A Review of the New York Times Review of “Leaving the Witnesses,” a book by Amber Scorah

Something is greatly off-base about the New York Times review of Amber Scorah’s new book ‘Leaving the Witnesses’ and it is not Amber. It is the reviewer, C. E. Morgan, who tackles her task with a humanist fervor that merits a review in itself.

She teaches at Harvard Divinity School, per the NYT byline. One wonders what she could possibly teach, or what might be the outcome for students who attend her class—students who presumably went there because they want to learn about God. Her lavish praise of Ms. Scorah’s book: “She teaches us how integrity is determined....by enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God” surely should give those students pause—are they truly in the place they thought they were? Or did they somehow get shunted off into the Atheist Academy? There is such a thing as truth in advertising. 

Ms. Scorah herself, as presented by the Ms. Morgan, is more conventional. Hers is one of the oldest stories of time—of someone disillusioned with her present life, so she reaches out for another, which upon seizing, she finds exhilarating. It is a coming-of-age story, albeit belated. It is a staple of literature.

Since she is ‘leaving the Witnesses’—Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of Bible-believing Christians—one must at least consider how the Witnesses themselves might have phrased her departure. That can be found in the words of the apostle Paul addressed to Timothy: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present world.” Demas himself would not have put it that he “forsook” anyone. He would have presented it as a matter of his eyes at last being opened. “We are regarded as deceivers, and yet we are truthful,” says Paul at 2 Corinthians 6:8. Demas would have been one to say that he had been deceived.

Ms. Morgan cannot be expected to put it as did Paul, but since she teaches at the Divinity school, one might at least expect her to be cognizant of that point of view. Instead, Amber’s departure is a tale of pure heroism for her—that of escape from an “extreme” religion—even worse than a “fundamentalist” religion in her view—and it is “most valuable as an artifact of how one individual can escape mind control.”

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” says the apostle again. (2 Corinthians 7:2) Demas might have said he had been victimized by all those things. Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery.” (2 Corinthians 12:16) Demas might have said exactly that. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles 1:9)

It would appear that any denomination of Christianity would be fundamentalist in Ms. Morgan’s eyes—at least that would be so of any that haven’t interpreted away the resurrection of Christ into oblivion. “The anti-intellectualism of these [fundamentalist] authoritarian movements, their staunch refusal to cede ground to reason and empiricism, often confounds nonbelievers,” and it is hard to believe that she does not count herself as chief of the nonbelievers—never mind what her teaching title might suggest. “How can people devote the totality of their lives to the unseen, the unevidenced?” she laments, seemingly unaware that such was commonplace until relatively recently. Isaac Newton, oft called the father of science, wrote more about religion that he did about mathematics and science combined. “How can faith subsume thinking?” she continues. Her frustration could not be more clear—‘We have fired everything we have at them and yet they keep standing!’

As bad as fundamentalism is, however, it is not as bad in her eyes as an “extreme religion” like Jehovah’s Witnesses. To establish that she has done her homework, she relates that from its 1870 inception, the faith “rejected Christian doctrines it deemed extratextual, including trinitarianism and hell,” as though providing further evidence of descent into superstition, rather than the advance into rationality that it is—early Witness leader C. T. Russell was known within his lifetime as “the man who turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.” The Witness description of death: “extinction or non-being,” is exactly the rationalist view of today, and it is ‘tarnished’ only by their added take of a future resurrection from the dead.

The notion that Christianity should return to its default state Morgan finds “dubious,” as though the inventors of something couldn’t possibly have known what they were doing. Witnesses have a “hierarchy,” as though no other organization does, their publishing constitutes an “empire,” as evidenced by the fact that it still exists, and they have a following who “actively proselytize, warning of an imminent Armageddon,” as though it is wrong to even suggest that an earth carved up into 200 eternally squabbling nations is not exactly what God had in mind.

In short, she found has people—ordinary people for the most part—who disagree with her, and she oozes disdain for them. Children raised in such religion “experience a totalizing indoctrination that so severely limits the formation of an adult psychology that many don’t ever achieve maturity in the way secular society conceives of it...” Necessarily this means that she thinks the adults of that faith are largely immature children. The patronization is simply too much. Any time someone leaves one culture for another, there is some catching up to do—say, in the case of a person migrating from one country to another. Would Ms. Morgan similarly find it necessary to crow her superiority over the country and culture of emigration—where Islam is practiced, perhaps, or Spanish is spoken? She would recoil at the thought, but when it comes to religious views that stray from her worldview, it is as natural to her as breathing air. Let her “world” prove itself reasonably “free from sin” before she casts stones on those who have come to see things differently,

“Witnesses are forbidden to socialize outside the organization,” she says. How enforceable can such “forbidding” be when people live, school, and work in the general community, as Witnesses do? The forbidding amounts to no more than counsel to choose one’s friends wisely—counsel that should hardly be a shocker. It is surprising that the she does not escalate “higher education is discouraged” also into an ironclad rule. When Witnesses partake of the offerings of “higher education,” they usually prefer to take it a la carte.

For all that she might carry on about “mind-control,” it is her environment of higher education that employs a classic tool of it: cut a student off nearly 24/7 from former stabilizing influences to minimize resistance to the absorption of whatever philosophies are taught. It is her environment that normalizes such a drastic shift as no more more remarkable than pursuing health care. Study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, and there is truth in packaging—you know full well that you are going off the grid of standardized thinking. Still, one remains in the most stabilized environment possible—one’s normal routine and surroundings are entirely undisturbed—the “safest” setting in which to give any new ideas a trial run. It is the very opposite of how one “brainwashes” people.

“Questioning doctrine is an offense punishable by disfellowshipping, or shunning,” she says. It is a matter of degree. Each side of societal uproar that we see on the television news presents itself as merely “questioning” the premises of the other. Amber ran out on a “loveless marriage,” Ms Morgan states, and the implication is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses think loveless marriages are the bee’s knees, since she presents love as the balm that finally wakes Ms. Scorah up. Seemingly to her, there is no way on earth that love that could be found within the repressive religion. Few cheerleaders are unbiased and Ms Morgan is clearly is not an unbiased reviewer.

“The bravery of [the book] cannot be overstated,” she gushes. I suspect that, not only it can be, but it is. Certainly it pales next to the bravery of a migrant who arrives in a strange country with no money, no common language, and often without family. Ms Scorah, on the other hand, has a new-found partner—the same one who introduced her to her new worldview, and who will presumably be there to give support. 

Notwithstanding that anything with which you agree is “highly readable” on that account, I will take for granted that Ms. Scorah’s book is as it is said to be—an “earnest one, fueled by a plucky humor and a can-do spirit that endears.” Perhaps one day I will read it. And yet it does not completely satisfy the reviewer—it shows too much the “the remnants of a Christian modesty not well suited to the task of memoir.” ‘Come on, SPILL!’ one can all but hear Ms. Morgan urge. ‘Blow this “juvenile” “fundamentalist” tripe out of the water!’ as she totally redefines “miracle” as “enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God.” What will be the subject of her next lesson at the Divinity School?

But she has not yet come to the most gripping part. When she does, she foresees another book. “Many readers know Scorah through her viral article in The New York Times about the death of her son on his first day of day care....” she writes. “This, one senses, is her brutal but beautiful route into a new book — a shorter, wiser one, sharp and devastating. Here she reveals a chastened existence, steeped in grief and unknowing without recourse to pacifying religious answers.” THAT is the book I will read even before this one. Ms Scorah has exchanged a backdrop of: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) for one that reads: “Stuff happens. Pick up the pieces and carry on if you can.” Ms. Morgans reckons that exchange an unmitigated triumph of the human spirit. Is it? The apostle would have reckoned it as “shipwreck of a faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

- Tom Harley is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness in the United States. He does not teach anywhere, but has written the ebooks “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,” and “TrueTom vs the Apostates!”

 

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)

Why Isn’t THAT in Your Museum, National Historic Park Service - Eisenhower’s Mom

They wanted to make him king? And he declined?

“Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone.” (John 6:15)

Few who have read the verse will have had that same offer, much less the experience of accepting it. But Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the few. The victorious general gets to be president—it worked for George Washington, then Andrew Jackson, then Zachary Taylor, then Ulysses Grant. And it worked for Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected “king” in 1952. He had served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II.

At the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Pennsylvania, the ranger almost immediately made a mistake. Ike and his siblings were raised in the Mennonite religion, she said. I knew it was wrong. They were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses—‘Bible Students’ was the name back then. Yet even when I had one-on-one time with the ranger, I did not challenge her because 1) I had forgotten about it, and 2) the reason I had forgotten about it is that I had initially told myself that maybe his parents were Mennonites longer than they were Witnesses, or maybe they were not Witnesses during their childrens’ formative years. However, I checked later. They were. She was wrong—amazingly wrong, because the National Historical Park Service is not wrong about anything.

The most authoritative source will be this entry of the Kansas Historical Society. If I recalled the name of that ranger, I would contact her first. Alas—like most of the ‘Aha!’ moments of life, it occurs to me too late to act upon it.

If a Mennonite background might sink you as a Presidential candidate in 1952, God help you if were found to have a Jehovah’s Witness background. The Eisenhower children and their handlers kept that background very very secret, so as not to hurt Ike’s political career. Pundits would have destroyed him. I have to admit, even I would have enjoyed a crack at it—there would be my cartoon of Ike and his wife doing street work in front of the White House, holding aloft the Watchtower and Awake, the cover emblazoned: ‘Can Presidents Bring Peace?’ Oh yeah, they would have had a field day with it.

No U.S. religious group was more unpopular during World War II than Jehovah’s Witnesses, who not only refused military service, but also refused to salute the flag—Witnesses do not salute any flag anywhere. Often Witness youths refusing the military draft were sentenced with considerable emotion. Like this example: “I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years!” [from the book ‘Oer the Ramparts They Watched’ - by Victor V Blackwell, an attorney who represented many of them]

Mob violence was common following a 1940 decision of the Supreme Court that school pupils could be compelled to salute the flag. Mobs formed, waving the flag, demanding Witnesses salute it. When they would not, they were attacked and beaten, even into unconsciousness. Their homes, automobiles and meeting places were torched. In small towns, some were rounded up and jailed without charge. In four years, over 2500 mob-related incidents occurred.

The Solicitor General of the United States took to the airwaves: “Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly been set upon and beaten. They have committed no crime; but the mob adjudged that they had, and meted out punishment The Attorney General has ordered an immediate investigation of these outrages...The people must be alert and watchful, and above all, cool and sane. Since mob violence will make the government's task infinitely more difficult, it will not be tolerated. We shall not defeat the Nazi evil by emulating its methods.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt echoed the plea of the Attorney General. The ACLU also spoke out: “It is high time we came to our senses regarding this matter of flag-saluting. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans…They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.” The High Court reversed its decision three years later, partly because they were aghast at what they had unleashed.

A question might be asked: Why didn’t Ike defend them? If not he, (for he was at the time fully immersed as brigadier general overseas) then why not one of his several siblings, who were in position to clarify that declining the flag salute had nothing to do with lack of patriotism, but of respecting the 2nd of the Ten Commandments. They would also have been in ideal position to explain that non-participation in war was completely in harmony with Bible standards. Instead, it was left to the ACLU to explain that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans…They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.” Ike’s kin might have done it, if not for their former faith itself, then for the sake of dear ol Mom, who held faithfully to it.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s service to his country, and even the world, will be the trump card for most persons. Had he not been appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, maybe someone less capable would have botched the job. Even for Jehovah’s Witnesses, this will likely be the trump card—for he did liberate the German concentration camps where many of them were, after all, and that must have made Mom proud.

Yet the Eisenhower sibling’s service to the cause of faith is not so stellar. When the Word states that Christians will be hated in all the nations on account of Jesus’ name [“Then people will hand you over to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” - Matthew 24:9], is it because those nations will say that they hate God? No. They will say that they love God, but there will be some hot-button issues—in this case, refusal to salute the national flag or engage in military service—that will enrage them, be the matter biblically supported or not.

In fact, a third reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses were reviled is that they called out the major churches for their enthusiastic war cheerleading on both sides of both World Wars. Had even one of the major churches in Germany renounced war participation, Hitler might never have become the world threatening menace that he did become. If you are not going to stand up for peace during time of war, just when do you stand up for it?

Eisenhower’s kin could have explained it all, even if not going along with it themselves. They didn’t. One can only conclude that they were deeply embarrassed, if not ashamed, of their Jehovah’s Witness mother, and to this day wish to keep it a deeply held secret—and that even the National Historic Park Service, who seldom miss the slightest detail, acquiesces to their desire to keep this worst of all worst disgraces out of the public eye. Look, nobody cares—the Watchtower organization is certainly not outraged by it—they don’t do celebrities over there. However, the fact that nobody cares can be said of most details of history. It is history, and history is the National Historical Park Service’s reason for existence. They ought to get it right!

In the mid-seventies, Modern Maturity magazine ran this quote from Melvin Eisenhower, Ike's brother:Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance: Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted. . . . We had an ideal home for I never heard an unkind word between Father and Mother. They lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion.” Really? Well what “Judaic-Christian religion” was it? Alas, it must never be told, for fear of dropping in the eyes of others.

From a Bible standpoint, it is not good. “Everyone, then, who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father who is in the heavens.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens,” says Jesus at Matthew 10:32-33. Should a literal observing of his words be treated as a dirty little secret that must never see the light of day for the sake of preserving popular social approval? “How can you believe,” Jesus spoke again, “when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” (John 5:44)

The October 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a World War II American soldier who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So the fellow wrote, not to General Eisenhower, but to his mom! Sometimes you have to do that. Do you want President Trump to do something for you? You can’t write him – he’s busy. You have to write his mom, who will nag him into doing what you want.

One testy exchange between this new Witness and his superiors turned around quickly: “As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the ‘top brass’ had gathered, I didn’t salute.”

One of the officers said: “Don’t you salute your superiors?”

“No, Sir.”

“Why not?”

The soldier gave his reasons, based on his new and incomplete understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: “General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!”

“Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?’ The soldier asked. He then produced the reply that he had just received from Eisenhower’s mom. The senior officer read the letter, and the other officers also gathered around to look at it. He then replied: “Get back to ranks. I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.”

Why isn’t THAT in your museum, you who miss no detail of Ike’s life? The letter is reproduced below:

 

Abilene, Kansas - August-20-’44.

Mr. Richard Boeckel.

 

Dear Sir: A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in your privilege of attending such convention.

It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.

My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.

Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.

I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.

It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.

I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.

And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.

There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.

Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.

Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.

Respectfully yours in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,

Ida E. Eisenhower

 

See also the chapter ‘Enemies’ of my ebook ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’

And ‘The Military-Industrial Complex and Jehovah’s Witnesses’

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See overall post of our visit to the Eisenhower National Historical Site here.

 

 

 

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)

$1.4 Billion. Is THAT all?

The article said 1.4 million, someone pointed out, not 1.4 billion.

I wrote this post in too much haste. I should correct it, I suppose. But 1.4 million is still a lot of dough, and a lot of dough was the point. Besides, it is only a matter of a zero or 3. And what is a zero? Nothing! Why make such a fuss over nothing?

...............

You know, it’s all very well that this fellow wins the $1.4 billion Templeton Prize and I don’t. “He’ll be throwing his worthless gold in the street, someday,” I chuckle gleefully. Oh yeah, I am having a wonderful time here.

https://news.yahoo.com/physicist-marcelo-gleiser-science-does-not-kill-god-090100672.html

There’s nothing here that I haven’t said. There’s nothing here that tens of thousands of people haven’t said. “Hee hee, hee,” I mock this poor fellow. “Just wait till he gets his tax bill. nyuk nyuk nyuk.”

Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method," he told them. “Atheism is a belief in non-belief. So you categorically deny something you have no evidence against."

Everybody who has any sense says that and nobody pays them $1.4 billion.

I'll keep an open mind because I understand that human knowledge is limited," he added. There’s money in them thar open minds.

I mean, he didn’t actually do any work. He just gussied up common sense a little and held out his hand for the payoff.

“The author of five English-language books and hundreds of blog and press articles in the US and Brazil, Gleiser has also explored in depth how science and religion both try to respond to questions on the origins of life and the universe,” the article says. 

Actually, I’ve just written four, not five books, and my blog posts are on many things, not just...oh...wait....the article’s not talking about me. It’s talking about someone with a cool 1.4 billion. I wouldn’t take it if you got down on your knees and begged me.

This fundamental curiosity unites science and religion, though each provides very different answers: science has a methodology, where hypotheses are eliminated.

"Science can give answers to certain questions, up to a point," Gleiser pointed out.

"This has been known for a very long time in philosophy, it's called the problem of the first cause: we get stuck," the physicist, a father of five.”

Maybe that’s where I went wrong. I didn’t have five kids. I should have had more.

"We should have the humility to accept that there's mystery around us,” he says. “He accuses the "new atheists" of doing a disservice to science by making an enemy out of religion: notably British scientist Richard Dawkins.” 

Uh, yeah. Haven’t I said the same thing, like, forever?

It's extremely arrogant from scientists to come down from the ivory towers and make these declarations without understanding the social importance of belief systems.....When you hear very famous scientists making pronouncements like ... cosmology has explained the origin of the universe and the whole, and we don't need God anymore. That's complete nonsense," he added. “Because we have not explained the origin of the universe at all."

Ha ha ha! Wait till he is flooded by “friends” who want a piece of his prize, ‘earned’ by pointing out what any donkey of a believer could have pointed out. Then he’ll be sorry. Then he’ll wish that I had been awarded that prize, and not he.

But it will be too late. He’s stuck with it. Ho Ho Ho. I’ll send him my address just to mess with his mind a little, but I won’t accept his prize, no matter how much he pleads.

Sheesh! 1.4 billion. It’s all in who you know.

Now, hand me that hammer so I can tap the starter on my car, the way you have to do to get it running. “Go get em, Tiger,” I tell myself. They’re running a ‘Buy One Get One’ at WalMart today.

[edit.....The article said 1.4 million, someone pointed out, not billion.

I wrote this post in too much haste. I should correct it, I suppose. It’s still a lot of dough. Besides, it is only a matter of a zero or 3. And what is a zero? Nothing! Why make such a fuss over nothing?

 
 

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The Cake-Fruit Experiment that Blew Reason Sky High

It was irksome when those atheists put up their ‘Let Reason Prevail’ billboard right next to that Illinois State Capitol Nativity Scene; that much was immediately apparent. But putting my finger on just why it was irksome required more effort. Was it the presumption of the atheists that they held a monopoly on “reason?” Partly. Was it the crassness of plunking it next to the nativity scene, as though it, too, offered a message of hope? Closer. In fact, I prematurely declared, that was it!

However, you don’t necessarily express your innermost thoughts on the Internet, to be pawed over by all and sundry.  In truth I was anything but convinced that my answer was it. Something was still missing. I’ve tossed and turned each night since. 

Until now. For now I see clearly what was lacking: scientific validation. We all know today that one ought not think anything without first checking with scientists, yet I had done exactly that! Well—no more! Diligently consulting volumes of research, I at last came across an experiment that blew that silly ‘Let Reason Prevail’ slogan sky-high. Reason cannot prevail among humans. We are not capable of it. We can muster a fair effort when distractions are few. But add in any significant stress, and human reasoning ability goes right down the drain. It is hard to come to any other conclusion after pondering the cake-fruit experiment of a few years back. Alas, it has received only the publicity of light fluff news. It deserves more, as it holds unsettling implications for any future based on the veneration of reason.

The cake-fruit experiment unfolded thus: In 1999, Stanford University professor Baba Shiv enrolled a few dozen undergraduates and gave each a number to memorize. Then, one at a time, they were to leave the room and walk down a corridor to another room, where someone would be waiting to take their number. That’s what they were told, at least. On the way down, however, participants were approached by a friendly woman carrying a tray. “To show our thanks for taking part in our study,” she said, “we’d like to offer you a snack. You have a choice of two. A nice piece of chocolate cake. Or a delicious fruit salad. Which would you like?”

Unbeknownst to each participant, some had been given two-digit numbers to memorize, and some had been given seven-digit numbers. When Shiv tallied up the choices made (for that was the object of the experiment) he found that those students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as those given two digits! Two digits—you choose fruit. Seven digits—you choose cake. What could possibly account for that?

The reason, Shiv theorized, is that once you weed out the occasional oddball, we all like cake more than fruit; it tastes better. But we also all know that fruit is better for us. This is a rational assessment that almost all of us would make. But if our minds are taxed with trying to retain seven digits instead of a no-brainer two, rationality goes right out the window, and the emotional “Yummy, cake!” wins out! “The astounding thing here,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Jonah Lehrer, reviewing the experiment for NPR, “is not simply that sometimes emotion wins over reason. It’s how easily it wins.”

Now, this experiment was not taken very seriously by anyone. When the media covered it at all, they treated it as fluff, as a transitional piece going in to or out of more serious news. “Oh, so that’s why I pig out after a hard day at work here,” giggling Happy News people would tell each other on TV. But plainly, the experiment holds deeper significance. Aren’t world leaders also human, and thus susceptible to emotion trumping rationality? Daily they grapple to solve the woes afflicting us all. Meanwhile, opponents seek to undermine them, and media outlets try dig up dirt on them. If it takes only five extra digits for emotion to overpower reason, do you really think there is the slightest chance that “reason will prevail” among the world’s policymakers, immersed in matters much more vexing and urgent than choosing between cake and fruit? Has it up till now?

That is what was so irksome about the ‘Let Reason Prevail.’ slogan. Reason cannot prevail among imperfect humans! It can occur, but it cannot prevail. Humans are not capable of it. Five digits is all it takes for our rational facade to crumble!

Now, if there is one thing that Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for, it is for their insistence that humans do not have the ability to govern themselves. Everyone else in the field of religion accepts the present setup of squabbling nations as a given and prays for God to somehow bless the leaders running it—often with the proviso that whatever country they are in emerges on top. Of course, it doesn’t matter too much, though, since said religionists are all heaven-bound! Just passing through, you understand. So while one might not like staying in a crummy hotel, you can at least console yourself that it’s only for a night or two.

Not so Jehovah’s Witnesses. Earth is where God meant us to be, so that is where we focus. Like the psalm says: (115:16) “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”  And our view that humans are incapable of governing the earth is no more than acknowledging the words of Jeremiah:  “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) And: “The wise ones have become ashamed. They have become terrified and will be caught. Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9) In other words, today’s calamitous conditions are not really a surprise to those who have immersed themselves in Bible instruction. It is what they have always expected. They are not stuck with the pathetic hope that voting out the incumbents will somehow bring in a more amenable bunch of politicians among whom “reason can prevail.” It is human rule itself that is at fault.

You could almost view it that God himself is conducting an experiment, just like Baba Shiv. Not that it was his purpose, but when humans insisted on setting their own standards of “good and bad,” rejecting his sovereignty, he said, in effect: “Go ahead—for such-and-such an amount of time see if you can make good on your claim of self-government. When the times runs out, then—we will see.” Is not this the meaning of those early Genesis chapters? Is not the grand experiment of human self-rule ending exactly as the Bible foretold it would? And does it not show, as any novice Witness will tell you—sometimes a bit parrotlike, but true nonetheless—that “it just goes to show that we need the kingdom?” Announcing this kingdom, so that people may align themselves with it, is the purpose of the Witnesses’ public ministry. (April 2010)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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Plato and the Governing Body

In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know much when it comes to ancient Greek society. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables, and not “So-crates.” Oh, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time during which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don’t consider knowledge of them indispensable for enriched life. The rapidly ascending Chinese and Indian populations most likely are completely ignorant of Greece—the root of Western civilization, but not theirs—and don’t bemoan the loss.

Nonetheless, there is this atheist fellow I’ve been conversing with lately who throws Greeks at me right and left. He’s even assumed a Greek moniker, Moristotle, and he’s prompted me to consider changing my own name to Tom Harleticus so as to win some respect. So it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?

Plato put into writing his concepts of ideal government. He advocated rule by “philosopher-kings.” Several times in Moristotle’s blog I read the term. Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected (by already existing rulers) on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff—so lengthy that it seems nobody under age 50 would be eligible for consideration.

Consider this excerpt from The 100, an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history: (Plato is #40) “Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

“Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”

Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will realize at once that this description almost exactly describes their Governing Body, the agency that governs members of the faith. Only the “mates in common” does not apply.

Compare Plato’s dream government with this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that flooded New Orleans: “They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I’ve ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. *All* of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I’ve toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

“Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it’s amazing......I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.

“They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF....I could go on.

“But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs.”

This organization is duplicated in the one hundred or so branch organizations that exist around the world.

Of course, one may object: Plato’s recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number between seven and seventeen million, depending on the criteria you use in counting. That’s more than the population of a great many nations. Moreover, Jehovah’s Witnesses are overwhelmingly viewed as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no mere accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration, governing if you will, since there are ever so many groups that claim to follow the Bible but whose lifestyles belie that claim. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose, as the above letter points out. They would appear to be Plato’s dream come true.

Author Hart allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato’s ideal. He suggests “there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato’s guardian class.” I assume he is referring to the Church before the Inquisition. Otherwise, Hart acknowledges, Plato’s ideals have never been adopted by any human government.

Oh, this is too rich! Here is Plato, poster boy of the modern Greek aficionados, devising a system of government which none of them have come close to reproducing, but which is adopted without fanfare by a group most of them would look down upon—Jehovah’s Witnesses! The reason, of course, is that Plato’s system depends on persons who are neither ambitious nor materialistic nor overly proud. It is not that such persons cannot be found among the general population. It is that the values of this world are such that these persons cannot rise to the top. Indeed, they are often dismissed as impractical nuts (as with Jehovah’s Witnesses).

By the way, what happens when atheists themselves try to adopt Plato’s ways? Hart continues: “The role of the Communist party in the Soviet Union has also been compared with that of the guardian class in Plato’s ideal republic. Here, too, we see a self-perpetuating elite whose members have all been trained in an official philosophy.”

Aren’t communist systems atheist, indeed the only governments officially atheist? Yes—and when the atheists try to implement Plato, their creations are hijacked by bullies and even mass-murderers: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and so forth. Look at these guys crossways and you do ten years hard labor.

No, those atheists are unable to implement the ideals of their hero. Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, have done so. Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I do not suggest it. But I can picture the educated elite rushing to embrace him as one of their own, and he, upon assessing how they have failed to implement any of his ideals, wanting nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, he could not help but be appreciative toward the one sizable organization on earth that has managed to transform his dream into reality. He might even rush right over to Bethel to consult, where they, having no idea who he is, would make him take a number. (February 2008)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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Why Do Bad Things Happen? Updated for Atheists, Sort of

When Moristotle the Atheist read my post ‘Why Bad Things Happen,’ he almost threw up. He declared it a “fantasy,” aspects of which were “utterly repulsive,” and the rest “not only not nice at all, nor even adolescent, but simply infantile.” If we could only get this fellow to say what he really thinks and stop pussyfooting around, he might amount to something!

Still, I took his concerns to heart. It’s not pleasant throwing up—it just isn’t. Was there a way to write essentially the same thing in a way that he and his would find more palatable? After all, he declared a related post of mine “profound.” True, he was just being nice, he later pointed out, but at least there was no gag reflex, or at least he overcame it.

It may not be possible to make this stuff more palatable for a certain type of person. Any discussion as to why God tolerates evil must necessarily link to Adam and Eve, and link to them rather substantially. They simply are that key of a building block. And so you have to overcome the ‘We are wise and learned adults, far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. What’s next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?’ syndrome. It occurred to me only much later that you could invite such persons to consider it as a symbolism that need not be taken literally. That almost works better. Certain types love being thought perceptive enough to be entrusted with such an interpretive task—leave it on the shelf till later whether it actually happened or not. Still, I did not realize this at the time. My job was not going to be easy.

Let’s start with some common ground, just like Paul did at the Areopagus. Moristotle had recently trotted out a Greek named Diagoras, who is apparently the world’s first recorded atheist. There was a little quibbling over that, but I eventually conceded the point. Okay. Here goes. Wish me luck.

 

***~~~***

 

Was Diagoras the world’s first atheist? He is credited that way. Read up on him and you will find that he is remembered as Diagoras the Atheist. Isn’t he the fellow who used a wooden statue of Hercules as fuel to cook his turnips? If Hercules didn’t like it—well, let him do something about it. And how did Diagoras end up an atheist? Wikipedia tells us: “He became an atheist after an [unspecified] incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods”

Why wasn’t it punished? Why didn’t God fix it? He’s God, after all. Isn’t he supposed to be all-powerful? We hear this all the time from atheists, agnostics and even believers. Why didn’t he solve Diagoras’s problem and stop the man from going atheist?

It’s because he’d never be able to do anything else. He’d be sticking band-aid after never-ending band-aid on a system of things that is inherently unjust, even designedly so. Instead, in keeping with his original purpose, he purposes to replace this system of things with one of his own design. Injustice in that system of things will be a memory only.

After all, what is the injustice that caused Diagoras such soul-searching? Only the one that touched him personally! Had he not witnessed hundreds of injustices in his lifetime? To say nothing of ones his society was built upon. We positively slobber over Greeks as cradle of wisdom, birthplace of democracy, mecca of free thinkers, and so forth, yet they enjoyed their privileged status only on the backs of others. That society embraced slavery. It treated women abominably. And weren’t Greeks the original pedophiles? The same sexual molestation of children so roundly condemned today was enshrined in respectable Greek society. Are these among the injustices Diagoras was concerned with? Did he even recognize them as injustices? Possibly, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Let’s face it, few situations of this world today are win-win. Generally, someone pays the price when we win. Hopefully, for politicians and Pollyannas, it is someone we don’t see in another land or another class. But there is somebody most often and we usually don’t even know about it. The system is designed that way. Get the sufferer as far away from the privileged one as possible so that the latter does not see the link and declares any such talk as but crybaby whining. Don’t think that any political party owns the problem. It is inherent with human self-rule. A new system of things is in keeping with the Bible’s premise that humans were not designed to be independent of God.

Things might have turned out differently. The Adam and Eve and Garden of Eden account, brief though it is, demonstrates God’s original intent. “Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it,’” says Genesis 1:28. The very name Eden means “pleasure;” garden of Eden becomes, when translated into Greek, “paradise of pleasure,” and “subduing the earth” is code for spreading those conditions earth wide. Had humans, starting with the first pair, remained content to live under God’s direction, life today would be a far cry from what it is today. But almost from the start, they balked.

Consider Genesis chapter 3: “Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “you must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die.”’

“At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.’ Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the “knowing good and bad” of verse five to be a matter of declaring independence. “You don’t need God telling you what is good and what is bad. You can decide such things yourself and thus be “like God.” The serpent even portrays God as having selfish motive, as though trying to stifle the first couple—a sure way to engender discontent. The ploy was successful. Those first humans chose a course of independence, with far-ranging consequences that have cascaded down to our day.

After a lengthy time interval allowed by God so that all can see the end course of a world run independent of him, he purposes to bring it again under his oversight. This is what the prophet Daniel refers to: “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Daniel 2:44)

Jesus refers to it, too, in The Lord’s Prayer: “...Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Does anybody seriously expect God’s will to be done on earth under the present system? Here and there, one can see a glimmer, of course, but to predominate? The time for God’s will to be done is when his kingdom comes.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s permission of injustice, even evil, is bound up with this trial period of human rule, soon to end. In a sense, the modern-day atheist counterparts of Diagoras have voted for the wrong party. They voted Republicans out of office in favor of Democrats (or vice versa) and they are now incensed that Republicans aren’t delivering on their promises! God’s kingdom is the arrangement that will end injustice. But they continue to vote for human rule. Does anyone think that humans will end injustice?

What the upset ones really want is, not so much an end of injustice, but an end to the symptoms of injustice, mostly the ones that affect them personally, just like with Diagoras. But human rule itself is the source of injustice. We’re simply not designed with the ability to “rule” ourselves. Is it “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?” God’s Kingdom will not treat the symptoms of injustice; it will uproot the source. (February 2008)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

Injustice

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Ralph Kramden is the Antitypical Nebuchadnezzar

They may no longer do antitypes at Bethel, having had too many blow up in their face, but that doesn't mean I don't do them. Ralph Kramden, the hefty loud-mouthed bus driver of the 'Honeymooners' TV show, is the antitypical Nebuchadnezzar.

Each show he began by blustering. Each show he was totally humiliated. Each show he was contrite at the end. And each new show he totally forgot the lessons learned from the one before. So it is with Nebuchadnezzar.

And what is it with Nebuchadnezzar and the magic-practicing priests? He picks a fight with them right out the clear blue sky in chapter 2 of Daniel:

"Then the king said to them: “I have had a dream, and I am agitated because I want to know what I dreamed.” The Chaldeans replied to the king in the Aramaic language: “O king, may you live on forever. Relate the dream to your servants, and we will tell the interpretation.” The king answered the Chaldeans: “This is my final word: If you do not make the dream known to me, along with its interpretation, you will be dismembered, and your houses will be turned into public latrines."

Why? What did they do? They are yanked out of bed to learn they must tell the king what his dream is in addition to what it meant? Now they will have to sit each in his house, without any arms or legs, and watch people come in to pee on their couch and poop on their carpet. There's bad blood between the king and them, somehow. How it came about is not described. It hardly seems fair.

Or is it? If the king made such demands, it is likely because he is fed up with their claims that they can do things like that. They are always playing him for a sucker with their air of religious mystery, and he has had about all that he can take. That's my guess, anyway.

We're used to quoting Daniel 1:20 to show how, after a short trial period in which the Hebrew captives did little more than eat vegetables, the king found them "ten times better than all his magic practicing priests." We're used to saying it is because of God's blessing that Daniel was elevated so high. Probably so, but I'll bet it is more a reflection of how worthless he found the priests. It was a pretty low bar they set, and Daniel was able to leap it without fuss.

William_Blake_-_Nebuchadnezzar_(Tate_Britain)

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Why do Bad Things Happen? Revisted

We have some characters in the faith. You know who I mean. Bigger than life guys. Everyone likes them, but there's not much finery about them, not much decorum. Was Mickey Spillane one of that group? They tend to be old-timers, younger ones having had the outrageousness refined out of them.

So here is Herman, for example, giving a talk and he's making the point that people aren't perfect; even in Bethel they have their quirks, and to illustrate, he quotes some Bethelite he knew.....I forget which one....who when he was provoked, would use the word “damn.” “I don't give a damn!” Herman quotes him, drawing the words out.

Now, you know how when someone says something out of place there will be some nervous tittering in the audience? Well, there is, and Herman takes that as appreciation! So he repackages the line and runs it through again! “I don't give a damn!” He even did it a third time. “I don't give a damn!” Didn't they install a trap door in the platform next day?

My point, though, is not that repackaging should never be done, but that sometimes it should. And that's what I'm going to do now with a post I wrote about five years ago entitled “Why do Bad Things Happen?” It's buried way back there in the archives....who's going to come across it now? Yet it's among the experiences that got me blogging in the first place. The story it tells really took place, and with only minor modifications, it's an email I sent to a work colleague I was witnessing to from afar. A little light in tone, the way I like to write. So now I've dressed it up a bit, applied lipstick, and am running it through again, just like Herman!

A caution, however. It will only appeal to persons willing to explore what the Bible says on serious matters. You cannot be too firmly afflicted with "we are wise and learned adults, far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. Who's next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?" syndrome. Any discussion on why there is suffering must necessarily touch upon Adam and Eve. You just can't get around it. If you could, I would. It doesn't exactly square with what the scientists say, does it, yet the two stands do nudge closer together over time.

Moristotle, who is atheist, was firmly in the grip of the above syndrome, and he couldn't stand the post. He almost threw up. He declared it a "fantasy," aspects of which were "utterly repulsive," and the rest "not only not nice at all, nor even adolescent, but simply infantile." Of course, I took his concerns to heart, and wrote a revised post just for him entitled “Why Do Bad Things Happen? Updated for Atheists (Sort Of)” It's just how Paul might have written, I imagine, if he'd been faced with the same audience, in the spirit of “to the atheists I became an atheist.”  (1 Cor 9:19-22)


Oh how I miss Moristotle! What glorious, spectacular rows we used to have! What creative posts came of it, both on his blog and mine! Moristotle was well-read. And thoughtful. And he had many interests in life. Atheist though he was, he didn't fly the scarlet Atheist letter A on his blog, probably because he knew Nathaniel Hawthorne wouldn't like it. These are the types of atheist you want to talk to, but alas, they don't hang around for too long. They inevitably reflect that this life is short, that it's all there is, that there's many things they yet want to do in it, and do they really want to spend those brief remaining years arguing with an intransigent “theist”? So they exit the stage, and leave only the ideological cranks in their wake, snarlpits of condescension and rudeness, who positively live to argue, who imagine they have a lock on “reason,” and who are so persistently unpleasant that it's hard to endure them for long. Moristotle, different in every respect, was my house atheist for a time, and he never even applied for the position; he just naturally assumed it with his trademark flair and wit. Though even he, if another Witness blogger would chime in on the discussion, would hand him his head on a platter. Alas, he has moved on. They all do. Only the snarlpits remain.

But we digress. Without further ado, here is that resurrected post, Why Do Bad Things Happen? (Bible reader's version):

 

Carpooling to work, Bill was pounding me into jelly with non-stop drivel about, of all things, pornography. I was not feeling well, had insufficient sleep and the beginnings of a headache. Jake was either snoozing in the back seat or wisely playing possum. I pretended to be deaf, but Bill was wise to it and kept talking! I considered piercing my eardrums so as to actually be deaf, or breathing in exhaust so as to die, but couldn't muster the nerve.

It seems there is a certain woman who has forsaken the arts, at which she was successful, to make hard-core pornography, at which she is astoundingly successful, and she has become wealthy. This has caught Bill's attention and it is the subject of the day

. ....Tom, she was a concert pianist and she was successful. Now she makes hard core porn and she is super-rich. I don't understand how she could do it. I mean, she was not just some loser, but she was a concert pianist. I just can't understand how a concert pianist could give that up and start a new living making hard core pornography. (Jake and I have no trouble understanding it) I think these people in Hollywood are so super-rich and powerful that they just laugh at all the rest of us, with our quaint and backward little bourgeois notions of morality. I mean, maybe this is just the capitalist system...maybe this is just free enterprise. Where's the harm, anyway. I mean, if it doesn't hurt anyone, what is wrong with it, anyway? Why not, if it makes people happy? But what I don't get is how she, who was a concert pianist......now, Bill is very predictable and you can fill in the rest for yourself and not be too far off

Of course, I don't want to imply that Bill is a regular consumer of hard core porn. I've no reason to believe that, and I don't believe it. Of course not! It is simply today's topic. Actually, the three of us ride together a lot, and women are a frequent topic of discussion. Not obscenely, you understand, and not specifically, but just generically, as a species. Both of these guys defer to me, since I have been married forever, so they assume I know a lot.

On the job, I resolve not to put up with the same drivel on the drive home. How much can a guy take? But once back in the car, my headache, held at bay during the workshift, returns with a vengeance, and I also begin to feel carsick. Bill, of course, never doubts that I am eagerly awaiting the next phase of his harangue, and picks up where he left off! Desperate measures are called for. 

.....Hard core porn. I mean, where's the harm in it? Isn't it just our petty ideas of morality, which the super-powerful rich people in Hollywood just laugh at? Tom, I think they just laugh at us. And where is the harm in it?......Without warning, I hit him hard with a right punch: "Bill, don't be an idiot! Of course it's harmful! It interferes with a normal relationship with a woman, because all your thoughts are debased!“ He is not fazed! He keeps coming at me!...Yeah, but...if people don't mind, I mean if they find enjoyment...how can it be harmful? What is really wrong with it? .....I land another hard right! "Damn it, Bill, we just came from the job, where about half of the folks are women. You go back and explain to them how wonderful hard core porn is...see if you can persuade them how it doesn't hurt anyone"......Yes!! If only for a moment, he is stopped. Jake, from the back seat, explodes in laughter....he is beginning to sense a good fight, and he perks up.

But Bill is far from down and out. He regroups! ......a concert pianist, who used to play the concert piano in front of a concert piano audience! What I don't understand is....

I feigt with my right, but this time I hit him hard with my left, out of nowhere and completely unexpected! ....."Bill, what really upsets me is that we should die! Why should people die after only 70 or 80 years, when there are some turtles that live 150 years. I'd like to live forever and never die. What do you think of that!!??" (Now, this has nothing to do with anything, but if we must talk, it is going to be on my subject, not porn) ....He staggers! He looks for the gutter, but he has lost the thread of conversation.......After a pause: I don't know why the hell a person would want to live forever, or even just five more minutes on this crappy earth! The way life is today it is not worth living! [He's not a joyful guy, this Bill.] Is this life just some kind of a joke that God is playing on us? I think he must be laughing at us. I mean, what's the purpose of all of this?

With the right combination of moves, I could dominate this fight. I take a gamble:.....

"Bill! I could explain it all to you, but I'm not going to because you'll interrupt!" ......Bullseye!!!  Jake splits his sides laughing. "I could explain it to you, but you'll interrupt," he mimics. Bill is speechless. He stumbles a bit, even briefly goes back to the porn star, but it is no good! The subject has been changed. By and by, he asks what is this explanation about the purpose of life.

Could it be? Is he really going to shut up? Gingerly, I lay down a foundation. "The first thing that you've got to understand is that God did not put humans on earth because he wanted them somewhere else. The earth is not a proving ground from which to launch people into heaven or hell. It was meant to be a permanent home, and people were created to live forever on it." Silence. It looks like I may really have his attention!

"Secondly, Bill, while I am explaining some things, you are going to hear things that you disagree with, but you cannot say so! For example, I will speak about Adam and Eve. You are going to want to say: "I don't believe in Adam and Eve." You cannot say it! You must wait until I am done, see if it hangs together, and then afterwards, if you still want, you can say: I don't believe in Adam and Eve." Again, not a word. It really seems like he is listening, and Jake too, for that matter.

And with that, I lay out the following scenario for them. And not just for them, but also for whoever reads this. Perhaps it will seem reasonable to you, and perhaps not. Let me know. Having prepared the earth to support physical life, God creates all life we see, including humans. As one perceptive person put it: "As almost a selfless act, to the extent of….I have life, perhaps I will create more life, so others can enjoy it as I do." In a nutshell, it could not be explained much better.

Still, happy living will depend on their recognition of their Creator's authority, his rightness, the need for obedience to him regarding questions of how to live and how to govern themselves as they grow in number. Not that God's going to control every minute aspect of their lives. Indeed, he has granted them free will. He has not programmed them as one might program robots…they can choose their course. And while that makes a wrong course possible, it also makes a right course so much more meaningful. After all, how meaningful is someone's love if you know they are programmed so they can't behave any other way?

To some extent the obedience that Adam rightly owes God parallels that of a child toward it's parents. The child for many years will encounter situations with which it is unfamiliar, that only the parents will be able to properly assess. Assuming the parent holds the child's best interests at heart, obedience is therefore a very good thing. Now, the child will one day become the equal of the parent, and the need for obedience fades. Humans will never become the equal of God, so with God the need for obedience never disappears, even though God wants us to continually gain wisdom from experience.

You may know that the Bible account, in the first three chapters of Genesis (If you haven't read the Bible, fear not. Few people have) says that God puts a tree, called the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, in the garden of Eden, and tells Adam and Eve not to eat from it. And, in no time at all, they do. Now, what does that mean? Does it mean that before eating off the tree, the first humans couldn't distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong? Plainly, that cannot be. How would they know it is right to obey the command and wrong to disobey? Nor does the fruit have anything at all to do with sex, as some have been told.

Back to the prior illustration, one might say that the child looks to the parent for standards as to what is good and what is bad. It is good to eat vegetables, to wash hands, to learn to read, to be in bed not too late. It is bad to play in the street, to eat only candy, to run with scissors, and so forth. But, if the young child were to absolutely rebel, one way to put it poetically would be to say that the child will now decide for itself what is good and bad....it will no longer look to its parents.

It is in this sense that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad serves to illustrate those first humans rejecting God's right to decide what is right and wrong, good and bad, in favor of making their own rules. By eating from the tree, they are saying that they don't need God telling them what to do, they will decide for themselves! They reject God's sovereignty, his right to rule, his right to set standards. Now, what is God going to do about it?

Of course, he can flatten them all and start over, or give up on the whole notion of creating humans. That shows who's stronger. But that matter's never been in doubt. The question that has been raised is: who is correct? God or those first people? Can they really govern themselves successfully so that neither God nor anyone else ought interfere, or is self-rule an ability they do not have? Better to settle this question and thus salvage the original project.

Essentially, God says: Alright…. I say you cannot rule yourselves. You insist you can. Try it. I will give you this much time (hold our you hands about one foot apart, a distance that can represent the time God allows) It will be all the time you will need to make good on your claim. During that time, as you increase in number, you are free to organize and govern yourselves, divide or unite yourselves any way you see fit and can manage. Accept or reject standards I offer, devise your own ways of living, your own economies, your own religions. Discover science, and see if you can harness it to improve your lot. I will not interfere. At the end of that time, we will see if you have been able to make good on your claim of independence.

Now, as the Bible presents matters, we are nearing the end of that time. We don't have a precise timetable, but we do have many indications that point to this general time period. And, not to deny that there are a few bright spots here and there...people have learned to clean up after their dogs, for instance...but I don't think anyone can point to the overall human record with pride. It's been one long chronicle of butchery and suffering, injustice and poverty, hatred and selfishness, climaxing so that today the question is seriously asked: will humans destroy themselves. We all know of people who choose not to bring children into the world, so inhospitable does it appear.

So there comes a point when God can say: Enough. Case closed. The question has been answered. He can bring about his own kingdom rule, he can remove those opposed, and he can see his original purpose toward earth come back online. All this without negating the free will he has endowed his creation with, (among the things most people cherish is freedom of choice) and without any permanent damage to those who have suffered in the past, since there is provision of resurrection.

Furthermore, the issue, once settled, becomes a standard for the future, just as a Supreme Court decision becomes a precedent. Should some future whiner make the same claim about self-rule, the experiment does not have to repeat. In time, since everlasting life is the object, the time spent in self-rule and human suffering recedes and comes to represent an insignificant amount of time, like a bad dream of long ago.

And then there is some stuff about how conditions will change under kingdom rule, and a little etc, and thus ends my speech.

Silence. It, or at least parts of it, has struck home.

But, by and by, Bill cranks up again.

Now you must understand that, physically, I feel horrible. My headache has gone migraine, and the ride has made me nauseous. When I am later dropped off at the meet spot, I don't get into my car, but instead walk a few laps around the parking lot, trying to steady myself before the drive home.

The next scene is straight from the movies! How often, after the hero has beaten the foe and has turned his back...exhausted...does that foe.....gasp! Look out!....impossibly rise up for one last blow, which will surely find its mark except for the completely unexpected intervention of some third party....say, the woman in distress, or a bad guy just turned good, or an up-to-this-time ambiguous character. And so it is that way in the car!

......What I don't understand, Bill says, is what is the purpose of all this suffering.... how can God allow all of......

Jake comes to the rescue!!! "Bill, Tom just explained all of that!! he says. Weren't you listening?" ....Bill next says something about evolution, and again it is Jake: "Wait! he says. This is something I can chime in on. I used to believe in evolution but I don't anymore...not because of religion, but because of science. Evolution doesn't make any sense because of"......and he starts into a discussion on DNA and some other science things. Thus the two of them talk for awhile, while I try to nurse my head and stomach, hoping I do not die. [I did not]

There is an epilogue. A week or two later, about ten of us were at another jobsite. From the other side of the area, I can hear Bill complaining to someone: .......What I don't understand is what is the purpose of this life. Is this some sort of joke that God is playing? Is he just laughing at us........"Bill! I interject, I explained all that to you...don't be carrying on as if you don't have a clue!" My ally, Jake, roars with laughter." He did!" Jake says. "It made sense, too! Don't worry, Tom, I believe you!"

So I'm batting 500. It could be worse.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

 

 

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)

Darwin's Eye

There was great joy in the atheist world during 2010, where they celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin! Sigh.....that left Jehovah's Witnesses doubly out in the cold: we don't worship Darwin and we don't do birthdays. Nonetheless, it's a Charles Darwin statement that will be used as a starting point for this post. It's taken from Origin of the Species, chapter VI. Call my recognition a belated birthday present, if you must.

Darwin wrote:

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”....

Q: If you quote this line, do you really have to add:  “of course, this is not to suggest that Darwin does not believe in his own theory of evolution by natural selection”?

I would never have thought so. I mean, what do you expect his next words to be? “Thus we can see that my entire theory is a load of horse manure. But I'm in this to win the praise of my peers, who for some reason, eat this stuff up. That, and maybe there's a buck to be made. So I'm putting lipstick on this pig. I'm sticking to my guns, even though you know, and I know, that it's all nonsense.”??

No! He's not going to say that! He's going to say something like: “Still, many now-established truths seemed equally absurd when first proposed. Evidence is scanty with relationship to the eye's development....no one's saying otherwise..... but we can expect future researchers to uncover corroborating material.”

That's my prediction (without peeking). In fact, he says almost exactly that:

“When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei ["the voice of the people = the voice of God "], as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.”

Alright, then. Pretty much what I predicted he would say. Any donkey ought to realize Darwin's not throwing in the towel on his own theory by admitting evolution of the eye sounds ridiculous. If you use his quote to suggest he considers himself a charlatan, that's dishonest. But if you use his quote to show he acknowledges some pretty high hurdles exist in proving his theory.....well, what's wrong with that?

Now, statements like that of Darwin appear all the time in evolutionist literature. And Watchtower publications have been known to pick up and run with them, without appending the “of course, so-and-so still believes in his own theory.” So the whiners and grousers have accused them of deliberate misquoting. But Watchtower hasn't done that at all. They've used all such quotes properly. (Though I won't vouch for non-Witness publications, some of which may well use such quotes in misleading ways)

Regarding quotes, you may have noticed that if you quote someone and don't reach the same conclusion he does, he will invariably say you must consider his context. If you do that, and still don't agree, he will want you to expand the context. If you do that, even to the point of quoting the entire article, and still don't agree, he will call you a fool. That's just the way people are.

Whenever the Watchtower quotes an evolutionist, it's understood that he believes his own theory! You don't have to spell that out.  If he says something that sounds far-fetched, and the Creation book picks it up, do you really think the authors wish to imply that he is gleefully lying through his teeth, willfully advancing a fraudulent notion? Of course not! It's obvious he believes his own belief!  Anybody howls dishonesty when their quotes are used to support a conclusion they themselves have not reached. All you have to do when quoting someone is relay their words accurately, as they were stated, without insertions or deletions. If you can't even do that, then you shouldn't allow cross-examination in jury trials....where an opposing lawyer uses a witness's own words to trip him up. It shouldn't be allowed! Just ask the witness what impression he wishes to make upon the court, and leave it at that.

Nonetheless, to placate the crybabies, Watchtower just released new material geared to defending creation at the 2010 District Conventions, and they've taken to pointing out, whenever quoting an evolutionist discussing some glitch in his theory, that “nonetheless, so-and-so still believes his own idea.” I don't think it's ethically necessary. But I see why they did it.


For example, on page 5 of The Origin of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking, (published by Watchtower, 2010), Prof Robert Shapiro of New York University discusses the famous 1953 experiments of Stanley Miller. He says “Some writers have presumed that all life's building blocks could be formed with ease in Miller-type experiments and were present in meteorites. This is not the case.” Shapiro probably says this because evolution textbooks have implied just that for the past 50 years. He further states that the likelihood of a RNA molecule arising from such a mixture “is so vanishingly small that its happening even once anywhere in the visible universe would count as a piece of exceptional good luck.”

And at this point, there is a footnote, explained at the bottom of the page:

*”Professor Shapiro does not believe that life was created. He believes that life arose by chance in some fashion not yet fully understood.”

There! Happy? Don't ask what congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses he attends. He's not one of ours. He's one of theirs.

On the next page, the booklet mentions “researcher Hubert P Yockey, who supports the teaching of evolution, [and] ….. states 'It is impossible that the origin of life was proteins first'” [an order long insisted upon by evolutionary theory, as proteins are building blocks for RNA].

See? Don't lose your cookies. No one's saying he's one of ours. He supports the teaching of evolution, even though he points out the long supported protein-RNA sequence of events is “impossible.” (quote marks mine) There must be some other sequence that is “possible,” he apparently thinks. All that remains is to discover it.

Apparently, both proteins and RNA molecules have to simultaneously appear at the same place and same time....one cannot precede the other.... for their life-forming cooperation to take place. “'The probability of this happening by chance (given a random mixture of proteins and RNA) seems astronomically low,' says Dr Carol Cleland, [who adds] 'most researchers seem to assume that if they can make sense of the independent production of proteins and RNA under natural primordial conditions, the coordination will somehow take care of itself,'” with all efforts to explain that coordination being not “very satisfying.”

And again a footnote. *”Dr Cleland is not a creationalist. She believes that life arose by chance in some fashion not yet fully understood.”

Okay? Again, Watchtower doesn't suggest she one of us. She's not.

At this point, the booklet observes: “Similarly, if scientists ever did construct a cell, (see eighth paragraph of link) they would accomplish something truly amazing – but would they prove that the cell could be made by accident? If anything, they would prove the very opposite, would they not? …..All scientific evidence to date indicates that life can come only from previously existing life. To believe that even a “simple” living cell arose by chance from  nonliving chemicals requires a huge leap of faith. Given the facts, are you willing to make such a leap?”

And on it goes. Other scientists are quoted: Radu Popa, Richard Feynman, Francis Crick, Eric Bapteste, Michael Rose, David M Raup, Henry Gee, Malcolm S Gordon, Robin Derricourt, Gyula Gyenis, Carl N Stephan, Milford H Wolpoff, and maybe some I missed. Each and every time, the publishers point out, usually in separate footnote, that these folks do not believe in creation. They believe in evolution. It's just that each of them have pointed to separate long-held tenets of the belief to observe that....um....it doesn't....ahh....exactly work the way it has long been supposed to. That's not to say they've thrown in the towel. No! They're merely wrung it out and jumped into the fray afresh. It almost seem silly to include so many footnotes...as if catering to the whiners. Still, there's a lot of whiners, and they make a lot of noise. Maybe this will shut them up for a moment or two.

All of those quoted are respected scientists. None of them believe in creation. They all accept evolution, and they'll continue to accept it, more likely than not. That way they get to remain respected scientists. No, they are not in our camp. They are “hostile witnesses,” every last one of them. They say things we latch onto, even though they don't agree with us. But there's nothing wrong with quoting them. Where would Perry Mason, Bobby Donnel, or the Boston Legal crew be if they couldn't cross-examine hostile witnesses? 

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 ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

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)

Cake, Fruit, and the Limits of Reason

It was irksome when those atheists put up their "Let Reason Prevail" billboard right next to that Illinois State Capitol Nativity Scene - that much was immediately apparent. But putting my finger on just why it was irksome required more effort. Of course, I immediately shouldered the task. Was it the presumption, by the sign's authors, that they held a monopoly on "reason?" Partly. Was it the crassness of plunking it next to the Nativity Scene, as though it, too, offered a message of hope? Closer. In fact, I prematurely declared, that was IT!

However, you don't necessarily express your innermost fears on the internet, to be pawed over by all and sundry.  In truth I was anything but convinced that my answer was IT. Something was still missing. I've tossed and turned each night since. 

Until now. For now I see clearly what was lacking: scientific indication! We all know today that one ought not think anything without first checking with scientists, yet I had done exactly that! Well....no more! Diligently consulting tomes of research, I came across an experiment that blew that silly "Let Reason Prevail" slogan sky-high. Reason cannot prevail among humans. We're not capable of it. We can muster a fair effort when distractions are few. But add in any significant stress, and human reasoning ability goes right to hell. It's hard to come to any other conclusion after pondering the cake-fruit experiment of a few years back. Alas, it's received only the publicity of light fluff news. It deserves more, as it holds unsettling implications for any future based on the veneration of reason.

The cake-fruit experiment unfolded thus: (as discussed on NPR Morning Edition) In 1999, Stanford University professor Baba Shiv enrolled a few dozen undergraduates and gave each a number to memorize. Then, one at a time, they were to leave the room and walk down a corridor to another room, where someone would be waiting to take their number. That's what they were told, anyhow.

On the way down, however, participants were approached by a friendly woman carrying a tray. 'To show our thanks for taking part in our study,' she said, 'we'd like to offer you a snack. You have a choice of two. A nice piece of chocolate cake. Or a delicious fruit salad. Which would you like?'

Now, unbeknownst to each participant, some had been given two-digit numbers to memorize, and some had been given seven-digit numbers. When Shiv tallied up the choices made (for that was the object of the experiment) he found that those students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as those given two digits! Two digits - you choose fruit. Seven digits - you choose cake. What could possibly account for that?

The reason, Shiv theorized, is that once you weed out the occasional oddball, we all like cake more than fruit. It tastes better. But we also all know that fruit is better for us, for cake makes us fat and promotes tooth decay. This is a rational assessment that almost all of us would make. But if our minds are taxed with trying to retain 7 digits instead of a no-brainer 2, rationality goes right out the window, and the emotional "yummy, cake!" wins out! 'The astounding thing here,' said the Wall Street Journal's Jonah Lehrer, reviewing the experiment, 'is not simply that sometimes emotion wins over reason. Its how easily it wins.'

Now, this experiment was not taken very seriously by anyone. When the media covered it at all, they treated it as fluff - a transitional piece going in to or out of more serious news. "Oh, so that's why I pig out after a hard day at work here," giggling HappyNews people would tell each other on TV. But plainly, the experiment holds deeper significance. Aren't world leaders also susceptible to emotion trumping rationality? Daily they grapple to solve the woes afflicting us all. Meanwhile, opponents seek to undermine them and media outlets try dig up dirt on them. If it takes only five extra digits for emotion to overpower reason, do you really think there is the slightest chance that "reason will prevail" among the world's policymakers, immersed in matters much more vexing (and urgent) than choosing between cake and fruit? Has it up till now?

THAT'S what's so irksome about the "Let Reason Prevail." slogan. Reason cannot prevail among imperfect humans! It can occur, but it cannot prevail. Humans are not capable of it.  Five digits is all it takes for our rational facade to crumble!

Now, if there is one thing Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, it's their insistence that humans do not have the ability to govern themselves. Everyone else (among Christendom) accepts the present setup of squabbling nations as a given and prays for God to somehow bless the leaders running it - usually with the proviso that whatever country they're in emerge on top (or at least intact). Doesn't matter too much, though, since said religionists are all heavenbound! Just passing through, you understand. So while one might not like staying in a crummy hotel, you can at least console yourself that it's only for a night or two.

Not so Jehovah's Witnesses. Earth is where God meant us to be, so that is where we focus. Like the psalm says: (115:16) "As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men."  And our view that humans are incapable of governing the earth is no more than acknowledging the words of Jeremiah:  "I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." (Jer 10:23) And: "The wise ones have become ashamed. They have become terrified and will be caught. Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?" (Jer 8:9) In other words, today's calamitous conditions aren't really a surprise to those who've immersed themselves in Bible instruction. It's what they've always expected. They're not stuck with the pathetic hope that voting out the incumbents will somehow bring in a more amenable bunch of politicians among whom "reason can prevail." It's human rule itself that's at fault.

You could almost view it that God himself is conducting an experiment, just like Baba Shiv. Not that it was his purpose, but when humans insisted on setting their own standards of "good and bad," rejecting his sovereignty, he said "Go ahead.....for such-and-such an amount of time see if you can make good on your claim of self-government. When the times runs out, then.....we'll see." Isn't this the meaning of those early Genesis chapters? Isn't the grand experiment of human self-rule ending exactly as the Bible foretold it would? And doesn't it show, as any novice JW will tell you.....sometimes a bit parrotlike, but true nonetheless, that "it just goes to show we need the Kingdom." Announcing this Kingdom, so that people may align themselves with it, is the purpose of the Witnesses' public ministry.....................see also here

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Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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)