Are There Any So Intolerant as the Anti-Cultists?

Few are unaware that the Bible climax depicts the epic battle between good and evil, even if they know it in but inkling form. It is the subject of the final Book of Revelation. Foreglimmers of it appear in several other places.

The contest, to zero in, involves the choice between human rulership and divine rulership of the planet. The former is expressed in the present reality of two hundred eternally squabbling nations. The latter is expressed in the ‘Lord’s prayer,’ as God’s kingdom, which, when it “comes,” results in God’s “will be[ing] done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Human rulership of the earth has not been such a stellar success that those who point to God’s government as the one true hope should be run off the road.

As with the Don McLean song, “the marching band refuses to yield.” Though it involves no human agency, God’s kingdom forcibly is to replace human rulership. It does not wait for “the broken-hearted people living in the world to agree,” for they never will. Daniel 2:44 says it succinctly: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”

This can be dicey to express in literature. Still, it has been expressed as long as there have been persons longing to see a final end of evil. One recent offering is from the book Pure Worship of Jehovah Restored at Last, produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The writing gets downright heavy toward the end. For example:

“During the war of Armageddon, Jehovah will execute people, not in a cold, clinical manner, but in a “great rage.” (Read Ezekiel 38:18.) He will direct the explosive force of his anger, not against one army or one nation, but against countless individuals living across the globe. On that day, those slain by Jehovah “will be from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth.”​—Jer. 25:29, 33.”

The Bible verses cited are, from Ezekiel:

On that day, the day when Gog invades the land of Israel,’ declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘my great rage will flare up. In my zeal, in the fire of my fury, I will speak…all humans on the surface of the earth will tremble, and the mountains will be thrown down, and the cliffs will fall, and every wall will collapse to the ground.’ “‘I will call for a sword against him on all my mountains,’ declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘Every man’s sword will be against his own brother. I will bring my judgment against him…”

and from Jeremiah:

“‘You will not go unpunished, for I am calling for a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth,’ declares Jehovah of armies. …“‘And those slain by Jehovah in that day will be from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth. They will not be mourned, nor will they be gathered up or buried. They will become like manure on the surface of the ground.’

That’s not very pleasant, is it? Let no one accuse the Bible writers of beating around the bush.

Is it too much? Should the Bible be banned, as it is clearly the fiery source material for such paragraphs as in the Watchtower publication? Ought one side in this epic struggle be allowed a preemptive strike so that the view of the other side be muzzled? Is it the sign of a “cult” not to interpret such passages away?

Should the view that God might be displeased, even outraged, at the present state of the planet be outlawed? Should the only view allowable be that he cheerleads for the present world, having his feelings hurt with each new atrocity, to be sure, but quickly rebounding with the chipper hope that if his creatures but elect the right set of leaders, all will be well? Should only that neutered view of God be allowed to stand, and any view that God might actually do something about the state of the world be consigned to the state of fanaticism, even if ones reprioritize their lives based upon such views?

Taking their place among the most intolerant people on the planet are the “anti-cultists.” Religion they will allow so long as it does not forget that its place is to reinforce the status quo. ‘If religion helps you to be kinder and gentler, so be it,’ they seem to say, ‘but don’t go rocking the boat. Human leadership is where it’s at—if your god can come on board with that, he’s welcome, but only if. There may daily be discouraging checks, but they are not checkmates, and don’t go bringing any nutty religion into it saying that final checkmate looms ahead.’

What’s it to them, anyway? If the verses are to become reality, then Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a fine head’s up and an opportunity to sidestep the trouble. If they are not to become reality, then there is no harm done other than egg on the faces of those announcing it. Jehovah’s Witnesses will take that chance. The Bible is still the most widely distributed book on earth, by a huge margin. Not all will consign it to the dumpster when they hear of such fiery passages. Some will be more like the Hebrew king Josiah of long ago:

“As soon as [Josiah] heard the words of the book of the Law, he ripped his garments apart. Then the king gave this order…. “Go, inquire of Jehovah in my behalf, in behalf of the people, and in behalf of all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found; for Jehovah’s rage that has been set ablaze against us is great, because our forefathers did not obey the words of this book by observing all that is written concerning us.”

It will ever be the minority view. But only the anti-cultists seek to banish it, so as to keep everyone on the same page of human rulership. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, who unapologetically choose God’s rulership over human rulership, “the wicked” will primarily be those who clearly see both sides and decisively choose human rulership—abysmal track record and all. It will not be those with only a hazy concept of one or both. It will be those who know what they are choosing.

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The Anti-Cultists are Directly Responsible

The term for a faith-based community of relatively recent origin is “new religious movement.” But if you really dislike that community, you resurrect a word already reviled and apply it to your target—you say it is a “cult.” That way you don’t have to demonstrate that the group is bad. Your label does your work for you.

Time was that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from all normal societal contact, and began doing strange things, you just might be part of a cult. Today, the word is expanded to cover those thinking outside of the box that we are not supposed to think outside of.  If the box of popular goals and thinking undeniably led to fulfillment that might not be such a bad thing, but everyone knows that it does not.

Says religion.wikia.com of the term “new religious movement”: “Scholars studying the sociology of religion have almost unanimously adopted this term as a neutral alternative to the word ‘cult.’” How can it not follow that “cult” is therefore not scholarly but more in keeping with those who want to stir up ill will if not hate?

It is akin to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. People may act upon it. They particularly may do so if “cult” is coaxed just a little bit further in the public eye to become “extremist.” Such a thing has happened with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia under the guidance of “anti-cultists." Many other new religious movements are shaking in their boots that their turn will come.  In that country, Witnesses are officially designated “extremist,” a designation shared only with ISIS.

As the human rights group khpg.org points out, “You can’t claim that people are ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ and then simply knock on their doors to arrest them, though in all cases there is nothing at all to suggest that resistance would have been shown. Instead, there are armed searches, most often by masked men in full military gear, with the suspect hurled to the ground and handcuffed, often in the presence of their distressed and terrified children.” This has become the reality for many Witnesses and it is a direct result of those who expand the definition of “cult” to cover people not covered previously.

Note how this meme plays out in the following event. Note also that it has nothing to do with controversies that have dogged the faith in the West: A mass shooting occurred in Crimea and the shooter’s sole parent, bringing him up by herself, is said to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Let us assume that it is true. This is not a safe assumption, for another Witness was recently denounced by Russian media as having a cache of arms. It turned out that her non-Witness husband had a few rusted and inoperable souvenir grenades from World War II. Nonetheless, we must start somewhere. Let us assume mom was a Witness.

Khpg.org here reports: “Whether or not his mother is, or has ever been a Jehovah’s Witness, there is no proof that Roslyakov had any religious beliefs, or that his mother’s alleged beliefs affected him in any way….the entire ‘story’, as presented, for example, on the Russian state-controlled Vesti.ru, is based solely on value judgements which are presented as though they were facts.

“The Vesti.ru report is entitled ‘The Kerch killer was surrounded by supporters of totalitarian sects’.  It claims that Roslyakov’s mother…’forced her son to live by the rules of the banned organization’.

“It then asserts that people who ‘have pulled themselves away from it’ are sending messages of sympathy to the bereaved families and claiming that ‘all that happened was the result of pseudo-religious upbringing.’

“The supposed ‘expert on religious sects’, Alexander Dvorkin, makes allegations about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ faith that are seriously questionable, as does the Russian Orthodox priest interviewed. None of the claims are in any way checked or analyzed, nor is the viewer offered anything in the way of an alternative point of view. The Crimean Human Rights Group is surely correct in identifying all of this as hate speech, which can result in crimes being committed against the targets of attack.” 

Note that simply being raised as a Witness is said to account for his crime. He simply snapped amidst an intolerable upbringing. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There have never been any other mass shootings. “Oppressive” religion is solely to blame.

He must have snapped substantially, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few groups on earth whose members categorically reject violence for any reason. Yet they are the ones said to be at fault when a young man does a 180 from his taught values. This ridiculous perception prevails because of “anti-cultists,” whose champion in Russia, Mr. Dvorkin, is soul-mate to anti-cultists here, he even having a French NGO connection.

Some enemies of Witnesses in the West, who hurl the “cult” label liberally, are gleeful over this development, even though, in the case of former Witness anti-cultists, it results in machine guns pointed at the heads of their arrested and shackled former loved ones.  More typically, however, they disapprove of it. Some have denounced it. But their verbiage is directly responsible. Their denunciation is akin to the California arsonist denouncing that the state has burned to the ground. One must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.

And what have the Jehovah’s Witnesses done to deserve such an outcome? Do they interpret the Bible differently? Do they publicize the view that this grand experiment of human self-rule will one day end, to be replaced by God’s Kingdom? Surely such a view should be allowed to stand, even if ones adopting it change their life goals accordingly. Not everyone will think that the present world sails proudly upon the high seas, with sharpshooters in the bow ready to blast to smithereens icebergs as they approach. Some will think it more likely that the Titanic will hit one. Must that view be stomped out of existence by bullying anti-cultists?

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He Enjoys Disseminating Inflammatory Narratives and Hate Speech

I tweeted, with photo included, that all Regional Conventions had witnessed scenes of Russian police breaking up Christian meetings.

Instantly, the tweet was liked from three entirely separate parts of the world, none of them in English. There is nothing like the worldwide brotherhood. Admittedly, three is not a million, but the diverse background of the likers partly offsets this.

A prominent human rights person, frequently quoted in the media, picked up the tweet and retweeted it.

If you spend any time on the music video section of JW.org—not the choir part, but the convention interludes and original songs, you cannot but be struck by the international flavor, so different from the general world which too often views anyone significantly different as one of “those people.” For some odd reason, I almost prefer lyrics sung in languages I don’t understand. It adds to the appeal of unity despite differences. Can you view such videos, ranging from small groups to international conventions, and view participants as addled victims of a cult? You have to work at it. You really do.

Online is an enemy that I keep tabs on because he reliably informs me of things I might like to address. To say ‘enemy’ might seems a little mean. I have no doubt that he has to his credit some good qualities, as do most people. But spiritually speaking, we are at 180 degree opposite poles, and it is not through any miscommunication. It is through deliberate choice on both of our parts.

The spiritual component of a person comprises two thirds, at least, of his or her total makeup. Everything else is but so much window-dressing. It is why I wrote of Prince: “I would have enjoyed jamming with Prince. Not musically, of course - I can’t play guitar – but spiritually, in the ministry. We would have been seamless together; we’re on the same page – all Witnesses are. But it wasn’t to be in this system of things. Prince was always busy. And I was – well, no – I would have found the time.”

We would have instantly hit it off. It may be that I might have discovered differences in preferences, it almost certainly would have happened, even on matters of substance, but it wouldn’t have mattered. All Witnesses know how to keep such matters in their place and not allow them to disrupt the peace of the congregation.

My online enemy hears of Russian punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, this week’s arrest including persons in their 70s, as reported in Newsweek, and feigns sympathy. He does more than ‘feign’ it. I have no doubt he genuinely disapproves of it. But as a dedicated “anti-cultist,” he is sorry for it in the same sense that the arsonist is sorry to see California burning to the ground. We must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.

It is his fellow ‘anti-cultists’ who have driven the model to cast Jehovah’s Witnesses in such a bad light before the Russian Supreme Court (in combination with some nationalistic factors), with even some former members of the faith giving testimony, knowing that, if acted upon, innocent people would go to jail. My enemy’s allies push and push the narrative that Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate people and break up families. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive by the NGO sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

It worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights didn't buy either charge. It wrote in 2010: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”

As to a charge of "mind control," it wrote: “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques.”

The Russian Supreme Court in 2017 was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.

The NGO itself has come in for censure more recently, in that it “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities. 

Of the emissary, a Mr. Dvorkin, it is written that he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus have held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.” Nonetheless, his views have carried the day in Russia, the same as they do with my enemy closer to home.

 

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Who is a Cult? Just About Everybody, it Turns Out (Part 1)

Zealots find it irresistible to expand a negative word so that it will embrace those that they would like to see shamed, discredited, or punished. Often this makes the word all but meaningless. For example, the Economist of August 2009 observes that the current child sex abuser registries that they are so long as to be absolutely useless to law enforcement. They include teenagers who had sex with an underage girlfriends. They include persons who urinated in public, as well those who exposed themselves in public. None of those things are great, of course, but if you include them all on a master list with violent predators, you make it all but impossible to track the violent predators, which is the purpose of the list to begin with. Adding various levels of severity does not remedy things: people are preoccupied and sometimes obtuse, and can only work with uncluttered tools.

It is much the same with the word "cult." Time was when if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from society, and did peculiar things, you just might be a member of a cult. These days the word is expanded so as to embrace peoples not popular. Just thinking outside of the box is enough to trigger it.

Steve Hassan, who goes by the Twitter handle "cultexpert," as developed what he calls the BITE model to describe the ingredients of a cult. Mr. Hassan used to kidnap those he thought were in cults so as to "deprogram" them. BITE is a model outlining the means by which one party can "control" another, though various techniques, some direct and some subtle. Each letter stands for something. There is Behavioral control, Information control, Thought control, and Emotional control. It is not a silly idea in its concept. It is silly in its overreaching application.

Most families are cults per this new definition, especially those conscious of a family reputation, and God forbid that any should still insist that members live up to a higher standard. “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump off, too?” It was once the statement of everyone’s mother. Now it has become the words of a cult leader. "What’s wrong with ‘everyone else?' Why are you making out as though you are better than they?” And if a family head maintains standards of discipline – that would appear to be a sure red flag. Who is he or she to seek to control persons that way?

Nations are certainly cults by this new definition. Any military organization is. National sacrifice, long thought laudable, is out of the question today by those intent on avoiding the modern cult label. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” are the noble words of former U. S. President John F Kennedy. They are the words of a cult leader today.

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group whom the anti-cultists have included in their revised definition, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have already chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to declare an intention to diet. You must also padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge if they think that will work for them. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people. All one need do is ask them.  Not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because the BITE people say that course is "controlling" and they afterwards pack on the weight that they wanted to avoid, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? The BITE model is based upon a greatly naïve view of human nature, one that is contraindicated at every turn. To switch from food to morality, no group has been able to maintain its deeply-held moral values without members acquiescing to some of the "control" mechanisms that trigger BITE alerts.

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have not come around. Can internal discipline not be a factor? If you have signed on to a model, as Jehovah's Witnesses have, that says Bible counsel works best as guidance in life, you do not want to see it so easily molded by contemporary society. "Tossed about as by waves and carried here and there by the trickery of men," is how Paul puts it at Ephesians 4:14

One tweet from the BITE-man invited all to hear his upcoming podcast, in which he tells how Trump is like a cult leader. When you think half the country has fallen victim to cult manipulation, is it not evidence that you have drunk too much of the Kool-Aid yourself?

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A (Sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy'

I have not seen the movie Apostasy, which seemingly makes me ineligible to comment on it. Perhaps I will in time. Partly offsetting that lack is that I am a 45-year active member of the religion featured, and thus have more familiarity of the topic than even the filmmaker. Nor do I feel that I have to see the movie to judge its overall merit. I accept from the other reviewers that it is well crafted and acted.

It is a wrenching time anywhere when an offspring departs from the moral principles in which he/she has been raised. As an ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain. That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain its deeply-held moral principles through decades of time without it.

I vividly remember circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or  otherwise, was pretty much the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have not come around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

Not everyone will say that greater society is ever on an upward trajectory, with each new development representing an advance. Some will maintain that the overall pattern more closely resembles a death spiral. In a pluralistic society, it must be ‘to each his own.’ Yet, it is not true that if you fail to train your children, they will grow up free and unencumbered, and, when of age, select their own values from the rich cornucopia of life. No. All it means is that someone else will train them.

I have not discerned if the older daughter’s sex-outside-of-marriage, which triggered disfellowshipping, is presented as ‘apostasy.’ Plainly, it is not. Apostasy is a decisive, usually public, repudiation of one’s previously held religious beliefs, which is entirely different than merely falling short of them. All religious denominations have their ‘apostates.’ Those of Jehovah’s Witnesses are more vehement than most because the faith they depart from takes more decisive stands. There is not a New Testament writer who does not address, often at length, the subject of apostasy. Is it only in the religious world that such matters causes division? When Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the President, are we to imagine that her Republican dad (if he is) says: “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind. It won’t affect holiday cheer, though”?

What is possibly left unstated in the film is that the door that is closed is never locked. About a third (a rough guess) of those disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses are eventually reinstated and become quite active once more. There are plenty of single-parent families within Jehovah’s Witnesses, a circumstance that comes about in any number of ways, including that of the oldest daughter. Other disfellowshipped ones will conclude that the faith just didn’t work out for them and move on. Still others will have the rough sense that if you are caught cheating in the card game and refuse thereafter to mend your ways, it is not a surprise to find yourself ejected. But others will not get over the hurt they may feel, which can be deep, and thereafter work to call attention to what they perceive is a great wrong. It is part of the world we live in and must be accommodated. Sometimes people simply want to be heard. Nevertheless, nobody should imagine that the filmmaker is impartial. Nor am I. Nor, if we are honest, are many people about anything.

As to the second daughter portrayed as a victim to the Witnesses' stand on blood transfusion, just once I would like to hear that the same group that avoids transfusion also avoids alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco use, and even war participation, making it by far one of the ‘safest’ religions out there.

It is an irreligious world that increasingly prevails today. There is no sense pining for the ‘good old days’ when it did not. Some will think that the good days are just arriving. One must operate in the reality that is. Still, when the third daughter in the Jewish ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ family was shunned for doing something that would not cause shunning among Jehovah’s Witnesses, I recall no condemnation of the Jewish faith for that reason.

(See 'A (sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy' - Part 2)

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Reporter at 2 O'Clock. Roger That.

A 30-ish, I would guess, reporter attended one of this year's regional conventions, this one in New Orleans, and wrote some reasonably nice things about it. He didn’t fall upon his face and do a Zechariah 8:23 – ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people’ – but considering his non-religious reporter background, I’ll take what he did write and thank him for it. You don't have to quibble over every little thing.

Since I have time on my hands, and no, I was not notified by an attendant (guard), let me see if I can respond to a few things he raised. His words are in italics. Mine in regular font.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' Annual Convention Was So Organized It Was Creepy. They are extremely organized. It might strike one as creepy who is not used to it.

Aside from the occasional door-to-door visits and that one time, which I still feel guilty about, when my brother drenched some evangelists with water balloons from our second-story bedroom window, I had never really met a Jehovah's Witness. It took me two trips to the dry cleaners to get those water marks out of my suit.

 Also, I knew Prince was a member, and any religious group that could claim Prince as one of their own was either extremely terrifying or weirdly edgy and almost cool.  The ebook Tom Irregardless and Me contains the most complete, and perhaps only, written compilation of Prince’s JW life. It is in the free download section.

…they even took care of cleaning, despite the Superdome's retainer on dozens of janitors. It may be the only event for which they get time off. The Witnesses usually show up a day beforehand, as well, for a massive scrub-down.

One Superdome employee said to me, "These guys are guarding the elevators like Obama is here." As far as I know, he did not come. He would have been invited, but may have been hard to reach.

Plus, their floral-printed dresses and charcoal suits made most guests look like they were dressed for a wake. If one is not used to seeing folks dressed up, and it is a rarety today, the sight could easily give that impression.

As a further sign of their top-down control of every aspect of the convention, or maybe just a tight budget, none of the concession booths were open. It is like that in every convention and has always been. People brown-bag it. However, go back far enough to the 50’s or so and there were makeshift kitchens set up & taken down to serve a full meal to every attendee. Food arrangements have progressively streamlined since then.

It's a bit unsettling to realize you're one of the only people in a room of nearly 40,000 who think you're not destined for heaven, and not even destined for the earthly paradise that the remaining Jehovah's Witnesses will inherit after all the other degenerate heathens like me are abruptly taken out by the apocalypse. Their beliefs are their beliefs after all, but I don't often contemplate the afterlife in the presence of a group whose faith is so relentless. It's convert or burn, and that's heavy s**t, man. [**s mine]

We would not phrase matters this way. We just try to bring the gospel to as many as we can, and after that things are out of our hands. As the expression goes, ‘It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.’

There was a big, climactic event on the bill that sounded like it was supposed to be a live drama depicting something from the Book of Something. Jonah. it was from the Book of Jonah. Actually, it was the entire book, which is overall quite short.

…everyone was wearing way too much makeup. It was like a B movie made by the Bible Channel. I actually thought the movie was pretty good, overall. They have come a long ways in a short time, and once were downright cheesy. Great attention is paid that all props are historically accurate. It may be that you just miss the Hollywood pizzazz that moviegoers become accustomed to. Admittedly, they are not paid actors. They, too, are volunteers.

a bunch of men walked around holding "Quiet Please" signs that had already been made. This happens before all sessions, as it takes participants a while to break off visiting with friends they may not have seen for a long time.

But while I still don't understand the Jehovah's Witness faith or its people, and while I may still think of them as cult-addled nuts, they're still just people. You know, I’ll take this. I appreciate it. And I really do like the article with its reminder of the first impression we make on many today.

But they also like peanut butter sandwiches. I hate to think of the garbage I might eat were it not for my wife, who attends to such things far better than I do.

...and they especially like organizing conventions. The exact program is reproduced hundreds of times during the year around the world, each with the same degree of organization, so as to serve every member. Ours was in Rochester, and here is a post on a previous one.

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"We Know that Satan's Coming After Us"

A major American newspaper has published material meant to be damning to Jehovah’s Witnesses, which refers to a group of elders at a 2017 meeting, where they were supposedly advised to destroy handwritten notes of meetings and notes of internal documents due to the potential legal harm such pose. Presumably (though it is not explicitly made clear) these are notes relevant to child sexual abuse investigations.

The reason? A Witness representative reportedly states: “Well, we know that the scene of this world is changing, and we know Satan’s coming after us, and he’s going to go for us legally. We can see by the way things are shaping up.” It is not hard to imagine what certain ones are doing with the explanation that “Satan’s coming after us.”

The reason the Witnesses have whatever child abuse records they do is that they sought to investigate this evil in their midst at a time that others did not. Should they destroy anything, it merely puts them on par with everyone else, who never left a ‘paper trail’ in the first place because they never were proactive. Seen in this light, it does indeed seem that Satan is ‘coming after them.’ It is the quintessential example of the cynical phrase: ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’

On the other side of the world, the Jehovah’s Witness organization during the same year was banned in Russia. Government and media have partnered to whip the public into a froth, hurling many virulent accusations about the faith. Yet, child sexual abuse allegations have played no part whatsoever. Chivchalov states that nobody has heard of it there. Only after the ban did the Russian Embassy, in response to one of my tweets, respond with a Western headline of pedophile charges.

In other words, they found a completely separate reason to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Keep in mind that we are speaking of the faith whose members are universally recognized as ‘pacifist’ – who will on no account resort to violence or support war efforts. It is highly unusual for a large group of people to have absolutely no blood on their hands in this regard, but they do not. It is not inconsequential that Jehovah’s Witnesses are, not just banned in Russia, but labeled extremists. Reports khpg.org (10/24/2018): “You can’t claim that people are ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ and then simply knock on their doors to arrest them, though in all cases there is nothing at all to suggest that resistance would have been shown.  Instead, there are armed searches, most often by masked men in full military gear, with the suspect hurled to the ground and handcuffed, often in the presence of their distressed and terrified children.” Is it so crazy for the Witness spokesman to say: ‘Satan is coming after us?” Given the foregoing, it would almost be crazy for him not to.

Among the most heated charges in Russia are those of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions, stemming from their interpretation of scripture. It is an issue that has largely been put to bed in the West because of the success of bloodless medicine and the growing recognition that transfusion therapy poses many risks. Still, it does happen from time to time that such refusal costs a Witness his or her life. Russian media rages over this, labeling leaders of the religion murderers.

Surely, somewhere along the line it should be acknowledged that Jehovah’s Witnesses have absolutely no deaths at all attributed to illicit drug abuse, overdrinking, and tobacco use, save only for when someone is slipping into old habits. Witnesses could multiply transfusion deaths 1000-fold and still not not come close to the mortality record of the overall world. Far and away, they are the ‘safest’ religion out there. Yet they are said to be the murderers.

And we are to laugh when they say: ‘Satan is coming after us?’ One thing we know about opposers: they will always overplay their hand, giving honest-hearted persons a heads-up. How can it not be getting near to crunch time?

It is in the free ebook (soon to be in print), ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ with chapter 12 devoted to pedophile accusations. I had no idea when I wrote it that the book would so quickly become so relevant.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815620

With the major outlets increasing dedicated to attacking Jehovah's Witnesses, it is not easy to balance the reports. One can do shares and retweets, but still. When push comes to shove, the Word makes clear that the enemies will have their day in the sun during this system of things.

 


Just Who is a Cult?

An 'anti-cult expert' I keep my eye on invites his followers to watch him on a TV interview, where he makes the point that Trump was elected due to cult influences.
 
If you think half the country fell victim to cult influence, does it not mean that you have drunk too much of the KoolAid yourself? Time was when the word meant something. If you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader and withdrew from normal life, you just might be part of a cult. These days simply thinking outside of the box suffices, and the definition expands to include ‘people we don’t like.’

Can Witnesses be a cult (the latest slam)? How can it be? You cannot join them without a period of study and experimentation, seldom lasting under a year. All the while you are 95% in familiar routine and surroundings. College is more cult-like by this definition, where a student is separated almost 24/7 from family and prior stabilizing influences. It is only because Witnesses come to think outside the mainstream that they are called a cult by those who permit no deviation.

C554DA9E-7506-462C-BE3A-7503CC9FEAA2


"Mentally Diseased" and Political Correctness

You know, Joel Engardio's words seem more prescient each day. I wrote once that he was an apologist for Jehovah's Witnesses. He wrote back to say he wasn't. Still, his words seem more relevant with each passing day.

Through his film KNOCKING, Mr. Engardio offers Jehovah’s Witnesses as an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Jehovah's Witnesses are “moral conservatives who stay out of politics,” he observes. “They attempt to persuade, but not impose their beliefs.” Isn't that the key? “Persuade, but not impose.” Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world of malcontents, firebrands and terrorists, what an example that is of getting along! Even politics might be viewed as a form of personal violence, since it offers a means of imposing one's views by law upon others. JWs steer clear of politics.

“There was little tolerance for my explanation that we only worshiped God, and that God wasn't American,” Joel writes of his childhood upbringing. Those words, too, are prescient. For today there is considerable backlash against JWs by those who insist that God is American. Or at any rate, that he embraces traditionally American values, such as “rugged individualism” and "independence." But he doesn't.

Signing on with Jehovah's Witnesses is in some ways like joining an army; no one's ever said otherwise. And in an army, you can disagree with those taking the lead, but you can't go on a campaign to undercut them. You just can't. Everyone who has ever served in the military knows it. Now, Jehovah's army poses no threat to any nation. In aspects of personal fiber and morals, members are a great asset to any country. And surely, they're the largest “army” in history whose soldiers have never taken a life. People today join armies at the drop of a pin; daily we see news images of young men firing AK47s into the air. The only army people look askance at is the one in which they don't get to fire guns, the one whose weapons are words only.

Desperate to avoid absolute disintegration in human society, and having utterly failed to curb human violence, nations increasingly resort to “political correctness.” If you can prevent people from saying certain things, the theory goes, perhaps love and tolerance, peace and good will to all will one day come about. There's not much evidence it works that way, but one must try something. So woe to anyone uttering words suggesting lack of tolerance.

Has the Watchtower run afoul of that stricture recently? In its July 15, 2011 issue, for consideration in JW congregations, the magazine recommended (strongly) avoiding “apostates,” even calling them “mentally diseased.” You should have heard the howling from those who don't like Witnesses, grousers who immediately broadened application of those words to include all who left the faith, something the article never suggested. Government ought to investigate such “hate speech,” they insisted.

Look, most persons who leave JWs simply move on in life, some with the viewpoint that the religion just wasn't for them, some with minor grumbling over this or that feature of the faith that prompted their decision, some with the viewpoint that they couldn't live up to it. None of these are viewed as 'apostates.' To be sure, we don't think their decision is wise, but they're not “apostate.” A fair number eventually return. You could liken those leaving to a man or woman leaving a relationship, like a failed marriage. Most just move on. But there's always a certain few psycho ex-mates that can't let go, who devote all their time and energy to harassing the person they once loved. Sigh....with the internet, these ones have a voice and it's amazing how prolific they can be. One such character (I'm not suggesting he is typical) even hosted a website (does he still?) in which he offered expert testimony in legal proceedings against Jehovah's Witnesses and expert testimony in legal proceedings against pharmaceutical makers of anti-depressants, apparently not realizing that each offer undercuts his credibility for the other. In any other setting, he'd be a quite ordinary person, but put him on the internet and he looms huge.

That's the type that the magazine commented on, not at all simply everyone who departs.

Moreover, 'mentally diseased' was placed in quotation marks, indicating it was not meant as a medical diagnosis, but as an adjective to suggest a manner of thinking. Nor is the term anything original. It's merely a repeat of the Bible verse 1 Tim 6:3-4....."If any man teaches other doctrine and does not assent to healthful words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to the teaching that accords with godly devotion, he is puffed up [with pride], not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! said guys like this one....that's not in any Bible I know of except the New World Translation, your Bible! He offered some alternatives, and I'll quote from his blog:

“That's not what it says in any English translation I know of. Here are 3 as a sample (courtesy of Unbound Bible):

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions (NASB)

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings (KJV)

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to that doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words; from which arise envies, contentions, blasphemies, evil suspicions (Douay-Rheims)

“But of course, translations are unnecessary for people like me who can read the original Greek:

“ει τις ετεροδιδασκαλει και μη προσερχεται υγιαινουσιν λογοις τοις του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου και τη κατ ευσεβειαν διδασκαλια τετυφωται μηδεν επισταμενος αλλα νοσων περι ζητησεις και λογομαχιας εξ ων γινεται φθονος ερις βλασφημιαι υπονοιαι πονηραι (Wetscott-Hort)

“I will discuss the meaning of the Greek passage with you if you wish. In fact, I invite you to do so. If you can't read the Greek, then we have little to discuss about it. What I will say is that the NASB, in this case, happens to be nearest in meaning to the original. I will stand by that assessment unless you can demonstrate conclusively that it's not true.”

 

 

To which I answered (starting with a requote of his words):

But of course, translations are unnecessary for people like me who can read the original Greek:

“Of course! [Why do people have to be such blowhards?] Fortunately, people like you produce translations so that dumb people like me can hope to understand the original. Surely we are permitted to use translations. If not, then all international dealings/relations ought to be suspended unless all parties involved are thoroughly conversant in all languages.

“By comparing many translations, even the dunce can get an accurate feel for the original.

“You've objected to "mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words." What do your other quoted translations say? Douay-Rheims says "sick about questions and strifes of words." In view of the context, what sort of 'sickness' do you think the translator had in mind? Tuberculosis, maybe? Or is it not a sickness of thinking, so that "mentally diseased" is not such a bad rendering after all? NASB, which you admire, offers "morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words." Does "morbid," when applied to thinking, suggest balance and soundness of mind? Or is "sickness", even "mentally diseased," more to the point?”

 

I'm okay when grousers who don't like the Bible denigrate Jehovah's Witnesses for that reason. But it burns me up when they suggest JWs...or the translation they generally use....misrepresent the Bible.

Here's a few other translations:

 diseased (Emphasized New Testament; Rotherham)

 filled with a sickly appetite (Epistles of Paul, W.J.Conybeare)

morbid appetite (A New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People; Charles Williams)

 morbid craving, (An American Translation; Goodspeed)

 unhealthy love of questionings (New Testament in Basic English)

 morbidly keen (NEB)

unhealthy desire to argue (Good News Bible).

Do any of these other versions suggest soundness of mind to you? So the NWT's "mentally diseased" is an entirely valid offering, even if more pointed than most. Plus, once again, the term is an adjective, as it is in all other translations, not a medical diagnosis. Context (in that Watchtower article) made this application abundantly clear. But my blogging opponent declared all such context (apparently without knowing it) "irrelevant." The last time I carried on that way with regard to the remarks of some scientists, I was immediately accused of "quote mining."

Surely that sword must cut both ways. Malcontents who harp on that Watchtower sentence are quote-mining, totally ignoring (or disagreeing with) its context, so as to lambaste a religion they can't stand.

….....................................................
Dr. Lonnie D. Kliever (1932 – 2004), Professor of Religious Studies of the Southern Methodist University in his paper The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements that he wrote upon request for Scientology, claims that the overwhelming majority of people who disengage from non-conforming religions harbor no lasting ill-will toward their past religious associations and activities, but that there is a much smaller number of apostates who are deeply invested and engaged in discrediting, and performing actions designed to destroy the religious communities that once claimed their loyalties. He asserts that these dedicated opponents present a distorted view of the new religions and cannot be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists. He claims that the lack of reliability of apostates is due to the traumatic nature of disaffiliation, that he compares to a divorce, but also due to the influence of the anti-cult movement, even on those apostates who were not deprogrammed or did not receive exit counseling. (Kliever 1995 Kliever. Lonnie D, Ph.D. The Reliability of Apostate Testimony About New Religious Movements, 1995.) [Submitted by “Jay” on the Beliefnet blog]

…...................................................................

Years ago Jehovah's Witnesses faced down another form of “political correctness,” that of compulsory flag salute. As with the present political correctness, it involved forcing certain speech or actions so as to foster desired attitudes. Observed a Court opinion of the era: "there are schools all over the United States in which the pupils have to go through  the ceremony of pledging allegiance to the flag every school day. It would be hard to devise a means more effective for dulling patriotic sentiment than that. This routine repetition makes the flag-saluting ceremony perfunctory and so devoid of feeling; and once this feeling has been lost it is hard to recapture it for the "high moments" of life." Yet for three years, until the Supreme Court overturned its own prior decision, compulsory flag salute in public school was the law of the land.

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Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!

 


Who're You Calling a Cult? Part 2

Jehovah's Witnesses don't fit the traditional definition of cult, but they do fit the new and improved definition [people we don't like] devised by Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Atheists, two overbearing groups who otherwise have nothing in common. If a website is run by members of either group, therefore, you can be sure we are a 'cult'.

Of the two groups, atheists are, at least, not hypocritical. Look, they don't like God; they're real clear on that. God is a delusion, they say, and worship a sham. So it's wholly consistent that a group like Jehovah's Witnesses, who agency, would cause them to use the C-word worship seriously, and in a manner influenced by biblical interpretation of a human governing 
 
Not so with evangelicals. There is hypocrisy here, or at least, Bible ignorance. If they were organized in a Christian manner themselves, they would not be calling JWs a cult....they would be imitating them.
 
Doing his utmost to goad me, one character (alas...I no longer recall just where) wants to know what I would do if I disagreed with JWs about something. Would I keep it to myself? Or would I speak out? I can start a debate club at my church, he tells me. Can ya, Tom Sheepandgoats, huh?? Well, can ya? Or would ya be scared?!
 

It's axiomatic to him that the Church be patterned on Western values, and in the West we have RIGHTS! First and foremost is the right to free speech. Robust debate! Can anything be more healthy? Wasn't it Patrick Henry who declared: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it!" How American! Mom! Baseball! Apple Pie! Flags a'flying! Surely that must be in the Bible!
 
Each time the Watchtower says something modeled on Bible principles, but not ideals of the West, it prompts vicious attacks from those who assume Western values ought to be the template of Christianity. But Patrick Henry was not one of the Twelve Apostles. He might not agree with verses like:
 
"It is necessary to shut the mouths of [self-styled authorities], as these very men keep on subverting entire households ..." Titus 1:11
 
...stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer    1 Tim 1:3
 
How's that for free speech? How's that for robust debate?
 
You cannot read the New Testament without being struck by the apostles' efforts to prevent sects, divisions, dissention, and at the extreme, apostasy. Christianity started in unity. They wanted to keep it that way. It's a constant theme:
 
Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought. For the disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, by those of [the house of] Chloe, that dissensions exist among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: “I belong to Paul,” “But I to Apollos,” “But I to Cephas,” “But I to Christ.” The Christ exists divided. Paul was not impaled for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.  1 Cor 1:10-15
 
I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.    Acts 20:29-30
 
I [the Apostle John] wrote something to the congregation, but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.   3 John 9-10
 
Now....you know, and I know, that it's not human nature to agree. Furthermore, small disagreements quickly widen into large disagreements. Yet, Jesus disciples were to be "one flock, one shepherd." So there was a human governing agency in the first century congregation, consisting first of the apostles, and it was through this agency that Christian unity was preserved. Every Christian was encouraged to know the scriptures, even before they were all assembled into a 'Bible.' The earliest Christians had known Jesus personally. All this worked toward unity and agreement, to be sure. But as Christians increased in number from 12 individuals to congregations throughout the contemporary world, do you really think unity would remain unmarred without a human authority to explain, interpret, and settle disagreements? And if so then, all the more so today when congregations exist around the globe.
 
If Jehovah's Witnesses seem "authoritarian," it's mostly because churches, reflecting general society, have tired of authority and have cast it aside. Consumerism reigns in most churches today, so says Haddon Robinson:
 
"Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches we have a consumer mentality."
 
There's a price to pay for casting aside discipline in favor of consumerism: people cater to and start to spread their own novel interpretations, their own ways of doing things, their own outlook on what it means to be a Christian, and before long 2 Pet 2:1-2 comes to pass:
 
"...there also came to be false prophets among the [Old Testament Israelites], as 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 Peter 2:1-2

I vividly recall circuit overseers and the like pointing out that "50 years ago the difference between Jehovah's Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral." Time was when there was little difference between the two groups as regards conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal governing not be a factor?
 
I don't even like that question posed up there in that 4th paragraph: 'could I start a debate group if I disagreed with this or that teaching?' I don't like the premise. Christians aren't inclined to debate. They've signed on to a manner of thinking that holds truths aren't established that way. They tend to reflect the "wisdom from above," which "is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey..."  Jas 3:17. They allow themselves to be 'readjusted" through the influence of humans, as one might expect from reading Eph 4:11-13:
 
And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ...
 
They respond, even when "not favorably disposed," to a teaching style such as Paul encouraged Timothy to cultivate: "....a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed....."  2 Tim 2:24-25
 
Think of it as riders on a bus. Ideally, everyone's happy as can be. Singin the camp song and all. In practice, though, not all are that way. They fret and grumble about their schedule. They don't feel all that great. The weather outside sucks. The passenger next to them has some annoying ways. The bus is too hot or cold....ya wanna adjust the temp controls? And....couldn't the driver have avoided that pothole? Did he really mean to take that last turn? That's really the best way? It's not so serious as to warrant getting off the bus (always an option), mind you....after all, they didn't have to get on in the first place, but there can be minor murmurings about this or that.
 
All this is human. All this is easily absorbed by the congregation. It's not ideal, but it's life. You can do these things. What you can't do is grab the wheel of the bus. You can't stand up in the aisle and yell "fire!" You show reasonable decorum. If I disagree with this or that point, I say to myself: am I really so immodest as to think what is needed in the brotherhood is 7 million carbon copies of ME? I allow myself to be 'readjusted.' If I can't fully get into something, I don't fully get into it. I wait, pending a possible time when I can, submitting myself to godly instruction in the meantime. (1 Cor 16:16, Heb 13:17)
 
Some won't like this illustration. "There is no driver," they'll grouse. "There is no bus. It's just me 'n Jesus." But the verses above show otherwise. There is authority in the Christian congregation. Human authority. Surely you can accede to that without being a "cult".

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Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash