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Atop Wolf Mountain - Smyrna NY

Your first impression of Wolf Mountain is that it really is a mountain. This may not be obvious at first—my friend and I arrived 20 minutes before opening time, and the only thing that was obvious was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a few miles outside of Smyrna, NY. When opening time came, the keeper did not drive up from outside as I has supposed she would, but she descended from within, leaving one to suppose that she had slept with the wolves.

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Follow her through the gate, up into the compound and notice the sign advising you to drive slowly up the dirt road. Unless you have 4-wheel drive (we did not), you cannot drive any other way.

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After taking in that you are really up there, the second thing that you notice is that these people are truly serious about their wolves. Were a visitor to fall into an enclosure, it might not be as it was with Harambe, the Cincinnati gorilla—the sharpshooter might take you out instead, sparing the wolf. A sign at the entrance demands attention—if you annoy the wolves in any way, you will be asked to leave. If you refuse, staff will call the police.

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Well, they wont get any trouble from my companion, who is pushing 90, and who—alas!—has declared that this is his last major excursion—he had to stop and rest a few times this time around. He is such a nut about wolves that his home congregation has named him “Wolfman.” His love of wolves extends to all canines. When making return visits, the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do, he forgets the names of the people but never their dog. “Let’s go pay a call on where Prince lives,” he will say—a partiality that generally gets him farther than if he had remembered the people.

It is on his account that I have made the trip. I came across the closed facility months ago and thought it was something that he might like. It turned out that he knew all about it, but had never been there. I thought that he might decimate the gift shop halfway through the tour, but he showed admirable restraint. So many people have given him stuffed wolf toys, wolf attire, and the like that he barely has room to move where he lives. He was mildly disappointed with the refuge, for he had watched many YouTube videos of snuggling with the wolves and had imagined himself doing the same.

Our guide was leading his first-time-ever group. He was a graduate of the nearby forestry school in Syracuse and his goal is to one day enter the National Park Service. For now, he is paying off some bills running a landscaping crew, and he volunteers here at Wolf Mountain. The wolves are getting acclimated to him—they notice right away anyone new, and they notice when anyone is on the grounds after hours, which are fairly limited.

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Staff regards each wolf as family. There are placards introducing each individual, and upon leaving, one encounters a group goodbye from them.

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The owner, like Wolfman, is essentially a wolf nut, who devotes all his energy to his wolf sanctuary. It is privately funded—that is, mostly not at all, other than admission fees and donations of road kill for food. He ventures out to buy 500 pounds of chicken legs per month for the animals. He welcomes donations of chicken, ground deer meat, deer hearts and liver, buffalo, elk, and pork hearts. He does not want woodchuck, birds, innards from slaughtered animals, or wild game not legally obtained. He is also a Native American, and a side theme of the place is preserving Native American culture.

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Oddly, Wolfman, whose father died before he was born, believed and told one and all throughout his life that he was a Native American of the Mohawk tribe. His Inuit appearance easily gives that impression, so it was questioned by nobody. In his later years he took one of those ancestry DNA tests and discovered that he had not a drop of Indian blood in him!—he was mostly Swedish. The revelation came a little late to turn around a lifelong affinity for Native American ways, but even in his heyday he had not taken personally the atrocities done to “his” people—it was just one more example of man’s inhumanity to man, and there were hundreds of examples.

The American Zoo Association decrees that there should be a minimum of 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. Wolf Mountain easily exceeds that, said our guide. I didn’t know about such a rule, nor did the guide know when it had been implemented (which would not affect Wolf Mountain, anyway, since it is independent of that body) but it led to my remark, agreed to by all those of my age, that zoos used to be jails for animals and that now they are much less that way.

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

At the Oneida Community Museum / Bed n Breakfast

If you brought a woman into your tiny bedroom at the Oneida Community, no one would raise an eyebrow. If you brought her in the next night, they would. But if you replaced her with another that second night, they would not.

This is because they did the “complex marriage” thing at that socialist community where they believed in sharing all things equally—even each other. It was “selfish” to focus on a single mate. Traditional marriage was a “slaveholding position” toward women, wrote the founder, John Noyes.

Furthermore, everyone knew just who you brought into your bedroom at night. It was their business to know. The tiny bedrooms all opened up, on upper and lower level, off the joint living room areas. Thus, the architecture of the mansion—enlarged several times as the group prospered—served to prod conformance to group norms.

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Oneida was a Bible-believing community (believe it or not) that adhered to a doctrine called “perfectionism” and drew great authority from the Matthew 22:29-30: “In the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but they are as angels in heaven.’” He was replying to the Sadducees who had been trying to trap him.

Taking that “resurrection” to mean heaven, Noyes figured that the one man-one woman marriage model would be obsolete at that place and time, and he determined that the start date was 70 CE, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple. Christ had returned just after that time, he calculated. Human absolution was thereby accomplished, and faith in this doctrine made Noyes theologically perfect, to benefit whoever’s life he touch by his “hastening the coming of heaven to earth.”

Our docent was a retired professor at the community college who had taught sociology. He came to Oneida to investigate an example of a unique marital type—there can be only for, he said, one man/one woman, one man/many women (common), one woman/many men (rare, though there were some, he said), and many men/many woman. He determined that after he retired, he would serve here as a guide, and here he was.

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Those of the Onieda Community were not the only ones to take defining guidance from that passage of Matthew 22, a passage recorded in all three synoptic gospels. The Shakers thought it meant no sex at all in the here and now—it is not surprising that they died out. Somehow the Mormons took from it that a man might take many wives. My own people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) put it not only yet in the future, but also on the earth. Death ends the marriage bond in this system of things. In the new system, it apparently does not pick up where it left off.

The novel living arrangement prevailed only through the tenure of the founder, John Noyes, whose initial plans to practice law had been diverted into religious beliefs. He had attended Yale Divinity College, till embracing “perfectionism” made him an oddity there, so he founded a community based on the new teaching. Toward the end of his tenure, “apostates” sprung up who wanted monogamy, the exact reverse of what has happened in modern times, where monogamy gradually loses out to a Woodstock-inspired life of no rules.

The mirror image is far from correct, our guide pointed out, for the Noyes community was hardly one of no rules—there were myriad rules. Your sexual tryst in the tiny bedroom (I am certain that they were not thought of as “trysts”) was only to last two hours—that way you didn’t get selfishly attached to one person—after which it was well if you rejoined the group, and it was not to reach the point of male climax—“male contraception,” it was called, and booklets explaining it and other practices were put out by the community.

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When you ask the docent how Noyes came to terms with (it is even worse if you say “got around,” as I did) Jesus’ words that a man should stick to his wife so as to become “one flesh,” he braces himself for a barrage of criticism from a religionist, as though he himself is suspected of promoting a lifestyle of shacking up like at Woodstock. I know this because I asked him. I asked him because I thought I saw him so bracing. Nobody knows any scripture today, and if you do, he figures it might mean trouble. However, I told him that with me, it did not.

I even toyed with opening this post by telling of my fictional friend Tom Pearlsnswine, (from “Tom Irregardless and Me,”)  and relating how I had decided to leave him in my home town, since he had embarrassed me at the Ithaca Earth Museum, loudly muttering about the “wiles of Satan” upon seeing all the fossils, and if he carried on like that there, what might he do HERE—I didn’t want to find out, so I cut him loose. In fact, I visited Oneida with my friend, and not my wife, who would break both my arms if I pulled such a stunt as was done here. She would have broken both my legs as well had I told her it was due to my interpretation of the Bible.

It is good that I did leave Pearlsnswine home, for he would not only have muttered about “orgies” here, but also about the fossils. Noyes’s community accepted evolution. Their perfectionism extended to perfecting the intellect, not just the spirit, and they assumed that higher education would do the trick. The mansion included a 1300-volume library, as great a collection of accomplished authors as might be found anywhere in the region. They promoted study and education, and if you mastered any given subject, you were encouraged to teach it.

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The townspeople thought them odd, but not especially objectionable. In the words of Hilton V. Noyes (born 1871), they enjoyed a “priceless reputation for honesty and fair dealing in business, a tradition of manufacturing only the highest quality goods, and a habit of fair dealing and human sympathy amongst themselves, and in their relations to employees and neighbors.” The current museum features a room dedicated to the community’s children, which Hilton would have been one of, and it connects to one dedicated to its one-time greatest product—steel animal traps—a placing that the docent thought odd.

The clergy were less tolerant than the general populace. From time to time they launched campaigns against the group. Adultery was illegal at the time, so they had plenty of fodder to work with. It was one rumored pogrom, which turned out to be a false alarm, that caused founder Noyes to flee into Canada, never to return.  From there he sought to guide his group through epistle, as though the apostle Paul, but with limited success.

Townspeople of today certainly would have been up in arms, not so much at the group marriage—that would be accepted today—but at the initiation of children into the world of sex by adult members of the community. “Older members, more advanced toward perfection, could impart their spirituality to younger members through intimate association. Young people were encouraged to have sex with their elders (ascend in fellowship) and discouraged from forming exclusive attachments to one another,” reads an interpretive poster.

Boys were introduced to it by post menopausal women, so that if they took some time to master withdrawal, it would not bring consequences. Girls were initiated into it by—wait for it—Noyes himself, so that the modern person assumes that the entire “cult” was started for just that purpose. But there appears no murmuring about it at the time, nor do docents of the here and now cluck their tongues over it. They simply relate the history. The present spectrum of pedophilia ranges from, at the lower end, sex with prepubescent children, roundly condemned by all as wicked, to, at the upper end, sex with underage teens, which increasingly becomes a matter of enforcing changing societal norms. If we are to extend the current rules into the not distant past, we must label Lennon and McCartney, the ones who sung: “Well, she was just 17. You know what I mean,” as pedophiles.

“When the Oneida Community felt prosperous enough to have children, they instituted the world’s first eugenics or “stirpticulture” program,” another poster reads. “Their idea was to breed spiritually elevated people who would benefit humankind. 41 mothers and 40 fathers had about 60 children, called stirpcults, who grew up in the mansion.” You had to apply to produce such children, and it caused hard feelings, since only 2/3 of all applications were approved. Moreover, your proposed  child might be approved with the mother you chose, but not with you as father if you were judged as not quite measuring up.

The community practiced “mutual criticism.” You might be “invited” to the stage of the home’s auditorium where the community would tell you everything that was wrong with you, confident that you would thereby improve. When certain ones proved to have too thin skin, the entire group was replaced by committees of 6-8 seniors to impart their degree of perfection to you—ostensibly based upon recognized spiritual values, but probably (the docent agreed with me on this) mixed in with a good amount of just plain old meddling.

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“Glance at a photograph of the assembled members of the Oneida Community and you will intuit the charisma of the leader [right foreground] who dominated the group’s history,” writes Deloris Hayden.

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One might imagine that leaving the group was all but impossible, but in fact, it was not at all traumatic. If one chose to do so, he or she left with he good will of the group and an equal share of wealth, the same as they had once pooled what they had. John sent his oldest boy to Yale Medical School, and when he returned he didn’t believe in God—at best he returned agnostic. His second son left to make his way in business, and when he returned, he proved to be the group’s salvation, for they had floundered with the exile of their chief to Canada.

After Noyes died in that country, certain ones of the group tried to contact him through spiritism (with no more success than when Saul tried to contact Samuel that way). When the docent told us this, I asked him if he knew the two sisters from Rochester, and he said the name before I could—the Fox sisters, who were well known for spiritism. I then asked him if he knew about Nelson Barbour, the publisher/preacher who briefly teamed up with the commonly credited founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, but he did not. Central New York at the time was known as the “burnt over district,” for the number of zealous preachers criss-crossing the region.

The second returning son, Pierrepont, the one who had tried his business hand in New York City, took a laissez faire attitude toward religion, but preserved the socialist orientation of the group, an orientation which was thought to be supported by the early doings of first-century Christianity: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life…all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts 2:44-47) The group took as permanent what most have recognized as a temporary arrangement to accommodate visitors during that first Christian Pentecost.

Pierrepont determined to throw the group’s industry into spoon-making. He changed the name Oneida Community to that of a business corporation, Oneida Community, Ltd, and by 1910, silverware had become the group’s main product. That business continued into the early twenty-first century, and I well recall the company’s advertising. “We were descendants of Oneida perfectionists and were attempting to carry into a modern setting as much of the principles taught by our forebears as seemed to us practicable,” Pierrepont would write later. “No other American communism enjoyed the economic success [and] approached in prosperity or in significance the adventure of the perfectionists of central New York,” writes Whitney R Cross, in “The Burnt-Over District.”

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I know several persons with the Noyes surname, but they couldn’t be the same family, I told the guide. “Don’t be too sure of that,” he replied—it was a very large family. The more I think about it, the more I think he may be right. I mean, this was a Bible-studying non-mainstream group, and so are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can easily picture the descendants of the first opting for the second. Some of those descendants live there today, for the connected mansions are now museum, community center, bed and breakfast, and apartments.

The notion of living in such an apartment sort of appeals to me, but my friend said that for him it was not that way, for it seemed too institutional. Well, it is that, I guess, but I like the notion of being somewhere where so much is going on—unexpectedly as we toured we would encounter roped off areas that were residential and you were asked not to cross that barrier, but there was no reason that they could not cross over to the common area, where there was a comfortable library, well-lit due to overhead skylights, and it was connected by a small joint room to the original library of 1300 volumes. Other rooms are employed as a B&B, something I had not known or I might have stayed there instead of the hotel in Utica. It is also a community center hosting events such as weddings.

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Introduction to Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

In March of 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were invited just once by their parent organization to write Vladimir Putin. Within two months, up to 49 million letters had been sent. They weren’t all to Putin—several other officials were identified, but his was the most recognizable name.

On the surface, the campaign was a failure. Opposition, which would ultimately lead to an April 20th Supreme Court ban of the religious organization, continued unabated. It has only intensified since. Still, Witnesses felt the heat on their Russian brothers and sisters as though it were on them. They longed to do something and here was something tangible they could do. By taking part, they demonstrated to all that there is one nation on earth in which every citizen cares deeply for every other. They fortified their Russian counterparts, who are now in the eye of the storm.

Throughout Soviet times, from the eradication of the czar to 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia. Witnesses who survived the tribulation of Nazi Germany found, if they happened to live in the wrong part of the country, that they had simply swapped one set of persecutors for another. Perestroika and Glasnost set them free in Russia during 1991, but their time of freedom has lasted only until 2017, and the present laws are harsher than those of Soviet days.

Books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can a Witness—they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Three reasons account for this drought. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books. Pathways of publicizing their faith are already well established and few think to go beyond them—why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say? Even blogs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are relatively few. There is also a sense of not wanting to compete with an official channel.

What books Witnesses do author are usually of specialized subsets – say, of endurance under persecution, contributions to civil liberty through national supreme courts, or the topic of blood transfusion. What this writer attempts here he has seen no Witness do before. If they have, he is not aware of it. Non-Witnesses can write of the nuts and bolts of the movement to destroy the faith’s infrastructure in Russia. But they will miss the subtleties of the motive for doing so. They will miss totally the atmosphere impelling every Witness in the world to write relevant Russian officials. They will miss what the rank and file felt as they followed the ups and downs of breaking events.

Enough of “this writer.” Portions of this book are deeply personal statements which will resonate with all Witnesses, and I do not want to calcify them with references to “this writer.” Though there are accepted rules of style and format, ultimately the only rule that counts is what you can get away with. Accordingly, I’ll flip back and forth with the self-references—sometimes “this writer” and sometimes just “I.”

As might be surmised, I am not impartial. This book will not be impartial. I am a 40-plus year member of the faith. While not ignoring other points of view, I will consistently present matters as Witnesses see them. Like most Witnesses, my year-long process of introduction to and eventual embrace of the faith I liken to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have put the pieces together and have reproduced the mountain vista on the box cover, you have a strong basis for faith not easily shaken.

You are not immune, however, to the discouragements of life that afflict everyone. Nor are you immune to your own shortcomings, or to trials your newfound faith brings you. Ultimately, you will lose the game, because the one of long ago that you strive to follow also lost the game—executed after preaching the gospel for just a few short years. But your loss is illusory. It will be transformed into a win, just as the master’s loss was.

The life Jehovah’s Witnesses have their eye upon they would call “the true life” of 1 Timothy 6:19. The true life is not the present reality of an earth carved up into endless squabbling factions, each demanding the allegiance of those within its jurisdiction. It is the life that commences after the end of that system. Contrary to popular view, the Bible does not present a world gradually transformed by Christian values. It presents a world increasingly opposed to them that is ultimately replaced by God for that reason. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” says the familiar prayer. No one would say that God’s will is not done in heaven—surely things must run smoothly up there. But neither would anyone say that his will is done on earth today. There are glimmers of it here and there, to be sure, but no one would ever say that it predominates. It is a present tragedy that is remedied when his “kingdom comes.”

A pitfall I had to face early on involved taking care that whatever I wrote would not be banned in Russia as extremist. Of course, it is possible that the whole book might be—the present federal list of writings designated extremist includes, at present, over 4000 works,1 but why ensure the fate by quoting from works already on the list? Most Watchtower-published material the Russian government has declared extremist. Even the children’s books are so labeled. Even the Bible translation they use is so labeled. Even their website is extremist and off limits. If you are in Russia, you cannot read it. If you are anywhere else, you are okay.

I did not immediately realize the ramifications of this. In my early drafts I linked a few times to the website. Must I remove those links? Here and there I quoted some Watchtower publications. Must I rewrite those portions? It wasn’t my only option. Early on, I imagined writing two versions: the first as I pleased and the second with offending passages redacted, highlighting the silliness of it all, for the passages are all innocuous. The cover of the public work would carry a caution at the bottom: “Warning – Do Not Read in Russia” and the cover of the redacted would be typewritten and without image, as one might expect of an underground work. In the end I settled upon a mix of both. There are two versions with identical covers, one warning in an orange circle to not read it in Russia, the other “safe” version with orange circle saying it is okay. Watch those orange circles. Make sure you are reading the right book. You do not want to be thrown into the hoosegow.2

I did realize from the onset that the New World Translation would have to go. Even a quote from it is enough to designate a book as extremist. Even, in theory, Jesus’s words about how one must love one’s enemy. Such quoting might not actually draw the wrath of officials, but it is difficult to know for sure. Russia is a land of Kafkaesque contradictions in matters of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses are declared extremists in Russia and shortly thereafter Putin inducts one into the Order of Parental Glory as a fine family example. The mischievous mind envisions him awarding an ISIS family the next week—for they and Jehovah’s Witnesses are both declared extremists under the same law—with grenades hanging from belts. A town official honors a Witness for cleaning up the public park. Shortly thereafter that Witness is carted off to jail for conducting a Bible study meeting. One envisions that same official next week honoring ISIS for cleaning the park and then being blown to bits by a mine left behind while strolling the grounds, for they are extremists.

The only safe assumption is that there are, at present, four approved faiths in land of the bear—just four—that’s more than enough, the government decrees. For the religiously inclined who favor the Christian brand, there is the Russian Orthodox Church. Going anywhere else is dicey. Church protodeacon Andrey Kuraev is no friend of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he verbally savages them, “but blaming them for extremism is not even funny. This decision cannot be called anything other than glaringly idiotic: to accuse pacifists, uncompromisingly non-resisting Tolstoyans of extremism!”3  

“Prohibiting is irrational,” he continues. “And certainly not with the arguments that were given (or, on the contrary, not given). Especially since there haven’t been any intelligible arguments quoted yet. By the way, there are a number of these forbidden books in my house, [uh oh] I did not notice anything extremist there. So, and now I have to arrest? Yes, they have harsh statements about other religions. It’s true. But the same Supreme Court of the Russian Federation a few years ago decided that criticism of religions is not a crime.” (brackets mine)

Does Kuraev really mean to suggest that prosecution presented no intelligible arguments at the Supreme Court trial? An observer of the trial might well think it. He might well wonder just what does the government have against Jehovah’s Witnesses? There must be something, but it is not stated. At one point the judge asked the prosecution (the Ministry of Justice) whether it had prepared for the case. A decision had been plainly made somewhere from on high and it would fall upon the judge to rubber-stamp it. Of course, he did, perhaps because he wanted to remain a judge. The actual reasons behind anti-Witness hostility were never presented. So I have presented them in Part II, along with how they might be defended.

Some Witnesses, truth be told, will be uncomfortable with Part II and might best be advised to skip over it. They will love the idea of defending the faith but may be unaware of the scope of the attacks made against it, some of which are truly malicious. Deciding to sit out this or that controversy will earn them taunts of “sticking one’s head in the sand” from detractors, but it is exactly what Jesus recommends, as will be seen. Not everyone must immerse themselves in every “fact,” for many of them will turn out to be facts of Mark Twain’s variety: facts that “ain’t so.” You can’t do everything, and most persons choose to focus on matters most directly relevant to their lives.  Part II thereafter rolls into Part III, which suggests an offense—not a legal offense, but an overall moral one.

Kuraev goes on to observe that “our Christian authors, including sacred, ancient, authoritative, have extremely negative statements [about other religions].” And he points to Jesus’ own words about the founders of other religions: “All who [have] come before me are thieves and robbers.”4 He continues: “The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation seriously compromised this decision. The belief that you can trust the judicial system of Russia, even at the highest level, is shattered.” He fears lest “the ax once clamped against the Jehovah’s Witnesses does not attack us with the same arguments.” He worries the Court’s decision “shakes the boat, represents power in an evil and unpredictable manner and thereby creates unnecessary distrust and fear in society.”5   

Since there are but four approved religious channels, Jehovah’s Witnesses are plainly not the only minority faith to experience persecution in Russia. All of them do to some extent. Witnesses are in the vanguard; they are the first to have their organization outlawed, but many are shaking in their boots that they will be next. They watch things unfold. Had Witnesses prevailed in the Court, they would have claimed equal victory. They mostly held back, not challenging the government prosecutor’s assertion that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. The definition of cult has changed greatly over the years. It once had a precise meaning. These days it has been expanded to include people we don’t like, just as news we don’t like is fake news. Gone are the days when nefarious deeds and the withdrawal from life under the spell of a charismatic leader sufficed to be labeled a cult. Approaching are the days where simply standing against contemporary trends and mindsets is enough. The entire New Testament could be reinterpreted as the writings of a cult by this definition, for it is not warm and fuzzy toward the popular culture of its day, and those who embraced the new faith it espoused withdrew from that culture.

If they withdrew from it then, they withdraw from it now. This is a point of much concern to Witness detractors, as will be seen. After a period of investigation into the Bible, seldom lasting under a year, Jehovah’s Witnesses come to feel they have found something better, and most immerse themselves in it, sometimes to the point of losing touch almost completely with the day-to-day political concerns that preoccupy others.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, which claimed the lives of 2,753 persons, teams of Jehovah’s Witnesses, organized at the branch level, visited the scene. Branch member Gregory Bowman relates: “When we were ultimately granted access to ground zero, and we started encountering the first responders, we let them know how much we appreciated their hard work, and that they had a skill-set that we didn’t have, but yet our skill-set was trying to offer comfort to them. We shared a scripture with them. Immediately we could tell that that was something that caused emotion to rise up in them right away. And they expressed great appreciation for that. One of the beautiful things about the scriptures is they’re calming, soothing, comforting, and the scriptures did not let down the workers that were there at ground zero either.”6

Likely, the representatives of many denominations took action to comfort people. But what could they say? “Out of evil, comes good”? “God works in mysterious ways”? “He (she) is in a better place, now”? Witnesses would never say any of these things. It is from such banal and insensitive remarks that atheists are born. I like the expression “skill-set,” both applied to the first responders and then to the Witness volunteers themselves. The “skill-set” of Jehovah’s Witnesses is an accurate understanding of the Scriptures and a cultivated desire and ability to share it. An accurate understanding of the Bible makes unnecessary the trite sayings above. In fact, it eviscerates them, and offers something far better, as will be seen.

This writer, too, regards himself as having a skill-set, and finds, to his surprise, that it is a somewhat unusual one. Newsmakers have little insight into the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In turn, Jehovah’s Witnesses have little insight into the political doings of this world. In a spiritual sense, they would say that they do have insight, but that is not the sense that that world itself is most familiar with. I am passably familiar with both and can build a bridge between them. It will not be a literal bridge that people can cross in either direction, but it will be a bridge of joint understanding, which can hardly be a bad thing. Even in the current climate of distrust bordering on hostility between the United States and Russia, it is generally conceded that understanding the other’s point of view is an asset, not a liability.

Choice of a substitute Bible translation was not easy. Perhaps it should have been. Any of them will do. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are accustomed to the divine name appearing in the Bible. They are frustrated by its banishment. They think that if an author puts his name in his work 7,000 times, it implies strongly that he wants it there and may not be happy with any who would hide it. They choke when they watch The Ten Commandments movie, and the Israelites are distraught early on because they do not even know their God’s name but later they are as pleased as punch because they have finally learned it—it is “the LORD.”

There are some translations that render the divine name whenever called for as Jehovah or the more Hebrew-flavored Yahweh.7 But most of these translations are old and afflicted with archaic language. Many translations, even the Russian synodal one, employ Jehovah in a few token places. The newer ones, though, are apt to remove it completely, substituting LORD in all capitals to distinguish it from “Lord.” The first verse of the 110th Psalm contains both LORD and Lord, and this writer, in his own house-to-house ministry, will sometimes ask the householder if he knows why that is.

The house Bible for this work shall be the New American Bible – Revised Edition, a Catholic translation. I’ll just have to get used to reading The LORD everywhere. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” Jesus begins. What is that name? The LORD. I’ll just have to get used to it. The New American Bible came in second place in the Jason Beduhn book Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. He liked that it was free of what he called the “Protestant’s burden.”8 The New World Translation is a relatively recent work, its first complete edition appearing in 1961. If it dictates something different from the Witnesses’ current practice, the latter can simply change, as they did recently with the specifics of appointing elders.9 If the Catholics encounter the same problem, they don’t have to change. They have long held that Scripture is not the final word; it can be superseded by saints or tradition. But the Protestants are in a tough spot. They insist they follow the Bible in every detail, and yet it was written long ago. There is therefore always a powerful temptation to translate in a manner that accords with current practices, even if that translation is “stretching it.” Beduhn states such translators “all approached the text [John 1:1] already believing certain things about the Word…and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs.”10 (brackets mine)

If the New American Bible is Beduhn’s second choice, why do I here employ the revised edition of it? That was largely an accident. I had written some time before I noticed it and decided to let it slide, on the theory that a revised version of anything is usually an improvement over the original. I also decided not to place scriptural citations of that, or any translation, within the paragraphs, as though in a Watchtower article, but in endnotes. First, this book is not a Watchtower publication, and I wished to avoid any confusion. Second, many readers will be non-religious—why should they think they are being preached to? Third, in these days of search engines, it is an easy matter to enter any passage and find its source. 

I am a rank-and-file member of Jehovah’s Witness and not an insider. I am a foot soldier. I am a good foot soldier, and loyal. I have been around for a while and have even served as a congregation elder, but otherwise I am nothing special.  But I am a foot soldier who can write well, especially if one is not fussy. Foot soldiers can tell splendid history when they get around to it, but one must cut them some slack. This foot soldier looks at the established rules of scholarly writing and they seem burdensome to him, like Goliath’s armor, so he sets them aside and hopes for the best with his sling. I will even accept the derisive title given the apostle Paul by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who wanted to know “what is this scavenger trying to say?” Literally the word means “seed-picker” and it denotes a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there.11 That is all I am doing. That is all most writers do. 

I am not even a thinker, really, at least, not a rigorous one. I am like Pastor Inqvist’s substitute preacher, specifically selected for his dullness, because the pastor does not want to return from vacation and see the disappointment in the eyes of his flock.12 So he chooses a substitute that they will listen to and say: “I’ll bet he’s good in the shepherding work.” Then he will come to their house and they will note the lack of eye contact and say: “Maybe he’s a scholar.” I am not a scholar either. Leave the deep thinking to others—I don’t trust it anyway—but I do have a certain knack for refocusing and crafting words in ways not typically crafted. It will have to do. Only a foot soldier can relate the emotions prevailing as every Witness in the world wrote Russia.

I know no “higher ups” and do not want to know any. As soon as you know some higher-ups you will know some who have erred because they are human. As soon as you know some who have erred because they are human, you have a media that wants to know what those errors are. As soon as the media knows what those errors are, they have but one solution: Fire them! Isn’t that why nobody knows anything today? At the first misstep it is “Off with his head!” Better not to know them and focus my writing as a foot soldier with 40 years of service. I’ll present the facts as persuasively as I can and if readers don’t believe me, they don’t believe me. In matters of religion, as in most other matters, people decide up front anyway, and choose from the available facts afterwards to fit their viewpoint. It is a sign of the times we live in and is evident everywhere.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” but perhaps it has not all been collected in one place. No non-Witness can write with the same passion as me on this topic. If they could they would become Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. The overall topic does not relegate itself to side dish status. It ever pushes to be the main course. “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 Hebrews. Furthermore, “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”13 One either embraces such news or runs away; it is very hard to be a neutral bystander. Strangely, in today’s atmosphere of critical thinking, the moment people embrace a cause, they are considered biased, and their testimony is looked at askance. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this effectively means that their detractors get to write much of the story, since strictly neutral persons are uncommon.

My rank-and-file qualifications are high enough to know the Witness organization well. It is the most transparent organization in the world, and if you are a member who knows one Witness, you know a thousand. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no clergy. Anyone doing anything was once an ordinary congregation member as yourself and you will have kept in touch with many of them and met many more. They all talk. Watchtower literature is extensive and easily accessible, especially to anyone who has collected it, as most Witnesses have, or did, until electronic formats made bulky bound volumes collections less desirable; they have been called (by me) “the family gods” of the Abrahamic variety, in that they were cumbersome, never discarded, but seldom resorted to (at least in my case—doubtless there were better students). Online resources and computer CD’s are just so much more compact and convenient.

All of the preceding makes for great transparency. Individual Witnesses go directly to doors to present their faith. What could be more transparent than that? But it is not necessarily the transparency that the world’s media would like to see. The latter likes to send reporters to cross-examine those “at the top.” The Watchtower declines such requests and contents itself with a Newsroom tab on the web page. The way to find out about the Witnesses is to ask the next one who stops by. But news outlets often hesitate to do this for fear that those Witnesses may (gulp) witness to them. The lazier ones copy material about them off the Internet authored by those who don’t like them. Even the expert witness that the Russian Supreme Court relied upon is known to do this.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are fundamentalists in some respects and quite liberal in others. They are not easy to pigeonhole. Zealous advocates for and dissenters against them serve to further muddy the waters. Witnesses are Bible-believing, yet they acknowledge that the creative days of Genesis are “epochs,” the time preceding them “aeons.”14 They are socially conservative, yet they remain entirely apolitical—their standards are theirs alone and they do not attempt to force them through legislation upon others. Joel Engardio, a journalist and human rights advocate, who was raised a Witness, says they provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarizing ideas can yet coexist peacefully.15

They look to the Book for direction. If you grant that there is an interested God, there is no finer way for him to communicate with humans than through a widespread book, and no book is more widespread than the Bible. The more familiar you are with it, the better off you are. Is such-and-such in the Book or isn’t it? The trouble with religion by revelation is that you invariably come across people who have also experienced revelation, but their revelation is different from yours, and then there is no way of ever getting to the bottom of it. To be sure, endless people muddy the waters, offering this or that interpretation of verse. Some would paint the book as unreliable on that account, and others as outdated. But at least there is always something to go on with a book, and not just “God told me so.”

Knowledge of the Book may be quite surface with many of these ones, extending little beyond some formula texts to argue this or that doctrine. I once worked with an agnostic woman who knew that God’s name was Jehovah because she had seen an Indiana Jones movie. She knew that God’s original purpose was for the earth to be a paradise because she had seen the film Dogma. Though she had never been in a church, she knew more about God, from two movies, than do the majority of regular churchgoers.

Nonetheless, there will be little discussion of doctrine here—only so much as to set up the occasional punch line. Most of it must be read between the lines and may not reliably be found even there. Suffice it to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are generally credited with knowing their Bibles well and they think that most teachings of the traditional churches are wrong. Seeking to obscure the fact that President Eisenhower was raised a Witness, as though wistfully envisioning a standing tree without roots, a family member recalls that “Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance. Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted,” since they “lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion.”16 Yep. It is usually true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They usually know it “from one end to the other.”

Almost all brands of religion respect Jesus. He is also a common denominator for the religious and non-religious. Mark Twain savaged religion. He savaged the Bible. “He was a preacher, too… and never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too!” one of his fictional characters (Huck Finn) says. But Twain never had an unkind word for Jesus as related in the gospels. To the contrary, the problem in his eyes was that nobody followed him.17 This is among the reasons the book The 100, by Michael Hart, rates Mohammed before Jesus in importance. Both are founders of religions, but Mohammed’s followers, by and large, follow him and Jesus’ followers, by and large, do not.18 “There has been only one Christian. They caught and crucified him–early,” Mark Twain says.

Therefore, start with the words of Jesus and you are usually on firm ground. Hang with the gospels long enough and you begin to speak as he does. You begin to think the heart is much more important than the head, even though leadership in the greater world today is invariably presumed to be a matter for the head, and only the most educated need apply. Jesus addresses the heart, spinning parables not readily grasped by head alone, and therefore dismissed by ones of little heart as unworthy of their time. In elevating heart over head, you may trigger the scorn of those who would reverse the order. They might feign pity over how you must be suffering massive cognitive dissonance to be so intransigent in the face of their mighty arguments.

Don’t let it bother you. If there was anything to cognitive dissonance, Americans would explode watching television pharmaceutical ads, with narrator insisting that you must have the stuff peddled and voiceover saying it may kill you. One way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to acknowledge that you don’t have to know everything. Another way is to acknowledge that you don’t have to know it now. There will always be some cognitive dissonance in searching for the human/divine interface, as we will be doing. Some people derive energy from debating, like a hurricane gathering strength over warm water. Step aside and let them drown in it. Jesus relied upon heart and common sense. Sometimes common sense turns out to be wrong and should be rejected, but never for the sole reason that it is “common.”

Some of my initial assumptions about Russia proved questionable. Others proved flat-out wrong. No matter. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not political people—some of them barely know that stuff exists. They are not experts on the issues that governments face nor their underlying philosophies. They don’t know much about the world of kings. If some initial assumptions prove inaccurate, they never said they knew about them in the first place. This book tells of our efforts to reach Russian officials as persons, not as government leaders. I like to think the best of people. Sometimes that turns out to be naïve. What I hope to do is capture the emotion, the hopes, and even the joys of those given an opportunity to identify with their “brothers” in a distant and different part of the world. This will be a human story, not a political one. It will be an account not only of what happened, but of what people thought was happening.

What Witnesses know most about government is that they’d like for them to leave them be. “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity,” writes the apostle Paul to Timothy. “Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose.” Okay. Got it. Jehovah’s Witnesses will not make trouble as they lead their quiet, tranquil lives of devotion and dignity. But sometimes trouble searches them out.19

Several have thought me too charitable in my assessment of Russian officials, to which I acknowledge that my assessment is to some extent built upon wishful thinking and a distaste for imputing motive. How can anyone know for sure? I am halfway around the world, immersed in a completely different culture. Modern life molds us to ignore fundamental principles of getting along that once were as common as dirt. Always impute good motives. If it turns out you are wrong, drop a notch and see if you can get your head around how the villain became a villain; sometimes that allows you to snatch a measure of victory from defeat. But if you accuse every foe from the outset of ill motive you have lost before you begin.

As far as I am concerned, Trump v Hillary is a godsend for the preacher of the gospel because it brings into stark relief 2 Timothy 3:1-5, that run-on list of negative traits: “There will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power.” It used to be that if you cited the passage and your listener didn’t agree it is fulfilled now more than ever, there was not much you could do about it; manifestly, it is subjective. These days its fulfillment is evident. It used to be that people would scream at each other till the cows come home over God/no God, medicine/alternative medicine, science/metaphysics or various other sideshows that could be ignored by the average person. But with Trump/hate Trump, almost everybody is drawn in and Two Timothy 320 becomes the defining year text for this entire system of things.

Even “truth” and “lies” have become subjective. Everyone has their own. It is as the Bible Book of Isaiah says. People say: “what is bad is good and what is good is bad.” It is not just true in spiritual matters. It is true in every aspect of life today: in politics, in philosophy, and in the general discussion of all things, whether slight or serious. Charles Manson’s greatest contribution to humanity, perhaps his only contribution, was to say: “Once upon a time, being crazy meant something. Nowadays, everyone is crazy.” This new normal adds a new relevance to Jesus words: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” an utterance always on the list of favorite Witness scriptures. “As a witness” is the best one can consistently hope for, a witness to another way of life in which people actually get along with one another.21

Let us not be too maudlin in telling this tale. We could be forgiven for doing so. The 56-year-old Witness chatting with friends who suffered a liquor bottle smashed over her head by someone screaming “You Jehovists are banned!” so that people nearby thought they had heard a shot – she may not laugh for a while.22 It may be some time before Dennis Christensen, the first modern Witness in Russia to be jailed for studying the Bible, will laugh. How funny can it be languishing in prison? though he actually did break into encouraging song at a video court appearance before the guards told him to shut up. But let us not sing the blues, much less “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”23 In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a happy people. Knock them down and they get back up. They laugh a lot. It should not be a great surprise as God himself is said to be happy. If he is, those who trust in him will also be.24

Christians are described as providing a theatrical spectacle to the world.25 It is theater enacted on countless front porches, which must suffice for the stage. Sometimes Witnesses get rave reviews. Sometimes they are booed off the stage. There is an element of comedy to it. “I can never get over a Christian’s “need” to save people,” one atheist told me derisively. It is a little funny, isn’t it? I played along and told him my psychiatrist had diagnosed in me just such a need, on the hunch that maybe he would play ball if he thought he was cooperating with science.

The verse I was suggesting that day, from Job, was one that can set the stage for many a discussion about suffering and why God permits it. “You that have understanding, hear me: far be it from God to do wickedness; far from the Almighty to do wrong!”26 I like that verse because some people think he does do wickedness. Others look at all that is transpiring and say: ‘I don’t think there is a God.’ An ensuing conversation can veer in so many directions. This particular stage featured a new twist: the householder was in a wheelchair. I had noted walking up the driveway two bumper stickers, “Born Right the First Time,” and “There are Death Squads in America – They Are Called Insurance Companies.” Now, I am not one to read too much into bumper stickers, but sometimes they tell it all. “You are here to tell me about suffering?” he hurled in my face. “No,” I answered. “I am here so that you can tell me.” You never know what will happen. The porches are stages. The door to door ministry is the show. Best not to be rigid in what you plan to say or do.

Let us also avoid any “clash of the titans” tone. Leonid Bershidsky writes in Bloomberg about the turmoil in Russia. He is a fine writer. He gets everything right. He has read Emily Baran’s book (more on that later) which everyone should read. He misses only the possible machinations of the rival church, which is not his specialty. But he cannot resist a dramatic flair at the end: “Russia has no more patience with openness and tolerance. Putin’s regime doesn’t care whether it passes any tests on that score. In a way, it’s as defiant as the Witnesses, and so far, it’s just as resilient. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been resilient for longer.”27 Such dramatization makes for more gripping a read. I do it myself. But Witnesses don’t carry on in this way. They are resilient, but they would not characterize themselves as defiant. They stay low-key. They are not the Hollywood version of The Bible in which Moses pops Pharaoh in the nose and gets the girl. They are the Bible’s own version of itself in which Moses squirms to avoid his commission because he is clumsy of speech and acquiesces only when he is told Aaron will be there to hold his hand.28  

Neither will we demonize Russian President Putin. He is head of a different type of government—a different type of “human rulership.”  I am a product of the West and I like it here. But if I were a product of the East I would no doubt like it there, too. Russian Witnesses (absent the persecution) are perfectly content within their country of origin and go out of their way to behave there. Often as one surveys news reports one reads statements to the effect that they love the people and culture and would prefer not to leave. They set themselves up as neither cheerleaders nor resisters of any form of government. “Tell us your rules for maintaining public order,” they say to the king, “and we will follow them.” The temptation to demonize officials is strong. Outright confiscation of the Watchtower branch facilities in St. Petersburg, which essentially means picking the pockets of modest and poor people the world over who donated toward it, provides such temptation. But let us not go there. All human governments are a mix of virtue and villainy. Let us not attempt to sort it out here.

Though unapologetically a Witness, I promise, more or less, not to take any cheap shots at Witness detractors. Cheap shots are in the eye of the beholder and there are intransigent opponents of the faith to whom anything short of a complete renunciation of beliefs will be a cheap shot. There is little I can do about that and I won’t try. But everyone else gets a fair shake and even the opponents themselves are not deliberately antagonized. My audience will vary from non-Witness to current Witness to former Witness. Roll with it if you can. The task is all the more challenging because I have not renounced sarcasm, “the language of the Devil,” as Thomas Carlyle called it. If Bershidsky cannot swear off the dramatic flourish, I cannot swear off the sarcasm. It may be the language of the Devil, but it is also the more stimulating, and ye (that is, me) of little willpower falls for it every time. But I do not want to be like the American celebrity who blurts out something blatantly partisan and thus antagonizes half his or her audience. I have endeavored to keep it under tight control. Expect nothing but joy and love around here, with minor caveats.

From: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. “Inventing Extremists: The Impact of Russian Anti-Extremism Policies on Freedom of Religion or Belief,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, January 2018, 4
  2. ‘Hoosegow’ is American slang for ‘jail’ that might not be known outside America. It brings up connotations of the lawless Old West, and that seems to me an appropriate connotation when dealing with the possible detainment of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the grounds of extremism.
  3. Andrei Kuraev, “Prohibition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Undermines Trust in Court,” To Truth, a project of the Tomsk Information and Consulting Center on the problems of sects and occultism, April 25, 2017
  4. John 10:18
  5. Kruaev, “Prohibition of”
  6. “Refreshing Those Toiling and Loaded Down,” JW Broadcasting, a seven-minute video presented at congregation meeting the week of January 28, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwb_201705_4_VIDEO
  7. “Hebrew-flavored” because the work of Nehemia Gordon suggests the name was pronounced “Yehovah.” One who has worked as a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he and his research team have discovered hundreds of ancient documents with that complete pronunciation. See “The Original Hebrew Name of God Re-Discovered in 1,000 Bible Manuscripts,” Religion News Service, January 25, 2018, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.religionnews.com/2018/01/25/the-original-hebrew-name-of-god-re-discovered-in-1000-bible-manuscripts
  8. Jason Beduhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003) 163
  9. Per a letter from the Governing Body read to all congregations during 2014, where it was noted that traveling ministers of the first century directly appointed congregation elders and did not defer the job to the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem, citing verses as Acts 14:33 and the record of Titus and Timothy.
  10. Beduhn, Truth in, 124-125
  11. Acts 17:18
  12. Thanks to American humorist Garrison Keillor here. Pastor Inqvist and his Catholic counterpart, Father Emil, were fixtures in Keillor’s Tales from Lake Wobegon, his fictional Minnesota hometown, “where all the men are strong, all the women are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The gentle humor of his two-hour weekly radio show landed him on the cover of Time magazine, which he spoofed with his song: “Mr. Coverboy.” He is a significant influence on my own writing.
  13. Hebrews 4:12
  14. See, for example, The Watchtower, Feb 15, 2011, 8-9
  15. Joel Engardio, “Filmmaker Statements” to the 2006 documentary ‘Knocking,’ accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/knocking/statement.html
  16. Melvin Eisenhower, as quoted in Modern Maturity Magazine. The quote also appears in Awake! Magazine, April 22, 1975. Additionally, the October 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a World War II American soldier who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to explain to his superiors his newfound neutrality went nowhere, so he resorted to writing a letter to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces’ (then the future President, Dwight D. Eisenhower) mother, Ida Eisenhower, which Awake! reprints.
  17. Gary Sloan, “A Connecticut Yankee in God’s Court: Mark Twain’s Covert War with Religion,” Skeptic, vol. 8, no. 4, 2001. See also, for a moderating view on Twain’s spiritual outlook: Tom Rapsis, “It’s Time to Take Mark Twain Back from the Atheists,” Wake-up Call, October 22, 2014, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/2014/10/its-time-to-take-mark-twain-back-from-the-atheists/
  18. Michael Hart, The 100- A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons of History (New York: Citadel Press, 1992) 3-19, 17-21
  19. 1 Timothy: 21-2, Romans 13:3-4
  20. The ‘Two Timothy’ is deliberate. In seeking to rally the religious crowd, which politicians have done since the beginning of time, Trump cited ‘Two Corinthians 3:17,’ rather than 2 Corinthians 3:17. This employment of verse persuaded his audience that he was indeed one of them, though they conceded perhaps he was still growing as a Christian.
  21. Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 24:14
  22. “A Brutal Attack on Believers in the Moscow Region on the Basis of Religious Hatred,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, September 4, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, https://jw-russia.org/news/17090416-211.html
  23. An African-American spiritual song, first published in 1867
  24. 1 Timothy 1:11
  25. 1 Corinthians 4:9
  26. Job 34:10
  27. Leonid Bershidsky, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Foes Before Putin,” Bloomberg.com, April 21, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-04-21/jehovah-s-witnesses-had-foes-before-putin
  28. Exodus 4:10-16

 

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At the Wilkes-Barre “Love Never Fails” Regional Convention

We took supper at a Red Robin after the first day of the “Love Never Fails” Regional Convention in Wilkes-Barre. At the table just behind me, a child—about 5 years of age (and not one of ours)—began raising a horrible ruckus, screaming at the top of his lungs. His mother took him out, but when she returned he started up anew. I turned around and asked the parents if everything was okay.

I admit that I was looking for signs of endangerment. Maybe one “parent” or the other would look shifty. Maybe the child would act as though they were not his parents. It is a sign of the times that I should do this, but I saw nothing alarming.

There was a time not too long ago when most parents would respond in a certain way to such a tantrum, but that way is likely to land them in jail today. Jehovah’s Witnesses work with many refugee groups. Almost always, they encounter ones whose flight has turned their lives upside-down, and one of the most bewildering things they confront is that child-rearing customs that were absolutely routine and unremarkable back home are taboo in their new home. Do not misunderstand. I make no argument for its return. That said, it is by no means clear that today’s children are better adjusted for its disappearance.

My turning around put the parents even more on notice that they were disrupting the entire restaurant. They could hardly have not known it before, but here was a fresh reminder. The father became heated, threatening no TV for a week and the like. Upon leaving, I said to him: “Don’t worry about it. Whatever you do, stay calm. I’ve been there. They’re kids. It happens.”

Taking in the convention program over three days, I began to wish that silly reporter from the Phoenix New Times would have accepted the offer from the attendants (whom she seemed to regard as wardens) to be seated. With her anti-JW story already written, she could hardly run it during the day of their convention without at least having briefly been there, and it is plain she comes with that rationale.  She looks around hastily, notices that people are paying attention, and writes that “attendees listened rapturously.”

Of course, she is not silly. What she latches onto for her story is certainly not nothing. She will forgive my grumbling on the basis that she is young enough to be my daughter. For all I know, she is the daughter of some friend of mine. Reporters are not silly, or if they are, they are no more so than anyone else. They are typically concerned with injustice. They sometimes put their safety on the line in confronting it. Nobody is silly who does this. They have faith that shining the bright light of journalism on something will cause the cockroaches to disappear. Usually, however, they just go somewhere else—and failure to recognize that circumstance is what triggers the charge of silliness.

Though her focus is certainly not nothing, neither is it everything. She entirely misses the big picture. She would have benefitted from the program that she cited as “three days of music-video presentations, prayers, songs, addresses, symposiums, and dramatic readings from the Bible” on the theme of “Love Never Fails.” The public address of that convention (the program is identical at all locations—only the speaker differs, and not even that for every talk, since portions of that Phoenix “international” convention, so-named for the foreign delegates attending, were streamed into other locations, such as Wilkes-Barre) opened with a truth as self-evident as are the truths Thomas Jefferson addressed in the Declaration of Independence.

In this case, it is that all instances of injustice occur and are cultivated due to a lack of love. That being so, and obvious, the question becomes: “Just who will teach love?” Will it be the university? That is not its job. It focuses on training the intellect, with the apparent assumption that the moral qualities such as love will take care of themselves. As even the sloppiest purview of world headlines reveals, they do not. So who will teach it? Will it be agencies that are guided in training from the university that does not teach it? Is the quality so innate that it not need be taught? Again, a review of news headlines reveals the fallacy of such a notion. So who?

Training that takes its cue from humankind’s Creator has traditionally played that role. “God is love,” states 1 John 4:8. Such training appears under attack from the Phoenix reporter, though she has nothing to replace it with. In the case of Bible training, Witnesses will say that it is a “treasure,” but it is a “treasure” carried in “earthen vessels”—that is, us, as flawed humans—just as Paul states at 2 Corinthians 4:7. Humans are capable of error, poor judgment, and even villainy. But that doesn’t mean that the training from God is no good, and the reporter should have sat through it.

When she cites the Pew report that reveals Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest rate of retention of all faiths, why does she not also cite what appears on the same page? “Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in America,” it says. Nobody is concerned about racial prejudice more than reporters, and here Pew makes a statement to indicate that the Witnesses have solved it to a remarkable degree. All she had to do was look around and see for herself the harmonious diversity that she will not soon see again. But she does not notice it. She is caught up in an agenda pushed by the faith’s opponents. She is interested in the child sexual abuse angle—an angle that is seemingly shared by every group of persons on the planet. Pedophiles are a pernicious lot that nobody has succeeded in vanquishing, and the Boy Scouts of America, who taught generations of boys responsibility, self included, are at risk of going under because of it.

In New York State, where I have lived and still keep up, a new law eliminates the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Law firms have flooded the media in search of plaintiffs. Hundreds of new lawsuits are being filed, and the challenge may soon be to find somebody NOT being sued, as lawyers preside over a massive transfer of wealth that amounts to a tax on everyone else. Businesses raise prices. Governments raise taxes. Insurance rates of all sort skyrocket at a time when overall inflation is quite low.

In fact, had I detected abuse at the Red Robin restaurant, and had I reported it, and had the police and child protective authorities arrived and confirmed that it was indeed abuse, and had they removed the child on that account, I still would not have been sure that I had done the right thing. Among those squarely in the crosshairs of child sexual abuse lawsuits are many agencies dedicated to placing them in “protected” settings, but who have put them into settings no better and sometimes worse than where they were before. The world is a shell game of persons wanting to “do something” who, though well-intentioned, are likely to simply shift the evil from one place to another.

In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses, during their 2017 Regional Conventions, considered detailed scenarios in which child sexual abuse has been known to occur—if there are sleepovers, if there are unsupervised trips to the restroom, if there are tickling sessions, if someone is showing unusual interest in your child, for example—so that parents, who are obviously the first line of defense, can be vigilant. Nobody, but nobody, gathers their entire worldwide membership for such training with the aim of protecting children from harm.

It is certainly not wrong for the reporter to report on the Witness connection with child sexual abuse. Much as they would love to say that they have vanquished the crime, such is plainly not the case. But neither has it been the case for anyone else. In some ways, Jehovah’s Witnesses have created a unique legal vulnerability for themselves, for unlike most faiths that were content to preach to the flock weekly and thereafter take no interest in whether religious training was actually applied or not, Witnesses attempt to “police their own,” and thus did become aware of sordid things.

Yet she was right there at the three day convention focusing on all aspects and applications of love. (And an international convention of 40,000 must make a greater impression than a Wilkes-Barre convention of 3500) Had she paid attention, she would have heard from the Cherokee man who grew up embittered because the white man had stolen the lands of his people. He was embittered again when he was required to fight their war for them (Vietnam). When his wife began studying with two Witness women, he was sullen and unwelcoming—the last thing he wanted was the religion of the white man. When she reached the point of wanting to be baptized, he declared that he would not come. When asked who would watch his baby during the baptism, he declared that maybe he had better come on that account. There, he observed the atmosphere for four days (conventions used to be longer) and his already softened attitude toward the Witnesses softened further. The reporter could have taken in that atmosphere, too, had she not had a deadline to meet.

(Jehovah’s Witnesses is not a “come down and be saved” faith. The process of learning and trying Bible teachings on for size seldom (in this area) lasts less than a year. Throughout that time, persons are grounded in their own familiar routine and environment. College is more “manipulative” than is anything having to do with the Witnesses, for there young people are typically cut off almost 24/7 from all that once stabilized them, be it family, friends, and general environment—a classic tool of those who brainwash)

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Blocking Trolls the Star Trek Way - I Didn’t Want to Do It

I blocked quite a few trolls yesterday. I didn’t really want to block them—it is a first for me—but the nature of trolls everywhere is that they do nothing but insist upon their own view. If answered, they just repackage and run it through again, and they get downright ornery when countered. Soon you find that they have taken over your day, because they will not let your counterview stand—they must demolish it.

They are not even wrong, necessarily, in the basic facts they may present—but they insist upon skewing them and imputing motives, invariably bad ones, to their former friends. It is like that job you left—either you quit or were fired, You are unlikely to speak well of it again, unless it clearly was a stepping stone job or a career change.

All their chums join the fray. In time, you are doing nothing else but countering these characters. They will not be swayed—as trolls never are. In our case, it is the verse: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” They have tasted and pronounced him bad. Are you going to turn them around in a few 280-character tweets? I don’t think so.

There is a part of me that will miss them, but they just will not behave. A writer needs a muse, but he also needs a villain. Social media is VillainsRUs, but you soon find that they are taking over your life—plus the neighbors begin to complain. It is like when you change to another genre and find trolls that insist Trump must hang for anything that has happened “on his watch,” and then you switch channels to find those insisting that Obama or Hillary must hang for whatever happened “on their watch.” Who can deal with that vitriol? We will know what is what when the fat lady sings—a reference that I soon will not be able to use due the latest development of political correctness—“fat-shaming”—although I did learn over the weekend that Brother Herd, who may not even know what political correctness is, will never reprove me for it.

When the time came, I cut them down like Captain Kirk used to cut down Romulans. I deliberately mixed up two Star Trek series so that they would tell me how stupid I was to think that Wesley Crusher was Dr. McCoy’s son. It is like when Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its nuclear missels toward the U.S. People of good sense run for the hills. Trolls run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right. Whether they actually did it or not, I will never know—for they had been blocked:

“Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the StarShip TrueTom, whose mission is to boldly go where no one has gone before to tell us what’s out there! Report, TrueTom. What have you found in your valiant quest? What’s out there!”

“Roger that, Houston. I am afraid that the report is bad. It is a universe of trolls! Aren’t there any parallel universes around anywhere? They’re everywhere! In the cupboards, in the closets, in the toilets...mostly there. Let’s beam them over to the Klingon ship!”

“You have go-ahead, TrueTom. Use you digression.”

“Got it, Houston. Phasers locked. Fire at will! Mr Solo! Let’s take out the first wave of these vile aliens. Shields, up! There may be a second wave!”

“Captain, the engines—they can’t take it!”

“Suck it up, Scotty. What do you think I pay you for?”

“Mr. Spock, get Roy Romulan on the phone. Let’s patch up our little spat. He’s not such a bad guy after all.”

....

“Jean Luc, Wesley says that you are wuss for not staying to fight the trolls.”

“Tell the young snot to return to the helm. And tell him to try not to graze the side of the Ferengi ship this time. See if you can renew his learner’s permit once again.”

“Captain, are you certain that you should block all these Trolonians, like that hothead McCoy wants? I advise that we preserve some for study.”

“What! Are you, too, a Trolonian? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up from Trolonia! Blast away, Jim!”

“Captain, one of those vile aliens exploded in my face! Look at all this green goo!”

“Wesley, you young idiot! Did you learn nothing from that “Men in Black” training video? Listen, ride outside on the wing for awhile until the stench wears off! I’ll tell your mom that you went fishing.”

“Captain, it isn’t logical that you should have put up with those trolls all that time.”

“Zip it, Spock! He was going for the StarFleet world record for Troll Endurance. Now that he has it—it came in the mail today—blast away at all those suckers!”

“Captain, the first wave has fallen, but it is as you said: “Kill a fly and 50 come to the funeral!” What can we do?”

“Hmm. What! Solo, you idiot! I said phasers! You have activated the tractor beam! Gasp! Are you a trolonian, too—et tu, Brutus?”

“Captain, the engines!”

”Oh for crying out loud! You are such a pain, Scotty!”

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The Loaded Words - Infallible, Inspired, and Perfect

It is revealing to me that those who taunt JWs endlessly over just how “inspired” are the ones at the helm today seem to take for granted that there should be ones who are that way. It gets even more crazy when words such as “infallible” are thrown in. “Perfect” makes matters worse. 

“Look at what Brother Jackson said,” they gloat. “Guess he’s not so infallible after all, is he?” they say. They take for granted that for the Christian life to have validity in modern times, there should be ones who ARE infallible, who can and SHOULD spoon-feed members, so there is a lessened need for faith, and hopefully (from their point of view) none at all.

These ones wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the first century, when the ones taking the lead were manifestly not that way. A local speaker with a dramatic flair enacted a fictional encounter with an irate householder from back then, a forerunner of today’s “apostates.” “What! You’re going to tell me about love?” he hammers the visiting brother. “Look, I was there at that meeting of Paul and Barnabas after John took a leave of absence! You see those two kids there? [motioning to his young children playing on the floor] They do not fight as I saw those two grown men of yours fight! Why don’t you learn love yourself before you come here to lecture me about it!”

(For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark.  But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pam·phylʹi·a and had not gone with them to the work.  At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus. - Acts 15:37-39)

For that reason, I shy away from such loaded words as “infallible.” Maybe the insistence on infallibility is a holdover from the Catholic Church, which for centuries insisted that the Pope was that way. “Inspired” will also blow up in your face, because you end up doing backflips in translating just what the word should effectively mean now—or even then, when the “leading men” fought like kids. I even put the word “apostates” in quotes, increasingly, because it comes in many varieties and it means different things to different people.

It is enough to say that the written record, which includes the dealings and interactions of imperfect ones at the first-century helm, is deemed “inspired:“ All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

This is so even though it includes the account of Peter’s astounding cowardess (given his leadership role at the time) of changing his association once the Jewish-based brothers came on the scene—before they did, he mixed freely with the Gentile-based Christians; after they did, he “withdrew” from them.

(However, when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class.  The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barʹna·bas was led along with them in their pretense.  But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: “If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?” - Galatians 2:11-14)

It is still “inspired.” It is enough for us to go on. It is enough to make the Christian “fully competent” and “completely equipped for every good work.” Even though it includes the blunderings of the “uneducated and ordinary” ones that were the leaders back then—and the leaders today hold to that pattern—that is still the case. It is not at all what opponents today think that it should be—a true and unfailing human anointed one to wipe away every tear and smooth the path, removing all pebbles so that the people of God can sail along blithely without really having to develop faith. 

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Skirmish #150819 - The Unreluctant

If this hadn’t ended in a threat, I would have forgotten all about it. Even so, I am not sure that it was worth the effort to put together. Don’t I have other things to do? And didn’t the Librarian (that old hen) once tell me to knock it off when I got into a long squabble with Alan the Juggernaut? “I call all to witness that Tom has not answered my question,” he said. “It’s just you and me, you idiot,” I replied. “What! Do you think that you are Clarence Darrow arguing “Inherit the Wind?”  Nonetheless, I did reassemble the tweets in this instance, which is not easy to do chronologically when they fly back and forth quickly.

What saves me with these trolls  is that I have a body of work stretching back 15 years. It has a way of discouraging them, because eventually it dawns upon them that, though they vent their spleen, they really end up retarding their cause—they submit 30 words, and I, by including a link to something already written, respond with 1000. For the time being, that gives me a leg up, and whenever brothers exchange remarks with these characters without that advantage, they usually get beaten up badly, not just by the villain, but by all his chums who join the fray. I don’t recommend it, and maybe even for me I do not recommend it.

“The Unreluctant” appears out of nowhere to challege the post about the Phoenix New Times article,  but it quickly escalates. He is becoming frustrated with the posts I link to. I mean, these fellows want to drag out some pissy little complaint for a few pages, and you respond with a link that covers that complaint, and much more. Presently, they start to lose it: [Warning: this gets graphic on his part...I have edited as lightly as possible, for the sake of readability. I have added nothing (except a bracketed running commentary) I have deleted a little so as not to be redundant.]

UnR: Although ur writing style is unique so if you are up for some advice, sometimes less said is better. Just being constructive mate.

TTH: It was once thought permissible to make a defense when under accusation.

UnR: Of course it is Tom. Mate do you have a problem with comprehension? You always bring another argument into it I didn’t bring up...straw man much Defend Tom, just learn to be more constructive less arrogance....if you want my brutal honesty.

TTH: It is ever the way with zealots to hone in laser-like on their issue and their issue alone—to the exclusion of all else. Considering context was once thought wise. Today it is raising a straw man argument. Such zealotry is seen in many areas, not just that of religion.

TTH: Don’t tag me in a @jasonwynee reply because he has blocked me, the big wus. Of course, if I was abusive, foul, or harassing, that might be expected, but you well know from our exchanges that I am not. As an example of things misrepresented, here is a post on “mentally diseased.” Most of the rest is you chest-thumping over your hoped-for events.

UnR: Correct they categorised them [he is referring to “apostates”] all as ‘sub-human’ We see such terms being used by the GB as Vermin (exactly what the Nazis stayed) Mentally diseased (removed from the 2013 NWT perversion as it was too damaging to leave in) [that removal is covered in my above link]

TTH: Off the top of my head, I do not know where this is. [only the “mentally diseased was ever in print] But the Bible itself speaks of “animalistic men” and those enthralled with the “teaching of demons” It was probably said [once] in that context. They certainly don’t overdo it.

UnR: That’s right Tom,they didn’t overdo it at all when they copied the Nazi slogan & slaughter 6mio Jews by calling them vermin, and using it in a public setting in 2019! Tom forgive me please,but piss off and pull your head out of Gerrit Losch’s backside. You have now crossed a line

TTH: Uh oh. I think it is you crossing a line, not me. As to the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews, by the time it got underway, virtually everyone BUT Jehovah’s Witnesses had a hand in it. They were in the camps for their refusal to go along with Adolf.

TTH: There is also an current account, and I will be unable to back this up because I do not know that the involved parties want publicity, of JWs asking for very accommodating terms in hotel negotiations with a high-priced facility, being dismissed by hotel personnel, who were then countermanded by the manager on the basis that her grandfather was in the Nazi camps and she wouldn’t be here were it not for him. Yes, I have not cited my source, but you know well that I do not lie. Let’s see if you also explode in vitriol at that one.

UnR: Pathetic Tom of how you cross a line and condone the rhetoric and then try to tramp on 6mio lives with 1300 JW’s somehow that because they were allowed to shave an SS Gaurdian somehow means something! Pathetic man you are Tom...you crossed the line with me! The first letter Rutherford wrote you did have a hand in it, you by proxy and your organisation condoned the ideals of the Third Reich. You had your hand in it up to your neck in killing 6mio Jews! It was only when Hitler confiscated the assets did he write second letter. Dont try an rewrite history with me,I know more about your Orgs dirty little secrets than u ever will. Recent talk at the convention given by Geoffrey Jackson states the real reason hitler was killing Jews was to get to the anointed is nothing short of holicaust denial! Pathetic.

[This is so unhinged that I just leave it here without rebutal. There is an early letter (1933) from the Watchtower president to Hitler’s brand-new government to assure it that Witnesses were apolitical and not a thread. It does not avoid certain stereotypes common in that day. Professor Patrick Allitt, an historian at Emory University in Atlanta, speaks in the GreatCourses series of a “low-level anti-semitism” that was near universal in North America, and considerably worse elsewhere leading up till WWII. After that war, with the Holocaust having come to light, it virtually disappeared. I suppose you can make the case that the Wt president could have risen above it—still, that is all that you can say. It is ever the mark of zealots that they extrapolate the standards of the present day into the past to condemn those whom they don’t like.]

UnR: You back up nothing, your blogs are Watchtowers rewritten, a wannabe elder who gets turned down by the CO due to you being ‘odd’ not Elder material, hence you come on twitter to find your calling...am I close Tom, has the nerve been struck my brother? Tom, you so dearly want that position

TTH: I do shake in fury over that—probably you have heard the heavens rumble. [I played with this some more]: Again!! It happened again!! The CO left and he DIDN’T MAKE ME AN ELDER!! What is that—200 times? ARRRGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!  [How did he know?]

TTH: Oh, and [besides the post on standing up to Hitler, here is one] on Rutherford, [you may enjoy this] And on the intellectuals that you try to join, here is something appropriate to the Nazi era. ...Please consider adopting a human photo for your profile, so that the reader doesn’t suppose you an adolescent stuck in a fantasy world.

UnR: And there it is, the gas lighting. I kept this whole conversation on a level until you told lies about 6mio Jews and how you had nothing to do with it, yet your organisation condoned it at the highest level and what do you come back with....gas lighting. You crossed the line Tom

TTH: Feel free to cross back. I did not invite you here, you know. Nor did I engage you on your feed. Nor do I even want you here. This is so typical—you enter with remarks that get more & more heated till they outright lose it & burst into profanity. [Isn’t there something in Revelation 12 about ones who “accuse your brothers day and night before God?”]

UnR: You crossed the line and you will pay for it.

TTH: I crossed line and I will pay for it? Will screenshots help [my cause]? I mean, just when I think that you cannot get more abusive, you reach new heights.

[At this point, “NoFucksGiven” felt it appropriate to weigh in for the first time. She reached back into her treasure trove of words and found the same one that she would have found on the front burner]: YOUR FUCKING CULT IS GOING DOWN!!

TTH: Another visitor. Look, if I didn’t block the one that posted a photo of an erect penis, I will not soon block you. Best to let such things hang out there, where they will soon be buried, and until they are they make her look unhinged, not me. As to “going down” try this:

[She responded with a GIF of a dancing turd.]

I haven’t actually blocked anyone yet. I am not adverse to doing it. They do sully up things, they are a distraction, and if I hang with them long enough, I will probably tell my someone to “piss off” and get his head out of whoever’s backside. I mean, there really is something to that verse: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” It may just be that I’ve not blocked anyone yet because I recall the wise words of Bud: “Kill a fly and 50 come to the funeral.”

It was the threat that decided me: “You have crossed a line and you will pay for it.” What did I do to trigger THAT? Maybe I jumped the gun in charging profanity. Perhaps “pissing off” and urging one to “pull your head out of Gerrit Losch’s backside” is polite dinner banter where he comes from. He plainly drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid, and it sends him into a rage when he is countered.

Maybe I shouldn’t have played around with his theory of a frustrated wannabe elder. I mean, that IS a little like brushing the teeth of a charging Rottweiler. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. Oh, and perhaps I shouldn’t have asked him to shed his mask, so people would not think he was a pimply comic book-world adolescent. Actually, maybe I had it coming. But, come on! These guys materialize out of nowhere, just like—well, they materialize—and they make all sorts of charges. But give them any pushback, and they lose it. You also can’t call them a name because if you do, you will be complicit with Hitler in killing 6 million Jews. So let me just say for the record that I had a misunderstanding with this gentleman.

It is probably not a real threat. These are the days of 2 Timothy  3, in which people are said to be “without self-control” and “fierce.” It happens all the time on social media. Still, I am a sensitive soul, a “very gentle man, down to my fingertips/the sort who never would, ever could, let an insulting remark escape his lips” (for the most part), and it gave me pause. As long as I was pausing, I thought I’d write it up as a post.

Maybe I can engage JTR, that big-mouthed quasi-brother from the hills who packs a gun—something practically unheard of in JW-land. He will watch my back, and if I get into trouble, he will approach smiling, parting his suit jacket so that UnReluctant will see his holster, at which point he will mumble and slink away. Trouble is, JTR is prone to posting incendiary material of his own. Still, when push comes to shove, he will probably have my back. I think.

Or maybe I should just do it the way of Peter, who, when he pulled out a sword, the Lord told him to put it back.

....

[Edit: JTR was a good egg about this, even if he is a bad egg in some ways. He is a good egg as a driver, too, and he once proved it by turning his vehicle once over easy. At any rate, he said: “Of course I will defend you, TTH. That’s what I do.” 

To acknowledge this, I sent him a “tough-bro” story—he likes that kind of thing and there aren’t that many of them:

”There is a report of someone dear to me, an MS, being similarly threatened by a—I don’t even think that he is a brother, but he attends some meetings. The MS was worried about it, relating to me: “I hope that he does not come after me in the restrooms, because if he does, I will take him down” and he called the different elders as to what he should do. One laughed, as though it were a contest that he would love to see. The COBE got back to him presently, to say that he need not worry if he felt it necessary to “take care of his business.”]

 

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Did you Find Everything that You Were Looking For?

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the clerk said. I told her that I had.

But then I added that it had taken me all day. In fact, more than all day. I had arrived last night and had camped overnight in the produce section. She started laughing uncontrollably at this, and it only increased when I told I had slept in the bin with the cantaloupes.

Then she told me the total. “Are you still thinking about that?” I asked. “What do you think this little diversion is all about?—to get you laughing so hard you’ll forget all about it!” That made her laugh even more. Still, she didn’t forget the total, telling me that she had to charge.

I told the guy behind me that he would probably benefit. She had nailed me, but he could probably get through scot-free. “She’s clearly taken her eye off the ball,” I told him. But he said that she would probably charge him double.

She was still laughing as I was boxing up the groceries. The other fellow added to the joke in a way I did not hear, and her guffawing continued even as I walked out the door.

 

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“I Ain’t Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm no More”

I haven’t written any Bob Dylan posts for a long while, and I wouldn’t have written one today, except that the dryer broke. That meant—with my wife looking on approvingly—that I would be spending precious time hanging stupid wash on the line! It’s ridiculous!

Of course, as I was doing so, the lyrics of Maggie’s Farm came to mind:

Well, I wake up in the morning/Fold my hands and pray for rain

I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin' me insane

It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor

I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more.

This prompted me to investigate further in (of course) Wikipedia, where....gasp!....I discovered that the most bedrock and undisputed fact in the musical universe is, in fact, not so!

Bob Dylan rose to fame on the strength of his folk ballads. We all know that. We also all know that he reinvented himself, and has done so several times since. We all know that, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he was roundly booed, and we know the reason why: he went on stage with electifried sound, and the snooty purists there stuck up their nose at anything not acoustic. I mean, we all know this!

We all knew wrong! It is another “Everything You Thought You Knew About Such and Such is Wrong” headline. I am coming to think that there is no reason to accept anything anymore. If a pitch is not to your liking, just lay back like Casey and wait for one that is. Unlike Casey, you will get more than three. You will keep getting pitches until the cows come home. Just wait for one you like. Everyone else does—why should you not as well?

They booed because they didn’t like the electric guitars? No, they booed because the sound was terrible and they couldn’t hear the words! Look at what Pete Seeger (termed Dylan’s harshest critic that day) said:

“There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the '65 Newport Folk festival, but that's wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing 'Maggie's Farm' and you couldn't understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, 'Fix the sound, it's terrible!' The guy said 'No, this is what the young people want.' And I did say that if I had an axe I'd cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn't mind him going electric.”

It was all a lie! The folk people didn’t mind him going electric that night. Someone else on the program had already gone electric and nobody had lost their cookies over it. This is just the result of some revisionist falling over himself to paint a titanic “Clash of the Cultures” when in fact there was none! “Bob’s going electric?” is more like it, “Well, what d’ya know? Wish we could hear the words.”

Now, if this is a big lie about a bedrock and undisputed fact, it must be conceded that it is not a big lie about a very important bedrock and undisputed fact. (Unless you are a musician, in which case it overshadows everything else) “Who cares?” is a reasonable reaction. However, though trivial—or maybe it is even magnified because it is trivial—it serves to illustrate the quicksand that those of critical thought stand upon as they presume to instruct those less mentally disciplined. As with the Christian ministry, the “ministry” of conveying human knowledge is carried in earthen vessels—humans. In fact, not just “earthen vessels,” but sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you. In fact, worse than sievelike earthen vessels that leak most of the water before it ever gets to you, but sievelike earthen vessels that leak the most of the water while various yo-yo’s are replenishing the supply with their own water, which turns out to be contaminated—so that what finally gets to you is not the real water at all.. I mean, if you can’t believe that the folk singers booed Dylan because they were elite and snooty, what CAN you believe?

This is only the beginning of the woes for ones who suppose that critical thinking will save us. For the ones steadfastly filling the leaky vessels are not the careful and wise ones, intent upon safeguarding knowledge. As often as not, they are yo-yos and liars, concocting their own version of events so as to sway viewpoints their way. Sometimes they are deliberate frauds. More often they are sincere persons truly doing their best but, since we are all molded and skewed by our own individual experiences, one must analyze in detail even the most mundane and obvious statement—in this case that the folk singers were shocked at Dylan changing the genre. With him, there is almost nothing that has been related accurately. Even his supposed leadership role as a counterculture icon is all wrong.

Are people inclined to analyze in detail even the most “mundane and obvious” statement? You know that they are not. But even when they are, the fact remains that nobody has the resources to do it—the disposable time of any given individual is very, very small. For many, it is effectively zilch. Plus, there is much to compete with that disposable time, and most often entertainment wins out over research. Stacking the odds even more is the habit of some to hide matters in a barrage of irrelevance (that is not to say that THEY regard it as irrelevance), muddying the waters, to the point where people say: “Ah, to blazes with it! They’re all liars anyway!” When this happens, as the saying goes, “the terrorists [to human knowledge] have won.”

And yet those of critical thought strut around on the world stage as though their grasp on the “facts” makes them invincible. It is as Jack Nicholson said to Tom Cruise in the movie: “You can’t handle the truth!” We leak away the true facts in no time at all, and compensate for it by tapping the minds of pillars who have also leaked away the true facts. 

Alas, “critical thinking” will not save us. It may even make matters worse, for who has not noticed that those who harp with greatest tenacity about critical thinking invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff? One of our first conclusions as to critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it. Nope. It is the heart that will save us—not the head—the heart refined by spiritual principles that are true, that have emanated from a Higher Source, that have the greatest odds of mending the earthen, leaky, flawed vessels that are us.

.....

Now, as long as we are at it with my hanging clothes on the clothesline until the repairman comes—if he comes, because when this post is written I will explore fixing it myself—I fixed the dishwasher, after all, when it did not heat, so maybe the dryer will also surrender its secrets to me, even though I still remember that time decades ago when I scorched the clothes in an attempt to fix another recalcitrant dryer. At any rate, Dylan’s Clothesline Saga comes to mind (I am done with ramifications to critical thinking; read on only if you care about Dylan):

After a while we took in the clothes

Nobody said very much

Just some old wild shirts and a couple pairs of pants

Which nobody wanted to touch

Mama come in and picked up a book

An' papa asked her what it was

Someone else asked, what do you care

Papa said well, just because

Then they started to take back their clothes

Hang 'em on the line

It was January the thirtieth

And everybody was feelin' fine

 

The next day, everybody got up

Seein' if the clothes were dry

The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed

Mama, of course, she said, hi

Have you heard the news he said with a grin

The vice president's gone mad

Where? downtown When? last night

Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor

It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma

Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

 

I reached up, touched my shirt

And the neighbor said, are those clothes yours

I said, some of them, not all of them

He said, ya always help out around here with the chores

I said, sometimes, not all of the time

Then my neighbor blew his nose

Just as papa yelled outside

Mama wants you to come back in the house and bring them clothes

Well, I just do what I'm told so I did it, of course

I went back in the house and mama met me

And then I shut all the doors.

It took me years to realize that this song is a parody of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Jo,” which dominated the charts in 1967. That song revolves around a horrible tragedy—Billy Jo jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and what hidden and unnamed inner torment might have caused him to do that? The event is related in the first person at a rural Mississippi dinner table, where it must compete for attention with the most banal and ordinary conversation of the adults. It is a “teenage self-pity song,” as Garrison Keillor would have put it.

In Dylan’s parody, the conversation is even more banal, and the “tragedy” is outright ridiculous:

Have you heard the news he said with a grin/The vice president's gone mad

Where? Downtown When? last night/Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor/It's just something we're gonna have to forget

Yes, I guess so said ma/Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

and Bob sings it in the most laid-back and uninterested drawl that is a hoot in itself. He really is pretty clever. Alas, I can no longer find it on YouTube. There is a pretty good version of it from The Roches, but to a purist, such as I used to think they were at the Newport Folk Festival, only original will do. It may even be that the song will get increased recognition in a modern context, from political zealots, on account of it underlying tragedy: “The Vice-President’s gone mad.”

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Jehovah’s Witnesses Slammed in Phoenix

If you fill to near capacity a 40,000+ seat stadium for a volunteer event, put on by volunteers, surely those of the local media will be impressed. Not the Phoenix New Times reporter! who is “weirded-out” by aspects of the gathering that most would find commendable, and barely mentions the event anyway, as she immerses herself in the narrative of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ harshest detractors. Plainly, the packed stadium photos and the gist of the article do not match.

I could be wrong, but I think most will recognize this piece as a hit job, and it might even motivate some to go there to investigate, where they will see that the tone of it is nonsense. “Three days of music-video presentations, prayers, songs, addresses, symposiums, and dramatic readings from the Bible,” according the event program, will intrigue some as a refreshing rarity.

Are they so “cultish” as the reporter charges? Stadium and hospitality personnel often cannot praise JWs enough, rarely encountering such orderly and pleasant people. A reporter in Miami wishes that the Marlins could fill their own stadium to capacity as have Jehovah’s Witnesses. A shock jock in Rochester a few years back waxed ecstatic over Witnesses when he found that they categorically reject violence. “These are my people!” he gushed on-air. Another stadium is said to accept as payment-in-full the thorough annual scouring that the Witnesses give the facility. Others reporters, such as this millennial in New Orleans, wrote it up that, while they certainly are different in beliefs, still they are just ordinary folk come together for religious instruction.

Not everyone will be as shocked and disdainful as the Phoenix reporter that there are still some people who dress up. Not everyone will gasp in disapproval at counsel that we ought watch who we hang out with. If the New Times reporter felt “conspicuous in pants,” well—that’s hardly the fault of the attendees. She could have chosen to be not conspicuous had she been concerned about it. When I invite people to conventions, I observe: “You are perfectly welcome to come just as you are. But if you don’t have one of these [I flip my tie], everyone will assume you are a visitor, and they may just come to preach to you.” Householders smile at the heads-up.

The blatant ill will and bias of the New Times article is evident even in trivial matters, such as the reporter’s disdain that “attendees listened rapturously,” as though they should be expected to nod off. In fact, some of them do after lunch on long afternoons, and it was worse before the days of efficient air conditioning. Don’t attendees of concerts or rallies also listen rapturously? Why come if you do not?

Not all will smirk at the “lowest rate of retention on all religions” that Witnesses suffer. Many will realize that it is more than offset by the high rate of participation from those that stick. After all, there are many faiths where members might not actually leave, but how would you know if they did? The high participation rate actually accounts for the lower retention rate, for inevitably some will tire of it and opt for something less strenuous. Similarly, not everyone will be shocked that should you do a 180 and ardently attack what you once embraced, relations with the family may suffer. Of course they will. It is not brands of automobiles that we speak of.

But the bulk of the article deals disapprovingly with how Witnesses have grappled with the same child sexual abuse plague that has shown itself pandemic throughout society—be it in segments religious or irreligious. The recent Epstein “suicide” only underscores that the evil reaches into the highest echelons of society, some members of whom appear desperate to cover their tracks. If, in the opinion of the ARC, “children are not adequately protected from the risk of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation,” frequent news reports make clear that they are not “adequately protected” anywhere. Even the Boy Scouts of America, that iconic institution that has taught generations of boys responsibility, did not succeed in purging all pedophiles from its midst, and is at risk of going under for it.

Arguably, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have attempted to police their own, they have faltered in coordinating such internal “policing” with the actual police. Still, this must be countered by the consideration that few faiths make any attempt at all to look into wrongdoing within the ranks. When a member is nabbed for child sexual abuse, it is as much of a surprise to the minister as anyone else. Moreover, with some groups, the minister is the perpetrator—not just the one who investigates the sin.

Jehovah’s Witnesses live, work, and school in the general community. They are politically neutral, and as such, are pacifist. The same Pew source that tells of their “low retention rate” also says of them: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in America.” Just how sinister can they be? In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were declared “extremist” and banned in 2017 for entirely separate reasons, the topic of child abuse having never once arisen—and their woes are exacerbated by the same critics attempting to take them down in the West with diatribes that are embraced by the New Times.

One almost senses that the reporter’s discomfort at being offered help three separate times by three separate attendants to find a seat might stem from an uncomfortable sense that they have somehow discerned her intention to accept their hospitality and then lambaste them on the media. Charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses that she has showcased here—which are certainly not nothing—are dealt with in the free ebook TrueTom vs the Apostates! which includes 10+ chapters on the core charge of child abuse.

As society increasingly becomes disillusioned with God, it is inevitable that participatory religion will be regarded as cultish. What Jehovah’s Witnesses think of articles such as in the New Times is immaterial. Historically, they rise to fight the battles laid before them. They are used to presenting their faith through its most appealing lens. Let them become used, if need be, to presenting it through its least appealing lens, for both are to be expected of imperfect persons attempting to apply Bible standards in a world that increasingly shrugs them off.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)