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The Gospel of Ehrman According to Mark

The Professor lectures about the Gospel of Mark and he does so by ignoring Matthew, Luke, and John. He lectures as though those other books did not exist. It is perfectly harebrained to do it this way, but that is how he does it. He is a critical thinker and must not allow cross-contamination.

He notes that Mark stresses Jesus’ authority. He notes of chapter 1 and verse 16: “While walking alongside the Sea of Galillee, he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. So Jesus said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And at once they abandoned their nets and followed him.” Jesus has authority, he says. “They’ve never laid eyes on him before.” He calls, and they drop everything to follow him.

Well, if you didn’t hamstring yourself with your scholarship, Mr. Professor, you wouldn’t come to such a ridiculous conclusion. I’ll know I’ve arrived as a Witness when I command the householder, “Come!” and he without question follows me to the Kingdom Hall, not even pausing to shut off the lawn mower. “Must...follow....Tom,” he will say as he stumbles by his bewildered wife and abandoned kids. Of course they’ve seen him before—he’s now giving them opportunity to join him in an intensive ministry. If you would read the other Gospels that somehow you think contaminate your research you would know that.

Jesus enters the synagogue to teach. This is only verse 21 of the first chapter, so indeed Mark does start off with a bang. He blows them away in the synagogue—they are “astounded at his way of teaching, for he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He casts out demons, heals plenty of the sick, including even Simon’s mother-in-law, yet he tells those demons—his disciples, too—to keep quiet about his identity—‘Zip it,’ he says. ‘Keep quiet that he is the Christ? Why would he want them to do that?’ interjects the Professor, as though uncovering proof that Jesus is crazy. Well, it may be for the same reason that Bob Dylan checks into the hotel under an assumed name—so he can stay unmolested until he performs in concert before thousands.

The ploy doesn’t do Jesus any good, though. The Professor doesn’t mention it, but one healed leper pays no attention to his orders and blabs everywhere that he’s been healed—it creates such a sensation that “Jesus was no longer able to enter openly into a city, but he stayed outside in isolated places.” He messed up the Lord! They keep coming to him from all sides, we read. Jesus later did try to rest up, but it was in vain, for Simon “hunted him down”—“all are looking for you,” he says. You think it’s easy being the Christ? It’s not! All this in the first chapter.

Does the Professor remark on something that more appreciative persons never fail to note?—that when the leper observes, “Lord, if you just want to, you can make me clean” Jesus says, “I want to? Does he reflect upon that? Nope. He critically looks at the fabric of the garment, the stitching of the garment, even the lint of the garment, and never seems to realize that you can wear the garment to stay warm.

As though the people of chapter 1 do not exist, the Professor goes on to consider other people—people who give Jesus a hard time. His family thinks he’s gone out of his mind. (3:21) Mark, the Professor points out, does not contain the virgin birth accounts of Matthew and Luke, so he assumes that this gospel writer knows nothing about it. Well, how do you know that he was born at all, if you’re going to be so insistent that the story must all be in one place!? Does this inane kind of scholarship hold for any other historical figure—Alexander the Great, for instance, or Cleopatra?

Jesus teaches in his home town, says the Professor, and his neighbors who watched him grow up can’t get their heads around just who he thinks he is. The lecturer can’t get over this, but in fact it is a classic quirk of how anybody gets more respect from people who do not remember what a cute little baby he used to be—and when the jokester Ernie moved to another congregation, we sent him off at his going-away party with a cake to that effect—“A prophet is not without honor except in his home territory,” said the frosting. I mean, we sure found him to be a trip; maybe they could put up with him.

The leaders of his own people, the Jews, charge that he “expels demons by means of the ruler of the demons,” so they, along with his family and his neighbors, don’t know Jesus’ true identity, either. The Professor misses entirely the baseness of men when their position is threatened—these leaders are just well-meaning sincere guys to him who really are trying to understand just what is going on. And you know that something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Scribe?

On and on the Professor goes, examining the minutia of the automobile and never realizing that you can climb in it and drive to to Boise, Idaho—I mention Boise, not for any reason unto itself but because for a time I played with the idea of a character named Ida Ho, who either cleaned up her act to become a Witness, or fell from grace away from it,  but I finally rejected the idea as too risqué for my people—it doesn’t take much to be too risqué for them—they take to heart the counsel to “let sexual immorality and every sort of uncleanness or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as is proper for holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting.” Doesn’t bother the Professor, though—he mentions how he tells his undergrad students that Mark is called the Passion Gospel and by that he does not mean the kind of passion that goes on in the dorms on Friday night! Yes, yes, I get it—yuk yuk—but you almost wonder which passion he considers the most important as he strips away all that is meaningful about the Gospel for students who have paid good money for their college education, likely imagining that they will pick up something here that will help them in their quest for spirituality!

Oh, come on! Tom—you’re just jealous that he is a professor and you’re not.’ Well—maybe there is a little something to that—college professorship is one of the last occupations that the bean-counters have not yet ruined—but it doesn’t help to learn that Bart Ehrman the Professor, the Great Courses lecturer, was once a evangelical Christian who went apostate in their eyes and is now cashing in by putting a skeptical spin on what he once practiced because that is what the university crowd eats up. This—even given in my eyes—that the evangelicals naturally give birth to this kind of thing because most church teachings are not found in the Bible—it is the attempt to read them in that causes people to throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding the book—or do what the Professor does—milk it for incidentals to present at the university while he ignores the meaning.

He makes a few other quips, trying to make me mad. Explaining how messiah and christ mean the same thing and how they are titles and not surnames, he tells how he must teach his students that Jesus Christ is not the son of Joseph Christ and Mary Christ because they think that he is. He might as well let the impression stand, for he teaches them nothing more useful for building faith, which is the entire purpose of the Gospel. He marvels at that purpose, as though it is a waste of Mark’s talents—“the writer doesn’t claim to be writing an historically accurate biography in the modern sense, but an account of Jesus that reveals how his life and death brings ‘good news‘ to those willing to receive it.” If only Mark had landed a gig at the university so he could focus on stuff that didn’t matter!

Nobody knows who Jesus is, expounds the Professor—not his family, not his neighbors, not the religious leaders, not even his disciples, (6:51-52, 8:21) despite their instantly dropping everything to follow him they have no idea who he is. Even Jesus doesn’t seem to know who he is at the end, says the Professor, for he cries “My God, my God—why have you forsaken me?” Only half-way through the Book of Mark do some begin to get a clue as to his identity, starting with Peter (“You are the Christ”) but even then they are dense as all get-out.

“At almost the midway point of the Gospel comes the most interesting [to him] miracle in the entire narrative; an account of a man who is blind and who gradually regains his sight [8:22-26]. “[He] take[s] this as a symbolic expression of what will happen to the disciples, who gradually come to see who Jesus really is.” The Professor builds his theory off the fact that this is the only recorded miracle that is not instantaneous—it happens in stages. Now, this idea is not stupid—I kind of like it—but it is just an interpretation. This is why these doctor-of-divinity types are so annoying, trashing matters of real substance to spin their own speculative notions as though fact! It reminds me of the college course I took once because you had to have a certain number of electives; it, too, was a course on the Gospels, taught by a retired Baptist minister who commented on how back in his seminary days everyone called John the Apostle to the Idiots for the simple grammar he employed! The reason that the crowds were “astounded” with Jesus’ teachings is that he did NOT spin his own air-headed pontifications—he did NOT do what they were so used to.

If you write a report on William the Conquerer, do you take one source and one source only? If it is not in source A but it is in source B, do you assume that A and B would fight over it? What about this line from John 21:25: “There are also, in fact, many other things that Jesus did, which if ever they were written in full detail, I suppose the world itself could not contain the scrolls written.” You could write four Gospels never touching on the same fact, and this yo-yo would think it is four different people!

The Professor does give a reason for his critical approach of taking each gospel independent of the others. It is not crazy, however it does involve multiple assumptions, each one of which he treats as fact. ‘We can assume this, we can assume that’—he says of foundational points in a prior lecture. Essentially, (he doesn’t say it in these words) it is that early Christians were working-class, and you know how stupid they are—they don’t write books and teach in the university like he does. He even refers to the children’s game of whispering a story successively in each other’s ear to see how it changes over time, and when they did it to me in seventh grade, the story had even been purposefully changed before it reached my ears—I knew that because it consisted of mocking the teacher who started the ball rolling—and I would have felt silly passing that along so I changed it again! Besides, Mark was written decades after the events covered and it would be (at the time of lecture) ‘like recalling the details of the Johnson Presidential campaign,’ as though accompanying Christ would be of no more lasting significance to his disciples than working to elect a president!

I’m being excessively hard on this fellow and I am almost ashamed of myself. He is doing no more than what he said he would do—lecturing without regard to faith but only with regard to critical thinking. If he was doing it with any other author from Homer to Hawthorne, I would commend him. It is just that he is choosing to treat diamonds as salt that gets under my skin. It is far worse than when the Church of Christ fellow invited me into his home and I could see in a second that he truly was a student of the Bible—an instantly likable man of good humor, hospitality, no pretentiousness whatsoever—a man with multiple translations, and as we zeroed in on passage in Corinthians and he saw that I meant to read it aloud, he said in a minor panic: “No, no, let me read it—you’ll mess it up!” a retort that made both of us chuckle. Still, he was extracting reasons for faith out of the book, even if I did think he had some things backwards—he wasn’t stripping it of faith to extract the extraneous that he knew the university crowd would eat up.

Here is the Professor’s quip when speaking of Pax Romana: “I always tell my students that if there is a perfectly good English term for a concept, you are better off using the Latin term so everyone will know you’ve been to university.” It is just a quip but in that quip lies all the pretensions of our ridiculous times. “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” says Jesus. (John 5:44)

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Bible as an Ouija Board

The ‘ol pork chop heard of some using the Bible as an Ouija board and he didn’t like it. “God does NOT interfere with the experiment today,” he said. “Not in big ways. Not in small ways.”

Does one not have to readjust ones who need it, reprove those who contradict, soothe those who have doubts? Yes.

Dear Pork Chop:

The basic problem here is that you have a rotten attitude. Furthermore, if you will just play along with me a bit, I should be able to demonstrate to you your error. 

I want you to think of one of your problems, get all prayery over it, and then open your Bible. You will see that you have opened to exactly the right spot that shows the solution to your problem.

Okay? Got a problem in mind? Ready? Set? Go!

Alright, what do you have?

Okay....okay....alright, well maybe it doesn’t work every single time. No, I agree. Knowing how long they all lived in Genesis may not be the ticket for you. 

Try again. Okay? Got another problem in mind? Ready? Set? Go!

Alright, what do you have?

Oh, for crying out loud! Put the Bible back on the shelf, you ‘ol pork chop, and go back to feeding your chickens. I don’t want to hear about what Canaan might have done to his grandpa!

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Master Could Have Worked With It

The first two slaves generate commentary boilerplate and unremarkable. Different abilities, different productivities, both doing their best, both praised. But the third slave.....

But another one came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina that I kept hidden away in a cloth. You see, I was in fear of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and you reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I judge you, wicked slave. You knew, did you, that I am a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? So why did you not put my money in a bank? Then on my coming, I would have collected it with interest.’” (Luke 19:20-23)

What I like is that the third slave of Luke 19 approaches the master and hasn’t done a thing with his mina; he has hidden it in a cloth and offers the explanation that he knew his master was a harsh man, taking where he did not deposit and reaping where he did not sow.

The Master does not deny it! That 3rd slave may have a bad attitude, but he does not deny it. He does reap where he does not sow. He does reap disciples where he did not directly make them himself. Get used to it.

It is a bad attitude that the slave had but it appears that the master could have worked with it—‘just put it in the bank and I get the interest’ he says. Who knows where the slave picked up his rotten attitude?—maybe he was wronged somewhere In the past. It doesn’t matter. Just deliver the interest and the master can work with it. Depositing it in the bank is not much, but it appears that the Master could have worked with it.

The parallel illustration at Matt 25 has that “wicked slave” burying his master’s talent in the ground, working up a sweat so as to thwart his Master’s will. Why would anyone do that?


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

A Bad Boy Turns Over a New Leaf

Unlike most Witnesses online, my activity is known in my home congregation. This is not due to any forum, which probably will be unknown to them, but to my blog. I have blogged for years. I don’t advertise the fact, but word gets around, and within the year elders have approached me to say that they would like to use me more in the congregation, but is there anything to what they have heard that I engage with apostates?

I at first told them that I did not; however what I did do came close enough to it that it could easily be taken that way and for that reason they probably should not use me in any visible capacity. As long as counsel is what it is, this seems the reasonable course. If there is a blatant example of not following counsel on a point repeatedly made—well, ‘he doesn’t enjoy privileges in the congregation,’ does he? This is not quite fair to me, but it is not about me. I consider it a win-win.

Many times in my writing I have made the point that I am not trying to set an example for others to follow, that I am pure-and-simply a bad boy in this one respect and I don’t try to present myself otherwise—though I will say that it is the only area in which I am a bad boy—I am a good boy in all other respects. I am on excellent terms with all of my elders— all upstanding men whom I respect—and with the congregation as a whole. If a list was ever made as to who is trying or discouraging or toxic or headstrong or aloof or a downer in any respect, I would be the last person to be on it. I am a fine example in every way—except one, and this troubles them.

Anyone visiting my blog can see the book cover for TrueTom vs the Apostates! so its a little hard to say: ‘Don’t know nothing about no apostates here!” One brother on Facebook, who himself writes, when he saw that cover, said, “You’re brave.” I have never made any attempt to hide what I do. I have even written HQ about it, more than once, as to what I am doing and why. They have not responded. I’ve said I don’t expect or require them to, but I will take to heart anything that they do say. Nothing. (“It’s because they think you’re a loose cannon, and they don’t want to be the spark that sets you off,” one chum tells me.) As for me, the show is not interesting unless there are villains and apostates for me make the perfect villains!—they have tasted the good food and spit it out.

Only about 10-20% of my blog could be described as taking on controversial topics. But blogging itself is not the pathway to popularity within the JW community—some will always give you the fish-eye over it. A visitor I know from HQ spoke at the Kingdom Hall, we engaged in some chit-chat afterward, and I asked him for thoughts about blogging. “Oh, blogging,” he said, as though I had told him that I enjoy farting in the auditorium, and then he migrated into generalities about there being no rules but one must always take into consideration the sensibilities of others, avoid hanging out with bad dudes, and so forth. In the introduction to my 3rd book, I wrote: “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 an insider - they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. 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. Why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say?” For the most part, the same is true of blogs. 

Two elders wanted to speak with me following Sunday’s Watchtower. How did I still feel regarding interaction with apostates after that lesson and similar items in the past? There have been two other discussions—probably spurred on to priority by consideration of Paul’s counsel that certain pernicious sayings “spread like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:17) so you want to get right on top of it—the counsel to not engage with apostates is pretty clear.

These are good men and I do not doubt for one moment their concern for me. There is no way I am going to get into any sort of confrontation with them. This is a little challenging because if one has engaged with the malcontents—in some cases the scoundrels—then one knows things in detail that they know only vaguely, and in some cases, not at all.

I asked if I could speak candidly. Obviously, this is just a verbal opening to present that I would speak from the heart and not just regurgitate platitudes or ‘what I am supposed to say’—it’s not to suggest that I would be normally lying through my teeth. Of course, they agreed.

The article was of a catch-all nature of several things to watch out for, several unrelated things that could pierce your shield if you didn’t maintain it—materialism, undue anxiety, lies, and discouragement were in the mix. Now, the only one of these that you can actually sink your teeth into as a direct measurement is “lies and distortions.” Do you engage with those who originate them or not? Easy black or white answer. What can one possibly say about materialism? It is much more subjective. “Did you move into that house that has far more space than you need or didn’t you?”—it’s ridiculous! No one is ever going to say that. The best you can do is what the Watchtower did do—point out that while you might easily be able to afford something with money, which you have far more of than your neighbor, that does not mean that you can afford (for use and maintenance of) it with time, which you have no more of than your neighbor. 

As a byproduct of these other areas being hard to pin down, the only one that might possibly incur restriction of privileges is dealing with apostates. “There are brothers here and in other Halls that show significant weakness as regards to the other three—materialism, discouragement, and anxiety, and it can be plainly seen in their demeanor in some cases,” I said, “yet no way would their privileges ever be affected by it—only for that involving dealings with opposers.”

I spoke of the paragraph about discouragement—one of the four sharp arrows. “What discourages me most,” I said, “is that apostates are taking public shots at the God and the community that I hold dear, and they are catching the ear of many who take to heart what is said and sometimes ignore us in our ministry because of it, and I want to provide an answer and defend the truth, but I can’t because I don’t know what they are saying.” It is not true for me—I do know what they are saying—but for most publishers it is true.

I spoke of the hypothetical youngster who cannot resist, whose curiosity or desire to defend the truth leads him to go to where the bad boys hang out, where he hears distortions that he has never heard before and is totally unprepared for and he is stumbled, at which point no one is able to help him because no one here knows in any detail what he has come across. It’s a lose-lose. I did not say (you always think of your best lines too late) that if you leaned on youngsters not to have illicit sex, and yet one did anyway and acquired an STD, you would not stand by and watch him die. You would educate yourself any way that you had to so as to provide backup rescue.

There is only so far you can go with this reasoning because they only understand what they are counseling you about from just one angle—the spiritual angle, which, to be sure, is the most important one, but still it is only one angle, and it is the angle from which there is a huge non-spiritual vulnerability. They hear and acquiesce to all the points made—they may all be facts—but they are like people anywhere in any genre—just because they are facts does not mean they are the overriding facts. They keep coming back to counsel not to engage with apostates. Do they mean engage like a military general confronting the enemy or engage like a man putting a ring on the finger of his future bride? You almost can’t go there, because they themselves maintain such distance from the topic that they can’t readily distinguish between the two and consider it inappropriate to get close enough to try.

The brother taking the lead is very smart, very loving, very much a balm to everyone. I’ve known him for the longest time and there is no one whom I value more. I have no question that he is primarily and genuinely concerned about my spiritual welfare. I feel bad that I should be the cause of he and some brothers before him feeling obliged to buy out time to speak with me over this—they have other things that they could be doing. I know this because for many years I was an elder and I had many things that I could be doing at any given moment—yet he and others have bought out significant time for me. I’m a bit embarrassed over it.

“How has my spirituality been affected?” they ask. Possibly they are anticipating an answer such as might be on a video: “Well, I have to admit, my spirituality is suffering. I’m not finding the joy I used to....etc.” I tell them that my spirituality, as near as I can tell, gets better all the time because I am able to fire when I see the whites of their eyes—and even that my healthy spirituality is plainly reflected in how I conduct myself and how others view me. 

“Well, pray on it,” one advises. Gingerly I suggest that what if I have prayed on it and then afterward have decided that it is okay, in fact, just the ticket, to do as I am doing?” Nevertheless, how can one turn down the invitation to pray? Sure, I will pray—and in fact, presently I think of the degree to which they may be right and how I might modify my conduct. As is my M.O, I think best when I am writing. As is my M.O, I write best when I realize I am writing before a varied audience ranging from supportive to apathetic to dismissive to opposed, and imposing the discipline upon myself to choose words that will be as effective as possible to all four.

They say things like how Jehovah has all bases covered. He sees that we have the proper direction when we need it, and so forth. While the things I say may be so, and certainly my actions are well-meaning, what about just being obedient to counsel? There they have me. Because I do believe that Jehovah has all bases covered and I do believe in following the lead of the older men—it is part of the package that I signed on for. I can give them a hard time: “Don’t worry about my spirituality—I’ll be just fine—it’s enough to worry about your own spirituality!” but why would I do that? Is that not almost tempting fate? as in “Let he who is standing beware that he does not fall?” I can tell them to buzz off and mind their own business, but why would I do that? These are the men—all of them friends of mine—who will lay down their life for me should the occasion arise, as in John 15:13, for example. “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends,” Jesus said, and these guys will do it in a clutch.

Not only will they die for me, but they will live for me, and they prove it continually. The right-in-their-own-eyes opposers will not die for me. Even were they inclined to, they live on perches of self-imposed isolation and say, some of them, “Who needs organization?” so that should I get into hot water they will not know of it until they read my obituary. I should give my elders a hard time or interfere with that dynamic of living and dying for me? No.

All they want is for me not to cross swords with apostates. They probably are not crazy about my going there in the first place, but that is not the topic of discussion. If I go there to scope out what the enemy is up to, I set no bad example—nobody knows of it. If I go there to refute, I publicly do what the ones I respect for taking the lead have asked me not to do. How do I know that they are not right? How do I know that I am not like the fellow signing out on the city wall after Hezekiah has told the troops to zip it? If I am ineffective, others come to help me out, against Hezekiah’s counsel. If I am effective, others are inspired to do likewise, against Hezekiah’s counsel. How do I know that they will not end up with an arrow through the head on my account? 

What am I doing when I am answering back the malcontents on the forum? I am having a ball is what I am doing! But is it affecting my spirituality as the brothers asked? Well, no—for the most part—that has grown stronger. On the other hand—someone speaks of OCD and she ought to be speaking of it to me—sometimes I come on board with a certain eagerness looking for “apostates” to beat up on. When one or another flames out, like Matthew4 5784 did a few weeks ago and reveals himself pure hate on two legs as respects Jehovah’s people, dropping all pretense of being here to help out, I paint an A on my fuselage and pump my fist! But is it good for me? I do get to hone my writing skills, which is why I started in the first place, but is that enough to override other matters? I am not exactly doing a “May Jehovah rebuke you!” am I? I am not exactly imitating Jesus in saying “leave them be—blind guides is what they are,” am I? Moreover, others come along for the first time, not knowing the history, read my retorts, and say, “Man, that brother is brutal! Can he really be a brother?”

I’m going to turn over a new leaf with regard to interacting with these guys. It doesn’t mean I won’t still be online and it doesn’t mean I won’t still interact with those who strike me as on our team—even if I question their judgment sometimes. I’ll probably renege from time to time, and if I do, I will forgive myself, but the effort will be to follow through on my resolve. If need be, I will write a reply to this or that fathead and then not send it—I’ll incorporate it elsewhere or just stick it in the file. “How’s that for praying about it and waiting to see what comes out of it?” I’ll tell someone someday.

Then, too—and I’m almost ashamed to put this last, since it should be first—though not necessarily from the reader’s point of view, which is why I place it where I do—my wife is far more conventional than me and has long been troubled by my online activity. She doesn’t for one second worry about my loyalty, but she does in some undefined way worry that maybe I will yet come to harm somehow. I’ll modify my approach for her sake as well.

Are the brothers “brainwashed”—the ones who counseled me about a matter that they do not understand themselves from a fleshly point of view—the only point of view that is of concern to the greater world? Well, I would have to say that on this point they are—with the important caveat that there is barely anyone anywhere who is not “brainwashed” in some regard on the roads that they travel. Max Planck’s saying with regard to science does not hold true with regard to science alone; it holds true—admittedly it is hyperbole, so it does not literally hold true, but it sure does point in a direction—“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” It applies anywhere there are people. It applies to me. We do not turn on a dime even when hit over the head with proof-positive reasoning.

Follow the flag and get your head blown off in consequence, and only some of your countrymen will think your death noble—everyone else in the world will consider your death in vain. It doesn’t take some brainwashing to buy into that? Follow unquestioningly the overall goals of this system to ‘get a good education so that you may get a good job’—not a tad of brainwashing there that that is the path to happiness? When my wife worked as a nurse with the geriatric community, she said the most common thing in the world was for bewildered elderly persons to look around them in their waning years and say, “is this all there is?” These were not “losers” in life, for the most part. These were persons who had enjoyed careers and loving family. But there was an aching emptiness at the end for many of them, a certain vague but overpowering sense of betrayal by life. It’s the result of being brainwashed by mainstream thinking, so far as I can see.

Steve Hassan is not wrong when he says that humans are easily influenced by others. Humans are just that way. That is why some god-awful style comes upon the scene and within ten years we’re all wearing it, wondering how we ever could have imagined that those dorky styles of yesterday did anything for us. Where Steve is wrong in my view is that he gives a free pass to his side—the mainstream. He reads unfairness into certain types of persuasion, whereas it is all unfair. His side features persuasion that is just more subtle than the other so he doesn’t see it. Champions of science do not notice when money trumps their science. Attendees of university do not notice that they have been manipulated into a 24/7 environment isolating them from former stabilizing influences of community and family—a classic tool of those who would brainwash. He sees it where he wants to see it and dismisses it elsewhere.

I have said before that it is not brainwashing that he objects to—it is brainwashing that is not his. Just because he was naive enough to be sucked into the Moonies, what is it to him if people want to explore non-traditional paths? Of course there may be pitfalls along the way, but there are pitfalls anywhere. Among the most harmful examples of manipulation is advertising, whereby people ruin themselves buying expensive things they do not need with money they do not have to keep up with people they do not like. Why doesn’t he go there? If the mainstream he embraces successfully answered all the burning questions of life, he wouldn’t have to worry at all about “cults” People would reflect upon how the present life and traditional goal rewards fully in happiness and life satisfaction, and reject those “cults” upon in a heartbeat.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

There is a God in Heaven—and the Game He Plays is Scrabble

Not looking good. The lousy cheater just Scrabbled to make ‘loaners.’ 151 to 92. How much you want to bet that when I turn the blank over it is another letter?


I painted a crosspiece on an ‘i’ and put the resulting ‘x’ to make ‘ex’ going both ways—the ‘x’ counted 6 times for being on a triple letter. Got to do something to keep up wtih my brother’s cheating. Even after his unfairly taking the triple word with ‘oh’ I am slightly ahead.


With few letters letter, my lousy brother probably has probably cheated to draw the ‘q’ and the ‘z.’ The trick will be to make him eat them. He will scream ‘We don’t play that way!’ but that is to be expected.


The rotter! Do you think he will open up access to the lower right of the board? No way will he if it gives me the chance make one point more! What a skunk! I guess I am forced to play the same way, but in this type of battle, being magnanimous to contrast his smallness, I usually give in. Not this time!


He did unload his ‘q,’ the louse, but he didn’t get much for it. He is putting down words of 10 and under (so am I) so as not to open the board. All letters are out. I must make him eat the ‘z.’ Should I make ‘kale’ & give him shot at the triple? NO!


Whoa! He broke first! Put down ‘plug.’ But how can I go out with this mess of a hand? Four vowels and an ‘f’? Where’s the justice?! I can’t even reach the triple word. Is he setting himself up? I lead by a point!


YES!!! I whomped my cheating brother by 15 points even WITHOUT counting the ‘z’ he had to eat! ‘Tom, calm down, it’s just a game!’ he says, as though I am not calm. When HE wins he calls out the Navy Marching Band AND the Hill Cumorah Tabernacle Choir to celebrate.


Come, now, Tom. It is a cute post and all, but ‘God Wrote the Universe, and the Game that he Plays is Scrabble? Really?

Well—the scripture does say that in the beginning was the Word. Moreover, the verse that must be there but I have not yet found it reads: “Have you beheld the great Scrabble game in heaven, o Job, and considered how nobody can put one over on Me?”

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

“Here Comes Brother Fullalove”

“Why do the good have to die?” the funeral speaker cried out, almost pumping the tears, taking a cue from Habakkuk.

Well, maybe because he skipped school with a buddy, hopped the fence into the stone quarry and when the backhoe driver dumped a load of stone on him and the horrified man realized what he had done, he suffered a heart attack trying to dig him out. I mean, he wasn’t a bad kid by any stretch—boys will be boys—it could have been Tom Sawyer—but I would have opened the talk differently.

That speaker was known circuit-wide for showing extraordinary hospitality and love. I once watched him from afar at the Assembly, gradually working his way toward me, embracing this one and hugging that one. “Watching you makes me wish I were Italian,” I told him. Mornings before the workday began, he would host breakfast at the restaurant, often paying for everybody. I was one of them for a time.

“I don’t think he knows how to speak in complete sentences,” my critical friend muttered—a good friend—he was only a year or two older than me and we would sometimes spend the day together in the pioneer ministry.

Brother Littlelove and Brother Lacklove were bickering about something or other on the platform—a skit which comprised a portion of a service meeting part. “Brothers, brothers!” that elder said as he approached imploringly, arms outstretched, emoting his peacemaker role. “Here comes Brother Fullalove” my friend whispered to me.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Speaking With the Evangelical

I met a born-again Christian yesterday while making a return visit. It was the young man’s dad. I actually hadn’t expected to meet my return visit because I knew he just stopped in there from time to time and lived somewhere else, but the initial conversation had been very fine and we were just driving by the house.

Our track record of pleasant conversations with evangelicals is not good. Usually we feel obliged to pick out something that they are doing wrong and start a fight over it—not with that goal, of course, but usually with that result. And if we don’t do it to them, then they do it to us. Start rattling on about the paradise and they will cut you short with a line or two about the rapture.

I used to fall into this pattern as much as anyone, but in recent years, after decades of life—in other words, it’s about time!—I have come across a new way. In this new way, I do not try to find something of his to poke holes in, and since I didn’t, he did. You know, getting all squirrelly-like, as though to say, “Oh, no, we are not the same. Don’t try to pretend that we are.”

As soon as I saw it going that way, I did what I was so very slow to learn to do. He was not an unfriendly guy, and I had already responded to his announcement that he was a born-again Christian: “That almost makes it better—it means we speak the same language. You have regard for the Bible and probably know it as well as me.”

It starts things out on a good foot, but still he feels obliged to point out how no way are we the same. I beat him to it. “Look, we are both trying to follow the Word, but we are doing it differently. You think we are doing it wrong and we think you are doing it wrong. But we are both doing it—that’s the point—and we live in a world where most people aren’t doing it at all.” Instantly we were on the same side. There was a little chat about keeping the faith amidst a world that rejects it.

I asked him if he was one of those persons  who believed in the rapture and he said that he was. Yes, I know where that verse comes from, I told him. We see it a little differently, and I referred to the Lord’s Prayer that I knew he knew so well but nobody else does today. ‘Yes, God has it all together up in heaven. I mean,  I suppose he does (glancing upwards) but it sure isn’t that way on earth, and it won’t be until—he joined me in saying the last words—“thy kingdom comes.” So we look forward to living forever on the earth, most of us, sort of like that camping trip you took and you relaxed so much that you said “I wish this would never end” only in this case it won’t.

That’s about all you can do on a single call and I have no plans to come back unless the spirit impromptu grabs me when I am driving right by again and it probably won’t. I count it successful. Hear each other out, be mutually respectful, and maybe either party will think the other guy’s hope intriguing enough to investigate more. In this case, there was no sign of that. We talked about his front porch awning—my companion brought that up—it was a sturdy piece that had served him well over the years and it was just the ticket during hot summer days of blazing sun. There were some people who bought the screens and other attachments that came with it, he allowed, but he was content just with the awning itself. 

His son, while very conversant, had not struck me as particularly religious, I recalled of him, and I did not say it so as to rub his nose in, “but mine is!” No, I said mine isn’t either—it’s not a slam-dunk that kids will follow the faith. Of course, he loves his son, as I do mine, and he observed that ‘it is so strange—children raised in the same house with same parents and same values, yet some take to it and others do not.’ Now you take his daughter, he pointed out, who had latched right on, and I said that was true of my daughter as well.

So we built a bridge. Who knows if he will cross over it someday, my companion and I chatted afterwards, or, from his point of view, If I will cross it his way. One thing that is clear—he will respect us for our ministry—maybe even compare it to whatever he is or is not doing himself. “Preach the good news in all the inhabited earth—go and make disciples” is not a mission statement that will register approval with everyone, but I know it will with him.

Of course, you don’t say that unless he is trying to put you down for it, and this fellow certainly was not. You don’t give any appearance of boasting or being full of yourself. There was even a recommendation once that seemed to step over the line on this. Our website had reached a certain milestone in number of languages translated into—it is over 1000 now—we were sort of proud of it at the time and the recommendation was to bring that up along with the question: “Do you know why we do it?” I never liked the approach and I never tried it. 

I accompanied someone who did, though. “Do you know why we do it?” he asked. His return visit said: “What! Do you think I’m a trained chimp? Of course I do! You want to reach people!” That’s why I never used it.

That’s not to say I don’t mention the website, though. On the contrary, I usually do (though not to this fellow—it didn’t occur to me) I usually mention the languages, too, only I supply the reason, rather than try to extract it from the householder. If you are serious about preaching the good news worldwide, of course you are going to have such a website as soon as the technology exists. It would almost be religious malpractice not to.



Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Lies and Distortion of Facts

They didn’t just say lies in that November 2019 Watchtower. They said lies and distortion of facts.

Is it outright lies that we deal with here? Not so much. Is it distortion of fact? For the most part, yes.

”Distortion of fact” encompasses a lot and much of what it encompasses is in the eye of the beholder. If a point, in the overall scheme of things, is really quite insignificant, and it is made to seem all-important, is that not a distortion of fact? 

Suppose the spies that I have sent report back to me with a dossier of George’s private life that includes a few exasperating habits of his—like nose-picking. Suppose too that he has had one of two regretful episodes in his life that he would rather not broadcast. Suppose that he flunked out of a school or was fired from a job. Suppose he made a few judgments as family head that blew up in his face—not only his face but the faces of those in his family. Suppose he let down brothers in the congregation at one time or another, and even stumbled one or two.

”Ah, here comes my spy, now.....Hello Spy, what do you have?....hmmmm......oh!....will you look at that?.....looky looky looky” 

Now suppose with my voluminous commenting privileges I never again focus upon anything other than one or all of these blunders, and I dismiss as inconsequential whatever good others point out that he has done, even though these matter plainly be what defines his life. Am I not distorting facts? Have I told any lies? No. Have I distorted any facts? I have done nothing else.

Another illustration—this one I gave at the meeting when it was my turn to comment—was that if there is someone in the audience who hates beets, I will not be able to argue with him that beets taste good. It is something that is beyond the scope of argument and I am proving myself pretty dense if I persist in trying. In the same way, the verse says: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” Some have tasted and seen that he is bad. It’s not something that is subject to arguing. 

My 30 seconds were up and you can’t keep raising your hand like a jack-in-the-box. But if I was to extend the thought here I might point out that I love cake. It tastes good. That’s why I love it. Imagine my surprise upon coming here on the all-open forum and discovering some dissing cake. How is that possible? Upon probing, I find that it is because the sweetness of sugar does nothing for them, so they just drop down a notch and focus on how you can get cavities and put on weight with cake. Well, yeah—if sugar did nothing for me, I too would drop down the list and harp on these other things.

So it is with the ‘sugar’ of the Bible’s message. This is what does it for Jehovah’s Witnesses—that unique combination of accurate Bible teachings along with the united brotherhood that comes with it—a unity and love unparalleled—and a satisfaction of knowing that one is cooperating with God’s intent of declaring his name and purposes. But if for some reason none of that should matter anymore, than what is there left than to drop down a level and promote some complaints to first place? It is what the opponents here do. Is that not a distortion—the reprioritizing of facts? We tend to carry on here as though facts are islands unto themselves. They’re not. They are more like the ingredients of a cake—they work together. One’s appreciation for the baked product will depend entirely upon one’s taste for the different ingredients. 

We’re a little nuts when we quibble over facts, as though individual facts in themselves are what clinches the deal. Instead, it it the prioritization of facts that matters. Seldom is it that people argue with no facts at all. It is which ones they choose to focus on and which ones they choose to downplay or even ignore that matters. 

And that is of facts that are presented accurately—as many are not. For example, a Pew survey lists Jehovah’s Witnesses as bringing up the bottom of the income chart—collectively they are the financially poorest. A fact? Yes. Opponents take that fact to suggest that Witnesses are deadbeats, some by nature, and some made so by a controlling organization. A distortion? I think so. When I wrote a post on the topic I stated that, in view of what the Bible consistently says about money and the love of money, any group not toward the bottom of that list has reason to hang their head in shame. Their high placement affords proof that they do not practice what they preach and they do not trust what the Lord says.

As to the Watchtower’s own statement, ‘lies and distortion of facts’—it might be more technically accurate if rephrased as ‘distortion of facts and lies’—I am not necessarily a fan of how the warning is made—but in the end, is it not the same thing? Consider:

Is it really so that?”  (a distortion of truth, designed to plant doubt)

You will not die.” (a lie—nothing but)

for God knows that in the very day of your eating from it...” (a bit of both, but mostly a distortion, for it impugns God’s motives)

More is distortion than outright lie. But it amounts to the same thing. In fact, the distortion is worse than the lie, in most cases, for without the distortion to ‘prime the pump’ the lie itself will often be spotted and rejected out of hand. 

Who does the fellow with the ink horn mark on the forehead? Those who are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things done in God’s name. Some aren’t. They aren’t marked for that reason. In no case is any lie being told. Even the distortion of truth is not immediately apparent. But it is there. People made in God’s image should be sighing and groaning over the detestable things done in God’s name. And sighing and groaning is not the same thing as bitching and complaining.

Too often we play their game. Given the facts that they choose to focus upon, they are exactly right, It is the choice of facts that is significant—which ones are promoted, which ones are inflated, which ones are downplayed, which ones are ignored, and which ones are declared not facts at all.

The Word makes clear from the get-go that those who serve love and serve God in the manner he directs and those who do not will have dramatically different ways of looking at things. They will have dramatically different goals in life. Once in a while (or even more than once in a while) apostates are pure loons. Once in a while (or even more than once in a while) some of us are. But for the most part, both groups act consistently with the facts that they choose to focus upon.

It is really impossible to successfully argue against their facts without also arguing against their priorities, their “tastes.” And since the latter is plainly impossible, it does make one reassess one’s time spent in doing so.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Speaking With the Branch Brother

A story, with opening background:

I have always been ‘out there’ in appearance (for a brother), at times downright shaggy, with hair falling over my ears, and I don’t fuss much with combing it, usually not at all. I don’t fully trust anyone who has not a hair out of place. I don’t like cuff-links either, though I will concede that some will wear them and figure that they are like the fine seamless garment Jesus wore. Nobody would rebuke the Lord with: “Why don’t you wear a regular garment from the Goodwill so no one thinks you are putting on airs.” They would not say that, so cuff links get a free pass, too, but I would never wear the stupid things.

Amazingly, I have never been counseled on general shagginess, despite all the carrying on about ‘dress that befits a minister of GodI’—which rubs me the wrong way when it is overdone. I’ve had speaking assignments at the District Convention, now called Regionals. I can only surmise that my personality otherwise offsets a moderately (at times) unorthodox appearance. 

In my 50’s, after my eldering days, I got into the habit of moussing my hair when it got long, running my fingers through it once so it stayed off my forehead, and I would go about my day with it spiked up, flopping over any way it liked as gravity took over. If I see a young woman with green hair, I won’t harrumph as many of our people would—I’ll say, “Huh! You know, I kind of like that.” These days I am less that way and I now say to the barber: “Look, so long as you are not thinking “US Marine,” cut it as short as you like—even if you get it too short, I will not complain—it grows back.* That way I don’t have to horse with it for a while. 

Brother Lloyd of the US Branch gave the talk at our Assembly Hall. He is an old-timer who has been around forever. The place was packed out. For reasons I don’t remember, my wife and I arrived late and we were shoehorned into the only two seats available—directly in front of him.

His talk was hard-hitting, the type you used to hear from old-timers and the type that you will not hear today—‘if you do not make time for Jehovah, maybe he will not make time for you’ was the tone some of it took.

Now, I am not one of those brothers who has to track down the speaker so as to shake his hand. If I don’t speak with him at all, that is perfectly fine by me. I have stated here that I would love to have a Governing Body member stay at my house so I could ignore him (which would probably make me popular in his eyes). “There’s your room. Come down and hang out if you like, but don’t feel you have to—I know that you have things to do, if only unwinding free of persons who you have to talk to,” is what I would say to him.

So after the closing prayer I turn around with my spiked hair and find myself face to face with him—the crowds have not closed in yet. I exchange a few pleasantries—nice of him to make the sacrifice to travel, and so forth, and he says, almost with a twinkle, “I wasn’t too hard on you brothers, was I?” 

“Well,” I said, “we’ll adjust.”

......*With regard to not complaining about a bad haircut, I remember reading a book by Peter Lynch, the Fidelity fund manager known for investing in what he liked. He bought a ton of Dunkin Donut stock and it went to the moon—his interest first piqued because he loved their coffee. He also bought Supercuts. True to method, he went there first to get a haircut. He thought he looked a little funny as he left, but he allowed that it might simply be due to some new style that he was unaware of. The horrified look on the faces of his wife and daughters convinced him that it was not. The CEO, when he related the experience to him, observed cheerfully that hair grows back at 6 inches per....some quantity of time that I forget.

Lynch is the same fund manager who once observed of General Motors: “The nicest thing I can say about it is that it is a terrible company.” I never forgot that line.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Elder-care During the Windstorm

Windy mornings like we just had, and I think of the huge tree that came crashing down on the home of some friends in southern tier, pinning them in their bed. “This room is original, this one is new,” my pal later told me on a tour of his house that the friends had rebuilt. The upstairs bedroom—brand spanking new? His wife will not sleep in it. The tree no longer threatens—it came crashing down upon her already during that storm. But she will not sleep in that room again.

The exasperating thing about a power outage is that you keep forgetting. Flip a switch, nothing happens—continual aggravation. Well, I have my Go Kit ready in the event of a really huge natural disaster. Many think that the Witness organization dreamed up the idea, but it is actually the government, and the Witnesses said, “Yeah! Let’s get on that one!” I tend to put things like that off and for the longest time my Go Kit consisted of a bag of pretzels and whatever else I could scrounge up in 2 minutes. But now it’s in pretty good shape and I am preparation in search of a disaster.

Not every little thing is fully cared for. “Oh, did I tell you about my dog?” I will say to my temporary hosts as Samson tracks mud across their kitchen floor. That’s not Sampson of Bible fame, who pushes apart the pillars. That’s Samson the dog, who pees on them. Confused by the change, maybe he will even pee in the new residence.

I was staying with my dad, attending him in his old age, when another wind storm hit 3 or 4 years ago—wow-whee can wind ever do damage! “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail [or the wind], which I have reserved for the time of distress?” Job 38:22 says. Yeah, I have seen them at medium throttle. I can only imagine what might happen when the pedal is to the metal.

Going back almost 30 years, my parents stayed with us for over a week. Ice storms paralyzed the entire region. Our electric line was laying right there on the ground—we didn’t come prop it up—but it was still delivering the juice. In one of those rare reverses of how this system usually works, the people with money, living out in heavily-treed areas, lost their power, but the people living within city limits did not!

Power went out to my dad’s during that windstorm 3 or 4 years ago, too, but not to me, and he again stayed with us until it was restored. By that time he had dementia. “I think we should swing by the house and see if the power has come back on,” he would say every 30 seconds.

Surprisingly, there is a time to lie. The elder-care people recommend it in the case of seniors with dementia. “How’s Jill doing these days?” he wants to know again and again. Why should I tell him again and again about the divorce in the family that will trouble him, yet he can do nothing about it? “Fine, Pop, she’s just fine. All of them are.”

Why should I tell him every day that his wife died 20 years ago—stabbing him each time? “She’s fine, Pop. She’s away to visit her cousin, remember? She’ll be back soon.”


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'