Things that Drive You Crazy About the Faith—and How to View Them: Part 4

This is  a multi-part series. See Preface,  2nd Preface,  Part 1Part 2, Part 3,

In general it is as 1 Corinthians 1:14-15 puts it: “A physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” The spiritual man has a greater grasp than the physical man.

But that doesn’t mean that the physical man has no grasp at all. 833E53A7-9390-44AA-8C18-97F4300F4627 Most of the aggravating disconnects that arise in the Witness world stem from a reliance on ‘knowledge by revelation’ for the short term picture as well as the long. That reliance conveys certain advantages but also disadvantages. Whoever has followed this reasoning up to here—will they find this conclusion as comforting as I do? It means that 100 annoyances are actually just one. And that one, while it can be bamboozling, is not a dealbreaker. It is simply a way of looking at the world. It overall compares favorably with other ways of looking at the world, and where it does not, one can see why and adjust.

I tiptoed around this way of looking at the world in ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why,’ not at that time fully appreciating just what it was that I was tiptoeing around. I attributed all to staying “no part of the world,” which is a factor but it is not the decisive factor. The decisive factor is ‘knowledge through revelation’—weighing in on almost any situation based upon what can be gleaned from the Bible.

“If [the Governing Body] ever misrepresents the non-Witness world . . . it is because they do not know it intimately themselves. They take their own counsel with regard to association. They have lived their own lives with the lesson of Haggai ever foremost: ‘clean will be contaminated by unclean’, not the reverse, and so they do not go there. Because they do not go there, they know certain things only through the lens of Scripture.

“If the Bible says, in effect, that the “world will chew you up and spit you out,” they assume that it does. If they find someone who says it in exactly those words, they eat it right up and broadcast it. And who is to say the words are untrue? Some get chewed up and spit out so promptly and decisively that no one would ever deny it, but with others? Who is to say the scriptures are wrong on that point? It may just take a longer time to get chewed up and spit out. Many seniors have encountered calamity, even contrived calamity, and have seen everything they had worked for drained away at their end. Even the powerful are not immune as their strength and faculties wane.

“The Governing Body chugs along, deferring to what the Scriptures say. They go wherever the Bible indicates to them that they should go. If it gets them in a jam with some component of the present world, they are content that God will somehow get them out of it. They are like the leaders of the first century who were loath to abandon teaching of the word so as to wait on tables. That’s what helpers are for. Should they shoot themselves in the foot, as low-key as possible they extract the bullet with a grimace at their own mistake, and carry on. They will refine and shift and ultimately something will come down through congregation channels and this writer will say, “Yep, it must work, or there would not be the 1,000 languages [standing for the success of their efforts to get the uncontaminated gospel message out there, 1,000 languages far exceeding what even the most innovative tech or media company has come up with].”

To be continued…

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Things That Drive You Crazy About the Faith—and How to View Them: Preface

Great scriptures and reasoning to some one who is anti witness,” she told me. “I did write up some things and then I thought….oh blow it…I’ll back him up…all the way!!!”

Make no mistake. It is a concious choice. I could easily attach a “But what about such and such…” addendum to some paragraph in nearly every Watchtower if I wanted to. Some nettlesome point will stick in my craw, but then I will ask myself should I obsess over it? Wouldn’t that be like the pundit who reads that North Korea has launched all its nuclear missills? D00D607B-D550-4B2B-88ED-210705B7C079 People with sense will run for the hills. He runs to his keyboard to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right. Isn’t that called ‘losing sight of the big picture?’ Why would anyone want to do that? (Photo: Janes.com)

The fact is (so says me, so take it for what it’s worth) that Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right in all the important things, but there’s a lot of minor aggravations. What to make of these? Is it because we’re all jammed together in close proximity whereas in the greater world you just put distance between those with whom who don’t readily mesh? Partly. I’ve heard two circuit overseers describe us in the past few years as “one large, united, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family,” a phrase I suspect is not in the outline.

Too, I’ve heard tell from young ones who’ve flown the coop that they don’t miss the “drama.” Yes, just pulling the Abraham/Lot stunt goes a long way in alleviating tension: “So Abram said to Lot: ‘Please, there should be no quarreling between me and you …  separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.’” (Genesis 13: 8-9) We don’t do that. We stick together and with mixed success try to apply Bible counsel to lessen “drama.’

But if scrunching up is hard on us, what is to be said of the world in general? That’s why I gave Vomodog the answer I did when he tried to undermine 2 Timothy 3:1-5. “Humanity is no better or worse than in past centuries,” said he. “The scenography has changed and other global changes have taken place, but the nature of man is constant.”

“It hardly matters, does it?” I told him. “You can fart all you want and as along as there is plenty of space between you and your neighbor, there are no real consequences. But when population, technology, and competition for resources brings people shoulder to shoulder, your unpleasant ways provoke strong reaction.” We’re cramped and it’s inconvenient. They’re cramped and it brings chaos to entire planet. But if you’re just one person, you can sort of just live in your own bubble and ignore all that, at least most times you can ignore it, at least you can until you can’t.

These days I’m like Richard Kimble replying to Sam Gerard. “That’s right—I’m not trying to solve puzzles here,” Sam says. Richard replies that he is “and I just found a big piece.” Same here. I knew those Great Courses lectures would do more than prepare me to hold my own should that obnoxious know-it-all Alan F ever show his nasty persona here again. He was getting seriously up there in years and it could be he has died, but I think not because the birds in heaven have not all broken out in song. When he does die no doubt his headstone will call the cemetery caretaker an ignoramus for supposing the surrounding flowers and trees were created by God

Those Great Courses lectures produced something valuable in their own right. And totally unanticipated. No way did I see it coming. And helpful? Tell me about it. More helpful than even the brother who had the odd mannerism of ending sentences with, ‘It’s helpful to know that, don’t you think?’ I mean, he was a wonderful brother, he really was, I went to visit him when he was ill, but that mannerism wore. One time he announced the date of the upcoming circuit assembly, adding, ‘It’s helpful to know that, don’t you think?’ I had to admit that it was.

What I found through the Great Courses professors is even more helpful. It will better enable me to weather all the minor aggravations of earthly organization, because they all boil down to the same thing. And that same thing, while it can be trying, is anything but a dealbreaker.

To be continued…

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Women Must Keep Silent in the Congregation?—How are You Going to Put Lipstick on THAT One?

Women were lightly valued in the ancient Greco-Roman and yes—even the Jewish world. So God goes out of his way to highly value them.

The testimony of a woman was considered near-worthless back then. So God arranges that the two most important newsflashes in history be given to women.

The news that Jesus is the promised Messiah? First given to a woman:

I know that Messiah is coming, who is called Christ. Whenever that one comes, he will declare all things to us openly.”  Jesus said to her: “I am he, the one speaking to you.” (John 4: 25-26) Even the disciples had to jump through hoops for that one. 

Jesus raised from the dead? That bit of intelligence also first given to women:

Why are you looking for the living one among the dead?” the angel asked the women. “He is not here, but has been raised up. Recall how he spoke to you while he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be handed over to sinful men and be executed on the stake and on the third day rise.” Then they remembered his words, and they returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. They were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. Also, the rest of the women with them were telling these things to the apostles. However, these sayings seemed like nonsense to them, and they would not believe the women.(Luke 24:5-11)

They didn’t believe them! Because the testimony of a woman was worthless? The angel doesn’t even bother to correct the men. They’d figure it out eventually, the clods.

And don’t get me going about Jael in the Old Testament, who had the privilege of pounding a tent pin through Sisera’s head! Sometimes guys need that. (Judges 4:25)

So who do you think is assigned the talk explaining the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 14:34? Me, that’s who! It’s not the easiest assignment in the world. Just listen to what Paul wrote:

Let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak. Rather, let them be in subjection, as the Law also says.  If they want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the congregation.

I mean, how are you going to put lipstick on that one? How are you going to account for how they speak all the time in today’s Kingdom Hall meetings? The guy doesn’t even try to be politically correct—that’s Paul’s problem! From this verse stem the modern complaints that he didn’t like women and that he was misogynistic.

Well, for a guy who doesn’t like women, he sure applauded enough of them. There is Phoebe, who has proved to be a defender of many, including me.” (Rom 16:1-2) There is Euodia and Syntyche, who “have striven side by side with me for the good news” (Phil 4:2-3) And when Lydia “just made us come,” she didn’t interject, “Not you Paul—you’re a misogynist.” (Acts 16:15)

Women weren’t the only ones told to keep silent in that 1 Corinthians chapter. Men were, too, so that it appears to be a matter of special circumstances. Of gifts of the spirit that were destined to fade away but hadn’t yet in those days of Christianity’s infancy, congregation members who would speak in tongues when no one was around to interpret were to keep silent—what good is a tongue if nobody is around to understand it? (vs 28)

If someone was exercising the gift of prophesy and another started doing the same, one or the other was to keep silent. That way “all things take place for building up,” (vs 26) appropriate since “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” (vs 33)

Always you have to figure in context for any item of scripture. It appears that the women who were to keep silent in 1 Corinthians 14 were also those of special circumstances. Maybe they were speaking just any old time out of order. Maybe they were challenging congregation teachers—male as a matter of spiritual headship. Maybe they were angling to be teachers themselves. It is not a verse that precludes commenting in the orderly Q & A structure of how meetings are carried on today, the same as men are to do.

So I ran all these points past the congregation in my talk. Afterwards, no women gave me dirty looks. At least, no more than normal.

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I Knew the Punchline

The circuit overseer related how one couple divorced after 60 years marriage—or was it an anecdote he related? It hardly matters, for it served not to illustrate marriage, but to distinguish between faithful and loyal. The two partners in marriage had been faithful, but they had not been loyal.

I knew the punch line before he arrived at it. I knew it because many years ago Garrison Keillor had told the story on A Prairie Home Companion.

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An elderly couple appears before judge to say they want a divorce. He’s 95. She’s 89. “Why do you want a divorce?” the judge says. “Because we don’t like each other. We have never gotten along. It has always been awful.”  “My.gracious!” the judge asks in astonishment, “Why did you ever wait so long?”

“Well—we had to wait for the children to die. The shock would have killed them,” is the reply.

So it was with the circuit overseer’s story—they had to wait for the children to die. Keillor played it for laughs, not the tragedy it really would be. His ‘Tales from Lake Wobegon’ monologue series was immensely popular in the 80s, poking gentle fun at the people of his fictional Minnesotan home-town. One of their attributes was that they would do their duty even if it killed them.

The show’s popularity landed him on the cover of Time Magazine (leading him to write the song Mr. Coverboy). Did the divorce story filter down from Garrison to the C.O, or did both of them pick it up from an actual experience? In a country of 300 million people, it has probably happened many times.

The circuit overseer wasn’t talking about marriage—not that he hasn’t done so many times before, but he was not this time. He was speaking of loyalty to God. The word loyalty has a sticking connotation to it, he said, as he displayed a photo of foxtail barley along side one of barnacles. Both stick, but the first dislodge fairly easily. The second you cannot get off if your life depends upon it. So, with regard to sticking with God, the second is the one to go for.

It is one of those scenarios in which creation provides something that humans allow themselves to be instructed by without crediting the creator. I love posting about this and have done so before. In this case it is how scientists research the ingredients of barnacle glue so as to make better glue themselves. There are four ingredients to loyalty, the circuit overseer identified—appreciation, self-control, love, and faith—and he went on to analyze each one.

Appreciation took him to Psalm 116, the first eleven verses containing more or less eleven reasons, some overlapping, to be appreciative. This was followed up with the rhetorical verse 12 question, “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” The CO’s own take was that appreciation unexpressed was like a present wrapped but not given.

Self-control launched into controlling one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. It begins with thoughts. Thus, 2 Corinthians 10:5 came into play, that “we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” We are the landlords of our minds, he said, the one who decides with thought stay and which ones are evicted. Why would you ever view entertainment that plants thoughts in your mind to make that job more difficult?

Love was next, the “perfect bond of union,” according to Colossians 3:14. “Keep seeking not own advantage, but that of the other person, (1 Corinthians 10:24) does wonders for that quality, in this case the “other person” being God.

Faith was the last of four discussed. It triggered discussion of faithful, and that led into the opening anecdote of the couple seeking divorce after so many years.

It is a special week of activity when the circuit overseer hits town. Besides the ministry, he gives three talks, one of his own devising and two from Bethel. To fit two of them in on Sunday, the Watchtower Study is cut in two, and the paragraphs are not read. COs hardly ever sit though a full-length Watchtower Study. One COs wife told of a time she did that she thought it would never end.

Garrison even made mention of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his show. Reflecting the confidence you gain after you have acted in an opera, he said: “When Jehovah’s Witnesses come around, you don’t just hide. You go out and talk to them.”

 

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My 50-Year Battle with the Daily Text

For years I ignored the daily text. I didn’t oppose it. I just focused on other things. It was sort of bite-sized, too insubstantial to make such a fuss over, or so it seemed.

This avoidance did not change even when I was assigned the text at a convention. “You know that time when people read the back of the breakfast cereal box?” I asked my participant. “That’s when we read the text.” To be sure, with the children, either my wife or I did cover a daily text, my wife more so than me. My work schedule was squirrelly back in the day. But I always downplayed it.

I even implied a certain derision of the text with John Wheatandweeds, who (in the Tom Irregardless and Me review of Ivor E Tower), “hinders members from their door to door ministry by spending inordinate amounts of time discussing the text of the day.” How well I remember old-timers rattling on about the text before field service. Sometimes they went on for so long that you didn’t feel like service any longer by the time they were done. Tom Irregardless and Me showcases a “battle” between Bethel and John Wheatandweeds to shorten up that morning discussion to seven minutes—a battle that eventually ended in a draw. He doesn’t get them out in seven minutes, but neither is it all day. And sometimes the time saved inside is squandered away in the parking lot.

So here I am years later in Zoom Covid days, days that nobody could have anticipated, and the congregation service groups launch into discussions of the daily text, and it has become a highlight of the day! It only took 50 years. Gasp! Have I become one of those old-timers?

That convention text discussion was the 2nd time I had been assigned a part. The prior year was my first, and I had been told to report at the chairman’s office where I would be escorted to the platform at the proper time. So for the second year, my participant and I hung out at the chairman’s office waiting for our escort. What I did not know was the prior year’s procedure was specific to that chairman’s organization.

“Shouldn’t I be escorted to the platform by now?” I asked at the desk as the opening song began to play. I got the fastest escort in theocratic history. The brother opening the program looked not too comfortable—his eyes scanning the crowd for his successor to show up. I have told the story in No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it would not happen today. There is value in standardization.

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Complaints over the Farmers-to-Families Program—Part 3

(See Part 2)

If the counter.org story is right, It sounds like the Watchtower was one of the few organizations meeting the USDA Farmers-to-Families program requirements. The story charges that outfits accepted the food boxes but were unwilling to take on the costs of distribution. Instead, they had food distributions in their parking lots—you had to fetch the food quickly before it rotted, and run through a gauntlet of prayer services or ‘soul-salvations’ in the process. Some never intended to comply with program requirements, charges the story. Not so here.

The plan was called "truck-to-trunk." The companies were supposed to take their food boxes directly to local food bank distribution points and drop the boxes into the trunks of waiting cars.” Witnesses did better than that. They delivered it directly to homes. What if someone doesn’t have a “waiting car?” Really poor people do not.

However, the Witness organization does something that will also get thecounter.org people going. They operate with Galatians 6:10 in mind: “Let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” Recipients of their aid will fall on the “poor spectrum.” Since Witnesses are in aggregate the faith with the lowest average income—and when aid is sent to the neediest of them with the proviso that if they think someone needs it more they can take it there—that is all but guaranteed. But what of those who aren’t keen on God? Are they as likely to be on the Witnesses’s radar as those who aren’t? Probably not.

Frankly, I don’t see what’s so horrendous about even the “abuses” the article attributes to some church groups. Even if I find those abuses distasteful, still food is distributed to anyone who comes to fetch it. The counter.org article just reflects jealousy, in my view, that people of faith will do more to solve ills than do secular people, who are more apt to address it through massive agencies and then spend the rest of their lives on lawyers prosecuting the abuses and corruption that inevitably occurs. If people of faith want to call attention to what implants the generous spirit within them, why should the humanists not be able to live with that? They just don’t like God. Sometimes I think they would rather let people starve than to see them exposed to religion. Must we bend over backwards to see that no humanist is offended by mention of God?

However, this post begins with the proviso: “If the counter.org story is right.” I am willing to entertain that it is not. The counter.org is a humanist organization, and as such I can readily believe it would pass over without comment any faith-based organization doing the work, by its definition, “properly”—keeping their mouths shut about God. Even the Watchtower, with its firm stand on God’s kingdom as the ultimate answer, will say things of the greater world like: “True, some good has been accomplished, but....” However, the counter.org article highlights nothing but what it thinks is bad. So maybe there are some faith groups who are helping fix the world’s broken distribution system without mention of God, activity that would meet the conditions of thecounter.org.

Still, can we all agree that since Jehovah’s Witnesses comprise .01% of the world’s population, what they do or do not do will not make a difference to the world’s self-repair efforts? If they did nothing but offer flowers to passerby on street corners, they would not spoil the world’s efforts to save itself.

In my lifetime I have seen “taking care of one’s own” go from being a laudable trait to a cult-like offense bordering on criminal. Let us rip Galatians 6:10 out of our Bibles, for it is selfish to actually do it: “let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”

Let us entertain the critics for a just moment and speculate that Jehovah’s Witnesses really are selfish for operating with this verse in mind. Isn’t it the fault of God, who says here that Christians should begin aid with their own? What really can be the beef over this? Aren’t faith-based organizations the ideal distribution channels? And humanists will not be left out of the equation, for if there is anything to their leaving God by the curb, surely they will be able to devise something at least equal, if not better.

Witnesses don’t know how to fix the world’s broken system. People without Bible principles tend not to get along. We don’t know how to help them succeed in the absence of Bible principles, and that is why Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily a Bible teaching organization. They follow the ‘teach a man to fish’ model, so you will not have to keep giving them fish till the end of time, because we see repeatedly how that model breaks down under stress—and all it has to do is break down once for calamity to ensue. What Witnesses can do is set an example for others to follow—religious or secular—in “caring for their own.” That way, if every one does, and especially when they go the extra mile as do the Witnesses, everyone’s needs will be cared for. There will be no poor unattended.

Anyone can apply for this program. All you have to do is be willing to work for others and have your act together sufficiently enough to package and distribute. If Witnesses take the government up on their generous program, truly an instance—they are not all that common, of when government does things right—why would anyone object to it? Anyone is invited. Grumbling over this reflects exactly the same jealousy that has been manifested at the JW disaster relief program,* on the basis that it doesn’t attempt to restore everybody, but operates with Galatians 6:10 in mind.

Now, I personally have no issue with those who operate otherwise. When I pass a soup kitchen I do not mutter bad things about it. I say good things about it. I say that they are focusing on a specific good thing that we are not, and so how can you criticize that? I do not. I may observe that it is a stopgap measure, but that certainly does not make it unpraiseworthy. 

There is in my neck of the woods such an agency called the House of Mercy. It is run by a nun, or maybe a former-nun. I have nothing but praise for it. She shakes down whoever she must to procure supplies and help those who are truly down and out with feeding and lodging. Recently she was worried that a gigundous shipment of canned goods that she has come to rely upon, supplied by the Latter Day Saints church in Salt Lake City, might not come this year. And then it did. Will one praise the Mormons? I will in this instance. It is a very good deed they do. (Besides, I have a thing for Mormons.) However they are also the most political of faiths—the most consistently Republican as rated by the same Pew organization that ranks the Witnesses as the most apolitical, they have a lot of beliefs that take time to get ones head around, and there are those who will deride them as a cult almost to the extent they will deride JWs as one.

I don’t have a problem with someone trying to make this world’s broken distribution system work. However, I will not go so far as to hurl stones at the people who have invented an entirely new channel that does work. The Watchtower has published an apt illustration of parents who hire a babysitter to care for their children, and on returning home, they find the children not cared for, as the babysitter is busy painting the house. Even though the house needed painting, they are not happy. Tending to the children was the assigned task. If the babysitter wants to paint the house AND care for the children, that works fine, but that good work cannot be done INSTEAD of caring for the children.

I personally had mixed feelings when I heard this illustration because I had been saying something very similar for a long time and I thought maybe they had stolen it from me. Of course, they are welcome to it, and indeed, it is an obvious enough comparison that it might well occur simultaneously to different people. It actually improved upon mine because mine didn’t involve people. Mine involved hiring a contractor to reroof the house and later find that he has painted it instead. Theirs involves people, which is better, but it is also worse, because hiring a babysitter is always associated with caring for the kids physically. The parents do not hope for the babysitter to care for them spiritually, and usually are relieved to find that he/she hasn’t made that attempt.

The JW organization puts emphasis on caring for ones spiritually, so that in applying Bible principles they will correspond to the man who has learned how to fish. Of course, giving a man a fish also has a place, and as stated, I  am not one to criticize it. But if you only give them fish you make them dependent upon yourself for life, and the first time you fall down on “your” job, they blame you for it. Better teach them Bible principles that will enable them to fish, and the best foundation for Bible principles to stick is to fortify them with accurate knowledge about God.

And if I feared that the organization has stolen my illustration, it is not so bad as a recent speaker who related how at another Hall he had laid a $20 bill on the speaker stand along with his outline because he meant to use it as an illustration of how counterfeit is so hard to distinguish from real, and that the fact that there is much counterfeit money does not prove that there is no such thing as real money. However, the chairman, upon spotting the bill, removed it to Lost and Found, so that when the speaker took the stand, he could not use his analogy. “He literally stole my illustration,” he told us.

...

The following excerpt is from Tom Irregardless and Me, an ebook I wrote three years ago:

At the home of Victor Vomodog, an alarm panel light pulsed red. Victor read the incoming feed. It was serious. Someone was saying nice things about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instantly, he swung into action. There was not a moment to lose. He opened his door and whistled. The media came running. “Witnesses are selfish!” he cried. “They only think of themselves! Why don’t they help everyone? Why do they just do their own people?” That evening, media ran the headline: “WHY DON’T THEY HELP EVERYONE?”

But they had asked the wrong question. The headline they should have run, but didn’t, because they didn’t want to deal with the answer, was: “WHY AREN’T OTHERS DOING THE SAME?” The answer to the first question is obvious: Witness efforts consist of volunteers using their vacation time. Just how much time is the boss going to grant?

So do it yourself, Victor! Organize your own new chums! Or send your money to some mega-agency where they think Bible education is for fools. Be content to see monies frittered away on salaries, hotels, travel, retirement, health care benefits, and God knows what else! Be content to see much of what remains squandered! It’s the best you can do—embrace it! Or at least shut up about the one organization that has its act together.

The obvious solution, when it comes to disaster relief, is for others to do as Jehovah’s Witnesses do. Why have they not? There are hundreds of religions. There are atheists…aren’t you tight with them now, Victor?  Organize them, why don’t you? They all claim to be veritable gifts to freedom and humankind. Surely they can see human suffering. Why don’t they step up to the plate themselves?

They can’t. They are vested in a selfish model that runs a selfish world. Let them become Jehovah’s Witnesses and benefit from the Bible education overseen by the Governing Body, Plato’s and Sider’s dream brought to life. But if they stay where they are, they must look to their own organization or lack thereof. There’s no excuse that they should not be able to copy Witnesses. They have far more resources to draw upon. We’re not big enough to do everyone for free, and we don’t know how to run a for-pay model; we’ve no experience in that. Instead, other groups must learn how to put love into action, as we did long ago.

C’mon, Victor! If all the world needs is to ‘come together,’ then see to it! We don’t know how to do that. People without Bible education tend not to get along. You make them do it! You don’t want to, or can’t, do large-scale relief, yet you want to shoot down those who do! What a liar!

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Complaints over the USDA Farmers to Families Program—Part 2

It took a while, but one day Heather intercepted a food package delivered to her JW grandma. Heather used to be a Witness, but says she no longer is. There were potatoes, onions, apples, and a cauliflower inside, but Heather smelled only a rat. She contacted the Counter.org people, who specialize in “food journalism that goes beyond the gustatory to uncover the money, power, and politics behind our plate.” They, it turns out, had been grumbling for some time about the USDA Farmers to Families program, and they launched an article critical of it. My faith group was in the headline, though for the most part it was about other groups, so I took time to write a response to it. I had posted on the topic once before.
 
The Witnesses’ description “that the boxes came from Jehovah—instead of taxpayers—represents a significant departure from standard operating procedure for federal food aid,” the Counter wrote. Well—okay, people of faith are kind of like that, ever describing good things as blessings from God, not unlike how secular people will say “If you can read, thank a teacher.” My two kids read voraciously, yet save for the 6th grade they have never seen the inside of a school. They read because their parents read. We read to them, but otherwise didn’t “teach” them too much. They learned by doing. Could you not even say “If you can read, thank God” for making our brains spongelike?
 
If there was anything hush-hush about the USDA program from the Witnesses point of view, as the article states, that never reached my ears nor those of my immediate circle. Within a few days I had posted on my own blog of it, a post that comprises Part 1 of this series. In our congregation sub-group, when an elderly woman remarked on how “the brothers” had bought this food, the one with oversight told her that it was not they—they were just distributing—it was a government program that they had signed on to.
 
I do get the concern expressed within the Counter article that maybe there is someone who needs the food more. And that certainly could be. The part where Robert Hendricks of the Witnesses says that they advised those who received packages not to turn them down, and later presents the rationale that they will be inclined to underestimate their own burden—“downplaying any private struggles with food insecurity”—I can see that, too. (My wife and I are not destitute, but we are retired and we do live off social security—we have lived modestly as Witnesses generally do, so that the stipend is far from huge) I responded the same way that Hendricks suggested some might respond: there will be others who need it more—and we were told that if that is the case, we could share with neighbors and others. I know of ones who have done this. How many? No idea. People of faith tend to take to heart Jesus’ counsel to not let the right hand know what the left is doing and to not to blow a trumpet in front of them whenever they give. (Matthew 6:2) At some point you have to put faith in the “little people” to do what is right.
 
The Pew Research Foundation has released studies to indicate that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the lowest income group of all faiths. Thus, even if aid to them went no further than they and their immediate associates, it would hardly be a travesty. But, as indicated, they were encouraged to share if they felt there were others who could benefit more. 
 
The trick is finding these ones. The solution of leaving it up to the individual to share with cases of need that he/she personally knows of is probably as efficient as any, and it may be the most efficient of all. If you are poor, you will likely live in a poor neighborhood, and will know of serious cases of need. If you are a Witness not poor, you will know of some who are, because Witnesses are a tightly knit community, and can find out about such hard cases through them in the event that none are in your immediate area.
 
Though ostensibly about Jehovah’s Witnesses, the tone of the article is irreligious in general, and whatever potential abuses of USDA rules it describes are not those of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even of such lesser charges as swapping the government logo for a religious one. The box we received plainly said ‘Farmers to Families—USDA.’ and I am glad a photo of it appears in my linked post, because Heather may have forgotten to mention it.
 
Those church outfits will have to speak for themselves, and I noticed that some had no comment, in contrast to Hendricks, who did. Still, doesn’t jealousy account for much of the article’s tone—that communities of faith are motivated to have effective distribution channels that easily outstrip those of non-faith, those purely secular? Says the article: “Many food banks and other nonprofits have complained that they’re incurring significant, unexpected expenses related to storage and last-mile delivery.” Not to be unfeeling, but whose fault is that? 
 
Faith, love of brother, and love of neighbor has moved ones of the JW organization to overcome these “unexpected expenses related to storage and last-mile delivery.” The packages I’ve received have been delivered directly to my door, and I have indeed shared some with others who were not recipients. Jehovah’s Witnesses thus set an example showing secular outfits how it can be done. All those outfits need to do is find similar selfless people.
 
Of course, they do have some. I’ve nothing but praise for secular food relief organizations. But they don’t have such selfless ones in anywhere near the abundance as does the Witness faith-based community, and that is why massive lines have accompanied some distributions—one wonders if in some cases the aid received is not offset by the cost of gasoline in retrieving it. 
 
In the early days of the pandemic, before monitory relief came from the government that would temporarily take the pressure off some, I wrote a check to one of these food banks. I don’t like the idea of people going hungry. I wanted to give and I did so. Yet, as I did so, I had to come to grips with the certain knowledge that inefficiencies built into such programs would dilute my contribution. It pains me that this is the case. I wish it were not. I wish they could draw upon enough people in the overall community to solve distribution issues—it’s produce, after all—it can’t sit around forever.
 
At heart, the issue is that non-faith does not move people to be selfless to the same extent as does faith, and the article seems to me an expression of jealousy that such is the case. Is it so shocking that that when people of faith give they want to call attention to what implanted that generous spirit within them? The article appears even to have even political overtones, complaining at the perceived shortfalls of a Trump administration program.
 
Of course, if there are abuses of the system, then someone ought lower the boom on whoever is committing them. “Saving” people in the parking lot, soliciting donations for the program, offering prayer sessions as a condition, things that Witnesses do not do, does sound as though it might violate the spirit or even letter of the program. And are parishioners low income to start with, as JWs in the aggregate are, or are some well-off? All proper matters to look at, it seems. But at present, this looks to me like another article—I have seen many—that highlights the abuses of some churches and by headline suggests that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the worst of the lot, even though Witnesses steer clear of such shenanigans.
 

I wouldn’t know just what is the case with “Heather,” whose complaint triggered this article. But I reflect back upon when I was working in a group home that hired a new assistant manager. In short order, I began to feel some heat, and in time I went to the house manager about it. “For some reason, I think she is trying to get me fired,” I told her. The manager thought that unlikely. She asked me why that would be, and I truthfully told her I didn’t know. But I then mentioned that, as it turns out, she and I know hundreds of people in common, for she was once a member of my faith. “Oh,” the manager said, and instantly her tone changed. She said no more, I said no more, and I heard no more, until a week or two later that that asst manager had been discharged. The hostility of some ex-JWs is hard to fathom.

 
See Part 3 to follow.
 
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Who is “Jehovah’s Mouthpiece,” Who is “Inspired,” and Who is “Spirit-Directed?”

Q: The Governing Body doesn’t directly write what becomes the spiritual food, does it? Doesn’t the Writing Committee originate it, and they merely put their stamp of approval on it?

A: The defining word here is “merely.”

If my roof caves in tomorrow and I decide that it’s God’s fault, or if I park on the Kingdom Hall lawn, the elders tell me not to, and I say, “Oh yeah?! Well I show you in my next post!”—if I do it at Bethel, the GB will “merely” decline to put their stamp of approval on my rant—they will put me on potato-peeling detail in the kitchen instead, and call up someone from the bullpen less deranged. But if I am a loose cannon on my own blog—there is nothing anyone can do when I go haywire. That’s why I don’t ever expect to be acknowledged for my self-appointed role as an apologist, much less commended for it. Even the real apologists of the early centuries have not fared will at the hands of the writing committee, that tends to focus on things they got wrong.

No, the “merely” is a big deal. It makes for constancy and consistency. Call it a “think tank” at Bethel if you will. It is a concentration of gray hairs and experience, of meeting trials, of knowing they are to be judged for their actions (or inaction), of following up on having brought understanding of the sacred writings to begin with. 

I can just shoot my mouth off here, say whatever pops into my head, insult Vic Vomodog whenever he deserves it (which is almost always), praise the Benoit Blanc movie* even though there is crude language—and perhaps I have never faced a care in the world. But they can’t. 

What are my morals? I could (to borrow from Bob Dylan) “be respectably married—or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aries.” Nobody knows. But the Bethel writers are vetted, not just for being good writers, but for being good Christians. They take it for granted there that if your conduct is sullied, somehow that will come out in your guidance, even if it doesn’t seem to at first glance.

I had a friend that, eccentric though he was, had a gift of making complex things simple—even oversimplifying to drive the point home.  I can still hear him recounting to someone just how it works in Jehovah’s organization: “At Bethel, the Governing Body study their Bibles. An idea will occur to one of them. They will discuss it among themselves and when they all come to agreement, it will appear in print.”

“Now, the thing is,” he continued, “you also study your Bible. The same idea might have occurred to you, maybe even before it occurred to them. ‘And if this were Christendom, you’d run out and start your own religion over it.’  But because you know it is not a free-for-all, and you know that Jehovah is a God of order, you wait for material to come through the appointed channel.”

So if they have called themselves “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” in the past, I can live with that. They have the greatest think tank collection of gray hairs that, per the scriptures, denotes wisdom, of experience in Christian works, in safeguarding and extending the king’s belongings, in knowing the will be held accountable before God. They have the  greatest sense of direction and following up on momentum. One must not do a Miriam and say—“does not Jehovah speak through all of us?” I am happy to have a thought that makes sense—I don’t go thinking I am God’s gift to the brotherhood for it.

The trouble is that there are so many literalists who see the expression “crocodile tears” and take it as proof that the one shedding them is a crocodile. There are so many literalists who do not strive to think of how phrases like “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” might apply, but they strive to think of how they don’t. It is the same with “being led by spirit.” It is almost too explosive a phrase to use because of the literalists—if you go to the bathroom—well—how can you be guided by spirit? since holy spirit would never do THAT!

It’s the same with elders and servants being “appointed by holy spirit.” How do you know they are? To my mind it is because the qualifications are in the Book inspired by holy spirit, and the judgment as to how persons measure up is made by a (small) “think tank” of holy spirit, and seconded by a traveling minister patterned after scripture—another repository of holy spirit. It works for me. But there will be some who think that if an appointee ever goes bad afterwards it must be that they were not appointed by holy spirit. I think not. Any of these terms must necessarily be “watered down” some when put in the context of humans, “in whose heart the inclination to do bad” is ingrained from his youth up.

I think of certain brother appointed upon the recommendation of the BOE. The circuit overseer, an older and very experienced man, okayed the recommendation, with the observation: “He’s not the most humble brother in the world.” He didn’t have to be. All he had to do was to meet each of the qualifications to an acceptable degree. Alas, the CO should have listened to his gut, for the man in time went apostate. He was the one who was a history buff and used to impress the householder by answering, “Because I’m an historian,” when asked how he knew this or that about the past. Once I said to him, “Will you knock it off?! You are a history buff. A historian is when other people acknowledge you, not just you yourself!”

I could be wrong, but I bet the GB has learned to be very leery of such phrases and terms as “mouthpiece” and “inspired” and “spirit-directed”—not just for all the literalists, but for all the critics (who are often the same).  Some things if they say just once, it is magnified 100 times. Other things they say 100 times, only to find it ignored. “Don’t save seats for everyone you know,” they would say about the Regionals, “think of the elderly.” Finally, they gave up, and said to let the elderly in early, and everyone else only after the oldsters were seated. Innumerable directives went unheeded. Yet if they speak just once about “forums,” their words are enshrined for all time. I alluded to this in Tom Irregardless and Me. The organization would say that the Governing Body does not endorse such and such, and the friends would accordingly have a helpful sense of priority and focus. And then Oscar or someone would be found doing it, and Tom Pearlandswine would descend to tell him that the Governing Body DOES NOT ENDORSE!!! such and such. You never know what quote will be magnified and what will be forgotten, but I bet they are advancing on the learning curve.

.....

*Aw, shut up, with your Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl!” the villain says to Benoit Blanc. it’s about time someone said it to me. (Someone just had.) If you see the movie ‘Knives Out’—it is free on Amazon Prime—you must be prepared for a bit of language. It is by no means filthy, by today’s standards—I don’t recall a single f-bomb—but no way is it pristine like in the Kingdom Hall. It is an Hercule Poirot parody, with Daniel Craig playing the Christie-like eccentric, brilliant, and world-renowned sleuth, Benoit Blanc. There is nothing funnier, to my mind, then when he opens his mouth to speak an overbearing combination of French/Southern Redneck accent. He routinely says things that, at first glance are profound, but at second are just plain stupid.

 
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On Scholars—Part 1

“I think that some persons get overly involved in trying to make them out to be great Christians, when they never knew them, and only see through their own eyes "vicariously" through the books those men authored.” The conversation was about Rolf and his new book.

I think we suck up to scholars altogether too much. There is nothing scholarly about the “unlearned and ordinary” men taking the lead in the first century, and there is no indication that they regarded their “ignorance” as a condition from which they ought pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. When the “scholars” began having their day in the sun, the first thing they did is to infuse long pre-existing philosophies into Christianity, making it all but unrecognizable.

God gives his Holy Spirit to those obeying him as ruler, says Acts 5:32. It says nothing about their ‘scholarship,’ and one of the first things ‘scholars‘ do is refuse to obey. We should kiss up the them? I think not. “Okay, you did well, Peter and John—amazingly well considering how uneducated you are. Good job! But we smart people are here now, so shove aside and let us show you how to do it.” No.

In the overall world of scholarship, any ‘scholar’ believing the Bible makes a mockery of the word. The first thing ‘scholars’ do is to declare Adam and Eve a ludicrous tale for primitive peoples, thereby gutting the means to understand anything of importance—why death? why suffering? It all goes out the window. People are left clueless on the most important questions of life as they imagine themselves smarter than anyone else.

Not to put it down too much, of course. It is a gift that some will bring to the altar. But if those at the altar decline to spin that altar like the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ dial, hopefully the relatively few scholars that are JW scholars will be able to hold their peace. It is one component of Christianity—not nothing, but also not overriding. “Everything You Thought You Knew About Such-and-Such is Wrong!” is a headline that experienced ones have seen all too often.

As for me, I can’t believe how many pig-headed scholars have not come around to my point of view. I do have George Chrysiddes who wrote some nice things about Tom Irregardless and Me, and I ignored all my ‘stupid’ friends for a month when he bestowed his great favor. I am waiting on Rolf to join in with effusive praise. But other than that, these guys who squabble no less than we ordinary mortals have mostly not come around.

(Part 2:)

 
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A Bad Boy Turns Over a New Leaf

Unlike most Witnesses online, my activity is known in my home congregation. This is not due to any forum, which probably will be unknown to them, but to my blog. I have blogged for years. I don’t advertise the fact, but word gets around, and within the year elders have approached me to say that they would like to use me more in the congregation, but is there anything to what they have heard that I engage with apostates?

I at first told them that I did not; however what I did do came close enough to it that it could easily be taken that way and for that reason they probably should not use me in any visible capacity. As long as counsel is what it is, this seems the reasonable course. If there is a blatant example of not following counsel on a point repeatedly made—well, ‘he doesn’t enjoy privileges in the congregation,’ does he? This is not quite fair to me, but it is not about me. I consider it a win-win.

Many times in my writing I have made the point that I am not trying to set an example for others to follow, that I am pure-and-simply a bad boy in this one respect and I don’t try to present myself otherwise—though I will say that it is the only area in which I am a bad boy—I am a good boy in all other respects. I am on excellent terms with all of my elders— all upstanding men whom I respect—and with the congregation as a whole. If a list was ever made as to who is trying or discouraging or toxic or headstrong or aloof or a downer in any respect, I would be the last person to be on it. I am a fine example in every way—except one, and this troubles them.

Anyone visiting my blog can see the book cover for TrueTom vs the Apostates! so its a little hard to say: ‘Don’t know nothing about no apostates here!” One brother on Facebook, who himself writes, when he saw that cover, said, “You’re brave.” I have never made any attempt to hide what I do. I have even written HQ about it, more than once, as to what I am doing and why. They have not responded. I’ve said I don’t expect or require them to, but I will take to heart anything that they do say. Nothing. (“It’s because they think you’re a loose cannon, and they don’t want to be the spark that sets you off,” one chum tells me.) As for me, the show is not interesting unless there are villains and apostates for me make the perfect villains!—they have tasted the good food and spit it out.

Only about 10-20% of my blog could be described as taking on controversial topics. But blogging itself is not the pathway to popularity within the JW community—some will always give you the fish-eye over it. A visitor I know from HQ spoke at the Kingdom Hall, we engaged in some chit-chat afterward, and I asked him for thoughts about blogging. “Oh, blogging,” he said, as though I had told him that I enjoy farting in the auditorium, and then he migrated into generalities about there being no rules but one must always take into consideration the sensibilities of others, avoid hanging out with bad dudes, and so forth. In the introduction to my 3rd book, I wrote: “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. Pathways of publicizing their faith are already well established. Why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say?” For the most part, the same is true of blogs. 

Two elders wanted to speak with me following Sunday’s Watchtower. How did I still feel regarding interaction with apostates after that lesson and similar items in the past? There have been two other discussions—probably spurred on to priority by consideration of Paul’s counsel that certain pernicious sayings “spread like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:17) so you want to get right on top of it—the counsel to not engage with apostates is pretty clear.

These are good men and I do not doubt for one moment their concern for me. There is no way I am going to get into any sort of confrontation with them. This is a little challenging because if one has engaged with the malcontents—in some cases the scoundrels—then one knows things in detail that they know only vaguely, and in some cases, not at all.

I asked if I could speak candidly. Obviously, this is just a verbal opening to present that I would speak from the heart and not just regurgitate platitudes or ‘what I am supposed to say’—it’s not to suggest that I would be normally lying through my teeth. Of course, they agreed.

The article was of a catch-all nature of several things to watch out for, several unrelated things that could pierce your shield if you didn’t maintain it—materialism, undue anxiety, lies, and discouragement were in the mix. Now, the only one of these that you can actually sink your teeth into as a direct measurement is “lies and distortions.” Do you engage with those who originate them or not? Easy black or white answer. What can one possibly say about materialism? It is much more subjective. “Did you move into that house that has far more space than you need or didn’t you?”—it’s ridiculous! No one is ever going to say that. The best you can do is what the Watchtower did do—point out that while you might easily be able to afford something with money, which you have far more of than your neighbor, that does not mean that you can afford (for use and maintenance of) it with time, which you have no more of than your neighbor. 

As a byproduct of these other areas being hard to pin down, the only one that might possibly incur restriction of privileges is dealing with apostates. “There are brothers here and in other Halls that show significant weakness as regards to the other three—materialism, discouragement, and anxiety, and it can be plainly seen in their demeanor in some cases,” I said, “yet no way would their privileges ever be affected by it—only for that involving dealings with opposers.”

I spoke of the paragraph about discouragement—one of the four sharp arrows. “What discourages me most,” I said, “is that apostates are taking public shots at the God and the community that I hold dear, and they are catching the ear of many who take to heart what is said and sometimes ignore us in our ministry because of it, and I want to provide an answer and defend the truth, but I can’t because I don’t know what they are saying.” It is not true for me—I do know what they are saying—but for most publishers it is true.

I spoke of the hypothetical youngster who cannot resist, whose curiosity or desire to defend the truth leads him to go to where the bad boys hang out, where he hears distortions that he has never heard before and is totally unprepared for and he is stumbled, at which point no one is able to help him because no one here knows in any detail what he has come across. It’s a lose-lose. I did not say (you always think of your best lines too late) that if you leaned on youngsters not to have illicit sex, and yet one did anyway and acquired an STD, you would not stand by and watch him die. You would educate yourself any way that you had to so as to provide backup rescue.

There is only so far you can go with this reasoning because they only understand what they are counseling you about from just one angle—the spiritual angle, which, to be sure, is the most important one, but still it is only one angle, and it is the angle from which there is a huge non-spiritual vulnerability. They hear and acquiesce to all the points made—they may all be facts—but they are like people anywhere in any genre—just because they are facts does not mean they are the overriding facts. They keep coming back to counsel not to engage with apostates. Do they mean engage like a military general confronting the enemy or engage like a man putting a ring on the finger of his future bride? You almost can’t go there, because they themselves maintain such distance from the topic that they can’t readily distinguish between the two and consider it inappropriate to get close enough to try.

The brother taking the lead is very smart, very loving, very much a balm to everyone. I’ve known him for the longest time and there is no one whom I value more. I have no question that he is primarily and genuinely concerned about my spiritual welfare. I feel bad that I should be the cause of he and some brothers before him feeling obliged to buy out time to speak with me over this—they have other things that they could be doing. I know this because for many years I was an elder and I had many things that I could be doing at any given moment—yet he and others have bought out significant time for me. I’m a bit embarrassed over it.

“How has my spirituality been affected?” they ask. Possibly they are anticipating an answer such as might be on a video: “Well, I have to admit, my spirituality is suffering. I’m not finding the joy I used to....etc.” I tell them that my spirituality, as near as I can tell, gets better all the time because I am able to fire when I see the whites of their eyes—and even that my healthy spirituality is plainly reflected in how I conduct myself and how others view me. 

“Well, pray on it,” one advises. Gingerly I suggest that what if I have prayed on it and then afterward have decided that it is okay, in fact, just the ticket, to do as I am doing?” Nevertheless, how can one turn down the invitation to pray? Sure, I will pray—and in fact, presently I think of the degree to which they may be right and how I might modify my conduct. As is my M.O, I think best when I am writing. As is my M.O, I write best when I realize I am writing before a varied audience ranging from supportive to apathetic to dismissive to opposed, and imposing the discipline upon myself to choose words that will be as effective as possible to all four.

They say things like how Jehovah has all bases covered. He sees that we have the proper direction when we need it, and so forth. While the things I say may be so, and certainly my actions are well-meaning, what about just being obedient to counsel? There they have me. Because I do believe that Jehovah has all bases covered and I do believe in following the lead of the older men—it is part of the package that I signed on for. I can give them a hard time: “Don’t worry about my spirituality—I’ll be just fine—it’s enough to worry about your own spirituality!” but why would I do that? Is that not almost tempting fate? as in “Let he who is standing beware that he does not fall?” I can tell them to buzz off and mind their own business, but why would I do that? These are the men—all of them friends of mine—who will lay down their life for me should the occasion arise, as in John 15:13, for example. “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends,” Jesus said, and these guys will do it in a clutch.

Not only will they die for me, but they will live for me, and they prove it continually. The right-in-their-own-eyes opposers will not die for me. Even were they inclined to, they live on perches of self-imposed isolation and say, some of them, “Who needs organization?” so that should I get into hot water they will not know of it until they read my obituary. I should give my elders a hard time or interfere with that dynamic of living and dying for me? No.

All they want is for me not to cross swords with apostates. They probably are not crazy about my going there in the first place, but that is not the topic of discussion. If I go there to scope out what the enemy is up to, I set no bad example—nobody knows of it. If I go there to refute, I publicly do what the ones I respect for taking the lead have asked me not to do. How do I know that they are not right? How do I know that I am not like the fellow signing out on the city wall after Hezekiah has told the troops to zip it? If I am ineffective, others come to help me out, against Hezekiah’s counsel. If I am effective, others are inspired to do likewise, against Hezekiah’s counsel. How do I know that they will not end up with an arrow through the head on my account? 

What am I doing when I am answering back the malcontents on the forum? I am having a ball is what I am doing! But is it affecting my spirituality as the brothers asked? Well, no—for the most part—that has grown stronger. On the other hand—someone speaks of OCD and she ought to be speaking of it to me—sometimes I come on board with a certain eagerness looking for “apostates” to beat up on. When one or another flames out, like Matthew4 5784 did a few weeks ago and reveals himself pure hate on two legs as respects Jehovah’s people, dropping all pretense of being here to help out, I paint an A on my fuselage and pump my fist! But is it good for me? I do get to hone my writing skills, which is why I started in the first place, but is that enough to override other matters? I am not exactly doing a “May Jehovah rebuke you!” am I? I am not exactly imitating Jesus in saying “leave them be—blind guides is what they are,” am I? Moreover, others come along for the first time, not knowing the history, read my retorts, and say, “Man, that brother is brutal! Can he really be a brother?”

I’m going to turn over a new leaf with regard to interacting with these guys. It doesn’t mean I won’t still be online and it doesn’t mean I won’t still interact with those who strike me as on our team—even if I question their judgment sometimes. I’ll probably renege from time to time, and if I do, I will forgive myself, but the effort will be to follow through on my resolve. If need be, I will write a reply to this or that fathead and then not send it—I’ll incorporate it elsewhere or just stick it in the file. “How’s that for praying about it and waiting to see what comes out of it?” I’ll tell someone someday.

Then, too—and I’m almost ashamed to put this last, since it should be first—though not necessarily from the reader’s point of view, which is why I place it where I do—my wife is far more conventional than me and has long been troubled by my online activity. She doesn’t for one second worry about my loyalty, but she does in some undefined way worry that maybe I will yet come to harm somehow. I’ll modify my approach for her sake as well.

Are the brothers “brainwashed”—the ones who counseled me about a matter that they do not understand themselves from a fleshly point of view—the only point of view that is of concern to the greater world? Well, I would have to say that on this point they are—with the important caveat that there is barely anyone anywhere who is not “brainwashed” in some regard on the roads that they travel. Max Planck’s saying with regard to science does not hold true with regard to science alone; it holds true—admittedly it is hyperbole, so it does not literally hold true, but it sure does point in a direction—“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” It applies anywhere there are people. It applies to me. We do not turn on a dime even when hit over the head with proof-positive reasoning.

Follow the flag and get your head blown off in consequence, and only some of your countrymen will think your death noble—everyone else in the world will consider your death in vain. It doesn’t take some brainwashing to buy into that? Follow unquestioningly the overall goals of this system to ‘get a good education so that you may get a good job’—not a tad of brainwashing there that that is the path to happiness? When my wife worked as a nurse with the geriatric community, she said the most common thing in the world was for bewildered elderly persons to look around them in their waning years and say, “is this all there is?” These were not “losers” in life, for the most part. These were persons who had enjoyed careers and loving family. But there was an aching emptiness at the end for many of them, a certain vague but overpowering sense of betrayal by life. It’s the result of being brainwashed by mainstream thinking, so far as I can see.

Steve Hassan is not wrong when he says that humans are easily influenced by others. Humans are just that way. That is why some god-awful style comes upon the scene and within ten years we’re all wearing it, wondering how we ever could have imagined that those dorky styles of yesterday did anything for us. Where Steve is wrong in my view is that he gives a free pass to his side—the mainstream. He reads unfairness into certain types of persuasion, whereas it is all unfair. His side features persuasion that is just more subtle than the other so he doesn’t see it. Champions of science do not notice when money trumps their science. Attendees of university do not notice that they have been manipulated into a 24/7 environment isolating them from former stabilizing influences of community and family—a classic tool of those who would brainwash. He sees it where he wants to see it and dismisses it elsewhere.

I have said before that it is not brainwashing that he objects to—it is brainwashing that is not his. Just because he was naive enough to be sucked into the Moonies, what is it to him if people want to explore non-traditional paths? Of course there may be pitfalls along the way, but there are pitfalls anywhere. Among the most harmful examples of manipulation is advertising, whereby people ruin themselves buying expensive things they do not need with money they do not have to keep up with people they do not like. Why doesn’t he go there? If the mainstream he embraces successfully answered all the burning questions of life, he wouldn’t have to worry at all about “cults” People would reflect upon how the present life and traditional goal rewards fully in happiness and life satisfaction, and reject those “cults” upon in a heartbeat.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)