An early 2023 Watchtower Study dealt with those who say ill things about Jehovah’s Witnesses in general and responsible brothers in particular. Quite a few articles do that these days.
One sis commented on how, after the meeting, many of us would be watching football. I knew her comment to be true because I was going to be one of them. Not that I am a football fanatic—I’m not—but the recent resurgence of the Bills after decades in the basement has piqued the interest of many. She further said that each team prepared for the game by studying the playbook of the other so that they could catch every little trick to be used against them. ‘We do that too,’ she said. We have the playbook of the adversary. So we can know we are well-prepared and need not unduly fret no matter how much grief comes from those who oppose, even should they be apostates.
It’s not really true. In a sense it is, but only ‘in a sense.’ What we have is the ‘NFL Compendium Grand Strategic Play History Including Coach Commentary and Famous Player Roster.’ From there maybe you can deduce the opposing team’s playbook, but it is not easy to do. You never get more than an approximation.
In this particular game, the opposing team’s playbook incorporated several Bengals
making snow angels in the accumulating precip just after one of them intercepted a pass that once and for all put an end to any Bills threat. Think you’re going to get that from the NFL Compendium Grand History? Snow Angels! Those punks made snow angels! Like little kids! And when another one of them slapped down a would-be touchdown pass, he ran half the length of the field to rejoin his teammates, shaking his finger as though to say, ‘No, no, no! Not this time!’ I mean, the home team took a thorough drubbing and at the next-day news conference the talk was all of which heads would roll—as if nothing bad can happen without a few heads offered up in sacrifice!
If we really had the opposing spiritual team’s playbook we would be familiar with the current specific doings of apostates. But this we are strongly exhorted to be as clueless about as possible—in the spirit of ‘innocent as doves.’ Just listen to Brother Losch listing 100 metaphors for truth, and consider that your defense. It’s not nothing, but how much of a defense is it really?
These days the young are not especially religious. We might (and do) carry on about how they are leaving the churches in the West, but they are leaving the Kingdom Hall setting too. Some will say they are yet ‘spiritual’ but the word is so redefined that simply ‘looking deep within oneself’ may trigger it.
A good number of those young people who leave the Hall, it seems, are over at a former member forum. Is it not more than ridiculous that the only one who should know about this in the congregation is me? And that I should be looked at askance because of it—not that specifically but just a known interest in ‘the other team’s playbook.’ I thrive despite the stigma because I am otherwise considered a pretty good guy. But don’t think you can hold any privilege in the congregation, maybe to the point of carrying a mic, with such a stigma. I don’t mind. It’s discipline. If you want to represent any group you must ‘toe the line’ more than if you only wish to be among it. I don’t try to explain to shepherds what can be done properly on social media and what cannot be done. Since their own use of it is minimal at best and often non-existent, all you can do is provide grist for the mill of misunderstanding.
In that forum of malcontents where some are out, others are physically in but mentally out (PIMO), the majority of comments take the tone of high school students mocking out their teachers for bloopers that are sometimes real, sometimes imagined, and always exaggerated. A minority of comments, however, will have a more mature tone. These ones ‘promise the younger ones freedom’ without regard to who may or may not be ‘slaves to corruption.’ Any familial division revealed? These ones will seek to widen it, thus ensuring there will never be healing. They present the general world as an oyster promising unbounded fulfillment—whereas anyone with a lick of sense knows it to be in dire straits, if not going down the tubes.
They might not be able to do that were Witnesses not so ‘insular.’ That statement is one to make with caution, because ‘insularity’ and ‘no part of the world’ are flip sides of the same coin, similar to the relationship between ‘obstinate’ and ‘tenacious.’ You don’t want to be seen as discouraging ‘no part of the world.’ Jesus demands his people be that way. And even with being ‘insular’—try removing the insulation on your house wiring if you think ‘insular’ is so horrible. But anything Witnesses do, they do to the nth degree. Sometimes you wish things were more nuanced.
You can’t do the following with just anyone and I don’t do it routinely, but every so often as a joke I propose we go into what I call the ‘pickpocket ministry.’ I don’t propose it as much as I do street work on the thruway—slap a tract under the wiper as the cars roar by. No. But once in a while, before someone known to have a sense of humor, I do.
In the pickpocket ministry, you work in twos. Your deft partners lifts a person’s wallet as they walk by and lets it fall to the ground. Then you pick it up and return it to the person, explaining that you would never ever ever do so were it not for the Bible principles you learned as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It’s a joke. I’ve never heard of anyone besides myself referring to the ‘pickpocket ministry.’ Yet some of our people view the greater world that way. You wish things would be more nuanced. At the music festival I attended, a ‘long-haired hippy type,’ the kind in the song who ‘need not apply,’ tapped me on the should to return the wallet that had slipped out of my pocket. I thanked him. Then I turned around to thank him more proper. He gave a gesture as if to say, ‘But of course—it’s not a big deal.’ Even the wallet I dropped on an excursion in Canada (Just try getting back into the country without one—it is doable but it’s anything but a cakewalk.) was returned to me. Someone called to say he had found it and asked how it could be returned. (Though, when I asked about the money inside, he said, ‘What money?’)
The point is that there are plenty of people who will do the right thing, often even when the stakes are high. Yet that bit of nuance is something our kids have not picked up on. Put them in the ex forum where they discover that the risks of the world are not guarantees and many of them carry on as though there are no risks—it was all scaremongering on the Witness organizations part! a result of ‘overplaying their hand.’
We Witnesses live in black-and-whites. This is to be expected of people who respond to Jesus’ ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32) Christianity that adheres to the Bible does not primarily attract ‘nuanced’ people. ‘Gray area’ people don’t apply. ‘What is truth?’ people like Pilate don’t apply. Dogmatic people, on the other hand, apply in droves. It’s because the Bible presents a basic sense of right and wrong. But you would hope people would not stay dogmatic, as many of our people seem to do.
Ida Brexit once related how she didn’t want to be caught flat-footed in case her then-teenager was stumbled by apostasy. She made it her business to unpackage the stuff so that she could provide assistance should that happen. It made perfect sense to me. Our young people succumb to the oldest trick in the book, that of ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ They come across something that stumbles them. Thereafter no one is able to help them, even parents, because nobody has any idea of what it is they have come across. We speak, as did another sister at that above Watchtower Study, about the ‘lies’ of apostates without knowledge beyond the vaguest generalities of just what those lies are. Moreover, the youngster just mentioned must contend with the onus of being supposed ‘disloyal’ for even looking there—even if his or her initial motive was to defend the faith. Even if he/she would like to get parental insight, he won’t dare ask for fear an explosion might result. And the ‘mature’ parent who might otherwise give corrective guidance does not go there either so as not to be similarly ‘disloyal.’
Of course, it’s easy to understand why the stance is what it is. Essentially, it is ‘The Bible says so.’ ‘What harmony is there between Christ as Belial?’ ‘Keep your eye on those causing division and avoid them.’ ‘Don’t be a sharer of wicked works by even saying a greeting,’ and so forth. I get it where it comes from: the Bible, and Witnesses are a Bible people. However, it sure makes for some downsides both ludicrous and tragic. Alas, I ran Ida’s seemingly practical course through the site where ‘never is heard a discouraging word’ and I was roundly chastised over it.
Now, if there is a downside to following current counsel, there is also a downside to not following it. Do I know that such downside is not worse? I have in the past expressed worry for Ida because she puts under the tooth comb of suspicion any piddly little statement that others blow off as a nothingburger. But she is a ‘why? why? why’ person and I suppose such persons must be satisfied. Her devotion to Jehovah is solid, she assures us. I just hope we don’t get a ‘flee to the mountains’ someday and she says, ‘You’re joking!’ [Not to worry—she says she likes mountains and it won’t happen.]
It’s all very well for me to float ‘alternative counsel’ as trial balloons, but I’m not “keeping watch over you as those who will render an account.” (Hebrews 13:17) The earthly shepherds are. I don’t have to render an account (hopefully) when people heed my incautious words and some fall flat on their face. They do. How much skin you have in the game makes a big difference in how you play it.
On the other hand, hoards of Westerners are falling flat on their face now. The spirit of young people is bold. It is not given to continual warnings of ‘Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!’ The spirit of the young is not given to be continually ‘protected.’ Same as with a party, if there’s a brawl going on somewhere, it wants to be part of it. Why not do a ‘avoid toxic people’ not as a matter of ‘loyalty,’ but just because they are toxic? Any psychologist will back you up on that one—and man, o man—are the malcontents ever toxic on the internet!
Back when we homeschooled—it is a move I have never regretted, even though there is a non-educational downside of not knowing where the agencies are (some of those agencies can be helpful), because my son entering community college, the first classroom he had ever seen save for the 6th grade, said in all innocence, “I had no idea there were so many stupid people”—back in those days we subscribed to a newsletter called, ‘Growth Without Schooling.’ It’s founder, John Holt, was of the opinion that much juvenile delinquency stemmed from teens being barred from the adult world under the guise of protecting them. Thus, a local family who ran a grocery store got into serious trouble with Child Protective Services when their teen took her turn behind the cash register upon returning from school.
Let youths join in the adult world as their maturity allows. Will some fall? No doubt some will, along with some of the Ida-like parents who go there to help them. But it may be a like when I ran by Jim Whitepebble the local attrition rate for those who go to college and he says it much resembled the attrition rate for those who didn’t go.
The organizational goal is to protect. It is that of the scriptural sheepfold with the shepherd eyes peeled in watch for the wolves. Since it is scripture, and scripture is what drives the Witnesses, it will not readily yield to adaptation. This is true even though some come to feel this protection is to the point of smothering and that it sells them short, as if completely disregarding any possibility that a person might confront apostasy and, not only remain loyal, but become stronger for it, indignant and thereafter become a stalwart for staring into the abyss and when it started staring back at him kicking its butt.
Even with adults it works this way. Thus, there is that convention video of the one with decades of faithful service to God who quit serving Him after reading material ‘critical of the organization.’ No possibility is offered that he might have become livid and spurred himself on to a greater defense or even counterattack of that ‘yellow journalism.’ How can even adults not become all but superstitious over the A-word? It is no more than ‘Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things’ in 100 different variations. Knowing what those variations are one might equate with ‘knowing the playbook of the opposing team.’
I would never recommend someone go traipsing through these ex-sites. The hostility there is breathtaking. Do not think you are going to persuade anyone to ‘Return to Jehovah.’ What you’ll find is that when parents send wayward youths a ‘Return to Jehovah’ message, they post it online for ridicule. But the all-but-forbidding it on pain of being thought disloyal approach isn’t working especially well either. Plus, it is so easily portrayed as sticking one’s head in the sand and submitting oneself to be fitted with blinders as though an animal as to give a push to the slide of any deviating youths. And then we come along with our all-or-nothing reasoning and say, ‘Would you drink even a little bit of poison?’ In fact, we ingest ‘a little bit of poison’ all the time and our immune system is strengthened for it—assuming we haven’t ruined it. In fact again, the great controversy of our time, which HQ came to enthusiastically weigh in on after an initial stance of ‘neutrality,’ was that of, ‘To take the Covid vaccine or not to take the Covid vaccine?’ What is a vaccine if not ‘a little bit of poison’ that stimulates the body to mount a defense?
*** The bookstore