Plato and the Governing Body

In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know much when it comes to ancient Greek society. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables, and not “So-crates.” Oh, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time during which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don’t consider knowledge of them indispensable for enriched life. The rapidly ascending Chinese and Indian populations most likely are completely ignorant of Greece—the root of Western civilization, but not theirs—and don’t bemoan the loss.

Nonetheless, there is this atheist fellow I’ve been conversing with lately who throws Greeks at me right and left. He’s even assumed a Greek moniker, Moristotle, and he’s prompted me to consider changing my own name to Tom Harleticus so as to win some respect. So it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?

Plato put into writing his concepts of ideal government. He advocated rule by “philosopher-kings.” Several times in Moristotle’s blog I read the term. Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected (by already existing rulers) on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff—so lengthy that it seems nobody under age 50 would be eligible for consideration.

Consider this excerpt from The 100, an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history: (Plato is #40) “Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

“Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”

Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will realize at once that this description almost exactly describes their Governing Body, the agency that governs members of the faith. Only the “mates in common” does not apply.

Compare Plato’s dream government with this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that flooded New Orleans: “They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I’ve ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. *All* of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I’ve toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

“Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it’s amazing......I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.

“They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF....I could go on.

“But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs.”

This organization is duplicated in the one hundred or so branch organizations that exist around the world.

Of course, one may object: Plato’s recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number between seven and seventeen million, depending on the criteria you use in counting. That’s more than the population of a great many nations. Moreover, Jehovah’s Witnesses are overwhelmingly viewed as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no mere accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration, governing if you will, since there are ever so many groups that claim to follow the Bible but whose lifestyles belie that claim. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose, as the above letter points out. They would appear to be Plato’s dream come true.

Author Hart allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato’s ideal. He suggests “there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato’s guardian class.” I assume he is referring to the Church before the Inquisition. Otherwise, Hart acknowledges, Plato’s ideals have never been adopted by any human government.

Oh, this is too rich! Here is Plato, poster boy of the modern Greek aficionados, devising a system of government which none of them have come close to reproducing, but which is adopted without fanfare by a group most of them would look down upon—Jehovah’s Witnesses! The reason, of course, is that Plato’s system depends on persons who are neither ambitious nor materialistic nor overly proud. It is not that such persons cannot be found among the general population. It is that the values of this world are such that these persons cannot rise to the top. Indeed, they are often dismissed as impractical nuts (as with Jehovah’s Witnesses).

By the way, what happens when atheists themselves try to adopt Plato’s ways? Hart continues: “The role of the Communist party in the Soviet Union has also been compared with that of the guardian class in Plato’s ideal republic. Here, too, we see a self-perpetuating elite whose members have all been trained in an official philosophy.”

Aren’t communist systems atheist, indeed the only governments officially atheist? Yes—and when the atheists try to implement Plato, their creations are hijacked by bullies and even mass-murderers: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and so forth. Look at these guys crossways and you do ten years hard labor.

No, those atheists are unable to implement the ideals of their hero. Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, have done so. Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I do not suggest it. But I can picture the educated elite rushing to embrace him as one of their own, and he, upon assessing how they have failed to implement any of his ideals, wanting nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, he could not help but be appreciative toward the one sizable organization on earth that has managed to transform his dream into reality. He might even rush right over to Bethel to consult, where they, having no idea who he is, would make him take a number. (February 2008)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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The 144K and the Governing Body: Gnostics?

It’s all the rage now to accuse people of the “new religions” [cults, in derogatory-speak] of being “gnostic.” I haven’t figured out why, but it probably is some variation of what PBS observed on the gnostic movement in the early years of Christianity—that the term “is often used as a sort of umbrella term to cover the people that the leaders of the church don't like.” Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t liked in mainstream Christian circles, hence they must be “gnostic according to this new view.

No, the anointed of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not gnostic. As the PBS article explains, Gnosticism comes from the root word meaning “to know.” It is not a reference to book knowledge, but to a individualized secret knowledge not available to all. That type of knowledge generally translates into one-up-mans-ship—the one who claims it is apt to lord it over the one who do not.

Is that special secret knowledge a characteristic of the Witness governing body? From the October 1, 1984 Watchtower (in a footnote): “Regarding his misguided statements as to what we could expect in 1925, [Rutherford himself] once confessed to us at Bethel, ‘I made an ass of myself.’” How’s that for gnostic? If you say “Not very much,” you have answered correctly.

And yet there is some applicability to the label. There is something to it, if not in the sense the charge is made. To zero in on a few statement from that PBS program on Gnostics in the early developing church (statements all bolded):

They thought of themselves as Christians who had received, in addition to the other gospels, secret teaching.”

This doesn’t fit the Witnesses’ anointed ones at all. Those anointed among Jehovah’s Witnesses have no source of teaching beyond the Bible itself—nothing at all “secret.”

And Gnostics were people who claimed to know something special. No, that doesn’t fit either, but also yes, it does. The anointed have no special source. But the Bible itself speaks to them differently than it speaks to those of the great crowd. Paul writes in Romans 8 that “you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!” The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (15-16) Bible knowledge implants in them the heavenly hope, whereas for the overwhelming majority of Christians today, living forever on a paradise earth is their hope. It is mine.

From PBS: Gnostics convey “the sense that the divine is to be discovered by some kind of interior search.” It doesn’t apply to the Witness anointed, making an interior search, but it does apply to how the exterior source of the Bible, speaks differently to them. Same source, but it implants two hopes in two separate groups. Is that gnostic or not? There are elements of both.

PBS: “This knowledge could be…a kind of propositional knowledge of certain key truths.” Again, the answer is yes and no with regard to the Witness anointed. They do discern “certain key truths,” but it’s not through any hidden source; it is from the Bible. Could it be said that holy spirit opens the Word to them in a way it does not to the other sheep? The “key truths” that identify Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are found and preserved only where the Witness anointed Governing Body is present. That there is no immortal soul, no trinity, the use of God’s name, the kingdom a real government, everlasting life on earth, why God permits evil, exactly how the ransom works, what happens to the dead—these are all discerned from the Bible by the anointed. They pass them on to the “other sheep” who can easily grasp the truths since they clearly are Bible teachings, but they were not able to discern them independently.

Acquiescing to this apparent means of distribution, the other sheep defer to the Governing Body taking the lead. Clyde Tussen, with a gift for illuminating complex spiritual things so that a child could understand, used to overstate how with Jehovah’s Witnesses all study their Bibles—they don’t all do it, but Clyde lived in a world of his own and for him it was so. Things begin to dawn on members of the Governing Body in the course of their Bible reading, he would say, and they bat it around among themselves. After considerable prayerful discussion, that new point appears in print. He would add: “Now, the thing is, you are studying your Bible too. That new point the Governing Body just wrote about? You may have already noticed that point in your own studying. And if this were Christendom, you'd run out and start your own religion over it.” Because it is not, you wait on them to take the lead.

Luke Timothy Johnson, historian of the early church, presents Gnostics as tremendously disruptive to the order of the developing church. The apostles and presbyters, men with the most experience in the faith, would try to coordinate and unify growth of the congregations. They would apply existing scripture to new developments, as is outlined at Acts 15. They would issue “decrees” or “decisions” based upon that application and convey them to all the congregations, which served to make them “firm in the faith and to increase in number day by day.” (Acts 16:4-5) Thwarting their efforts would be Gnostics popping up in individual congregations, each with his/her own private truth and secret revelation, who soon came to regard themselves as the only real Christians for being so favored with hidden revelations, better than the “proto-orthodox” Christians who did things in an orderly way. The trouble with “truth” arising through personal revelation is that inevitably there arise others who also have had truth revealed that way—only their truths do no agree, in which case how is anyone ever going to get to the bottom of it?

If there is anything in Witness congregations corresponding to this disruptive brand of gnosticism, would it not be found in those apostates who claim anointed status and thereafter are unwilling to cooperate with the organized arrangement coming from the Governing Body? For the most part, the remnant of anointed Christians today recognize their calling is for that of a future heavenly assignment, not a present one. At present, they set an example in following a unified arrangement, setting an example and building up ones in their proximity. But there’s that tiny group who simply won’t do it; they are gnostic in the PBS sense, thinking themselves privy to special insight that entitles them here and now to a place of authority. That not being granted, they work to “draw away the disciples” after themselves. (Acts 20:30) Imagine! a crazy system in which anyone can take the lead simply by saying that they should take it! No wonder Luke Johnson says order and unity went right out the window when those guys came around!

Now, the Governing Body whose members take the lead—these members too received their commission through a heavenly calling, “gnostic” in some ways, not in the source, but in that the Bible implants through holy spirit a hope in them not implanted in the bulk of Witnesses. But they are not asked to become a part of that body before a lifetime of humble full-time service, so that their faith is amply testified to and reinforced by their works. Should the need arise to replace someone who has died, the Governing Body looks within the ranks of anointed for one who also has decades of faithful experience. Thus, they combine the gnostic tradition with the orderly tradition. The “gnostic” in their case does not work to divide but to unite.

Instead of division, we have applications such as in the commentary on Ezekiel, Pure Worship of Jehovah—Restored at Last, of the stick of Joseph uniting with the stick of Ephraim. (Ezekiel 37:15-19) The two sticks are to become one. The stick of Joseph can well foreshadow the anointed, for it included the priestly tribe of Judah. The stick of Ephraim was just about everyone else, barring only the Benjamanite tribe. They unite. We may not do type/anti-type as before, but this one fits because the verses themselves find later fulfillment in the Book of Revelation. (compare Ezekiel 37: 26, 27 with Rev 7: 9,15)

The gnostic movement in church history divides. In Witness context, it unites. Can we call the first the “worldly” gnosticism?

A final point on Gnostics from the PBS article was that they're very much interested in getting into the world of spirit, removing themselves from the world of matter.” The worldly gnosticism presents these ones almost as too ethereal to exist shoulder to shoulder with the orderly believers, for they count themselves better Christians and insist upon grabbing the wheel. The gnosticim of the Witness anointed turns disunity into unity, all the while preserving their “interest in the world of spirit.” Let’s face it—there’s no way on God’s green earth that I will ever become one of the anointed, because it is on God’s green earth that my hope lies, as though on one of those back-to-nature camping trips that you wish would never end and in the new system it never will. But the anointed—that just doesn’t register with them. They see it, but it is not the portion of scripture that speaks explicitly to them. Their preoccupation is of “the world of spirit” from which they will comprise a part of Christ’s heavenly rule over earth.

I once asked one of the anointed to fill in for me on a Bible study while I was away. It was a study decades ago with a Czech woman old enough to be my grandmother, and in hindsight she probably regarded me as a grandson. Trust me on this: that Czech woman would NOT have experienced the heavenly calling even had she endured, which she did not.

To her anointed visitor, she told me later how she had offered some cake and coffee, same as she always offered them to me—and they were good, too. “No thank you,” the elderly anointed sister said, “my food is to do the will of him who sent me.”

“It’s theater!” sputtered my exasperated would-be grandma when I saw her the next week. “It’s just coffee and cake! You don’t need to make a speech about it!”

Well, I guess they don’t have coffee and cake in heaven. Much to my surprise, years later I learned that the anointed woman’s fleshly sister, just as faithful, had never believed her sister was really anointed, but was delusional in some way. Everyone else believed she was—reading that into her partaking of the emblems. I suppose that she was, too. But who can say? It is an individual calling, an individual experience. It is always recommended we don’t get too intrusive with them, grilling them on what their anointed experience feels like, for example. Maybe it is for their sake that counsel is given, so that they are content to remain in their present role, and not have people oohing and ahhing over them, that they do not go worldly gnostic on us, carrying on and on about their special commission, demanding their own platforms in the here and now, as well as anointed-only conventions in which to reconnoiter.

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Speaking up for the GB

One quirk of modern times is that there arise people who object to the baptism terms that they must recognise the Witness’s Governing Body to be leading God's people today. As someone explained to me, they agree with all or most of our beliefs & intepretations of scripture, but they don’t want to be part of the offical organisation, for one reason or another. They just disagree with some minor things, be it dates, or intepretations of certain smaller scriptures or meanings of prophecy, but they’re okay with whatever is a "major" doctrine or related to salvation. They’d like to be a baptized Christian holding Witness beliefs, but just don’t want to be connected with an organization.

Would it be okay for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to baptise them with that understanding, allowing the student to make his own conscience decision if they see the Governing Body as the ones to see as their "Slave" or not? Since, after all, we don't baptise people in the name of the GB, we baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the holy spirit?

I think it is telling that the only group holding the beliefs of JWs…(no immortal soul, no trinity, use God’s name, kingdom a real government, everlasting life on earth, why God permits evil, exactly how the ransom works,  preach earth wide, and so forth)…is the group with the Governing Body taking the lead.

 Why aren’t there other groups? Plainly, capable and loyal human leadership is required. As much as we might like to think it is just “Jesus and me,” the fact that there are no such groups with the core doctrines except the one with a cadre of experienced disciples of Christ taking the lead indicates that’s how he leads today. Call it the divine/human interface. It is the “middleman” that cannot be bypassed.

So the GB should be cut out of the picture in the last days when the going gets rough? Wouldn’t that be like opting for a ship with no rudder?

 The Governing Body is the modern day equivalent of “men that have delivered up their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:26) They are the successors of those who brought the truth to us in the first place and apart from them, Bible truth did not survive. We wouldn’t have the truth were it not for them. Nobody outside of the theocratic organization managed to figure it out on their own, a sure indication that Jehovah has blessed their work.

The hypothetical person may be overemphasizing the degree to which Jehovah’s people must walk in lockstep. He has most likely been influenced by opposers who say that with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is “step out of line, the man comes and takes you away.” In fact, all you really have to do is recognize headship. You don’t have to shout from the hilltops matters connected with interpretations of prophesy.

If you can’t fully get your head around something, don’t. It’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘this is the present understanding’ on this or that point. There is a recent table somewhere of beliefs clarified. Unless the end is actually tomorrow, are we to imagine there will never be any more? Opposers scour past publications and seize upon any “flip-flops.”  They look a little silly if they harp on it because it has never been said that such flip-flops don’t occur regarding non-core beliefs. The core beliefs outlined above have held firm for over a century. So maybe whatever this student cannot embrace is one of those lesser things that will one day be clarified.

Nobody gets everything they want. It is in the nature of unity and cooperation that people acquiesce on details they may not grasp or even agree with. Tell the fellow to find someone who agrees with all JW tenets except for that of a human governing body and get one of them to baptize him. Since he will not be able to find such a person, let him ponder the significance of that. It is a “Lord, to whom shall we go?” type of thing. (and the thing the Lord said to trigger that remark was every bit as controversial as what this person worries over today.)

If the hypothetical person has no regard for the Governing Body, then plainly he will have no regard for the command that he ought not be “forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” Thus, to baptize him would be setting him up for certain failure, since the meetings are an essential component of our faith.

Always the sticking point with people will be the divine/human interface. It was certainly true of Moses’ time. And it was even true of the ‘greater Moses,’ the prophet like him that Jehovah was to raise up. There is no indication that Judas thought himself a rebel against God. Perhaps he and God were tight in his estimation—there were no problems there. But that upstart claiming to be the messiah was more than Judas could abide, not at all what he had expected.

Should persons hold out until there is perfection among those taking the lead? If you pray to God for specifics, he may said that he has underlings who can supply those needs—it is enough that he should hear your prayers night and day. If you answer him back that the underlings are imperfect, he will say that you are no great shakes yourself and that you will just have to make do with what is provided. Online I came across such a person who billed himself as “Patiently Waiting for the Truth.” Upon reviewing some of his comments, I dubbed him “Patiently Sitting on my Hands.”

Part of being a Christian is that we acquiesce to not being a collection of loose cannons. Part of being a Christian is that we acquiesce to being “all taught by Jehovah,” as well as nurtured and supported, by his loyal earthly organization.….

When you think of it, is this not exactly what opposers are trying to do in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned there. Only their organization is. Why? Is it not the sure knowledge that a rudderless ship will founder? History testifies that it always does. There is nowhere all the core doctrines of JWs are to be found except in the one with the faithful shepherds.

Cut off the individual Witnesses from their “controlling” organization. That way they can rely upon their own consciences to truly “make the truth their own.” That is the line of the opponents in Russia. It’s a specious argument, superficially plausible It appeals to our sense of independence and pride: that nobody will tell us what to do. But the argument is blind to human nature. It is also blind to the nature of Christianity. ‘Cut off the troops from their support line so they can more easily be scattered or even assimilated’ is the actual motive and reality.

 
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Scholar-Lite—Nothing Infuriates More Those Who Assume Takeover Rights

When the scholars weigh in—after peering and peering the way they do, and don’t present Watchtower history as Watchtower does itself, what to make of this? It is a combination of several reasons, is my guess. de Vienne advances one when she lands such a work on their doorstep and it is met with silence—that they may be just be “incurious as to their own history.” They are doers more than contemplators of the past. They put their eye to the rows and they don’t look back, because the furrows get squirrelly when you do that. There is a plank devoted to such things of history, but it is not the rudder that steers the ship. “No man who has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well-suited for the Kingdom of God,” says the Lord.

Another person advances another reason—that to a certain degree, history is unknowable, written by the victors, modified over the years by those of myriad agendas, and much of the original data is lost forever. Thus, because they are doers more than thinkers, at Bethel they research the past, come up with what seems tight enough, and say (as one local sportscaster used to say) “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” To do otherwise is to yield to thinkers who will not engage in doing if you light a stick of dynamite under them. “God gives his holy spirit to those doing his will,” the verse says, and not so much with those just writing about it. 

It is a scholar-light approach that infuriates scholars too caught up in the supposed ascendancy of their own discipline—scholars who simply assume takeover rights by reason of their being scholars. They get those rights in many venues—and the greater world offers testimony as to what happens when the world’s scholarship runs the show—you would think that would be taken into account by those who carry on about how essential higher education is—but they do not get them in Jehovah’s organization. Once in awhile they even get sent to the doghouse, but only when they howl too much. 

“I have no problem with this,” I say, once I get over the problem I have with it—for I come from a world of ideas, readers, and books. Still, I notice that those ideas don’t add up to much when they are poured into the world vat, and may collectively even bring that world to its knees. I yield to Someone whose ways just might be higher than mine. He gives his spirit to those obeying him as leader. “And we are witnesses of these matters, and so is the holy spirit, which God has given to those obeying him as ruler,” says Acts 5:32. It is the doing that counts.

In general, when I hear any viewpoint of challenge, I look for deeds at least as much as ideas. Frequently, there are none, and the remarks can largely be dismissed on that account. That is my take on what Paul says on the prospect of confronting the self-styled superfine apostles of his day—‘when I see them, I will get to know not just their words—anyone has words and many have a staggering number of them—but I want to get to know their power—their deeds. (1 Corinthians 4:19)

The saying goes that ‘if you can do something, you do it. If you can’t, you critique it.‘ Absent someone’s “power”—their good deeds, their honest track record—why should they be taken too seriously? They are critiquing—and the reason just may be that they are capable of nothing else—they are like inside-the-beltway wonks who majored in “political science”—as though that were scientific. At least Rolf has a track record—how hot it is and what has been allowed to go stone cold was my first initial question about his book—which may not be answerable until I go talk to him.

The saying is often escalated to a usually (though not always) unnecessarily cynical, “and if you REALLY can’t do it, you teach it.” Here we come to Dr. Gene Hwang, who did not fit the pattern. He taught at Cornell, and was for years, among the most published authorities on statistics. His work provides mathematical support for scientists who study gene function. He became a Witness in the late 1990’s.

I speculate in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’ that after a dozen years or so, when he has proved himself stable, he or someone like him is invited to look over Watchtower’s science offerings and contribute an update if he sees fit. Many brothers seem to think that at Bethel, they assign such material to the Witness who did really well in high-school science, straight A’s!—he or she holed up In the Bethel library for a few weeks, and “out came this book!” on creation that blows the cover off evolution. 

No. Plainly it will be someone like Brother Hwang “bringing his gift to the altar” upon invitation. However, will his work silence the critics? You know it won’t. The writings of evolutionists versus those who favor intelligent design would fill multiple libraries. So they take Gene Hwang’s book at Bethel—he is a heavy-hitter—and say: “That’s our story and we’re sticking to it,”—same as they do with history. Do other “scholars” debate their own competing version? “Yeah—well—we’ll see,” they say at Bethel, as they envision a headline in the paper that they have seen so many times before: “Everything You Thought You Knew About Such-and-Such is Wrong!”

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They Are Going to Call it a Cult. You Know They Are. Roll With It.

Let’s have one more go at Brother Glock’s words that good advice from the Witness organization on how to deal with Covid 19 proves that God is working with them. After that, we’ll give it a rest. Enough is enough.

Ida thought maybe it was too over-the-top for him to put it this way. Maybe he should have said: “The advice that the GB are giving is proof that they really apply the scriptures in their life and are allowing...” and so forth. That’s not “proof” either and the same bellyachers that would raise a fuss about the first would raise it no less with the second.

I almost think that “prove” should be stricken from the JW vocabulary. It is one more word that has been redefined to give it a narrow focus that was never before its exclusive definition. “Scientific proof” is all that people think of today—yet if “scientific proof” was the order of the day, the stuff we have, and that of any belief system, would not be called “faith.”

Should Glock be expected to use the word “prove” in the scientific sense? Not hardly. He is a Bible teacher. How does the Bible use the term? The New World Translation uses the word ‘prove’ 46 times. Not one of them is in the scientific sense. Only 2 or 3 is even in the legal sense. Typical are verses like Jesus “sending you out as sheep among wolves; so prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves, (Matt 10:16)

“On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” (Matt 24:44)

“But wanting to prove himself righteous, the man said to Jesus:...” (Luke 10:29)

“My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and proveyourselves my disciples.” (John 15:8)

In fact, since always we hear that this or that must be “approved,” just what is the etymology of “approve?” Does anyone think it suggests scientific proof? Or does it not denote meeting the standards of someone with recognized stature? It is ridiculous that Brother Glock should be taken to task by narrow-minded sticklers for a single application of the word which will almost certainly not be his, nor be the dominant one of history.

Words change. There is no sense grousing about this. “Why so serious?” the Joker says, as he slits another throat. We may have to change on this as well—or just ignore the wordcrafters and put pedal to the medal!

Sometimes I think we should do that with the word “cult.” The word has changed. Rather than resist it, it may be better to embrace the new meaning. Point to the etymology of the word. It stems from the same root as does the word “agriculture,” which literally means “care of the earth.” Ones who care for “the matters of God” would be an appropriate definition for “cult.” I could live with it.

Look, if there really is a cramped road with narrow gate that people are advised to follow, is there any way those on the broad and spacious one are not going to call it a ‘cult?’

Go in through the narrow gate,” Jesus says, “because broad is the gate and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are finding it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) They are going to call it a “cult.” You know they are. Roll with it.

One might even do what the cops did when the radical students began tormenting them with the epithet “pigs”—doubling down when they saw that it got under their skin. Finally, one innovative officer figured that he would work with it:

P - Pride

I - Integrity

G- Guts

S - Service

Can Witnesses do the same? “To the adolescents I became an adolescent,” Paul said, or would have had he thought of it, since he said plenty that was parallel.

C - Courage

U- Unity

L - Love

T - Truth

One does not want to be like my (non-Witness) cousin, who grumbled till her dying day that she could no longer use the word “gay” because the homosexuals had hijacked it. “I’m no prude,” she would day. “If they want to go AC-DC (would she really wink just then?), that’s all right with me. But why couldn’t they invent their own word? Why did they have to take “gay?” She’d go on and on. I used to set her off just to watch the sparks fly. “Ethel, you know what gets me?” I say, “that we can no longer use the word “gay.” “I know!” she’d crank up, and off she’d go for the next quarter-hour.

“She’s just mad that she can no longer speak of going to ‘gay Paree,’” I said to my right-wing brother. But my right wing brother had still not forgiven the French in the aftermath of the “Freedom Fries” fiasco. “Why  can’t she?” he muttered.

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Who is “Jehovah’s Mouthpiece,” Who is “Inspired,” and Who is “Spirit-Directed?”

Q: The Governing Body doesn’t directly write what becomes the spiritual food, does it? Doesn’t the Writing Committee originate it, and they merely put their stamp of approval on it?

A: The defining word here is “merely.”

If my roof caves in tomorrow and I decide that it’s God’s fault, or if I park on the Kingdom Hall lawn, the elders tell me not to, and I say, “Oh yeah?! Well I show you in my next post!”—if I do it at Bethel, the GB will “merely” decline to put their stamp of approval on my rant—they will put me on potato-peeling detail in the kitchen instead, and call up someone from the bullpen less deranged. But if I am a loose cannon on my own blog—there is nothing anyone can do when I go haywire. That’s why I don’t ever expect to be acknowledged for my self-appointed role as an apologist, much less commended for it. Even the real apologists of the early centuries have not fared will at the hands of the writing committee, that tends to focus on things they got wrong.

No, the “merely” is a big deal. It makes for constancy and consistency. Call it a “think tank” at Bethel if you will. It is a concentration of gray hairs and experience, of meeting trials, of knowing they are to be judged for their actions (or inaction), of following up on having brought understanding of the sacred writings to begin with. 

I can just shoot my mouth off here, say whatever pops into my head, insult Vic Vomodog whenever he deserves it (which is almost always), praise the Benoit Blanc movie* even though there is crude language—and perhaps I have never faced a care in the world. But they can’t. 

What are my morals? I could (to borrow from Bob Dylan) “be respectably married—or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aries.” Nobody knows. But the Bethel writers are vetted, not just for being good writers, but for being good Christians. They take it for granted there that if your conduct is sullied, somehow that will come out in your guidance, even if it doesn’t seem to at first glance.

I had a friend that, eccentric though he was, had a gift of making complex things simple—even oversimplifying to drive the point home.  I can still hear him recounting to someone just how it works in Jehovah’s organization: “At Bethel, the Governing Body study their Bibles. An idea will occur to one of them. They will discuss it among themselves and when they all come to agreement, it will appear in print.”

“Now, the thing is,” he continued, “you also study your Bible. The same idea might have occurred to you, maybe even before it occurred to them. ‘And if this were Christendom, you’d run out and start your own religion over it.’  But because you know it is not a free-for-all, and you know that Jehovah is a God of order, you wait for material to come through the appointed channel.”

So if they have called themselves “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” in the past, I can live with that. They have the greatest think tank collection of gray hairs that, per the scriptures, denotes wisdom, of experience in Christian works, in safeguarding and extending the king’s belongings, in knowing the will be held accountable before God. They have the  greatest sense of direction and following up on momentum. One must not do a Miriam and say—“does not Jehovah speak through all of us?” I am happy to have a thought that makes sense—I don’t go thinking I am God’s gift to the brotherhood for it.

The trouble is that there are so many literalists who see the expression “crocodile tears” and take it as proof that the one shedding them is a crocodile. There are so many literalists who do not strive to think of how phrases like “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” might apply, but they strive to think of how they don’t. It is the same with “being led by spirit.” It is almost too explosive a phrase to use because of the literalists—if you go to the bathroom—well—how can you be guided by spirit? since holy spirit would never do THAT!

It’s the same with elders and servants being “appointed by holy spirit.” How do you know they are? To my mind it is because the qualifications are in the Book inspired by holy spirit, and the judgment as to how persons measure up is made by a (small) “think tank” of holy spirit, and seconded by a traveling minister patterned after scripture—another repository of holy spirit. It works for me. But there will be some who think that if an appointee ever goes bad afterwards it must be that they were not appointed by holy spirit. I think not. Any of these terms must necessarily be “watered down” some when put in the context of humans, “in whose heart the inclination to do bad” is ingrained from his youth up.

I think of certain brother appointed upon the recommendation of the BOE. The circuit overseer, an older and very experienced man, okayed the recommendation, with the observation: “He’s not the most humble brother in the world.” He didn’t have to be. All he had to do was to meet each of the qualifications to an acceptable degree. Alas, the CO should have listened to his gut, for the man in time went apostate. He was the one who was a history buff and used to impress the householder by answering, “Because I’m an historian,” when asked how he knew this or that about the past. Once I said to him, “Will you knock it off?! You are a history buff. A historian is when other people acknowledge you, not just you yourself!”

I could be wrong, but I bet the GB has learned to be very leery of such phrases and terms as “mouthpiece” and “inspired” and “spirit-directed”—not just for all the literalists, but for all the critics (who are often the same).  Some things if they say just once, it is magnified 100 times. Other things they say 100 times, only to find it ignored. “Don’t save seats for everyone you know,” they would say about the Regionals, “think of the elderly.” Finally, they gave up, and said to let the elderly in early, and everyone else only after the oldsters were seated. Innumerable directives went unheeded. Yet if they speak just once about “forums,” their words are enshrined for all time. I alluded to this in Tom Irregardless and Me. The organization would say that the Governing Body does not endorse such and such, and the friends would accordingly have a helpful sense of priority and focus. And then Oscar or someone would be found doing it, and Tom Pearlandswine would descend to tell him that the Governing Body DOES NOT ENDORSE!!! such and such. You never know what quote will be magnified and what will be forgotten, but I bet they are advancing on the learning curve.

.....

*Aw, shut up, with your Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl!” the villain says to Benoit Blanc. it’s about time someone said it to me. (Someone just had.) If you see the movie ‘Knives Out’—it is free on Amazon Prime—you must be prepared for a bit of language. It is by no means filthy, by today’s standards—I don’t recall a single f-bomb—but no way is it pristine like in the Kingdom Hall. It is an Hercule Poirot parody, with Daniel Craig playing the Christie-like eccentric, brilliant, and world-renowned sleuth, Benoit Blanc. There is nothing funnier, to my mind, then when he opens his mouth to speak an overbearing combination of French/Southern Redneck accent. He routinely says things that, at first glance are profound, but at second are just plain stupid.

 
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“Just Another Proof that Jehovah is With the Governing Body”

“The good guidance from Jehovah”s Organization during this pandemic is just another proof that Jehovah is with the Governing Body,” said Brother Glockentin. But Vic Vomodog, that perennial apostate, wailed about ‘proof’—how does Glock know what it proves?

Change ‘proof’ to ‘another indication’ and the whole problem goes away. This is much ado about nothing.

As a result of the Governing Body’s direction, Witnesses are all skewed to be COVID 19-cautious. I don’t know what it “proves” but it sure doesn’t prove that they don’t know what they’re doing. The counsel given reflects the wisest balance: ‘Each family head is responsible for his or her own family’ they say, ‘and what is good for one family may not be good for another’. So they are ‘not telling anyone what to do.’ Yet by their own 3-fold advice cord of 1) love of neighbor, 2) obey secular authorities, and 3) don’t be casual about this virus, they nudge all in the direction of the greatest preservation of life.

I don’t know how serious the virus is in the greater scheme of things, and it seems that it will be impossible to tell. Every source spins the data their own way to fit their own cause. I had my annual physical (“Blood pressure’s a little high—you haven’t been on the internet arguing with fatheads, have you?”) and asked the doctor how he and his practice were holding up. “They should have never shut down,” he muttered about New York State. “They didn’t follow the science.” Following the science has now become a buzzword phrase that anyone uses to lambaste the other side. Only the Governing Body can make an announcement about Covid without my saying: “I wonder what their real motive is.”

The counsel becomes more important than the disease itself, for it gives uniform guidance to sail through uncharted and turbulent waters. If Brother Glock want to say that ewents prove God’s backing, I can say, “Well, ‘indicate’ might have been more scientifically precise,” but otherwise I do not lose my cookies over it.

The counsel may prove increasing providential. Pressures from Covid spill over into ever more indications of societal breakdown. Big businesses are saved, as the small fry is wiped out—the economic forces unleashed by Covid 19 will have more repercussions than Covid itself. Ditto for the chaotic unrest unleashed in the wake of BLM protests. No matter who is elected in November, the other side will not accept it. The world is a powder keg ready to blow—and those who think that Brother Glock’s use of ‘prove’ is the REAL issue will think it right down to when the earth swallows them up. 

It may just be that we are soon to experience another application of “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you...until the wrath has passed by.” And should that be the case, I won’t be upset at anything that Brother Glock says it ‘proves.’ I’ll just be glad I took his counsel and cancelled my subscription to The Grousing Times.

...See Part 2: “Do We Really Need a Hashtag, #DontKillGrandma?

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If You Stop to Kick Every Dog That Barks, You’ll Never Get Very Far—On Scholaship, Part 2

(See Part 1)

Q: “There is a rumor that the WTS does not care too much about its past but keeps its focus on the future.” The topic of Rolf’s new book lurks in the background.

I have heard that this is true, yet one quote from Russell that has been faithfully preserved since his death is, “If you stop to kick every dog that barks at you, you’ll never get very far.”

Granted, if someone barks, they may be quick to assume that such person must be a dog—but you would have to excel in scholarship to know otherwise, and as stated, that is not their strong suit, nor should it be. The second thing (the first thing is here) that ‘scholars’ do—I’ve seen plenty of it from people who think themselves learned—is to start quibbling over the Name—this pronunciation is better than that one and since that is the case, maybe it should not be used at all. Scholars reason this way. But if I go to another country and start ragging on the locals every time they botch my name, nobody says, “Whoa! That brother is scholarly!” They say, “What a pin-headed idiot!”

Because the HQ brothers are not scholarly, they are inclined to accept that what is done is done, and what is written is written. Once in awhile someone like Brother Splane comes along, looks it all over, and says, “We’re not doing anti-types anymore!—it’s enough to say ‘this reminds us of that”—maybe because too many have blown up in his face, but for the most part, the past is assumed to be stable past that can be built upon. It’s too bad they’ve tossed aside anti-types because I have a doozy for them. You think it is nothing that Dennis Christensen’s surname points to the one he follows, and his very profession is the same? They are going to twiddle their thumbs on thatone, putting equal significance on the second Russian imprisoned for the faith—Mgoyahen Bloggabodidillyvich? Not to worry, though—some wannabe prophet will pick up and run with it.

I can’t believe how many seem to take for granted that the devil’s gameboard is not rigged, or that his rules of ‘critical thinking‘ should carry the day. They do not see for a moment how flawed the tool is—or perhaps more to the point—how sharp it is on the points for which it has merit, too sharp for its staunch advocates to handle without cutting themselves. It is the words of the prophet Tom Cruise: “You can’t handle the truth!” 

The notion that we are rational creatures is a joke. Of course we aren’t! The heart decides what it want and then entrusts the head to devise a convincing rationale for it. For the most part, people read mainly so as to confirm what they already believe. It is amazing on social media how few are the people who change their minds on anything. Accordingly, for every verse in the Bible about the head, there are ten about the heart. Few of Jesus’ parables would stand up to rigorous critical thought—some of them barely make sense. But they target the heart, which is his goal. 

I also can’t believe how many may be stumbled over what Rulf or any fellow scholar will say—or even what complainers will say. “Well, we could be wrong on that,” I say to almost all of it, and move on. Do they in any case, speak to the fundamental reason that I was attracted to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place? “Finally—a religion where the people at the helm are smart and can be counted upon to say nothing wrong!” Did I say that? Does anyone? Of course not! There was religious truth found no where else, and we soon enough discovered (few did not know it already) that it was carried in earthen vessels. There was a humility found in in few places, not to mention a united brotherhood where the byword was love. This is why whenever persons are ‘stumbled’ over something like Rolf’s input, they are simply seizing on something to justify a decision already made in their heart. Why can’t they just say, “I’m like Demas—I prefer the present system of things?’ Why can’t they say as with from John, “I’m leaving because—I gave it a good whirl—but I’m just not one of their sort?” 

I also note that Rolf has not left the faith, and that he does not declare he intends to. Nor do I take for granted that he will be given the boot, even though he seems think it a foregone conclusion. Maybe—I certainly won’t be shocked if it goes that way—but I’ll take it as a done deal only when it is done.

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Sam Herd and the Brother With the Rotten Attitude

“What did you learn that was new at the 2019 ‘Love Never Fails’ Regional Convention?”

It is a question from a sorehead. It is from a brother in good standing (or at least, not bad) though how that can be I will never know, for a more faultfinding person you will never find—and the faultfinding only escalates as he ventures up the leadership ‘hierarchy,’ since he holds them responsible for whatever he thinks did not work out in his own life. I mean, he doesn’t exactly have a fine attitude.

I know I cannot answer earnestly a question like this, for it will surely be thrown back in my face—it always is. In fact, this may be the type of fellow that I promised the elders I would not engage with again, but since I have no doubt that he truly is a brother—attending meetings and all—I answered him thus:

“I took a great many notes with the intent to write up a post or two that never materialized, crowded out by too many other things to do. It was in between days that I, for the first time ever, blocked several apostates at once as they had, for the first time ever, ganged up on me. They had pierced my up-to-then successful armor of always linking to a post with my replies, effectively answering their 50 words with my 1000.

But like the Borg, they adapted. Like charging a hill, caring not if they got mowed down, they started to came at me anyway. I would return to the hotel from a day at the convention and find a score or more of nastigrams from them, eager to call attention to some unflattering headline somewhere—all this with a wife who wanted to go out to supper or walk or just unwind, and who is not terribly enthused about my online activity in the first place. So I blasted them all away, and for reasons I no longer recall—I must have been watching Star Trek reruns, I drew heavily on that show for symbolism:

What did I learn at the 2019 ‘Love Never Fails’ Regional Convention? I learned that Brother Herd, who may not even know what political correctness is, will never reprove me for ‘fat-shaming.’ He was a keynote speaker, from the Governing Body, and his talks were streamed in from the larger Phoenix gathering he was attending.

Establishing the point that it is the heart that matters, Brother Herd posed the quandary of marrying the woman—an excellent catch—with a heart of pure gold, even though she “clocks in at 200 pounds.” Is this fellow a diplomat or what?

Everybody loves Brother Herd—maybe even more so than Brother Lett, whom some secretly fear may be too over the top. Herd has to be the most humble man on earth. How can he not be? Born to a father in his old age—a mule driver—one of 8 or 9 children, he said at the convention that for the longest time he thought that “a chicken only had a neck and a back because that’s all he ever got.”

Look, outsiders will never ever ever get it about how such a man can become one of the Governing Body, but it harkens back to something I once posted about how the GB is Plato’s dream come true: a monarchy type of governing in which the members are selected by merit, not by family line—and how that model assumes persons who do exist in the overall world—modest, non-materialistic, not power hungry—I mean, those persons do exist, but such are the values of this world that they can never ‘rise to the top.’ In Jehovah’s earthly organization, however, they can and do rise to the top—and part of their very qualifications is that they do not regard themselves as ‘rising to the top’ but only displaying a willingness to serve.

At any rate, I got a lot of mileage out of him when some opposer posted footage of him shaking hands with well-wishers at the airport and tried to spin it that JWs make him an object of worship and that he eats it all up. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about the man knows that he practically scowls at the attention, but what can he do? There they are. They love him. He loves them, so he shakes everyone’s hand. “Imagine: Who would be so nasty and petty to begrudge an old man acknowledging the well-wishing of friends?” I tweeted. It was one of my most liked tweets of all time.

I even have Sam down twice in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’ There is ‘Chapter 2 - Sam Herd’ and ‘Chapter 18 - Sam Herd.’ He had given some talk so humble, and yet so profound, that I used it to bookend my entire book—a book which, incidentally, I am using Covid time to refine a few rough edges out of it, so that anyone who has downloaded it might download it again and find it smoother.

He is not even a good speaker, really—Sam Herd isn’t—but he is such a captivating story-teller that it doesn’t matter. His stories are so down-to-earth, so human, so involved in the day-to-day of life—very much like Jesus’ illustrations—so connected with all that is ‘real’ about life, that he doesn’t have to spin erudite talks; his stories are such that everyone grasps the moral that he nowhere explicitly states.

“One thing is clear about jw.org,” a local brother said. “They don’t use paid actors.” No. You will never find people as unvarnished and real as are members of the Governing Body. You do not highlight people’s strengths. You highlight their weaknesses, though not in a fault-finding way, because in those weaknesses can be found God’s strength. If brilliant people accomplish brilliant things—well, it is easy to see why. But if decidedly non-brilliant people accomplish those things, it is not so easy to see why, and the credit goes to God. Three times the apostle Paul pleaded with God to remove a weakness. ‘Nothing doing,’ God replied. ‘I look better when you are a clod.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

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If You’re Going to Bewail Manipulation, Bewail it Where it Counts

The speaker’s wife gave one of the first comments at the Watchtower Study—on the very first paragraph. It sort of fit, since the theme was on making wise decisions and following through. Still, she ‘shoehorned’ it in a bit—it wasn’t a perfect fit. She said how she had not been manipulated to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—it had been her own choice and one that she did not regret.

Well, who said that she had been manipulated?—that’s why the comment had an artificial flavor to it—the paragraph itself contained no hint of it. Furthermore, pushing the limits of the 30-second goal for comments, put in place so that no one loquacious person steals the show, she found it the stupidest notion in the world for anyone to suggest that. Manipulation? How ridiculous.

Plainly, someone had thrust that idea at her recently, maybe some sorehead that she had run across at work or among the neighbors—that it is no more than manipulation with Jehovah’s Witnesses—that’s why they believe and act as they do. It is the classic technique of the mainstream bully—to assert that one couldn’t possibly depart from the ordinary unless they had been manipulated to do so, and “unfairly” manipulated at that—had the “manipulation” been in that bully’s direction, there would be no problem with it.

You can apply this to anything. The reason you bought a Chevy is that you were manipulated by their ads. The reason you cheered for the 49ers is that you were manipulated by San Francisco. The reason you went to college is that you were manipulated by the guidance counselor. The reason that you died for your country is that you were manipulated by that country to think the cause noble—nobody of any other country thought so.

Really, Jehovah’s Witnesses least fit the accusation of manipulation, because they, unlike the above examples, represent persons who were actively searching—they were anything but moldable pieces of dough. They were dissatisfied with the status quo, dissatisfied with where life was heading, dissatisfied with the goals society set before them, and they took upwards of a year looking over a new model, weighing and trying it on for size, before committing to it. All this was done in familiar surroundings without leaving trusted routine—as opposed to the above examples of college and military, in which one is immersed 24/7 in unfamiliar settings, a classic tool of manipulators.

Well, if you are going to talk manipulation, talk it with something that counts. That’s why I liked Mark Sanderson kicking back at the petty application of manipulation with a major one. In his annual meeting talk about not being fearful, he quoted Hebrews 2:15, that “through [Jesus’] death [God] might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil, and that he might set free all those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.”

Sanderson cited the Nuremberg trials, in which various Nazis who had committed unspeakable atrocities were asked the simple question, “How could you do those terrible things?” “What did they say?” he asked, and then related the answer they had given: “We had no choice. If we didn’t obey they would put us to death.”

“Those people could be manipulated,” Sanderson said. “They could be controlled. They could be made to do the most wicked things because they were afraid.” Exactly! If you are going to bandy about words as “manipulate” and “control,” don’t trivialize the terms—do it with an example that matters! Don’t do it with an example of choosing this life course or that life course, neither of which will extend beyond 80 years. Do it with the example of control and manipulation that will gain you the reputation of a mass murderer to last throughout all time. Maybe that’s why the resurrection of the dead was one of the first Christian teachings to come under attack, even during the time of the apostles; the teaching thwarted the goal to keep people afraid so that you can make them do what you want.

Was it coincidence for Sanderson to speak as he did or did it represent kicking back at these petty people who put all their stock in the here and now, equating acting by faith as “control” and “manipulation?” I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.

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Sputnik and 1957: Fearful Sights and from Heaven Great Signs?

For a brief time, Mike Tussin was a roommate of mine. He drove me nuts in taking literally the admonition to read God’s Word “in an undertone day and night.” In time, he learned that he had better not do it in my presence. I logged some of his exploits in No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.

He was one of the most squirrelly characters that you will ever hope to meet, and yet—people are a mix—he had the most telling common sense, knack for nailing aspects of human nature (though mixed with an odd naïveté), no fear whatsoever of man, and the ability to simplify the complex. I can hear him now explaining to someone or other just how it worked with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, composed of anointed Christians. This would have been in the early 1970s.

They study and study their Bibles and one of them notices a point and discusses it with the others. They continue to turn it over and over. If their discussion reaches the point of agreement, that idea finds its way into the Watchtower—that’s how God’s people are fed spiritually today.

“Now, in your own personal study, you may have noticed that point, too, maybe even before they did. And if this was Christendom, you’d go out and start your own religion over it.” 

He captured it. I like the idea of ‘They’re not the only people who can think’ as well as the notion of waiting on headship and not running ahead. Present your idea, but if it doesn’t get adopted, don’t lose your cookies over it. The ship cannot sail in every direction at once.

Rumor has it that Sputnik came up for discussion at the Bethel table after 1957, but it was aborted before takeoff. Might that date not be a milestone in the last days stream of time commencing with the outbreak of World War I in 1914–a year marking the first time in history that the entire world went to war at once? Throw in the greatest plague of history, the Spanish flu of 1917, the colossal food shortages that always accompany colossal war, and viola!—one is powerfully reminded of Luke 21:10:

Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”

Might 1957 Sputnik mark a mighty exclamation mark in “fearful sights and great signs from heaven?” It certainly scared the bejeebers out of the Americans, and within 3 years President Kennedy declared that the US would not play second fiddle to the Russians. They would join—and so make it—a “space race” by sending a man to the moon.

It is worth a simulated launch, I guess—presenting the idea at Bethel—three GB members batted about the idea, I’m told, but I’m glad that it blew up on the pad. The “fearfulness” would have been lost on most people. Did the race have military implications? Relatively few catch the implications of anything. They take it at face value, as it was popularly repackaged just a few years later:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!

On a flight to Damascus, Bill had a vision of such. Some strange fellow that he probably took for an angel presented the idea to him right there as he was riding in the Shatner seat. Like Saul, it disoriented him completely for a time, and the other passengers heard of the disturbance, sure enough, but witnessed nothing themselves.

As a boy, I never once trembled when they launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral. I always took it in the spirit of advancing technology, advancing exploration, and so forth. It’s one of the few major accomplishments of men that has NOT been quickly put to military use—though that could ever change—the way that airplanes were. No sooner had they been invented then they were strafing the towns of Europe and dogfighting each other in the skies.

In contrast to 1957, World War I was not only perceived by just about everyone, but it was instantly perceived as a negative. Probably that’s what the other GB members pointed out, sending the three Bethel “astronauts” pitching the notion hurtling off like Darth Vader in his crippled craft, careening off to the pantry for a donut or two.

Hmm. Maybe an update could incorporate robocalls from the cloud. What year did they begin? Truly, they cause men to raise their faces and curse the heavens. Truly, they too, are instantly perceived as a great evil, as any time-share owner in the Everglades knows.

You know, as I read the 1960 speech, I can see how the idea might come up for discussion at Bethel. Despite my innocuous take expressed about it—a take that has mostly played out (but may someday not)—there certainly were military overtones—overtones that just might make some tremble—in JFKs speech rallying Americans to support a moon launch. Everything must be considered in its own historical context. I’ve added italics to his words that play this way:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? 

“We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Yes, you could read a measure of terror into that speech if you were of a mind to, though I did not as a boy. The President says: “Space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.”

What are the chances of that happening?

 

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