I came across a person through reading who spent all his time playing Second Life.1 It is a popular online game in which a player, represented by an avatar, interacts with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players of this game, and together they make up an online world, which they may occupy more than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by inconveniences as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition. It is a dinosaur of a game in digital life—its heyday is past—but it is still played by many.
The man featured in the article I read was almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment—as many as fourteen hours a day, said the article—pausing only for bathroom breaks. His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a vicarious representation of his actual sixty-year-old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes (in real life, the sixty-year-old works at a help desk). He is idolized by all his employees and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a boss.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, and do everything a married couple might be expected to do. In real life, he’s never met the woman and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.
Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy. “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. It is the second marriage for both of them. But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good man at heart, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world. She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (This writer’s wife would dump his breakfast over his head at this point.)
Imagine—an online world so engrossing that some prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Risk and Monopoly are mere—well, board games. Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as though it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “true” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind. Rather, everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not his purpose; a paradise earth, much like the Eden of Genesis, which literally means ‘garden,’ or ‘paradise,’ is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of God’s purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule is. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end, there is little difference between us. A mere few decades pass and all of us are senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”2
How meaningful can life be in a system where ISIS, dementia, cancer, or simple human greed can snuff it out in a second? “Sayonara!” your longtime employer sings out, as he packs up for overseas. “Dust off that resume, why don’t you? And those family and financial obligations you have? Fugedaboudit!” It is as Solomon says: he has seen footmen on horses and princes slogging through the mud. It is certainly possible to get satisfaction from life today, and most have to some degree. But many find it is like chomping down hard on cotton candy. Though it looked substantial, they ultimately find that there was never much there.
How short-sighted to throw off restraint and run to a place where no one can tell you what to do. There is nothing to stop one from doing so, but it’s a poor trade-off over the ‘restrictions’ of a godly life, which amount to little more than guardrails on a treacherous highway. Manipulation through human scheming in the form of Big Government, Big Business or contemporary philosophy ultimately take a toll far greater than any restrictions of the Christian life.
There is some basis in viewing this life, uncertain in every aspect except its ultimate end, as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar. And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if the character of our article is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude, which will be good for mental health. Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail—‘Do not pass Go’—but the game does end decisively for all. The true life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they can manage in this life. But it is the true life to which they look forward.
They asked popular author and futurist Robert Jastrow about living forever, and specifically: would that be a blessing or a curse? He said that it all depends: “It would be a blessing to those who have curious minds and an endless appetite for learning. The thought that they have forever to absorb knowledge would be very comforting for them. But for others who feel they have learned all there is to learn and whose minds are closed, it would be a dreadful curse. They’d have no way to fill their time.”
Dr. Jastrow is a thinker, and so he focused on learning. There is an apocryphal story about a Witness chancing upon him in the ministry, observing that he is quoted in the book Life – How did it Get Here? By Creation or Evolution, and leaving it with him on that basis. But things besides knowledge are boundless, too, such as our capacity to create and our capacity to love.
Over the last forty years or so, however, pop culture has been selling death as though it were a benefit. It is probably the atheists. They are increasing in number and buying into their thinking means settling for a final death sentence perhaps not too many years away. Pay attention and you will see the ‘death is beautiful’ notion a lot. For example, it surfaced in a Dr. Who episode entitled: The Lazarus Experiment.
The episode name itself is a giveaway, because Lazarus is a biblical character resurrected by Jesus, related in the eleventh chapter of John. The television Lazarus has invented a machine to make him youthful again; he steps in old and he walks out young, to the amazement of the high-brow folk invited to his gala bash. But Dr. Who, who must have crashed the party, smells something amiss. He follows the newly minted youngster, and sure enough, the machine has malfunctioned and doomed Lazarus to transforming back and forth from human to monster! (They like monsters on that show.) See, in setting back his DNA, the machine has selected ancient mutations long-ago rejected by evolution, and the result is instability. (Hmmm…yes…indeed, plausible, nod all the atheists watching the show, whereas if you mentioned anything about God, they’d throw up).
Dr. Who, a ‘time lord,’ lectures Lazarus before the show is done on what a curse everlasting life really is, and what a foolish, greedy thing it was for him to reach out for it. For when life drags on forever and ever and ever, you will get so tired of it. You will have been everywhere, done everything. Living will have become an endless, pointless trek to nowhere. You will long for it to end, but (fool that you were for choosing everlasting life) it will not end but will go on and on and on. Oh, the monotony! See, without death, it is impossible to savor life—and so forth.
Please. Spare me and Dr. Jastrow. This is atheist tripe. It all depends upon whether you see life as futile or not. If you do, then sure, you would want it to end. But as Dr. Jastrow stated, life is only futile if you have made it so. Of course, baked into this system of things are various ingredients to encourage that view—for example, old age and frailty, but if they could be vanquished, a much different longing would emerge.
A prime attraction of Rochester, New York, where this writer has resided, is the George Eastman House. Mr. Eastman, who invented photography for the masses and who founded the Eastman Kodak Company, turned philanthropist once he had made his fortune and built half the city; testimony to his generosity is everywhere. His mansion on East Avenue showcases his life, his inventions, his contributions to society, and serves as the nucleus for all things photographic right up to the present. When he decided the center lounge area of his domicile was too small, he had the house cut in two, rolled apart, and a fine new addition built to link them again. Does his determination emerge from this picture? He was unstoppable. But research thoroughly and you will discover that he shot himself in the head at age 78. In the throes of old age, his health failing, one by one he saw his friends going senile, bedridden or wheelchair-bound. He left behind a note: “To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?”3
Q: Why did George Eastman take his life?
- A) His work was done. Why wait?
- B) He longed for the blessed release of death to finally end a futile life that had dragged on and on for far too long.
- C) His health was failing and he, a lifelong bachelor, dreaded the indignities of old age with its dependence upon others.
Does anybody honestly think that, with health and youth, George Eastman would not have found more work in which to engross himself? Surely, he would not have longed for life to end. In this, Mr. Eastman is much like Leonardo da Vinci, the man who painted one of the most enduring portraits of all time—the Mona Lisa. Leonardo made his mark not only as an artist. He also contributed hugely in areas as diverse as geometry, anatomy, astronomy, architecture, and flight. Some of his sketches have been used as blueprints for devices in use today. He was a ‘Renaissance man’—his life embodies the term. Yet toward the end of his life, he reportedly sought God’s forgiveness for not using all the resources of his spirit and art.
Eastman and da Vinci: two men that typify Dr. Jastrow’s statement. And they would be joined by just about everyone else, were we not sucked into a morass of drudgery, duty, debt, injustice and hardship. Sure, you might well long for death if you can envision only more of that. The same goes for the frailness that comes with old age. When I attended a funeral of an older friend who had been happy, content, and productive throughout life, his widow nonetheless assured me that he was quite ready to die, since he’d grown “so tired of being sick.”
Faced with the skyrocketing cost of a medical regimen, equal to her entire fixed income, one person reported on in the American Association of Retired Persons publication laments that: “I’m faced with some hard decisions about whether to stay on the drug. I still have a lot of things I want to do with my life.” One is tempted to ask: At one point will she say: “Okay, I’ve done it all. Death can come any time, now.” I think she will never say it unless and until she finally acknowledges that the scoundrels have outmaneuvered her. The hucksters are having a field day with her, gleefully seizing upon missteps to further subjugate her in some way. The doctors are sucking her dry of resources, yet she is not getting better. The young people who ought to thank her as a font of wisdom have been sold a bill of good by self-serving interests and wonder when the old fogey will finally move on. The politicians have continually made her promises that have not panned out.
It is not always pricey drugs. The U.S. is unique in the hardship it imposes over healthcare, but there is always some problematic thing, and often it is more onerous than missing out on a drug. But if the villains of life did not, at some point, succeed in their relentless attack, the woman would never reach the point of saying ‘that’s enough.’ She would always be up for more delicious life. That is why the Bible’s promise of everlasting life on a paradise earth is so appealing. It is Robert Jastrow’s dream come true: unlimited time to grow, minus the very real liabilities that eventually cause most of us to tire of life. Perfect health is promised, and an economic system will be in place so that people do not feel they are toiling for nothing. Isaiah describes life under God’s kingdom rule, illustrating the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: “They shall build houses and live in them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit; They shall not build and others live there; they shall not plant and others eat. As the years of a tree, so the years of my people; and my chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not toil in vain, nor beget children for sudden destruction; For they shall be a people blessed by the LORD and their descendants with them.”4
Many things I would like to do. I have done a few of them. But for the most part, I have merely scratched the surface. I’ve spent a fair amount of time battling the iniquities of life while not accomplishing much at all. Everlasting life, should I find myself there, will not be a bad thing. Not at all. It will be a good thing.
When the world embraces atheism, many paradigms shift. All concept of waiting for God to work out his will vanishes. What counts is the here and now. Tribulation that Revelation calls ‘ten days’ becomes ‘forever.’5 Even the perception of congregation discipline changes. Expulsion from the congregation for unrequited unchristian conduct becomes a permanent ‘breaking up of families.’ To the Christian, expulsion is the ultimate trump card of discipline which may move the one so chastised thereby to mend his ways and return to the fold, for the door that was closed was never locked. The trek towards everlasting life can resume. In going atheist, however, the departing one no longer worries about living forever on earth or anywhere else. He or she has gone atheistic and has reconstrued the remaining few decades as a great bargain, with no sense of being cheated from all eternity. Sigh—if they believe it, they believe it. But it hardly seems something to celebrate. Is it not a little like the fellow who loses millions in the stock market? Undeterred, he celebrates the five thousand dollars he still has left and says: ‘Well, they were only paper gains anyway.’ If the fellow has come to view life that way after being expelled from the congregation, his exile has become in his eyes something from which he will not return. It has become permanent.
There are many swirls and back eddies. Certainly, one can find flaws in the visible Christian organization. Some persons have been heavy-handed. Some have blundered. But the overall flow of events is in accord with what Jehovah’s Witnesses have long said. The visibility of the kingdom message expands. World conditions worsen. Not all the ducks are lined up. There are yet a few stragglers. The fat lady has not yet sung. But she is clearing her throat. It is time to mend fences for anyone who has left. Everyone knows a large project needs organization, which requires leadership, and with leadership a given policy or decision can go against you. It is good not to hold on to resentment.
The older generation of the West will sometimes paint the younger as spoiled brats—overprivileged babies who lack appreciation and do little but whine. The Witness organization does not feel that way about any who have left. You never blame the younger generation for problems encountered growing up in the soil you supplied. Had you not let outside scoundrels contaminate the soil or even tainted it yourself it might not have happened. Says a tweet from a self-described “resident scholar” at the American Institute and former philosophy teacher: “Dear kids: I’m a Baby Boomer. We are getting old. But at least we had sex, drugs and rock & roll. Seems like millennials have moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles.” Does not the first largely explain the second? One is supposed to pass on values that the young can build upon. What is her advice? “Time to rebel!”6 Witness parents sought to shield their kids from such influences. Some pulled too hard in the opposite direction. Some simply found the allure of those things to their offspring too great to countermand.
There is a public talk on the Watchtower’s revolving list of talk outlines entitled: Acquiring a Heart of Wisdom. It is a challenging talk to give and not all speakers handle it well, for it invites exposing the flaws of faithful persons, past and present, and not all speakers are comfortable doing that. Past is okay, but not so much the present. Back in the day, when I would give the talk myself, I used to lead off with the by-now-trite illustration of how treasure-seekers dig through the dirt to find the tiniest speck of diamonds and how foolish it would be to reverse the process—dig through the diamonds to find the tiniest speck of dirt. Nevertheless, I stated, we would be doing exactly that for the next 45 minutes. With any time in the faith, you are going to come across some dirt, and if you are not prepared, you will be floored, for it is the one place you did not expect to find any.
Having set those ground rules, I then reveled in tearing things apart for the talk’s duration, dredging up wrongs from both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. I hit my stride with the second and third chapters of Revelation, considering absolute basket cases of congregations, in which were found every sort of nasty deed (read the chapters yourself) and yet they were still congregations. The point is, if wrong things happened then, one needn’t be shocked if they have happened today. The trick is not to sanitize the present. It is to de-sanitize the past. It is to say: “Look at those outrageous characters back then! Yet somehow God managed to pull a rabbit out the hat even with them carrying on as they did.”
Russia has been lately dealing with an avalanche of accusations—from meddling in Western democratic process, to invading foreign states, to cheating in the Olympics. It is a non-stop hate campaign of absurd charges, fumes Robert Bridge, the RT.com correspondent. He warns that the bear may only take it for so long before it responds with a bite, not just a growl.7 I know it when I see it: non-stop hate and absurd charges. We experience it ourselves. If only the kings could get along Jehovah’s Witnesses might not get caught in the cross-fire between them. Actually, that was my response from the sole pedophile Russian mention, that tweet from the Embassy relaying a defamatory headline. I replied: “One would think that a country that roundly condemns slander directed against it would not so immediately swallow it when it is directed at someone else.”
Three times in the modern age has Russia saved the day, averting nuclear war: Arkhipov, Petrov, and Khrushchev via letter to Kennedy. The bear growls that the U.S. bombs more countries than Russia, and yet the bear is painted as the aggressor. The bear growls that Western profit-driven corporations, not it, stir up major mayhem in an unending quest to expand markets. The bear growls and even yipes that its athletes alone are expelled from the Olympics. Who cannot feel for Russia?
Then, just at reaching that moment of sympathy, it does something to suggest it is all true and then some, that perhaps what is visible is but the tip of the iceberg. You can’t just confiscate foreign-owned property worth millions—just take it—without shooting yourself in the foot image-wise. You cannot just ban a Bible—a perfectly viable Bible and everyone knows it—without suggesting that you are a nation of goons. You can’t rely upon a high school math teacher scribbling verbiage off the Internet as your expert witness without suggesting that you don’t really have anyone who knows anything over there. You can’t chase and harass and bully people known the world over as perfectly respectable without painting yourself a nation of thugs. Why shoot oneself in the foot that way? Jehovah’s Witnesses may strike some as annoying—more people would say yes than no to that—but extremist? Everybody knows what extremism is and they know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not it. Come now. It is a pretty dull life you live if they fulfill your definition of extremism.
God lays “Jerusalem a heavy stone for all peoples” down and Russia picks it up. The prophetic reference is to the ‘New Jerusalem’ of Revelation 21 that descends from heaven to rule, the anti-type of another Jerusalem of long ago. It is a heavy stone. The nations and their advocates want human efforts to work. The want optimistic reassurance. They want to be told that success is at hand, or at least within reach. They don’t want Bible people coming around to tell them it is all for naught and that only God’s kingdom will deliver. What a tiresome heavy stone that is.
Nevertheless, “all who attempt to lift it will injure themselves badly, though all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Russia is among those first to try, and it takes hits to its reputation. It makes no sense. A great country is shoved around by anti-cult zealots. It is maneuvered into harassing a perfectly harmless people. It is sad to behold. People are not always deterred by slanderous reports. Sometimes they are drawn. “It makes no sense to slam the Witnesses,” some will say, “they’re nice people.”8
Russia bans a Bible that everyone knows is a Bible. It confiscates a property, and everyone knows is theft. Someone will be the new occupants of the Witness Administrative Center. Will they be smitten with hemorrhoids, as happened long ago when a treasure was taken from its rightful owners and given to strangers? It is what happened when the Philistines hijacked the ark. Well—I wouldn’t hold my breath. The ark is hardly the same as the branch, but one can always imagine. The one conceivably valid reason for banning the New World Translation in Russia (I thought) is that it employs the word “piles.” What in the world are piles? It is in no other translation that I can see. It is hardly that the New World Translation avoids unpleasantries elsewhere—the translation favors the literal. It was not easy to fathom. The revised New American Bible, employed for this book, says God smote them with “tumours.” The King James Version says “emerods.” Darby says “hemorrhoids.” The old Wycliffe Bible removes all doubt: “Forsooth the hand of the LORD was made grievous upon [the] men of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and he smote Ashdod and the coasts thereof in the privier part of [the] buttocks/in the more privy part of their tail ends.” Alas, the last laugh is on me, for it turns out that piles is a colloquial term for hemorrhoids and I was simply not aware of it.9
Wish Dennis Christensen well, the first Witness jailed post-ban, a Danish citizen in jail for close to a year and trial may just be finally getting underway, if nothing else intervenes. The Ministry of Justice insists he is a dangerous criminal. He is indignant to clear his name. Can the government truly pass him off as an extremist? He—the carpenter who built a playground for the children and cleaned up the park? Wasn’t there another carpenter of long ago who also ran afoul of the government? His profession is even the same. His name is even similar! It’s a good thing Witnesses no longer do types and anti-types because somebody would find latching on to this one irresistible. Pray that his God is with him as he squares off against Goliath. Pray that he downs the brute as David did his. He even must do it as did David, with limited armor. The court restricted the time his attorneys could spend reviewing the materials for his criminal case.10
It is common for politicians in the West to accuse their adversaries of launching fake news, even denouncing them as ‘hit jobs.’ They should view a certain video report on RT.com to see how it is done. Albeit that it has a point of view, RT.com seems to me an overall credible source, capable of fine journalism when it puts its mind to it. But it plainly did not put its mind to it on this occasion.
The three-minute 2009 video clip is entitled Jehovah and Out and the host is interviewing Audrey Zolovov of Russia Profile Magazine.11 The host asks why Jehovah’s Witnesses are targeted for possible ban because, after all, Russia is “pretty tolerant toward religion, isn’t it? I mean, the Hare Krisnas are operating on the streets of Moscow” and his guest says that ‘Well, he doesn’t really know.’ He agrees with the host that Witnesses are “annoying,” but also agrees that should hardly suffice as a reason. They do oppose blood transfusions, and that is very bad, but many fringe sects have similar disagreeable drawbacks. Maybe it is because they have a “very good organization.” After all, they are a “worldwide phenomenon,” he opines, as though expounding upon motive at a crime scene. He gives an example: several years ago, his wife went to a manicurist and he thinks that the manicurist must have been a “very important asset for that group because she had this captive audience for 40 minutes or so, while she was telling them about their religion. Of course, my wife stopped going to that manicurist as soon as she found out that she is being preached.” Of course! What loyal citizen would not?
Is it possible that RT.com can celebrate grownups behaving as such babies? Even if the Witness woman was tactless, something which is not alleged, an adult learns over time that there are many of such people encountered in life, and that you can handle them by making polite banter and if they become overly insistent, by telling them to shut up. You don’t send your husband to RT.com where he can relate how you escaped, only by the skin of your teeth, from an encounter with a scary monster like the one that would devour Caleb and Sophia. The Witnesses not only spoke to his wife while she was “captive,” but they also do “lots of these things.” As though conscious that his own complaint is silly, he further explains that the Witnesses have “a very very bad image, both in the media and among the public in general.”
In seeming determination to further that “very very bad image” and even add another “very” to it, the conversation takes place against a backdrop of crazies doing the most whacky things—bizarre cultish rites, pugilistic bare-chested fighting scenes, children in lock-step: very very weird scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the interview. Nor do they have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their most virulent critics, indeed, anyone who knows anything about them, will instantly attest. Will RT.com really treat its audience with such contempt? Are they working to cultivate stupidity among ones they seem to regard as a herd for them to direct? Or did they give no pre-thought to it? Is it an anomaly, and the producer merely said to an underling: “Hey, we’re doing a story on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Run down to the lunatic bin in the storeroom and fetch some footage for me. Anything will do.” And will the Russian government outlet really treat the name of God with such contempt: “Jehovah and Out,” as in “Over and out?”
The temptation for the writer based in the West is to paint Putin the villain: the instigator of the Witness persecution. To the extent one thinks of Harry Truman’s utterance, “the buck stops here,” that should be understandable. But let us not go there. There is nothing to paint Putin the mastermind. It is always a challenge to get the attention of the one at the top, for he has much to occupy his time. The Persian King Ahasuerus was set up to preside over the Jews’ annihilation, buying into the slander that they were a menace. It was for Queen Esther to show him the evil scheme that was underfoot.12
Most likely Putin is like Pilate, who knew Jesus was innocent but also wanted to placate the religious powers-that-be, if for nothing else than to keep them out of his hair. It is a bad sign for Witnesses that Putin hails from a communist background that has no use for religion, let alone one that is unconventional. But it is a good sign that he is a man of unpretentious upbringing. As a young man, he knocked at the door of KBG Recruiting, an unlikely means of entrance, and thereafter worked his way up through the ranks. He spent his early years “working in a gloomy office filled with aging staffers,” where he was “pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own.”13 Like a Governing Body member himself, he did not start at the top. He started at the bottom.
There may be a partial flattening of the anti-cult wave on which Mr. Dvorkin surfs. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, France was questioned over its sponsorship of the NGO European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), as that NGO “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities.14 It is the same NGO whose role in the Witness ban was discussed in chapter 3. Alexander Dvorkin was cited by these human rights people as a prime instigator of abuse in Russia. In addition to “the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses and peaceful apolitical Muslim movements as well as the imprisonment of several Scientologists [that are] part of this religious purification strategy,” he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.”
Should France, which Mr. Eric Roux of the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) called “the cradle of human rights” really be sponsoring NGOs that would so blatantly violate those rights with regard to religious minorities? Surely such hate sends a signal so that “other countries in the world may think that it is therefore legitimate to follow suit and they usually do worse.” FECRIS is simply a hate group itself, in that it targets “any religious minority or spiritual movement not ‘usually considered a religion’ and view[s] the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity,” says the law expert Patricia Duval. Its modus operandi is to “view the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity, collect testimonies of families or parents of converts to new religious movements who disagree with their choice to accuse such groups of destroying families, [and] compile data based on rumors, prejudices and suspicion that they use to stigmatize the concerned groups.”
Look, it might be okay for Stalin to carry on in this way, but 2018 France? Mr. Thierry Valle, representing the French NGO Coordination des Associations et des Individus pour la Liberté de Conscience, urged France to stop sponsoring this sort of activit[y],” noting “the human consequences which are often dramatic for the members of these minorities.” All these other groups mentioned: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, the Salvation Army, Mormons, Falun Gong practitioners, Scientologists, Muslums and Hindus—we disagree with them all, and they with us. But we would compete with them in the marketplace of ideas, not attempt to eliminate them with harassment or bans. If there is any eliminating to be done, let God do it, not any human organization. If the dominant religious status quo Dvorkin is so zealous to protect actually addressed the serious questions of life, none of these groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, would succeed in gaining a foothold. Will this be another occasion in which the biblical ‘earth’ comes to the rescue of the biblical ‘woman?’
Enough of this ‘cult’ nonsense. We will wear out the word. The word once had actual meaning. If you have fallen under the spell of a charismatic leader and have withdrawn from normal life, you just might be part of a cult. These days simply thinking outside of the box suffices, and the definition expands to include ‘people we don’t like.’ When I actually gave that answer: “people we don’t like,” in response to an anti-cult tweet, my comment was roundly condemned as being almost too stupid to acknowledge. I backed off and apologized, for they were right, and I had gone too far. I was thinking only about Witnesses and had lost sight of the very real cults who used to be the sole designates of that word. Yet these days they would include Jehovah’s Witnesses in their definition, retaining the original word, in hopes that the negative connotations will be applied to the new target.
You can overdo it with cults. The resident “cult expert,” as he bills himself, invites his audience to view an “interview where I discuss how Trump exhibits characteristics of a cult leader.”15 He thinks the current President is like a cult leader? Doesn’t that pretty much blow his credibility? When you think half the country has fallen victim to cult manipulation, it is an indication that you have drunk too much of the Kool Aid yourself. When I made this observation on an associated tweet account, I was blocked, something that has never happened to me, and I cannot even get back in there to create a proper endnote. That says it all as to how the anti-cultists process other viewpoints. And no, I wasn’t abusive. I did no more than say what I have said here. The reader who has followed up to this point is in position to testify. Haven’t I behaved myself? I always do.
Russian Witnesses engaging in the ministry these days will more accurately catch the flavor of Jesus’ instructions from the first meeting for field service. From time to time, Watchtower publications have pointed to the 10th chapter of Matthew as being just that meeting. Note the overwhelming tone to the effect that the Christian message would not be well-received. It would be vigorously resisted. It would even cause contention within families. The NABRE online commentary, which is extensive, passes right over this bit of unpleasantness without remark, thus revealing that its translators are not overly sensitive to the preaching nature of the Christian ministry. They join and strengthen the predominate church opinion that Christ’s message will find a welcome home in this world, and will, ever so gently, transform it over time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let us consider a few segments of Jesus’ instructions (in italics) at that meeting:16
“As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (vs 12-13, Be pleasant. Don’t fight. If people insist upon arguing, simply take your leave without judging, for that is not your prerogative.)
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” (16-18, It is a very real possibility these days in Russia.)
“Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (vs 21-22, It is another unpleasant fact that has, at times, played out in modern settings.)
“When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (vs 23, You’re not going to get it all done. Persecution may cause you to flee with work yet remaining. Don’t worry about it. Will some Russian Witnesses seek asylum in other lands? Some have. The Witness whose house was burned to the ground shortly after the ban was imposed, did so.17)
“No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!” (vs 24-25, They didn’t like Jesus. They won’t like you.)
“Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (vs 26-28, Man up where you have to. Be courageous. Even should the enemy kill you, that is all they can do. They cannot interfere with the ‘true life.’)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” (vs 29-32, You will not be forgotten by your heavenly father, nor by those loyal to him.)
“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (vs 42, You will enjoy some positive response. It will come predominantly by persons of modest means, since they are in position to offer only some water and do not wine and dine you.)
Does the next chapter of Matthew still describe that first meeting for field service? Such an interpretation is pushing it, since the first verse of chapter 11 explicitly states that the Lord sent them out. But let us imagine them hanging about in the parking lot for a while, as Jehovah’s Witnesses are wont to do today, much to the Governing Body’s chagrin:18
Jesus continues: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (vs 16-19, In other words, you can’t please them all. They’ll find fault no matter what you do. Don’t worry about it.)
“But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (vs 19, It comes right back to the Christian organization’s reluctance to engage with those who would argue. Don’t do it. Critical persons will argue until the cows come home. Some of them seem positively to live to argue. Don’t play that game. Demonstrate the works that will speak louder than games of the head.)19
Minus any words, and through only music steadily rising to crescendo, the video starts out as in a dream. A barefoot man in casual tunic walks along the beach and his attention is caught by something afar off down the shore. Another group is picnicking on the sand. The scenes cut to vistas of the earth in all its splendor and persons climbing, exploring, building, and savoring it. They are all people seen before, meeting various trials of faith, featured in separate videos at the 2016 Regional Conventions, hosted around the globe.20
“You won’t understand all of this, but that’s okay,” I told one man on a return visit. “Just give me your general impression.” He was especially enthused when I suggested he try writing a screenplay for it. He was the young atheist man who’d agreed that Megan could return and discuss her Bible themes at length. She had invited me to come along. Surely, the man must have assumed she’d summoned one of the big guns from the church.
He invited the two of us in and parried cautiously, unsure as to what he’d gotten himself into. “Now, just to be sure, if I should ask you to leave, you will go, right?” he queried hesitantly. Somehow I felt I had a read on this fellow and I told him that he’d be lucky to be rid of us by midnight. It was enough to break the ice and an uneasy tension was no more. I asked him how much time he had had in mind. He said an hour—longer than we had planned to stay in the first place.
I barely spoke during the first fifteen minutes. Megan said that the Bible was a scientific book and I winced inwardly because it isn’t. What she meant was that when the book happens to touch on matters of science it does so accurately, but Sean heard only what she had said, not what she had meant, and he seemed taken aback. Presently he brought up something about Nebuchadnezzar, and I knew he had prepped for how to speak with Witnesses, for—let let us be honest—who cares about Nebuchadnezzar in this day and age? After we had jumped around into three topics, I suggested maybe we should go back to the first one, and discuss it thoroughly, before moving on. He agreed. After exploring that first topic, he lost all interest in Nebuchadnezzar and we both sent him off grazing to whatever pasture he had come from.21
“The greatest enemies of God are not to be found in the ranks of the atheists,” I had mentioned to him. “They’re to be found in the ranks of those who claim to be his friends. In fact, that’s why some atheists become atheists; they have grown so thoroughly disgusted at the conduct and teachings of religious people.” He liked that remark. I have been back a few times since.
“It is a lot of family scenes,” he puzzled out about the video, “and they’re wearing very simple, khaki-like clothing. And it’s a great ending, the son runs into the arms of his dad—a big reunion. They apparently haven’t seen each other in a while.” No, they hadn’t. The boy had died in an automobile accident, presented in a movie at that convention, and the reunion scene was one of resurrection from the dead. The entire video, shown the last hour at that convention, was of life on the other side of the great tribulation, and—wasn’t that Sergey playing the violin or one like it that the Russian guard had smashed but now his wife had retrieved for him in the new system? Without mentioning the verse—for it contains no words—the video was Revelation 21:3-4 realized:
“I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.’”
After thousands of years have elapsed from humankinds’ start, God removes the chaos of the Devil-inspired experiment of human self–rule, after all but the most obstinate can see that it has been an utter failure. He brings about what he was going to bring about in the first place but delayed for a time so that a moral challenge could be answered.22 Ones who have sought him out in this system of things are the first to realize the fruitage of his rule in the new one, as is portrayed in the video’s title: Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way.
One way of countering oppressors is to outlive them. There is only so much time they have to strut about on the world stage and then they must die. Of course, you must die too, perhaps even before they. But the Witness article of faith that I have never heard anyone among them doubt is that of a resurrection on the transformed paradise earth. Witnesses may dicker about this minor point or that, agitated like particles of Brownian motion, but I have never found one having trouble with the resurrection. It affords them major staying power, and it may be for that reason that it has historically come under virulent attack. It is not merely a human game that is being played. The chief priests bribed the guards to report Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body and that he had not been resurrected at all.23 A relentless attempt to water down resurrection of the dead from ‘actual’ to ‘virtual’ was a major apostasy of the first century. Some had “deviated from the truth by saying that [the] resurrection has already taken place and are upsetting the faith of some.”24 And Caecilius of the 2nd century argues with ferocity against Octavius’ simple faith in the resurrection, which seems to particularly get under his skin.25
The video is not intended as a tool for the ministry and it cannot be used that way—I have tried. A Witness knows the story-line and is apt to get choked up. The video portrays the culmination of every Witness’ Bible-based hope. What! Does anyone think Russian Witnesses will trade it for some twaddle about breaking free of ‘manipulation’—from persons who simply want to ensure that religion knows its place in today’s world?
It does know its place, and that is first place. Some Russian brothers will give up, most likely, just as “Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica,” but for every Demas, there will be the “ten people from nations of every language [who] will take hold, yes, will take hold of the cloak of every Judahite and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”26 It is perhaps a process that the Russian authorities have speeded up, forcing the world to confront the question: What is there about the Christian message so objectionable that it must be condemned? Some will conclude: Nothing at all. It is this chaotic mess of a world that should be condemned. If history is any guide, the work may lull a bit in Russia, only to return with a vengeance at a later date.
Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way is but the beginning of Revelation 22, the last Bible chapter, in which water sparkling as crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb; it works as medicine for the nations. As Jehovah’s Witnesses announce now, it is: “’Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” Though the video has no words, it effectively ends with the words of the Bible: “The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”27
In the ministry one evening in upstate New York, I approached a man about to launch his hobbyist drone. I told him I had never seen one up close and he invited me to watch. It took off. He guided it up and over the street, over the rooftop of the neighbor’s house, and I saw in his viewfinder what the drone saw. Yes! There it was! As he suspected, his first mini-drone had come down over the house and was stuck in the gutter. “It’s just a cheap little thing,” he said finally of the lost drone. He decided to let it remain just where it was. How would he retrieve it anyway? Perhaps his neighbor would be peeved at his flying a drone overhead, as though spying. He guided his big drone back and it landed obediently at his feet. I hadn’t said a word as to who I was, and he hadn’t asked. With mother drone safe and sound, and only a chick lost in the neighbor’s gutter, he said to me: “You’re a Jehovah’s Witness, right? They’re fine people. I never met one I didn’t like.” I thought I’d leave things just the way they were, like his baby drone left in the gutter. What could I have added? He had nailed it. We are fine people. When searching the field of religion, look for those who are collectively maligned but individually praised.
(From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia, in safe and unsafe version)
- Alexandra Alter, “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?” Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2007, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118670164592393622
- 1 Timothy 6:17-19
- The note is on display at the George Eastman House in Rochester N.Y. The account of separating the house by rollers to insert a midsection is related by any tour guide.
- Isaiah 65:21-23
- Revelation 2:10
- Christina Sommers, Twitter feed, February 14, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://twitter.com/chsommers/status/963975848540954625?lang=en
- This is not the exact quote, which I have misplaced, but it is just as apropo. He writes the complaint frequently. See, for example, https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10213630677134011&id=1016253912. Contact him via Twitter and ask. Take note of his banner, which inspired a certain plebian (me) to say “it really puts the ‘ass’ into astronaut. He told me they were not astronauts, but female fighter ACES. Yeah…whatever.
- Zechariah 12:3
- 1 Samuel 5:6
- “The Court Restricted Dennis Christensen’s Right to Become Acquainted With the Case Materials,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, December 19, 2017 accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17121911-277.html The Court relented on this restriction two months later: http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/180228a.html
- The interview survives only as a YouTube submission, uploaded April 26, 2012, by JW Brothers, accessed March 21, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldybL1foBE0. I would prefer the source be more precise, but it dovetails well with contemporary print RT.com articles, such as “Will Jehovah's Witnesses be Banned in Russia?” RT.com, August 11, 2010, accessed March 19, 2018, https://www.rt.com/news/will-jehovah-s-witnesses-be-banned-in-russia/
- Esther 7:1-6
- Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (New York: Knoph, 2014) 24
- “LAÏCITÉ and Religious Freedom: A Coalition of NGOs Questions France at the United Nations,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, January 16, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/laicite-and-religious-freedom-a-coalition-of-ngos-questions-france-at-the-united-nations
- See tweet of March 7, 2018, by Stephen Hassan, accessed March 21, 2018, https://twitter.com/CultExpert/status/971553486080040960
- Matthew 10:5-42
- Platon Prohorov, “When God is Ridnessed,” Religiopolis, May 10, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.religiopolis.org/news/11474-togda-bog-otvorachivaetsya.html. For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170510e.html
- A parody of such is portrayed in an ebook by this author: Tom Irregardless and Me (smashwords.com Search: Tom Harley, 2016) Chapter 12
- Matthew 11:16-19
- “Jehovah Will Treat His Loyal One in a Special Way,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Broadcasting, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwbcov_201605_11_VIDEO
- Daniel 4:33 This chapter of Daniel figures prominently in Bible chronology and Witness detractors sometimes seek to undermine it on that account. There is debate among secular sources as to the date of fulfillment of this verse.
- What Does the Bible Really Teach? (Wallkill: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 106
- Matthew 28:13
- 2 Timothy 2:18
- The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Roberts-Donaldson English [from Greek] Translation, c160-250 A.D, chapters VIII, XI, XII, compiled by Peter Kirby, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/octavius.html.
- Zechariah 8:23
- Revelation 22:20-21