Who Are the Apostates?
January 19, 2019
Nobody has apostates like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Theirs are the best. Nobody has apostates more determined. Nobody has apostates more prolific. It is almost as though I am proud of them. I very nearly am. If they flourished in the first century, they should flourish now. If they didn’t flourish now, one would have to wonder why.
They certainly did flourish back then. There is no writer of the New Testament that does not feel obliged to come to grips with them. “I know that…from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves,” warns the faithful apostle at Acts 20: 29-30. “For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled, and they will turn their ears away from the truth,” he repeats at 2 Timothy 4:3.
If Christianity is among the greatest themes of all time, then combatting apostates is one of the greatest subthemes of all time. Every religion has them, but especially those with Judeo-Christian underpinnings, in which context the word is specifically defined. The Greek verb form means “to stand away from.” The noun form has the sense of “desertion, abandonment, or rebellion.” It is those who have ‘been there and done that.’ If one has not been there and done that, one cannot be an apostate, no matter how much one may dislike a religion.
If there was to be “a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled, and they will turn their ears away from the truth,” it stands to reason that such a period would have commenced long ago, with the end product the cacophony of religious offerings that exist today. Let another book written by another author deal with who’s who. I will focus my attention on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian denomination with the fiercest apostates. One can even make the case that the more namby-pamby the apostates, the more they are that way because they have already chalked up major wins. Where they are the most virulent, it is because they have yet to make significant dent in the core and are tearing out their hair in the unrelenting effort.
Apostasy is said to be a “mystery” in scripture. It might well seem so to the outsider looking in, for it involves persons attacking those who were once their closest friends with a ferocity that is breathtaking. “Why don’t they just move on in life?” the typical observer will say. The reasons behind the apostasy themselves are less a mystery. Most are covered with but a few simple Bible passages. The apostates are like Demas, who forsook Paul because “he loved the present system of things.” Though they tested the waters, they “went out from us” because “they were not of our sort.” Their former friends became misled fools to them when “the Master kept delaying.” They were stumbled, and woe to the one stumbling them. Nonetheless, the psalm that would have helped them is: “Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.” (2 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:19, Matthew 24:48, Mark 9:42, Psalm 119:165)
The law they were to love, and once did, is “God’s law.” It is not the law of human government. Suffice it to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses put no stock in human government. All human governments will drop the ball. Usually it is a bowling ball, and the only pertinent question that remains is upon which toe will it land. As people ponder the vulnerability of their right and left toes, thus is decided their politics. Jehovah’s Witnesses discard it all as secondary, and they do not let such differences disrupt the peace of the congregation.
They obey the governments under which they live. If one considers how little cost they put upon agencies of law enforcement or tax collection, they are the most loyal citizens of any nation. They do what they are told, not because they are weaklings, but because they consider it but a secondary point. In every country they say to the ‘king:’ “Tell us your rules for maintaining public order and we will follow them.” It is a different matter when the law of the king conflicts with the law of God, but that situation is relatively rare. Usually one can “render Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God” without undue fuss.
Jehovah’s Witnesses put their stock in what they would term “divine government,” rather than that of humans. As a practical matter, that is expressed though a human agency they refer to at present as their Governing Body. They consider these ones charged with applying the Bible to modern times, just as in the United States and most other lands, a Supreme Court is charged with applying a Constitution to modern times. Governing Body members are not infallible. They strive to lead by example, and there is a scene I will not quickly forget of a representative, for illustrative purposes, pulling a string on a table by a finger placed firmly atop one end. “See how the rest of it nicely follows?” he points out. “What happens if I try to push the string?” and upon doing so, it wads up. “It really isn’t very smart of me to do it this way, is it?” he says.
The most likely area for apostasy to surface is at the divine/human interface. It was even true with Judas. He and God were tight. There were absolutely no problems there! But that character masquerading as the Messiah—why, he wasn’t at all what Judas had expected. And those yokels he was attracting? Don’t even go there.
It becomes quickly apparent that a religion with which the year text is “Anything goes” will produce few apostates. What would they apostatize from? Repeatedly we read in scripture that apostates “despise authority.” How does that become a problem unless there is authority? They love “lawlessness.” How does that become a problem unless there is law? They favor acts of “brazen conduct.” They have “eyes full of adultery,” and they are “unable to desist from sin.” How does that become a problem unless there is someone to tell that they cannot carry on that way? Not only is the nature of apostates revealed in the above verses of Jude and 2 Peter 2, but also the nature of the Christian organization. A faith too bland to produce quality apostates is too bland to be given the time of day.
When offering testimony about whatever faith they have apostatized from, their testimony cannot be relied upon exclusively, but must be corroborated by independent sources. The bias they reveal may be considerable, as Lonnie D. Kliever, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University, writes:
“There is no denying that these dedicated and diehard opponents of the new religions present a distorted view of the new religions to the public, the academy, and the courts by virtue of their ready availability and eagerness to testify against their former religious associations and activities. Such apostates always act out of a scenario that vindicates themselves by shifting responsibility for their actions to the religious group. Indeed, the various brainwashing scenarios so often invoked against the new religious movements have been overwhelmingly repudiated by social scientists and religion scholars as nothing more than calculated efforts to discredit the beliefs and practices of unconventional religions in the eyes of governmental agencies and public opinion. Such apostates can hardly be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists. Even the accounts of voluntary defectors with no grudges to bear must be used with caution since they interpret their past religious experience in the light of present efforts to re-establish their own self-identity and self-esteem.”
It doesn’t mean they must be ignored. It just means they must always be taken with a substantial grain of salt. John Gordon Melton, an American religious scholar cautions “that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents.”
When they leave a “new religion,” the current non-prejudicial term for those founded within the last century or two, less incendiary than the newly-expanded term “cult,” they have a lot of explaining to do. It is not as though they have switched from Chevrolet to Ford. They have abandoned goals and practices perhaps followed for decades to embrace ones that in many respects represent the very opposite. How best to account for such a flip-flop without suggesting that they were dupes? What could be better than lodging a “brainwashing” claim, asserting that they were “misled,” that, really, they are no more stupid than you—if it happened to them, it could have just as easily happened to anyone? It is an irresistible ploy.
Professor David Bromley, author of The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movement, “explained how individuals who elect to leave a chosen faith must then become critical of their religion in order to justify their departure…Others may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends, why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group.”
Of course! If one leaves a group that truly is “no part of the world,” as Jesus said his followers would be, to pursue a course fully part of that world, there is a lot of catching up to do. There has been a lot of falling behind the curve, and there is a lot of time to be made up. Particularly if one has given up the faith for atheism, then there is only a short time left, and previous years comprising the majority of one’s life may appear to have been wasted. The temptation to resort to a thought-control defense is irresistible.
Apostates of the world have managed to unite under an anti-cult common umbrella. They come from many different faiths, and find that they have much in common. All of their former faiths were cults—they are smarting from their wounds—that did them great damage by deflecting from the truly fine goals of life. A prominent one, let us call him Steve, spent his early days as a ‘Moonie,’ the common name for those of the Unification Church. He now spends his time helping people to escape cults, and he has expanded the definition well beyond Moonies.
I know little about the Moonies, per se, and have nothing specifically against them. I share the common perception that they drop out of society, dress strangely, and used to interact with the public primarily to sell them things, such as flowers. Even this must be put into context, for there were plenty of Steve’s generation who became actual “flower children” of the sixties. They turned on, tuned in, and dropped out of contemporary society, and to this day they are not criticized for it, even when they enhanced their experience with mind-altering drugs.
A generation or two before them there were the hoboes, often educated men, who dropped out of society, roaming the country via railroad boxcars, which were not hard to surreptitiously board. “Stay away from the hoboes,” Gram told my Dad when he has a boy. Of course, he went right down to the woods to hang out with the hoboes, and he says they generally were the most gentle and peaceable folk you might ever hope to meet. When one came into town, he might ask for a meal. When there was extra in the pantry, a resident might feed them. They would sit on the porch nice as you please eating their meal, and upon leaving, would make a mark on the house so that other hoboes would know a free meal could be had there. If you left things lying about, they would steal you blind, but only take what they needed for their immediate future.
Drop outs are not uncommon. There have always been drop-outs. They are even a romanticized segment of society. But let there be a God component to it and all hell breaks loose. Isn’t that all the Moonies are guilty of, throwing an interpretation of God into the mix? Steve came to be upset with them, for they ‘stole’ his early life. But there really aren’t that many of them. Like a growth industry, he began to target other groups who, unlike the Moonies, did not drop out of society, in fact, they often improved their role significantly in it, such as by overcoming addictions. These new targets mixed in with regular society just fine, often better than before, as some of them dropped the criminal activity they had once engaged in. But they looked to a different source for direction. Let us be blunt. The modern anti-cult movement is an effort to stop them from doing that. It is an attempt to put persons on the same page and prevent them departing from script.
Think twice before you do it. Dr. Asseem Malhotra states: “We all have to realize that society has been manufactured in a way where we simply give up our own mind to someone else, who has been given theirs by someone else...from birth, we are programmed to think a certain way by somebody else.” Dr. Malhotra is a cardiologist and he is referring to standard regimens of health, but the principles apply widely. If the prevailing mindset was so productive and healthful, surely you could expect the world thus built to reflect that. Think twice before you shut down pathways to explore and perhaps even reject the status quo.
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t cotton to the status quo of human rulership. They like what they would characterize as “God’s rulership.” Their assessment of history is that of Ecclesiastes 8:9—that “man has dominated man to his injury.” They agree with Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, that “to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” Human government is a disaster, they say, and they align their lives with “divine rulership” and the human organization they think best represents it, that unitedly spearheads the telling of the “good news of God’s kingdom” the world over.
Because the religion is consequential, it is resisted by the anti-cultists. Because under its influence people make decisions they would not make otherwise—and in some cases later come to reassess—the anti-cultists would like to stamp it out. If it confined its role to supporting the customary goals of society, they would have no problem with it. It is as Jesus says: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own.”
The more that a religion stands for things in contrast to the prevailing thinking, the more it will produce apostates. The more that it maintains a separateness from the greater world, the more it will produce apostates. Ones who cross the chasm from faith to anti-faith may hope that former relationships will not suffer, but they invariably will. It is a chasm they have crossed, not a dotted line. Anything with a significant upside will have a downside, and if one negates the upside, there remains nothing to focus upon but the downside—a point particularly applicable to those former members who have opted for atheism.
The outrage that some of these apostates express initially sets one back on one’s heels. However, outrage is the new normal today, and one must expect that going in. Following the commentary on world news for a week or so will dispel any doubt that outrage is the name of the game today. A Pew survey released during August 2018 revealed that, pertaining to the politics of the two major parties, not only can Americans not agree on how to act in light of the facts, but they cannot even agree on what the facts are. With no agreement on the facts there can be no starting point for discussion. If it is true of two parties which both occupy the here and now, how much more so of two parties, one whose view of the future is eternity, the other is that the next few decades. How much more so of two parties, one of which dismisses the “pearl of high price” as a ‘been there done that?’ Just what will there be to talk about?
“If a man dies, can he live again?” is the question at Job 14:14. “Of course,” says the Witness. “No way,” says the ex-Witness. The former looks at any sacrifices of the present life as but delayed gratification, the sort that does a person’s character nothing but good, the sort that is integral to any raising of a child. The latter looks upon it as foolishness on steroids, for ‘this life is all there is.’ Just what will there be to talk about?
They lie as submerged rocks poised to rip out whatever floats your boat. The lie they tell is more subtle than many of them know—in fact, it is a lie only in the eye of the beholder. It is the same as the first lie told in Genesis: “You certainly will not die. God knows that in the very day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.” Take the verse symbolically. Take it literally. Either way the lesson is the same. Not only is the first woman told a lie, but more significantly, it is a lie told with a bad motive. “He is trying to deprive you of freedom and independence,” the charge goes, but “don’t let Him fool you. You don’t need Him. You can decide for yourselves what is good and what is bad.”
What of the ‘facts’ apostates may want to bring to the faithful one’s attention, ones they say that caused them to jump ship? Proverbs 21:2 is useful to consider: “Every way of a man is upright in his own eyes, but Jehovah is making an estimate of hearts.” Of course! Everyone is right in his own eyes. Everyone tells facts that are true. Nobody tells facts that are not true. It is how those facts are organized and prioritized that counts, and that is a matter of heart, which Jehovah assesses. The bare facts they present are often accurate, but they are entirely misrepresented and put into a context either untrue or highly subjective.
They revel in their new found “freedom.” No longer will they suffer traveling on the “cramped and narrow” road that Jesus spoke about. (Matthew 7:14) He must have been crazy. He was just trying to suppress human freedom with his “mind-control.” No more! Now the road is broad and spacious and deliriously exciting.
I don’t like them, and they don’t like me. If someone positively loathes my best friend—what if it were my wife?—are they going to be my chum? I don’t think so. Yes, yes, my wife is an actual person that can be seen, (indeed, it is hard to take one’s eyes off her) whereas God is a spirit, but it is close enough. I I may come to respect them but I am not their pal. They seek to draw others into their course. “While they are promising them freedom, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for if anyone is overcome by someone, he is his slave,” says 2 Peter 2. In the case of those that have followed the path of atheism, if the only freedom you can offer expires in a few decades, just how much freedom do you truly have to offer?
“Certainly, if after escaping from the defilements of the world by an accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they get involved again with these very things and are overcome, their final state has become worse for them than the first. It would have been better for them not to have accurately known the path of righteousness than after knowing it to turn away from the holy commandment they had received,” says the apostle Peter. (vs 19-21) “Leave them be” is the counsel. Send them packing should they come around. “Look out that no one takes you captive by means of the philosophy and empty deception according to human tradition, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to the Christ,” says Paul at Colossians 2:8. “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them,” he says again at Romans 16:17. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [of the Christ], never receive him into your homes or say a greeting,” says John.
For the one holding the course, the situation is no more complicated than for the one who, having determined that he has taken in altogether too much junk food over the years, and that it has done him much harm, resolves to diet. The last thing in the world that person wants is someone stuffing his pantry with cupcakes, cookies, and chips, his fridge with ice cream, and urging him to relax his ridiculous diet so as to “enjoy life” and “live a little.”—nothing is so delicious as ice cream! Our healthy dieter just doesn’t need to have that person around. He will almost wish he could dig a moat around the house so as not to let him in.
He has determined, upon examination, that the cruise ship is going down. He has boarded the lifeboat, where it is not so luxurious as on the main ship. He doesn’t need those who have swum back to re-board crowing about the fine wining, dining and dancing that they have resumed. It is fine, as well, to avoid the companionship of those who gripe and complain about the cramped quarters on the lifeboat. And when determined to quit smoking, one does well to avoid the company of ones who do so like chimneys. The principle is well understood and can be illustrated through numerous examples. Only when spirituality is thrown into the mix do some suddenly go obtuse, but the underlying logic is no different.
As a nation looks to its constitution, so does the Witness organization to the Bible. The counsel will be to avoid its apostates. “Taste and see that Jehovah is good,” says the psalm. They have tasted and “seen” that he is bad. What is there to talk about? There will be no persuading them, for they have deliberately crossed the chasm. The only possible outcome is they may attain their goal and persuade the one yet holding the course—the reverse will not happen, because it already has happened and they tired of it. “Did you know that your people are not perfect? Did you know that they have made mistakes? Did you know that they have been inconsistent?” they ask—all of which the Christian does know, if not specifically, then certainly in principle. The final Bible Book of Revelation describes, in chapters 2 and 3, several congregations meant to symbolically stand for the whole. Some of them are veritable basket cases, with problems quite serious. But that does not mean that they are not congregations.
The counsel to avoid apostates is good. It is biblical. One could hardly argue otherwise, scripturally. Yet there is a downside. Any military general realizes that he must know what the scoundrels across the divide are up to. Become too insular, and the apostate almost becomes the “bogeyman” of mysterious powers—the mere exposure to his words is enough to thwart years of alignment to God. It is a mystery status that they do not deserve. There is nothing mysterious about them. Their reasons for departure are un-mysteriously human, though they may be not readily reversible. They have cast aside what they once embraced for the thoroughly understandable and human reasons outlined previously.
It really doesn’t take that much to get one’s head around the opposition. They write and speak prolifically, but it’s quite repetitive. They make noise far disproportionate to their size—but that does not mean that there are not many of them. Are they truly a myriad, or have they managed to inflate their numbers, like Gideon’s 300 troops that convinced the enemy they numbered in the tens of thousands? It is not easy to tell. In a world of several billion people one can find countless examples of anything. Assemble them in one place and, why—it would seem that no other cause must exist.
There are people who will not do something until you tell them that they should not. “Stay away from the hoboes,” Gram told Dad, so he went right down there to hang with them. It is a universal law of human nature, and it is not usually wise to give in to it. It is why the curious cat needs every one of its nine lives. At times our own young people, wondering what all the fuss is about, goaded on that only a wus is afraid even to look here or there, succumbs to that universal law and launches his or her own investigation. Sometimes they are floored to find what they never expected to find. Arguably, they might have benefited from prior “vaccination”—exposure to just a little bit of the malady so that they might have worked up an immunity for it.
As an adult, even as a young adult, one is in position to leave childhood roots. Many choose to do so. But is the course wise while one is yet in one’s teenage years? It smacks too much of Mark Twain’s supposed saying: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Perhaps this writer can help some of these “bad” boys and girls, for alas—he too is being bad. Let us not spin it any other way. He is being a bad boy, pure and simple, sailing past godly counsel as though Odysseus thumbing his nose at Poseidon. “Battle not with the monsters, lest ye become a monster,” writes one of the apostate’s own prophets, for “if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes back.” Does this writer observe that good sense? He heedlessly hollers down the abyss: “Yo! Anybody down there?!” for the sake of a hopefully good read.
But if he is a bad boy in this one area, he is a good boy in all others, universally liked in his circuit because he is a peacemaker who is not wound up too tight. He steers clear of the six Proverbs things that God hates, a list that magically expand to seven, including “feet that in are in a hurry to run to badness, a false witness that launches forth lies, and anyone sending forth contentions among brothers.” His feet stay planted on terra firma, he launches nothing but rectitude, and he soothes contentions away.
In battling the “apostates” on the pages to come, one name will pop up more than all others combined—unfortunately suggesting that I have it in for this one personally. This is not the case. Many do what he does. I just happened to latch onto him first. It could have been one of many people. A writer needs not only a muse. He also needs a villain, and I frequented where I knew there were villains galore. In the unlikely event that he should feel picked on, (I suspect he will welcome the publicity) I offer my apology. More likely he will feel honored, and he should. He and his have succeeded advancing the game to another level, and that must be respected. But it is the same game. It simply requires an adaptation in response. To some extent, it is a shame to name anyone, hero or villain, because it is not about individuals. It is about the ideas they represent. Still, if an idea can be personalized, it makes for more a interesting read. We are all people persons, after all.
For purposes of this book, this oft referred to chieftain replaces a fellow we shall call Danny, a former Witness turned sour, a man who came to have an extraordinary reach. If anyone posted anything anywhere about Jehovah’s Witnesses and there was room to comment, his was one of the first. Always his contribution was malicious and almost always it was irrelevant to the post. Visiting his own site, I noted that he billed himself as an expert witness in the case of custody lawsuits where one parent or the other was a Jehovah’s Witness and an expert witness in lawsuits against manufacturers of anti-depressants, apparently not realizing that each claim undercut his credibility for the other. I remember him for posting an almost maniacal laugh that he was getting the ultimate revenge on his former religion, because his retorts were everywhere, and they would last forever! He forgot to mention that they would also quickly be buried in the digital avalanche that is the Internet. Today he is unheard of. Witnesses ought not gloat about this, however, for he has been replaced by a legion of others.
“The first man to state his case is right, but then his opponent searches him through,” says the Proverb. Let us do exactly that. “However, here are some ground rules, TrueTom,” I tell myself: Don’t be goaded. Never make it personal. Remember that everyone has the right to interpret his or her own experience. Accept going in that you will be excoriated. Don’t expect to get in the last word. The key to staying dispassionate lies in knowing that you are going to lose the battle. The enemies will have their day in the sun before it all turns around.
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!