Life

I came across a person through reading who spent all his time playing Second Life.1 It is a popular online game in which a player, represented by an avatar, interacts with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players of this game, and together they make up an online world, which they may occupy more than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by inconveniences as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition. It is a dinosaur of a game in digital life—its heyday is past—but it is still played by many.

The man featured in the article I read was almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment—as many as fourteen hours a day, said the article—pausing only for bathroom breaks. His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a vicarious representation of his actual sixty-year-old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes (in real life, the sixty-year-old works at a help desk). He is idolized by all his employees and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a boss.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, and do everything a married couple might be expected to do. In real life, he’s never met the woman and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy. “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. It is the second marriage for both of them. But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good man at heart, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world. She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (This writer’s wife would dump his breakfast over his head at this point.)

Imagine—an online world so engrossing that some prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Risk and Monopoly are mere—well, board games. Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as though it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “true” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind. Rather, everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not his purpose; a paradise earth, much like the Eden of Genesis, which literally means ‘garden,’ or ‘paradise,’ is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of God’s purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule is. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end, there is little difference between us. A mere few decades pass and all of us are senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”2

How meaningful can life be in a system where ISIS, dementia, cancer, or simple human greed can snuff it out in a second? “Sayonara!” your longtime employer sings out, as he packs up for overseas. “Dust off that resume, why don’t you?  And those family and financial obligations you have? Fugedaboudit!” It is as Solomon says: he has seen footmen on horses and princes slogging through the mud. It is certainly possible to get satisfaction from life today, and most have to some degree. But many find it is like chomping down hard on cotton candy. Though it looked substantial, they ultimately find that there was never much there.

How short-sighted to throw off restraint and run to a place where no one can tell you what to do. There is nothing to stop one from doing so, but it’s a poor trade-off over the ‘restrictions’ of a godly life, which amount to little more than guardrails on a treacherous highway. Manipulation through human scheming in the form of Big Government, Big Business or contemporary philosophy ultimately take a toll far greater than any restrictions of the Christian life.

There is some basis in viewing this life, uncertain in every aspect except its ultimate end, as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar. And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if the character of our article is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude, which will be good for mental health. Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail—‘Do not pass Go’—but the game does end decisively for all. The true life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they can manage in this life. But it is the true life to which they look forward.

 

They asked popular author and futurist Robert Jastrow about living forever, and specifically: would that be a blessing or a curse? He said that it all depends: “It would be a blessing to those who have curious minds and an endless appetite for learning. The thought that they have forever to absorb knowledge would be very comforting for them. But for others who feel they have learned all there is to learn and whose minds are closed, it would be a dreadful curse. They’d have no way to fill their time.”

Dr. Jastrow is a thinker, and so he focused on learning. There is an apocryphal story about a Witness chancing upon him in the ministry, observing that he is quoted in the book Life – How did it Get Here? By Creation or Evolution, and leaving it with him on that basis. But things besides knowledge are boundless, too, such as our capacity to create and our capacity to love.

Over the last forty years or so, however, pop culture has been selling death as though it were a benefit. It is probably the atheists. They are increasing in number and buying into their thinking means settling for a final death sentence perhaps not too many years away. Pay attention and you will see the ‘death is beautiful’ notion a lot. For example, it surfaced in a Dr. Who episode entitled: The Lazarus Experiment.

The episode name itself is a giveaway, because Lazarus is a biblical character resurrected by Jesus, related in the eleventh chapter of John. The television Lazarus has invented a machine to make him youthful again; he steps in old and he walks out young, to the amazement of the high-brow folk invited to his gala bash. But Dr. Who, who must have crashed the party, smells something amiss. He follows the newly minted youngster, and sure enough, the machine has malfunctioned and doomed Lazarus to transforming back and forth from human to monster! (They like monsters on that show.) See, in setting back his DNA, the machine has selected ancient mutations long-ago rejected by evolution, and the result is instability. (Hmmm…yes…indeed, plausible, nod all the atheists watching the show, whereas if you mentioned anything about God, they’d throw up).

Dr. Who, a ‘time lord,’ lectures Lazarus before the show is done on what a curse everlasting life really is, and what a foolish, greedy thing it was for him to reach out for it. For when life drags on forever and ever and ever, you will get so tired of it. You will have been everywhere, done everything. Living will have become an endless, pointless trek to nowhere. You will long for it to end, but (fool that you were for choosing everlasting life) it will not end but will go on and on and on. Oh, the monotony! See, without death, it is impossible to savor life—and so forth.

Please. Spare me and Dr. Jastrow. This is atheist tripe. It all depends upon whether you see life as futile or not. If you do, then sure, you would want it to end. But as Dr. Jastrow stated, life is only futile if you have made it so. Of course, baked into this system of things are various ingredients to encourage that view—for example, old age and frailty, but if they could be vanquished, a much different longing would emerge.

A prime attraction of Rochester, New York, where this writer has resided, is the George Eastman House. Mr. Eastman, who invented photography for the masses and who founded the Eastman Kodak Company, turned philanthropist once he had made his fortune and built half the city; testimony to his generosity is everywhere.  His mansion on East Avenue showcases his life, his inventions, his contributions to society, and serves as the nucleus for all things photographic right up to the present. When he decided the center lounge area of his domicile was too small, he had the house cut in two, rolled apart, and a fine new addition built to link them again. Does his determination emerge from this picture? He was unstoppable. But research thoroughly and you will discover that he shot himself in the head at age 78. In the throes of old age, his health failing, one by one he saw his friends going senile, bedridden or wheelchair-bound. He left behind a note: “To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?”3

Q: Why did George Eastman take his life?

  1. A) His work was done. Why wait?
  2. B) He longed for the blessed release of death to finally end a futile life that had dragged on and on for far too long.
  3. C) His health was failing and he, a lifelong bachelor, dreaded the indignities of old age with its dependence upon others.

Does anybody honestly think that, with health and youth, George Eastman would not have found more work in which to engross himself? Surely, he would not have longed for life to end. In this, Mr. Eastman is much like Leonardo da Vinci, the man who painted one of the most enduring portraits of all time—the Mona Lisa. Leonardo made his mark not only as an artist. He also contributed hugely in areas as diverse as geometry, anatomy, astronomy, architecture, and flight. Some of his sketches have been used as blueprints for devices in use today. He was a ‘Renaissance man’—his life embodies the term. Yet toward the end of his life, he reportedly sought God’s forgiveness for not using all the resources of his spirit and art.

Eastman and da Vinci: two men that typify Dr. Jastrow’s statement. And they would be joined by just about everyone else, were we not sucked into a morass of drudgery, duty, debt, injustice and hardship. Sure, you might well long for death if you can envision only more of that. The same goes for the frailness that comes with old age. When I attended a funeral of an older friend who had been happy, content, and productive throughout life, his widow nonetheless assured me that he was quite ready to die, since he’d grown “so tired of being sick.”

Faced with the skyrocketing cost of a medical regimen, equal to her entire fixed income, one person reported on in the American Association of Retired Persons publication laments that: “I’m faced with some hard decisions about whether to stay on the drug. I still have a lot of things I want to do with my life.” One is tempted to ask: At one point will she say: “Okay, I’ve done it all. Death can come any time, now.” I think she will never say it unless and until she finally acknowledges that the scoundrels have outmaneuvered her. The hucksters are having a field day with her, gleefully seizing upon missteps to further subjugate her in some way. The doctors are sucking her dry of resources, yet she is not getting better. The young people who ought to thank her as a font of wisdom have been sold a bill of good by self-serving interests and wonder when the old fogey will finally move on. The politicians have continually made her promises that have not panned out.

It is not always pricey drugs. The U.S. is unique in the hardship it imposes over healthcare, but there is always some problematic thing, and often it is more onerous than missing out on a drug. But if the villains of life did not, at some point, succeed in their relentless attack, the woman would never reach the point of saying ‘that’s enough.’ She would always be up for more delicious life. That is why the Bible’s promise of everlasting life on a paradise earth is so appealing. It is Robert Jastrow’s dream come true: unlimited time to grow, minus the very real liabilities that eventually cause most of us to tire of life. Perfect health is promised, and an economic system will be in place so that people do not feel they are toiling for nothing. Isaiah describes life under God’s kingdom rule, illustrating the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: “They shall build houses and live in them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit; They shall not build and others live there; they shall not plant and others eat. As the years of a tree, so the years of my people; and my chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not toil in vain, nor beget children for sudden destruction; For they shall be a people blessed by the LORD and their descendants with them.”4

Many things I would like to do. I have done a few of them. But for the most part, I have merely scratched the surface. I’ve spent a fair amount of time battling the iniquities of life while not accomplishing much at all. Everlasting life, should I find myself there, will not be a bad thing. Not at all. It will be a good thing.

When the world embraces atheism, many paradigms shift. All concept of waiting for God to work out his will vanishes. What counts is the here and now. Tribulation that Revelation calls ‘ten days’ becomes ‘forever.’5 Even the perception of congregation discipline changes. Expulsion from the congregation for unrequited unchristian conduct becomes a permanent ‘breaking up of families.’ To the Christian, expulsion is the ultimate trump card of discipline which may move the one so chastised thereby to mend his ways and return to the fold, for the door that was closed was never locked. The trek towards everlasting life can resume. In going atheist, however, the departing one no longer worries about living forever on earth or anywhere else. He or she has gone atheistic and has reconstrued the remaining few decades as a great bargain, with no sense of being cheated from all eternity. Sigh—if they believe it, they believe it. But it hardly seems something to celebrate. Is it not a little like the fellow who loses millions in the stock market? Undeterred, he celebrates the five thousand dollars he still has left and says: ‘Well, they were only paper gains anyway.’ If the fellow has come to view life that way after being expelled from the congregation, his exile has become in his eyes something from which he will not return. It has become permanent.

 

There are many swirls and back eddies. Certainly, one can find flaws in the visible Christian organization. Some persons have been heavy-handed. Some have blundered. But the overall flow of events is in accord with what Jehovah’s Witnesses have long said. The visibility of the kingdom message expands. World conditions worsen. Not all the ducks are lined up. There are yet a few stragglers. The fat lady has not yet sung. But she is clearing her throat. It is time to mend fences for anyone who has left. Everyone knows a large project needs organization, which requires leadership, and with leadership a given policy or decision can go against you. It is good not to hold on to resentment.

The older generation of the West will sometimes paint the younger as spoiled brats—overprivileged babies who lack appreciation and do little but whine. The Witness organization does not feel that way about any who have left. You never blame the younger generation for problems encountered growing up in the soil you supplied. Had you not let outside scoundrels contaminate the soil or even tainted it yourself it might not have happened. Says a tweet from a self-described “resident scholar” at the American Institute and former philosophy teacher: “Dear kids: I’m a Baby Boomer. We are getting old. But at least we had sex, drugs and rock & roll. Seems like millennials have moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles.” Does not the first largely explain the second? One is supposed to pass on values that the young can build upon. What is her advice? “Time to rebel!”6 Witness parents sought to shield their kids from such influences. Some pulled too hard in the opposite direction. Some simply found the allure of those things to their offspring too great to countermand.

There is a public talk on the Watchtower’s revolving list of talk outlines entitled: Acquiring a Heart of Wisdom. It is a challenging talk to give and not all speakers handle it well, for it invites exposing the flaws of faithful persons, past and present, and not all speakers are comfortable doing that. Past is okay, but not so much the present. Back in the day, when I would give the talk myself, I used to lead off with the by-now-trite illustration of how treasure-seekers dig through the dirt to find the tiniest speck of diamonds and how foolish it would be to reverse the process—dig through the diamonds to find the tiniest speck of dirt. Nevertheless, I stated, we would be doing exactly that for the next 45 minutes. With any time in the faith, you are going to come across some dirt, and if you are not prepared, you will be floored, for it is the one place you did not expect to find any.

Having set those ground rules, I then reveled in tearing things apart for the talk’s duration, dredging up wrongs from both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. I hit my stride with the second and third chapters of Revelation, considering absolute basket cases of congregations, in which were found every sort of nasty deed (read the chapters yourself) and yet they were still congregations. The point is, if wrong things happened then, one needn’t be shocked if they have happened today. The trick is not to sanitize the present. It is to de-sanitize the past. It is to say: “Look at those outrageous characters back then! Yet somehow God managed to pull a rabbit out the hat even with them carrying on as they did.”

 

Russia has been lately dealing with an avalanche of accusations—from meddling in Western democratic process, to invading foreign states, to cheating in the Olympics. It is a non-stop hate campaign of absurd charges, fumes Robert Bridge, the RT.com correspondent. He warns that the bear may only take it for so long before it responds with a bite, not just a growl.7 I know it when I see it: non-stop hate and absurd charges. We experience it ourselves. If only the kings could get along Jehovah’s Witnesses might not get caught in the cross-fire between them. Actually, that was my response from the sole pedophile Russian mention, that tweet from the Embassy relaying a defamatory headline. I replied: “One would think that a country that roundly condemns slander directed against it would not so immediately swallow it when it is directed at someone else.”

Three times in the modern age has Russia saved the day, averting nuclear war: Arkhipov, Petrov, and Khrushchev via letter to Kennedy. The bear growls that the U.S. bombs more countries than Russia, and yet the bear is painted as the aggressor. The bear growls that Western profit-driven corporations, not it, stir up major mayhem in an unending quest to expand markets. The bear growls and even yipes that its athletes alone are expelled from the Olympics. Who cannot feel for Russia?

Then, just at reaching that moment of sympathy, it does something to suggest it is all true and then some, that perhaps what is visible is but the tip of the iceberg. You can’t just confiscate foreign-owned property worth millions—just take it—without shooting yourself in the foot image-wise. You cannot just ban a Bible—a perfectly viable Bible and everyone knows it—without suggesting that you are a nation of goons. You can’t rely upon a high school math teacher scribbling verbiage off the Internet as your expert witness without suggesting that you don’t really have anyone who knows anything over there. You can’t chase and harass and bully people known the world over as perfectly respectable without painting yourself a nation of thugs. Why shoot oneself in the foot that way? Jehovah’s Witnesses may strike some as annoying—more people would say yes than no to that—but extremist? Everybody knows what extremism is and they know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not it. Come now. It is a pretty dull life you live if they fulfill your definition of extremism.

God lays “Jerusalem a heavy stone for all peoples” down and Russia picks it up. The prophetic reference is to the ‘New Jerusalem’ of Revelation 21 that descends from heaven to rule, the anti-type of another Jerusalem of long ago. It is a heavy stone. The nations and their advocates want human efforts to work. The want optimistic reassurance. They want to be told that success is at hand, or at least within reach. They don’t want Bible people coming around to tell them it is all for naught and that only God’s kingdom will deliver. What a tiresome heavy stone that is.

Nevertheless, “all who attempt to lift it will injure themselves badly, though all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Russia is among those first to try, and it takes hits to its reputation. It makes no sense. A great country is shoved around by anti-cult zealots. It is maneuvered into harassing a perfectly harmless people. It is sad to behold. People are not always deterred by slanderous reports. Sometimes they are drawn. “It makes no sense to slam the Witnesses,” some will say, “they’re nice people.”8

Russia bans a Bible that everyone knows is a Bible. It confiscates a property, and everyone knows is theft. Someone will be the new occupants of the Witness Administrative Center. Will they be smitten with hemorrhoids, as happened long ago when a treasure was taken from its rightful owners and given to strangers? It is what happened when the Philistines hijacked the ark. Well—I wouldn’t hold my breath. The ark is hardly the same as the branch, but one can always imagine. The one conceivably valid reason for banning the New World Translation in Russia (I thought) is that it employs the word “piles.” What in the world are piles? It is in no other translation that I can see. It is hardly that the New World Translation avoids unpleasantries elsewhere—the translation favors the literal. It was not easy to fathom. The revised New American Bible, employed for this book, says God smote them with “tumours.” The King James Version says “emerods.” Darby says “hemorrhoids.” The old Wycliffe Bible removes all doubt: “Forsooth the hand of the LORD was made grievous upon [the] men of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and he smote Ashdod and the coasts thereof in the privier part of [the] buttocks/in the more privy part of their tail ends.” Alas, the last laugh is on me, for it turns out that piles is a colloquial term for hemorrhoids and I was simply not aware of it.9

Wish Dennis Christensen well, the first Witness jailed post-ban, a Danish citizen in jail for close to a year and trial may just be finally getting underway, if nothing else intervenes. The Ministry of Justice insists he is a dangerous criminal. He is indignant to clear his name. Can the government truly pass him off as an extremist? He—the carpenter who built a playground for the children and cleaned up the park? Wasn’t there another carpenter of long ago who also ran afoul of the government? His profession is even the same. His name is even similar! It’s a good thing Witnesses no longer do types and anti-types because somebody would find latching on to this one irresistible. Pray that his God is with him as he squares off against Goliath. Pray that he downs the brute as David did his. He even must do it as did David, with limited armor. The court restricted the time his attorneys could spend reviewing the materials for his criminal case.10

It is common for politicians in the West to accuse their adversaries of launching fake news, even denouncing them as ‘hit jobs.’ They should view a certain video report on RT.com to see how it is done. Albeit that it has a point of view, RT.com seems to me an overall credible source, capable of fine journalism when it puts its mind to it. But it plainly did not put its mind to it on this occasion.

The three-minute 2009 video clip is entitled Jehovah and Out and the host is interviewing Audrey Zolovov of Russia Profile Magazine.11 The host asks why Jehovah’s Witnesses are targeted for possible ban because, after all, Russia is “pretty tolerant toward religion, isn’t it? I mean, the Hare Krisnas are operating on the streets of Moscow” and his guest says that ‘Well, he doesn’t really know.’ He agrees with the host that Witnesses are “annoying,” but also agrees that should hardly suffice as a reason. They do oppose blood transfusions, and that is very bad, but many fringe sects have similar disagreeable drawbacks. Maybe it is because they have a “very good organization.” After all, they are a “worldwide phenomenon,” he opines, as though expounding upon motive at a crime scene. He gives an example: several years ago, his wife went to a manicurist and he thinks that the manicurist must have been a “very important asset for that group because she had this captive audience for 40 minutes or so, while she was telling them about their religion. Of course, my wife stopped going to that manicurist as soon as she found out that she is being preached.” Of course! What loyal citizen would not? 

Is it possible that RT.com can celebrate grownups behaving as such babies? Even if the Witness woman was tactless, something which is not alleged, an adult learns over time that there are many of such people encountered in life, and that you can handle them by making polite banter and if they become overly insistent, by telling them to shut up. You don’t send your husband to RT.com where he can relate how you escaped, only by the skin of your teeth, from an encounter with a scary monster like the one that would devour Caleb and Sophia. The Witnesses not only spoke to his wife while she was “captive,” but they also do “lots of these things.” As though conscious that his own complaint is silly, he further explains that the Witnesses have “a very very bad image, both in the media and among the public in general.”

In seeming determination to further that “very very bad image” and even add another “very” to it, the conversation takes place against a backdrop of crazies doing the most whacky things—bizarre cultish rites, pugilistic bare-chested fighting scenes, children in lock-step: very very weird scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the interview. Nor do they have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their most virulent critics, indeed, anyone who knows anything about them, will instantly attest. Will RT.com really treat its audience with such contempt? Are they working to cultivate stupidity among ones they seem to regard as a herd for them to direct? Or did they give no pre-thought to it? Is it an anomaly, and the producer merely said to an underling: “Hey, we’re doing a story on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Run down to the lunatic bin in the storeroom and fetch some footage for me. Anything will do.” And will the Russian government outlet really treat the name of God with such contempt: “Jehovah and Out,” as in “Over and out?”

The temptation for the writer based in the West is to paint Putin the villain: the instigator of the Witness persecution. To the extent one thinks of Harry Truman’s utterance, “the buck stops here,” that should be understandable. But let us not go there. There is nothing to paint Putin the mastermind. It is always a challenge to get the attention of the one at the top, for he has much to occupy his time. The Persian King Ahasuerus was set up to preside over the Jews’ annihilation, buying into the slander that they were a menace.  It was for Queen Esther to show him the evil scheme that was underfoot.12

Most likely Putin is like Pilate, who knew Jesus was innocent but also wanted to placate the religious powers-that-be, if for nothing else than to keep them out of his hair. It is a bad sign for Witnesses that Putin hails from a communist background that has no use for religion, let alone one that is unconventional. But it is a good sign that he is a man of unpretentious upbringing. As a young man, he knocked at the door of KBG Recruiting, an unlikely means of entrance, and thereafter worked his way up through the ranks. He spent his early years “working in a gloomy office filled with aging staffers,” where he was “pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own.”13 Like a Governing Body member himself, he did not start at the top. He started at the bottom.

 

There may be a partial flattening of the anti-cult wave on which Mr. Dvorkin surfs. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, France was questioned over its sponsorship of the NGO European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), as that NGO “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities.14 It is the same NGO whose role in the Witness ban was discussed in chapter 3. Alexander Dvorkin was cited by these human rights people as a prime instigator of abuse in Russia. In addition to “the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses and peaceful apolitical Muslim movements as well as the imprisonment of several Scientologists [that are] part of this religious purification strategy,” he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.”

Should France, which Mr. Eric Roux of the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) called “the cradle of human rights” really be sponsoring NGOs that would so blatantly violate those rights with regard to religious minorities? Surely such hate sends a signal so that “other countries in the world may think that it is therefore legitimate to follow suit and they usually do worse.” FECRIS is simply a hate group itself, in that it targets “any religious minority or spiritual movement not ‘usually considered a religion’ and view[s] the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity,” says the law expert Patricia Duval. Its modus operandi is to “view the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity, collect testimonies of families or parents of converts to new religious movements who disagree with their choice to accuse such groups of destroying families, [and] compile data based on rumors, prejudices and suspicion that they use to stigmatize the concerned groups.”

Look, it might be okay for Stalin to carry on in this way, but 2018 France? Mr. Thierry Valle, representing the French NGO Coordination des Associations et des Individus pour la Liberté de Conscience, urged France to stop sponsoring this sort of activit[y],” noting “the human consequences which are often dramatic for the members of these minorities.” All these other groups mentioned: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, the Salvation Army, Mormons, Falun Gong practitioners, Scientologists, Muslums and Hindus—we disagree with them all, and they with us. But we would compete with them in the marketplace of ideas, not attempt to eliminate them with harassment or bans. If there is any eliminating to be done, let God do it, not any human organization. If the dominant religious status quo Dvorkin is so zealous to protect actually addressed the serious questions of life, none of these groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, would succeed in gaining a foothold. Will this be another occasion in which the biblical ‘earth’ comes to the rescue of the biblical ‘woman?’

Enough of this ‘cult’ nonsense. We will wear out the word. The word once had actual meaning. If you have fallen under the spell of a charismatic leader and have withdrawn from normal life, you just might be part of a cult. These days simply thinking outside of the box suffices, and the definition expands to include ‘people we don’t like.’ When I actually gave that answer: “people we don’t like,” in response to an anti-cult tweet, my comment was roundly condemned as being almost too stupid to acknowledge. I backed off and apologized, for they were right, and I had gone too far. I was thinking only about Witnesses and had lost sight of the very real cults who used to be the sole designates of that word. Yet these days they would include Jehovah’s Witnesses in their definition, retaining the original word, in hopes that the negative connotations will be applied to the new target.

You can overdo it with cults. The resident “cult expert,” as he bills himself, invites his audience to view an “interview where I discuss how Trump exhibits characteristics of a cult leader.”15 He thinks the current President is like a cult leader? Doesn’t that pretty much blow his credibility? When you think half the country has fallen victim to cult manipulation, it is an indication that you have drunk too much of the Kool Aid yourself. When I made this observation on an associated tweet account, I was blocked, something that has never happened to me, and I cannot even get back in there to create a proper endnote. That says it all as to how the anti-cultists process other viewpoints. And no, I wasn’t abusive. I did no more than say what I have said here. The reader who has followed up to this point is in position to testify. Haven’t I behaved myself? I always do.

 

Russian Witnesses engaging in the ministry these days will more accurately catch the flavor of Jesus’ instructions from the first meeting for field service. From time to time, Watchtower publications have pointed to the 10th chapter of Matthew as being just that meeting. Note the overwhelming tone to the effect that the Christian message would not be well-received. It would be vigorously resisted. It would even cause contention within families. The NABRE online commentary, which is extensive, passes right over this bit of unpleasantness without remark, thus revealing that its translators are not overly sensitive to the preaching nature of the Christian ministry. They join and strengthen the predominate church opinion that Christ’s message will find a welcome home in this world, and will, ever so gently, transform it over time. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let us consider a few segments of Jesus’ instructions (in italics) at that meeting:16

“As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (vs 12-13, Be pleasant. Don’t fight. If people insist upon arguing, simply take your leave without judging, for that is not your prerogative.)

“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” (16-18, It is a very real possibility these days in Russia.)

“Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (vs 21-22, It is another unpleasant fact that has, at times, played out in modern settings.)

“When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (vs 23, You’re not going to get it all done. Persecution may cause you to flee with work yet remaining. Don’t worry about it. Will some Russian Witnesses seek asylum in other lands? Some have. The Witness whose house was burned to the ground shortly after the ban was imposed, did so.17)

“No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!” (vs 24-25, They didn’t like Jesus. They won’t like you.)

“Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (vs 26-28, Man up where you have to. Be courageous. Even should the enemy kill you, that is all they can do. They cannot interfere with the ‘true life.’)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” (vs 29-32, You will not be forgotten by your heavenly father, nor by those loyal to him.)

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (vs 42, You will enjoy some positive response. It will come predominantly by persons of modest means, since they are in position to offer only some water and do not wine and dine you.)

Does the next chapter of Matthew still describe that first meeting for field service? Such an interpretation is pushing it, since the first verse of chapter 11 explicitly states that the Lord sent them out. But let us imagine them hanging about in the parking lot for a while, as Jehovah’s Witnesses are wont to do today, much to the Governing Body’s chagrin:18

Jesus continues: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (vs 16-19, In other words, you can’t please them all. They’ll find fault no matter what you do. Don’t worry about it.)

“But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (vs 19, It comes right back to the Christian organization’s reluctance to engage with those who would argue. Don’t do it. Critical persons will argue until the cows come home. Some of them seem positively to live to argue. Don’t play that game. Demonstrate the works that will speak louder than games of the head.)19 

 

Minus any words, and through only music steadily rising to crescendo, the video starts out as in a dream. A barefoot man in casual tunic walks along the beach and his attention is caught by something afar off down the shore. Another group is picnicking on the sand. The scenes cut to vistas of the earth in all its splendor and persons climbing, exploring, building, and savoring it. They are all people seen before, meeting various trials of faith, featured in separate videos at the 2016 Regional Conventions, hosted around the globe.20

“You won’t understand all of this, but that’s okay,” I told one man on a return visit. “Just give me your general impression.” He was especially enthused when I suggested he try writing a screenplay for it. He was the young atheist man who’d agreed that Megan could return and discuss her Bible themes at length. She had invited me to come along. Surely, the man must have assumed she’d summoned one of the big guns from the church.

He invited the two of us in and parried cautiously, unsure as to what he’d gotten himself into. “Now, just to be sure, if I should ask you to leave, you will go, right?” he queried hesitantly. Somehow I felt I had a read on this fellow and I told him that he’d be lucky to be rid of us by midnight. It was enough to break the ice and an uneasy tension was no more. I asked him how much time he had had in mind. He said an hour—longer than we had planned to stay in the first place.

I barely spoke during the first fifteen minutes. Megan said that the Bible was a scientific book and I winced inwardly because it isn’t. What she meant was that when the book happens to touch on matters of science it does so accurately, but Sean heard only what she had said, not what she had meant, and he seemed taken aback. Presently he brought up something about Nebuchadnezzar, and I knew he had prepped for how to speak with Witnesses, for—let let us be honest—who cares about Nebuchadnezzar in this day and age? After we had jumped around into three topics, I suggested maybe we should go back to the first one, and discuss it thoroughly, before moving on. He agreed. After exploring that first topic, he lost all interest in Nebuchadnezzar and we both sent him off grazing to whatever pasture he had come from.21

“The greatest enemies of God are not to be found in the ranks of the atheists,” I had mentioned to him. “They’re to be found in the ranks of those who claim to be his friends. In fact, that’s why some atheists become atheists; they have grown so thoroughly disgusted at the conduct and teachings of religious people.” He liked that remark. I have been back a few times since.

“It is a lot of family scenes,” he puzzled out about the video, “and they’re wearing very simple, khaki-like clothing. And it’s a great ending, the son runs into the arms of his dad—a big reunion. They apparently haven’t seen each other in a while.” No, they hadn’t. The boy had died in an automobile accident, presented in a movie at that convention, and the reunion scene was one of resurrection from the dead. The entire video, shown the last hour at that convention, was of life on the other side of the great tribulation, and—wasn’t that Sergey playing the violin or one like it that the Russian guard had smashed but now his wife had retrieved for him in the new system? Without mentioning the verse—for it contains no words—the video was Revelation 21:3-4 realized:

“I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.’”

After thousands of years have elapsed from humankinds’ start, God removes the chaos of the Devil-inspired experiment of human self–rule, after all but the most obstinate can see that it has been an utter failure. He brings about what he was going to bring about in the first place but delayed for a time so that a moral challenge could be answered.22 Ones who have sought him out in this system of things are the first to realize the fruitage of his rule in the new one, as is portrayed in the video’s title: Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way.

One way of countering oppressors is to outlive them. There is only so much time they have to strut about on the world stage and then they must die. Of course, you must die too, perhaps even before they. But the Witness article of faith that I have never heard anyone among them doubt is that of a resurrection on the transformed paradise earth. Witnesses may dicker about this minor point or that, agitated like particles of Brownian motion, but I have never found one having trouble with the resurrection. It affords them major staying power, and it may be for that reason that it has historically come under virulent attack. It is not merely a human game that is being played. The chief priests bribed the guards to report Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body and that he had not been resurrected at all.23 A relentless attempt to water down resurrection of the dead from ‘actual’ to ‘virtual’ was a major apostasy of the first century. Some had “deviated from the truth by saying that [the] resurrection has already taken place and are upsetting the faith of some.”24 And Caecilius of the 2nd century argues with ferocity against Octavius’ simple faith in the resurrection, which seems to particularly get under his skin.25

The video is not intended as a tool for the ministry and it cannot be used that way—I have tried. A Witness knows the story-line and is apt to get choked up. The video portrays the culmination of every Witness’ Bible-based hope. What! Does anyone think Russian Witnesses will trade it for some twaddle about breaking free of ‘manipulation’—from persons who simply want to ensure that religion knows its place in today’s world?

It does know its place, and that is first place. Some Russian brothers will give up, most likely, just as “Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica,” but for every Demas, there will be the “ten people from nations of every language [who] will take hold, yes, will take hold of the cloak of every Judahite and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”26 It is perhaps a process that the Russian authorities have speeded up, forcing the world to confront the question: What is there about the Christian message so objectionable that it must be condemned? Some will conclude: Nothing at all. It is this chaotic mess of a world that should be condemned. If history is any guide, the work may lull a bit in Russia, only to return with a vengeance at a later date.

Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way is but the beginning of Revelation 22, the last Bible chapter, in which water sparkling as crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb; it works as medicine for the nations. As Jehovah’s Witnesses announce now, it is: “’Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” Though the video has no words, it effectively ends with the words of the Bible: “The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”27

In the ministry one evening in upstate New York, I approached a man about to launch his hobbyist drone. I told him I had never seen one up close and he invited me to watch. It took off. He guided it up and over the street, over the rooftop of the neighbor’s house, and I saw in his viewfinder what the drone saw. Yes! There it was! As he suspected, his first mini-drone had come down over the house and was stuck in the gutter. “It’s just a cheap little thing,” he said finally of the lost drone. He decided to let it remain just where it was. How would he retrieve it anyway? Perhaps his neighbor would be peeved at his flying a drone overhead, as though spying. He guided his big drone back and it landed obediently at his feet. I hadn’t said a word as to who I was, and he hadn’t asked. With mother drone safe and sound, and only a chick lost in the neighbor’s gutter, he said to me: “You’re a Jehovah’s Witness, right? They’re fine people. I never met one I didn’t like.” I thought I’d leave things just the way they were, like his baby drone left in the gutter. What could I have added? He had nailed it. We are fine people. When searching the field of religion, look for those who are collectively maligned but individually praised.

(From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia, in safe and unsafe version)

  1. Alexandra Alter, “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?” Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2007, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118670164592393622
  2. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
  3. The note is on display at the George Eastman House in Rochester N.Y. The account of separating the house by rollers to insert a midsection is related by any tour guide.
  4. Isaiah 65:21-23
  5. Revelation 2:10
  6. Christina Sommers, Twitter feed, February 14, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://twitter.com/chsommers/status/963975848540954625?lang=en
  7. This is not the exact quote, which I have misplaced, but it is just as apropo. He writes the complaint frequently. See, for example, https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10213630677134011&id=1016253912. Contact him via Twitter and ask. Take note of his banner, which inspired a certain plebian (me) to say “it really puts the ‘ass’ into astronaut. He told me they were not astronauts, but female fighter ACES. Yeah…whatever.
  8. Zechariah 12:3
  9. 1 Samuel 5:6
  10. “The Court Restricted Dennis Christensen’s Right to Become Acquainted With the Case Materials,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, December 19, 2017 accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17121911-277.html The Court relented on this restriction two months later: http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/180228a.html
  11. The interview survives only as a YouTube submission, uploaded April 26, 2012, by JW Brothers, accessed March 21, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldybL1foBE0. I would prefer the source be more precise, but it dovetails well with contemporary print RT.com articles, such as “Will Jehovah's Witnesses be Banned in Russia?” RT.com, August 11, 2010, accessed March 19, 2018, https://www.rt.com/news/will-jehovah-s-witnesses-be-banned-in-russia/
  12. Esther 7:1-6
  13. Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (New York: Knoph, 2014) 24
  14. “LAÏCITÉ and Religious Freedom: A Coalition of NGOs Questions France at the United Nations,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, January 16, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/laicite-and-religious-freedom-a-coalition-of-ngos-questions-france-at-the-united-nations
  15. See tweet of March 7, 2018, by Stephen Hassan, accessed March 21, 2018, https://twitter.com/CultExpert/status/971553486080040960
  16. Matthew 10:5-42
  17. Platon Prohorov, “When God is Ridnessed,” Religiopolis, May 10, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.religiopolis.org/news/11474-togda-bog-otvorachivaetsya.html. For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170510e.html
  18. A parody of such is portrayed in an ebook by this author: Tom Irregardless and Me (smashwords.com Search: Tom Harley, 2016) Chapter 12
  19. Matthew 11:16-19
  20. “Jehovah Will Treat His Loyal One in a Special Way,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Broadcasting, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwbcov_201605_11_VIDEO
  21. Daniel 4:33 This chapter of Daniel figures prominently in Bible chronology and Witness detractors sometimes seek to undermine it on that account. There is debate among secular sources as to the date of fulfillment of this verse.
  22. What Does the Bible Really Teach? (Wallkill: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 106
  23. Matthew 28:13
  24. 2 Timothy 2:18
  25. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Roberts-Donaldson English [from Greek] Translation, c160-250 A.D, chapters VIII, XI, XII, compiled by Peter Kirby, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/octavius.html.
  26. Zechariah 8:23
  27. Revelation 22:20-21

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“Should He Be Disfellowshipped?”

Come now. You know that this [“shunning” or “avoiding”] has already happened, unless he has been secretive as to his activities and intent. Social media is full of complaints of those saying that they have been “shunned” though no DFing has ever occurred—it is but their separation and subsequent activities that congregation members react to. Nobody tells them what to do. They tell themselves, based on their understanding of Bible principles, what to do.

That is why it would have been better had he remained part of the congregation throughout. Relations would have become tense, probably, but that is always the case with someone who presents himself as a ‘reformer’ or ‘whistleblower.’ Instead, he separates and aligns himself with a community that continually derides JWs as a “cult”—a perception that none of them will share—so they are unlikely to conclude that he has anything in mind other than sinking them, using an unsavory subject as a wedge, since many of that community have expressly stated that is their goal.

“Do you feel that what Mark has done merits a judicial committee and DF'ing?” From afar, one does not weigh in on this, with only a tiny percentage of the facts available. It is irresponsible to ask, just as it is irresponsible to try to get people to weigh in pre-trial on O.J, Michael Jackson, Paul Manifort, or anyone else. How would I know?

JWs are not a “cult”—the whole concept is silly, and the incendiary word has been expanded to include them only in the last 20-30 years or so. They are a faith that meaningfully applies scripture IN THEIR OWN LIVES ONLY, even as they recommend it to others—a point continually misrepresented by “anti-cultists.”

Is it only your community that complains of being “manipulated?” JWs are a community of believers who wish to avoid being “manipulated” by overall societal trends, and for this reason they have voluntarily signed on to tools, up to and including DFing, that facilitates this end. The reason we look at 30-year-old photos of ourselves and wonder how we ever imagined those dorky styles did anything for us reveals a basic law of human nature. Would that that principle applied only to small things like style. But It doesn’t. Humans run with the herd on matters small and big. To deny a faith the tools to self-control is no more than an attack on the free expression of one’s faith.

Since the Watchtower organization has stated that they do not tell family members to shun others in the family, there is no reason not to take them up on this. Family members will shun or not shun based upon whether they think there is any reason general policy on avoiding those who oppose should not apply simply because one is family. (“Shunning,” by the way, is not the best term, since it implies permanence. Disfellowshipping does not.)

If Mark’s work is no more than an extension of what has been plainly stated—that anyone who knows of CSA in the JW congregation has every right to go to authorities and doing so brings no reproach upon anyone other than the perpetrator, then he has nothing to be concerned about. https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/02/the-reproach-of-child-sexual-abuse-falls-on-the-abu.html.  I don’t even accede to your conclusion as to why the two congregation elders call. It could be that way, but you have by no means demonstrated it.

From Chivchalov’s blog, in Russia, since all ties together:

“Few people know that back in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights considered all the most popular accusations against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia: breaking families, stealing real estate, failure to perform civil duties, refusal of military service, risk to health due to bloodless treatment, and even "mind control". Russian anti-cultists badly wanted to prove these allegations. The result: each of them was found to be unfounded and unsubstantiated. Here are some details in Russian: http://chivchalov.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-post_13.htmlBut the Russian media don't care about the courts, facts and evidence. Over the past 9 years, these accusations continue to be heavily exploited by the media and presented as widely known and accepted facts. What doesn't work in court rooms due to the lack of evidence, works perfectly in the media that know how to invent any evidence and present it at the right angle. By the way, the Russian authorities learned a lesson: now what they say on TV, they don't say in court. In the Supreme and other courts, all these accusations were no longer mentioned. There was only one new accusation: "extremism," which is understood as the belief in the truth of one's religion.”

Most things take more than a sound byte to answer, which is why I put my reply on this platform, rather than a long series of tweets that will get all mixed up & out of order. On “cult” accusations: https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/02/who-really-is-a-cult-part-1.html

On “shunning” accusations: https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/01/in-defense-of-shunning.html

On all other accusations, see the free ebook TrueTom vs the Apostates! 

I have reproduced your tweets below, Javi, along with my reply that preceded them:

“See, this is where you often lose me. If Mark is disfellowshipped, he will be more than "avoided". he will be shunned by his entire family and lifelong friends. Cut off from his entire social environment. Check out Kip William's research williams.socialpsychology.org (1/3)

The effects of ostracism are on par with physical pain as far as the human brain is concerned. Aside from that, as Mark alluded in the article. Speaking out has already come at much personal and financial cost. These men could just leave him be and NOBODY in their congregation (2/3)

would be affected. Mark could proceed with his work, retain a semblance of a relationship with his elderly kin. But, it appears they're insisting on the visits. I'd argue that they are the aggressors; Do you feel that what Mark has done merits a judicial committee and DF'ing?” (3/3)

My prior tweets:

If you say someone lied, usually you say what the lie was. Also, if he presents himself as whistleblower who cares about his PIMI friends and family, he could have attended all congregation meetings both before ....1/3

and after. Relationships would strain, to be sure, but at no time would he need be concerned about being accosted physically. That cannot be said of the two men he named publicly before an audience mostly hostile to what ....2/3

they stand for. For that reason, it is usually thought extraordinarily vindictive to name private persons on the internet.....3/3

 

.....And since Mark has tagged everyone under the sun, so will I.

 

 

 

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An Advocate for Singleness - Francis Bacon, #90 on the Influential Persons List

Was it only me who was surprised to see specific counsel about sex in the Bible?

Let the husband render to [his] wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to [her] husband.  The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.  Do not be depriving each other [of it], except by mutual consent for an appointed time, that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-regulation.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

I just didn’t expect to see it there—maybe I should have—and it cemented my opinion that the Bible was a very practical book.

The apostle Paul, who was not married, recommended singleness as a way of life: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman;  yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband....However, I say this by way of concession, not in the way of a command.  But I wish all men were as I myself am. (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

In the single state, one can more readily give “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction,” he wrote at vs 35.

So from time to time, the Witness organization dutifully recommends singleness as a way of life. Few take them up on it—perhaps because those doing the recommending are almost always married themselves. Instead, they employ the “escape clause” at verse 36: “But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.” They even push the “bloom of youth” phrase to almost mean two minutes past the bloom of youth. Many of our people go in for marriage when quite young. Many of these later come to say that they entered marriage too young.

Is there anyone other than the apostle Paul who gives such advice? To my surprise, there is—and he is a big name by historical standards—Francis Bacon, a philosopher of the 16th century who advocated for scientific investigation, recognizing its potential to change the world. From Aristotle’s time, science had been mostly based on deduction. Bacon changed it to be based on induction. Rather than ‘downloading’ ‘settled science’ and deducing from it, he advanced the notion of ‘uploading’ observations and experiments, and using that to modify existing science, so that it should never become like calcified religious dogma. Michael Hart ranks him #90 on this list of the 100 most influential persons who have ever lived. (Paul is #6)

His preference of singleness (though, like most who ‘recommend’ singleness today, he was married) is for the same reason as Paul’s: one can do more in that state: He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public.”

This is not necessarily true of the unmarried—that they make great contributions (“Some there are, who though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences”)—but it could be more readily true of them, by reason of having fewer distractions.

Watch out the traps of marriage!—and I am not sure here whether he is lampooning those who run from it simply for the sake of self-centeredness, or if he advocating forsaking it for the contributions one can thereby more easily make to humankind: “But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think their girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fuginves are of that condition.”

He even agrees with Paul’s specific application for remaining unmarried: “Single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground were it must first fill a pool.” How well that ties in with Paul’s: “The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord’s approval.  But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided” (Vs 32-34)

That is not to say that either Francis or Paul did not concede the tempering effect of marriage on personality: “Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men, though they may be many times more charitable, because their means are less exhaust, yet, on the other side, they are more cruel and hard-hearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon.”

Still, all things considered, Bacon refers to “one of the wise men, that made answer to the question, when an man should marry—A young man, not yet, and elder man not at all.

Who knew? C4DD0E19-880B-432F-AC49-BA17DECABA87

 

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You Always Use the Tongs in the Cafeteria

Playing the discontent card, like Bruce the timeshare salesperson did, does not work with me or with anyone who has learned the secret of the apostle—how to be content with much and with little. The line “My kids do not stay at the Hampton” is likely to evoke even an wiseacre response, and when we arrived back at our hotel I texted to him a selfie of my wife and I in the long Hampton corridor—window and exit sign in the rear—and captioned it “Livin the good life.” I attached a smiley sign so that he would know it was simply a good-natured quip and not mockery.

58C4C369-7C6C-4BC6-BF26-039A7CDD80CCPhoto: Blake Handley

He would not have taken it wrong anyway, I don’t think. Introducing himself with many particulars, so that we would do the same and thus reveal how he might best sell us, he said that he was a retired detective from the Bronx. ‘This is a perfect job for a retired detective,’ I thought, and when I jokingly brought up his former occupation once again, he said “You think I’m not reading you right now?” I did think that. I liked this guy. Of course any experienced Witness ought to be able to do the same.

I asked him whether real detectives rolled their eyes when they watched the TV detectives and he said that they did not. The show writers have real detectives for consultants and they mostly just spiff up actual cases to make them suitable for television—make the policewomen drop-dead gorgeous, for example. NYPD and Hill Street Blues were his favorites, he said.

7AEE7B79-C1BF-4A83-9713-D379AAF99886Photo: Andre Gustavo Stumpf

The shows are so ubiquitous that it will be hard never to have seen one, but they were never staples for me, with the exception of when I worked with Gwen overnights at the group home and it turned out that she loved those shows, and the TV was in the central room like a shrine, virtually unavoidable, and so at length I figured ‘why be righteous overmuch?’ and I joined her in watching some. The joke became that the reason God created bad people was so he could have them killed on TV.

 

The red wood rocking chairs are placed just outside the shops at Harbortown and the nearby lighthouse on television yesterday because the Heritage golf tournament was then being played on Hilton Head Island, and this is where all the fancy people hang out. Of the chairs, my wife said that it was no doubt done so that the men could there cool their heels while the women shopped, perhaps taking a cue from the statue of the kid reading.

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It was a good theory that I wanted to buy into, but it wasn’t confirmed by what I saw. As I gazed upon the moored yachts it occurred to me that, like snowflakes, no two are alike. It next occurred to me that my first occurrence was ridiculous—it must be possible to pick out models, same as with cars. In time, I managed to do so. The accessories and accoutrements were different, of course, but the basic boat was recognizable.

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At the next hotel, this time a Clarion in Savannah, as I was reaching for bread to make toast, I heard a tapping. I looked up and it was the matronly breakfast attendant, who glanced at the tongs I had not used, and all but said: “Your mama raised you better than that!”—even though I had had a clear shot at the bread and was (probably) going to be touching only the slice I was after. She was right. My mama had taught me better. And she would have given me the same scolding, only not so gently. That is something that’s not going to happen in your snooty timeshare, is it, Bruce?

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The next day we hunted up a Kingdom Hall and in attendance I sat behind a teenager who looked like he might not be paying rapt attention. So after the meeting, I broke the ice by apologizing to him. See, I was sitting right behind him, so he must have caught my singing full blast and that had to have been a trying experience. I asked him if I would be happy moving to Savannah, as some had suggested, but he said ‘Nah. It’s not all that great here.’ Trying to diffuse any tension that might have arisen by my being so much older, I told him how the hotel lunchlady had chastened me. He said that it was my own fault—I should have known better—you never reach for things with your fingers. You’re supposed to use the tongs. His mama had taught him that.

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There was not undue pressure on the timeshare tour, assuming one is not averse to sales. There only one rude moment, and that only for an instant, when the third closer abruptly wished us a good day and vanished, as though turning down her final reasonable offer was so gauche and unappreciative that it was really all a sensitive person could take, and perhaps knowing we had caused her offense and were about to let the deal of the lifetime slip through our fingers we would quickly call her back. We didn’t. I wasn’t scared of her at all. It was the lunchlady in Savannah that I was scared of.

 

 

 

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Inventing the News in Russia - to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Detriment, But Maybe Everyone Else’s as Well

Okay, I get it. Religion is not a core concern with Russian State-controlled media, except for that of the Russian Orthodox Church—it perceives that its task is to guard “House Church” interests and to shoot down the “competition.” It is therefore okay to misrepresent, even to lie about, the other pathways of seeking God—especially those of the “new religions.” It does not harm the overall reputation of State-controlled media, so the thinking apparently goes, to deliberately cook up untruths about these groups and pass then off as “journalism.” I wonder.

The school guidebooks used by Jehovah’s Witnesses contain counsel points on ‘accuracy of statement.’ If you are speaking, and you make an error about even what is periphery to your point, someone will be sure to think: “Huh! He doesn’t know that?” From there it is only a tiny hop to “Maybe he doesn’t know anything else, either.” And here we are speaking only of a misstatement. We are  not speaking at all of a deliberate lie.

If you are a media outlet and you make a deliberate lie, doesn’t it call into question everything else you say about any other subject? Every so often there will be some report of a Christian refusing an instruction from his employer to lie, and getting away with it by pointing out: “If I will not lie for you, neither will I lie to you.” It is the same principle with faulty Russian reporting, I think. If they lie about such-and-such, who is to say that they will not lie about any topic they examine?

Russian State media—RT.com—told a whopper of a lie regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses some years ago. An RT journalist that I follow on Twitter encouraged me to select some stories more balanced, insisting that there were some. I turned down the offer. If you are trying to establish that Russian media is unreliable, it does not help your cause to point out that once in a while they do tell the truth on your topic.

Here is the example. I included it in the ebook Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia:  See also the ‘safe’ version)

The three-minute 2009 video clip is entitled Jehovah and Out and the host is interviewing Audrey Zolovov of Russia Profile Magazine.11 The host asks why Jehovah’s Witnesses are targeted for possible ban because, after all, Russia is “pretty tolerant toward religion, isn’t it? I mean, the Hare Krisnas are operating on the streets of Moscow” and his guest says that ‘Well, he doesn’t really know.’ He agrees with the host that Witnesses are “annoying,” but also agrees that should hardly suffice as a reason. They do oppose blood transfusions, and that is very bad, but many fringe sects have similar disagreeable drawbacks. Maybe it is because they have a “very good organization.” After all, they are a “worldwide phenomenon,” he opines, as though expounding upon motive at a crime scene. He gives an example: several years ago, his wife went to a manicurist and he thinks that the manicurist must have been a “very important asset for that group because she had this captive audience for 40 minutes or so, while she was telling them about their religion. Of course, my wife stopped going to that manicurist as soon as she found out that she is being preached.” Of course! What loyal citizen would not?

Is it possible that RT.com can celebrate grownups behaving as such babies? Even if the Witness woman was tactless, something which is not alleged, an adult learns over time that there are many of such people encountered in life, and that you can handle them by making polite banter and if they become overly insistent, by telling them to shut up. You don’t send your husband to RT.com where he can relate how you escaped, only by the skin of your teeth, from an encounter with a scary monster like the one that would devour Caleb and Sophia. The Witnesses not only spoke to his wife while she was “captive,” but they also do “lots of these things.” As though conscious that his own complaint is silly, he further explains that the Witnesses have “a very very bad image, both in the media and among the public in general.”

In seeming determination to further that “very very bad image” and even add another “very” to it, the conversation takes place against a backdrop of crazies doing the most whacky things—bizarre cultish rites, pugilistic bare-chested fighting scenes, children in lock-step: very very weird scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the interview. Nor do they have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their most virulent critics, indeed, anyone who knows anything about them, will instantly attest. Will RT.com really treat its audience with such contempt? Are they working to cultivate stupidity among ones they seem to regard as a herd for them to direct? Or did they give no pre-thought to it. Is it an anomaly, and the producer merely said to an underling: “Hey, we’re doing a story on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Run down to the lunatic bin in the storeroom and fetch some footage for me. Anything will do.” And will the Russian government outlet really treat the name of God with such contempt: “Jehovah and Out,” as in “Over and out?”

Ah well. It was some time ago. Maybe they have learned their lesson. Sigh...no.

ERR News is the English-language service of Estonian Public Broadcasting, run by a fully independent editorial team. On April 12, 2019, they told of “two employees of state-owned Russian TV channel Russia-1, entering Estonia on French and Italian Schengen visas, [and using] hidden cameras to gather material they then used to ridicule and demonise Jehovah's Witnesses. The Estonian Ministry of the Interior reacted by issuing a five-year entry ban....”

Furthermore, “trying to influence society by means of harassing different minorities is an integral part of the Kremlin's playbook. Jehovah's Witnesses are "persecuted and outlawed in Russia....The Russian state media occasionally make efforts to come up with an explanation for this fact. This typically includes reports where members of this religious minority are taunted, ridiculed and demonised.”

The clandestine reporters “entered a gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tallinn without telling them who they are, and what they are planning to do. The material they gained at this gathering as well as at another, similar one in Finland was then used for Russia-1's news programme, Vesti, and aired on 29 November 2018.”

So Estonia kicked them out of the country for five years. That is what you do with liars. Good for them! They know what sanity is. The AP and the Washington Post picked up on and ran the story the next day.

I admit to not being expert on what media is state controlled and what isn’t, and what is the overlap. RT.com is state controlled. There are also others. This example caught by Estonia is apparently one of the others. I also get it that this is for local consumption only, not international consumption. Such shoddy “journalism” is instantly recognized for what it is internationally, but State media appears to feel it has every right to manipulate the gullible local public.

Will that happen with impunity? Time will tell. It may backfire on them. It morally should. It’s too bad. This writer finds RT.com to offer a refreshing contrast to Western media, which so often runs in a herd. But if they bend the truth so readily on their non-core concerns, who is to say they will not bend it on the core ones? One would think that if they want to safeguard their reputation, not only would these two journalists be fired, but more importantly, whoever put them up to it, as well—and the chain of command apparently reaches pretty high.

It is little wonder that Russia seeks to disconnect its internet from that of the rest of the world. Among the advantages to them will be to keep such slippery deeds hidden. However, does not that step alone disqualify it as a credible journalistic source?

https://news.err.ee/929589/iss-ministry-issued-schengen-entry-ban-against-russia-1-employees

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The 22 Town Squares of Savannah

A cotton grower in the 1800s had to wait 6 months to get paid. Export markets were in Europe, sailing ships were slow, and few growers could afford to wait so long as 6 months. A handful of financiers who came to be known as the ‘cotton factors’ loaned the money to tie them over, and took their cut from the final purchase price. For a time, those men were the richest persons in the world.

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They perched atop the foot bridges and peered at the product in wagons below. Based upon what they saw, they made payment. They effectively set the worldwide price for cotton. Today it is Dubai that sets the price.

The back—or is it the front?—of the above buildings face the Savannah River and they were once warehouses for cotton. Today there are restaurants and shops, and tourism is the city’s #2 industry.

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Original Savannah is laid out in a grid pattern featuring 22 public squares, named after local or even national heroes. Washington Square is named after President George Washington. Madison Square is named after President James Madison.

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Lincoln Ave, however, is not named after Abraham Lincoln—nothing in the south is named after Abraham Lincoln, the guide told us—it is named after Benjamin Lincoln, Washington’s Secretary of War (sanitized to ‘Secretary of Defense’ today). Gnarly 400-year-old oak trees in the squares radiate limbs in a corkscrew pattern. Draped with Spanish Moss, it contributes to an eerie atmosphere at night.

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Calhoun Square is named after John C Calhoun, who never was president, but did serve as Vice-President to both Andrew Jackson and John Quincey Adams. It is unique among the squares in that, if you were to remove all cars crawling around it, the scene would be exactly the same as two centuries ago—that’s how well Savannah preserves its old homes. There were several other squares—even most of them, actually—that seemed to share that attribute to the untrained eye; Washington Square, for example, with a Federal style home dating to the early 1800s on one side of the square and an exact replica (dated 1989) on the other side.

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The statue of Stanilov Casmir, for some strange reason, is not in Casmir Square, but in Monterrey Square.

Colonial Cemetery might, at first glance, seem one of the squares, though a much enlarged one, but it is not counted as one. It has not even been a complete cemetery since Civil War times, because the Union soldiers camping out one cold overnight took to burrowing into the tombs for warmth and threw all the remains outside.

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Savannah has been the setting for many battles through the years. It is described somewhere as a “necropolis”—a city built over the dead. The guide told us of one church in which the preacher preached long to the Confederate troops, and then the following Sunday, the very same sermon to the Union troops who had killed off the Confederate ones during the intervening week.

Take a trolley tour if that is in the budget. You learn much that way, and can visit individual attractions later. The day after we toured Savannah, Tiger Woods won the Masters in neighboring Augusta—a very good thing since everyone loves a story of redemption. The next day, however, Notre Dame Cathedral burned and its tall spire collapsed into the main structure—a very bad thing, since it had stood for 1100 years.

 

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Fake News

Fake news is everywhere, and some of it surfaced about the Russian ban: ‘Church members of Russia have united! They have launched massive protests against the government in behalf of the Witnesses! President Trump rebuked Russia and invited its entire Witness population to the United States! He visited a Kingdom Hall to worship with them!’ All of it is fake news. It didn’t happen.1

Is “the news” another one of those biblical hills that melt in the last days? Is it now a thing that people of bygone days could depend upon but now need to call in Sherlock Holmes to decipher whether or not it is genuine? Is ‘reading the news’ now the information equivalent of playing Russian Roulette?

Given this apparent new normal, I will take the Trump story, fake news though it is. No, he did not speak out in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the story plants the clear notion that he should have. Most fake news about Jehovah’s Witnesses is derogatory. It is the ‘every kind of evil’ falsely said against them. It’s about time something went our way. Now it is only a matter of time before some poor body of elders must deal with NBC or somebody attempting to set up shop in their foyer so that they can broadcast “Live from the Kingdom Hall.”

The derogatory fake news against Jehovah’s Witnesses today calls to mind the derogatory fake news against early Christians. The skeptic Caecilius of the 2nd century C.E. hurls the charge that they were “a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public, but garrulous in corners,” who “despise honours and purple robes.” They “love one another almost before they know one another… and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters.”2

“Assuredly, this confederation ought to be rooted out and execrated,” Caecilius asserts. In the meantime, they were best advised to, if they had “any wisdom or modesty, cease from prying into the regions of the sky, and the destinies and secrets of the world: it is sufficient to look before your feet, especially for untaught, uncultivated, boorish, rustic people: they who have no capacity for understanding civil matters, are much more denied the ability to discuss divine.”3 Then, as now, explaining God was reserved for professionals. Amateurs had no business in the house of God.

 

The term was unheard of just two years ago. Now the expression “fake news” is as familiar as the Lord’s prayer. Outlets pledge to search for and destroy fake news so that others are not misled. Unfortunately, fake news can be in the eye of the beholder. Real news is but another manifestation of ‘History is written by the victors.’ It is written by the interests that have outmaneuvered the competition. There is often no way to tell if its real or not. A certain one online tweets: “Right now, everyone believes news which doesn’t fit their preconceived agenda is fake,” a situation he describes as “mental.” Would anyone like to challenge him that it is, in reality, ‘right as rain?’

From the advent of filmmaking, countless dramatic movies have ended with the whistleblower testifying before important people, and the mighty press finally publishing The Truth! The villains have been raising mayhem throughout the film trying to prevent that outcome, but at movie’s climactic end, they are thwarted! The people come to know! All of the people come to know! It is one of the most predictable plotlines of entertainment. Yet, all those movies are ridiculously dated and must be rewritten to reflect current realities. It shouldn’t be hard. It requires just an addendum that can be attached to all films. The morning after, whoever has been fingered says: “It is Fake News! People, can we just move on?” No harm done.

It will only get worse. The New York Times writes about an app that makes it “relatively easy to create realistic face swaps and leave few traces of manipulation….It’s not hard to imagine this technology’s being used to smear politicians, create counterfeit revenge porn or frame people for crimes. Lawmakers have already begun to worry about how ‘deepfakes’ could be used for political sabotage and propaganda.” The anonymous developer cheerfully helps the Times reporter try his own hand at it. “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he [says], “and ultimately I’ve decided I don’t think it’s right to condemn the technology itself.”4 Of course not! They never do. It’s on to the next advance of science! Let the ethicists figure out what he has just dumped in their laps, something “which can of course be used for many purposes, good and bad.” It’s their problem, not his. Surely we can rely upon them to form and implement responsible policy. What’s that? We can’t? Oh, well.

Already, news sources show an eagerness to rely upon unidentified sources, who frequently turn out to be wrong. Will they handle this new advance responsibly? Not only can we expect ‘proven by video’ character assassination to become routine, but the more lasting consequence of this new technological advance will be that even genuine video evidence will be readily dismissed as fake news. It is Isaiah envisioned: “Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!”5 The guileless one so slandered will explode in moral indignation, and thus look guilty as hell. The professional liar will shrug it off with the feigned saddened dismay that his enemies could sink so low. It may be that “the wrath of the Lord blazes against [this] people,” but not before they have enjoyed their substantial day in the sun.

Sometimes the news is so new and unanticipated that you are hard-pressed to know whether it is fake or not. From Moscow, RT.com reporter Robert Bridge lists 10 things you probably never heard of 10 years ago. They include public statues dedicated to Satan, the accepted notion that one might have been assigned the wrong gender, widespread opioid addiction, sex with robots, college campuses where students are protected from debate, legalized marijuana, taking a knee during the national anthem, pink vagina hats, Internet appliances that spy on people, and cryptocurrencies. Dastardly space invaders from outer space will conclude there must be something in the air that they don’t dare risk catching and will hightail it back to wherever planet they came from. One is reminded of the ‘Dr. Seuss’ author’s widow, lamenting another desecration that she never thought she would live to see (the commercialization of her husband’s work): “If Ted could see this, he’d say ‘I’m glad I’m dead.’”

 

Really, is it not all fake news? Is it not an absurd drama? The Bible portrays it all as an act, an unreality, not the true life at all. Consistently, the Scriptures employ the imagery of a stage play. “For the world in its present form is passing away,” says NABRE, the ‘house’ translation for this work.6 Other translations read similarly: “Because this world in its present form is passing away.” (CEB) “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (ESV) “For the mode of this world passes away.” (HNV) “For the fashion of this world passeth away.” (KJV) “For this world in its present form is passing away.” (NIV)

“The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage,” says the reference work Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Thus, the New World Translation’s rendering, “the scene of this world is changing,” is the best rendering of all, even if it is extremist.

The world is an act and the scenes are ever changing. Christians are the central actors of the play. Nearly all translations employ the word ‘spectacle,’ as in: “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.”7 (NABRE) The New International Reader’s Version dispenses with “spectacle” but still manages to nail the point with “We have been made a show for the whole creation to see.” The New World Translation better defines ‘spectacle’ as ‘theatrical spectacle.’ Angels and people are watching Christians. They are to become a theatrical spectacle to the world?  Very well. If that is to be their role, let them give the world some theater.

The world is stage to a play featuring heroes and villains. They are all actors. After 80 years, the curtain falls on the individual actor and it is off to the grave for him or her, to be succeeded by a fresh young face. This explains why Watchtower publications seldom name names. There is no reason to shame or honor the individual actors because it is not about them. It is about the play they are starring in. Take an actor out, and another one immediately steps into his shoes. Their names are not important. It can even be a distraction to know the names. Name a villain and you create the impression that removing that villain will solve matters. Instead, another villain assumes the role without fuss. It is the play we must follow, not the villains in it, or even the heroes.

The villains are even described in terms that make clear it is a play. The etymology of ‘hypocrite’ is that of an actor who wears a mask, just as they would do in the ancient plays. The technique served to amplify voice, hide true identity, and thereby facilitate a new role.8 Similarly, the villains in Jesus’ time routinely hid what they were. When they delivered Jesus to Pilate, they feigned concern that the government might be defrauded: “They brought charges against him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.’” They knew Pilate didn’t care about the first or the third charge, so they threw in the second to make him sit up and take notice. Opponents today of the Christian work employ similar methods.9

If the New World translators particularly identify with the image of actors on a stage, might it be because they have acted on many a stage? They are by no means Christians comfortably ensconced in academia. Every householder’s front porch is a stage, and they have starred upon countless ones. They have seen rave reviews. They have seen dismal reviews. At times, the reviewers have been so unkind as to chase them right off the stage. So, yes, they know a thing or two about being a theatrical spectacle to the world. They have seen a thing or two.

Why strut around on the stage we will leave so soon, and perhaps without dignity? If people do strut nonetheless—for humans are proud actors—should they not be read the verse: “Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass?”10 In his day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was arguably the most important human alive. Ten years later with Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was.

As mentioned previously, the American newsman Charlie Rose interviewed Putin in 2015.11 “You have a popularity rating in Russia that would make every politician in the world envious. Why are you so popular?” Rose asked. “There is something that I have in common with every citizen of Russia, the love for our motherland,” Putin replied. Afterwards, Charlie and his team were invited to stay and have tea. “And tea turned into dinner. And the food kept coming in,” Rose said later. It was just like the state dinner of 200 years ago thrown by the czar for the fictional Horatio Hornblower and his British naval officers. It is a fine career, that of an interviewer. In an instant it was over, when Charlie was accused of sexual abuse, one of a long line of prominent men that went down in 2017. But even if it had it not ended that way, is there not an overall sad component to it? He once stated he had enjoyed a wonderful career by reason of knowing so many newsmakers. Are they really worth knowing? All they do is squabble with one another and collectively make the world a chaotic mess. I’ll take the brothers and sisters in my circuit any day.

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

 

After 45 years, I reconnected with an old friend. It was the friend who had ribbed me mercilessly about the United Nations when I had first become a Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique understanding of that world body—that it is the ‘image of the wild beast’ of Revelation. The wild beast is the worldwide political system and it has ‘breathed life’ into the image of the wild beast, which is thereby empowered to govern the entire earth as a single organization, something its individual components have proved unable to do. It represents worldwide government by man instead of worldwide government by God, and thus it finds itself in the crosshairs of biblical interpretation.19

It is also in its second life. Its first life was as the League of Nations, formed to maintain peace following World War I. The League failed twenty years after its inception, powerless to dissuade factions gearing up for a repeat war, but the concept was resurrected after World War II as the United Nations. Even this resurrection fits in with a Revelation verse: “The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss…”20 Watchtower President Nathan Knorr predicted the ‘beast’s’ reappearance at a 1942 convention, while the entire world was for the second time at war.21 

The two diverging views over just who should govern humankind—man or God—split decisively in 1919. The newly formed League was hailed by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America as “not a mere political expedient; it is rather the political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, their head ones just released from Atlanta prison for alleged violation of the 1918 Espionage and Sedition Act, promptly regrouped and announced at a landmark convention: “Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom,” government by God.22 The contrast could not have been more stark. 

Now, I knew the preceding only vaguely at the time, and my friend did not know it at all. His picture of the United Nations had been forged as a child, as had mine. It was the organization that collected money for the eradication of disease. As a child I had carried one of their milk cartons modified to collect coins for just that purpose—what on earth could be wrong with that? My friend harped and harped on it and I finally told him that it was just a footnote, not a big deal, and that he should give it a rest.

The circuit overseer was to visit our congregation and there was to be a special slide presentation. I invited my friend and gave him to understand that, in view of his giving me nothing but grief about my new faith, if he attended this one meeting I would consider that he had given it a fair shake and would thereafter shut up about it. He came and was shoehorned into a crowded Kingdom Hall. All was going well, and I was happy that he was receiving ‘a witness,’ but toward the end of the presentation a slide displayed the U.N. building rent in two by a lightning bolt from heaven! an image that I had never seen before and do not think I have seen since. I should have invited the Soviet leaders instead of my friends, for they would have cheered; Russia routinely got shellacked in the Security Council back then, ever outvoted by the pro-West majority. Putin himself (I am playing a bit here) might even have removed and pounded his shoe in appreciation at that Kingdom Hall meeting, just as Khrushchev had done years before at the U.N itself. But I hadn’t invited the Soviet leaders. I had invited my friend, and I kept my end of the bargain to witness to him no more, with but occasional relapses—for after all, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to function until the world ignores it to embark upon WWIII, but since that has not yet happened, perhaps it must be granted some credit. Every once in a while, I am told, it contacts the Watchtower Society to ask them if they would please drop this ‘wild beast spiel.’

Anyhow, I caught up with my friend again after 45 years. He had been a heavy smoker back in the day and he was now dependent upon an oxygen tank, which impeded his mobility. Who was it that said we spend the first third of our lives ensuring that the final third will be miserable? Once long ago I had commented on that delicious aroma of a newly lit cigarette. “Every puff is like that when you are a smoker,” he replied. Yet now he crusades to dissuade others from that course.

The zealots of New York State bombard me with graphic anti-smoking TV ads, as though intent on spoiling my dinner. Visiting with my old friend was more effective. I thanked Jehovah, for it easily could have been me. I easily could have been funneled into it, for it was all the rage once and it is not to my credit that I abstained. The year I was baptized smoking became an offense for which one could be expelled from the congregation. Some had the most difficult struggle quitting. Some didn’t quit and ceased association with the religion. Yet seeing my old friend, who had lived a life of both joys and sorrows, knowing it will likely be cut short due to the tobacco—it made me grateful for that firmness. Though Witness detractors today complain about many a freedom-restricting policy, I have never known any to complain of this one, which must have saved countless thousands of lives. Should a safety-conscious world ever focus on Witnesses shunning tobacco, drugs, alcohol abuse and warfare, it might mandate that everyone sign on.

My friend will die younger than otherwise, most likely. Yet, is it not but fake news that 80 years and then death is all we should expect? Those of this world settle for so little. If Google and Facebook filter out the fake news of the present, why should not Jehovah’s Witnesses filter out the fake news of the future? If only the Church would do it. Then Witnesses wouldn’t have to. Everlasting life on earth under kingdom rule is the Bible hope. Death in the Adamic system of things is not permanent.  “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope,” Paul writes.23 ‘Yes, we do,’ the Church says in effect. ‘Stay ignorant.’

The overall church world will not explain about those ‘sleeping in death.’ They cannot. They have it all backwards and they present death as part of God’s plan. They portray it as is a friend, whereas the Bible clearly says it is an enemy and not part of God’s plan at all. Live a few decades on a trialsome earth, then (if you are good) get promoted to heaven, they say. It is all wrong. It is all unscriptural. Earth is our intended home, the Bible says. While it is true some end up in heaven, it is a tiny group for a special purpose—to rule with Christ as ‘kings over the earth.’ How many nations consist of only kings?24 Religion finds the doctrine that all are heaven-bound hard to convey to young skeptics. It makes no sense to them. Why didn’t God put them there in the first place if that’s where he wanted them? Nor does that hope strike most of them as desirable. They like it here, they point out, or at least they would if humans would stop fouling the nest. What would they ever do with themselves in heaven?

The ban impedes Russian citizens from getting a straight answer to another one of the greatest mysteries of all time: what happens at death? Is this life all there is? Why does Genesis tell of people living 900 years back in that time? What does that portend? Is it really because they measured time differently, as the Presbyterian pastor told me? If so, why do later generations live just 500 years and later still, 200, eventually dropping to 30 or so during the Dark Ages before a reapplication of sanitation principles found in the Torah bounces lifespans back up to the present 80, like a correction in a plummeting stock market?25

 

Social media can induce depression. Regularly this is heard in the West. ‘My online friends’ lives are so exciting—always they are posting interesting things,’ people say, ‘but my life is so dull.’ Facebook itself is fake news, distorting reality! But even if it did not, even if it relayed the present life accurately, is not this entire world of human devising fake news: ever overpromising and underdelivering? Is not everything outside of spiritual matters fake news? Or at least besides-the-point news. If someone breaks through the fake news to discover the real stuff, as Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have done, can anyone think that one will be satisfied with the fake news again?

Living forever on a paradise earth sounds like a fairy tale. Why expect anyone to waste their time obsessing about that? But it also sounds very good. If the time involved to investigate is substantial or the cost prohibitive, one might expect people to dismiss the notion out of hand. But if the time involved is modest, and the cost is free, some will decide to look into it. They’ll appreciate that someone has gone to a lot of trouble in order to bring that message to them; a free home Bible study to the general public is the signature offer of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Once a person has had the satisfaction of assembling the puzzle pieces that are the Bible, replicating the portrait of the puppy dog or mountain range on the box cover, he is immune to the critic who says he put it together wrong. He is especially immune if that critic’s own puzzle lies unassembled in the box on his closet shelf. Afterwards, with puzzle completed, he is even immune when he is cruising down the highway at full throttle, and the critical atheist on the radio tells him his car doesn’t run.

The puzzle cannot be assembled in church. Too many pieces have been altered and they no longer fit together. It was the same in the first century. In an effort to stay popular and contemporary, the establishment tampered with the pieces, to the point where those pieces became fodder for theological rumination, but roadblocks to actual understanding. Though there were plenty of (Jewish) priests back then, it was for the nascent Christianity’s Phillip to approach the traveling court official who was reading aloud Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked him. “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” was the reply.26

The reconstructed box cover picture is the answer to everything of consequence. God wants us to have it. He wants us to seek and find him. He is “not far from any one of us.”27 If you destroy the puzzle pieces, it is hard to assemble anything that makes sense. Witnesses only want to clarify and preserve the pieces so that the puzzle can be put together. They are guardians of doctrine in that regard. It hardly makes them extremist. Rather, it makes them essential.

Most church teachings are not plainly found in the Bible. The attempt to read them in causes people to throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding the book. The Trinity teaching makes God incomprehensible. The hellfire teaching makes him cruel; Isaac Asimov was not off-base when he likened the hellfire teaching to “the drooling dream of a sadist.”  Both doctrines are components of the fake news of religion that was carted out to the curb 100 years ago by early Watchtower associates acting as ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ When you ‘prepare the way’ for any sort of building project, carting out the trash is the first thing you must do. Thereafter you don’t obsess over it. You needn’t tell Waste Management why the contents of the dumpster must go. Accordingly, Watchtower publications rarely mention the trash these days. They are content to provide a toolbox containing a few specialized brochures and magazines to reason with those outside who yet hold onto the old doctrines. But for congregation members they get on with the essence of Christian living.

Christ went under the water in baptism and so did Christians. When they emerge, it is symbolically as with a new personality. He was nailed to the stake. That’s what happened to the old personality of Christians as well. The symbolism helps them with their resolve to continue stripping off the old personality and donning the one that is Christ’s. Squabbling over the trash will have a place so long as there are people who think it is really valuable stuff, but the true power of Christianity lies elsewhere. The verses that can be used to refute the Trinity doctrine were not written for that purpose. Reaching for maturity, the Christian explores the purposes for which they were written.28

Many a person brave on the battlefield cowers at the prospect of discussing spiritual things with a visiting Witness. He worries that his choice weapon, “I never speak of religion or politics,” may not be enough to drive off the assailer. Deep down inside he may suspect that he probably should care more about spiritual things than he actually does, for he has heard, and it sounds laudable, that ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ Perhaps it is even as Mathew 5:3 says: that the ones conscious of their spiritual needs are the ones who will ultimately be happy. They will seek to fill those needs.  All persons have spiritual needs, but they are not necessarily conscious of them, just as they are not necessarily conscious of the need for vitamins. Neglect them at your own peril. One gets sicker and sicker without ever quite knowing why. Strangely, few Bibles are so clear as the New World translation in rendering the expression ‘conscious as to spiritual needs.’ Most settle for an incomprehensible ‘blessed are the poor in spirit,’ or ‘beggars of the spirit.’ If you beg for something, surely you are aware that you need it. Except for the New World Translation, the passage is obscure. Russians will have to ask their relatives across the border to look that verse up for them.

 

I like the Peter Sellers movie Being There, in which Chauncy very slowly explains to political leaders how one season follows another. They treat him with the greatest deference and assume that he is speaking so slowly so as to allow them to grasp the economic implications of allowing the business cycle to play out. In actuality, he is a mentally challenged man who has difficulty recalling the order of the seasons. The assumptions of the learned are often fake news. The emperor often parades around in invisible clothes and only the children spot it as fake.

Is insistence upon critical thinking, all the rage today, and enjoying a resurgence from the time of Caecilius, among the greatest facilitators of fake news? Criticalthinking.org laments that “much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced….Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.” The web writer assumes that is possible. He continues: “Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” Manifestly, this way of thought appeals to persons who are fond of ‘self.’ Critical thought “presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”29 Is not the devil in what it “presupposes?”

Consider the role critical thinking might have played in a 2009 diplomatic spat between Britain and China. The Chinese authorities had just executed a British citizen for drug trafficking in their country, the first such execution since the 1950s. The British had wanted him spared owing to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They’d lobbied hard for that outcome. When it didn’t happen, British Prime Minister Brown cried: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.…I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken. But China would have none of it. “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”30

What is dealt with here are differing cultural attitudes towards social policy, criminal conduct, mental illness, personal responsibility, individual rights, and drug use. These are values. Just how does ‘critical thinking’ sort out the interplay between them? For the most part, the two citizenries lined up with the viewpoints of their respective governments. Was critical thinking only to be found among one or the other population? If so, which one? It was China that played the ‘critical thinking’ card first. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally,” Jiang said. Why didn’t the Brits think of enshrouding their plea in rationality? Too late now. China beat them to it, and now the British are, by default, irrational.

For all the brouhaha over critical thinking, pigs will fly before nations give up cherished norms forged over decades, even centuries. Critical thinking has its place. There are some areas where it alone delivers. But it is never the be-all and end-all. Don’t let its staunch advocates tell you that they have uncovered the nirvana to establishing truth. They are too quick to presuppose that they are the guardians thereof. From their ranks comes the too-confident person who does not suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone with whom he disagrees. His fake news is the most pernicious of all because he takes it as a matter of faith that his method makes him impervious to fakery.

The experience of unity is a profound draw for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a profound “taste and see that God is good.”31 There are ever so many Witness opponents online, and many of them once were Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Judging from what they write, it is safe to say that they would not be able to tolerate one another outside of the Internet, where they have united for common cause. They can and doubtless do snipe at each other endlessly on other venues, perhaps over Trump/Hillary, or God/no God, or global warming/global denying, or medicine/alt medicine. They should embrace the world they have collectively chosen. When they see mayhem on TV—embrace it, it is theirs. They once had unity. There were once able to sacrifice some petty freedoms in order to grasp significant ones. But now it is the petty they cherish. It is the ‘Dreamers’ who dream only of where they can suffer the fewest people telling them what to do and where they can make the most money.

When critical thinking is turned upon the Bible itself, the book promptly disintegrates. The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can look at the Bible as they do is because they have ‘tasted and seen that the LORD is good.’ It is the heart molded by experience and focused effort. But if you hail from the world of criticism, you cannot conceive of unity. You have never seen it. Leave these people to their own devices and there is no Bible book written as presented. Every one of them is a hash of conflicting writers with warring agendas. It is the only reality such scholars have ever experienced, and it colors all their scholarship.  Assumptions matter. The course of justice is altered when “innocent until proven guilty” becomes “guilty until proved innocent.” One can demonstrate that the Bible is reasonable, but one cannot prove it. Nor can one prove the opposite. Primarily, it is ‘taste and see.’ In mile-high Denver, Colorado, people believe in floods. They believe in them in New Orleans, too, below sea level, but the quality of their belief differs, for they have ‘tasted and seen’ floods.

Critical thinkers who have not seen unity, save in tyrannical settings, assume it does not exist. Their world is one of critical argument. Their vehemence in argument is emblematic of why it does not work. No attempt is made to relate to the other side. The intent is only to demolish it. Sometimes I worry that their cherished evolution is true and that they are the final product of it. If so, kiss any prospects of getting along goodbye. The trouble with critical thinking is that its proponents invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff and that, consequently, their role is to correct others.

Some years back I conversed with one of these fellows at his door. He insisted that I define all my terms, interrupting me frequently to that end. If I said “religion,” for example, he said “define religion.” If I said “God,” he said “define God.” If I said “system,” he said “define system.” This happened four or five times and, in an effort to break the mood, find common ground, and simply be pleasant, I commented upon his steep driveway—that it must make for challenging driving in the winter. He corrected me! He had planned it at exactly the right pitch and composition and alignment toward the sun, so that, on days the sun appeared, ice would melt before he had to traverse it. “He even argued about his driveway!” my dumbfounded companion said, as we walked down it.

Jesus cares little about the head, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not especially ‘heady.’ For every appeal Jesus makes to the mind, he makes ten to the heart, spinning parables that he rarely explains. Even when he offers explanation, it is not such that it would satisfy the critical thinker. Perhaps he does it so that the latter, too impressed with their own wisdom and demands for proof, will argue themselves right off the deck of the ship before it reaches its destination. Says the Lord: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”32

Cherished methods of argumentation are not the Christian priority. Jesus freely utilizes hyperbole, a device which may so frustrate the critical thinker that he is apt to label it simply an untruth. So be it. In his own way, he is as rigid as is the fundamentalist who would take the expression ‘crocodile tears’ to mean that (I am exaggerating here just a bit) whoever is being spoken of is a crocodile. Of course, one must strive to make sense, for “Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into discussions with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you.’” One must be like the Beroeans and check that all things told really can be established.33 But one needn’t feel constrained to follow the rules of a world that worships critical thinking, since it sometimes is their first rule that you can’t move any of your pieces. If they shriek that you have raised a strawman, point out that Jesus wants men of all sorts to be saved—even straw men. There’s nothing wrong with strawmen. They are used in the Bible frequently. They are a fine rhetorical means of telling an unreasonable person: ‘Your point is too silly to merit a serious response,’ just as in the Star Trek episode wherein Mr. Spock promises to give Dr. McCoy’s suggestion all the attention it merits. He pauses a split second, then proceeds with his business.

The mind does not run the show. Judging from how seldom Jesus appeals to it as opposed to the heart, it never did. It is the heart that decides what it wants. It then employs the mind to cloak around its desire a veneer of respectable rationality, if such can be arranged. If it cannot, the heart just makes a grab for what it wants and charges the head to devise a rationale whenever it gets around to it.

Critical thinking cannot save us. Many things today are, for all practical purposes, unknowable, with endless permutations that can be spun in endless ways, often deliberately, by ones of vested interests who wish to muddy the waters. One must look to the heart for guidance, and even leadership. The head will catch up in time. Max Planck the physicist, surely one who appreciated critical thinking, observed: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Even that statement presupposes that the new truths accepted after a generation truly are truths. It is not inevitable that they are. They are sometimes the mountains and hills that crumble just when you must lean upon them the most.

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false, says John P. A. Ioannidis in an abstract to a study examining the topic. “Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”34 Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, adds: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”35 Dr. Marcia Angell writes similarly: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”36

The devotees of reason toil away at their favorite model and do not notice when their tools are hijacked by sinister forces. Sometimes it is ego. Other times it is money. The majority team gets the ball, tilts the field against the minority team, and may even seek to obliterate them. Many things established have been established by decree. Many things proven have been proven by ignoring evidence to the contrary. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” stated Upton Sinclair. A foremost observation of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

Critical thinking is a tool only as good as those who would wield it. The typical person has much on his plate and cannot be expected to uncover the ruses. He is safeguarded only when he assumes that ‘science,’ like everything else in this world, is contaminated. It is frequently enough trumped by money or politics that it must be never be taken as an absolute. It’s great stuff, science is. Pour me a double-shot of it. But it must not be relied upon as the primary means of establishing truth. One need not be overly concerned over the latest decree of contemporary science. Sometimes it changes. Even though it be a tsunami. it reverses course and goes right back into the hole from which it came.

The greater world recommends attaining wisdom. So, too, does the Bible. But the two brands are not the same. In some respects, they are polar opposites. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,” says the Bible.36 ‘Peaceful and gentle?’ The world would say no. ‘Compliant?’ It is a quality inviting contempt. ‘Full of mercy and good fruits?’ No. It goes where it goes and takes umbrage should anyone impose upon it standards of good or bad. The two brands are not the same. Either the wisdom of the Bible is foolish, or the wisdom of this world is.

Is this why those who accept the Bible as presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses do so in the first place? They conclude that the Bible’s wisdom is better. Upon investigation, they see the diverse pieces come together to reveal the vista on the box cover. They taste and see that Jehovah is good. The latter has nothing to do with critical thinking, the former only marginally so. The critical thinker would first analyze the pieces in close detail, find blemishes in each, and thereby throw them all away.

Anyone reading through the Old Testament cannot but help pick up the refrain, the rundown of God’s dealing with Israel: “I let my people get beat up because they were too bad for too long. But then the nations said: ‘Look! God cannot protect his own people!’ So I beat them up too. And I brought my own people back just to show them.” It is no more complicated than that with the great God of all creation? No. It is not. Sometimes we can overthink things. Though his wisdom surpasses all understanding and we can see only the fringe of his ways, when he chooses to relate to humans, he is breathtaking in his pedestrian common sense. He is not ashamed of it. He glorifies it.38

 

 

Endnotes

 

  1. Fact Check: “Did Trump Warn Russia Over Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban and Urge Members to Seek Asylum in the U.S.?” snopes.com, May 2, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.snopes.com/jehovahs-witness-russia-trump-asylum/
  2. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Roberts-Donaldson English [from Greek] Translation, c160-250 A.D, chapters VIII, IX, compiled by Peter Kirby, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/octavius.html. The debate between an early Christian (Octavius) and a Roman skeptic (Caecilius) is among the oldest, possibly the oldest, of extant Christian Latin literature.
  3. The Octavius, XII
  4. Kevin Roose, “Here Come the Fake Videos, Too,” New York Times, March 4, 2018
  5. Isaiah 5:20-25
  6. 1 Corinthians 7:31
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:9
  8. Word History: “The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’- This Common Word Has a Dramatic Origin Story,” Merriam-Webster, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/hypocrite-meaning-origin
  9. Luke 23:2
  10. Isaiah 51:12
  11. Harrison Koehli, “Sott Exclusive: Full Unedited Text of Vladimir Putin’s Interview with Charlie Rose: What CBS Left Out,” sott.net, September 29, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.sott.net/article/302911-Sott-Exclusive-Full-unedited-text-of-Vladimir-Putins-interview-with-Charlie-Rose-What-CBS-left-out. It doesn’t hurt to see what was left out. It reinforces perception that the media of any country pursue primarily the memes popular in that country.
  12. Padraig Collins, “Stephen Fry Investigated by Irish police for Alleged Blasphemy,” The Guardian, May 6, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/may/07/stephen-fry-investigated-by-irish-police-for-alleged-blasphemy
  13. The Octavius, V
  14. The Octavius, XIII
  15. 1 Corinthians 3:19
  16. 2 Samuel 12:1-7
  17. 1 Corinthians 15:26.
  18. Proverbs 1:20
  19. Revelation 13:14-15
  20. Revelation 17:8
  21. Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1992) 262
  22. Ibid., 192
  23. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
  24. 1 Corinthians 15:26, Revelation 5:10
  25. Genesis chapters 5 and 11, Psalm 90:10
  26. Acts 8:30-31
  27. Acts 17:27
  28. Romans 6:4-6, Colossians 3:9
  29. “Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking,” The Foundation for Critical Thinking, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-concept-and-definition-of-critical-thinking/411
  30. Associated Press, “China Confirms the Execution of British Citizen Akmal Shaikh, Despite UK Plea,” New York Daily News, December 29, 2009, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/china-confirms-execution-british-citizen-akmal-shaikh-uk-plea-article-1.432326
  31. Psalm 34:8
  32. Matthew 13:13-15
  33. Acts 17:2, 11
  34. John P. A. Ioannidis, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” PLoS, August 30, 2005, accessed March 28, 2018, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
  35. Richard Horton, “Offline: What is Medicine’s 5 Sigma?” thelancet.com, Vol 385, April 11, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960696-1.pdf
  36. Marcia Angell, “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption,” The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2009/01/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/
  37. James 3:17
  38. Job 26:14

Dear Mr Putin (1) (1)

 

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Owning Your Own Pew - in Charleston and Savannah

Attending church back in the day at St Philip’s in Charleston, you wouldn’t sit just anywhere. You would sit in your box pew—you and your family. Nobody else would ever sit in your pew. It was yours. Once a year you paid a fee for that pew. The closer it was to the front, the more expensive it was. Your name was in brass on the door to your pew, and the door, like all walls, extended completely to the floor, so as to eliminate drafts in the unheated hall of worship.*

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The church has pewter silver utensils donated by King George II—not King George III, who lost the colonies to independence, but his father. It was founded in 1681, the structure relocated and rebuilt 42 years later after a hurricane damaged it, (later-mentioned St Michael’s was built on that original site), destroyed again, this time by fire, in 1835, and built again the next year. The present-day congregation has 2,000 members, but with about 500 actually in attendance on any given Sunday. It gets a fair number of visitors and one suspects a sense of historical preservation drives many of them, besides a sense of worship.

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If you missed church on any given Sunday back then, everyone at once knew it because there was zero chance that you were sitting anywhere other than your box pew. Surely, this bit of social peer pressure to “control” people would send the anti-cultists of today into conniptions. However, if you told John C. Calhoun, the congregation’s most famous member, that he belonged to a ‘controlling cult,’ as might be spun today, he might just run you through with a sword. His road to Vice President began with a stint as War Secretary under President Monroe, and he later served as Vice President to, not one, but two presidents, Andrew Jackson and John Quincey Adams. He vehemently argued for slavery as an institution beneficial to both races, in contrast to some, like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that it was destructive to both.

Calhoun’s tomb is in the cemetery across the road from the St Phillip’s church. Whenever possible, however, deceased members were buried immediately outside the main building, as here at St Michael’s, just a block or two away, built on the original St Phillip’s site.

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*Congregation members also owned pews to the south in Mickve Israel Temple, founded in 1733, the oldest group of reformed Jews in Georgia. They had arrived by ship in Savannah just 5 months after the founding of that original planned city. They would have found little welcome—Jews were not to be allowed in James Oglethorpe’s outpost colony, along with Catholics, lawyers, and slaves, but for the fact that the colonist’s original doctor had been the first to die of a yellow fever epidemic. The Jews came with a doctor to take his place. Dr Rubiero treated the colonists, stopped the epidemic, and became Georgia’s first pubic hero. Note the grateful letter from Oglethorpe acknowledging good doctor’s care, on display in the synagogue’s museum. (‘Temple’ and ‘synagogue’ are synonymous in the parlance of reformed Jews, the docent told me.)

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Pew owners held deeds that could be passed on to future generations, and the docent told us of a modern-day member carrying on about how it is the only inheritance of his that costs him money, since annual fees are also assessed. See, by the way, use of the Divine Name, on the historical sign just outside the building.

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30% of Charleston is land reclaimed from the sea. The entire region, stretching all the way to Savannah, is called the ‘lowcountry.’ During our stay, the Charleston mayor was talking up his plans to stop the sea from again encroaching, citing research from someone that sea level was to rise two feet by 2050. That is a threat unlike those that faced the old churches. An earthquake of 1886 (in Charleston!) destroyed the vestibule of St Michael’s and severely damaged yet another ancient church, the 1731 First Presbyterian Church. See placard below:

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Owning your own pew. It is not as good as owning your own house, vine and fig tree, with no one to make you worry about keeping them, as in Isaiah 65:21-23, but it is something. And it could be passed down to your kids:

They will build houses and live in them, And they will plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat....They will not toil for nothing, Nor will they bear children for distress, Because they are the offspring made up of those blessed by Jehovah. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat. For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, And the work of their hands my chosen ones will enjoy to the full.”

 

 

 

 

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If a Tree Falls in the Forest and There Is No One To Hear It, How Do You Know It Made a Sound? Because the Squirrels go Crazy

“Now we speak wisdom among those who are mature, but not the wisdom of this system of things nor that of the rulers of this system of things, who are to come to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 2;6)

If they speak the “absurdities of their experiences” it might be said that they stayed too shallow for too long so as to mistake the bloopers for the movie itself.

This one, too, is a beaut, from the same chapter: “But 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.  However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” (2:14)

One gets to understand the other, but it does not work in reverse.

It is plain how “puffed up” they were by how the apostle leaned into them about the “wisdom” they appeared to be in love with:

“Let no one be seducing himself: If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this system of things, let him become a fool, that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own cunning.”  (18-19)

True today as well, surely. If the “wisdom of this world” was worth the digital bits taken to print it, wouldn’t the world that it has collectively produced have more to show for itself?

The wise ones ponder appreciably Plato’s description of reality, that we see only the shadow because of the head restraints. But the lowly ones, workmen to the core, say: “Why don’t they just invent tin shears to cut through the restraints so they can turn around the see the real thing? It is not too much different from how Lee Chugg responded to the learned question: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to observe it, how does one know that it really make a noise?”

“Because the squirrels go crazy!” he would shoot back.

“For behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame;  and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God. But it is due to him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom; that it may be just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’” (1: 26-31)

The founders of the faith, the 12, were “unlettered and ordinary.” They always remained so. (Acts 4:13)

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Mistreatment in Surgut and Enemy Tactics Revealed

At 6:15 AM on February 15, 2019, Timofei Zhukov and his wife were awakened by furious pounding on the door, as though someone would break it down. They didn’t answer and the pounding ceased. Half an hour later their balcony door was broken down. Several riot police stormed into the room. Zhukov was kicked, cuffed, and his head slammed against the wall—'the blood is still on the wallpaper,’ he later told Kommersant, the business magazine. His wife cried in alarm and was cursed for her trouble.1

It was part of a sting operation that netted 40 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut, Siberia—a major dark turn of events that nobody had anticipated. Twelve officers jumped from three vehicles pulled over to detain 2 Witnesses who were walking alongside the street.2

Mr. Zhukov was not tortured at the police station, but he did not escape hearing the screams of those seven Witnesses who were—music turned up loud to mask the sounds, but there was no masking them. He is a lawyer, as it turns out, who once served as assistant prosecutor in the city, and now is legal advisor to a construction firm. “Please register the exact time. Somebody is being beaten here,” he shouted. An FSB agent entered the room and said, “Don’t worry, they do not beat anyone here”—there was a drug addict within who was screaming his head off, he was told. And the former prosecutor believed it, only discovering the truth later from his brothers who had been on the other side of the door. He told the magazine that “until recently, he could not believe that law enforcement officers could torture believers.”

Though cuffed for three hours while his home was searched and beaten on his legs whenever they were judged to be insufficiently far apart, the handcuffs were removed for his escort to the waiting vehicle. “We won’t scare people,” he was told. He answered back that he preferred to wear them, for the neighbors had known him his entire life and were in good position to know whether he was a criminal or not. But off they came, and he was placed into the van—not one that said Police but one that bore the markings ‘Northern Roadway,’ as though off for a friendly commiseration with his former colleagues in law, though his smashed-in apartment balcony must have suggested otherwise.

They must have hoped to have kept it under wraps. They must have hoped to cast a pall upon the Witness community, but otherwise not suffer their deeds to see the light of day. How else can one account for such a hurried and stupid explanation, shortly thereafter, that the Witnesses had beaten themselves up (as only a sect member could do) to thwart the police investigation? “After the arrest and searches, they, under the direction of the lawyers who arrived in Surgut, got together and during the meeting struck each other, which could then be presented as evidence of torture,” one “insider” said, for ura.ru. “Well-known lawyers who specialize in representing the interests of the Jehovists throughout the country are involved in the case. Services each cost 5 million rubles. The main task is to ruin the criminal case, to attract public attention.”3 Of course! They must have figured that they had to say something, and quickly, for the accounts of the victims along with undeniable photo evidence4 were promptly showcased throughout the world, and the European Court of Human Rights demanded independent investigation.5

Local hospitals told the released victims that would be treated for their injuries, but that those injuries would not be documented.6 Plainly, they had been leaned upon by someone. Surgut, as determined by a rough atlas survey, is the 67th most populous city in Russia. Perhaps authorities hoped there wouldn’t be much of any support, legal or otherwise, for Witnesses way out there, instead of one of the victims actually being a lawyer. Another victim said one agent had told him: “We had to specifically come from Moscow for this.”7 Why couldn’t he have just stayed in Moscow, where Jehovah’s Witnesses surely are more numerous and are having just as great a challenge coping with the Orwellian law that says you can be a Jehovah’s Witness just so long as you do not do any of the things Jehovah’s Witnesses do, which apparently includes existing? No, to this writer, this episode has the earmarks of a deed meant to be done in a remote corner that unexpectedly turned out to be a world stage, necessitating a hasty (and clumsy) response.

Reported Znak.com: “The believers think that all of this was done with just one goal—to beat out "evidence necessary to the investigation" from those who had decided to exercise their right granted by the Russian constitution not to provide evidence against themselves and their associates.” A committee spokesman in the Khanty-Mansi region, Oleg Menshikh, told TASS news agency on February 20 that no law had been violated during the interrogations. “Nobody tortured them,” he said. “There was no physical or psychological pressure on them.”5 But two days later there was an about face, with the same official declaring that the government had decided to probe the claim “given the agitation that has arisen after publication of this information in the media.”8

That’s not entirely promising, a cynic might reply, and many did, was it not like saying: “Look, if they want an official document saying that we didn’t do it, we can comply with that”? So be it. Whose version of truth will prevail? From within the Nazi death camps, Jehovah’s Witnesses smuggled out detailed diagrams of their layout, and those were published in Watchtower magazines.9 They were disbelieved by other media outlets until post-liberation proved them all true. The Witnesses’ veracity is well established, even by those who don’t like them. On the other hand, stories of abuse, even torture, by Russian police are legion by groups of many different stripes.

Not everything pointed to a quick whitewash. Following an early meeting of the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Ermolaev, a department chief, told Znak.com: "I admit to you that what these people described at the meeting, with these horrible details, all of this shocked me….I cannot describe for you in detail, since nobody has authorized me to do so. But what they said, I registered it all, documented it. I will send all of these materials to the Investigation Department of the S.K.R. for Yugra and to the prosecutor's office of the region.”10 So time will tell.*

When the young boy cries “The emperor has no clothes!” and the latter in response just keeps on strutting his stuff, there’s not much one can do about it other than thoroughly documenting his nakedness and broadcasting it far and wide. This, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses have done, most notably through their website. No wonder the urgent need of those who oppose to deprive them of organization.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are regarded by many as the canary in the coal mine. What happens to them may soon happen to others. Two American Mormon missionaries were deported in early March and there were reports that they might be next in line for wider persecution. However, Alexander Verkhovsky, one of the top Russian experts on extremism, xenophobia, nationalism, and human rights, wrote in March 2019, that Witnesses just might become a canary pointing in the other direction. “The growing campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses inspires horror, but it also gives a chance that this time someone will finally catch on and think. [The Witnesses] are too obviously not a threat to security and at the same time they are just as clearly impossible to “eradicate”, since more than 100,000 people cannot be imprisoned or forced out of the country, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have not given up on their faith during difficult times.”11 The situation is too ludicrous, and too unambiguous. The popular mind confuses Muslim groups in a non-Muslim country, so that peaceful Muslim groups are mistaken for groups that have done very bad things. Even Mormons cannot be said to be apolitical—in the United States, they are the most politically polarized of all faiths.12 But Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed neutrality for their entire existence, and their “pacifist” stance is attested to by all. Just how dangerous can they be? Maybe the recent shocker of torture for a Christian group (Russians are used to it for Muslim activists suspected of “excessive radicalism,” Verkhovsky speculates) will cause the government to recalibrate.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses will hope for the best and ever be respectful of government, but they can be forgiven if they become jaded at the speculations of a quick turnaround. They have seen their country sail blithely past many buoys of ludicrousness. Did not Dennis Christensen say that he hoped the judge would be fair, “but he also [knew] what country he lived in?” Did not the country ban a Bible on the basis that it is not a Bible and the entire educated world knows that it is? Did not every interested person in the world see, via the Witness website, video evidence of Russian police in riot gear scaling fences to break down the door of a Kingdom Hall en route to arresting those inside, and the only ones refusing to see it were the ones that had a moral obligation to do so—the Russian Supreme Court? Maybe this buoy will be yet one more left in the wake of the unshamable ship.

Can the Russian authorities be shamed? Possibly not. The ban itself shames them, and they could see it come from miles away but embraced it anyway. The present reality harkens back to what columnist Andrew Sorokowski wrote prior to the ban: “Why would a nation of some 144,000,000 risk its international reputation to persecute a religious sect numbering no more than 175,000 followers?” Nonetheless, trash it they did and it is not so clear when or even if that course will reverse.13

Mr. Verkhovsky takes for granted that Jehovah’s Witnesses will not give up on their faith. How can they? They will recall the verse about paying Caesar’s things to Caesar but God’s things to God. They will think of the verse that says you do not fear the one who can kill the body and afterwards do no more. The one to fear is the one who can take away the soul.14

Though ever a small minority, many have protested the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past two years. Atheists have held up banners in support of them. An activist from Kaliningradian scaled a lamppost to hang as sign proclaiming: “Jehovah's Witnesses are banned, they will also ban God.”15 Perhaps he is more accurate than he knows. Nikolai Gordienko, of the Herzen Russian State University in St. Petersburg, once stated “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”16 “Of course they are scared,” Yaroslav Sivulskiy tells a source. “But it does not mean that they will cease to be Jehovah's witnesses and do what is important to them…Jehovah's witnesses are good people, but they cannot abandon their faith when the state expects this refusal from them.”17

Just to keep things in perspective, for anyone can be too close to the forest to see the trees. Virtually all of Jehovah’s Witnesses were exiled to Siberia during the late 1940s and early 50s. Today, about 200 of them are detained out of a population of 170,000. It is outrageous, of course, and for many there is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, terrible though it may be for those affected individuals, life goes on and most of the Russian Witnesses are not suffering. They are cautious, yes, but they have always been cautious. They know their country. They know their government. They know their police. They've had the potential for trouble for many years and have adjusted. For the vast majority, life goes on as usual: they work, they go to school, they marry, some have children, they visit family both Witnesses and non-Witnesses, they buy groceries, they play in the park.

They know they must be careful, but they have always known it. They note with approval the heightened world and national attention to their faith, even if some individuals endure more than their share of injustice. They strengthen their weak ones. A few have actually stated that the last two years have been good for them because it has strengthened their relationships with each other and with their God.

Russia is a huge country and not everyone plugs into the news. Many only vaguely know of the ban, many don’t care about it, and some, as seen above, actively don’t support it. Nor do they treat their JW acquaintances any differently because of it. This writer is told of one case where a school boss refused to dismiss a Witness employee, telling his superior that she is the best teacher he has, and he would hope for more like her. At a certain meeting location held in a private home, a Witnesses’ unbelieving husbands says: "Everybody knows that you are not extremists." That’s good to hear, for another aftermath of the Surgut episode is that one father of three, a firefighter, was thereafter fired from his job despite triggering no complaints over 20 years, joining many others of similar experience. “My three kids have been crying ever since the operatives barged down the door,” he said. “Now I have no job, but I am certain my God will show me a way through.”18

Says Sivulskiy: “law enforcement is making monstrous efforts to find clusters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their small gatherings”—large assemblies are out of the question.19 But Russia is a monstrous country, and efforts have been sporadic. Will they diminish, level off, or intensify? Witnesses recently reconsidered Revelation 2:10: “Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days.” “Some” does not mean “all,” it was observed, as the Witnesses continue to show resolve amidst adversity. They don’t like what is happening, but they always knew that it might.

 

***~~~***

Every religion has its apostates. The trend now is that their activism is in direct proportion to the degree of firmness exercised within their former faith so as to encourage members to stay on the path that they have chosen. Apostates of the world have even united to wage common war against faiths they perceive as having similar attributes. And nobody has apostates more voracious than those of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some members of this avid JW-opposer community gloated over this new development. By far, however, the tactics of torture were condemned by that group. Make no mistake, such condemnation is noted and appreciated, however it is also substantially watered down by the recognition that their goals are the same—that Jehovah’s Witnesses cease being Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is only in methods that they differ.

Spiritually speaking, is it not a situation of good cop/bad cop? They hope for the same outcome. The good cop is likely sincere that he does not want you to fall into the clutches of the bad cop, for he knows how bad that bad cop can be. But they both have the same goal. Physically, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses will far prefer the good cop. They are not superhuman and nobody wants to be mistreated. Spiritually, however, the good and the bad cop is the same. In fact, the good cop may even be worse. A thug is a thug is a thug. His malice is unmistakable and is on plain display. He doesn’t masquerade as a friend whose only aim is to help you. He doesn’t patronize you with a concocted “us versus them” scenario from which he is trying to free you.

The mutual goal is that Jehovah’s Witnesses should no longer be Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is that talk about the hope of God’s kingdom should stop, and the grapes already on the vine should wither, and to that end there is an effort to strangle the support organization. To be sure, their methods differ. It is as though one faction says to another, “You’re going about it all wrong!” Yet the two factions are working in tandem, pressing for the same end.

As much as the saying goes that “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” sometimes you can get pretty close. The majority can be fooled for the longest time. If it were not so, then the prophets of old would not have had the time that they did—a time which was revisited upon Christians of the first century, and a time which is being revisited on Christians in Russia today:

“What more shall I say?” the Bible writer asks. “I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle….Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.”20

Jehovah’s Witnesses will put the experience off as long as they can, thank you very much, but they do not imagine themselves outsmarting the scripture, nor Jesus words that his followers would be hated.

Anton Chivchalov, the individual who covered court proceedings via tweet at five minute intervals, per personal email to this writer, offers a gloomy assessment of how Russians view Jehovah’s Witnesses, notwithstanding that there are some who see right through it. “In Russia there are many myths about Jehovah's Witnesses that 99% people believe,” he writes. “They break up families, take people's property, kill their own children by refusing blood transfusion, American spies, want to overturn the government, etc. This is mostly the cause of the hate.”

“Can it really be that high? what with Putin‘s recent statement of seeming support and at least a certain amount of favorable press? Are the human rights people, supportive journalists, and religious scholars all viewed as rabble-rousers?” I asked.

“Yes,” Chivchalov answered. “They are too few. General public still hates Witnesses and approves of the repressions.21 And many people hate human rights movements too (thinking they work for the US).” Jehovah’s people are not wildly popular anywhere, but it appears that in Russia they face the most unhinged opposition, against which they are standing strong. They have this writer’s undying respect.

Timofei Zhukov the Jehovah’s Witness hauled down to the police station where fellow congregation members were tortured, had this to say to Kommersant: “I will tell you, not as a believer, but as a lawyer—these investigators and [F.S.B agents] esfesbeshniki simply do not know what they are doing. The did not understand anything—whom they are coming to search. what kind of people these are, what they are accused of. It seems that the authorities told them: “There are bad people live there and they are corrupting the state system. Go and do what you want with them.” Where did they get the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses were bad people?

After the ordeal, Mr. Zhukov spoke with some of his former colleagues, who encouraged him to desist from “such nonsense.” He told them that Witnesses were doing their work for them to a great extent. “You are investigating crime, but you have a problem with prevention. And I come to people and I say: ‘It is bad to steal. It is bad to lie. It is bad to smoke.’” They are not bad people. They are good people. Jerod Kushner, the U.S. President’s son-in-law, well prior to his political days, said of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from whom he would buy property that they were persons of “high integrity” with whom “a handshake deal meant something.” The journalists of Present Time comment to the director of the Sova Center Alexander Verkhovsky, after hearing his description: “Then they look like perfect citizens.” “You see, they would be ideal citizens in some other country,” is the latter’s reply.22 They are not bad people. They are good people. So from where comes the perception that they are bad people?

It is a question that might well have been asked in the first century. The historian Tacitus writes the following about the persecution of Christians after Nero pinned the blame upon them for burning down Rome: "Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of "hating the human race." In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man."23

Note the dim view of Christians, fully shared by Tacitus. They were “hated for their enormities.” They were readily thought to be persons “hating the human race.” They were the deluded followers of a “pernicious superstition.” The cruel wrath of Nero unleashed genuine compassion, however they were regarded “guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment.” How could this have been perceived of Christ’s followers only 35 years after his death?

Professor G. A. Wells, author of The Jesus Myth, writes that “the context of Tacitus’ remarks itself suggests that he relied on Christian informants.”24 Who could possibly have been their “informants?” They could not have been faithful members, for these would not “inform.” They could not have been non-members, for these would not have anything to “inform” about. There is little left to choose from other than former disgruntled members—today (and then) we would call them “apostates.” These came to wish their former faith ill. Perhaps some of them even posed as reformers of that faith, whistleblowers to whatever upset them—particularly if they had been ousted for conduct contrary to tenets of the faith.

The parallels are too blatant to ignore. If it was they in former times, how can it not be they in present times? How else can such a manifestly good people—in the first century and in the present—be so widely portrayed as bad? It is the “apostates” that present that picture of good portrayed as bad. It is the apostates that spark the conflagration, with unrelenting and incendiary charges. Any student of human nature knows that if you repeat a charge often enough, no matter how unlikely, it impresses itself on the general populace. Surely advertising teaches us that. The match doesn’t catch everywhere, but in Russia if finds the kindling just right—a government hostile for 100 years to the land in which Witness headquarters is located, at the same time in close union with the dominant house church, hostile to even traditional Christian faiths. It doesn’t happen everywhere. But the apostates ever light the match to encourage conflagration and sometime the planets align.

The religious enemies of the Jesus’ day had to be careful: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled...and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said: ‘Not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people.’”25 They could have done it at the festival had the festival been held in Russia. There wouldn’t have been a riot. There would have been widespread approval. They could have done it at the festival had the festival been held in Rome, too. There was widespread approval back then—such is the change in popular perception wrought by then and now apostates.

Kommersant asked Mr. Zhukov why the government persecutes his people, and he told them that he didn’t really know—he could speculate, but he didn’t really know.26 It was the same answer as President Putin himself offered just two months ago—he didn’t really know why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Mr. Zhukov did note however, that early Christians, too, were called “sectarians” and that they, too, had been persecuted.

Even the Russian president can’t figure it out! Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes that his “comments are hard to explain other than as an expression of genuine puzzlement over so much effort being expended to eliminate an evidently nonexistent threat.”27 How can it not be the machinations of someone devious? What arguments does that international community of apostates/opposers to the faith make? They are settling the score, largely, in the cases of those who were disfellowshipped, spinning for an irreligious world the myth that Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families, a point of view that was not accepted by the European Court of Human Rights: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”28 Many, even most today, will look askance at any scenario in which spiritual considerations can trigger a family divide—no matter from which side it arises, but they will not think it an evil that compares with global terrorism. Families have divided since the beginning of time, often for matters far more fleeting than religion. In the West, it is not uncommon for the elderly to be abandoned in nursing homes, never to be contacted again, for no greater reason that they have become inconvenient. It is not something in which governments typically wish to meddle.

No, it makes no sense, the mass portrayal of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “bad people.” If they refuse blood transfusions, surely it must be acknowledged somewhere along the line that progressive doctors have learned to accommodate their point of view, and it so doing, they have devised medicine that is both safer and more cost-effective.29 And, though it has played no part in Russia, a widespread war against child sexual abuse finds Jehovah’s Witness “clergy” accused of covering up pedophilia. This is an unsavory thing, yet they come off almost as knights in shining armor when compared to religious denominations in general in which the leaders themselves have been the pedophile abusers.30 The “us versus them” scenario avidly advanced by apostates has caught on. Roman Silantyev of Moscow State Linguistic University complains that “this sect promotes external and inner extremism, inciting hatred to those who think and believe in a different way and bullying their own members,” and even hopes that “recognizing this sect as extremist [will give] a possibility to dozens of our citizens to leave this concentration camp.” He has been conditioned to misunderstand everything. Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to carry out the tenets of their religious beliefs “because they are operating out of faith rather than compulsion.”31

Silantyev is “crazy” and yet his craziness has spread to influence those whom you would think would not be crazy to act in crazy ways. Writes Bandow: “Moscow denies that it is persecuting JWs for their beliefs. Rather, explained Vyacheslav Lebedev, chief justice of the Russian Supreme Court, ‘the situation is actually being presented as if these people are being persecuted for their belief and religious activity. Yet the decision, which was made by the Supreme Court amongst others, is unrelated to religion. It is about a violation of the law, which religious organizations have no right to breach.’ The law bans the faith, so punishing them for exercising their faith is merely punishing a violation of the law. This argument is perfectly Orwellian. Translating Lebedev: We declared your religious faith to be extremist, and you are not allowed to be extremists. So we are arresting you for being extremists. But feel free to practice your faith and have a good day.”

This writer would be a wealthy individual indeed if he had a few dollars for every disgruntled ex-Witness who, upon failing to turn the JW ship in the direction of his choosing, went on scorch the JW earth with terminology from George Orwell’s 1984. Witnesses practice “doublethink” and have “thought police” who sniff out ones committing “thoughtcrime,” or even ones who fail to do “goodthink” (thought approved by the party). It is an intensification of a trend seen everywhere: failing to sway the other side and consequently declaring them “arrogant.” Yet the first actual instance of 1984 comes, not from Jehovah’s Witnesses, but from those who oppose them. If memory serves, was not Mr. O’Brien a pleasant and refined man on the surface, posing as Winston’s friend, before revealing his true character—and thus combining both good cop and bad cop into a single character?

***~~~***

*In fact, the Russian investigation into torture found, in a very short time, that there was nothing to it at all.32

From the ebook: Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

 

Endnotes:

  1. Alexander Chernykh, “We are the same people as you, but now we are called criminals and extremists,” Kommersant, March 1, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://kommersant.ru/doc/3899000
  2. Oliver Carroll, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Allege ‘21’st Century Inquistion’ Amid Claims of Torture,” Independent, February 21, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-jehovahs-witness-crackdown-surgut-religion-discrimination-a8790761.html
  3. Dmity Zayayov, “Source: Jehovah's Witnesses, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, are trying to ruin a criminal case with accusations against security officials,” Ura.News, February 28, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://ura.news/news/1052374340
  4. Lev Pomomarev, “Read and Watch,” blog post for echo.msk.ru, February 26, 2019, assessed March 15, 2019, https://echo.msk.ru/blog/lev_ponomarev/2378667-echo/
  5. “ECHR Imposes Interim Measures in Response to Torture Complaint From Surgut,” jw-russia.org, February 27, 2019
  6. Matthew Luxmoore, “‘Time Becomes a Blur When You’re Experiencing Great Pain’: Russian Jehovah’s Witness Alleges Police Torture,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, February 22, 2019
  7. Jason Lemon, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Tortured With Electric Shocks and Suffocation in Russia, Church Says” Newsweek, February 23, 2019
  8. “Russia Says it Will Probe Jehovah’s Witnesses Torture Claim,” apnews.com, February 23, 2019, accessed March 19, 2019, https://apnews.com/f43f396dac9c4159987493f92123a3f9
  9. Also, see Crusade Against Christianity, (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1938) . Regarding this book, the 1965 Watchtower volume, December 1, 1965 issue, recalls on page 733: “Meantime in Germany, the Nazi fury rages and our brothers are exposed to frightful, inhuman persecution, which they withstand even at the cost of their lives. Documented material that reaches our office about such persecution is carefully preserved. Then Brother Rutherford approves publishing a book giving the evidence of the sufferings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. It appears under the title “Kreuzzug gegen das Christentum in the German language. It is also published in French and Polish.” See some of diagrams at “The Evils of Nazism Exposed,” Awake!, August 22, 1995, 11.
  10. ”Stories of Surgut "Jehovah's Witnesses" about torture in the TFR shocked the Ugra Ombudsman,” Znak.com, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, https://www.znak.com/2019-02-25/rasskazy_surgutskih_svideteley_iegovy_o_pytkah_v_skr_shokirovali_yugorskogo_ombudsmena
  11. Alexander Verkhovsky, “The Fight Against Religious Extremism’ all Widers, Need to be Narrowed Down,” ng.ru, March 5, 2019

 

  1. Michael Lipka, “U.S. Religious Groups and Their Political Leanings,” Pew Research Center, February 23, 2016, accessed March 9, 2019
  2. Andrew Sorokowski, “Witnesses to Persecution,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 5, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/article_print.php?id=66964&name=asorokowski_column&_lang=en&
  3. Matthew 10:28
  4. ”They Will Also Ban God,” klops.ru, Mrch 9, 2019, accessed March 11, 2019, https://news.rambler.ru/other/41842016
  5. Emily P. Baran, Dissent on the Margins - How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 240
  6. Anna Ryzhova, "Get Rid of Witnesses," Russian-reporter, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, http://expert.ru/russian_reporter/2019/03/izbavitsya-ot-svidetelej/
  7. Oliver Carroll, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Allege ‘21’st Century Inquistion’ Amid Claims of Torture,” Independent, February 21, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-jehovahs-witness-crackdown-surgut-religion-discrimination-a8790761.html
  8. Anna Ryzhova, "Get Rid of Witnesses," Russian-reporter, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, http://expert.ru/russian_reporter/2019/03/izbavitsya-ot-svidetelej/
  9. Hebrews 11:32-38
  10. Chivchalov’s comment does not entirely square with remarks I made above (based upon the visits of a personal acquaintance who has traveled in Russia) but I believe it is a case of no one person seeing the entire picture. Plainly the ‘99%’ is hyperbole. The title says it all in this Moscow Times article: “Many Russians Don’t Know the Jehovah’s Witnesses, But They Still Want Them Banned” (themoscowtimes.com, July 13, 2017). Chivchalov himself said at the time that it depends upon how the subject is breached. If it is just a matter of shooing away uninvited callers, most Russians will say yes. But if it is a matter of sending those ones to jail, they will not go that far.
  11. www.currenttime.tv/a/Jehovah-witnesses-Russia/29785245.html
  12. Tacitus, Annals, 117 c.e.
  13. G. A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982) 17
  14. Mathew 26: 3-5
  15. Alexander Chernykh, “We Are the Same”
  16. Bandow, Doug, “Persecutors Pile on Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Russia and Worldwide,” nationalreview.com, March 1, 2019, assessed March 21, 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/03/jehovahs-witnesses-persecuted-russia-worldwide
  17. Willie Fautre, “Cults and Religious Freedom Around the World,” address to the ICSA Annual International Conference, Montreal Canada, July 5-7, 2012, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.academia.edu/5201173/Cult_Issues_and_Religous_Freedom
  18. “An Act of Faith in the Operating Room,” New Scientist, April 26, 2008
  19. See the category https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/pedophiles (by this author)
  20. Doug Bandow, “Persecutors Pile”
  21. ”The Examination Found No Signs of Torture in the Follower of “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” RIA Novosti, Moscow, March 21, 2019

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