A Review of the Movie Apostasy. Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two worlds from which to choose. The Book describes the one to come, everlasting life on a paradisiac earth made possible when God’s kingdom truly comes “on earth, as it is in heaven,” as the prayer says. It is the “real” life of 1 Timothy 6:19. Some translations call it the “true” life. Jehovah’s Witnesses, without too much fuss, know how to delay instant gratification in this life so as to lay hold of the “real” one. Their anti-cult detractors readily concede that delaying instant gratification is a good thing, but will protest that this is going too far.

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

“To his followers, Jesus says “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.” It is a saying that makes no sense at all until it is taken as an indication that they must be on the right track for it to be said of them, for “as they have hated me, so will they hate you.” Beyond all question, whatever is done by the Witness organization is done for Jesus’s sake. They are accustomed to showing the gem through its most appealing facet. Let them learn, if need be, to show it through its least appealing one. It is the same gem.

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

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

The situation resembles the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He is probably making lemonade out of lemons, but it is lemonade all the same, not Kool-Aid at all: “True, some are preaching the Christ through envy and rivalry, but others also through goodwill. The latter are publicizing the Christ out of love….but the former do it out of contentiousness….What then? [Nothing,] except in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being publicized, and in this I rejoice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A (sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy' - Part 2

There is also a line from a certain review: “Alex thumbs a pamphlet of “kids who died for Jehovah,” knowing that she might have to do the same.”

Now, I know Watchtower publications pretty well and the only one I can think of that could be characterized this way is an Awake magazine from the 1990s. Possibly it was later included into some sort of brochure form. I wrote about it in an excerpt from another post:

I also thought it well to take a look at that May 1994 Awake quote which Matt uses to advance the notion JW youths are dropping like flies for their transfusion refusals:

“In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.”

Not that I accuse Matt of anything devious. I've no doubt he used the quotation in good faith. It's likely from a web source purporting to be informative, but in reality existing only to denigrate a faith its  author detests, trying to make JWs look as fanatical as possible, and doing so for philosophical reasons, rather than anything having to do with medicine or lives. So is the statement taken out of context or not?

It's a little difficult to tell, for there is no context. The quote is a one-line blurb on the magazine's table of contents designed to pique interest in the articles to follow. The articles to follow describe the cases of five Witness youngsters in North America. Each was admitted into a hospital for aggressive cancer or leukemia. Each fought battles with hospitals, courts, and child welfare agencies determined to administer blood against the patient's will. Each eventually prevailed in court, being recognized as “mature minors” with the right to decide upon their own treatment (though in two cases, a forced transfusion was given prior to that decision). Three of the children did die. Two lived. It's rather wrenching stuff, with court transcripts and statements of the children involved, and those of the participating doctors, lawyers, and judges. In no case do you get the sense that blood transfusions offered a permanent cure, only a possible prolonging of life, ideally long enough for some cure to be discovered (which has not yet happened). One of the children, who did die, was told that blood would enable her to live only three to six months longer, during which time she might “do many things,” such as “visit Disney World.” There's little here to suggest that “thousands of youths are dying for putting God first” who would otherwise live. Frankly, I think the quote is sloppily written. “They are still doing it,” says the quote. Doing what? Dying? Dying in the thousands? Or putting God first without regard for the immediate consequences?

...

A side of the JW transfusion stand not generally known is that, due to it, certain doctors went on to pioneer the field of ‘bloodless medicine,’ which accommodates (rough and conservative guess) about half of the cases in which blood transfusion is said to be required. Moderating the remaining half is that many times such a need is overstated. I personally know three individuals who were told point blank that they needed a transfusion and would die without one. None acquiesced. None died. None of this is to say it has not happened. It is only to say that it is overblown.

As a young girl, my wife received a blood transfusion for a nosebleed. (And, no, she has never been viewed, or viewed herself, as “tainted,” another insinuation of the film) This sort of “topping off the tank” would almost certainly not be done today, and it is partly due to Witnesses’ refusal that transfusion therapy has been recognized as not the risk-free endeavor that it was once portrayed as.

It turns out that ‘bloodless medicine,’ where it is applicable, offers a huge safety margin over transfusion therapy. This has been documented many times, such as here in New Scientist (prompting some to declare New Scientist ‘not really’ a science magazine, since it published something they didn’t like). Bloodless medicine has now been added to the toolbox of many hospitals, and due to its greater safety and economy is often the preferred option. Is the day coming, or has it long since passed, when the number of lives saved through bloodless medicine dwarfs those lost by a relatively tiny group which, amidst huge opposition, stuck to its principles?

(See 'A (sort of) Review of the Movie "Apostasy" - Part 1)


A (Sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy'

I have not seen the movie Apostasy, which seemingly makes me ineligible to comment on it. Perhaps I will in time. Partly offsetting that lack is that I am a 45-year active member of the religion featured, and thus have more familiarity of the topic than even the filmmaker. Nor do I feel that I have to see the movie to judge its overall merit. I accept from the other reviewers that it is well crafted and acted.

It is a wrenching time anywhere when an offspring departs from the moral principles in which he/she has been raised. As an ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain. That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain its deeply-held moral principles through decades of time without it.

I vividly remember circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or  otherwise, was pretty much the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have not come around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

Not everyone will say that greater society is ever on an upward trajectory, with each new development representing an advance. Some will maintain that the overall pattern more closely resembles a death spiral. In a pluralistic society, it must be ‘to each his own.’ Yet, it is not true that if you fail to train your children, they will grow up free and unencumbered, and, when of age, select their own values from the rich cornucopia of life. No. All it means is that someone else will train them.

I have not discerned if the older daughter’s sex-outside-of-marriage, which triggered disfellowshipping, is presented as ‘apostasy.’ Plainly, it is not. Apostasy is a decisive, usually public, repudiation of one’s previously held religious beliefs, which is entirely different than merely falling short of them. All religious denominations have their ‘apostates.’ Those of Jehovah’s Witnesses are more vehement than most because the faith they depart from takes more decisive stands. There is not a New Testament writer who does not address, often at length, the subject of apostasy. Is it only in the religious world that such matters causes division? When Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the President, are we to imagine that her Republican dad (if he is) says: “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind. It won’t affect holiday cheer, though”?

What is possibly left unstated in the film is that the door that is closed is never locked. About a third (a rough guess) of those disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses are eventually reinstated and become quite active once more. There are plenty of single-parent families within Jehovah’s Witnesses, a circumstance that comes about in any number of ways, including that of the oldest daughter. Other disfellowshipped ones will conclude that the faith just didn’t work out for them and move on. Still others will have the rough sense that if you are caught cheating in the card game and refuse thereafter to mend your ways, it is not a surprise to find yourself ejected. But others will not get over the hurt they may feel, which can be deep, and thereafter work to call attention to what they perceive is a great wrong. It is part of the world we live in and must be accommodated. Sometimes people simply want to be heard. Nevertheless, nobody should imagine that the filmmaker is impartial. Nor am I. Nor, if we are honest, are many people about anything.

As to the second daughter portrayed as a victim to the Witnesses' stand on blood transfusion, just once I would like to hear that the same group that avoids transfusion also avoids alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco use, and even war participation, making it by far one of the ‘safest’ religions out there.

It is an irreligious world that increasingly prevails today. There is no sense pining for the ‘good old days’ when it did not. Some will think that the good days are just arriving. One must operate in the reality that is. Still, when the third daughter in the Jewish ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ family was shunned for doing something that would not cause shunning among Jehovah’s Witnesses, I recall no condemnation of the Jewish faith for that reason.

(See 'A (sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy' - Part 2)

IMG_0548 (1)


Do (Fill in the Blank) and the Terrorists Have Won!

I always thought it was a stupid line that "the terrorists are trying to disrupt our way of life." It never made sense to me.

220px-Siege_movie_poster

If anything, I figured the exact opposite was true. They DO NOT want to disrupt the way of life of those they would attack. They want them to continue to walk about as bowling pins, all the easier to knock down.

Sure enough, it was only a matter of time before car dealers and the like were exhorting the public to keep carrying on as before - why if they alter their consumer way of life, the terrorists have won!

But I never actually knew where the stupid slogan came from. Until last night. I saw The Seige movie from 1998 on TV. On a hunch, I checked out Denzel Washington's retort to the general about the terrorists winning.

It was the filmmaker's line! The slogan comes from Hollywood! It is from BEFORE the pandemic of actual terrorist attacks. Not from anyone who actually knows anything! It is just a story! Who would have thought?

An online movie summary includes: "[Denzel] Washington's character, FBI agent Anthony Hubbard, struggles as the fight against terrorism takes over the city. He's the first to introduce the 'terrorists have won' rhetoric."What if what they really want is for us to herd children into stadiums like we're doing and put soldiers on the street and have Americans look over their shoulders - bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit?' he asks in a furious tirade. "'We do that and everything that we have bled and fought and died for is over."

Oh, sure! Motley terrorists huddled back home green with envy over the hedonistic society abroad, rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of screwing up their Constitution! Now THERE'S a cause to die for!

A lot of stupid stuff originates with the 'furious tirades' of make-believe movie characters! And what does this tell us about the pundits who reiterate this wisdom? Where do they have their thinking forged? What serves for their 'sources?'

Pass the popcorn, please.


It Is Fake News! People, Can't We Just Move On?

Hollywood bought my proposal and now my fame is assured! I have been trying to break in as a writer for years.

The movies that end with the whistleblower testifying before IMPORTANT people and the mighty press finally publishing THE TRUTH - foiling the villains who have been raising mayhem throughout the plotline trying to prevent that from happening? All those movies are ridiculously dated and must be rewritten and I have convinced the entertainment industry that I am the man for the job.

It is a piece of cake - it requires just an addendum that can be attached to all films.

The morning after, whoever has been fingered says: "It is Fake News! People, can we just move on?" No harm done.

Barnstar_Whistleblower

photo: Barnstar Whistleblower


Lord of the Flies with Females - How would they act?

Sometimes you have to do a brain dump so things do not back up. There is much to provoke thoughts, lately.

For example, astronomers have spotted an asteroid which will make the closest approach ever to earth. Is this reason to take cover, as timid ones have suggested? No! Rise to the occasion. This is your moment. 

Knock it out of the park! Batter UP!!

They have also pointed out that daylight hours have been receding - so gradually that many do not notice. Their inattention will kill them, as some Bible verse says somewhere or ought to. This could be a worse crisis than global warming. Act now! Do not wait until it all disappears - when it will be too late.

On the movie front, two men have proposed an update of Lord of the Flies, that film where boys stranded on a desert island went savage, with an all-female cast. "Women wouldn't act that way!" critics have cried.

Question: How would they act? One moment while I take cover. Or maybe I'll just step into the path of that asteroid.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/31/all-female-lord-flies-remake-faces-backlash-misses-point-women/


Inside Job ....the Movie

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Matt damonMatt Damon wants to interview me. ME! He'll autograph one of his pictures, and (blush) he'll probably want one of my own. After all, he's reached the top of his field and I've reached the top of mine.
 
 But wait! Matt Damon is interviewer for a movie called Inside Job. Inside Job
About root causes of the 2008 financial collapse! [the one replaying in Europe at this writing] Aren't you worried he may ask embarrassing questions?
 
Nah! He's just a dumb actor. What does he know? I'll razzle-dazzle him. He may be good at pretending to be a successful person, but I'm the real thing! He'll be thrilled to meet me. Not a problem. I'll generously grant him a few minutes of my time.
 
But it turns out that Mr. Damon's not so dumb after all. Plus he's a quick study. Plus he's been coached by the best. It's just my guess, but I think the filmmaker used him as bait, to lure in unsuspecting hotshots. You never see his face, just like in the old days when you never saw a newspersons's face....before they immodestly decided that they themselves were also news and so had to have their mugs on screen. But with Mr. Damon, it's back to the old ways...you never see him, you only hear his voice.
 
And if Glenn Hubbard [chief economic adviser to the Bush administration, and Dean of Columbia Business School] fell for the Damon bait, I've no doubt he's lived to regret it! “This is not a deposition, sir,” the cornered Hubbard huffs, getting hot under Damon's unrelenting questions. “I was polite enough to give you time, foolishly, I now see. But you have three more minutes. Give it your best shot!”
 
I knew he was toast the moment he said it! If only I could have warned him! Words like that don't work. I know, because years ago I used those exact same words on Mrs. Sheepandgoats when she was ragging on about some shortcomings she imagined I had. It's amazing what a woman can do in three minutes!
 
But Mr. Hubbard is not the film's villain. Not by any stretch. He has a role, but it's only a tiny one. He's in a cozy “you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours” society, that's all, which nets him a good chunk of change. ($100,000 to testify in defense of a couple hedge fund managers, who were nonetheless convicted of fraud) But that's very small potatoes compared to the massive misdoings that Inside Job lays bare. All the really big fish were smart enough to lay low...they weren't taken in by any 'oh boy!....lets talk to Matt Damon!' ploy. They have enough dough to buy and sell a hundred Matt Damons.
 
With patient clarity, Inside Job lays out what led up to financial disaster in 2008. “This crisis was not an accident,” the film asserts. “It was caused by an out-of-control industry. Since the 1980s, the rise of the U.S. financial sector has led to a series of increasingly severe financial crises. Each crisis has caused more damage, while the industry has made more and more money.”
 
Back in the day, the film explains, if you wanted to buy a house, you approached a bank for a loan. That's what I did. And then for the next 'what seemed a lifetime' you'd pay off your mortgage. The bank was careful loaning you money, because it was their money. They wouldn't loan it if they thought you might not pay it back. Isn't that simple? It had been that way forever.
 
But starting in the 1980's investment banks went public, raising millions from the stock market, and came up with new ideas to make money. Since Americans had never defaulted on their mortgages....I mean, who wants to lose their home?...even in times of crisis, it was the absolute last expense one would renege on......why not buy those mortgages from whoever wrote them, then sell them to investors in the stock market, reaping a fat commission on the way? Of course, no investor's going to buy a single mortgage, but if you bundled them up several thousand at a time, then it became something people would invest in! Brilliant! Profitable! A win-win! Well.....maybe not that last adjective. Does anyone see the flaw?
 
See, the mortgage writer held that mortgage for only a short time. He sold it to an investment bank straight away, who also held it only a short time. The bank put it on the stock market for individual investors to purchase. So, in time, it occurred to these two middlemen that they needn't worry too much about whether the mortgage could be repaid, so long as they could stick it to some investor further down the line, who was removed from the original translation and might just assume it was sound investment! Especially if outside authorities....call them rating agencies....like Moody's, Fitch, and S&P....assured them that those investments were absolute rock-solid. Rating agencies did just that! After all, they drew their fees from those very same investment banks bundling the mortgages, and money blinds people. If they ever came to have misgivings as the mortgage quality deteriorated, they chose to look the other way. Such investments enjoyed the highest ratings right up until they crashed.
 
And crash they did. Enticed by fat commissions, and over the span of two decades, it became easier and easier to get a mortgage. People could do it with limited income, sometimes even with no income, since it got so that oftentimes nobody bothered to check if the applicant was creditworthy or not. Home prices began rising so quickly that people would buy one, even if they couldn't quite afford it, with the notion that they could flip it for a big profit in just a few months!
 
Here's Alan Sloan, senior editor of Fortune Magazine, interviewed by Inside Job:
 
“A friend of mine, who, who's involved in a company that has a big financial presence, said: Well, it's about time you learned about subprime mortgages. So he set up a session with his trading desk and me; and, and a techie, who, who did all this – gets very excited; runs to his computer; pulls up, in about three seconds, this Goldman Sachs issue of securities. It was a complete disaster. Borrowers had borrowed, on average, 99.3 percent of the price of the house. Which means they have no money in the house. If anything goes wrong, they're gonna walk away from the mortgage. This is not a loan you'd really make, right? You've gotta be crazy. But somehow, you took 8,000 of these loans; and by the time the guys were done at Goldman Sachs and the rating agencies, two-thirds of the loans were rated AAA, which meant they were rated as safe as government securities. It's, it's utterly mad.”
 
They were called CDOs, “collateralized debt obligations.”
 
Didn't I write here back in 2008 about a couple of “douchebags” (not my word) who made a fortune writing “toxic” mortgages like this? Eventually, word got out that, contrary to the theorists, that people were defaulting in droves, and the entire market crashed.
 
But there's more. By 2006, the big investment banks realized the CDOs they sold were risky and might fail, so they began buying insurance, called credit default swaps, (CDS) from AIG Insurance, so that they would reap a profit if the CDO's really did go bust. Obviously, they stopped selling those toxic CDOs, right? Nope. All the while they continued to market CDOs as a high-quality investment! Meanwhile, they continued to buy CDSs till it dawned on them that AIG itself might go bust (which did happen). So they insured against even that! Is it any wonder I launched my ill-fated service presentation about “big-time bankers?”
 
But wait! Could all this possibly happen under the watchful eye of regulators? Again and again, Inside Job reveals how regulators saw all this developing....and did nothing. One such regulator, a former Fed banker, is convulsed with the worse case of the stammers I've ever seen trying to explain his role to Matt Damon:
 
“So, uh, again, I, I don't know the details, in terms of, of, uh, of, um – uh, in fact, I, I just don't – I, I – eh, eh, whatever information he provide, I'm not sure exactly, I, eh, uh – it's, it's actually, to be honest with you, I can't remember the, the, this kind of discussion. But certainly, uh, there, there were issues that were, uh, uh, coming up.”
 
 
 
There's not just bad guys in the film. There's good guys too. And one of the good guys is someone we've long thought was a bad guy, after initially thinking him a good one! Elliot Spitzer! SpitzerI have a whole blog category about him, which I was about to phase out, until this movie hit the screens. He was New York's governor for a short time, the state's potential saviour (and does it ever need one). Almost single-handedly, as New York's attorney general, he took on these defrauders himself. He had to do it almost single-handedly, because nobody else would co-operate. Says he in the film: “The regulators didn't do their job. They, they had the power to do every case that I made when I was state attorney general. They just didn't want to.” It arguably was not even Spitzer's business, or at least not his mainline business, for Wall Street dealings came first under the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange commission. (SEC) But they so glaringly neglected the job, that Elliot Spitzer stepped in.
 
“There is a sensibility that you don't use people's – uh, personal vices in the context of Wall Street cases, necessarily, to get them to flip. I think maybe it's, after the cataclysms that we've been through, maybe people will reevaluate that. I'm, I'm not the one to pass judgment on that right now.”
 
There's also Kristin Davis, Kristin daviswho ran a prostitution ring from her high rise apartment. She details the “personal vices” of her thousands of Wall St clients, so that we see Mr. Spitzer's carrying on was by no means unusual for the culture he was operating in. But he was the “good guy,” and I suppose you do expect the good guys to be good. Ms Davis also emerges as a good guy, since she spills the beans on the collasol debauchery of the Street.
 
 
The top investment bank execs all steered clear of Matt Damon, correctly smelling a rat, but they couldn't really avoid Congress. The film provides footage of these big-time bankers being grilled by various legislators. Watch em squirm! It's lots of fun. But don't kid yourself. They only squirm to a point. And a little squirming can be endured if you're nonetheless walking off with a personal profit of millions, even billions of dollars.
 
Another aspect of them film which has a curious effect: Whenever you see a picture of some people and one of them is the United States President, and the camera begins to zoom in, you know it's going to zoom in on the President, until presently the other nobodies fall of the frame. Inside Job zooms in on the other guys, all high-powered banking types who, the inference is clear, are really running the show. Here is footage of Ronald Reagan and his Treasury Secretary, former Morgan Stanley CEO Donald Regan, and it is Regan who is the focus. There is Bill Clinton side by side with his Secretary Treasurer, then Goldman Sachs CEO Robert Rubin, and it is Rubin who takes the spotlight. Ditto for George W Bush and later Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson; the same for Barack Obama and Tim Geithner, former President of the New York Federal Reserve branch. Who isn't reminded of Amschel Rothschild's words almost two centuries ago: "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who makes its laws." Democrats in power? Republicans? Doesn't matter. “It's a Wall Street government,” says Robert Gnaizda, former director of the Greenlining Institute, with no reform in sight.
 
 
 
Does the movie really end with a call to arms?
 
“They [the investment bankers] will tell us that we need them, and that what they do is too complicated for us to understand. They will tell us it won't happen again. They will spend billions fighting reform. It won't be easy. But some things are worth fighting for,” the film concludes.
 
…...............................................
 
Fast forward three years later. The investment firm MF Global has just failed, in exactly the same fashion as Lehman, Bear Sterns, etc, demonstrating no one's learned anything since 2008. The movement Occupy Wall Street spreads from it's Manhattan home base to cities the world over, over a thousand at last count.
 
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The movement began only two months ago.
 
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Proposition 8, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joel

Is it really so that Mormons brought us Proposition 8, that 2008 California referendum that banned gay marriage, and that Jehovah's Witnesses overturned? Really? Well.....no, it's not really so. But there is something to it.

Mormons didn't originate that campaign to change the state's constitution. A group called Pro Marriage was responsible. Mormons did, however, rally in a big way to ram it through. “We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this."

Just like politicians before election day, or Jehovah's Witnesses....bless their hearts....any old time, Mormons canvassed California to stoke Proposition 8 support and get those recruits to the polls. 80-90% of all Proposition 8 “foot soldiers” were Mormons, says the New York Times. Their efforts succeeded. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state's voters; thus gay marriage was banned in the California.

But on Aug 4th, 2010,  U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, asserting it violated the state's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Jehovah's Witnesses, who within their congregations, also oppose gay relationships, had nothing to do with that, did they? Well, no, they didn't.

But on the other hand, they did. At least a little.

On page 116 of the judge's lengthy judicial opinion is cited West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. That's the 67 year old Supreme Court ruling stating that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever (1940), which stated they could. Didn't I write about those two cases here?

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of  West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, noted that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities." In present day 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant," he wrote.

Now, it was Joel Engardio, director of Knocking, a 2006 PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses, who first noted the JW connection in Proposition 8's demise. This prompted another blogger, who, as may be discerned from his narrative, has little use for Witnesses, to opine:

The reference by Judge Walker to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. “How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?” they will be asking themselves.

To which I replied: “No they will not.”

Well....... “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserts.

“Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

Unlike many groups that stand for something, Jehovah’s Witnesses views on homosexuality, or anything else, are theirs alone. They apply them to themselves. They don’t attempt to force them upon general society...say...by writing those views into law, or even resorting to violence. They are respectful of those holding opposing views. To be sure, JWs don't keep those views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world, many groups feel sanctioned to go well beyond that. Mr. Engardio has stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since, as our aforementioned blogger points out, JW beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation: Mr Engardio is gay. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn't.

Roam online, and you'll find countless gay websites that absolutely loathe JWs. I've never found any that praise them. Jehovah's Witnesses, after all, make no accommodation for gay relationships within their congregations. How can they? They're a Bible organization and they don't assume the authority to change scriptures. I don’t think they harp on it. I even think they’re sympathetic to those claiming a different sexual orientation, but they are bound to represent scripture, or else change their mandate entirely. It does make it challenging for anyone gay within their ranks....no question about it. Don't they have to do what swimmers do caught in a rip tide? You don't swim against it; you can't, in any conceivably short time, will yourself or even pray yourself straight. You don't swim with the tide, buying into prevailing propaganda that holds ones sexuality is irrevocable and ought be a source of pride. You have to swim parallel to the current, maybe for a long long time, maybe for the duration of this system, with faith that the influence of God's spirit and congregation will, over  time, serve to readjust sexuality. No, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? That's why I have the greatest respect for anyone following that course, and none whatsoever for Westboro-church types who rail against homosexuals. They've never fought battles the like of which they would have others fight.

But my mention of Joel Engardio prompted a minor skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my opponent, “he is promoting himself and his film.” Is he?…..well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? God knows it would find a larger audience than one praising them. To which my adversary  (I'm not sure he's really an adversary, for I've stomped around his blog and there's much I like about him....he advocates for the disabled, for instance, so we overlap somewhat. And how can one not like a guy who appreciates Bob Dylan?) acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50+ cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940's and 1950's, but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court, and their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens.  Said U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." (the same can be said in several other countries)

Advocacy groups of all stripes benefit greatly from the groundwork JWs have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, however, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses. Even Rochester's beloved City Magazine piled on, prompting this rebuke from our own Tom Weedsandsheat.

It's a curious fact ...let us acknowledge it...that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah's Witnesses is an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? Regularly, you'll find Joel Engardio's writings in mainstream publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post. In many ways, he explains Jehovah's Witnesses better than the Witnesses do themselves, at least from a certain vantage point and to a certain audience. Here he writes about Proposition 8. Here about Russia's persecution of JWs. Here even on Michael Jackson. Here he explains JWs for Beliefnet.com.   

Not to suggest that everything he writes is about Jehovah's Witnesses. By no means. Check out his own page on the ACLU blog:

Jehovah's Witnesses don't have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren't political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. (see Dan 2:44) How's that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today's elite? Mr. Engardio's one of the few who will speak up for them. He's certainly in a unique position to do it, knowing both worlds well.

Joel Engardio states that he was raised a Witness, but left early on, breaking his mother's heart. He broke it again, he adds, when he later confessed he was gay. But sexuality was not the cause of his departure. Rather, he writes, he didn't want to wait for God to set matters straight. He thought he could set them straight now, as a journalist. He explains it all here. He worked his way through the ranks, and by the time I first heard of Knocking, his name was well-known among NPR newspeople.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we're coming from, so they're quick to buy into stereotypes. Knocking was the first fair shake I've ever seen from the media. It won a few awards. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN: "Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.”

As to Mr. Engardio's motives, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values JW contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his Mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what's true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don't have to know everything. His motives are his. Moreover, the 'fat lady' hasn't sung yet. Maybe he'll be like that guy who hauled Jeremiah out of the muck and so made out just fine when the Babylonians stomped in. (Jer 38:7-13) I haven't a clue. But I'll tell you one thing. He writes about us both accurately and respectfully. I do appreciate that.

..........................................

[Edit: Joel himself emailed me shortly after the post appeared, to say "......thanks for writing your blog about Prop 8 and me. It was a good read. I wouldn't call myself an "apologist" for JWs (plenty of doctrines I don't agree with), but I certainly value our Constitutional rights to speak, believe and live as we see fit."

I called him an apologist after seeing him described that way on the web. Plainly he doesn't view himself that way, notwithstanding that he's posted plenty of good material about us.]

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More Supreme Court history here and here.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


 


 


Love, Marriage, and Soulmates

When I became a JW in the 1970's, I would tell people divorce was unheard of among us; it simply never happened. It wasn't true.
 
But it was almost true. Divorce was rare enough that a new person might think it was true, and I did. Back then, there might be a couple dozen divorces within the entire circuit, and that would be cumulative, not per annum. Not anymore. Nobody today has the slightest difficulty listing any number of divorced persons. In fact, someone even tried to tell me that, here in the West, divorces are slightly more frequent among JWs than the general population. I don't think that's true, just based upon what I see. But it might be true if one considers that huge swaths of people just don't bother with marriage anymore; they simply cohabit. Thus, should they break up, it does nothing to “harm the stats.”
 
Several years ago, I worked a part-time job that put me shoulder to shoulder with lots of young people. They'd ask how long I'd been married and do a doubletake when I told them. Products of divorce, separation, and single-parent families, they'd never come across someone married so long. Can you really expect that they're going to commit themselves to a model they've never seen work? So they simply live together when the time comes. Those who formalize their relationship into marriage may have lived together so long that their relationship is like an old comfortable shoe, unlikely to pinch.

But long-married folks among us know how marriage is. It's built on love and loyalty. You find just that right person to start with.... personalities that click, common interests, goals and so forth, and then you add in shared experiences, lots of communication, and deliberate acts of kindness expressed towards each other. You put time and effort into it. It's like sewing, really. Hundreds of tiny stitches, adding more all the time, to bind the garment ever tighter as one. It's all very fine. It builds over years and years.

And then one day someone comes along out of the blue, someone with whom you've done none of these things, and immediately narrows the gap by half simply by being themselves! What's with that? A “soulmate”? A “treacherous heart?” Or a bit of both?  Let's face it – people today love the idea of soulmates. 

Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I have talked through these things before. We have a good marriage. We don't have a perfect marriage. Are there any of those? We mesh as one on some things. We're quite unlike on others. We've worked through issues, like, really, any other lasting couple I know of.

That's why it irked me a little when I stumbled across that film Before Sunset, though at the same time I liked it a lot because it dealt intelligently with the attraction of soulmates.  It doesn't use the actual word, probably so as not to be assigned the category of “new age babble,” but it sure does explore the concept. It's a talky movie, full of persuasive, unforced, seemingly spontaneous dialogue, most of it filmed in long 6 or 7 minute takes while the two characters, man and woman, are strolling the streets of Paris. These two have reunited after a too-brief chance encounter ten years ago. It seemed, back then, that they were made for each other. They felt that instinctive attraction. They meant to develop and continue the relationship, but alas, circumstances yanked them apart and they did not reconnect until now – ten years later. In the meantime, they've both built lives, taken responsibilities, one of them is married with child.

What I like is that the soulmate notion is explored so well...we feel as they that developing awareness that they've both passed on that one person...each other...with whom they were meant to be. Moreover, the film develops so gradually you don't for a moment find it contrived. Ever so gradually it unfolds that this married fellow isn't happy with how his life has turned out, nor the woman with hers. His marriage is like a prison, he at long last confesses; he's married to a wonderful person, mind you, no one says otherwise, but just the wrong person. And when we learn why the he wrote his best-selling book in the first place....for that's the opening of the film: he's on a book tour promoting it.....you should think Slumdog Millionaire. He wrote the book about her, the only way he could think of to find her again! It's emotionally moving, I admit. That's what I like.

What I don't like is how conventional marriage suffers in comparison. Don't you have to cultivate a marriage? If this guy's marriage is a “prison,” isn't it through this own neglect? He's surely cultivated his career with due diligence, as we are made well aware. Would that he put the same effort into his marriage. But you know how it is with folks today. Relationships must be “pure heart,” no effort required. Thus, we have that stupid 1970 film Love Story, with it's silly “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” Any effort implies that perhaps the relationship is phony to begin with, and is not “meant to be.”
 
Though, having said that, if I recall correctly, this Before Sunset fellow married so as to be a responsible father to the child he had conceived. That's not the best foundation upon which to build, is it? Doesn't it serve to remind that you ought to go conceiving after the stable relationship is established, not before? I tell you, it makes me grateful to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith which has “held the line” regarding marriage over the past century, while most everyone else has learned to accommodate a new morality....to be satisfied with, not necessarily marriage, but merely a “caring relationship.” Okay, okay, so JWs show the strains of withstanding the new anti-marriage environment. We've even adapted to the times, and in the last few decades have listed a few scenarios....essentially, when you're married to someone who's just plain no good....under which separation is understandable. I mean, there are people with whom you just can't do much. Still, the JW stance is a far cry from most groups, who have thrown the marriage model overboard altogether, and how many of us might not have fared well were it not for that strong framework? For marriage, as practiced in most quarters today, is not thought to be a permanent bond, but simply a manifestation of hopeful intentions. You see your lawyer beforehand to draw up the pre-nups in case it doesn't work out.
 
However, back to the movie, and, of course, "true love" wins out at the end.....doesn't it always with new-age people?....this fellow reunites with his soulmate, presumably leaving his wonderful wife (and child) behind to fend for themselves.... responsibly, of course, with financial support and so forth. And, glory of glories, now that the very cosmos are aligned, doubtless the dumped wife (and child) are now freed to be reunited with their own soulmates! So it's a win-win-(win).
 
Now, what to make over all this?
 
With several billion men and women on the planet....you're not going to meet too many of them before marrying one for yourself, are you? So, after marriage, it would seem there's no way you're not going to run across someone, sooner or later, who appears more compatible than your own spouse! But if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon your own marriage, shouldn't you be able to withstand a soulmate “assault?” Especially if you put some distance between yourselves. Whereas if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon every other aspect of your life, while allowing the marriage to become a weed patch, it's likely doomed to extinction. Or you come to regard it as “a prison,” which isn't much better. Build on the marriage, however, and it becomes a great source of happiness, stability, loyalty, and love, even if you scratch your head sometimes over a “what if” soulmate scenario.
 
Besides, I 'm not so sure about “soulmates,” anyway. In the mid 1980's author Richard Bach brought soulmates to the masses. He was already well-known...a somewhat spacey character who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for years, and spawned a movie scored by Neil Diamond. But then he went off on a well-publicized quest to find the "perfect match," the "one and only" for whom he was "meant to be!" He found her! He married her! His one true soulmate! His disciples swooned with joy and ecstasy! He spun a few books off the experience. He became THE soulmate guru. Years of natural bliss ensued. And then......don't you know....he divorced her! His soulmate!!! They say he received death threats from fans, who felt betrayed and who perhaps began to look apprehensively at their own soulmates. Read up on it here and here, if you like.
 
So it's intriguing, that notion of soulmates, but I hesitate to put too much stock into it.
 
Nonetheless, let's pursue this a bit. Wouldn't it also be the case that atheism, which is all the rage today, increases the appeal of the “soulmate?” I mean, if this life is truly all there is, then time's running short. You don't want to waste your remaining decades with the “wrong” person, and if you should happen to meet that “right” person....well.....better change horses now while there's yet time. And since, just playing the odds, you're always going to meet someone more “right” than the one you have now, just where does it end? Aren't you apt, if you really follow soulmate propaganda, to merely end up with a lifetime of failed relationships?

But with a healthy belief in God, one can take the long-range view. Doesn't the Bible even instruct that this life is not the real life, anyway....that the “real life” doesn't commence until 1000 years into the new system of God's kingdom rule over earth? So I don't know why we can't be patient, and learn to enjoy the trip. It seems sure to be a good destination in store, since God “is opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:16)
 
It's an alluring anomaly, that of soulmates. I think we lose a lot of marriages to it. Not all. Doubtless much divorce is just good ol sleaze and lust, today's world plastering illicit sex all over the place, so that people come to think of nothing else. Thus, we Watchtower readers are always hearing about trading one's relationship with God for “a few moments of pleasure.” But with the ever-increasing awareness of ones own emotional well-being that pop culture insists we all must cultivate, one begins to wonder about marriage itself. I mean, it doesn't, as practiced today, really take into account “soulmates,” does it? And yet soulmates would appear to be a good thing. Or is it all just Richard Bachian new-age drivel?
 
Being 1000 years removed from perfection, it's a little hard to tell. (Rev 20:1-6) We're an awfully self-indulgent people right now, living in an world that insists upon satisfying immediate desires. A “god of their belly” world, where people mind only “things on the earth.” Says Paul:
 
For there are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory consists in their shame, and they have their minds upon things on the earth.     Phil 3:18-19
 
Perhaps it will be that, upon continual cultivation of one's own marriage over time, our spouse, whoever they are, becomes our full blown soulmate. Or, for all I know, marriage itself may turn out to be primarily a provision to get us through our time of imperfection....an arrangement tailor-made for this system, necessary for now, an acceptable way to interact with the opposite sex and provide a framework for raising the next generation, but due to become obsolete 1000 years into the new system, when the originally intended condition of humankind has been realized. Or maybe not. Dunno. It's a 'wait and see.' But we'd do a lot of changing in 1000 years, even without the burden of human imperfection removed. What might we do when it is removed?
 
You can almost read the possibility in the current wedding vows: “for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” While that might imply permanence, doesn't it also allow for the possibility that “God's marital arrangement” might one day, 1000 years from now, change? You must admit, it is one way to resolve that perplexing question of why resurrected ones are said not to marry.
 
But I haven't the foggiest. No one knows. We don't get it all, in this system of things, nor do we even know what the “all” is. But we do know that, regarding God, he is “opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” And really, that ought to suffice.

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Tom Irregardless and Me  No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


WALL-E and the Gulf Oil Spill

What's not to like about WALL-E? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash (what else?) with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. See, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, so they evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied; they've become pretty much helpless, though good-natured, blobs. But before departure, they left robots to tidy up things, so they might eventually return. Only WALL-E remains on the job, for reasons I forget, and as you might imagine, he's lonely. All that changes when a pretty girl robot (EVE) show up. Robot sparks fly, they save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for humans' return.

So if I liked the film, and Mrs Sheepandgoats liked it, which we both did, everyone must have liked it – right? But when Mrs. Sheepandgoats mentioned it to a co-worker, the latter lamented how sad the movie was. Sad? “What we're doing to the earth, what we're leaving behind for our children, is an absolute tragedy,” she said. Well...yes, the film would have that effect on many, wouldn't it? Look, we're sickened by the degradation humans inflict upon the earth, make no mistake, but, it's also true that when considering each new nail in the coffin, there is a tiny asterisk in the back of our mind that says “God's Kingdom will solve human mismanagement once and for all.” His “bringing to ruin those ruining the earth” is even foretold. (Rev 11:18) So it's always there, that asterisk, cushioning every blow. If you didn't have it....wow...no wonder some are just crushed by what's happening


Now, this verbal exchange was well before the gulf oil-spill, that mother of all environmental catastrophes.  “How to clean up the mess? And who's at blame!” declared Time Magazine's cover of June 21, 2010,  against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. (I was mildly surprised that the questions were not posed in reverse order) Time listed a “dirty dozen” which included the prior President, of course, and his Secretary of State, but also the current President and some of his underlings. A handful of oilmen, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver, since he fuels demand for oil in the first place. Got it? We're all to blame. There are no good guys in white hats, only bad guys in black, oily ones.

And to think I was upbraided just a few weeks ago, along with all my people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah's Witness preaching, already!” scolded my interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then proceeded to wax poetic on how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up crud that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, I'm not against cleanup days, but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we're saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, the entire gulf can be ruined by one big-industry blunder. In fact, reports have it that local picker-uppers are showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost – this is a job for pros!

No, I won't stand for it – to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And don't mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment! When the kids were little and we hiked trails at Allegheny State Park, we'd take trash bags with us and make a treasure hunt out of it, collecting beer and pop cans along the way – some had been there for years. (there were even some of the ancient tin types, cans that had been opened, not with pop-tops, but with can openers such as I remember from when I was a kid – extra points awarded for such finds!) And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Sheepandgoats is driving behind you! Steam comes from her ears. She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you to the sheriff in citizens' arrest.

One fellow is griping here about Jehovah's Witnesses: "They don’t even need to recycle if they don’t want to." What kind of an accusation is that? Are there groups that maintain their people MUST recycle, whether they want to or not? Where recycling is the law of the land/community, JW compliance is higher than most, I've no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely JW compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet. Look, when financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause, I admit, they may outdo the average Witness. But we surely shine when compared to the population in general. I attended a wine festival over the weekend. Each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in one-use plastic cups, or plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I doubt it. All trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is one-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. Again, all trash is mixed together. I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country's largest consumer of AAA batteries. Do you imagine those batteries were recycled? When I asked about it, they laughed at me. In the trash they'd go....each and every one of them. 

Look, I'm all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days. None of Jehovah's Witnesses will ever speak against such things, unless you count observations that such are, at best, a stop-gap measure, and that the lasting solution will come only when God carries out his promise to “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” We tend to use our free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, counts. My experience is that it's only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway – it's not as if JWs are thwarting the whole effort. And surely it must count for something that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't among those who caused the mess in the first place.

“This [JW belief that God's Kingdom only can permanently solve earth's environmental woes] leads to the undeniable fact that Witnesses take almost no initiative towards making the world we live in a better place in any way:” someone tries to sell me that line. Hogwash! Not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in a better place. This, because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. Law-abiding to the core, honest, working, not abusing government services, not contributing to the criminal element freely operating in most lands, promoting stable, monogamous families – all this by virtue of making Bible principles a way of life. Thus, merely propagating Witness beliefs is a step toward making the world a better place.

Meanwhile, I had to go to Canada (the Globe and Mail, June 19th) to discover that at least half of the leaked gulf oil is being recovered through various means, such as salvage ships that corral surface oil and burn it. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus only the overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President's declaration that he's looking for “asses to kick,” even while insinuating that his own “ass” might be among them, that the oil spill is his Katrina, and so forth. Sigh....that's what we're good at here: kicking asses.

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash