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In Defense of Shunning

As the ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was said to Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain consistent moral principles through decades of time without it. I vividly recall circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or otherwise, was largely the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must also padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt their diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because anti-cultists forbid that course, and they get hefty, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is staggering, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference of view over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we easily toss with the waves in the absence of a firm anchor.

Christians are mandated to “imitate the Christ,” both individually and collectively. Given human imperfection, this can be done only with group-accepted tools of discipline to back up good intentions as needed. If anti-cultists would deny them these tools under the guise of protecting their individual rights, then what we are looking at is an attempt to outlaw Christianity true to its roots and enforce rule by the popular crowd. 

Disfellowshipping is unpleasant and some are so shocked to find themselves put out from their community of choice that they determine once and for all to mend whatever caused them to be ousted so as to regain entrance. But they do not all do that, and with the passing of time, these latter ones accumulate. Some continue on in life with a “been there, done that” mentality. But others expend considerable energy in settling the score with the organization that ousted them. One businessman in Canada even sued at being disfellowshipped—his customer base consisted mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses and most of them took their business elsewhere. A lower court agreed with him that those running his religion had “told” parishioners not to associate with the ex-member. But the Supreme Court decided that—did they really want to rule on biblical interpretation or on who had to hang out with whom?

The most disingenuous of disfellowshipped ones later frame their ousting as though it were over mere matters of disagreement. It was not their conduct that caused the trouble, they maintain, but it was simply disagreement over something, for example, the contention that leaving a spouse for another should trigger congregation sanctions. This was true of a prosecution witness at the Russian Supreme Court trial which resulted in banning the Jehovah's Witness faith. Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of "control," [she] “reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.’”

Other times it truly is over matters of disagreement with regard to interpretation or policy, and opposers try to frame things as did the Buffalo Springfield—that with Jehovah's Witnesses, it is "step out of line, the men come and take you away." Some of them present themselves almost as though freedom fighters. They came across something, perhaps, that they thought would entitle them to drive the bus. They left when they discovered that they would not be allowed grab the wheel. In some cases, they were caught red-handed trying to hotwire the bus. The “bus,” of course, is the Witness organization itself. In the end it is a too high opinion of oneself and one’s importance that sinks one. The worship and deeds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are magnified by their organized quality, and they either appeal to the heart or they don’t. If they don’t, then one magnifies disproportionately matters of individual rights.

The spirit of the times today far elevates rights over responsibilities. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with many religious people, it is the opposite. The responsibilities Christians feel is toward their spiritual kin. “Slave” for one another, the verse says, and many translations soften "slave" to "serve," but the root word at Galatians 5:13 undeniably indicates "slave” as the correct choice. Even before that, however, there is a responsibility toward God. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dares not meddle with the disfellowshipping policy overmuch because they know it serves to keep the congregation "clean" so as to present to God what he insists upon: "a [clean] people for his name." (Acts 15:14)

A book by evangelical author Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, highlights on the cover the question: ‘Why are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?’ The author cites verse after verse of how Christian standards are “higher” than those of the greater world, and then example after example of how they are not with those claiming Christianity today. He concludes that it is largely a matter of church discipline. “Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” he writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He goes on to quote Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

“Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”

Christians have a mandate to follow the Christ as best they can in speech and conduct. Consumerism makes that mandate effectively impossible. Yet it is the only model that today’s anti-cultists will permit. Anything veering toward discipline they paint as an intolerable affront to human rights. We must not be naïve. Theirs is no more than an attempt to stamp out biblical Christianity, veiled as though they are the very protectors of humanity.

The notion of protecting one’s values, through disciplinary action if need be, extends beyond Christianity. Was Tevye a cult member, he of the film Fiddler on a Roof? If so, no one has breathed a word of it until very recently. The third daughter of his Russian Jewish family was shunned for marrying outside of the faith. It is an action that would not trigger shunning in the Jehovah’s Witness community, though it would gain no praises. After all, if God is truly one’s best friend, ought one really make one’s second-best friend a person who is indifferent, perhaps even opposed, to the first? Only the atheistic anti-cultists will be blind to the logic of this, and that only because they would consider any god-concept an unsuitable friend.

Citing Tevye to a certain ex-Witness nearly blew up in my face. At the movie’s end, he mutters to himself, as his daughter and new husband depart for another continent,“and let God be with you,” as though he should have been expected to shout: “May you rot in hell.” I was told that the movie teaches forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love rather than a stubborn cleaving to tradition and the past.” Could he really have once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The entire premise of the faith, and that of many Christian denominations, is that, assuming the “traditions” are biblical and not man-made, the old ideas are solid and the new ideas are tenuous, with sometimes deleterious after-effects. In fact, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are not mutually exclusive. One can forgive without accepting disapproved conduct. One can also love without accepting it. “Tough love” was the phrase of yesterday. Today it is “unconditional love.” Tomorrow who knows what it will be? The scene of this world is changing.

It is not uncommon for children of Jehovah's Witnesses to be baptized at ages as young as ten. Witness detractors argue that this is far too early to make such a consequential decision. Many offer themselves as a case in point. Some of them were Witnesses and were baptized at an early age. They later changed their mind. Some of these eventually found themselves disfellowshipped and will push to their dying day that they escaped from a cult whose members were ordered to reject their own children. Some have gone on television with that charge where they persuade viewer without too much effort that only the most “brainwashed” of people would disown their own children and that whoever did the “brainwashing” must be punished.

It is an example of "truth" that is not "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." They are not children. In Witness literature the distinction is consistently made between those who are actual children and those who are young adults capable of following through on choices they have made through word or conduct. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of minors, it may result in a somewhat strained family life in which all components except the spiritual continue as before, usually with the added condition that the disfellowshipped one should still sit in on the family Bible study. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of the latter, such ones may be told that it is time to leave the nest. They are not outright abandoned, though there is variability in people and one should never say that it has not occurred. One father I know secured a job with his large employer for his departing son and let him know that he would be there if truly needed. Another, in a family business arrangement, divvied up resources so that his young adult son could have a decent start outside the congregation. This was misrepresented as though he had thrown him out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the father for a time became a community pariah, but eventually matters came out that he had actually been quite generous, whereby much of the reputational damage was restored.

Some disfellowshipped teens have run away from home, in a biblical twist of a drama as old as time. Such a dramatized case was presented in a short video at Regional Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses during 2017. A young woman had been disfellowshipped over sexual immorality, having sailed past all lesser forms of discipline unmoved. When she later called the home she had left—for she did run away in this case, against her folks’ wishes—her mom did not answer the phone, an action that the young woman later describes as crucial to her turnaround and reinstatement; if mom had extended just a little bit of fellowship, she recalls that it would have been enough for her to continue in her "headstrong" course.

This will go down hard with non-Witnesses today. "You would make all this fuss over sex?" they will say, aghast. "Get them vaccinated for HPV and accept that they will do what they do." Yet, it is a matter of adhering to the standards of the oldest book of time. Family feuds are the stuff of legend, often started over matters far more petty, such as taking sides in the disputes of another family member. It is common today that old ones are dropped off in nursing homes, never to be visited again, for reasons no more substantial than that they became inconvenient. One would never say that it is routine for divisions in family to occur, but they are by no means unheard of.

The Witness organization has said that it does not instruct parents not to associate with their disfellowshipped children. But they have produced the video cited above of specific circumstances in which a parent ignores a phone call from one of them. What to make of this? Detractors will say that they are lying through their teeth with the first statement. I think not. I think they should be taken at their word—parents will reach their own decisions the on degree of contact they choose to maintain, since they can best assess extenuating circumstances. It becomes their decision—whether they find some or none at all. Specifically, what the Witness publications do is point out that there is no reason per se that normal counsel to avoid contact with those disfellowshipped is negated simply because there are family connections. That is not the same as “telling” families to break contact. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

That statement finds further support in the many Witnesses who have departed and subsequently report that, though they were never disfellowshipped, they still find themselves estranged from the family mix. Effectively, they are "shunned" without any announcement at all, evidence that a "cult" is not telling parents what to do, but it is their appreciation for Bible counsel that triggers that course. The specific mechanics of avoiding associations with those who have spun 180-degrees on prior spiritual convictions may be arguable, but the general principle is not. When no verbal direction is given, Witnesses defer to the general principle, so it becomes plain that it was the general principle all along, rather than the commands of eight tyrannical men at headquarters. “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” says Paul, referring to two polar-opposite worlds and those who would choose between them.

It is the "choice" that defines. Some family members fail to follow through on their decided course as Jehovah's Witnesses, but they do not turn against it. Family relations may cool, but do not typically discontinue. It is only by making a choice that relations tank. Is it so hard to understand, given that spiritual things are important to Jehovah's Witnesses? It is well-understood in matters of nations, where visiting an unfriendly country brings no sanction but turning traitorous against one's own does. In politics it is understood, too. When comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the American president, does anyone think that her Republican dad (if he is) says: "That's my lass! She speaks her mind. It won't affect Thanksgiving dinner, though?” Of course it will.

The word ‘disfellowship’ has not been heard in congregation announcements for perhaps a dozen years now—not that it has been purged from Witness vocabulary, but it is not explicitly stated. From time to time, an announcement is made that such and such "is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." It is never made of one who has merely fallen inactive, but only of those who have departed from the faith through deed or word. Though, to my knowledge, no announcement has ever been made that such is the equivalent of disfellowshipping, people mostly treat it that way. Some of whom that announcement is made are shocked into regret and turning around. Others say "You got that right" as they turn the page and go on to another chapter of life. If it is said of someone who rejects the tenets of a religion that they are therefore no longer a part of it, what are they going to say—that they are? Few would challenge the statement.

Few would argue that youngsters have not the same maturity at age ten that they will have at twice that age. Ought they not be allowed to commit to the course they have come to believe is right, on the basis that they may later change their minds? It is not a good solution for Witnesses, though it be a great one for the anti-cultists, as it permits the latter more time to sway them. However, children will always do better when permitted to identify with their choices. John Holt, an education pioneer, maintained that a prime cause of juvenile delinquency is that children are shut out of the adult world—an unanticipated effect of child labor laws enacted to protect them. For children, the solution will not be to forbid them to act upon what they have come to believe. The solution will be to cut them slack when they, through inexperience, stumble along the way. Most likely, that is being done today, for Jehovah's Witnesses, like everyone else, dearly love their children and want them to succeed.

As it turns out, I know a youngster who was disfellowshipped for a period of several months and was subsequently reinstated. He was a minor and he lived at the family home throughout the time. Months before he was disfellowshipped he had been reproved. Since I had a rapport with him, I afterwards approached to say that, while it was none of my business and I was not curious, still, if he ever wanted to discuss things, I would be available. Maybe, I allowed, he had come across some anti-Witness literature and had been intrigued. Maybe he had wanted to go to college and his parents had poured cold water on the idea. “Look, if you’ve gone gay on us—it doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is that I have been around forever, I have seen everything, and I am not wound up too tight.” He was silent for a moment and then started telling me about this girl in another congregation. “Oh, girls are nothing but trouble!” I told him in an anticlimactic spirit. His woes were boiler-plate. Maybe he will marry the girl someday.

I had known him most of his life. As a young boy, he surfaces in my first book, Tom Irregardless and Me, as Willie, the lad who protested my introducing him at each door, so I responded that he could introduce me instead. That is how it had gone all morning, save for one or two awkward situations that I had handled. The householder would look at me in expectation and I would say “Sorry, I’m too bashful. It’s his turn.” As long as he had been comfortable, it had remained his turn. Hard on the householders? Probably not. Probably it was better for them to focus on the lad—I can become wearing over time.

He also surfaces as Dietrich in the second book, No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. I only know two Dietrichs, and the younger is named after the older, a trustworthy man whom I almost gave a heart attack when I showed up to give the first talk at the District Convention, relieving him as chairman, with only seconds to spare—there he was with songbook in hand looking anxiously through the audience. I had been in the Chairman’s Office awaiting my escort, assuming that the current year’s procedure would be the same as the prior one’s. It wasn’t. Today it would be. Everyone ‘did what was right in his own eyes’ back them. Even in small matters, there is a value in organization.

I followed the course with Willie and Dietrich that all Witnesses know and respect—I didn’t speak to him at all during his disfellowshipped time, save for only an instance or two that I could not resist. On a frigid day he dropped family members off at the door, parked, and strode toward the Kingdom Hall without a coat. Breaking all decorum, I said: “Look, I know there’s no contact and all, but did they even have to take your coat?” He liked that one. In time he was reinstated, and I later told him that there was a silver lining to be found in his experience—he would forever be an example of how discipline produces its intended effect in the Christian community. Actually, the word "shun" is never heard in the Witness community, just as the word "cult" is not, save for its age-old definition. It is unnecessarily harsh. Disfellowshipping is reversible and always the hoped-for outcome. "Shunning" does not convey that nuance.

Always there will those of the opposite persuasion--not like Dietrich at all: persons disfellowshipped who aren’t too happy about it. Find a few of them, work up the narrative to make it as heart wrenching as possible, and it is hard to see how it cannot be a media grand slam every time. Hide the purpose of it and present it as petty vengeance—it is a view that will sell today. Paint those doing it as deprived of humanity—it flies. Paint as dictatorial the organization holding the course—that interpretation positively soars with some. This is the age of the individual, not the group that they have individually chosen. The view that carries the day with regard to any organization is—it may as well be the year text—"power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If there are people in charge, they must be corrupt. To an irreligious crowd, whatever the offenses for which ones were disfellowshipped is all but judgmental religious nonsense anyway. We should have moved on from it long ago. The emotional component is strong and such narratives carry the day.

Beyond all question, Jehovah’s Witnesses march to a different drumbeat. They willingly yield to the influence of those who have chosen the same drumbeat, rather than those who pound the drums of the status-quo world. They can be easily be portrayed the very embodiment of a cult under the new updated definition, and the Bible itself a cult manual. It is because they are a religion that purports to be meaningful, rather than a religion that merely puts a smiley softening face on the quest for the status quo, that they run into anti-cultist opposition.

To the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes: "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ." Plainly, this concern is of no consequence to departing ones who have embraced atheism. Almost necessarily they must focus on individual rights, since what triggers a sense of responsibility among their former spiritual kin has become a non-factor to them. No, it will not be easy selling the idea of shunning to these ones.

 


Who is a Cult? Just About Everybody, it Turns Out. Part 2

See Part one here.

One wonders if CultExpert did not become what he is as penance for having been so stupid as to join the Moonies. Later, realizing that there really aren’t enough Moonies to build a career on, he broadened his sites to target larger groups. However, even with Moonies—are they violent? If not, why would they especially compare unfavorably to—say, the "turn on, tune in, drop out" model of the 60s? That model has never been condemned, to my knowledge. Usually the young who chose it were romanticized. It is only by adding a God component to the mix that condemnation is unleashed.

Can one live a fulfilled life as a Moonie? Let others make that argument if they care to—it’s not my gig. Still, before condemning them it does seem that it ought to be demonstrated how sticking with the mainstream leads to fulfillment. If it cannot be demonstrated, then is it not just thought control of a different type to forbid persons from going there? If the greater world was not so bereft of virtue, the Moonies, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists, and a host of others would not succeed in drawing a single person. Let it clean up its act before it forbids straying from the beaten path.

We can maintain a healthy skepticism toward the latest mantra as well—“that clean, articulate, capable people fall for these cults all the time. They aren't stupid. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.” One way to boast is to condemn others; the same relative distance is established as with unrestrained chest-thumping. This smells of boasting. It is a way of saving face. It is to say: “Look, if it happened to me, smart as I am, it could easily have happened to you—probably much more quickly.”

As to Scientologists, the only thing I know about them for sure is that Tom Cruise, in his fifties, still does his own stunt work. BITE Productions Inc would no doubt hire a nice and safe and fake stunt double. By all accounts, Scientologists enjoy success in beating back the scourge of drug abuse that decimates general society, the same as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s not nothing. They, too, will have to make their own arguments. “It ain’t me, babe,” says Bob Dylan. I second him. But with Jehovah’s Witnesses being slaughtered in an irreligious media, there is no reason to assume that Scientologists are treated fairly, nor Moonies, for that matter.

Make no mistake, the overextension of the BITE model is no more than an effort to silence voices not liked so that other voices may prevail. One is reminded of the H. G. Wells observation about the quick popular acceptance of the theory of evolution: that it suddenly “seemed right to them that the big dogs of the human pack should bully and subdue.” Who are the big dogs of the human pack? Are they not the mainstream and those who would enforce the mainstream under the guise of "protecting people?" They are the deep-pocketed businesses and governments. They are those of the prevailing philosophies and new norms that comprise the very air of Ephesians 2:2—air that “has authority.” It is not thought control that they object to. It is thought control that is not theirs.

Do they decry “brainwashing?” It is largely because they want to do it themselves. College is more brainwashing than anything having a Jehovah’s Witness connection. Study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and you are 95% of the time in familiar surroundings. Enroll in college and you are, from Day One, cut off nearly 100% of the time from those surroundings. Find yourself immersed in a totally new culture, where guardians of this world’s latest thinking have full opportunity to play with your head. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not keen on higher education—the fact is well-known. It could be argued that their discouragement is too across-the-board. Still, how can one not be sobered by the following report from the October 19, 2018 edition of The Week?

As related by Charles Sykes, a trio of hoaxers produced twenty "shoddy, absurd, unethical" papers loaded with incoherent post-modern "gibberish"—seven of which were published in "respectable" academic journals. Among the most outrageous papers included a thesis claiming astronomy is a patriarchal construct that should be replaced by feminist astrology, another arguing "dog parks are rape-condoning spaces," and still another that demanded that males who masturbate while thinking about a woman first obtain her consent. The authors "had ‘no formal background in the subjects," but taught themselves how to produce ridiculous, jargon-filled papers that were greeted with praise by "blindly receptive" academic reviewers. Allow this author to put it even more succinctly: “Yeah, we taught ourselves to write incomprehensible gobbledygook and they lapped it all up as cutting edge social science.”

Suddenly, Jehovah’s Witness Governing Body member Anthony Morris doesn’t look so stupid after all, does he? It is he who, in discouraging higher education, observed that the more prestigious the university, the greater the 'contamination of this world's thinking.' The Witness organization has long recommended that Bible values be the source of moral instruction and that supplemental education be used to acquire a marketable skill. Learn to be an electrician, for example, and you have a well-paying skill that is both portable and scalable, so that, if you can get the ducks to line up, you can attend to more enriching matters. The counsel dovetails nicely with that of Mike Rowe, the former TV host of Dirty Jobs, who testifies before Congress that “we [in the United States] are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” He further adds "that's nuts."

The hoaxers above fully expect to be blackballed by the higher education establishment, but they say it was worth it. One is reminded of whoever perpetuated the Piltdown Man hoax--a hoax that fooled evolutionists for 40 years. “It really was a horrible, nasty, vicious piece of work!” grumbled Andy Currant on the PBS show NOVA, presumably because it made the most esteemed men of science look like donkeys. Others said that the great men weren’t fooled at all—from the beginning they had smelled a rat. If so, the gullibility onus is replaced with one of deceit, for it would mean that they knew of the fraud but did nothing to correct it, since it advanced an narrative they wanted advanced.

Let us hear no more of modern "brainwashing." Let us once again relegate the word to its proper and age-old context. The “brainwashing” of the prevailing mindset is far more pernicious than that of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter make no bones about directing persons to sources considered trustworthy. The former encourages “free minds” to roam wherever they will, but in the end manages to stack the deck so as to keep them all on the same page.

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses slaves to their [at present] eight-man Governing Body? This favorite anti-cultist charge reveals a thinking so infantile that it is hard to know how to respond. It is like saying that the motorist driving within the guardrails is slave to the Department of Transportation, the football player who hustles his feet though the practice tires is slave to the coach, the student who does his homework is slave to the teacher. To the extent that Witnesses are “slaves” to the Governing Body, it is because they are grown-ups who realize that any project needs direction. They realize that there is no desire to “control” anyone, and certainly not for the sake of any power trip. The reason that Obi-wan Kenobi does not want Luke to stray into the dark side is that he really thinks it is the dark side. Let the anti-cultists provide convincing evidence that it is not before they denounce those choosing a different path. They will not find that task easy. When a Witness friend invites people to name the one evil they would remedy if they had the power, the most frequent reply is that they are too numerous to zero in on just one.

It is not an easy task to direct the work of several million people. One will say: "Thanks for the new rule!" and his neighbor will say: "Huh, did you say something?" Striking the right balance is ever a challenge. If the Jehovah's Witness organization comes across as heavy-handed at times, it is because it does not want to find itself in the shoes of Lot, who warns his sons-in-law only to find that they think he is joking. The Witness organization trains members in Bible principles, the same as do Witness parents. It is not true that if you refrain from training your children, they grow up free and unencumbered and, when of age, select their own values from the rich cornucopia of life. No. All it means is that someone else will train them. These days that someone else is likely to be the anti-cultist himself; he is maneuvering for the position. He should be resisted. He wants you to aim so low.  He wants you to revel in what Psalm 90 laments is a great tragedy—four score of trouble-prone years and then curtains for us all. That is bad. He wants you to think it is good. Does faith founded upon accurate understanding of the most widespread book in the world implant the hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth? He wants you to trash it and place your hope with the world's politicians; maybe the next batch will solve a few problems. He settles for so little. The instant gratification that he would deny a child for its own good he wants you to pursue as an adult. “While promising them freedom, they themselves are existing as slaves of corruption,” says the Bible writer.

“When the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” says Jesus? 'Not if we can help it,' declare the anti-cultists. 'We have shed that backwards concept. We're doing our best to muzzle anyone trying to spread it. We put our trust in human accomplishments and science. It may or may not tell us that we are all screwed, but at least it tells us that you don't have to put up with anyone directing you in what to do.'


Are There Any So Intolerant as the Anti-Cultists?

Few are unaware that the Bible climax depicts the epic battle between good and evil, even if they know it in but inkling form. It is the subject of the final Book of Revelation. Foreglimmers of it appear in several other places.

The contest, to zero in, involves the choice between human rulership and divine rulership of the planet. The former is expressed in the present reality of two hundred eternally squabbling nations. The latter is expressed in the ‘Lord’s prayer,’ as God’s kingdom, which, when it “comes,” results in God’s “will be[ing] done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Human rulership of the earth has not been such a stellar success that those who point to God’s government as the one true hope should be run off the road.

As with the Don McLean song, “the marching band refuses to yield.” Though it involves no human agency, God’s kingdom forcibly is to replace human rulership. It does not wait for “the broken-hearted people living in the world to agree,” for they never will. Daniel 2:44 says it succinctly: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”

This can be dicey to express in literature. Still, it has been expressed as long as there have been persons longing to see a final end of evil. One recent offering is from the book Pure Worship of Jehovah Restored at Last, produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The writing gets downright heavy toward the end. For example:

“During the war of Armageddon, Jehovah will execute people, not in a cold, clinical manner, but in a “great rage.” (Read Ezekiel 38:18.) He will direct the explosive force of his anger, not against one army or one nation, but against countless individuals living across the globe. On that day, those slain by Jehovah “will be from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth.”​—Jer. 25:29, 33.”

The Bible verses cited are, from Ezekiel:

On that day, the day when Gog invades the land of Israel,’ declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘my great rage will flare up. In my zeal, in the fire of my fury, I will speak…all humans on the surface of the earth will tremble, and the mountains will be thrown down, and the cliffs will fall, and every wall will collapse to the ground.’ “‘I will call for a sword against him on all my mountains,’ declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘Every man’s sword will be against his own brother. I will bring my judgment against him…”

and from Jeremiah:

“‘You will not go unpunished, for I am calling for a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth,’ declares Jehovah of armies. …“‘And those slain by Jehovah in that day will be from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth. They will not be mourned, nor will they be gathered up or buried. They will become like manure on the surface of the ground.’

That’s not very pleasant, is it? Let no one accuse the Bible writers of beating around the bush.

Is it too much? Should the Bible be banned, as it is clearly the fiery source material for such paragraphs as in the Watchtower publication? Ought one side in this epic struggle be allowed a preemptive strike so that the view of the other side be muzzled? Is it the sign of a “cult” not to interpret such passages away?

Should the view that God might be displeased, even outraged, at the present state of the planet be outlawed? Should the only view allowable be that he cheerleads for the present world, having his feelings hurt with each new atrocity, to be sure, but quickly rebounding with the chipper hope that if his creatures but elect the right set of leaders, all will be well? Should only that neutered view of God be allowed to stand, and any view that God might actually do something about the state of the world be consigned to the state of fanaticism, even if ones reprioritize their lives based upon such views?

Taking their place among the most intolerant people on the planet are the “anti-cultists.” Religion they will allow so long as it does not forget that its place is to reinforce the status quo. ‘If religion helps you to be kinder and gentler, so be it,’ they seem to say, ‘but don’t go rocking the boat. Human leadership is where it’s at—if your god can come on board with that, he’s welcome, but only if. There may daily be discouraging checks, but they are not checkmates, and don’t go bringing any nutty religion into it saying that final checkmate looms ahead.’

What’s it to them, anyway? If the verses are to become reality, then Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a fine head’s up and an opportunity to sidestep the trouble. If they are not to become reality, then there is no harm done other than egg on the faces of those announcing it. Jehovah’s Witnesses will take that chance. The Bible is still the most widely distributed book on earth, by a huge margin. Not all will consign it to the dumpster when they hear of such fiery passages. Some will be more like the Hebrew king Josiah of long ago:

“As soon as [Josiah] heard the words of the book of the Law, he ripped his garments apart. Then the king gave this order…. “Go, inquire of Jehovah in my behalf, in behalf of the people, and in behalf of all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found; for Jehovah’s rage that has been set ablaze against us is great, because our forefathers did not obey the words of this book by observing all that is written concerning us.”

It will ever be the minority view. But only the anti-cultists seek to banish it, so as to keep everyone on the same page of human rulership. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, who unapologetically choose God’s rulership over human rulership, “the wicked” will primarily be those who clearly see both sides and decisively choose human rulership—abysmal track record and all. It will not be those with only a hazy concept of one or both. It will be those who know what they are choosing.

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Building Emotional Health

It was hard not to think of the human immune system at Sunday’s Watchtower. We all have them and if kept strong they are pretty good at warding off all manner of illness. But they are under assault constantly. It is the same with emotional health. It is under assault constantly with pressures described as “strength-sapping” and “emotionally draining.”

Building up emotional health in the congregation will be members who are careful in their speech not to add to someone’s burden but to alleviate it. “Thoughtless speech is like the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18)

Also helping is reflection of the God we serve. “For you became precious in my eyes...and I have loved you....do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:4-5) And: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes, I will help you, I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.  (41:10)

Given the pressures and even atrocities of the day, the ones to be concerned about are those with whom it all runs off like water off a duck's back. One is reminded of Jesus' words that he called upon, not those who do not need a physician, but those who do.

 


The Anti-Cultists are Directly Responsible

The term for a faith-based community of relatively recent origin is “new religious movement.” But if you really dislike that community, you resurrect a word already reviled and apply it to your target—you say it is a “cult.” That way you don’t have to demonstrate that the group is bad. Your label does your work for you.

Time was that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from all normal societal contact, and began doing strange things, you just might be part of a cult. Today, the word is expanded to cover those thinking outside of the box that we are not supposed to think outside of.  If the box of popular goals and thinking undeniably led to fulfillment that might not be such a bad thing, but everyone knows that it does not.

Says religion.wikia.com of the term “new religious movement”: “Scholars studying the sociology of religion have almost unanimously adopted this term as a neutral alternative to the word ‘cult.’” How can it not follow that “cult” is therefore not scholarly but more in keeping with those who want to stir up ill will if not hate?

It is akin to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. People may act upon it. They particularly may do so if “cult” is coaxed just a little bit further in the public eye to become “extremist.” Such a thing has happened with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia under the guidance of “anti-cultists." Many other new religious movements are shaking in their boots that their turn will come.  In that country, Witnesses are officially designated “extremist,” a designation shared only with ISIS.

As the human rights group khpg.org points out, “You can’t claim that people are ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ and then simply knock on their doors to arrest them, though in all cases there is nothing at all to suggest that resistance would have been shown. Instead, there are armed searches, most often by masked men in full military gear, with the suspect hurled to the ground and handcuffed, often in the presence of their distressed and terrified children.” This has become the reality for many Witnesses and it is a direct result of those who expand the definition of “cult” to cover people not covered previously.

Note how this meme plays out in the following event. Note also that it has nothing to do with controversies that have dogged the faith in the West: A mass shooting occurred in Crimea and the shooter’s sole parent, bringing him up by herself, is said to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Let us assume that it is true. This is not a safe assumption, for another Witness was recently denounced by Russian media as having a cache of arms. It turned out that her non-Witness husband had a few rusted and inoperable souvenir grenades from World War II. Nonetheless, we must start somewhere. Let us assume mom was a Witness.

Khpg.org here reports: “Whether or not his mother is, or has ever been a Jehovah’s Witness, there is no proof that Roslyakov had any religious beliefs, or that his mother’s alleged beliefs affected him in any way….the entire ‘story’, as presented, for example, on the Russian state-controlled Vesti.ru, is based solely on value judgements which are presented as though they were facts.

“The Vesti.ru report is entitled ‘The Kerch killer was surrounded by supporters of totalitarian sects’.  It claims that Roslyakov’s mother…’forced her son to live by the rules of the banned organization’.

“It then asserts that people who ‘have pulled themselves away from it’ are sending messages of sympathy to the bereaved families and claiming that ‘all that happened was the result of pseudo-religious upbringing.’

“The supposed ‘expert on religious sects’, Alexander Dvorkin, makes allegations about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ faith that are seriously questionable, as does the Russian Orthodox priest interviewed. None of the claims are in any way checked or analyzed, nor is the viewer offered anything in the way of an alternative point of view. The Crimean Human Rights Group is surely correct in identifying all of this as hate speech, which can result in crimes being committed against the targets of attack.” 

Note that simply being raised as a Witness is said to account for his crime. He simply snapped amidst an intolerable upbringing. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There have never been any other mass shootings. “Oppressive” religion is solely to blame.

He must have snapped substantially, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few groups on earth whose members categorically reject violence for any reason. Yet they are the ones said to be at fault when a young man does a 180 from his taught values. This ridiculous perception prevails because of “anti-cultists,” whose champion in Russia, Mr. Dvorkin, is soul-mate to anti-cultists here, he even having a French NGO connection.

Some enemies of Witnesses in the West, who hurl the “cult” label liberally, are gleeful over this development, even though, in the case of former Witness anti-cultists, it results in machine guns pointed at the heads of their arrested and shackled former loved ones.  More typically, however, they disapprove of it. Some have denounced it. But their verbiage is directly responsible. Their denunciation is akin to the California arsonist denouncing that the state has burned to the ground. One must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.

And what have the Jehovah’s Witnesses done to deserve such an outcome? Do they interpret the Bible differently? Do they publicize the view that this grand experiment of human self-rule will one day end, to be replaced by God’s Kingdom? Surely such a view should be allowed to stand, even if ones adopting it change their life goals accordingly. Not everyone will think that the present world sails proudly upon the high seas, with sharpshooters in the bow ready to blast to smithereens icebergs as they approach. Some will think it more likely that the Titanic will hit one. Must that view be stomped out of existence by bullying anti-cultists?

Navy