Earning Everlasting Life

Tom Pearlsandswine, the melodramatic sap, was conducting a study, or just starting to, with a surly fellow who reached into his wallet and pulled out $100. “This is what you're after,” he said. “This is what you guys are always after. Here.”

Pearlsandswine declined.

“Look, you're time is worth something,” the other said. “Nobody does anything for free! Why do you keep coming? What's in it for you?”

“I'll tell you why I come,” Pearlsandswine replied with quiet intensity. He turned to James 5:19-20 where he read “…..if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

“I've committed a lot of sins in my life,” he said sincerely, “and I need them to be covered. I want to make it up to God. I'm leaving behind all the bad I used to do.”

Was there a dry eye in the house? What a heartrending confession! What a humble reply! What an repentance-filled life turnaround!

What a pious big dope! For you know, and I know, that he butchered James 5:19-20. He got it exactly backwards. Last time The Watchtower magazine mentioned the verse (3/1/83 page 15), it said:

"The person who reproved him has thus worked toward the covering over, or pardoning, of the erring one’s sins."   (Wt 3/1/83 page 15, italics mine)

It's not the teacher who gets his sins covered and soul saved. It's the taught one. Look, it sounds all pious and teary, the way Tom explained it, I grant you. But if it was really that way, we would truly be earning life, wouldn't we? “Attaboy, Pearlsandswine....a disciple! That's one hundred sins knocked off the record! Just two more people baptized and you're home free!”

There's plenty of people who accuse Jehovah's Witnesses of having just that attitude toward their ministry....that of earning life through good works. But doesn't this accusation originate with people who do little or nothing in appreciation for Christ's free gift of life, yet want to feel morally superior to those who do? "Works" that Jehovah's Witnesses perform are in appreciation for that gift, and in obedience to Christ's command to "go and make disciples." (Matt 28:19) Witnesses do not imagine for one minute that they are "earning" everlasting life. The importance of Christian activity is supported by James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” KJV

See, the teacher already has his sins covered and soul saved. Not through any special merit on his part, mind you, but because he has put faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And by guiding the student to a place where he can also dedicate his life to God through Christ, he is “covering the sins” and “saving the soul” of that student. That's how it works, and not the other way around, the way Pearlsandswine said it.

But you can almost forgive Pearlsandswine his mistake....in fact, you can forgive it......since it largely stems from a revulsion of the other guys, the 'believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' crowd. There's so many of these folk who do nothing after they start to "believe"...nothing in appreciation of the gift of life. Or, more typically, they suggest that anything they do after their 'believing on the Lord' has become sanctified....they've turned their life over to Jesus and Jesus is now driving! If they do something good....praise be to Jesus! If they do something not so good....you know, the kind of stuff they've long been used to doing......ah, well.....Jesus is driving, to be sure, but he is driving an old wreck of a car and there's only so much even an expert driver can do. However, it's not a problem at all, since Jesus' syrupy love covers us even when we're at our sinning worst. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.” That's what they like to hear! The easier, the better! The rest of the Bible is just so much "fine print." In short, they get to live pretty much as they've always lived, only with a self-righteous layer floating agreeably on top!

Guys like Pearlsandswine hate that hypocracy, as do all of Jehovah's Witnesses, and so at times are inclined to blunder the way in which he did, in his case botching the James verse.

Pearlsandswine's well aware of the free gift of life:

 For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.   Rom 6:23   Okay? It's free. PnS knows that.

But he also knows of the many verses that call for showing appreciation for that gift, some which would seem to require substantial effort and self-sacrifice. Like “faith without works is dead,” quoted above, but also:

Now a certain man said to him: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” He said to them: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able.   Luke 13:23-24

Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.   1 Cor 9:24-27

Or....


Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling...   Phil 2:12  NWT

Let's focus upon this last verse for a moment. The New World Translation renders it just as does the New International Version, the King James Version, and most other popular translations. There is remarkable agreement across translations on "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

However, if you don't really like the idea that you must “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” maybe you can change the verse. Perhaps you can change the wording so that the advice appears to be a suggestion, not a command.

Notice how the New Life Version puts it:

My Christian friends, you have obeyed me when I was with you. You have obeyed even more when I have been away. You must keep on working to show you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Be afraid that you may not please God.   New Life Version.

Note the subtle difference? No longer must you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” which implies you could lose that favored standing. The only danger, from New Life's point of view, is that you might fail to show your saved standing!

Or consider the Contemporary English Version:

My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 

See? No danger that you could lose your “saved” standing.  But you might....gasp!.... fail to discover what that standing really means!

Or the wordy Message translation, which I've quoted from favorably before, here and here. True, they undeniably scored a dud here. It's not a literal work. All paraphrased Bibles give their editors much leeway to insert favored interpretations:

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.    The Message

I don't know what that's supposed to mean! Just a feel-good pep talk, really.

The offerings of New Life, Contemporary English, and Message illustrate what Jason Beduhn called the “Protestant's Burden.” You remember Jason Beduhn. He compared nine popular Bible translations and concluded that the New World Translation was the most un-biased...it ran truest to accurately translating the original languages! Placing a close second was the New American Translation, a Catholic translation. This somewhat flies in the face of what he expected, and what most people would expect. Shouldn't the more ecumenical Bibles, with editors representing many different denominations, result in the least bias? Yet the top two works for bias-free translating came from single denominations: Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. What gives?

Beduhn hypothesized that the New World Translation had little pressure to be biased, since Jehovah's Witnesses are a relatively recent religion. Their track record isn't too long. Hence, they can just let their translation say whatever the original languages say, and then conform to it. If it calls for a change in some of their views, then they can just change them; they're no more than a few decades old anyway. Catholics are also free from bias pressure, Beduhn suggests, though the reason is different. The Catholic Church freely maintains that scripture is not the final word, but is augmented by interpretations of subsequent Saints and Popes. So if their translation reveals something contrary to present Church practices, (such as Matt 23:9, 1 Cor 9:5 which shows Peter, their first pope, a married man, and 1 Tim 4:1-3) it's really not a problem since nobody among them ever said the Bible was the final authority. 

But Protestants...alas! have the burden of a) a long history, therefore hard to amend, and b) an insistance that they represent Bible truth completely. So when the Bible doesn't agree with their doctrines or practices, that's a problem for them. And as the three translations above illustrate, they're not above changing the verses to solve such difficulties! Thus, the phrase Beduhn coined: the Protestant's Burden!

So.....albeit with some effort....we can now exonerate Tom Pearlsandswine from his doctrinal blunder re James 5:19-20, at least this week. It was merely an overreaction to pious fundamentalists. Let's hope he doesn't say something even dumber next week.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

Income, Religion, and Jehovah's Witnesses

Pew Foundation recently studied the correlation between religion and average income. They published their results. Anyone religious dropped whatever they were doing to check just where they stood on the list. I know I did. Toward the top, hopefully. That's where I wanted to be. I mean, nobody wants to be in one of those loser religions at the bottom. If you're not making a lot of money, then....let us not mince words here.....what good are you?

But as I checked my ranking, I did so with trepidation. I was hopeful, but still I had my heart in my mouth. See, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I knew very well I wouldn't rank at the top. Maybe middle of the pack. Surely I must rate higher than the …....OH NO!!! DEAD LAST!! Well, almost. Right down there with the Pentecostals, who are slightly lower.

Oh, the dishonor! I tell you, I was absolutely mortified. I pulled the shades down, turned off the phone, and didn't leave the house for a month. How could I face anyone? I thought and thought and thought, but couldn't work around the disgrace.

But then I thought some more and I could.

If members eschewing Christianity actually apply the Bible in their lives, will that not, in itself, put them at the low end of the spectrum? Any number of passages advise living simply. For example, from 1 Tim 6:7-8

"For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things."

Seen in this light, it's almost a badge of honor to be on the low end of the spectrum. It's evidence that your group really is content with sustenance and covering, just like Paul said. Yours is a faith that doesn't just shunt aside such verses so as not to distract from what's really important: making money. Just the thought that religious folk get smug when they see themselves at the top of the scale steams me. Ought they not be embarrassed to be there? At least, if they profess Christianity? And yet, for the most part, the blogosphere had it 180 degrees backwards: with writers chest-thumping for those at the top, and hoo-hawing those dopes at the bottom.

But again, it's not the Christian pattern:

“Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."            Matt 6;19-21

 


And


“No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. you cannot slave for God and for Riches."       Matt 6:24

And

"For all these are the [material] things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you."    Matt 6:32-33
 

Other than Jehovah's Witnesses, is there anyone who actually does this? “Seek first the kingdom,” instead of “eagerly pursuing” material things, trusting that “your heavenly Father "knows you need all these things” and will "add them to you"? I've no doubt there are individuals who apply such counsel, swimming against the tide of their own churches. But are there entire religions who apply such counsel, other than Jehovah's Witnesses? I tell you, it makes me proud to be a Witness. We're all about seeking first the kingdom.

But if your main goal is advancing in your secular career, using religion mostly to put a smilely, softening face on that quest, you won't be attracted to Jehovah's Witnesses. That's not us. We “seek the kingdom,” acting upon such verses as Matt 24:14:

“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.”  Obviously, the good news of the kingdom will be preached by those who believe in it. Who else is going to do it? So we adjust our lives to have such a role, rather than chase after money.

And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”   Matt 28:18-20

You don't make yourselves wealthy doing that. You're not going to be at the high end of the Pew spectrum. Money's going to be a tool for you, not an end in itself. You're deliberate in your choices. You don't want your work so low-paying that no time' s left over for the ministry. But neither do you want work so engrossing and demanding that no time remains for the ministry. You maneuver yourself to get into that position. Believe me, it's a great balancing act, especially for one with a family. It's not easy. It requires planning. Some have even come to regret decisions they've made. But we don't just blindly chase after maximum income, putting material things above all else, which is the pattern of the Western world, if not all humanity.

For example, the Watchtower recently (3/15/11 issue) advised

…...Of course, God does not want you to be imprudent or irresponsible, especially if you have a family to care for. (1 Tim 5:8) but he does expect his servants to trust fully in him – not in Satan's dying world – Heb 13:5

Consider the example of Richard and Ruth, parents of three young children. ….“I had a comfortable life but felt that I was just giving God my surplus, as it were. After praying about the matter and counting the cost, Ruth and I agreed that I would ask my supervisor for a reduced work schedule of four days a week – even though the country was in the middle of an economic crisis. My request was approved, and I started working the new schedule within one month.” How does Richard feel now?

“I get 20 percent less pay than before,” he says, “but now I have an extra 50 days a year to be with my family and train the children. I have been able to double my time in field service, triple my number of Bible studies, and take a greater lead in the congregation.”

He's not worried about lousing up the Pew spectrum, is he? Talk about “counting the costs!” This fellow has counting down to a fine art. Does anyone other than Watchtower publish such counsel? You know religions embrace, if not sanctify, the pursuit of career...if for no other reason that they know they'll get a percentage of the lucrative income. But who actually encourages their people to live simply, besides Jehovah's Witnesses? Even our wealthy ones.....for we have some...the Pew figure is merely the average on a bell curve...are not gushed over and boasted about, as is typical in religion today. Like this fellow in “Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry,” who I mentioned in the post “The New Cool Mormons.” I know him. I've been to his house. His work has prospered. He became (I assume) a millionaire. Yet when the Watchtower features his colorful life story, it doesn't even mention his material success. It's not what's important. Probably the next guy written about didn't have two nickels to rub together. The focus is purely spiritual.

So, it's not so shameful to be at the bottom of the Pew list, after all. Rather, for a Christian, it's shameful not to be there.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

Love, Marriage, and Soulmates

When I became a JW in the 1970's, I would tell people divorce was unheard of among us; it simply never happened. It wasn't true.
 
But it was almost true. Divorce was rare enough that a new person might think it was true, and I did. Back then, there might be a couple dozen divorces within the entire circuit, and that would be cumulative, not per annum. Not anymore. Nobody today has the slightest difficulty listing any number of divorced persons. In fact, someone even tried to tell me that, here in the West, divorces are slightly more frequent among JWs than the general population. I don't think that's true, just based upon what I see. But it might be true if one considers that huge swaths of people just don't bother with marriage anymore; they simply cohabit. Thus, should they break up, it does nothing to “harm the stats.”
 
Several years ago, I worked a part-time job that put me shoulder to shoulder with lots of young people. They'd ask how long I'd been married and do a doubletake when I told them. Products of divorce, separation, and single-parent families, they'd never come across someone married so long. Can you really expect that they're going to commit themselves to a model they've never seen work? So they simply live together when the time comes. Those who formalize their relationship into marriage may have lived together so long that their relationship is like an old comfortable shoe, unlikely to pinch.

But long-married folks among us know how marriage is. It's built on love and loyalty. You find just that right person to start with.... personalities that click, common interests, goals and so forth, and then you add in shared experiences, lots of communication, and deliberate acts of kindness expressed towards each other. You put time and effort into it. It's like sewing, really. Hundreds of tiny stitches, adding more all the time, to bind the garment ever tighter as one. It's all very fine. It builds over years and years.

And then one day someone comes along out of the blue, someone with whom you've done none of these things, and immediately narrows the gap by half simply by being themselves! What's with that? A “soulmate”? A “treacherous heart?” Or a bit of both?  Let's face it – people today love the idea of soulmates. 

Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I have talked through these things before. We have a good marriage. We don't have a perfect marriage. Are there any of those? We mesh as one on some things. We're quite unlike on others. We've worked through issues, like, really, any other lasting couple I know of.

That's why it irked me a little when I stumbled across that film Before Sunset, though at the same time I liked it a lot because it dealt intelligently with the attraction of soulmates.  It doesn't use the actual word, probably so as not to be assigned the category of “new age babble,” but it sure does explore the concept. It's a talky movie, full of persuasive, unforced, seemingly spontaneous dialogue, most of it filmed in long 6 or 7 minute takes while the two characters, man and woman, are strolling the streets of Paris. These two have reunited after a too-brief chance encounter ten years ago. It seemed, back then, that they were made for each other. They felt that instinctive attraction. They meant to develop and continue the relationship, but alas, circumstances yanked them apart and they did not reconnect until now – ten years later. In the meantime, they've both built lives, taken responsibilities, one of them is married with child.

What I like is that the soulmate notion is explored so well...we feel as they that developing awareness that they've both passed on that one person...each other...with whom they were meant to be. Moreover, the film develops so gradually you don't for a moment find it contrived. Ever so gradually it unfolds that this married fellow isn't happy with how his life has turned out, nor the woman with hers. His marriage is like a prison, he at long last confesses; he's married to a wonderful person, mind you, no one says otherwise, but just the wrong person. And when we learn why the he wrote his best-selling book in the first place....for that's the opening of the film: he's on a book tour promoting it.....you should think Slumdog Millionaire. He wrote the book about her, the only way he could think of to find her again! It's emotionally moving, I admit. That's what I like.

What I don't like is how conventional marriage suffers in comparison. Don't you have to cultivate a marriage? If this guy's marriage is a “prison,” isn't it through this own neglect? He's surely cultivated his career with due diligence, as we are made well aware. Would that he put the same effort into his marriage. But you know how it is with folks today. Relationships must be “pure heart,” no effort required. Thus, we have that stupid 1970 film Love Story, with it's silly “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” Any effort implies that perhaps the relationship is phony to begin with, and is not “meant to be.”
 
Though, having said that, if I recall correctly, this Before Sunset fellow married so as to be a responsible father to the child he had conceived. That's not the best foundation upon which to build, is it? Doesn't it serve to remind that you ought to go conceiving after the stable relationship is established, not before? I tell you, it makes me grateful to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith which has “held the line” regarding marriage over the past century, while most everyone else has learned to accommodate a new morality....to be satisfied with, not necessarily marriage, but merely a “caring relationship.” Okay, okay, so JWs show the strains of withstanding the new anti-marriage environment. We've even adapted to the times, and in the last few decades have listed a few scenarios....essentially, when you're married to someone who's just plain no good....under which separation is understandable. I mean, there are people with whom you just can't do much. Still, the JW stance is a far cry from most groups, who have thrown the marriage model overboard altogether, and how many of us might not have fared well were it not for that strong framework? For marriage, as practiced in most quarters today, is not thought to be a permanent bond, but simply a manifestation of hopeful intentions. You see your lawyer beforehand to draw up the pre-nups in case it doesn't work out.
 
However, back to the movie, and, of course, "true love" wins out at the end.....doesn't it always with new-age people?....this fellow reunites with his soulmate, presumably leaving his wonderful wife (and child) behind to fend for themselves.... responsibly, of course, with financial support and so forth. And, glory of glories, now that the very cosmos are aligned, doubtless the dumped wife (and child) are now freed to be reunited with their own soulmates! So it's a win-win-(win).
 
Now, what to make over all this?
 
With several billion men and women on the planet....you're not going to meet too many of them before marrying one for yourself, are you? So, after marriage, it would seem there's no way you're not going to run across someone, sooner or later, who appears more compatible than your own spouse! But if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon your own marriage, shouldn't you be able to withstand a soulmate “assault?” Especially if you put some distance between yourselves. Whereas if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon every other aspect of your life, while allowing the marriage to become a weed patch, it's likely doomed to extinction. Or you come to regard it as “a prison,” which isn't much better. Build on the marriage, however, and it becomes a great source of happiness, stability, loyalty, and love, even if you scratch your head sometimes over a “what if” soulmate scenario.
 
Besides, I 'm not so sure about “soulmates,” anyway. In the mid 1980's author Richard Bach brought soulmates to the masses. He was already well-known...a somewhat spacey character who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for years, and spawned a movie scored by Neil Diamond. But then he went off on a well-publicized quest to find the "perfect match," the "one and only" for whom he was "meant to be!" He found her! He married her! His one true soulmate! His disciples swooned with joy and ecstasy! He spun a few books off the experience. He became THE soulmate guru. Years of natural bliss ensued. And then......don't you know....he divorced her! His soulmate!!! They say he received death threats from fans, who felt betrayed and who perhaps began to look apprehensively at their own soulmates. Read up on it here and here, if you like.
 
So it's intriguing, that notion of soulmates, but I hesitate to put too much stock into it.
 
Nonetheless, let's pursue this a bit. Wouldn't it also be the case that atheism, which is all the rage today, increases the appeal of the “soulmate?” I mean, if this life is truly all there is, then time's running short. You don't want to waste your remaining decades with the “wrong” person, and if you should happen to meet that “right” person....well.....better change horses now while there's yet time. And since, just playing the odds, you're always going to meet someone more “right” than the one you have now, just where does it end? Aren't you apt, if you really follow soulmate propaganda, to merely end up with a lifetime of failed relationships?

But with a healthy belief in God, one can take the long-range view. Doesn't the Bible even instruct that this life is not the real life, anyway....that the “real life” doesn't commence until 1000 years into the new system of God's kingdom rule over earth? So I don't know why we can't be patient, and learn to enjoy the trip. It seems sure to be a good destination in store, since God “is opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:16)
 
It's an alluring anomaly, that of soulmates. I think we lose a lot of marriages to it. Not all. Doubtless much divorce is just good ol sleaze and lust, today's world plastering illicit sex all over the place, so that people come to think of nothing else. Thus, we Watchtower readers are always hearing about trading one's relationship with God for “a few moments of pleasure.” But with the ever-increasing awareness of ones own emotional well-being that pop culture insists we all must cultivate, one begins to wonder about marriage itself. I mean, it doesn't, as practiced today, really take into account “soulmates,” does it? And yet soulmates would appear to be a good thing. Or is it all just Richard Bachian new-age drivel?
 
Being 1000 years removed from perfection, it's a little hard to tell. (Rev 20:1-6) We're an awfully self-indulgent people right now, living in an world that insists upon satisfying immediate desires. A “god of their belly” world, where people mind only “things on the earth.” Says Paul:
 
For there are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory consists in their shame, and they have their minds upon things on the earth.     Phil 3:18-19
 
Perhaps it will be that, upon continual cultivation of one's own marriage over time, our spouse, whoever they are, becomes our full blown soulmate. Or, for all I know, marriage itself may turn out to be primarily a provision to get us through our time of imperfection....an arrangement tailor-made for this system, necessary for now, an acceptable way to interact with the opposite sex and provide a framework for raising the next generation, but due to become obsolete 1000 years into the new system, when the originally intended condition of humankind has been realized. Or maybe not. Dunno. It's a 'wait and see.' But we'd do a lot of changing in 1000 years, even without the burden of human imperfection removed. What might we do when it is removed?
 
You can almost read the possibility in the current wedding vows: “for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” While that might imply permanence, doesn't it also allow for the possibility that “God's marital arrangement” might one day, 1000 years from now, change? You must admit, it is one way to resolve that perplexing question of why resurrected ones are said not to marry.
 
But I haven't the foggiest. No one knows. We don't get it all, in this system of things, nor do we even know what the “all” is. But we do know that, regarding God, he is “opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” And really, that ought to suffice.

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Tom Irregardless and Me  No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

The New Cool Mormons

The Mormons launched a new PR campaign on local TV.  Two 15 second spots run back to back.  There's a series of them. Each features a young, cool, vivacious person doing young, cool, vivacious things, with voiceover:
 
 I'm a bicyclist, I'm a curator, I'm a husband......and I'm a Mormon!
 
I'm a scateboarder, I'm a student, I'm a musician.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Toss in some feel-good banal statement, such as “I believe in living every minute of each day as though it was my last,” and the ad is complete:
 
I'm a surfer, I'm a wife, I'm a nurse, I believe that we're all here in life to make a difference.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Get it? We're cool, just like you. What.....did you hear somewhere that we're weird? Who told you that? No! We're not weird at all! We're just like you, only more so! Please.....love us!
 
Now, can I tell you what I think of this campaign? If I do, it will be a departure for me, because I've said kind things about Mormons on these posts. Besides, I don't want to offend Nate the Mormon, an amiable fellow with whom I sometimes exchange comments, who is these days given to writing movie reviews on off-the-radar films.  I mean, don't get me wrong.....it's not as though I think Mormons and JWs are brethern religions or anything.......we're poles apart spiritually.... but there are several similarities between us and they are good similarities. Both faiths have a public ministry....yes, yes, just a two year stint for the youngsters, but it's intense, and more than anyone else has. Both have a reputation for honesty. Both keep their ranks clean. Both look after their own, and promptly come to the aid of members in times of disaster. Both recognize the value of organization. Neither has members who insist on exercising their own rights to the exclusion of all else. Both even had a child superstar of the 70's: Donny Osmond for them, Michael Jackson for us (who, alas, strayed). No question about it: there's things about Mormons I like.

But I can't stand this new campaign of theirs. It wore out it's welcome the first time I saw it. Is it just a stupid  public relations move from the Mormons, or does it represent what they are? Dunno. But it's so pandering. It is so....oh, please love us.....we're cool, like you! Not the slightest hint of anything spiritual. Instead, absolute emphasis on how Mormons love to have fun, and how they love to do neat things. It's like the Catholics crowing 'we're the place for BINGO! Or “we've chucked those boring masses for guitars!” At least when they embraced those things, they didn't glorify it through PR spots, as though they wished to redefine themselves thereby. I mean, why carry on as if ashamed of what you are? Aren't Mormons supposed to be a faith?
 
Look, I'm not opposed to fun. Or having interesting work. All of those things the various Mormons do....we have people who do them, too. But I can't imagine a campaign in which we identify ourselves by those activities.

Now, it just so happens that the general managers of two Rochester radio stations are Jehovah's Witnesses. Sometimes you'll hear them on the air. That's cool, isn't it? I know both of these guys They're nice people. But there's no way I can imagine a TV spot featuring them in the control room, laughing and chatting into the mike, flipping this switch or that, grilling some recalcitrant newsmaker....so busy, so active, so alive, with the voiceover: I'm Tom Whitepebble. I'm a radio guy. I'm a husband. I'm a golfer. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!
 
For crying out loud, you could make one of those dopey ads about ME! Surround me with the developmentally disabled. See me helping them with this or that project. See the happiness I bring them, their excited, smiling faces. And now listen to the promo:  I'm Tom Sheepandgoats. I'm a community worker for the disabled. I'm a writer. I'm a father. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!

“I'm not weird at all! I'm cool! I don't eat Bible sandwiches! You could be cool, too, and happy, just like me, if you'd just become a Jehovah's Witness!”

I mean, doesn't it just make you want to puke?

Two years ago the Watchtower ran the life story ("Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry") of a Witness who was raised a Mennonite. I know the fellow. I've been to his home. As a Mennonite, he was chased from Russia to Germany. There he studied with Jehovah's Witnesses, was baptized, and again emigrated to Paraguay. He began preaching in a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, where they promptly spread out warnings about the newly arrived "false prophet." With his growing family, he moved here to upstate New York. The article touches upon various spiritual highlights and experiences of his life.
 
What it does not mention at all is that this fellow is now a millionaire. I mean, he must be, unless he gave it all away, which is possible....he's a very generous man. He became one of the area's premiere homebuilders. Tracts of homes bearing his company name are found everywhere. But there's absolutely no mention, in the Watchtower, of his material success. Instead, an exclusive focus on the spiritual. Possibly the next guy featured in the magazine didn't have two nickels to rub together. It's a matter of no importance. Each is defined in terms of spiritual things, not material. The day I hear “I'm Bob the Builder. I'm a homebuilder. I'm a traveler. I'm a millionaire. And......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!” I'm outta here.
 
That the Watchtower does not even mention this fellow's material success makes me very proud indeed to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Finally, a group that sees right through the shallowness of goals society teaches us to slobber over. Finally, a group not awed by social prominance, material success, or “coolness.” When our people are cool, it's incidental. It's not something sought after, and....one might as well say it, we have many who are decidedly uncool. Finally, a group who gets the sense of 1 John 2:15-17:
 
Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.
 
Of course, 1 John is from the Bible, and Mormons make little use of the Bible. Other than trying to make a few verses point to an Upcoming Modern Revelation, their own Book of Mormon, I don't think they use it at all. But apparently, if this new media campaign is anything to go by, the Book of Mormon repeals 1 John 2:15-17 in favor of avidly pursuing all goals the world deems valuable, being fully part of the world, if you will. It's just not our way.
 
Look, we have fun, Jehovah's Witnesses do. And we have interesting work, too, some of us anyway. A handful of us are even cool. But if you're main focus on life is to have fun and career fulfillment, don't come to us. That's not what we're all about. We're Bible people. We live it. We teach it. We don't carry on as if ashamed of it.

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

Update here

Still more here

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Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

Counting the Costs

When Roger the retired C. O. gave the public talk, we invited him to the house for lunch afterward. Also a few twenty-somethings. Mutual encouragement, you know, copy a fine example, one 'face sharpens another,' and so forth. Young Solomon approached the fellow after lunch.

“So, how long were you in the Circuit work?”

“Thirty years!” came the reply.

“Wow. You must really miss it.”
 
“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.

“Well...um...I mean....that is..(this was not the answer he'd expected) it must have been a big adjustment.”

“I adjusted that afternoon.”

“Look, I don't want to sound unappreciative,” he told a friend on another occasion. “It's just that a lot of the job is not my cup of tea. You know me...I'm an outdoors guy. [in his younger days, he'd worked on the railroad] And so what am I doing all day? I'm sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has a purpose for me, so I've stayed the course.”

It's called 'counting the costs.' It's a good thing to do. You get emotional control of your circumstances. Aren't 'mid-life crises' caused when people don't count the costs, then are suddenly floored when the 'bill' hits them all at once? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life...people go haywire all the time for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go....acknowledge this part is good, though that part is not so good....and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications....well, I'll trust those folks a lot quicker than those who've never made introspection.

And Jehovah did have a purpose for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to Roger. A favorite among C.O's, he was a man of real empathy, who's trademark expression, “just do the best you can,” (as opposed to measuring yourself by the standards of others) is still recalled by all in these parts. I groused once about servants who'd leave the city congregations so as to raise their growing families in the rurals or suburbs, [“Don't worry, Jehovah will provide. Besides, I'm outta here.”]  but Roger didn't agree. 'You always do what's best for your family' he observed.  When he retired, he settled in a nearly congregation, where he continues in full-time service to this day.

The Christian life itself calls for counting the costs. 'What if it's not true, Tom Sheepandgoats, what then?' taunts a certain character, trying to get me going. What if the whole Universal Court Case and Armageddon and all of it is just a story? What if there is no God? What if there is no purpose? What then? Won't all your preaching and all your meeting-going and all your Bible reading be just wasted time?

He's convinced his point is original. In fact, Paul also made it at 1 Cor 15:17-19:

"Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you are yet in your sins. In fact, also, those who fell asleep [in death] in union with Christ perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied."

Is this a weak point for Christianity? Or a strong one? There's no question that the JW organization doesn't hedge its bets, and it stands for a life that amounts to not hedging bets. Jehovah's Witnesses are a serious religion that maintain today's world is fundamentally out of harmony with God's will. Not merely on the surface, fixable by just a bit of tweaking, but fundamentally. So we don't try to put a smiley face on it. We take positions involving goals, lifestyle, employment, associations, which are in harmony with Christianity, but diametrically opposed to today's prevalent thinking. So much so that if someone reassesses years later and leaves the faith, he finds himself out of sync with the mindset he repudiated years ago. So he strives to readjust. It's a rougher transition than, say, changing brands of cars. Some simply conclude that they made a decision that did not work for them and move on. People being what they are, however, many prefer to find a scapegoat, and what better scapegoat than the faith they left? They were "mislead," "lied to," "bullied," etc. Sheesh! Isn't it a lot like the “slave” of Matt 24:48 who is upset that “my master is delaying,” and who therefore starts “beating his fellow slaves?”

Back when I spoke with Frank Mulicotti, years ago, I and my younger chums were inclined to view the Christian life so refreshing...enjoyable activity surrounded by good people and all....that even if it turned out to be not true, it was still worth pursuing. But older Frank would have none of it, and he stood his ground. The older you get, the more the costs become apparent. Activities and goals you pursue, that you wouldn't otherwise. Activities and goals you don't pursue, that you might otherwise, because of the ones you do. It's not to say the costs aren't worth paying, just as people pay costs in all areas of life. But it's well to always 'count them,' so they don't sneak up on you unawares.

On the internet somewhere is a person who frankly acknowledged he left the faith because he wanted to advance professionally. To really advance, he pointed out, you have to be clubby, you have to hang out socially with your work colleagues, and Jehovah's Witnesses don't do that; they hang out with each other. With distance behind him, he'd come to think of other Witness things he disagreed with, but at the time, it was professional considerations alone that appeared to have moved him. Some commenters commiserated with him....one has to keep religion in it's place, after all......but I think Paul would have looked at matters differently, if 2 Tim 4:10 is anything to go by:

“Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.”

Sigh....whenever people start carrying on about keeping religion in it's place, invariably they mean last place.

As I get older, I also side with Frank, though at the same time one must concede that the youngsters had a point, too. I mean, considering how some lives consist of just one disastrous move after another, lives spiraling ever downward to all manner of decadence, a religion that transforms them into honest, clean, productive persons, even if it turned out to be untrue, would be a significant step up. One detractor carries on about how, when one dies after a lifetime propagating Witness beliefs, it is far more than a waste of time....it is a tragedy. Give me a break! Don't tell me about wasted lives! Just look at all the “fulfilled” people rioting or starving, raped or butchered, as portrayed on TV news! How many embittered and disillusioned people are there today? How many who feel betrayed by their goals? How many knocked about by one setback after another? How many once-respected and prominent people broken, succumbing to various temptations, then gleefully busted in the media? How many groping through life with closets packed full of skeletons in their wake? And if some have found fulfillment in self-directed God-free life, (as some have) it's always with the caveat that, just as you begin to feel you've figured things out, your health starts to give out and off to the grave you go. Let's face it – there's a certain 'futility' built into this life. One may escape it for a time, but it eventually catches up with you.

But this is merely an answer to those who'd assert the Christian life is a waste of time. We don't take such a fall-back position...we look to the fulfillment of all things God has promised. No one would ever assert, as regards the faith, that every 'i' is dotted nor 't' crossed. But there's enough to go on. It's like that definition of faith found at Heb 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” It's not like that strong feeling one may get that “this time, for sure, my lottery number will come up.”  There's substance to it. A bit like (to oversimplify) one has little doubt the sun will arise next day, knowing the mechanics behind it.

Alas, there is much to work against faith today. Atheists parade a no-God gospel almost with the zeal of, well....Jehovah's Witnesses, as if their message, too, was good news for all, and not just sawing off the branch upon which their sitting. Religious nutjobs blow up buildings, people and airplanes. The Pope evades arrest from grousers, for crying out loud, accused of shielding pedophile clergy. 'If this is God, I want no part of it!' say more and more people. Now....the prevalence of counterfeit money does not prove there's no such thing as real money, but many lump it all together anyway. Doesn't it add timeliness to Jesus question: “when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Ah well. The work progresses. It speeds up a bit in the last year or two, perhaps as colossal failure of human economics causes some to reassess human rule. It's absolutely astounding that JWs buy out increasing time for the ministry, given the squeeze this system puts on everyone.

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

Hurry, Gwen, They're Killing People!

You don't have to be in the JW camp, with its cautious stance toward 'entertainment overload,' to conclude that 7.5 media entertainment hours a day is a lot.  I mean, what with sleeping and work/school, is there really time for anything else? Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation just released a ten-year study that indicates today's young people do exactly that, be it TV or YouTube or Hulu or Facebook or Twitter or Tooter or God knows what else. And since they multi-task, they manage to wring 10 hours' content out of that 7.5. Kids [from another source, not Kaiser] are developing rickets, of all things. Rickets!....that disappeared 200 years ago. And yes, Kaiser found all the correlations you would expect: lower grades (from an already dismal level in the U.S.) and increased trouble with the law.

Kaiser said the largest block of time percentage-wise was still TV (counting streaming video), so I'll limit my remarks to that. Besides, that's what I know best. It's my generation. With regard to newer technologies, I know enough internet to blog, of course, but I'm hardly cutting edge. And if you ask me WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) I will reply that Jesus would use a phone with a wire attached to the wall - he would never use a cell phone, let alone one with 'apps'! So TV is what I'll write of.

One of the toughest things about working in the group home was that the TV was always on. It was sort of like a shrine in the center of the house, and it wasn't easy to avoid. The volume was always turned up. And...what was it?....it wasn't so much the soft porn, though there was plenty of that. And it wasn't so much the graphic violence, though there was plenty of that, too. It was the breathtaking stupidity of most of it.....a common thread you never got away from.

"Hurry Gwen, they're killing people!" I'd holler when CSI or some like show was coming on. "Oh boy, now we're talking!" she'd respond. "Blood and guts! That's what I want to see!" I'd once said something 'judgmental' about such programs, only to find that she loved them, so I gave it up. You can't change grown people. Besides, she was a good worker, likable, and I got along with her well. Why, as Eccles 7:16 queries, be 'righteous overmuch?' We'd joke about it -we had our lines down pat - what else could one do? "Why'd God make bad people?" I'd ask. "To kill em!" she'd reply. On nights too busy for her to fit in the shows, I'd offer to call the TV station. "Can you cut out the plots tonight?" I'd propose. "We're a little tight on time right now. Just line the folks up, good and bad alike, and kill em! We'll fill in story ourselves."

One day Gwen came to work with an axe and killed three co-workers and.....Oh, all right!...I made that part up, but you never know when she may start! I must have seen hundreds of TV murders that season, and that's without trying. I mean, I didn't glue myself to the set, as some did, but you'd still stumble across several per night.

Actually, those Law and Order type shows are not the ones I have in mind for "breathtaking stupidity." The writing here was generally crisp, even clever, though obsessed with sex and violence. But they were ever apt to become propaganda pieces for contemporary issues. One character would parrot boiler-plate liberal lines for a given topic; another would spit back the conservative line - man, I hate being preached to by TV cops! In my experience, law enforcement people don't do that. Largely apolitical, they go about their work with a gallows humor, ever convinced that, in true SNAFU fashion...Situation Normal - All F**ked Up (**'s mine)...their best efforts will be undone owing to some screw-up at higher levels.

No, the real drivel and tripe was to be found in reality and gossip shows. These I couldn't abide at all (nor could Gwen), though I might be sucked into a 'cops and robbers' program sometimes. TV execs went orgasmic when they discovered, not only will people debase themselves for free, but others will tune in to watch them do it! And celebrities....listen, they're okay if they're singing or acting or whatever they're supposed to be doing, I guess, but get them talking -like in an interview.....well, four times out of five, you just don't want to do that. I mean, as often as not, they don't know anything, yet these are the role models put before kids 7.5 hours a day.

Make no mistake, this 7.5 hours is not the fault of the kids - you don't blame them for it - but of the adults and of a society that cannibalizes its young, exploiting them for money, pitching them product after fad after gadget, hooking them in any way a profit can be made. More specifically, it's my generation at fault - all of those in it really, except me, oh....and others of Jehovah's Witnesses.  Um...and a lot of others too. In fact, most persons are exempt as individuals. But collectively there is much blame. Fueled by self-interest and a colossal misunderstanding of what makes people tick, the world embraced values that almost guaranteed decay - the only question was 'when.' Regarding the Kaiser study, the FCC is said to be studying the findings. Do you think they'll do anything? Not anything of substance, anyway. Maybe they'll invent some ratings, offer some recommendations, coupled with stern warnings that parents ought to do a better job in monitoring what their kids view. Well....who would argue with that?...that's how I ended up at that Weezer concert....wasn't I the only grownup there?...but a healthy society constructs itself so as to not make a parents' job impossible; in the final analysis, you sort of need parents if you think the species ought to survive. And no parent wants to play 'bad cop' 7.5 hours a day, even if, by some miracle, they have the time to do it.

I remember when Paul McCartney was said to have died in a car crash, and the other Beatles covered it up with a look-alike, and campus radio spoke of nothing else for days on end. My roommate urged me (unsuccessfully) to install a reverse gear on my turntable so as to play all Beatle records backwards, looking for hidden clues such as were to be found in Strawberry Fields (I buried Paul) or Revolution #9 (turn me on, dead man). The mainstream media was oblivious to the story, notwithstanding that the Beatles were the most popular rock group to date. They didn't ignore substantive news to break in breathlessly with update after update, as they would today, as they recently did with....say...the Tiger Woods sex escapades. I recall only one grumbling opinion piece, after several days had elapsed, to the effect that the Beatles...those precocious kids... may have fooled us all with their practical joke, but it was a sick laugh they must be having. That's how it was with 'young people' stories. I was upset about it. I wanted more airtime for our g-g-g-generation. Some sensational group would be the rage among the young - I'd want to see them on TV, and all I'd get was a lousy five minutes at the end of the Ed Sullivan show!

No, I didn't like it. But now I see it was a protection, from adults who still felt a collective sense of responsibility toward the younger generation. Or maybe they were just fuddy-duddys out of touch with changing times, but nonetheless, it was a protection. Let kids have their own generation, let them cultivate their own interests, but not to the exclusion of all else. Construct your society so that doesn't happen. Link them with ideas of the past, ideas that have roots, ideas that have endured over time.

Sigh....has not the now-older generation largely given up on their roots...roots that didn't work out too well, anyway, so as to live vicariously through their young? That's why the prurient interest in youngster's 'sexuality.' That's why pedophilia episodes get top ratings. That why the VH1 "news special" The New Virginity, (younger staff watching it eagerly at the group home, convinced they're watching real 'news') whipping up interest in how long this or that young celeb will hold out.

That's why I don't chafe much at the Watchtower's cautions on today's entertainment, even though, just between you and me, they lay it on pretty thick. But they don't lay it on 7.5 hours a day, do they? Take it as a sign of concern. These are decadent times. There is a place for forthright counsel, and one does well to take it to heart.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

Education, the Ministry, and Supporting Oneself Decently

After connivers brought down Enron in 2001, tanking pensions and lives, business education courses slapped a quick coat of ethics onto their lesson plans. That this was no more than a quick coat became apparent seven years later, when connivers nearly brought down the entire worldwide economic system, causing its greatest reversal since the Great Depression.

As chance would have it, I took a business course during that year of rediscovered ethics. Our text had a newly inserted ethics chapter stuffed full with banalities about looking deep within oneself, listening to your inner voice, and so forth. The subject was distilled into four main points. Points three and four were ridiculous enough to sear permanently into my memory:

 3 - does this or that prospective move make you feel good about yourself, and
 4)  can you live with your decision.

Sheesh! That's it?! Those 911 terrorists, en route to incinerate the World Trade Center felt real good about themselves. Strictly speaking, though, they were not able to live with their decision.

Is it all internal? - that is, are qualities of ethics and morality to be found by looking "deep within ourselves?" Or, put another way, is man "naturally" good (as opposed to naturally bad)?  This question has long occupied philosophers, but in recent decades it has become axiomatic that "naturally good" is how we are to view matters. Thus, look deep within oneself is the cure-all for any ill. Also, "poor communication" time and again spoils our good intentions, so we can't have any of that. Oh...and if we're naturally good, there certainly is no need for restrictions, hence the contemporary loathing for any agency that would even suggest them, much less attempt to impose them.

 All this is not to say that Jehovah's Witnesses take the opposite view - that humans are "naturally" bad. We are created in God's image, after all, and those good qualities of ethics resonate deep within us. But we are also flawed, victims of inherited sin, inclined to do wrong despite our best intentions otherwise. We benefit, therefore, from counsel from a higher source, and who is higher, better qualified, than our Maker? Or, as the familiar illustration goes, who better to direct you in care for your new Ford than Ford?

All this helps to explain the JW attitude toward higher education, and why we don't push our kids to pursue it. Believe me, we take a lot of heat for it. For all practical purposes, our view is heresy to a world that worships higher education and presents it as the surefire cure for almost anything. But that "naturally good" philosophy (JWs might call it "worldly thinking") permeates higher education today. Does higher education deliver the goods? With few exceptions, national and world leaders are highly educated. Yet we all know how world conditions are, and we know in which direction they are heading. The educated world would have more to show for itself if their "brand" of education worked.

Yes, well....maybe the world is screwed up not because so many leaders have a secular education, someone says. Maybe it's because so many of them are religious or greedy or some other factor. Exactly. So why should not education address suchlike factors, which would also include belligerence, lack of love, pride, selfishness, and so forth? Instead, the focus is exclusively on intelligence, with the apparent assumption that these other items will take care of themselves. But as history shows, they don't. Frankly, if people are hateful, selfish, greedy, etc, you're almost better off not educating them. They're in position to do less damage that way. If plumbers and janitors had run the worldwide financial system, they might have found a way to beat the taxpayers out of a day's wage. But it was MBAs who ran the worldwide financial system, and they found a way to bring financial ruin upon us all.

Or maybe they didn't find a way. They tell me a highlight of Michael Moore's I Love Capitalism is his interviews with various economic "experts," who trip over their tongues trying in vain to analyze what went wrong. So maybe the analogy that fits better is that of your kids playing with nitroglycerin. "What's the problem, Pop?" they say. "Chill. We know what we're doing. Besides, we're doing very well for ourselves."

Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be very specific when it comes to education. Watchtower literature frequently speaks of a person's need to "support oneself decently." For some youngsters, as a family decision, that may include college courses, for others technical training of some sort, certificate, or vocational. We don't accept the inevitability of higher education, as might be recommended by education officials simply on the basis of grades, or these days, merely on the basis of easy money in loans or grants. We're pragmatic. We use "the world's" education to acquire skills to make a living. But as to acquiring wisdom from that source, we're not keen on it. Within our congregations, we defer to training which addresses the more important moral concerns. For us, that goal is achieved in the context of Bible training.

"Yeah, you just don't want your religious views subjected to critical analysis", I can hear the sneering now. Well....yeah...I suppose....I mean, nobody wants their heartfelt beliefs automatically trashed. But the reason they are trashed is largely one of philosophy, not "critical analysis." Our beliefs run contrary to the "man is naturally good" mantra of modern times. They run contrary to other firmly entrenched mantras as well - that humans have the answers, for example, and that this system of things will endure forever, and that religion is no more than a product of human evolution.

"Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ," says Paul. We take his words seriously.   Col 2:8

Repeat anything often enough, with enough vehemence, and it eventually sinks in. Alas, it would be nice if we were not built that way, but we are. Thus, some god-awful hideous style emerges and within a few years we're all wearing it, thinking how cool we are, and wondering how we ever could have imagined the dorky-looking styles of the 80's did anything for us. Even I am almost at the beginning of perhaps tolerating, within sharply drawn narrow limits, certain forms of rap - a prospect I find frightening indeed. If only our "follow the herd" instinct applied only to trivial matters like style. It's tempting....it's intellectually flattering (and is there anything we like more than to be flattered intellectually?) to think it does. We love to think that styles and fads are one thing, but when it comes to important matters, our razor-sharp intellect cuts allows us to assess matters according to their true worth. Sigh...it's so flattering, but it's such nonsense. We run with the herd in matters great and small. And these days the herd, with higher education in the driver's seat, is running in a way Christians don't want to go. JWs aren't in a hurry to throw inexperienced kids into it's path.

Look, we're ministers. Not ministers in the modern sense, in which you pay your money, go to theological college, pocket your degree, and pound the pavements till you are hired by some church to teach their congregation. No, we are ministers in the first-century biblical sense, in which every Christian is a minister and has a ministry. It's not a job, and you don't get paid - none of Jehovah's Witnesses at any level do - so it's generally necessary to find work to "support oneself decently." But when we do that, it's our goal to streamline. We don't seek out work so engrossing, so demanding, that we can't do some justice to our ministry. Or, as goes the old joke about job flexibility at Microsoft: "You can work any 18-hour shift you want."

No, you don't go building a career in this system, a not-so-subtle goal of higher education. This system's transitory. Through the vicissitudes of this system of things, our people end up everywhere. No doubt there's plenty at Microsoft. But we don't from the get-go "aim for the stars." Or, I guess we do, but we value different stars. We look for work that allows our ministry maximum freedom.

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Addtional material  here

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Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘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)

What We're Allowed to Read

I'm wondering, Tom, if you've even taken the time to read any of these "atheist" books? asked one of my interrogators. Dawkins and crew had come up in conversation.

Well....um...ah...ahem...that is to say.........(no)

Perhaps in fairness I should read one or two. Moristotle positively used to plead with me to do it. Trouble is, I've read atheist arguments singly, through blogs and so forth, and have not been impressed. Why think that would change were I to read them in orchestral form? I come from that point of view in the first place, or if not from that point of view, at least from the agnostic point of view. I worry these books would exasperate me, since I'd agree with much of them. By all accounts, they expose hypocrisies of religion. I've no problem with that. But it would be "been there....done that." Jehovah's Witnesses were exposing hypocrisies of religion before these guys were born, and doing so when it took guts - that is, before it became trendy. But by trashing religion, these authors think they're trashing God. How are they doing that? When it comes to fraudulent religion, the Bible foretold that development exactly:

For example:

....there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. (2 Pet 2:1-2)

and

They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.  (Titus 1:16)


Furthermore, these atheist books keep calling me a deist. What an idiot word! Wait until they find out I'm a married man. No doubt I will also be called a wifist.

Besides, one can only do so much reading. Alas, the long-suffering wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats, thinks I read too much as it is, to the detriment of nobler tasks like fixing things around the house! She accuses me of living by the motto "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, don't fix it." Can you imagine such an accusation?!

But that opening question - about reading atheist books - was a trap!! My interlocutor responded:

My question to you was actually a bit loaded, (he never asked me one that wasn't) because the organization that you are a part of would not wanting you reading such things at all. My church, on the other hand, would encourage such reading because we know we have the truth and have nothing to fear.

Actually, I've heard it put more strongly than that. From time to time, you will hear characters, even some who were once Witnesses - carrying on about how they weren't "allowed" to read anything but what was Watchtower-published. I swear, I don't know how grown people can make themselves such children! Who do they think is going to "not allow" you? One might hear counsel that it's well not to waste ones' time on drivel. Is that the same as "not being allowed?" These days, cigarette packs feature the caution: "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy." Does that mean people aren't allowed to smoke? To make the point, I stated "I assure you, though, that if congregation elders were to pay me a visit and the entire Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity was lying on my coffee table, I would not be in trouble." Some opposing website quoted the line, to howls of disbelief. What is it with these people? It's as if they write Dear Abby, recieve an answer, and obsess that Dear Abby will punish them should they deviate from the "rules" she's laid out!

Oh, I suppose if one of those meddlesome persons is coming around - you know, the sort who delights to put in their two cents on everything - we all know them when we see them - then you might tuck those books out of sight, unless you deliberately want to get a rise out of said persons. And you might do the same if ones whom you respect are coming around, the same way you might silence a CD with smutty lyrics, out of embarrassment, mostly, since you tend to ask yourself "if I'm embarrassed listening to this stuff in their presence, why am I listening to it in the first place? These are purely human factors at work and have nothing to do with "getting in trouble."

Actually, I'm not likely to have those books laying around anyway, on account of 1 Tim.6:20:

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.

Of course, this counsel was given to Timothy, not me, so it obviously doesn't apply, but I take it to heart anyway. And, lest I offend my atheist friends.....man, do I hate that expression! Some religious blogger speaks about his atheist friends! I don't have any atheist friends. Hard-core atheists, I mean, and not just agnostics. I mean, suppose someone absolutely cannot stand your wife, and never misses an opportunity to trash her....is it possible that person can still be your friend? It's not exactly the same, of course. One can see my wife....indeed, it's hard to takes one's eyes off her....whereas one cannot see God. But it's still close enough. Yes, there are atheists who are decent enough people, with whom I can get along, and for whom I can garner respect, but they don't quite cross that boundary into "friend" territory. It's a special word.

Um....but we weren't talking about that. We were talking about "the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." I might not have put the Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity in that category at one time, as I would now. Once I was searching, and when you're searching you explore many different things.

From time to time, in the ministry you run into those who offer you things to read, just as we might offer them things to read. This, if not a little awkward, is at least not what you would expect. After all, by the time you've mustered up boldness to call upon complete strangers, it's not likely that you're yet searching. When I was searching, I would have read all of that stuff. But I'm not really searching anymore. My search has ended. There's tweaking, exploring, and yet more learning ahead. But the basic framework is intact. It's been tested with much shaking. It holds.

To hear the grousers carry on, you'd think persons new to the faith were bound, gagged and shoved into cloisters. Look, before anyone decides to "join" Jehovah's Witnesses, they go through a period of Bible study, seldom lasting less than a year. They weigh what they're learning. They sift and compare. They consider how it applies. By degrees, they make various changes to align their lives with the Bible. Throughout this time, they function in general society just as they always did - it's not as if they're suspended from daily life. If that's brainwashing, (a common accusation) then so is every other endeavor upon which people may make a stand. (and one new Witness observed that, given today's world, our brains can use a good washing) Should they eventually become Witnesses, they may well decide thereafter to read mostly Watchtower published material, from which they learned Bible teachings in the first place. They trust the source.

In the late 1960’s a newspaper editor in Trenton, Ontario commented on Watchtower literature. “Among the interesting plethora of publications, some come regularly from the Watchtower Bible Society, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is an organization which, by any man’s standards, must command respect. The magazines are well written, with plenty of research, and quite apart from the special religious theories advanced, with which many may disagree, the society touches on every aspect of human life and the world God gave man. It upholds Biblical principles, and inculcates in its adherents the ideas of honor and purity, good citizenship, and impeccable behavior, which a world rent by the distortions of so-called freedom would do well to read.” It's not bad stuff, and there's no end to it.

Frankly, there is only so much time most people have for reading, and in some cases, only so much interest. So if somebody chooses to read only Watchtower publications - and we do have many people like that - what problem would I have with it? They prioritize reading material as they see fit.

Christian values are poles apart from those of the world in general. Not in shallow surface ways, but in the most basic fundamental of ways. So.....once you decide to diet, why stuff the fridge with ice cream and the cupboards with chips - things that will serve only to undermine your newfound determination? No, I have no problem should someone decide to read mostly JW published material. Some do. Some don't.

What I like about the JW organization is that they're unafraid of verses like 1 Tim 6:20:

O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called “knowledge.” For making a show of such [knowledge] some have deviated from the faith.

Everyone else embarrassedly pretends those verses don't exist, fearful lest they be seen as narrow and restrictive, the worst of all possible sins in today's world. Watchtower applies them, unconcerned with how the world will react, so long as they discharge their scriptural responsibility to warn against specious reasonings. They want Christians to "attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.....in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error."  Eph 4:13-14

Specious (defined):

1. Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious
2. Deceptively attractive

It's a stand that takes guts, that exposes them to sneering ridicule, or absurd charges that they want to "control" people.

Yes, there is caution about what we read, what we view for entertainment, and so forth. It's GIGO - computereeze for "Garbage "In, Garbage Out." You can find such counsel in Watchtower material. You ought to be able to find it in other religious organizations. Perhaps then they might stand out as separate from a decaying world, rather than an intricate component of it.

But counsel is just that - it's counsel. It's advice. It's not rule, nor law, and it's not presented as if it is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have the latest issue of Reader's Digest to plow through. But don't tell anyone. I don't want to get in trouble.

 *********************

Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

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)

Making a Man

I saw Frank Mulicotti at the last circuit assembly. He was weaving his way through the seats, soaking up the good will, hugging folk in his path. It was enough to make a guy wish he were Italian. I told him so when he approached me. I'm not Italian, of course. Sheepandgoats (der Shep.und.goots) is Germanic in origin, and Germans do not embrace. They shake hands by appointment. So it wasn't second nature for me to hug and embrace - it took me awhile to get the hang of it - but I do it now with the best of them, excepting only Italians.

There used to be more Italians in Rochester than you could shake a stick at, and still are, I guess, though they've long been augmented with other nationalities, so their presence seems less. In fact, it was Italians who brought Bible teachings to Rochester in the first place. Six Italian families - Mulicotti was among them - emigrating from 50-mile-away Mt Morris back in 1910 . They mostly settled in the Northeast part of the city, speaking Italian just like in the old country, and merged with an English speaking group only at the insistence of Bethel - I think, in the 1930's. But as late as 1970, Ed Eaton worked the Irondequoit territory, and some householder would not believe that he really was a Witness. That's an Italian religion, the fellow insisted. The Irondequoit congregation used to meet on Culver Road, not 100 yards [!] from Nelson Barbour's old Church of the Strangers. Mulicotti was an elder in the congregation, then, and I was brand new as a Witness.

Now, you know how when you approach someone you like to say something complimentary if you can at all manage it - something genuine and specific, naturally, not some boiler plate nicety about how they 'are to be commended' that might fit anyone. So I recalled to Frank about the time I stopped by his house way back in my early days - a couple other young brothers were with me - and he was waxing philosophical about the truth. "It's made a man of me," he said. He'd forgotten ever saying it, as I expected he would, but it's an observation I'd never forgotten. For, here I was - an inexperienced kid, just starting out in life. Would I succeed? Would I amount to anything? Would I ever earn others' respect and good will? Would I be able to take on responsibility? Raise a family? All the concerns that any young man my age might feel, if he's at all given to introspection. I'd had some school under my belt by then, but as Royal Copeland used to say, you can learn everything at school except how to live. (Senator Copeland is lionized in the Senate, no doubt, being known for his successful efforts to bring air conditioning to that body.) So how would I actually do at life? And now here was Frank Mulicotti saying the truth made a man of him; it wasn't just getting your bible questions answered, nice though that might be. It wasn't just seeing Bible prophesies come true, and feeling one knew the final outcome of things. It was a personal path of growth and success.

Mac Campbell used to carry on about how simple was the truth. Once you learn it, he'd say, it doesn't change. It doesn't flip around like worldly reasonings. Once you know it, just do it, was his motto. It pays handsomely, as it did with Frank. You could liken it - in fact, the Bible does - to a road with a destination - a road not just flitting every which way, turning in upon itself, so that one would be, to quote Paul "tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching." A road that, once you reached the destination, you'd know it was worth reaching - a road to "being a man" or woman. On the road you have good range of motion, plenty of room for personal expression - after all, you do the steering - yet there are guardrails, which might be likened to Bible laws and principles. Now, you don't bitch about guardrails in real life. You don't go charging to bust through them. You realize they serve for your protection. Plus, before you'd ever hit the guardrails, you come across rumble strips - those grooves in the pavement that shake the daylights out of us. They're self-imposed for the most part, set in place by our own conscience guided by Scriptural principles that cover time and place and circumstances specific to us. What do you expect of other people, for instance. How do you deal with their shortcomings? How do you deal with your own, for that matter? How do you separate what is 'God' from what is 'human?' Traveling the road over time, by degrees, without one's even being aware of it, one does "become a man."

Then there was Ray Huck. I have a lot of respect for that guy. Has anyone ever said an unkind word about him? He told me once how he'd made an in depth verse by verse study of Proverbs, with special application to business matters. But he must have applied it to everything else as well, for here is a guy who really has his act together - I've seen him gain in stature over the years. I like that about the scriptures, and about the truth in general. One can dig into them, ponder them, by degrees apply them in one's own life. There's no end of things written about any given passage - you benefit by considering how others have viewed and applied the scripture. You do the same at meetings, particularly the Watchtower study, during which all get to comment on whatever topic is under consideration, and you hear it all - from seasoned, insightful and mature - to inexperienced and green and sometimes even cockeyed. You can put in your own two cents as well.

I cherish these guys, and the faith that made them what they are. And I cherish them more and more each time I read of some spectacular train wreck like that Carolina Governor Sanford, who said he was leaving town four days to hike the Appalachian Trail and who even left a car full of camping gear at one of the entrance points to throw off the media hounds, but who actually went to Argentina with some gorgeous Argentine bombshell. He got caught, of course - don't they all? - and weepingly confessed all at his news conference, (I don't know why people bother watching soap operas!) and whose marriage and career is now in tatters. (HA! look at this. He figures he's like King David, only with a South American Bathsheba!) Or even our own former Governor Elliot Spitzer, hailed as New York State savior only a few years ago - I mean, I have an entire category on this guy, he was so interesting - but who self-destructed just like his Carolina brethren. Yeah, whenever I read these sorts of things, I cherish our guys and the road they followed.

**************************

Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

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)

For Mac

“Once you learn the truth, it doesn’t change; it doesn’t flip around like worldly reasonings. Once you learn what God requires of you, just do it.” That was Mac Campbell’s reasoning, and nobody can ever say that he didn’t “just do it.” Unique even among Jehovah’s Witnesses, he died last week at age 85. He and I had kept up over the years, so I was there for the funeral. Surely, the verse was true of him:

“a name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born. Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take [it] to his heart.” (Ecces 7:1) On his day of his death, Mac’s record is his. No one can take it from him.

Mac specialized in a type of ministry rare these days - “street work.” Not the type of street work where you approach passersby, but the type where you just stand there and they (ideally) approach you. A couple dozen years ago the JW organization started to discourage that type of witnessing. Don’t just stand there like a sign post, they’d say, what can you possibly accomplish by that? Sure enough, two or three times I’d gone downtown and just stood there like a sign post. After a time, I began to feel like one. People would whiz by you - did you even exist? But when I endeavored to move and mingle and approach people - the ministry, though a bit more stressful, became both enjoyable and productive.

Still, Mac made a success of the old style street work. He did it because he was always there. Ever  immaculate in appearance, he staked out a position on Main Street and made it his own. They’ve since boarded up that abandoned doorway - I don’t know what he’d do now - but he’d been off the streets for several years, incapacitated by poor health.  He was as much a fixture as any Rochester landmark. Businesspeople would eye him a dozen times or so, eavesdrop, note that he was amiable, dignified, in no way a screwball, and would end up chatting regularly. He’d spend all day speaking with people.

Probably that’s how he caught quirky Bob Lonsberry’s attention. Bob is a radio fixture here, and was once a fixture of the newspapers. He wrote about Mac in his “Real People” series back in July of 1992: [nobody was more real than Mac]  “In friendly conversation, Malcolm is hard to reject. He is commanding of respect; he’s dignified. He is 68, married 45 years and a grandfather of 18, [he took Gen 1:28 -be fruitful and become many and fill the earth - seriously, the funeral speaker pointed out.] coming back from a stroke last year.”

His manner, speech and appearance were the match of the most prominent businesspersons, with whom he frequently spoke. They would have been amazed had they known his modest circumstances. They would have been more amazed had they known it was by design. Mac worked part-time in basic blue collar-type work, which provided enough so that the majority of time was his, and that was all he asked. Even among us, who constantly hear the virtue of simplification, few have the combination of faith and capability to simplify to that extent, particularly while raising a family. Yet, spending time with Mac made it seem quite doable and reasonable, and you began to wonder why you weren’t doing it also.

He was a frugal kind of guy. There he was, having run across this fellow who had built his own furnace from scratch, going on and on about it. Why would anyone do that? his pal responded - just call a furnace guy. But Mac was always impressed with those who could make do. Wasn’t it he who defined (in 1982) the phrase “keeping up with the Jones?” It was “spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.” He had that green Volare - he must have driven that 100 years. One day, stopping by, there were two of them in his driveway. Identical. Same color and all. One was for parts. “You probably paid more for those shoes than I did for this car,” he told a visitor. Sure enough, the shoes had cost more.

If that impresses me, it’s because it is a quality I don’t have. Alas, with some justification Mrs Sheepandgoats has accused me of living the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not especially handy, which makes me appreciate guys who are.

Mac was also a put-together guy, again, something I am not. He told of one fellow who would pat his shirt pocket just once to find his pen. If it wasn’t there, he didn’t have it. He wouldn’t pat down his shirt pocket, then his pants pockets, then his coat pockets, then do it all over again, then pull stuff out of all pockets to make sure, like I would do. No. He was organized. There was only one place that pen could possibly be. Mac, too, had that sort of organization.

And he wouldn’t blow his horn. On the mean streets of Rochester, where people routinely block traffic so they can kibitz with their pals - not in the snooty suburbs, where “such things just aren’t done” - but in the city where they are done all the time, Mac wouldn’t blast his horn to break up the jam. “Daddy, just blow your horn,” his daughter would say, “that’s what people do.” But Mac wouldn’t. “You never know when you are the last straw,” he’d observe.

He kind of hoped - in vain, as it turned out - that his own funeral would not be a big deal. “Just put me in a pine box and lay me down quietly,” he’d say. "Don’t make a fuss over me.“ He was troubled that his death would inconvenience people, make them take a day off work, and such. (Indeed, for a time, funerals did get out of hand, with some high-profile people filling up the whole assembly hall, but I think that is not done anymore) “Mac, it’s not for you, it’s for us,” a friend retorted. “You’ll be asleep. We’re the ones who’ll be comforted by it.” He smiled, in the way that Mac did. That was the only answer that could have prevented him from going on and on.

I served with him once in one of the congregations, and had more or less kept up with him since, visiting him at home a few lengthy times, and always seeking him out at conventions. “You going to visit me again?” he asked at the last convention. “It depends on if you’ll give me a beer,” I responded. Mac was hospitable, and he liked beer. “I’ll give you a whole case,” he replied.

Six months later, in one of those strange convergences that you don’t quite know what to make of afterwards, I was mentioning to my wife how I was going to pop in for a visit - I brought the subject up several times. But I was too late. Next meeting they announced that he’d passed away.

I’ll probably hear about it upon his resurrection.

************

More in the Afterword of Tom Irregardless and Me      "Black Mack, Slow Joe and Davey the Kid"

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)