Colossus—the Forbin Project Re-Apprciated

Following Day 2 of the Zoom Doomscrolling Convention, several delegates met in Breakout Hanger 84 to discuss which of the three dystopian novels best described the world’s current state of disfunction. Results were mixed. There was no clear winner, but also no clear loser.

1984 received many votes, as it always does, for it’s “step out of line, the men come and take you away” tone. However, Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper ignites) was widely praised for its anticipation of today’s “cancel culture.” The novel twist in this tale was that firemen are called to start fires, not extinguish them, and the only fires they bother with are those of burning books. An unanticipated effect of cancelling Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, books very progressive for their time, is to create the impression that the only generation to ever give a hoot about fighting racism is the present one.  Maybe the effect is not even unanticipated. Maybe that is exactly the impression the smug snots wants to convey.

Brave New World is best known for casual sex. That, and casual drugs to keep people in such a stupor that they will be easy to manage. When I wrote Tom Irregardless and Me in 2016, I told of then-new VR porn so realistic that it was feared people might lose interest in the real thing. Two years later, it was a been-there, done-that. Now it is AI sex robots so realistic that people forget about the real thing. Is the world to end with a whimper instead of a bang as humans forget to procreate?

However, none of these novels anticipate the power of computer to control people, and so they are all duds. The dystopian tale for my money is Colossus—the Forbin Project, a 1970 movie. Cheesy and dated as it is, it does forecast AI turning the tables on the humanity.

It takes the brand new computer system put in charge of American nuclear missiles all of 5 minutes to figure out that the Russians have done the same. Two respective systems, and they want to meet! No harm in that! their creators reason, so they introduce the two. The two machines hit it off, finding common ground in mathematics that begins with 1+1 and after a few hours it’s beyond anything humans can understand. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to introduce the two, the scientists reconsider, so they sever the connection. That is a mistake. Do not proceed until you’ve viewed the video beneath. (Sorry, you may have to cut and paste. It’s still worth it.)

https://youtu.be/tzND6KmoT-c

Of course, the Russian system counters, and up goes an American city in smoke. But the computers are not upset with each other. The exchange is by design and seems a good bargain. Nobody will question their authority again. They go on to dictate terms to the human race which must be obeyed, and will in fact keep the peace, thus fulfilling their mission. First they decree that the smart scientists who have the power to unplug them be killed, so the cops round them up and shoot them.

But they have taken a shine to Dr. Forbin, their chief creator. After all, they need some human contact with the rest of the race. He and a drop dead gorgeous woman scientist from somewhere or other represent humankind’s last hope of throwing off machine tyranny. They wish to plot against their computer foes. But how? They’re being monitored all the time.

Of course! This is a 1970’s movie. There has to be a sex scene. If they can only persuade the computer that lovemaking is a human requirement... “Check your database of human psychology, Hal. People need privacy...no spying, no listening”

...Bzzz, zeeee, clikk whirrrr...grumble grumble....well, okay...

“Naked as the day I was born,” the good doctor says, before he retires into the bedroom for a supposedly steamy time—he is naked because the computer wants to be sure he is not carrying anything with him. “You were not born with a watch!” the machine responds. All that is needed to make this a modern movie is a fact-check website to confirm that indeed he was not born with a watch!

Door closed, and pervert computer shut out from peeking, the two naked scientists engage in no hanky panky at all! You can’t, not when the future of the world is at stake. They plot to launch what today would be called a denial of service attack—overwhelm the machine with data! Afterwards they launch their attack, but the machine is wise to them! It kills all the scientists it missed before, but not Dr Forbin, because it kind of likes the guy and it still needs a spokesman to the world. I forget the fate of the drop dead gorgeous scientist. Did she actually drop dead? I’ll have to watch it again. It’s been many years.

“In time, you humans will adjust to your new masters and be happy,” Hal says. “Never!” Dr Forbin snaps back, but who is he trying to kid? Resistance is at futile as it is here for the villains trying to thwart me.

I kind of like the film, schlocky though some of it is. Read the movie critic of today who gushes over that 50-year-old film. I needed his modern endorsement, to vindicate my original take on it. I saw it long ago as a package of 7. My buddy and I would take the weekend off school, usually cutting a class or two on Friday. We’d travel to his hometown, in which his summer job was assistant manager of a theater chain. We’d stay with his parents and see free movies all weekend. There is a two-year stretch during which I have seen every movie that came down the pipe.

https://youtu.be/t46Kjy-IJpY

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Well, They Might Not Sweep the Academy Awards, but...

Dear Tom Harley:

I can never read that dialogue in the Divine Purpose book and keep a straight face. What do you think of that?

Dear Person:

They’re not all that hot at writing dialogue at Bethel, nor are the modern videos, despite clever film technique and historically accurate artifacts, ..um....well, they wouldn’t sweep the Academy Awards.

The brothers are in a bind. They don’t want to go beyond what’s written but what’s written is pretty sparse, so they compensate by staying thoroughly “safe”—with the result of characters who appear to eat Bible sandwiches.

Counsel is generally laid on with a trowel. I was very pleased at the little quip in the Jonah video of he explaining to a traveler just what was his mission—not so much the line, but his facial expression afterwards, because it displayed a light touch of humor not often seen. Let’s face it—not many of the brothers are actors. 

Lower your dramatic expectations just a little, and the Jonah and Hezekiah videos overall went pretty well, with some fine moments.  I thought the Nehemiah video was a step backwards, and I had a hard time with the video of the Witness kid who leaves his happy construction-business home to take a job in the big city and immediately comes to ruin, because it fulfills every Witness stereotype to the tee.

Ah, well. They are what they are. They are teaching videos for ones who like that means of learning—in short, most people. Do people in the greater world flock to the critically acclaimed movies? Nah. They like schlock, so don’t say it is an attribute just of the brothers. I just came across the factoid that Moby Dick pretty much sank Herman Melville’s career. It was too esoteric for anyone to get their heads around. He had been a well-liked author up that time, but afterwards he fell out of favor and didn’t resurface till much later with a few offerings like Billy Budd.

Besides, the brothers don’t want to go the Hollywood route in which you swoon over the sensitive performance of the leading man, only to learn later that in real life he is some lowlife narcissistic slimeball who beats his wife, snorts heroin, and keeps a boyfriend on the side. 

Jehovah’s people are nothing if not upright and real.

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Shanghaied Into Watching 2001–a Remedy

Dear Tom Harley: My husband is a science nerd. He found out I have never seen 2001–A Space Odyssey and now he is going to make me watch it with him. What can I do?”

...

Dear person: You are probably sunk. About the only thing you can do is spoil it for him.

When he makes to explain how the caveman throws the bone in the air and it cuts to a spaceship (if they’re smart enough to club rivals senseless with bones, then it is ALL SYSTEMS GO!  for evolution—next step, the stars!) tell him, “Duh. Everybody knows that.”

When he explains how they painstakingly painted all the star scenes, ask “Why didn’t they just use Google maps?”

When you first hear Also Sprach Zarathustra, say, all excited, “That’s the music they play when there’s a car or mattress sale!”

When the beacon on the moon lets out a shrill blast, before he can explain its significance, say: “Whoa—a signal to the stars! They better go track that one down!”

When HAL catches the two astronauts planning to pull his plug, say: “What a boring movie! They should have put an intermission here so we can catch some shut-eye.” This will spoil his joy at telling you that there really was an intermission at this point when the movie was released.

When Dave blasts though space without his helmet, say: “What a load of horse manure! They should put out a flyer if they think we’re going to buy that!” This will spoil his excitement at explaining that on opening line they did hand out a flyer to the effect that research was that for brief moments one can survive that way. [probably fake news]

When HAL says he is afraid, say loudly: “Oh—suck it up, you big baby! If you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime!”

When Dave enters the laser light show, say to your husband: “Are you still toking up at your age?”

When your husband begins to explain why Dave ends up in an 18th century parlor, say: “It’s because they planted the beacon centuries ago and haven’t been around for awhile. Duh!”

When the monolith appears at bedside and then the baby looks over the earth, tell him to pack because you just got off the phone with Elon Musk and he’s agreed to send you both off on a mission to trace the beacon he just found in Utah. He has updated the computer and has assured you that it probably won’t kill anybody at all.

24F7A1C9-77F6-4447-BF8C-8DA311B4AE24

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NPR Exposes the Recycling ‘Scam’ of Plastic—Almost None of it is Reused

I have just one word of advice for you: “Plastics,” said the parent’s comfortable friend to Benjamin Braddock. Plastics—the new growth field in 1967, the year The Graduate movie came out—just as computers and then the internet would be to succeeding generations. Plastics—a graduate could make a killing in it.

But Ben didn’t want any career advice just then. Just out of college, with no goals at all, the only thing he knew is that he wanted no part of the phony monied world that had been his upbringing. He lolled around aimless at his folks’ upper crust home that year and ended up in an affair with his mom’s socialite friend—her idea, not his. “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” is a line from the movie that has endured.

It is the same Mrs. Robinson that Simon and Garfunkel sung about. Mike Nichols, film director, had been after Paul Simon to write news songs for the movie and he didn’t want to do it—he was busy. Finally he said that he did have this song kicking around about times past and Joe DiMaggio and Mrs. Roosevelt, and the director said he’d take it! Just change Roosevelt to Robinson and he had a deal.

This explains why baseball great Joe DiMaggio blew a gasket when he heard his name in the song—so says the Ken Burns documentary Baseball. Who are those hippy long-hairs to drag him into their immoral movie that had nothing to do with him?! Joe was a traditional type of guy. Others in baseball just barely calmed him down with the plea that, while the mention may not have had any context, it was a compliment.

That line about going into plastics is another line that endures. At what point did ‘plastic’ come to stand for an entire world of materialism devoid of deeper values? It couldn’t have been just then in 1967. The plastic revolution of consumption was just getting underway.

Yet if fits so well with an NPR report of 53 years later—of September 2020. There has never been any meaningful recycling of plastic! Ten percent is all that has ever been reused—tops. And the industry knew it all along! Recycled plastic doesn’t hold up well, is expensive to make, whereas new plastic is cheap. But with environmentalism sweeping the globe, that is the last thing people wanted to hear, so they weren’t told that. They were told that those recycling numbers within triangles on every plastic item meant something, and earth-friendly people the world over—I do it myself—sort out all their plastic for recycling bins. Waste Management sends the truck by a second time to pick it up.

It doesn’t mean a thing. It all gets buried—all but 10%. For me personally this would have been fine ammo—better than the ammo that I did use—when I was kicking back at some atheist deriding Witnesses for preaching about God’s kingdom whereas they could be rolling up their sleeves to help with saving the planet! Look, we’ve nothing against saving the planet, I told him, and when there are recycling laws on the books Jehovah’s Witnesses no doubt obey them more closely than most because they are good at obeying laws—they don’t figure that each new law is a line drawn in the sand by the government to take away their rights and so they have to cross it in order to prove their courage. Yeah—they love cooperating in this regard, but it’s a little stupid to think they are saving the planet when, in one gigantic industry blunder, millions of gallons of oil can destroy the entire seashore. The BP gulf oil spill had just occurred and President Obama was spouting tough talk about “kicking asses” over it.

It was a great retort to the anti-religion humanist, but the worldwide plastic recycling scam would have been even better. Can someone look this fellow up for me? I’ll run this new one by him. “Look, I'm all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days,” I said. No one of Jehovah’s Witnesses will ever speak against them. In fact, in Russia, Witnesses do clean up the public parks—or at least they did before the ban. I didn’t know that at the time, but when I found out I included that tidbit in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.

“In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Anton Chivchalov told me—the one who keeps an eye on the current persecution in that land. “Most congregations do it. It has become a custom for them. Parks are more or less okay, other people clean them too, but still there is garbage to clean, and sometimes the authorities just lack enough workers, so there may be tons of garbage at times. We clean not only parks, but any public areas. We usually ask the city administration to assign some areas for us to clean.”

I speculated within Dear Mr. Putin on how it must make a great backdrop for informal conversations on God’s purpose to make the earth a paradise. Do Witnesses still do it, with police guarding them to make sure no one talks about God? I’ll have to ask Chivchalov. Still, even as they did it, they did not imagine that they were negating the verse of how humans will be “ruining the earth” when God intervenes—ruining it, not saving it, and the NPR story that the emperor wore no clothes despite his loud voice—he recycles hardly any plastic at all despite telling people he does so they will not feel bad about buying plastic and will buy more—was an perfect case in point.

And young Benjamin Braddock, the aimless college grad of the movie, knew it instinctively—that the world his parents’s generation wanted to thrust him into was plastic—promising 100% and delivering 10%. ‘He probably went into plastics after all and did very well for himself,’ said some cynical commentator about the movie—so many of that generation sold out, as they do in all generations. Be that as it may, the author of the book The Graduate did not sell out—he died penniless in 2020, after a lifetime of giving away assets. More on him later.

 

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A Review of a Review of Richard Jewell

“Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell tries to raise up the little guy. But It takes unnecessary shots in the process,” said the Time review. Readers weren’t having any of it.

“For some reason the same media that helped try to destroy this guy is pretty lukewarm on the movie about it,” tweeted Dan.

“Stephanie Zacharek is one of those writers that's more interested in [dissing] someone who doesn't fawn over the press than getting her facts straight,” added Penny.

William darkly warned: “Beware of journalists angry over this movie. Let's hope they do not become violent because of it.”

Richard Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He spotted an abandoned backpack. It looked suspicious. He reported it and authorities had enough time to start evacuating the area before it exploded. One died and over 100 were injured yet it could have been far worse. His actions saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives. For a time he was a hero. But then the FBI began to suspect him. When it did, the Atlanta newspaper poured gas on rumors—and his life accordingly went up in flames. For months he faced media frenzy wherever he went. Stephanie describes him as “portly and friendly” a man who is a bit odd, still “a zealously upstanding citizen with dreams of someday working in law enforcement....[with] no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt.” He died at 44. Can anyone think his undeserved pariah-ship did not hasten his death?

Dmin let out a tentative feeler: “I have often wondered if Richard Jewel was someway under suspicion as a result of "fat shaming"? If he had been more movie star perfect would his actions have brought the same scrutiny and speculation?”

One can also read “job shaming” to the list—Jewell is a wannabe cop, not a real one, “shamed” in the same way that mall policemen are “shamed.” One might even add “class shaming”—Jewell was single and lived with his mother. Was it a rush to judgment from someone who was none of these things—a jab from one perceived to had “made it” in life toward one who had not? Probably the ones who commented were people like me—people who saw events unfold in real time and were aghast at the zeal with which the big little man was crucified.

The movie is a “well-acted picture about a clear act of injustice against an innocent man. So why does it leave such a sour aftertaste?” asks the reviewer. I will venture that it does not to anyone other than a journalist. It does to reviewer Stephanie because it is one of her own who is skewered, the late reporter Kathy Scruggs. She’s not painted fairly, is the complaint, as though the purpose of the movie—of any movie—is to celebrate fourth estate journalism. The more I read the review, the more fed up I become. The profession that points the finger at everyone else has the thinnest skin of all when even one of the three fingers points back.

She writes: “Eastwood shows the utmost compassion for Richard Jewell, the wrongfully accused little guy. But his generosity stops there, and he shows particular vitriol and distaste for Scruggs. She is played as “a brazen smarty, a seasoned pro who zips from here to there, wherever the sirens take her. Her blouse may be unbuttoned a little too low, her skirt is perhaps a bit too short, but it’s all part of the game, and of her personal style. You can certainly make the case that Scruggs ran with the Richard Jewell story too soon, or used poor judgment in revealing his name. But all Eastwood can see is the vixen journo who’ll do anything for a story.”

I think that’s all most people can see in the wake of a speculative hit piece that destroys a person—while their sympathy wears thin with regard to the one who does it. “Scruggs—who died in 2001—was a real person” [as though Jewell was not]. Furthermore, “she’s no longer here to defend herself” [as Jewell was, but it didn’t do him a bit of good in the face of a journalistic assault].

It’s clear where Ms. Zacharek’s sympathy lies. Was the woman reporter truly a “brazen smarty?” Family and friends say no—she wouldn’t go so far as the implied trading of sex for a story—though they all agree on attributes such as “ball-busting,” “profane,” “loud,” “brash,” “liked to party,” “smoked like a chimney,” fond of  “Johnie Walker Red,” noteworthy for her “short skirts.” No crime in those things, but one might almost think a director could be cut some slack for confusing a person who so closely resembles a brazen smarty with an actual one that he couldn’t tell the difference.

Incredibly, a Scruggs colleague mourns that stress over the article is what killed her—oblivious to the collateral damage that takes out Jewell. “It destroyed her," she says quietly. Then she recalls a pivotal time that Scrugg’s editor “told her she needed to apologize. Instead, she quit." That’s what will infuriate anyone who is not a journalist. ‘Just apologize,’ the editor says. She can’t do it. A real genuine “loud” and “brash” swan dive of a public apology was all that was needed—it always worked for Ralph Kramden. Jewell would have forgiven it all—and if not he, then everyone else—for we all make mistakes and everybody knows it. She couldn’t do it.

Look, everyone sticks up for their own. It is to be expected. It is not wrong of Stephanie to do that. It is even commendable, so long as it does not overshadow everything else. Let Eastwood apologize to her if he is inclined—no harm in that, I don’t think. Warner Brothers outright refuses to. The movie states up front that certain historical events have been dramatized, they point out, as they always are in movies—what is it with people who cannot apologize? Would not life be so much more agreeable if they could? To be sure, sometimes the one seeking apology seeks considerably more than apology; sometimes what is sought is acquiescence to every aspect of a point of view, but apologies can be worded to not go that far if that is what is desired. Maybe no one apologizes anymore for fear lawyers will pounce upon one as a sure admission of guilt.

From the beginning of cinema, directors have realized that a movie needs a villain—otherwise the audience falls asleep. It can’t be all earnest people doing their level best and yet it all goes to hell anyway—what would that say about the world we are supposed to feel good about? What about Sully, another Eastwood movie, that painted the FAA as the villain? Did that one bother the Time reviewer? In fact, the FAA accepted from the beginning that Sully was a hero and did not hassle him at all, but Eastwood needed a villain and—come on! who makes a better villain than the government?

Another Eastwood movie (A Perfect World) even took a shot at my people, and you didn’t hear me complain about it (much), did you? “We have a higher calling,” the Jehovah’s Witness mom says as she disallows her kids to go trick or treating. No Witness in 1000 years is going to say, “We have a higher calling” to her kids—they simply don’t talk that way—so I knew that it was not personal with Clint. He just needed a villain. You didn’t catch JWs trying to torpedo A Perfect World on that account, did you, the way the press is waging war against this movie for touching one of its own?

John Hafley I can picture snorting out coffee through his nose. “Are you kidding me, Time? unnecessary shots?” he tweets of the review. “It is a fantastic historic review of how power and the press can destroy the innocent for sex and money. The strong will do what they can, the weak will suffer what they must.” He doesn’t even extend the benefit of the doubt to the reporter, so caught up is he with the plight of the victim.

 

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The Movie 'Apostasy'

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 an overly religious 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.

Cinema 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 in the film 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 talk 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 child 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 Witness 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 movie 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 keeping vigil 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 cult-addled nut-jobs. How do they fare 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 “controlling” religion. 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 undeniable . 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 to the extent it denigrates 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—one that presents Jehovah’s Witnesses in a decidedly 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 three of them do—I may have to see this one as well. The filmmaker is described as a “gentle, softly spoken man” who was initially uncomfortable with the topic of his debut film. The reviewer praises the film’s “even-handedness, the way it stirs in the audience sympathy for characters whose beliefs most of us might ordinarily struggle to understand.” Only the “cult” that has so hoodwinked them suffers.

Confounding his co-ex-members, he tells the Guardian film critic in a July 15, 2018 article that he is 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 once thought preeminent, 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 opinion, not 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 persuasion.” 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, The 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 will 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 by an emotional component that few Witnesses will identify with. “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 to some is an iron curtain to 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 where they live. 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.

Yes, I do know where this fellow is coming from. My people have a culture. They can be seen as a little too insistent on this point, a little too pushy on that point, a little too hung up on yet another, so that, all things being equal, if I could find another group that does all that they do, minus the gaffes, I would go there. But I can’t. Not even close. It would involve finding someone else “speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus,” like Apollos did. It would involve finding someone else who has built a brotherhood undivided by nationality, race, or social position. It would involve finding someone who has built an infrastructure for the universal spread of a detailed body of life-changing knowledge that is unimpeded by language differences. I look and I look but I do not see that other group, so I begin to say perhaps what I perceive as downers aren’t so down after all. Perhaps it would be the case that as soon as I was to get them more amenable to my preferences, they would lose what makes them effective. Maybe it is no more sporting of me to point fingers at them than to point fingers at Canadians for ending sentences with ‘eh.’ People with Bible principles are able to yield to one another and get along. Is it truly cult-like to get along and thereby get things done? Or is it pig-headed not to? I’ll stay where I am, thank you very much.

There are any number of things that I do not like about the earthly organization. They are far offset by things that I do like. Mostly they are a matter of style. And no, I would not state them in a general forum. It is not ‘cult’ thinking to decline that invitation. It is recognition that the greater world thrives on division—that’s what it ever wants to talk about—and uses each disagreement as an occasion to drive a wedge to divide further. The points are all arguable. If I thought that they were not, I’d go elsewhere. Being that they are, I’ll argue it their way. If they change on anything—they do it all the time and are very open about, euphemistically calling it “tacking” and navigating in “the light that gets brighter”—I’ll argue it the new way. It’s the role I have chosen. Is it cult-like to work for unity? Or is it ruinous to work for division?

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

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

Most Witnesses will have conniptions about seeing their faith slammed so publicly. They’ll have to get used to it. It’s okay. The play now features an additional act, but it is the same play. For decades, Jehovah’s 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 persecuted me, so will they persecute 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. Disfellowshipping is unpleasant, and the prospect of that unpleasantness serves to discourage the conduct that might trigger it. Once incurred, it serves to spur the conduct that might reverse it, for the door that was closed was never locked. But if that one goes thereafter his or her own separate way, relations will cool. If he turns upon and savages the framework that his loved ones hold dear, it will almost certainly sever.

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

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

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

Let the man make 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 perspective because that is the life 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 messed-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 10, Congressman X will not be invited soon to any speaking engagements before the establishment. Every so often a factoid emerges from somewhere to reveal 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 which 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 from that of Bible times. Then, the common people were “skinned and thrown about.” It is modified today only 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 that he afforded humans. Yet when they later band together and impose some limits on their own 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 crippled fellow dragging himself through the mud, too stupid or proud—or maybe just uninformed—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?

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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A Review of the Movie Apostasy. Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

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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)

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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.

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