Who We Are and Why We Are and Where We Are Going?

How can people believe Bible texts the way they do? People were superstitious then. And it is violent.

Maybe because they are enamored with its main character, God. Those not enamored with him are not attracted to the text. Psalm 34:8 is a favorite of mine: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” Some people think he tastes bad. Taste is not a provable topic. It resonates with some and not with others. It is not primarily a matter of intellect. Some people hate asparagus. Good luck trying to ‘prove’ to them that it tastes good.

The reason God and the texts long associated with him ‘taste good’ to people of faith is summed up in this quote from a newspaper editor, as true today as when he wrote it 60 years ago: “Here is a curious thing. In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.” (Vermont Royster) People of faith want to know “who we are and why we are and where we are going.” They are convinced secular society has no answers (“we are little further along than when time began”), so they look to God. They are not put off by the fact the Bible is old. (You would hardly expect a message from God to all mankind to have been written recently) They don’t consider those ancients inferior. If anything, with less to distract them, they had the time to think deeper thoughts.

Nor do they think science answers Royster's question. Professor Viskontas* addresses how our present life is but an hour or two on the year-scaled cosmic timeline. "Does this mean that our short little lives hold no meaning? I would argue that it certainly does not. In fact, it gives us a sense of how far we've come and how connected we are even to the very beginnings of the universe. And surely life gains meaning through the connections that we make to each other and to our world," se says. I dunno. It's not nothing, but it doesn't compare to the thought of everlasting life. Isn't it more akin to persuading a speed bump to find meaning in its role on the highway of life?

Too, God’s revealed personality attracts some. To Moses, he presented himself as “a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love and truth, showing loyal love to thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34) Those are good qualities to have in a God, particularly in a world not typified by such qualities. They draw people. He ‘tastes good’ to them. They see a world deteriorating at an almost visibly increasing rate. They see human governments have no answers. They look for one in the Scriptures, and there they find it.

They do not find it offensive that God would have requirements, as is intimated at the end of the Exodus phrase. It instantly strikes them as right that he would. They like the illustration of an owner’s manual for a product, say a new Ford. It makes perfect sense to them that Ford would be the one to consult as to how to care for the product it created.That’s why “people have believed in this text for so many years.” It is a vehicle through which one may get to know one’s Creator. Ordinary people find that very comforting, even if some more independently minded others find it offensive.

Is there concern that there is much violence in the OT? Don’t think people are any less violent today. It is just that modern societies have found a way to sanitize and corporatize violence, so that it can be inflicted from afar by horrific weapons, while the ones congratulating themselves at their supposed moral progress safely watch on TV. Some have heard the terrorist argument for attacking innocent civilians. There are no innocent civilians, they say, because these ‘innocent’ civilians willfully empower governments that go on to commit atrocities in their homeland.

No need to fuss about things that happened 4000 years ago, which is when most of the OT violence occurred. Parties have had plenty of time to reform, if they see fit to do so. Besides, you can always assign that Bible reading of Elisha calling down bears on the jeering children to a bald brother, who will tap his own shiny dome as though to say, ‘Don’t mess with me.’

...* Indre Viskontas, lecturer of 12 Essential Scientific Concepts, from Great Courses


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The Philosophy of Humor

Can you believe that philosophers have undertaken to analyze humor? Of course they have—they analyze everything else. This should not have come as a surprise to me, and yet somehow it did. The very name philosophy is a marriage of ‘philo’ (love) and ‘sophia’ (wisdom). Their modus operendus? Put anything under the scope, subject it to enough thought-power, and it will yield its secrets.

New disciplines, once they reach critical mass, split off from philosophy to become entities of their own. What is known today as ‘science’ was once known as ‘natural philosophy. James Hall, the lecturer, tells of spying test tubes and bunsen burners advertised as ‘philosophical instruments.’* A more recent breakaway from the mother ship of philosophy is ‘psychology.’

Will humor also one day yield its secrets to philosophical scrutiny? Let us not sell these people short, but for now, we encounter few ‘humorologists.’ For now, we can content ourselves with people who know how to tell a good joke. For now, my self-description stands as one who not only appreciates self-deprecatory humor but also the kind of humor where you make fun of yourself. For now, no humorologist undertakes to explain why that statement is funny (or not).

Humor is not a favored child of philosophy. That, I learned in ‘Philosophy 101,’ a book by Paul Kleinman. Plato took a savage view toward it, as the lowest form of human interaction that did nothing but detract. His ‘philosopher kings’ were not allowed to engage in any humor at all! This seriously messes with my premise that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Governing Body is today the most manifest application of Plato’s ideals. Those guys joke all the time. True, some of the humor is lame—raising or lowering the mic for short or tall speakers, for example, a modest humor exists throughout JW-land. At our Assembly Hall, the human mic-adjusters have been replaced with a mic stand that does the job sans hands, being remote controlled from afar! Our crazily tall circuit overseer creates a disturbance when the auto-mic seeks to adjust for him, inching up, pausing, then inching up again, each time emitting a hum, because someone forgot to mute the thing. He just grins, being long used to it. That’s the kind of collective humor we’re used to, though individually, there are no end of brothers who just live to tell knee-slappers. Pause for just a moment to consider that there are far few sisters who do this. Is this variation an attribute of the sexes in general?

No one has sought to banish humor in the JW-world, least of all individual GB members themselves, but according to Plato, they should. They should become dour sourpusses who never crack a smile. Every time they do crack one, they destroy my theory that they are the modern day application of Plato’s philosopher-kings. So, they should stop doing it.

What grabs me is that church history is replete with sourpusses—stern-faced men who take everything with life-or-death seriousness, men to whom a joke would have been the ultimate sacrilege. Think the iron-faced Puritan leaders of ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ for example. Yet, such a revulsion to humor is not a Bible product. The Bible is fine with humor. The revulsion is a Greek philosophical product fused into the early Church when that Church ‘broadened out’ to increase its appeal and thus gain new converts.

Every Witness knows that the spread of ‘apostasy’ in the early centuries added ‘immortality of the soul’ to the belief system of Christians—it wasn’t there originally and must be read into the Bible to find it there. The immortal soul was infused in order to increase Church appeal to the educated philosophical class, the Greeks who prided themselves on their pursuit of wisdom. ‘Maybe some of these desirable fellows will come our way if we yield a little for them,’ Church fathers reasoned.

What I didn’t know was that a humorless view of life is also among the Greek imports. It is not a biblical product. It is a product of human philosophy! Yet, a life of devotion to God today is assumed by overall society to be a humorless one. It is anything but. Granted, you don’t cackle over everything under the sun. There is a time to be serious. But there is a time for laughter.

On a roll as to human philosophy infusing Christianity, whereupon Christianity itself is blamed as the source of it, one might consider resistance to investigative science itself. The notion that Christians are loathe to examine and look into things does not stem from Christianity. It stems from Aristotle—Greek philosopher of the 4th century BCE, whose views on the revelation of anything worth knowing was adopted into the early Church in order to increase its appeal to that ‘educated’ class.

With these early, evolving, church leaders; It was not biblical writings that ultimately carried the day. It was the writings of the philosophers. Yet historians retroactively assign that role to those worshipping God, as though worship makes a person backwards. It came from philosophy, not Christianity! Christianity’s mistake was to adopt it. When the pig-headed church leaders lit into Copernicus and Galileo for writing the earth is not the center of the universe, scholars assign pigheadedness to worshippers of God, whereas they ought to look to their own forebears. Human thinkers contaminate the product and then the biblical writings take the rap!

Back to the initial topic: humor. It’s not horrific in itself that philosophers should undertake to explain humor for the rest of us. It is more the eye-rolling dread at how they tend to get so full of themselves when they do that. But, even worse, it is the fear that it’s only a matter of time before they extend their research to other intangible qualities, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so forth—determined to examine spiritual things through the physical lens. Watch out when they do that, as when love is said to ‘evolve’ since without it, back in primitive days, predators would be eating your offspring while loveless you just shrugged and twiddled your thumbs. Beware the field of evolutionary psychology.

In recent years, much has been made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to identify these above qualities, listed at Galatians 5:22, as ‘fruitage’ of the spirit, rather than ‘works’ of the spirit. They contrast with the unpleasant traits listed just before (5:19), which ARE works: works of the flesh. The idea is that you can’t fully develop the former good qualities without God’s spirit, whereas yielding to the unpleasant traits is simply taking the path of least resistance. Anyone can do that. So, if they are fruitage of God’s spirit, good luck to human philosophers trying to analyze them. While you can put physical things on spiritual trial, you cannot put spiritual things on physical trial. You can achieve the knockoff imitation through physical means, and in many cases it is good enough. But if you want the variation that holds up through thick and thin, it is only through God’s spirit that such traits are developed. Sure—let the philosophers have at it—those fellows for whom it is pulling teeth to get them to agree that there even is a God. See what they have to tell us.

*’The Philosophy of Religion’


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Jesus and Socrates—the Parallels

We don’t know much about Socrates. If we’re called upon to read his name aloud from print, we say what an embarrassed Michael Jackson said, that he had heard the name many times but had never seen it spelled out. How was he to know it was three syllables and not two? So, what do we know about So-Crates? We know he died from hemlock poisoning. We know he drank it himself, that he had been sentenced to die. And that’s about all we know, plain ‘ol people that we are.

22831E0C-15F6-4966-8358-60D356D7A8EFOf course, if we have had some training on the topic, then we know more. We also know enough to say his name correctly. But most people are rank and file, unconcerned with Socrates because Socrates does not touch upon their daily lives—or if he does, they don’t know just how. They do know about Jesus, however, because Jesus is the lynchpin of the major religion. To be sure, much of what they know about Jesus is wrong, but they do have a lot of wannabe-facts at their disposal, some of which are true, whereas for Socrates they have almost nothing.

Simplify Greek history exponentially by knowing his relationship to other big names of the era. Socrates was one-on-one teacher to Plato, Plato was one-on-one teacher to Aristotle, and Aristotle was one-on-one teacher to Alexander the Great. There, doesn’t that help?

I was already delving into the unlikely. I was already drawing some parallels between Socrates and Jesus. Both had a way of buttonholing people, prodding them to think outside the box. Both attracted a good many followers in this way. Both were outliers to the general world of their time, and were looked upon askance for it. Both infuriated their ‘higher-ups’—so much so that both were consequently sentenced to death. Their venues were different, and so we seldom make the linkage, but linkage there is. As a result of auditing the Great Courses lecture series, I was beginning to play with the idea.

Imagine my satisfaction when I come across one of those professors, J. Rufus Fears, who has not only begun but has fully developed the idea in his lecture series entitled ‘A History of Freedom.’ Happy as a pig in mud I was, for it proved I was not crazy. Nearly all subsequent points are taken from his lecture, “Jesus and Socrates:”

They were both teachers, for one, Jesus of the spiritual and Socrates of the empirical. They both refused pay, a circumstance that in itself aroused the suspicion of the established system. (Victor V. Blackwell, a lawyer who defended many Witness youths in the World War II draft days, observed that local judges recognized only one sort of minister: those who “had a church” and “got paid”—“mercenary ministers,” he called them.)

7CAC7F61-0CCF-44E9-BF12-876C94793101Fears may be a bit too much influenced by evolving Christian ‘theology’—he speaks of Jesus being God, for instance, and the kingdom of God being a condition of the heart—but his familiarity with the details of the day, and the class structure social mores that both Jesus and Socrates’ transgressed against, is unparalleled. Jesus reduces the Law to two basic components: love of God and love of neighbor. This infuriates the Pharisees and Sadducees, because complicating the Law was their meal ticket, their reason for existence. After his Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching, for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” Depend upon it: the scribes didn’t like him. Socrates, also, did the Sophist’s work—the paid arguers who ‘made the weaker argument look the stronger,’—better than they. They were jealous of him.

Neither Jesus nor Socrates encouraged participation in politics of the day. Jesus urged followers to be “no part of the world.” Socrates declared it impossible for an honest man to survive under the democracy of his time. Both thereby triggered establishment wrath, for if enough people followed their example, dropping out of contemporary life, where would society be?

Both Jesus and Socrates were put to death out of envy. Both had offended the professional class. Both became more powerful in death than in life. Both could have avoided death, but didn’t. Socrates could have backtracked, played upon the jury’s sympathy, appealed to his former military service. Jesus could have brought in witnesses to testify that he never said he was king of the Jews, the only charge that make Pilate sit up and take notice.

Both spoke ambiguously. In Socrates case, he was eternally asking questions, rather than stating conclusions. His goal—to get people to examine their own thinking. In Jesus case, it was “speak[ing]to them by the use of illustrations” because “the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes, so that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back and I heal them.” He spoke ambiguously to see if he could cut through that morass, to make them work, to reach the heart.

What if Jesus were appear on the scene today and enter one of the churches bearing his name, churches where they don’t do as he said? Would they yield the podium to him? Or would they once again dismiss him as a fraud and imposter, putting him to death if he became too insistent, like their counterparts did the first time?

If Jesus is the basis of church, Socrates is no less the basis of university. His sayings had to be codified by Plato, his disciple, just as Jesus’ sayings had to be codified by some of his disciples. Thereafter, Plato’s student, Aristotle, had to turn them into organized form, founding the Academy—the basis of higher learning ever since. Professor Fears muses upon what would happen if Socrates showed up on campus in the single cloak he was accustomed to wearing, “just talking to students, walking around with them, not giving structured courses, not giving out a syllabus or reading list at the start of classes, not giving examination” at the end. Would they not call Security? And if by some miracle he did apply for faculty, which he would not because he disdained a salary, but if he did, you know they would not accept him. Where were his credentials? Yes, he had the gift of gab, they would acknowledge, but such was just a “popularity contest.” Where were his published works?

Similarly, where were Jesus’ published works? Neither Jesus nor Socrates wrote down a thing. It was left for Jesus’ disciples to write gospel accounts of his life. It was left for Plato to write of Socrates’ life. If either were to appear at the institutions supposedly representing their names, they would not be recognized. Shultz, the chronicler of early Watchtower history, recently tweeted that when he appends a few letters to his name, such as PhD, which he can truthfully can, his remarks get more attention than when he does not. He says it really shouldn’t be that way, but it is what it is. Both Jesus and Socrates would have been in Credential-Jail, neither having not a single letter to stick on the end of their name. It wouldn’t help for it to be known that each had but a single garment.

Today people are used to viewing “career” as the high road, “vocation” as the lower. Vocation is associated with working with ones’ hands. Fears turns it around. “Vocation” represents a calling. Jesus was literally called at his baptism: the heavens open up, and God says, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.” Socrates had a calling in that the god Apollo at Delphi said no one is wiser than he. Socrates took that to mean God was telling him to go out and prove it. “Career,” on the other hand, stems from a French word meaning “a highway,” a means of getting from one place to another, considerably less noble than “a calling,” a vocation.

We who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite used to pointing out that religion has run off the rails. What is interesting from these parallels is the realization that academia has no less run off the rails. Both have strayed far from their roots, and not for the better. Both have devolved into camps of indoctrination.


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Things Voltaire Didn’t Say

Here is still another “Everything you thought you knew about such-and-such is wrong” revelation. Voltaire DID NOT say, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He never said it! 

In fact, it is a double “everything you thought you knew is wrong” revelation for me because I had somehow got it into my head that Patrick Henry was the one who said it. He who said “Give me liberty of give me death!” must surely have said the latter phrase as well—if you would say one, surely you would say the other—throw it on the stack! and somewhere in popular folklore someone did just that. But he didn’t say it. When I went to verify it on the internet, I was re-directed to Voltaire as the true source.

Now I find out that he didn’t say it either! He said a lot of “enlightened” things, and so, here again, some revisionist thought: What is more enlightened than dying for free speech? Throw it on the stack! If he said other enlightened things, who’s not going to believe he said this one as well. He didn’t

The Great Courses professor, (I am on a Great Courses kick these days) says it is the bane of Voltaire schlolars—everyone thinks he said it—it is practically the defining declaration of his to many—and he didn’t. 

This is pretty common—to append statements to famous others whose backgrounds suggest they might have said it because they have said other things like it. Any acerbic, pretension-deflating statement about human nature you can attribute to Mark Twain, for example, since he said a lot of stuff like that. One of my favorites, on how he would relate that when he was 16 his father was so ignorant he could barely stand to have around, but was amazed at 21 on how much the old man had picked up in those few short years—he never said it! Or at least there is no record of him saying it. This a great hazard for me, because I love to quote Mark Twain. Check before you quote.

It is similar to how David Splane said the Watchtower decided to no quote the Mahatma Gandhi line, supposedly made to British Viceroy to India Lord Irwin, that “when your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.” It’s a great quote, says Brother Splane—we love it. But we can’t use it because there is no record that the two ever met.

There’s a danger in attributing your lofty thoughts to someone else because you may find that they are not quite lofty enough to think that themselves. Alan Kors, the Great Courses professor, says Voltaire would never say something like that. He’s not going to fight to the death so someone else can say something stupid because he savored his life too much. It’s a pretentious statement—just a little too showy. I’ve always distrusted it. Who’s really going to do that? Let the merits of the fellow’s own argument cause him to rise or sink without dragging others down with him. Now—if you had a heads-up that what was going to be said was truly brilliant it might be another matter. But...

Well, if he didn’t say it, who did? His biographer. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym S. G Tallentyre. She wrote that line herself in ‘The Friends of Voltaire’ (1906) and served it up as an example of what Voltaire would have stood for. She’s drinking too much of her own Kool-Aid, apparently—no way would Voltaire have risked his neck to sponsor the cacaphonous mayhem of Twitter.

The professor does not mention Sturgeon’s Law—that is me who mentions it—but it fits in nicely. “People who say that 90 percent of science fiction is crap are correct, but then 90 percent of anything is crap,” Theodore Sturgeon said. This has been truncated into: “Ninety percent of anything is crap,” but the original quote included a reference to his own profession—that of writing science fiction. I know this, because he was the guest speaker on campus once upon a time, and I heard him say it.

Voltaire should throw his life away for 90 percent crap? I don’t think so. If a dolt can’t get his dopey message out, that’s his problem. I may not say: “Look, throw the idiot off the forum, won’t you?” but that’s a far cry from being willing to die so that the world may hear more 90 percent idiocy—there’s enough of it to go around as it is.

Does not the Word celebrate the right of anyone to be heard? Alas, at times the it celebrates shutting people up. “It is necessary to shut their mouths,” Paul says of some, who “keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they should not for the sake of dishonest gain.” Sure. “They want to be teachers of law, but they do not understand either the things they are saying or the things they insist on so strongly,” he says of others. (Titus 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:7)

Those 90 percent people cause a lot of trouble.



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