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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sticking up for Pilate, and Battling the Trolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Review of the Jack London Short Story ‘Moon Face’—They’re Always Throwing Goodness at You, but With a Little Bit of Luck a Man Can Duck.

Sometimes—a certain person is so consistently annoying that you just feel you have no choice but to bump him off. Of course, you don’t do that—it’s not right. The rules don’t allow for it. You make your mind over, like the Word says, and you learn to think of the other person as superior to you—also what the Bible says at Phillipians 2:3. You look for the one area—there has to be at least one—in which he or she clearly is superior and then you hone in on that quality like a laser beam. It really does work when applied.

But—in the words of Alfred P. Doolittle: “They’re always throwing goodness at you. But with a little bit of luck a man can duck!” What if you could duck?

Enter Jack London, the writer. If there is one thing about London’s work that sticks with the reader, it is his portrayal of natures’ unforgiving harshness. Make a mistake, and you will pay for it with your life. The trait of mercy does not exist in his novels. Who can forget his short story ‘To Build a Fire’ in which the sub-zero Alaskan wanderer’s life depends upon his building a fire—and how he at last gets one going, searing his numb and frozen fingers which were beyond handling individual matches so he could only light the whole box at once—somehow clenching it in his teeth, if memory serves (it may not), and then he holds it in place amidst the storm, holding it as long as he must—smelling his burning flesh—because if this fire fails to take hold he will freeze to death for sure.

It does take hold. He adds wood to it—more and more—the fire begins to roar—its heat begins to thaw him and he feels he has beat nature—he will survive after all. And then—the snow in the boughs of the tree he had foolishly built his fire under—yes, it had sheltered him from the wind, but it would also spell his doom—loosens with the heat and comes crashing down, snuffing out his fire in an instant—after which he runs off into the wilds and freezes to death.

That is a Jack London story. They are all like that—stark and unforgiving—at least the ones I remember. Many are set in the gold-rush days.

Could Jack London write a comedic short story? No way. Inconceivable. And yet there is one—only one, so far as I know—and it is all the more comedic because it incorporates his standard themes of hardness and absolutely no mercy. Can you really write a comedy from that?

London’s protagonist has a neighbor that he cannot stand for his incessant optimism and good cheer. Even his face and surname grates on his nerves. His booming laugh—no matter what atrocious thing has happened (and the protagonist knows, because he deliberately causes some just so to wipe this inane smile off his face—setting fire to his barn, for example, and causing his house to be foreclosed on) drives London’s character into rabid fury, and he finally reaches the point where he cannot live until that idiot dies! (I can think of a person now—a non-JW—who has that effect on me) He devises the most clever and untraceable scheme to do him in—which does succeed.

Were it any other novelist, the story would end with his apprehension by the long arm of the law—that, or the crushing torment of his conscience. But this is a Jack London story. It concludes with: “My days are peaceful now, and my night's sleep deep.” It is a very short read—not too taxing and entertaining throughout, You should go there.

 

Sigh—you can’t bump them off like that. They’re always throwing goodness at you, and you can’t duck. You keep stripping off the old personality and keep putting on the new. You do become a better person for it. But you sure do have to endure some pieces of work along the way.

The daily text yesterday was “Show yourselves thankful,” from Colossians 3:15. The commentary included mention of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus and yet only one turned back to give thanks. “Its good to develop a thankful attitude,” was my contribution to the Zoom group. Even when life sucks, see if you can’t look at ways in which the glass is half-full rather than ways in which it is half (or almost all)-empty. It’s healthier to do it that way.

Always rejoice! Always be thankful! Always be...but one can go too far. One can become like one of those plastic weighted clowns that you knock down, but then it bobs up again, it’s grinning face bobbing into yours.

After that thought, I recalled that Jack London story I read decades ago and never forgot. I had misremembered it as ‘Moonbeam’ whereas it was actually ‘Moon Face,’ but AI search had enough to go on and promptly pulled up the story for me.

You know, true to the daily text, Moon Face’s eternal optimism did serve him well emotionally. Unfortunately, it also drove his neighbor, Jack’s friend, to kill him—and then proclaim: “No more does his infernal laugh go echoing among the hills, and no more does his fat moon-face rise up to vex me.”

 

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No Greater Love—How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda, a Book by Tharcisse Seminega

Even of his disciples Jesus said there were things they were not yet able to bear. What does that say about speaking to non-disciples?

Tharcisse Seminega takes this into account his book No Greater Love—How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda. Proclaiming the superiority of one’s religion comes across as crass in “educated” parts of the world, and it is actually illegal in Russia—that is among the pretexts used to ban the Jehovah’s Witness organization. The local populace, not being able to get their heads around something so devious as banning a religion’s organization but not the religion itself, conducts itself as though the Witnesses themselves are banned. What sensible person would not?

So Brother Seminega has to self-pedal this part about “religious superiority,” a part that many would say is integral to giving a thorough witness. I don’t blame him for this—it is the only way he can reach his intended audience. Besides, whoever has spent several weeks in the hole, hidden at enormous risk by his spiritual brothers, while others of his tribe are being slaughtered wholesale on the outside, can do whatever he likes.

That he privately has given a thorough witness is clear from the Foreword, written by a fellow academic, John K. Roth, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Claremont McKenna College: “As a result, the book makes an appeal to folks like me who are not members of that particular community: Embrace and follow the ethical values embedded in the acts that saved the Seminegas. I am grateful for that invitation.” Yet, he does miss the point. He takes away from this book not that people should embrace the religion that stood fast in the face of genocide, but “the ethical value embedded in the acts that saved the Seminegas,” as though such a separation were possible. [Italics mine]

Brother Seminega prefers to let others say it, not he himself. He is content to include in an appendix: “Peace and conflict researcher Christian P. Scherrer states: ‘All the churches active in Rwanda, with the exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (of whom only a few survived), were involved at least ‘passively’ in the genocide.’ Genocide and Crisis in Central Africa: Conflict Roots, Mass Violence, and Regional War (London: Praeger, 2002), 113.” [Italics mine]

He doesn’t thereafter say, “You see? Our religion is superior!” even though anyone of moral sense can deduce it from the above passage. There are examples in his book, corroborated by international adjudicators, of clergymen purposefully luring Tutsi parishioners to their churches to be slaughtered by the thousands. A passage from his book, that of his wife who was not then a Witness, testifies from her spot of hiding:

The stifling conditions, lack of sleep, scanty food, and darkness had a numbing effect on our minds. But one thing I knew: I, my husband, and all five of my children were alive because our Jehovah’s Witness friends had repeatedly risked their lives to save us. Their faith was like a rock. They lived for peace. No one could force them to use weapons against their neighbors, even those of a different ethnicity. They would sooner die than harm others. They were Hutu, just like the machete-wielding murderers who spilled rivers of blood. It pained me to think of it, but I knew in my heart that the vast majority of Hutu killers claimed to be Christian. Most of them belonged to my Catholic church.

Okay? The Witness religion is superior. Yet Brother Seminega is writing to an audience loath to accept that idea. “If he will really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless he lays it between the lines,” so that is what he does. The greater sophisticated world wants to view the atrocity as though there are noble qualities distributed more or less at random among all religions, and in this case, it is but the luck of the draw that they fell to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is clear in how religionnews.com reviews the book. It does what it can to obscure the conclusion inescapable to anyone of common sense: of the superiority of a religion that alone enabled all members to withstand genocide. (Or maybe it is that I am myself influenced by how that source doesn’t appear to regard Witnesses as a religion, and how such is not necessarily disagreeable to the JW organization.)

It expounds on how “Witnesses had long been oppressed for refusing to take up weapons or participate in politics. Because of this apolitical teaching... ‘Hutu Witnesses were impervious to calls for patriotic Hutu to take part in mass killings’... Professor Seminega says that his family’s rescuers and other Witnesses followed Jesus’ “new commandment”—To love one another just as he loved them, even to the death.”

Note how “new commandment” is in quote marks, as though it is new to the reviewers themselves, or at least an unsophisticated and quaint notion that they know is not one that readers can be expected to quickly get their heads around.

Maybe the professor has something to teach us, is the tone of the review and the Foreword. It cannot hurt that he is a professor. What learned lesson does he, and maybe even the people he has sided with, have to teach us? In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses do try to teach them—every single day they try—and their attempts are rebuffed. To secure the integrity of the Witnesses, they have to side with the kingdom—and most of them don’t even know what it is. To secure the integrity of the Witnesses, they have to become “no part of the world” (John 17:16), and most of them are fully part of it.

Here, Brother Seminega’s academic connections come in handy, for he is able to trace the historical, political, and religious roots that ultimately triggered the Rwandan sudden slide into barbarism. He, the former Catholic seminarian, writes of the Catholic Church’s deep involvement in “the world,” and of how it abruptly switched sides in the late 20th century, from that of oppressor—the Church had historically been associated with the European colonizers, and as such promoted the “privileged” tribe of the Tutsi—to the oppressed, the “lesser” Hutu. If you embrace the world and its power plays, you eventually embrace its tactics, and the tactics in this case descended to genocide.

It doesn’t happen that often. During most times of normal stress, church teachings and even politics are enough to, after a fashion, ensure acceptable conduct among members. But during times of abnormal stress, they collapse completely.

Did no one of the greater Rwandan religious community other than Jehovah’s Witnesses act nobly? A small minority did, and this is detailed in the Appendix section. The end of Tharcisse Seminega’s narrative marks only the halfway point of the book. Numerous appendices follow, which start with the same tale told through the eyes of different participants, as though the author has taken a cue from construction of the four Gospels themselves. Thereafter, No Greater Love is the work of a meticulous historian, and he nails down each historical detail of a story and its aftermath that ought never suffer extinction.

The small minority of religious Hutu that did not participate in genocide is enough for a certain church revisionist to write that “church institutions cannot be blamed for the moral failure of individuals who abandoned Christian values.” However, scholar Timothy Longman cuts the Church no slack—the fact that some did it proved they all could have done it, is his position. This dovetails with some digging I did for ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ Perhaps 10% of church Christians refused to support Hitler during Nazi times. Is that good? Of course. But the fact remains that they had to defy their own church to do it, churches that invariably played ball with the dictator. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, the figure is close to 100%. How can anyone state that their religion is not superior, or that the organization that coordinates is not to be lauded?

The greater lesson for the religious scholars that Brother Seminega has is that they should become Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is a collection of core teachings often discussed (two have been cited here: identification with the kingdom and withdrawal from the politicized world) that serve to identify one and only one religion. There is no setting more poignant than 1990’s Rwanda or 1940’s Germany to highlight how vital those teachings are. This is why those “apostates” who vehemently oppose the Witnesses readily slide into hypocrisy. They ignore the vital core teachings—rarely when people leave the faith do I ever hear them referring to such things again—to rail about how the faith impeded their freedom of movement. They ignore the vital core teachings, preferring to put humans under the magnifying glass in a search for dirt. They dig through the diamonds in search of the turds and present revelation of the turds as their version of “good news.”

I like how at the 2019 annual meeting, Mark Sanderson examined Hebrews 2:15, of how “through [Jesus’] death [God] might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil, and that he might set free all those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.” He then spoke of the Nuremberg trials, in which various Nazis who had committed unspeakable atrocities were asked the simple question, “How could you do those terrible things?” “What did they say?” he asked, and then related the answer they had given: “We had no choice. If we didn’t obey they would put us to death.” 

“Those people could be manipulated,” Sanderson said. “They could be controlled. They could be made to do the most wicked things because they were afraid.” It was true of the Hutu tribe as well. To not join in “the work” of slaughter was enough to be put to death oneself for being disloyal to the cause. Many consciences, religious and otherwise, were cast aside due to fear of death.

That’s manipulation. That’s control. That’s the consequence of—shall we say it?—not being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and benefiting from the program of spiritual food directed from their Governing Body. Reject it and settle for a genocide every so often when with winds blow just right—history affirms that such will happen.

Professor Roth welcomes No Greater Love, agreeing with the author that it is likely the first book by a Jehovah’s Witness writing of his own experience, the first book by someone who was there. It almost didn’t come about. From the Acknowledgments section, Brother Seminega thanks Alexandre Kimenyi, the scholar who invited him to speak and subsequently encouraged him to gather his records for history.

I wrote in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia that “books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can an insider - they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books... Why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say?” Professor Seminega is from a class that is inclined to write books, yet he still doesn’t do it until much later, after outside encouragement, because he is used to “looking people in the eye and telling them what he has to say.”

In time, a Russian Jehovah’s Witness will write a book of his experiences at the hands of current persecutors there, and when that happens, his book will rightly vault ahead of mine. Mine is merely a compilation and analysis of worldwide news reports, along with a considerable amount of witnessing along the way, but not so much as to negate its historical value. When that Russian Witness writer appears, he or she will be likely facilitated by the Arnold Liebster Foundation, as has been the case with No Greater Love. This, too, will vault it ahead of mine, because the Foundation at present regards me with a dubious eye. Probably they came across me when I was battling online with the malcontents and said, “What Witness would do that?” They do not know that I subsequently kicked them all to the curb.

No matter. At the Kingdom Hall, we would straighten it out in two minutes. But the internet is the land of the liars where frauds roam at will, and it can be difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Of course, it is always possible that they regard even taking on the controversial topics that I do as the work of an “indiscreet brother,” and should this be the case, who am I to say that they are not right? Maybe I am the soldier singing atop the Jerusalem wall after Hezekiah has told the troops to zip it.

 

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B. W. Shultz of Separate Identity

Several months ago, B. W. Shultz tweeted to me the suggestion that —please don’t take offense, but I would probably benefit from a certain eighth grade English textbook. I decided not to take offense and I ordered it. Why can I not find it now? Did I give it to Rochester’s youngest reporter, a young man of tremendous gumption, but who—well—attended the city schools? I offered to, but the book never physically changed hands. Did I toss it because Mrs Harley thinks the house is too cluttered already with books? It drives me nuts. You would think I would have kept it as a reference.

I did order it on eBay as almost an impulse item, and I do remember cooling on the idea that I needed it—for the most part, where my language is sloppy, it is not because I do not know any better but because I do not bother. I know, for example, that you do not end sentences with a preposition (I remember a writer playing with the idea of how many he could string at end of sentence: “New York City is a bad place to get something in your eye in,” and even “New York City is a good place to get something in your eye out in) and when I take advantage of Covid time to review Dear Mr. Putin, I say of parts, “oh, my—what a mess!” and make corrections. About 80% of the book has now been gone through with a fine tooth comb. I cannot testify that there might be a comma in places where none is needed, but for the most part, it is okay. 

Alas, I favor long and intricate sentences. I flatter myself that I am being like Paul, and I take comfort that he is dead and is not going to call me on it. Maybe that is Shultz’s message to me—“learn to write sparsely, can’t you?” Yes, I mostly know what to do, but still colons, dashes, single and double quote marks, and even commas drive me nuts in all their variant settings and I wouldn’t have the problem if I kept my settings more manageable. I know it—but I get carried away.

His writing is far more disciplined, and even his tweets are at times hauntingly beautiful—maybe not uniquely so—maybe I just have that impression, because he is on my radar and others aren’t—‘confirmation bias,’ the learned Bernard Strawman calls it. There is a place for sparseness, because everything you say dilutes everything you have just said—extra writing doesn’t always magnify—it just as frequently dilutes. Shultz is given in tweets to chronicle the ordinary—his own health, for example. His niece did that, too. 

“It takes patience to sort my pills for the day. And when I've recovered from pill taking, it takes more patience to put the medicated cream on my poor legs. I'd rather have ice cream. ... email from grand niece. Such plans ... I was full of plans at that age too. I guess.“

He reminisces:

“Back in 1986 I bought a new, but previous years model deVille. Wife wanted to drive it home. When we got it home, she announced that henceforth it was her car. She complained whenever I drove it.”

And, of course, he tweets of his research:

”Mostly fruitless research day. You'd think these dead people would have realized that 150 years later I'd like to read their letters and such. Such ungrateful dead people!”

He is altogether not a bad follow at all. He used to pop up in my feed frequently. For some reason, Twitter now seems to be squelching him in favor of some firebrand brother who can hardly see a reference to a church without appending something about ‘false religion’—with everything there is a time and a place, and I am reminded both of how Jesus had to reign in the Sons of Thunder, and how a certain circuit overseer used to distinquish between ‘winsome words’ and ‘wincing words.’ There are people who eat ‘Bible sandwiches’ and they fail to understand that most people don’t.

Shultz didn’t became active on Twitter until after de Vienne died. He expressly states that he steers clear of Facebook and Instagram for all the “idiots” on it, but he allows that Twitter is a nice distraction—it is like the background chatter in a coffee house. 

There was a time when I thought neither of them liked me very much, but I have since come to think it was just due to their being no-nonsense researchers who think that humor in research is an abomination, and note that I have no such aversion. Moreover, my “research” is mostly pulling stuff off the internet. It’s not nothing, but it is pretty close. He is steadily warming. In answer to my post about Woodstock and how it was held during a pandemic, he tweeted that he and his “antique wife” were pulling the leg of his nephew, giving the young man to believe that they had been there, apparently toking up with rest of them. He then threw in the unnecessary detail—but completely expected of a historian—that he later fessed up and told the truth.

....

de Vienne wrote that when she submitted the final Volume I to Bethel of Separate Identity, via mail I suppose, they received it without comment. She speculated about this and one possibility she advanced was that they ‘were incurious about their own history.’ In the main, I think this is true. They don’t look back all that much at Bethel—they look forward. 

And it is also true of me. It is not that the past history does not interest me. It is that so many things interest me more that I may never get around to it, even though I would like to. I read the book rather quickly because I told her I would write a review of it, which I did. Maybe someday I will come back to it more thoroughly. 

One other reviewer wrote of the authors’ “almost fanatical attention to detail.” That was also my general impression and it makes me suppose the book is probably the foremost authority on what it writes. They don’t appear to have any agenda at all, other than illuminating history—unlike almost everyone else who weighs in on the subject. He will not be charge as Emily Baron* was—of writing a hagiography—the worst of all possible sins for an historian for its lack-of-objectivity connotation.

*See Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, chapter 1.

See ‘Separate Indentity’—Volumes I and II. It is easy searchable online.

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A Review of a Review of the Scorah Book - Leaving the Witnesses

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!”

 

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The Author in the Dog Park

I always walk laps at the dog park. I am the only one I have ever seen do so. I don’t know why. When there are other people, they just stand around; sometimes they chat with each other. I am not anti-social, but I can use the exercise every bit as much as the dog—why should he get it all? Walking this fellow has taken 30 points off my blood pressure.

Someone I have not seen before enters the park, and to my surprise, when I start my laps (about two and a quarter miles—I have calculated by pacing it off), he starts walking with me. That’s good. We chat. I say I have never seen him before and he says that he has been out of the country. I ask the reason. He says he is an author of science fiction and he has returned from one of their book conventions. I tell him that I write too—now that the kids are gone and the bills are paid, I get to indulge some interests, and writing is chief among them.

Now, whenever one writer meets another, there is some gentle probing so to determine who is the more successful. You don’t want to appear full of yourself. Best to say something modest, which in my case is entirely appropriate anyhow. So I told him how I had read the following career advise somewhere online:

  1. Ask yourself how many books you have read in the last year written by a totally unknown author,
  2. Now you know why you should not attempt to write for a living.

My companion said, however, that it was not true with him—he was able to make his living through his bookwriting. He was very modest, saying again and again that he was very fortunate, and also that he was in just the right genre—science fiction. I gave him a card for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia” and he could not stop asking about it—drawing out from me the story of their persecution, which he knew nothing about. “Watchtower—are they the Mormons?” he initially said.

I am not the Jehovah’s Witness who goes on and on about his own cause and will not let another get a word in edgewise. Quite the contrary. I consistently tried to change the subject back to his writing, and he would not let me. He came coming back to my work. He had no issue at all with my book being free, as my first two were not. “Of course,” he said, “it is a labor of love. You want to get a word out.”

We talked a lot about the marketing of books in all their forms, of which he knew far more than I. It was gratifying to learn that, while there were many things that I did not know, there was nothing that I DID know that was wrong. I told him of my plans to eventually release the books on audio, and how I had been stymied by the CreateSpace site after it merged with Kindle. He said not to even bother with print—he sells ten times the audio versions that he does print, though he qualified his remark that much would depend on the genre.

He had only been to the park once before. He is single, devotes all of his time to writing, and only breaks for the sake of walking his dog. Through some chit-chat on the nature of dogs, he mentioned that the only other time he was at the park, someone else kept walking around doing laps while his dog humped other dogs. “That was probably me,” I told him, and he threw himself into contortions saying that he was sure it wasn’t. No, it probably was, I told him. I have never seen anyone else walk laps—but he swore it was someone else.

It may be as he said, because mine doesn’t really hump other dogs. I mean, he is not obnoxious about it—it is just occasional—rarely does he even give a thought to it—and if he gets that way, I intervene as soon as I am aware. The mutt is fixed anyway.

As he talked about his work, I said that I would love to read some of it. I tried to set up some sort of relationship with him, but, nice as can be, without a bit of pretentiousness, much less condescension (which he would have had every right to do, publishing-wise), he said that it would not happen—he is totally immersed in his science fiction, his books and his fans, and he wouldn’t have time to develop new relations. Essentially, he has no life otherwise, and right now he is consumed with his career. I never did receive any of his work through the email address I gave him, and haven’t seen him since. Ah, well. Did it actually even happen?

BA3E5849-3036-4766-88EF-75292BA64BB0

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Tribute to an Historian - R M de Vienne

From her sickbed, Rachael de Vienne stirred herself to tell me, through her daughter, that I was wrong. It was just on a tiny supporting fact of a book I was working on and I had only put the fact in so as to give her book a plug. I wasn’t even wrong on the fact—I was wrong on the inference I took from it, she said. I wasn’t even wrong on that, in my opinion. But that’s just it—it was my opinion. ‘Keep your opinions separate from the facts,’ she would have said. ‘There is nothing wrong with drawing inferences, conclusions, and educated guesses. Just label them as such.’ THAT is the kind of historian she was. Sigh—I changed the passage just to suit her, and it probably didn’t.

She wouldn’t review my first book, either, or any of the other ones, though I just asked her to do the first, Tom Irregardless and Me. I mean, I had written a nice review for her book. Finally, with some nagging, she said that she might review mine and asked how I intended to submit it. ‘It’s not done that way,’ she retorted, when I told her. Tweeting with a co-blogger about it, as though on a private phone connection and not a social media platform broadcast to the whole wide world, the co-blogger told her that he wasn’t going to review it, either—‘the first chapter is about Prince, and then in places it is a little “preachy”—not pure fact at all.’ It was too much. I tweeted: “YOU GET ON THAT KEYBOARD AND REVIEW IT RIGHT NOW!” but then had second thoughts and deleted the tweet. See what sort of historians she hung out with?

During her final few months, she interspersed regular tweets with some detailing her illness, at times getting quite graphic, caring not about revealing the personal humiliation you must experience as your own body is betraying you. Imagine—chronicling your own suffering that way—true to her calling to the last. See what sort of an historian she was?

The book that she co-authored with the unwieldy title—as though to make clear that it is scholarly and not a specimen of pop writing—A Separate Identity—Organizational Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watchtower: 1870-1887’: I admit, I skimmed it. Not through lack of interest—you will never find a more thorough history of non-mainstream events—but through lack of time. I wanted to write a decent and coherent review. I agreed with her (explicitly labeled) speculation that the the reason the Watchtower Society received her completed book without comment after being semi-cooperative in providing source material is that “they are incurious as to their own history.” Yeah. I agree. They are. So am I—I mean, I (and they) am not uninterested—it is just that I am interested in other things more. The ‘Society’ is not rooted in anything, I don’t think. They are progressive. They move on.

Separate Identity is the not the only book that she wrote, and I look forward to curling up to it and others when (more likely if) I ever find the time, because it is excellent, universally praised, except occasionally by some hothead Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves because it does not adhere to the party line—it goes where it goes without regard to who has later been christened hero or villain.

She co-authored a book about Nelson Barbour, too, and this should interest me even more because I once lived about a hundred yards from where he did (also a hundred years). I had written a blog post about Barbour, a well-known “get-outer” preacher of the late 1800s that Charles Taze Russell for a time partnered with, and I observed that there must have been some relationship between he and a well-known Rochester Presbyterian preacher of the same surname, whose wife Elizabeth is listed as ‘excommunicated and expunged’ or words to that effect. Rachael told me that I was wrong on that, too—the two families were entirely separate.

I am not even sure that she liked me, really, but we followed each other on Twitter, and she would occasionally respond to my tweets and even more occasionally initiate some to me. My non-religious semi-serious historical work she let pass with minimal comment. Maybe she was more like my 7th grade social studies teacher, who made everyone literally start every essay paragraph with the phrase in parentheses: “who, what, where, why, how,” so that we would learn to write with substance, and who would say things like ‘Don’t write “In my opinion.” Of course it’s your opinion—you wrote it!’ This doesn’t entirely square with Rachael’s urging, which just goes to show why you mull over all input, but each one must ultimately develop his or her own style.

I always liked it that she found such great comfort from her family, to offset her many years of illness—lifelong, it seems. I miss her. Here is her obit, and the blog lives on in other hands, I believe. You will never find a more rigorous example of niche history, digging up letters, notes, minutia and photos 100 years old.

https://truthhistory.blogspot.com/2019/03/our-princess.html

Let’s end with a review of Separate Identity that says it all. It is reproduced at truthhistory.

“Histories of the early Watch Tower movement tend to fall into two extremes, hagiography and polemic. This is because they are usually written from a range of widely differing theological perspectives, not that of a strict historian. Additionally, they tend to concentrate on the figure of Charles Taze Russell to the virtual exclusion of his contemporaries. This volume redresses that balance, written by two historians with an almost fanatical attention to detail as demonstrated by the voluminous footnotes. They appear to strive hard to keep any personal views out of the picture and go where the evidence takes them. The result is a detailed, even-handed history of Russell and his contemporaries - crucially in the context of their times. Many writers on this subject seem to try and graft 21st century attitudes onto 19th century people, not recognising that the beliefs of Russell and others in the second half of the nineteenth century were often far more mainstream than a modern reader might imagine. Even if one has no direct interest in Russell and what came later from his ministry, several groups today count people like Henry Grew, George Storrs, and John Thomas in their antecedents. These men all feature in this book and, certainly in the case of Storrs, you are unlikely to find as much detailed information on his life and work anywhere else. The writers have previously published a volume on Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. That too is well worth reading, although the present volume (that takes history up to 1879) is a stand-alone book.”

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A Thirty-Three Tweet Review of Stephen King's On Writing

I don’t do horror, so I have read little @StephenKing, but he knows how to write as I would like to. Listening to ‘On Writing.’ Love the encouragement given him by his hardscrabble Mom. Did she live to enjoy fruits of his success? Alas, at this early stage it seems she did not.

The reason I don’t do horror is that for the longest time I worked alone at night in huge and creaky office/warehouse complexes. You wouldn’t do horror either after one night working there.

Chastened by his grade-school teacher for ‘writing trash,’ @StephenKing (much) later came to reflect that there has probably never been a writer/painter/sculptor/inventor who was not, at one time or another, charged with wasting his ‘God-given talent.’

Mr. Gould at the paper, King’s first writing job, arranged by the school to keep him out of written mischief, said he removed only the few bad parts of @StephenKing’s second newspaper article, and said overall, its pretty good. 'I know', Stephen said about both, and he was forever grateful for the instruction and encouragement.

Who would have thought? One of the most compact accounts of self-denial, late recognition & recovery from substance abuse & cutting through the facades of those in the grip of it, is found in @StephenKing's On Writing

I wonder if @StephenKing ever met Dodie, the mercilessly tormented frumpy schoolgirl who came back from college looking sharp, and was the inspiration for Carrie? Read on.

Oh. She died. The townspeople said ‘post-partum depression’. @StephenKing thought ‘high school hangover’ might have also had something to do with it. He did not like his fictional Carrie or her classmates. But he felt sorry for them all. He had once been one of them.

Now I reach the nitty-gritty of @StephenKing’s On Writing. Hmm. I have long imagined myself a serviceable writer, though sloppy when in haste, but I might be shooting myself in the foot in certain areas. Will I identify them?

I am not reading On Writing, but rather listening on CD. Absorbing involved points is not so easy as merely rereading a sentence or paragraph.

Commas trip me up and are early consequences of editing, usually in favor of taking them out. (except for the Oxford comma) Clear explanation from @StephenKing on why to remove: ‘I want it said in one breath.’

He carries around two books (always unabridged) at all times. @StephenKing has a print book to read during moments of waiting, and a CD book for driving. Not necessarily good books. Crap will do. The latter teach one what to avoid.

John Grisholm’s books are among my favorites, I have read almost all of them, and did not know that the critics sniffed at them. I like @StephenKing‘s take on the ‘lawyers in distress’ genre: Do the same with what you know. Scout out the enemy territory where you have admittance. Bring back a report.

[At this point, there is an aside with other Twitter acquaintances: Hey! This means @EnglishElective could write a ‘teachers in distress’ book. Just like #JohnGrisholm! Yes, honest & noble teachers besieged by evil teachers under the sinister mind-control of Admiral Ass. #UpTheDownStaircase

Admiral Ass was the dean of the high school, a bully who after signing his name to correspondence, appended ‘Adm Asst,’ for Administrative Assistant. I especially remember the aloof and air-headed principal of the novel, who in communications, never used an adjective uncoupled with another adjective meaning exactly the same thing. A further aside begins at this point about how I remember to this day how to spell school principal vs principle: the former is your ‘pal.’]

Uh oh. If you are a writer, get used to it that people will think you rude, @StephenKing says. Too much reading and writing serves to make one inattentive to the outer world. (Better hide this tweet so that my wife does not see it.) His is an easy read because he is not pretentious. Neither is he syrupy, spouting such goo as: ‘There is no such thing as a bad writer.’ There are plenty of them, he says.

You smile as @StephenKing relates his early drafts of Misery even as you say to yourself: ‘You sick bastard.’ But then he mentions two more tales, Insomnia and Deloris Clayborne, both of which movies I saw & liked, and now I should maybe read the books.

An author told @kingsthings how sometimes his characters surprised him. Larry was impressed & asked each successive author: ‘Do your characters ever write themselves?’ He kept doing so even after one hard-boiled author said: ‘Of course not! What a stupid question! They’re not real people. They do what I tell them to. It was not @StephenKing , though. He would have agreed with the first author. Characters do write themselves.

Ayn Rand is the example @StephenKing uses for success due to great storytelling despite wooden characters. Correct, but I would have used Isaac Asimov. Another great storyteller. If only he could have drawn people convincingly.

Yes! ‘Don’t tell them when you can show them,’ @StephenKing says, through dialogue. I add, though I’m sure he will get to it, ‘don’t tell the moral when you can demonstrate it via story.’

After @StephenKing’s character tear-gassed the vicious dog in the eyes & kicked it to death, he was deluged with protest letters. He pointed out that the dog was fictional, that the character was fictional, and that he himself is kind to dogs. He did suggest the action, though, didn’t he?

Every week, @StephenKing says, he gets letters from those who accuse him of racism, homophobia, psychopathy, or just plain being foul-mouthed. Uh oh. Didn’t I call him a ‘sick bastard’ a while back?

If you notice a quirk, @StephenKing says, ‘it does you no good unless you can work it into a character. Say you notice that someone picks his nose when he thinks nobody is looking....’ HEY! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SICK BASTARD DOING PEERING IN MY WINDOW?!!!

Why am I exploring @StephenKing #OnWriting when my oldest follower and followee himself specializes in the craft? @Underdogsbiteup. We followed each other back when Mr. Twitter was yet in diapers.

You’ll be in stitches as @StephenKing narrates the horrendously trite writing he wants you to avoid. It is ‘pretty as a picture’ And what of the yo-yo who was so unpleasant that nobody could stomach him, thus he never heard dialogue, and to his credit, avoided writing it?

After @StephenKing sneaks yet another sideways glance at his wife to see if she appreciates his draft, which is allowable because he knows she has not noticed, she snaps, ‘Keep your eyes on the road! You’ll kill us both! Stop being so g*****n needy!’

The rejection form letters piled up for teenaged @StephenKing, but then one included the scribbling: ‘Not bad, but puffy. You need to work on length. Formula: ‘2nd draft = 1rst draft minus 10%.’ He took it to heart began to condense on the second draft, rather than add as he had been doing.

When you do research, don’t show off, says @StephenKing. Keep it in the background. Hmm. Like Victor Hugo? An entire chapter of Hunchback of Notre Dame is devoted to the infrastructure of 13th century Paris. It sure wouldn’t wash today.

Did @StephenKing do it for the money? He says no, not one word. He did it for self-expression, the buzz, the pure joy of it. It is like what a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, who knew the person, said about Prince, that he simply had to have his creative outlet. “Maybe he needed it to survive,” she told the papers.

So far as I know, the most extensive account of Prince’s JW life as related in media sources is in my own ebook: Tom Irregardless and Me, where it comprises the entire first chapter.

Whoa! @StephenKing just got hit by a van. (18 years ago) He didn’t see that one coming. Nor did I. On his desk, unfinished, is On Writing. He had better recover, because I want to finish it. The EMT told him at the scene that he would live, but after all was done told him over the phone, ‘I didn’t think you had a chance.’

@Stephen King atypically names the driver who hit him. He names him several times. As though deferring to ying and yang, he also names the doctor who pieced him together, a doctor or great skill, whom he calls ‘formidable.’ I forget the descriptive words King used, but he described his smashed leg somewhat akin to beans in a beanbag. At the accident scene, he was initially concerned to find his lap 90 degrees askew from normal.

Ah. Good. His wife fluffs up a pillow for him and he writes again. He is ‘monogamous by nature,’ he says, and he must be closing in on his 50th anniversary. Regularly he inserts nice words about her into his narrative.

A slightly syrupy ending for On Writing, I thought, but I would have to read it to be sure. Recorded Books saw fit to fade in the music at book’s end, and that dopey decision might have skewed my judgement. If the lines truly are syrupy it will be @stephenking’s first, so they are probably not

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Ben Franklin Gets Jilted and Flip-Flopping on the Resurrection

Ben Franklin courted the widow of his good friend, but the woman turned him down flat: ‘I could never be untrue to my husband.’ Then, in a dream, he went to heaven and met his good friend. They exchanged pleasantries until the friend presently said: “You must meet my new wife. She’ll be along soon.” Ben Franklin couldn’t believe it. ‘Your earthly wife is more loyal than you!’ he said. She turned me down cold on your account!’ ‘That’s too bad for you,’ the friend said. ‘She is an excellent woman and I missed her terribly at first, but now it is time to move on.’

As Ben Franklin grumbled, the ‘new’ wife showed up and it was Ben’s own deceased wife! Ben Franklin turned his rebuke on her, but she said: ‘I was a good and loyal wife to you for 50 years. Let that be enough for you!’

It is a mangling of Luke 20: 34-36, most likely, botched, but nonetheless used as a starting point. No need to say what is wrong with it. Suffice that it addresses the changed nature of relationships after death:

“Jesus said to them: ‘The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.’”

For the longest time Jehovah’s Witnesses took those verses to mean that those who lost a spouse in death would not reunite in the earthly resurrection. The words were in response to a beef of the Saduccees, who did not believe in the earthly resurrection. Jesus went on to speak of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who will benefit from it.

After a certain public talk years ago that had mentioned the verse, a sister raised her had during the chairman’s remarks, something I had never seen before and have not seen again. She was new in the faith, widowed, and she looked forward to reuniting with her husband in the resurrection. She quizzed the chairman until the speaker himself raised his hand and said he would clarify the verse for her afterwards.

About 30-40 years ago, the Witness organization looked at the verses anew and said maybe she could reunite. They didn’t want to be dogmatic. Maybe the verses just applied to those having the heavenly hope, as they were the ones in abundance back then. It can’t even be said of earthly ones “neither can they die anymore.” They can, and surely will, if they show a rebellious spirit. I mean, if you were raised up to life on a paradise earth, would you grumble about the ground rules? And who is the that is "counted worthy" of an earthly resurrection? Essentially, all you have to do to qualify is to show up; it is "the righteous and the unrighteous" who benefit.

Grousers who say that Jehovah’s Witnesses flip-flop on doctrine miss the point. They’ve never said they didn’t. They do it all the time, re-examining verses in the face of accumulating knowledge. It has been called ‘the light getting brighter.’ (Proverbs 4:18) It has also been called tacking. The only ones who say they can’t do it are the grousers themselves.

That said, the major teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the nature of God (no Trinity), the nature of the soul (not immortal), who goes to heaven (not everybody good, but only a minority), have been firmly in place for over a century. Ridding the false doctrines that make knowledge and a close relationship with God all but impossible is part of the job of ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ The first thing you do in preparing the way for a building project is to take out the trash.

(the Ben Franklin writing is called 'A Proposal to Madame Helvetius')

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