A Watchtower Study to Battle the “False Doctrine” of Evolution

The way it works with humans is we invite people over for a cookout and they all end up sitting on their hands because the gas grill ran out of propane and someone has to go to Home Depot to get some more.

That was my comment on the first portion of last week’s Watchtower Study that had to do with the earth’s built-in recycling. As much as we breathe in oxygen, it doesn’t run out because plants emit it, recycling our carbon dioxide at the same time. Then there is also the water cycle:

All the streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place from which the streams flow, there they return so as to flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7) That’s not bad insight for writing 3000 years old.

Not to mention how my daughter the next day told of of her friend who started raising rabbits and, almost as an afterthought, began collecting their poop for the garden and now the garden is exploding with produce. As for the heavens, they belong to Jehovah, But the earth he has given to the sons of men”—the earth that is so good as recycling—says Psalm 115:6

The study article was on three gifts of God, and how one does well to appreciate them as gifts: “Jehovah has given us “a place to live, he has granted us the ability to think and communicate, and he has answered the most important questions we could ask.”

A secondary goal of the material was that “we will also be better equipped to help those who have been misled by the false doctrine of evolution” which is not how it is usually described—as a “doctrine,” let alone a “false” one. I like how the article did not take the form of “if an evolutionist says this, you can say that,” a form that, in effect, allows them to frame the argument. I like also [not stated in the article] that we are not the people who put dinosaurs on the Kentucky ark. Instead, we are the ones who have acknowledged the days of creation as “epochs” and the total time since Genesis 1:1 as “aeons.”

You don’t let evolutionists frame the argument, as though on the defensive. You frame it yourself. A belief in creation is the default condition. It is the condition that will automatically come up after a reboot. It is evident from Romans 1:20:

For his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship...” You don’t have to prove it to people. They perceive it. It is the default condition.

Some things are perceived by anyone of good heart. Ones too smart for their own pants will muddy the waters, but anyone of good heart will unmuddy them. Those not will muddy them all the more. To be sure, it is well to have some material specifically to deal with this, as the Witness organization does, but it ought to be supplemental material for an “as needed” basis, and not universal.

It’s a little bit like how the atheists present the analogy of an intelligent puddle of water that naturally thinks the pothole it occupies was specifically designed for it—that analogy concocted to advance the argument that if the earth was anything but perfectly suited, we wouldn’t be around to talk about it. “Whoa! What a brilliant analogy!” I said. “All that is needed to make it complete is to find an intelligent puddle of water!” Just how hard (and why?) is one going to work at the goal of denying God?

I could barely believe it, when I first came across Jehovah’s Witnesses, that I had actually stumbled across people who believed in Adam and Eve! They didn’t look stupid—or at least no more so than anyone else in aggregate—and yet all my life I had accepted that only the reddest of the rednecks believed in Adam and Eve! It didn’t clear up for some time. Instead, I put it on the shelf, for what caught my interest more was that which formed the third point of yesterday’s Watchtower: “By means of the Bible, Jehovah answers the most important questions we could ask, such as: Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? And what does the future hold?” It is all a matter of priority. Answers to spiritual questions that scientists cannot even touch supersede thoughts about evolution—put the latter on the shelf and come back to it later.

On the second gift—our brain, and the ability to think—I liked the emphasis on how we can choose how to use it. Make it your aim to screen out negative thoughts and hone in on ones of gratitude, since “researchers have found that people who are grateful are more likely to be happy.”

We will relate to the generation to come the praiseworthy deeds of Jehovah and his strength, the wonderful things he has done,” says Psalm 78:4

“We also do well to imitate Jehovah regarding the things he chooses to forget,” said the article, and verses such as the following were cited:

Do not remember the sins of my youth and my transgressions...O Jehovah.” (Psalm 25:7) If he doesn’t, why should we?

If errors were what you watch, then who, O Jehovah, could stand?” (Psalm 130: 3-4) If he doesn’t why should we?

And: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mathew 6:14-15) In that event, one had better be forgiving.

And as to retraining ourselves, the article stated: “Among all the creatures on earth, only humans have the ability to learn moral lessons by remembering and analyzing past events,” as it gave some verses as to how we can tune our conscience that way. I thought of the contrast of Sam Harris the atheist, describing his worst case scenario of how the AI creation of humans will someday wipe us all out!—not with malice, but as a logical consequence of having inadvertently gotten in its way somehow and thus being squished by like an ant. It’s a great world that he has chosen for himself. He’s welcome to it.

The Watchtower article mentioned how William Boyce used his skills of communication to uncover the grammatical rules of the Xhosa language for the purpose of Bible translation—is all that work ever done for any other reason?—and in so doing he laid the basis for many African-language translations. Xhosa is among the “klic klic” languages that doesn’t even have words. After the meeting, Kim said how she used to go to a hair salon in Buffalo where they speak it. “Does it sound like birds?” I asked, and she said it did not—it was more like a musical instrument, pleasing to listen to.

I checked to find that Boyce, a Wesleyan clergyman, had never before been mentioned in Watchtower publications—they are not much for honoring humans in that quarter. Rummaging over that, I eventually thought of the contrast in Morris Kline’s book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, where he seems miffed about his colleagues back in the day not getting the credit.

“Indeed, the work of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and most eighteenth-century mathematicians was, as we shall soon see more clearly, a religious quest. The search for the mathematical laws of nature was an act of devotion that would reveal the glory and grandeur of His handiwork,” he writes, presently advancing the seeming complaint that, “each discovery of a law of nature was hailed as evidence of God’s brilliance rather than that of the investigator.”

I could be wrong, but I suspect that clergyman Boyce, who lived with the people in Africa that spoke the unwritten language, would not huff about not receiving credit. He would be content to be perceived as bringing his gift to the altar. It certainly is true of Geoffrey Jackson, now of the Witness Governing Body, who saw during his missionary life among the Polynesian peoples, that they had no written dictionary—and so he wrote one himself.

But as for Kline, he writes a brilliant book and then takes the wrong side of it. He harkens back to the preceding Greeks, who “dared to tackle the universe, and they refused any help from gods, spirits, ghosts, devils, and angels, or other agents unacceptable to a rational mind.” That’s the world he prefers. Is it any wonder that some shrink from the Christian message? “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” Jesus says at John 5:44. What is it with Kline and his Greeks—aren’t they the original pedophiles?

 

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Sympathy for ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

“Sympathy for the Devil? No. I don’t like that fellow. He makes a lot of trouble. I’m not listening to no song that has sympathy for the devil.“

That was my sentiment for 50 years. It will still be my sentiment, but not so much, until my grave—which maybe will not arrive anytime soon, and if I play my cards right and the ducks line up, maybe not at all. Funny how you can live life as though the system may end tomorrow, and also as though it may not end before your natural death. Yikes! Cognitive dissonance! I hate that stuff!

Nah—cognitive dissonance is a topic worthy of a pamphlet, perhaps, but no more. It is what used to be called, ‘Coming to grips with the fact that you don’t know everything.’ People used to be able to do that without their heads shorting out—before ‘critical thinking’ became all the rage.

“You will still dislike the song, but ‘not so much’ Tom?” You going warm and fuzzy on the Devil these days? No. I still don’t like him. But somewhere along the road I came to recognize that ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ the Rolling Stones song, is not really about sympathy for the Devil. It is about exposure of him.

For years I refused to listen to the song. For years I slapped it down if it reared up on the radio, and later skipped it over if Pandora served it up. I still will, of course, at least if in anyone’s hearing. “Wow, brothers—great song! Sympathy for the Devil! I love it! Let’s give it a listen—right here at the congregation picnic!”—can I picture myself saying that? No. There is stuff that you tuck out of sight when the respectable people come calling. I always did that with the Keith Richards/Mick Jagger song. It’s a little too bad, because if you like rock music, you really can’t do better than The Rolling Stones. On the other hand, there’s a lot of music—you don’t have to chug down everything that comes down the pipe;

The song exposes the works of the Devil nearly as well as the Bible itself—in fact, better—if we are going for specifics and exclusive focus—that is, not being diluted by anything else. The obscenities of history—the Devil’s behind them all. He’s pulling the strings.

A fellow with the handle “Apollyon911” says of the song, that Satan is “implicating humanity for the evil they have committed” and “expresses glee for the crucifixion and other atrocities that he helped orchestrate”—Hitler’s reign, murder of the czar, murder of the Kennedy’s. “He is a ‘man of wealth and taste’...just as the SS had impeccable manners, listened to Wagner and drank fine wine, there is a powerful desire to be impressive...to be admired (or, more to the point, worshipped).”

What is the polar opposite circumstance that triggered for me memories of this song? It was this verse from Isaiah and a subsequent video included in the mid-week JW meetings during June 2020–a video on highlighting God’s name in the countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. “I am Jehovah. That is my name,” says Isaiah 42:8 (NWT). But the King James Version, and the majority of translations, say, “I am the LORD. That is my name.” How can translators be so dense? “The LORD” is a name? What’s with the all-caps?

You don’t translate the tetragrammaton as “The LORD.” The first is clearly a distinctive name—the name God gives himself—a name that makes clear his power to transform: “He causes to become.” The second is no more than a title, gussied up with all-caps, but clearly a title. Sometimes I call people’s attention to Psalm 110:1 to expose this idiocy: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a tool for your feet.’” Who is talking to who? Why is one Lord all caps and the other not? There is a Charlton Heston movie—I think it is ‘The Ten Commandments’—in which the Israelites are distressed early on because “We don’t even know our God’s name.” Later on, they are as happy as pigs in mud, for they have learned it: it is ‘The LORD’—how much sense does that make?

Even Mick Jagger knows better. “Pleased to meet you—hope you guess my name,” his devil says—and later in the song he gives his name! It is not ‘The DEVIL.”—it is ‘Lucifer!’ Now, as it turns out, ‘Lucifer’ is not a name either; it is a translation of the Hebrew word “hehlel’ and means “shining one.” But the intent is there—Jagger has his head screwed on straight. He knows that if you say Satan has a name, you don’t tell people it is SATAN. And if God has a name, you don’t say it is The LORD. He has put his name in scripture nearly 7,000 times. You don’t think he might be a little peeved that churchmen paper it over, essentially taking it out? Wouldn’t you—if you wrote the most beautiful letter that people sighed in delight over and praised it for its beauty—after crossing out your name, as though it were a putrid thing?

Richards and Jagger are more on to matters of truth than they know. Sign them up for the Kingdom Hall! Of course, they’ll have to clean up their acts first. They can’t quite carry on the way they do, can they? But having declared a “been there, done that—time to move on,” let them do one of the ‘original songs.’ Why—with their background, let them even do two! Seriously. Prince did this—cleaned up his act—whereupon they let him do an original song. Well—they didn’t, actually, they slapped his hand when he tried to rework their own—but they would have today. I wrote up a nice chapter on Prince. It heads the book ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’ and is even in the free preview section. You don’t think that I would do the same for Mick and Keith if only they would behave a bit more?

These guys are on to something with their ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ even if they don’t nail every little detail. They do better than Apollyon911–he has a little too much ‘churchiness’ in him. The reason I had to quote excerpts from him and not the entirety is that he screws it up in part—whereas the Stone’s song I can let stand untouched. Apollyon says in full:

While Satan is clearly implicating humanity for the evil they have committed, he is not absolving himself. He expresses glee for the crucifixion and other atrocities that he helped orchestrate (not realizing, until it was too late, that Christ’s Crucifixion – and Resurrection, were all part of God’s Plan).

He is a ‘man of wealth and taste’. This does not simply mean he is sophisticated. He does not deny his evil but, just as the SS had impeccable manners, listened to Wagner and drank fine wine, there is a powerful desire to be impressive (and perhaps, in the case of humans, to deny the evil they commit). He wants to be admired (or, more to the point, worshipped).

Satan or, as he prefers to be called, Lucifer, his pre-Fall name, is also warning mankind to treat him with respect or he will destroy us. As Martin Luther (the Reformer) noted: ‘Satan cannot bear to be mocked’.

Satan is not denying he is the author of evil. He is merely implicating mankind and also emphasizing his power.

Satan, the Devil, is the Father of Lies and this is implied when he talks about ‘lay[ing] your soul to waste’. Satan does not have full authority over mankind. Only what is allowed by God (his Creator). But, Satan wants us to believe he has all power.

Well, maybe it’s not so bad. But isn’t it a little too glib on how things like the Holocaust is “part of God’s Plan?” (capitalized, no less, though it includes the Holocaust!) It reminds me of the time I passed the church billboard that read “‘Don’t Worry, I’m in Charge’—God” Two days later planes flew into the twin towers in New York City, and I began to wonder if that stupid sign was still there. I returned to read the modified version: “God Bless America.” Had the priest swapped the letters at 3 AM, hoping no one would see him? Even the new didn’t fit. Would you have carried on about God’s blessing in the big city at the time?

What Apollyon downplays is that Satan, not God, is described as the “ruler of this system of this world.” Satan is the one who is “blinding the minds of the unbelievers.” Satan is the one who is “misleading the entire inhabited earth”—that covers a lot of territory!—so it seems that Apollyon might expound at least a little on how Satan has managed to hijack the world God created. He doesn’t do this because he doesn’t know—all he can do is offer up some muddled alteration: “‘Don’t worry (much), I’m in charge, even if it seems I am sleeping at the switch’—God.” No. It won’t do. Satan is the “ruler of this world,” says the Bible repeatedly. (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Revelation 12:9)

Jagger and Richards nail it, but they don’t go far enough. Jesus has come to “break up the works of the Devil,” 1 John 3:8 says. The first thing you do in breaking up the works of the Devil is to expose them. If they went far enough they would come to the indictment of Babylon the Great, the party identified by Jehovah’s Witnesses as “the world empire of false religion.” “Yes, in her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24) Of all those? Yes, for it is not just the acts of commission we speak of, but it is far more for the acts of omission. Had religion trained its members to be peaceable, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do theirs, they would have held their ground when the king tried enlist them in his latest war; they would have “paid Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God”—they would have told Hitler to take a hike, as Jehovah’s Witnesses in Axis lands did. That Babylon the Great has been so negligent is why it can be fingered for the blood of all.

The Daily Text under consideration for Friday, June 26, was John 16:2. “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God.​.” The commentary included: “How ironic that in committing such evil crimes as murder, religious fanatics violate the very laws of the One whom they claim to worship! Clearly, their consciences are treacherous guides! How can we prevent our conscience from becoming ineffective? The laws and principles contained in God’s Word are “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Therefore, by diligently studying the Bible, meditating on what it says, and applying it in our lives, we can train our conscience to be more sensitive to God’s thinking, and it can thus serve as a reliable guide.”

We hear the remark all the time that so and so will be guided by his or her conscience—and it sounds good, it plays well—how can anyone go wrong if he listens to his conscience? But as history demonstrates time and time again, the local king and the prevailing mindset is more than a match for any conscience. That conscience must be trained by God’s thinking—otherwise it will be trained by Satan’s. We ought not be as “children, tossed about as by waves and carried here and there by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in deceptive schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14) It requires training in God’s thinking to stand firm. Had religion not so quickly bent over for the sake of anything claiming to be “science,” it might still be able to draw upon Genesis as a credible source to explain some of the deeper questions that science cannot touch. Had religion held fast to its core, it would not find itself acquiescing, to various degrees,—sometimes only partially, and sometimes completely—to the humanist and Satanic lie that humans are capable of self-rule.

Mick and Keith are on to it—they even nail the too-frequent reversal of roles, with their, “Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints”—but they still haven’t gone far enough. They even nail the “refinement” of those under Satan’s influence, who may very well be men “of wealth and taste”—but they still don’t go far enough. They still deserve an honorable mention, not me burning their record. I’ll burn it anyway, for—let’s face it—‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is not really a kingdom song, is it? But they deserve better. Ah, well—there are greater injustices. There are bigger fish to fry. I’ll stick with the other songs on the Martin Scorsese movie ‘Shine a Light’—which is the Stones in concert—and I’ll reaffirm my favorite scene: that of Buddy Guy standing like a mountain while two of the scrawny Stones buzz around him like gnats, blown away by his fierce guitar work.

 

Please allow me to introduce myself

I'm a man of wealth and taste

I've been around for a long, long year

Stole many a man's soul to waste

And I was 'round when Jesus Christ

Had his moment of doubt and pain

Made damn sure that Pilate

Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you

Hope you guess my name

But what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg

When I saw it was a time for a change

Killed the czar and his ministers

Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank

Held a general's rank

When the blitzkrieg raged

And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you

Hope you guess my name, oh yeah

Ah, what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game, oh yeah

I watched with glee

While your kings and queens

Fought for ten decades

For the gods they made

I shouted out

Who killed the Kennedys?

When after all

It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself

I'm a man of wealth and taste

And I laid traps for troubadours

Who get killed before they reached Bombay

Pleased to meet you

Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah

But what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

Pleased to meet you

Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah

But what's confusing you

Is just the nature of my game, mm yeah

Just as every cop is a criminal

And all the sinners saints

As heads is tails

Just call me Lucifer

'Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if you meet me

Have some courtesy

Have some sympathy, and some taste

Use all your well-learned politesse

Or I'll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah

Pleased to meet you

Hope you guessed my name, mm yeah

But what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game, mm mean it, get down

Oh yeah, get on down

Oh yeah

Oh yeah

Tell me baby, what's my name

Tell me honey, can ya guess my name

Tell me baby, what's my name

I tell you one time, you're to blame

Oh, right

What's my name

Tell me, baby, what's my name

Tell me, sweetie, what's my name

 

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One Might as Well Collect Hub Caps

If I would leave the book ‘Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?’ with the householder, he’d look it over and tell me what he thought of it next week, he told me. I did. When I returned, it was for a pleasant conversation right there on his doorstep—we both listened to each other’s points, and neither of us gave an inch. Toward the end, he asked why it was so important anyway? What difference did it make how we got here?

I answered that if God had really created the earth and the life on it, he just might have some purpose for it. He just might not stand by idly to see it ruined. On the other hand, if life evolved from nothing as simply a natural process, then if there was any hope for the planet, it lay in human efforts—“and they’re not doing so well.” The man’s wife, who hadn’t said a word during the entire exchange, suddenly found her moment. “That’s a good point,” she said. For once, the law that your best lines always occur to you too late did not hold true.

The line was incomplete, though. If you trash the Genesis account of Adam and Eve—the first three chapters of the book—you discard more than a chance to see light at the end of the tunnel. You lose almost everything of consequence. You lose any possibility of understanding why it is that humans die. You lose any possibility of understanding why a “loving” God would permit suffering and evil. You lose any possibility of understanding just how the death of Christ could benefit you or anyone else—all that remains is a vague and syrupy, “Jesus died because he loves us.” It doesn’t quite cut it for logic, does it?

There used to be a permanent diorama at the local museum of natural history and science entitled Cabinets of Curiosities. Long ago the place expanded and replaced it with dinosaurs—dinosaurs are snazzy, but who doesn’t have them? Cabinets was much more modest in scale, but what it lacked in size it made up for in insight. The exhibit was a collection of stuffed birds, insects, mammals, shells, minerals, plants, leaves, rocks, and so forth. Explaining it all was a sign:

“Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Nature was seen as evidence of God’s work and people believed that studying it would bring them closer to the Creator. Darwin’s evolutionary theory, which replaced God’s role in creating species with natural selection, shook society to it’s foundations.”

So people collected these things. They showed them off. They studied them. They were part of the Book of Nature; they revealed things about God. Prominent scientists of that previous age, Newton, Kepler, Faraday, and Hertz, to name a few, thought of their work in much the same light, as bringing to light how God operated. But people gradually adjusted to Darwinian thinking. Little by little, natural things lost their appeal. One might as well collect hub caps.

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Joseph the Dreamer

When I am captain of the dodge ball team, choosing up players, my first choice will be Joseph. Just look at his stats:

From the time [Potiphar] appointed him over his house and in charge of all that was his, Jehovah kept blessing the house of the Egyptian because of Joseph, and Jehovah’s blessing came to be on all that he had in the house and in the field. He eventually left everything that was his in Joseph’s care, and he gave no thought to anything except the food he was eating. (Genesis 39:5-6)

So the chief officer of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners in the prison, and everything that they were doing there, he was the one having it done. The chief officer of the prison was looking after absolutely nothing that was in Joseph’s care, for Jehovah was with Joseph and Jehovah made whatever he did successful.” (Genesis 39:22-23)

Pharaoh further said to Joseph: “I am Pharaoh, but without your authorization, no man may do a single thing in all the land of Egypt.” ...The people began to cry to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians: “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you.” ...People of all the earth came to Egypt to buy from Joseph, because the famine had a strong grip on all the earth.” (Genesis 41:44, 55-57)

The bolded words say it all. He was a really good player. Were he on my team, he would soon be doing it all. We wouldn’t have to suffer being smashed with a ball and tagged out—that hurts!—we would voluntarily tag ourselves out and sit on the sidelines drinking Gatorade while he singlehandedly won the game.

He had dreams, too. Cool dreams. Not the type of dreams that I have, like how I  am sitting in the stands and suddenly remember that I have the next talk, only I have forgotten to wear my pants this day, and—come to think of it—the talk itself had slipped my mind so I haven’t prepared, but I might possibly be able to ad lib my way through—still, it would have been better had I remembered my pants...

No. Joseph’s dreams were about the rise and fall of peoples. At first, they got him into trouble, but later in life they got him out of trouble and landed him in some hotshot jobs, like being savior of the earth. (41:57) I did at around the turn of the year have a prophetic dream that the end would come prior to January because we had reached the end of our current Bible reading schedule and it would be too inconvenient to make everyone start all over again at Genesis, but it proved unreliable. Joseph gets all the cool dreams and I have all the duds.

He wasn’t full of himself, though. After interpreting Pharoah’s dream about how seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of want, he says: “So now let Pharaoh look for a man who is discreet and wise and place him over the land of Egypt.” He doesn’t add—after he had just interpreted the dream that no one else could!—“Ahem...and I’m your man.” But it goes that way anyhow because he just interpreted the dream that no one else could. Isn’t there some verse somewhere about how it is better for other people to praise you than it is to jump the gun and do it yourself?

“Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; Others, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

I like too how he customarily showed interest in others. Here he is in a prison hole greeting his mates with: “Why are your faces gloomy today?” (40:7) Turns out that they were gloomy because they’d each had a dream that they couldn’t figure out, and so Joseph did it for them. It ended up springing him from the hoosegow—so it couldn’t have been too much a waste of time for him to show fellow-feeling.

Genesis 41:46 is relevant, too: “Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt” [to be granted his new role as administrator]. 30—same as was David when he began to rule and Jesus when he began his ministry.

Now, as it turns out, I was married on my thirtieth birthday. When elders sneak up the way they do trying to make it hot for me with my birthday cake, I always turn the table on them and send them away frustrated by pointing out that it is an anniversary cake. However, this fact of a significant phase of my life starting at 30 like with other worthies—does it mean that I, too, am a hotshot? Does it mean that I, too, should be listened to? Too bad for me if that is so because nobody is.

With all the blogging I have done for 15 years, Maybe I ought to be an in-house theologian by now. Naw—the earthly organization isn’t enthralled with bloggers and maybe this post serves to remind why. Sure, I’m loyal now—but what if I park on the lawn and the elders tell me not to and I point out that I live in America so I can do anything I want and I decide to settle the score on my own blog—well, what then? If a brother goes bad at Bethel, they simply yank him and throw in another, but what will they do when I go bad? No wonder blogging doesn’t do it for them.

.....

It is a light post, but the part about Joseph taking interest in others even in the prison hole is a lesson for the ages. Same with how, even when he suffered serious reversals, Jehovah was always with him, as is stated at 39:2 and 39:21. Life may suck at the moment—it doesn’t mean that Jehovah is not with one, and it doesn’t mean that it can’t turn on a dime.

....

Well well well. A 22lbs produce pack from the USDA. Apparantly all non-profits received a large supply to distribute. I’m very grateful. Elders distributed to the congregation members. But will this become a—gasp!— ‘Go to Donald’ type of thing?

68B99885-357D-4D50-A2FC-0CBD1B23B97F

 

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NOT Omnipresent, NOT Omnisciencient, and NOT Omnipotent

Q: People make assumptions because they are well rooted in the belief also that God is Omnipresent, which is false. With this idea in mind, they conjure up the notion of God being everywhere, so he should have been able to prevent this or that...

A: Yes. Simply quote one of those verses in which God says he is going to go down and check something out so as to see if it is so—such as the complaint made about Sodom.

Then Jehovah said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is very heavy.  I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.” (Genesis 18:20-21) 

He wasn’t there. He didn’t know. I love the personification. So he is not omnipresent. And he is not omniscient. 

The third member of this normal ‘trinity’ is omnipotent. Note how the chart has dropped ‘omnipresent’ to substitute ‘all-loving.’ That way the chartist can harp on anything that isn’t going well and blame it on God—as though God’s role is to bless the doings of a society founded on rebellion against him, or prevent the inevitable bad consequences of such rebellion from occurring. 

Thus, every assumption skeptics make about God is wrong. No wonder their conclusions are so cock-eyed. Now, to be sure, those cock-eyed conclusions might remain even if they had begun with accurate assumptions—the pull away from God is far more rooted in emotion than in reason. The emotional pull is the urge to kick over the traces—to break free from anyone or anything that would tell you what to do. In their insistence upon pursuing the petty freedoms that this world has to offer, chafing at anyone who would seem to restrict them, they end up overlooking the substantial freedoms that spirituality offers.

What can you do with people like that? In the case of those who once believed in God and abandoned it for atheism, you could liken them to the fellow who loses millions in the stock market. Undeterred, he celebrates the $10K that he still has left, reasoning about the rest: “They were just paper gains, anyway.”

M. D. Craven—‘Master Driver’ Craven, he used to tell his employer, Greyhound Bus, for the had the Banger to Boston run for many years, and they would say, “Who gave you that title?” to which he would respond with, “Nobody did—I self-assumed it” (his real first name was Merrill, not Master), whose driving skills fell off precipitously in his older years, and who used to say when his car was on the fritz, “Tom, can I borrow your car?” and whom I just KNEW was going to wrap it around a tree, yet he had been so good to me that had he said: “Tom, can I borrow your car? I want to wrap it around a tree,” I would have felt obliged to hand him the keys—used to love the verse:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” for the appeal from God to reconcile, with the benefit of relieving some heavy matters that might weigh upon one’s conscience. “Come now, and let us reason together,” I can still hear him say, quoting the words from the King James Version of the Bible.

But it is not actually a good rendering of the verse. If you ‘reason’ with God, it will mean that you will take notes. You will not be telling him how to run heaven. It will sort of be like reasoning with Ford about your new Mustang. You will take notes at their owner’s manual that you should run it ‘shiny side up and greasy side down.’ You won’t expect them to be enthralled at how you intend to do it just the reverse.

The New World Translation, which didn’t come upon the scene until the 1960’s, well after M. D. Craven’s hay day, and so he still spoke from the KJV, corrects this faux pas, as do most modern translations. It renders Isaiah 1:18 as: “Let us set matters straight between us.” That’s better. It is the same warm appeal, the same alleviating benefits, but absent any sense that we will be instructing God. He will hear us out, to be sure, but it is not as though he will be benefiting from the pointers we may offer him.

It is like the Zoom prayer the other day to close out a small group meeting, and the one saying it was just a little too obvious in disguising his own narrative to the group and prayer to God. He wove in, as evidence of the stressful times we live in as we try to adapt to Covid, his comment about the lines that stretched from (he named the far-apart streets) as people lined up for free masks. I said to my wife:  “It’s as though he imagines Jehovah saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that.  Backed up that far? Wow. Things are really getting tight down there.”

And the only reason I shoot down ‘omnipotent’ (all-powerful) is because if I don’t, some idiot will be sure to come along, patting himself on the back, with the question, “Can God make a mountain he can’t move?” Sigh...I suppose that he can’t do that.

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Joseph Putting Down His Brothers—Tactfully

I read of how Joseph related his dream to his brothers that they would all bow down to him one day, and that they took offense to it. “It’s too bad that he didn’t say it more tactfully,” I thought.

Then I read the Research Guide. (From WT 8/1/2014): “Joseph tactfully said to his brothers: ‘Please listen to this dream that I had.’”

Oh. He did say it tactfully. I stand corrected—I guess.

Says Genesis 37:5-8: “Later Joseph had a dream and told it to his brothers, and they found further reason to hate him. He said to them: ‘Please listen to this dream that I had. There we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field when my sheaf got up and stood erect and your sheaves encircled and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him: ‘Are you really going to make yourself king over us and dominate us?’ So they found another reason to hate him, because of his dreams and what he said.”

Hmm. They sure got their backs up. Did Joseph really relate his dream tactfully?

I raise the question on account of a dream I had myself the other day. I related it to my wife:

I had a dream in which I woke up a hungry man, and so I said to you, ‘Get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.’ You cooked all day and served me continually. In every case, I left the dirty dishes wherever I happened to be for you to collect, which you neglected to do because you were too preoccupied hand-scrubbing my laundry in the creek—hand-scrubbing because I had not yet repaired the washing machine that broke down last year. Afterwards I told you to go outside and mow the lawn while I watched golf on TV. After a little while, I became upset that you were making so much noise with that power machine and so I told you to switch to the push mower so I could better hear the game and the commentators.“

I related this dream to my wife, and I did it tactfully. Really, really tactfully—tactfully like no one ever saw. Even so, she dumped my breakfast over my head and poured the hot coffee down my pajama bottoms.

Okay, it is not a big deal, their throwing in the word ‘tactfully’—they’re trying to flesh out the account. I understand that. It doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate spiritual food. I do. I wolf it down by the basketful. After all, there are scribes who have tried to flesh out the Bible itself—adding a nifty new ending to Mark, for example, because the original seemed too abrupt. That’s where the cute little phrase came from to the effect that Christians will carry poisonous snakes in their book bags which will not kill them when they bite. It is also how a verse specifically stating the Trinity was inserted in scripture by a scribe perusing verses and getting madder and madder that his favorite doctrine is nowhere explicitly stated. So for the Watchtower to state—without evidence—that Joseph was tactful is not a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Their evidence is probably that he was a nice guy, so of course he would be tactful—even as a precocious child. Still, I wish they wouldn’t do it.

More likely, it seems to me, is that he stated it in sort of a tone-deaf way that a typical youngster might—oblivious to how it sounds. Maybe not—I mean, if he had the dream, he had the dream—but I think I would be a little more circumspect in telling my brothers about it who already hated my guts. Look, I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know, but our people probably have him obsessing over his dress and grooming all the time, too, whereas his Neanderthal brothers did well to remember to put their pants on.

They didn’t like the little twerp. I can readily picture this because I didn’t like my brother as a child—he was always tormenting me, which he says now was irresistible because I took everything so seriously. Look at the little snot taunting me from atop the slide.

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I never sold him into slavery like Joseph’s brothers did him, but I was tempted. And do you think he gave a hoot about my precious records?

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Even now he harasses me by continually cheating at Scrabble.

So I know how it is with Joseph and his brothers. The verses say it all:

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons because he was the son of his old age, and he had a special robe made for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they began to hate him, and they could not speak peaceably to him.” (Genesis 37:4-5)

So Pop doted on the young kid and the brothers got jealous. Young Joe would get away with some prank and the older brothers would say, “Wow! If we had pulled such a stunt, Pop would have wailed our rear ends!” Got it. I know how that works. But when we are determined to sanitize verse, we don’t go remotely near such speculation, eschewing it for the speculation that Joseph told them “tactfully” how he was better than they, by means of a dream.

It is not at all just us—it is any Bible-believer who tries to bring to life the old characters. I wish they wouldn’t put in things that aren’t there. It is like when someone complained to me about Genesis 34, the chapter in which Dinah is raped. On and on our people go about it, as they should, because she was hanging out with the wrong crowd. But in retribution, her brothers slaughtered a whole tribe of people, after first conning them to get circumcised, then striking when they were yet hurting. “What with that?” the grumbler said—“Isn’t that what occupies almost the whole of Genesis 34? Isn’t that the 800 pound gorilla in the room?” But I set him straight by pointing out that while those men indeed were killed, it was done ‘tactfully’ and so he should quit his bellyaching.

.....

There are a lot of not very nice things in the Bible. I like how one Watchtower publication put it (I wish I could put my finger on it again), that the Bible contains a record of human history—of times when humans followed God’s ways, of times when they didn’t, and of times when they were oblivious to them. It is the record of peoples who strove to serve God, of others who rebelled against Him, and of others still who never knew anything of him.

It is not at all like when the Meathead told Gloria of some horrific Bible account—maybe it was this one with Shechem—and Gloria said, “That’s terrible!”—whereupon Archie corrected her with, “It’s beautiful—it’s in the Bible.” No. Some things are terrible. Just because something is in the Bible, even as a deed of the ‘good guys,’ doesn’t mean that God is a cheerleader. I always keep these ancients at a certain arm’s length. Invariably they have a few skeletons in their closet.

 

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The Gem I Learned is That Jacob Married Into a Family of Shysters

Jacob protested: “Hey! I was betrothed to marry Rachel, and you foisted Leah upon me! What gives?”

“You’re not much for reading the fine print, are you?” said Laban. “It’s in paragraph 242: “It is not our custom here to give the younger woman before the firstborn.” (Genesis 29:26) “You knew or should have known this.”

There was a part of me that when they came to that meeting question of what ‘gem’ I had picked up from Genesis 29 & 30 wanted to say that Jacob had married into a ‘gem’ of a family—a real bunch of shysters. And to think he slept with Leah, supposing it was Rachel? C’mon! How can that be?

The research guide explains how that can be. Speaking of bride customs of the time: “First she would bathe herself and rub herself with perfumed oil....she put on breastbands and a white robe, often richly embroidered...decked herself with ornaments and jewels...then covered herself with a light garment, a form of veil, that extended from head to foot.”

She must have looked like a Christmas tree! And then take her into a dark tent—she keeps her mouth shut, and Jacob isn’t in a chatty mood himself, and yeah—I can see how it could happen.

If Jacob married into a family of shysters—well, it serves him right, for he was somewhat of a shyster himself. Wasn’t he? It is not even a separate family, for they are relatives, and not all that distant.

He had been opportunistic with his dumbbell brother Esau, snatching the birthright when Esau was hungry and couldn’t offhand see the relevance of it—he was hungry NOW and the birthright represented some nebulous benefits for LATER: “And Esau continued: “Here I am about to die! What use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

Pop was not all that much different, so it would seem. He favored Esau, and why? “And Isaac loved Esau because it meant game in his mouth.” (Genesis.25:28) As for Jacob’s mom: “Rebekah loved Jacob.” She loved him so much that she told him how to pull a fast one on her husband—she knew that if you put food into his belly you could talk him into anything—to secure the blessing for himself, just like he had secured the birthright.

Laban got seven years of work out of Jacob. It was the bridal price apparently. Bridal price was customary and Jacob didn’t come with the means to pay it, so he agreed to the seven years, and “but in his eyes they were like just a few days because of his love for her.” (Genesis 29:20) My wife likes that verse.

He gets ANOTHER seven years out of him in order to work off his debt for Rachel. At least he delivered that second daughter pronto and didn’t make Jacob hold off for another seven years—I mean, there are limits. “Celebrate the week of this woman [Leah]. After that you will also be given this other woman in exchange for serving me seven more years,” says the wheeler-dealer. [By the way, is it only me who feels for poor Leah?]

So you don’t feel too sorry when Jacob outmaneuvers the conniver through a process so convoluted that I can’t begin to get my head around it to increase his own flock of sheep at Laban’s expense:

Jacob then took freshly cut staffs of the storax, almond, and plane trees, and he peeled white spots in them by exposing the white wood of the staffs. Then he placed the staffs that he had peeled in front of the flock, in the gutters, in the drinking troughs, where the flocks would come to drink, that they might get into heat in front of them when they came to drink. So the flocks would get into heat in front of the staffs, and the flocks would produce striped, speckled, and color-patched offspring. Then Jacob separated the young rams and turned the flocks to face the striped ones and all the dark-brown ones among the flocks of Laʹban. Then he separated his own flocks and did not mix them with Laʹban’s flocks. And whenever the robust animals would get into heat, Jacob would place the staffs in the gutters before the eyes of the flocks, that they might get into heat by the staffs. But when the animals were weak, he would not place the staffs there. So the weak ones always came to be Laʹban’s, but the robust ones became Jacob’s. And the man grew very prosperous, and he acquired great flocks and male and female servants and camels and donkeys.” (Genesis 30:37-43)

If anyone has the patience to work through that one, I’m all ears. It may be one of those things that you have to be a farmer to appreciate—I’ll bet Farmer Mort takes it in stride—and it reminds me of that circuit overseer who would point out that “a working mule won’t kick, and a kicking mule won’t work.” His purpose was to highlight the value of cooperation. He was a sensation in the rural congregations, but then he got to the big city and nobody knew what a mule was.

They’re all shysters! They all pull fast ones on each other. They all cause HQ to hem and haw throughout Genesis that “well—there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jehovah approved of these little shenanigans.” I’m not so sure it is the best approach. If you conceded that they did some maneuvering back in the day, you wouldn’t get so bent out of shape if it turns out they’ve done some maneuverings, end-runs, and power plays in the modern day organization. Don’t carry on that Rutherford outmaneuvered the Russell devotees, or that Knorr or Franz or whoever didn’t cross all the T’s or dot all the ‘I’s. Instead, picture God saying: “What a bunch of yo-yos! How am I going to get anything done through this mess? I’ll just make they keep their paws off their neighbor’s wives like my servant David did not and let it go at that!”

Esau wasn’t even that bad of a guy, really. He was just too much ‘earth’ on the ‘earth/fire/air/water’ pinwheel. There’s plenty of solid and respected brothers only slightly higher than him overall—you know, brothers that are rock-solid dependable and there is no practical ability that they cannot master and they love a good solid meal after a hard day’s work—but you have to prod them to do their daily Bible reading, and they continually carry on about how they don’t like study, and find reading a bore.

How could Esau have been, really? He took a couple of Hittite wives that drove his parents nuts, but he was hardly the first one to do this. Didn’t Moses have a couple of these clunkers, too? Or was it just ‘foreign’ wives without reference to specific nationality?

When Esau was 40 years old, he took as wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and also Basemath the daughter of Elan the Hittite. They were a source of great grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:34)

He mended his bad ways. “Esau then realized that the daughters of Caʹnaan were displeasing to his father Isaac, so Esau went to Ishmael and took as wife Mahalath the daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, the sister of Nebaioth, in addition to the other wives he already had.” (Genesis 28:8-9) It’s a though he says: “Huh! The folks like wives from the A-team? Okay, I’ll go out and get me one of those.” I mean, he could have married some dragon-lady just to spite them, but he didn’t.

And he forgave Jacob, despite of lifetime of being outmaneuvered by the little twerp. Here, decades later, the two respective families are about to encounter each other, and Jacob is sweating it that Esau will view it as payback time. He sends forth emissaries with presents to suck up to him, but it is all water under the bridge to Esau—contrast that to some pinheaded people even of our own who will nurse a grudge till the end of their days.

Esau said: “What is the purpose of all this camp of travelers that I have met?” He replied: “In order to find favor in the eyes of my lord.” Then Esau said: “I have a great many possessions, my brother. Keep what is yours.” However, Jacob said: “No, please. If I have found favor in your eyes, you must take my gift from my hand, because I brought it so that I could see your face. And I have seen your face as though seeing God’s face, in that you received me with pleasure. Take, please, the gift conveying my blessing that was brought to you, for God has favored me and I have everything I need.” And he continued to urge him, so that he took it.” (Genesis 33:8-11)

Was Isaac all that different from Esau? Despite Jacob’s spirituality, Isaac preferred Esau because it meant game in his stomach. He didn’t think to send Jacob away to marry a worshipper of Jehovah of his own accord—Rebekah’s complaining prodded him to do it. And why did he yet go ahead and attempt to bless Esau if he appreciated that by rights it belonged to Jacob? There are chapters in the Bible about Abraham, and chapters in the Bible about Jacob. But Isaac is more or less of a placeholder. Not all that much is written about him. Who knows? Maybe he was traumatized by almost  being sacrificed.

So Esau turned out to be okay himself—not hot stuff spiritually, but not hostile either. But he didn’t teach his kids. That’s the trouble with brothers who are too much ‘earth.’ They can neglect passing on spiritual gems to their own kids and what they do pass on is in the form of do’s and don’t, absent the principles that give them heart-appeal, and the kids become Edomites, without a spiritual bone in their bodies.

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Jacob Pulls a Fast One on Esau - Twice! (Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me)

Thoughts gleaned from Genesis 27:

Am I right on this or does Isaac seem more of a placeholder than a factor in himself? Abraham & Jacob are good stuff. But Isaac slobbering over Esau, for the game he could bring in? He doesn’t really come across as all that spiritual as a character. Rebekah knows that once you put a good meal in his belly you can talk him into doing anything. That’s not to say he is non-spiritual—no. He is probably rock-solid. But it is not his strong suit—he is given with matters more ordinary.

Okay, okay, Jacob is a good guy. Got it. But let no one say he was not an opportunist. I mean, he certainly didn’t say of Esau: ‘My brother’s making a dumb move. I’d better see he comes to no harm because of it.’ Twice he chiseled the older brother out of a good deal: “At this he said: “Is he not rightly named Jacob, that he might supplant me these two times? My birthright he has already taken, and now he has taken my blessing!” Esau rages. (Gen 27:36)

I gave up long ago on trying to explain these guys or put them out there for everyone to emulate. There is not a one of them without dozens of skeletons in the closet. The ancient world is one strange place with customs and ways not easy to get one’s head around.

Even the idea of seeking a blessing from Dad—what’s that about? My Dad’s blessing was a hope that I would stay out of the hoosegow, which fortunately I have managed to do. The whole concept of firstborn falls pretty flat today in American culture, though it still holds sway in some places.

In the annoying moments of our people—though they are not so bad as many believers—they sanctify these characters after the fact, putting favorable spin on things that read pretty dubious straight off the page. In their absolute worst moments, they present them as modern-day JWs themselves but in an ancient setting, concerns intact about dress and grooming and such things.

But overall they say that, ‘Look, the Bible is history. Nobody is saying that because it is in the Bible, even as the deeds of one of the ‘good guys,’ it is the wonderful thing for you to copy. The Bible is human history—and where is the following quote made?—history of events when persons and nations worshiped Jehovah, history of events when they knew of Him but did not, and history of those peoples who never knew anything about him—and all the while, amidst this backdrop, the promised Seed is being developed and nurtured.’

I remember one ‘All in the Family’ scene in which someone reads some clearly sordid verse in the Bible. “That’s terrible!” Gloria exclaims, and Archie quickly intercedes with, “It’s beautiful—it’s in the Bible.” No, it’s really terrible. But as one modern brother put it, when the younger brothers started squabbling over something: “It’s amazing what Jehovah can do considering what he has to work with.” It is a better take than that of a more cynical brother—someone who did not remain faithful: “The truth is such a beautiful thing—it’s a shame God had to waste it on people” That doesn’t fly. You have to cultivate a love of people in order to survive.

Meantime, I entertain my own ideas of the basic nature of people, different constitutions of different areas of emphasis—most notably the ‘air—water—earth—fire’ pinwheels that people are said to fall on. The descriptions keep popping up in psychology, in ancient thinking, in diverse cultures—and they are not necessarily presented the same, but they can overlap. Carl Jung went big into this kind of thing, but the ideas far precede him. Those Myers-Briggs tests of 16 different personality types stem from the same undercurrents.

I like especially the contrast between air and earth. The ‘air’ personality is obsessed with ‘airy’ thoughts. Such persons are quick to entertain the spiritual—‘head in the clouds’—not practical at all at their worst—‘so spiritual that they are no earthly good’ is one blunt way to say it. At their very worst, they are so much of the air that their feet lose contact with the ground and they are lost in worlds of their own making.

The ‘earth’ person is just the opposite. Always grounded, always completely comfortable on earth. There is no way an earth person becomes seasick, or if they do, they either master it quickly or forevermore avoid the sea—“Not coming near that stuff, again!” they say, so disconcerting is it to have ‘earth’ interrupted. An earth person absolutely loves a good meal and will carry on about it forever—whereas an ‘air’ person barely notices it and practically begrudges the time it takes to prepare and consume. They are rock-solid, capable, practical, certainly capable of solid spirituality, but it is not their specialty, and at worst they can forget about it completely as they hone in on things physical.

There is also the ‘fire’ and the ‘water’ person, but these attributes seemed not to be so developed, or perhaps they did not resonate so much with me. They strike me as modifying influences on the ‘air’ and ‘ground’ but it may be they should be taken as orientations in themselves. ‘Fire’ is, not surprisingly, associated with impulsiveness, zeal, ‘hot-headedness.’ ‘Water’ is cooling, and is partly so by being flexible, able to quickly wrap around any situation and squelch trouble. It strikes me as these are probably persons who can bring opposing camps together—a task not always easy. When ideas are too far apart, by even explaining one side to the other you are accused of pushing that idea. No, it is not easy. But if there is anyone who can do it, it is a ‘water’ person.

Isaac was earth. Jacob was air. Esau was earth. It’s the way I look at it, anyway.

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Social Distancing in Genesis

Social distancing’—a term unheard of two weeks ago—today deemed as vital as breathing air. Read Genesis to see examples of it. Having a whole bunch of animals seems to be all you need to do the trick.

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also owned sheep, cattle, and tents. So the land did not allow for all of them to stay in the same place; their goods had become so many that they could no longer dwell together. As a result, a quarrel arose between the herders of Abram’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock....So Aʹbram said to Lot: “Please, there should be no quarreling between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land available to you? Please, separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:5-9)

Today it would be called social distancing. You do it by having so many animals that your neighbor can’t stand to be around you.

Suppose he can stand it. How do you get him to move on in that case? You shut off his water:

The man [Isaac] became wealthy, and he continued to prosper until he became very wealthy. He acquired flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and a large body of servants, and the Philistines began to envy him. So the Philistines took soil and stopped up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham. Abimelech then said to Isaac: “Move from our neighborhood, for you have grown far stronger than we are.” So Isaac moved from there and encamped in the valley of Gerar and began dwelling there. And Isaac again dug the wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham but that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death, and he called them by the names that his father had given them.” (Genesis 26: 13-18)

But what happens if you haven’t moved away far enough? Then you argue over the pipes, and even name them:

When the servants of Isaac were digging in the valley, they found a well of fresh water. And the shepherds of Gerar began quarreling with the shepherds of Isaac, saying: “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they had quarreled with him.”  (vs 19-20)

Esek means ‘contention.’ It is the definition of the Hebrew word.

And they started digging another well, and they began quarreling over it also. So he named it Sitnah.” (21)

Sitnah means ‘accusation.’

Later he moved away from there and dug another well, but they did not quarrel over it. So he named it Rehoboth and said: “It is because now Jehovah has given us ample room and has made us fruitful in the land.”  (22)

Reboboth means ‘broad places.’ Ahh—at last—enough room between you and the scoundrels.

Imagine—naming the wells! We don’t name faucets, yet they named wells. It was that important—water. What causes social distancing in this case, besides loads of animals? Water. We really are ‘people of the dirt,’ aren’t we? Not to mention ‘people of the water.’

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Abraham Enacts the Drama of the Ages, and Bart Messes it all Up

That God should ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son makes no sense at all and is even offensive—even barbaric. ‪It only makes sense when seen as forerunner for God sacrificing his own son in order to redeem others. It is all the more pointed when Abraham offers up the supplied ram In place of his son, calling to mind how God offers up a son in place of another.

Now after this the true God put Abraham to the test, and he said to him: “Abraham!” to which he replied: “Here I am!” Then he said: “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and travel to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will designate to you.”....  (Genesis 22:1-2)

Then Isaac said to his father Abraham: “My father!” He replied: “Yes, my son!” So he continued: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” To this Abraham said: “God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” (vs 7-8)

But Jehovah’s angel called to him from the heavens and said: “Abraham, Abraham!” to which he answered: “Here I am!” Then he said: “Do not harm the boy, and do not do anything at all to him, for now I do know that you are God-fearing because you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.” At that Abraham looked up, and there just beyond him was a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.  (vs 11-13)

Bart Ehrman (my new villain) is doing his best to aggravate me, with some success. He says that after Jesus’ death, his disciples (and the more learned others, as though the original were dummies—“peasants” he calls them, with the implicit understanding that peasants are too stupid to derive “theology”) who had not a clue that Jesus would be put to death, tried to afterward rework it into a “victory” by “reinterpreting” passages of Hebrew scripture written for who knows what reason and applying them to Jesus. Doubtless, this passage is an example of that.

In fact, that is pretty much what happened. Bart gets this part right, but it is the air he emits of them pulling the scam of the ages that rankles. It is the air of examining intently all the pieces but never thinking to put them together, and being thoroughly obtuse when someone else does—of being unimpressed, possibly because of not wanting them to come together that way—and so it all goes over his head as he obsesses with the individual pieces. 

Going through this fellow’s Great Courses lectures, the feeling grows on me that, having ascended to the ranks of “scholar” himself, he is kind to scholars everywhere—both now and of those in early Christian times. When he gushes on about how some scholars think this, but other scholars think that, I am reminded exactly of why the lowly people were astounded at Jesus means of teaching—he didn’t teach as the scribes, constantly quoting each other, but taught as though one with authority. 

When Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching, for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)

He oohs and ahhh over “scholars” of the first century, too, and the feeling grows with me that it accounts for his treating Pharisees and Saducees with such respect. He doesn’t at all share Jesus’ ‘narrowmindedness’ in being so hard on them. Saducess are ‘the ruling class,’ so you know that is going to impress Bart, who now “rules” himself at the university, being deferred to. And the Pharisees? Just a religiously devout group of Jews who were serious about keeping the Law—what in the world is wrong with that? Why criticize people for their “theology?” he appears to believe.

Did the Jewish leaders scheme for Jesus’ execution? Well—yes, he concedes, but he passes it off as though it is just a few bad apples in an otherwise sincere bunch, much like a renegade politician storming as though a bull in a china shop. Maybe not even that. Jesus antagonized them, after all, by leaving the hills of Galilee, where his carrying on could be ignored, and coming right into Jerusalem, right into the temple and disrupting the established respectable religion, as though Bart would maintain he had no right to do this—he should have recognized their turf and conducted himself with proper decorum.

Besides, those Jewish leaders didn’t kill Jesus—Pilate did, and since Pilate comes from an authoritarian faction that no longer exists and can thus be disrespected without offending anyone important, Bart does just that. Pilate had no concern whatsoever for justice, Bart maintains. His job was to get rid of rabble-rousers, like Jesus, before they disturbed the peace and upset the status quo. He did it all the time and had no qualms about killing people. Life and death was in his hand—he was a tyrant who afforded Jesus a “trial” that lasted maybe two minutes before ridding himself and the empire of him.

In fact, one who reads the accounts of Jesus trial can’t help but be struck with how hard Pilate works to release Jesus. He knows that the preacher popular with the crowds is being framed. He also knows that the framers are trying to bully he himself, and he resents it. He only yields to those Jewish religious thugs when they force him to choose between Jesus and himself. “For this reason Pilate kept trying to find a way to release him, but the Jews shouted: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar,” they point out darkly at John 19:12. That took the wind out of him. He doesn’t need those community leaders reporting him as a traitor to Caesar. He doesn’t need to be painted as though a party to insurrection. Better to grant the scoundrels what they want. So he does—but he is furious about it. He posts a sign above the stake that Jesus is impaled upon: “The king of the Jews.”

However, the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written.” (vs 21-22) He was so fed up with them. Granted, he didn’t exactly trade away everything he had like the merchant finding the fine pearl, did he? But neither is he portrayed as callously indifferent to the sufferings of an innocent man or an eager participant of injustice.

Possibly Bart offloads all the blame on Pilate because he, as a leader of society, feels an obligation to facilitate other leaders getting along. He downplays the Jewish connection maybe because that might feed into current anti-semitism (not an invalid concern). Revise history if need be to pin in all on the evil Romans, who are all dead and gone. I’m not blind to the concern, but when Mel Gibson, director of ‘The Passion,’ was asked directly whether Jesus had been killed by the Jews, he replied: “Well, it wasn’t the Scandinavians.”

Probably—I do not know this for sure—but probably Bart will sweep all these ‘softening’ factors with regard to Pilate aside. I am on to his tricks, as he employs ‘critical analysis’ to define history the humanistic way that he wants it defined. He will, if I am correct, dismiss all these humanizing touches of Pilate for having failed the “criterion of contextual credibility.” Yes, the gospel accounts may say what they do about Pilate, ‘but it is not credible because we have determined—my fellow scholars and I—that the Romans were nothing but brutes. Some early Christian writer just made that up’—if there is one thing that defines Bart’s perception, it is that everyone spun the story of Jesus their own way for their own personal advantage to validate whatever they had settled upon doing.

Everything goes over Bart’s head! He is so exasperating! Everything is a power play with this guy—a struggle for dominance by the ones who have reached the top of their game—just as he has himself as a professor with dozens of books authored and GreatCourses itself bestowing greatness upon him, immortalizing him as the great instuctor in all matters of Judeo-Christian religion. He treats the ascension of Christianity to worldwide prominence as though a team reaching the Super Bowl, celebrating the victory of being best in the world, oblivious to trade-offs of players along the way. It’s okay for football teams to do this, but in the case of a faith it amounts to selling its soul. He doesn’t even notice it though, and if you point it out to him he will not think it particularly important. The point is that they reached the Super Bowl; with the acceptance of Constantine, Christianity became the most important religion in the whole wide world! Score!!!!

Now, I readily concede that this is a subjective piece—my take on Bart. But there is barely anything anywhere that is not. Everyone looks at things though their own subjective lens. It is completely a myth that we are primarily rational beings. It is enough to say that we are capable of reason, but to say that it dominates is just too much. We are creatures of emotion, and that emotion is molded by our experience and background. One is quickly struck by how often Bart maintains that “we can assume” this or “we can assume” that. In fact, we cannot assume any of it just because he does. He raises possibilities, but no more, and upon consideration of the big picture, not very likely possibilities. A person with different experience or different motivation will, if we are going to “assume” things, assume entirely different things. The ones most blind are often the ones who revel in their ‘critical thinking’ because they are ever apt to “assume” that they have a lock on the stuff. The heart reaches for what it wants and then charges the head with devising a convincing rationale for it. This lends the impression that the head is calling the shots, but it is the heart all along.

I focus on Bart so as to put a human face on things. I shouldn’t, and in other posts about Bart, I don’t. It is not Bart himself, but what he represents. It took me the longest time to recognize why the Watchtower seldom names villains. It is the play we are watching, not the actors in the play. You don’t have to know the names of the actors to follow the play—it can even be a distraction if you do. Besides, name a villain and you automatically create the impression that removing that villain will improve things. Instead, another actor instantly steps into the role—he has the part memorized—and the play continues with barely a hiccup.

“Yeah, well Tom, you’re just grousing because Bart sells tons more books than you, and he sells it with a machinery that you cannot match. He has editors and professional enablers and you can’t even manage to get all your typos out of all your scribblings! He gets a perch at the university and you have to fight off even many of your own people who think that whatever you are trying to do you are doing it wrong and should stop.”

Okay, okay, so there is something to that. It is the oldest story in the world. There is stuff that is readily lapped up because it aligns itself with mainstream goals and urges, and there is stuff that doesn’t. It was even true following that great trial in Jerusalem. Both Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders resumed their dignified strutting, their privileged walk only briefly jostled—and not very seriously. The lowly ones who put their trust in Jesus scratch their heads and wonder what just it was that happened. Only later do they think to revisit that drama of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son.

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