No Common Sense Here

This post is a compilation of three existing posts:

This Has Nothing to do With Common Sense,

One Last Chance for Religious Freedom in Russia,

’I Do Not Understand Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ Putin Says.

There is no material that is new. Redundant material has not yet been edited out. It is for inclusion in one or both of my latest books, Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, and TrueTom vs the Apostates!

Nothing is within about recent charges of torture. That is for a future post.

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At the Russian government press conference, journalists asked about the case of Dennis Christensen, who one day prior had been sentenced to over 6 years in prison for practicing his faith. Journalists asked whether Jehovah’s Witnesses can really be considered an extremist organization from a common sense point of view.  The president's press secretary said: "We cannot rely on concepts of common sense for governmental purposes." Of course!

The knee-jerk response of any jaded person in nearly any country on earth is to chuckle and say “Yeah, it is just like that here.” But there is much more to be seen here.

The Russian government is plainly befuddled. The press secretary goes on to explain that the greater issue is not whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist. The greater issue is that Dennis Christensen was found guilty of violating the law that says they are. Surely this is kicking the can down the road. Two months ago, at another meeting, President Putin stated that he really didn’t understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, indicating that the law itself makes no sense to him as applied to Witnesses.

To slightly misapply the words of Jesus, “something greater than Capernaum is here.” What? Two scenarios can be advanced—one for all persons, and one for persons of biblical bent.

The purely human one is that a powerful and cunning anti-cult movement takes the Russian government unawares. It takes them unawares because it is a Western import, not Russian at all, finding roots in a humanist French NGO dedicated to freeing people from ideas considered socially destructive, and nothing is more destructive to them than religion that includes the concept of authority among its members. The anti-cult movement finds its counterpart in all developed lands, though its methods will differ.

There are even divisions among them. The anti-cultists in the West consider the anti-cultists in Russia to be doing it all wrong. One of them says (sigh – it is my nemesis, but there are many others): “Jehovah’s Witnesses need persecution for their beliefs to make sense. With their thuggish behavior that violates human rights, Russia is blowing a huge gust of wind into Watchtower’s sails, fueling another generation’s worth of propaganda.”

Of course! They have a “persecution complex” over there—often the charge is made by Witness opposers. Why would their fellow anti-cultists—brothers in spirit if not in technique—be so stupid as to validate it by persecuting them? It is as though he says: “Look—we want what you want, the destruction of the Witness organization. But that is not the best way to do it.”

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The second scenario, for those of biblical bent, and it may not be of interest to those not, so they have "permission" to skip this and two succeeding paragraphs, involves the fact that the Witness organization has identified Russia as the biblical “king of the north,” an entity found in the prophesy of Daniel (chapter 11). It is a complex prophesy which many students of the Bible have tackled, involving specific powers (kings) that pass their respective mantles to succeeding powers in often shifting geographical areas, commencing from Daniel’s time down to the present. Does it complicate matters with the Russian government for someone to tell them that the Witness organization says that they are the northern king? Emily Baran, who wrote the book Dissent on the Margins, about the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during Soviet times, said that it did. It genuinely confused the irreligious Soviets and enabled them in characterizing the Witnesses as a political movement masquerading as a religion.

The Witness organization goes where it goes in furtherance of its mission to live by and advertise Bible principles, largely oblivious to ones who may think that their toes are stepped on—barely aware of it at all, because they ‘don’t do politics’ at Witness HQ. There is a king of the south, too, these days associated with the United States, and neither king is overly friendly to the interests of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, because the concept of human rights finds soil more fertile in the West than in the East, Witnesses face few legal impediments to their work in such lands. In fact, the most frequent participant in U.S. Supreme Court proceedings has been the Witness organization itself—sometimes as plaintiff and sometimes as defendant. Of them, Justice Harlan Fiske Stone once said: “I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties.”

The entire prophesy as seen though Jehovah’s Witnesses eyes is most recently discussed in their 1999 publication Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophesy, which is a discussion of the entire Bible book, not just the chapters involving the two opposing kings. Regardless of who interprets the prophesy, and of what time interval is covered, the kings of the north and south are continually at loggerheads. What is remarkable about the present—and this is only this writer’s perception—is that even when the “kings” declare that they would like to get along, outside forces intervene to keep them “on script.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?” the current American president said during his campaign. President Putin has spoken similarly. At which point, the American press intervenes to virtually ensure that they will not. Today, it is widely recognized that east-west relations are subsequently more strained than in even Soviet times. This dovetails so well with certain biblical passages (Ezekiel 38:4, Revelation 17:17) to the effect that world powers will do things not of their own devising that the similarity is impossible to let pass without mention. One must wonder if former Witnesses, upon seeing unexpected world developments that violate even “common sense,” yet are exactly in accord with long Witness expectations, do not think sometimes that they may have deboarded the train too soon—for in the aftermath of the final contest between the kings of the north and south, a contest whose biblical role has been developing for 2500 years, the “people of the covenant” at last find deliverance.

It is to be noted that enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses present themselves, not as enemies of individual Witnesses, but of the organization that they have chosen, which they somehow portray as having “enslaved” them through various psychological techniques of “control.” In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses as people are not banned. Only their organization is. However, most persons are not sophisticated enough to tell the difference, because essentially there is no difference. The Witness enemy is befuddled by it and assaults members with impunity. The police stand by and do nothing because they, too, are befuddled by it. The government is befuddled by it, as noted above. The Witness him or herself is befuddled by it. Everyone is befuddled by it because it makes no sense. It is like this writer saying that I love the Russian people—it is only the Kremlin that I seek to destroy. It is like my saying that the Russian people are free to drive the roads—it is only the roads that are banned. It takes a while to get one’s head around such a notion. Guileless ones are particularly disadvantaged because the presentation itself is steeped in guile.

It doesn’t even matter the reason for opposition to the Witnesses. The anti-cultists of the West latch on to different reasons to destroy the Witness organization than do the anti-cultists of the East. A common trigger for denunciation in the West is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are unsupportive of gay rights, and within their community, do not allow for gay sex. This makes them absolute heroes in Russia, which avidly persecutes gays. Just after the Russian ban was instituted, Angela Merkel even mentioned the two populations in the same breath to Putin—questioning him of his harassment of gays and Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Many Western sources, such as the BBC, edited out Jehovah’s Witnesses so as to focus on gays.) So Russia must scramble to find different reasons for persecution, since a prime Western reason is not a problem in its eyes.  Some Russian sources commenting on recent Witness events mention as a specific objection only that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. Even the most staunch advocate of blood transfusion will concede that the group refusing them are not to be equated with ISIS terrorists. No, on so many levels, Witness persecution defies common sense. Whenever things do that, people can be forgiven for wondering if something supernatural isn’t at work as well.

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Dennis Christensen “has spent the last 20 months in a cold cell with suspected drug dealers and only been allowed to meet his wife, separated by bars and a corridor, twice a month. If convicted, he could spend up to a decade in jail,” writes Andrew Osborn for Reuters. How much do you want to bet that those drug dealers now know their Bibles quite well? Alas, that may make them more unwelcome in Russia than had they landed the area distribution franchise for Drugs-R-Us.

He must have his moments of despondency. He must. But you would never know it. He is serene in appearances, and sometimes even cheerful. Jehovah’s Witnesses could not have wished for better examples to face the Russian bear than he and his wife Irene. See how he typifies the spirit of 1 Peter 2:23:

“Christ suffered...leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely....When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”

Has he wavered in his love for his adopted homeland? He “does not regret that he moved to live in Russia. ‘It is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life, and it brought me much happiness,’” he tells the Reuters reporter. This despite his being anything but starry eyed. “To call me or other peaceful Jehovah's Witnesses extremists is the greatest stupidity that I have ever heard!" he says. “Of course I hope that he (the judge) will be just," he said. "But I also know which country I’ve been living in."

Only a month ago, President Putin, when asked, stated that the equating of Jehovah’s Witnesses with terrorists was “of course...complete nonsense,” something “you need to carefully deal with,” and later, “so this should be looked into” since “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too.” We may soon learn just how carefully he means to deal with and look at it, as the time of Dennis’ sentencing has arrived. As for Irena, “I’m not afraid of anything and Dennis is not afraid either,” she told Reuters.

I have never seen a picture of him in which he is not mild, even well dressed. He actually broke into song at one hearing via Internet, before the guard told him to shut up. Could one ask for a better example? The symbolism is complete. His surname points to the one he follows. Even his carpenter profession lines up. Even his last project as a free man spotlights the idiocy of branding him an “extremist”—building a playground for the community children. Would members of the only other group in Russia officially designated “extremist,” ISIS, also build a playground for the community children? Maybe, but it would be a long time gaining my trust to let my children play on it. On January 23, the prosecutor requested a sentence of 6 years and 6 months in prison. Why not add 6 days to the request to make it a nice, biblical 666?

It's déjà vu for Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country, whose period of freedom has lasted only 27 years. “The only difference is that at that time [of the Soviet Union] they were called 'enemies of the people'. Now they are called 'extremists'," says Irena.

Journalist Osborn does what all journalists must do. He probes for the actual reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses are opposed. Usually all one must do in such cases is read the charges of the prosecution, but here in the Christensen case the charges are ridiculous, and the ‘crimes’ easily refuted. So Osborn hits on one spot of contention after another, but presently puts his finger on the real trigger: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” He refers, perhaps unknowingly, to a burgeoning anti-cult movement which finds conditions fertile in Russia for a perfect storm, but which is active everywhere.

The reason that Putin declares it complete nonsense to call Witnesses “extremist” is because it is. As such, he and his in government would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. However much any of them may dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses, ISIS has taught them what extremism is. They are not so stupid as to confuse the two.

Likewise, the dominant Russian Orthodox Church did not originate the ban against the Witnesses. That is not to say that some of them did not squeal with delight like kids on Christmas morning, but it was not their idea. The thinkers there are not particularly happy about it, for the same set of laws that declare it a crime to proclaim the superiority of one’s religion in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses might easily be turned against them.

No, problems with the Church and the suspicious government merely make for excellent tinder. The spark that sets it off Osborn identifies with: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” It is a determined anti-cult movement that sets the match to the tinder. It is not even Russian originated, but like Bolshevism itself, is a Western import. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive—the manifest goal of anti-cultism--sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The anti-cult movement ever seeks to extend its reach. Only in Russia does it find conditions ripe for the perfect storm, but its influence is afoot everywhere. The match was even literal in 2018 Washington State, where six attacks resulted in two Kingdom Halls burnt to the ground. Of course, that is not the intent—to incite violence. Anti-cultists speak against it, for the most part. But when you yell “CULT!” in a crowded theater, who can say what will happen? The correct term, non-incendiary and chosen by scholars for just that reason, is "new religious movement."

Assembling material in preparation for ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ I became more and more convinced that the anti-cult movement was behind it all, and it is a conviction that has only strengthened since. In the book’s introduction, I wrote:

“Does Kuraev really mean to suggest that prosecution presented no intelligible arguments at the Supreme Court trial? An observer of the trial might well think it. He might well wonder just what does the government have against Jehovah’s Witnesses? There must be something, but it is not stated. At one point the judge asked the prosecution (the Ministry of Justice) whether it had prepared for the case. A decision had been plainly made somewhere from on high and it would fall upon the judge to rubber-stamp it. Of course, he did, perhaps because he wanted to remain a judge. The actual reasons behind anti-Witness hostility were never presented. So I have presented them in Part II, along with how they might be defended.”

I even went on to caution members of my own faith:

“Some Witnesses, truth be told, will be uncomfortable with Part II and might best be advised to skip over it. They will love the idea of defending the faith but may be unaware of the scope of the attacks made against it, some of which are truly malicious. Deciding to sit out this or that controversy will earn them taunts of ‘sticking one’s head in the sand’ from detractors, but it is exactly what Jesus recommends, as will be seen. Not everyone must immerse themselves in every ‘fact,’ for many of them will turn out to be facts of Mark Twain’s variety: facts that “ain’t so.” You can’t do everything, and most persons choose to focus on matters most directly relevant to their lives.” 

That caution is repeated, with even greater applicability, in the newer ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ The book is not recommended to all Witnesses. Read it if you want a specific reply to charges laid against the faith. For those able to focus upon forward motion only, the book is not recommended. For those not, it is. The line that invariably gets the largest applause at Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses is: “Would you like to send your greetings to the brothers in Bethel [headquarters]?” The hard work and integrity of these ones is appreciated by all. So not everyone will feel the need to check out every derogatory report.

In some respects, the Witness organization appears to this writer to be out of step with regard to the attacks it faces today. With a long history of persevering in the face of religious threats to stomp it out of existence, it seems slow to acknowledge that religions are mostly licking their wounds these days, and it is the irreligious world, with anti-cultists in the vanguard, that most vehemently presses for its downfall.

See Reuters article, by Andrew Osborn

And one from BBC Russia, by Viktor Nekhezin

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At a December 11. 2018 meeting with the Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, one council member, Ekaterina Shulman, addressed President Putin: “There is a list of organizations, for which there is information that they are involved in terrorism and extremism. There are 489 of them, and 404 of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Pressing her luck, she continued: “Here I will take a sinister pause. There could be an abundance of claims against Jehovah’s Witnesses—they don’t allow blood transfusion, don’t send children to hospitals, [ed: not a charge that I have heard before] but they definitely are not calling for violence or committing it.”

Putin’s response was: “We should treat the representatives of all religions in the same way – this is true, but still, it is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live. True, this does not mean at all that we should include representatives of religious communities in some destructive, or even in terrorist organizations. Of course, this is complete nonsense, you need to carefully deal with it. Here I agree with you.”

Later in the meeting, Putin returned to the topic and added: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted. So this should be looked into. This must be done.” The Washington Post and Time picked up on the story the next day, the Post saying that he “has pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Now, what to make of this?

Yaroslav Sivulski, the press secretary for JWs in Russia, stated: “We have noted the president’s reaction with surprise. If he knows about the whole situation, then probably his reaction could change something. We hope that he will give instructions to have the matter examined and something may happen. Though, knowing the realities of our country, there is not much optimism.” Okay, so they’re not breaking out the champagne just yet.

The online community of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a cynical bunch, by and large, with many thinking Putin was just being slippery. In fact, since translating from Russian to English poses challenges, one Witness understood him to say: “Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians, for which I do not really understand how to persecute them,” as though he was searching for more effective ways to do it. Hmm. Did he say "I really do not understand how to persecute them" or "I really do not understand how they are persecuted"? It is the six-million-dollar question. It is a little like the Twilight Zone episode in which the earthlings were relieved to find the alien's handbook "To Serve Man." ‘Ahh, it means their intentions are good,’ and they breathed easily, but at the show’s end they discovered to their discomforture that it was a cookbook.

I tend to take President Putin’s remarks at face value. There is no reason that he has to say what he does, even expanding it to ‘Jehovah’s Witness are also Christians,’ contradicting prominent religious people who say they are not. When his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who was also among the officials that Witnesses contacted via a letter campaign launched in hopes of averting the 2017 ban, was asked a similar question last year, he could not have answered more harshly than he did. I think Putin is being genuine, at last waking up to something that he has barely paid attention to. Maybe it is like the hinge squeaking in the background somewhere that he has barely noticed but now it is driving him nuts. Perhaps he will even pick up his WD-40, go lubricate it himself, and subsequently vent his wrath upon whoever allowed such idiocy to take center stage in the first place, painting his country before all the world as a nation of goons--in the spirit of Ahasuerus avenging Haman.

A president is a busy man. It is popularly believed that anything that goes down in a country will have his fingerprints all over it, but this is seldom so for matters of ‘low priority.’ Of course, this is not low priority for Witnesses, but it can hardly be otherwise for him. At a subsequent news conference, he spoke to the danger of nuclear war, which he hopes the West does not get too cavalier about: “The danger of the situation escalating is being downplayed,” he said, adding that the lowering of thresholds for nuclear capability “could really lead us to catastrophe.” If he loses sleep at night, it is not over the travails of a small religion. It is over the thought of the world going up in flames.

Western media excoriates him, but it cannot be wise to let the propaganda of one king mold our view of the other. I was very careful, in writing the book, Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, not to do that. In the event it was ever read by anyone that mattered, I did not want to sabotage it by being disrespectful or accusing.

It wasn’t that hard to do—for example, by spotlighting the two, likely three, times that Russia, not the United States, saved the world from certain nuclear war. Lieutenant Colonel Petrov spotted an incoming missile from the U.S. on his screen, correctly judged it a malfunction, and against orders, did not relay the report to the excitable Kremlin. Second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov refused to sign-off with his two fellow officers to launch a nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis—thwarting an attack that had to have unanimous backing. Nikita Khrushchev arguably brought that crisis to a close with his last-minute telegram to President Kennedy.

However, in refraining from criticizing Putin personally, I was not just being expedient. I honestly came to feel it not likely that he was one of the instigators. I admit that feeling wavered in view of the abuses of the last few months, with Witnesses physically accosted by police, but now it intensifies. Promisingly, he is not cut from the same cloth as many in high government. He was not born to privilege in the ruling class. He started from the ground up, as a regular office worker, and lived with his parents during the early days of his working life. He thus probably retains a feel for the interests of the ‘common man’ that his co-rulers do not. In the end, it hardly matters, because ‘the heart of a king is as streams of water’ in Jehovah’s hands. But it helps if it is neither ice cubes nor steam to begin with.

He didn’t have to say it, is the point. He could have issued some boiler-plate beatitude of how ‘the situation is serious and we continue to monitor it closely.’ He certainly didn’t have to say that Witnesses are Christian too, thus showing that he will not be shoved around by ones who insist they are not. His statement makes it much harder for Russia to thumb its nose at any upcoming ECHR verdict, indicating that he has no intention of doing that. How can his words not ease the pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country? After all, if you were a Russian cop, would YOU violently accost one after what he just said?

Still, he is conscious of the majority. How much freedom of worship will be restored remains to be seen, since he observes that with 90% of the country being of a certain religious orientation, one cannot throw everything overboard so as to please the "sects." It is enough not to persecute them, which he seems inclined not to do. Maybe the brothers will have to tip-toe around for a while, and it will not necessarily be a bad thing for our people to focus on being discreet. That has long been the direction of theocratic training, anyhow. If Putin truly had evil intent, however, he would not have returned to the topic to say that he doesn’t really understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Now let’s see how well he holds up as the more devious ones labor to ‘educate’ him on the topic. We will see whose resolve prevails. Probably, JW representative Sivulsky has it just right: he is surprised and cautiously optimistic.

In some respects, it may prove a replay, with hopefully different outcome, of the situation with Pilate judging Jesus. Pilate knew that he was being set up. He knew Jesus was innocent. He worked rather hard to free him—that much is clear by reading any one of the gospel accounts, and the conclusion is inescapable upon reviewing all of them. But the scoundrels were so insistent, even hinting that to release Jesus would be treasonous, that he eventually caved. After all, it wasn’t his prime concern. He had a province to run. He tried to do the right thing. That’s how it is with many today. They try to do the right thing, but they only try so hard. When the going gets rough, they opt for expediency.

The Russian Orthodox Church has insisted that it did not instigate the ban and I am inclined to believe them. That is not to say that prominent ones were not delighted at the outcome, or that some instigators did not have Church connections. But the villainy stems from an anti-cult movement, with French connections, that is active in many lands. Conditions in Russia were ripe, that’s all, just like they were ripe for Communism 100 years ago, which was also imported from abroad.

Writing ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ took the better part of a year. There were few publicly available online sources that I did not read during this time, save only for those that were repetitive. The most telling report was one by Joshua Gill, a religion writer, revealing from where most of the trouble came.

“The Russian Supreme Court’s July 17 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of a decades long conspiracy funded by the French government, blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, and sanctioned by the Putin administration…The latest phase of that plan first garnered international attention with Russian authorities’ arrest of a Danish citizen.” That would be Dennis Christensen, arrested May 25, 2017 for conducting a congregation meeting after the ban had gone into effect, and still in prison at this time of writing, (December 2018) his case only recently coming to trial.

Gill spotlights the role of Alexander Dvorkin, the Russian Ministry’s Expert Council for Conducting State Religious-Studies. That Council exists so as “to investigate religions that deviate from Russian Orthodox teaching and to recommend actions against those religions to the state.” They have recommended taking strong action on non-majority faiths. Mr. Dvorkin is also vice president of the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), a French NGO dedicated to identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit.” It is an organization fully funded by the French government, and it may be remembered that that government tried to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses by imposing a 60% tax on their activities in 1998. The tax was steadfastly appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses until it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights fourteen years later.

The Daily Caller article reveals the depth of Dvokin’s misinformation and dislike of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Their adepts recruit failed university enrollees, and people on vacation as well; they have a wide range of psychological influence, especially on the unstable minds of adolescents and youths,” he says of them and the Hare Krishnas. He has encouraged the public to “take part in the fight against sects, file complaints and collect raw data so that the local authorities can react quickly.” In a 2009 documentary called ‘Emergency Investigation: Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he compared Witnesses to drug dealers. The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews attributes instances of public violence against Russian Witness members to that documentary, just as the violence visiting Kingdom Halls in Washington State is similarly stoked by the inflammatory use of the C-word. Is the FECRIS mission of identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit” not exactly the battle cry of the anti-cultists worldwide?”

Mine was the minority view among the Witnesses I spoke with. “You are a better Christian than I am,” one said. “You always expect the best from people. I don't believe a word a politician says.” Note that his distrust is of “a politician,” not of Putin specifically, though he hardly sings his praises. One could even say that it is a sign of being “insular”—they are all the same to him. Having said that, they are all the same to many persons today—it is hardly a quirk of him alone. Why, long ago Mark Twain even said that politicians must be changed as frequently as a diaper—and for the same reason.

It is true that I try to think the best of people. Am I a “better Christian” in this instance? Or just a dumber one? Time will tell.

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)

This Has Nothing to do With 'Common Sense'

At the Russian government press conference, journalists asked about the case of Dennis Christensen, who one day prior had been sentenced to over 6 years in prison for practicing his faith. Journalists asked whether Jehovah’s Witnesses can really be considered an extremist organization from a common sense point of view.  The president's press secretary said: "We cannot rely on concepts of common sense for governmental purposes." Of course!

The knee-jerk response of any jaded person in nearly any country on earth is to chuckle and say “Yeah, it is just like that here.” But there is much more to be seen here.

The Russian government is plainly befuddled. The press secretary goes on to explain that the greater issue is not whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist. The greater issue is that Dennis Christensen was found guilty of violating the law that says they are. Surely this is kicking the can down the road. Two months ago, at another meeting, President Putin stated that he really didn’t understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, indicating that the law itself makes no sense to him as applied to Witnesses.

To slightly misapply the words of Jesus, “something greater than Capernaum is here.” What? Two scenarios can be advanced—one for all persons, and one for persons of biblical bent.

The purely human one is that a powerful and cunning anti-cult movement takes the Russian government unawares. It takes them unawares because it is a Western import, not Russian at all, finding roots in a humanist French NGO dedicated to freeing people from ideas considered socially destructive, and nothing is more destructive to them than religion that includes the concept of authority among its members. The anti-cult movement finds its counterpart in all developed lands, though its methods will differ.

There are even divisions among them. The anti-cultists in the West consider the anti-cultists in Russia to be doing it all wrong. One of them says (sigh – it is my nemesis, but there are many others): “Jehovah’s Witnesses need persecution for their beliefs to make sense. With their thuggish behavior that violates human rights, Russia is blowing a huge gust of wind into Watchtower’s sails, fueling another generation’s worth of propaganda.”

Of course! They have a “persecution complex” over there—often the charge is made by Witness opposers. Why would their fellow anti-cultists—brothers in spirit if not in technique—be so stupid as to validate it by persecuting them? It is as though he says: “Look—we want what you want, the destruction of the Witness organization. But that is not the best way to do it.”

***~~~***

The second scenario, for those of biblical bent, and it may not be of interest to those not, so they have "permission" to skip this and two succeeding paragraphs, involves the fact that the Witness organization has identified Russia as the biblical “king of the north,” an entity found in the prophesy of Daniel (chapter 11). It is a complex prophesy which many students of the Bible have tackled, involving specific powers (kings) that pass their respective mantles to succeeding powers in often shifting geographical areas, commencing from Daniel’s time down to the present. Does it complicate matters with the Russian government for someone to tell them that the Witness organization says that they are the northern king? Emily Baran, who wrote the book Dissent on the Margins, about the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during Soviet times, said that it did. It genuinely confused the irreligious Soviets and enabled them in characterizing the Witnesses as a political movement masquerading as a religion.

The Witness organization goes where it goes in furtherance of its mission to live by and advertise Bible principles, largely oblivious to ones who may think that their toes are stepped on—barely aware of it at all, because they ‘don’t do politics’ at Witness HQ. There is a king of the south, too, these days associated with the United States, and neither king is overly friendly to the interests of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, because the concept of human rights finds soil more fertile in the West than in the East, Witnesses face few legal impediments to their work in such lands. In fact, the most frequent participant in U.S. Supreme Court proceedings has been the Witness organization itself—sometimes as plaintiff and sometimes as defendant. Of them, Justice Harlan Fiske Stone once said: “I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties.”

The entire prophesy as seen though Jehovah’s Witnesses eyes is most recently discussed in their 1999 publication Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophesy, which is a discussion of the entire Bible book, not just the chapters involving the two opposing kings. Regardless of who interprets the prophesy, and of what time interval is covered, the kings of the north and south are continually at loggerheads. What is remarkable about the present—and this is only this writer’s perception—is that even when the “kings” declare that they would like to get along, outside forces intervene to keep them “on script.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?” the current American president said during his campaign. President Putin has spoken similarly. At which point, the American press intervenes to virtually ensure that they will not. Today, it is widely recognized that east-west relations are subsequently more strained than in even Soviet times. This dovetails so well with certain biblical passages (Ezekiel 38:4, Revelation 17:17) to the effect that world powers will do things not of their own devising that the similarity is impossible to let pass without mention. One must wonder if former Witnesses, upon seeing unexpected world developments that violate even “common sense,” yet are exactly in accord with long Witness expectations, do not think sometimes that they may have deboarded the train too soon—for in the aftermath of the final contest between the kings of the north and south, a contest whose biblical role has been developing for 2500 years, the “people of the covenant” at last find deliverance.

It is to be noted that enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses present themselves, not as enemies of individual Witnesses, but of the organization that they have chosen, which they somehow portray as having “enslaved” them through various psychological techniques of “control.” In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses as people are not banned. Only their organization is. However, most persons are not sophisticated enough to tell the difference, because essentially there is no difference. The Witness enemy is befuddled by it and assaults members with impunity. The police stand by and do nothing because they, too, are befuddled by it. The government is befuddled by it, as noted above. The Witness him or herself is befuddled by it. Everyone is befuddled by it because it makes no sense. It is like this writer saying that I love the Russian people—it is only the Kremlin that I seek to destroy. It is like my saying that the Russian people are free to drive the roads—it is only the roads that are banned. It takes a while to get one’s head around such a notion. Guileless ones are particularly disadvantaged because the presentation itself is steeped in guile.

It doesn’t even matter the reason for opposition to the Witnesses. The anti-cultists of the West latch on to different reasons to destroy the Witness organization than do the anti-cultists of the East. A common trigger for denunciation in the West is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are unsupportive of gay rights, and within their community, do not allow for gay sex. This makes them absolute heroes in Russia, which avidly persecutes gays. Just after the Russian ban was instituted, Angela Merkel even mentioned the two populations in the same breath to Putin—questioning him of his harassment of gays and Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Many Western sources, such as the BBC, edited out Jehovah’s Witnesses so as to focus on gays.) So Russia must scramble to find different reasons for persecution, since a prime Western reason is not a problem in its eyes.  Some Russian sources commenting on recent Witness events mention as a specific objection only that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. Even the most staunch advocate of blood transfusion will concede that the group refusing them are not to be equated with ISIS terrorists. No, on so many levels, Witness persecution defies common sense. Whenever things do that, people can be forgiven for wondering if something supernatural isn’t at work as well.

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One Last Chance for Religious Freedom in Russia

Dennis Christensen “has spent the last 20 months in a cold cell with suspected drug dealers and only been allowed to meet his wife, separated by bars and a corridor, twice a month. If convicted, he could spend up to a decade in jail,” writes Andrew Osborn for Reuters. How much do you want to bet that those drug dealers now know their Bibles quite well? Alas, that may make them more unwelcome in Russia than had they landed the area distribution franchise for Drugs-R-Us.

He must have his moments of despondency. He must. But you would never know it. He is serene in appearances, and sometimes even cheerful. Jehovah’s Witnesses could not have wished for better examples to face the Russian bear than he and his wife Irene. See how he typifies the spirit of 1 Peter 2:23:

“Christ suffered...leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely....When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”

Has he wavered in his love for his adopted homeland? He “does not regret that he moved to live in Russia. ‘It is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life, and it brought me much happiness,’” he tells the Reuters reporter. This despite his being anything but starry eyed. “To call me or other peaceful Jehovah's Witnesses extremists is the greatest stupidity that I have ever heard!" he says. “Of course I hope that he (the judge) will be just," he said. "But I also know which country I’ve been living in."

Only a month ago, President Putin, when asked, stated that the equating of Jehovah’s Witnesses with terrorists was “of course...complete nonsense,” something “you need to carefully deal with,” and later, “so this should be looked into” since “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too.” We may soon learn just how carefully he means to deal with and look at it, as the time of Dennis’ sentencing has arrived. As for Irena, “I’m not afraid of anything and Dennis is not afraid either,” she told Reuters.

I have never seen a picture of him in which he is not mild, even well dressed. He actually broke into song at one hearing via Internet, before the guard told him to shut up. Could one ask for a better example? The symbolism is complete. His surname points to the one he follows. Even his carpenter profession lines up. Even his last project as a free man spotlights the idiocy of branding him an “extremist”—building a playground for the community children. Would members of the only other group in Russia officially designated “extremist,” ISIS, also build a playground for the community children? Maybe, but it would be a long time gaining my trust to let my children play on it. On January 23, the prosecutor requested a sentence of 6 years and 6 months in prison. Why not add 6 days to the request to make it a nice, biblical 666?

It's déjà vu for Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country, whose period of freedom has lasted only 27 years. “The only difference is that at that time [of the Soviet Union] they were called 'enemies of the people'. Now they are called 'extremists'," says Irena.

Journalist Osborn does what all journalists must do. He probes for the actual reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses are opposed. Usually all one must do in such cases is read the charges of the prosecution, but here in the Christensen case the charges are ridiculous, and the ‘crimes’ easily refuted. So Osborn hits on one spot of contention after another, but presently puts his finger on the real trigger: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” He refers, perhaps unknowingly, to a burgeoning anti-cult movement which finds conditions fertile in Russia for a perfect storm, but which is active everywhere.

The reason that Putin declares it complete nonsense to call Witnesses “extremist” is because it is. As such, he and his in government would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. However much any of them may dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses, ISIS has taught them what extremism is. They are not so stupid as to confuse the two.

Likewise, the dominant Russian Orthodox Church did not originate the ban against the Witnesses. That is not to say that some of them did not squeal with delight like kids on Christmas morning, but it was not their idea. The thinkers there are not particularly happy about it, for the same set of laws that declare it a crime to proclaim the superiority of one’s religion in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses might easily be turned against them.

No, problems with the Church and the suspicious government merely make for excellent tinder. The spark that sets it off Osborn identifies with: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” It is a determined anti-cult movement that sets the match to the tinder. It is not even Russian originated, but like Bolshevism itself, is a Western import. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive—the manifest goal of anti-cultism--sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The anti-cult movement ever seeks to extend its reach. Only in Russia does it find conditions ripe for the perfect storm, but its influence is afoot everywhere. The match was even literal in 2018 Washington State, where six attacks resulted in two Kingdom Halls burnt to the ground. Of course, that is not the intent—to incite violence. Anti-cultists speak against it, for the most part. But when you yell “CULT!” in a crowded theater, who can say what will happen? The correct term, non-incendiary and chosen by scholars for just that reason, is "new religious movement."

Assembling material in preparation for ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ I became more and more convinced that the anti-cult movement was behind it all, and it is a conviction that has only strengthened since. In the book’s introduction, I wrote:

“Does Kuraev really mean to suggest that prosecution presented no intelligible arguments at the Supreme Court trial? An observer of the trial might well think it. He might well wonder just what does the government have against Jehovah’s Witnesses? There must be something, but it is not stated. At one point the judge asked the prosecution (the Ministry of Justice) whether it had prepared for the case. A decision had been plainly made somewhere from on high and it would fall upon the judge to rubber-stamp it. Of course, he did, perhaps because he wanted to remain a judge. The actual reasons behind anti-Witness hostility were never presented. So I have presented them in Part II, along with how they might be defended.”

I even went on to caution members of my own faith:

“Some Witnesses, truth be told, will be uncomfortable with Part II and might best be advised to skip over it. They will love the idea of defending the faith but may be unaware of the scope of the attacks made against it, some of which are truly malicious. Deciding to sit out this or that controversy will earn them taunts of ‘sticking one’s head in the sand’ from detractors, but it is exactly what Jesus recommends, as will be seen. Not everyone must immerse themselves in every ‘fact,’ for many of them will turn out to be facts of Mark Twain’s variety: facts that “ain’t so.” You can’t do everything, and most persons choose to focus on matters most directly relevant to their lives.” 

That caution is repeated, with even greater applicability, in the newer ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ The book is not recommended to all Witnesses. Read it if you want a specific reply to charges laid against the faith. For those able to focus upon forward motion only, the book is not recommended. For those not, it is. The line that invariably gets the largest applause at Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses is: “Would you like to send your greetings to the brothers in Bethel [headquarters]?” The hard work and integrity of these ones is appreciated by all. So not everyone will feel the need to check out every derogatory report.

In some respects, the Witness organization appears to this writer to be out of step with regard to the attacks it faces today. With a long history of persevering in the face of religious threats to stomp it out of existence, it seems slow to acknowledge that religions are mostly licking their wounds these days, and it is the irreligious world, with anti-cultists in the vanguard, that most vehemently presses for its downfall.

See Reuters article, by Andrew Osborn

And one from BBC Russia, by Viktor Nekhezin

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'I Do Not Understand Why We Persecute Jehovah's Witnesses,' Putin Says

At a December 11. 2018 meeting with the Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, one council member, Ekaterina Shulman, addressed President Putin: “There is a list of organizations, for which there is information that they are involved in terrorism and extremism. There are 489 of them, and 404 of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Pressing her luck, she continued: “Here I will take a sinister pause. There could be an abundance of claims against Jehovah’s Witnesses—they don’t allow blood transfusion, don’t send children to hospitals, [ed: not a charge that I have heard before] but they definitely are not calling for violence or committing it.”

Putin’s response was: “We should treat the representatives of all religions in the same way – this is true, but still, it is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live. True, this does not mean at all that we should include representatives of religious communities in some destructive, or even in terrorist organizations. Of course, this is complete nonsense, you need to carefully deal with it. Here I agree with you.”

Later in the meeting, Putin returned to the topic and added: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted. So this should be looked into. This must be done.” The Washington Post and Time picked up on the story the next day, the Post saying that he “has pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Now, what to make of this?

Yaroslav Sivulski, the press secretary for JWs in Russia, stated: “We have noted the president’s reaction with surprise. If he knows about the whole situation, then probably his reaction could change something. We hope that he will give instructions to have the matter examined and something may happen. Though, knowing the realities of our country, there is not much optimism.” Okay, so they’re not breaking out the champagne just yet.

The online community of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a cynical bunch, by and large, with many thinking Putin was just being slippery. In fact, since translating from Russian to English poses challenges, one Witness understood him to say: “Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians, for which I do not really understand how to persecute them,” as though he was searching for more effective ways to do it. Hmm. Did he say "I really do not understand how to persecute them" or "I really do not understand how they are persecuted"? It is the six-million-dollar question. It is a little like the Twilight Zone episode in which the earthlings were relieved to find the alien's handbook "To Serve Man." ‘Ahh, it means their intentions are good,’ and they breathed easily, but at the show’s end they discovered to their discomforture that it was a cookbook.

I tend to take President Putin’s remarks at face value. There is no reason that he has to say what he does, even expanding it to ‘Jehovah’s Witness are also Christians,’ contradicting prominent religious people who say they are not. When his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who was also among the officials that Witnesses contacted via a letter campaign launched in hopes of averting the 2017 ban, was asked a similar question last year, he could not have answered more harshly than he did. I think Putin is being genuine, at last waking up to something that he has barely paid attention to. Maybe it is like the hinge squeaking in the background somewhere that he has barely noticed but now it is driving him nuts. Perhaps he will even pick up his WD-40, go lubricate it himself, and subsequently vent his wrath upon whoever allowed such idiocy to take center stage in the first place, painting his country before all the world as a nation of goons--in the spirit of Ahasuerus avenging Haman.

A president is a busy man. It is popularly believed that anything that goes down in a country will have his fingerprints all over it, but this is seldom so for matters of ‘low priority.’ Of course, this is not low priority for Witnesses, but it can hardly be otherwise for him. At a subsequent news conference, he spoke to the danger of nuclear war, which he hopes the West does not get too cavalier about: “The danger of the situation escalating is being downplayed,” he said, adding that the lowering of thresholds for nuclear capability “could really lead us to catastrophe.” If he loses sleep at night, it is not over the travails of a small religion. It is over the thought of the world going up in flames.

Western media excoriates him, but it cannot be wise to let the propaganda of one king mold our view of the other. I was very careful, in writing the book, Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, not to do that. In the event it was ever read by anyone that mattered, I did not want to sabotage it by being disrespectful or accusing.

It wasn’t that hard to do—for example, by spotlighting the two, likely three, times that Russia, not the United States, saved the world from certain nuclear war. Lieutenant Colonel Petrov spotted an incoming missile from the U.S. on his screen, correctly judged it a malfunction, and against orders, did not relay the report to the excitable Kremlin. Second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov refused to sign-off with his two fellow officers to launch a nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis—thwarting an attack that had to have unanimous backing. Nikita Khrushchev arguably brought that crisis to a close with his last-minute telegram to President Kennedy.

However, in refraining from criticizing Putin personally, I was not just being expedient. I honestly came to feel it not likely that he was one of the instigators. I admit that feeling wavered in view of the abuses of the last few months, with Witnesses physically accosted by police, but now it intensifies. Promisingly, he is not cut from the same cloth as many in high government. He was not born to privilege in the ruling class. He started from the ground up, as a regular office worker, and lived with his parents during the early days of his working life. He thus probably retains a feel for the interests of the ‘common man’ that his co-rulers do not. In the end, it hardly matters, because ‘the heart of a king is as streams of water’ in Jehovah’s hands. But it helps if it is neither ice cubes nor steam to begin with.

He didn’t have to say it, is the point. He could have issued some boiler-plate beatitude of how ‘the situation is serious and we continue to monitor it closely.’ He certainly didn’t have to say that Witnesses are Christian too, thus showing that he will not be shoved around by ones who insist they are not. His statement makes it much harder for Russia to thumb its nose at any upcoming ECHR verdict, indicating that he has no intention of doing that. How can his words not ease the pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country? After all, if you were a Russian cop, would YOU violently accost one after what he just said?

Still, he is conscious of the majority. How much freedom of worship will be restored remains to be seen, since he observes that with 90% of the country being of a certain religious orientation, one cannot throw everything overboard so as to please the "sects." It is enough not to persecute them, which he seems inclined not to do. Maybe the brothers will have to tip-toe around for a while, and it will not necessarily be a bad thing for our people to focus on being discreet. That has long been the direction of theocratic training, anyhow. If Putin truly had evil intent, however, he would not have returned to the topic to say that he doesn’t really understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Now let’s see how well he holds up as the more devious ones labor to ‘educate’ him on the topic. We will see whose resolve prevails. Probably, JW representative Sivulsky has it just right: he is surprised and cautiously optimistic.

In some respects, it may prove a replay, with hopefully different outcome, of the situation with Pilate judging Jesus. Pilate knew that he was being set up. He knew Jesus was innocent. He worked rather hard to free him—that much is clear by reading any one of the gospel accounts, and the conclusion is inescapable upon reviewing all of them. But the scoundrels were so insistent, even hinting that to release Jesus would be treasonous, that he eventually caved. After all, it wasn’t his prime concern. He had a province to run. He tried to do the right thing. That’s how it is with many today. They try to do the right thing, but they only try so hard. When the going gets rough, they opt for expediency.

The Russian Orthodox Church has insisted that it did not instigate the ban and I am inclined to believe them. That is not to say that prominent ones were not delighted at the outcome, or that some instigators did not have Church connections. But the villainy stems from an anti-cult movement, with French connections, that is active in many lands. Conditions in Russia were ripe, that’s all, just like they were ripe for Communism 100 years ago, which was also imported from abroad.

Writing ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ took the better part of a year. There were few publicly available online sources that I did not read during this time, save only for those that were repetitive. The most telling report was one by Joshua Gill, a religion writer, revealing from where most of the trouble came.

“The Russian Supreme Court’s July 17 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of a decades long conspiracy funded by the French government, blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, and sanctioned by the Putin administration…The latest phase of that plan first garnered international attention with Russian authorities’ arrest of a Danish citizen.” That would be Dennis Christensen, arrested May 25, 2017 for conducting a congregation meeting after the ban had gone into effect, and still in prison at this time of writing, (December 2018) his case only recently coming to trial.

Gill spotlights the role of Alexander Dvorkin, the Russian Ministry’s Expert Council for Conducting State Religious-Studies. That Council exists so as “to investigate religions that deviate from Russian Orthodox teaching and to recommend actions against those religions to the state.” They have recommended taking strong action on non-majority faiths. Mr. Dvorkin is also vice president of the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), a French NGO dedicated to identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit.” It is an organization fully funded by the French government, and it may be remembered that that government tried to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses by imposing a 60% tax on their activities in 1998. The tax was steadfastly appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses until it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights fourteen years later.

The Daily Caller article reveals the depth of Dvokin’s misinformation and dislike of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Their adepts recruit failed university enrollees, and people on vacation as well; they have a wide range of psychological influence, especially on the unstable minds of adolescents and youths,” he says of them and the Hare Krishnas. He has encouraged the public to “take part in the fight against sects, file complaints and collect raw data so that the local authorities can react quickly.” In a 2009 documentary called ‘Emergency Investigation: Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he compared Witnesses to drug dealers. The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews attributes instances of public violence against Russian Witness members to that documentary, just as the violence visiting Kingdom Halls in Washington State is similarly stoked by the inflammatory use of the C-word. Is the FECRIS mission of identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit” not exactly the battle cry of the anti-cultists worldwide?”

Mine was the minority view among the Witnesses I spoke with. “You are a better Christian than I am,” one said. “You always expect the best from people. I don't believe a word a politician says.” Note that his distrust is of “a politician,” not of Putin specifically, though he hardly sings his praises. One could even say that it is a sign of being “insular”—they are all the same to him. Having said that, they are all the same to many persons today—it is hardly a quirk of him alone. Why, long ago Mark Twain even said that politicians must be changed as frequently as a diaper—and for the same reason.

It is true that I try to think the best of people. Am I a “better Christian” in this instance? Or just a dumber one? Time will tell.

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The Anti-Cultists are Directly Responsible

The term for a faith-based community of relatively recent origin is “new religious movement.” But if you really dislike that community, you resurrect a word already reviled and apply it to your target—you say it is a “cult.” That way you don’t have to demonstrate that the group is bad. Your label does your work for you.

Time was that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from all normal societal contact, and began doing strange things, you just might be part of a cult. Today, the word is expanded to cover those thinking outside of the box that we are not supposed to think outside of.  If the box of popular goals and thinking undeniably led to fulfillment that might not be such a bad thing, but everyone knows that it does not.

Says religion.wikia.com of the term “new religious movement”: “Scholars studying the sociology of religion have almost unanimously adopted this term as a neutral alternative to the word ‘cult.’” How can it not follow that “cult” is therefore not scholarly but more in keeping with those who want to stir up ill will if not hate?

It is akin to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. People may act upon it. They particularly may do so if “cult” is coaxed just a little bit further in the public eye to become “extremist.” Such a thing has happened with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia under the guidance of “anti-cultists." Many other new religious movements are shaking in their boots that their turn will come.  In that country, Witnesses are officially designated “extremist,” a designation shared only with ISIS.

As the human rights group khpg.org points out, “You can’t claim that people are ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’ and then simply knock on their doors to arrest them, though in all cases there is nothing at all to suggest that resistance would have been shown. Instead, there are armed searches, most often by masked men in full military gear, with the suspect hurled to the ground and handcuffed, often in the presence of their distressed and terrified children.” This has become the reality for many Witnesses and it is a direct result of those who expand the definition of “cult” to cover people not covered previously.

Note how this meme plays out in the following event. Note also that it has nothing to do with controversies that have dogged the faith in the West: A mass shooting occurred in Crimea and the shooter’s sole parent, bringing him up by herself, is said to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Let us assume that it is true. This is not a safe assumption, for another Witness was recently denounced by Russian media as having a cache of arms. It turned out that her non-Witness husband had a few rusted and inoperable souvenir grenades from World War II. Nonetheless, we must start somewhere. Let us assume mom was a Witness.

Khpg.org here reports: “Whether or not his mother is, or has ever been a Jehovah’s Witness, there is no proof that Roslyakov had any religious beliefs, or that his mother’s alleged beliefs affected him in any way….the entire ‘story’, as presented, for example, on the Russian state-controlled Vesti.ru, is based solely on value judgements which are presented as though they were facts.

“The Vesti.ru report is entitled ‘The Kerch killer was surrounded by supporters of totalitarian sects’.  It claims that Roslyakov’s mother…’forced her son to live by the rules of the banned organization’.

“It then asserts that people who ‘have pulled themselves away from it’ are sending messages of sympathy to the bereaved families and claiming that ‘all that happened was the result of pseudo-religious upbringing.’

“The supposed ‘expert on religious sects’, Alexander Dvorkin, makes allegations about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ faith that are seriously questionable, as does the Russian Orthodox priest interviewed. None of the claims are in any way checked or analyzed, nor is the viewer offered anything in the way of an alternative point of view. The Crimean Human Rights Group is surely correct in identifying all of this as hate speech, which can result in crimes being committed against the targets of attack.” 

Note that simply being raised as a Witness is said to account for his crime. He simply snapped amidst an intolerable upbringing. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There have never been any other mass shootings. “Oppressive” religion is solely to blame.

He must have snapped substantially, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few groups on earth whose members categorically reject violence for any reason. Yet they are the ones said to be at fault when a young man does a 180 from his taught values. This ridiculous perception prevails because of “anti-cultists,” whose champion in Russia, Mr. Dvorkin, is soul-mate to anti-cultists here, he even having a French NGO connection.

Some enemies of Witnesses in the West, who hurl the “cult” label liberally, are gleeful over this development, even though, in the case of former Witness anti-cultists, it results in machine guns pointed at the heads of their arrested and shackled former loved ones.  More typically, however, they disapprove of it. Some have denounced it. But their verbiage is directly responsible. Their denunciation is akin to the California arsonist denouncing that the state has burned to the ground. One must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.

And what have the Jehovah’s Witnesses done to deserve such an outcome? Do they interpret the Bible differently? Do they publicize the view that this grand experiment of human self-rule will one day end, to be replaced by God’s Kingdom? Surely such a view should be allowed to stand, even if ones adopting it change their life goals accordingly. Not everyone will think that the present world sails proudly upon the high seas, with sharpshooters in the bow ready to blast to smithereens icebergs as they approach. Some will think it more likely that the Titanic will hit one. Must that view be stomped out of existence by bullying anti-cultists?

Navy

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One Thing We Know About Jesus: He Does Not Go Through Channels

 

It took the religious leaders of Jesus' day no time at all to hate his guts and to put out schemes to kill him. John chapter 11 is very frank as to why. Starting with vs 47:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and said: “What are we to do, for this man performs many signs? If we let him go on this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [Protecting their turf is what is was all about with these guys.]

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them: “You do not know anything at all, and you have not reasoned that it is to your benefit for one man to let one man die in behalf of the people rather than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” [He's a contemptuous character, isn't he?] 

He did not say this, however, of his own originality, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only for the nation but also to gather together into one the children of God who were scattered about. [And he's a schemer.]

So from that day on they conspired to kill him.

Imagine! Issuing his own prophesy that Jesus will "die for the nation and gather the children of God, yada yada yada," so that when he killed him, he could put a happy face on it.

During that time, the high priest was not installed in the usual way that the Torah says it should be done. It was a political appointment from the governing authorities. He was serving as high priest "that year." You are not supposed to do it that way because you forget all about God and instead focus on covering your rear end. That is why you don't want a 'house church,' under government control.

For (prime) example, there is the house church in Russia, the Orthodox Church, snuggling up to national leadership and that leadership in return granting it exclusive status. And isn't the result more or less the same as it was back then: the ones closely reading, studying, and applying God's word of instruction and counsel, find themselves, from an organizational point of view, killed?

I like how one of those leaders broke ranks, having come to Jesus previously by night, as covered in John chapter 3:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This one came to him in the night and said to him: “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.”

He's not exactly of the same heart with his buddies, is he, and he sticks up for Jesus later on (to no avail).

In response Jesus said to him: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?” Jesus answered: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed because I told you: You people must be born again. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who has been born from the spirit.”

Now you know, you just know, that Caiaphas and the boys would have snapped: "What is it with these riddles? I don't have time for this nonsense!" But Nicodemus said: “How can these things be?” and he even suffers through a little reproof from Jesus as the latter replies:

“Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things? Most truly I say to you, what we know we speak, and what we have seen we bear witness to, but you do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and you still do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Moreover, no man has ascended into heaven but the one who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.

He is speaking awfully plain now (for him) and he goes on to reveal to the unpretentious ruler the most compact, though complete, statement yet of just how God adapts his purpose to the present and future, a purpose he revealed long ago, when he says:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (vs 16)

It is too cool. He doesn't go 'through channels' because if he did, he would have run this by Caiaphas first (who would have told him to zip it). He never goes though channels. Always he goes over the heads of the pompous ones and speaks straight to the ordinary ones. And this next bit is certainly true (skipping only a verse or two):

Now this is the basis for judgment: that the light has come into the world, but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked.

And what about this beaut that follows? 

For whoever practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be reproved.

Nobody wants to be reproved and a fine way to reach that end is to shut down any channel that might do it.

Nicodemus doesn't fare well (John 7:51) when he tries to defend Jesus before his co-rulers: “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” he says.

But they tell him: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you?"

Yep. Rural, backwards Galilee, home of the bumpkins, far from the sophisticated city that they hail from. Galilee, the armpit of the world, and Jesus probably smells like one, too, even if he does raise some lowlife people from the dead every now and again.

 

 

 

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When Putin Opens My Letter

When Putin opens my letter, he will be disheartened. He will see several paragraphs. He will want with all his heart to read it, but he has several million other letters to get through. He will toss the letter.

He will then open the next letter and discover, as he suspected from the envelope, that it is from a child. It includes drawings, one of a sad little girl because Putin is being mean to her nice friends, and one from a happy little girl, because he has had a change of heart. Putin will smile faintly, for everyone loves children. He will put this letter aside. Possibly he will show it to his grandchildren someday.

He will open the next letter. It will also be from me—not the same letter but worded and reasoned anew. He will roll his eyes. “Another letter from that windbag Harley,” he will mutter, and toss it in the trash.

(from 2017)

 

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He Enjoys Disseminating Inflammatory Narratives and Hate Speech

I tweeted, with photo included, that all Regional Conventions had witnessed scenes of Russian police breaking up Christian meetings.

Instantly, the tweet was liked from three entirely separate parts of the world, none of them in English. There is nothing like the worldwide brotherhood. Admittedly, three is not a million, but the diverse background of the likers partly offsets this.

A prominent human rights person, frequently quoted in the media, picked up the tweet and retweeted it.

If you spend any time on the music video section of JW.org—not the choir part, but the convention interludes and original songs, you cannot but be struck by the international flavor, so different from the general world which too often views anyone significantly different as one of “those people.” For some odd reason, I almost prefer lyrics sung in languages I don’t understand. It adds to the appeal of unity despite differences. Can you view such videos, ranging from small groups to international conventions, and view participants as addled victims of a cult? You have to work at it. You really do.

Online is an enemy that I keep tabs on because he reliably informs me of things I might like to address. To say ‘enemy’ might seems a little mean. I have no doubt that he has to his credit some good qualities, as do most people. But spiritually speaking, we are at 180 degree opposite poles, and it is not through any miscommunication. It is through deliberate choice on both of our parts.

The spiritual component of a person comprises probably two thirds of his or her total makeup. Everything else is but so much window-dressing. It is why I wrote of Prince in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me:’ “I would have enjoyed jamming with Prince. Not musically, of course - I can’t play guitar – but spiritually, in the ministry. We would have been seamless together; we’re on the same page – all Witnesses are. But it wasn’t to be in this system of things. Prince was always busy. And I was – well, no – I would have found the time.”

We would have instantly hit it off. Doubtless, I would have discovered differences in preferences, even on matters of substance, but it wouldn’t have mattered. All Witnesses know how to keep such matters in their place and not allow them to disrupt the peace of the congregation.

My online enemy hears of the Russian punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses merely for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, this week’s arrest including persons in their 70s, as reported in Newsweek, and feigns sympathy. He does more than ‘feign’ it. I have no doubt he genuinely disapproves of it. But as a dedicated “anti-cultist,” he is sorry for it in the same sense that the arsonist is sorry to see California burning to the ground. We must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just who they maul.

It is his fellow ‘anti-cultists’ who have driven the model to cast Jehovah’s Witnesses in such a bad light before the Russian Supreme Court (in combination with some nationalistic factors), with even some former members of the faith giving testimony, knowing that, if acted upon, innocent people would go to jail. My enemy’s allies push and push the narrative that Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate people and break up families. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive by the NGO sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

It worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights didn't buy either charge. It wrote in 2010: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”

As to a charge of "mind control," it wrote: “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques.”

The Russian Supreme Court in 2017 was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.

The NGO itself has come in for censure more recently, in that it “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities. 

Of the emissary, a Mr. Dvorkin, it is written that he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus have held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.” Nonetheless, his views have carried the day in Russia, the same as they do with my enemy closer to home.

 

IMG_0289

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Who Called it First

Jehovah's Witnesses probably came up in 2.5 hours, but only briefly. @Dr_Ariel_Cohen: religious freedom is "burning, but not paramount importance to Trump & Co, given critical geopolitical issues.

I called it first here: http://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/…/ill-take-it-fake-news-or-…

Somewhat increasing odds of Witnesses arising briefly as topic of discussion is that pre-campaign Jerod Kushner bought the Watchtower buildings and said extraordinaryly nice things of them, such as with them "a handshake deal means something"

It was originally on the Witness website. They took it down when Trump began running for President in earnest, probably so that no one would think they were poltiical. But it is picked up here on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfp1a7k3N7s

Summit

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I'll Take it, Fake News or Not

Fake news is everywhere, and some of it surfaced about the Russian ban: ‘Church members of Russia have united! They have launched massive protests against the government in behalf of the Witnesses! President Trump rebuked Russia and invited its entire Witness population to the United States! He visited a Kingdom Hall to worship with them!’ All of it is fake news. It didn’t happen.1

Is “the news” another one of those biblical hills that melt in the last days? Is it now a thing that people of bygone days could depend upon but now need to call in Sherlock Holmes to decipher whether or not it is genuine? Is ‘reading the news’ now the information equivalent of playing Russian Roulette?

Given this apparent new normal, I will take the Trump story, fake news though it is. No, he did not speak out in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the story plants the clear notion that he should have. Most fake news about Jehovah’s Witnesses is derogatory. It is the ‘every kind of evil’ falsely said against them. It’s about time something went our way. Now it is only a matter of time before some poor body of elders must deal with NBC or somebody attempting to set up shop in their foyer so that they can broadcast “Live from the Kingdom Hall.”

From: 'Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia'

The above becomes relevant because today Presidents Trump and Putin meet for summit, and the New York Times tells of an exiled Jehovah's Witness who proposes Trump ask Putin a simple question: "Why are Russians who pay their taxes, follow the law and embrace the Christian values promoted by the Kremlin being forced to flee their country?" 

A simple [and single] question. To propose Trump do this is exactly the non-confrontational style of Jehovah's Witnesses, and is proof in itself that they are not extremist. Moreover, because the goal is so modest, it is not impossible that it could happen. Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is not everywhere, but where it is, it is draconian, with police dressed in riot gear breaking down doors to arrest them.

Meanwhile (and irrelevant), I did a google search of "New York Times Jehovah's Witnesses." The second hit is an article from 1958, telling of (I think) the largest Christian assembly in history.

 

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