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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Just Who is Saved Come Armageddon?

Back in 1967, the year of the KM School for Elders held in Pittsburgh, were you to ask an elder “Will only JWs be saved at Armageddon?” he would most likely answer Yes, “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable.”

This is because Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “one true religion” faith. There are a lot of those around—not everyone maintains that “all roads lead to heaven”—and one firebrand of the Russian Orthodox Church—isn’t it Audrey Kuraev?—regrets that such a profession should be labeled extremist hate speech because there are factions in his Church that would like to say the same and now don’t dare. Extremist? If you say you are the one true Church and are wrong, just who is hurt? All that happens is you are left with egg on your face. And if you are right, you’ve provided a healthy heads-up.

Can it really be done—to answer yes “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable?” I am told (without evidence, as the phrase goes) that Jewish tradition holds as as the ark was lifting off the water and those treading it hollered, “Is it only you and your family that will be saved?” Noah was instructed to answer Yes, “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable.”

It is dicey topic, Armageddon is. It’s hard to put a smiley face on it, even if it does come with the caveat that “distress will not rise up a second time.” You should hear Vic Vomodog rail about how it means those of his old religion gleefully contemplate the slaughter of billions of human beings! Well—now that you put it that way...

But if you are a Bible believer, what are you going to do? There it is in numerous texts, not just in Revelation, but in such places as 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, about how “you who suffer tribulation will be given relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels  in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” It cannot be dismissed euphemistically as “tough love.”

Still, it is nowhere near as nasty as what churches have historically embraced down through the centuries—the doctrine of hellfire, which holds that for a few decades of wrongdoing a person will be punished forever! I’ll take a quick death at Armageddon any day over that gruesome fate. One knockout punch and you sleep forever.

Bart Ehrman, the Bible thumper who became the anti-Bible-thumper, but you can still see the Bible thumper in the anti-Bible thumper—comes from this “theology,” so that you can see why he might consider escaping it as having opened his eyes. If fact, in one of his lectures for the Great Courses (what were they thinking when they chose him?) he explains the really bizarre resurrection-of-the-dead notion that prevails among his former co-religionists—that the ungodly are raised so that God can rub their noses in the condemned course that they chose, after which they will be cast into hell forever and ever! How did it escape him (then or now) that “he who has died has been acquitted for their sin?” (Romans 6:7) God doesn’t do a “double jeopardy” on them. It is the course they choose upon their resurection that matters, not what they did in their prior life. Ronald Curzan of the JW organization explains it here:

As for Great Courses, they wouldn’t know a scripture if one bit them in the rear end. They just scan the roster of university professors, pick an esteemed one, and figure he must know what he is talking about. It is not their fault if it turns out that he doesn’t. Or rather, he does, but only according to the inadequate method of biblical examination he has chosen—that of historical scientific analysis. He is like a mechanic come to the job, his toolbox stuffed only with wrenches, when what is needed is a screwdriver. Rather than regret he doesn’t have the correct tools, he declares that if a wrench can’t fix it it is not a problem. To be sure, Great Courses somewhat redeems itself by selecting Luke Timothy Johnson for their series ‘The Story of the Bible,’ who examines it from a traditional approach and does not adopt the default position that it is human myth making.

The current answer to “Will only Jehovah’s Witnesses be saved?” is no longer ‘Yes—but to be explained so that it doesn’t make us look unreasonable.” It is “No,” followed by how to say such would be presumptuous, since only Jehovah can judge those who might be mentally disabled, children too young to make up their minds, etc. This is essentially the same answer, isn’t it, with caveats that can be greatly expanded. Last I heard, one out of everything three Americans are on some form of antidepressants or other psych medicine. Research has come to light that a child’s brain formation is incomplete even into their early 20’s. I remember how Ray Hartman the circuit overseer would come up on the platform with a stack of material to choose from, and toward the end of whatever talk he was giving he would comment on various items, seemingly choosing them as he went, and that this business of brain development into the 20’s was among them, or maybe he just told it to me in private, but it does come from him.

Well, the Witness organization can’t wiggle much, can it? What can it do but abide to the “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5? Don’t other faiths baptize? Yes, they do, but the ones who aren’t raising the ungodly dead just to say “Told ya so!” before tossing them into hellfire, Bart Ehrman’s former cohorts, are blasting infants with squirt guns these days on account of Covid-19. (as seen  on  India.com)9899BD98-22C2-4350-9685-8A990B4E5FC4

My daughter answers that question with: “Well—I’m not Jesus and I don’t know.” I suppose she picked up the spirit from me, but not the exact words. I recall saying in one talk: “Just how far removed can one be? A certain distance or not one millimeter?” adding that I did not know but I would operate myself according to the principle of James 4:17 that if one knew what was right and did not do it, it was a sin for him.

Probably a lot of brothers take solace that, as Jehovah spared Nineveh at the last minute with: “Wow—look how stupid there are! They don’t know their right from their left!” he will somehow cut many some slack in ways we can’t foresee. (Jonah 4:11) But the Watchtower can hardly say this, for that would be clearly speculative. What can they say other than “One faith, One Lord, One baptism?” So that is what they say, in the main.

I don’t lose sleep over it. It is enough for me to be occupied with holding up my end. I don’t concern myself with God holding up his. What happens happens—and of course, I will adjust to it. As Anthony Morris said when he was trying to sell a house—it was critically important for him to quickly have the cash for some reason I forget—and the deal came at virtually the last second, and he related how he would look up in prayer and say “Um—it’s getting a little tight here,” but then qualify his duress with “He’s God—He can do what he wants.” 

The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, because Jehovah anointed me to declare good news to the meek. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the wide opening of the eyes to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of Jehovah’s goodwill and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn...  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

 

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How Do You Answer When Asked “What do you Do?”

As far as I am concerned, what pegs the “faithful and discreet slave” as faithful and discreet and effective is that they have redefined how most Witnesses view their own vocation. This came up in recent discussion of the daily text about Jesus being “the carpenter, the son of Mary.” He may have been “the carpenter,” but when he “began his work” (Luke 3:23), it is not carpentry that the verse speaks of. It is preaching and teaching the Word.

So it is that under the direction of the Governing Body, few if any of Jehovah’s people regard themselves first according to their occupations. They regard themselves as preachers of the good news first, who just happen to be doing this or that in order to pay the bills.

This is a huge accomplishment—to motivate people to redefine themselves.

They did it by steadfastly persuading the many who would say—I have said it myself—“Why can’t we be Jehovah’s Witnesses and just live normal lives?” Their answer would be: “How can you live a normal life in an abnormal world?” 

They have won that battle. It is an abnormal world. How can you live a normal life in it? Secular work occupies its place with our people, of course, but seldom do they define themselves by it. At the drop of a pin, they will chuck “career” aside totally for the sake of part-time work if they can figure a way to make it work.

Just about the time of the Proclaimers book, I thought there was a shift to speaking of the Witness way of life in terms of a “theocratic career”—is that my imagination? That way when our young people encountered classmates ecstatic at the careers they were going to have—being pushed that way by guidance counselors—they could come back with a career concept of their own. They wouldn’t have to answer, “Well, I’m just going to get a job somewhere, maybe in a tool shop,” much less, “Well, I think I’ll just be a janitor so I can have more time for door to door preaching.”

Now, as it turns out, I was a janitor for many years. And when my newly married wife was asked by a set of well-to-do non-Witness relatives what her husband did for a living, she said “He’s a janitor.” This occasioned a disappointed “Oh.” She added that “He owns his own company.” The same syllable followed, this time with opposite impressed inflection! It’s all a facade! It’s all a joke! It doesn’t mean a thing. While I was a janitor, I checked out just about every Books on Tape there was in the library that wasn’t contemporary fiction, I listened while working, and I find myself better “read” than almost anybody.

If there is one thing I regret in my past (actually, there are quite a few), it is that when I was asked—it is the 2nd line at any introduction—“And what do you do?” I would answer as to my secular work. This might lead to a discussion of how, with brilliantly shined floor, people’s spirits lift, yet they can’t put their finger on just why—or how when the floor is dingy by the baseboards, it is the fault of the janitor for slopping it there with his mop as he goes back and forth—how else could it possibly get there? But why in the world would I care about that? If you answered the question “What do you do?” according to what people expect, then you had to change the subject into one more interesting or suffer through one that you barely care about yourself.

Don’t play that game. Answer according to what you are and what interests you most. In time, I got so I would do that, but it took long enough. “Well, I do various things to pay the bills,” I would say, “but what gives me the most satisfaction is....” I should have done it years before I did.

Fay said how in Ireland (she had been there recently) when people ask that question, they really do want to know about you, and not just what you do for a living. I like it that the faithful and discreet slave (Matthew 24:45-47) has taken membership and persuaded them to define themselves and think of themselves as an army of preachers, diverse though their backgrounds might be. Can’t get more faithful than that.

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“This is the Carpenter, the Son of Mary”

This is the carpenter, the son of Mary.​—Mark 6:3

Talk recently during the Daily Text discussion was about what Jesus was known for. Was he executed for anything having to do with carpentry? The commentary cited Luke 3:23: “When Jesus began his work, he was about 30 years old...” What “work” was he known for? It wasn’t carpentry, yet he was described as “the carpenter.”

Curiously, the first Witness to be jailed in Russia after the 2017 ban in that country has a surname, Christensen, that indicates whom he follows. His occupation? A carpenter—just like that of the one he follows—and the last noteworthy thing he did as a carpenter was to build a playground for the neighborhood children. But he wasn’t arrested on account of his carpentry, was he?

They came from humble roots, those first-century Christians did, and for the most part that is true today. Their leading ones were said to be “unlearned and ordinary” (Acts 4:13) and for the most part, that is true today. These days, without letters appended to one’s name, people are barely worth noticing. Same thing back then. Doesn’t that explain why, apart from the early Christians themselves, there are only four figures in contemporary history (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Philo, Josephus) who mention early Christianity at all—and all of them only in brief passing paragraphs, about one per writer—it’s never their main topic—almost the priority you might assign in discussing what the plumbers were doing back then. The doings of the common people are beneath the notice of the upper classes.

The apostle Paul wrote about letters. “Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) They did the work. They preached and made disciples. That was their letter, not some honorary title appended by some school to their name. Jesus said you could even be distracted by such honorary things: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God? (John 5:44) They’re okay, those letters are—no harm in them and they do denote some study, but it is possible to hide behind them. They are not what cuts it from God’s point of view.

Another verse cited in the text commentary was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” If you say you are expecting a workman to arrive at the house, what sort of person do you expect? A lawyer? Once again, the ministry of Christians is linked with humble work. Accordingly, the Christian organization today has taken to gathering together a “teaching toolbox” of materials, video and otherwise, for use in the ministry. It is not a portfolio. It is not a briefcase. It is a toolbox.

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“Close Friendship With Jehovah Brings the Greatest Joy” was the Title of the Talk.

“It can’t be pleasing to Jehovah when we fixate on the negative,” was a theme of Anthony Morris’s talk Friday PM at the Regional Convention. It is a choice. An unconscious choice, maybe, and difficult to retrain—but it ought be the aim. The talk was entitled: Close Friendship With Jehovah Brings the Greatest Joy!

“All creation keeps on groaning,” he said, quoting Romans 8:22, but does that mean we should go into it full mode, too? Though the backdrop was unpleasant in Habakkuk’s time, he was set on rejoicing: “Although the fig tree may not blossom and there may be no fruit on the vines; although the olive crop may fail and the fields may produce no food; Although the flock may disappear from the pen, and there may be no cattle in the stalls; Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah;I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.” he said. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Instead, practice being like Jesus in as many ways as possible, was the thrust of the talk. Practice giving and people will give to you—stingy people are never happy—stop judging and you will no means be judged. He didn’t say “Don’t start judging,” but “stop judging,” because they already were. It made me think of how the same speaker had handled the counsel of Jesus at Matthew 6:25: “Stop being anxious about your lives as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear,” and in this case reiterated it as though one might a child: “Just, stop it!” planting the idea that it was not uncontrollable. He didn’t say, “Don’t be anxious,” as though they weren’t already. He said “Stop being anxious,” conceding that they were.

Other points touched on in that talk: Don’t be envious of others, don’t begrudge someone’s material prosperity, because “jeolousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30) Brother Morris has a way of murmuring through his own talks, appearing to reason it out as he goes, so that no one in a thousand years would accuse him of “speechmaking.”

And what to make of 1 Peter 4:15? “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a wrongdoer or a busybody in other people’s matters.” Most people would rate murderer as super-serious, thief somewhat less so, and busybody so far down the scale as to hardly register, yet Peter mentioned them all in the same breath.

Don’t be a busybody, was his admonition, and being a busybody usually stems from being dissatisfied in one’s own life. “All the days of the aflicted ones are bad”—Morris quoted Proverbs 15:15, so try to dwell on the second half of the verse: “But the one with a cheerful heart has a continual feast,” and strive hard to squeeze out the “poor me” attitude, needlessly focusing on the afflictions. Agonizing over problems that are beyond our control cannot be pleasing to God, instead, try to focus on the more productive things—things that we can do.

It occurred to me afterwards that this year we are not really calling it a ‘Regional Convention.’ With the entire convention moved online due to Covid-19, the “region” it covers is pretty big. This is it is just the “2020 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses” with the theme “Always Rejoice,” which can be streamed from the jw.org website.

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“Given the Exact Same Scenario, Spiritually-Minded People Can Make Different Decisions”

Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately transferred all gatherings to Zoom and gave counsel to observe government-recommended COVID social distancing. Now, “often for economic reasons,” some States are opening up.  Does the JW support organization have any direction for its members?

Yes. Their letter was read a week ago. Kingdom Halls themselves would remain closed until further notice. The house-to-house ministry and the ‘cart work’ would also remain suspended. But otherwise, as to resuming normal life at whatever pace, it was for each family head to decide. The letter specifically stated that what was good for one family might not be good for another family. Family heads were best in position to oversee their own—there would be no overriding instruction on that point from the Christian organization.

Almost immediately I saw signs of a “tier-system” opening up. Certain ones began carrying on as though that—yes, there had been a concession to ‘weak’ Christians who preferred to risk life “for economic reasons,” but mature Christians would realize the fallacy of that and continue to hunker down. The adjectives were not used, mind you—‘weak’ and ‘mature’—I am the one who threw them in. The words were not stated—that was just the overall tone.

‘The letter didn’t say that,’ I said to one such person over Zoom. It implied no judgment whatsoever upon anyone following one course or the other—it was strictly a matter of each family head deciding what was in the best interests of his or her family, and his decision was not to be second-guessed. Everyone present had worked at some point in their lives and in every case it was “for economic reasons.” It’s not a dirty word.

This kind of thing drives me nuts. It even prompted a post before on which I didn’t follow through about when something is said to be a ‘conscience matter’—does that mean that it is described that way because it really is? Or does it mean that to God there clearly is a right and a wrong course to take, but he will cut those of weak faith some slack—after all, we don’t all have to reach maturity all at once, and since there is no crime in being ‘weak,’ He will throw them a bone—was it that way? I didn’t follow through on the post because a certain ‘apostate’ idiot immediately jumped in to harangue over who is anyone to say what is a ‘conscience matter’ and what is not—and then I got distracted by something else, but now I come back to it.

I see it developing in all manner of choices—the unstated view, even sometimes when just the opposite has been stated—that there IS a right and a wrong and the difference is that the mature people will choose the right, but God will not hold it against the weak people for choosing the wrong, because that is what weak people do. Really?

When that Watchtower Study article that contained a single paragraph—updating or clarifying or whatever it did—Witness’s attitudes (in the U.S) on beards (they are an unremarkable fact of life in some parts of the world), and I even heard of one congregation that devoted most of the study to that one paragraph—what, were they nuts?—if it’s 1/20th of the article, it should take roughly 1/20th of the time—afterwards a common attitude was: ‘Well, okay, we won’t make a fuss if anyone ‘weak’ has a beard—but they’ll never be appointed!’ The paragraph didn’t say that. That was added by persons of already strong opinion.

For all that is said about the earthly organization being the lightning-speed chariot that zigzags so quickly as to make a quantum particle envious, and the congregations ought to be likewise, at times they are like the supertanker that takes ten miles to alter course. It depends upon what is the issue.

What is it that makes people that way? It has nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses specifically—it is an attribute of persons in groups. Of science, Max Planck said: “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.” Someone rephrased it to: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

No wonder people get fed up with organization. If it is lightning-like in some areas, it is glacier-like in others. Chalk it up to what Paul said about the Christian ministry. It was a ‘treasure,’ however it was a treasure carried in earthen vessels—us—earthen vessels with many a flaw, as is the nature of ‘earthen’ vessels. You can lodge a complaint to God about it, I suppose. The trouble is that God will reply: “Well, you’re no great shakes yourself. You’ll just have to get along the best you can.” We are social beings—created that way. Therefore, God gives us a social organization to supplement and augment a relationship with Him, which we would be nuts to forsake. But it is not perfect, and those who expect it to be so are inevitably disillusioned.

I see it—a tier system— with regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on blood transfusions.* They decline them. They avoid the four main components of blood—red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma—since gone are the days where whole bags of blood are suspended over the patient. But science marches on and new treatments are developed in which only the tiniest component of blood exists—fractions, they are called. Is this ‘blood’ or not? HQ figured that different people will see it in different ways—therefore, they were not going to touch it—it is a ‘conscience matter’ as people prioritize principles that do not necessarily harmonize.

I made up my mind in two minutes, based on the following ‘principles,’ which will not be the overriding ones for all:

1) You can’t serve God when you’re dead.

2) When you bleed an animal, not every microscopic drop of blood comes out. 

3) You shouldn’t have to master microbiology to be a faithful Christian. 

4) If they can’t figure it out, neither can I 

5) It’s not a cake until you mix the ingredients.

It works for me. I mean, I’ll talk it out for any proposed treatment that comes down the pipe on an as-needed basis, but in general, these five do it for me.

Now, for the most part, I don’t know what is the stand of other congregation members. Since it a matter of conscience, it is not something that people advertise. But I detect another ‘tier system’ developing—and I could be wrong for lack of data—of ones who consider themselves mature because they would reject the tiniest atom in blood, as they think, ‘Isn’t it nice that Jehovah mercifully cuts the weak ones some slack?’ Again—it drives me nuts. Is it that way or not?

The last circuit assembly went a long long way in answering that nagging question for me—in fact, it put it to bed once and far all. Brother Henry, the C.O was discussing entertainment, and he posed the question of ‘What would you think upon learning that some friends had gone in for some form of entertainment that you had rejected, having judged it morally objectionable?’

He said—and please write this down: “Given the exact same scenario, spiritually minded people can make different decisions, so in this case, you don’t mind ‘minding your own business.’” It was part of a discussion in which the greater context was counsel on how not to use conscience to stumble others—brothers can talk about this subject till the cows come home. Typically, they illustrate it with abstaining from the alcohol you might otherwise consume on account of the new person (or alcoholic) that might be stumbled by it. There are perhaps a dozen other areas in which you wish they might go to apply the verses, but they are all mine fields, and so they are tread on gingerly, if at all.

Maybe it is all these brothers who think it is the bee’s knees to imitate what they do at Bethel. Bethel hardly discourages that view. At times, they recommend it. But they have also stated that the large population of the Bethel ‘family’ in combination with its specialized purpose, makes numerous rules appropriate, far more rules than would be the case for an actual family outside of Bethel—where most families are. Okay, got it. We take whatever they do as a good example, for specialized circumstances, and not as template to be enforced upon every family—though there are many Witnesses that go that way and ‘guilt’ those that do not.

Brother Henry nailed it for me, however. I think I will make his statement my year text for the next decade or so: “Given the exact same scenario, spiritually minded people can make different decisions.”

.....

*As to avoidance of transfusion, the best evidence of spiritual justification lies in a statement more than 400 years old. When the first rudimentary blood transfusion experiments were performed, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Thomas Bartholin (1616-80), objected. His concern was not on scientific grounds but on spiritual:

“Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely,” he wrote. “Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited.”

The only people I know of who still have regard for this aspect of “divine law” are Jehovah’s Witnesses. If there were others, (and judging from Bartholin’s comment, there must have been) they abandoned it when transfusions were adopted by the medical mainstream.

....

The persons who risk being stumbled are described in verse as those who are new, also those who are weak but weak primarily because they are new. You tread carefully on account of those persons, so as not to damage them. I understand that.

They are also unbelievers who will draw wrong conclusions from what we do or do not do, so we modify our activity within reason so as to cater to them.

But sometimes Witnesses apply those verses to situations in which I think you really have to stretch them to apply. They are applied it to persons who have been in the truth forever, who have had plenty of time to grow up, but have not done so, and who stick their noses into other’s people’s business and promptly become offended. Cater to too many people like that and pretty soon you are afraid to do anything for fear of what some opinionated person will think. It is a significant source of the ‘burning within you’ that afflicts some in the congregations.

....

There is nothing more ridiculous (nor a worse witness) than brothers trying to make the internet behave as though it were the congregation. See them warn each other that so-and-so may not be in good standing, or may even be DFed. They don’t realize  how that reads to anyone not a Witness? Once you go outside counsel (given to youths, but the thought is that if it is good for youths, it probably is not bad for adults) to ‘friend’ only those you personally know—which everyone here does—you’re on your own. ‘They’re ALL liars,’ is my opening assumption, until they prove themselves otherwise—and since they are but digital bits, they can never pass that test 100%

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Overlooked by the Religion News Service—How Can That Be?

I visited religionnews.com and found that my religion does not exist. Jehovah’s Witnesses are nowhere listed in their tree of faiths. Everyone else is. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not. Can it be? RNS “strive[s] to inform, illuminate and inspire public discourse on matters relating to belief and convictions,” says their About page. So where are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Few religions have been in the news as much as they, especially with their recent ban in Russia. Is Religion News Service a Russian site? No. Is it their aim to suck up to the Russians? I don’t think so. So where are the Witnesses?

The reason that there is not a Jeopardy clue: “They visit door to door to speak about the Bible” is that the answer is too obvious and would stump no one. In some ways Witnesses are plainly the foremost of religions. “And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14), for example. Nobody is known for taking the ‘good news of the Kingdom’ to each and every person like Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially before ‘the end will come.’ Here is a cartoon of how JWs found Osama Bin Laden:

Or what about the verse, ‘beating their swords into plowshares.’ (Isaiah 2:4) It is an inspirational slogan for all. The ones who actually DO it are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They may be the only ones to completely do it, in that, not only will they not participate in wars, but they will not perform civilian work that is clearly designed to support war efforts.

Yet, look through the comprehensive list at the bottom of the religionnews.com website—they do not appear.

The first place you check, of course, is Christianity. There you find four subdivisions: Catholics, Latter Day Saints, Orthodox, and Protestants. If they are in any of the four, it must be Protestants. There you find three subdivisions: Black Protestants, Evangelical, and Mainline. Well, they’re not the first or the third. Since they preach the good news of the Kingdom, could they be the second? Nope. Scroll through the stories in that category. You won’t find them.

Okay, got it. They are not counted as Christian because RNS assumes that one must believe in the Trinity to be Christian—many times we’ve run across this. It makes no sense, but there it is. Most verses used to advance the Trinity teaching are verses that, if they were seen in any other context, would be instantly dismissed as figure of speech. There is no verse that directly states the Trinity, and the one in the King James Version that does (1 John 5:7) has been recognized by all modern scholars as a spurious insertion and thus either removed or footnoted. One almost pictures a scribe reviewing scriptures, getting madder and madder that his favorite doctrine is no where to be found, and slipping it in when no one was looking.

Where else might Jehovah’s Witnesses be if not in the Christian category? Well, maybe the Alternative Faiths category, or the Other Faiths category. Nope. Scroll through the stories on either category. They do not appear.

Is it an oversight? Is it a snub? Is it avoidance because any story about Jehovah’s Witnesses will reliably attract swarms of their virulent ‘apostates’ alarmed at any favorable mention and insistent upon maligning their former faith and so RNS just doesn’t want to deal with it? (See TrueTom vs the Apostates) Dunno. But is certainly is strange.

Now, to be sure, if you enter Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Search box, a few items appear—not many, but a few. One of them is not Even JW per se, but is of someone who wrote a book on how to refute them, along with the Mormons, latching on to key scriptures cites and how to answer back. Bring it on, I say. Any Witness worth his or her salt knows how to answer such things. So there is someone there at RNS that knows that if your textbook is the Bible, if you teach from it, if you have even invented an entirely new non-commercial distribution channel and translated it into overlooked languages of developing countries so that common persons there are not stuck with some 200-year old turkey of a translation that they can neither understand nor afford, you must be a religion. Still, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not listed in the list that includes everyone else.

Do not think that the JW organization will be miffed at not being included in the list. They may even draw satisfaction from it. “Good. Here is a list of the religions ‘of the world’ and we are not on it,” they may say. If there is one verse they take seriously over there at JW HQ, it is John 17:16, where Jesus prays about his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”

For that reason I will not go to the RNS site and holler, “Hey!—what is it with you clowns?!” The site is an offspring of the Missouri School of Journalism. It speaks of the ‘academic experts’ that monitor all. I don’t want to tangle with experts. Maybe they will try to pull rank on that basis. Who knows? Maybe they are right. Maybe I am not part of a religion, even if I do speak of the Bible door to door and keep the peace.

Imagine: In a list of “the religions of the world,” JWs are not on it. If you were to ask Bethel to describe their faith, very quickly would come up that statement that true Christians “are no part of the world.” Make of it what you will. I don’t make anything of it. I just note it.

....[edit]  Sigh....One person upbraided me for not contacting RNS and finding out why they had dropped us.

Said I: “In this case the answer is not particularly important, nor interesting. The situation prompting the question is what arouses interest. Here is a list of religions ‘of the world.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are ‘no part of the world’ are not on it. Who cares why? I don’t.

“Even so, I did mention three possibilities: 

“Is it an oversight? Is it a snub? Is it avoidance because any story about Jehovah's Witnesses will reliably attract swarms of their virulent "apostates' alarmed at any favorable mention and insistent upon maligning their former faith and so RNS just doesn't want to deal with it?”

“Which one of the three it is doesn’t interest me. It is like when the Die Hard villain finally dies himself, after two hours of mayhem, and you learn in the epilogue that he was also behind in his contributions to the United Way. Who cares?”

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Cliques in the Congregation - I Hate That Stuff!

Through the back channels, I got a report of an elderly sister—new to the congregation, but certainly not new to the faith, who felt she had fallen through the cracks. She felt overlooked, as though the congregation was cliquish and she had not broken into the clique. It wasn’t so much her, actually—she just got depressed, asking herself whether she had done something wrong or whether Jehovah had forgotten her—but it was her non-Witness (though supportive) family who felt she was bypassed.

It is the oldest lament in the book, dating even back to Acts: “Now in those days when the disciples were increasing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution,” (Acts 6:1) a lament that even has a favoritism by national background theme to it—today it would be called racism.

Now, you don’t overreact to reports like this, but neither do you underreact. Is it true? It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone thinks it is true. We are blind people ascertaining the nature of the elephant by feel, and someone has grabbed hold of a tusk. You go around looking for some butts to kick in case it is true and you seek to console and adjust the complaining one in case it is not true—probably it is some of both. And (gulp) you look at yourself—‘Am I one of the bad boys in the ‘in crowd’ that won’t give anyone else the time of day?’

I like the seven congregations getting their comeuppance in Revelation 2 and 3. The ‘seven’ apparently stands for all of the variety to be seen today in the worldwide congregation. One of those congregations was an out an out clunker—nothing but a cause of rebuke from the Lord. Another was an out and out winner, earning praise, with but one or two tweaks recommended, as though topping off the tank. But the others were mixed bags—each with some good and some bad. Yet they were all congregations. We’re stuck with them. It’s the curse of being human.

There’s a reason that Paul told the brothers to ‘widen out’—too many of them weren’t doing it. (2 Corinthians 6:12-14) There’s a reason that Solomon writes not to take too much to heart what others say or do—by doing so you’re fixating on something you can’t control to the possible neglect of something you can. “Do not take to heart every word that people say; otherwise, you may hear your servant calling down evil on you; for you well know in your heart that many times you yourself have called down evil on others.” (Eccles 7:21-22)

Sometimes people avoid you because you are prickly. Other times it is because you are not a ‘people person’ and they, not being naturally people persons themselves, simply find it easier to hang with those they know well. Sometimes they just have too much on their plate as it is and you are that ‘one more thing’ that they assure themselves someone else will get around to. ‘Going through the motions’ is a charge too easily made of others. I don’t like to go there. Even if one is going through the motions, it is generally a case of ‘fake it till you make it.’

“I’ve learned not to expect too much of other people,” is a tried and true formula long-time faithful ones will cite. Generally those others come through, but if you’re ever left holding the bag, you find that you can weather the storm with that attitude. It is the relationship with God that keeps you going. The people are just thrown in as a freebie. We are social beings—God made us that way—so the congregation is nothing but a boon, but if you come to over-rely on it and under-rely on its originator, you set yourself up for heartbreak should they ever drop the ball.

What I like is that in a godly organization every person looks to themselves for the remedy to any discord. It contrasts so well with the leaders during Covid 19 time, preoccupied with blaming each other. Not for one moment do they look inward. It’s one thing to delay boarding the lifeboat because you don’t think the ship is going down. It’s another to think that it probably is, but it is still more important to affix blame.

It’s like those congregation talks on marriage and family life. At first you use them to educate your mate on what he or she is doing wrong. But in time you use them to educate yourself. You pay attention to what your mama told you ages ago and you used to blow it off as nothing: “Point a finger at someone and there are three pointing at you.” Best to heed the three pointing at you. You can do something about that trinity.

Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye but do not notice the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to remove the straw from your eye,’ when look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to remove the straw from your brother’s eye,” says Jesus. (Matthew 7:3-5) For want of applying this counsel, the deeds of ones greater than us unravel. He called them hypocrites—those who would not first look to themselves.

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child,” says Paul at 1 Corinthians 13:11. Same here. When I was new in the faith, I would gravitate to my buddies after each closing prayer. Now I ignore them and look for ones who seem unengaged. There will be time enough for the good ‘ol boys later.

....

(Someone commented on how she felt just so left out, She was not a people person, she said, moreover she knew that her place was with the friends and she was determined to stay, but she does wish that people would not just walk by her with a quick ‘Hi. How are you?’)

I answered:

Sometimes it is better to reject a certain interpretation of things even if that interpretation seems the most reasonable. 

On the troubles of shy people, I learned more from Garrison Keillor than I ever did from the Bible. Even at the height of his show’s popularity, he was, according to Chet Atkins, painfully shy. ‘You just cannot compliment him,’ Atkins would say. ‘He gets all awkward and walks away.’ He poked fun at his own condition. Made up sponsor for his show, ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ was Powder Milk Biscuits, the biscuits “that give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Each ‘ad’ for the ‘product’ he would begin with some narration about shy people, invariably coming to the punch line that Powder Milk Biscuits was just what they needed, before singing the Powder Milk song. He once said that a great aid to shyness was to take pleasure in the company of other people, simply as a spectator. It was almost better that way, for it relieved you of the pressure to think of something to say. Just learn to enjoy being in their midst and watching them.

Get to the meetings ahead of time and don’t leave immediately afterwards. Sometimes just take your seat, and sometimes just stand watching the others. Try to have some tidbit in mind from the current Bible reading or the program that has nothing to do with yourself so that should you be called upon for conversation, you will have something to say. No need to leave should you get teary, I would not think, unless you are outright bawling, and maybe even then it is best to tough it out. It is very important not to blame anyone. Don’t blame yourself and don’t blame others. It is what it is. Maybe it will change. Maybe it will not. Try to learn to be comfortable in their midst, whether people speak with you or not. Years later you may come to have insight or reflections on the social environment. Don’t push those reflections to come just now.

....

“Well, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Yes, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Well, if your family’s tried them, you know you’ve satisfied them.
There’s a real hot item, Powder Milk”
 

...I just threw in the ditty at the end because I remember Keillor singing it in every show. It is hardly necessary, but maybe in some way that I cannot define myself, it brings something to the table.

......

To counsel that the above person should “step outside her comfort zone”:

When they push me to step outside of my comfort zone I reply that I am not even completely comfortable IN my comfort zone, so I’m in no hurry to step outside it. No, I would not in any way increase the onus on yourself. It is likely to result in feelings of guilt and failure. 

For whatever it is worth, I don’t think people are very good at being ‘people persons’ today, and that is true of Americans in particular. I don’t know why that is. I suspect vast media consumption has something to do with it. Conversation is an art and if you binge-watch a season of Monk or Bull or whatever at a time—well, that is time that you do not have to improve your conversation skills—and perhaps more importantly, your desire to communicate. Probably materialism plays a part. If you have stuff, it is just too easy to fall back on it for comfort, and thereby fail to advance in conversation ability.

This is among the reasons, hardly the sole ones, that the organization says keep entertainment and material things in their place. Frankly, you would think that the friends as a whole would be making better progress in being ‘people persons’ than they are. Quite a few people are rather hard to converse with. I am easily able to hold back and listen, even draw out people, but with some you end up doing all the talking—they simply hold back, for whatever reason, and let you carry the ball. I confess these ones tend to wear me out, but I recharge elsewhere and give them another shot.

Don’t try to figure it out. Put yourself where you need to be and do not judge yourself harshly. Keep that same attitude with regard to others in the congregation—don’t judge them harshly. Satan is pouring sand in the gearbox and it slows down the works. Do the things that you can, and be patient with what you cannot. Do the serenity prayer if you like. Ask to make changes with what you can, endure what you cannot, and recognize what components predominate in each.. 

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Dealing With the Anxiety of Our Times

In my “practical wisdom” mode, not my “world is going to hell in a handbasket” mode, I start my door-to-door presentation with an invitation to consider a practical verse like Matthew 6:25.

“Anxiety is a huge concern today. We read about it. We experience it. I want to read you a scripture on that theme, you tell me what you think, and I am out of here. Good idea?”

You can throw in a factoid or two from somewhere, like something here from the New York Times, but I usually pass. You are looking for people with whom the idea resonates, and if it doesn’t, the New York Times will not convince them that it should.

An affirmative answer to my offer will earn the householder the reading of Matthew 6:25.

“On this account I [Jesus] say to you: Stop being anxious about your lives as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not life mean more than food and the body than clothing?”

“That’s all I wanted to do,” I will say, “to get this notion on the table—that anxiety is something that you might hope to just “stop it.” He doesn’t say, don’t start being anxious. He assumes his listeners already are. He says ‘Stop it.’

The next move is the householder’s, and I tell him that he doesn’t have to make one. “If the subject piques interest, if you have views if you.....” and so forth.

If he doesn’t (and even if he does), I will leave a tract—any of them will do—and call attention to the jw.org website and what is to be found there. If they do, then conversation might go a hundred different ways. Even so, I do not press every moment to stay. Rather, I offer every moment to leave. Even some lengthy conversations I have cut them sort, to the householder’s  protest. “Yes, you say it now,” I observe, “but after I go you will say, “Man! I wanted to get some stuff done today, and then this Bible guy showed up!”

Maybe I have grown sensitive to all the concerns of those who cry over “manipulation,” and so I am determined to not even give the appearance of going there. Of course, the extremists among these ones are babies to whom introducing any idea not mainstream is “manipulation,”—they decry all “brainwashing” except for the brainwashing that is theirs—and there is not much one can do about that, but I try not to attract the charge like a magnet.

I can hear Anthony Morris giving the talk now at the 2016 Regional Convention in Atlanta. I wasn’t there—I was at another convention—but the talk was streamed. “‘Stop it!’ Jesus says. Just ‘stop it!’ as though addressing a child—and that was the idea that he went on to develop, that it was a controllable emotion. It was a meaningful talk for me. Anxiety had proven to be a weakness for me —it afflicts some in the family—and when I was hit with a perfect storm of calamities, I did not blame humans like Jimmy does. I did worse and blamed God.

Believe me, I envy those brothers—I have met a lot of them—who say: “I’ve never worried a day in my life!” To be sure, that envy is tempered by the fact that some of these characters caused plenty of others to worry, and even when it was not so, they had other weaknesses to compensate or even more than compensate. We are all “pieces of work” in one way or another.

I also know quite a few who, by choice, live very close to the wire. They have structured their lives that way. It is deliberate. They have determined to “make use of the world, but not use it to the full.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) They have decided to go light as to material things. The ideal among Jehovah’s Witnesses—which some have attained and some have not—is to acquire a skill that pays well, and then do as little of it as possible so as to have as large a share as possible in the kingdom proclamation work. I am not one of those people, either, but I sort of envy them, as the modern manifestation of Paul, who knew “how to be low on provisions and how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to do without.” - Philippians 4:12

These ones will crinkle a fender on their car and ask God what to do about it, since there’s no money in the budget for the mishap. What is God going to do about it? Time and again persons I know well have reported such things—they take it to God in prayer—and presently the answer presents itself in totally unanticipated ways, sometimes very unlikely ones. They thereafter attribute it to God’s spirit. Am I going to tell them that they are wrong?

Why would I do that? How do I know? It is more likely—when you hear such things again and again—that they are right. I do what Mary did, with regard to different experiences: “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Maybe they’ll do me some good someday, the same way they did her. Key is the confidence of 1 John 5:14: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that no matter what we ask according to his will, he hears us.” For it to work it must be “according to his will.”

It seems that it will be very hard to dictate to someone else just how holy spirit is supposed to work. Almost by definition, you cannot. It is the wind of John 3:8 that you feel but cannot see. It is the angels that the cosmonauts did not see—and so concluded from that experience that there was no God. No, it operates as it operates and is one of those “taste and see” sort of things.

 

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An Advocate for Singleness - Francis Bacon, #90 on the Influential Persons List

Was it only me who was surprised to see specific counsel about sex in the Bible?

Let the husband render to [his] wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to [her] husband.  The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.  Do not be depriving each other [of it], except by mutual consent for an appointed time, that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-regulation.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

I just didn’t expect to see it there—maybe I should have—and it cemented my opinion that the Bible was a very practical book.

The apostle Paul, who was not married, recommended singleness as a way of life: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman;  yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband....However, I say this by way of concession, not in the way of a command.  But I wish all men were as I myself am. (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

In the single state, one can more readily give “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction,” he wrote at vs 35.

So from time to time, the Witness organization dutifully recommends singleness as a way of life. Few take them up on it—perhaps because those doing the recommending are almost always married themselves. Instead, they employ the “escape clause” at verse 36: “But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.” They even push the “bloom of youth” phrase to almost mean two minutes past the bloom of youth. Many of our people go in for marriage when quite young. Many of these later come to say that they entered marriage too young.

Is there anyone other than the apostle Paul who gives such advice? To my surprise, there is—and he is a big name by historical standards—Francis Bacon, a philosopher of the 16th century who advocated for scientific investigation, recognizing its potential to change the world. From Aristotle’s time, science had been mostly based on deduction. Bacon changed it to be based on induction. Rather than ‘downloading’ ‘settled science’ and deducing from it, he advanced the notion of ‘uploading’ observations and experiments, and using that to modify existing science, so that it should never become like calcified religious dogma. Michael Hart ranks him #90 on this list of the 100 most influential persons who have ever lived. (Paul is #6)

His preference of singleness (though, like most who ‘recommend’ singleness today, he was married) is for the same reason as Paul’s: one can do more in that state: He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public.”

This is not necessarily true of the unmarried—that they make great contributions (“Some there are, who though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences”)—but it could be more readily true of them, by reason of having fewer distractions.

Watch out the traps of marriage!—and I am not sure here whether he is lampooning those who run from it simply for the sake of self-centeredness, or if he advocating forsaking it for the contributions one can thereby more easily make to humankind: “But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think their girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fuginves are of that condition.”

He even agrees with Paul’s specific application for remaining unmarried: “Single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground were it must first fill a pool.” How well that ties in with Paul’s: “The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord’s approval.  But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided” (Vs 32-34)

That is not to say that either Francis or Paul did not concede the tempering effect of marriage on personality: “Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men, though they may be many times more charitable, because their means are less exhaust, yet, on the other side, they are more cruel and hard-hearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon.”

Still, all things considered, Bacon refers to “one of the wise men, that made answer to the question, when an man should marry—A young man, not yet, and elder man not at all.

Who knew? C4DD0E19-880B-432F-AC49-BA17DECABA87

 

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