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Who're You Calling a Cult? Part 1

 

Serving humanity, websites like CultBeGone.com keep us up to date on who the cults are, so we can watch out. Lately, trying to make me mad, they've started including us! My people! Jehovah's Witnesses! They never used to do that. They used to just call us a religion, albeit an oddball one. Cults used to be Jim Jones or Waco or that Japanese Subway Poison Gas gang....groups that physically isolate themselves, fall under control of some highly charismatic character, and act downright weird....I mean, socially destructive...so much so as to trigger a shoot-out with the Feds or a mass suicide. But in recent years, the ranks of those who track such groups have swollen beyond mere religious academics to include folks with an agenda, most notably evangelicals and atheists. To the former, anyone rejecting the Trinity is a cult. To the latter, anyone not rejecting God is a cult, save only the mainest of the mainstream faiths. So here we are stuck between these two overbearing factions, just like our Lord impaled between two thieves. Both readily throw the cult label at us, altering the traditional definition so as to include whoever they don't like.

If you don't like a group, it is a sect. If you really don't like it, it is a cult. Is it really that different from the first century, the birth-century of Christianity? Representing the new Christian faith, Paul, a former Jewish leader, checked into the synagogue at Rome to see what sort of slanderous reports they'd heard from opposers: "They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against." (Acts 28:21-22)

The whole of Christianity was a "sect." And it was "everywhere spoken against."

Ironically, during the time we might conceivably have been called a cult, at least by one measure, we weren't. Joseph "Judge" Rutherford, second president of the Watchtower Society, was the outspoken public voice of JW publications throughout his term. A larger than life character...a man of pure charisma. His was the booming voice of Enemies. I don't accept the 'cult' label for even back then, mind you, but at least by that one measure...having a charismatic leader...we qualified.

But Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford as WBTS President in 1942, and he was plain vanilla, no razzle-dazzle at all. Brother Knorr was the visiting Bethel convention speaker one summer here in Rochester....I think in the late 1970's. As he spoke at the War Memorial  (since renamed Blue Cross Arena) the bright lights overhead showed up clearly the wrinkled mess of a suitjacket he wore. Probably from sitting in those arena seats, when you'd take your jacket off because the AC back then was temperamental, and it would slip to the back of the seat where it was promptly scrunched into a wad....I've had it happen to me often enough. Trust me....we were glad to hear from him knowing his role and responsibility....but he was not charismatic.

In the 1970's, duties were divided up among a governing body, men with equal rank, the number varying, from what I've heard, between 9 and 18. Now...it wouldn't be kind to call them colorless. But they didn't stand out. If one of them came to town you'd probably go hear him speak, but that's only because you were with the program. They had no drawing power in themselves. Though I'm sure their pictures have been published, I wouldn't recognize one were he to knock on my door....they just don't strive for prominence. They live in modest circumstances at Watchtower worldwide headquarters. Paradoxically, they resemble (I'm sure not by design) Plato's philosopher-kings, described in The Republic. As outlined in Michael Hart's The 100:

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description fits the governing body almost to a "T". Only the "mates in common" does not apply.

They're not known to be especially riveting speakers. Maybe some a bit like Paul? who was a little.....ahem....dull in speaking, or at least rough. He summed up his own reputation: "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."    (2 Cor 10:10)   Paul even killed a person with his late night speech: "Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead." [!] (Acts 20:9  NIV) Fortunately for him, his is one of a handful of resurrections reported in the NT. As it should be. If you're going to bore someone to death, you ought to at least be able to raise him up again. But that might not happen today.

No they have no star power, these GB members, neither then or now. "Unlettered and ordinary," is how the Jewish high court described Christian leaders of the first century. (Acts 4:13) It's not so different today.

GB member Maxwell Friend (now deceased) actually showed up one evening at a Service meeting, much to my surprise. Turned out he was personal friends with someone in the sister congregation, which met in our same Kingdom Hall. His visit was a bit distressing to me, since, as a Ministerial Servant, I'd been assigned a Q&A part that night, and didn't feel optimally prepared. Great...just great! I fretted...I'm going to be stumbling and stammering in front of a governing body member! But the part went well. Brother Friend sat in the audience like everyone else, and raised his hand....I called on him....and he made some ordinary comment...not some Great Profound Biblical Truth comment.... just a regular comment like anybody else. Nobody made a great fuss over him. He didn't put on airs in any way.

I crossed paths with another one of that group, sort of. By odd coincidence, one of my pals has the same name, Christian and surname, as this other governing body member. Only the middle initial is different. My friend entered Bethel himself around 1980, and while at Bethel, he married. Mrs Sheepandgoats and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary and it was the governing body member who replied! (I discovered later they get their letters crossed all the time) He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related what he and his wife had been doing lately...how they'd been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa....boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, said I to Mrs Sheepandgoats. But the wives' first names didn't match. Hmmm. Maybe the name we had was just a nickname, we mused, but then the truth dawned on us. And blew us away. Here is a GB member taking time to respond to an anniversary card....writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he did not know, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings...I mean, these are not pretentious people.

Jesus once said to his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave."  (Matt 20:25-27) In my experience, this description fits very well members of the JW governing body. Not cult-like at all.

 

[Edit  11/3/11   A brother emailed me to say that, although Max Friend had been in Bethel forever and ever, and had done many things, he was never on the governing body.  Naw....can't be, I said. But then I checked and....sure enough, it was true. Where did I ever get this idea in my head? Gasp.....does this mean I could also be wrong on other things?]

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News buy Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Epigenetics and Darwin's Update

"The potential is staggering," gushes Time Magazine (Jan 6, 2010) over the benefits epigenetics might bring humanity.  "For decades, we have stumbled around massive Darwinian roadblocks. DNA, we thought, was an ironclad code that we and our children and their children had to live by. Now we can imagine a world in which we can tinker with DNA, bend it to our will."
 
Yes, they can imagine it, but as ought to be apparent to anyone grounded in reality, it won't work that way. Epigenetics will not be our salvation. However, it just might give insight into today's worsening conditions.
 
Who has not entertained the suspicion that today's folk just aren't made of the same stuff as previous generations...that those old-timers were just plain tougher than we are? Tom Oxgoad, the Bethelite, made that point with me once. "Those old-timers must marvel at how frail we are," he said. "In the old days...say...back in the 1950's or before, one Bethelite might counsel another: 'you've got a rotten attitude and you'd better straighten up!'  And that fellow would straighten up, and he'd say 'thanks for the counsel!'" Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he'd decide "this is not the life for me," and leave. But either way, he wouldn't melt into a puddle of mush, his fragile self-esteem dissolving, as we can so easily picture happening today. Does the newly explored field of epigenetics offer an explanation?
 
The upshot of epigenetics is that heredity works not just through Darwin's mutation and natural selection...a painstakingly slow process. We also pass along traits acquired via environment factors; furthermore, these changes can be dramatic and quick,  manifesting themselves in but a generation or two. Thus, Time says, a "long-standing deal" we've had with biology is now off the table, namely: "whatever choices we make during our lives might ruin our short-term memory or make us fat or hasten death, but they won't change our genes - our actual DNA. Which meant that when we had kids of our own, the genetic slate would be wiped clean."
 
No longer applies. Choices we make do change our genes, and our kids do not start with a slate wiped clean. The very idea is heresy to Darwin True Believers, but scientists are now quite sure of it. To put it more accurately, our genes do not physically change from generation to generation, but whether they are expressed or not changes. The epigenome sits just outside the genome and switches the various genes "on" or "off." It does so by smothering – masking gene portions meant to be “off” and leaving visible gene portions meant to be “on.” The illustration now in vogue is that of hardware (the genome) being manipulated by software (the epigenome). Hardware alteration via the Darwin heredity, as we all learned about in school, comes about slowly. But the new-found software changes happen quickly.
 
Furthermore, life-style and environment factors…..such as stress, such as smoking, such as gluttony, alters the epigenome, which in turn alters the genome, which in turn inflicts adverse results upon one’s children and grandchildren. Dr Lars Bygren studied a rural population of two centuries past, a physically isolated population that literally vacillated between feast and famine, depending upon the harvest. When the harvest was bountiful, youngsters gorged themselves. Their  grandchildren, Bygren discovered, had life expectancies reduced by as much as three decades!
 
In another study, published in 2006, Drs Bygren, Marcus Pembrey, and Jean Golding found the sons of those who began smoking before age 11 were at higher risk for obesity and various other health problems. Time Magazine summed it up: “you can change your epigenetics even when you make a dumb decision at 10 years old. If you start smoking then, you may have made not only a medical mistake but a catastrophic genetic mistake.” And to think I’ve been lectured before by atheists...capitalizing these very words....that, whereas I do what some god TELLS me to do based on a BELIEF, they act upon REASON based upon EVIDENCE. But in this case, as in so many others, you were far better off to quit smoking because God TOLD* you to, trusting he might be AWARE of EVIDENCE as yet UNDISCOVERED by humans.
 
*as inferred from 2 Cor 7:1
 
All this goes to show, BTW, that you need not lose your cookies when evolutionists rule creation absolutely out of the question. Nor should you feel you must wait for them to come on board. Opinions change fast. In 1996, Dr Pembrey, mentioned above, had a hard time getting published. Major scientific journals rejected his paper. Ten years later, it is “considered seminal in epigenetic theory.” Is that not a tidal change in scientific thought? For decades evolutionists carried on as if they knew all there was to be known - the essence of their subject was well-understood, and little remained but to mop up a few relatively insignificant details. With the discovery of epigenetics' role, if history is any guide, they will act as if now they know all there was to be known, save for a few odds and ends. Heaven help you if you choose a course of faith before it has been authorized by them. Yet the mapping of the human epigenome (already underway in Europe) will, when complete, "make the Human Genome project look like homework that 15th century kids did with an abacus," says Time. How immodest to have made grandiose, dogmatic claims, based upon a supposed thorough understanding of the genome, which now turns out to be but the tip of a submerged iceberg.
 
Look, don't think I'm anti-science. I'm not. Whenever scientists say they have discovered this or that I tend to accept it, but I do so tentatively, always with the caveat that these guys are frequently full of themselves, bursting with pride at human accomplishment, and intolerant of any layman who would question their theories, until they themselves revise them. Or - I suspect, its not so much those front line empirical scientists who are the problem, but a second buttressing layer of scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist types, who ram science down all of our throats as the be-all and end-all. Me, I tend to side with that famous scientist and ex-Beatle John Lennon, who said "everything they told me as a kid has already been disproved by the same type of 'experts' who made them up in the first place." [quoted in interview with Playboy, so plainly I got this second-hand] As if to confirm Lennon's cynicism, Time writes of an upcoming epigenetics book by David Shenk: The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong.
 
You know, the epigenome comes a lot closer to explaining Rom 5:12 than does any Darwinian explanation, since Adam’s sin is obviously an acquired characteristic:
 
"That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned..."
 
Furthermore, back to the present, Time reports Dr. Pembrey speculating: what if the environmental pressures and social changes of the industrial age had become so powerful that evolution had begun to demand that our genes respond faster? What if our DNA now had to react not over many generations and millions of years but, as Pembrey wrote, within “a few, or moderate number, of generations”?

Extrapolating from his statement, could it be that epigenetics in our stressful times sheds light on the outworking of 2 Tim 3:1-5?
 

"But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away."

We all know in our heart of hearts that these ugly traits are on display today as never before. Yes, I know, I know....such is human nature and people have always been that way. But it’s a matter of degree; the unrestrained expression of these traits is what's new. After all, Paul's contemporaries might easily have labeled his ‘prophesy’ a yawner: "People will be ugly, Paul? So what's new?” But they didn't say that. They knew what he meant.
 
In seeking to understand these ugly, seemingly accelerated traits, Alan Greenspan's book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, offers insight with regard to the barbarous slaughter that began in 1914. He writes: "World War I was more devastating to civility and civilization than the physically far more destructive World War II: the earlier conflict destroyed an idea. I cannot erase the thought of those pre-World War I years, when the future of mankind appeared unencumbered and without limit. Today our outlook is starkly different from a century ago but perhaps a bit more consonant with reality. Will terror, global warming, or resurgent populism do to the current era of life-advancing globalization what World War I did to the previous one?"

Could the barbarism unleashed in 1914, augmented by ever-increasing stressors of modern life, be triggering harmful genetic changes, as Dr Pembrey suggests can occur? The more one ponders the astounding woes that afflict persons today, the more plausible the idea sounds.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)