by Massimo Introvigne, identified as “one of the most well-known scholars of religion internationally.” (I see my chum* George Chrysiddes, who wrote that nice review of my first book under the pseudonym Ivor E. Tower, hangs out here at least sometimes.) His name cropped up repeatedly as I was gathering background for Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia. Though I did not get it from him (I got it from Joshua Gill), I see he is of the same view as I that a resolute “anti-cult” movement, and not the Russian Orthodox Church, is behind the troubles of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that land. Head ones of the ROC might cheer that ban like children at presents under the tree, but it does not originate with them. The “anti-cult” movement has the same apparent goal of that explicitly stated in BitterWinter—that religious ones should “become atheist”—and the more mainstream faiths are so watered down already that it hardly matters what they believe—they’ll do whatever they are told to do.

If the charge is made that anything harshly critical of the CCP is a production of Fulon Gong—as I have heard—by means of their media arm Epoch Times, that certainly cannot be said of BitterWinter. It’s About page tells of a “network of several hundred correspondents in all Chinese provinces” who work at “high risk for their security – some have been arrested.” To be sure, it “receives some of its reports directly from members of religious minorities and organizations persecuted,” however it would appear that these ones do not call the shots. BitterWinter “is independent of any religious or political organization and is mostly the fruit of volunteer work.” It “does not take positions on political issues [Good!—Like JWs—will Hebrews 4:12 some day go to work on them?] and limits itself to the field of human rights.”

Unfortunately, “human rights” itself may be perceived as political. Invariably they focus on the human rights of individuals, whereas any government will be an attempt at balancing the human rights of individuals with the human rights of groups. With some, the human rights of groups far outweighs those of individuals. Even as Putin says he does not understand why his country persecutes Jehovah’s Witnesses, he qualifies the remark by observing Russia is 90% one religion, and “one cannot throw everything overboard just to please the sects.”

Frankly, I could wish that BitterWinter was all pro-Western propaganda that could be dismissed on that account, for our people are reported as undergoing some very tough times there—it makes Russia look like a cakewalk. However, the website initially strikes one as a treasure trove of unbiased documentation, exceedingly well-done, and well worth the donations it accepts, and well-worth boning up on.

....

*I don’t want to imply that we’re buddies. He’s a “chum” because he wrote that nice review, but otherwise I do not know him. We traded emails for a time, but fell out of touch. He said chatty things while he was reading the ebook—I appreciated it, and he graciously did not mention quite a few blips and typos that I have since found and removed. I rather wish he had. While I’ve no doubt his review is sincere, he probably discounted the book for not being up to format standards. But then again—he’s a scholar, not an editor.

 

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