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Counting the Costs

When Roger the retired C. O. gave the public talk, we invited him to the house for lunch afterward. Also a few twenty-somethings. Mutual encouragement, you know, copy a fine example, one 'face sharpens another,' and so forth. Young Solomon approached the fellow after lunch.

“So, how long were you in the Circuit work?”

“Thirty years!” came the reply.

“Wow. You must really miss it.”
 
“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.

“Well...um...I mean....that is..(this was not the answer he'd expected) it must have been a big adjustment.”

“I adjusted that afternoon.”

“Look, I don't want to sound unappreciative,” he told a friend on another occasion. “It's just that a lot of the job is not my cup of tea. You know me...I'm an outdoors guy. [in his younger days, he'd worked on the railroad] And so what am I doing all day? I'm sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has a purpose for me, so I've stayed the course.”

It's called 'counting the costs.' It's a good thing to do. You get emotional control of your circumstances. Aren't 'mid-life crises' caused when people don't count the costs, then are suddenly floored when the 'bill' hits them all at once? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life...people go haywire all the time for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go....acknowledge this part is good, though that part is not so good....and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications....well, I'll trust those folks a lot quicker than those who've never made introspection.

And Jehovah did have a purpose for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to Roger. A favorite among C.O's, he was a man of real empathy, who's trademark expression, “just do the best you can,” (as opposed to measuring yourself by the standards of others) is still recalled by all in these parts. I groused once about servants who'd leave the city congregations so as to raise their growing families in the rurals or suburbs, [“Don't worry, Jehovah will provide. Besides, I'm outta here.”]  but Roger didn't agree. 'You always do what's best for your family' he observed.  When he retired, he settled in a nearly congregation, where he continues in full-time service to this day.

The Christian life itself calls for counting the costs. 'What if it's not true, Tom Sheepandgoats, what then?' taunts a certain character, trying to get me going. What if the whole Universal Court Case and Armageddon and all of it is just a story? What if there is no God? What if there is no purpose? What then? Won't all your preaching and all your meeting-going and all your Bible reading be just wasted time?

He's convinced his point is original. In fact, Paul also made it at 1 Cor 15:17-19:

"Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you are yet in your sins. In fact, also, those who fell asleep [in death] in union with Christ perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied."

Is this a weak point for Christianity? Or a strong one? There's no question that the JW organization doesn't hedge its bets, and it stands for a life that amounts to not hedging bets. Jehovah's Witnesses are a serious religion that maintain today's world is fundamentally out of harmony with God's will. Not merely on the surface, fixable by just a bit of tweaking, but fundamentally. So we don't try to put a smiley face on it. We take positions involving goals, lifestyle, employment, associations, which are in harmony with Christianity, but diametrically opposed to today's prevalent thinking. So much so that if someone reassesses years later and leaves the faith, he finds himself out of sync with the mindset he repudiated years ago. So he strives to readjust. It's a rougher transition than, say, changing brands of cars. Some simply conclude that they made a decision that did not work for them and move on. People being what they are, however, many prefer to find a scapegoat, and what better scapegoat than the faith they left? They were "mislead," "lied to," "bullied," etc. Sheesh! Isn't it a lot like the “slave” of Matt 24:48 who is upset that “my master is delaying,” and who therefore starts “beating his fellow slaves?”

Back when I spoke with Frank Mulicotti, years ago, I and my younger chums were inclined to view the Christian life so refreshing...enjoyable activity surrounded by good people and all....that even if it turned out to be not true, it was still worth pursuing. But older Frank would have none of it, and he stood his ground. The older you get, the more the costs become apparent. Activities and goals you pursue, that you wouldn't otherwise. Activities and goals you don't pursue, that you might otherwise, because of the ones you do. It's not to say the costs aren't worth paying, just as people pay costs in all areas of life. But it's well to always 'count them,' so they don't sneak up on you unawares.

On the internet somewhere is a person who frankly acknowledged he left the faith because he wanted to advance professionally. To really advance, he pointed out, you have to be clubby, you have to hang out socially with your work colleagues, and Jehovah's Witnesses don't do that; they hang out with each other. With distance behind him, he'd come to think of other Witness things he disagreed with, but at the time, it was professional considerations alone that appeared to have moved him. Some commenters commiserated with him....one has to keep religion in it's place, after all......but I think Paul would have looked at matters differently, if 2 Tim 4:10 is anything to go by:

“Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.”

Sigh....whenever people start carrying on about keeping religion in it's place, invariably they mean last place.

As I get older, I also side with Frank, though at the same time one must concede that the youngsters had a point, too. I mean, considering how some lives consist of just one disastrous move after another, lives spiraling ever downward to all manner of decadence, a religion that transforms them into honest, clean, productive persons, even if it turned out to be untrue, would be a significant step up. One detractor carries on about how, when one dies after a lifetime propagating Witness beliefs, it is far more than a waste of time....it is a tragedy. Give me a break! Don't tell me about wasted lives! Just look at all the “fulfilled” people rioting or starving, raped or butchered, as portrayed on TV news! How many embittered and disillusioned people are there today? How many who feel betrayed by their goals? How many knocked about by one setback after another? How many once-respected and prominent people broken, succumbing to various temptations, then gleefully busted in the media? How many groping through life with closets packed full of skeletons in their wake? And if some have found fulfillment in self-directed God-free life, (as some have) it's always with the caveat that, just as you begin to feel you've figured things out, your health starts to give out and off to the grave you go. Let's face it – there's a certain 'futility' built into this life. One may escape it for a time, but it eventually catches up with you.

But this is merely an answer to those who'd assert the Christian life is a waste of time. We don't take such a fall-back position...we look to the fulfillment of all things God has promised. No one would ever assert, as regards the faith, that every 'i' is dotted nor 't' crossed. But there's enough to go on. It's like that definition of faith found at Heb 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” It's not like that strong feeling one may get that “this time, for sure, my lottery number will come up.”  There's substance to it. A bit like (to oversimplify) one has little doubt the sun will arise next day, knowing the mechanics behind it.

Alas, there is much to work against faith today. Atheists parade a no-God gospel almost with the zeal of, well....Jehovah's Witnesses, as if their message, too, was good news for all, and not just sawing off the branch upon which their sitting. Religious nutjobs blow up buildings, people and airplanes. The Pope evades arrest from grousers, for crying out loud, accused of shielding pedophile clergy. 'If this is God, I want no part of it!' say more and more people. Now....the prevalence of counterfeit money does not prove there's no such thing as real money, but many lump it all together anyway. Doesn't it add timeliness to Jesus question: “when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Ah well. The work progresses. It speeds up a bit in the last year or two, perhaps as colossal failure of human economics causes some to reassess human rule. It's absolutely astounding that JWs buy out increasing time for the ministry, given the squeeze this system puts on everyone.

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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)

Cake, Fruit, and the Limits of Reason

It was irksome when those atheists put up their "Let Reason Prevail" billboard right next to that Illinois State Capitol Nativity Scene - that much was immediately apparent. But putting my finger on just why it was irksome required more effort. Of course, I immediately shouldered the task. Was it the presumption, by the sign's authors, that they held a monopoly on "reason?" Partly. Was it the crassness of plunking it next to the Nativity Scene, as though it, too, offered a message of hope? Closer. In fact, I prematurely declared, that was IT!

However, you don't necessarily express your innermost fears on the internet, to be pawed over by all and sundry.  In truth I was anything but convinced that my answer was IT. Something was still missing. I've tossed and turned each night since. 

Until now. For now I see clearly what was lacking: scientific indication! We all know today that one ought not think anything without first checking with scientists, yet I had done exactly that! Well....no more! Diligently consulting tomes of research, I came across an experiment that blew that silly "Let Reason Prevail" slogan sky-high. Reason cannot prevail among humans. We're not capable of it. We can muster a fair effort when distractions are few. But add in any significant stress, and human reasoning ability goes right to hell. It's hard to come to any other conclusion after pondering the cake-fruit experiment of a few years back. Alas, it's received only the publicity of light fluff news. It deserves more, as it holds unsettling implications for any future based on the veneration of reason.

The cake-fruit experiment unfolded thus: (as discussed on NPR Morning Edition) In 1999, Stanford University professor Baba Shiv enrolled a few dozen undergraduates and gave each a number to memorize. Then, one at a time, they were to leave the room and walk down a corridor to another room, where someone would be waiting to take their number. That's what they were told, anyhow.

On the way down, however, participants were approached by a friendly woman carrying a tray. 'To show our thanks for taking part in our study,' she said, 'we'd like to offer you a snack. You have a choice of two. A nice piece of chocolate cake. Or a delicious fruit salad. Which would you like?'

Now, unbeknownst to each participant, some had been given two-digit numbers to memorize, and some had been given seven-digit numbers. When Shiv tallied up the choices made (for that was the object of the experiment) he found that those students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as those given two digits! Two digits - you choose fruit. Seven digits - you choose cake. What could possibly account for that?

The reason, Shiv theorized, is that once you weed out the occasional oddball, we all like cake more than fruit. It tastes better. But we also all know that fruit is better for us, for cake makes us fat and promotes tooth decay. This is a rational assessment that almost all of us would make. But if our minds are taxed with trying to retain 7 digits instead of a no-brainer 2, rationality goes right out the window, and the emotional "yummy, cake!" wins out! 'The astounding thing here,' said the Wall Street Journal's Jonah Lehrer, reviewing the experiment, 'is not simply that sometimes emotion wins over reason. Its how easily it wins.'

Now, this experiment was not taken very seriously by anyone. When the media covered it at all, they treated it as fluff - a transitional piece going in to or out of more serious news. "Oh, so that's why I pig out after a hard day at work here," giggling HappyNews people would tell each other on TV. But plainly, the experiment holds deeper significance. Aren't world leaders also susceptible to emotion trumping rationality? Daily they grapple to solve the woes afflicting us all. Meanwhile, opponents seek to undermine them and media outlets try dig up dirt on them. If it takes only five extra digits for emotion to overpower reason, do you really think there is the slightest chance that "reason will prevail" among the world's policymakers, immersed in matters much more vexing (and urgent) than choosing between cake and fruit? Has it up till now?

THAT'S what's so irksome about the "Let Reason Prevail." slogan. Reason cannot prevail among imperfect humans! It can occur, but it cannot prevail. Humans are not capable of it.  Five digits is all it takes for our rational facade to crumble!

Now, if there is one thing Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, it's their insistence that humans do not have the ability to govern themselves. Everyone else (among Christendom) accepts the present setup of squabbling nations as a given and prays for God to somehow bless the leaders running it - usually with the proviso that whatever country they're in emerge on top (or at least intact). Doesn't matter too much, though, since said religionists are all heavenbound! Just passing through, you understand. So while one might not like staying in a crummy hotel, you can at least console yourself that it's only for a night or two.

Not so Jehovah's Witnesses. Earth is where God meant us to be, so that is where we focus. Like the psalm says: (115:16) "As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men."  And our view that humans are incapable of governing the earth is no more than acknowledging the words of Jeremiah:  "I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." (Jer 10:23) And: "The wise ones have become ashamed. They have become terrified and will be caught. Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?" (Jer 8:9) In other words, today's calamitous conditions aren't really a surprise to those who've immersed themselves in Bible instruction. It's what they've always expected. They're not stuck with the pathetic hope that voting out the incumbents will somehow bring in a more amenable bunch of politicians among whom "reason can prevail." It's human rule itself that's at fault.

You could almost view it that God himself is conducting an experiment, just like Baba Shiv. Not that it was his purpose, but when humans insisted on setting their own standards of "good and bad," rejecting his sovereignty, he said "Go ahead.....for such-and-such an amount of time see if you can make good on your claim of self-government. When the times runs out, then.....we'll see." Isn't this the meaning of those early Genesis chapters? Isn't the grand experiment of human self-rule ending exactly as the Bible foretold it would? And doesn't it show, as any novice JW will tell you.....sometimes a bit parrotlike, but true nonetheless, that "it just goes to show we need the Kingdom." Announcing this Kingdom, so that people may align themselves with it, is the purpose of the Witnesses' public ministry.....................see also here

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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)