Biased Reporting. Et tu?—Even Us?

“The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source.” This I wrote here, and it attracted an answer:

This is more and more true as the world gets more divided, more partisan, and more nationalistic. Pride in one's own cause, nation, religion or ideology causes one to be more apt to defend one's POV with bias, and condemn, with bias, those of an "opposite" POV . It happens to the best of us, and by that I mean that there have been several documented examples even within and among our own religion. 

I have learned to live with it, and perhaps even acquiesce that it must be that way. Of course, I don’t know what examples this person may have in mind, but...

Do you think I can persuade anybody that the (largely) atheist anti-cult movement is behind our woes in Russia? No. It is all the machinations of Babylon the Great is all anyone wants to hear. We are so hung up on Babylon the Great that we do not recognize that she is mostly licking her wounds these days, and a powerful atheist faction has arisen that would eradicate everyone clinging to worship of God—us no less than they. Yet we still, in the main, carry on as though publishers in Judge Rutherford’s day, announcing that religion is a “snare and a racket.” It is, but here in the West, it does not play as the most timely theme. The atheists and the skeptics perch above it all and ridicule the different religionists calling each other false. As rude as some trolls are here, I see brothers equally rude on social media with regard to tweets mentioning religion—appending insults that have little to do with the topic under consideration. Do they think themselves witnessing? It doesn’t leave a good impression. I could wish that we got training about social media besides the refrain to “be cautious” of it.*

Trained, we might be able to do some good with it. The articles posted on JW.org lately—about coping with anxiety, safeguarding children from the horror of world news, adapting them to “distance learning,” and so forth? These are excellent contributions—exactly what is needed today by anyone wishing to preserve sanity. It would take so little for ones who know how to use social media to judiciously spread this all over the internet, to the benefit of countless people. But we are advised to be cautious as to our use of it. We are not trained, and most of those who venture there with the idea of witnessing are horribly clumsy—saying outrageous things, oblivious to what their audience potentially might be.  It could be used to such powerful effect, but it is not in a nod to “caution.” 

Still, maybe the fixation on Babylon the Great, and turning a (it seems to me) blind eye to the atheists and skeptics is what one must expect of Bethel. They, more than anyone, strive to be “no part of the world.” Over time, they get to know little about it. They live primarily in the world of Scriptures, and the scriptures say that it is in the skirts of Babylon the Great (not the atheists or skeptics) that is found the blood of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth. Primarily, the sin is one of omission, not commision. Had religion not neglected to teach the Word of God, there would not be the bumper crop of atheists and skeptics of today. So who can say that Bethel is wrong to keep on harping over false religion—that picture is the overall picture, and the skeptics are but a resulting subset—even though (someone said to me) “the denunciation of Babylon the Great was needed at that time because religion was still powerful. Today it is not needed any longer.“ The way that I have phrased it is: “Why kick the old lady when she is down? We kicked her while she was up.”

Another area of seeming bias is how we speak of ex-members—as though they are all train-wrecks, and will remain so until they come to their senses and return. This is a point of great ridicule among ex-Witnesses, who take bows before each other each time one emerges who is not a train-wreck. I mean, it really does seem an example of “confirmation bias” on our part.

Still, the Word indicates that those who leave after knowing the truth are like Vic Vomodog, whose name I changed from Vomidog to please @anna, who didn’t like the image. “A dog that returns to its own vomit” is how Peter puts it, so from there comes the notion that the world will “chew one up and spit one out.” If the brothers find someone who says it in exactly those words based upon his own experience, they eat it right up and cannot relay it quickly enough. 

It used to drive me nuts. It still does, a little, but it does so less. The brothers don’t know because they obey the Bible’s own counsel to not go where they might find out. “Keep an eye on those who cause division and stumbling and avoid them,” says Romans 16:17. So they do avoid them, and thus the only window they have to look upon them is that of scripture. 

Ah, well. I would like it if they didn’t do that, but who is to say they are wrong? It’s a little like God declaring that Adam and Eve will die the day they disobey. It the long run, it makes little difference whether that “day” is one of 24 hours or 1000 years.

...
*You settle in social media like FB and Twitter just like you would settle in a physical neighborhood. As you interact with your “neighbors,“ by degrees people come to know of your faith and what makes you do what you do. I wish we did more of this, but in fact we do almost none. When we “friend” only those we personally know, whatever witnessing we do, barring some fluke, reaches only the brothers. 

I rather like it that the hour requirement of pioneers has been suspended, and yet people are still being appointed as pioneers—which begs off the obvious question of...well, you know what it is. Counting time inevitably leads to curious notions of being “on duty/ off duty.“ I don’t mind seeing it suspended, in favor of witnessing that is seamlessly integrated into our lives—sometimes distinctly “on duty”, sometimes, for the most part, “off duty,” but generally so seamless that it is hard to tell.

If I was to count all the time I spend on social media, primarily my own blogging here, in that case I have been special pioneering for many years. But the notion of counting time is a provision of the organization, so it is for them to define how it Is to be done. Since they are decidedly unencouraging on witnessing via social media, I count none of it.

 

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Cults—Does One Prefer the Broad Road Leading Off to Destruction or the Narrow One?

Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. The Epoch Times represents the publishing arm of the Falun Gong religious sect, much as, I suppose, the Christian Science Monitor represents the publishing arm of the Christian Scientists, but not as the Watchtower represents the publishing arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Christian Science Monitor and the Epoch Times are full-scale newspapers with corresponding digital outlet. The Watchtower is a religious journal that rarely even names and of the players on the world stage. 

As for me—naw—I skimmed that Epoch Times some, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.

Now, I know next to nothing about Falun Gong, but those who wish to discredit their newspaper will do so on the basis that they are “weird.” Are they secretive? Are they uncomfortably effective in spreading their message? Do they withdraw from “normal” society? Do they learn to lead “double-lives?” Do they mislead the regular people as to their true mission? Do they have some offbeat (and therefore ‘dark’) beliefs about what the future holds? Do they have members who die because of not embracing all that modern medicine has to offer? Do they even have an elaborate “compound” in New York State? Are they non-violent, but still a cause for concern, since “all cults are non-violent until they are not”—that cute line from the #cultexpert—in his wacko world, the more peaceful people are, the greater the cause for concern.

When I see how Jehovah’s Witnesses are slammed in the media as a “cult,” do I imagine that all the other “cults” are getting a fair shake? 

In TrueTom vs the Apostates! I wrote of the Moonies something to the effect of: Is is possible to lead a fulfilled life as a Moonie? They’ll have to make the case for it, not me. However, if the “mainstream” and “normal” life resulted in happiness, fulfillment, and provided answers to the deep questions that vex people, none of these cults would succeed in people giving them the time of day. Let them deliver a little bit before they condemn everyone else. 

I might even prefer committed religionists to the vanilla people of today because you can “talk shop” with them. You are not faced with, as we are here in the US, people in a panic over discussing a Bible verse, people scared of going off the mainstream of conventional goals for fear of where that might take one, people who do not roll their eyes when you speak of what a verse might mean, and people who do not distrust your explaining a verse by appealing to another one—as though they already indulged you by listening to one, and what more could you possibly want?

As far as I can see, joining one of these “cults” is getting off the “broad road leading to destruction,” in favor of the “narrow road that leads to destruction.” (Matthew 7:13) They both lead to destruction, one no more than the other. I don’t view “cultists” as a threat to people any more than the “normal” life is a threat to people. 

Broad road or narrow road, the one factor that indicates they “lead off to destruction” is their rooting for various leaders of the world to succeed and for other ones to fail. They are part of the world when they do that. The “cramped and narrow road that leads to life” is marked by not being part of the world—not claiming that this or that human is God’s gift to humanity, not claiming that this or that leader must go down, but taking a neutral attitude towards them. “Pray for the king,” Paul writes to Timothy. “That way maybe he’ll keep out of our hair.” That is as “involved” as the religion that is true to God gets with regard to this world’s political structure of good guys and bad guys. Anything else, be it Falun GOne or conventional media, is equally part of the world in my eyes. Your “eyes may be opened” when you leave the Falun Gong, but it is only so they can be blinded by another source rooting for this world.

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With Regard to Religion, if You Know What You’re Talking About, You’re Biased.

The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source. You would think that those with experience would be the first ones consulted, but they are the last. It is a skewed approach that really only applies with regard to religious views—with anything else, membership in a cause does not interfere significantly with their ‘expertise’—but it does with religion.

However, you cannot stay neutral with regard to the “word of God” because it “pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and ...is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart,” says Hebrews 4:12. It separates people, either “for” or “against.”

The “for” will be counted as biased under today’s system of news, and thus discounted. The “against” will not get the sense of it—whatever they say will miss the lion’s share of what matters. They will be like the “physical man” of 1 Corinthians 2:14 who “does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually.”

As for the opposite of the physical man who “cannot get to know” things of which he tries to report?—“the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” So the only one who can report accurately is dismissed as biased in favor of the one who can’t possibly come to know what he is talking about. Is that a great system, or what?

It doesn’t matter what is said, as much as it matters who says it. This rule plays out time and again. From the German concentration camps prior to and during WWII, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who preceded the far more numerous Jews, smuggled out detailed diagrams of those camps. Those diagrams were published in the Watchtower—and dismissed by more respectable outlets as Time Magazine because they were not deemed credible. It turned out that only Jehovah’s Witnesses had “the scoop.”

The rule played out once more when Gunnar Samuelsonn, an evangelistic researcher, published that Jesus had not been put to death on a cross but on an upright stake  He received his 15 minutes of fame—his place in the academic community solidly cemented. Jehovah’s Witnesses have said the same for well over a century, only to be told to shut up since they didn’t go to college—what could they possibly know?

Can the Falun Gong make the same claim—that if the “right people” do not say something, it means nothing? They will have to state their own case—not me. For all I know, they are the nutcakes that people make them out to be, but when I see how the media butchers stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I do not assume that other “new religions” are given a fair shake. (“New religion” is the scholarly term for movements a century or two old. The term is preferred to “cult” for being non-incendiary, and those who prefer “cult” reject it for exactly that reason.)

Everyone in my area recently received a copy of the Epoch Times in the mail, along with an invitation to subscribe. “What is this garbage?!” my liberal followers on Twitter sputtered, outraged at it’s pro-Trump outlook. “I took it straight out to the trash!” So I told them what it was and where it came from. As for me—naw—I skimmed a little bit, but no more—the articles were very long and seemed nothing I hadn’t heard before. Not putting my trust in princes, there is a limit to how much I will delve into identifying the good guys vs the bad guys. There all bad guys to one degree or another—all who would advocate rule by man rather than by God.

It may be that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Falun Gong are getting to know each other quite well in the remote areas of China. Bitterwinter.org reports:

According to a document issued in 2018 by the government of a locality in Xinjiang, members of three banned religious groups—The Church of Almighty God (CAG), Falun Gong, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—must be sent to transformation through education camps and kept indefinitely until they have been “transformed,” i.e., become atheist. Their release depends on whether they have implemented five musts. These are a written pledge to stop attending religious activities; relinquishment of all religious materials in their possession; public criticism of one’s faith, promising to break up with it; disclosure of information about fellow believers and group’s/church’s affairs; and aiding the government in transforming other believers.”

The two groups are anything but “two peas in a pod.” The Falun Gong are intensely political and hostile to the CCP, whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses are neither. “Mandatory singing of revolutionary songs was particularly hard on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who practice the so-called political neutrality and refuse to sing national anthems, salute flags, or serve in the army,” the report said.

BitterWinter is a subset of the Center for Studies on New Religions, headquartered in Torino, Italy. It is chaired by Massimo Introvigne, identified as “one of the most well-known scholars of religion internationally.” (I see my chum* George Chrysiddes, who wrote that nice review of my first book under the pseudonym Ivor E. Tower, hangs out here at least sometimes.) His name cropped up repeatedly as I was gathering background for Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia. Though I did not get it from him (I got it from Joshua Gill), I see he is of the same view as I that a resolute “anti-cult” movement, and not the Russian Orthodox Church, is behind the troubles of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that land. Head ones of the ROC might cheer that ban like children at presents under the tree, but it does not originate with them. The “anti-cult” movement has the same apparent goal of that explicitly stated in BitterWinter—that religious ones should “become atheist”—and the more mainstream faiths are so watered down already that it hardly matters what they believe—they’ll do whatever they are told to do.

If the charge is made that anything harshly critical of the CCP is a production of Fulon Gong—as I have heard—by means of their media arm Epoch Times, that certainly cannot be said of BitterWinter. It’s About page tells of a “network of several hundred correspondents in all Chinese provinces” who work at “high risk for their security – some have been arrested.” To be sure, it “receives some of its reports directly from members of religious minorities and organizations persecuted,” however it would appear that these ones do not call the shots. BitterWinter “is independent of any religious or political organization and is mostly the fruit of volunteer work.” It “does not take positions on political issues [Good!—Like JWs—will Hebrews 4:12 some day go to work on them?] and limits itself to the field of human rights.”

Unfortunately, “human rights” itself may be perceived as political. Invariably they focus on the human rights of individuals, whereas any government will be an attempt at balancing the human rights of individuals with the human rights of groups. With some, the human rights of groups far outweighs those of individuals. Even as Putin says he does not understand why his country persecutes Jehovah’s Witnesses, he qualifies the remark by observing Russia is 90% one religion, and “one cannot throw everything overboard just to please the sects.”

Frankly, I could wish that BitterWinter was all pro-Western propaganda that could be dismissed on that account, for our people are reported as undergoing some very tough times there—it makes Russia look like a cakewalk. However, the website initially strikes one as a treasure trove of unbiased documentation, exceedingly well-done, and well worth the donations it accepts, and well-worth boning up on.

....

*I don’t want to imply that we’re buddies. He’s a “chum” because he wrote that nice review, but otherwise I do not know him. We traded emails for a time, but fell out of touch. He said chatty things while he was reading the ebook—I appreciated it, and he graciously did not mention quite a few blips and typos that I have since found and removed. I rather wish he had. While I’ve no doubt his review is sincere, he probably discounted the book for not being up to format standards. But then again—he’s a scholar, not an editor.

 

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Bazhenov Goes To Jail - and Gives a Witness on the Way

At trial’s end, in a Russian court, Konstantin Bazhenov’s turn at last came to make his closing statement.

He “hardly talked about the legal aspects of the persecution and emphasized his spiritual side. ‘It is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil ones,’ he quoted the words of Jesus Christ. Then he briefly talked about what Jehovah's Witnesses believe in and how they live, and in the end he read a poem of his own composition.”

Yes. This is exactly what you do. The law is so convoluted that nobody can get their heads around it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned, but only their organization is? People cannot get their heads around it. President Putin says words of support, yet it makes no difference? People cannot get their heads around it. Forget those things and just give a witness to all present, a witness that embodies Christian qualities of joy even under persecution, and a determination to serve God under any circumstances.

Konstantin starts with wanting “to recall one interesting aphorism, which is quite well-known: ‘While the truth was on my shoes, the lie managed to get around half the world.’ This aphorism emphasizes that sometimes some inaccurate data, false information spread very quickly, and the truth remains somewhere in the backyards,” and he applies it to the misinformation spread about Jehovah's Witnesses. Mark Twain’s version of this saying (or is this a version of his?) is: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”

Be that as it may, he is very glad that during court hearings “the truth nevertheless sounded,” albeit with “delay,”  but it did. He thanks his God Jehovah “that he trusts [him] to represent His interests in court, that He helped, gave strength, wisdom to understand the legal nuances.”

Represent His interests he does, fully getting the sense of Jesus’ words: People “will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)

He has Revelation 2:10 down pat: Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” He is a fanatic to those who have discarded God, and even to some of those who have not. But he is the very embodiment of Jesus’ words to endure (with joy) under persecution, and he goes on to explain how that can be.

“Everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12) he cites. “This is like the law of physics, so I am not personally surprised that this is happening. Maybe a little upset. But the fact is that persecution is inevitable. They were in the 1st century, and they are now. It convinces me even more that I am on the right track and gives me confidence.”

He uses that confidence to thank participants. He thanks his wife, first of all, but also the judge for “carefully listening to us and trying to understand the essence of the issue.” He thanks the investigator “for permitting visits with his wife, as well as a request for our release from custody. It was a gift for my wife and I.” He thanks his lawyers, co-defendants, friends who came for support, and even the prosecutor “for listening carefully and outlining the main thoughts.” Why throw stones? Be like the early Christians.

“If according to the verdict of the court, I have to go through the punishment of imprisonment, [he does, said the court] then I am sure that this will strengthen my faith.” He has already been there almost a year in pre-trial detention, and has found that “neither high walls, nor bars, nor barbed wire can prevent the Holy Spirit from penetrating and giving support. There are such words in the Bible: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ It may seem at first glance: well, how, in prison is freedom? What kind of freedom is there? But in fact, for example, freedom from fear, freedom from sinful deeds, freedom from bad habits, freedom from foul language, from envy, greed, freedom from remorse, this freedom can be regardless of where we are.”

“For, if you please the will of God, it is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil,” he cites at 1 Peter 3:14-17. “Indeed, I am happy that I do not suffer for crimes, that is, I did not steal, I was not a mortgagee, I did not rape anyone, I did not blackmail, I did not cheat, but they accuse me. I suffer for worshiping God.”

“And it does not surprise me that such events occur, but sometimes it surprises others. For example, when I was in a pre-trial detention center, many prisoners said: ‘We are here for crimes.’ That is, scammers, hijackers, mortgages, counterfeiters - there are many articles with whom I sat. And they said: ‘We really did something. But what are you doing here?’ And they were surprised. Moreover, in my case there are no victims. Indeed, I have a clear conscience before God and before people.”

“If I find myself in a colony, there also live people who need to learn the truth from the Bible about God, about his plan for the earth and people. This is a huge field for activity. If this happens, I will consider that Jehovah found there sincere people whom I should help to learn the biblical message. I see no other reasons. Psalm 50, verse 15 says: ‘I will teach the wicked in your ways, and the wicked will turn to you.’ The psalmist David wanted to help others so that they would not take the slippery slope. So, I also have a desire to help others turn from their lawless deeds, their criminal way of life, so that they turn to God. The fact is that the Word of God, the Bible, has tremendous power to influence people for the better. Thanks to the Bible, people get rid of bad habits and criminal lifestyle. And it benefits both themselves and the state, because, in fact, they become useful members of society. Of course, I do not want to lose my freedom, but if at least one criminal cleansed of the criminal past, it means that I was not in vain hurt.”

He then launches into what can only be described as his “Adam to Armageddon sermon”—his talk touching on basic Witness beliefs regarding the:

  1. theme of God
  2. authority of the Bible
  3. role of Jesus Christ
  4. Kingdom of God
  5. Christ’s ransom
  6. heaven
  7. earth
  8. reason for God’s permission of evil and suffering
  9. what happens at death
  10. how to find happiness as a family
  11. our worship of God
  12. Christian unity
  13. our behavior as Christians
  14. our relationships to others

Well, why not? He does have a captive audience, after all, and they made themselves captive—specifically convening to pass judgment upon him. Trust me on this: nobody said on their drive home, “That fellow doesn’t know his Bible very well.” We live by the Bible —JWs do. We make no apology for it. If we experience adversity, make it clear that it is due to a dislike of what the Bible says.

Commendably, the Russian court participants did not stone him to death, as the Sanhedrin did with Stephen when he pulled such a stunt. They just put him on the prison bus and off to a new assignment. I love his flexibility. I pray that I can match it should my turn come. We can’t necessarily choose what our new assignment will be or what hardships it may entail.

(No Bible citations in this post are taken from the New World Translation. This is because in Russia that book has been declared not a Bible at all—as that country discredits itself before educated persons the world over who know very well that it is. No, that translation is actually an extremist work, the High Court maintains, so it cannot be quoted. Where I, and not Konstantin, have inserted verses, they are from the New American Bible - Revised Edition, the “house” Bible for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” That book itself comes in “safe” and “unsafe” versions—identical except the unsafe version quotes occasionally from Watchtower publications, and the safe version does not. The version linked to above is the “safe” version—you can read it without going to the hoosegow, at least, until the entire work is declared extremist, if that hasn’t happened already.

 

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)