Previous month:
November 2020
Next month:
January 2021

At the Northeast Classic Car Museum

EB1CCA3D-13B5-4488-AFE4-D0F48E3C4059
It is a 1942 Buick 91F—that competed with Cadillac, much to Cadillac’s dismay. Only 85 were build before production ceased due to WWII. About 10 exist today. Purchased by a doctor who held it to his death in 1951, it eventually wound up property of Bennett Buick in Wayland, NY. Bennett is the oldest continual Buick dealership in the country.

The museum is in the tiny town of Norwich, southeast of Syracuse. It is several large metal barns cobbled together and you roam from cavernous area to the other. My wife and I had almost finished touring the complex when, struck with the idea, I backtracked and photographed nearly every car, as well as its placards. (My wife was very good about it.) The docents are mostly old guys. They love cars. They volunteer. It takes nothing to get them talking.  One fellow I chatted up had lost his wife after a lengthy illness. He had turned his life upside down so as to care for her, and he spoke of how he would not do anything differently were he to do it again. I spoke of the resurrection a bit, to his moderate interest, and told him how I had been able to care for Pop in his own home until he died.

So taken was I with the museum that I purchased an overpriced DVD covering stationwagons—hasn’t the breed died out now? does anyone still make them—entitled Wagonmasters. There were awards and praises on the jacket, such as, “A highly entertaining film.” George Conboy, the stockbroker, called those words “very faint praise indeed,” and indeed, the video was pretty much of a dud, but if you reveled in the bygone era, you still might enjoy it. The video I probably should have viewed first—but it is still wrapped in plastic on my bookshelf—is The Staley Collection, in which local collector George Staley rattles on with historical dope and personal anecdotes about 32 automobiles from his collection. I know that video is good because they had it running on a repeat loop at the entrance to one of the warehouses. Maybe George Conboy will do one of these with his collection, too, someday,

The wagon they should have had was the 59 Chevy I spotted just recently in Buffalo.

3C0F67D8-6BDD-4F12-9231-058DCB205F2E
Don’t you love those sideways fins? No other maker has such fins, though vertical ones were a dime a dozen. The finned era only lasted two or three years. Given how large those cars loom in memory, one would think it an entire decade. But they were just beginning in 1957–but 1960 there were just a few hints of them, and the following year they were gone.

I told George Conboy (via Twitter—I’ve never met him in person) about the Chevy—restored from Idaho, the garage owner told me, or was in Iowa?—and he said he wouldn’t mind it at all in his collection. He has a fair-sized one, and he will roll out a selected one, such as his 63 Corvair convertible, for special events in the city. “Shouldn’t you be out chasing TSLA to the moon?” I retorted to some barb of his at a time when the stock was headed there. But he replied that chasing stocks was not his style. Of course! He is the trusted area stockbroker, and he cannot be seen as flippant with other people’s money. Whenever there are gyrations in local stocks, such as when Kodak soared and then plummeted a few times at reports they might produce a Covid vaccine ingredient, coupled with allegations of insider trading (which turned out to be false), he is the go-to guy for media, and he explains it all to them. He also tweets photos of his cars, even devising ‘Can you identify?’ quizzes, and I torment him with pictures of Ramblers—like this one:

864910B1-89D4-42DC-9B06-2C28747BD1EA

“There!” I said to Pop as I laid down his breakfast before pulling the fuse for the stove so he wouldn’t burn down the house while I left for the day. “I don’t know why I’m so good to you after you were so mean to me, making me drive Ramblers, and all my classmates ridiculed me, when what I wanted was a Mustang!” “Seems to be we had a Mustang,” the amiable fellow with dementia replied, “and you smashed it up.” No, we never had one at all. We had Ramblers—straight up Ramblers. However, a teen has to defend his family’s choice of vehicles, and I may have developed my lifelong habit of sticking up for the underdog by continually doing just that.

My cousin’s husband restores Mustangs—just Mustangs, just first generation Mustangs, and just fast backs—he won’t touch anything else. If you price them 30K or so, people beat down your door to get them, but if you bump up the price to $50K, “that slows them down a little,” he tells me. Note this before and after (not the same vehicle):

7DC5CFA5-A8D1-4104-AF4E-A5C29532DF13

Are there that many salvageable old Mustangs left? “There’s getting mighty hard to find,” he says. Nonetheless, I just spoke to my cousin, and he has four on tap.

A5E9BC81-9698-4C37-908A-548800E49050

The Northeast Classic Car Museum would jump on that 59 Chevy in a heartbeat, probably, though they would hold out for someone to give it to them. Most of their cars were donated and many were on loan, such as Bennett temporarily parting with his long-stretch Buick. I forget the details, but the governor of New York promotes the place as a tourism draw.

They might have to fight over the Chevy with the closer Buffalo Pierce Arrow Transportation Museum. This place is smaller, though the holdings may be larger. A docent there, who also volunteers, spoke of about a dozen warehouses throughout the city stuffed with both autos and memorabilia. They don’t do memorabilia at the Northeast Museum—it is straight cars for them—but at the Buffalo museum there is as much memorabilia as cars. Supposedly, the owner bought up scads of downtown property during the 80s and 90s blight, then accrued a fortune as Buffalo renewed by operating them as parking lots. The most plebeian car there, though it is hardly any slouch, but is there for sentimental value, is the owner’s own 63 Chevy convertible, bought new, for a price that seems absurdly low today.

It is the Pierce Arrow museum because Pierce Arrow was the upscale make built in Buffalo.

0EC6239A-D12D-453C-83E8-CF1B641C46A2
Though the modern generation will scarce believe it, there were once about 150 auto makers in New York alone; a chart at the Northeast Museum lists them all.

Oddities at the Pierce Arrow Museum include a full-scale model gas station by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the early auto days, once cars were refined enough that one need not be so macho to operate one, Wright envisioned women drivers gassing up at stop-offs that would be built glamorous on their account.

280E14A7-A828-42A4-A3A6-D3C848EF374E

All the trademark Wright features are there, including the impracticality. (The tanks were to be atop the building.) People that own Frank Lloyd Wright homes declare them a nightmare to maintain, since the artistic vision invariably exceeded the technology available at the time. However, they are generally well-off, and they have the resources and wherewithal to either pull it off or put up with it. They figure they are doing their bit to preserve history.

The Playboy car was there in Buffalo, too. I think Northeast had one as well, but the one pictured is in Buffalo.

98A95A0D-BE19-4AF0-A128-1FB511F0D359

FAB410B6-B752-4D1A-9EA7-ACF4E5876B85

To my surprise, the car precedes the magazine, and both are named for the man of leisure who can do whatever he likes. The connotation that he does nothing but chase women only came later, doubtless as a result of the magazine.

Maybe someday I will open a place like this for Ramblers. The Harley Rambler Museum—do you think anyone would bite? For now, I am content to snap pictures of them whenever I spot one rusting in the weeds. I already did my bit for auto history by writing an American Motors post with plenty of cool tidbits such as how James Bond jumped a river in a Hornet. That’s probably as far as I will go. Rambler representation was light at both museums. I think a sole AMX was the extent of it at Northeast, and Buffalo had nothing at all. Ah, well—so it must be. Those rusting Ramblers I would have to get someone to restore for me and my cousin’s husband does nothing but Mustangs.

13E9EEF8-B39B-42C9-8A9A-AB8FFC6E79EF 14C6DAEE-CE1F-47BB-BDC7-470225EA6CE0 560AC315-3E49-487A-9415-69F9D107293B


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

“Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” say Human Rights Watch

Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” according to Rachel Denbar, Deputy Director Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch in a statement to christianpost.com.

This is much stronger than I would have put it, but it is also from someone more in the know. Denbar spotlights human rights violations in Russia for all causes—not just religious, but also political, journalistic, persecution of gays, etc. When it comes to religion, there is only one worth mentioning, she reports.

I have said that all minority religion in Russia is harassed, but that Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the vanguard; I said in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia that Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned, but others are shaking in their boots that they will be next. Turns out I was wrong. They can rest easy. For all practical purposes, it is only Jehovah’s Witnesses. “You don’t see this kind of ban on other sorts of religious life,” Denbar says.

The christianpost.com article continues: “In the 2017 Supreme Court case, the actual verdict wasn’t about condemning beliefs, it was about liquidating legal entities. Whether or not someone is a believer, really has nothing to do with liquidating a legal entity,” a Witness spokesman said. “They’re using that law as a weapon and misapplying it to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses religious beliefs.”

Of course! The notion of outlawing a religious organization but not the individuals of that religion is so duplicitous that ordinary people cannot get their heads around it and just carry on as though the people themselves were outlawed. It may have been planned that way. Or it may simply represent manipulation from devious ones, even a Devious One, who prefer to remain hidden.

Yuriy Savelyev, the 66-year old just sentenced to prison, where he will rub shoulders with violent criminals and risk getting COVID-19, says: “I have found myself being accused not of a crime, but of being a follower of the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have no enemies, and for my almost 67 years I have never been brought to administrative or criminal responsibility. I am against any form of violence, be it verbal, psychological or physical.” Everyone knows it is true, save for a few fringe anticultists who equate not hanging out with those who turn 180 degrees against you as “psychological violence.” Everyone else instantly realizes the truthfulness of his statement.

“The law targets those who are extremists or terrorists or dangerous. It’s a gross misapplication of the law.” Of course, again.

And what are the chances, in any kind of a sane world, that these are the persons who would be persecuted, when there are so many who in the blink of an eye will turn to violence, and a few that specialize in it? It makes no sense from a human point of view. Therefore, persons can be forgiven if they look for a superhuman point of view—and there they can find one.

“The Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing that he has a short period of time....[He] became enraged at the woman and went off to wage war with the remaining ones of her offspring, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness concerning Jesus.”

I think of a local brother with a certain dramatic flair decades ago taking a globe onstage for his public talk. He quoted Matthew 24:14: “This good news of the kingdom will be be declared in all the earth for a witness and then the end will come,” and as he did so, he put his finger down upon this or that small area of the globe in which the area king said, “This good news of the kingdom WILL NOT be be declared in my part of the earth.” The unspoken question carried an implied answer: “Who will prevail—the maker of the globe or the one who would defy God on this small section of it?”

Sometimes those who don’t like Witnesses will carry on about how they overstate their “persecution complex.” We see here from the christianpost.com that, in reality, Witnesses understate it. 

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

Redefining Gender in the Bible

Dear Tom Harley:

Why does the Watchtower say “he” all the time? I counted it (or “him”) nine times in just one paragraph in that article on how to conduct a Bible study. The funny thing was, all the photographs were of a female student.”

Dear Person:

English is clunky that way. It is awkward to constantly say “him/her” or “he/she.” You have to choose one or the other. Somewhere in that study I recall reading that a, “he” can mean “he” or “she.” No way should it be “they.” Singular makes it more personal, and a personal connection with the student was a sub-theme of the article. I wouldn’t mind if it was straight “she’s.” 

But the problem is, if you say “he” with the addendum that you also mean “she,” the sisters will understand it that way. But if you say “she” with the addendum that it also means “he,” the brothers will not. They’re all lazy louts to begin with, and if given the out of, “Oh, they’re talking about sisters,” (drawing upon poetic license) what little they do now will be transformed into nothing. 

...

The trend in Bible translations to become inclusive. The New World Translation has gone along with it, as can be seen in the latest (2013) revision. One can find many examples. Such as:

Proverbs 20:11) . . .Even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright. - (NWT)

(Proverbs 20:11) . . .Even a child is known by his actions, Whether his behavior is pure and right. (REVISED NWT)

The examples you can find involve nouns. Alas, there is no comparable pronoun which is singular yet undetermined as to gender. That is why, though the noun changes, the pronoun does not. Note how “boy” becomes “child” but “his” does not become “his or hers.” Too clunky to do it that way. It’s a limitation of the English.

For example,: says one professor, “when speaking about a representative student, I used to say that “he is writing his paper,” and no one seemed to mind. Now in our gender-conscious world, I have to consider whether to use the cumbersome expression “he or she is writing his or her paper,” or the gratingly ungrammatical “they are writing their paper.” And should I still refer to first-year students as “freshmen” or do I use something silly like “freshpeople”?

It is a drawback of English. It used to be that male pronouns were once understood as sometimes referring to both men and women, but that is no longer the case. There are some gender-neutral translations that will do things as replace “brothers” with “brothers and sisters. It looks like the NWT conforms to sensitivities to the extent it can without adding words. Thus “son” can be replaced with “child” but not “brothers” with “brothers and sisters.”

Redefining gender is now a growth industry, with some “progressives” identifying dozens (now that’s progress). Can you imagine when some inclusive Bible translators try to cater to them all? Elon Musk recently stepped in it when he tweeted how “absolutely support[s] trans, but all these pronouns are an esthetic nightmare.”

Another revision welcome for not grossing people out but maybe not so much for safety:

1 Samuel 25:22) . . . “So may God do to the enemies of David and so may he add to it if I shall let anyone of all who are his that urinates against the wall remain until the morning.” (OLD)

(1 Samuel 25:22) “May God do the same and more to the enemies of David if I allow a single male of his to survive until the morning.” (NEW)

Yes, yes, this is all very fine and contemporary. But what if I borrow George’s time machine, race back to that era, take a stroll on a warm day and begin to imagine how refreshing it might be to sit against the wall in the cool shade?

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

Segwaying in San Diego

It doesn’t take long to learn how to ride a Segway. The San Diego tour operator gave us about 15 minutes in the company parking lot. Lean forward, you go. Pull back, you stop. Turn right or left pretty much like you were riding a bike.

1AD4C830-DC92-4106-9B01-A56221F9EC6A

There’s barely any point in saying how easy it is because the product is no longer made. It was sold to a Chinese outfit in 2015, combined with some other products, and then discontinued in 2020. Murray joined us in San Diego and he told me the Postal Service—he retired as a mail carrier—might have bought a few hundred, maybe even thousands, but the Postmaster General fell off his. The owner of the company later had problems, too, running his Segway off a cliff to his death.

Well—we found it easy. After our brief training session, off we went in single file, reconvening here or there as our guide pointed out spots of interest. We spent much time in Balboa Park, where our guide snapped pictures of anyone who asked. We did, and handed our over camera to him. Balboa is an urban park originally constructed in order to host the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition World’s Fair. Returning late afternoon, we had to thread our way through the homeless who were claiming their nightly sidewalk spots. This made me slightly nervous—we weren’t THAT experienced at driving these things, but there were no incidents.

It was atypically cold during our several day stay, and the locals kept apologizing for it, as though they expected us to blame them. I did learn something very interesting about rain. When the San Diego weatherman forecasts a 70% chance of rain, that means it will rain like mad but only for about 10 minutes. Afterwards the sky will return to brilliant blue. Where we come from when the weatherman says 70% chance of rain, that means it will rain all day, it will rain all day tomorrow, and it rained all day yesterday

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

If You Occupy Yourself with Spreading the Gospel You Just Might be a Christian

When Vladimir Putin said Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians too, “I don’t know why we persecute them,” Russian Witnesses were cautiously optimistic. They weren’t naive. They didn’t forget where they were. But when Darth Vader says, “I don’t know why we’re so mean to the Light Side,” you sort of think that maybe he will stop.

Did the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church pull him aside to say, “What is wrong with you, Vladimir? Get with it! They are not Christian at all!” It is pure speculation, but for whatever reason, nothing came of Putin’s words. In fact, it has been just the opposite; persecution of JWs has only increased.

Would they dare talk back to him that way? They might. Countries that nurture a “house church” and suppress everyone else expect that church to be the spiritual equivalent of the military, a force to bind together the nation. The military top brass no doubt speaks freely before Putin, so why not the Church top brass?

At any rate, a senior cleric, Metropolitan Hilarian, is adamant that no way are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian. Crowing at the aftermath of the 2017 ban on the Witness organization, he said: “It's hard to deny that these cultists will remain and continue their activity... but at least they'll stop openly claiming to be a Christian faith, in other words, in the market place of existing Christian confessions this product will no longer be on display.”

The reason that Putin did think Jehovah’s Witnesses were Christian, most likely, is that at the annual Kremlin picnic, his third cousin, with an interest in the Bible, bended his ear on things that Christians do. “Go, therefore, and make disciples,” Jesus said, as well as, “This good news of the kingdom will be declared in all the inhabited earth” at which point Putin reflected on who most visibly does this, openly approaching people, Bible in hand, right in their homes. It means Witnesses are Christian, he would have told himself.

But this is plebeian thinking, the Church clerics convince him. He must not be such a donkey in this regard. He is one of the ruling elite and he must act it. He must not be taken in by the fact that JWs alone, as a lifelong course, take the Christian message directly to people wherever they happen to be. It’s a ruse. They’re really not Christian.

They’ll have to correct BusinessInsider.com, too. Lamenting that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote, it nevertheless describes them as a “Christian denomination.” This identification as a Christian denomination is picked up by most secular sources.

Maybe religionnews.com can straighten them out. “Scholars call out Putin and the ‘escalation’ of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” it announces on October 2, 2020. It is a thorough article. It included the assessment of the scholars, that they “are left with the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are being punished for their success in gaining new adherents, and because they are perceived as a ‘foreign’ religion.”

Still, it cannot close the article without stating: “They are not recognized as Christian by Orthodox and other Christian traditions, primarily because they do not believe in the Trinity.”

Ah—there is the sticking point! It is the Trinity. Lack of it is a deal-breaker. This is very strange because virtually all scholars will concede that the Trinity doctrine was 300 years in development and was cemented into place first only at the 325 CE council of Nicaea. It is not explicitly taught in the Bible. Nearly all verses said to support it, were they to be seen in any other context, would be instantly dismissed as figure-of-speech. When the impaled Jesus cries out, “My God, my God—why have you forsaken me?—What! has he forsaken himself? It makes no sense. Nonetheless, it has become the steamroller that flattens all before it.

Again and again you get the sense that the ordinary people of common sense, barring only some indoctrinated religionists, accept in a heartbeat that Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christian because they most notably approach people with the Bible. Too, their stand of non-involvement in wars most notably dovetails with Jesus’ words that “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” and that “all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” People of common sense instantly recognize this.

But the higher you climb in the religion food chain, the more you find ones who have educated themselves beyond this common sense. I wrote previously of how the aforementioned religionnews.com doesn’t even seem to have a category for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and furthermore opined that such a circumstance might be perfectly agreeable to the JW headquarters—on a list of “religions of the world,” they do not appear.

It is reminiscent of Victor V Blackwell, a lawyer representing our people during the tumultuous World War II years. He writes of how he would point out for this or that small town judge that, per the scriptural definition, Witnesses enrolled in full time service of preaching and teach the Word were plainly ministers. However, those judges recognized as ministers only persons who “had a church” and “got paid.”

 

 

 

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

They Teach Early Christianity Like Night and Day—Bart Ehrman vs Luke Timothy Johnson

Preaching Jesus was no picnic in the first century. “Are you speaking of that fellow that they executed?” someone would say. “He’s the savior of the world?” That’s just plain idiocy, thought the non-Jew. The Jews would think it beyond idiocy—they would think it blasphemy, for they would recall the Torah verse of how anyone hung on a stake was accursed by God. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

Luke Timothy Johnson tells how early Christians had to overcome their “cognitive dissonance” on that point. Paul, the apostle, tells how he approached Corinth “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling” because he knew they would regard him as a snake oil salesman. (1 Corinthians 2:3) But only Bart Ehrman, the Bible-thumper who became an anti-Bible thumper but you can still see the Bible thumper in the anti-Bible thumper, actually presents him as a snake-oil salesman—Paul the itinerant preacher competing with hundreds of other itinerant preachers, each trying to yank the narrative of Christ his own way per his own “theology”—each concerned primarily with saving his own rear end from fire in the hereafter.

When Bart takes up the challenge of presenting Jesus as Messiah to that world, he likens it to presenting David Koresh as messiah to the modern world. “David Koresh—the man who abused children and stockpiled weapons? He’s the messiah?” he anticipates modern reaction. Why does he make such a dumb comparison? I get it that either one is supposed to be shocking, but still...

When you tell an illustration, you’re supposed to make sure all aspects of it line up with the subject—otherwise someone will be sure to spot the discordant part and throw out the entire illustration in consequence. Here the discordant part is glaring. Did Jesus abuse children? Did Jesus stockpile weapons? His “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” is among the best-known adages on the planet.

There’s no way Bart can’t know this. How can one not conclude that he has so little regard for the subject that he just doesn’t care? Even Mark Twain, reputed atheist with some of the most scathing invectives ever uttered on religion, never had an unkind word for Jesus. The problem, according to Twain, was that nobody followed him. “There has only been one Christian,” he wrote. “They caught and killed him—early.” But trashing Christ is all in a day’s work for Bart.

Luke Timothy Johnson and Bart Ehrman both teach religion courses for the Great Courses lecture series. Their topics aren’t exactly the same but there’s plenty of overlap—they both cover the spread of Christianity in the first few centuries after his death. Comparing the two approaches reveals all the difference between a violin and a fiddle—the style is so different that it’s hard to believe the instrument is the same. Luke follows a traditional religious approach, Bart the historical critical approach. Luke examines his subject from within, Bart examines it from without. Luke looks for points of agreement. Bart looks for points of disharmony. Luke’s take is how early Christians complement. Bart’s take is on how they compete—just like organisms do in the survival-of-the-fittest evolutionary world.

Luke isn’t keen on the historical-critical approach as he acknowledges that it dominates religious study at the university level these days—send your child there so they can break down his or her faith (my words, not his). He cites David Strauss, an early advocate of that approach, who observes that “critical historiography can only deal with events in human times and space.”  Therefore, as Luke Johnson restates it, “the historian cannot take up anything having to do with the transcendent, or the supernatural, the historian cannot talk about the miraculous birth of Jesus, his miracles, his walking on the water, his transfiguration, his resurrection from the dead, and so forth.

“Well, fair enough. The historian can’t talk about those things, but that methodological restraint of Strauss very quickly becomes implicitly an epistemological denial, that is ‘the historian cannot talk about these things, therefore they are not real.’”

Exactly! It is as though a mechanic approaches an ailing car with a toolbox equipped only with wrenches. Finding a screwdriver is needed, he does not  reproach himself for not bringing one. Rather, he declares the problem unsolvable. Helpful as science is, there are times when it wouldn’t know a fact if it choked on one.

Back to Luke: “And so...the narrative of Jesus and the biblical story simply gets eliminated, [with] each item looked at through the political agenda of the writer—what was [this or that writer] trying to accomplish, rather than, ‘How is God speaking to us?’” Sure enough, when Bart tackles subjects as Jesus’ miraculous birth, his miracles, and his resurrection, he concludes that they cannot be proven scientifically. Duh.

The mother of all obtuseness appears when Bart examines the reason behind Christian persecution in the first century. Rome burned, the populace suspected Nero of setting the fire (to clear the way for urban renewal) and to deflect blame from himself, he redirected it to the Christians, who were hunted down and killed in the most heinous ways. Bart’s conclusion: “So Christians weren’t persecution for being Christian—they were persecuted for arson!”

Bart leaves untouched the 800-pound question behind the arson charge: “What was it about Christians that made them such perfect scapegoats?” It doesn’t occur to him to go there, though it would anyone else. Why didn’t Nero blame the Mafia, the spies from Egypt, the fortune tellers, the crazies, or a host of more likely suspects?

His obtuseness is heightened by the fact that Tacitus tells him the answer—and it doesn’t strike him as significant enough to mention. According to that Roman historian, Christians were “convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race.” How can Bart possibly miss that?

It’s not as though are so many sources that this one fell through the cracks. There are only four contemporary historians that even mention Christianity—Tacitus, Pliny the younger, Philo, and Josephus—and none of them write more than a paragraph or so. Christianity was a movement of the lower classes, and then, as now, the doings of such people are beneath the notice of the chroniclers.

No, Bart is just obtuse to the spiritual nature of his subject. His obsession with historical and scientific facts causes him to overlook the only FACT that matters—early Christians were regarded as radicals—yes, call them ‘extremists’—who were “hating the human race.” That is the absurdity that bears looking into, not the technicalities of the arson charge. Why in the world would Jesus followers—the ones who heeded his command to not take to the sword—be thought haters of the human race? The answer is very close to the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted today in Russia, and are targets of general disapproval in most other lands.

Of course, their pacifism means non-participation in war efforts, and neutrality bumps it up a notch to not supporting in any way the war effort. That will always put you on the black list of a nationalistic world that demands everyone stay on the same page—“when we say ‘It’s war, that means you applaud!” But the distaste is for reasons more basic than that.

Luke Timothy Johnson observes how Christians “would not even perform the minimal political gesture of offering a pinch of incense to the gods.” This is because the gesture was religious to them. To everyone else, it was “political”—not a big deal. Why could they not grasp the Christian point of view?

The polytheistic world back then had no problem with Christians bringing in another god—not in itself. There was always room at the table for another god—pull up a chair. The problem was that once Jehovah was seated at the table, he ordered all the other gods away. None of the other gods were so possessive. All took it for granted that you worshipped many, and even when some human (such as the empiror) claimed divine status, it was not a problem for anyone other than the Christians (and Jews).

That situation isn’t exactly analogous to JWs and the flag salute? Anyone else will do it. Outright scoundrels and traitors will do it with fingers crossed behind their backs. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses read a violation of the Ten Commandments into it. “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Exodus 20:4-5) Though the U. S. Supreme Court has acquiesced to Witness interpretation, that does nothing to garner them acceptance in the popular mind.

“I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion,” says the verse. “There you go again,” said Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, calling him on an attitude out of sync with the changing times and winning the election partly on the strength of that line. When the popular mood favors inclusiveness, it does not help to follow a God who requires “exclusive devotion.” It caused Christians to sit out events of life that others followed as a matter of routine, and that dependably annoys people.

Bart points out that Christians were reproached for dividing families—just as Jehovah’s Witnesses are today, and just as Jesus counseled would be the case. “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword,” he says. “For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” As a practical matter, Christianity that strives to stay true to Jesus’ words will do that.

The “haters of the human race” charge becomes easier to envision in view of Jesus’ words above. Sitting out routine events in life based on “exclusive devotion” simply gets people’s dander up. Kicking back at such charges, the same as Jehovah’s Witnesses must do today, Paul points out, “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.” (2 Corinthians 7:2) The same undercurrent of “victimhood” so popular today finds its counterpart back then. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Christians stood so apart from routine areas of life, choosing the company of each other instead unless it was to spread their faith, that they were thought to throw sand in the gears of community life.

Why doesn’t Bart, who enmeshes himself in the gears of “science,” see that? He describes the executions of early Christian martyrs. In many cases, Roman officials gave them every chance to recant, pleaded with them to recant, patiently tried to persuade them that offering a pinch of incense to the emperor was too tiny a gesture to be concerned about, and—incredibly (considering his evangelical background), Bart sides with the Romans and expresses amazement that the martyrs could be so stubborn. “Why, when they had so much to offer this world, would they be so eager to leave it?” is the gist of one of his review questions.

Should you want to read up on how the Bible canon was assembled, either of these two writers and lecturers will get the job done. However, Bart with his atheistic point of view, is relentlessly annoying, and Luke, with his devotional point of view, is unobjectionable. Ditto if you want to read up on the early church “fathers” and apologists. Watchtower publications are light on those topics. The canon is explored in places as the Scriptures Inspired book the Insight book, but Bart or Luke expands it into much greater detail. And Watchtower articles on the early apologists are downright sparse, and tend to focus on what they got wrong.

I rather like how Luke Johnson puts it: “I think there is perhaps no greater evidence of Christianity’s success as a religion, that is, as a movement quite apart from imperial sponsorship and the politics of empire than these ancient versions from lands extending from present day Iran, Central Asia, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, up into Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. Something in the Bible must have spoken to all of these far-flung people and touched them in some fashion, not only to the dukes and the nobles and the bishops, but also the ordinary people who seemed eagerly to receive the word in their own languages. Indeed it may be an oblique but very real compliment to the energy and the power of Christianity in the first millenium of its existence that so many peoples in so many lands found these odd stories from ancient Palestine and the Greco-Mediterranean world of the first century to be both compelling and convincing.”

Yes, it is wordy. Yes, you half expect him to say, “All roads lead to heaven.” Yes, he may grumble when he finds out you don’t do the trinity, and discard your claim to Christianity on that account. Yes, when he says it was dangerous to be a Bible translator in the Middle Ages, he never says why—in his own way he is just as prone to ignore the 800 lb gorilla as is Bart—but since he does speak appreciatively of spiritual things we’ll let it slide. At any rate, I’ll take him in a heartbeat over Bart. The latter irritates me, though possibly not on purpose.

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

The Purdue Pharmaceutical Travesty—I Called it First

“OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleads guilty in criminal case” was the headline November 24, 2020. They finally nailed them. Read the APNews story. Their reckless manner has caused the death of nearly half a million people and the survivors of those people found only “minor comfort” in the guilty plea. Of course! Kill a person even accidentally in ancient Israel and the closest kin had every right to track you down and kill you unless you hightailed it first to a city of refuge. How much more so when the scoundrels deliberately blinded themselves to the mayhem they were causing for the sake of turning a (huge) buck.

5965DCB9-258A-44D2-82E8-97081220DA41

Now—it is unseemly at such a time to boast. You just don’t do it. Nevertheless, I will boast and hopefully not be thought too crass.

I called this out first. Maybe not absolutely first but I was among the first to assemble all the pieces. This is because I had begun to write Tom Irregardless and Me about life as a Jehovah’s Witness—it was in its infancy stage, when Prince died of a fentanyl overdose and since he was the best-known Jehovah’s Witness on the planet, I made his spiritual life the entire first chapter. As far as I know, the chapter is the most complete collection anywhere of vignettes about him as reported in the various media.

Prince’s high-profile death put the fentanyl trap on the map and revealed how easy it was for persons who would never do recreational drugs to become addicted to these painkillers they came across through “honorable” means—they were prescribed by doctors who gave no warning and usually did not know themselves how their products would take over a person.

After dealing with one doctor who claimed Prince died of “VIP syndrome” (doctors are so awed by celebrity that they fail to do their job), I quoted a newly-posted letter from Dr. Chris Johnson, and the next three paragraphs are from Tom Irregardless and Me, published in 2016.

Dr Johnson wrote how of how he was “forced to paint an unflattering picture of the industry that I have been a part of for the last 15 years. I wish I could tell you that this epidemic was due to an honest mistake. That the science was unclear or had mixed results that only later became evident. But I can’t. I also wish I could tell you that the only reason the problem persists is a ‘lack of physician awareness.’ But I won’t. The reason this opioid problem started and the reason it continues is sadly for the most American reason there is - business.”

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

The Power of a Joke—Soviet Times and Now

Russians under communism used to blow off steam with jokes—thousands of jokes against the regime, against the shortage of goods, against the secret police—says Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, narrating his History of Eastern Europe course for the Great Courses teaching company.

“A man stops by the office of the secret police for help in locating his parrot. They chase him away—they have more important things to do—but as the man leaves he lays great stress on how if the parrot is found, they must not think that its political opinions are his.”

CCB594CC-FD66-4CB4-AB3A-DE5EEFCFDC55

Decades later, Paul Goble keeps up with current jokes: A man formally applies to the government for a position in the Inquisition. He is told he is either 1000 years too late or 3 years too early”—this is a joke that will resonate with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are officially classified as “extremist”—a designation shared only with ISIS.

Some of the old Russian jokes (the Russian term is ‘anekdoti’) are timeless:

What’s the difference between capitalism and communism? Capitalism is man’s exploitation of man but communism is the exact opposite!

The joke is versatile enough that it can be applied to any contrasting forms of government, much as Betty McClure was able to redeem a (possible) ethnic jokes simply by applying it to her circuit overseer husband:

Dave comes from a town so backward that it’s greatest tragedy was the time the town library burned to the ground. Both books were destroyed! One wasn’t even colored in yet!

Versatility is a good thing. Maybe the Russian joke itself from Ecclesiastes 8:9, the verse of how “man has dominated man to his harm.” It is attribute of human rule itself, and can be fit to any specific type, recalculating only the new winners and losers. All human governments drop the ball. Usually it is a bowling ball. As people contemplate the vulnerability of their right and left toes, thus is decided their politics.

Professor Liulevicius goes on to state: “Scholars are still debating whether such jokes undermined the whole system by mocking it or whether on the contrary they stabilized the system by allowing people to vent some of their frustrations without ever openly challenging the regime. There’s no consensus on this,” and then he goes on to explore “the power of a joke.”

I’d say the power of a joke is that of a double-edged sword. Almost like the Word itself, it “is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts.” (Hebrews 4:12)

A concluding chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me reads thus: “If we have poked some fun at Tom Irregardless, Oscar Oxgoad, and Tom Pearlsandswine, it is to establish the greater picture that God uses people like them to accomplish feats that their higher-ups, though they have far more education, can only dream of. There’s not much that God can do with independent people, and proud ones stop him dead in his tracks. With humble ones, conscious of their spiritual need, he can do a lot.

How can you not write this in view of Jesus’ words that the high-brow do not get the sense of the scriptures because their own vanity gets in the way? At that time Jesus said in response: ‘I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children.” That’s who responds in the main to the Christian message: “young children.” If you present them as though Rhodes Scholars, people visit the Kingdom Hall and discover in no time at all that they’re not—so why not present them with all the foibles that young children have as well as all that is appealing?

Then, too, regarding the power of a joke, there is the Alfred P Doolittle factor: “They’re always throwing goodness at you, but with a little bit of luck a man can duck.” Humor lets you duck when you have to. Let’s face it—in any organized arrangement there will be things that don’t go your way. “Why on earth don’t they do it this way?” you’ll say, as they do it that way to thunderous applause—and use of judicious humor bails you out as a relief valve.

Of course, you can also use humor to savage things, and this I do, too—with the blade pointed the proper way, of course. Vic Vomodog—watch out! Once you laugh at something, will you ever look at it again in the same way? “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one,” wrote Voltaire. “Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”

....

For years, a man has been saving up in order to buy a new car. One day the party official summons him to say that his patience, hard work, and loyalty have been rewarded—he has worked his way up the list and he can now expect his car in but 10 years time. The man asks the party official if he knows on what day 10 years out his car will arrive, to which the official consults his records and tells him. The man then asks if it will come in the morning or afternoon, and at that the official frowns. “What kind of a question is that?” he demands.

“It’s just that I hope it arrives in the afternoon,” the man says, “because the plumber is coming that morning.”

 

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

Vic Vomodog’s Blood Pressure Shot to the Sky—They Had to Call NASA

Vic Vomodog’s face got redder and redder. His blood pressure shot to the sky—they had to call NASA.

F8BEBDDC-9D7F-4DC5-962E-5BC6B0B6AD73

I began to worry for him—just like I should have worried for the small-town judge Victor V Blackwell stood up to. Victor had been representing draft-age Witnesses in the volatile WWII years and the petty tyrant would barely allow him to open his mouth. “Another word out of you and I will jail you for contempt!” he roared.

“I looked around and saw lawyers, reporters, and professionals—I knew I wasn’t going to jail,” Brother Blackwell related years later at a Niagara Falls assembly. He told the judge: “Your Honor, if we have reached the place in this country where a lawyer can’t speak for his client, or present his defenses, I may as well be in jail with him.”

From his book, O’er the Ramparts They Watched: “Hot anger blazed from the “judge’s” face. His countenance flushed redder than a beet. The veins in his neck protruded like the swelling in the throat of a chameleon. Everyone in the courtroom waited for him to burst asunder....After some little time, gaining a small measure of composure, he told me and my client to stand up in front of him. We did. Then came the sentence:

“I sentence you to serve five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give your twenty-five years.”

Don’t think neutrality is an easy sell when nationalistic fever runs hot.

The judge died several days later. Townspeople said he had never cooled off from his fit of anger. When Victor next visited that town, the locals told him, “You killed our judge.” “I’m sorry,” he responded, but he later allowed at the Niagara Falls assembly that the bullying fellow had brought it on himself.

Every once in a while Vic Vomodog gets worked up like that. He fires out accusations as with a Gatling gun and I begin to worry that if I answer them it will be detrimental to his health.

Ah, well—if he dies, he dies.

You Jehovah Witnesses are a cult!

It used to be that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from society, dressed oddly, did strange things—you just might be a member of a cult. Nowadays just thinking outside the box is enough to trigger the C-word.

Um, did the early Christians falsely declare the Great Day of Almighty God?”

Yes. “While they were listening to these things, he told another illustration, because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear instantly.” (Luke 19:11)

Did they pretend to be the ‘faithful and discreet slave’?

Yes. “As they traveled on through the cities, they would deliver to them for observance the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and the elders who were in Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:4)

“Ban Jehovah's Witnesses they prefer seeing people dying than receiving a blood transfusion and this is enough to ban them.”

It is controversial to be sure, but since they do not smoke, do not do illicit drugs, do not drink to excess, do not war, they on balance save far more lives than they cost. Even their stand on blood has sparked development of bloodless techniques and these have probably saved more lives than transfusion refusal has cost.

They’ll use their ban in Russia to feed their persecution complex!”

Probably. This is because of the many verses such as Matthew 5:11‬: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.  Rejoice and be overjoyed...for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”‬

As an organisation they have keep silence about abuse amongst their members and the wall of silence regarding child abuse is unforgivable.

Alas, there is no sizable group on earth, religious or not, that has successfully purged all child abuse from its midst. Still, with JWs, it is almost always members’ abuse that leaders are accused of ‘covering up.’ Not good, but better than the pattern elsewhere where leaders are the ones committing the abuse and there is not even a mechanism for discovering abuse among members.

You didn’t sign on to the Australian redress plan. What’s wrong with you?

When a child abuser is nabbed, unless he is a person in authority, is his religious affiliation ever even mentioned? With Jehovah’s Witnesses, abuse committed by leaders is rare. With the other signees, be they religious or not, it is the pattern. Witness cases that have come to attention are nearly always among rank and file members, something the other signees haven’t even a mechanism to track. 

Other signees have structure in which children are systemically separated from parents, such as Sunday School or youth groups. If you sponsor such a program, it stands to reason that you ought be held accountable to provide for their safety. JWs do not have such programs.

The differences are significant enough that JWs have not signe on to a “one size fits all” program, but instead handle cases that arise on an individual basis. Next thing you know, Hyundai will be supposed responsible for abuse situations that arise among its customers.

No one has apostates as dedicated to their crusade as do Jehovah's Witnesses. One could say they validate us. Since they were a huge concern in the first century—no NT writer not dealing with them—if they were not a huge concern today, would one not have to wonder why?‬

“If only the were banned here, like Russia. The only way to make sure they won't come back here is to open the door naked.”

This does not work. A friend of mine, a registered nurse, said to one such person: “You don’t have anything that I haven’t seen before.”

 

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