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!’
Here is one to develop: FECRIS, the international anti-cult organization based in France, denounces and schemes harm to Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis they are a ‘harmful cult.’ It does this mostly through the machinations of its Russian born Vice President, Alexander Dvorkin. He is the one who masterminded the 2017 ban against Witnesses throughout Russia that has to date resulted in the arrests and jailing of hundreds.
War in Ukraine breaks out—a bloody, punishing, shocking war in which civilian deaths are many and genocide is alleged. Dvorkin backs Russia to the hilt. Others of that organization back Ukraine. Whatever semblance of unified action they may have had—smashed to smithereens over Ukraine! Just who is the ‘harmful cult’ here—FECRIS or Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The one thing we know for sure about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that not one combatant will be theirs. They may be drawn from every other religious and secular background—the ‘king’ can always persuade his subjects they are the victims—but not theirs. Just who is the ‘harmful cult?’ Given the ongoing atrocities, they are among the few parties not harmful!
I mean, this FECRIS fix is almost as poignant as the most prominent exJW ‘activist’ cavorting with the lithe and pretty young sex workers of Thailand, blowing his own family to smithereens in the process. It is as though those ubiquitous Watchtower drawings of slovenly opposers shouting and shaking their fists in rage finds complete fulfillment in that bearded bullying slob who perfectly typifies the scriptural ‘promising freedom while himself being slave to corruption!’ (2 Peter 2:19) And now the secular FECRIS grapples with the enormous bloodshed its VP cheers for! And Jehovah’s Witnesses are the harmful cult??! I don’t think so!
What has FECRIS done with this division in its ranks? As quietly has possible, it has expelled Dvorkin, its Vice President. It hasn’t really ‘disfellowshipped’ him because only cults do that. But what it has done so closely resembles disfellowshipping that no reasonable person can tell the difference. Is it enough? Or is the ideology of FECRIS itself the fault, whose factions stoked the perception of evil cults at work in Ukraine right until it all blew up in their faces? I mean, it is possible to drink too much of your own Kool-Aid.
“But…but…but,” that perennial apostate Vic Vomodog wrote me, “What about that Watchtower line, ‘We need to obey the faithful discreet slave to have Jehovah's approval?’ Huh, Tom Harley, what about that? Jesus Christ himself said at John 14:6, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Unlimited power is what they want!”
No, Vic. They no more make a grab for “unlimited power” than did those taking the lead in the first century:
“As [Paul and Banabas] traveled on through the cities, they would deliver to them for observance the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and the elders who were in Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:4)
Never did those two suggest Christians ought blow away “decrees” from Jerusalem as though the tyranny of domineering men. All Bible translations use words such as ‘decrees’ for Acts 16:4. Some say ‘rules,’ some ‘regulations.’ Some strengthen it as regulations “which were to be observed.” Only the independence-savoring Message translation waters it down to ‘helpful guidelines which proved most useful.’
“What I am saying is that trust us because God trust us sounds cultish!” Vomodog fired back!
It does sound cultish and it may therefore be impolitic to say it, but only for that reason. There’s nothing especially shocking in the idea itself. The Lord trusted the twelve. Does that mean their performance was flawless? We are the children of those who drove around with bumper stickers saying “Question Authority.” (if we are not those people ourselves). It makes us touchy on the point of authority. Dare I say overly touchy?
The Governing Body says what it says as it mans up, girds its loins, and takes the same lead as did faithful men in the first century. They think we’re entering crunch time. Witnesses will agree with that; if they don’t they have no business being Witnesses. The Governing Body does not want to find themselves in the shoes of Lot, urging evasive action only to find his sons-in-law think he is joking. (Genesis 19:14)
Jesus says (John 14:12) “whoever exercises faith in me will also do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these.” The first century governing body, “the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem,” did considerably greater works than Jesus in that they spread the message throughout the then-known world. The modern-day governing body has far eclipsed them, spreading it throughout the entire world regardless of the barriers set up (language, nationality, ethnicity, culture), at the same time keeping it freely available, unified, and uncontaminated. For this they deserve great respect, and yes, obedience. It is understood that this obedience is not tyranny, that it recognizes “we are not masters of your faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24) and that we shall smell a scandal when Sam Herd upgrades to a bigger dorm room.
By and large, rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses have worked out the balance pretty well: “We have this treasure [the ministry] in earthen vessels [us—imperfect humans. We are imperfect and those taking the lead are imperfect], so that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
If we are going to carry on about “absolute authority” let us attribute it to the one who has it in this system of things and who uses it for great harm—the “great dragon who is misleading the entire inhabited earth,” the “ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Rev 12:9, Ephesians 2:2) It is this one who uses his absolute authority over the “air” to motivate the malevolent ones at FECRIS to boast of their “freedom of mind,” caring not that it makes them pawns of the national kings fighting their bloody battles for dominance. That’s the “absolute authority” to worry about, not those of the people who say we should pay attention to dress and grooming and keep track of time spent in the ministry. “Light has come into the world, but men have loved the darkness rather than the light,” says Jesus. (John 3:19) See how quickly a discussion about the authority that kills is diverted into beefing about the authority that doesn’t.
The Governing Body may not correspond to the human authority Jehovah has used in the past in every particular, the main one being that since Scripture was completed in the first century CE, they are not explicitly mentioned in it. But it is far more beneficial to dwell on the similarities than the differences. Even Witnesses who aren’t thrilled over every aspect of GB policy have no problem conceding that there should be human leadership. Any one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is easily able to reconcile “I am the way and the truth and the life” with verses such as Ephesians 4: 7-13 that plainly state Christ grants authority to men:
“Now undeserved kindness was given to each one of us according to how the Christ measured out the free gift. ….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, to build up the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness of the faith and of the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to being a full-grown man, attaining the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.”
Surely Christianity was not meant to die with the completion of the Bible canon. Surely someone was meant to be around to oversee Matthew 24:14: “And this good news will be preached in all the inhabited earth, as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.”
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!’
Jehovah’s Witnesses plainly don’t fit the traditional definition of cult that we all grew up with. Time was, if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from society, and began doing strange things, you just might be a member of a cult.
However, the goal posts have been moved! There is a new definition of cult, and by this definition they do fit. If you belong to a group in which there is significant human authority and if you think outside of the mainstream box, you are a cult. The BITE expert even thinks half the country (United States) belongs to a cult for voting for the candidate he disfavors, a circumstance I think dilutes every other stand he takes. I mean, if you think half the country is in a cult, is it not evidence you have drunk too much of the KoolAid yourself?
This changed definition explains why when Yaroslav Sivulsky (as related in Don’t Know Why We Persecute) is asked about cult accusations, he does the only thing a reasonable person can be expected to do—he doesn’t understand the question. He notes that “we don’t have the features of a sect, because we are not isolated, we have no leader who is controlling everybody, because we are open to society. We go to the people, not hide from the people in forests of somewhere else.” He hasn’t kept up with the latest machinations of men; he has a real world to live in.
So the question becomes how do you adapt to this new definition of cult?
One way is simply refuse to accept it. “Cult” has had specific meaning for centuries, and just don’t budge from that specific meaning. The only reason it has changed in recent years is because humanists are intent upon snuffing out religion that becomes powerful through organization. If it is only a matter of uncoordinated individuals each acting (or more often, not acting) upon his or her own personal interpretation of God, that is less of a threat to them, and they are okay with it. Disconnected individuals are relatively easy to pick off or assimilate, but it is much harder with members of a centralized coordinated group.
Another way of dealing with the updated definition is to accept it but also point out that the Bible thereby becomes a cult manual. It plainly speaks of a first century group in which there was significant human authority. That gathering of the apostles of older men in 49CE (Acts 15) sent out decrees (decisions) to the congregation that were to be observed. (Acts 16:4-5)
A supplemental response is to revert to the original meaning of “cult,” for it comes from the same root word as does agriculture. Whereas agriculture is literally caring for the earth, cult in the religious sense can be taken as caring for the matters of God. I’ll take it. It is not too different from serving as ‘guardians of doctrine.’
Or one can point out the advantages of being able to cooperate. One can observe that in response to direction from their governing body, Jehovah’s Witnesses instantly suspended physical meetings for virtual, and instantly donned the masks deemed protective. If that protocol was the secret for eradicating the virus and if everyone in the world had been a Jehovah’s Witness, Covid 19 would have shoved off long ago. I told the CultExpert, who has the byline, “Freedom of Mind,” you don’t think at least some of those flying your banner will use their freedom of mind to tell the government to take a hike?
And should it turn out that such protocol is not the way to eradicate the virus, that quickly becomes apparent, clearing the path for another protocol to be devised. Indeed, the doctor who wrote the White House with the medical regimen that quickly cured Trump when the latter came down with kiss-of-death Covid thinks there will some day be the equivalent of Nuremberg trials for those who let hundreds of thousands of people die by discrediting and even withholding treatment of an eminently treatable disease.
But when some follow the guidelines and some don’t, you never come to know if they work or not. Covid ravages the globe as each one is arguing his or her own point of view and the result of either course never comes to fruition. JWs would have spared the world that. “Freedom of mind” anti-cult addicts would have perpetuated it.
One can also be very resourceful and turn that cult taunt (for that is how it is usually intended) on its head, the same way some innovative police years ago dealt with the taunt “Pigs.” They advertised that is stood for Pride, Integrity Guts, and Service. In the same way, as applied to Witnesses, cult can stand for Courage, Unity, Love, and Truth.
The villains don’t own the dictionary. We can make as much use of it as they. In the case of hostile ex-Witnesses, we can even adapt the Freddy Mercury song:
We’re the apostates, my friends
and we’ll keep on fighting till the end
No way we’ll lost this
Be sure you choose us
Cause we’re the apostates of he world.
Meanwhile, displaying far more freedom of mind than the freedom of mind specialist could ever dream of, the recent announcement from HQ is that “they do not oppose vaccination. Many of the Bethel family have chosen to be vaccinated. We view health care as a personal decision and do not attempt to make such decisions for others.” (an amalgamation of two separate announcements) I have quipped that you can even tell whether a bro is vaccinated or not by how they read the announcement:
HQ IS NOT AGAINST vaccination. We view health care as a personal choice.
HQ is not against vaccination. We view health care AS A PERSONAL CHOICE.
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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!’
My non-JW neighbor said it best and she is not one known for metaphors. She’s not interested in politics, she says. She tries not to get worked up over it, but....
“It like a bad accident. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away,” she says. Ha! Isn’t it, though? Like this one:
Just try looking away from that one. And imagine—the image of human politics, “man dominating man to his harm,” says Ecclesiastes 8:9, likened to a bad accident. “I well know, O Jehovah, that man’s way does not belong to him.It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step,” says Jeremiah at 10:23. Jehovah’s Witnesses defer to that verse to show that human self-rule is not an ability God granted them. Invariably it reduces to some variant of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” to punctuate a highway of “solutions” not quite up to the job.
This is why one wonders what the #CultExpert has been smoking when he seeks to liberate people from “cults”—and he expands the word to include half the country, in the form of the political party he doesn’t like! Let’s face it—there are only so many Moonies, the “cult” that he “escaped” from (whether they are or not will be for them to argue, not me) and like the diminishing returns of a multilevel marketing scheme, he has to expand the C-word to far more than the Moonies if he is ever going to amount to anything. Still, when you maintain that half the country has fallen victim to a cult, is it not evidence that you’ve been drinking too much of the Kool-Aid yourself?
Somewhere on the road from the Moonies to the Republicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses got caught in his C-trap. When he turns his attention their way, he wants them to come out. Come out to what? To his version of normal, to his way of man ruling man, that my neighbor so aptly applies illustrates by metaphor? Moses led his people to the promised land, not the town dump.
JW HQ lately has ramped up attention to Bible verses of neutrality, doing so for JWs themselves, lest they get sucked into the morass. Brothers flirt around the edges as it is. They post jokes, even insults, of one contestant, and yet still imagine themselves neutral as they do it. Or they patiently explain the position of one pugilist, for fear the liars are distorting it, but are content to let the other fellow twist in the wind. Even Geoffrey Jackson, when he illustrates the challenge of maintaining absolute neutrality with combatting the thought: “I hope that idiot doesn’t get into power!”—is it only me who wonders what “idiot” does he have in mind?
Climbing to the pinnacle of what divides humans, the politics of any given nation, he first encounters the lesser side-taking of the sports world. He tells how he recorded a game for a friend, and it was a really exiting game! But when he offered to show the match to others, they said, “No thanks. It might be different if we had won.”
I had a lot of fun with the Olympics while writing No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. Were it not that the Olympics has been canceled this time around due to Covid-19, I would be having it some more. There I wrote of telling Tom Pearlsandswine that I had seen Trump tie his shoe, only to earn the instant rebuke: “We are no part of the world!” The next day I told him that Hillary had worn a nice bright pants-suit, and his retort was: “We must keep our eyes on the Jerusalem above!” The next day I stopped by his house as he was watching the Olympics, to hear him say: “Look at that medal count, Tommy! We’re cleaning up!!!”
Meanwhile, at the virtual meetings, JWs are testing on each other just how they will explain their neutral stance in a politically volatile world, and some of the results come off as a bit clunky. Listen, it ain’t easy to do, because most of them involve presenting God’s kingdom as an actual government—which it is, but not that many look upon it that way, and people don’t turn on a dime. I did like (which wasn’t one of the suggestions—it was simply something that some old-timer recalled) Brother Glass responding to queries as to why he is not voting with: “Why should I? Jehovah’s Witnesses have solved most of the problems that your world is yet grappling with. Why should I trade the superior for the inferior?” But the neighbor said it best—it’s like watching a bad accident.
It is a special month of activity for we Witnesses. There is a campaign to distribute to business, government, and professional people our vote, that of recommending God’s kingdom. I admit I was a little worried I might be called upon to explain how the stone not cut by human hands smashes the toes of the idol, but so far there is none of it—not in the magazine, which is inviting, and so certainly not in any missive of mine. Rocky Nash in Las Vegas has picked up on it and spread it around via her news feed, and many outlets have latched onto it. I don’t really know who Rocky is—at first I thought it was a guy, like Rocky Balboa, but it is a woman—or just where she is coming from, but then, I don’t really have to. You don’t have to know everything.
Here is the kingdom envisioned in Revelation, descending from heaven:
“I also saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.... I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. ...And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (21:2-4)
Jerusalem was (and is) the capital of Israel, so New Jerusalem is a suitable symbol for God’s kingdom ruling over all humans and not just one country. It is not good people going to heaven as angels when they die—rather it is God “coming down” to “mankind”—they are his “peoples”—and from there he removes “mourning, outcry, and pain.”
And the present system of “man’s rule over man to his harm?” What of these dark rumblings one may hear from time to time that Jehovah’s Witnesses say human government is from the Devil? (!) That comes, most pointedly for my money, from Luke 4–the second of the three temptations thrown at Jesus in the wilderness.
“[The Devil] showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time. Then the Devil said to him: “I will give you all this authority and their glory, because it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. If you, therefore, do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.” In reply Jesus said to him: “It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’” (vs 5-8)
He turned down the offer but he didn’t deny the premise—that the kingdoms are for the Devil to offer since they have been handed to him, a handoff that commenced way back there with human rebellion in Eden.
I am looking forward to God’s kingdom “coming”—as the Lord’s prayer [Our Father Prayer] says. I’ve built my life around it, as anyone can. No accident scene then. Nothing but fine Packards for all:
Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. The Epoch Times represents the publishing arm of the Falun Gong religious sect, much as, I suppose, the Christian Science Monitor represents the publishing arm of the Christian Scientists, but not as the Watchtower represents the publishing arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Christian Science Monitor and the Epoch Times are full-scale newspapers with corresponding digital outlet. The Watchtower is a religious journal that rarely even names and of the players on the world stage.
As for me—naw—I skimmed that Epoch Times some, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.
Now, I know next to nothing about Falun Gong, but those who wish to discredit their newspaper will do so on the basis that they are “weird.” Are they secretive? Are they uncomfortably effective in spreading their message? Do they withdraw from “normal” society? Do they learn to lead “double-lives?” Do they mislead the regular people as to their true mission? Do they have some offbeat (and therefore ‘dark’) beliefs about what the future holds? Do they have members who die because of not embracing all that modern medicine has to offer? Do they even have an elaborate “compound” in New York State? Are they non-violent, but still a cause for concern, since “all cults are non-violent until they are not”—that cute line from the #cultexpert—in his wacko world, the more peaceful people are, the greater the cause for concern.
When I see how Jehovah’s Witnesses are slammed in the media as a “cult,” do I imagine that all the other “cults” are getting a fair shake?
In TrueTom vs the Apostates! I wrote of the Moonies something to the effect of: Is is possible to lead a fulfilled life as a Moonie? They’ll have to make the case for it, not me. However, if the “mainstream” and “normal” life resulted in happiness, fulfillment, and provided answers to the deep questions that vex people, none of these cults would succeed in people giving them the time of day. Let them deliver a little bit before they condemn everyone else.
I might even prefer committed religionists to the vanilla people of today because you can “talk shop” with them. You are not faced with, as we are here in the US, people in a panic over discussing a Bible verse, people scared of going off the mainstream of conventional goals for fear of where that might take one, people who do not roll their eyes when you speak of what a verse might mean, and people who do not distrust your explaining a verse by appealing to another one—as though they already indulged you by listening to one, and what more could you possibly want?
As far as I can see, joining one of these “cults” is getting off the “broad road leading to destruction,” in favor of the “narrow road that leads to destruction.” (Matthew 7:13) They both lead to destruction, one no more than the other. I don’t view “cultists” as a threat to people any more than the “normal” life is a threat to people.
Broad road or narrow road, the one factor that indicates they “lead off to destruction” is their rooting for various leaders of the world to succeed and for other ones to fail. They are part of the world when they do that. The “cramped and narrow road that leads to life” is marked by not being part of the world—not claiming that this or that human is God’s gift to humanity, not claiming that this or that leader must go down, but taking a neutral attitude towards them. “Pray for the king,” Paul writes to Timothy. “That way maybe he’ll keep out of our hair.” That is as “involved” as the religion that is true to God gets with regard to this world’s political structure of good guys and bad guys. Anything else, be it Falun GOne or conventional media, is equally part of the world in my eyes. Your “eyes may be opened” when you leave the Falun Gong, but it is only so they can be blinded by another source rooting for this world.
The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source. You would think that those with experience would be the first ones consulted, but they are the last. It is a skewed approach that really only applies with regard to religious views—with anything else, membership in a cause does not interfere significantly with their ‘expertise’—but it does with religion.
However, you cannot stay neutral with regard to the “word of God” because it “pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and ...is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart,” says Hebrews 4:12. It separates people, either “for” or “against.”
The “for” will be counted as biased under today’s system of news, and thus discounted. The “against” will not get the sense of it—whatever they say will miss the lion’s share of what matters. They will be like the “physical man” of 1 Corinthians 2:14 who “does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually.”
As for the opposite of the physical man who “cannot get to know” things of which he tries to report?—“the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” So the only one who can report accurately is dismissed as biased in favor of the one who can’t possibly come to know what he is talking about. Is that a great system, or what?
It doesn’t matter what is said, as much as it matters who says it. This rule plays out time and again. From the German concentration camps prior to and during WWII, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who preceded the far more numerous Jews, smuggled out detailed diagrams of those camps. Those diagrams were published in the Watchtower—and dismissed by more respectable outlets as Time Magazine because they were not deemed credible. It turned out that only Jehovah’s Witnesses had “the scoop.”
The rule played out once more when Gunnar Samuelsonn, an evangelistic researcher, published that Jesus had not been put to death on a cross but on an upright stake He received his 15 minutes of fame—his place in the academic community solidly cemented. Jehovah’s Witnesses have said the same for well over a century, only to be told to shut up since they didn’t go to college—what could they possibly know?
Can the Falun Gong make the same claim—that if the “right people” do not say something, it means nothing? They will have to state their own case—not me. For all I know, they are the nutcakes that people make them out to be, but when I see how the media butchers stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I do not assume that other “new religions” are given a fair shake. (“New religion” is the scholarly term for movements a century or two old. The term is preferred to “cult” for being non-incendiary, and those who prefer “cult” reject it for exactly that reason.)
Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. As for me—naw—I skimmed a little bit, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.
It may be that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Falun Gong are getting to know each other quite well in the remote areas of China. Bitterwinter.org reports:
“According to a document issued in 2018 by the government of a locality in Xinjiang, members of three banned religious groups—The Church of Almighty God (CAG), Falun Gong, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—must be sent to transformation through education camps and kept indefinitely until they have been “transformed,” i.e., become atheist. Their release depends on whether they have implemented five musts. These are a written pledge to stop attending religious activities; relinquishment of all religious materials in their possession; public criticism of one’s faith, promising to break up with it; disclosure of information about fellow believers and group’s/church’s affairs; and aiding the government in transforming other believers.”
The two groups are anything but “two peas in a pod.” The Falun Gong are intensely political and hostile to the CCP, whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses are neither. “Mandatory singing of revolutionary songs was particularly hard on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who practice the so-called political neutrality and refuse to sing national anthems, salute flags, or serve in the army,” the report said.
BitterWinter is a subset of the Center for Studies on New Religions, headquartered in Torino, Italy. It is chaired by Massimo Introvigne, identified as “one of the most well-known scholars of religion internationally.” (I see my chum* George Chrysiddes, who wrote that nice review of my first book under the pseudonym Ivor E. Tower, hangs out here at least sometimes.) His name cropped up repeatedly as I was gathering background for Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia. Though I did not get it from him (I got it from Joshua Gill), I see he is of the same view as I that a resolute “anti-cult” movement, and not the Russian Orthodox Church, is behind the troubles of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that land. Head ones of the ROC might cheer that ban like children at presents under the tree, but it does not originate with them. The “anti-cult” movement has the same apparent goal of that explicitly stated in BitterWinter—that religious ones should “become atheist”—and the more mainstream faiths are so watered down already that it hardly matters what they believe—they’ll do whatever they are told to do.
If the charge is made that anything harshly critical of the CCP is a production of Fulon Gong—as I have heard—by means of their media arm Epoch Times, that certainly cannot be said of BitterWinter. It’s About page tells of a “network of several hundred correspondents in all Chinese provinces” who work at “high risk for their security – some have been arrested.” To be sure, it “receives some of its reports directly from members of religious minorities and organizations persecuted,” however it would appear that these ones do not call the shots. BitterWinter “is independent of any religious or political organization and is mostly the fruit of volunteer work.” It “does not take positions on political issues [Good!—Like JWs—will Hebrews 4:12 some day go to work on them?] and limits itself to the field of human rights.”
Unfortunately, “human rights” itself may be perceived as political. Invariably they focus on the human rights of individuals, whereas any government will be an attempt at balancing the human rights of individuals with the human rights of groups. With some, the human rights of groups far outweighs those of individuals. Even as Putin says he does not understand why his country persecutes Jehovah’s Witnesses, he qualifies the remark by observing Russia is 90% one religion, and “one cannot throw everything overboard just to please the sects.”
Frankly, I could wish that BitterWinter was all pro-Western propaganda that could be dismissed on that account, for our people are reported as undergoing some very tough times there—it makes Russia look like a cakewalk. However, the website initially strikes one as a treasure trove of unbiased documentation, exceedingly well-done, and well worth the donations it accepts, and well-worth boning up on.
*I don’t want to imply that we’re buddies. He’s a “chum” because he wrote that nice review, but otherwise I do not know him. We traded emails for a time, but fell out of touch. He said chatty things while he was reading the ebook—I appreciated it, and he graciously did not mention quite a few blips and typos that I have since found and removed. I rather wish he had. While I’ve no doubt his review is sincere, he probably discounted the book for not being up to format standards. But then again—he’s a scholar, not an editor.
Q: In Bart Ehrman new book, it seems he ...wants to find a way to believe in the afterlife...most of his writings deal with the exploits of noncanon material or the early church fathers understanding of Hades, Sheol.
Bart comes from an evangelical background. In his blog, he speaks poignantly of the tragedy of losing his faith, something that happened once he began to examine the Bible through “critical thinking.”
He never had a firm foundation to stand on. I would lose my faith, too, if I had to uphold all the nonsense that is part and parcel of church teaching. One can almost feel sorry for him—but one does not, because he does not feel sorry for himself. He has a good gig going—top selling author, nifty website with a paywall that donates to charity, a reputation that prompts the Great Courses Lecture series to engage him as a professor, chair of a university religion department, where he destroys the faith of his students—but since it was founded mostly on the doctrines of churches, it was barely defensible in the first place. No, he has a good gig. Nobody has asked me to chair a Great Courses series.
If not atheist, he certainly is hard-agnostic, unless he has had a recent change of heart. I often wonder what would have happened if those now atheist had been presented accurate Christian teachings first—would they have gone atheist in that case? A naive me once assumed that the answer would be no.
Sometimes it has worked that way, but these are crazy times, and if you keep up with atheist writings, you find that they are likely to detest JWs most of all! It does not help that JWs have “accurate” Bible teachings. The allure of breaking free from any “control” is just too enticing to be countered by a fresh look at Bible teachings. There is no way that those on the “cramped and narrow road” are not going to be derided as “cult” members by those on the broad and spacious one. This is so predictable that I kick myself for not having predicted it long before—it is so obvious.
To break free of “control” holds irresistible appeal today, and the atheists add to the list of who does it (and even put foremost) those who would claim to represent God, as our brothers do, and they lambasted them for “controlling” people by that means. You might think they would look upon Witnesses with admiration for such things as eliminating racism among their midst, or not engaging in physical violence on any account—least of all that of the government trying to sign them up for the latest war.
Alas, to them, JWs are the worst of the lot, because most churches have watered down “speaking in God’s name” to “God works in mysterious ways,” and have pretty much learned to roll with whatever happens, being content to add a smiley “God” emoji to events. Most have made their peace with the world—they seek to hopefully modify it for the better. Atheists are vested in the world even more so, and think the view of JWs far too extreme—even “murderous”—that God means to replace it.
From the ranks of atheists come those most likely to present the picture that obedience “to men” is essential if you are a JW, how they are under enormous pressure always from top leaders, and how they terrify children with expectations of Armaggedon. (How about when Newsweek surveys the world scene, and presents the magazine cover “What the *@#! Is Next?” I countered to one of them.)
The “obedience” that JWs are expected to render is no more than following directions of the teacher, the coach, the mentor, the employer, the counselor, the traffic cop—something that was once the most unremarkable thing in the world, but is now presented as selling out one’s soul. JWs have not changed—the world has. One may look no farther than it’s collective response to Covid 19 to see what chaos follows. Mark Benioff, the Salesforce founder, the fellow who purchased Time Magazine, has stated that if everyone had masked up for just three weeks, the virus would have been defeated. Of course, this is what JWs have done, because being obedient to authority is not an issue for them, but the illness is out of control today because the world ridicules obedience and challenges the authority of any who would advance it. The very first sign that this would escalate to disaster occurred very early on—when toilet paper sold out, despite knowledge that the virus doesn’t hit people that way. I told Hassan, the CultExpert, he of the“FreedomofMind” hashtag, that my people have behaved far more responsibly than his—you don’t think some will use their “freedom of mind” to tell the government where they can go with their “rules?”
It doesn’t matter if the world’s obsession with “independence” ends in disaster—as it surely will—as it is with Covid 19. As one tweet puts it: “Folks want to believe this pandemic is nearing an end because they’re tired of living in a broken world. But I fear we are just at the beginning, and that we’ve squandered the first six months with our bickering.” You know they will squander the next six months, too—you just know it. That is the way the world works.
To be free of “control” is just too strong a pull for anything to be otherwise. Those on the broad and spacious road—that’s what makes it broad and spacious, ones on it listen to no one but themselves—will invariably present those on the cramped and narrow road as manipulated by a cult. That should have occurred to me long ago.
Let’s have one more go at Brother Glock’s words that good advice from the Witness organization on how to deal with Covid 19 proves that God is working with them. After that, we’ll give it a rest. Enough is enough.
Ida thought maybe it was too over-the-top for him to put it this way. Maybe he should have said: “The advice that the GB are giving is proof that they really apply the scriptures in their life and are allowing...” and so forth. That’s not “proof” either and the same bellyachers that would raise a fuss about the first would raise it no less with the second.
I almost think that “prove” should be stricken from the JW vocabulary. It is one more word that has been redefined to give it a narrow focus that was never before its exclusive definition. “Scientific proof” is all that people think of today—yet if “scientific proof” was the order of the day, the stuff we have, and that of any belief system, would not be called “faith.”
Should Glock be expected to use the word “prove” in the scientific sense? Not hardly. He is a Bible teacher. How does the Bible use the term? The New World Translation uses the word ‘prove’ 46 times. Not one of them is in the scientific sense. Only 2 or 3 is even in the legal sense. Typical are verses like Jesus “sending you out as sheep among wolves; so prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves, (Matt 10:16)
“On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” (Matt 24:44)
“But wanting to prove himself righteous, the man said to Jesus:...” (Luke 10:29)
“My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and proveyourselves my disciples.” (John 15:8)
In fact, since always we hear that this or that must be “approved,” just what is the etymology of “approve?” Does anyone think it suggests scientific proof? Or does it not denote meeting the standards of someone with recognized stature? It is ridiculous that Brother Glock should be taken to task by narrow-minded sticklers for a single application of the word which will almost certainly not be his, nor be the dominant one of history.
Words change. There is no sense grousing about this. “Why so serious?” the Joker says, as he slits another throat. We may have to change on this as well—or just ignore the wordcrafters and put pedal to the medal!
Sometimes I think we should do that with the word “cult.” The word has changed. Rather than resist it, it may be better to embrace the new meaning. Point to the etymology of the word. It stems from the same root as does the word “agriculture,” which literally means “care of the earth.” Ones who care for “the matters of God” would be an appropriate definition for “cult.” I could live with it.
Look, if there really is a cramped road with narrow gate that people are advised to follow, is there any way those on the broad and spacious one are not going to call it a ‘cult?’
“Go in through the narrow gate,” Jesus says, “because broad is the gate and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are finding it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) They are going to call it a “cult.” You know they are. Roll with it.
One might even do what the cops did when the radical students began tormenting them with the epithet “pigs”—doubling down when they saw that it got under their skin. Finally, one innovative officer figured that he would work with it:
P - Pride
I - Integrity
S - Service
Can Witnesses do the same? “To the adolescents I became an adolescent,” Paul said, or would have had he thought of it, since he said plenty that was parallel.
C - Courage
L - Love
T - Truth
One does not want to be like my (non-Witness) cousin, who grumbled till her dying day that she could no longer use the word “gay” because the homosexuals had hijacked it. “I’m no prude,” she would day. “If they want to go AC-DC (would she really wink just then?), that’s all right with me. But why couldn’t they invent their own word? Why did they have to take “gay?” She’d go on and on. I used to set her off just to watch the sparks fly. “Ethel, you know what gets me?” I say, “that we can no longer use the word “gay.” “I know!” she’d crank up, and off she’d go for the next quarter-hour.
“She’s just mad that she can no longer speak of going to ‘gay Paree,’” I said to my right-wing brother. But my right wing brother had still not forgiven the French in the aftermath of the “Freedom Fries” fiasco. “Why can’t she?” he muttered.
The reason that the Governing Body can say “follow the direction of secular authority” and still have that count as spiritual guidance is that (with some exaggeration) Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it, and non-believers cannot. It’s not monolithic, of course, but as a system of proportions the above can be said, as long as you qualify it an admission of exaggerating. It becomes hyperbole—the most effective of literary innovations—Jesus used them all the time—its effectiveness inferred with the observation that people of common sense get the point and people without do not.
“Following the direction of secular authority” in this case, entails putting up with delayed gratification. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. It entails the willingness to obey. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. It entails the ability to put love of neighbor above self-interest. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. “Do we really need to have a hashtag, #DontKillGrandma? said the CBS medical doctor recently. Yes—they do, if present trends are anything to go by. Witnesses don’t, but they do. This “proves” that the Witness organization has done well imparting Bible principles into its members, since there are plenty of churches today fingered as spreaders of the virus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have put themselves among company in which peer-pressure is going to nudge them in the safer direction. Non-Witnesses, many of them, have put themselves in a place where their peer-pressure will nudge them in just the opposite way. Do not think that peer-pressure is nothing. It is the reason that we look at our photos of yesteryear and marvel at how we ever could have thought those dorky styles did anything for us.
I even told the CultExpert, the one with the hashtag #FreedomOfMind, that my people are, by and large, more responsible than his. You don’t think that some will use their “freedom of mind” to tell the government what it can do with its regulations?
Vic Vomodog called on me the other day, trying once again to entice me into his sinister cause. I protested that he was wearing no mask, but he laughed at me! I told him how foolhardy he was, but he said that the danger is past—our state is one in which the rates peaked long ago, and are in steady decline. I pleaded with him, yet he waved me down with derisive hand gestures, just like opposers do in the dramas. However, the moment he stepped onto the public sidewalk, a truck loaded with emergency Covid 19 supplies bound for Texas jumped the curb and knocked him into the trees! And I can’t even visit him in the hospital—they’re not permitting that yet.
I proposed (facetiously) in ‘No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash’ that there be ‘A Shooting Channel.’ Put all shootings on ‘The Shooting Channel’—white on black, white on white, black on white, black on black. Ban shootings on all other channels. Let viewers decide for themselves which ones are horrible and which ones are yawners. Otherwise, the media comes along later and starts a race war.
Beyond question, the current happening is horrible. Still, when it is shown 20 times a day—how can that not be seen as deliberately stoking rage that will result in cascading calamity to totally innocent persons. The tiny Minneapolis businesses burned out in the days following were predominantly minority-owned. I think it is not such a foolish statement to say that those who would stoke this rage are “the enemy of the American people,” extreme that the statement may at first glance appear. The wide-spread rage in Charlotte a few years ago was inflamed by reports of a white police officer shooting a black suspect, Lamont Scott. When it turned out that the cop was, not white, but black, this correction was barely noted—even though its absence ensured widespread violence.
It is an article of faith among the reformers of this system of things that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and that “When you shine the spotlight of journalism on this or that evil, the cockroaches disappear.” They may disappear, but that does not mean that they die. They just go elsewhere, and one is faced with the scriptural truth of Ecclesiastes 1:15: “That which is crooked cannot be made straight.“ ‘God’s kingdom come‘ such as Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim is up to the task, but as for human efforts? The track record is not promising. More often than not, they take a horrible event and make it worse.
Along comes the #CultExpert to lambaste expressed determination to stop the spreading violence as “inciting violence” itself. Is it?
“Violence is not a solution!” he said. “Powerful forces from outside the U.S. and from within are deliberately stoking conflict and division. @realDonaldTrump needs to be flagged by Twitter when he advocates violence. FB should change policies ASAP to protect our democracy.”
What the POTUS had said that Twitter flagged was: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Said I to the Cult Expert: “I grant that he could choose his words more carefully—he is very much of a barroom brawler—but when cities are burning and when the small businesses of mostly minority persons are being destroyed, is it realLy “advocating violence” when he says as POTUS he means to restore order? I don’t understand this at all.”
Throughout history, there is scarcely an example of putting down riots with “love,” and the (black) mayor of Atlanta implored people to “go home”—they were “dishonoring the memory of George Floyd. Maybe Jesus could quell one with loving persuasion, but the CultExpert all but gags at his mention. He is a left-wing loon, methinks, and it damages his credibility. This personally works out well for me, because he calls Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult—along with a few score, if not hundreds, of other groups. He shoots his credibility with regard to them all, I think, and in some ways it is a shame, because some of them really do seem “out there.” But it is for them to defend themselves—it is not for me to investigate and do it for them. I might come to the conclusion that it is a lost cause. I only know about us.
But when you expand your definition of “cult” to include half of the country, as he does, it is a pretty good indication that you have drunk too much of the Kool-Aid yourself.
However, back to his tweet. Included in it was: “Powerful forces from outside the U.S. and from within are deliberately stoking conflict and division.” He seems to have got that right. Tweeted Sheryl Atkinson on May 30th: Minnesota officials: "Every person arrested last night was from out of state." Locals: "We don't know these folks." Exactly. But the two disagree on who those “powerful forces” are who are “deliberately stoking conflict.” Steve thinks it included those who want to put out the fires.
photo from: BusinessInsider.com
Shortly after my post, I was called out on it by one of my own people: “He’s advocating shooting the looters brother. That’s murder.”
When this happens from someone you have regard for—and since she is a spiritual sister, I do—you do not go for the jugular such as is the pattern on social media. You strive to see the other point of view:
“Would the one murdered agree that those looting and burning are his ‘brothers’ honoring his name? I’m not so sure. But these are incendiary times. Other views exist. I said what I said but I would not pursue it online any further. Man doesn’t have the answers and anything done is shooting himself in the foot one way or the other. If people see if differently, I have no problem with that. They may be right. Thanks for your message.”
She: “I hesitated to reply. Didn’t want to publicly. If the police or civilians shoot looters for looting...we’ll that’s murder. The President advocated this on Twitter. There are people who would take this tweet as permission to shoot on sight. Dangerous to say the least. Anyway....I don’t get involved with politics, but pay attention to what is going on. Don’t agree with Hassan often, but he’s right about twitter flagging Trump. IMO.“
Okay. I did say that he might have chosen his words more carefully. Still, it did not occur to me that the tweet might be taken as an invitation to vigilante justice. Maybe it should have. Maybe if I had my sister’s formative background—whatever that might be—it would have.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do this all the time with each other—take a preliminary position and them immediately walk it back when it finds opposition. The reason they can do this so readily is that they realize that this life is not the “real life” of 1 Timothy 6:19. Don’t take it into the Kingdom Hall. Ideally, don’t form views in the first place—“must.stay.neutral” tweeted another brother, implying it would not be a piece of cake for him—but if you are a flesh-and-blood person who takes in information, that is much easier said than done. For that reason, there are many brothers who do not take in information, and I do not criticize them for that. It is far easier to stay neutral that way, though it does compromise your ability to relate in the ministry. It is another reason that I do not append a link to the JW website on any of my social media profiles, something many brothers seem to feel almost obligatory to do. Everyone has his own way of looking at things and even his own quirks—if you link to the website it suggests you got it from them.
Meanwhile, from another quarter entirely, Mr. Admin noted that “the 17-year-old who took the video of George Floyd being suffocated and killed by police on Monday...[who] took the video as proof of police brutality and the pain felt by thousands of people around the country...has been receiving numerous questions about why she didn't fight off police for the duration of the 10 minute video depicting police kneeing Floyd in the neck. In her response, she says that she was scared as a 17-year-old to attempt to fight off any cops or help Floyd.”
Me: “That strikes me as not a bad answer from a 17 year old. Everyone has a smart phone these days and it is in the culture that if you see something you record it. It is the fellow cops who saw fit to not interfere that you have to wonder about.“
It must really confound those who accuse the JW organization of being a cult that few people are behaving better these days, or more reasonably, with more of an eye toward the public good. That #CultExpert tweets about how Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate people, and I reply that their followers put his to shame for vanquishing COVID. Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately transferred all gatherings to Zoom and issued strong counsel to observe government-recommended social distancing—which our people will observe because they strive to be obedient. But his followers? Some will observe social distancing, no doubt—probably even most, but is his mission statement ‘Freedom of Mind’ really compatible with obedience to secular authority? You don’t think some will use their ‘freedom of mind’ to tell the government to buzz off—‘We’ll party on the beach if we feel like it!?’—thus spreading COVID far and wide?
Doubtless they expected ‘scare-mongering’—‘using’ the present crisis to scare new ones into the fold—and in fact, there have been accusations of that. But you really really have to stretch the point if you go there. The lead post on jw.org is the most socially responsible contribution imaginable, replete with suggestions on how to cope with isolation and resulting loneliness. With people beside themselves with anxiety, unable to cope in many cases, you don’t think that is a valuable contribution, perhaps THE most valuable? After all, if your psyche breaks down, all the physical relief in the world does you no good.
It reminds me of the verse on muzzling the talk of the ignorant ones by doing good. To be sure, hostile ones are still criticizing—but in doing so, they are also plainly revealing their ignorance, and in some cases, their hate.
In fact, I don’t quite go there with the CultExpert, for some of the groups he monitors really DO seem pretty strange—so I don’t go there, though I do think about it—I almost want to say: “LET them join a cult if it helps them get through this and save their sanity! What are you offering in lieu—that we should put our hope in the next crop of politicians? Haven’t we been down that road countless times before?”
Affirming some cult idiot’s charge that I am ‘using’ the pandemic to ‘recruit,’ (to anyone concerned about that, I reply that on the 200th contact I will ask if they want to convert and then they can say ‘no’—in the meantime, it’s just conversation—don’t worry about it) I have many times tweeted that lead post to persons, sometimes in response to a specific plea like with Mr. Fiend, and sometimes I just throw it out there—with good results in both cases. Sometimes the tweets are retweeted. Unless you are a snarling ‘ain’t-cultist,’ people do not misunderstand—they know that you are trying to help.
As always, you tailor your tweet to the person. To persons who appear secular, you say (this one was lamenting a suicide she had read about): “It is a terrible thing. Healthy people struggle when their routine is uprooted, let alone persons unwell to begin with. I sent this to someone who tweeted that he was frankly losing it. There is a spiritual component to it, but it is mostly on combatting isolation and loneliness”—and I attach the link.
To someone decidedly irreligious, you might say: “As a suggestion—nothing more—here is a series of posts on how to cope with isolation and loneliness. Upended routines are driving everyone up a tree. My turn is probably next. Like Bob Dylan: ‘The riot squad is restless, they need somewhere to go.’” I like to play the Dylan card—it doesn’t mean that you have to. You also don’t exempt yourself—hence the ‘my turn is probably next,’
My new pinned tweet is: “With #mentalhealth under assault and even balanced people buckling under the stress, I can’t imagine a better read than this one on coping with isolation and loneliness from #JehovahsWitnesses,” as I include a link to the post.
Note the hashtags. Ages ago my daughter said to me: “They’re hashtags, Dad, not crosstags.” Hashtags are fair game on social media, whereas tagging individuals directly is generally considered rude, unless you know full well that they will welcome it. Hashtags will draw in anyone else who monitors the subject—as an experiment, enter a hashtag anything on social media to see what comes up. You can even use it as your own filing system if you choose a hashtag unique enough.
It can, however backfire. If the hashtag is of any controversial topic, it can bring in people who want to argue, even insult. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are disgruntled former members—‘apostates’—that can be attracted—in fact, they almost surely will be. “Oh, yeah,” you can mutter. “They’ll come alright. As surely as flies to dung, they will come!” But you should not say this because, while you are comparing apostates to flies, you are also comparing yourself to dung—so you should seek another metaphor.
My #mentalhealth hashtag drew in some mental health people, some of whom expressed great appreciation. But true to warning, my #jehovahswitnesses hashtag drew in some ‘apostates.’
“The rather large elephant in the paragraph [about the comfort JWs offer] is the Jehovah’s Witness shunning policy.”
But I replied (in three tweets):
“There is hardly an issue here. Those who would trigger a ‘shunning policy’ are those for whom, at the present time, the last thing in the world they would want is to abide by the principles of those who wrote the article. Even so, they are welcome to take from it what they will.”
“The thoughts expressed in the article are non-denominational, offered freely to all, even those on the outs at present with JWs. It’s meant as a public service. One need not take it. One can always put trust in the politicians, medical staff, and economists to fix matters.”
I looked at the detractor’s profile and discovered that she was one who was trying to torpedo the JW organization’s status as a charitable religious organization, something that they plainly are:
“In fact, it is an excellent post for consideration of the @CharityComms, though not written for that reason. Look, nobody is everything to everyone. But they will recognize that we are well past the time for nursing grudges—not with C19 threatening the mental health of the planet.”
It shut her up! I couldn’t believe it! It is unheard of! ‘Apostates’ never ever EVER give up—I’ve had to block some—and yet she gave up. There is no finer proof of 1 Peter 2:15 than that: “For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorant talk of unreasonable men.”