What’s not to like about WALL-E, the 2008 American computer-animated movie? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. You see, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, and then evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied, and they have become essentially helpless, though good-natured, blobs. Before they fled the planet they had ruined, they left robots to tidy up things, so they might eventually return. Only WALL-E remains on the job, for reasons I forget, and as one might imagine, he is lonely. All that changes when a pretty female robot (EVE) shows up. Sparks fly, as is to be expected with robots. The two save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for the humans to return!
The film was an instant blockbuster. What menial job can garner more sympathy than that of saving the earth? “You leave WALL-E with a feeling of the rarest kind,” said film critic Peter Travers. It “fills you with pure exhilaration.” Saving the planet will do that. I liked the film. My wife liked it. Surely everyone must have liked it. But when she mentioned it to a co-worker, the latter lamented how sad the movie was. Sad? “What we’re doing to the earth, what we’re leaving behind for our children, is an absolute tragedy,” she said.
Well—yes, the film would have that effect on some, wouldn’t it? After all, WALL-E was a movie reminding viewers of a present that is not so rosy. “If Wall-E has anything original to say, it takes place in the first 30 minutes on a planet heaped high with junk. But the parallels between fiction and reality are almost too painful to contemplate,” writes another film critic, Dorothy Woodend.
The Bible frankly states that humans will, by their self-centered activity, threaten to “destroy the earth.” Believers can take comfort that the same verse says God will destroy them before they can complete their task, but if you didn’t know that, it would be disheartening indeed.1
Is it beneficial for the earth short-term for people to know that? Or does it make them complacent? Why worry about the earth since God will eventually clean it up? Witnesses have had people accuse them of holding just that attitude. “This [JW belief that God’s kingdom only can permanently solve earth’s environmental woes] leads to the undeniable fact that Witnesses take almost no initiative towards making the world we live in a better place in any way,” someone grumbled online.
Well—not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in better in the first place. This is because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. They are law-abiding to the core, honest, industrious, not abusing government services, nor contributing to the criminal element operating with little hindrance in many lands. They are promoting stable, monogamous families—all of this by virtue of making the Bible their guide to life.
And to think that this writer was upbraided a few years ago, along with all his people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah’s Witness preaching, already!” scolded an interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then carried on about how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up rubbish that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, no one is against cleanup days—they are undeniably a good thing—but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we’re saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, some industrial blunder will undo the efforts of countless picker-uppers.
Just about the time of this exchange online, there was such a blunder. BP lost a rig in the Gulf of Mexico and 3-4 million gallons of oil poured out over 87 days: the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “How to clean up the mess? And who’s at blame!” cried Time Magazine’s cover of June 21, 2010, against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. The magazine listed a “dirty dozen,” which included the prior president and his Secretary of State, a former oilman, but also the current president and some of his underlings. There were also a handful of other tycoons, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver was on the list, since he fuels demand for oil in the first place. Got it? We’re all to blame. There are no good guys in white hats, only bad guys in black, oily ones. President Obama declared that he was looking for “asses to kick,” even while hinting that his own posterior might be among them.
Reports had it that local picker-uppers were showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost, since this was a job for pros! BP and others floated salvage ships to corral surface oil and burn it. Dire predictions were of massive environmental collapse from the oil that escaped and lined the shore. It didn’t happen. Not to say that there might not be long term consequences, but, by and large, the earth is pretty good at healing itself. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus on overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President’s then-combative ass-kicking tone.
No, I won’t stand for it: to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And do not mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment. When our kids were small and we hiked the trails at Allegheny State Park, we would take trash bags with us and make a treasure hunt out of it, collecting beer and pop cans along the way. Some had been there for years. There were even some of the ancient tin types, cans that had been opened, not with pop-tops, but with can openers such as I remember from when I was a kid—extra points were awarded for such finds! And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Harley is driving behind you! She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you off to the sheriff under citizens’ arrest.
One fellow with an Internet connection gripes about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They don’t even need to recycle if they don’t want to.” What kind of an accusation is that? Are there groups that maintain their people must recycle, whether they want to or not? Where recycling is the law of the community, Witness compliance is higher than most, no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely Witness compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet.
Sometimes financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause. When that happens, they may outdo the average Witness. But Witnesses surely shine when compared to the population in general. When I attended a wine festival, each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in single-use plastic cups, plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I don’t think so; all trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is single-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. When I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country’s largest consumer of AAA batteries, I asked whether they were recycled. They laughed at me. Into the trash those batteries went, each and every last one of them.
We are all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses will ever speak against such things, unless you count observations that such are, at best, a stop-gap measure, and that the lasting solution will come only when God carries out his promise to “destroy those destroying the earth.” Witnesses tend to use their free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, is the one that counts. My experience is that it is only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway—it is not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses are thwarting the entire effort. And surely it must count for something that Witnesses aren’t among those who caused the mess in the first place.
There is a hazardous waste recycling center nearby, a joint effort by the county and Waste Management. It is regularly trafficked by environmentally conscious persons who are not too weighed down by the cares of life, but it serves a 30-mile radius. What percentage of the population actually travels 30 miles to use it? Into the common landfills most stuff goes, which is admittedly an improvement over simply dumping garbage out in the back woods back in the day.
Having said all this, in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses clean up the parks. If they were to do it here, it would prove the very opposite of the Russian government’s claim, for the United States Witnesses would not have told Russian Witnesses what to do, but Russian Witnesses would have told the American ones what to do. “In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Chivchalov says. “Most congregations do it. It has become a custom for them. Parks are more or less okay, other people clean them too, but still there is garbage to clean, and sometimes the authorities just lack enough workers, so there may be tons of garbage at times. We clean not only parks, but any public areas. We usually ask the city administration to assign some areas for us to clean.”
It’s not a bad marriage, is it? The ones who hope to live forever on a paradise earth volunteer to clean it up now. The earth is not a cheap hotel room that is not up to your standards but since you are staying only a few days you can overlook it. No. It is our permanent home. Witnesses are not one of those religions that are ‘just passing through’—a few decades on the planet, then off to heavenly realms. Clean up those parks!
Might this even present opportunities to speak of God’s future promises regarding the planet? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Whereas there are some denominations that teach God will one day destroy the earth with fire, what an ideal venue is a congregation park cleanup to explain that he won’t. What a perfect setting in which to tell the illustration Witnesses love to tell: ‘If you have built a house and rented it out to tenants who have destroyed it, you don’t burn down the house. You evict the tenants and find better ones.”
Extrapolating from too little data, Chivchalov says, with regard to park cleanups, that ‘other people clean them too.’ If they ever do it here, they certainly do not do it so commonly that one could say ‘other people clean them too.’ Does Russia clean up the planet more than does America, while polluting it less? You could certainly make the case that Russia has saved the planet a time or two. Or three. There are that many examples of when a Russian has literally saved the planet from nuclear ruin. I can think of no such examples in the West.
In 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in charge of the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, saw that five missiles had been launched by the United States. The eyes of all his subordinates were upon him. Had he passed the information along to his superiors, it would have triggered an immediate Soviet counterstrike. He judged it was a malfunction and told underlings to forget about it. Of course, investigation later confirmed that he had been correct. Stanislav died during 2017, to relatively scant notice.2 He is one of the Ecclesiastes “princes who went on foot like slaves, while slaves rode on horseback.”3
Another was Vasili Arkhipov. He was the sole one of three senior officers on the nuclear-missile equipped submarine B-59 who refused to authorize their use—authorization had to be unanimous—during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thomas Blanton, then director of the U.S. National Security Archives, credited him with ‘saving the world.’4 Third was Nikita Khrushchev, mentioned in the Statecraft chapter, sending the telegram that arguably defused the Cuban tension and ended the crisis.
Nuclear attack was a very real fear in the years following World War II. I used to crouch under my school desk, as mentioned in chapter 6, with hands clasped behind neck, until my classmates and I grew too big for such ‘protection, at which point we filed into the hallway and leaned against our lockers. Nor was it only the United States who had to be wary of the Russians. Russians had good reasons to be wary of the U.S. Intoxicated by the decisive end to the second world war brought about by Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, American General MacArthur sought to use up to 50 of the new devices just five years later along the Chinese and Russian border, to close out the Korean War, in a strike that would have made doings in Japan look like a schoolyard brawl. However, President Truman wouldn’t let him do it.5
Nuclear annihilation fired the popular imagination during the 1950s and 1960s. Remember how Ray Bradbury’s character in The Martian Chronicles trains his telescope on earth just in time to see its final mushroom cloud? And who can forget Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes encountering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, suddenly realizing just what planet he is on, and screaming: “They blew it up! Damn them! Damn them to hell!” Not to mention the Twilight Zone episode in which that hen-pecked fellow goes into the bank vault to read, only to have the world end while he is so occupied. Far from being put out, he is delighted, since he can now read free from the eternal nagging of his boss and wife. Unfortunately, he breaks his glasses. Thus far, none of those disasters have come about. Up till now, there is always someone to, just in the nick of time, hold the earth together, but it’s one heck of a way to run a planet. Didn’t they just reset the Doomsday Clock at two minutes before midnight? Many think that threat is now greater than ever, since there are more nuclear powers, and they are more unstable.
When I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s and came across that scripture telling how God would “destroy those destroying the earth,” I read it in terms of nuclear destruction. It was really the only means of destroying the earth that anyone could envision back then. Yes, some areas were polluted then, but nobody saw such things as a threat to the entire earth. These days an endless list leaps to mind—most are some variant of man-made pollution. Taking first place has to be global warming, but through the years we’ve also learned to fret about global dimming, species eradication, air and water pollution, acid rain, deforestation, contamination of the food supply, and so forth. Wasn’t there just some study detailing how pharmaceuticals have found their way into the water supply? In minute concentrations, of course, yet over time, and given the fact that such chemicals are specifically designed to interact with living tissue, isn’t it another “destroying the earth” scenario?
The Bible uses the term ‘earth’ in yet another way. It doesn’t always refer to the physical planet. It can refer to the society living upon it. If we broaden our definition of earth in this way, we, as a consequence, add new social ways in which humans destroy the earth. In fact, when God spells out a reason for bringing the flood of Noah’s time, he declared that the earth was corrupted, not by air pollution or global warming, but by human violence.6 Surely violence corrupts the earth today. Imagine hatred so intense that people delight to die if only they can take a dozen or so with them! Ever more graphic violence is a staple of television entertainment. In the wake of a school shooting, the president gathered video game makers to say that their products are too violent, and they should tone it down. The media promptly trotted out experts bristling with degrees to ‘correct him.’ Yes, it does make a certain intuitive sense, they conceded, but science shows that violent games provide a harmless substitute for the real thing and true violence actually decreases when people play all the games they want.7 Will they dare say it with regard to child porn?
New ways of destruction continue to surface, even as the older ones continue to simmer. Putin has declared whoever controls artificial intelligence (AI) controls the world.8 Others say no one will control AI; in time it will control us, and will perhaps squash us one fine day, without malice, when it perceives we have somehow gotten in its way. Predictably, AI is instantly adapted to porn. Supplementing online porn and virtual-reality porn, AI-enhanced porn produces a product so enticing that it is feared people will neglect the real thing. Will God be thwarted? Will the irresistible force of sexual attraction, the key to preservation of the species, becomes a ‘been there, done that’ thing?
Such things are not unexpected to the student of the Bible and are just part of the accumulating ‘sign’ that human rulership is unfit, and that God is fully justified in bringing its end, to be replaced with his own kingdom rule. Only then will the earth ever be free of threats to its existence.
Still, even with that knowledge, trialsome conditions are trialsome conditions. Jehovah’s people may see light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a tunnel nonetheless. Sometimes people give up on the light and instead focus on the tunnel. Some simply worry about it, and some try to patch it up. It is easy to wobble in faith. If Paul could speak of those who had experienced “shipwreck of their faith” in his day, much more do his words apply in our day as the whole earth wobbles insanely and all feel its effects. Doubtless that is why the Witness organization lays so much stress on ‘staples’ such as meetings, public ministry, and Bible study: staples that Russia seeks to deprive them of. These are the avenues—really, the only avenues—through which Christians can focus on the big picture of God’s deliverance.
Danish citizen and Russian resident Dennis Christensen was picking up the public park, just like WALL-E, until the Ministry of Justice decided he was a dangerous criminal that should be jailed. Dennis is the same fellow who built a playground for the children. How extremist does that sound? His congregation has a nice certificate from the mayor. Maybe it is even mounted somewhere: “In gratitude for a good deed—garbage collection for the benefit of people and nature.” Christensen’s role himself was to stand in foot-deep Orlik River water to fish out bags of trash. It’s his last act before losing his freedom. Someone later snapped a picture of the 23-person delegation standing behind bags upon bags of the rubbish they had collected, as though fishermen holding aloft the big ones that did not get away.9 The congregation tells of a city representative sympathetic to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the midst of their persecution, who wished them not to lose the ‘power of the spirit.’
Is there anything less radical that cleaning up the park? Does ISIS do it? If they do, most would hesitate to stroll through the area afterwards for fear of booby traps. How better to expose the nonsense of an ‘extremist’ label than to continue cleanups of public places? Will policemen follow along and monitor Witnesses to make sure they don’t witness to anyone? If they do, they may find themselves having to clean up the parks themselves: on the taxpayer’s dime, no less, and not for free as the Witnesses do.
After hurricane, flood, or earthquake, an entire city becomes a park to clean up. It is here that the Witness organization excels, having developed “the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.” Their art is simple, yet unreachable for many. People’s love for one another must be strong enough that it does not snap under adversity. There must be sufficient organization. It cannot be watered down by everyone wanting to be the chief. One weak link hampers all. Several weak links all but destroy it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known to have that love for one another and, as a byproduct, they are able to effectively organize without fuss in times of natural disaster.
Even the prompt Witness response to such disaster is spun as a negative by apostates. Why do the Witnesses just help themselves, they will say, with only the spillover benefiting the greater community? Why do not they help everyone without preference? The answer is that Witness workers are volunteers taking time off from work. A project can only be as large as there are volunteers available. The solution is for all other groups to organize themselves as Witnesses do for disaster relief. Helping one another promptly and effectively should not be unattainable rocket science. Others who rise to the occasion will thereby become so busy that they will have no time to complain that the doers are doing it wrong. People without Bible education tend not to get along. They supply unexpected friction at the very moment lubricant is needed. The Watchtower organization has no idea how to organize them. They will have to organize themselves.
Consistent with cleaning up the parks is building facilities that ‘understand’ the earth: that sway when it sways, that breathes when it breathes, and that has the most minimal impact upon the environment possible. Watchtower branch headquarters, 70 kilometers outside of London, completed in 2017, was certified ‘Outstanding’ by a leading sustainability authority for green construction methods.10 This is similar to the ‘Four Green Globes’ rating given the new worldwide headquarters in Warwick NY by an American agency.11 The branch facility in Haiti sustained but minor damage in a 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince; it had been built quake resistant.
In Gardiner, New York, Witnesses restored, repaired and painted that community’s 143-year-old town hall. “They did amazing work,” the town supervisor exclaimed at the next town-board meeting. They even combed through the archive photographs to repaint the trim a more historically authentic forest green.12 In Warwick, New York, they provided labor to repair the dam whose failure would have destroyed 200 residences downstream.13 In Patterson, New York, they landscaped the town’s firehouse and even bought them a new firetruck when told it lacked a vehicle that could service the five-story buildings Witnesses were constructing.14
Before realizing it was later to call anything Witness-related extremist, the editorial board of the journal World of Design in 2015 heaped praise upon the Witness’ branch headquarters in St Petersburg and its purpose.15 “The hall…is intended only for one main purpose—a thorough study of the Bible. Worship of God occurs both individually and with a large crowd of people, this is the basis of the tradition of thousands of biblical seminars.”
World of Design even noted its commitment to equality, a Russian ideal. “The principles of equal opportunities are promulgated for all who came here—if something is given here, then equally and of the same quality, this refers to lighting, location, acoustic level and air ventilation. The center provides comfortable conditions for all visitors, without fail on equal terms.”
The journal noted not a hint of catering to the luxurious; all was purely practical. “In this strictly functional building there are no exquisite ornaments. Nowhere is there any sense of luxury—such are the principles universally accepted in places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses as early as the beginning of the 20th century.”
As to the building itself, it “impressively combined with light, sometimes striped volumes, giving a harmonious look of the building. As the architects assumed, the building became an adornment of the city. Simultaneously attractive and elegant, it turned into some kind of architectural dominant of this area.”
Russian authorities liked it so much that they took it! Did the government recognize these unique attributes as they confiscated the center, built almost exclusively by Witness volunteers? A group of Finnish investors, fretting over an investment climate they judged negative in Russia, called the confiscation of private property “a very bad signal for the market.”16 At any rate, it certainly gives new meaning to a passage in Ezekiel:
“You will say, ‘I will invade a land of open villages and attack a peaceful people who live in security—all of them living without city walls, bars, or gates’ in order to plunder and pillage, turning your hand against resettled ruins, against a people gathered from the nations, a people whose concern is cattle and goods, dwelling at the center of the earth.”17
- Revelation 11:18
- Simon Shuster, “Stanislav Petrov, the Russian Officer Who Averted a Nuclear War, Feared History Repeating Itself, Time, September 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://time.com/4947879/stanislav-petrov-russia-nuclear-war-obituary/
- Ecclesiastes 10:7
- Nicola Davis, “Soviet Submarine Officer Who Averted Nuclear War Honoured with Prize,” October 27, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/27/vasili-arkhipov-soviet-submarine-captain-who-averted-nuclear-war-awarded-future-of-life-prize
- “Texts of Accounts by Lucas and Considine on Interviews With MacArthur in 1954,” New York Times, April 9, 1964, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/09/texts-of-accounts-by-lucas-and-considine-on-interviews-with-macarthur-in-1954.html
- Genesis 6:11
- Seth Schiesel, “The Real Problem With Video Games,” The New York Times, March 13, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/opinion/video-games-toxic-violence.html
- David Meyer, “Vladimir Putin Says Whoever Leads in Artificial Intelligence Will Rule the World” Fortune, September 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://fortune.com/2017/09/04/ai-artificial-intelligence-putin-rule-world
- “Dennis Kristensen, Who Languished in Jail, and His Co-Religionists Received Gratitude From Local Authorities,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, June 14, 2017, accessed March 24, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17061415-180.html
- Media release: “Witnesses’ New Branch Office in Britain Receives Top BREEAM Rating for Sustainable Design,” JW.org, September 5, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-kingdom/branch-office-breeam-rating-sustainable-design/
- Media release: “Witnesses Receive Highest Rating by GBI for Sustainable Design of New World Headquarters,” JW.org, February 14, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/gbi-awards-four-green-globes-sustainable-design/
- Frances Marion Platt, “Gardiner Town Hall Spruced Up by Watchtower Volunteers,” hudsonvalleyone.com, August 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2017/08/19/gardiner-town-hall-spruced-up-by-watchtower-volunteers
- Media release: “Witnesses Repair 60-Year-Old Dam in Warwick,” JW.org, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/witnesses-repair-60-year-old-dam-warwick/
- Mary McAleer Vizard, “In the Region: Putnam County; Watchtower Project Grows in Patterson,” New York Times, April 18, 1993, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/realestate/in-the-region-putnam-county-watchtower-project-grows-in-patterson.html
- “The Congress Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg. Overview,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, July 15, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/15071514-77.html
- Svetlana Mihaylova, “Do You Want to Attract Finnish Business, Improve Investment Climate,” fontanka.ru, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/12/16/038/
- Ezekiel 38:11-12