“Jehovah’s Witnesses members are dangerous because they approach people in the street and offer them their literature, introduce themselves as a Christian organization, while their activities are based on manipulating consciousness, and they erode the psyche of people and the family,” Russian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk explained.1
Witnesses wouldn’t be dangerous to anyone had the dominant church not been asleep at the switch. Surely the solution for anyone dangerously offering Bible-based literature is to train people to spot what is wrong with it. If they did their jobs, they wouldn’t have to worry about cults. People would see through cults in a heartbeat.
Witnesses hold that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”2 All the Church must do to withstand unjust assault is to make its own people familiar with the book. Why have they not? They have had the time and resources. The Witness model could not be simpler: acquaint persons with the Word so that they can be guided by it—God’s wisdom as opposed to human wisdom. Many people like that model.
Faith is not so important to most people in an overwhelmingly secular age. They keep religion in its place—typically last place. With Witnesses it is unapologetically in first place. That is apparently how Jesus ‘the Extremist’ would have it. “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth,” he says. “I came to bring, not peace, but a sword.”3 Any faith incapable of evoking division is not the faith Jesus is describing. Though overall a godsend, there will be some component of it analogous to waving a red flag before a bull.
Politics is what is important to most people, even if not to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It can and does provoke disruption in many a family. The capacity to provoke disruption is a measure of a object’s importance. Jesus voluntarily pursued a course that led to his execution. Did he consider his faith important or something that should be kept in its place?
Early Christians knew that their gospel would not be welcomed. They knew they would be vehemently denounced, even by family. “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends; some of you they will have put to death; and everyone will hate you because of me,” said Jesus. They were not to become unduly concerned about this. “So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; for I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute,” their Lord said. “By standing firm you will save your lives.”4
Jehovah’s Witnesses are maligned in the Russian press. For example, a 2400-word article in the General Newspaper of Moscow salivates at the prospect of seizing Witness property throughout the country and mocks their appeal to international law in an effort to prevent that from happening. Witnesses are low beings who “wet in the toilet,” would “clog your brains,” do “dark things through Jehovah,” and as to your money, they would have you “give the last.” 5 A follow-up article from SOVA Center reported the Witnesses’ consternation at this article, with the words: “In the opinion of believers, this ‘material is capable of arousing hostility on the basis of attitudes toward religion and lead to a stream of violations of the rights of innocent people.’”6 Do you think?
Those who know some Witnesses personally may think it odd that people who are so nice individually can be so dangerous collectively. The ones they know personally are fine people, but somehow, when you put them all together, they become evil. It doesn’t quite make sense that it should be that way, but there are other things to think about. Doesn’t the Orthodox Church say bad things about them? It is enough for most people, who like the Church because it typifies Russia.
The Huffington Post criticized the April 20th Court decision. But then it walked its criticism back. If a faith claims to be the one true faith it will sooner or later turn violent, the Post said. At first it may content itself with soft violence, that is, seeking by law to force its views upon others. Should that fail, it will look to hard violence. The writer then cites historical examples of that happening, in most cases skipping the soft violence altogether and going directly to the hard. He then proceeds to base his entire article on the one example, almost the only one he could have chosen, which disproves his point.
“In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance,” the article begins. “They interrupt our morning breakfast or afternoon chores to tell us their version of the Christian faith. They cheerfully drag their families along for quiet strolls through the neighborhoods and pass out Watchtower Magazines for us to throw away later. Annoying? Yes. Disruptive? Usually. But extremist? That depends,” the writer says.7
Should we not agree that if a religion participates in violence, it is extremist, and if it does not, it is not? Is the Post not attempting to erase the distinction between virtual extremism and actual extremism? The article uses Jehovah’s Witnesses, unfailingly non-violent, to launch into a discussion of religions that are violent, yet somehow manages to insinuate that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the worst of the lot. ISIS spills blood today, but it is hardly unique, says the Post. “From the Spanish inquisition to the convert-or-die tactics used on Native American Indians, Christianity has been used to commit horrific acts of violence throughout the centuries. Judaism, from which Christianity arose, recorded shocking details in the Torah of the slaughter of entire populations, including women, children, and animals.”
It is too stupid to be countenanced. Surely, Jehovah’s Witnesses will one day turn violent, the writer hints, even though Witnesses have supplied a 140-year track record that they will not. Their non-participation in both hard violence and the softer political kind is common knowledge. With anyone else the writer might have a point. Few factions will not resort to violence when they deem the cause right. Yet, the first group to be branded extremist in Russia is the one group that categorically rejects violence in all circumstances and has proven it since its inception.
Actions are not the sticking point with the Huffington Post writer, despite professions to the contrary. It is words that he has a problem with—the words that are Jehovah’s Witnesses’ only weapon. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, and words are even worse”—he doesn’t say it, but the implication could not be more clear. His is an attempt to muzzle words that would violate his world view.
Nor is the Huffington Post writer worried about the future, issuing his dark warnings about coming violence from the one group that has never offered any. It is concerned with the here-and-now. The Huffington Post is a humanist champion with little use for religion. A religion that actually heeds Jesus’ words to ‘put down the sword’ is not welcome news to them, for it argues against their premise that the worship of God is a relic of the past that humanity does well to outgrow. Humans have the answers, it urges. We must all get on board and pull together. Do not rain on the parade by asserting, as Witnesses do, that human efforts are doomed to fail; surely it is extremist to say such a thing even if nobody picks up a gun. The ‘good news’ that the Witnesses tell is fake news to the writer, and he does not want it to be told.
Most likely the Post writer realizes that associating Witnesses with physical violence is nonsense, for after he implies guilt by association, he moves on. He uses the complaint as a bridge to another complaint he hopes will find better reception—the supposed threat that Witnesses pose to the LGBT community. This is also nonsense, but it is an easier sell. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow the homosexual lifestyle within their ranks, and these days that is enough to be considered hostile to those not within their ranks. They would disagree. Can it really be hostile to keep one’s own standards within one’s own house? Jehovah’s Witnesses do not judge the people. The causes of homosexuality are by no means clear. “Teen Hormones [are] Being Altered by Gender-Bending Chemicals,” says the Sun and goes on to relate how an ingredient employed in the manufacture of plastic mimics estrogen, and has been found in the bodies of 80 to 90% of teenagers.8—yet another scenario arises to explain sexual fluidity. Who can say? Jehovah’s Witnesses are constrained by Scripture from allowing homosexual acts within the congregation, but they do not stir up hostility toward them in the outside world, or lobby for laws to that effect—something many a church does do.
The Satanic church of Moscow is also not concerned about deeds. They are concerned about words. They are less hypocritical than the Huffington Post in that they say it outright. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses had an extreme approach. We oppose indoctrination and religious propaganda,” said the church spokesperson Oleg Sataninsky [his real name not given], as reported in Newsweek. His church is “flourishing” and it was pleased with the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses—even ‘cheering’ it.9 That there should even be a Satanist church is not thought extremist today in Russia or most other places in the world. However, a religion that categorically shuns violence is.
His own group is misunderstood, Sataninsky protests. They are not devil worshippers there, he says, nor do they go in for the dark rituals of movie lore. They have nothing to do with the red-suited figure with horns and pitchfork, or to the extent they do, it is merely to tweak the religionists. Instead, they elevate human reason as the foremost star and celebrate its accomplishments.
They thereby identify with the actual Devil more so than do the storybook depictions of him in the church. The veneration of human reason exactly reflects Satan. It has been the issue from the beginning Genesis account: Satan urging the first human couple to disobey God and thus be ‘like him, knowing good and bad.’10 They are urged to set their own standards of right and wrong—who needs God, anyway? He is just a tyrant set on stifling human accomplishment, charged the Devil way back them, as he charges today. In the elevation of human reason, the Satanist Church is not unlike the Huffington Post. Jehovah’s Witnesses represent the polar opposite of both, as they recommend God’s teaching as the highest source of wisdom. Most of the greater religious world straddles the fence, here stressing things spiritual, there bending to the latest innovation of human reason, and thereby incurring the wrath of the Post and the Satanists to a lesser degree than does the Watchtower organization.
It is not deeds opponents fear. It is words. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth,” says Jesus.11 It will not, says the Russian government, the Orthodox Church, the Huffington Post, the Satanic Church, and a host of other opposers. The specific words these various groups are concerned with may differ, but it is always words, and not deeds, that upset them. The problem with words is that they can be strung together in many different ways—and not just the ways these ones prefer. What will be the result of words when strung together as these opposers would string them? Jesus answers: “In fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.”12
A month after the Court decision, Alexander Dvorkin, the anti-cult expert, crowed about the outcome he helped mastermind. At last the parent organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be shut down so as “to protect the civil rights of the members of this organization.” He was “absolutely convinced that after a few years, the number of members of the organization will decrease dramatically, two or three times, because, when one cuts off its financial foundation, its ability to freely, without hindrance, recruit other people, to rent large halls and so on, then, in fact, people will lose interest and will very quickly disperse and, in this sense, this decision is very correct and far-sighted.”13 In other words, when you cut off someone’s limbs, they can be expected to die. He champions his role as protector of the individual Witness by severing ties to their organization.
Their fate serves them right, he says, because “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not recognize the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, forbidding its followers to bear arms and participate in elections.” And “by the way, as far as I know, [reports are] sent to the headquarters of the organization in the United States.” In fact, Jehovah’s Witness do report to their congregation the amount of time engaged in the ministry, and the aggregate number is sent to headquarters for worldwide compilation and the better coordination of ministry resources. Some grumblers allege that Witnesses thereby care more about hours than people. It is a cheap shot. The hours are people, to whose spiritual needs Witnesses are devoted.
Individual Witnesses spread their message “by deception,” Dvorkin says, and thereby those they speak to are “deprived of basic human rights.” He spreads his version of the gospel outside the country, too: “Many times I have faced and tried to speak with different so-called human rights organizations, which, again, are sponsored mostly from abroad, that there is a specific case of people who are affected by sects … there is actually a struggle for human rights [that] is replaced by the struggle for the rights of organizations that violate the human rights,” he says. Note how he disparages various human-rights organizations which are ‘abroad’ as ‘so-called’ because they do not acquiesce to his point of view. The European Court of Human Rights does not agree with him? That is because it is a ‘so-called’ human rights organization.
What he is saying is that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being manipulated by an overpowering organization. He dislikes organizations that coordinate and magnify words he opposes, but he cannot attack Witnesses individually without appearing intolerant, so he attacks their organization. He has no problem with other organizations, such as his Church, or even the government itself. But Witnesses should not be organized, especially from outside the country. He is saying that Witnesses are being brainwashed to do all they do. It is an old accusation, just worded a bit differently. Dvorkin is playing the role religionists have played before he was born, using state apparatus to squash enemies, doing so under a guise of People’s Protector. Always religion pursues the same path: wrestle a majority and then kill off the competition. It happens everywhere—with politics, with science, with religion, and with philosophical outlook. Often the stated goal is to protect people, as it is with Dvorkin. Even the drug lord says his competition sells bad stuff.
By liquidating the Witnesses’ branch organization, he thinks he puts an end to this threat to Witnesses’ civil rights. What he is saying is that, when faced with persecution, Witnesses will fold. He is the actor taking the place of the Jewish leaders of early Christian times—so excited to have struck a lethal blow against the religious upstart, and so persuaded that will be the end of it.
The historical record reads: “On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Saul, [the Apostle Paul pre-conversion] meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment…Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”14 Dispersion of Christians didn’t work back then. Nonetheless, the sufferings of those in the first century were substantial, and there are reports of the same in 21st century Russia. “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” said Paul regarding tests he knew he would face.15 One can find one’s heart broken. Witnesses around the world all ask themselves whether they, should their turn come, will be as courageous as their Russian brothers are called upon to be in facing this latest machination of the Devil.
On June 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights, adjudicating legal mischief stirred up in Moscow several years prior, found no evidence to support the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses use “mind control.” “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques,” it said.16 However, the Russian Supreme Court was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.
It is the pearl of great value that Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of. They spot its worth immediately. Jesus states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Most people today would consider this merchant a fanatic. Jesus indicated his was the example to follow. Will Russian Witnesses relinquish it because Dvorkin twists their arm? It is a battle for hearts that is waged, not a battle of might. The heart will recognize the pearl of high price and will do anything to lay and keep hold of it. Unless God puts his finger on the scale, hurtling anyone on the other side into oblivion, Witnesses will always lose the battle of might. But they will not lose the battle of hearts, any more than Christians lost it in the days of Acts.17
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come,” Jesus says. ‘It will not be preached!’ says Mr. Dvorkin, in effect. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope,”18 Paul writes. ‘Let them be unaware!’ Mr Dvorkin responds. ‘Maybe the house Church will explain it someday.’ “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,” again writes Paul.19 ‘If you kids don’t stop whining about ‘encouragement’ back there, we’ll give you something you’ll wish you were ‘encouraged’ about!’ yells Dvorkin. But, as anyone who has ever driven a car with kids in the back seat knows, they will not be so easily dissuaded. The mountain vista on their assembled puzzle is too persuasive for them to be turned aside by any anti-sectarian.
Having inculpated the Russian Orthodox Church, let us walk back on it, as though we were the Huffington Post itself. The ban of the Witness organization is a gift for the Church, and some clergy squeal with delight as they open it, as though kids on Christmas morning. But they did not originate the gift. It does not come from the world of religion. It comes from the irreligious world of the anti-cultists of France, and it is imported into Russia via the emissary Dvorkin, as Joshua Gill points out in chapter 3. It is like another Russian import of 100 years ago: Marxism, exported to the country by outside powers in hopes of neutralizing the country’s might in the face of World War I.20
Is Russia to be forever abused by outside factions pursuing their outside concerns? Once it was Marxist ideology injected into the country from Germany. Later it was the anti-cult crusade from France. More recently it is denunciations from the United States for meddling in its election via social media. Ironically, had all Americans been Jehovah’s Witnesses, the nefarious scheme would have come to naught, for Witnesses have been trained to be leery of social media on the basis that it teems with liars. An engaging whiteboard video entitled ‘Be Social Network Smart’ is directed to teens, the most vulnerable population, on JW Broadcasting, and recommends that they ‘friend’ online only those they personally know. Even adults who do not follow the same counsel are nonetheless put on notice that one does not believe everything read in social media, despite my annoyance in chapter 2 that some seem to. And as to the charge of Russian meddling—has the U.S. ever meddled in a foreign election? ‘Yeah, we do it all the time,’ is the gist of the former C.I.A. chief’s comments, and he feels it is not at all the same since it is done in the interests of its brand of government: democracy. Essentially, it is ‘We are the good guys.’21 Just once I would like to hear of a conflict in which one side or the other says “We are the bad guys.”
The ban has its immediate root in the ‘Yarovaya’ law, discussed in Introduction of this book. It has its roots in Article 29 of the post-Soviet Russian constitution, that decrees freedom of religion, but also stipulates it is not permissible to promote the superiority of any one of them.22 It is all a product of irreligion, that begrudgingly allows religion to exist, but only in a watered-down state where it doesn’t count. No wonder the Satanist church applauds it to high heaven.
The true thinkers of the Russian Orthodox Church do not welcome the ban. “Even among Orthodox officials it’s not easy to find supporters of the draconian verdict against the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the Christian Science Monitor says. “It is the first major post-Soviet instance in which Russia has moved to outlaw an entire religion, deploying “extremism” laws against a group that poses no threat whatsoever of violence, racism, or hate speech,” it says, highlighting Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pacifism. Vsevolod Chaplin, a former spokesman for the Orthodox Church, notes that banning Witnesses did not work even in Stalinist times, and adds: “We should be wiser in this case.” He doesn’t like Article 29. He does not approve of muzzling religious speech as do the Satanists. Chaplin feels that his Church is the superior faith—it is not all Ladas versus Kias to him. “If the state forbids us from saying that [our religion is superior], it will put itself at odds with the majority of its citizens,” he says, since most Russians identify with the Church, even if relatively few are actively involved.23
Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Orthodox Church’s Spiritual Academy in Moscow, mentioned in the Introduction, agrees. He picks up on the “totalitarian” label of the anti-cultists, but the term is not his: “Sure, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are far from blameless. They are a totalitarian sect who control their adherents and spread bad information about other faiths,” he says. “But sometimes our Orthodox preachers do the very same things. I have personally taken part in debates with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I believe that’s how things should be handled. We should have equal conditions. The state should stay out of it and not under any circumstances try to play the role of arbiter.”24
Can totalitarianism truly fit hand in glove with pacifism? Plainly, something doesn’t fit. Since it is not pacifism—few things are as clear as Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘pacifism’—it must be totalitarianism. The description of ‘totalitarian’ comes from those who insist religion should be kept in its place as an accessory to a person’s life, but not life itself. It comes from the world of irreligion. The Church may benefit being freed from the “aggressive missionary activity” of the competition, but it too is leery of being shunted aside as a non-factor. The more spiritual persons among them do not agree that choice of faith should be comparable to one’s choice of automobile make, generating a mild debate as to which is better, perhaps, but in the end, who cares? since any car will get you into heaven.
Emily Baran wrote the book on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Soviet Russia, as discussed in this book’s first chapter. Unsurprisingly she has much to say about present developments. The “idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses posing any serious threat to national security [is] absurd,” she writes in the Moscow Times.25 She is joined in that description by Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. It is the 2002 anti-extremism law that is absurd in its scope, Denber asserts, more so than the Court decision that logically stems from it. The law effectively “prohibits any group, except the Orthodox Church and a few other traditions, from claiming the true path to salvation. The Witnesses do claim it, she says, “but not in a way that should land them on the same list of outlaws that includes al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.”26
Are Witnesses totalitarian? Do they control people? It is nonsense. College is more ‘controlling’ than anything Witnesses devise, as discussed in chapter 7. Unlike the Witness experience, college overwhelms and replaces former associates from Day One—gone completely is the stabilizing influence of family, community groups, and long-held friends. Enemies dislike the conclusions that Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to. They mask it with concern about their ‘controlling methods’—methods that are significantly less controlling than that of the greater world’s system of education. “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,” says the Letter to the Hebrews.27 The Witness opponent’s response amounts to: “If it penetrates more than butter, it is too sharp.”
“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance,” says playwright David Mamet. The old were once young and they searched for answers. They found none on most meaningful things, and they gave up. American flower children of the 60s grew into adults more shallow than their parents, ever seeking and never finding, because they dared not search too far off the beaten path. Young people ever insist that they now see the light previously hidden. It is not that way. They have but identified some of the problems, especially the ones that afflict them personally. Identifying the answer is another thing entirely. Their parents eventually gave up. Some want their youngsters to give up, too, and settle for a life practical and comfortable. It is risky to so shunt aside spiritual things. For want of spiritual grounding, people fare poorly. Suicide even becomes the rage among the young. Friends and family express shock. Tragically, the vanilla values they hoped their young would embrace did nothing to prepare them for the assault of life, much more intense than back ‘in the day.’
Witnesses have built up street credibility. They do the work. They log the time. The fair-minded person hears them out on that account alone. Don’t spin stories about their pathetic ‘need’ to ‘save’ people. Their course is no more than putting the lamp on the lampstand by people who know light when they see it and know that one can function better with it than without it.28 Grumblers try to malign the work. It is only because someone is ‘making Witnesses do it,’ they say. If they say it to me, I invite them to look around and identify that person.
Chalk it up to the Greek word most commonly used in Scripture to convey love: ‘agape.’ There are four words used in the New Testament that are translated ‘love,’ but far-and-away the most frequent is agape. It is a principled type of love that attaches itself to an object and does not let go until its purpose is realized. It explains how, with regard to some, love can precede like. Usually the best course is not to correct, but to concede. It is a little absurd that a ‘loving’ stranger should appear out of thin air and profess a desire to teach the Bible. Admit it and move on. It is part of the theatrical performance Christians provide for the world in a play that is alternately noble and ridiculous.
Not only should speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses be permitted, one might say (though no one does) that it should be a requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting in which one can talk about matters that are off the grid of daily life: matters not mundane, matters spiritual. Witnesses are not out to defraud anyone. They are not out for any sordid purpose. If you tell them ‘no,’ they go away. It is a parent’s worst fear that his or her youngster may be drawn into something radical, something that purports to offer answers to questions that they, the parents, have not figured out and have come to expect no more, even supposing it dangerous to pursue such answers. Deep down, they have learned to give up on discerning deep matters of life such as ‘Why is there suffering?’ ‘What is the overall purpose of life?’ ‘What happens at death?’ they have largely given up on discerning the nature of God, or even if there is a God, yet they are unsure that their offspring will also give up, as they must if they are to carve a traditional career in this system of things. The greater world distrusts those becoming too serious about the Bible, for fear the ones so affected may run a bit crazy, forgetting completely the goals that have been laid out for them. The fear is that they may develop other goals, goals leading off the charted path. What if they even carry on as did Jesus, getting himself killed over religion? Keep religion in its place. Ban those who do not.
Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting to explore unconventional ideas with regular people. The worst you can do is to get stuck with somebody awkward or boorish. This can happen despite training not to be that way, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are just regular people. But even at their ‘worst,’ they want nothing from anyone. They are not recruiting. Sometimes, when I am speaking with someone hung up over such things, I will say: “If it helps, let us both agree that there is no way on God’s green earth that you are going to become a Witness. You know it. I know it. So you needn’t worry about me maneuvering to that end.” Yes, I would like to see it. But it is so extraordinarily improbable with any given person—it would take up to a year of discussion were one to join up—that no Witness seriously entertains that prospect in their ordinary contacts. One cannot participate in a Bible discussion without knowing something of the Bible, and usually Witness visits are made solely with that immediate goal.
One can get stuck with a pest. But one will never get stuck with a menace. At worst it will be someone overeager for a cause and imperceptive. The news is good news, not bad news, and so the temptation is to over-present. Even so, it will be good training for a child on how to deal with the tangle that is humanity today. It represents ‘training wheels’ for later in life when one will run across scoundrels who are up to no good and one may not know just how to deal with them. Having briefly conversed with an adolescent who turned out to be the only person at home, I took my leave and headed down the drive. The mother pulled up in her car. I told her I had asked a brief question to her child and he had answered intelligently. “You should be proud of him,” I said. Sit in with your children on such a discussion, just like the producers of mature movies will advise (in an attempt to double their audience).
A new stage of hardball was reached when the Russian Supreme Court added the involvement of children in sects or extremist organizations to the list off offenses for which parental rights might be terminated.29 Only two groups of children were identified for State-imposed resocializing: children of ISIS members and “tens of thousands of children and adolescents” in families of Jehovah’s Witnesses.30 There have been no reports of it happening as of March of 2018, but it is a new tool in the toolbox. The proposal does not cause public outrage, but rather enjoys wide popular support. A survey by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion showed a 79% approval rate.31
Is it a bad thing for parents to teach their children? Should children take their parental training to heart, is it a bad thing to let them follow through on it? It is spun that way in an increasingly irreligious world. Yet, it is not true that if you withhold teaching your child, he will grow up free and unencumbered and, when of age, choose for himself values among life’s rich cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will teach him. There are many who would claim the role. Surely the educational system will. Even the Boy Scouts, founded in 1908 in Great Britain by a lieutenant general of the British army, serves to acclimatize children to the notion of patriotic service in uniform and advancement through the ranks, as though in preparation for the military.32
Among the philosophical underpinnings of compulsory public education in the Western world is that it is well if children are separated early from the possible pernicious influence of the parents so as to be molded by greater society.33 Thus, schooling cannot wait until adolescence; it must start early. To this day, compulsory school advocates carry on about the imperative of socialization, which they maintain is only to be found in schools. Observing the actions of many youths today, it ought to be clear that socialization doesn’t necessarily tip the balance favorably, but the paradigm is adhered to nonetheless.
When Witness parents are progressive, as all are exhorted to be, they will incorporate into their child’s training the family resources found abundantly in Watchtower publications. They will thereby produce emotionally secure offspring. Ideally these will stand up to the current flood of propaganda that labels Christianity passé or even undesirable. It is no more than Parental Glory Award recipient Novik quoting the proverb that gives proof God authorizes and expects parents to provide such training: “Teach the boy on the right path; he will not shy away from it, even when he grows old.” Even should children reassess later in life and indeed shy away, they yet have a secure foundation to build upon. At the very least, with a Witness upbringing, they will be comfortable speaking before an audience, a prospect that terrifies many an adult, but which the majority of Witnesses can do without fuss.
We are, to a great degree, who we associate with. It is intellectually flattering to think otherwise. It is also nonsense. That is why we acquiesce so quickly to style changes and say of yesterday’s cars: ‘We used to be happy driving those toasters?’ We run with the herd not just on small things like styles, but on all things. Always there are those eager to insert themselves up front so as to direct the herd this way or that. In almost all cases, nobody cares more about the child than does the parent. That does not necessarily mean they are right on all things, but it does mean that their concerns should never be blown off as nothing.
Witness children who embrace their moral training may decide to dedicate their lives to God and symbolize it in baptism even at an age as young as ten. Their parents and the Witness organization itself have been criticized for it. Is it a fine idea to allow Witness children to be baptized so young? It clearly is for those who will remain. Having made a commitment, they strive to live up to it, as would be the case for any cause anywhere. Some reassess later in life, however, and family rifts may thereby develop, for the Christian world and the overall world are like diametrically opposed political parties, and diametrically opposed political parties have been known to divide families.
If only one could tell in advance who was who. If only one could tell in advance who would stay and who would one day depart. You could then tell the latter to hold off from dedication without hamstringing the former. When someone invents such a predictor, please let me know. Meanwhile, if you find something good, it is never considered wrong to dedicate yourself to it at a young age. Successful business people and even entertainers do that, to say nothing of athletes. I’ve never heard one of them criticized for it. Usually they are lauded for reaching out in quest of their dreams.
During our family’s homeschooling days, a local couple was fined for violation of the child labor laws. They owned a small deli. It was nothing for their children to take turns at the cash register when they returned from school, and one was doing so the day that Child Protective Services appeared. Sharing in the function of the family business is not exactly reaching for dreams, but it clearly is a part of growing up and learning to handle responsibility. Homeschool pioneer John Holt opined that (not regarding this case, but he had many others) this was the very reason children become delinquent. They are shut out of the adult world under the guise of protecting them.
Should a baptized Witness child later leave the faith, he or she generally finds that most Witnesses lose interest in associating with them. As in most things, people seek out common interests. Look at how many families have been divided over Trump/Hillary in the United States. Does one really think that when Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock, bloodied head of the President,34 her Republican dad (if he is) says “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind! It won’t affect Thanksgiving dinner, though.”?
So one who leaves the faith usually finds they lose all their Witness friends, and even family, though not in so formal a way. It becomes formal, however, when they leave with a splash—either a determination to practice what is wrong within the congregation or a public denouncement of it. Both courses are likely to trigger disassociation and shunning. One must concede that if someone was baptized young and later left on bad terms and finds himself or herself shunned by family because of it, that is not a good place to be. Who cannot empathize with that? Having said that, it is entirely possible for a person baptized young who later decides to leave to do so without triggering shunning. Fade. Drift away. Or just tell a few that you don’t want to do it anymore. There are some anti-Witness factions that encourage such ones to go out with a bang and tell them all off at the Kingdom Hall! By following their advice, one virtually assures the outcome that they will be shunned. Few governments will smilingly watch their citizens declare them illegitimate, and it is no different in Jehovah’s nation. One wonders why any outfit—often atheists do this—would recommend such a confrontation, knowing the disruption it will bring on a family.
To serve God faithfully in treacherous times takes a toll. It did before. It does today. People are not stone. They are flesh and blood. Sometimes they complain. Baruch did. After taking flak from opponents, serving alongside Jeremiah for decades, he complained mightily. God readjusted him in the 45th chapter of the Book of Jeremiah: “You said, ‘Woe is me! the LORD has added grief to my pain. I have worn myself out with groaning; rest eludes me.’ You must say this to him: Thus says the LORD: ‘What I have built, I am tearing down; what I have planted, I am uprooting: all this land. And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them! I am bringing evil on all flesh—oracle of the LORD —but I will grant you your life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’”35
His timing was off, that’s all. He wanted ‘great things?’ Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want them? But he had forgotten where he was in the stream of time. God was to be ‘bringing evil on all flesh.’ If he didn’t bolt, he would be granted his ‘life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’ One is again reminded of the NPR story ‘Lack Of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Where does one look for fulfillment of dreams? Not all dreams occur at the opportune time.
Does one believe it or not—that one is in the final days of this world, however long those days may continue? It is not a question without consequence. Witnesses are serious about their faith. They look beyond this system of things to the new one promised. They make changes in their present life on that account. But if anyone reverses this hope, and decides this world is the one to watch, then their entire life as a Baruch at Jeremiah’s side becomes pointless. Some have decided just that, and they have become disgruntled over the time lost. Some accuse former friends of brainwashing or manipulation: a course which is far easier than admitting that one made a decision that didn’t work out.
That Baruch made the right decision for his time becomes apparent in the very next chapter of Jeremiah. The calamity that the oracle spoke of takes place. Of Babylon, God says: “You are my hammer, a weapon for war; with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms. With you I shatter horse and rider, with you I shatter chariot and driver. With you I shatter man and woman, with you I shatter old and young, with you I shatter the young man and young woman. With you I shatter shepherd and flock, with you I shatter farmer and team, with you I shatter governors and officers.”36 Baruch was probably glad he got on the right side of that one. Whatever inconveniences he had put himself to, which were considerable, probably seemed worthwhile. There comes a time when God has had it up to here. Through Ezekiel, he says “I have heard all the insults you spoke against the mountains of Israel…You boasted against me with your mouths and used insolent words against me. I heard everything!”37 It is good to go back into your archives and strike out all your insolent words when he starts to carry on like that.
“Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me,” writes Paul to Timothy.38 It is a verse not meaningful to those whose religion differs little from the present world. They may think they will go to heaven when they die, they may think that God is a Trinity, they may pursue one or two hot-button topics, such as abortion or opposition to, they may advocate for this or that political candidate, but in all major respects, their goals are that of the greater world. It is this world that they hope to make their mark in, not some nebulous one to come. Jehovah’s Witnesses look primarily to the one to come. Paul calls it ‘the life that is true life.’ Witnesses take practical positions harmonizing with that atypical goal, and it results in many a mischaracterization, some of which are deliberate on the part of their detractors. Everywhere the first century sect that is Christianity is denounced, says Acts. Everywhere they “insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you.”39 You don’t pick on groups that people like; you pick on groups that people don’t like—just as people most assuredly did not like Christians in the apostle Paul’s time.
- “Russian Orthodox Church Supports Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 6, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/state/church_state_relations/66866/
- 2 Timothy 3:16
- Matthew 10:34
- Luke 21: 14-19
- Pavel Yuryev, “From Heaven to Earth,” General Newspaper, October 23, 2017, Accessed March 13, 2018, https://og.ru/society/2017/10/23/92255
- “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Outraged by the Content of the Anti-Sectarian Article Published in the General Gazette” SOVA Center, November 11, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/community-media/media-conflicts/2017/11/d38182, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171101a.html
- Tim Rymel, “When Is A Religion ‘Extremist’?” Huffington Post, May 11, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/when-is-a-religion-extremist_us_590de8e3e4b046ea176aeb98
- Neil Syson, “Teen Hormones Being Altered by Gender-bending Chemicals,” The Sun, February 5, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/02/05/teen-hormones-being-altered-by-gender-bending-chemicals/
- Jason Le Miere, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Backed by Flourishing Satanic Church in Moscow,” Newsweek, May 12, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-satanic-church-608334
- Genesis 3:5
- Matthew 24:14
- John 16:2
- “Expert: The Ban of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ in Russia Will Reduce the Number of Their Adherents,” RIA News Russia Today, May 17, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://ria.ru/religion/20170517/1494511149.html
- Acts 8:1-4
- Acts 21:13
- “A Lengthy Legal Struggle Ends in Victory!” The Watchtower – study edition, July 15, 2011, 8 https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/402011522#h=27
- Matthew 13:45
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
- “Lenin Returns to Russia From Exile,” This Day in History, History.com, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lenin-returns-to-russia-from-exile
- Scott Shane, “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too,” New York Times, February 17, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/sunday-review/russia-isnt-the-only-one-meddling-in-elections-we-do-it-too.html
- Fred Weir, “Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremists’: Court Sharpens Edges of Russia’s Religious Space,” Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2017/0501/Jehovah-s-Witnesses-as-extremists-Court-sharpens-edges-of-Russia-s-religious-space
- Emily B. Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” The Moscow Times, April 24, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/jehovahs-witnesses-ban-spells-end-of-russias-religious-diversity-op-ed-57793
- Lauren Markoe, “Since Ban, Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses is ‘Worse Than Ever,” Religion News Service, May 18, 2017, https://religionnews.com/2017/05/18/since-ban-persecution-of-jehovahs-witnesses-is-worse-than-ever/
- Hebrews 4:12
- Luke 11:33
- “Supreme Court Recommends Depriving Parents Who Involve Children in Sects of Their Rights,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, November 14, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/russia-supreme-court-threatens-parental-rights-of-for-example-jehovahs-witnesses/
- “Russia’s Attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses - Interim Report” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, January 15, 2018, 7, accessed March 29, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/sites/default/files/docs/russia_report.pdf
- “The Survey Showed the Attitude of Russians Towards the Idea of Depriving Parental Rights of Sectarians,” RIA Novosti, December 4, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru/sociology/38580039-rossiyane-podderzhali-ideyu-lishat-roditelskih-prav-sektantov/?updated, for English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171204d.html
- “Boy Scout Movement Begins,” This Day in History, History, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/boy-scouts-movement-begins
- Abe Fortas, Under Secretary of the Interior, “Enduring Peace and Social Progress,” Journal of the Biology and the Pathology of Interpersonal Relations, Vol 9, Number 1, February 1946
- Libby Hill, “Kathy Griffin Shocks in Gory Photo Shoot with Donald Trump’s (Fake) Head,” The Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-entertainment-news-updates-may-kathy-griffin-shocks-in-gory-photo-1496183372-htmlstory.html
- Jeremiah 45: 1-5
- Jeremiah 51:20-23
- Ezekiel 35: 11-13
- 2 Timothy 4:10
- Matthew 5:11