Who Really is a Cult? Part 2

When you release suddenly the compressed spring, it bounds wildly, delirious at its new freedom, caring not where it lands, for any landing is better than where it was. It is that way with those who become apostate. You would think the world is the most paradisiac place imaginable to hear them carry on, with nothing but boundless opportunities ahead. Yes, there are niggling problems here and there, but not at all things to fret over—just think of the new freedom gained! It is a description of the world that few others will recognize.

The things that once caught their attention and led to their embracing the Witness faith in the first place are completely forgotten. The mourning and disgust over how “man has dominated man to his injury”—gone. The dismay that God catches the blame when humans use their free will to choose the course that he advised them not to choose—no longer a concern. The futility that twenty years growing up, forty gaining experience, and then, just when you think you have begun to figure things out, your body starts to betray you—“Cool beans!” they say. Let them say it. When you negate the plusses, all that remains to speak of are the minuses.

The consideration of the deeper questions of life that first led them to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses have seemingly vanished, replaced by chasing the baubles of the present life, convinced that they are not baubles at all, but the true gems. Stack them both side by side—the upside of the Witness way of life and the downside. Those who act upon the downside and jump ship rarely ever mention the upside again. Let the general audience weigh both. Some will choose one stack. Some another. Put the choice out there. It is what tolerance is all about.

At first glance, Jehovah’s Witnesses might seem the most intrusive people on earth, trucking straight up your driveway to give you their version of truth, whether you asked them to or not—and almost always, you didn’t. Upon reflection, however, they are the least. Tell them ‘no’ and they go away. They do not afterwards lean on the politicians or lawyers to force their way of life upon you, as do most others. Few bully more than the anti-cultists. Few disagree more with the Chief Justice who said, in a decision favoring Jehovah’s Witnesses: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion…If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.” It is as though the anti-cultists say: “One has occurred to us. They pursue goals we don’t want them to pursue. They dream dreams that are not our dreams. We don’t like them.”

Sly in their techniques, they present themselves as the people’s protector. One way to “protect” troops on the opposing side is to kill off their generals. That way, being disorganized, maybe you can in time persuade them to fight on your side. That slyness is seen now in the suspicion cast upon “religious corporations” that “abuse people.” Jehovah’s Witnesses would be better off without one, the argument goes. Then they would not be “abused” and would fall into place with conventional goals.

It sounds noble at first listen, but it is readily punctured at second. The only reason that religious people form corporations is so that they may exist and do things such as owning property. To restrict the rights of a religious corporation is no different than restricting the rights of a nation’s chosen government, such as is attempted in times of war. It is to say that Canadians, for example, are fine people, in fact, excellent people, but they must not be permitted to choose a government. Anti-cultists ought not be so coy. They are warring against the Witness religion and those members who have chosen it. They ought not paint themselves as taking the high road, as Alexander Dvorkin in Russia does. In advocating the Witness organization be outlawed in Russia, he said that he was protecting the civil rights of the individual Witnesses, as though he was their friend. Eliminate their infrastructure and—why, you may better absorb them into the course you wish them to take.

The intent of the apostates is to thrust the downside of Witness life into the spotlight, and thereby, both embarrass them and undermine their message. It changes nothing. The game is the same. It’s just up on another level. Want to examine the price tag first? It is how many people shop. Jesus says count the costs before you commit, and he plainly has in mind that you count the benefits first, but if some want to reverse the order, we can all live with that.

It is but the same age-old drama seen through a new lens. Everything with significant upside will have a downside. Let people focus where ever they will. Some will choose the product. Some will choose the price. “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow gate,” says Jesus. If the anti-cultists would focus on the narrow gate rather than the reason to pass through it, so be it. “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied,” says Paul, signaling agreement that paying the price is foolish if there truly is no Christ. “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” says Jesus. (Luke 18:8) Let it all play out, as people weigh the product with the price.

The treasure is the “pearl of high price” for which its buyer sells everything else. (Matthew 13:46) Do the anti-cultists wish to focus on the “everything else?” That’s okay. That’s fair. Nobody in the Christian world would say that there is not a cost. Paul took the loss of all things and counted it as “a lot of refuse.” (Philippians 3:8) Should present-day opposers call him a fool, that is a value judgement that they are entitled to make. It is the same reality but seen through a different lens.

When apostates hope that persons will see the downside of Witness life and weigh it as more substantial than the upside, they are, in a sense, helping Jehovah’s Witnesses get their message out. They are hoping that people will learn of a downside and say: “Look, spiritual things are only so important. Who needs this kind of drama?” and steer clear. How is that any different from Jesus’ own words that one must exert oneself vigorously to squeeze in through the narrow gate and be prepared to jettison the extra-wide trailer that smashes against the gate posts? Let them do it. The Christian life will not appeal to all people. It separates one from the overall world—the one going down like the Titanic in the Witnesses’ eyes. But if you think that world is floating high and pretty, with armed crewmen on the bow poised to smash to smithereens icebergs as they approach, you will hate it. Kicking over the traces of anything produces an incomparable rush. Only much later is it revealed whether it was a good idea or not.

The restrictions of a Witness life are overblown, but nobody would say that they are nothing. Are they roadblocks to individual fulfillment or are they guardrails that one would be crazy to crash through? Beyond question, there are two very different views of the world. However, should someone sing: “Step out of line, the men come to take you away,” it is evidence of not having the most balanced personality—it’s not that restrictive. Nobody would say that Witnesses step any old place they like, but that is hardly the same as not stepping at all. Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree with this or that aspect of “theocracy.” But they also keep it in perspective. They know that in any organized arrangement, there will be some things that do not go your way. And they are modest enough to consider that maybe it is they themselves who are in need of correction. After all, they have confidence that they are being “taught by Jehovah,” and they accepted from Day 1 that his chosen means of governing is not democracy. They know that slavish acquiescence is not required; it is enough to refrain from shouting from the rooftops that those taking the lead are doing it all wrong when the going gets rough.

They made their peace from the outset that separating from the greater world would trigger the latter’s disapproval. “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations, when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. Because you do not continue running with them in this same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you,” says Peter. As the divide grows between the former and the latter, the latter object: “What’s wrong with the ‘low sink?’ What are you trying to say about us?” In a super-sensitive world, one’s very existence is taken as judgmental of whatever one avoids. We must all “come together” is the mantra of our time.

To the extent that the anti-cultists lean atheistic, and most of the vociferous ones do, they seemingly are eager to trash things that are, not just JW, but of Judeo/Christian origin. The two-witness rule that Jehovah’s Witnesses retain in congregation matters, was, until recently, fundamental to Western law. You can’t just hurl out an accusation and allow your personal conviction to carry the day; you have to prove it. These days that Judeo/Christian model is being replaced with a new one that says accusation is enough, and it is up to the accused to prove that it is not so. It represents a 180-degree reversal in justice, and one wonders whether the ‘old’ standard is rejected by a new atheistic world simply because its origin is religion. The reason one does not quickly shed “two-witness” policies emerges each time someone is exonerated after having served decades in prison, convicted over less strenuous “proof.”

The “crime” of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that of taking the Bible too seriously. Anti-cultists don’t want them to do it. The situation reverts right back to certain clergy of decades ago who attempted to dissuade church members from Bible reading on the grounds that it would “make them crazy.” Those adhering to the ancient Book find themselves in a crazy world determined to stamp out injustice but not what causes it. No one can agree on the latter, and if they could they would be unable to launch coordinated action. It is the fundamental weakness of a world typified by those within being “not open to agreement.” Therefore, injustices are pandemic, and those subjected to enough of them become like Humpty Dumpty, who topples so severely as to not be made whole again—yet no complaint will ever be dropped until that unreachable goal is attained. People are damaged goods today. Those who become Jehovah’s Witnesses are also that way, but they put themselves in a setting they feel most conducive to healing. It is as a former prisoner of war told me ages ago—a man then studying the Bible—that at the Kingdom Hall he felt peace.

The prevailing winds of the day blow against religious people. Religion is simply not a force worth getting all worked up over, its enemies charge. Its strengths are supposed irrelevant, if not but fiction. The age-old perception that it is a healing power has changed, replaced with a new one that it is a destructive power.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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Who Really is a Cult? Part 3

The fifteenth chapter of Acts provides a template for how congregations are governed in the Christian congregation. An issue arose—one that will hardly seem relevant today, and will strike some as downright strange. Suffice it to say that the subject of male circumcision took center stage for a significant time back then. From the days of Moses, it had been the sign of a special relationship with God, and there were those of Jewish background who wanted to extend the one-time requirement to persons of all backgrounds who were swelling the ranks of new-found Christianity.

“And certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: ‘Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.” (vs 1-2) It is a passage sure to displease the anti-cultists, for it sends the signal that the latter were going to do something about it. Would they stoop to “brainwashing” and “thought control?”

Governing as though Plato’s philosopher-kings—it is remarkable the similarities (See Chapter 42)—the “apostles and older men” in Jerusalem set policy for the first century congregation. They determined how scripture applied for the rapidly growing Christian faith, much as modern governments apply principles contained within national constitutions. If they did not do so, constitutions would quickly become inapplicable, lost among new developments not explicitly spelled out.

Traveling ministers carried decisions of that early governing body to the ever-increasing congregations, which within decades had spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Acts 16:4-5 reports:

“Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”

Alas, for those who suppose Christianity ought to be based upon Western democracy! It wasn’t guidelines being delivered. It wasn’t suggestions. It wasn’t proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decrees which were to be observed.

 It’s not just the New World Translation. Nearly all English translations use the terms “decrees” or “decisions.” The New International Version calls them “decisions for the people to obey.” Of the few variations, only the paraphrased Message translation waters the phrase down to “simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful.” The Amplified Bible uses “regulations,” Moffatts Bible says “resolutions,” and the Good News Bible offers up “rules.”

Isn’t this what one would expect? If God’s ways are really higher than our ways, as Isaiah 55:9 states, and people become Christian converts precisely for that reason, does anyone truly think that God’s ways would be determined by majority vote? If that’s the case, who needs God? The aforementioned apostles and older men governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They were not ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession.

That 15th chapter of Acts reads like the minutes of that body’s consideration of circumcism. The resulting “decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood,” and it was relayed throughout the congregations.

The decision was not at once accepted by all, which in itself offers a template for modern-day similar situations. Long after the governing arrangement supposedly settled the matter (49CE, per biblical chronology), its representatives were yet reasoning with those who opposed it, becoming more forceful with the passage of time:

(circa 51CE - 2 years later): “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery. See! I, Paul, am telling you that if you become circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Moreover, I bear witness again to every man getting circumcised that he is under obligation to perform the whole Law.”  (Galatians 5:1-3)

(55CE - 6 years later): “Was any man called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised. Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God’s commandments [does].” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20)

(circa 61CE - 12 years later): “Look out for the dogs, look out for the workers of injury, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are those with the real circumcision, who are rendering sacred service by God’s spirit and have our boasting in Christ Jesus and do not have our confidence in the flesh.”   (Philippians 3:2-3)

(circa 63CE - 14 years later): “For there are many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision. It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:10-11)

Did such resisters eventually find themselves ousted from the congregation? It seems likely, in view of such directives as: “As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)

Anti-cultists will go into convulsions at the behavioral, informational, thought, and emotional control mechanisms indicated by the above. There can be little question that the Bible itself must be a cult-manual in the eyes of these ones. They should not bother with middlemen such as Jehovah’s Witnesses—those who endeavor to live by the Book—but go after the source itself, thereby revealing their intolerance to all.

Who are these big babies, terrified of what some visiting factory worker or even janitor trudging up their driveway might say? Are they really the same ones who carry on about their newfound freedom, their keen intellect, and their powerful self-determination? They are the shallowest of people masquerading as the deepest, the narrowest masquerading as the broadest. The existence of God cannot be proven by the standards modern anti-cultists accept as proof. However, neither can it be disproven. It can be shown to be reasonable, that’s all, but to those whose reason is forged in another hearth, it cannot be. As regards being narrow, they will say the same of Witnesses. It is fair game. Let the great issue be put squarely before all. Is it government by men that will save us all or government by God?

What a pathetic view of human nature these anti-cultists have. Just how much mileage can one get out of playing the victim card? Are we all truly but putty, ever at the mercy of some passerby with new ideas? You should hear how some of these carry on about how Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at doors to “convert” people underhandedly. Witnesses ought to state that goal up front, they demand. It is all they can do not to insist upon a notarized statement.

It is nonsense. Nobody converts another. People convert themselves, based upon processing and trying on new ideas for size. If you were to tell a visiting Jehovah’s Witness point blank that you wanted to convert, you would not be permitted to. You would commence on a period of study and preparation, seldom lasting under a year in these parts, (United States) 95% of the time in familiar surroundings, with full option to say “no thanks” at every juncture. It is a situation far less controlling than higher education, where one may be cut off from previous surroundings almost completely, and the barriers to discontinuance may be high, involving finance or expectations.

It is so juvenile to maintain, as the anti-cultists do, that Witnesses are out to “recruit” new members. It is icing on the cake for them should that happen, but hardly the cake itself. With the supposed goal of conversion at least a year away, one can be sure that the visiting Witness does not even think of it for many months to come. The object is simply to share information, or even to shed new light on what is already known, irrespective of what one may do with it at a later date. Most people do nothing with it. “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth,” says Matthew 24:14. It says nothing about conversion, leaving that possibility open for another occasion.

Enough of this cult nonsense. Everything is misrepresented. The legal Trinity is missing two legs. “Truth” is not enough—there must also be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” It’s high time to respond to these overgrown adolescents as the police did years ago to the overgrown adolescents of the 60s. When student radicals began calling them ‘pigs,’—doubling down when they saw that it got under their skin—one resourceful cop responded: ‘PIGS—Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service.’ Yeah! Same here. Do enemies think that they can get under Witnesses’ skin, swinging around the ‘Cult’ truncheon, when everyone knows the word means something else? Very well. Let Witnesses wear the moniker proudly: ‘CULT—Courage, Unity, Love, Truth.’ At some point, one must kick back at this nonsense.

Jehovah’s Witness stand for an alternative way of life, no question about it. As one of many “new religions,”—the scholarly term—there was no reason to extend the “cult” word to them. Coin a new word. “Cult” has been around forever, and it reliably evokes prejudice, if not hate. For that reason, enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses embrace it. They eschew what is dignified so as to go for the jugular, as they smell blood in the water.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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Who are Intolerant Like the Anti-Cultists

Few are unaware that the Bible 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 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 (Catholics may know it as the “Our Father prayer), 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, much more in artwork. 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 explicit 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 clearly is 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 be muzzled? Is it the sign of a “cult” not to interpret such passages out of existence?

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 rebounds with the chipper hope that if his creatures but elect the right set of leaders, all will be well? Should only that neutered portrayal of God be allowed to stand, and any portrayal that God might actually do something about the state of the world be consigned to the state of fantasy, even harmful fantasy when those of that view reprioritize their lives to better accommodate it?

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 the only reality—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, so don’t go bringing any literalist religion into it saying that final the checkmate looms dead 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, and it is so 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.’“ (2 Kings 22)

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.

Destruction of “the wicked” so that “the righteous” may live unmolested is a long-understood Bible theme. It has traditionally been seen as a hopeful message, ultimately, and a fine inducement not to be “wicked.” Today the anti-cultists try to categorize it as on a par with hate-speech. Sometimes they use the reasoning that such language must terrify young children—that it is a form of child abuse to expose young ones to such verses. Is it? Do Jehovah’s Witnesses scare children? Or is it the gradual accumulation of ever more obscene conditions that they are expected to adjust to? Tweeted one woman: “I understand why our schools need to have lockdown drills. I cannot even begin to express my rage that this is normal now. But we also need to have a conversation about the psychological harm that’s being done to children because of them.”

The above paragraph in the Watchtower publication will raise eyebrows, at the very least. That is understood. Yet, many religions ratchet up the consequences to a far greater degree, in effect making Jehovah’s Witnesses a “kinder, gentler religion.” Many hold that, regardless of how “the wicked” may meet their end, their afterlife will be such as to make that end seem like a walk in the park. Many religions have held that “the wicked” will be tormented forever and ever in some sort of a hellfire. It is notable that Isaac Asimov called hellfire “the drooling dream of a sadist,” and wrote of the obvious villainy of imposing everlasting punishment for but a few decades of misdeeds during life—even the most regressive human government knows that the punishment must fit the crime. It is also worth noting that Charles Taze Russell, often described as the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was known during his lifetime as the man who “turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have never believed in an afterlife of torment. These days Watchtower literature associates Russell and those of his time with “the messenger who prepares the way,” drawing on a John-the-Baptist reference. One of the first things that must be done in preparing the way for any building project is carting out the trash. From Day 1, Jehovah’s Witnesses have regarded eternal torment in hell as among the trashy doctrines that must go. The teaching makes drawing close to God challenging—for who can be drawn to a God capable of such cruelty?

“Have plenty to do in the work of the Lord,” says the Bible at 1 Corinthians 15;58. To those taking such counsel to heart, almost by definition they will have little to do in works not of the Lord—to the point where they may even lose touch with those who speak the language of those works. This will not be the case with religion that views the “works of the Lord” as a buttressing support to the prevailing system of governing the earth through human governments. But it will be the case with religion that sees the two as separate—that sees the present system of human self-rule as something slated for replacement by divine rule. Those of the latter view can be expected to align themselves with what they think is to come. They can readily be painted as out of touch with concerns that they have set aside to focus on what they think is more relevant.

Were they not dispersed worldwide, their situation would not seem strange in the slightest. The citizens of one nation will know almost nothing of issues that form the very core for the citizens of other nations. They are usually dissuaded from learning those concerns. Sometimes, it is active dissuasion from governing forces. Other times, dissuasion is more subtly accomplished by putting so much on one’s plate as to forestall exploring elsewhere. “Insularity” with regard to national groups relating to one another is the most natural thing in the world.

Plainly, not all can think as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It they did, the very system of dividing people by national groups would crumble. But that is not going to happen in this system of things. One is reminded of the American judge who, in the height of World War II, addressed Witness attorney Victor Blackwell, who was defending a conscientious objector: “This whole matter troubles me. What, with Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing and spreading out all over the earth, if everybody got to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, where would we be….” Mr. Blackwell responded: “Your Honor, if everybody on earth became Jehovah’s Witnesses, there would be no war, and no need for armed forces of any kind, in any nation. Would the Court object to that state of affairs?” Proceed with the case, the judge said.

Had he been an anti-cultist judge, he might not have proceeded with the case. Had he been an anti-cultist judge, he might have zeroed in on religious people who dare to champion modes different than his own. He might indeed have objected to “that state of affairs” on the basis that it reflected cult-thinking. He might have not have moved on at all until he succeeded in getting everyone on the same page of human endeavor, bloody though it was at the moment.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates

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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 when if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from 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.

Anton Chivchalov has described himself as an “observer of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.” He covered the Supreme Court trial resulting in a ban of the faith, as well as the appeal and events thereafter, with a steady stream of tweets. As to anti-cult apostates stirring up hate, he wrote: “The active participation of apostates in the trial against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Supreme Court is a vivid example of their unprincipled and indiscriminate cooperation with anyone, if only against us. And I’m not talking here about how incompetent and preposterous this participation was (none could testify anything about extremism). Only emotions, zero facts. But this activity is also utterly immoral, since they want to send innocent people to jail. They are not sincerely misled, like many others. No, apostates are well aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses neither killed nor rob anyone, yet they are happy to prosecute us on criminal charges. Of course, they still consider themselves good Christians. [Apostates from the Witness faith do not necessarily become atheist, however the ones that align themselves with anti-cultists usually do.] And it is completely beyond my understanding that with all this hatred towards us they are offended that we don’t want to communicate with them!”

Many other new religious movements are shaking in their boots that their turn will come next, for they all have their own apostates eager to grab the popular ear. 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, raising him alone, 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, one must start somewhere. Let us assume that mom was a Witness.

Khpg.org 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 the Western connection of a French NGO.

Some enemies of Witnesses in the West, who hurl the “cult” label liberally, are gleeful over this development, even though 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?

Christianity started as a religion of the working class. It took the scholarly Paul to make the connections with the Law of Moses—a feat that might not be expected of fishermen and laborers. The upper classes cared little about such doings, and so references to the faith in Roman writings are few and unflattering. Earliest of them is from Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who point out that when suspicion fell upon Nero for setting fire to Rome, he blamed the Christians instead.

Writes the historian: “Hence, to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome….Accordingly, first those were seized who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race.

“And in their deaths they were also made the subjects of sport, for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when day declined, burned to serve for nocturnal lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle, and exhibiting a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the habit of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. Whence a feeling of compassion arose toward the sufferers, tho guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but victims to the ferocity of one man.”

Let us pass over what first draws our attention—the barbarity of it all—to dwell on the evil reputation of those early Christians that made it possible. From where did it come? How can it be that, three decades after Jesus’ death, his followers were “hated for their enormities?” How can it be that they were convicted on the charge of “hating the human race” as much as of setting fire to the city? How can it be that they could so readily be thought “guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment?” They could not have been made the scapegoat without that ugly reputation, no matter how vigorously the depraved emperor had pointed to them. How did they acquire it?

Professor G. A. Wells, author of The Jesus Myth, opines that “the context of Tacitus’ remarks itself suggests that he relied on Christian informants.” No genuine Christian is going to say: “We hate the human race,” but exactly the opposite. It was their “informants”—their apostates, that spread the ill report!

A faith that is “anything goes” will produce few apostates. What would they apostatize from? Repeatedly we read in scripture that apostates “despise authority.” How does that become a problem unless there is authority? They love “lawlessness.” How does that become a problem unless there is law? They favor acts of “brazen conduct.” They have “eyes full of adultery,” and they are “unable to desist from sin.” How does that become a problem unless there is someone to tell that they cannot carry on that way? Not only is the nature of apostates revealed in the above verses of Jude and 2 Peter 2, but also the nature of the Christian organization. A faith too bland to produce quality apostates is too bland to be given the time of day.

Persecutions today are not like in Nero’s day. The mistreatment of Christians in Russia is not the mistreatment of Christians in the first century. History is not repeating—but it is beginning to rhyme a little. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other “new religions” are under assault by a modern “anti-cult” movement, incensed at their “authoritarian” nature—just as first-century apostates to the faith were of theirs, and misrepresented it popularly as being “haters of the human race.”

Jesus said to his followers that “if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you, also.” Those of his footsteps were separate from the greater world—insular to it—even as they tried to lend a helping hand to those within. Their insularity was the source of different expectations, goals, and conduct that their apostates could work into a lather in their attempts to foment opposition. It is the same today, with miscues of the faithful—some real and some concocted—blown up beyond all bounds of reason in efforts to eliminate arguably the most peaceful and law-abiding people on earth. When Kingdom Halls are burned to the ground, as were two in 2018 Washington State amidst six separate attacks, can it be possible that the still-at-large arsonist will not have been whipped into a frenzy by the incendiary C-word? Screaming that word pushes the crazies over the edge; such is the power of hate speech and it is the reason authorities exempt it from normal protected free speech.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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LANDRU - the Brainwasher

As the $40 billion dollar Beijing Olympics romped through closing ceremonies, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth gushed with emotion. Two weeks of persons from all corners of the earth mingling, smiling, and learning about each other’s cultures! No battling, save only that of sports, and that done amidst mutual respect and good will. Maybe….maybe….I mean, it’s probably pie-in-the-sky, he conceded, but maybe…..if they could do it for two weeks, then what about three weeks? And then what about a month? And then a year? And….oh, utopian dream come true!….why should the party ever stop? Can’t we all just get along?

When they do, it’s called a cult.

Of course, kids can also behave pretty well for the two weeks prior to Santa's Christmas arrival, or at least, I was generally able to manage it. It is pie-in-the-sky Cris…..but then, he knows it…..everyone was moneyed and pampered and well-fed for those two weeks. Stress-free, really. And weren’t they all pretty upper crust? Excepting perhaps the poor relations of some of the athletes, and these must have seemed to be in material fairyland for those 17 days.

Still, a glimpse of unity is very impressive, even if it’s temporary, even if it’s artificial. It speaks to a yearning deep within most of us. Is not the world breaking into more and more independent factions, all of whom resist cooperation with anybody else? So every once in a while there will be some circumstance to evoke a contrasting taste of unity and people like Cris wax poetic.

But again, seven million Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy such unity daily, as a matter of course—and it is called a cult. In all circumstances, our people of all races, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and educational levels mingle freely and without strife. Wars, riots, and social upheavals do nothing to mar the peace. We tell people of this unity…doubtless we’ve told Cris…but by and large they want no part of it. Peace and unity….yeah, that’s great, it’s what they want….but not at the price of adopting an cult religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses!

But it only seems cultlike because JWs have renounced attitudes that make unity impossible, and embraced those that facilitate it. This the general world has failed to do. Alas, it is not just a few teeny tiny tweaks that need be made so as to achieve unity. No, but a massive overhaul of thinking and behaving is required, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have done that. But that revised viewpoint makes us seem very strange to general society and not especially palatable. Nonetheless, surely it is beliefs that will get to the crux of why people can or cannot get along, and what institution in life is credited with molding a person’s beliefs? Where does morality come from? Surely it is not found in higher education. If we are warring louts, going to college usually just makes us smart warring louts. It is through spiritual growth that a person’s conduct can change for the better.

The peace and unity typifying Jehovah’s Witnesses is so well attested that even detractors—we have quite a few of them—don’t deny it. Instead, they sometimes attribute it to (gasp!) LANDRU.

 

***~~~***

 

Captain James T. Kirk and the Star Trek boys came across the LANDRU clan when they were way, way out there, on the very fringe of the galaxy. No matter how far they traveled, whatever aliens they found looked just like us, save for raised eyebrows, different skin color, pointy ears, peculiar dress and grooming, and so forth. This particular bunch was a nauseating race of folk with syrupy smiles who carried on trancelike and greeted each other with slogans such as “May you have peace…Joy to you, friend,” and…“LANDRU gives blessings,” and so forth. Tranquility prevailed, but none of them could think for themselves.

Kirk couldn’t stand them, but then he found out why they were the way they were. A well-intentioned human named Landru had brainwashed them and stolen their souls—I hate it when that happens! He’d come across them when their world was about to self-destruct and given them peace though mind-control! Now—all was joy.  And Landru wasn’t even a person, but a machine (that should please the atheists) which the aging Landru had designed (that should displease them) to carry on after he died. And above all things, you were not to step out of line. If you did—why, there were enforcers to zap you into oblivion. The Enterprise crew was so distressed at this society that they violated their own Prime Directive [Mind Your Own Business] to short circuit the computer and free the people. Having done so, they cruised on, leaving the citizens raping and pillaging as in the good old days.

Mind controlled zombies! Just like under LANDRU! That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses are so peaceful, charge guys like Vic Vomidog, and even Tom Sowmire. But their unity is really not so strange, nor hard to understand. It just seems that way because that quality is unheard of in today’s world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses share a common vision and purpose. Moreover, they defer to God Jehovah as their lawgiver. That’s really all there is to it. They’ve voluntarily made the choice, and so encounter a Christian formula for achieving practical unity. They find the Bible’s way of life to be not oppressive, but rather like a highway with guardrails. Nobody gripes about the guardrails in real traffic, recognizing that they serve a purpose. They neither infringe meaningfully on your freedom nor stifle your personality. On the contrary, they help you become all you can be. Just like in chess. Once you decide to abide by the rules, you can do amazing things on the board, but you can’t do any of them until you follow how the game is played.

One of the public talk outlines currently in circulation spends considerable time contrasting unified and uniform. They’re not the same. Human organizations tend to squeeze persons into common molds, stifling individuality, often literally slipping them into uniforms. But unity based upon observing Bible standards is different. The apostle Paul likened it to the human body:

“For the body, indeed, is not one member, but many. If the foot should say: “Because I am not a hand, I am no part of the body,” it is not for this reason no part of the body. And if the ear should say: “Because I am not an eye, I am no part of the body,” it is not for this reason no part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the [sense of] hearing be? If it were all hearing, where would the smelling be? But now God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, yet one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

Note that the eye, ear, hand, foot, and so forth cooperate seamlessly and yet do so without sacrificing any individuality or uniqueness. They don’t all become the same. Rather, they each bring their own contributions, for the benefit of the entire body. It’s much the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are fully individuals, with unique likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities. You will like some of them; others may not be your cup of tea, just like anywhere else. In cooperating towards a common theme, they lose none of what makes them unique, but they carry on free from the endless divisiveness that characterizes the world today. It’s a very appealing aspect of JW society which newcomers tend to recognize quickly. Not like LANDRU at all!

There! Another ill report disposed of! And now—“May…you…have….peace …friend….Joy….blessings….and tranquility!” (September 2008)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

 

Old computer

 


'I Do Not Understand Why We Persecute Jehovah's Witnesses,' Putin Says

At a December 11. 2018 meeting with the Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, one council member, Ekaterina Shulman, addressed President Putin: “There is a list of organizations, for which there is information that they are involved in terrorism and extremism. There are 489 of them, and 404 of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Pressing her luck, she continued: “Here I will take a sinister pause. There could be an abundance of claims against Jehovah’s Witnesses—they don’t allow blood transfusion, don’t send children to hospitals, [ed: not a charge that I have heard before] but they definitely are not calling for violence or committing it.”

Putin’s response was: “We should treat the representatives of all religions in the same way – this is true, but still, it is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live. True, this does not mean at all that we should include representatives of religious communities in some destructive, or even in terrorist organizations. Of course, this is complete nonsense, you need to carefully deal with it. Here I agree with you.”

Later in the meeting, Putin returned to the topic and added: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted. So this should be looked into. This must be done.” The Washington Post and Time picked up on the story the next day, the Post saying that he “has pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Now, what to make of this?

Yaroslav Sivulski, the press secretary for JWs in Russia, stated: “We have noted the president’s reaction with surprise. If he knows about the whole situation, then probably his reaction could change something. We hope that he will give instructions to have the matter examined and something may happen. Though, knowing the realities of our country, there is not much optimism.” Okay, so they’re not breaking out the champagne just yet.

The online community of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a cynical bunch, by and large, with many thinking Putin was just being slippery. In fact, since translating from Russian to English poses challenges, one Witness understood him to say: “Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians, for which I do not really understand how to persecute them,” as though he was searching for more effective ways to do it. Hmm. Did he say "I really do not understand how to persecute them" or "I really do not understand how they are persecuted"? It is the six-million-dollar question. It is a little like the Twilight Zone episode in which the earthlings were relieved to find the alien's handbook "To Serve Man." ‘Ahh, it means their intentions are good,’ and they breathed easily, but at the show’s end they discovered to their discomforture that it was a cookbook.

I tend to take President Putin’s remarks at face value. There is no reason that he has to say what he does, even expanding it to ‘Jehovah’s Witness are also Christians,’ contradicting prominent religious people who say they are not. When his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who was also among the officials that Witnesses contacted via a letter campaign launched in hopes of averting the 2017 ban, was asked a similar question last year, he could not have answered more harshly than he did. I think Putin is being genuine, at last waking up to something that he has barely paid attention to. Maybe it is like the hinge squeaking in the background somewhere that he has barely noticed but now it is driving him nuts. Perhaps he will even pick up his WD-40, go lubricate it himself, and subsequently vent his wrath upon whoever allowed such idiocy to take center stage in the first place, painting his country before all the world as a nation of goons--in the spirit of Ahasuerus avenging Haman.

A president is a busy man. It is popularly believed that anything that goes down in a country will have his fingerprints all over it, but this is seldom so for matters of ‘low priority.’ Of course, this is not low priority for Witnesses, but it can hardly be otherwise for him. At a subsequent news conference, he spoke to the danger of nuclear war, which he hopes the West does not get too cavalier about: “The danger of the situation escalating is being downplayed,” he said, adding that the lowering of thresholds for nuclear capability “could really lead us to catastrophe.” If he loses sleep at night, it is not over the travails of a small religion. It is over the thought of the world going up in flames.

Western media excoriates him, but it cannot be wise to let the propaganda of one king mold our view of the other. I was very careful, in writing the book, Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, not to do that. In the event it was ever read by anyone that mattered, I did not want to sabotage it by being disrespectful or accusing.

It wasn’t that hard to do—for example, by spotlighting the two, likely three, times that Russia, not the United States, saved the world from certain nuclear war. Lieutenant Colonel Petrov spotted an incoming missile from the U.S. on his screen, correctly judged it a malfunction, and against orders, did not relay the report to the excitable Kremlin. Second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov refused to sign-off with his two fellow officers to launch a nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis—the decision had to be unanimous. Nikita Khrushchev arguably brought that crisis to a close with his last-minute telegram to President Kennedy.

However, in refraining from criticizing Putin personally, I was not just being expedient. I honestly came to feel it not likely that he was one of the instigators. I admit that feeling wavered in view of the abuses of the last few months, with Witnesses physically accosted by police, but now it intensifies. Promisingly, he is not cut from the same cloth as many in high government. He was not born to privilege in the ruling class. He started from the ground up, as a regular office worker, and lived with his parents during the early days of his working life. He thus probably retains a feel for the interests of the ‘common man’ that his co-rulers do not. In the end, it hardly matters, because ‘the heart of a king is as streams of water’ in Jehovah’s hands. But it helps if it is neither ice cubes nor steam to begin with.

He didn’t have to say it, is the point. He could have issued some boiler-plate beatitude of how ‘the situation is serious and we continue to monitor it closely.’ He certainly didn’t have to say that Witnesses are Christian too, thus showing that he will not be shoved around by ones who insist they are not. His statement makes it much harder for Russia to thumb its nose at any upcoming ECHR verdict, indicating that he has no intention of doing that. How can his words not ease the pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country? After all, if you were a Russian cop, would YOU violently accost one after what he just said?

Still, he is conscious of the majority. How much freedom of worship will be restored remains to be seen, since he observes that with 90% of the country being of a certain religious orientation, one cannot throw everything overboard so as to please the "sects." It is enough not to persecute them, which he seems inclined not to do. Maybe the brothers will have to tip-toe around for a while, and it will not necessarily be a bad thing for our people to focus on being discreet. That has long been the direction of theocratic training, anyhow. If Putin truly had evil intent, however, he would not have returned to the topic to say that he doesn’t really understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Now let’s see how well he holds up as the more devious ones labor to remind him. We will see whose resolve prevails. Probably, JW representative Sivulsky has it just right: he is surprised and cautiously optimistic.

In some respects, it may prove a replay, with hopefully different outcome, of the situation with Pilate judging Jesus. Pilate knew that he was being set up. He knew Jesus was innocent. He worked rather hard to free him—that much is clear by reading any one of the gospel accounts, and the conclusion is inescapable upon reviewing all of them. But the scoundrels were so insistent, even hinting that to release Jesus would be treasonous, that he eventually caved. After all, it wasn’t his prime concern. He had a province to run. He tried to do the right thing. That’s how it is with many today. They try to do the right thing, but they only try so hard. When the going gets rough, they opt for expediency.

The Russian Orthodox Church has insisted that it did not instigate the ban and I am inclined to believe them. That is not to say that prominent ones did not squeal with delight, like kids on Christmas morning, or that some instigators did not have Church connections. But the villainy stems from an anti-cult movement, with French connections, that is active in many lands. Conditions in Russia were ripe, that’s all, just like they were ripe for Communism 100 years ago, which was also imported from abroad.

Writing ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ took the better part of a year. There were few publicly available online sources that I did not read during this time, save only for those that were repetitive. The most telling report was one by Joshua Gill, a religion writer, revealing from where most of the trouble came.

“The Russian Supreme Court’s July 17 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of a decades long conspiracy funded by the French government, blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, and sanctioned by the Putin administration…The latest phase of that plan first garnered international attention with Russian authorities’ arrest of a Danish citizen.” That would be Dennis Christensen, arrested May 25, 2017 for conducting a congregation meeting after the ban had gone into effect, and still in prison at this time of writing, (December 2018) his case only recently coming to trial.

Gill spotlights the role of Alexander Dvorkin, the Russian Ministry’s Expert Council for Conducting State Religious-Studies. That Council exists so as “to investigate religions that deviate from Russian Orthodox teaching and to recommend actions against those religions to the state.” They have recommended taking strong action on non-majority faiths. Mr. Dvorkin is also vice president of the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), a French NGO dedicated to identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit.” It is an organization fully funded by the French government, and it may be remembered that that government tried to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses by imposing a 60% tax on their activities in 1998. The tax was steadfastly appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses until it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights fourteen years later.

The Daily Caller article reveals the depth of Dvokin’s misinformation and dislike of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Their adepts recruit failed university enrollees, and people on vacation as well; they have a wide range of psychological influence, especially on the unstable minds of adolescents and youths,” he says of them and the Hare Krishnas. He has encouraged the public to “take part in the fight against sects, file complaints and collect raw data so that the local authorities can react quickly.” In a 2009 documentary called ‘Emergency Investigation: Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he compared Witnesses to drug dealers. The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews attributes instances of public violence against Russian Witness members to that documentary, just as the violence visiting Kingdom Halls in Washington State is similarly stoked by the inflammatory use of the C-word. Is the FECRIS mission of identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit” not exactly the battle cry of the anti-cultists worldwide?”

Mine was the minority view among the Witnesses I spoke with. “You are a better Christian than I am,” one said. “You always expect the best from people. I don't believe a word a politician says.” Note that his distrust is of “a politician,” not of Putin specifically, though he hardly sings his praises. One could even say that it is a sign of being “insular”—they are all the same to him. Having said that, they are all the same to many—it is hardly just him. Why, long ago Mark Twain even said that politicians must be changed as frequently as a diaper—and for the same reason.

It is true that I try to think the best of people. Am I a “better Christian” in this instance? Or just a dumber one? Time will tell.


A Review of the Movie Apostasy. Part 3

The biblically literate Christian generally wishes that Hollywood would forget that Book exists. They butcher it each time they touch it. It is seldom through malice. Hollywood simply isn’t that spiritual of a place, and few can put themselves into the shoes of persons of faith. They mix a bit of nonsense that they remember from Sunday School with formulas for what makes a riveting movie and produce a product in which Moses pops Pharaoh in the nose and gets the girl, a far cry from the actual Moses who carried on so much about being slow of tongue that God assigned a helper to handle public relations for him.

It doesn’t always work against us. I once worked with an agnostic woman who knew that God’s name was Jehovah because she had seen an Indiana Jones movie. She knew that God’s original purpose was for the earth to be a paradise because she had seen the film Dogma. She had never been in a church, yet she knew more about God from two movies than do many after a lifetime of attending church. Usually, though, we get clobbered at the hands of moviemakers.

The first Hollywood production I know of that specifically mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses was Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World. The Witness mother therein quelled the complaints of her two children, upset that they could not do Halloween trick or treating, with the pious platitude: “We have a higher calling.” No Witness in a thousand years is going to say “We have a higher calling”—they just don’t speak that way, and so I knew that Clint probably didn’t have it in for Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular; he just wanted a premise for a good movie, as most of his are.

A robber in the film had inadvertently kidnapped one of the Witness mother’s two children. As though testimony that this movie was filmed long ago, he did the child no harm. Instead, he warmed to the lad. The boy, too, didn’t seem too upset at being kidnapped. He warmed to his kidnapper, for now he could escape his frumpy Witness mom and go trick or treating like every kid longs to do. The detective assigned even arranged for this to happen, after exploding: “What kind of a nutty religion doesn’t do Halloween?” He made his deputies bring the boy candy, which the lad in his ghost costume eagerly collected. It was a heartwarming scene, indeed, and then the sharpshooter shot the boy’s new best friend dead just feet away from him.

Other than sporadic attempts to make hay out of a Witnesses’ refusing a blood transfusion—it is an irresistible film premise—and a doctor crusading, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to override this bit of perceived pig-headedness, there have been few film attempts to tackle Jehovah’s Witnesses. To my astonishment, one episode of The Practice, a legal drama of the late nineties, featured the topic and got most of it right. Trustworthy Rebecca, the resourceful secretary, got caught in a bomb blast brought on by a former client that the team should have stayed far away from. Suddenly a new character appeared out of nowhere for one or two episodes—Rebecca’s mom, who had affidavits from the local congregation that her daughter was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and wouldn’t take blood!

Don’t Witnesses carry “blood cards,” head attorney Bobby objected. Don’t Witnesses talk about their faith? Rebecca hadn’t. But mama said that she had been so beaten down by being the only black girl in the office that she had learned to keep her mouth shut. Well, maybe. It’s a little thin, but this is television after all.

Bobby determined that he would force a transfusion on the unconscious woman. He railed in court that this woman could be saved but for this - this “voodoo” religion. When it was mama’s turn on the stand, she said “You tipped your hand, Bobby. This has nothing to do with saving life. This is about your own religious prejudice.” The judge ruled in favor of mama. I couldn’t believe it. At Witness headquarters worldwide, they all rose to their feet and cheered—or at least they might have had they been watching, which they probably were not. Afterwards, as though admitted to the bar, mama joined in group prayer with the legal team gathered around her daughter’s hospital bedside.

Okay, okay, so they messed some things up. It’s still immeasurably better than how we usually fare in Hollywood. Throughout, Jehovah’s Witnesses were presented with dignity. They were not presented as the cult-addled nut-jobs that they supposedly are in The Children Act, a 2018 offering. In this film, the judge does not rule for the Witness position, but personally intervenes with a young man dying of leukemia to sway him of his beliefs. He apparently becomes somewhat unhinged thereafter, which is to be expected, the premise goes, upon breaking free of a cult. The judge herself is on shaky ground, with her marital life falling apart.

It’s hard to say if the movie is any good or not. The star power of the cast is formidable. To the extent that Witness detractors are in the audience—and that will be a very large extent—they will reliably praise it to the heavens for taking powerful aim at their former faith. I may have to see the movie myself. But even counting television movies, I see only a handful a year, and that usually is at the behest of my wife. Can one write about a movie that one has not seen? It’s dicey. However, if scientists can do forensic research on events eons-old and have that research accepted, there is no reason that I should not be able to give it a shot, doing forensic research based upon existing reviews and my own background knowledge of how the Jehovah’s Witness faith works.

I was roundly thrashed by ex-Witnesses when I pulled this trick by writing a review of another film that presents Jehovah’s Witnesses in a bad light, the movie Apostasy. You don’t win them all—sometimes they blow up in your face. Even I had to admit that it is a bit much to review it unseen, forensics notwithstanding. I took on the challenge because I knew that whatever problems might lay with the film would lay with, not what was said, but what was not said. I readily conceded that the film was well-done, and it has gone on to win honors—though once again, it is hard to say how much of those honors stem from Witness-bashers lauding it to the heavens. Once again, the stars are top notch. My aim was to offer context, since the film, by all accounts, portrays Jehovah’s Witnesses as the most deluded of people.

It does not portray them as bad people, however, but merely hamstrung in life by immersion in a cult. It doesn’t even portray them as unhappy people, just people whose happiness somehow rings hollow, as it is based upon unreality. The movie’s director was raised in the faith and says “it was liberating to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” It is probably well for Witnesses to know, to the extent they don’t already, that they don’t all pine away for the good old days at the Kingdom Hall after departure.

This director certainly doesn’t. As he himself developed doubts growing up, he has concocted two film characters who also develop doubts. Perhaps all three of them do—I may have to see this one as well. He is described as a “gentle, softly spoken man” who was initially uncomfortable with the topic of his debut film. The reviewer praises the film’s “even-handedness, the way it stirs in the audience sympathy for characters whose beliefs most of us might ordinarily struggle to understand.” Only the “cult” that has so hoodwinked them suffers.

Confounding his co-ex-members, he tells the Guardian film critic in a July 15, 2018 article that he on good terms with his Mom, though he left his childhood faith years ago. Perhaps that will change with the movie. Or perhaps it will go the other way, and his apparent dream will come true—he may succeed in undermining her faith in the spiritual things that she signed on for, and, having canceled out the positive, there will remain only the negative upon which to focus.

The most telling part of the interview is his statement: “The audience needs to understand the weight of their beliefs, the spiritual pressure they’re under. Because that’s what motivates them.” Plainly, this is an opinion, not a fact. But it is an informed opinion of one who has “been there and done that,” and there have been many that have held it. He has been mobbed at showings by ex-JWs who hail him for succeeding in his mission.

He describes the atmosphere of his former faith as one of “elitism.” This, too, is plainly opinion. It is like how it has become standard fare for parties on either side of a dispute to pronounce the other “arrogant” upon failing to sway them. Any time you have an outlook not shared by the general populace you are a sitting duck for those who want to paint you as “elitist.”

He even applies the phrase “cognitive dissonance” to those of his former faith. It is the modern method of giving insult, as in, “Your cognitive dissonance must be massive to stand in the face of my overwhelming arguments.” Is it really so that persons cannot simultaneously hold non-dovetailing ideas without short-circuiting their heads? One glance at Americans watching pharmaceutical ads will dispel the notion, with narrator insisting that you must have the product peddled and voiceover saying that it may kill you.

He is disappointed that the other Witness-bashing movie, Children Act—there are not that many of them, after all—is released at exactly the same time as his. What are the chances? He doesn’t particularly like the other film, describing it as “an outsider’s movie.” “When I read it,” he says, “I found myself nit-picking. Ex-Witnesses always say: ‘Oh, that’s not quite right.’” Present Witnesses would do it, too. Did I not just do the same with the Clint Eastwood movie?

Granted, the movie is fiction, and so by definition is untrue, but the outward facts do not appear to be wrong, merely incomplete and skewed. “Meagre” and “joyless” are not words I would ever use describing the Jehovah’s Witness world, as the director does—one certainly would not get that impression upon visiting a Kingdom Hall, much less a large convention. “Unnervingly quiet” also doesn’t ring true, nor men who “rule the roost.” Still, I know where he is coming from. If you become disillusioned with your own cause and start to long for the offerings of the other side, your life becomes meagre and joyless until you grasp them. What is a guardrail for some becomes an iron curtain for others.

Jehovah’s Witnesses may be best thought of as a nation. Unlike physical nations, its citizens are united in terms of common purpose and goals. Barriers that divide elsewhere mean nothing to Witnesses—those of nationality, race, economic, and social status. Like any nation, Witnesses will have their own culture. Unlike other nations, that culture is ever the minority view. The happy citizens of China will surely seem immersed in a cult from an American point of view, their outlook and concerns molded by forces of which Americans are mostly unaware and would not think important if they were aware of them. The citizens of America will surely seem immersed in a cult from a Chinese point of view for the same reasons. The two situations cause no internal discord because, in each case, persons are surrounded almost entirely by their own. Witnesses are a scattered nation, though, nowhere the majority, and since the beginning of time, the majority has been intolerant of the minority.

There are two views of the world. Let the adherents of both have their say. Long ago, in a lengthy discussion with a householder on the topic of evolution, the man at last ventured to ask what difference did it make how we all got here? I replied that, if there was a God who created us and the earth upon which we live, he might just have some purpose for them both and not sit idly by to see it all ruined. But if evolution put us all here, then whatever hope there was for the future lay in human efforts. “And they’re not doing so well,” I added. The man’s wife, who had been silent up till then, said, “That’s a good point.” Here in the Apostasy movie is a reality drawn by one who thinks that they are doing well, or at least he has lost faith in God’s purposes to remedy the earth that is now, for he describes himself as agnostic. Let all voices be heard as the struggle for minds and hearts continues.

There are two worlds from which to choose. The Book describes the one to come, everlasting life on a paradisiac earth made possible when God’s kingdom truly comes “on earth, as it is in heaven,” as the prayer says. It is the “real” life of 1 Timothy 6:19. Some translations call it the “true” life. Jehovah’s Witnesses, without too much fuss, know how to delay instant gratification in this life so as to lay hold of the “real” one. Their anti-cult detractors readily concede that delaying instant gratification is a good thing, but will protest that this is going too far, because, for them, the game is well along in innings, with no concept at all of a succeeding “real” life.

Most Witnesses will have conniptions about seeing their faith slammed so publicly. They’ll have to get used to it. It’s okay. “The game is the same, it’s just up on another level,” says Bob Dylan in a context he never imagined. For decades Witnesses, who came “out of the world,” have spun an image of that world that rings true with some and untrue to others. Now the shoe is on the other foot, with someone who comes from their own ranks and does the reverse. Let people decide for themselves what rings true and what rings false.

“To his followers, Jesus says “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.” It is a saying that makes no sense at all until it is taken as an indication that they must be on the right track for it to be said of them, for “as they have hated me, so will they hate you.” Beyond all question, whatever is done by the Witness organization is done for Jesus’s sake. They are accustomed to showing the gem through its most appealing facet. Let them learn, if need be, to show it through its least appealing one. Disfellowshiping is unpleasant and the prospect of that unpleasantness serves to discourage the conduct that might trigger it. Once incurred, it serves to spur the conduct that might reverse it, for the door that was closed was never locked. But if that one goes thereafter his or her own separate way, relations will cool. If he turns upon and savages the framework that his loved ones hold dear, it will almost certainly sever.

Jesus says both hot or cold are desirable, but lukewarm doesn’t work. The illustration that every Witness knows is that of the embers staying hot only if they huddle toward the center. They also know the expression that it is possible to engage in the ministry just enough to hate it—only whole-souled with do the trick. They encourage members to solidify their faith through study, ministry, and association. “Make the truth your own,” is an expression all Witnesses know. If that sounds cult-like, it is because, given the present expanded definition, Christianity true to its roots is a cult.

It all boils down to what Jesus told Saul, related at Acts 26:14—“to keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.” A support system is only a support to those in line with the program—they will not think of them as goads at all. Should one choose to pursue Christianity, it does indeed come with a support system to better ensure success. But to those whose alignment to the Christian purpose has waned or even shut down, the goads will seem almost unbearably oppressive—it is no wonder that these would depart and thereafter speak ill of the faith they once breathed.

The situation resembles the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He is probably making lemonade out of lemons, but it is lemonade all the same: “True, some are preaching the Christ through envy and rivalry, but others also through goodwill. The latter are publicizing the Christ out of love….but the former do it out of contentiousness….What then? [Nothing,] except in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being publicized, and in this I rejoice.”

Let the man write his movie. Should he be lambasted for it? He is a person of creative bent. What else should he be expected to do with his talents other than address what he once lived? I feel the same pressure, only from the opposite direction. I, too, tell stories, and everything comes with a Witness’s perpective because that is the topic I live. Should I write of something else—say, current matters of newsworthy interest, I find that they usually come down to the same ending: “it’s all bolloxed-up because we ‘need the kingdom.’” As Solomon put it, “that which is crooked cannot be made straight.”

Is it really Jehovah’s Witnesses that live in a manipulated unreality? Or it is their apostates? Each will choose differently. Thrilled to be finally liberated from “waiting upon God” and his kingdom rule, some of them dive into the formerly off-limits governments of nations with verve. Let them at least consider briefly The Confession of Congressman X, a book released in 2016:

“My main job is to keep my job, to get reelected. It takes precedence over everything,” the author quotes an anonymous member of Congress. “Voters are incredibly ignorant and know little about our form of government and how it works….It's far easier than you think to manipulate a nation of naive, self-absorbed sheep who crave instant gratification.” He describes most of his colleagues as “dishonest career politicians who revel in the power and special-interest money that's lavished upon them.” “Fundraising is so time consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on. Like many of my colleagues, I don't know how the legislation will be implemented, or what it'll cost,” the unburdening Congressman says—he is cleansing his soul, for he found the reality so different from what he had anticipated, and it has shaken his core, but, after all, he knows he has landed a good gig and doesn’t want to start pounding the pavements in search of another. “We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. Screw the next generation. It's about getting credit now, lookin’ good for the upcoming election.”

Like the three hoaxers of chapter ***, Congressman X will not be invited soon for any speaking engagements of the establishment. Every so often a factoid emerges from somewhere to make clear that the emperor has no clothes. Perhaps his is not the last word on matters. But then, perhaps the Apostasy movie’s word is also not the last word. We live in a world in whihc people process exactly the same data, come to polar opposite conclusions, and thereafter scream at each other day and night on social media. Let the spiritual things that preoccupy Jehovah’s Witnesses also take their turn in the spotlight—the things with the greatest consequence of all. Let them, too, divide people, according to what they wish to fixate upon.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are drawn from ones who know within themselves that the reality today has changed little that of from Bible times. Then, the common people were “skinned and thrown about.” It has only intensified today in that there are more to do the skinning—powerful commercial, political, and religious interests. Those prospective Witnesses know intuitively that the game will not change, though it is ever moved to another level so as to give that appearance. They also sense a gross injustice at God’s taking the blame for the misuse of the free will he afforded humans. Yet when they later band together and impose some limits on their free will, they find that their God takes the blame for that, too, for that is an affront to “freedom.”

The urge to investigate the promises of the Bible and then stick with them in the face of opposition or adversity is largely a matter of the heart, not the head. “Sighing and groaning” over all these detestable things (Ezekiel 9) is not the same as bellyaching and complaining. Many do the latter. Relatively few do the former. The heart chooses what it wants, and then entrusts the head to devise a convincing rationale for the choice, lending the impression that it was the head all along. But it is mostly the heart.

Not everyone will feel as do future Witnesses, and some, like the movie director, will move in the other direction. Hope springs eternal. The game will change one day, through human efforts, they will maintain. The young will yet fix things—why did no other generation ever think to do this? Others acquiesce that the game may not change but they remain determined to ride it out, for good or ill. They will look with derision at Witnesses riding cramped in their self-described lifeboat. It is only to be expected. Jesus didn’t come to save the cool people. The cool people will tell you that they don’t need saving—they are doing just fine, thank you very much. He came to save, not those who do not need a physician, but those who do.

Are they really that cool? How cool can one be when in, a heartbeat, one can be run over by a truck? From their ranks come the ones who deride religion as a “crutch” of which they have no need. The analogy is correct—religion is a crutch. What is wrong is the premise. The premise that more aptly fits is that of the abased fellow dragging himself through the mud, too stupid or proud—or maybe just unaware—to know that a crutch would be useful. In his day, Ronald Reagan was arguably the most influential person on earth. Ten years later, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was. How cool is that?


In Defense of Shunning

As the 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 to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was said to Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain consistent moral principles through decades of time without it. I vividly recall 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 largely 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 from 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 thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want 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 attempt their diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because anti-cultists forbid that course, and they get hefty, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is staggering, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference of view over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we easily toss with the waves in the absence of a firm anchor.

Christians are mandated to “imitate the Christ,” both individually and collectively. Given human imperfection, this can be done only with group-accepted tools of discipline to back up good intentions as needed. If anti-cultists would deny them these tools under the guise of protecting their individual rights, then what we are looking at is an attempt to outlaw Christianity true to its roots and enforce rule by the popular crowd. 

Disfellowshipping is unpleasant and some are so shocked to find themselves put out from their community of choice that they determine once and for all to mend whatever caused them to be ousted so as to regain entrance. But they do not all do that, and with the passing of time, these latter ones accumulate. Some continue on in life with a “been there, done that” mentality. But others expend considerable energy in settling the score with the organization that ousted them. One businessman in Canada even sued at being disfellowshipped—his customer base consisted mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses and most of them took their business elsewhere. A lower court agreed with him that those running his religion had “told” parishioners not to associate with the ex-member. But the Supreme Court decided that—did they really want to rule on biblical interpretation or on who had to hang out with whom?

The most disingenuous of disfellowshipped ones later frame their ousting as though it were over mere matters of disagreement. It was not their conduct that caused the trouble, they maintain, but it was simply disagreement over something, for example, the contention that leaving a spouse for another should trigger congregation sanctions. This was true of a prosecution witness at the Russian Supreme Court trial which resulted in banning the Jehovah's Witness faith. Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of "control," [she] “reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.’”

Other times it truly is over matters of disagreement with regard to interpretation or policy, and opposers try to frame things as did the Buffalo Springfield—that with Jehovah's Witnesses, it is "step out of line, the men come and take you away." Some of them present themselves almost as though freedom fighters. They came across something, perhaps, that they thought would entitle them to drive the bus. They left when they discovered that they would not be allowed grab the wheel. In some cases, they were caught red-handed trying to hotwire the bus. The “bus,” of course, is the Witness organization itself. In the end it is a too high opinion of oneself and one’s importance that sinks one. The worship and deeds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are magnified by their organized quality, and they either appeal to the heart or they don’t. If they don’t, then one magnifies disproportionately matters of individual rights.

The spirit of the times today far elevates rights over responsibilities. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with many religious people, it is the opposite. The responsibilities Christians feel is toward their spiritual kin. “Slave” for one another, the verse says, and many translations soften "slave" to "serve," but the root word at Galatians 5:13 undeniably indicates "slave” as the correct choice. Even before that, however, there is a responsibility toward God. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dares not meddle with the disfellowshipping policy overmuch because they know it serves to keep the congregation "clean" so as to present to God what he insists upon: "a [clean] people for his name." (Acts 15:14)

A book by evangelical author Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, highlights on the cover the question: ‘Why are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?’ The author cites verse after verse of how Christian standards are “higher” than those of the greater world, and then example after example of how they are not with those claiming Christianity today. He concludes that it is largely a matter of church discipline. “Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” he writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He goes on to quote Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

“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.”

Christians have a mandate to follow the Christ as best they can in speech and conduct. Consumerism makes that mandate effectively impossible. Yet it is the only model that today’s anti-cultists will permit. Anything veering toward discipline they paint as an intolerable affront to human rights. We must not be naïve. Theirs is no more than an attempt to stamp out biblical Christianity, veiled as though they are the very protectors of humanity.

The notion of protecting one’s values, through disciplinary action if need be, extends beyond Christianity. Was Tevye a cult member, he of the film Fiddler on a Roof? If so, no one has breathed a word of it until very recently. The third daughter of his Russian Jewish family was shunned for marrying outside of the faith. It is an action that would not trigger shunning in the Jehovah’s Witness community, though it would gain no praises. After all, if God is truly one’s best friend, ought one really make one’s second-best friend a person who is indifferent, perhaps even opposed, to the first? Only the atheistic anti-cultists will be blind to the logic of this, and that only because they would consider any god-concept an unsuitable friend.

Citing Tevye to a certain ex-Witness nearly blew up in my face. At the movie’s end, he mutters to himself, as his daughter and new husband depart for another continent,“and let God be with you,” as though he should have been expected to shout: “May you rot in hell.” I was told that the movie teaches forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love rather than a stubborn cleaving to tradition and the past.” Could he really have once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The entire premise of the faith, and that of many Christian denominations, is that, assuming the “traditions” are biblical and not man-made, the old ideas are solid and the new ideas are tenuous, with sometimes deleterious after-effects. In fact, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are not mutually exclusive. One can forgive without accepting disapproved conduct. One can also love without accepting it. “Tough love” was the phrase of yesterday. Today it is “unconditional love.” Tomorrow who knows what it will be? The scene of this world is changing.

It is not uncommon for children of Jehovah's Witnesses to be baptized at ages as young as ten. Witness detractors argue that this is far too early to make such a consequential decision. Many offer themselves as a case in point. Some of them were Witnesses and were baptized at an early age. They later changed their mind. Some of these eventually found themselves disfellowshipped and will push to their dying day that they escaped from a cult whose members were ordered to reject their own children. Some have gone on television with that charge where they persuade viewer without too much effort that only the most “brainwashed” of people would disown their own children and that whoever did the “brainwashing” must be punished.

It is an example of "truth" that is not "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." They are not children. In Witness literature the distinction is consistently made between those who are actual children and those who are young adults capable of following through on choices they have made through word or conduct. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of minors, it may result in a somewhat strained family life in which all components except the spiritual continue as before, usually with the added condition that the disfellowshipped one should still sit in on the family Bible study. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of the latter, such ones may be told that it is time to leave the nest. They are not outright abandoned, though there is variability in people and one should never say that it has not occurred. One father I know secured a job with his large employer for his departing son and let him know that he would be there if truly needed. Another, in a family business arrangement, divvied up resources so that his young adult son could have a decent start outside the congregation. This was misrepresented as though he had thrown him out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the father for a time became a community pariah, but eventually matters came out that he had actually been quite generous, whereby much of the reputational damage was restored.

Some disfellowshipped teens have run away from home, in a biblical twist of a drama as old as time. Such a dramatized case was presented in a short video at Regional Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses during 2017. A young woman had been disfellowshipped over sexual immorality, having sailed past all lesser forms of discipline unmoved. When she later called the home she had left—for she did run away in this case, against her folks’ wishes—her mom did not answer the phone, an action that the young woman later describes as crucial to her turnaround and reinstatement; if mom had extended just a little bit of fellowship, she recalls that it would have been enough for her to continue in her "headstrong" course.

This will go down hard with non-Witnesses today. "You would make all this fuss over sex?" they will say, aghast. "Get them vaccinated for HPV and accept that they will do what they do." Yet, it is a matter of adhering to the standards of the oldest book of time. Family feuds are the stuff of legend, often started over matters far more petty, such as taking sides in the disputes of another family member. It is common today that old ones are dropped off in nursing homes, never to be visited again, for reasons no more substantial than that they became inconvenient. One would never say that it is routine for divisions in family to occur, but they are by no means unheard of.

The Witness organization has said that it does not instruct parents not to associate with their disfellowshipped children. But they have produced the video cited above of specific circumstances in which a parent ignores a phone call from one of them. What to make of this? Detractors will say that they are lying through their teeth with the first statement. I think not. I think they should be taken at their word—parents will reach their own decisions the on degree of contact they choose to maintain, since they can best assess extenuating circumstances. It becomes their decision—whether they find some or none at all. Specifically, what the Witness publications do is point out that there is no reason per se that normal counsel to avoid contact with those disfellowshipped is negated simply because there are family connections. That is not the same as “telling” families to break contact. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

That statement finds further support in the many Witnesses who have departed and subsequently report that, though they were never disfellowshipped, they still find themselves estranged from the family mix. Effectively, they are "shunned" without any announcement at all, evidence that a "cult" is not telling parents what to do, but it is their appreciation for Bible counsel that triggers that course. The specific mechanics of avoiding associations with those who have spun 180-degrees on prior spiritual convictions may be arguable, but the general principle is not. When no verbal direction is given, Witnesses defer to the general principle, so it becomes plain that it was the general principle all along, rather than the commands of eight tyrannical men at headquarters. “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” says Paul, referring to two polar-opposite worlds and those who would choose between them.

It is the "choice" that defines. Some family members fail to follow through on their decided course as Jehovah's Witnesses, but they do not turn against it. Family relations may cool, but do not typically discontinue. It is only by making a choice that relations tank. Is it so hard to understand, given that spiritual things are important to Jehovah's Witnesses? It is well-understood in matters of nations, where visiting an unfriendly country brings no sanction but turning traitorous against one's own does. In politics it is understood, too. When comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the American president, does anyone think that her Republican dad (if he is) says: "That's my lass! She speaks her mind. It won't affect Thanksgiving dinner, though?” Of course it will.

The word ‘disfellowship’ has not been heard in congregation announcements for perhaps a dozen years now—not that it has been purged from Witness vocabulary, but it is not explicitly stated. From time to time, an announcement is made that such and such "is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." It is never made of one who has merely fallen inactive, but only of those who have departed from the faith through deed or word. Though, to my knowledge, no announcement has ever been made that such is the equivalent of disfellowshipping, people mostly treat it that way. Some of whom that announcement is made are shocked into regret and turning around. Others say "You got that right" as they turn the page and go on to another chapter of life. If it is said of someone who rejects the tenets of a religion that they are therefore no longer a part of it, what are they going to say—that they are? Few would challenge the statement.

Few would argue that youngsters have not the same maturity at age ten that they will have at twice that age. Ought they not be allowed to commit to the course they have come to believe is right, on the basis that they may later change their minds? It is not a good solution for Witnesses, though it be a great one for the anti-cultists, as it permits the latter more time to sway them. However, children will always do better when permitted to identify with their choices. John Holt, an education pioneer, maintained that a prime cause of juvenile delinquency is that children are shut out of the adult world—an unanticipated effect of child labor laws enacted to protect them. For children, the solution will not be to forbid them to act upon what they have come to believe. The solution will be to cut them slack when they, through inexperience, stumble along the way. Most likely, that is being done today, for Jehovah's Witnesses, like everyone else, dearly love their children and want them to succeed.

As it turns out, I know a youngster who was disfellowshipped for a period of several months and was subsequently reinstated. He was a minor and he lived at the family home throughout the time. Months before he was disfellowshipped he had been reproved. Since I had a rapport with him, I afterwards approached to say that, while it was none of my business and I was not curious, still, if he ever wanted to discuss things, I would be available. Maybe, I allowed, he had come across some anti-Witness literature and had been intrigued. Maybe he had wanted to go to college and his parents had poured cold water on the idea. “Look, if you’ve gone gay on us—it doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is that I have been around forever, I have seen everything, and I am not wound up too tight.” He was silent for a moment and then started telling me about this girl in another congregation. “Oh, girls are nothing but trouble!” I told him in an anticlimactic spirit. His woes were boiler-plate. Maybe he will marry the girl someday.

I had known him most of his life. As a young boy, he surfaces in my first book, Tom Irregardless and Me, as Willie, the lad who protested my introducing him at each door, so I responded that he could introduce me instead. That is how it had gone all morning, save for one or two awkward situations that I had handled. The householder would look at me in expectation and I would say “Sorry, I’m too bashful. It’s his turn.” As long as he had been comfortable, it had remained his turn. Hard on the householders? Probably not. Probably it was better for them to focus on the lad—I can become wearing over time.

He also surfaces as Dietrich in the second book, No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. I only know two Dietrichs, and the younger is named after the older, a trustworthy man whom I almost gave a heart attack when I showed up to give the first talk at the District Convention, relieving him as chairman, with only seconds to spare—there he was with songbook in hand looking anxiously through the audience. I had been in the Chairman’s Office awaiting my escort, assuming that the current year’s procedure would be the same as the prior one’s. It wasn’t. Today it would be. Everyone ‘did what was right in his own eyes’ back them. Even in small matters, there is a value in organization.

I followed the course with Willie and Dietrich that all Witnesses know and respect—I didn’t speak to him at all during his disfellowshipped time, save for only an instance or two that I could not resist. On a frigid day he dropped family members off at the door, parked, and strode toward the Kingdom Hall without a coat. Breaking all decorum, I said: “Look, I know there’s no contact and all, but did they even have to take your coat?” He liked that one. In time he was reinstated, and I later told him that there was a silver lining to be found in his experience—he would forever be an example of how discipline produces its intended effect in the Christian community. Actually, the word "shun" is never heard in the Witness community, just as the word "cult" is not, save for its age-old definition. It is unnecessarily harsh. Disfellowshipping is reversible and always the hoped-for outcome. "Shunning" does not convey that nuance.

Always there will those of the opposite persuasion--not like Dietrich at all: persons disfellowshipped who aren’t too happy about it. Find a few of them, work up the narrative to make it as heart wrenching as possible, and it is hard to see how it cannot be a media grand slam every time. Hide the purpose of it and present it as petty vengeance—it is a view that will sell today. Paint those doing it as deprived of humanity—it flies. Paint as dictatorial the organization holding the course—that interpretation positively soars with some. This is the age of the individual, not the group that they have individually chosen. The view that carries the day with regard to any organization is—it may as well be the year text—"power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If there are people in charge, they must be corrupt. To an irreligious crowd, whatever the offenses for which ones were disfellowshipped is all but judgmental religious nonsense anyway. We should have moved on from it long ago. The emotional component is strong and such narratives carry the day.

Beyond all question, Jehovah’s Witnesses march to a different drumbeat. They willingly yield to the influence of those who have chosen the same drumbeat, rather than those who pound the drums of the status-quo world. They can be easily be portrayed the very embodiment of a cult under the new updated definition, and the Bible itself a cult manual. It is because they are a religion that purports to be meaningful, rather than a religion that merely puts a smiley softening face on the quest for the status quo, that they run into anti-cultist opposition.

To the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes: "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ." Plainly, this concern is of no consequence to departing ones who have embraced atheism. Almost necessarily they must focus on individual rights, since what triggers a sense of responsibility among their former spiritual kin has become a non-factor to them. No, it will not be easy selling the idea of shunning to these ones.

 


Who is a Cult? Just About Everybody, it Turns Out. Part 2

See Part one here.

One wonders if CultExpert did not become what he is as penance for having been so stupid as to join the Moonies. Later, realizing that there really aren’t enough Moonies to build a career on, he broadened his sites to target larger groups. However, even with Moonies—are they violent? If not, why would they especially compare unfavorably to—say, the "turn on, tune in, drop out" model of the 60s? That model has never been condemned, to my knowledge. Usually the young who chose it were romanticized. It is only by adding a God component to the mix that condemnation is unleashed.

Can one live a fulfilled life as a Moonie? Let others make that argument if they care to—it’s not my gig. Still, before condemning them it does seem that it ought to be demonstrated how sticking with the mainstream leads to fulfillment. If it cannot be demonstrated, then is it not just thought control of a different type to forbid persons from going there? If the greater world was not so bereft of virtue, the Moonies, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists, and a host of others would not succeed in drawing a single person. Let it clean up its act before it forbids straying from the beaten path.

We can maintain a healthy skepticism toward the latest mantra as well—“that clean, articulate, capable people fall for these cults all the time. They aren't stupid. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.” One way to boast is to condemn others; the same relative distance is established as with unrestrained chest-thumping. This smells of boasting. It is a way of saving face. It is to say: “Look, if it happened to me, smart as I am, it could easily have happened to you—probably much more quickly.”

As to Scientologists, the only thing I know about them for sure is that Tom Cruise, in his fifties, still does his own stunt work. BITE Productions Inc would no doubt hire a nice and safe and fake stunt double. By all accounts, Scientologists enjoy success in beating back the scourge of drug abuse that decimates general society, the same as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s not nothing. They, too, will have to make their own arguments. “It ain’t me, babe,” says Bob Dylan. I second him. But with Jehovah’s Witnesses being slaughtered in an irreligious media, there is no reason to assume that Scientologists are treated fairly, nor Moonies, for that matter.

Make no mistake, the overextension of the BITE model is no more than an effort to silence voices not liked so that other voices may prevail. One is reminded of the H. G. Wells observation about the quick popular acceptance of the theory of evolution: that it suddenly “seemed right to them that the big dogs of the human pack should bully and subdue.” Who are the big dogs of the human pack? Are they not the mainstream and those who would enforce the mainstream under the guise of "protecting people?" They are the deep-pocketed businesses and governments. They are those of the prevailing philosophies and new norms that comprise the very air of Ephesians 2:2—air that “has authority.” It is not thought control that they object to. It is thought control that is not theirs.

Do they decry “brainwashing?” It is largely because they want to do it themselves. College is more brainwashing than anything having a Jehovah’s Witness connection. Study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and you are 95% of the time in familiar surroundings. Enroll in college and you are, from Day One, cut off nearly 100% of the time from those surroundings. Find yourself immersed in a totally new culture, where guardians of this world’s latest thinking have full opportunity to play with your head. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not keen on higher education—the fact is well-known. It could be argued that their discouragement is too across-the-board. Still, how can one not be sobered by the following report from the October 19, 2018 edition of The Week?

As related by Charles Sykes, a trio of hoaxers produced twenty "shoddy, absurd, unethical" papers loaded with incoherent post-modern "gibberish"—seven of which were published in "respectable" academic journals. Among the most outrageous papers included a thesis claiming astronomy is a patriarchal construct that should be replaced by feminist astrology, another arguing "dog parks are rape-condoning spaces," and still another that demanded that males who masturbate while thinking about a woman first obtain her consent. The authors "had ‘no formal background in the subjects," but taught themselves how to produce ridiculous, jargon-filled papers that were greeted with praise by "blindly receptive" academic reviewers. Allow this author to put it even more succinctly: “Yeah, we taught ourselves to write incomprehensible gobbledygook and they lapped it all up as cutting edge social science.”

Suddenly, Jehovah’s Witness Governing Body member Anthony Morris doesn’t look so stupid after all, does he? It is he who, in discouraging higher education, observed that the more prestigious the university, the greater the 'contamination of this world's thinking.' The Witness organization has long recommended that Bible values be the source of moral instruction and that supplemental education be used to acquire a marketable skill. Learn to be an electrician, for example, and you have a well-paying skill that is both portable and scalable, so that, if you can get the ducks to line up, you can attend to more enriching matters. The counsel dovetails nicely with that of Mike Rowe, the former TV host of Dirty Jobs, who testifies before Congress that “we [in the United States] are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” He further adds "that's nuts."

The hoaxers above fully expect to be blackballed by the higher education establishment, but they say it was worth it. One is reminded of whoever perpetuated the Piltdown Man hoax--a hoax that fooled evolutionists for 40 years. “It really was a horrible, nasty, vicious piece of work!” grumbled Andy Currant on the PBS show NOVA, presumably because it made the most esteemed men of science look like donkeys. Others said that the great men weren’t fooled at all—from the beginning they had smelled a rat. If so, the gullibility onus is replaced with one of deceit, for it would mean that they knew of the fraud but did nothing to correct it, since it advanced an narrative they wanted advanced.

Let us hear no more of modern "brainwashing." Let us once again relegate the word to its proper and age-old context. The “brainwashing” of the prevailing mindset is far more pernicious than that of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter make no bones about directing persons to sources considered trustworthy. The former encourages “free minds” to roam wherever they will, but in the end manages to stack the deck so as to keep them all on the same page.

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses slaves to their [at present] eight-man Governing Body? This favorite anti-cultist charge reveals a thinking so infantile that it is hard to know how to respond. It is like saying that the motorist driving within the guardrails is slave to the Department of Transportation, the football player who hustles his feet though the practice tires is slave to the coach, the student who does his homework is slave to the teacher. To the extent that Witnesses are “slaves” to the Governing Body, it is because they are grown-ups who realize that any project needs direction. They realize that there is no desire to “control” anyone, and certainly not for the sake of any power trip. The reason that Obi-wan Kenobi does not want Luke to stray into the dark side is that he really thinks it is the dark side. Let the anti-cultists provide convincing evidence that it is not before they denounce those choosing a different path. They will not find that task easy. When a Witness friend invites people to name the one evil they would remedy if they had the power, the most frequent reply is that they are too numerous to zero in on just one.

It is not an easy task to direct the work of several million people. One will say: "Thanks for the new rule!" and his neighbor will say: "Huh, did you say something?" Striking the right balance is ever a challenge. If the Jehovah's Witness organization comes across as heavy-handed at times, it is because it does not want to find itself in the shoes of Lot, who warns his sons-in-law only to find that they think he is joking. The Witness organization trains members in Bible principles, the same as do Witness parents. It is not true that if you refrain from training your children, they 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. These days that someone else is likely to be the anti-cultist himself; he is maneuvering for the position. He should be resisted. He wants you to aim so low.  He wants you to revel in what Psalm 90 laments is a great tragedy—four score of trouble-prone years and then curtains for us all. That is bad. He wants you to think it is good. Does faith founded upon accurate understanding of the most widespread book in the world implant the hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth? He wants you to trash it and place your hope with the world's politicians; maybe the next batch will solve a few problems. He settles for so little. The instant gratification that he would deny a child for its own good he wants you to pursue as an adult. “While promising them freedom, they themselves are existing as slaves of corruption,” says the Bible writer.

“When the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” says Jesus? 'Not if we can help it,' declare the anti-cultists. 'We have shed that backwards concept. We're doing our best to muzzle anyone trying to spread it. We put our trust in human accomplishments and science. It may or may not tell us that we are all screwed, but at least it tells us that you don't have to put up with anyone directing you in what to do.'


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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