Tweeted Richard Dawkins one fine day (11/13/19): “You could easily spot any Religion of Peace. Its extremist members would be extremely peaceful”
Can it be? Is Richard Dawkins referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses—universally known for being “extremely peaceful” yet declared “extremists” in Russia? If so, I will take back the relatively few bad things I have said about him.
I have not really said THAT many bad things about him. At times, I have even been complimentary. When he blessed the atheist buses rolling out in London, I said that he raised a good point—his was a reaction to existing “hellfire’ buses, with advertising from the church. He did wuss-out, though, with a: “There probably is no God.” Probably?
It wasn’t until I began following him on Twitter, though, that I noticed how breathtakingly contemptuous he was toward anyone who disagreed with him—not merely about God, but also on geopolitical things—and then I did say a few mean things. For example, I said of him that “he does not suffer fools gladly, and a fool is anyone who disagrees with him.”
However, he has largely repented over this online meanness. I’ve noticed it over the months. He has not banished it entirely, but it is much less prevalent, so that I regret that I ever said what I did.
The temptation to be disdainful of opponents is well-nigh irresistible, particularly if you think that they are willfully choosing ignorance. I have (more or less) mastered the temptation, of course, but I have a source of effective and unending counsel that he does not.
This is no more concisely stated than it was at a recent Watchtower Study. A Bible verse considered how we ought “do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) Practically speaking, this advice is not easy to implement. It may even strike one as nonsensical—how can everyone be superior to everyone else? Said that Watchtower: “The humble person acknowledges that everyone is superior to him in some way.—Phil. 2:3, 4.”
Of course. In some way everyone is superior to everyone else. Search for that way, hone in on it like a laser beam, and it will not be so difficult to treat even opponents with respect. “Disagree without being disagreeable” is the catchphrase today.
But Professor Dawkins does not have this advantage. Much of his tradition would sway him in just the opposite “survival of the fittest” direction. So he must be given credit for his new, somewhat softer, online personality. Possibly someone who has his best interests at heart—perhaps his wife—said, “Richard, you sure do come across as a cantankerous crank on Twitter,” and he deliberately walked it back. It’s commendable.
Now, I don’t think Richard had Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind with his tweet. He probably has formed his views of them through the contributions of their “apostate” contingent, and those views could hardly be blacker. I looked down among his comments to see whether any of those nasties had reared their heads. Perhaps here was an example:
“Not entirely true. Extremists usually have their own misinterpretation of scriptures.”
I responded to this one: “If “misinterpretation” results in a religion of peace, perhaps it is not a misinterpretation after all. Perhaps the mainline view is a misinterpretation.” Is that not a no-brainer?
Another one, disagreeing with the above tweet: “Actually no. Most extremists do exactly what is written in their book. ‘Misinterpretation’ is used as an argument by believers that cherry pick morals that fit our secular ethics today.”
I know this type, too. This is the type that finds slavery in the Bible or war in the Old Testament and rails at the “hypocrisy.” I responded to this fellow as well:
“Everything has a historical context and to deliberately ignore such context is to be intellectually dishonest. If our side does it to theirs, we never hear the end of it.”
He blew up at this reference to context. Evil is evil, he carried on, across all places and time-frames. These characters are very predictable—you could even write their lines for them and not be too far off.
Has “critical thinking” made us all nincompoops? It was once thought the most intelligent thing in the world to consider historical backdrop; one was irresponsible, even deceitful, not to do it. Very well. If he is going to trash, with blinders affixed, the source that I hold dear, I will do the same with his source:
“You should turn your critical thinking skills upon Ancient Greece, the definer of it. When time travel is invented, history revisionists will give a friendly wave to American slaveholding forefathers as they race back in time to fetch wicked Greek pedophiles—it was an enshrined value of that world—back in irons.”
He was not chastened by this. Hijacking Twitter as his personal courtroom, he cross-examined:
“Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
I countered: “Is the raping of children as endorsed by Ancient Greek society morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
Incredibly, he was not dissuaded. “Last chance!” he shot back. “Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
“To the blockheads, I became a blockhead.”—Paul (sort of) —1 Corinthians 9:19-22,” I tweeted back: “Two can play the game of obstinacy. Last chance: Is the rape of children—it was enshrined in Ancient Greek society—morally acceptable? Yes or no?”
Then I went away, and when I came back, he had deleted all this tweets so that it was hard for me to reconstruct the thread. However, someone else had pointed out a grave sin I had committed:
“Thomas you are guilty of the moral equivalence fallacy.” Am I? I suppose. You can sort of guess by the wording just what that phrase means—I had not heard it before. At least it is in English. I once heard a theologian quip that if there is a Latin phrase and a perfectly clear English phrase that means the same thing, always use the Latin phrase so people will know that you are educated. But my “moral equivalence fallacy” is still is no more than considering historical context, a praiseworthy intellectual technique for all time periods except ours.
Besides, I actually had posted something about slavery long ago. But it is not a topic so simple that it can be hashed out in a few tweets, and so I declined to go there with this fellow, who would debate all the sub-points. If God corrected every human injustice the moment it manifested itself, there would be nothing left. The entire premise of the Bible is that human-rule is unjust in itself and that God allows a period of time for that to be clearly manifested before bringing in his kingdom—the one referred to in the “Lord’s prayer”—to straighten it all out. In the meantime, the very ones who work themselves into a lather at religion “brainwashing” people are livid that God did not brainwash slavery away once humans settled upon it as a fine economic underpinning.
If Dawkins’s tweet and my response hangs around long enough before burial in the Twitter feed, I would expect some of our malcontents to observe as they did in Russia, where the only evidence of extremism cited is proclaiming “a religious view of supremacy.” Huge protest will come at how Jehovah’s Witnesses practice shunning and thus “destroy” relationships and even family. But views inevitably translate into consequences and policies. Refusal to “come together” with those who insist on diametrically opposed views is hardly the “extremism” of ISIS—and yet the Russian Supreme Court has declared that it is, with the full backing in principle of those from the ex-JW community—the ones who go crusading, which is perhaps 10%.
I’m going to write this up as a post and append it to his thread. Let’s see what happens. Probably nothing, but you never know.
Plus, let’s expand on that particular Watchtower some more. The particular article covered was entitled: “Jehovah Values His Humble Servants” (September 2019 issue—study edition)
Unlike nearly all religious services, Witness meetings are ones that you can prepare for. You can comment during them. They are studies of the sacred book, not just impromptu rap sessions, acquiescencing to ceremony, or sitting through someone else’s sermon. You can prepare for them, and you are benefited, as in any classroom, when you do. The focus here, as it so often is, is on practical application.
Humility draws persons to us. Haughtiness repels them, and thus makes next to impossible the mantra to “come together.”
My own comment, when the time was right, was that haughty people can only accomplish so much—it may be a great deal, for haughty people are often very capable people—but eventually they run up against the fact that nobody else can stand them, and so people are motivated to undercut their ideas, even if they are good ones, out of sheer payback for ugliness. Humble people, on the other hand, may be far less capable individually, but their efforts add up. They know how to cooperate and yield to each other in a way that haughty people do not.
Someone else on that Dawkins thread, an amateur wit, played with that them of unlikely extremists: “Jehova's witnesses are peaceful but their extremists are better extremely annoying...”
Why fight this? It is a viewpoint. Viewpoints are not wrong, because they are viewpoints—right or wrong doesn’t enter into the equation. Better to roll with it. I was indeed on a roll, and so I tweeted back:
“I will grant that they can be. Still, if you had a choice between a team of JWs approaching your door and a team of ISIS members, you would (hopefully) choose theformer. Those 2 groups, and only those 2 groups are officially declared “extremist” in Russia.”
And with that, I included a link to my ebook, “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” I am shameless in that. No matter how many books I sell, it is not enough. I don’t sell them, anyway. The book is free, a labor of love. It is an application of the theme: “If you have something important to say, don’t hide it behind a paywall.” It is the only, to my knowledge, complete history of events leading up to and beyond the 2017 ban of the Witness organization in Russia.
As to the latest developments there, another one was herded off to prison, who, making the best of a sour situation, or perhaps genuinely finding value there, said: "I want to thank … prosecution. I don't just thank you, but thank you very much, because thanks to you my faith has become stronger … I see I'm on the right path."
Of course. It is unreasonable to oppose so vehemently a people totally honest, hard-working, and given to peace—and yet the Bible says that such will exactly happen. How can it not serve to strengthen faith?