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The Graduate Author Who Ran from Success—Where Have You Gone, Mrs Robinson?

The guy who wrote The Graduate—the book, not the movie—gave away all the money he made from writing it. He bought a house with his one-time movie rights. He gave it away within weeks—he would give three away during his lifetime—a lifetime that ended July 2020, He was 81.

The movie ‘The Graduate’ was a sensation—the highest grossing film of 1967, with seven academy award nominations. It is fussed over to this day for capturing the “alienation of modern youth”—though they are not so modern anymore, have long since put their alienation behind them, and many have done quite well for themselves, thank you very much. Many ultimately chose the life of plastic that the Graduate protagonist rejected.

But not author Charles Webb and his wife. Several times they came into money, and each time they would give it away. The Graduate movie is ranked the 17th greatest American film of all time by the American Film Institute; the “coming of age story is indeed one for the ages,” gushes Rotten Tomatoes. Webb didn’t make a dime off it and didn’t want to. He wouldn’t even do book signings—they were “a sin against decency.”

What kind of a guy does this? Many times he received windfalls. Each time he gave it away. “Mercifully I wasn’t written into [the Graduate movie] deal,” he told the AP. “Nobody understands why I felt so relieved, but I count my longevity to not being swept into that. My wife and I have done a lot of things we wouldn’t have done if we were rich people. ... I would have been counting my money instead of educating my children.”

He’s not kidding about educating his children. He and his wife Fred—she took that name so as to identify with a group of men named Fred afflicted with low self-esteem (your guess is as good as mine)—pulled their two children from school. They homeschooled. This resonates with me because I did the same, only mine were not pulled out—they never saw the inside of a school other than an experimental 6th grade, after which both chose to homeschool again.

Homeschooling wasn’t legal when Webbs did it. It was when we did, even if a little dicey—there were always unpredictable hoops to jump through. Once, the school district turned down my curriculum plan on the basis of, of all things, a weak music curriculum. The kids were enrolled in Suzuki violin, for crying out loud! I went to the library, copied and submitted some gobbledygook from a music textbook, and they were as happy as pigs in mud.

A set of older friends in another jurisdiction were constantly harassed over their homeschooling—much more so than us. Yet my pal later reflected on his younger kids that were homeschooled vs his older ones that were not, and observed that the those of the first batch were far better at interacting with all factions of the community. Pretty much the same experience here—not that we had the contrast but we did have the experience of kids who readily mixed with all ages—whereas when I was in grade school, those kids in even one grade up might have been on another planet, to say nothing of adults. “I had no idea that there were so many stupid people,” said my son in complete innocence after he enrolled in the community college at age 16 and began his second experience in the classroom.

The Webbs moved around a lot, sometimes camping, sometimes living out of a Volkswagen bus. Oldest son John called that part of his education “unschooling.” I know what unschooling is, too. We did it at times. It is simply a less rigid homeschooling, with more forbearance for letting youngsters pursue their own interests. I’d love to speak with these two kids—now adults. How did they turn out? “Not a lot of people picked up on it, but the title of ‘The Graduate’ was supposed to convey it was about education,” Webb told some reporter in 2006. He wasn’t keen on the mainstream model.

Meanwhile, he and/or his artist wife did stints at KMart, picked fruit, cleaned houses. “When you run out of money, it’s a purifying experience,” he said. Besides the VW bus, they lived in motels, trailer parks, even a nudist colony—they managed that place during their tenure. They named their dog ‘Mrs. Robinson.’

Now, these two were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t want to imply that they were. (Have JWs ever preached in a nudist colony?) Yet we have so many people who have renounced financial comfort so as to “have a greater share in the ministry” that when I see it elsewhere, it resonates no less than the homeschooling. I count as a friend today someone whose pursuit of a full-time ministry within Jehovah’s Witnesses triggered estrangement from his unbelieving oil baron family. “Look, Eric! Texas tea!” I call his attention to any gas station that we pass.

The book that became the movie is not autobiographical. “I got interested in the wife of a good friend of my parents and ... [realized] it might be better to write about it than to do it,” he told the online publication Thoughtcat in 2006. Yet much of it was his life—his remoteness from his wealthy connected parents, for example, along with their world that he found so superficial. His relationship with his heart specialist dad was “reasonably bad,” he said, and with his socialite mom, he “was always looking for crumbs of approval.” He had figured he might get a considerable number of those crumbs with the publication of his book, for she was an avid reader who might boast “My son is an author!” but he didn’t—probably the skewering of her lifestyle had something to do with it.

Still, whether you give up every dime or not—you don’t have to do it just for the sake of doing it. The ministry of the apostle Paul caused him to know both “how to have an abundance and how to do without.” (Philippians 4:12) He knew and was comfortable in both places. This fellow was good at doing without, but he seems to have panicked at having an abundance. Sometimes you have to renounce your past. Sometimes in doing so, you swing too far the other way.

Maybe it was a starving artist kind of thing. He even made a cliche over it: “The penniless author has always been the stereotype that works for me. . . . When in doubt, be down and out.” But not for any romantic reason—he pushed back at that notion. “We hope to make the point that the creative process is really a defense mechanism on the part of artists — that creativity is not a romantic notion.” It’s not like he would recommend it to others, or maybe even to himself. It is more like he felt driven to it, half against his will. I think of how so many comedians developed and honed their comedy as a means of defendIng themselves from school-age bullies. There is even a video that suggests that.

A character from one of his other books—he wrote eight—an alcoholic painter, says: “What’s important for me is that I keep doing it, keep painting, and hold on to that feeling which goes along with putting the paint on the canvas,” he wrote. “It’s all I have and all I need.” This, too, resonates with me, a fellow who imagines himself a writer—and inherits the pluses along with the minuses.

“Lots of people momentarily embrace the idea of leaving the rat race, like the characters in The Graduate,” said one obit writer. “Mr. Webb [and his wife] did it, with all the consequences it entailed. If they regretted the choice, they did not say so.” And, “Webb has such an easygoing charm about him, such a friendly and sincere presence,” another wrote years prior. This also resonates with me, who is just as pleasant as—no, that is going too far. In the dog park I constantly have to apologize for my dog, who has become grouchy in his old age toward other dogs, “just like me,” I say.

As though to get in the final word, the condensed obituary in TheWeek Magazine read: “The Graduate author who ran from success” Did he? Or is it that they can only imagine their own definition of success there at TheWeek?

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NPR Exposes the Recycling ‘Scam’ of Plastic—Almost None of it is Reused

I have just one word of advice for you: “Plastics,” said the parent’s comfortable friend to Benjamin Braddock. Plastics—the new growth field in 1967, the year The Graduate movie came out—just as computers and then the internet would be to succeeding generations. Plastics—a graduate could make a killing in it.

But Ben didn’t want any career advice just then. Just out of college, with no goals at all, the only thing he knew is that he wanted no part of the phony monied world that had been his upbringing. He lolled around aimless at his folks’ upper crust home that year and ended up in an affair with his mom’s socialite friend—her idea, not his. “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” is a line from the movie that has endured.

It is the same Mrs. Robinson that Simon and Garfunkel sung about. Mike Nichols, film director, had been after Paul Simon to write news songs for the movie and he didn’t want to do it—he was busy. Finally he said that he did have this song kicking around about times past and Joe DiMaggio and Mrs. Roosevelt, and the director said he’d take it! Just change Roosevelt to Robinson and he had a deal.

This explains why baseball great Joe DiMaggio blew a gasket when he heard his name in the song—so says the Ken Burns documentary Baseball. Who are those hippy long-hairs to drag him into their immoral movie that had nothing to do with him?! Joe was a traditional type of guy. Others in baseball just barely calmed him down with the plea that, while the mention may not have had any context, it was a compliment.

That line about going into plastics is another line that endures. At what point did ‘plastic’ come to stand for an entire world of materialism devoid of deeper values? It couldn’t have been just then in 1967. The plastic revolution of consumption was just getting underway.

Yet if fits so well with an NPR report of 53 years later—of September 2020. There has never been any meaningful recycling of plastic! Ten percent is all that has ever been reused—tops. And the industry knew it all along! Recycled plastic doesn’t hold up well, is expensive to make, whereas new plastic is cheap. But with environmentalism sweeping the globe, that is the last thing people wanted to hear, so they weren’t told that. They were told that those recycling numbers within triangles on every plastic item meant something, and earth-friendly people the world over—I do it myself—sort out all their plastic for recycling bins. Waste Management sends the truck by a second time to pick it up.

It doesn’t mean a thing. It all gets buried—all but 10%. For me personally this would have been fine ammo—better than the ammo that I did use—when I was kicking back at some atheist deriding Witnesses for preaching about God’s kingdom whereas they could be rolling up their sleeves to help with saving the planet! Look, we’ve nothing against saving the planet, I told him, and when there are recycling laws on the books Jehovah’s Witnesses no doubt obey them more closely than most because they are good at obeying laws—they don’t figure that each new law is a line drawn in the sand by the government to take away their rights and so they have to cross it in order to prove their courage. Yeah—they love cooperating in this regard, but it’s a little stupid to think they are saving the planet when, in one gigantic industry blunder, millions of gallons of oil can destroy the entire seashore. The BP gulf oil spill had just occurred and President Obama was spouting tough talk about “kicking asses” over it.

It was a great retort to the anti-religion humanist, but the worldwide plastic recycling scam would have been even better. Can someone look this fellow up for me? I’ll run this new one by him. “Look, I'm all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days,” I said. No one of Jehovah’s Witnesses will ever speak against them. In fact, in Russia, Witnesses do clean up the public parks—or at least they did before the ban. I didn’t know that at the time, but when I found out I included that tidbit in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.

“In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Anton Chivchalov told me—the one who keeps an eye on the current persecution in that land. “Most congregations do it. It has become a custom for them. Parks are more or less okay, other people clean them too, but still there is garbage to clean, and sometimes the authorities just lack enough workers, so there may be tons of garbage at times. We clean not only parks, but any public areas. We usually ask the city administration to assign some areas for us to clean.”

I speculated within Dear Mr. Putin on how it must make a great backdrop for informal conversations on God’s purpose to make the earth a paradise. Do Witnesses still do it, with police guarding them to make sure no one talks about God? I’ll have to ask Chivchalov. Still, even as they did it, they did not imagine that they were negating the verse of how humans will be “ruining the earth” when God intervenes—ruining it, not saving it, and the NPR story that the emperor wore no clothes despite his loud voice—he recycles hardly any plastic at all despite telling people he does so they will not feel bad about buying plastic and will buy more—was an perfect case in point.

And young Benjamin Braddock, the aimless college grad of the movie, knew it instinctively—that the world his parents’s generation wanted to thrust him into was plastic—promising 100% and delivering 10%. ‘He probably went into plastics after all and did very well for himself,’ said some cynical commentator about the movie—so many of that generation sold out, as they do in all generations. Be that as it may, the author of the book The Graduate did not sell out—he died penniless in 2020, after a lifetime of giving away assets. More on him later.

 

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Doomscrolling Through 2020 and Getting Out of the World

Here and there, blips appear to let us know where we are in the stream of time. The brand-new term “doomscrolling” is an example. It doesn’t need to be defined, does it? It is an update of just a few years back when reading the Drudge Report was likened to reading the Book of Revelation.

Too, there is the clever line of how future historians will be queried as to what quarter of 2020 did they specialize in. Distinct, groundbreaking, and disastrous events fill each quarter. It is hard to escape the feeling that something is being kicked into high gear.

Quarter 1: Pandemic appears out of nowhere and spreads throughout the globe within weeks. Society goes into lockdown. Financial markets plunge. Massive unemployment begins.

Quarter 2: People get fed up with lockdown—“lockdown fatigue.” Churches defy them. College students and the young in general defy them. Police shootings prompt yet other crowds to defy them. Hopes for vanquishing the virus disappear.

Quarter 3: Protests escalate to riots. Pro and anti Trump people fight each other in the streets—some are killed. Huge property damage ensures. Record-setting fires burn throughout western states, destroying whole towns, and the smoke dims Eastern skies. GOP and Democrats punt on helping unemployed as they did in the first quarter, opting blame each other instead for the suffering that results.

Quarter 4: The election. Never has been seen such incivility of opponents. Trump’s enemies warn he will not leave if he loses—he will have to be dragged out of the White House! Hillary tells Democrats to, under no circumstances, concede a loss come Election Day! Social unrest simmers. As much as a Covid 19 vaccine is heralded, only about 1/3 of population say they will take it. Have we seen the fallout of 2020 yet, or have we just seen the tip of the iceberg?

Who can say what the facts of Covid 19 are? They are spun every which way by experts of every stripe pushing their choice agendas — and which one is true is up in the air. Who can say what the science is or what we should do about it? My primary care doctor, during a recent physical, told me that the state “never should have shut down” and in so doing, “they didn’t follow the science.” Find one expert who says the science points this way, and with just a little bit of searching, you can find an equally credible expert who says it points the other way. 

Will masks save us? Will a vaccine be our deliverance? I have no clue. I don’t even like to slobber over “science” much anyway. It is the mantra for those intent on ruling the earth without God—they have no need for faith, what they idolize is science! Yet, the first thing “science” will do, if you give it center stage, is declare the fundamental underpinnings of Christianity, to say nothing of the Genesis account, to be hogwash.

I lay low because I’ve been asked to by the brotherhood. It is no more complicated than that. They’ve asked everyone to shift as much to the distancing model as possible, allowing that different ones will face different realities, so that it cannot be ‘one size fits all.’ Still, the entire Bell curve shifts in a direction thought safer. We’re not asked to distance on account of “science,” but because of love of neighbor and obedience to secular authorities. After all, if it turns out that social distancing unnecessary, but your neighbor is still scared senseless as you approach him, then how does that work out with witnessing being a fine deed? Laying low is hard on the young people, but for myself, releasing my inner hermit has the effect of simplifying my life. With half the things I once did now off the table, I savor more the first half.

Who can say that there will not be additional benefits in withdrawing from regular contact at a time when the world is, even by it’s own standards, losing its mind? Half the people are ready to jump down the throats of the other half these days. Humanity’s undoing is that there is no clearing-house trusted information source on anything. It is as Pew uncovered about politics—not only do people not agree on how to act in light of the facts, but they don’t agree on what the facts are. They do all they can to demonize those on the other side.

Here we are in 2020 and people seriously discuss the possibility of civil war in the United States, as they are fighting it out right now in several cities! In the United States! The last time there was talk of civil war in the United States was during the Civil War!

One begins to envision fulfillment of those verses that ‘each one’s hand will be against their companion’—just as a few years back it was observed that maybe the obsession with uber-violent entertainment was preparing people’s hearts for that eventuality—stoking up in them an affinity for gore. It might be well to take a back seat as that gets underway.

In that day confusion from Jehovah will be widespread among them; and each one ... hand will come against the hand of his companion.” (Zechariah 14:13) And God, in the dark time “will incite Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight one another, each against his brother and his neighbor.” (Isaiah 19:2) “Egyptian” as used here is code for the greater world—just as Revelation 11:8 cites Egypt as the place where the Lord was impaled. You know and I know he wasn’t really impaled there—it’s “code”—it’s “in a spiritual sense.”

It seems like not a bad time to “get out of the world” so as not to be caught in the crossfire. “In my letter I wrote you to stop keeping company with sexually immoral people, not meaning entirely with the sexually immoral people of this world or the greedy people or extortioners or idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world.” Paul writes at 1 Corinthians 5:10, and he has to clarify just who he is speaking about, since it obviously is not possible to “get out of the world.”

Today it is! If you follow government advisories and go just a tiny nudge further, you all but have! And nobody saw it coming. Nobody foresaw a pandemic, and in case anyone did, no one foresaw how it would give an unexpected opportunity to get out of the world. One begins to wonder if it is not providential.

Here is someone just spotted on social media and he posts a picture of 2020 as though it were a children’s slide—and the slide he pictures is a cheese-grater at the bottom that the kid is about to slide into. The sick so-and-so! Still, everyone takes his point. Nobody says: “Nothing to see here, people. Move along, now. Why, from the days of our forefathers, all things continue exactly as from creation’s beginning.”

It is a good time to get to the bottom of Luke 21:26 and 31. People may “become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth,” but if you’ve prepped for it in a good way, “when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.” The call is still ongoing to benefit from the turnover.

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Avoiding Masks in Public—the New Snake Handling. The Huffington Post Weighs In

The Huffington Post is an irreligious source that works fairly hard to exalt “reason” and persuade that faith is for chumps. Alas, religion behaves in such a way as to give them plenty of easy shots. Like this one from a former church missionary, now a skeptic, who says:

“The best testimonies in church were always from addicts and ex-cons who started with, “If it weren’t for God, I might be dead by now.” In 2020, I wonder the opposite. If it weren’t for no longer believing, I could be dead by now.”

This is because, in the writer Karen Alea’s view, the more Bible-believing someone is, the more likely they are to blow off “COVID-19 [as] a hoax, or even if it’s not a hoax, God will protect them from it.” She cites a study that say 55% of believers are convinced that God will protect them from the virus. They gather in defiance of government advisories and see efforts to curtail services as tricks of the devil to which they will not fall victim.

In the effort to convey that those who believe the Bible are nuts and even harmful, since they downplay (or ignore) masks and social distancing, the Huffington Post does not mention that the largest group of evangelizers BY FAR (since every member preaches the good news—until not long ago, from door to door) had no problem at all with complying with the recommendation of government and health policies—even acting ahead of them. We always take a hit from these religionists, because their deeds are ascribed to us, even though ours are 180 degrees opposite.

Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately shut down all congregation gatherings, even before governments starting decreeing it. There was about a week in early March when it was stated to congregations that the group whose turn was to clean the Kingdom Hall would sanitize every touchable surface both before and after meetings, but this lasted only a week. A letter from the Branch subsequently stated all physical meetings would be suspended. And yet congregation members missed nothing—the succeeding week all meetings were held via the Zoom app.

At the same time, the trademark feature of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the house to house ministry, was suspended for the first time ever. It was one of the constants of life—“there is death and taxes and Jehovah’s Witnesses” and then it was no more. The New York Times acknowledged this shift—it is a tidal wave historic shift—though because they share the same “enlightened” view of Bible-believers as the HuffPo, they managed to convey it as though it was only for outward appearances, that contrary to the Governing Body’s statement about putting life first, they didn’t give a hoot about life and were frustrated the pandemic would deprive them of their powers to “manipulate people”—oh yeah! these anti-cult crazies have guzzled far too much of their own Kool-Aid—still they did acknowledge it.

Why doesn’t the Huffington Post acknowledge this example that flies in the face of their “Bible-believers are reckless” narrative? The answer is contained in the question—they don’t want things to fly in the face of what they believe. Man, that is irritating! It is like the Black Nationalist I spoke with in the ministry who allowed that Jehovah’s Witnesses know their Bibles more than others, but he still looked upon them askance because he thought they were Trump supporters. It’s like Jen, who told me how people just assume that she, as a Christian woman serious enough about the Bible to visit their home, must necessarily be a Trump supporter. How she answered I do not know, but I know how I answered the Black Nationalist: that the Pew Research people report that Jehovah’s Witnesses are apolitical, and to the extent they are not, they lean slightly Democrat. But the feature of the chart that immediately strikes one is their distinct lack of participation on either side—in sharp contrast to any other religion surveyed. In fact (this is just my guess), if it were not for the fact that participants in such surveys self-identity, even the low participation rates revealed would be much lower still.

So here we have the Huffington Post striving with all its irreligious might to convey that Bible-believing is reckless, when in fact, not only are Jehovah’s Witnesses more responsible than the church Christians they consider, but they are more responsible than the Post’s own skeptical readers! They must be. The Cult Expert’s hashtag—he of the BITE model—is “freedomofmind.” You don’t think at least some of his followers will use their freedom of mind to tell the authorities where they can go with their advisories?

Now, this is not to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses have given up on their ministry, but they have shifted to methods not necessitating personal contact—letters, phone calls, online, informal situations, and the like—not as thorough, probably, but the best that can be done under the circumstances—maybe a little like how the ministry slows notably, but does not stop, during the atrocious months of winter.

So the Huffington Post ignore the example of Jehovah’s Witnesses that flies in the face of their ‘Bible-believers are reckless’ narrative because they are irreligious. Writer Karen Alea ignores it however—well, who can say why she ignores it?—but it is very likely that she does not know about it. And why does she not know about it?

Because the church community she hails from collectively does all it can to spread the fiction that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian. And why do they do that? Because they buy into the completely illogical trinity teaching, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not. The verses that can be used to support the trinity would, if seen in any other context, be instantly dismissed as figure of speech, and yet they take it all literally. No wonder her former chums declared that her problem was “logic” that was holding her back from God’s blessing. Now—in fact, there is something to not thinking you can figure God out, but that is not the same as incorporating completely irrational notions into your definition of him.

Portions of what Alea observes about her previous church connections would be unsettling to any of Jehovah’s Witnesses—even given that the Huffington Post will not paint faith in a flattering way and when they cover Jehovah’s Witnesses, they rip them apart, too.  For example, with regard to her pursuing the “gift of tongues,” she followed the advice to “Just let it come,” the leader said. I decided I needed to break through this rational thinking stifling me and so I followed their directions and emulated some of the sounds of speaking in tongues I heard coming out of the mouths of the people surrounding me. As I did, their prayers got louder with excitement. Adults, leaders, people who had put their lives on the line for God could tell I was being blessed and it roused their souls. I repeated the same odd five sounds again and again like a child starting to talk.” Most of Jehovah’s Witnesses would regard this as flirting with demonism—you don’t try to override your common sense—if it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it.

This one is more than a little screwy, too: She writes: “I believed God would put things in my path to bless me or test me. Both would make me stronger in my faith.” In fact, overcoming trials does make one stronger—this is true for believers and non-believers alike—but does God “put things in her path to test her?” How does that square with the verse Witnesses read all the time, and now reading Karen’s article, I can better see why: “When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) It is a seemingly subtle aspect of belief—that God causes suffering—that translates into a huge and deleterious shift of outlook.

Of course, Karen’s moved on from religion, now—she’s “currently a skeptic”—but how much of it is due to the nonsense she was required to swallow in the first place? She is preaching her new gospel: “Christianity is based on one singular belief: Jesus raised from the dead. Once you believe in one miracle, the pathway is paved to believe in the next. Not all branches of faith go as far as handling snakes, but they’re all rooted in the one miracle that overrides our intellect.

Does it really “override our intellect” or is it just something that we don’t know? Now, the trinity—that overrides our intellect. That is said to be beyond our powers of understanding even by its most ardent advocates. But the resurrection? Once you accept the premise that God created life, what is so hard about accepting that he can restore it? Haven’t you ever fixed something that was broken?

At any rate, she has described the course she once embraced as “spiritual terrorism.” She writes of how “gathering together [was] the best way to get out the message and be heard. But accompanied by their belief that God is protecting them against a government mask mandate, these particular groups of Christians are spreading more than the Word of God.

Well, if it kills huge swaths of people, as appear to be the case, I guess I can see her point of view as to what is “spiritual terrorism.” Still, somewhere along the way, even in a footnote, I would have been happy had the Huff Po said Jehovah’s Witnesses do not carry on that way—and they are the most evangelistic of all.

 

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How Do You Answer When Asked “What do you Do?”

As far as I am concerned, what pegs the “faithful and discreet slave” as faithful and discreet and effective is that they have redefined how most Witnesses view their own vocation. This came up in recent discussion of the daily text about Jesus being “the carpenter, the son of Mary.” He may have been “the carpenter,” but when he “began his work” (Luke 3:23), it is not carpentry that the verse speaks of. It is preaching and teaching the Word.

So it is that under the direction of the Governing Body, few if any of Jehovah’s people regard themselves first according to their occupations. They regard themselves as preachers of the good news first, who just happen to be doing this or that in order to pay the bills.

This is a huge accomplishment—to motivate people to redefine themselves.

They did it by steadfastly persuading the many who would say—I have said it myself—“Why can’t we be Jehovah’s Witnesses and just live normal lives?” Their answer would be: “How can you live a normal life in an abnormal world?” 

They have won that battle. It is an abnormal world. How can you live a normal life in it? Secular work occupies its place with our people, of course, but seldom do they define themselves by it. At the drop of a pin, they will chuck “career” aside totally for the sake of part-time work if they can figure a way to make it work.

Just about the time of the Proclaimers book, I thought there was a shift to speaking of the Witness way of life in terms of a “theocratic career”—is that my imagination? That way when our young people encountered classmates ecstatic at the careers they were going to have—being pushed that way by guidance counselors—they could come back with a career concept of their own. They wouldn’t have to answer, “Well, I’m just going to get a job somewhere, maybe in a tool shop,” much less, “Well, I think I’ll just be a janitor so I can have more time for door to door preaching.”

Now, as it turns out, I was a janitor for many years. And when my newly married wife was asked by a set of well-to-do non-Witness relatives what her husband did for a living, she said “He’s a janitor.” This occasioned a disappointed “Oh.” She added that “He owns his own company.” The same syllable followed, this time with opposite impressed inflection! It’s all a facade! It’s all a joke! It doesn’t mean a thing. While I was a janitor, I checked out just about every Books on Tape there was in the library that wasn’t contemporary fiction, I listened while working, and I find myself better “read” than almost anybody.

If there is one thing I regret in my past (actually, there are quite a few), it is that when I was asked—it is the 2nd line at any introduction—“And what do you do?” I would answer as to my secular work. This might lead to a discussion of how, with brilliantly shined floor, people’s spirits lift, yet they can’t put their finger on just why—or how when the floor is dingy by the baseboards, it is the fault of the janitor for slopping it there with his mop as he goes back and forth—how else could it possibly get there? But why in the world would I care about that? If you answered the question “What do you do?” according to what people expect, then you had to change the subject into one more interesting or suffer through one that you barely care about yourself.

Don’t play that game. Answer according to what you are and what interests you most. In time, I got so I would do that, but it took long enough. “Well, I do various things to pay the bills,” I would say, “but what gives me the most satisfaction is....” I should have done it years before I did.

Fay said how in Ireland (she had been there recently) when people ask that question, they really do want to know about you, and not just what you do for a living. I like it that the faithful and discreet slave (Matthew 24:45-47) has taken membership and persuaded them to define themselves and think of themselves as an army of preachers, diverse though their backgrounds might be. Can’t get more faithful than that.

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The Last of the Last Days—Over the Top?

We are now in the last of the last days?

My wiseacre answer would be that I’m not doing nothing until we reach the last of the last of the last days. Why inconvenience myself unnecessarily? It’s the same as when over the years the pioneer hour requirement is progressively lowered, then such a thing as ‘auxiliary pioneering’ is concocted, then the hour requirement for them is over time lowered, then it is even devised how to lower it still more during months of special activity. “I’m holding out for 15,” I tell people when I’m feeling punchy. And I have both pioneered and auxiliary pioneered, and I have auxiliary pioneered in all its varieties. (When it was a new concept, I recall someone telling another that they could always ‘artillery pioneer.’)

But why be that way—a wiseacre? I forgive it all. It may sound a little clunky, but I forgive it. I even recommend it—or at least acquiesce to it.

Soon we’ll be away from here—step on the gas and wipe that tear away!” That’s what the Witness organization does. They step on the gas. They don’t sit in stuffy boardrooms discussing schematics of the car. The hop in the driver’s seat and drive that sucker! It is not an armchair activity for them. It is a participation sport, and they are not afraid to push pedal to the medal.

It is a little like Carl Jung after the Holocaust, his values shaken to the core, because he had lived during its horror and had read a lot about it, and so he completely misses the meaning of Job as he takes shots at God in ‘Answer to Job.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, didn’t just observe it. They didn’t just read up on it. They endured it. They lived through it. They were sent to the camps well before the far more numerous Jews, and their integrity saw them though. 

So it is that the Witness organization today consists of doers to match their prowess as thinkers, maybe even outrunning it at times, convinced the latter will catch up. Do they counsel obedience for others? They are that way themselves. They obey first, then they think it through more thoroughly afterwards. Should this result in a clunky expression from time to time, so be it. They are not afraid to go all-in, and I so prefer them to the bland people of this system who cannot do anything without hedging. 

Nor am I not going to be forewarned by it. I’m not about to let my ‘sophistication’ cause me to miss out. They deal with and want to counter the opposite view: “Why, from the days of our forefathers, all things are continuing as at Creation’s beginning!” People are rocked by unheard of calamities today—and yet in no time at all they have adapted to them and accepted whatever is the latest outrage as ‘just one [more] of those things.‘ The urge to spiritual sleep is strong. One week it is some new obscenity that rocks people back on their heels. The next week, it is “Que sera, sera. What ever will be, will be.”

Maybe the best indication the Witness organization is on to something is the line I’ve seen on social media, and the avalanche of ‘likes’ it invariably attracts: “In the future, historians will be asked what quarter of 2020 do they specialize in.”

 

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“This is the Carpenter, the Son of Mary”

This is the carpenter, the son of Mary.​—Mark 6:3

Talk recently during the Daily Text discussion was about what Jesus was known for. Was he executed for anything having to do with carpentry? The commentary cited Luke 3:23: “When Jesus began his work, he was about 30 years old...” What “work” was he known for? It wasn’t carpentry, yet he was described as “the carpenter.”

Curiously, the first Witness to be jailed in Russia after the 2017 ban in that country has a surname, Christensen, that indicates whom he follows. His occupation? A carpenter—just like that of the one he follows—and the last noteworthy thing he did as a carpenter was to build a playground for the neighborhood children. But he wasn’t arrested on account of his carpentry, was he?

They came from humble roots, those first-century Christians did, and for the most part that is true today. Their leading ones were said to be “unlearned and ordinary” (Acts 4:13) and for the most part, that is true today. These days, without letters appended to one’s name, people are barely worth noticing. Same thing back then. Doesn’t that explain why, apart from the early Christians themselves, there are only four figures in contemporary history (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Philo, Josephus) who mention early Christianity at all—and all of them only in brief passing paragraphs, about one per writer—it’s never their main topic—almost the priority you might assign in discussing what the plumbers were doing back then. The doings of the common people are beneath the notice of the upper classes.

The apostle Paul wrote about letters. “Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) They did the work. They preached and made disciples. That was their letter, not some honorary title appended by some school to their name. Jesus said you could even be distracted by such honorary things: “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? (John 5:44) They’re okay, those letters are—no harm in them and they do denote some study, but it is possible to hide behind them. They are not what cuts it from God’s point of view.

Another verse cited in the text commentary was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” If you say you are expecting a workman to arrive at the house, what sort of person do you expect? A lawyer? Once again, the ministry of Christians is linked with humble work. Accordingly, the Christian organization today has taken to gathering together a “teaching toolbox” of materials, video and otherwise, for use in the ministry. It is not a portfolio. It is not a briefcase. It is a toolbox.

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“Do Not Say ‘The King of the Jews,’ but ‘He SAID ‘I am King of the Jews!’”

Then two robbers were put on stakes alongside him, one on his right and one on his left. And those passing by spoke abusively of him, shaking their heads and saying: “You who would throw down the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are a son of God, come down off the torture stake!” In the same way also, the chief priests with the scribes and the elders began mocking him, saying: “Others he saved; himself he cannot save! He is King of Israel; let him now come down off the torture stake, and we will believe in him....In the same way, even the robbers who were on stakes alongside him were reproaching him. (Matthew 27:38-44)

The theme of the midweek meeting was ‘don’t dish dirt on people, don’t speak injuriously of others, don’t follow the crowd to evil ends.’ Since the assigned Bible reading for the week was Exodus 23 and 24, verses such as 23:1 and 2 were discussed: 1– “You must not spread a report that is not true. Do not cooperate with a wicked one by becoming a malicious witness,” and 2–“You must not follow after the crowd to do evil, and you must not pervert justice by giving testimony to go along with the crowd.”  Even Aaron fell victim to this, being leaned upon by the crowd to make the golden calf, being leaned upon by his sister to speak against Moses, and I think there was something else he screwed up by yielding to the crowd—the speaker mentioned three—but I forget what it was.

The finest example at that meeting content of not going along with the crowd was the one set by the wrongdoer hanging next to Jesus! At first he did go with the crowd—carried along with how everyone on the ground below was reviling him—but he reached a point of saying: ‘Enough!’ He broke ranks and rebuked the other criminal: “Do you not fear God at all, now that you have received the same judgment? ...We are getting back what we deserve for the things we did; but this man did nothing wrong....Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43)

(It is completely translator’s choice as to where to put the comma—before the ‘today’ or after—and it hugely changes the meaning of the sentence. Since Jesus is said to be resurrected on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4), he plainly was dead until then, which is why the NWT places the comma after the ‘today,’ though most translations place it before.)

It’s hard to believe how rotten were the chief priests and elders in mocking the tortured Jesus, but their previous cunning left them almost no choice. Pilate was set to release Jesus—he tried hard to do it, and would have, until those chief priests said ‘we’ll have your job if you do it—and maybe your head!’ What they actually said was: ““If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” (John 19:12) It was enough to make Pilate cave.

So what does he have written to post over Jesus’ head? “Jesus the Nazareneʹ the King of the Jews,” says John 19:19. “Many of the Jews read this title,” says the very next verse, so did the chief priests not have to keep the crowd in a froth, lest those ones reflect upon how their leaders had killed their king? “The chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written.” (21-22) I’ll bet they didn’t push him very hard on that one. He had had it with that bunch of liars—furious at being used by them once, he was going to turn the tables on them.

See Part 2–Sticking up for Pilate.

 

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Sticking up for Pilate, and Battling the Trolls

I always felt a little bad for Pilate. He tried to free Jesus. He really did—the four Gospel accounts make that very clear—declining only to fall on his own sword for him. For a military leader that’s not bad. It is not promising that when he says (and displays) that he is washing his hands of the blood of Jesus, the enemies of the Lord shout: “Let his blood come upon us and upon our children.” (Matthew 27:25)

Partly to divert attention from the actions of those religious leaders, who after all, have descendants, history has cranked up the volume on Pilate’s (who does not) vileness. In time, it became almost politically incorrect to connect Jesus’ death with those leaders. However, when Mel Gibson, director of the gory film The Passion—which I have never seen, though it was almost required viewing for evangelicals, I am told (I can take the Gospel’s word for it that it was gory) was asked whether it was the Jews (not really them, but their leaders at the time) who killed Jesus, he replied: “Well, it wasn’t the Scandinavians.”

There was a book long ago recommended to me by an older sister in the congregation—a historical novel titled simply ‘Pontus Pilate.’ It followed Pilate’s exploits through life. It presented everything from his point of view. It made him not unlikable at all, and its portrayal of Jesus was completely believable, though when it later moved on to consider reports of Paul, it presented him as a loony fanatic that many would not be able to stand for too long—it wasn’t as I picture him at all. Now I spot a review of that book here:

Anyway, along comes someone on Twitter named Lee to challenge me over Pilate’s actions per the Bible accounts Naw, Pilate wouldn’t have done that, he says, because he was rotten as can be without a shred of decency—a tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. Besides, the Gospel accounts are hooey, and the Watchtower scholarship is nil—full of insults this fellow is. Presently, he reveals that his source is Bart Ehrman.

Now, Bart exists for the purpose of destroying people’s faith—or at best, transferring it from faith in God to faith in man. That’s not in his job description, of course, but it is the effect of him doing his job. He sits at some university chairing the Religious Studies department, and students sign up for his courses thinking they will increase their knowledge of the Bible—how can that be a bad thing? He teaches them that it is—that is, if they regard the book a source of faith. If they just regard it critically, that is fine with him, but if they think they can extract faith from it, he works to disabuse them of that notion.

Rather than the common sense view that the four gospels are written by four credible sources covering the same events more or less like four newspapers might cover the same events, each supplying details that the others leave out, he presents them as warring factions each trying to repackage Jesus after their own image. I remember decades ago giving the public talk ‘The Harmony of the Gospels’ and remarking how well it is that Matthew supplements Mark, because otherwise you might think that the first time Peter and John ever laid eyes on Jesus, they dropped everything to follow him after just a single sentence, which makes no sense at all. Matthew’s account makes clear they already knew each other well, and so Jesus’ saying “Come be my follower,” is just an invitation into a more intensive ministry.

Bart presents Mark’s version as though they really do abandon everything first time they see him!—how can anyone be so stupid? I’ll know I’ve arrived as a minister when I can invite people to study the Bible as Witnesses do, and they say as though in a trance “Must...follow...Tom” as they leave home and hearth, with their lawn mower still running! Bart thinks that according to Mark it actually happened that way!—since he thinks Mark’s purpose is to present Jesus as the mesmerizing miracle worker. You know, it would help if he hadn’t had come from an evangelical background where they believe all sorts of things that make little sense, so if he pats himself on the back at breaking free from that—well, who can blame him? If only his Bible knowledge had been well grounded in the first place.

So Lee has read Bart, and he thinks he thereby knows more than anyone else. He says: “As far as I know there are no non-Biblical accounts of this practice (freeing a prisoner, such as Pilate offered with Barabbas) and the Romans tended not to free insurrectionists to go round causing trouble all over again. I find it interesting that Barabbas means "son of the father" which is a good description of Jesus. A natural conclusion to draw is that this is a literary device and not reporting of real events.

I replied: “It is also a good description of anyone. Who can say? The account is specific enough and (atypically) in all four gospels. I see no need to blow it off as an invention. Maybe it was one of those deals that politicians are wont to pull every four years—releasing a few prisoners sometimes because they deserve it and/or sometimes because it makes them look good.”

He tipped his hand more, and this time revealed that his source was Bart—linking to a post Bart had written on the topic, along with his own: “Why look for chinks of light to defend a sectarian interpretation rather than look to the most reasonable explanation of available evidence?

It’s time to reveal to this character that I, too, know of the great, educated, and all-knowing Bart. I replied:

“Bart says that our sources for Pilate are almost nil, yet it is still enough for him to know Pilate through and through!? I think my take is more reasonable. Leaders throw out a bone or two today. Why not then? Maybe Barabbas was old and toothless by then, all the fight out of him. As to Bart’s recent book, Heaven and Hell, I have written that any JW could have written the bulk of it.

He responded in a flurry of tweets. When that happens, and if you want to continue, don’t respond to each one. Just because he thinks in a muddle, it does not mean you have to. Pick just one. He bombarded me with (I’ll number them—they all came at once:

1. Given that little time was spent prior to execution, if the Barabbas character was old and wrinkly that doesn't seem to have stopped his sedition and would not prevent his execution.

2. Yes, from what I've heard of Bart discussing it, I also noted how similar to JW's a lot of his position is. It seemed odd when he was attacked without being named in the March 2020 JW broadcast. [not that I noticed, but then if he was not named, who can say?]

3. I'm not sure where you get the idea he's been cribbing JW teachings. An annihilationist hell has been a feature of some Christian denominations for hundreds of years. Martin Luther and Tyndale for example. It is also common among Millerite offshoots including the JW's.

4. "the scholarship of the Watchtower must be elevated . . .  their critics generally assume that they have none." No, just largely only carried out at Bethel whilst the rank and file are asked not to dig too deeply into the secular scholarship the writing department accesses.

5. JW writing department treatment of scholarship is more to give a partial presentation to fit pre-conceived theology, not to ignore scholarship altogether.

6. JW writing department treatment of scholarship is more to give a partial presentation to fit pre-conceived theology, not to ignore scholarship altogether.

I was tempted to respond to #3. What is anannihilationist hell” other than no hell at all?—which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and almost nobody else! People just make up terms they hope you don’t know to make themselves look smart.

Instead, I decided to ignore this point, along with his other insults, and stay on topic—his appeal to Bart for authority: I replied: “Bart has only two sources regarding Pilate [Philo and Josephus], both Jewish upper class intellectuals, both with every reason to deeply resent occupying Rome. Why does it not occur to you or Bart that they just might not be unbiased sources? The Gospel account is probably more unbiased and true.

He shifted into high gear spinning theological terms: “Did you adopt this view of Johanine neutrality and historicity after a careful meta-analysis of scholarly work or after adopting a position of Biblical infallibility without such a scholarly exercise?”

“Come, come,” said I. “Your argument is weak. Don’t just keep flailing away nor “pull rank” with PhDs as though only they can think. Lots of Trump people are smart, too. Will you trust two of them to give an honest appraisel of Biden? Or vice versa? The gospel writers are more reliable, and infinitely more detailed. Brilliant and learned as your two sources may be, they wrote exceedingly little, not just on Pilate, but on the entire Christian movement.”

He next revealed that he had no idea what he was talking about, and didn’t really care. He just thought he could score a few points:

He: “I've no idea what Philo said about the Christian movement and doubt Josephus wrote what is attributed to him. How do you judge the reliability of NT writers accounts of miracles?”

See how he sweeps aside the fact that he doesn’t really know anything, and presses on with the fight anyway. It’s not happening on my watch. He already knows how I feel about the reliability of NT writers because he knows I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—he just wants to start a fight after awing me with credentials he does not have. There are only four brief “real time” mentions of first-century Christianity apart from the Bible itself. He had mentioned two—Josephus and Philo. I asked him if he knew the other, too. [They are Tacitus and Pliny the Younger] Of course, he did not—or at any rate I never heard from him again.

I thus never got the opportunity to point out that the reason there are only four extremely brief contemporary mentions of first-century Christianity outside of the New Testament itself is that the movement was (and is) one of the common people—who are ever beneath the notice of the “educated” class.

 

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Biased Reporting. Et tu?—Even Us?

“The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source.” This I wrote here, and it attracted an answer:

This is more and more true as the world gets more divided, more partisan, and more nationalistic. Pride in one's own cause, nation, religion or ideology causes one to be more apt to defend one's POV with bias, and condemn, with bias, those of an "opposite" POV . It happens to the best of us, and by that I mean that there have been several documented examples even within and among our own religion. 

I have learned to live with it, and perhaps even acquiesce that it must be that way. Of course, I don’t know what examples this person may have in mind, but...

Do you think I can persuade anybody that the (largely) atheist anti-cult movement is behind our woes in Russia? No. It is all the machinations of Babylon the Great is all anyone wants to hear. We are so hung up on Babylon the Great that we do not recognize that she is mostly licking her wounds these days, and a powerful atheist faction has arisen that would eradicate everyone clinging to worship of God—us no less than they. Yet we still, in the main, carry on as though publishers in Judge Rutherford’s day, announcing that religion is a “snare and a racket.” It is, but here in the West, it does not play as the most timely theme. The atheists and the skeptics perch above it all and ridicule the different religionists calling each other false. As rude as some trolls are here, I see brothers equally rude on social media with regard to tweets mentioning religion—appending insults that have little to do with the topic under consideration. Do they think themselves witnessing? It doesn’t leave a good impression. I could wish that we got training about social media besides the refrain to “be cautious” of it.*

Trained, we might be able to do some good with it. The articles posted on JW.org lately—about coping with anxiety, safeguarding children from the horror of world news, adapting them to “distance learning,” and so forth? These are excellent contributions—exactly what is needed today by anyone wishing to preserve sanity. It would take so little for ones who know how to use social media to judiciously spread this all over the internet, to the benefit of countless people. But we are advised to be cautious as to our use of it. We are not trained, and most of those who venture there with the idea of witnessing are horribly clumsy—saying outrageous things, oblivious to what their audience potentially might be.  It could be used to such powerful effect, but it is not in a nod to “caution.” 

Still, maybe the fixation on Babylon the Great, and turning a (it seems to me) blind eye to the atheists and skeptics is what one must expect of Bethel. They, more than anyone, strive to be “no part of the world.” Over time, they get to know little about it. They live primarily in the world of Scriptures, and the scriptures say that it is in the skirts of Babylon the Great (not the atheists or skeptics) that is found the blood of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth. Primarily, the sin is one of omission, not commision. Had religion not neglected to teach the Word of God, there would not be the bumper crop of atheists and skeptics of today. So who can say that Bethel is wrong to keep on harping over false religion—that picture is the overall picture, and the skeptics are but a resulting subset—even though (someone said to me) “the denunciation of Babylon the Great was needed at that time because religion was still powerful. Today it is not needed any longer.“ The way that I have phrased it is: “Why kick the old lady when she is down? We kicked her while she was up.”

Another area of seeming bias is how we speak of ex-members—as though they are all train-wrecks, and will remain so until they come to their senses and return. This is a point of great ridicule among ex-Witnesses, who take bows before each other each time one emerges who is not a train-wreck. I mean, it really does seem an example of “confirmation bias” on our part.

Still, the Word indicates that those who leave after knowing the truth are like Vic Vomodog, whose name I changed from Vomidog to please @anna, who didn’t like the image. “A dog that returns to its own vomit” is how Peter puts it, so from there comes the notion that the world will “chew one up and spit one out.” If the brothers find someone who says it in exactly those words based upon his own experience, they eat it right up and cannot relay it quickly enough. 

It used to drive me nuts. It still does, a little, but it does so less. The brothers don’t know because they obey the Bible’s own counsel to not go where they might find out. “Keep an eye on those who cause division and stumbling and avoid them,” says Romans 16:17. So they do avoid them, and thus the only window they have to look upon them is that of scripture. 

Ah, well. I would like it if they didn’t do that, but who is to say they are wrong? It’s a little like God declaring that Adam and Eve will die the day they disobey. It the long run, it makes little difference whether that “day” is one of 24 hours or 1000 years.

...
*You settle in social media like FB and Twitter just like you would settle in a physical neighborhood. As you interact with your “neighbors,“ by degrees people come to know of your faith and what makes you do what you do. I wish we did more of this, but in fact we do almost none. When we “friend” only those we personally know, whatever witnessing we do, barring some fluke, reaches only the brothers. 

I rather like it that the hour requirement of pioneers has been suspended, and yet people are still being appointed as pioneers—which begs off the obvious question of...well, you know what it is. Counting time inevitably leads to curious notions of being “on duty/ off duty.“ I don’t mind seeing it suspended, in favor of witnessing that is seamlessly integrated into our lives—sometimes distinctly “on duty”, sometimes, for the most part, “off duty,” but generally so seamless that it is hard to tell.

If I was to count all the time I spend on social media, primarily my own blogging here, in that case I have been special pioneering for many years. But the notion of counting time is a provision of the organization, so it is for them to define how it Is to be done. Since they are decidedly unencouraging on witnessing via social media, I count none of it.

 

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