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Psalm 56. The Skin Bottle Psalm

Show me favor, O God, because mortal man is attacking me. All day long they keep fighting and oppressing me. My foes keep snapping at me all day long; (v 1-2)


In God I put my trust; I am not afraid.  What can mere man do to me? (v 4–repeated at 11)

Well, they can kill you. So he’s obviously thinking beyond that. No one wants to die; death is inconvenient and it makes people feel bad. But beyond that it holds no terror. It is like sleep, non-consciousness, non-being—and no one can take away the prospect of resurrection.

David (the psalmist) sure gets in hot water a lot. He gets chased all over:

You keep track of my wandering. Do collect my tears in your skin bottle. Are they not recorded in your book? (v 8)

Most translations just say ‘bottle:’

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (KJV)


What kind of bottle? A Coke bottle?

A715FAFF-75BE-4531-8704-6DC98BC85065“Bag” (Byington)

“Leather container” (NET)

“Wineskin” (OJB)

The New World Translation really works the best here. (“skin bottle”) Animal skins were used to carry liquids of all types, be they wine or not. Like the soldier’s canteen of an earlier time.

(photo: The Schloss Nordkirchen )

I am bound by my vows to you, O God; I will offer you expressions of thanksgiving. For you have rescued me from death And prevented my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God in the light of the living. (v 12-13)


******  The bookstore



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

A World of Cart-Before the Horse Wonks

It’s a world of political wonks we live in, people obsessed with the machinations of authority. Outside of actual politics, few are such a target for examination as those taking the lead in the Witness organization. Let one of these guys so much as belch and those who dislike them relate it forever.

It is ‘cart before the horse,’ 180 degrees backwards. 1484B753-ABBB-4D0E-B9B9-6E6EABCC64C4It is reasoning more likely to wow them at theology school than to result in any significant advancement of God’s will. It’s more akin to something out of political science than worship of God. It treats specific teachings/beliefs, often not even mentioned, as though they were planks on a rising politician’s campaign platform.

The way it should work is thus: Shake the faiths down as to beliefs and teachings. Weed out those fundamentally misrepresenting the Bible, those who insist God is a trinity, for example, and those who think the earth is but a launching pad into heaven or hell. Hoe out the ones who think Adam and Eve are for simplistic chumps and who have made no attempt to integrate them into the overall picture.

You’re left with very little at this point. Some might think the job is done. However, of what scraps remain, look for those who realize an obligation to preach the good news to everyone, not just the tech-savvy, not just the educated, not just avid readers. Look for the ones who will take it directly to where people are, directly to their homes, on the theory that everyone lives somewhere.

Then look for groups conscious that the majority of people are quite simply not deep readers. Many have all they can do to keep body and soul together. One sixth of the world population today cannot even read. Look for someone conscious of that fact, who does not focus primarily on the educated when the Bible plainly states the greatest response will be from those who are simple and childlike. “Not many” will be “wise” and “intellectual.”

Then, I suppose you can say, if the collapse of human endeavors to rule the earth really is truly fast approaching, it’s a little late to start building from the ground up. Look for those who have organized and have been at it for awhile, and who have something to show for it.

Then and only then do you give consideration to the ones taking the lead. Primarily, you say, ‘Well they must be doing something right to be the only game in town.’

You don’t start off with consideration of those taking the lead. It’s the last thing you look at. To fixate on the last thing first is to deny God knows how to lead his people. It is to assume direction of the people of God comes through the tried and true method of this system of things: King of the Mountain,’ in which one king takes his place only by shoving the other off. Veil it as ‘academic’ king of the mountain, but it is still king of the mountain. It is  but a manifestation of the evolutionary‘struggle for existence’ and not anything from God.


******  The bookstore

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

One Fine Day on Social Media Getting My Head Handed to Me on a Platter

“Should I be concerned that my first instinct when someone rings the doorbell is to pretend I'm not home?” someone said over Twitter. Within the thread were assorted GIFs, such as the one with the woman inside the refrigerator, pulling the door shut. 

Me, I just like to help: “Of course not,” I replied. “Sudden appearance of someone you don’t know is always a cause for concern. Just watch out that the yapping dog at the window doesn’t give you away continually looking back as though to say, ‘Well? Why don’t you answer?’”

I should have left it at that. But I took on another tweet in the thread:

“I feel like this is the result of boomer parents drilling into their millennial children that all strangers will murder you and you’re never to answer the door or the phone when home alone. Ever,” a woman said.

Tommy, shut up. You know you should shut up. Don’t say what I did: 

Yeah. It’s like when teens came to the door and I showed the ‘Be Social Media Smart’ video. Then on a return visit, mom appeared, I said she was the one I’d been looking for, and she said I shouldn’t talk to her kids. Well—I specifically asked them if they thought their parents would care—people are different—and they had said no. ‘Kids will say anything,’ the woman told me.

Be Social Media Smart is innocuous. Few would be anything but supportive of it, pulling out their hair as they do about kids’ online activity.

Uh oh: “The fact that you don’t see anything wrong with being a grown ass man having a conversation with children and showing them religious material without their parents present is exactly why millennials grew up not trusting men who knock on their door.” 

Caution: Disagreement ahead vs ‘children vs teens,’ also ‘religious material vs PSA:’

The teens answered the door. I wasn’t looking for them. I asked for the parents who weren’t there. The material I showed, after asking if folks would object, was perfectly innocuous, not preachy in anyway, and I have never known any parent, religious or not, to oppose it….1/2

The fact is, in two or three years, those kids will be in the workworld, in college, maybe the military, where they will meet many a situation more ‘threatening’ than there encountered. Not all parents want their teens to hide. Most realize they will soon enough face the world….2/2

“You didn’t know what that parent wanted because they weren’t present for you to ask. So instead of leaving and coming back later, you, an adult man, continue to speak to children at the door of their own home when their parents weren’t available.”

The video is essentially a PSA announcement, hard to believe it would get someone’s dander up so. Were the teens to resume watching TV/internet, they’d see many far more objectionable things. But I’ve no quarrel with you, nor your family rules & would never violate whatever rules you have laid down, or that your teens, were I to encounter them, would tell me about.

“You could have been going door to door to show them episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The problem is that you didn’t leave once the kids said their parents weren’t available. As the adult it’s on you to disengage when the parents aren’t present, but you didn’t.”

Best drop it at this point. You often have to let people get the last word, unless you want to be drawn into a thread that may never end. I even had to look up what Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood was and I was a little concerned it might be some pervert video or other, but it was just an example of an innocuous and virtuous video for small children. (whereas we were talking teens)

Still, I gotta say, it’s not the most comfortable spot to be in. Does it make me rethink? Times have changed. Best not be a dinosaur when the meteorite hits. Best not think of how it used to be. Think of how it is now. I’m not even sure ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ works anymore, and—let us be honest—even if it does, am I one of that village?

It is a pretty rare scenario in these parts but it does happen. You never press any teen, but is it the rule now that you don’t talk to them at all? I certain youngster I chatted with briefly, he being the only one home and assuring me nobody cared if he exchanged a word or two with a visitor. Upon leaving, there was his mom driving up the driveway. “I asked your son a couple of questions and he answered intelligently,” I told her. “You should be proud of him.”

Several years ago—what, maybe 20–I worked door to door with Elena, newly arrived from South America. A child answered the door—this time it was a child, not a teen. I handed a tract with instructions to give it to her parent. As we walked away, Elena said, ‘I would have witnessed to her.’

Of course. She wouldn’t do it today. But where she came from, it was quite common for Witnesses to speak with children. Parents had no problem with it, and in fact, many were quite pleased that some would be learning the Bible. But something even then told me we’re not in San Kansas anymore. No way in Western lands do I ever speak with a child so young other than a ‘give this to your mom’ kind of thing.

And here I was speaking to Davey-the-Kid about the difference in kids. Youngsters in the Latin American countries take on responsibilities early and thus mature early, whereas in the States there are 30-years olds as silly as adolescents.

***And—best not ignore the elephant in the room. The reason parents are on hair trigger alert more than even 20 years ago is the fear of pedophiles. Nobody is above suspicion. Just last month a pedophile school principle, who called children into his office to sit on his lap, was sentenced to prison. Call it another sign of the times.

From Tom Irregardless and Me:

“For example, a former coach of youth sports, Bob Cook wrote: “The most upsetting thing about many child-protection rules is they assume any adult is capable of doing something bad. If you think of yourself as a good person, and the people around you as good people, you can’t help but be taken aback. You can’t help but think a wall has been put between yourself, the children you coach, and the families you deal with. It’s a wall that seems patently ridiculous when, in the case of the Catholics involved in my Virtus meeting, were tight-knit, south side Chicago parishes where families had known each other for

No sense fighting it. You’d better adapt. ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’

******  The bookstore


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

There is no Why in Thai

‘There is no ‘why’ in Thai’ is the saying in a certain southeast Asian country. (Can you guess which one? However, it is representative of them all) If you are in some government office—say for a passport, permit, visa, license & so forth—and you keep saying ‘Why? Why?’ you have lost before you begin.

Instead, what you do is say, ‘Thank you for telling me which form I need to bring. Thank you for telling me how to do it right.’ Then, when you return with the form, you say, ‘Thank you for telling me what other form I also need. Thank you for helping me this way.’

Sounds crazy? Not in that part of the world. It does sound crazy here, though. It is the format I should have followed in Pittsburgh, because the more raucous American way did not work. After Pop died, my brother and I figured we’d transfer ownership of his 10-year-old Cobalt to our sister living there, the one most in need of a replacement. Since the power-of-attorney forms were all in place, and I feared there might be something lacking with the death certificate paperwork (I forget what), I tried at the motor vehicle office to transfer it the power-of-attorney way, as though the 94-year-old was still alive.

Nothing doing. A certain document was a copy. It had to be original, with a raised seal. Look, this is just a Chevy Cobalt we’re talking about, I said, that a 94-year-old father wants to leave his daughter to replace her old Saturn. It cut no ice. I leaned into the clerk some, not so much as to trigger one of the official-looking people to toss me out of the building, if not in jail, but enough to convey that I didn’t relish driving 300 miles to retrieve the proper raised-seal document. It didn’t do any good. I just raised the temperature all around.

That route exhausted, I tried to go the death-certificate route with the documents that I had feared weren’t quite up to snuff. Not only were they not up to snuff, but I also suffered an accusation of having tried to defraud the state of Pennsylvania with the power-of-attorney documents! ‘I was not trying to defraud the state of Pennsylvania, I shot back. I was thinking of trying to defraud the state of Pennsylvania but I changed my mind!

It was all for nothing. I got hackles raised, including my own, to no purpose. Raised seals are raised seals. I drove 300 miles to retrieve one.

In Southeast Asia, ‘saving face’ is very important. You do not lean into officialdom because they must ‘save face.’ It is not a personal face they must save, though it is that, but more importantly a societal face—including your own! You should be embarrassed to be carrying on so outrageously. The fact that you’re not means they have to be embarrassed for you. Ever think of what originates the expression ‘the ugly American?’ 

Americans are obsessed with refusal to yield to authority, a manifestation of those who take ‘the spirit of independence’ to the nth degree. After a visit here of several months, my friends couldn’t wait to get back to their need-greater home. They were aghast at some TV news report of a disgruntled airline passenger manhandling one of his fellows, maybe even the steward himself! ‘They’d cut your arm off if you did that there!’ they observed, ‘not that anyone ever would.’

You can take ‘resisting authority’ to the picayune point of absurdity. Westerners butt heads over how they won’t to this or won’t do that because they know of some authority who didn’t do something right. Pretty soon one of them quotes Lord Acton, the way people used to quote Jesus: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thereafter they think themselves very wise as they resign themselves to a society in which nothing gets done because nobody will cooperate.

6FAA090A-B849-4C62-AD61-3D96D4C98AABTraffic in the large Southeast Asian city looks impossibly chaotic. Ever seen video footage? It does. When the light changes, oncoming motorcycles turn right in front of you, as you begin to accelerate! It takes some getting used to, my friends assure me, but once you do it’s like a waltz. If traffic is 100 times more chaotic, it is compensated for by people 100 times nicer.

(Photo: Hanoi - Straßenverkehr 04.jpg, Wikimedia)

Nobody would dream of driving in the passing lane; that’s for passing. If you are there, expect to get a little friendly ‘beep’—a full horn blast is unheard of—that says, ‘Excuse me. You obviously didn’t realize I am here trying to pass.’ Promptly you move over, waving, smiling at your own mistake. 

In America, you give them the finger.

Officials are taken from the ranks of ordinary people. If you grant them authority, it can go to their head. But you can get around that by ‘affording honor to the one who calls for honor.’ It also does happen that a gift will expedite something that is otherwise slower than tar. But I remember around 1980 a certain Watchtower article about paying bribes. Bribes are a no-no, per the Bible, but if you are merely paying someone to do their job, rather than secure a special favor, you might look at it differently. 

‘Wow, those third world countries must be bad!’ I said to my Bethelite friend John while I was there visiting. ‘Naw—they were talking about New York City,’ he replied. Still, he told me Bethel was always able to get what they needed, despite a system of ‘favors’ that might be demanded by then-crime boss infested unions. There is even a story—is it in the literature somewhere or just in my head, that back in the days of Max Larsen, some crime boss was say, ‘It’s Watchtower, boys. We can’t touch em.’

Presumably, they had God-fearing mamas back home that would give them what-for if they messed with anyone trying to do the will of God.

[Later edit:

The visitor who greeted Max in the Squibb building lobby was a top Brooklyn Mafia Boss, an older man escorted by some pretty tough-looking associates. His huge black limo was parked outside of the lobby door, Max said, something not allowed by the police as it was a no-parking area. The Mafia Boss had gotten wind that Watch Tower was using non-union construction labor to do work on the inside of its buildings. In no uncertain terms, Max was told Watch Tower construction work had to be done by union members only. For instance, I remember Max telling us that the Mafia controlled the Plumber's Union and there was a rotation system in place to determine which plumbing company got the next big job, etc. The Mafia Boss said that under no circumstances could Watch Tower use non-union people, but only a union-approved plumbing company could do the plumbing renovation work inside Watch Tower buildings, or else there would be trouble.

Max told us that he was extremely concerned about the future of Watch Tower’s expansion plans and couldn’t think of anyway to handle the problem except to “witness” to the man. This he did by explaining the non-profit work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, he told the Boss that all the workers lived at Watch Tower and were volunteers. He next asked the Mafia guy if he was Catholic, which he was. Then Max talked about the Lord's Prayer and how Catholics prayed for God's Kingdom to come, and said that's what Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have in common. Plus, he explained about the Witnesses announcing the soon-to-come Kingdom where all people would belong to one big brother-hood, everyone working in harmony. That idea really seemed to resonate with the Boss, Max said.

In Max’s opinion, it was “witnessing” that turned the tide for Watch Tower with the Brooklyn Boss backing off from his demand. Subsequently, Max was assured by the Boss that from then on, Watch Tower was the only organization in the NYC area that could use their own workers, volunteers, to do all interior construction work without interference, which Watch Tower continues to do until this day.


******  The bookstore

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

Psalm 55–Commentary

Listen to my prayer, O God, And do not ignore my request for mercy. Do pay attention to me and answer me. My concern makes me restless, And I am distraught. (Ps 55:1-2)

It is not as though the psalmist must be told ‘to get to the point.’

Because of what the enemy is saying And the pressure from the wicked one.  For they heap trouble upon me. (vs 3)

The ‘enemy’ and the ‘wicked one’ are not the same? Often they are not. You can win an enemy over, but not ‘the wicked one.’

AD17EC13-2267-497A-B7E0-203A6EA338A8I keep saying: “If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and reside in safety. Look! I would flee far away. I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hurry to a place of shelter Away from the raging wind, away from the storm. (v 6-8)

Translation: ‘Get me outta here!’

(Photo from Pixabay)

For it is not an enemy who taunts me; Otherwise I could put up with it.  It is not a foe who has risen up against me; Otherwise I could conceal myself from him. But it is you, a man like me, My own companion whom I know well. (v 12-13)

Did not Paul include ‘false brothers’ among those he was ‘in danger from? “. . . in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own people, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers . . .” 2 Corinthians 11:26)

We used to enjoy a warm friendship together; Into the house of God we used to walk along with the multitude. (vs 14)

Vic Vomodog!! We were once best buds! Look at us now.                                                             

He attacked those at peace with him; He violated his covenant. His words are smoother than butter, But conflict is in his heart.  His words are softer than oil, But they are drawn swords. (v 20-21)

Ahithophel. It’s a reference to Ahithophel: “As David’s personal adviser, Ahithophel’s sagacious counsel was esteemed as if it were the direct word of Jehovah. (2 Sam 16:23) Later this once-close companion treacherously turned traitor and joined David’s son Absalom in a coup against the king.” - Insight

***When David heard about this he prayed: “Turn, please, the counsel of Ahithorolf into foolishness, O Jehovah!”— 2 Sam 15:12, 3 - (‘Sheepngoats’)

It’s a good thing we don’t do anti-types anymore. Now we only do ‘this reminds me of that’s.’

Throw your burden on Jehovah, And he will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to fall. (vs 22)


******  The bookstore

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

The Meaning of 666: Deeper, not Shallow

Have you seen this? and someone posted the following on Twitter:



Such things are popular today, in the realm of conspiracy theory. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, necessarily, or right, but it is in the realm on conspiracy theory. The main trouble with conspiracy theories is that, once a few of them have proved true, you tend to swallow anything that comes down the pipe. Yikes! Now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter and given journalists access to previously hidden staff communication, he says, “Frankly, just about every conspiracy theory you have head about Twitter has turned out to be true.”

But the above picture doesn’t have to do with Twitter. I don’t even know if it’s genuine or modified, and don’t care enough to find out. See how the arcing red crosses the three Os, as though making a 666. What could that mean?

On that Twitter thread were submissions from others. This, for example, over these recent years of especial upheaval:


Or this, over pandemic concerns:


As expert on all things JW, I was flooded with inquiries. Or at least you never know when they might start. So let us weigh in.

Our people don’t put much truck in them. They are curiosities. Whether you can concoct similar things over just about anything, I don’t know. I’ve heard you can. Some things are coincidence, such as . . . gasp! . . . this inventory of Solomon’s wealth:

“And the weight of the gold that came to Solʹo·mon in one year amounted to 666 talents of gold.”  (2 Chronicles 9:13)

As for Jehovah’s Witnesses, we have explained it that 7 is a number frequently conveying heavenly perfection, 6 (one short) conveying earthly imperfection, and anything repeated three times conveys emphasis. For example, how you might respond to Vic Vomodog intruding with something outrageous, the way he does?




Therefore, 666, is more or less ‘doing things the human way’ emphasized, as though on steroids, deliberately rejecting godliness. The fact that the number is used in Revelation can be taken that the overall world will be (and/or is) going that way, posing a real test for anyone who doesn’t.

(The photo is from IMDb of Jack Luden, an actor of very old Westerns, with whose generation I overlap. He is nephew to the inventor of Luden’s Cough Drops.)

Frankly, numbers being what they are in the Bible—12s, 40s, and 60s show up a lot—you almost wonder if they don’t assume more significance than the strictly ‘counting mode’ they have today. Almost like the six things Jehovah hates listed in Proverbs 6:16 that bizarrely becomes seven.

******  The bookstore

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

Racism: For Jehovah’s Witnesses It’s a Yawner—Lessons from Pew Reseach.

“Among the least educated of religious groups, Jehovah's Witnesses are. Would you say that's a good trait of theirs?” It was a missive from Vic Vomodog!

He had just read the latest Pew Research survey. Note how his remark just takes for granted that the more university education one has, the better off one is. Is such an assumption justified? Given the fact that the leaders and influencers of the world are almost always bristling with degrees, yet look at the overall obscene mess the globe is in today, perhaps a dearth of such degrees is not the detriment he thinks it is.

81455175-82BE-4031-ADE4-01C7639EBF5CEducation is at its best when it includes some moral training, yet the secular stuff almost never does. In fact, it cannot, for there is no agreement on what that moral training should be.

It may well be a plus to lessen exposure to the type of education that stokes racism, or at any rate, produces very poor returns in combatting it. The line from the Pew Report that I like to focus on is, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in America. No more than four-in-ten members of the group belong to any one racial and ethnic background: 36% are white, 32% are Hispanic, 27% are black and 6% are another race or mixed race.”

Solving racism. What’s not to like? It’s a issue tearing the world apart. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s a yawner.

Didn’t Bro Morris say, ‘The more prestigious the university, the greater the contamination?’


******  The bookstore

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

When They Come Out to Talk Theology

Occasionally they do come out to talk ‘theology’ with you. Here ‘theology’ is in quotes because the word itself almost guarantees that one will miss the point, elevating the ‘study of God’ over the ‘worship of God.’ If  ‘obedience is better than sacrifice,’ (1 Samuel 15:22) it’s infinitely better than study to see just how much (if any) sacrifice is warranted.

When they do come out to talk theology, you don’t quite know if they are on the up-and-up or not. No matter. If you get some irritation, build a pearl around it.

In one of those morning meetings for field service, a circuit overseer discussed how you might handle those persons, whether sincere or not, who press their own literature on you. ‘There was a time when I was searching,’ he related what he had said, ‘and during that time I would have eagerly accepted that literature—I searched literature of all sorts. But I have found what I had been seeking. My search as ended.’

Sort of like the fellow who finds the pearl of high value. He researches, confirms its worth, and off he goes to do whatever he must to own it. He doesn’t go visiting the pearl salesman in the adjacent stall. He would have visited that fellow at one time, but he’s found the pearl of high value.

Again the Kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls. Upon finding one pearl of high value, he went away and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Andy Laguna, another CO, now deceased, would tell of those really insistent ones who would press literature on him—now and then you hear of people who keep a stack of stuff just for visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘Now, now,’ he said, ‘I stopped in on you. Plainly that means I have something I think is worth saying. Now, I might be willing to switch focus to what you are urging upon me, but that would have to be at a time when you call on me.’ The overbearing householder would press him for his address. ‘You’ll just find me in the course of your normal house-to-house ministry,’ Andy would say.

As an offensive statement, I’m not overly fond of it. It just seems too much a ploy of one-ups-manship. But as a defensivestatement, sometimes that is exactly what you do. Like when one snooty religionist heard me out, and said, ‘No thank you, I’m Christian,’ will the plain insinuation that I was not. ‘Actually, only a Christian would do what I am doing,’ I told him in seeming befuddlement, ‘and, frankly, I’m a little surprised that you’re not doing it yourself.’ Fade smug smile—one of the most beautiful sights in the constellation of stars.

I know it’s not exactly kosher, but I tend to just stuff donated literature in my pocket (or bookbag, when I carried one) if a polite decline doesn’t do the trick, with the proviso (depending upon whether I think the intent is to undermine or not) that I may get around to reading it or I may not. It gets the person out of my hair, just like countless persons have gotten Jehovah’s Witnesses out of their hair with a ‘take their literature and be done with it’ tact. Often that backfires on them, however, when they find they are not ‘done with it.’

It’s like when I returned to my parents, home for semester break, with the what I was sure would be the life-altering-for-the-better bombshell question, ‘Have you ever heard of the Watchtower and Awake?’ Turned out they had. They had been on someone’s magazine route and had accepted the magazines for years. I had never seen them lying around the house. I suspect it was not because my parents were then in the back room reading them eagerly.

My dad was amiable, not inclined to pick fights with people, not inclined to tell people off, though he personally had no use for religion. This may have been a carryover of his Catholic days as refined by World War II, an experience that did a number on many a person’s faith. The only exception to his not telling people off was when the Presbyterian minister stopped by and in the course of his visit pointed out that my churchgoing mom—she wasn’t home at the time—was behind in her pledge contributions. ‘Just remember who is the source of those contributions,’ my non-believing dad told him.


******  The bookstore

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

Does the Bible Condone Slavery? Part 2–Frederick Douglass

(See Part 1)

The poster tells it all at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as to John Brown’s motivation. But does it tell it accurately? You would think so—it is the National Historical Park Service, after all. So one is inclined to take at face value the interpretive text on one display:

“Although slavery is often condoned in the Bible, [John] Brown believed that the ‘Golden Rule’ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you implicitly condemned slavery.”

Is it? We hear it all the time that the Bible condones slavery, but does it? Or is it merely the pop atheist philosophy of today that drives research, that holds that if you’re not nagging about something 24/7, that means you condone it? After all, the ‘Golden Rule’ is also in the Bible. That doesn’t condone slavery, does it?

Of course, the topic of slavery does come up in the Bible. If you’re doing any overview of history, as the Bible does, it is going to come up a lot. It was a universal human degradation, present from the earliest reaches of history, and ‘natural law’ holds it as an advancement in societal evolution; making captives of war slaves was surely an advance over killing them, wasn’t it?

With regard to slaves among the Hebrews, their Law turns an historical degradation into something not degrading at all. A Jew might sell himself to his wealthy neighbor as a last resort should his debts overwhelm him. Harsh treatment of such slaves was not allowed and—wait for it—at the end of a seven-year Jubilee period, that slave was freed. And freed with a gift, so as to start life anew. Thus, the economic system universal to the ancient world, and not much less so today, that of the ‘rich getting richer while the poor get poorer’ was not allowed to take root in ancient Israel.

Now, any scholar worth his diploma knows this. But secular atheist scholars may not know it because they have majored in topics divorced from what has historically driven humankind. ‘Science’ is the Great Father. ‘Religion’ is the enemy. They don’t look as deeply into the enemy camp as they do into their own.

If anyone should be quoted in that Harpers Ferry display on what the Bible does or does not ‘condone,’ it should be Frederick Douglass—the escaped slave who became their voice until his death in 1895. He did not once say it in his first autobiography, written in 1845. (He wrote three autobiographies, each an update, incorporating his doings as history unfolded. It did not unfold his way. Post Civil War reconstruction fizzled within a decade or two. Notwithstanding that with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments freed slaves, guaranteed them citizenship and the right to vote, an intransigent South found ways to defang them all. Douglass would come to feel that the Civil War had been fought for nothing. Grant, the victorious general who became President, would say the same.

He didn’t say—not once—that the Bible condones slavery. And please don’t suggest that maybe he didn’t know the Bible well. His allusions to it are constant. He particularly was drawn to passages from the Old Testament on ‘setting the captives free.’ When in his old age he visited Jerusalem, he was especially interested in tracing the doings of Paul, his favorite apostle, the one who said ,‘And he [God] made out of one man every nation of men to dwell on the entire surface of the earth.”

At the end of his first autobiography he inserts an appendix? Why? In view of certain harsh things he has said, he fears some may conclude he is “an opponent of all religion.” So he will correct the impression forthwith. Does he mutter that ‘the Bible condones slavery?’ No. But, Wowwhee! Does he ever let loose on the religionists of his day (and our day?)!

No, he didn’t mean the Christianity of Christ. He meant “the slaveholding religion of this land and with no possible reference to Christianity proper.” He “recognize[d] the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad corrupt and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.”

He “love[s] the pure peaceable and impartial Christianity of Christ. I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

Then he goes on to quote almost the entirety of Matthew 23, Jesus’ denunciations of the religionist of his day, applying it to his own time.

“They bind up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger. All the works they do, they do to be seen by men, for they broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards and lengthen the fringes of their garments. They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men.” …. and so forth.

He’s already, at this point in his autobiography, related his experiences with both religious and non-religious owners. By far, he says, religious owners were the worst. He finishes up with his own ‘Christian’ slaveholder poem, set to the cadence of a popular hymn of the time: 

Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
How pious priests whip Jack and Nell,
And women buy and children sell,
And preach all sinners down to hell,
And sing of heavenly union. . . 

It runs thirteen stanzas.

Nowhere does he indict the Bible, much less take up the modern shallow cry of its enemies that it ‘condone’s slavery.’ He’s wise enough—I mean, it was more or less a no-brainer at one time—to see the problem is not the with the Bible but with the hypocrites who don’t follow it. Atheistic scholars come along in modern times—the National Historical Park Service apparently got stuck with some of them—to tell the Harpers Ferry exhibit that the Bible condones slavery. And yet the fault is not primarily theirs. The fault is with those claiming Christianity who so blatantly forsake its principles that the non-participant, who isn’t paying all that close attention, figures the problem must be the book itself.

He should read Paul’s caution to Titus of the ones in his time who “publicly declare that they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (1 Titus 3:16) Depend upon it. When those professing Christ behave outrageously, “the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.” (1 Peter 2:2) It’s not the enemies of God that are the problem. It’s his ‘friends.’

Southern slavery ended long ago but the Jim Crow system of laws (strict segregation) kept the prejudices that fueled it alive and well for 100 years. Two blacks in the movie Sounder (setting: 1933) pass the packed-out white church. One recalls how he had naively entered once and was quickly thrown out. So he “took it up with the good Lord,” he tells his friend. “And what did the good Lord say to you?” the friend wants to know. “The good Lord said to me, ‘Why, Willie, what are you fretting about? You are doing better than me. I’ve been trying to get in there for two hundred years!”

And in 1975, I visited North Carolina and spent time in the house-to-house ministry. I worked a lot with a certain black brother, completely at ease in the rurals. But for some reason I forget, we drove into the big city 60 miles away. There I found myself lost. Roll down the window, I said to my Black companion (also named Thomas), ask that strolling white woman for directions. He wouldn’t do it. I repeated my request, to no avail. I wondered why he had gone deaf. But after we drove on he told me that I didn’t really understand how it worked in the place I was visiting.


******  The bookstore

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