“What the Society is Trying to Tell Us Is.....”

I could be in serious trouble. They just finished remodeling the Kingdom Hall, and there are two quarter walls, one left of stage and one right. Gulp. Will the brother start entering and exiting the platform via those quarter walls, just like I saw them do in the other congregation?

The circuit overseer was visiting, so I started pumping him on it. “‘Don’t let the brothers walk behind the quarter wall to go on-stage,” I told him. I was not too insistent—one mustn’t overdo it on these things. I mean, I don’t want to be the brother who meets him in the parking lot to tell him that all the brothers are no good, and they aren’t loving at all, and they are deadwood in the ministry, and come to think of it, they don’t even like God, and so he, the circuit overseer, has a lot of work to do here, and he says “Yeah, I think I’ve found the problem already.”

I did about as much as I could. He seemed to be sympathetic. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “You see them, then you don’t as they walk behind the wall, and then you do as they emerge from the other side—it IS a little funny.” So I gave it a good try. But he was just biding his time to get away from me, I suspect. He is not going to do anything at all, I don’t think, other than tell the brothers to go on the platform any way they like when it is their turn to speak. What does he care how they do it? It doesn’t bother HIM one way of the other. It’s ME it’s driving nuts, and then he will say “Well, you were mostly there already.”

I have always tried to stack the deck. Those elders way back in the day would have a meeting coming up and I would pump various ones separately over a multitude of picayune things, so that one of them said at their meeting (as I was told later) “Wait a minute. Who’s running this congregation? You, me, or Tom Harley?”

But then, visiting another Kingdom Hall, I saw something that got me going even more, if that is possible. I saw, yes—I witnessed it while visiting another congregation, brothers clapping after each and every exchange that took place up front, whether live or on video, just the way I had heard someone complaining about before, and I thought he was making it up. Suddenly he becomes as a prophet from on high. That too, drove me nuts!—all that clapping. You don’t clap over every single skit of one sister offering a tract to another, who, of course accepts it a just little too eagerly, it seems to me, from what I recall in the actual ministry. You clap spontaneously when something really knocks your socks off. You clap when a child or even anyone gives his or her first talk in the school. You clap when the spirit genuinely moves you, for anything. You clap after the public talk, even giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt if it wasn’t that—um—good. But you don’t clap for every minor exchange of trivial words! It only cheapens the times that there really is something to clap for.

I know where this comes from, just like I know where walking behind the quarter walls came from. Some pious brother doubtless wanted to “show appreciation” for everything under the sun and so started up the habit, thinking he was setting a ‘good example’ and that others would follow, and those others, not wanting to seem unappreciative, did follow, even some half-heartedly. 

However, it is possible that it is not the pious brother at all who is responsible, but rather the one who is too swayed by the new-agey mantra that you have to lavish praise on children non-stop just for showing up, because you will crush their self-esteem if you don’t do it, and so the brothers clap if another so much as clears his throat. I mean, don’t go pinning this one on “theocracy,”—it could just as well be that trendy “world” that he is so enamored with.

This will not the easiest habit to break. I mean, you can hardly sit there and scowl, so as to provide the counter-example. The best strategy is just to contain it, as you might strive to do with a measles outbreak. Don’t send speakers to that congregation for awhile, until the illness passes. I doubt I can even enlist the circuit overseer in any serious capacity on this one. He will probably just roll his eyes when I meet him about it in the parking lot. C’mon, DO IT RIGHT, BROTHERS!

This will not readily yield to change, if history is any guide. About the best I can hope for is some circuit overseer acting similarly as he did with another “crisis.” During a transitional lull from one main point to another, he will say that the expression “Now let us turn the platform over to the next speaker” is not optimal because it evokes an image of turning the platform over. With that, I eventually heard the expression less, though it still pops up from time to time.

It is not easy to correct anyone on anything, especially on a triviality, though occasionally people jump instantly on the trivialities but ignore the things of substance. Finding the right degree of emphasis is tough. One recipient will say “Thanks for the new RULE!” and his companion will say “Huh? Did you say something.”

There was a certain sister ages ago who enjoyed explaining things to others and eventually left the truth because not enough people listened to her. She had even begun to partake of the emblems. “What the Society is trying to tell us is....” she would often employ as a preamble. She is the inspiration (in this one regard only) for John Wheatandweeds, from my book ‘Tom Irregardless and Me,’ who will not let the brothers go in field service in the morning because he insists as the conductor of rattling on and on about the day’s text, and he resists counsel  to shorten that part—eventually to as little as 7 minutes— and he talks at such length, drawing out comments, that eventually nobody is in the mood to go out anymore. “What the Society is trying to tell us...” he responds to every bit of counsel on the subject. Finally, the Society interrupts him mid-sentence to say “We’re not trying to tell you anything—we’re telling you,” after which he finally obliges by getting everyone out the door in reasonably short order—not seven minutes, but neither seven years—however he makes up for it by chatting away in the parking lot.

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photo by iowademocrats.org

 

 

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Money

Chivchalov reports: “The vast majority of Russians are sure that [the] Jehovah’s Witnesses [religion] is a huge money-pumping machine created for the enrichment of its leaders, and that religion and the Bible are only a disguise. They think that each JW should bring to the ‘sect’ all their money and re-register their flats, houses, and other property for the benefit of it. We are often called in the media a ‘pseudo-religious commercial sect.’”1 There are some things uniquely Russian in this statement, but similar charges have been made elsewhere by those who don’t like Witnesses.

Though sometimes mischaracterized, the donation practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the least obtrusive of any faith. At the Kingdom Hall, a person may give 50% of his income towards religious interests or nothing at all. Nobody knows. One must go to a contribution box at the rear of the auditorium to donate. Nobody knows if you do or do not. Nobody approaches you. No collections are taken, and unless someone chooses to use checks (or credit card at large gatherings), giving is completely anonymous. Just now in the U.S. there is introduced a service to donate online for those who prefer. In contrast, a church that I attended as a boy used ‘pledge envelopes’ through which donations could be tracked. Like charities everywhere, each pledge constituted a floor from which to make greater pledges. I remember my non-believing father telling the pastor who had come calling and had mentioned my homemaker mother’s offerings that he should not forget who really was the source of those offerings. The church an older friend attended passed offering plates mounted at the end of poles. They shook to the beat of loud music; drop in some coins and the chink-chink-chink reverberated through the building. It was quiet money they wanted—folding money.

Detractors point (with glee) to Pew charts showing Jehovah’s Witnesses are the poorest monetarily of all faiths2 and the ‘least educated.’3 The plain intention is that those circumstances be perceived negatively, as in: ‘Why should anyone listen to poor and stupid people?’ So be it. It was also characteristic of the first-century Christians, the leaders of whom are specifically called ‘uneducated and ordinary.’4 It also means that financial support for Jehovah’s Witnesses will come from their lower rungs, since they have precious few upper rungs to draw from. Let us explore the topic of finances.

 

A top-secret letter from the Witness organization to bodies of elders was intercepted and posted online. Actually, it wasn’t top secret. It was merely confidential. It contained the instruction: “This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and this letter should not be posted on the information board.” Normally I would respect confidentiality and not reproduce the letter, but this is the age of the Internet. Why be like the Russian court that refused to look at video evidence that everyone else saw?

Not everything not made public is the smoking gun. There was a time when writing only to those concerned was not perceived as pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Even as to things that actually were hidden in the first century, Jesus said: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”5 His would be the words of the arch-deceiver today, and opponents (if they dared) would rummage through his files to unearth and publish everything he was withholding.

The confidential postscript in the public letter read to the congregation tells how, for a certain expense, the congregation secretary “should use the number of active publishers to calculate the suggested amount to be contributed by the congregation” and “the elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation as a whole.” The snitch is very excited to have posted this and gloats he has uncovered evidence to prove that they are obsessed with money at Witness headquarters.

Any organization uses money. A child knows it. The need for money is no more than common sense. It made common sense to Bible writers and it makes common sense to people who have common sense and who want to eat and do things and pay the bills. Few seek it less obtrusively or stewards it more wisely than the Witness organization. The ‘leaked’ letter makes the Witness organization look good, not bad, as the poster had hoped. Many outfits would say in effect, ‘Repeat as necessary and do not take no for an answer.’ Watchtower says: “The elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation.” Should their goal come up short, they simply readjust that goal, confident that those of greater means will make up for the deficiency of those of lesser means.

The confidential note does no more than expand on the consideration already announced publicly. Witnesses are well used to hearing about how that this or that circuit expense will be met if everyone contributes such and such an amount. This is always followed by clarification that it is not thereby suggested each member pony up that amount, but rather that the congregation in aggregate do so. The private instruction reveals that even that fair policy is not held fast to. Elders know their flock. A poor congregation can lessen their share. A well-off congregation can increase it.

 

Another letter was posted online, this one to bodies of elders in some congregations in Nigeria, among those “lands of limited resources.” The intent of this leak is to misrepresent the Watchtower organization as working to squeeze the last dime out of poor people. It does nothing of the sort. Ten minutes of an upcoming congregation meeting is to be allotted to discussing contributions. The elders are asked to “please stress that regularity is very important when contributing.” 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 forms the basis of discussion (here rendered in the NABRE, though the letter quotes NWT): “Now in regard to the collection for the holy ones, you also should do as I ordered the churches of Galatia. On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford, so that collections will not be going on when I come. And when I arrive, I shall send those whom you have approved with letters of recommendation to take your gracious gift to Jerusalem,” writes the apostle Paul.

The letter to congregation elders then observes: “Paul’s suggestion on the manner of contributing can be applied by congregation members today. How? Regularity is the key. If your congregation is to pay the monthly rent and maintenance expenses of your meeting place or Kingdom Hall, it will take ‘contributing, not so much the amount, but the regularity of setting something aside each week or month for kingdom interests,’ writes the branch office in Peru. Does this idea appeal to you? Even children can be taught to appreciate how regularity in contributing is part of their worship. We all regularly set aside money for school fees, food, rent and other necessities. How much more important it is to do so for kingdom interests. Taking advantage of whichever way is most convenient for us personally, whether electronically or by using the contribution box in our local Kingdom Hall, regularity in contribution will help us to put true worship first in our lives.”

Is it greedy? Or is it simply a reminder that the light bill must be paid? The one who posts the confidential letter excitedly states: “Is this the head start to tithing? Seems so.” It doesn’t seem so at all to this writer. Tithing is a system of giving 10% of one’s income to a religious entity. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do it. Many churches do. It was a requirement of the Old Testament. There is no basis upon which to carry it over into the New Testament, but many faiths, with an apparent eye on the cash flow, do so anyway. Ten percent is an easily manageable sum to persons well-off financially. To those who are poor it is a crushing load to bear, and Christ would not have his followers bear it. Note that contributions in the letter are likened to money for school fees, food, rent, and other necessities, not to a percentage of income.

The opponent is either too deceitful, too driven by agenda, or possibly too stupid to notice that the Watchtower’s letter to the congregation is exactly based on the scripture quoted in the same paragraph. In fact, the two are intertwined in the letter, so that they are seemingly impossible to separate save for someone unusually determined to do so. Moreover, the Watchtower organization shows more consideration than even Paul does to the Corinthian congregation. Paul simply says, in effect: ‘I’m coming for the money. Have it ready!’ without any detail as to what he will use it for. He “orders” it. The Watchtower letter simply says that members can be instructed by Paul’s letter—it doesn’t demand anything—and it, unlike Paul, supplies the reason for funds needed. They are mundane: rent and maintenance.

The point already made is reaffirmed: few are less intrusive about money than are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other faiths make it a per person matter, not per congregation, by thrusting an offering plate right under their noses with the whole church looking on. What if our detractor turned his rage upon the Bible itself? Could he not be outraged that Paul tells them to have his money ready for pick-up? And what of Paul’s promise to take it to Jerusalem? ‘Sure! He’s probably going to take it to Ephesus or Corinth for some high living!’ they’d say. ‘He calls it a ‘gift.’ It sounds more like extortion! Why does God need our money, anyway? It’s ours! Tell him to keep his hands off!’ Tell him to do what the [insert anyone you like] religious leader did. At the interfaith conference on how to distribute collected funds, whether for ‘us’ or for God, one denomination head suggested throwing the money in the air and what came down on one side of a drawn line was theirs, and the other side God’s. Another clergyman reversed sides of the line. But the third advised that, upon throwing all money into the air, “What God wants, he will keep.”

 

Still another letter was posted; this place leaks like a sieve! This one was regarding the then-upcoming 2017 Annual Meeting, to be streamed from Warwick NY to 600,000 in various locations. Set up an extra contribution box or two, it said. The one who posted the letter crowed about this positive proof that they thought only of money at Watchtower central.

Again, I ask forgiveness for a bit of sarcasm, the language of you-know-who. He’s the one who makes me do it. It so happened that I was one of the 600,000. The program was eventually placed on the JW.org website, where it can be viewed by anyone. Four hours! That’s how long the annual meeting lasted. Four hours of experiences and refinements and the history of building the new Warwick New York headquarters followed by a dedication of those facilities. After that dedication, there were four talks of adjusted views and exhortation that might be dull to some, but they were invigorating to Witnesses.6

And then, spoiling it all, (I couldn’t believe it—right in the midst of it) 30 seconds of shameless groveling for money! They actually (brace yourselves), they actually suggested that those present might donate if they wanted to! and (GASP!) they even specified where it might be done (at the contribution box)! Thirty seconds’ mention of money in a four-hour period! Detractors are right! It’s all about money with these people!

Oh, and that letter spirited out, that the poster was so excited about sharing—the one directing that extra contribution stations should be established? I looked and looked for ours (our meeting was at the Kingdom Hall) and I discovered it! That slot in the counter that used to be designated as the Kingdom Hall fund but was taped over when that fund was combined with the Worldwide Work? It was uncovered again, and also labeled Worldwide Work!

Witnesses will hardly rejoice to see the above three confidential letters displayed online. They will more likely be irritated, for who likes their private correspondence posted for all to peruse? Still, the confidential portions only serve to strengthen general confidence in the organization that serves its members. Bethel wrote local elders to remind local publishers to donate in a timely manner. The letter is posted online in hopes that anyone reading will be outraged at the greedy Watchtower. Instead, I feigned outrage at the greedy Bible writers, for it was clear that everything the Watchtower organization did was based upon scripture. To what degree is one willing to be ‘taught by Jehovah?’ The Bible includes matters veering from the strictly spiritual into the purely practical.

If anyone want to do “blunt,” let them consider instructions given to those attending the Jewish festivals. You “shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you.”7 It is as though Jehovah says: “There! Got it? Don’t think you are going to crash the party and freeload! You can at least bring a bag of potato chips.”

 

At a September 2017 congregation meeting, finances were atypically discussed at length. The book God’s Kingdom Rules, already quoted, is a history of the modern-day Witness organization. Under consideration at successive congregation meetings, the book at last gotten around to discussing how the work is financed.8 Of long ago, it stated:

“ON ONE occasion, Brother Charles T. Russell was approached by a minister of the Reformed Church who wanted to know how the activities of the Bible Students were managed. “We never take up a collection,” explained Brother Russell. “How do you get the money?” asked the minister.

“If I tell you what is the simplest truth you will hardly be able to believe it,” replied Russell. “When people get interested in this way, they find no basket placed under their nose. But they see there are expenses. They say to themselves, ‘This hall costs something….How can I get a little money into this thing?’” The minister looked at Brother Russell in disbelief.

“I am telling you the plain truth,” continued Russell. “They do ask me this very question, ‘How can I get a little money into this cause?’ When one gets a blessing and has any means, he wants to use it for the Lord. If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?”

Yes. Of course. “If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?” That is why no collections are ever taken at the Kingdom Hall and a contribution box suffices. What seems more trusting in God: a contribution box in the back where people may or may not give anonymously, or an offering plate passed through the rows so that everyone nearby knows just how much one puts in?

Activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses have greatly increased since that time, and the funds necessary have increased accordingly, but their relative place is the same. Bill Underwood compared the disaster relief efforts of several religious organizations in the aftermath of an earthquake that devastated Haiti. Most issued urgent appeals for money. Most provided only sketchy details as to what they would do with those monies. But when it came to the Watchtower:

“Well, that was refreshing. I went to watchtower.org and searched it for references to money, donations, charity. All I found were Watchtower articles such as ‘Is money you master or your servant?’ Try as I might, there was no way to donate any money to the organization, nor any request for donations. The only mention of money I found, in connection with Haiti, was in a public news release at jw-media.org entitled “Witnesses’ relief efforts well under way for victims of earthquake in Haiti.” A single line at the bottom read, ‘The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is caring for these expenses by utilizing funds donated to the Witnesses’ worldwide work.’” Not only was there no plea for money, but it was not possible to donate any at this most obvious appeal-spot.9

Few persons would argue that the Watchtower organization does not use whatever funds are donated fully for the spread of the good news. People know from experience that when those of the Witness organization travel anywhere, they will stay at the lodgings of a fellow Witness. A hotel tab is unheard of. If they dine out at restaurants, they do so at the invitation of friends or at their own expense. When they travel, it via commercial flights. There has never been a financial scandal within the Witness organization, unless you count someone wearing cufflinks or traveling first class, which a Governing Body member will do in order not to arrive at a crucial meeting having just flown around the globe with his knees in his mouth.

Oh, and I am told (somewhat to my surprise) by someone who served in Bethel 35 years ago, that it was not expected that Governing Body members lodge at branch facilities or private homes when they traveled, though many preferred to do just that, and when they did not, he (not me) strongly suspected that it was because their wives insisted upon an expense account hotel as a break from an otherwise relentless Bethel dormitory routine. It is so human how can it not be true? But I know nothing of today, though I guess it would be easy enough to find out. No matter. Stay in a hotel if you must. Those of the Governing Body are my servants. They work hard, and I benefit. Have a second cup of coffee on me. Bizarrely, the greatest financial scandal one can point to is that of Judas stealing money from the disciples’ fund back in the day.10 It wouldn’t happen today. A simple accounting system that would have caught the ancient scoundrel is routine among Witnesses today for congregation and circuit expenses.

At Regional Conventions one finds a standard message on the printed program, not stated verbally: “At considerable cost, arrangements have been made to provide adequate seating, a sound system, video equipment, and many other services that make attending the convention enjoyable and help us to draw closer to Jehovah. Your voluntary contributions help to cover these expenses and also support the worldwide work. For your convenience, clearly marked contribution boxes are located throughout the facility. All contributions are very much appreciated. The Governing Body wishes to thank you for your generous support of kingdom interests.” There are a few electronic terminals about as well to accommodate persons more modern, but nobody could ever say it is in-your-face.

The line that invariably gets the largest applause at the Regional Convention is: “Would you like to convey your greetings to Bethel?” It is obvious why that is so. People look around them and see evidence everywhere that whatever donations they have made are being spent wisely. They see a huge infrastructure that is entirely dedicated to fulfilling the Christian mission of publicizing and representing kingdom interests. They do not feel the need to monitor Bethel for crooks and they are confident that, should crooks appear, the overall upright character of the organization will handle it.

No financial scandals may have ever occurred, but to ones who would like to halt the Witnesses’ work, there is always a giant one just around the corner. Occasionally these ones demand regular public accounting of the overall organization: financial reports such as a public, but not private, business would provide. Congregation members do not demand such. The accounting that matters to them, and that negates any need of their scrutinizing the higher finances, are the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls sprouting up like mushrooms in areas that can ill-afford them. The accounting is the disaster relief mobilization—Witnesses are ever among the first upon the scene—that promptly undertakes the project while outsiders are yet mobilizing. In 2013, a newspaper in Arkansas reported on the rapid response of Witness volunteers, and stated: “The organizational structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has developed the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.”11

The accounting is the annual convention held hundreds of times around the globe, and televised content utilizing the latest means of video technology. The accounting is the website translated into 900 languages to facilitate a unified teaching of God’s Word. Imagine the effort to accomplish such a feat of translation—Google and Apple and Wikipedia combined do not come close!12 The accounting is free Bible distribution, so that the poor family in an impoverished country can have one for free if they need one, rather than be stuck with an archaic and unaffordable 200-year-old translation that they could not understand anyway because nobody of the religious world dreams it possible to circumvent the commercial world’s distribution system. Everyone else thinks it is natural that Big Business should control the distribution of God’s message to humankind. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses have the vision to challenge that model so completely on a worldwide scale and the determination to see that challenge through. The accounting is the lovable childlike cartoon characters Caleb and Sophia who, despite their tender years, still come off as more mature than some of those who would cry foul over this or that aspect of the Witness organization.

In the overall picture, any video or print material devoted to money represents but a tiny percent of Watchtower’s output; one need only peruse the material to convince oneself. A yearly article in the Watchtower magazine covers various means in which one may give: through wills, deeds, conditional loans, and so forth. Even that yearly article is not asking for money. It is simply telling those inclined to donate the most effective ways of doing it. 

One Witness says he has “found contribution methods to nearly always be a topic of interest to new ones I bring to the meeting. Not only do they expect to contribute something to costs, but they are often puzzled as to why so little is said about money. This sometimes arouses suspicion on their part as to some sort of financial ‘whammy’ that might be waiting in the wings should they pursue their interest. So having information on contribution methods clearly available and transparent is indeed prudent.”

He is “regularly given funds by members of the public as a contribution to our work which, even if they do not belong to our movement, they see as genuine and above board. Most people I witness to quickly see that with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they get much value for actually no money at all. I am happy to contribute to an organization that seeks to genuinely preach ‘the good news of the kingdom,’ and most of those who stick around are of the same mind.”

This writer is reminded of a local man, an entrepreneur and scientist, who attended meetings for some time, but never did progress to the point of baptism. Still, he expressed a desire to leave substantial funds to the Watchtower Society upon his death. “I don’t agree with everything you say,” he said, “but I do know that none of my money will be wasted.” It didn’t happen. Members of his family raised powerful objection and he reconsidered.

I learned of this long after the fact. His name had first come to my attention when I was a schoolboy. He had purchased the beach that the city had sold by mistake. In the 1960s, Durand Beach along Lake Ontario became so polluted that it was closed to public swimming. In time, it was forgotten about, and this curmudgeonly fellow purchased it at public auction. He had planned a system of filters to screen off a portion of it for a private club. Red-faced city fathers discovered their mistake only upon reading the newspapers and leaned upon him to get ‘their’ beach back. As an adolescent savors evidence that the grownups are inept, just like Tom Sawyer savored his teacher losing his toupee, I savored this faux pas and did not forget the man’s name.

A dozen years after I became a Witness, a letter signed by him appeared in the newspaper praising Witness youths visiting his door as unfailingly polite and well spoken. I had long forgotten about him, but with this letter my childhood memory was revived. Years after that, I gave the public talk at another Kingdom Hall and there he was in the audience! He was studying the Bible with a congregation member. My talk was on a science theme, and since he was a scientist, I asked him afterwards whether it was any good. He said it was not. It can be a fearsome thing when a Witness gets his hands on a public talk outline dealing with science, because few of them specialize. I thought I had brought myself up to speed. Silly me.

 

For decades, Witnesses have heard about their surpluses benefiting other lands with deficits. They know it is hopelessly out of the reach of many congregations in poor countries to afford their own Kingdom Hall, and they are thrilled to know their funds are spent to that end. Only with organization can such equalization take place “to test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.”13 Following that biblical statement is a reminder of how the Lord Jesus Christ “for your sake … became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He thereby sets the pattern for counsel that follows: “but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”14

Equalizing is seen in construction of Kingdom Halls worldwide. ‘Lands with Limited Resources’ have been recipients of donations so as to build therein places of worship that would be out of their means otherwise. During a fourteen-year period commencing in 1999, almost 27,000 Kingdom Halls were built that way, generally by local Witnesses working with global volunteers skilled in construction. Virtually all Kingdom Halls in Russia were built this way, says Chivchalov. After the trial, Dvorkin crowed that the Russian Supreme Court action had deprived Jehovah’s Witnesses of outside funding. ‘Let them exist on honey and locusts,’ he said in effect. ‘That ought to be a fair test of whether their version of Christianity can thrive.’ To the extent the Russian complaint is correct that the Watchtower is a vast money-pumping machine, it has pumped money into, not out of, the country, which money the government has seen fit to take for itself.

In the U.S. and other Western lands, there is even a movement to consolidate congregations where underutilization of Kingdom Halls exists, selling off the surplus building so as to fund with it the construction of many Kingdom Halls in less affluent areas. Historically, Kingdom Halls were built as Witnesses living in different areas struck out from the main Hall to build ones of their own, in their own communities. Over time, some of these Halls became overcrowded and some dwindled into under-use.

Not all Kingdom Halls have burst at the seams. They were all supposed to. The pattern of the first century repeats itself. The learned ones of that time looked down upon Christianity, and the educated ones of the modern day sometimes leave the faith should they become too educated for their pants, as they exchange it for something with spiritual overtones but no practical bite, something that will spiritualize them but by no means supplant their quest for the better life in this system.  It is the same with money as with education. As soon as people accumulate enough of it, they are inclined to say ‘Who needs God?’ the essence of Proverbs 30:8. Accordingly, the Witness faith explodes in poorer lands and holds its own in wealthier educated lands. There are even occasional reverses. Of course, one never knows what the future will hold for any given area.

Consolidation where advantageous is a responsible use of resources, even if it means a longer twice-a-week commute for some who acquiesce to this financially responsible direction. After all, shut down one dud of a Kingdom Hall in a U.S. area that has not filled it, and you can build one hundred or more in poorer nations that greatly need them, or even one in the same nation where land prices are astronomical. One of the reasons Jehovah’s organization works and others do not, at least not on such a scale, is that Witnesses have come to identify with the entire brotherhood, regardless of where in the world they may live, and do not obsess about their own immediate interests. They do not all figure they have to all go over to Benin or wherever and see for themselves and each ponder over the balance statement and have special sessions to discuss it and take a vote on it, thinking no one other than they themselves can be trusted—they just don’t. They have decided the ones having oversight are trustworthy, as they have given no cause to think otherwise, as they adhere to the same healthful scriptural teachings, so they grin and bear it if some policy does not work to their immediate benefit.

 

The demand to render public accounting is but a nod to another form of human self-rule: democracy. It is faith that the people should scrutinize every nickel spent and that such a course is the only way to keep those running the show honest. By law public corporations must do it. Private corporations do not. Does that mean they keep no accounts? No. It just means they do not feel the obligation to report to the general world. With regard to the Watchtower organization, congregation members do not demand it. Their detractors will not be satisfied with it.

We will be able to smell fraud when Sam Herd upgrades to a bigger dorm room. Let there be some evidence of chicanery before ones assume that their democratic method is the be-all and end-all. It shouldn’t be hard to understand. If some twist undeniably good deeds to make them seem vile, exaggerate any missteps, ignore any mitigating factors, and without exception impute bad motives, what will they do when they discover Bethel upgraded from plastic laminate to solid wood furnishings at the headquarters lobby? They are dealing with ones who simply want to take them down. If you hate the message, you will hate the messenger. That is a valid position: hating the message. Just be upfront about it. Perhaps they will one day open up their financial books in worldwide publication for all to scrutinize, but they have offered no sign of it yet.

One might consider how Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians bears on the subject: “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?”15 If the ‘holy ones’ back then were to be entrusted with spiritual lives, were they incapable of handling ‘worldly wealth?’ Are they incapable of handling it today?

The Bible does not encourage of love of money. ‘Give me enough of it,’ says a psalmist, ‘but not too much.’ It has a way of corrupting. It has a way of engendering high self-esteem, which is as detrimental as low self-esteem. Money is incidental to a person’s worth, not the very fabric of it. The rich young man who could not bear to part with his wealth would find it hard to gain entrance into the kingdom, Jesus said. Another who could only think of building bigger barns for his harvest failed to anticipate that he was to die that night with no spiritual wealth accumulated. “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Not money in itself, but the love of money is the problem.16 Accordingly, when a Watchtower article ran the life experiences of a man known to me personally, it did not even mention the fact that he was a self-made millionaire;17 many religious groups would fawn over the fact. He must have been a millionaire, unless he gave it all away, which is not impossible, for he was a very generous man. Tracts of homes bearing his construction firm’s name appear throughout the area.

Jesus tells a quirky parable to convey the proper view of money. It involves a steward about to be fired who acts in a dishonest way: “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’

“And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”18

Would he really commend the dishonest steward for stealing him blind? These days, security guards escort you to the door of the company that you have been downsized out of so as to prevent that from happening. Jesus uses an illustration that doesn’t exactly ring true to teach a greater point: the ‘unrighteous riches’ are the assets one has as a consequence of living in an unrighteous world. Use them in such a way to gain friends, primarily a certain Friend who runs the ‘eternal dwellings.’ Be generous with what assets you have, and if you are stingy in this you will be stingy in human qualities too.

The phrase ‘dishonest wealth’ is rendered in various translations as ‘worldly wealth,’ ‘wealth of unrighteousness,’ and ‘mammon of iniquity.’ The banned New World Translation calls it ‘unrighteous riches.’ Always there is a taint. It is good stuff, money is, but it is not completely above board. The financial system that awards it is absolutely amoral, and sometimes immoral. Don’t let the worldly wealth go to your head, for it is wont to do that. Why not feature a “dishonest” (or unrighteous) steward to drive home the point? It is not a virtue in itself that he is financially comfortable. It came about because of his master. He has learned to play the game, that’s all. Others equally virtuous, or even more so, have not been so adept, or have played half-heartedly. The game is not the stuff of life. Though much of the American Protestant tradition marches financial prosperity and godliness practically in lockstep, there is little correlation between the two, and to the extent there is, it is sometimes reverse.

It is hardly shocking that Christians today should contribute toward the spread of kingdom interests. Always, and unlike in many other religions, it is: “Let each one give privately according to what is in one’s own heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Always it is: “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.”19 In the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one has not the slightest idea what anyone else is giving. 

Countless persons today will say that they believe in God but decline to align themselves with organized religion. Organized anything means nothing but abuse of power, they have sadly concluded, and they want no part of it. Surely they are selling God short to assume that he would be incapable of uniting people in Christian conduct so that the inherent advantages of organization can be realized. Or perhaps they are demanding too much, by insisting they will only deal with the Top Man. God has always dealt through a human agency. The Bible record of first-century Christians is replete with persons overcoming the frictions of life to work together—even with the fishermen (John and Peter) telling the scholars (Paul, and arguably, Luke20) what to do. Insist upon face time with God exclusively and one had better be able to deliver a record more spotless than anyone has delivered so far. After all, people individually are not exactly the creampuffs they ought be if they would demand to be served by a flawless human organization. They will have to take what they can get.

To carry on and on about the donations Witnesses give to the cause they believe in—can it be any more than mere jealousy?  If Jehovah’s Witnesses flood the coffers in response to very little prodding, as has been seen, why should their detractors care? Can it be anything more than an intense dislike for the message preached, and so a trumped-up charge that they are somehow doing it underhandedly, crying crocodile tears with a feigned concern for ones so ‘deceived’? All the evidence indicates Witnesses are quite satisfied and do not feel deceived at all.  It is every other commercial interest relentlessly trying to get its hands into my pocket that I must be on guard against.

Katerina Chernova pushes back at ‘money-pumping’ allegations Witnesses are subjected to. Yes, they are heard all the time, she acknowledges, but “when [people] are asked to name just one victim from whom money, apartments, or something else was taken by the Witnesses, NOBODY was able to remember A SINGLE case in fact! So we asked to show us or give the address of just one cottage of a Jehovah’s Witness, built with money stolen from people. And again, nobody knows a single real instance.” She goes on to relate a small fact that is actually huge and says it all: with Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptisms and weddings and funerals are conducted “on a cost-free basis.” (It’s true. I have buried many.) With the Orthodox Church?  “We have heard many complaints against it regarding the impossibility of performing any ritual in the event that a person does not have money. That is, you want to be ‘baptized,”—some ‘donation;’ you want to be ‘married,’—it takes so much cash; a ‘funeral,’—it is also not for free.” An avaricious organization is not going to cut off these most dependable of all generators of cash.21

More than once jealousy is identified in Scripture as the true reason for underhanded means. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy,” and they resorted to “violent abuse,” says Acts. What could fit into the pattern more nicely than stealing that gift Paul was to deliver to Jerusalem before he could get it there?  The only reason one might condemn money-raising of the Watchtower organization is the desire to eliminate it. Their organization enables a powerful magnification of the kingdom proclaiming work, and to kill that work is the object.22

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. via private email
  2. David Masci, “How Income Varies Among U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research Center, October 11, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/11/how-income-varies-among-u-s-religious-groups/
  3. Caryle Murphy, “The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research, November 4, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/
  4. Acts 4:13
  5. John 16:12
  6. The program has been packaged into three segments and is viewable at https://tv.jw.org/#en/categories/VODProgramsEvents
  7. Deuteronomy 16: 16-17
  8. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 194
  9. Bill Underwood, “Helping Haiti - Give Generously But Wisely,” Bible Friendly Books, August 17, 2016, http://www.biblefriendlybooks.com/2016/08/helping-haiti-give-generously-but-wisely.html
  10. John 12:6
  11. Wanda Gray, “Good Samaritans Provide Relief,” this article, probably from the Southwest Times Record, includes the short quote used. The quote is reproduced for the ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book, page 213, and is from the year 2013. A phone call to the Fort Smith, Arkansas public library reveals that records are not yet digitalized, making an Internet search unfeasible. The article clipping itself is in my personal possession.
  12. Ofer Tirosh, “What is the World’s Most Translated Website?” tomedes.com, July 7, 2015, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/most-translated-website.php
  13. 2 Corinthians 8:8
  14. 2 Corinthians 8:14
  15. 1 Corinthians 6:2
  16. Matthew 19:22, Luke 12:18, 1 Timothy 6:10
  17. “Never Forget the Door-to-Door Ministry,” The Watchtower, September 1, 2008, 19
  18. Luke 16:1-9
  19. 2 Corinthians 9:7, Matthew 6:2-4
  20. It is “arguable” that Luke was a scholar, in that the Watchtower has ceased appending the almost automatic “respected physician” preceding his name, the basis being that physicians of that time were not respected. David Splane explained that doctors of the first century were often freed Greek slaves with correspondingly low social standing, not to mention low recovery rates. He quoted a description from one ancient work: “Until recently [so-and-so] was a doctor. Now he is an undertaker. He is still doing as an undertaker what he used to do as a doctor.” November Monthly Broadcast, JW Broadcasting, November 2017. Still, Luke is the writer of the Book of Acts, besides the gospel book bearing his name, and can hopefully survive this debacle.
  21. Katerina Chernova, “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Are They Banned or Not?” Suchan, April 2017, as captured at accessed March 27, 2018, https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170426a.html
  22. Acts 13:45    

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Earth

What’s not to like about WALL-E, the 2008 American computer-animated movie? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. You see, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, and then evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied, and they have become essentially helpless, though good-natured, blobs. Before they fled the planet they had ruined, 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 one might imagine, he is lonely. All that changes when a pretty female robot (EVE) shows up. Sparks fly, as is to be expected with robots. The two save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for the humans to return!

The film was an instant blockbuster. What menial job can garner more sympathy than that of saving the earth? “You leave WALL-E with a feeling of the rarest kind,” said film critic Peter Travers. It “fills you with pure exhilaration.” Saving the planet will do that. I liked the film. My wife liked it. Surely everyone must have liked it. But when she 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 some, wouldn’t it? After all, WALL-E was a movie reminding viewers of a present that is not so rosy. “If Wall-E has anything original to say, it takes place in the first 30 minutes on a planet heaped high with junk. But the parallels between fiction and reality are almost too painful to contemplate,” writes another film critic, Dorothy Woodend.

The Bible frankly states that humans will, by their self-centered activity, threaten to “destroy the earth.” Believers can take comfort that the same verse says God will destroy them before they can complete their task, but if you didn’t know that, it would be disheartening indeed.1

Is it beneficial for the earth short-term for people to know that? Or does it make them complacent? Why worry about the earth since God will eventually clean it up? Witnesses have had people accuse them of holding just that attitude. “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 grumbled online.

Well—not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in better in the first place. This is because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. They are law-abiding to the core, honest, industrious, not abusing government services, nor contributing to the criminal element operating with little hindrance in many lands. They are promoting stable, monogamous families—all of this by virtue of making the Bible their guide to life.

And to think that this writer was upbraided a few years ago, along with all his people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah’s Witness preaching, already!” scolded an interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then carried on about how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up rubbish that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, no one is against cleanup days—they are undeniably a good thing—but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we’re saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, some industrial blunder will undo the efforts of countless picker-uppers.

Just about the time of this exchange online, there was such a blunder. BP lost a rig in the Gulf of Mexico and 3-4 million gallons of oil poured out over 87 days: the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “How to clean up the mess? And who’s at blame!” cried Time Magazine’s cover of June 21, 2010, against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. The magazine listed a “dirty dozen,” which included the prior president and his Secretary of State, a former oilman, but also the current president and some of his underlings. There were also a handful of other tycoons, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver was on the list, 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. President Obama declared that he was looking for “asses to kick,” even while hinting that his own posterior might be among them.

Reports had it that local picker-uppers were showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost, since this was a job for pros! BP and others floated salvage ships to corral surface oil and burn it. Dire predictions were of massive environmental collapse from the oil that escaped and lined the shore. It didn’t happen. Not to say that there might not be long term consequences, but, by and large, the earth is pretty good at healing itself. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus on overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President’s then-combative ass-kicking tone.

No, I won’t stand for it: to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And do not mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment. When our kids were small and we hiked the trails at Allegheny State Park, we would 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 were awarded for such finds! And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Harley is driving behind you! She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you off to the sheriff under citizens’ arrest.

One fellow with an Internet connection gripes 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 community, Witness compliance is higher than most, no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely Witness compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet.

Sometimes financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause. When that happens, they may outdo the average Witness. But Witnesses surely shine when compared to the population in general. When I attended a wine festival, each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in single-use plastic cups, plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I don’t think so; all trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is single-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. When I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country’s largest consumer of AAA batteries, I asked whether they were recycled. They laughed at me. Into the trash those batteries went, each and every last one of them.

We are 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 “destroy those destroying the earth.” Witnesses tend to use their free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, is the one that counts. My experience is that it is only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway—it is not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses are thwarting the entire effort. And surely it must count for something that Witnesses aren’t among those who caused the mess in the first place.

There is a hazardous waste recycling center nearby, a joint effort by the county and Waste Management. It is regularly trafficked by environmentally conscious persons who are not too weighed down by the cares of life, but it serves a 30-mile radius. What percentage of the population actually travels 30 miles to use it? Into the common landfills most stuff goes, which is admittedly an improvement over simply dumping garbage out in the back woods back in the day.

 

Having said all this, in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses clean up the parks. If they were to do it here, it would prove the very opposite of the Russian government’s claim, for the United States Witnesses would not have told Russian Witnesses what to do, but Russian Witnesses would have told the American ones what to do. “In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Chivchalov says. “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.”

It’s not a bad marriage, is it? The ones who hope to live forever on a paradise earth volunteer to clean it up now. The earth is not a cheap hotel room that is not up to your standards but since you are staying only a few days you can overlook it. No. It is our permanent home. Witnesses are not one of those religions that are ‘just passing through’—a few decades on the planet, then off to heavenly realms. Clean up those parks!

Might this even present opportunities to speak of God’s future promises regarding the planet? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Whereas there are some denominations that teach God will one day destroy the earth with fire, what an ideal venue is a congregation park cleanup to explain that he won’t. What a perfect setting in which to tell the illustration Witnesses love to tell: ‘If you have built a house and rented it out to tenants who have destroyed it, you don’t burn down the house. You evict the tenants and find better ones.”

Extrapolating from too little data, Chivchalov says, with regard to park cleanups, that ‘other people clean them too.’ If they ever do it here, they certainly do not do it so commonly that one could say ‘other people clean them too.’ Does Russia clean up the planet more than does America, while polluting it less? You could certainly make the case that Russia has saved the planet a time or two. Or three. There are that many examples of when a Russian has literally saved the planet from nuclear ruin. I can think of no such examples in the West.

In 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in charge of the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, saw that five missiles had been launched by the United States. The eyes of all his subordinates were upon him. Had he passed the information along to his superiors, it would have triggered an immediate Soviet counterstrike. He judged it was a malfunction and told underlings to forget about it. Of course, investigation later confirmed that he had been correct. Stanislav died during 2017, to relatively scant notice.2 He is one of the Ecclesiastes “princes who went on foot like slaves, while slaves rode on horseback.”3

Another was Vasili Arkhipov. He was the sole one of three senior officers on the nuclear-missile equipped submarine B-59 who refused to authorize their use—authorization had to be unanimous—during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thomas Blanton, then director of the U.S. National Security Archives, credited him with ‘saving the world.’4 Third was Nikita Khrushchev, mentioned in the Statecraft chapter, sending the telegram that arguably defused the Cuban tension and ended the crisis.

 

Nuclear attack was a very real fear in the years following World War II. I used to crouch under my school desk, as mentioned in chapter 6, with hands clasped behind neck, until my classmates and I grew too big for such ‘protection, at which point we filed into the hallway and leaned against our lockers. Nor was it only the United States who had to be wary of the Russians. Russians had good reasons to be wary of the U.S. Intoxicated by the decisive end to the second world war brought about by Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, American General MacArthur sought to use up to 50 of the new devices just five years later along the Chinese and Russian border, to close out the Korean War, in a strike that would have made doings in Japan look like a schoolyard brawl. However, President Truman wouldn’t let him do it.5

Nuclear annihilation fired the popular imagination during the 1950s and 1960s. Remember how Ray Bradbury’s character in The Martian Chronicles trains his telescope on earth just in time to see its final mushroom cloud? And who can forget Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes encountering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, suddenly realizing just what planet he is on, and screaming: “They blew it up! Damn them! Damn them to hell!” Not to mention the Twilight Zone episode in which that hen-pecked fellow goes into the bank vault to read, only to have the world end while he is so occupied. Far from being put out, he is delighted, since he can now read free from the eternal nagging of his boss and wife. Unfortunately, he breaks his glasses. Thus far, none of those disasters have come about. Up till now, there is always someone to, just in the nick of time, hold the earth together, but it’s one heck of a way to run a planet. Didn’t they just reset the Doomsday Clock at two minutes before midnight? Many think that threat is now greater than ever, since there are more nuclear powers, and they are more unstable.

When I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s and came across that scripture telling how God would “destroy those destroying the earth,” I read it in terms of nuclear destruction. It was really the only means of destroying the earth that anyone could envision back then. Yes, some areas were polluted then, but nobody saw such things as a threat to the entire earth. These days an endless list leaps to mind—most are some variant of man-made pollution. Taking first place has to be global warming, but through the years we’ve also learned to fret about global dimming, species eradication, air and water pollution, acid rain, deforestation, contamination of the food supply, and so forth. Wasn’t there just some study detailing how pharmaceuticals have found their way into the water supply? In minute concentrations, of course, yet over time, and given the fact that such chemicals are specifically designed to interact with living tissue, isn’t it another “destroying the earth” scenario?

The Bible uses the term ‘earth’ in yet another way. It doesn’t always refer to the physical planet. It can refer to the society living upon it. If we broaden our definition of earth in this way, we, as a consequence, add new social ways in which humans destroy the earth. In fact, when God spells out a reason for bringing the flood of Noah’s time, he declared that the earth was corrupted, not by air pollution or global warming, but by human violence.6 Surely violence corrupts the earth today. Imagine hatred so intense that people delight to die if only they can take a dozen or so with them! Ever more graphic violence is a staple of television entertainment. In the wake of a school shooting, the president gathered video game makers to say that their products are too violent, and they should tone it down. The media promptly trotted out experts bristling with degrees to ‘correct him.’ Yes, it does make a certain intuitive sense, they conceded, but science shows that violent games provide a harmless substitute for the real thing and true violence actually decreases when people play all the games they want.7 Will they dare say it with regard to child porn?

New ways of destruction continue to surface, even as the older ones continue to simmer. Putin has declared whoever controls artificial intelligence (AI) controls the world.8 Others say no one will control AI; in time it will control us, and will perhaps squash us one fine day, without malice, when it perceives we have somehow gotten in its way. Predictably, AI is instantly adapted to porn. Supplementing online porn and virtual-reality porn, AI-enhanced porn produces a product so enticing that it is feared people will neglect the real thing. Will God be thwarted? Will the irresistible force of sexual attraction, the key to preservation of the species, becomes a ‘been there, done that’ thing?

Such things are not unexpected to the student of the Bible and are just part of the accumulating ‘sign’ that human rulership is unfit, and that God is fully justified in bringing its end, to be replaced with his own kingdom rule. Only then will the earth ever be free of threats to its existence.

Still, even with that knowledge, trialsome conditions are trialsome conditions. Jehovah’s people may see light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a tunnel nonetheless. Sometimes people give up on the light and instead focus on the tunnel. Some simply worry about it, and some try to patch it up. It is easy to wobble in faith. If Paul could speak of those who had experienced “shipwreck of their faith” in his day, much more do his words apply in our day as the whole earth wobbles insanely and all feel its effects. Doubtless that is why the Witness organization lays so much stress on ‘staples’ such as meetings, public ministry, and Bible study: staples that Russia seeks to deprive them of. These are the avenues—really, the only avenues—through which Christians can focus on the big picture of God’s deliverance.

 

Danish citizen and Russian resident Dennis Christensen was picking up the public park, just like WALL-E, until the Ministry of Justice decided he was a dangerous criminal that should be jailed. Dennis is the same fellow who built a playground for the children. How extremist does that sound? His congregation has a nice certificate from the mayor. Maybe it is even mounted somewhere: “In gratitude for a good deed—garbage collection for the benefit of people and nature.” Christensen’s role himself was to stand in foot-deep Orlik River water to fish out bags of trash. It’s his last act before losing his freedom. Someone later snapped a picture of the 23-person delegation standing behind bags upon bags of the rubbish they had collected, as though fishermen holding aloft the big ones that did not get away.9 The congregation tells of a city representative sympathetic to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the midst of their persecution, who wished them not to lose the ‘power of the spirit.’

Is there anything less radical that cleaning up the park? Does ISIS do it? If they do, most would hesitate to stroll through the area afterwards for fear of booby traps. How better to expose the nonsense of an ‘extremist’ label than to continue cleanups of public places? Will policemen follow along and monitor Witnesses to make sure they don’t witness to anyone? If they do, they may find themselves having to clean up the parks themselves: on the taxpayer’s dime, no less, and not for free as the Witnesses do.

 

After hurricane, flood, or earthquake, an entire city becomes a park to clean up. It is here that the Witness organization excels, having developed “the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.” Their art is simple, yet unreachable for many. People’s love for one another must be strong enough that it does not snap under adversity. There must be sufficient organization. It cannot be watered down by everyone wanting to be the chief. One weak link hampers all. Several weak links all but destroy it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known to have that love for one another and, as a byproduct, they are able to effectively organize without fuss in times of natural disaster.

Even the prompt Witness response to such disaster is spun as a negative by apostates. Why do the Witnesses just help themselves, they will say, with only the spillover benefiting the greater community? Why do not they help everyone without preference? The answer is that Witness workers are volunteers taking time off from work. A project can only be as large as there are volunteers available. The solution is for all other groups to organize themselves as Witnesses do for disaster relief. Helping one another promptly and effectively should not be unattainable rocket science. Others who rise to the occasion will thereby become so busy that they will have no time to complain that the doers are doing it wrong. People without Bible education tend not to get along. They supply unexpected friction at the very moment lubricant is needed. The Watchtower organization has no idea how to organize them. They will have to organize themselves.

Consistent with cleaning up the parks is building facilities that ‘understand’ the earth: that sway when it sways, that breathes when it breathes, and that has the most minimal impact upon the environment possible. Watchtower branch headquarters, 70 kilometers outside of London, completed in 2017, was certified ‘Outstanding’ by a leading sustainability authority for green construction methods.10 This is similar to the ‘Four Green Globes’ rating given the new worldwide headquarters in Warwick NY by an American agency.11 The branch facility in Haiti sustained but minor damage in a 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince; it had been built quake resistant.

In Gardiner, New York, Witnesses restored, repaired and painted that community’s 143-year-old town hall. “They did amazing work,” the town supervisor exclaimed at the next town-board meeting. They even combed through the archive photographs to repaint the trim a more historically authentic forest green.12 In Warwick, New York, they provided labor to repair the dam whose failure would have destroyed 200 residences downstream.13 In Patterson, New York, they landscaped the town’s firehouse and even bought them a new firetruck when told it lacked a vehicle that could service the five-story buildings Witnesses were constructing.14

Before realizing it was later to call anything Witness-related extremist, the editorial board of the journal World of Design in 2015 heaped praise upon the Witness’ branch headquarters in St Petersburg and its purpose.15 “The hall…is intended only for one main purpose—a thorough study of the Bible. Worship of God occurs both individually and with a large crowd of people, this is the basis of the tradition of thousands of biblical seminars.”

World of Design even noted its commitment to equality, a Russian ideal. “The principles of equal opportunities are promulgated for all who came here—if something is given here, then equally and of the same quality, this refers to lighting, location, acoustic level and air ventilation. The center provides comfortable conditions for all visitors, without fail on equal terms.”

The journal noted not a hint of catering to the luxurious; all was purely practical. “In this strictly functional building there are no exquisite ornaments. Nowhere is there any sense of luxury—such are the principles universally accepted in places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses as early as the beginning of the 20th century.”

As to the building itself, it “impressively combined with light, sometimes striped volumes, giving a harmonious look of the building. As the architects assumed, the building became an adornment of the city. Simultaneously attractive and elegant, it turned into some kind of architectural dominant of this area.”

Russian authorities liked it so much that they took it! Did the government recognize these unique attributes as they confiscated the center, built almost exclusively by Witness volunteers? A group of Finnish investors, fretting over an investment climate they judged negative in Russia, called the confiscation of private property “a very bad signal for the market.”16 At any rate, it certainly gives new meaning to a passage in Ezekiel:

“You will say, ‘I will invade a land of open villages and attack a peaceful people who live in security—all of them living without city walls, bars, or gates’ in order to plunder and pillage, turning your hand against resettled ruins, against a people gathered from the nations, a people whose concern is cattle and goods, dwelling at the center of the earth.”17

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia.   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Revelation 11:18
  2. Simon Shuster, “Stanislav Petrov, the Russian Officer Who Averted a Nuclear War, Feared History Repeating Itself, Time, September 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://time.com/4947879/stanislav-petrov-russia-nuclear-war-obituary/
  3. Ecclesiastes 10:7
  4. Nicola Davis, “Soviet Submarine Officer Who Averted Nuclear War Honoured with Prize,” October 27, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/27/vasili-arkhipov-soviet-submarine-captain-who-averted-nuclear-war-awarded-future-of-life-prize
  5. “Texts of Accounts by Lucas and Considine on Interviews With MacArthur in 1954,” New York Times, April 9, 1964, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/09/texts-of-accounts-by-lucas-and-considine-on-interviews-with-macarthur-in-1954.html
  6. Genesis 6:11
  7. Seth Schiesel, “The Real Problem With Video Games,” The New York Times, March 13, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/opinion/video-games-toxic-violence.html
  8. David Meyer, “Vladimir Putin Says Whoever Leads in Artificial Intelligence Will Rule the World” Fortune, September 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://fortune.com/2017/09/04/ai-artificial-intelligence-putin-rule-world
  9. “Dennis Kristensen, Who Languished in Jail, and His Co-Religionists Received Gratitude From Local Authorities,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, June 14, 2017, accessed March 24, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17061415-180.html
  10. Media release: “Witnesses’ New Branch Office in Britain Receives Top BREEAM Rating for Sustainable Design,” JW.org, September 5, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-kingdom/branch-office-breeam-rating-sustainable-design/
  11. Media release: “Witnesses Receive Highest Rating by GBI for Sustainable Design of New World Headquarters,” JW.org, February 14, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/gbi-awards-four-green-globes-sustainable-design/
  12. Frances Marion Platt, “Gardiner Town Hall Spruced Up by Watchtower Volunteers,” hudsonvalleyone.com, August 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2017/08/19/gardiner-town-hall-spruced-up-by-watchtower-volunteers
  13. Media release: “Witnesses Repair 60-Year-Old Dam in Warwick,” JW.org, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/witnesses-repair-60-year-old-dam-warwick/
  14. Mary McAleer Vizard, “In the Region: Putnam County; Watchtower Project Grows in Patterson,” New York Times, April 18, 1993, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/realestate/in-the-region-putnam-county-watchtower-project-grows-in-patterson.html
  15. “The Congress Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg. Overview,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, July 15, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/15071514-77.html
  16. Svetlana Mihaylova, “Do You Want to Attract Finnish Business, Improve Investment Climate,” fontanka.ru, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/12/16/038/
  17. Ezekiel 38:11-12

000

 

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Stephen Fry Runs Afoul of the Blasphemy Law

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which isexactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

From the ebook Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

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You Don’t Enter Stage From Behind the Quarter Walls

They have quarter walls on the platform of the new Kingdom Hall I visited. Most taking the platform would walk up from the side, disappear behind one end of the wall and then reappear from the other end to take the speaker position. I only saw one person do it differently.

It is just a small thing. Hardly worth mentioning. Petty, anyone? I ought to rise about the temptation to say anything. But.....on the other hand........

IT DROVE ME NUTS! Why would anyone do it that way?

I know how this happens. Someone starting doing it thinking it looked more “dignified.” Others thought it was a cool idea, and followed suit. That is how these things work. There is never a ‘rule’ though occasionally there is an unwritten rule which you cope with by just ignoring it.

The way you stop this nonsense is by deliberately flying in the face of it. Structures vary, but usually there is but a single step from the auditorium to the platform—it runs the width of the platform—and you mount that step any old place that you happen to be—let the stuffy other brothers think that you are barbaric if they must. What is more likely to happen is that they will come to think the other way is a little silly.

They see it done that way at the Assembly Hall and they try to carry over the experience to the Kingdom Hall. At the Assembly Hall, that seats 1000, well—of course! Just like in any auditorium, you have to enter through a door in the back and then come on stage behind a curtain or a half wall. You can’t just take stage directly from the auditorium because you would have to clamber up a 2 or 3 foot wall, and that would look ridiculous.

Entering from behind the short walls at the Kingdom Hall makes just the opposite impression. The walls are convenient places to store junk behind, most likely—unused mike stands and the like. It’s not for a pretentious means for entry when you can just walk up easy as pie from where ever you are!

“Sure,” says my wife. “You always know just the way it should be. Everyone is doing it wrong. Only Tom knows the way to do it!”

Finally, that woman is catching on! DO IT RIGHT, BROTHERS!

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“Egypt Anyone? Let’s Stuff This Religious Gig and Go Back!”

It seems incredible that Israelites delivered from bondage in Egypt would petition to go back just a few weeks later. Doesn’t it? We’ve all seen the movie. Moses raises him arm, the Red Sea parts, the Israelites cross, the Egyptian army follows, and the Sea closes in on them and drowns them all.

A few weeks later they thought it was all a mistake. They wanted to go back. Would anyone believe it without seeing it in black and white? No. Therefore, here it is:

“And all the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, and all the assembly began to say against them: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!  And why is Jehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” They even went to saying to one another: “Let us appoint a head, and let us return to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:2-4)

It wasn’t the cakewalk they thought it would be. If God got them out of a jam once, surely it couldn’t happen again. The food had been good. “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic!” (Numbers 11:5) True, the slavery sucked, but life wandering about in hopes of a promised lands wasn’t glamorous at all.

It is all a matter of delayed gratification. If you weren’t able to do that, and grumbled about manna— it was fairly versatile stuff, but there are limits—being not cucumbers and watermelons and leeks and onions and garlic, then you started to pine away for the old life. Apparently slavery wasn’t all that tortuous; if you faithfully made your quota of bricks, the taskmaster left you in peace and fed you good when feeding time came.

The reasons not to go back to Egypt? They were all of a spiritual nature. Wanting to worship their God unhindered had triggered the Ten Plague showdown in the first place. To Pharaoh is was: “This is what Jehovah the God of the Hebrews has said: “Send my people away that they may serve me.” (Exodus 9:13) And the “promised land” where they would also worship their God unhindered was but a promise that one had to have faith it would come about.

In short, the reasons to turn back were physical. The reasons to press on were spiritual. It is no different today. If the Reddit characters that the Philly reporter wrote about—the dropouts who carried on about “the absurdities of their experiences” to a reporter who lapped it all up—it could be argued that they remained too shallow for too long to appreciate what was worthwhile.

Wanting to go back to Egypt, my foot! To maneuver to maybe become the bossman’s head lackey? Don’t tell me that in any way compares to the real life that one must, to be sure, exercise faith in and master the art of delayed gratification.

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One of the Foremost Conclusions of Critical Thinking Ought Be That We are Not Very Good at It

Anyone suspecting that ‘cognitive dissonance’ is a far overrated evil need look no further than American pharmaceutical ads—with narrator saying you must have the stuff and voiceover saying that it may kill you. Those adsters seem to handle their ‘cognitive dissonance’ pretty well, don’t they?

It is a concept worthy of a pamphlet, maybe, but little more. We cannot entertain two non-dovetailing ideas simultaneously without our heads imploding? Intelligent people have always done it. Moreover, the insistence that people cannot do it without incurring massive cognitive dissonance is the perfect example of Romans 1:22: “Though asserting they were wise, they became foolish.” And “I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectuals I will reject.” (1 Corinthians 1:19)

The whole concept of “critical thinking” is skewed and pompous. Everything is to be looked at critically. Nothing is to be accepted as true until each and every component is proven, and one wobbly point negates the whole. People thinking this way far overestimate their ability to “prove” things and end up doing only what humans are most good at—tearing things down and replacing them with nothing.

There was once a time when it was thought intelligent to supply context and to seek to put things into perspective. Today if you do that you are told that you are “raising a straw man argument.” The best way to counter this is to invent a character—Bernard Strawman—who regards himself as the epitome of reason. Mr. Strawman appears in both Tom Irregardless and Me and No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.

“Cognitive dissonance” a problem? Humility is the deciding factor. The one with humility tells himself that the facts are not all in yet, indeed they may never be, and he will be able to juggle non-dovetailing ideas proportionately until he sees how they resolve, which may or may not occur within his lifetime. That way he is not blindsided by the recurring headline: “Everything you thought you knew about such and such is wrong!” One mustn’t get too carried away with one’s own investigative ability.

One of the foremost conclusions of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

 

 

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The Avatars of Second Life - Also First and Third

I came across a person through reading who spent all his time playing Second Life. It is a popular online game in which a player, represented by an avatar, interacts with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players of this game, and together they make up an online world, which they may occupy more than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by inconveniences as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition. It is a dinosaur of a game in digital life—its heyday is past—but it is still played by many.

The man featured in the article I read was almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment—as many as fourteen hours a day, said the article—pausing only for bathroom breaks. His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a vicarious representation of his actual sixty-year-old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes (in real life, the sixty-year-old works at a help desk). He is idolized by all his employees and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a boss.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, and do everything a married couple might be expected to do. In real life, he’s never met the woman and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy. “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. It is the second marriage for both of them. But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good man at heart, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world. She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (This writer’s wife would dump his breakfast over his head at this point.)

Imagine—an online world so engrossing that some prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Risk and Monopoly are mere—well, board games. Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as though it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “true” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind. Rather, everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not his purpose; a paradise earth, much like the Eden of Genesis, which literally means ‘garden,’ or ‘paradise,’ is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of God’s purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule is. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end, there is little difference between us. A mere few decades pass and all of us are senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”

How meaningful can life be in a system where ISIS, dementia, cancer, or simple human greed can snuff it out in a second? “Sayonara!” your longtime employer sings out, as he packs up for overseas. “Dust off that resume, why don’t you?  And those family and financial obligations you have? Fugedaboudit!” It is as Solomon says: he has seen footmen on horses and princes slogging through the mud. It is certainly possible to get satisfaction from life today, and most have to some degree. But many find it is like chomping down hard on cotton candy. Though it looked substantial, they ultimately find that there was never much there.

How short-sighted to throw off restraint and run to a place where no one can tell you what to do. There is nothing to stop one from doing so, but it’s a poor trade-off over the ‘restrictions’ of a godly life, which amount to little more than guardrails on a treacherous highway. Manipulation through human scheming in the form of Big Government, Big Business or contemporary philosophy ultimately take a toll far greater than any restrictions of the Christian life.

There is some basis in viewing this life, uncertain in every aspect except its ultimate end, as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar. And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if the character of our article is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude, which will be good for mental health. Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail—‘Do not pass Go’—but the game does end decisively for all. The true life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they can manage in this life. But it is the true life to which they look forward.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Built on the Backs of Slaves

A bit south on Meeting Street in Charleston, we came across the Nathanial Russell home. It was a National Historic Registry Site and there were tours advertised, so I was fooled—I should have known better—into thinking National Historic Park rangers would be acting as guides, just like they did at the Taft home and the Van Buren home. I didn’t know who Russell, but I figured he probably had something to do with the founding of the country, in this historic part of South Carolina. My bad. He wasn’t a founding father at all. He was an enormously successful merchant, one of the upper echelon of wealthy merchants, the guide deferentially told us, as we toured the restored Federalist style house.

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He made his fortune irrespective to who ruled the colonies. He made it prior to the formation of the United States, and a portrait of him in a first floor room has him looking decidedly British. He did nothing but add to his fortune after the founding of the United States, and a portrait of him hanging upstairs, (the portrait, not the man) painted twenty years later, has him looking decidedly American. He was one of the most prosperous merchants of his time—anywhere.

It took a while to realize just what he was a merchant in. It wasn’t that it was hidden. The guide plainly stated more than once that the man’s stupendous 6500 square feet house “was built on the backs of slaves.” It is not the house’s fault that it was built that way, and it’s the house, not the man behind it, that accounts for its being on the historic landmark registry list, with Landmark Society volunteers and not National Historic Park rangers conducting the tours.

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How much does the person taint the building? In time, he turned his attention to gobbling up real estate and increasing his wealth thereby. So he never actually did anything noble in making his fortune, though he did in the distribution of it. Allowing that he was a “complex” man, “multi-faceted,”—were those her exact words or did she use synonyms?—the guide went so far as to call him a “feminist” because he agreed to a pre-nup with his second wife, unusual for the time, and giving her sole control of her portion of the prize. It was not a marriage of love, the guide pointed out, and she indisputably is remembered for philanthropy though the nature of that philanthropy was not specified and I didn’t think to ask.

“There’s no nice way to spin” his history, the guide stated, even as she gushed over his influence and power, the magnificence of his home, and there was a point at which I wished she had observed that the man is now just as dead as his slaves. (To my surprise, I discovered, via poster in the museum part of the house, that the slave trade to the southern states was but a small part of the whole.)

I distrust this oohing and ahhing over social prominence, and there is a part of me that invokes, admittedly on too little evidence, Jesus observation about the Pharisees, who loudly decried how they never would have acted as wickedly as their forefathers. ‘You would have done worse,’ he told them.

(Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the graves of the prophets and decorate the memorial tombs of the righteous ones, and you say, ‘If we were in the days of our forefathers, we would not be sharers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are bearing witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers. - Matthew 23:29-32)

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” said Upton Sinclair. Russell probably never did understand it. The civic leaders of his Rhode Island and Charleston residencies didn’t understand it—he built much of the latter town—and do they understand it even now? Few are the written references to just what sort of a merchant he was, and the ones that exist are but footnotes. Others, however, uprooted from their homeland and separated from their loved ones, understood it quite well.

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Education

Two of the four Witnesses who testified at the April 20th Moscow trial were highly educated. Probably they were selected for just that reason. If the world understands nothing but education, give it to them in spades. But the 50/50 mix at the trial is atypical. For every college trained person among the Witnesses, there are ten who are not. Some say it is that way by design—that the Witness organization wants people to remain uneducated and thereby be easier to influence.

The accusation misses the point. If it is that way with education, it has always been that way with Christianity as portrayed in the Bible. It is even deliberately that way on God’s part, and it can be taken as a taunt at the world’s collective wisdom that has so blatantly failed to provide peace, security, and well-being. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written ‘He catches the wise in their own ruses,’ and again ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain,’” say the verses.1 Is there anywhere that wisdom is to be found more than in in its system of higher education? Surely that system must take ownership of the world it has collectively produced.

Celsus, a philosopher of the second century, made great sport of ridiculing Christians. They were “labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men.”2 The apostle Paul would not have been embarrassed by this. On the contrary, he agrees: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.”3 Jesus passes it off as almost a grand trick to those who are too full of themselves to notice: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”4

Many modern writers seemingly are embarrassed by these humble beginnings and will gloss over the unpleasantness, as though to say “Okay, they may have started lowly, but look how they pulled themselves up!” They strive to qualify the uneducated roots. They are embarrassed about them. For example, Edward D. Andrews explains it away by writing: “Celsus was an enemy of Christianity … what Celsus observed is only within the sphere of his personal experiences. How many Christians could he have known out of almost a million at the times of his writing?” [italics mine]5 Do not these remarks reflect a cultural bias that it is the educated people who most matter? You do not want to be portrayed as a religion of dumbbells. You must leave such humiliating circumstances behind if you are to rise in popular esteem.

First-century Christianity primarily drew from the lower rungs of society. In time, it apostatized and thereby made itself more attractive to the more elevated rungs, but it has not been that way from the beginning. The “uneducated” and “ordinary” men who formed the very leadership of the new faith ever remain uneducated and ordinary.6 Christianity is a ‘working-class’ religion. It thrives on humility. The more education of this world a person has, the greater the assault on that quality, and the more likely such ones will accept only a modified version of the faith that will fit their terms. Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing if not ones who hold to the original model. Celsus’ words should not be shied away from. They should be embraced as the template that would forever define true Christianity. If God had wanted to cater to the ‘accomplished’ crowd back then, he would have arranged that his Son be born at the Jerusalem Hyatt instead of the Bethlehem Manger. The fact that he didn’t demonstrates that he doesn’t just ‘put up’ with the ‘lower rungs’—he “chooses” them over the higher ones.

Can the higher rungs really be that high?  Would not the world they have collectively built be much more livable if they were? Pure academic muscle carries little weight with God, much less the credentials that the world defers to. The twelve were decidedly not intellectuals. They were “workmen” who had learned to handle the Word aright.7 Paul had intellectual credibility, with advanced education for his time, but he took direction from the workmen. His lasting stature is not that he was an in-house thinker. He was primarily a doer, whereas the “superapostles” who were always trying to thwart him, boasting of their own credentials, were not.8

It is unfair to say that the Christian congregation has contempt for contemporary education, a charge sometimes made. But it is fair to say it doesn’t allow itself to be shoved around by it. The offerings of human wisdom are ever inconstant, ever arguable, and occasionally downright stupid. The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses looks to Scripture for basic training in life. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” is their mission statement with regard to education.9

Surely it is fair to demand proof that this world’s educational system delivers the goods it advertises.  If its end result is a planet tearing itself apart at the seams, with extinction an acknowledged possibility, must one not ask of its driving education model: What good is it? Jehovah’s Witnesses unify, dignify, pacify, and harness the activity of persons from every background of race, nationality, social and financial strata. Should this world’s education not produce comparable results before it is hailed as the be-all and end-all? If the swirling mass of humanity should disappear down the giant flush of a washbasin, it will hardly matter how educated each individual imagines himself to be.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not neglect education. They redefine it. The general model of this world’s education is to focus on training of the intellect, with the apparent assumption that moral qualities will take care of themselves. Of course, history testifies that they do not, and their absence results in the undoing or even the turning to harm much of what its education brings about. Frankly, unless people have proved themselves to be of good heart, you are frequently better off not educating them—they can do less damage that way. If janitors and car wash attendants had run the financial world back in 2007, they might have figured out a way to beat the taxpayers out of a day’s wage. As it was, highly educated MBAs ran it and they found a way to sink all future generations into intractable debt.

It is surprising that so little attention is payed to moral training in the greater education models of the world. One can only suppose it is because those who mold it can agree on no common foundation upon what to base it upon. Jehovah’s Witnesses take it as a given that the Bible fulfills that role. They focus on the moral training to be found in that textbook from the Creator. By doing so, they are not filling in the gaps of education. They are providing its underpinnings. The lessons of the heart are those that are essential. The lessons of the head can be added on an as-needed basis. Bible education alone will not teach you the practical skills required for specific tasks, of course. There, Jehovah’s Witnesses look to offerings in the world’s educational system, which they cherry-pick.

Bible curriculum forms the core of a Witness’s moral training. The great ideas of this world are but footnotes for them—electives. Peruse them if you wish, but they are hardly requirements. After all, if the Greeks form the cradle of civilization, for Western nations, they also form the cradle of pedophilia. The grooming of young boys for sexual purposes was an enshrined component of that society.10 One wonders how today’s rationalists—adoring the ancient Greeks, but abhorring child sexual abuse—will ultimately resolve this bit of cognitive dissonance. Will they finally excuse the sexual abuse as just ‘one of those things,’ or will they haul the Greek perverts, the very heroes of critical thinking, off into infamy? Historian Robin Osborne has acknowledged that “historical discussion of paiderastia is complicated by 21st-century moral standards.”11 Indeed it is.

When Jehovah’s Witnesses look to Scripture for “training in righteousness,” they do no more than recognize that God made us, not we ourselves. If you want to best maintain your fine new vehicle, you read the new vehicle’s owner’s manual. The Witness organization does no more than disseminate the owner’s manual for the vehicle that is us. Take too much to heart of the higher education owners’ manual and you risk prematurely ruining the car. Four years or more of such education will reliably both plant and nurture thinking corrosive to Christianity. Students, over time, are conditioned to look to humans for the answers, as the only ones having it within their power to fix things. They learn of myriad government models to select from, and myriad philosophes. Also, they learn of myriad business, science, and cultural models. Surely something will work if we can just find the right blend. They are influenced to think of God as a human construct. Serious belief is unfashionable. Bland belief is permissible, the sort that repackages human thinking as religion, though even that is looked at askance. ‘The concept of God evolved because the dregs of any clan must be kept in check,’ they say. However, the dregs fight back at any human check, creating societal disharmony, so a superhuman check—a God with whom you can’t fight—is evolutionarily preferable.12

Students are conditioned that man is naturally good. If you can but isolate the cream of human wisdom you cannot go wrong. They are influenced to absorb the intoxicating air of independence along with its corollary that almost the most foolish thing people can do is to let someone else direct them; loyalty to any group of persons is suspect. Authority is problematic. Question it. Acquiesce to nothing until it can answer every question. Personal fulfillment will likely be lauded as the highest goal. Career will come first. Family will be what you choose to make it. Marriage will be a relic of the past. Should you choose to enter it, certainly do not be cowed into thinking it is permanent.

The prime teachings of the greater world’s education are deleterious to Christianity, yet they constitute the air breathed at universities today. Details may vary from country to country, as does the local degree air and water pollution, but they are the essence of the liberal arts woven into most curricula. Should Jehovah’s Witnesses be eager to throw their offspring under the bus of such education? The world is a tortured mass of cognitive dissonance, ever struggling to reconcile its cherished teachings of life with the chaotic mess they have collectively produced. ‘Why shovel our kids into the maw of that monster?’ Witnesses reason. Direct them somewhere with happier outcome.

One might even turn the tables and call the higher education route a route of brainwashing, a charge that has been made against the Witnesses themselves. Does one really become a Witness through brainwashing? If so, there are far better examples, and college is foremost among them. Students are separated nearly 24/7 on campus from all that once stabilized them—a classic time-tested tool of brainwashing. The phrase says it all: a college student is “in college”—living  in the dormitory, in the dining hall, in the social haunts, and in the classrooms on campus, in a setting atypical and unacquainted.

Such brainwashing, if we should call it that, is all the more effective because its nature is veiled. Pursuing college education is no more controversial than pursuing regular health care. It is a thoroughly conventional course of action, portrayed almost as a rite of passage into adulthood. In contrast, persons who study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses know full well that they are straying off the beaten path. They do it because they perceive that the beaten path is leading nowhere, but they invariably know they are going atypical. Still, even as they do it, they are grounded 95% of the time in their familiar routine and surroundings, as opposed to college life, where everything is new and unfamiliar. If one must bandy about the ‘brainwashing’ label, the trick is not to deny that Jehovah’s Witnesses do it. The trick is to point out that the world’s education does it to a far greater degree and with some ideas that are far more deleterious.

What persons who accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses of brainwashing find most objectionable is something that has nothing to do with brainwashing. It is the conclusions Witnesses come to that rankle, not their process of coming to them. The process is straightforward, plainly labeled, and more easily discontinued in the event of second thoughts than is college, since the latter has often taken great financial commitment and generated social expectations. However, those who would style themselves as thinkers today pride themselves on never shutting down ideas, for that would be to show themselves intolerant. They feel it better to cloak attacks of their ideas as attacks on the ‘unfair’ process of reaching them. If you dislike the kingdom message, you will dislike the organization that facilitates its spread. It is no more complicated than that.

Few things in this world are less tricky than choosing to become a Witness. One cannot do so without a lengthy period of voluntary study, seldom lasting less than a year in the U.S. It is not a religion where one can impulsively ‘come down and be saved.’ The one who studies the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses remains always in familiar routine, save for a personal home Bible study, congregation meetings and a social gathering or two. One is always in control of one’s destiny.

 

As an example of a deleterious idea that will be planted in most systems of higher education, consider the foundation upon which children have historically been raised—that of monogamous marriage. Surely the nurture of children is a foundation of humanity. The Bible zealously advertises and guards marriage as the institution to build life around. The higher education of this world is unafraid to experiment with it and is apt to recommend jettisoning it altogether. “We struggle with monogamy—is it time to abandon it altogether?” postulates New Scientist.13 “Monogamy evolved to keep baby-killers away,” pitches another article,14 and now it works against us. “Women only stay with men for security, and men only stay with women for sex. It’s a cynical view of human relationships, but researchers now say it is the driving force behind the evolution of monogamy—and women started it. By offering sex all the time, females in monogamous species disguise whether they are fertile and trick males into sticking around.”15

Is this the reason people cannot hold together a marriage to save their lives? Is it evolution that, long ago, coerced the women to play a mean trick on the men? If so, it is time to move on, these writers for New Scientist seem to argue. There are no longer predators to eat our children—at least not in the literal sense. Why behave as though they were? Why feel guilty when it is time to ‘move on’? That’s just religion trying to guilt us with its evolutionary manmade gods. We do not want to feel bad about ourselves—it is bad for self-esteem. We want to feel good about ourselves, for man is ‘naturally good’ and should not be made to feel bad unnecessarily. Make no mistake: there is a strong emotional appeal to such news ideas, which lies entirely apart from their scientific merit. And how are the children to fare? They’ll adjust, is the apparent afterthought. Seen in this light, Russia’s Order of Family Glory is a quaint relic of the past and will eventually be phased out.

This new branch of science, called evolutionary psychology, purports to explain how men came to prefer physically attractive women in the first place. A low waist-hip ratio—say .70 or so—is associated with good health and thereby fertility.16 One can almost picture such favored creatures as having convenient shelves upon which to balance many babies, without which she is prone to drop and kill them all. It helps in the struggle for survival to have such a figure, and that it how preference for it came to be encoded in the very DNA of men. It is the very reason male eyes and heads snap about in the presence of a pretty woman. They wouldn’t be perceived as pretty were it not for the dictates of human survival.

Is there really any proof for this or is it not merely the biblical equivalent of “fables fit for old women?”17 Only an Internet search will convince the person of common sense that the above models are real and not mere joking on the part of this writer—for here is offered nary a hint of the scientific method that we all learned in school was the very hallmark of science. As pure speculation, the biblical equivalent of which the Witness organization advises members against getting too caught up in, it may be tolerable. But it is taken as cutting-edge science. Your children will learn the underpinnings, if not the specific teaching, amidst their diet of higher learning. They may even be subject to written exams, where they have to spit the nonsense back to the professor.

From time to time in Watchtower literature one can read that the Bible does not disagree with “true science.” Plainly, Witnesses do not regard the above as “true science.” They regard it as the fraudulent kind, as indeed they do the all-encompassing framework of evolution. But that is not to say they reject every aspect of it. The typical Witness parent sees that evolution chart and wants to turn that parade of ascending ape-like creatures about and march them right back into the slime from whence they came. But he must take care. We are not the religionists who put dinosaurs on the Kentucky ark.18

Watchtower publications speak of the days of creation as [redacted] and the time preceding as [redacted] since Scripture does not insist upon “day” being the 24-hour variety.19 Witnesses refrain from instructing scientists on their own turf. A lot can happen in epochs and aeons. If God churned out living creatures as an assembly line churns out automobiles—well, that he could easily do in a 24-hour day. So what is the point of the epochs and aeons? In 2006, Awake Magazine interviewed scientist and author Michael Behe, who accepts evolution in the main, but stipulates that it has limits.20 They would not have done that if the two hated each other’s guts, would they?

No one is being dogmatic, here. Science is accommodated to the maximum extent without ignoring Scripture, which Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the most reliable guide to life. The 2010 brochure Was Life Created? states [redacted]21 Thus the Witnesses’ current view allows for what is described as micro-evolution (within a kind) but not macro-evolution (outside of a kind). But ‘implies’ is not an ironclad word, is it? The point is, for the Christian, if the time element for developing life is indeed epochs and aeons, you need not squabble much with scientists who describe them. Let scientists be scientists and Bible teachers be Bible teachers. Vast areas of conflict disappear, though certainly not all. Resolve your ‘cognitive dissonance’ by saying ‘I don’t have to know everything just now.’

Jehovah’s Witnesses call theirs ‘divine education.’ Their Governing Body is ever dubious of the latest offerings from the intellectuals, since they know much of it will prove to be the “every wind of teaching arising from human trickery” of Bible verse. It will be “profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge” that “by professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.” It will be the waterless clouds and the cisterns that leak. It will be the pit that the blind lead the blind into—for ideas have repercussions. It will be things of atheism, of self-determination, of moral experimentation, and of amoral evolution.22 It will be the things furthering the cause of nationalism. It is not Jehovah’s Witnesses who feed the war machine with millions of their young, thereby ensuring there will never be peace. Neither is it Jehovah’s Witnesses whose values result in millions of lives lost to drug abuse, tobacco deaths, or overdrinking; their education safeguards against such things. For every quality-of-life ‘glitch’ that exists among Jehovah’s Witnesses, the greater world has fifty.

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ begins the American Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal.’ But to those raised on a diet of evolutionist rationalist thinking, it is not at all self-evident. What is self-evident is the chief ape of ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ realizing that it can wield a club and wallop the daylights out of the other apes. What is self-evident is the children’s game King of the Mountain, in which the victor shoves rivals aside so as to take their place.

In contrast to current educational models, it is the Bible that makes equality self-evident. “He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,” it says, “and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him.”23 If there is one thing that even the most ferocious opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses will agree upon, it is that the faith has proved successful in realizing equality among members. The non-Witness world enjoys little success in this regard. It ought not be surprising. The Witnesses’ prime education model makes clear that all are equal. Outside the Witness world is an evolutionistic origin-of-life view that makes clear that they are not. Why should not Christians focus on the former rather than the latter?

 

Bible knowledge was long deemed indispensable to a well-rounded life. That has changed only in recent decades, as persons have redefined ‘well-rounded’ and have divorced themselves from their historical roots. The range of human knowledge today becomes exceptionally broad but correspondingly shallow. Typical, and a foremost example, of the past is Abraham Lincoln, who peppered his speeches and papers with biblical references. To his son questioning, as any reasonable child can be expected to do, why he needed go to Sunday School, he said: “‘Every educated person should know something about the Bible and the Bible stories, Tad.”24

Historian Michael Nelson wrote: “For all his mockery, Lincoln was consumed by religion as a subject, as well as by the Bible, a book that all of his biographers agree he had read and studied assiduously since his youth. Although disdainful of Christianity in its cruder, frontier forms, Lincoln seems to have been open to, even seeking, an account of the faith that rang true on grounds of reason and justice.”25

The farmer does not begin hoeing out the weeds until the harvest-time. Even Abraham Lincoln was not able to make things out; he was ahead of the curve. He had great respect for the Word, but incomplete understanding. The time was not yet right. Persons were not yet roving about. To a friend, Lincoln gave the best advice he could: “Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”26 27  

The theme of John 3:16 has ever reverberated through history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Even though persons could not explain just how that worked, they knew the verse nonetheless. Few did, and do, know ‘just how that works’—church doctrine is so convoluted that most reasonable persons give up searching and acquiesce to a science-absorbed world that declares it is all nonsense.

One of the benefits of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they do know ‘just how that works’ and they are ever ready to explain it, sometimes to people’s dismay as they see them yet again traipsing up the driveway. There was once a saying among Witnesses that new ones ought to be locked up for six months until their zeal was tempered by common sense. It is not to their credit that they know what they know. They simply live in the right time period and have accepted the invitation to explore words “kept secret and sealed until the end time.”28

In a nutshell, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says it all: “So, too, it is written, ‘The first man, Adam has become a living being,’ the last Adam a life-giving spirit…The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.” Per the model that is Bible teaching, Adam pulled the plug on himself when he disobeyed God, and the blades of a fan disconnected slow down. He and all his offspring lost out on life which could have been to time indefinite. No succeeding man can undo the damage, for they have not the perfect status that Adam forfeited. Only if another perfect man comes upon the scene and acts as Adam might have does it become possible to repair the damage. That man is Jesus, the ‘last Adam,’ who exactly counterbalances the first. To ones putting faith in God’s ‘swap,’ the hope of life indefinite can yet be attained, after all the other consequences of Adamic rebellion are undone.29

This makes the sense only if one discards the Trinity doctrine. If Jesus is equated to God, and not a perfect man, it all becomes an incomprehensible muddle. Fortunately, discarding the Trinity doctrine is not hard to do scripturally, though politically, it is next to impossible. The doctrine lives only by taking certain phrases, which in any other context would instantly be recognized as figure of speech, literally.30 Among those of the Orthodox Church, the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses is greatly welcomed—though they seek to clarify that they did not instigate it—due to the Witness’s rejection of the Trinity doctrine. For example, Church Metropolitan Hilarion said of the Witnesses that “they deform Christ’s teaching and falsely interpret the Gospel. Their doctrine contains many lies: they do not believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior [he is correct on the first but incorrect on the second], they do not recognize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and therefore cannot be called Christians.”31 (brackets mine) Most churches would reiterate his statement, though not necessarily with his venom—that is how central the Trinity doctrine is. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject it with an understanding that it is impossible to draw close to God with that as a default belief.

Hampered by doctrines that made little sense, the Trinity being but one, when scientists began calling into question the existence of God—in contrast to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, who thought their discoveries glorified God by uncovering his ‘handiwork’32—churches had little to fight back with. They did not wish to miss this latest wind of intellectual thought, so the mainline churches acquiesced to whatever scientists said they must. Manifestly, the teaching of human evolution makes the explanation of a first and second Adam nonsense. What is gained by the embrace of such teaching is a certain esteem in the eyes of contemporary educated ones. What is lost is the key to the meaning of life.

 

A certain Watchtower article considered for congregation study spotlights a ‘flying scroll’ that Zechariah saw in vision.33 It consists of a condemnation of theft on one side and of perjury on the other. Immediately beneath the Watchtower paragraph is a photo of a teen looking shifty at a boutique, as though she is about to pocket an item. One critic disdains this literal and mundane application of a vision sent all the way from heaven, and so quickly seeks to shift it to a ‘higher’ one that one suspects she steals from boutiques herself. In fact, it does seem a trivial application; most would agree. However, it fits well with the context of the paragraph, which is a discussion of the “spiritual paradise” that Jehovah’s Witnesses say they enjoy. To that end, it offers a practical example of theft that young people especially will identify with. It does not take much to destroy a paradise. One sicko inserted one razor blade in one apple and the celebration of Halloween changed forever.

At the Regional Convention I can drop my wallet and with near certainty know it will turn up at the lost and found. Can I do that outside of the spiritual paradise? There is a reasonable chance that the wallet will come back to me. But with the money intact? Unlikely. It may happen. But I will not hold my breath. My wallet did come back when I dropped it during a visit to Canada. (It is no picnic getting back across the border without it.) Someone took the trouble to contact me upon my return in the States and arrange its return. I appreciated it. But when I asked about the money within, he said: “What money?”

Teaching not to steal at a very mundane level is the very stuff of Christianity. It is what makes all the rest of it work. I both admire the Governing Body and suspect they are somewhat naive in that they teach what needs to be taught without regard for self-appointed experts who will invariably seize upon their material and beat them over the head with it. They need better public relations: PR. Or maybe they don't. Maybe it is just me who thinks they do. Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about public relations, either. Maybe it should just be taken for granted that they will fare no better than did their counterparts in the first century, representing a “sect” which was “denounced everywhere.”

Besides, they might not even know that detractors make mincemeat of their lessons. They take their own counsel, which is the Bible’s counsel; they don’t go there to check out what the detractors have to say. They are like Jesus, who observed one set of scoundrels slandering him one way and another set slandering him just the opposite way. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ is his advice. “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” He is like David. All day long they would mutter evil things about him, and he just kept his mouth shut, declining to answer.34

Others would be embarrassed to teach such a childlike lesson of theft at a meeting primarily attended by adults, for Jehovah’s Witnesses do not separate their children into Sunday Schools. But the lesson is not beneath the grown-ups. Adults are ever inclined to dismiss the childish application so as to conduct sophisticated debate over a greater application—and then they pinch a scarf or tie clasp from the boutique on their way home.

 

At another congregation meeting is featured another lesson so basic that few would call it education. Yet for lack of application of it and a few dozen other spiritual themes, so much of the world’s education results in naught. It allows a glimpse into brilliant possibilities and then torpedoes it because its participants cannot get along.

The video shown was entitled Remove the Rafter.35 It featured a disgruntled member who thought most of his congregation a bunch of sheltered oddities. Even if they were, he came to realize in the end that the only one he could change was himself. As the Bible verse he was considering, in order to give his assigned student talk, faded onscreen, two words remained a split second longer than the others: ‘splinter’ and ‘beam.’ This happened three times, and on the third, the word ‘hypocrite’ also remained. It is Jesus’ words he considers: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”36

At first glance, it is a slick move from the Watchtower video directors. But it is meant to illustrate a slick move upon the heart. The reason those two words remained, and then three, is that his heart was yet soft enough for them to register—having benefited from previous divine education. A hardened person would not have responded that way. The brother allowed the scripture to mold him. This is how God trains in the congregation, but it would all have been lost upon one who’s heart was molded primarily by this world’s education. Imagine how differently history might read if this verse was a staple of education, and not just a dreamy footnote. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a staple.

‘That’s it?’ detractors will ask. ‘That’s your education?’ That, and the flying Zechariah scroll? Yes. It is part of the foundation and it ensures that anything resting upon it will enjoy success. It is the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses get along and thereby can accomplish things that the general world cannot. It is no credit to them. It is Miss Daisy telling her grown but illiterate chauffer that, as a teacher, she taught some of the dumbest children God ever put on his green earth, yet they could all read by the time she was finished with them.37 It is purely a result of absorbing one’s education. It is the same happenstance as “they will beat their spears into plowshares,” the Isaiah passage adorning the U.N. building. It translates into a way of life for Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than mere rousing words.

Do opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize the value of such Bible teachings as the splinter and the beam? No. They assume the organization is using it as ‘mind control,’ an encouragement to ‘overlook whatever sinister things we may be up to—we’ll party while you slave!’ One wonders how adults can become so adolescent. When the Witness Governing Body presents Bible teachings, they expose themselves to it first. They not only recognize it as training from God; they also recognize that they themselves are the ones who need it most, since their actions affect the most people.

The selected articles in the study edition of the Watchtower Magazine used for weekly study of the Bible are more than an outline but less than a complete article. In a pinch, they can stand as one. In fact, they certainly will, for they will take their place in the accumulated volume. But they are not primarily intended that way. Their first use is to facilitate congregation discussion of whatever spiritual theme is under consideration. They could be likened to flour, which does not become a cake until you mix in the other ingredients—the individual comments of congregation members. Afterwards, their work done, the articles are absorbed into the archives, where they may seem curiously abridged. Their primary value was realized at the congregation meeting. There they served to train the hearts which ultimately drive the heads.

 

Scientists identify four fundamental forces of nature: the strong and weak nuclear force, gravity, and the electromagnetic force. For 99.9% of the earth’s population, these are irrelevant and there is only a fifth that must be understood: the force of sexual attraction. God didn’t want to revisit Adam and Eve after a few hundred years, discover them on a barren planet, and hear them say “Oh, we were supposed to do that? I guess we plumb forgot. Sorry.” Sexual attraction is the most crucial force to understand, even if it is not of the Four. Pursue the four if you like—and it is good for human knowledge that some do. However, the typical youngster will never approach a black hole of outer space to see the four forces interact. He or she will approach the black hole of sexual attraction that his seemingly overcautious parents have probably told him about. Intrigued by an awakening of desire, he gingerly approaches. All seems inviting, tantalizing—what is this fuss that the old people have carried on about? He edges closer and closer until its sudden irresistible pull grabs and stretches him into a two-mile strand of spaghetti.

A force so strong and capable of bringing so much joy must be understood and harnessed, for it can easily be misused and cause misery. It is underappreciated how sexual attraction has been a major driver of history. Understanding the interaction of the sexes should not be a footnote to education, as it usually is today, but should be among its centerpieces; let the four brainy forces be the footnotes for interested ones to pursue if they like. Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the minority of religions holding that sexual relations should be reserved for married persons. For the sake of the general world, this writer will concede that it can be more-or-less managed where there are stable monogamous relationships. However, depend upon higher education to undermine even this stabilizing model. Wish ‘good luck’ to the world enforcing its new outrage over sexual harassment while overall continuing to hype sex at every opportunity via a hookup culture in which it is recreation absent commitment—it will need it.

When the greater world finally wakes up to a moral problem, as it has with sexual harassment, it wildly overacts. Sexual liaisons, involving various degrees of coercion and sobriety, are reinterpreted as rape. Harassment and what was once called ‘getting fresh’ are equated with rape. Complementing a woman’s appearance is even interpreted as harassment by some.38 How will it resolve? It is too soon to tell. Suffice it to say that the Witness environment is one of the few environments where men can be expected to behave. They will hear about it if they don’t. It is a result of their education. The occasional miscreant can expect serious chastisement.

Less than two years ago I wrote a book entitled Tom Irregardless and Me, in which I speculated facetiously: “AI robots and VR porn promise sex so steamy that it’s feared people will lose interest in the real thing. Is the world to end with a fizzle, and not a bang, as its inhabitants neglect procreation?” The ‘prediction’ becomes less facetious by the minute. Since then, the robotic sex doll industry has exploded. Robots of both male and female anatomy can easily ‘outperform’ their human counterparts. In a world that neglects to teach men and women how to relate with one another—its mainstream education simply doesn’t go there—many can be expected to forget all about the real thing and take refuge in robots. No matter how whacky the Revelation scenarios become of humans threatening to destroy the planet, modern humanity can always manage to top them.

It is better to stick with the Bible teaching that marriage is a divine institution and listen to its counsel on how to hold it together through thick and thin. You don’t follow your ‘inner caveman’ and move on periodically, even though evolution ‘says’ you can.39 The mainline sophisticated church, with occasional exception, is ready to accommodate the latest wind of thinking—sometimes eventually, sometimes immediately. Evolution they dare not defy, for they do not want to lose more credibility than they already have with this world’s educated people. While not (in most cases) declaring marriage invalid, they adopt popular ways of thinking that make it all but untenable for the long haul. By dereliction of duty, the Church ensures the unhappiness of young people. It virtually ensures they will neither find nor remain with a marriage partner. ‘Let us see how we can incorporate this or that bold new enlightenment,’ it frequently says, rather than toting it out straightaway to the curb where it often belongs.

 

The world does not make it easy for its education to be had a la carte, as Witnesses prefer. It does not want to give just the diamonds one needs. It wants to mix them with the turds of corrosive teachings that have collectively sunk the overall world. Jehovah’s Witnesses do their best to cherry-pick. Sometimes they cherry-pick at the college and sometimes they do so elsewhere. Why not simply accept it all in a package of higher education? Why not just spit out the turds of corrosive teachings later? Alas, we are not built that way. We absorb the atmosphere in which we are immersed. Not so if we are in it for but a brief time. But if it becomes our environment for years at a stretch, then absorb it we do. At seventeen, one is still but a child, with values that are far from stabilized.

Unless your grades are in the toilet, the school apparatus is unlikely to bless your plans not to roll over a 12th year of schooling into an automatic 13th, for they fear you may fall off the rails of career and never remount. Believe me, Witnesses know about this. Their organization, in contrast, unabashedly invites youngsters into full-time service to God as an activity right as rain, often directly out of high school. Youthful activity in the ministry can run concurrently with continued education and complement it. The general encouragement is to view the Christian ministry as one’s vocation and the requisite skills to support oneself in it an avocation. Are you, as a youngster, averse to instructing ones two or three times your age? Share what you know in the ministry and let them share with you whatever they wish. You will know what is poisonous and what is not. If you are unsure, take it in sips.

People and families differ. Not all take up the Watchtower’s invitation for a full ministry straight from high school. Families with a tradition of college often continue in that model; some circumvent the 24/7 pitfalls of higher education by commuting from home. Furthermore, academic offerings, requirements, and environments vary from place to place. Nothing is cast in stone regarding Witnesses and overall education. Sometimes after an interval, Witness adults will return to college with a specific goal in mind. But seldom is it the goal of a Witness family of lesser means to send their first child ever to college so as to lay hold of a life that was closed to the parents. Frequently it is the goal to have that child pioneer. Telling and preparing persons for the ‘true life’40 is the main goal of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The secular education that they choose seldom disregards that overall purpose.

‘A la carte’ can come in the mysterious ways that God is sometimes said (not by Witnesses) to work himself. This writer stumbled across a BBC list of the top 100 important books of all time. I discovered that I had read over half. No other commenter had read more. Is it boasting to slip this into the book? Hardly. Take it as an invitation to be a janitor, for it is while so employed that I ‘read’ most of them via the Books on Tape service. On Twitter, I came across a CEO who grumbled: “Stupid janitor forgot to leave an extra roll of toilet paper – I’m screwed.” I tweeted back: “I read 54 of the BBC’s top 100 books as a janitor via Books on Tape. Sorry about the toilet paper.” There are even people who deliberately choose menial work so as to not turn their minds over to ‘The Man’—corporate or government interests. The Man may reward you materially, but he does not do so without demanding your soul. One can always read the great works, if one has a desire to, on one’s own, free from the indoctrination of the world’s educational system.

They wouldn’t let my homeschooled son read when he briefly forayed into public schooling; it was ever workbooks for him. When he later entered community college, they declared his math skills age-appropriate and his reading skills “off the charts.” “I had no idea that there were so many stupid people,” he innocently remarked later. How can they not be stupid? The intellectual diet of this system of things is one of pop culture, transitory trends, and video games. He had never been denied those things; he had simply been directed to keep them in their place. And nobody on the homeschool front gave two hoots about workbooks. He could read all day if he wanted to and sometimes he did. “He reads?” exclaimed a local educator, an ally, to my wife who had asked what she should do. He then ventured: “Don’t do anything.” Do not mess up that formula.”

The notion of Witnesses ‘redefining’ education does not come unchallenged in a world long used to another model. The Bible describes life under God’s kingdom rule as ‘the life that is true life.’ What does that say as to this life? Take the Bible too seriously and one will assuredly experience kickback from the model that holds that this life is all there is. A 2017 National Public Radio report was entitled ‘Lack of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses.’41 The writers had found former Witnesses who lamented that they had not gone to college while they were in the faith; their parents and most in the congregation had discouraged it. Some had attended after leaving the Witness religion, but they got a late start and were upset that they were behind the curve. I dutifully read the article, but I didn’t need to; the headline says it all: just where does one look for fulfillment of dreams? Witness orientation is to look to ‘the true life.’

The NPR story is not inaccurate, but it is incomplete. Witness parents will often encourage their youngsters to train for work as high-paying as possible, then do as little of it as possible, so as to focus on the Christian ministry, for that they regard as the most important activity in this present world. This is likely to put you on the lower rungs of the income latter, though not for the reasons NPR stipulates.

University education represents to Witnesses an invitation to trash the faith of their child, for humans are not immune to their surroundings. Thus, some hideous new style appears and within ten years it is widely adopted by ones who wonder how they ever could have imagined those peculiar styles of yesteryear did anything for them. Peer pressure unfailingly works with such trivial matters. It also works with matters substantial. Witness parents wish for their children to avoid an anti-religious minefield that embraces the assumption is that humans have the answers, that embraces throwing off restraints, that portrays obedience as bordering on the pathetic. They regard such education as intensely indoctrinate and ever harping on trendy issues. The foregoing is a generalization. Some subjects involve less traipsing through the minefield than do others, technology or engineering, for example. There are some times in life when a person does choose to enter a minefield. But they don’t go waltzing through it. They think long and hard before they do it at all.

“To be fair, one should compare the satisfaction statistics of ones who have chosen the college route,” one commenter (me) appended to the article. In pursuit of dreams, if they are in this system of things, surely it must be factored in what is the cost of those dreams, for they are far from free in the United States. And what is the likelihood of achieving them? The job market in most places is hardly stellar. Chart wrongly in the U.S, and one can easily end up with a mundane job, or no job at all due to being ‘overqualified,’ but saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt that cannot be discharged under current law. Higher education (in the U.S.) offers an uncertain ticket into a high-priced unstable job market that it itself has created. A six or even eight-year degree is the minimum requirement for most high-flying careers of today.  Mike Rowe, in testimony to Congress, stated that education in the trades offers by far the most secure route to a well-paying job.42 That sort of education can often be had free. Sometimes high schools offer it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing if not eminently practical, and they do not salivate over an education model that has become dysfunctional. They seek practical skills that pay well, are easily transferable, and don’t sap time and energy that is more profitably directed towards God and family. It does happen that a Witness youngster steered away from college may later come to regret it. Since the beginning of time parents have steered their children. Since the beginning of time some children, as adults, wish they had been steered differently. But surely it must factored into the overall equation the many more youngsters who were steered into college by the school system, taking on enormous debt, and came to wish they had listened to someone like Mike Rowe instead.

 

The world does well to take ownership—‘hold itself accountable,’ to use the current buzzword—of all that its system of education has produced before insisting every student drink his or her fill. If higher education was worth the price of admission it would have resulted in a far better world by now. Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to bypass it all as something superfluous. Should one touch upon it, do so as a hobby. Don’t imagine it is the stuff of life. Beyond some gadgets made by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two men who dropped out of college, (does that account for their groundbreaking success?) where is the evidence that it is indispensable? To some extent, this parallels the prodding of the contemporary feminist herstory movement; prove that your version actually works before you carry on too much about your history.

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses go light on college education, the Pew Foundation unsurprisingly reports them the least educated of all faiths.43 So be it. Their relative shunning of college is deliberate, as they redefine what it means to be educated. They focus on moral training so basic as ‘getting along with each other,’ which would enable the world to do something with its education were it able to embrace it. “A day of divine education is worth a thousand years of college,”44 one (me again) might say, who has seen both, and who admittedly likes hyperbole. Focus on the moral qualities. You can always run out and get secular education piecemeal when you need it. Don’t let them tell you their education is a prerequisite to life. Embrace their lauded Greek heritage, and you embrace whatever is today’s moral counterpart of pedophilia and misogyny.

Embrace Bible education instead and tell the Pew Foundation to take a hike. They don’t care anyway. They just measure things. But opponents of Witnesses grab hold of their charts and cry to the heavens at how stupid Witnesses must be. Don’t be intimidated by them. The most basic invention of the West is the toilet. It, combined with some other lifestyle and drug innovations, predictably contributes to constipation over time, for squatting best suits the anatomy, as any toddler knows and as the uneducated still do.45 Nobody’s thinking is as constipated as that of the Western critical rationalists. See them demolish each other online as they argue topics to the death. Sometimes one wishes they could just learn to let go.

Woe to those who pride themselves on their critical analysis, as though no other means of communication exists. Jesus has little use for it. He speaks at length in the gospels, yet very little of what he says would satisfy today’s disciples of argument and reason. He spins involved parables which he rarely explains; let the heart figure it out. He diverts from hostile questions by asking counter-questions that reveal motive. He even resorts to ad hominem attacks of a sort: a major no-no to today’s devotees of reason—though he always connects it with a reason, so that it is not really ad hominem but more like courtroom character cross-examination. Nowhere does he patiently reason on the ‘facts’ with his steadfast opponents because he knows their only relevant fact is that they want him dead.46 He says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”47 He lost many disciples that day. What a stupid thing to say if his main concern is to persuade devotees of ‘facts’!  But if his prime concern is, not heads, but hearts, then it is flawless. Persons of heart hung around, waiting for elucidation. People without heart departed; their time was too valuable to waste unraveling riddles.  If the heart is pure, one can work with whatever mind accompanies it. If it is not, the mind is a mixed blessing at best and at times a downright curse.

 

To translate the Bible into 200 languages, a website into 900 languages,48 and printed material into even more, using exclusively volunteer labor, is truly a colossal, one might say unbelievable, achievement—where is Baran’s hagiography critic when you need to show him something? Yet it is typical of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not done through ‘college power.’ Whenever intellectuals insist that insufficient university training can be found among Witness volunteer translators, they miss the point that they should come to us, not the reverse, since Witnesses have done what they can only talk about. They are correct that there is little higher education to be found among the countless translators. Any specialized training has come a la carte, and most has been produced in-house, by persons who do not horde their knowledge or sell it but make it freely available as needed.

It is ‘talking’—how hard can it be? A child brought up in a dual language household effortlessly picks up both. In a tri-lingual household, he picks up all three. The sticking point is not the intellectual work; it is assembling, motivating, and empowering qualified volunteers—volunteers, so that the end result is affordable. These factors are the strengths of Jehovah’s Witnesses; their education has trained them to be that way. Granted, the translating of ancient language adds a challenge, but this is a factor only for producing a master text. Master compilations of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic scriptures are readily available, and the Witness organization has over eight million members, some of whom will be linguistic experts and who won’t insist that their name appears in spotlights because they have dedicated their lives in service to God. One expert among the Witnesses is worth fifty in the greater world, because they don’t fight. They don’t engage in turf wars. They know how to share. They know how to cooperate and bring their “gift to the altar.” They display the wisdom of the ants, not that of the big dumb male animals that ram each other with antlers.

Our people produce a straight-forward master text in English. All the volunteers worldwide are schooled in translation techniques. They are all encouraged to ask questions about specific problems or verses, and when they do, the answers become part of a database accessible to all. A significant number of translators are young people who know both English and their native tongue—their parents know only the native tongue. Could these plainly qualified persons ever be used on any sizable commercial project? Not on your life. Without a university degree, they would not be allowed within 100 yards of it. The final translation product is affordable due to the volunteer workers. It is made affordable again by not having to rely upon this world’s for-profit distribution channel.

The free transfer of intellectual knowledge is key to making this work. The greater world will not do this. Knowledge is passed along, but only for a significant fee. One must pay the significant, even exorbitant, cost of higher education in order to be entrusted with anything of significance. Even after that, knowledge transfers only on a for-pay basis. None of this blockage occurs in the Watchtower organization. Witnesses are also well known for freely sharing physical abilities in other venues; Watchtower is the largest construction outfit in the world and the Witnesses’ mobilization for disaster relief is the envy of government. Freely sharing intellectual abilities is just as important, and it makes things like the ‘900 languages’ a matter of routine.49

A Nepalese man quoted in the Watchtower magazine expresses appreciation for the New World Translation in his language. In English, there are many readable translations—the New World Translation is far from the only one. But in Nepalese the choice is meager. Nobody cares about the Nepalese man because he does not have any money. He is stuck with some 200-year-old turkey of a translation that he cannot understand and likely cannot afford anyway, until the New World Translation comes along to meet his needs, a situation that is repeated in many lands.

Why has not the greater church world seen fit to equip him with an understandable and affordable Bible? It has far more resources to draw upon. Can it be for any other reason than that they do not consider his spiritual needs important? Even if they should, they are beholden to a profit-driven commercial channel of book distribution that does not consider his monetary means important and therefore does not bother. Dare we say it? “Those people” do not count when it comes to spiritual things. Only those with money count. With Jehovah’s organization, they do count. In fact, they are often given priority, since it is the ones of lesser means who have ever responded to Bible truth more readily than those well-off. One sixth of the world’s population today cannot read, a byproduct of an educational system skewed toward the privileged. How many even know that these people exist? Only Jehovah’s organization produces simplified versions of materials already written simply so as to reach them.

If you are serious about proclaiming ‘this gospel of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth,’ then naturally, you will have such a website with 900 languages. In an ill-advised (in my opinion) suggested magazine presentation, a Witness calls attention to the website, and then asks the householder: “Do you know why we do it?” “What—do you think I’m a trained chimp?” one actual person found in the ministry responded, “of course I know why you do it! You want to reach people!”

When your car needs repair, do you take it to the shop that has equipped itself with every modern tool? Or do you take it to the shop content to operate with hammer, vice grips, WD-40, and duct tape? Shouldn’t anyone serious about carrying out Christ’s commission to preach be so well-equipped? Aren’t they inept at best and frauds at worst if they have not equipped themselves in such a way? There is no excuse to be so negligent. They show either that they don’t care about Christ’s commission to proclaim his kingdom or that they are incapable of the cooperation needed to get the job done. Cooperation, love, humility, coupled with reasonable intelligence, will trump the results of this world’s system of education every time.

Human institutions universally look to higher education for leadership. Successful entrepreneurs are even awarded honorary degrees after the fact, a tactic that serves to maintain the illusion that only college people can amount to anything. For the most part, respectable religions of this world have followed this model. Its clergy must also have advanced post-secondary degrees. It may be that Paul took direction from fishermen, but that will never repeat on their watch. The Watchtower organization is strikingly unique. It is true to the first-century pattern. It does not look to the greater world’s repository of degrees for authorization to lead. Members of their Governing Body are yet fishermen at heart. They don’t pretend to take the lead though brains. They take it though heart.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has no specialized knowledge of anything, generally speaking, but they know where to find it when they need it. They know how to coordinate it. They know how to put it to use for the benefit of others. How obscenely wasteful and discriminatory is the world’s system for disseminating knowledge. Knowledge for them is a commodity monetized and sold amorally. It is a business. It prices its knowledge out of the reach of much of the population. It is not the fault of any individual within the system. It is the fault of the selfish model that they make their home.

The trick is to not copy Sam Gerard’s ‘The Fugitive’ colleague and say “Well, we’re smart, too,” thus trying to play catch-up with another education that even he considers superior. The trick is to say that you have an education model that leaves theirs in the dust. Without the prerequisite moral training imparted by Bible education, the world does not know what to do with the knowledge it accumulates and is as likely to turn it to harm as to good. Moreover, some of the knowledge it gathers and dispenses in its colleges will turn out to be of the variety Mark Twain derided: knowledge that “ain’t so.”

They are smarter than us, for the most part—the university-trained crowd. It is no good pretending otherwise. But most of their plans will come to naught because they are not able to cooperate. A foremost example presents itself in the aftermath of a Florida school shooting in which 17 children died. Such shootings have become commonplace in the United States. Two arguably effective solutions have been proposed. Either ban rapid-fire assault guns or allow armed veterans, who would love the idea of protecting children, to roam the school corridors. Neither will be adopted soon because neither side will tolerate yielding to the other.

The Witness organization does not let the world bully it into its own mold of education. It has come up with something better. Jehovah’s Witnesses with knowledge are generous with it. They don’t hoard it. Free from petty competitiveness and jealousy, they give it away and thereby accomplish good that a hamstrung world cannot. The educated world is dismayed to find the persons they look down upon outstripping them in practical deed. Those who are noble strive to get their heads around it and examine a model unfamiliar. Those who are not noble stand on their favorite paradigm of university superiority and ridicule the accomplishments they did not produce. Those who are really not noble try to run the competition off the road.

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia  (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:19-20
  2. August Neander, The History of the Christian Religion and Church: During the First Three Centuries (London: Rivington. Collection Robarts; Toronto. Digitizing sponsor MSN. Contributor Robarts - University of Toronto, 1843) 41
  3. Matthew 11:25.
  4. 1 Corinthians 1:26
  5. Edward D. Andrews, Your Guide for Defending the Bible: Self-Education of the Bible Make Easy (Christian Publishing House 2016) 242-243
  6. Acts 4:13
  7. 2 Timothy 2:15
  8. 2 Corinthians 11:23
  9. 1 Timothy 3:16
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty_in_ancient_Greece
  11. Robin Osborne, Greek History (Routledge, 2004), 12 online and 21.
  12. Alix Spiegel, “Is Believing in God Evolutionarily Advantageous?” All Things Considered, August 30, 2010, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129528196
  13. Jessica Bond, “We Struggle With Monogamy – Is It Time to Abandon it Altogether?” New Scientist, November 29, 2017, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article-topic/monogamy/
  14. Mairi Macleod, “Monogamy Evolved to Keep Baby-killers Away,” New Scientist, July 30, 2013, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23959-monogamy-evolved-to-keep-baby-killers-away/
  15. Joanna Marchant, “Sex, Lies and Monogamy,” New Scientist, April 28, 2001, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17022880-300-sex-lies-and-monogamy/
  16. Nathan H. Lents, “Beastly Behavior - The Relationship Between Waist-Hip Ratio and Fertility, Psychology Today, June 19, 2007, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beastly-behavior/201706/the-relationship-between-waist-hip-ratio-and-fertility
  17. 1 Timothy 4:7. NABRE here reads “silly myths” but most translations connect it with “old women,” often reading “old wives’ tales.” NWT says “false stories, like those told by old women.” Expect “silly myths” to catch on more and more, as translators imitate NABRE and endeavor to avoid being gender specific.
  18. Laurie Goodstein, “A Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, Dinosaurs Included,” New York Times, June 26, 2016, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/us/noahs-ark-creationism-ken-ham.html
  19. “Holy Spirit – at Work in Creation,” The Watchtower – study edition, February 15, 2011, 8
  20. “How Did We Get Here,” Awake! May 8, 1997
  21. Was Life Created? (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2010), 26
  22. See: Ephesians 4:14, 1 Timothy 6:20, Jude 1:12, Jeremiah 2:13, and Matthew 15:14
  23. Acts 17:26-27
  24. “Abraham Lincoln and the Bible,” Lehman Institute Presents: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-the-bible/
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid
  27. Matthew 13:30, Daniel 12:4
  28. Daniel 12:9
  29. 1 Corinthians 15:45
  30. For example, see Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1989)
  31. “Russian Orthodox Against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” AsiaNews, May 4, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Russian-Orthodox-against-Jehovahs-Witnesses-40640.html
  32. Morris Kline, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) 213
  33. “Visions of Zechariah - How They Affect You,” The Watchtower - study edition, October 2017, 23
  34. Matthew 11:19, Psalm 38:13
  35. “Remove the Rafter,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/VODBiblePrinciples/pub-jwbai_201603_1_VIDEO
  36. Matthew 7:3-5
  37. from the 1989 movie: Driving Miss Daisy
  38. ‘Data Team’: “Over-friendly, or Sexual Harassment? It Depends Partly on Whom You Ask, The Economist, November 17, 2017, March 26, 2018, https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/11/daily-chart-14?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/
  39. Robert Wright, “Infidelity—It may be in our genes. Our Cheating Hearts,” Time Magazine, August 15, 1994, accessed March 26, 2018, https://canadiancrc.com/Newspaper_Articles/Time_Magazine_infidelity_in_genes_15AUG94.aspx
  40. 1 Timothy 6:19
  41. Luke Vander Ploeg, “Lack Of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses,” All Things Considered, February 19, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2017/02/19/510585965/poor-education-leads-to-lost-dreams-and-low-income-for-many-jehovahs-witnesses
  42. Dylan Love, “Instant MBA: America Needs Plumbers More Than It Needs You, businessinsider, May 17, 2011, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.businessinsider.com/instant-mba-america-needs-plumbers-more-than-it-needs-you-2011-5
  43. Caryle Murphy, “The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research, November 4, 2016, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/
  44. a reference to Psalm 84:10
  45. Eliza Barclay, “For Best Toilet Health: Squat Or Sit?” NPR – Health, September 28, 2012, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/20/161501413/for-best-toilet-health-squat-or-sit
  46. For example, see Matthew 15:1-20 in which Jesus answers a question from opposers only in his own time and to his own disciples – after those opposers have taken offense, stormed off, and are no longer around to hear the answer they demanded.
  47. John 6:54-66
  48. See the drop-down language menu at upper right corner of JW.org.
  49. “Remote Translation Offices Help Spread the Kingdom News,” JW Broadcasting – Video on Demand, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/VODActivitiesTranslation/pub-jwbrd_201505_6_VIDEO

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