Loading...
Menu

ipad copy of tom irregardless

 

 

 

 

Tom Irregardless and Me

 

Tom Harley

 

 

All persons with names like ‘Irregardless’ are real though generally composite. You can meet them in my circuit or even yours. Events related are faithfully depicted except for a few that I’ve made up. Persons with names recognizable from history or current events – you’re nuts! – it’s not those people at all!

 

 

 

because we have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men.

(1 Corinthians 4:9)

 

That being the case, let’s give them some theater!

 

###

 

Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ.

Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords.

Let the seed-pickers unite.

 

 

Tom Irregardless and Me

 

By

Tom Harley

Shakespir edition

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Tom Harley

All rights reserved

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did ot purchase it, or if it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

Dedicated to:

 

Michelle…with whom I have stared down many a villain.

Amber…who is enormously popular with the Karen group – they’ve been through so much.

Luka…who keeps wandering off to Serbia because that’s where his roots are.

 

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses…who, should they learn of this dedication, will not acknowledge it in any way.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Prince

Chapter 2 – Sam Herd

Chapter 3 – Tom Irregardless

Chapter 4 – The Regional Convention

Chapter 5 – Enemies

Chapter 6 – Suffering

Chapter 7 – The God of Football

Chapter 8 – Plato

Chapter 9 – Pipe Dreams

Chapter 10 – Blogging

Chapter 11 – The Pew Report

Chapter 12 – John Wheatnweeds

Chapter 13 – Joel Engardio

Chapter 14 – Joe Paterno

Chapter 15 – Dr. Mike ‘Ace’ Inhibitor

Chapter 16 – The New World Translation

Chapter 17 – Me

Chapter 18 – Sam Herd

Afterword – Black Mack, Slow Joe and Davey the Kid

 

About the Author

Follow or Contact the Author

 

Preview of No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

CHAPTER 1 – PRINCE

The tip of the iceberg does not choose its spot. So if it reveals something unseemly, it’s hardly sporting to harp on it. So it is with Doctor Klitzman. The psychiatric iceberg has rotated to thrust him into our path. He’s the whistleblower. We’ll slam him – it’s unavoidable – but it is really the cowards lying safely below that we are after. Dr. Klitzman himself is doubtless a great guy.

Tom, he sounds like a conscientious man –

I’m sure he is, and the next time I have problems in the control tower, I’m heading straight to him.

Dr. Klitzman is like Daniel, apologizing for his wayward countrymen. He is like Peter, taking the heat for his fellow disciples, who all thought the Lord off his nut for saying what he did. He is like me, cut down before two hundred elders – “I can’t believe any brother would ask that” – who hears from Tom Brexit upon returning to his seat: “I wanted to ask that, too.” He is like himself, daring to slander Prince, even though he never thought of it that way.

 

Prince hadn’t been dead two months when Dr. Klitzman wrote cnn.com to declare that he had died of VIP syndrome. He didn’t know for sure, of course, but he did know that VIP syndrome was bad stuff. It had killed Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers, and Elvis Presley. Very likely it had also killed Prince.

Can anyone hear this diagnosis without wondering what an insufferable brat Prince must have been? VIP syndrome! Surely he was the stereotypical celebrity: gorgeous on the outside, ugly on the inside. Dr. Klitzman has waved a red flag before me and I’m charging! Call Prince an insufferable brat, will you? If he hadn’t slandered Prince, I’d let it go. But he did slander him. He’s toast. He doesn’t really deserve it as the whistleblower. It’s the cowards hiding behind him I want, but I can’t get at them. He’ll have to do. He’ll understand.

 

What a dreadful illness VIP syndrome must be. Only a truly terrible person could have it. Prince must have been a real…but wait! Read the cnn.com article! Unlike any other illness known to man, it’s not the afflicted one who displays the symptoms of VIP syndrome! It’s the doctor treating him! He goes weak at the knees upon encountering a pop star and neglects to do his job! In fact, read carefully and you will discover that VIP syndrome is not an illness of any specific person. It simply “occurs” when doctors treat an “important” patient as “special,” making exceptions to standard procedures. The doctors seek to accommodate these patients, “foregoing appropriate tests and safety measures because the VIP might find these inconvenient.” That’s what Dr. Walter Weintraub said. He ought to know, for he coined the term in 1964. “Doctors who bend the rules to provide special care to special patients can end up killing them,” writes Rory Carroll in theguardian.com. When that happens, it is on account of VIP syndrome.

This is an awful lot of pussyfooting around so that doctors can cover their behinds. Why not just say that they wet themselves in the presence of a celebrity? Why obscure it with a mysterious VIP syndrome that “occurs?” It is because the truth is just too embarrassing: for all his education and lofty community stature, the doctor is no more mature than any squealing adolescent. He is so blinded by hero worship that he drops the ball. Conscience stricken afterwards when his patient dies, he blames, not himself, but his patient, who “suffered” from VIP syndrome to such an extent that even the great doctor couldn’t save him! He wouldn’t have “suffered” at all if the doctor had been mature!

 

Few performers moved like Prince. At 57 years of age, he hurt. He had pain. He wanted it to go away. That way, he could dive right back into what drove him. Wasn’t there a way to make that pain vanish? Yes, there was. Opioid medication! His doctor had prescribed them. They must be okay. They worked fantastic. Good! Back to work!

Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind, he worried a little. Maybe he wondered about taking more and more of those pills. Maybe he – ah, no matter – that’s what doctors are for. They’ll make sure it’s all okay.

Or maybe he didn’t worry in the back of his mind. Maybe there wasn’t unoccupied space back there. He was always creating. “His purple reign over the music industry isn’t over yet,” wrote Nicole Lyn Pesce. He “leaves behind a cache of unreleased music so vast that his estate could put out a posthumous album every year for the next century…featuring thousands of secret songs, albums and yes, even a movie.” Got it? That’s what he did in his spare time. He didn’t spend it second-guessing his doctor. He wasn’t the most balanced guy in the world, was he? But that’s how it is with genius. It’s brilliant in one area, clueless in another, and completely vulnerable, absolutely dependent on others to guide it through things it doesn’t notice.

“We worship celebrities like gods,” Dr. Klitzman writes. “They appear on our smartphone screens, our TVs and our computers, and loom high above us in movie theaters, larger than life, seemingly more beautiful and glamorous than the rest of us. For good or bad, doctors are humans like everyone else, wowed by celebrities, and don’t always proceed as they should when treating them…I have treated VIP patients, and I indeed did feel intimidated, awed and privileged.”

Another doctor adds:

Celebrities demand much more than the average person and rightly so because they are in front of cameras and on the red carpet.

‘Rightly so!’ he says.

 

Prince’s cook cooked for him. His accountant did his taxes for him. His lawn mower mowed his lawn for him. His plumber unclogged the toilet for him. His tailor put clothes on him. How come his doctor couldn’t doctor him? Prince needed someone with backbone. He needed someone to be firm. “Cancel those concerts! That way you can live to do others!” He’d fuss a bit, but he would have accepted it; he wasn’t stupid. He needed a strong hand, not hero worship. Had his doctor been one of his spiritual brothers, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he would be alive today. Jehovah’s Witnesses are immune to VIP syndrome.

“VIP syndrome, my rear end!” they would have said. “Put that guitar down! You can pick it up later. What? Fox Theater? Atlanta? How many expected? Cancel it! Look, you need to get some issues cleared out! You may have to check in somewhere – they’ll forgive you – you can throw them a free concert later. Do whatever you must, and you’ll live to perform at 80!” It’s what he needed and would have accepted. He didn’t want to be worshipped.

“Many celebrities are used to being treated as special, not having to wait in line, and getting around bureaucratic obstacles the rest of us face,” snivels up another medical writer. Why imply that Prince was one of them? The doctor desperately wants to save face. He doesn’t want to admit his immaturity. So he concocts a story couched in medical terminology that puts the onus on Prince! He slanders Prince so as to cover his professional rear end! I won’t put up with it!

When my kids were ten they used to pull this sort of stunt. They used to point fingers at each other – ‘he did it, not me!’ I leaned on them and they grew up. I’m glad they never stumbled upon this medical bunch, who would have undone all my hard work.

 

But the doctor is not done trashing Prince’s name; he’s just getting started. He floats the question:

had Prince seen a psychiatrist, particularly one who specializes in addiction? Unfortunately, mental illness, including substance abuse, is often treated not by psychiatrists, who have specific training in caring for these ailments, but by others.

WHAT?! Now Prince is not just a brat with VIP syndrome – now he is mentally ill! What a mess he is! No wonder the finest doctors couldn’t help him!

This is not to be believed! Come clean, doctor, as to how Prince became dependent upon your opioids in the first place! Come clean about the doings of your reckless pharmaceutical chums! Leave Prince alone and do some soul searching!

Soon after Dr. Klitzman’s letter, another doctor chimed in. Dr. Chris Johnson wrote he is:

forced to paint an unflattering picture of the industry that I have been a part of for the last 15 years. I wish I could tell you that this epidemic was due to an honest mistake. That the science was unclear or had mixed results that only later became evident. But I can’t. I also wish I could tell you that the only reason the problem persists is a ‘lack of physician awareness.’ But I won’t. The reason this opioid problem started and the reason it continues is sadly for the most American reason there is – business.

At one time, Dr. Johnson points out, American doctors prescribed opioids as did doctors everywhere: for pain relief from cancer or acute injury. He then tells of a drug company, introducing a new opioid product in 1996, that swung for the fences. It didn’t want to target just cancer patients. It wanted to target everyone experiencing everyday pain: joint pain and back pain, for example:

To do this, they recruited and paid experts in the field of pain medicine to spread the message that these medicines were not as addictive as previously thought…As a physician in training, I remember being told that the risk of addiction for patients taking opioids for pain was ‘less than one percent.’ What I was not told was that there was no good science to suggest rates of addiction were really that low. That ‘less than one percent’ statistic came from a five-sentence paragraph in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980. It has come to be known as the Porter and Jick study. However, it was not really a study. It was a letter to the editor; more like a tweet. You can read the whole thing in 90 seconds.

Decisions emerging from evidence-based science are fine, but you are permitted to doubt them. In the lab, they work tolerably well. In the real world, they are trumped by money as often as not. But you don’t find that out until you are well along the rosy path they’ve shoved you down.

Does the industry that made the drugs that killed Prince come crawling to his crew, friends, and fans to beg forgiveness? No. It sends one of its customers to transfer blame to Prince himself for allowing VIP syndrome to occur! In today’s arena of sexual harassment accusations, the mere hint of blaming the victim brings instantaneous wrath. But the medicine man doesn’t hesitate to do it to Prince. I’ll side with the performer’s bodyguard, Romeo, any day. Fiercely loyal to his boss and friend, he shoves back at some reporter trying to plant the notion that Prince was an addict: “He may have had to go to the doctor and they prescribed something for him but as far as his abusing drugs – that’s not him.” Yeah! I don’t want to hear doctors blaming Prince for VIP syndrome! I want to hear Romeo defending him like a grizzly bear its cub!

 

Get these pill peddlers away from here so we can restore Prince’s good name! He wasn’t obnoxious and he wasn’t hard to please. In 2003, he was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He afterwards credited his new faith for turning his life around. His lyrics, once breathtakingly raunchy, cleared right up. “You only have to meet Prince for a few minutes to realize the extent to which God – rather than the colour purple – now influences how he lives,” the Daily Mirror wrote. He didn’t swagger around at the Kingdom Hall he attended, as some might expect from a celebrity. Instead, he wore a plain business suit and it could be hard to pick him out. Some described him as shy.

New to the faith, it didn’t take long before Prince cast his eye upon the Kingdom songs that are sung at each meeting’s beginning, midpoint, and end. Maybe he could – you know – spice them up a little. Remix a few. With the best of motives, he began doing just that. CDs were released and began to circulate among the friends. Whenever that sort of thing happens among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it happens fast, for every Witness knows every other Witness. The Governing Body caught wind of it. Would they be flattered that Prince stooped to iron the kinks out of their music, like Mozart repairing the little ditty his employer’s (another Prince!) house musician had composed? Would they be jellified with VIP syndrome? If the learned doctors had turned to mush, what chance had bumpkins like they?

Prince is reworking our music, and rightly so!” Would they say that?

They excoriated him: ‘Get your hands off those songs! Those aren’t your songs – they’re OUR songs! They’re not pop, they’re not rock, they’re not funk! They are KINGDOM SONGS! Do you know how to spell ‘copyright?!’ Touch them again and you’re toast!’

Then they sent out letters to the congregations telling Witnesses not to play those CDs because they weren’t authorized. They managed to overcome their VIP syndrome pretty well, didn’t they? (Dr. Klitzman’s colleagues would have let Prince gown up and lend a hand in the operating room) They told him to keep his hands off their songs! Of course, they were nice about it – they always are. Their letter acknowledged his good intentions, but they laid down the law. I’ll bet Prince found it refreshing to be told off! What a change of pace from toadying doctors.

 

Whenever the Governing Body weighs in on celebrity, it is to discourage it. Don’t chase after it, they say – do the ministry instead. Does having celebrities in your midst somehow bolster your legitimacy as an organization? Some of the silliest people in the world are celebrities – all of them really, except our guys. Among the congregations, word spread quickly after Prince was baptized, but there were no updates. Witnesses don’t do that; they don’t keep tabs on celebrities in their midst. It wouldn’t be hard to do, for we have precious few of them, but that’s just it – they’re not precious to us. I mean – they are – but no more so than anyone else.

So when Prince performed half-time at the 2008 Super Bowl, I didn’t know his status at all. Was he a spiritual giant, a spiritual weakling, or had he moved on completely to other things? After watching the show, I doubted he was doing anything spiritually at all. Many following along on television were taken aback. Didn’t he use his guitar neck as a giant phallic symbol? We’re not a religion known to do that. As an expert in all things JW, I was deluged with requests for comment. Or at least you never know when they may start. So I examined the video carefully.

Hmm. You know, it did look that way. But not everyone agreed. Even smuthead personalities who would have loved it that way conceded it might have been accidental. The way you strap on an electric guitar – you run the risk of seeming risqué – especially if your silhouette is projected on a screen. There’s a reason those twenty-four elders from Revelation are playing harps and not electric guitars! “If people want to be hypersensitive, they can be hypersensitive,” said Rolling Stone’s Gavin Edwards. “Those trombones are phallic, too. What are you going to do?” I didn’t know that about trombones. I promptly threw mine in the trash.

 

Many weighed in like Scott Cohen, who toured with a band, who had a music degree from Syracuse University, who ranked Prince concerts among his favorites, and who declared himself fed up with any phallic accusation. “Prince dedicates every show to Jesus Christ and anyone who knows about his current beliefs knows that he will no longer swear or perform songs like ‘Darling Nikki’…etc….I thought the Super Bowl performance was terrific – and didn’t notice any phallic nothing.” So there!

The harshest criticism came from that small subset of folk who can’t stand Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, there are a lot of folks who don’t care for us; we wake them up when they’re sleeping late. I don’t mean these people. I mean the smaller bunch who positively loathe Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of them ex-Witnesses themselves who went sour, like Victor Vomidog. Their comments took the form of gotchas. Gleefully, they anticipated seeing Prince disfellowshipped! And if he wasn’t? Well, that would just prove (to them) the Witnesses’ hypocrisy.

You don’t pay these grousers any mind. These are the same people who lambaste Witnesses for being mind-control cultists who forbid personal expression. Say what you want about Prince, with or without the phallic tempest: he certainly did express himself, didn’t he? But in the wake of his death, having become more familiar with his spirituality, I can now easily picture him performing his heart out at the halftime show, lost in his own world, oblivious to stage effect, while smuthead show promoters manipulate perception to create the lewd imagery they so revel in.

 

 

Prince cleaned up his act upon becoming a Witness: “I have a responsibility to children that come to concerts to not expose them to anything that would be considered raunchy or risqué,” he told CNBC. Old timers will hear a distinct echo. Sixty years ago, an equally famous celebrity also cleaned up his act. In 1947, Mickey Spillane wrote his first novel ‘I the Jury’ in nineteen days because he needed a down payment for a house. The book was an instant sensation, and sold over six million copies. Thereafter, Spillane delighted in taunting the highbrow writers he outsold, writers who looked down upon him, promising them that he would never write a book in which a character had a mustache or drank cognac since he didn’t know how to spell those words.

‘I the Jury’ was deliriously violent, even by today’s standards:

I snapped the side of the rod across his jaw and laid the flesh open to the bone. I pounded his teeth back into his mouth with the end of the barrel … and I took my own damn time about kicking him in the face. He smashed into the door and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling.

Then he became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “The guy who brought broads and blood to the reading masses is a Jehovah’s Witness, a fundamentalist [group] that preaches the imminent end of the world. ‘There’s nothing phony about them. Everything they say is true,’ says Spillane, a one-time ‘nominal’ Protestant converted years ago by a Jehovah’s Witness who knocked on his door.”S

In 1952, he told Life magazine: “There are more books on the way, but they won’t contain the things that bolster the excuses for the moral breakdown of this present generation. I’ve changed my work and course of action to be in harmony with Jehovah’s Kingdom.” Spillane didn’t write again for 10 years. When he did, the violence had tamed right down. He and Prince did what all do upon becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses – they clean up their act. What’s not to like about a religion that can do that?

 

I didn’t think it possible that Prince could go door to door as Witnesses do. Surely it would be a media sensation. But I hadn’t reckoned that the media panics at the sight of Jehovah’s Witnesses approaching, as does everyone else, and runs in terror lest they get caught in a Bible updraft. Once Prince headed toward that Kingdom Hall, the media backed off. They might spot him with another Witness but be afraid to approach – ‘(gulp) what if that other Jehovah’s Witness tries to talk to us? Let’s stop by Paisley Park tomorrow instead, and see if he’s home.’ So Prince was free to do what he wanted.

But the door to door ministry? Could he really have taken part in that? He told The Daily Mirror: “My hair is capable of doing a lot of things. I don’t always look like this.” Exactly. Put him in a business suit in the most unlikely context – someone’s doorstep – with a Bible, and who in a thousand years is going to identify him as Prince? Some came close. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Prince?” a householder asked. “It’s been said,” Prince replied and then continued with his presentation.

But in the early days he wasn’t so discreet. He was more awkward. Didn’t he show up with his entire entourage? The following from the Minneapolis Star Tribune is too much – it really is:

On the afternoon of Yom Kippur in 2003, a Jewish couple in Eden Prairie opened their door to discover the 5-foot-2 singer standing in front of them. Even though a Vikings football game was on, they invited him in. “My first thought is, ‘Cool, cool, cool. He wants to use my house as a set. I’m glad! Demolish the whole thing! Start over!’”

They did and thought these things because VIP syndrome occurred. Forget Yom Kippur! Forget the Vikings! But Prince didn’t talk about using their home for a set, which would have required demolition. He began to talk about God, which did not require it. VIP syndrome instantly vanished. “I said, ‘You know what? You’ve walked into a Jewish household, and this is not something I’m interested in,’” the woman told him. Demolishing the house would have been preferable!

“Can I finish?” Prince asked. VIP syndrome must have still been lurking somewhere because he stayed twenty minutes. I know it was VIP syndrome because when I heard those three words, I tried them myself and had to remold my flattened nose from the slammed door.

 

For anyone newsworthy, the major media news sources will have their obituaries pre-written. The older the newsmaker, the more likely this is to be true. They must have had to have scrambled when Prince passed away. He was 57 and vigorous. Could anyone have anticipated he would drop so unexpectedly? Sources like the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times got their facts straight in reporting his death; missteps were few and trivial. Others spoke to Victor Vomidog and accepted his credentials as someone who used to be a Witness. “I wonder how much the Watchtower makes off his death?” he sneered, as though no one in history had ever supported a cause they had believed in. In fact, it doesn’t look like they made a dime; Prince died intestate.

The Daily Mail quoted another who “said that he had read Facebook posts as recently as six months ago saying that Prince was going door to door appealing for donations like all other worshippers do.” Good reporting! I always cite Facebook posts from ‘someone’ whenever I am trying to get to the bottom of things! This fellow would have us believe that multi-millionaire Prince spent his time grubbing for quarters and dimes to satisfy the church. Even if the church did solicit for funds, why would Prince not simply have reached into his pocket? But in covering Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Daily Mail is in fearful uncharted waters. They don’t dare ask a Witness – what if that Witness should start witnessing to them? Wait – wasn’t there someone somewhere who read something on Facebook? That’ll do.

Media types like to grouse that the Watchtower organization is not transparent. For the life of me, I don’t know how they can say that. No website reveals more than jw.org. Individual Witnesses regularly come straight to their homes and will answer any questions asked of them. Is it the Witnesses fault if – ‘OH NO! Look who’s coming up the driveway! Hide!’ – (clasp the dog’s snout) – ‘shhhh – are they gone yet?’ Jehovah’s Witnesses have the most transparent organization I’ve ever seen.

There was a time when Witnesses did ask for contributions – not much – a dime or quarter to cover printing costs – from anyone accepting literature. But the televangelists began hawking products costing scores, even hundreds, of dollars. Hit with demands for sales tax, they balked. ‘What about Jehovah’s Witnesses with their magazines?’ they dodged. So the Watchtower declared that no one would ask for a dime from that point on; our work would be completely self-funded. That way, nobody could mistake its non-commercial nature.

To be sure, there was some clunky explanation at first that our work was one of Bible education, performed free of charge, and that the householder could donate toward it if they wished. It was so awkward that it fizzled almost immediately; didn’t the wording seem to suggest tens or twenties were sought, not dimes or quarters? The householder would clamp his hand over his wallet – ‘I didn’t get to where I am by giving away money!’ I missed the old days: ‘Here’s a magazine. Give me a quarter so I can print another one,’ but I could no longer do it because of the televangelists! Ah, well – now there is the internet, and there are no printing costs. Nobody thinks of donating for bandwidth.

 

How Prince must have cherished being around real people at the Kingdom Hall among whom VIP syndrome didn’t occur. Jehovah’s Witnesses regard each other as spiritual brothers and sisters; they did not feel ‘intimidated, awed and privileged’ in his presence, as did the doctors – they just hung out with him. In the congregation, he was Brother Nelson. He entered, sang, sat, commented, and left like anyone else. At large conventions there might be a buzz when he was spotted but nothing more. No one mobbed him. No one approached him for selfies.

“I’m not that complicated of a guy,” he told one interviewer, “if you know my music, you know me.” Kim Berry, his hair stylist said: “They wanted this mystique to be bigger than it was and he just wanted to be treated regular.” She relates an early conversation with him: “‘What did they tell you when you first started working for me?’ and I said, ‘Oh they gave me all kind of rules.’ He said ‘I’ve never told anyone anything like that.’”

“Really, I’m normal,” he told another interviewer. “A little highly-strung, maybe. But normal. But so much has been written about me and people never know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’d rather let them stay confused.” You have to do that! It’s the only way a modest person can deal with VIP syndrome, which will not only occur – it will stomp you into the ground like a rhinocerous! If only there was a spray for it! Bob Dylan had to do it, too – ‘let them stay confused.’ Media would pepper him with questions. He’d feed them nonsense. They’d accuse him of not being cooperative. He’d protest that he was being cooperative: they were just asking the wrong questions.

Unfortunately, Prince loses control of his image upon his death. It might have been useful to have had a will for more than the routine reasons. The music company releases unreleased music with much fanfare. To the extent it is from his pre-Witness raunchy days, he will hate it. He deliberately kept that stuff buried. Respect for him should serve to keep it buried. Alas, groupies know no such thing. They’ll trot it all out, thinking they’re doing him honors. I could be wrong on this, but it’s not likely. Spiritually, he and I were on the same page, and spirituality is all that counts with Jehovah’s Witnesses; everything else is just so much ‘window dressing.’

And what’s with the obligatory purple? He would hate that, too, unless I’m much mistaken. You couldn’t even get him to sign his autograph. The man didn’t want to be worshipped. Engrossed with Larry Graham once in a backstage Bible discussion, he suddenly jerked his head up. “Hey, I think I’m supposed to be onstage now!” It’s not hard to discern where his heart was.

That is why he had to stay mysterious. That is why Bob Dylan fed them nonsense. Godless groupies in search of a god to worship – Prince and Dylan get caught in the crosshairs! That is why Dylan deliberately wrote some wretched music – to throw them off track. “I wrote this one to get the hippies off my lawn,” Dylan said of one dog. It didn’t work. The hippies did move off his lawn, but they set up camp on his front and back porch.

A former Bethelite told me of how Prince had visited there years ago. “Prince is out in the hallway!” a co-worker exclaimed. But Tony, unimpressed by celebrity, just kept on typing. Did they let him tour in peace? I’m sure they did. A full half of them likely had no idea who he was.

“I was standing in the back and facing the door and waiting for someone I’d invited, and I was standing there talking to a brother, and Prince had been at meetings at a couple different locations,” said Anne Berry, a pioneer in his congregation. “I was just standing there and all of a sudden, in he walks. I thought, ‘He just wants to be treated like an average person,’ so I just kind of acknowledged him, and he came in and sat down.” She added: “I think he wanted to be private and my observation is: he had to have his creative outlet. Maybe he just needed it to survive.”

 

Covering his death, reporters stepped gingerly through that Kingdom Hall door in Minneapolis as though setting foot on Mars. The people seemed nice enough. And the meeting was in a plain auditorium – how threatening could that be? They sniffed around carefully for VIP syndrome and couldn’t detect a trace. What a strange world! Surely there would be a special ceremony for Prince. But, no! All they heard was a single line at the meeting’s end: “Our brother Prince Rogers Nelson has fallen asleep in death,” the same as they would had heard for any congregation member. All the rest was some kind of religious stuff. They contacted Bethel in New York City – surely the whole place would be draped in purple. Bethel said: “We are saddened to hear about the death of Prince Rogers Nelson who was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2003.” He “found fulfillment as a Witness in sharing his faith with others.” Surely those Jehovah’s Witnesses were crazy.

Beneath a photo of the congregation’s information board, as though inviting readers to check for themselves, the Daily Mail wrote: “The church has no photos of Prince, their most famous ‘publisher’ on the walls because ‘that would be glorifying an individual.’” VIP syndrome didn’t occur at the Kingdom Hall; that’s why Prince liked it there. The interior of the Klitzman Church would have been wallpapered with Prince photographs.

Reporters searched and searched for something they could use. Aha! They found it! A congregation member who said he knew that outside of the congregation, Prince was a genius at what he did! It wasn’t deification. But it seemed as close as they were going to get. So they snatched the quote and ran for the door.

 

At the Minnetonka Kingdom Hall, the center wall can be opened to make a single auditorium out of two. A memorial service for Prince began with the song ‘He Will Call.’ It was followed by opening prayer. There was an interview with fellow musician Larry Graham, the lifelong friend who had studied the Bible with him. After the memorial talk, the meeting ended with the song ‘See Yourself When All Is New’ and a prayer. On the back of the printed program was an excerpt from his song ‘Beautiful, Loved and Blessed:’

If I were to ever write down my life story, I could truly say with all the fame and glory, I was just a piece of clay in need of the potter’s hand.

 

 

back

 

 

CHAPTER 2 – SAM HERD

Old Jack hadn’t done a thing all day. He’d just stood there in the barn. So when Sam’s father told him to water their two mules, Sam watered Jim, but didn’t want to bother Old Jack – he hadn’t done anything to be thirsty about. The young boy’s father said: “Now I want you to go back to the barn and fetch Old Jack and take him down to the creek so he can drink some water. Old Jack has spent his whole life so that we could have bread on the table. We’re not going to throw him away just because he’s grown old.” With that opening, Sam Herd of the Governing Body launched into his talk about how young people could value the old. He didn’t sugar coat being old. He didn’t gush on about how ‘so-and-so is 80 years young.’ For crying out loud, if they’re 80 years young, why are they dead in just a few more years? Instead, he pointed out that the birds may be chirping when you’re 80, but you don’t hear them; “you’re just too old.”

But then he turned it around to hit on his real theme: how old ones can value the young. They can pass their experiences and wisdom along to the next generation. It would indeed be tragic if one with four times the history hadn’t found something worthwhile to pass along.

With the explosion in communication channels, particularly social media, one might think such transfer from one generation to the next would be effortless. Alas, one can easily get the impression online that older ones haven’t much of anything to transfer to the young other than silliness. One might almost think that they have given up, that’s they’ve grown disillusioned with their own ideas, and have left the wisdom game altogether, choosing instead to live vicariously through the young whom they have failed.

Of course, tradition obligates them to pass along something of ideas and values, but they do it as you would pass along a pickle jar making you trouble: ‘Here, see if you can open the wretched thing!’ Of course, you hope your recipient will open it, but in a way, you don’t, for then you must save face: ‘okay, okay – you did open it, but only because I loosened it for you.’

The older generation is simply not up to passing along their tried and true ideas with enthusiasm. Have they too often watched in dismay those same ideas yielding to the six stages of a project?

 

1. Enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Panic

4. Hunt for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Praise and honors for the non-participants

 

It wasn’t always this way, with the older generation staying mum. I remember when Paul McCartney was said to have died in a car crash and the other Beatles covered it up with a look-alike and campus radio spoke of nothing else for days on end. My college roommate urged me (unsuccessfully) to install a reverse drive on my turntable so as to play all Beatle records backwards, looking for hidden clues – ‘I buried Paul’ in Strawberry Fields, – ‘Turn me on, dead man’ in Revolution #9. I returned home for the weekend only to find the mainstream media completely oblivious to what consumed us. It was amazing, since the Beatles were the most popular rock group in history. They didn’t ignore substantive news to break in breathlessly with update after update, as they would today. When ‘Climategate’ broke in 2009 – leaked emails casting doubt on the global warming theory – it was not even mentioned on the three major networks for two weeks. Why? Fake news? Perhaps. But what about the real news they did eagerly run: 37 juicy Tiger Woods scandal stories? Today, reporters would say, as World War III is breaking: “Not now – not now! What…do you want me to miss whether Paul is dead?

I recall only one grumbling opinion piece on the Walter Cronkite report, after several days had elapsed, to the effect that the Beatles (those precocious kids) may have fooled us all with their practical joke, but it was a sick laugh they must be having. That’s how it was with ‘young people’ stories. I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted more airtime for our g-g-generation. Some sensational group would be the rage among the young; I’d want to see them on TV, and all I’d get was a lousy five minutes at the end of the Ed Sullivan show!

No, I didn’t like it. But now I see it was a protection from adults who still felt a collective sense of responsibility toward the younger generation. Or maybe they were just fuddy-duddies out of touch with changing times. Nonetheless, it was a protection. Let kids have their own generation. Let them cultivate their own interests, but not to the exclusion of what truly has substance. Construct your society so that doesn’t happen. Link them with ideas of the past, ideas that have roots, ideas that have endured over time

In recent decades, it hasn’t worked out that way. The older generation of today has largely given up on its roots, roots that didn’t work out too well for them anyway, in order to live vicariously through their young. That’s why the prurient interest in youngster’s ‘sexuality,’ and perhaps even the propensity to push into ever new moral bounds. Thus, at the group home, where TV is front and center and one can’t possible avoid it, the younger staff eagerly watch the VH1 News Special: ‘The New Virginity,’ convinced they are watching real news, speculating along with the show: how long will this or that young celeb hold out?

That’s why I don’t chafe at the Watchtower cautioning about today’s entertainment, though just between you and me, they lay it on pretty thick sometimes. But they don’t lay it on 24/7 like the villains they warn against, do they? Take it as a sign of concern for the young.

In recent years, the Watchtower organization even offers its own programming through a JW Broadcasting streaming channel, a refreshing and most unusual alternative to mainstream TV. Members of the Governing Body thus repeat the pattern they are known for with any new technology: They eye it with suspicion. They advise caution. They know that when the thief switches getaway cars, it is the thief you have to watch, not the dazzling features of the new car. They follow the thief for a time. Convinced at last that they still have a bead on him, they examine the car. They circle it warily, kicking the tires. At last satisfied, they jump in with both feet and put it to good uses its inventors could only have dreamed of.

 

Does the older generation of this world really have tried and true convictions to pass on to their young? Or have they become disenchanted with the very convictions they once eagerly hyped – convictions which have fallen flat – and so have ceased to hype anything? Has the older generation come to look upon their once-cherished convictions as does the Joker flipping through Kim Bassinger’s sketches, pronouncing instant judgement upon each one:

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –

disillusioned that none of them work? They all sounded good – heaven knows one can spin college degrees from them. But when put to the test – when placed under stress – they don’t work.

One might suppose that the architect of ideas that don’t work would be discredited. Bizarrely, the ‘doesn’t work’ caveat doesn’t matter. It is just the fine print at document’s end which nobody reads. The architects are instead hoisted upon the shoulders of admiring others and paraded about through learned society, not laughed out of town as they deserve. ‘What? The idea doesn’t work? Surely it is the fault of the little people below and not the great idea!’

It is logistically too early for me to reveal the secret of my success, but for the sake of good narrative, I will do it. I hold a PhD in Opening Childproof Containers. I’m an expert on the topic. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and have gone deeply into debt, but I don’t regret it for a moment. It has paid off handsomely. I crisscross the country to speak before containerly challenged people. I’m paid more money for one speech than you will make in a year working for the man. I’ve enjoyed a brilliantly successful career and all my neighbors are envious of me.

But if you hand me a bottle of aspirin to open, or even a bag of potato chips, I will demur that I am not really feeling well today – maybe ask me tomorrow. It is that way with the bedrock ideas upon which this world is constructed. Despite being lauded to high heaven, they don’t work. Those who have earned university degrees in them do not sacrifice any prestige on that account. Instead, they go on to master other ideas that don’t work.

 

I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1973, and started using the Bible to reason with people, the way Witnesses do. In those days, we might speak of Revelation 11:18: ‘God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth,’ and the only application anyone could imagine was that of nuclear annihilation. Yes, pollution was a concern then, but it was usually thought a local concern, fowling the neighborhood nest, hardly a threat to the entire planet. As the years roll by, nuclear annihilation is joined on the podium by an ever-expanding group of worthy competitors: climate change, deforestation, species eradication, pollution – this time on steroids, contamination of the food supply – haven’t pharmaceuticals been detected in the groundwater? Not good, considering that they are specifically designed to interact with life.

Today, a drug epidemic also vies for place on the podium, and it becomes evident carpenters must enlarge the base. More recently, there is artificial intelligence and robots. The Chinese unveil an AI robot that can zap protesters. Edward Snowden tweets: “Surely this will turn out well.” AI robots and VR porn promise sex so steamy that it’s feared people will lose interest in the real thing. Is the world to end with a fizzle, and not a bang, as its inhabitants neglect procreation? Whether AI proves a blessing or a curse depends on the wisdom of those who employ it, we’re told. That’s not reassuring. Stephen Hawking tells the BBC: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” How quaint seem the days when nuclear annihilation was the sole threat.

‘Ruining the earth’ in the sense of Genesis chapter six has to do with the proliferation of violence. How are we doing on that count? Go a few years without a major war and the atheists are effusive: ‘violence is far less acceptable for settling problems than at any time in the past!’ Tell it to the bumper crop of crazies eager to trigger a bomb vest if only they can take twenty others out with them. Tell it to the horde of hatecases busy as beavers leaving bombs so passersby can be maimed. Tell it to public officials who hire a hundred cops where two used to suffice. Tell it to the cops themselves who have tanks and riot gear where they were once content with batons. Tell it even to Time magazine, lamenting that trolls have ‘ruined the internet:’ mention feelings of depression and find yourself deluged with encouragement to end your life. The public’s herd immunity is destroyed when even a handful of sickos get loose: when I was young, parents threw open the door on Halloween night and off we went trick or treating, without escort, without the tiniest apprehension of danger. A single person put a single razor blade in a single apple, and the holiday changed forever.

 

Plainly, prevailing human paradigms don’t work. Older ones can be forgiven if they don’t queue up to pass along the drivel that has neither worked for them nor yielded to their repair efforts. In the midst of such an ideological drought, along come Jehovah’s Witnesses to spotlight a notion most find very strange: God has devised a government to succeed where human governments have failed, with the rationale that humans are not capable of ruling themselves – that they were not created with that ability.

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. [It] will not be passed along to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Jehovah’s Witnesses have no role in bringing this kingdom about, but they do announce it beforehand.

It’s hardly an idea endearing to all: “What if your ‘Jehovah’ brings the end to this system of things just before someone comes up with a game-changing idea that will solve all human problems?” Bernard Strawman asked of me on my lengthy return visit with the car group waiting in the driveway. “How fair would that be?!” Sigh…doesn’t the very question betray colossal ignorance? Nobody lacks for ideas, even game-changing ones. The world chokes on ideas. Implementation is where the downfall lies. Those wonderful ideas refuse to cooperate with other wonderful ideas, each backed by persons who guard their own turf and compete. “Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King says after the L.A. riots. No. We can’t. That is where the problem lies, and not with any paucity of ideas

Every baby is the center of its own universe. It is the most selfish thing in the world. Who would ever argue that point? Reality soon asserts itself, however, and the growing child learns it is not the center. There are others, each of whom once thought they were the center, with whom one must coexist: siblings, other children, teachers, and the world of adults. A Bible education builds on this theme that we are not the center. The mindset of this world serves to roll it back towards ‘me first.’ A Bible education produces cooperative people; an education of this world produces competitive people.

The positions are not absolute. They are not mutually exclusive. Competitive people can cooperate. Cooperative people can compete. But the dominant leaning is enough to define the difference between the world and true Christianity. Those of the general world compete. Those of the Christian world cooperate.

 

Captain James T. Kirk and the Enterprise crew came across Landru’s clan way, way out there on the very fringe of the galaxy. They encountered a nauseating race of folk with syrupy smiles who carried on trancelike and greeted each other with slogans like: ‘May you have peace,’ ‘joy to you, friend,’ and ‘Landru gives blessings.’ Tranquility reigned, but nobody could think for themselves. Kirk couldn’t stand them, but then he found out how they had come to be as they were. Landru had brainwashed them and had stolen their souls! I hate it when that happens! He’d run across them long ago when their world was about to self-destruct and had given them peace though mind-control! And Landru wasn’t even a person. It was a machine which the aging human Landru had designed to carry on after he died.

Above all things on the planet of pleasantness, you could not step out of line. If you did, the men came to zap you away. Kirk was so distressed at this bunch that he violated his own Federation’s Prime Directive (Mind Your Own Business) to short out the computer and free the people. Having done so, the Enterprise cruised off into the sunset, leaving the citizens raping and pillaging like in the good old days.

‘Mind controlled zombies! Just like under Landru! That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses are so peaceful!’ charges Victor Vomidod. But their unity is really not so strange, nor is it hard to understand. It just seems that way because unity is unheard of in today’s world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses share a common vision and purpose. They defer to their God Jehovah as lawgiver. That’s really all there is to it. They’ve voluntarily made the choice, and so encounter a Christian formula for achieving practical unity. They find the Bible’s way of life to be not oppressive, but rather like a highway with guardrails. Nobody gripes about guardrails along the roadway because they serve a purpose. They neither infringe upon your freedom nor stifle your personality. On the contrary, they help you become all you can be. Just as in playing chess: once you decide to abide by the rules you can do amazing things, but you can’t do any of them until you conform to how the game is played.

One of the public talks in circulation spends considerable time contrasting ‘unified’ and ‘uniform.’ They’re not the same. Human organizations tend to squeeze persons into common molds, stifling individuality – sometimes literally slipping them into uniforms. But unity based upon observing Bible standards is different. The apostle Paul likened it to the human body:

For, indeed, the body is made up not of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am no part of the body,’ that does not make it no part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am no part of the body’ that does not make it no part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If it were all hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has arranged each of the body members just as he pleased. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

The eye, ear, hand, and foot cooperate seamlessly, yet without sacrificing individuality or uniqueness. They don’t all become the same. Instead, they each bring their own gift for the benefit of the entire body. It’s much the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are fully individuals, with personal likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. You will like some of them, others not so much. In cooperating toward a common goal, they lose none of what makes them unique, but they know how to cooperate. They carry on free from the endless divisiveness that characterizes the world today. It’s a very appealing aspect of Witness society that newcomers recognize quickly. Not like Landru at all.

 

If kids are running the show today in the greater world, should they be condemned for it? What choice do they have? Adults have abused or abandoned altogether their role – somebody has to grab the wheel. We have a world today in which the younger generation has no meaningful connection with the old. But it’s not to happen on Sam Herd’s watch, not among anyone respecting what he stands for. At a minimum, eight million (the current worldwide population of Jehovah’s Witnesses) do. Their young will not cut off their old because their old have not cut off their young. If the older generation of this world has found few worthwhile solutions to pass along to their young, that is not the case with Jehovah’s earthly organization. Their old will pass on valuable lessons, history, and yes – wisdom, to their young. They will deliver, as in Psalm 78:2-7:

 

I will open my mouth in a proverb. I will propound riddles of long ago.

The things we have heard and know, which our fathers have related to us,

We will not hide from our sons; we will relate to the generation to come

the praiseworthy deeds of Jehovah and his strength, the wonderful thing he has done.

He established a reminder in Jacob and set a law in Israel;

he commanded our forefathers to make these things known to their children,

So that the next generation, the children yet to be born, might know them.

They in turn would relate them to their children.

Then these would put their confidence in God.

They would not forget God’s works but would observe his commandments.

 

Yes, we older ones (alas – I am getting up there!) must pass along our wisdom to the young. They have inherited a basket case of a world. They’ll need our help. We’ll have to keep that in mind as we proceed.

But what if you’re at a meeting and you don’t feel like conveying any wisdom? – “Well, then just sit there and look happy!” Sam Herd says.

 

back

CHAPTER 3 – TOM IRREGARDLESS

Larry Lameduck is giving the public talk today. Good. I like Larry and he is an excellent speaker. Why should it be someone for whom I repeatedly have to say: ‘well – I know what he means?’ More to the point, I have invited my Bible student Ted Putsch this morning. It will be his first meeting! I could weather through anything were it not for him, but when someone new attends you hear everything through his or her ears.

I met Ted at the Kingdom Hall door and showed him around. I let him peer into the coatroom and the library with its great books. He mentioned he saw no images, crosses, halos or anything. “Yeah – we don’t do that here,” I said. I introduced him to Tom Brexit, Wayne and Wendy Whitepebble, and very briefly to Tom Pearlsnswine, before scurrying him away. Ted seemed at ease. So far, so good. But before being seated, Bill Ding whispered that Larry Lameduck wasn’t coming. He was home in bed with a bad case of VIP syndrome.

Sometimes when there is an illness, the other congregation will send a substitute, but in this case they’ve said: ‘you’re on your own’ – you have more speakers than we do, anyway. Well – it shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe Tom Brexit will speak; he’s very good. We took our seats, Ted by my side. Sam Sheepngoats is also very capable. Heaven help you if Oscar Oxgoad gets his hands on a science talk, but he doesn’t seem to be here today. Good. Wayne Whitepebble, on the other hand, is very skilled with illustrus…. OH NO!! – it’s Tom Irregardless! My heart sunk to my toes and rolled down the aisle. Why do the brothers hate my Bible student? This is going to be a disaster!

It does happen, I know that – people get sick, but why does it have to happen when Ted Putsch is attending his first meeting? Ted’s a student at the university, majoring in revolving governments. I had so hoped to make a good impression. I quickly prayed to God, who answers all prayers. But sometimes the answer is no.

 

Tom Irregardless has come far from his speaking debacle years ago back there in the school, but considering that debacle, 1000 miles is not far enough. We were doing the series of talks from the Bible encyclopedia and Tom had drawn ‘menstrual cycle’ as his topic. He plodded along until he came to the term, only to find he had forgotten it. He hadn’t forgotten the concept, naturally, but he could recall only earthier terms that might not be suitable for the platform. Panicking, he thought of ‘ministerial.’ It sounded similar – maybe nobody would notice – and for ten minutes he prattled on about a woman’s ministerial cycle. Of course, he’d left that speaking fiasco far behind him – did anybody recall it except me? – but not far enough.

His real name is not Tom Irregardless, obviously. I have rechristened him that on account of his favorite word. His real name is Howard. Lord knows I’ve tried to get him to drop that word. Years ago, I spoke to another brother who had also been addicted to that word. He told me of how, years before that, kindly Kermit Way had asked him to look the word up in the dictionary. “I never found it,” he told me – and he never used it again. This story did wonders for my heart. I promptly asked Tom Irregardless to look the word up in the dictionary. But much had changed in thirty years. He found the word, and was elated. True, the dictionary labeled the word ‘irregular,’ but that was a qualification far too subtle for Tom Irregardless. He doubled down on his word!

It is a very strange family quirk. His brother Irv used to say it all the time, too – even more than does Tom. He’d say it so often that Bill Ding downloaded an app to keep track. Even so, I did not rejoice when Irv died. In a contemplative mood, I strolled through the cemetery and located his grave marker: “Here lies Irv ‘he was faithful to God’ Irregardless.”

Don’t think that matters improve if you pull Tom from the speaker list altogether and put him somewhere else, like conducting the Watchtower study. He’ll milk that introductory paragraph twelve minutes, especially if the theme has anything to do with the last days. He’ll take comment after comment after comment on how bad conditions are today, and just when they are dying down, he will mention himself that kid that was trampled by the rhinoceros, as if that, too, is a sign of the last days, and he gets the ball rolling all over again! Then he’ll race through the rest of the article, one comment per paragraph, before gushing at the end about how Bethel supplies so much bounteous spiritual food that you almost can’t get through it all.

Bethel knows he should not be asking his supplemental questions. They want him to stop it. They’ve tried to retrain him, but in the end, they acquiesce to Max Planck, realizing that his words on science apply to all areas of life: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Sigh…Tom is only in his fifties. Strangely, though, none of it matters much. The congregation thinks with its heart as much as with its head and its spirituality remains strong.

Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a cottage industry to poke fun at each other’s talks: ‘Brother, when I hear you speak, I marvel at the wisdom of God’s organization in cutting public talks from 45 minutes to 30!’ Brothers and sisters alike love the one about the young brother whose marriage was contingent upon his agreeing never to look into his bride’s little mahogany box. “Everyone needs a little privacy, even in a marriage,” she had said. This brother positively loved public speaking. His enthusiasm for speaking far exceeded anyone’s for listening, and to everyone’s chagrin throughout the circuit, he was a featured speaker constantly. For decades, he kept his promise never to peek inside his wife’s little mahogany box, but one day in a moment of weakness, he did. He saw three eggs and $6000.

His wife was not so perturbed as he had worried she might be; after decades of marriage, much forgiveness has taken place – if he was not everything she had once hoped he would be, he was nonetheless solid, kind and pointed in the right direction. In time, the brother asked her why there were three eggs in her little mahogany box:

“Well,” she replied, “I have kept careful track over the years, and every time you gave a bad talk, I would put an egg into my little mahogany box.” The brother’s head swelled to the size of Mercury – “Forty years in the truth, and only three bad talks!” He asked her why there had been $6000 in her little mahogany box. “That’s all the money I’ve made over the years selling eggs,” she replied.

They were all dogs, every single one of them! Brothers fall over themselves telling this joke, but they will not tell it within 300 yards of Tom Irregardless, because with him it is no joke – it is reality. But he doesn’t know it, and for forty years no one has dared risk hurting his feelings. Why would anybody ever take that risk? In all your days you will never find a more caring, generous person than Tom Irregardless. If you need help he is there. You can pop in at the Irregardless home anytime; they are delighted to see you. They don’t wonder why you didn’t call first. Tom is an excellent man through and through, but only in Jehovah’s organization would he be a public instructor.

 

The meeting began with song 64, ‘Make the Truth Your Own,’ the very song Bethel had to change because Pearl Pearlsnswine kept butchering it. The final note of each verse was once a high-pitched blast that nobody except Pearl could hit, so all voices petered out just as hers was gathering strength. She couldn’t hit it either, but just try telling her that! She attacked that note, held it captive for so long, and mangled it so spectacularly off-key, that echoes of her braying lingered ten minutes into the talk. Worse, you knew the note was coming – you knew it! The snickering began well before the moment arrived. So Bethel changed the note to some bland thing that any water buffalo can master. What choice did they have?

Sam Sheepngoats said the opening prayer and I added a silent addendum. Like a shot, Tom Irregardless launched into his talk, sprinkling his favorite word everywhere; after seventeen I lost count. I slid down in my chair and snuck furtive glances at Ted Putsch. Of course, the Watchtower study afterward was good and I commented a few times, but Watchtower studies can go over the heads of new people, who are apt to complain about their length and their repetitiveness: ‘Why do they have to read every paragraph? It’s right there in black and white!’ not yet realizing that the articles are as much bases for congregation discussion as they are literature.

After the meeting, I swung into damage control mode, but Ted was chatting amiably with different congregation members. He even exchanged a few pleasantries with Tom Irregardless.

 

The subject of Tom as a public speaker came up during my return visit on Bernard Strawman. I had brought Tom Irregardless along the week previous, and I thought I saw Mr. Strawman wince when he used his word. A week later, I saw that I had not been mistaken. “You mean a man who says ‘irregardless’ is allowed to represent your organization speaking door to door before educated people?” he asked. (I didn’t tell him about the public speaking) He dug in his heels on this point like he digs in his heels on every point. But it all hinges upon one’s definition of education.

Bernard Strawman loves higher education and he’s very critical of Jehovah’s Witnesses because I once let slip that not many go to college: “He wouldn’t say ‘irregardless’ if he had some education!” he told me. Nothing is better than a well-rounded liberal arts education as a starting foundation for life, Mr. Strawman says.

I’d be more impressed with that education if it bore fruit. Those who run the planet, in politics, business, or society, are well-educated almost to the person. The world is not run by commoners. It is rare to find someone in leadership position who has not had four years of higher education at a bare minimum, usually more. One would think the world they’ve collectively built would benefit from that education. Not a bit of it! It is an unjust, violent, chaotic mess – a poor return for their brilliance.

“Nobody educates its subjects better than the Kingdom,” says Bill Samuelson of Bethel, pointing to several schools available to full-time ministers. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not ignore education, but they do redefine it. Whereas the world’s education emphasizes intellect and soft-pedals moral values, Bible education does just the opposite. Its educational focus is on overcoming greed, pride and selfishness. It is mental brilliance – the focus of the world’s education – that is assumed able to take care of itself as needed. Jehovah’s earthly organization focuses on moral qualities, and not intellect. Jehovah’s Witnesses are noted for worldwide unity. They’ve learned to yield to one another. Their Bible-based education is the reason.

Nobody sends their sons or daughters to the university in hopes they will learn love, fairness, justice, or selflessness. Nobody imagines that to be the purpose of this world’s higher education. In the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, those qualities are the purpose of their education. Brilliance is outsourced. When it is needed, it is not hard to find someone who has it, or someone who can develop it.

 

Each time college tries its hand at ethics or morals they are caught flatfooted, for they have stepped outside their comfort zone. After the greedy people brought down Enron in 2001, savaging pensions and the lives dependent upon them, business education courses slapped a quick coat of ethics onto their lesson plans. That this was no more than a quick coat became apparent seven years later when other greedy people nearly brought down the worldwide economic system, triggering its greatest setback since the Great Depression.

As chance would have it, I took a business course during that year of rediscovered ethics. Our text had a newly inserted ethics chapter stuffed with banalities about looking deep within yourself, listening to your inner voice, and so forth. The subject was distilled into four main points. Points three and four were ridiculous enough to sear permanently into my memory:

 

3. does this or that prospective decision make you feel good about yourself? and

4. can you live with your decision?

 

You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s it?! The terrorists en route to level the World Trade Center felt real good about themselves. Strictly speaking, though, they were not able to live with their decision.

Is it all internal? Are qualities of ethics and morality to be found by looking ‘deep within ourselves?’ Put another way, are humans ‘naturally’ good or do they need some corralling? The question has long occupied philosophers, but in recent decades it has become dogma that ‘naturally good’ is how we are to view matters. Thus, ‘looking deep within oneself’ is the cure-all for any ill, though poor communication time and again spoils our good intentions, so we can’t have any of that. And if we’re naturally good, there certainly is no need for restrictions, which accounts for the contemporary loathing for any agency that would even suggest them, much less attempt to impose them.

All of this is not to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses take the opposite view, that humans are naturally bad. We are created in God’s image, after all, and those good qualities of ethics resonate deep within us. But we are also flawed, victims of inherited sin, inclined to do wrong despite our best intentions otherwise. We benefit, therefore, from counsel from a higher source, and who is more qualified than our Maker? Who is more qualified to direct you in the care of your new Ford than Ford?

This helps to explain the Witness attitude toward higher education, and why we don’t push our kids to pursue it. Believe me when I tell you that we take a lot of heat for it. For all practical purposes, our view is heresy to a world that worships the god of higher education and presents him as the surefire cure for nearly anything. But that ‘naturally good’ philosophy permeates higher education and taints everything it turns out.

“Yes, well…perhaps the world experiences trials not because so many leaders have a secular education,” Bernard Strawman pointed out, taking a sip of his cognac, “perhaps it’s because so many of them are selfish or greedy, or some other factor.”

“Exactly my point!” Sam Sheepngoats (I had brought him along on the call) responded. “So why should not education address those factors – which would also include belligerence, lack of love, pride, and so forth? Instead, the focus is exclusively on intellect, with the apparent assumption that those other qualities will take care of themselves. As history shows, they don’t. Frankly, if people are hateful, selfish, and greedy, you’re better off not educating them. They can do less damage that way. If plumbers and janitors had run the worldwide financial system, they might have found a way to beat the taxpayers out of a day’s wage. Instead, it was MBAs who ran it, and they found a way to bring financial ruin upon the whole world.” This point temporarily registered with Mr. Strawman, whose portfolio had taken a huge hit, but he quickly shrugged it off.

Or maybe they didn’t find a way. Maybe they just got too smug, and a way found them. A highlight of Michael Moore’s film ‘I Love Capitalism’ is his interviews with economic experts who trip over their tongues trying to analyze what went wrong in 2007. Perhaps the analogy that better conforms to reality is that of your kids playing with explosives:

What’s the problem, Pop? Chill. We know what we’re doing. Besides, we’re doing very well for ourselves.

 

A questioner might well suppose that the entire purpose of the meltdown was to chastise Alan Greenspan. As head of the Federal Reserve for 19 years prior to the 2007 economic collapse, did he not, per Ricky Ricardo, have a lot of ‘splainin to do? He attempted it before Congress:

We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century credit tsunami. Central banks and governments are being required to take unprecedented measures. You, importantly, represent those on whose behalf economic policy is made, those who are feeling the brunt of the crisis in their workplaces and homes. I hope to address their concerns today.

This is the same Alan Greenspan whose voice to the financial community was once as that of God. As chairman of the Reserve, he’d issue statements regularly about interest rate policy. He’d make the statements incomprehensible; it was almost a game. He’d rehearse them in his head. If they could be understood, he’d rework them. Finance people would strain to discern his real intent, but of course, the task was impossible by design. Far from becoming fed up with such obscuration, they took it all for brilliance! Whereas any street person would instantly recognize a con, the bankers hailed it all as wisdom from on high.

Mr. Greenspan’s successor, Ben Bernanke, left to clean up the mess, was more straightforward in his speech. Mr. Greenspan himself became that way addressing Congress. He dropped the smart-alecky double talk. His words were clear. And not pretty:

Given the financial damage to date, I cannot see how we can avoid a significant rise in layoffs and unemployment. Fearful American households are attempting to adjust, as best they can, to a rapid contraction in credit availability, threats to retirement funds, and increased job insecurity. All of this implies a marked retrenchment of consumer spending as households try to divert an increasing part of their incomes to replenish depleted assets, not only in 401Ks, but in the value of their homes as well.

No more smug cuteness, building indecipherable word castles. For, alas, “those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself particularly) are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

Mr. Greenspan went on to discuss what had triggered the collapse:

In recent decades, a vast risk management and pricing system has evolved, combining the best insights of mathematicians and finance experts supported by major advances in computer and communications technology. A Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the pricing model that underpins much of the advance in derivatives markets. This modern risk management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year because the data inputted into the risk management models generally covered only the past two decades, a period of euphoria.

Note the absolute failure of the best and the brightest, the cream of the crop of human experts. A Nobel Prize was even awarded for the economic model that would ruin everybody!

“Not everybody, Tom,” Mr. Strawman observed. “My portfolio recovered. I held on.” True enough: When Bob Pittance saw his net worth chopped in half, he panicked and sold all his holdings – ‘half is better than nothing.’ When Billy Banks saw his net worth chopped in half, he said: “well, I guess if I have to, I can live on a half billion,” and snapped up Bob’s fire sale stocks. (and boasted about it afterward!) With wealth transfer complete, it was ‘pedal to the medal!’

Mr. Greenspan’s final statement is breathtaking for its admission of stupidity: nobody thought to test the model outside of party time – “a period of euphoria.” Nobody thought the real world might differ from the party world. Isn’t there some scripture somewhere about how you can’t trust nobles as far as you can spit?

As with the opioids that killed Prince, there is a fatal flaw – a flaw that would instantly be spotted by any commoner were the scoundrels not so deliberately intent upon muddying the waters for reasons of greed. The opioid company wanted a grand slam with their new drug. The finance people wanted to party on with other people’s money. They should have had Bible education but they had only the world’s university education.

Does this again not validate how Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t bow and scrape and slobber over today’s higher education? They use the world’s education system to acquire skills necessary to make a living. But as for acquiring wisdom from that source, they’re not keen on it. Within our congregations, we defer to training which addresses the more important moral concerns. For us, that goal is achieved in the context of Bible education.

“Bible education?!” Bernard Strawman said, aghast. For a moment, I thought he’d choke on his cognac. “Bible education? Are you saying that Bible education can substitute for the richness of ideas encountered in a four-year college education?” “Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Sam replied, “though ‘substitute’ may be too weak of a word. A Bible education is far superior to anything your college education has to offer.”

 

“Yeah, you just don’t want your religious views subjected to critical analysis,” Mickey Meme muttered at me through my computer screen. Well – yeah, I suppose. I mean, nobody wants their heartfelt beliefs automatically trashed. But the reason they are trashed today is one of philosophy, and has little to do with ‘critical analysis.’ Our beliefs run contrary to the ‘man is naturally good’ mantra of modern times. They run contrary to other firmly entrenched mantras as well: that humans have the answers, that this system of things will endure forever, and that God is no more than a thought product of human evolution.

Look out that no one takes you captive by means of the philosophy and empty deception according to human tradition according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ… (Colossians 2:8)

Jehovah’s Witnesses take those words seriously.

Repeat anything often enough with enough vehemence, and it eventually sinks in. Alas, it would be nice if we were not built that way, but we are. Thus, some god-awful hideous style emerges and within a few years we’re all wearing it, thinking how cool we look, and wondering how we ever could have imagined those dorky styles of yesteryear did anything for us. Even I am almost at the beginning of perhaps tolerating, within sharply drawn narrow limits, certain forms of rap: a prospect I find frightening indeed. If only our instinct to follow the herd applied solely to trivial matters such as styles of dress. It is so tempting, it is so intellectually flattering, to think that is so. We love to think that styles and fads are one thing, but when it comes to important matters, our razor-sharp intellect kicks in and we assess matters for their true worth. Sigh – it is so flattering, but it is so much nonsense. We run with the herd in matters small and great. And these days the herd, with higher education at the controls, is running along a track Christians don’t want to travel. Witnesses aren’t in a hurry to throw inexperienced kids into the path of that train.

 

In 2010, Wayne Whitepebble’s first son, Willie, went to the university. He didn’t really want to go, and probably would not have were it not for his dad. Wayne had come up the hard way financially. Why should his son do the same? The lad was bright and landed a scholarship. He took the path of least resistance.

“You’ve got to get me out of here!” the young man cried during the first week of school. “There’s naked women running around here!” Well, they weren’t exactly naked – or maybe some of them were. They certainly were naked compared to anything Willie was used to. “Deal with it,” Wayne Whitepebble replied. “You’re staying.” He wasn’t worried for his son spiritually. Hadn’t Willie had a fine moral upbringing? Hadn’t the family visited the local Kingdom Hall to introduce him around? Hadn’t Wayne asked the local elders to keep an eye on his son? During the first few weeks of class, an elder did try to visit Willie, but never found him in.

In time, Willie met someone he liked a lot. He went further with her than he had ever imagined he would. Thoroughly upended, he grappled with his thoughts and feelings, and then went further still. During those weeks, he attended two meetings at the new Kingdom Hall. How strange that he had once felt so attached there. Nobody there had a clue as to the challenges and pressures of his current life, much less the broadened horizons he was beginning to envision.

College life with Madison was an entirely new experience. Living in the dorms, darting to the stately buildings for classes, crossing paths with fellow students, speaking with professors – what a new world this was. There was much more to life than he had ever dreamed. There were, however, bumps along the way. Madison had been initially intrigued at his spiritual take on matters, but he soon came to realize that he had been raised 180 degrees out of sync with this new world, and he began to resent it. He’d been ill-prepared for life! Classmates moved about seamlessly where he was most awkward. To think his religion had had him believing in Adam and Eve! He’d spoken of those two once, and had never done it again.

His fellow students marched to protest injustice. What a difference he and Madison could make! There were real injustices. Yes, he’d learned about injustices back at the Kingdom Hall, too, but somehow it wasn’t the same. And to think that Tom Irregardless, when confronted with some news report he didn’t understand, which was almost anything, would dismiss it all with ‘it just goes to show we need the Kingdom!’ How long had he been saying that? There were injustices in the world that an enlightened person could do something about now, not just in some fairy tale ‘new system.’

In time, the atheists came along. ‘How could there be a God with all the obscene things going on today? What God could allow it?’ If there was a God, he would have fixed things long ago! Actually, wasn’t religion at the root of injustice? Even his former one – even that one was guilty for plodding along with blinders, ignoring real problems, pushing everything onto the ‘new system.’ When Wayne Whitepebble saw his boy a half year later, he barely knew him. How could those elders in the local congregation have been so negligent?

 

I was saddened to hear of it. I had worked in the ministry once with Willie when he was seven. At the doors, I had introduced him, same as I once had with my kids – “Hi, I’m Tom and this is my friend Willie. We’re taking turns talking and…it’s his turn.” The boy would launch into his presentation. The householder might look at me expectantly, and I’d say: “sorry, it’s his turn.” As long as he was comfortable, it remained his turn.

Presently he had decided he did not want to be introduced – just as my kids had decided. After all, the introduction was really for my sake, not his. Show up at the door with a waist high child, and it is the child who starts speaking? The householder looks at you as if to say: “what about it, dummy – cat got your tongue?”

“Tell you what,” I said. “Not only will I not introduce you, but you can introduce me. Or you can take every door.” And that’s how it had gone. He took every door except one or two awkward ones which I handled. When a householder would look toward me, I would apologize and explain that I was far too bashful to speak. So I was sorry to see Willie go. Perhaps I’ll see him again – I’d like that – but I’m not too sure it will happen.

 

Forty years before Willie, it was other young people, acting in innocence and sheer good will, who helped forge relations between China and the United States – nations not before on speaking terms. Conscious of American attitudes thawing in the early 1970’s and looking for an appropriate response, neither too cool nor too cloying, China invited over the American table tennis team; they were right next door in Japan at the time. Mao Zedong made the decision himself. As he termed it, the small ping pong ball could be used to move the ball of the earth. Zhou Enlai, Mao’s second-in-command, ordered the Chinese team to let the Americans win some games, which were televised live.

One of the American youngsters, Glenn Cowan, was a hippy. Toward the end of the tournament a Chinese player unexpectedly presented him a silk brocade scarf. The team leader panicked at this unauthorized contact, but the player brushed him aside. “Take it easy. As head of the delegation you have many concerns, but I am just a player.” Mao heard of the incident and said: “Zhuang Zedong not only plays good ping-pong but knows how to conduct diplomacy as well.”

During a reception at the tournament’s end, Zhou entertained questions from the foreigners. “What do you think about the hippy movement?” the unselfconscious Cowan asked. Zhou didn’t know much about it but suggested it was restless youth looking for change and not sure how to bring it about, much as things had been in his day. The hippy movement runs very deep, the American youngster countered: “It’s a whole new way of thinking!” But Zhou suggested that “spirit must be transformed into material force before the world can move ahead.” The boy’s mother reportedly sent Zhou flowers for educating her son.

“Restless youth looking for change and not sure how to bring it about.” It has always been that way. But the “spirit must be transformed into material force before the world can move ahead.” Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain there is no finer a role for a young person’s spirit than to work for Kingdom interests. Haven’t they poured their spirit long enough into the ever-open maw of an unresponsive system of things?

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses are ministers. Not ministers in the modern sense, in which you pay your money, go to seminary college, pocket your degree, and pound the pavements till you are hired by a church to head their congregation. No, we are ministers in the first-century biblical sense, in which every Christian is a minister and has a ministry. It’s not a job and one doesn’t get paid – none of Jehovah’s Witnesses at any level do – so it’s generally necessary to work so as to support oneself decently. But when we do that, it is our goal to streamline. We don’t seek out work so engrossing, so demanding, that we cannot do justice to our ministry. We don’t go building a career in this system, a not-so-subtle goal of higher education. This system of things is transitory.

Contrast this world’s higher education with its ‘lower education.’ “In times of crisis, great nations have always turned to folk heroes.” So writes Joe Queenan in the Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2011) and then waxes nostalgic over folk heroes like Daniel Boone and Joan of Arc. Then he observes that America is in a time of crisis right now, but…well…there just isn’t much to choose from for folk heroes, is there? Oprah? Lady Gaga? Let’s face it: the pool is not very deep. “Frankly, things being the way they are today,” he continues, “I’d settle for the guy in the Ford commercial.”

And why not? The guy in the Ford commercial was Mike Rowe. He was the host of ‘Dirty Jobs,’ a Discovery Channel TV show inspired by his grandfather, who “could fix or build anything.” Mr. Rowe testified before Congress in May of 2011, speaking in behalf of dirty jobs:

We’ve elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled ‘alternative.’ Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of ‘shovel ready’ jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a country where newly graduated youngsters fret over unemployment, it’s not happening for Mike Rowe’s folk. He speaks of:

450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

Contrast his words with the mainstream counsel now prevailing: ‘go to college.’ It even shows up in the board game Life: choose the business road over the college one and you’ll pay for it till the end of the game. Higher education is the path to successful happy living! Only losers don’t choose it. Need to borrow money? Doesn’t matter – do it! Need to borrow a lot of money? Look, don’t argue – do it! You’re investing in yourself! You’ll thank me for it someday.

But we’re seeing reports everywhere these days: new graduates are not thanking those that shoved them into college. Are they cursing them instead? Some are. They’re graduating with tens of thousands of dollars of debt into a country with few job openings. Meanwhile, those in skilled labor have openings galore, having trained for them more economically, sometimes without any cost at all. Suzie Ormond interviewed one of those debt-laden graduates on her TV show. He’d borrowed to go through college, but upon graduation there were no jobs, so – “don’t tell me,” Suzie says, “you went back to grad school.” Yes! He had! That’s what society had told him to do! Invest more in himself! Upon hearing the total sum of his debt, Suzie sent him off with advice to enjoy life as best he could, much as you might advise someone with terminal cancer.

“Everybody told you,” said Anya Kamenetz on the PBS News Hour, “that BA degree recipients earn a million more over a lifetime than those people who merely have a high school diploma…so it’s good debt, it’s an investment in yourself…that was the conventional wisdom for a really long time.” Averages, however, “are a funny thing, because they don’t necessarily apply to anyone.”

The remarkable thing about student debt is that you cannot (as of 2016) get out of it. Even through bankruptcy. Debt from virtually every other source can be discharged – if you blew your money on gambling, say, or drugs, or just living high – but not that incurred by listening to the education experts. It’s incredible! Talk about a world that devours it’s young! Didn’t the older generation once watch out for the younger generation? Ask a Millennial why suicides are so frequent among them, but be prepared to hear it’s because they know they have been sold down the river by the prior generation. For decades, we have heard the caution that ‘we are putting such and such upon the backs of our children and grandchildren, who will have to pay the price.’ Our children and grandchildren are grown up now. They are struggling to pay the price of a bill they did not run up, and many of them are buckling under the weight.

In this light, the Witness organization does not look too bad for the advice they have long offered to their young people. When they weigh in on education, it is to defy the conventional wisdom and encourage youngsters to look at Mike Rowe’s apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities, plus technical degrees, certificate courses, and the like. If you have an interest in law become a paralegal, says Phillip Brumley from Bethel, himself a lawyer. You can pioneer that way, but as a lawyer probably not. Do not think it is easy to defy conventional wisdom; you should hear the flak Witnesses take for it! Nonetheless, I remember talking with David early one morning cleaning a nightspot called Greenstreets. As morning commuters drove past outside, he said: “the way I look at it, they’re paying to wear that tie.” He was making more dough than were they.

Mr. Brumley’s encounter with law school was detrimental to his personality, he says. He graduated cum laude. Bethel had said ‘we need a few lawyers,’ and had put him through school, but he had began to walk with feet not quite touching ground, so that his wife had said: ‘you’re not the same person anymore.’ They had indoctrinated him with propaganda about how he, as a member of the legal profession, would become one of the very guardians and shapers of civilization based upon law – it all went to his head and took a while to get out. But maybe it was just him. He had worked in the carpentry shop up till that time. Maybe he just came from the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe he was like the new employee who must sit through interminable drivel about how ‘our employees are our greatest asset.’ Seasoned people know it’s all hogwash. They know one can go from greatest asset to persona non-grata in a heartbeat. But the newbie from the hills drinks it all in and imagines his new employer is his best friend in the whole wide world.

Laurence Kotlikoff, professor of economics at Boston University, agrees with a recent Princeton University study that an expensive education just isn’t worth it:

If you think of education as solely a monetary investment, if we are not thinking about all the other benefits from education like learning things, and getting to hang out with me, and also just becoming a more cultured person, then we have to look at this very carefully.

Now, to be sure, the Witness organization’s reservations about college are not the same as Professor Kotlikoff’s. That is, they are not primarily about dollars and cents. They are more about “getting to hang out with [him], and also just becoming a more cultured person.” Not he himself, of course. Frankly, I’d love to hang out with him. It is the people he represents who dominate campus life: people who are inclined to think humans have the answers, who denigrate faith, who think the purpose of life is to absorb culture, or to consume, or who even think there is no purpose, people who are inclined to overstress the value of being a “more cultured person,” whereas the apostle Paul would be apt to dismiss it all as “refuse” (Philippians 3:8) and mention, more than in passing, that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) So why hang out with guys like that unless it is truly necessary?

Consumer Reports (May 2012) tells of a web designer who likens his student debt, about $59,000, to “a prison sentence.” It interferes with his buying a home. It prevents him saving for retirement. The debt “just grew and grew and grew,” he says, “and I’m saddled with it unless I make twice as much as I’m making.” He earned his master’s degree 18 years ago, when education was cheaper. He’s not unhappy with his career choices but surely he must wonder sometimes whether it was worth it, having used the words “prison sentence.” He’s consigned to paying off debt for a long, long time. His freedom of movement is curtailed, not augmented, as he doubtless thought would be the case. And to think that I know of two young people making their living in web design without any college whatsoever; they just dove into it as a lifelong interest. Surely it’s in the interest of the education industry to suggest that learning only takes place in college. That doesn’t mean it’s so.

One might also consider that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs forsook college to pursue their true goals; how did that work out for them? Charlie Rose, who never earned a journalism degree, though he did go to college, was savaged by a university professor who taught journalism. Charlie, it seems, had declined to maul Mitch McConnell when he had the chance. The professor’s furious that Charlie failed to act as his personal attack dog. But just let Charlie maul one of his political chums and see what happens! Get off your rear end and interview Mitch McConnell yourself if you think it’s so critical rather than lolling around in cushy academia ‘teaching journalism!’ Who said it needs to be taught, anyway? All I require in a journalist is for someone to stand in a spot where I cannot be because my wife is making me mow the lawn and tell me what’s happening over there. It requires college to do that? It’s only after a reporter earns a ‘journalism degree’ that he or she becomes an attack dog for the professor.

College educated people dreamt up the notion of ‘multi-tasking’ and that meme has driven business ever since. In recent years, other college educated researchers have advised pulling back. It turns out that we can’t really multi-task; we can only do two things poorly. Nobody without college was ever in any doubt over that point.

For the most part, college serves today so as to grant admittance to a high-priced job market it itself has created. It doesn’t produce experts. It doesn’t produce critical thinking. In some cases, it impedes both, shutting out capable ones who have defied the herd and not leapt superfluous hurdles. Not to mention that it fuels a massive education industry.

 

A major, if judged solely by verbiage, news story broke on one fine summer day in 2016. “Studies show flossing likely a waste of time,” reported Newser breathlessly. A dozen other outlets said the same. Considering the boldness of the headline, surely a definitive twenty-year study had been done comparing flossers with non-flossers! Not a bit of it! The truth was that someone had just noticed that studies used to recommend flossing were half-baked. They are just quick little jobs with too few people and too short time frames designed to push product out the door and onto the marketplace. Doubtless the floss makers assumed that common sense would pave their way. It did, until the devotees of scientific rigor intervened:

“For many, taking the time to floss every day is a bother. But for dentists, taking the time to properly research flossing over the course of a century is apparently even more inconvenient,” revealed one source, as though it had uncovered a plot to poison Pennsylvania. “This stain on the dental profession was cracked wide open last year when the Associated Press asked federal agencies for the data behind its recommendation that Americans floss. After the AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests, the government admitted that it didn’t have adequate data to back the recommendation—something it is required to have by law,” said another.

So now the public is left to believe that flossing has been scientifically invalidated, when actually it has just not jumped all the hurdles demanded by scientific rigor. “But it doesn’t make sense that it doesn’t work,” objects Gayle King on CBS This Morning. “And now my kids are saying: ‘but the report says I don’t have to,’” says her colleague Nora O’Donnell. “Well, I still think it works,” says Gayle, “and I have no dental training.”

Imagine: hundreds of educated experts spend millions of dollars to collectively convince Nora O’Donnell’s kid that he doesn’t have to floss! Pity poor Gayle King. She doesn’t buy it. She knows intuitively the report is hogwash. She smells a rat somewhere, but she cannot find it. She ought not pass along this rubbish unchallenged; she is a member of the news media, after all. America is depending upon her. But she has a stack of stories to get through. Ah, well – a long line of inept handlers have come before her – what’s one more? “In other news…” she begins, and the teeth of the next generation rot in their holders’ heads for want of maintenance.

No, a definitive twenty-year study had not been done comparing flossers with non-flossers, and it will not be done, even though nothing less will satisfy the god of scientific rigor. It is considered unethical to assign one group the manifestly unhealthy regimen in any trial. One should sacrifice one’s teeth to the god of scientific rigor? He’s no less of a yoyo than any of his cohorts. “It’s my way or the highway,” he sings and struts before his fellow gods. Let him throw his own teeth into the pot and then maybe we can talk.

 

Thus, even on its central promise – to promote critical thinking and uncover truth – college has not delivered. It sometimes delivers individually, but never collectively – and collectively is all that counts for the good of society. Whatever conclusion on flossing, or weightier matters, that the experts come to is lost in a muddle of miscommunication, turf wars, and discoordination. Such a fiasco would never occur in Jehovah’s organization. Everything remains under one cooperative roof, and contradictory reports are readily reconciled.

 

‘Do you like what you find out there, Victor?’ Who would think it possible to screw up something so straightforward as flossing? ‘Does it tarnish even a little your ecstasy at forging into a place where no one can tell you what to do?’

 

When a university awards an ‘honorary degree’ to some accomplished person, don’t miss for a second the benefit to the university. It is an attempt to keep itself relevant, and to suggest to later generations, who aren’t paying overly close attention, that the latter one’s success is due to his education – ‘Ah, no wonder Steve Jobs hit it so big: he has a degree from Bulldog U!’

In contrast, Dave McClure, the old circuit overseer, without any college whatsoever, reflected on where life had taken him. Some of his old school mates, who used to beat him up, might consider him a failure, he said, but he wasn’t sure why. He’d been to more places than they, had done more things, had met more people, had certainly met with more variety in people. It is all in what you value.

“The skills gap is a reflection of what we value,” Mike Rowe told Congress. “In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber, if you can find one, is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.”

Nobody’s listening to Mike Rowe. Not many, at any rate. A high school’s success is still measured by the percentage it sends to college. Unless your grades are dismal, just try telling your guidance counselor that you plan to bypass college. Just try it, and see what happens. It’s only losers that go Mike Rowe’s way.

 

The world’s education model focuses on mental training. Moral qualities are outsourced, for graduates to acquire as they see fit. Many of them never do. In contrast, Bible education focuses on moral qualities. Smarts are outsourced as needed. The models are precisely opposite. Ours is consistent with the God who is ‘searching hearts’ and not heads. But is it practicable to outsource smarts as needed?

In 1922, the Watchtower organization decided to do their own printing; they had hired it out up to that time. But wartime printing rates were sky-high. Why pay them? Why get gouged because the whole civilized world was at war? ‘We’ll do it ourselves.’ Robert Martin of Bethel declared it:

a breathtaking idea, because it meant the opening of a complete typesetting, electroplating, printing and binding plant, with the operation of more than a score of unfamiliar machines, mostly machines we never knew were made, and the necessity of learning more than a dozen trades. But it seemed the best way to meet the war prices charged for books…One of the great printing establishments which had been doing much of our work heard what we were doing and came, in the person of the president, to visit us. He saw the new equipment and sagely remarked, ‘Here you are with a first-class printing establishment on your hands, and nobody around the place knows a thing about what to do with it. In six months the whole thing will be a lot of junk; and you will find out that the people to do your printing are those that have always done it, and make it their business.’

That sounded logical enough, Martin recalled, but didn’t it underemphasize reliance on God? When the bindery was started, [Bethel] found a brother who had spent his whole life in the printing business…it was not long before we were making books.

They emphasized, back then, ‘reliance on God.’ It wasn’t a platitude, for all in the organization were educated to do just that. It might never have happened in a purely commercial setting, where workers jealously guard accumulated knowledge, and it is not so easy for leadership to recognize talent from within the ranks.

Fast forward a hundred years to find a parallel. JW.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is the most widely translated website on earth today. This should not be surprising. If you are serious about proclaiming ‘this good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth,’ (Matthew 24:14) then naturally, you will have such a site. I’m critical of those who don’t; when your car needs repair, do you take it to the shop that has equipped itself with every modern tool? Or do you go to the shop content to operate with hammer, vice grips, WD-40, and duct tape? The extent of jw.org’s translating is amazing – it includes more than 800 languages. If you add Google to Apple to Wikipedia, you will still not come close to the number of translations of jw.org. Somewhere online is the Google icon proudly boasting that it is in a few dozen languages. ‘How cute,’ responds the JW icon.

Tomedes.com calls the accomplishment (July 7, 2015): “a staggering feat of coordinated translation…the work that goes into producing a consistent translation on this sort of scale is indeed mind-boggling!” Imagine if they knew that those behind the feat rarely have more than basic high school education; their specialized knowledge has been acquired a la carte.

Regardless of venue, the model of seeking intellect on an as-needed basis, works. Dr. Gene Hwang is a professor emeritus at Cornell University. He was, for years, among the most published authorities on statistics. His work provides mathematical support for scientists who study gene function. Dr. Hwang became a Witness in the late 1990’s and associated for a time with the nearby Ithaca Congregation. Although my wife and I visit Ithaca frequently (the terrain is spectacular) I have never met Dr. Hwang. What I write next I’ve just made up. Okay? I don’t want Dr. Hwang approaching me some fine day saying: ‘Why are you telling lies about me?’ The following is mere fiction.

But it is historical fiction. It will be parallel to the truth. It will be Mark Twain’s take on history: it doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme. For all I know, it is the truth. After many years a Witness, Bethel approaches him: “We’re having a little trouble in our science department,” they say. “We don’t know much about it, but we want to be sure whatever we print is cutting edge. Could you look it over, offer suggestions, and maybe write something yourself?” Today there are two excellent brochures for those who would grapple with questions regarding evolution: ‘The Origin of Life – Five Questions Worth Asking,’ and ‘Was Life Created?’ Not to mention periodic articles in the Watchtower and Awake magazines.

That can be done with just a handful of scientists? Yes. Our scientists don’t squabble. They don’t fight turf wars. They’re not the ones who think of their own careers and who scheme to undermine their rivals. Pretentious ones don’t become Witnesses to begin with. The one who declares we must, above all, “not let a Divine Foot in the door,” stays far away from us and doesn’t muddy the waters. Our scientists are humble and honest hearted, if few. They know how to bring their gift to the altar so that God’s organization is up to speed in an area hardly its line of expertise.

By the way, what kind of a teacher is Gene Hwang? He gets up and down ratings at ratemyprofessors.com, but the one that sticks is: “Although he has a very thick accent, he genuinely likes teaching (a rarity at Cornell) and cares about his students. He makes sure that everyone understands the material.” It’s a description so typical of Jehovah’s Witnesses: he ‘genuinely likes teaching’ and he ‘cares about’ people – a rarity among professors so caught up in their research that students are a distracting nuisance to them. If Dr. Hwang gets any bad ratings, they can be chalked up to ratemyprofessor.com’s bad rep among professors: lazy students have equal say with industrious ones; the only way to appease the former is to award easy A’s. Nonetheless, even those who had trouble with his accent, found him, to the person, a decent human being – again, entirely typical of the faith he represents.

 

If the world does not recognize that its education model focuses too much on smarts, surely it must begin to recognize that it focuses too little on morals. One might suppose business today has shed all pretense of serving, and is unembarrassed to be caught fleecing and manipulating its customers. Makers of critical medicines raise prices several hundred percent in just a few years, one HIV medicine several thousand percent. A mainstream U. S. bank opens two million sham accounts on behalf of its customers, forging signatures to do so, without their knowledge, so as to charge fees on each. ‘Sorry,’ they say when caught, and fire low level employees, (a tenth of their workforce) placing lifelong stains upon their resumes. Several much-hyped drugs are found worthless, and even harmful – we have seen how Prince died in the crossfire of a reckless push to camouflage deadly drugs. Defense companies – they don’t pray for world peace in those boardrooms, do they? – push a model of distrust and regime change, ensuring an ever-expanding market for their wares.

 

Dr. Hugh Caries has practiced dentistry since the time of Jesus. He gives each patient a tiny container of floss that lasts them three minutes. Dozens of reporters descended upon his office. “What proof have you that flossing works?” they demanded. “Before you use it, there is crud between your teeth, and after you use it, there is not,” he replied. “How come it’s not been rigorously proven?” shot back the reporters. “Because to satisfy those donkeys would take a generation of people with rotted teeth.”

Dr. Caries invited reporters to consider the analogy of a barn floor. “When you shovel the shit, it gets cleaner,” he pointed out. The reporters were dubious. One of them said that he had flossed and had still developed a cavity. Dr. Caries said: “You must maneuver floss in an arc pattern to make actual physical contact with the crud. It’s not the same as zip-zip in and out.” But, once again, he provided no evidence. Reporters rolled their eyes. He stoked the controversy further. “Flossing is cheap. I’m expensive.” Reporters didn’t even write this down. They weren’t stupid. He’d offered no proof to back this claim. “Floss regulations should be based on scientific evidence,” one reporter said, to a murmur of approval. “It’s the law!”

It’s a problem common to all pharmaceutical products. Studies to prove efficacy are poorly designed and fraught with potential for researcher bias. Manufacturers don’t want to pussyfoot around forever; they want to get their wares out there. So when the steely trap door of scientific rigor slams shut, does it close upon any high-priced and potentially dangerous drug? Nope. It closes upon flossing and the villains perpetuating that dangerous meme.

Reporters appeared deeply troubled over this lack of scientific support for flossing. They promptly extended it into other areas of life. One declared that he would no longer use toilet paper, since there was absolutely no scientific evidence that it helped.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 4 – THE REGIONAL CONVENTION

 

Cops love to pull duty at the Regional Convention. It’s an easy gig. They plant themselves in the intersection where they wave some brothers on and stop others in their tracks. Everyone greets them or nods good morning. Nobody gives them attitude. It’s a low stress assignment for a cop, and they don’t get that many of them. Thaddeus and the Thugs played last month at the Blue Cross arena, and it took thirty of them in riot gear to break up the scuffles. But at the Regional Convention, 3 or 4 cops will do.

That’s how it is with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They pay into public services proportionately as everyone else, yet draw upon them far less. If you’re a king, load your country up with them – they’re a great bargain. This is especially so if you’re a mean king. (you know who you are) Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t make trouble. They don’t protest or bellyache. Let them have their Regional Conventions, their meetings, let them do their public ministry, and they’re as happy as pigs in mud. They have to ‘declare the good news in all the inhabited earth.’ (Matthew 24:14) Why would anyone want to interfere with that?

If it weren’t for that idiot in the Devil suit, the cops’ job would be even more low-stress. He is usually there among a handful of protestors. Imagine: pretending to be waving your disciples into the auditorium! Say what you will about Jehovah’s Witnesses; you may not care for their house to house visits, but they will never show up on your doorstep in a Devil’s suit.

The protestors make a lot of noise but for the most part are peaceful. To be sure, the police keep an eye on them and have intervened at times. It’s a ridiculous little drama that plays out every year. Thousands of conventioneers pass them by with seldom so much as a glance; they’d love it to be otherwise. They’d love to generate squabbles and skirmishes so as to block the door, but it doesn’t play out that way.

One protester brought her little girl along. In time, the child had to go to the bathroom. “You’ll just have to hold it,” her mother said. The child began to get antsy, the way children do when they have to go to the bathroom. One of our attendants noticed and said she could enter the arena, our Kingdom Hall for the next few days, and use a restroom there. The mother said no! But as the child kept carrying on, a cop said that to refuse her would be child abuse. The woman left her placard with a fellow protester (we didn’t offer to guard it for her – there are limits) and entered the fearsome building with her daughter.

It is a yearly venue for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Regional Conventions. Imagine the uniting effect of an identical program about morals and practical living presented some two hundred times around the globe. It keeps us on the same page, largely immune to what divides greater society: nationality, race, economic and educational differences. It’s not perfect harmony – we Witnesses all know it – but it so closely resembles perfect harmony to a world that knows none of it that they can’t tell the difference.

 

I had invited Nosmo Jones a few days before. I’ve called on him off and on. He’s been to a few meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Nosmo is awkward in pubic. He’s almost invisible. His life is in chaos. He worked for many years at Rochester Shoehorn until they shuttered the factory and moved to Mexico. Afterwards he scrounged around at various odd jobs, no employer being wowed by his resume. His kids give him trouble. He has some self-esteem issues. But there he is three sections over sitting with the Pearlsnswine’s.

All computers enjoy getting Tom Pearlsnswine going. I understand the appeal. I do it myself. If I am returning to the car after a long and productive return visit, I will nonetheless say to Tom Pearlsnswine upon entering: “I can’t believe that person won’t admit that Jesus and Jehovah are different!” I pretend not to notice as he reddens – you should see him! You can almost see the steam coming from his ears: “You kept me waiting an hour to argue the Trinity?!”

Ted Putsch is also attending the convention – he has surprised me with his progress – and he tried to talk Tom through downloading the convention program last night. But at the convention Tom looked grim: “I asked Siri if it was downloaded. She said yes! ‘Are you sure?’ I asked again. Siri said yes. ‘You’re not going to give me any grief tomorrow?’ Siri said no.”

But when I saw Tom that morning, he had already tried to open it. “You did it wrong!” Siri said, and his screen went black. Disgusted, he threw his iPad in the trash and trudged down to get a paper program along with the other dinosaurs.

I fetched his tablet before some youngster could haul it off to Lost and Found. When he returned, I persuaded him to give it another try taking notes. But it didn’t go well. Always inclined to correct people, he began correcting his iPad. Impressed at first with the auto-correct feature, he soon became critical of it for anticipating the wrong word, as though it were not paying attention. Or he’d tap on a word prematurely and record the wrong one. “Just look at this!” he fumed to Nosmo: “teenagers should view their parents as aliens!” and not “teenagers should view their parents as allies” as the speaker had said. But Nosmo’s kids regularly mop up the floor with him, and he spotted no error. Tom threw his iPad in the trash again. This time some youngster hauled it off to Lost and Found before I could get to it.

 

Just as the 1922 organization found someone who knew printing when they needed it, now it has found people who thoroughly understand video. They understand the nuances. They understand restraint. They understand full-throttle. They understand when restraint is full throttle. It’s almost fear-inspiring to see how far they’ve come in so short a time; not long ago, productions were amateurish. Six talks reasoning on the scriptures are presented one morning, each highlighted with a supplemental video. The videos successively follow the same persons, until it dawns upon you that the videos themselves are the main program, and the talks are supplemental!

Years before video, I was assigned one of these talks. I had to find and interview two pillars in the faith – family men of sterling reputation. I selected Howie and Jake. We worked several weeks and ran our interview past the circuit overseer in rehearsal. He was ecstatic: “Oh, my! What a wonderful job! How hard you brothers have worked! This is exactly what the organization is looking for. The hours and hours you must have spent! How wonderful that…” he gushed on and on.

“Only,” I looked up from my humble head nod, “a tiny bit on this point here…I wonder if that could be tweaked just a little, not much. Just a little, to make it line up even more with what the slave is conveying.”

“Sure,” I replied uneasily, “we could adjust that.”

“Yes, I think that will go a little smoother. Everything else you brothers have worked on (you’ve worked so hard!) is fine. Just fine…except…this small bit here…I’m just thinking…we have to consider everyone in the audience…And actually…I wonder if anyone could possibly miss the point of this line. Hmm. Maybe you could…”

By the time he was done there was nothing left! In a situation like this, there is only one thing a brother can say, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother Hartman, for your counsel.” Jake interjected: “What do you mean ‘thank you?’ He messed it all up!” But we worked the part over, and when it was presented at the Convention, it fit better. It was more integrated into the overall theme of the convention.

These days, all such logistics are remedied. Video is pre-recorded and displayed on big screens throughout. It’s the same video at every convention. Every nuance is thereby faithfully conveyed, not filtered through the eyes of the speaker assigned the part, or even the circuit overseer assigned to oversee it. The greater world uses media for reasons seldom more noble than silliness, smut and slander. Jehovah’s organization unleashes its full potential for good.

Saturday’s movie offering was that of a family blindsided by life – completely unexpected calamities befell them out of nowhere for no reason. Three disasters struck, one after another – almost like with Job. It’s wasn’t the Devil. It wasn’t neglect on anyone’s part; their family’s spiritual routines had been solid. No elder showed up with a cure-all verse. No miracles occurred. No false comforter was malicious. Indeed, the situation was unresolved at the end – only their faith has been tested and their outlook adjusted.

One local child couldn’t handle the accident scene because it was so real. She’s seen far worse on commercial entertainment: more killing, very graphic, but it’s all vampires; they deserve whatever they get. Just as in a real automobile crash, this crash came out of nowhere, absolutely without warning. On entertainment video, you’d see that other driver well beforehand, and the music would tell you he was up to no good. You’d see him distracted from his driving, checking his texts. After the accident, as the screen fades from black – something terrible has clearly happened, but what? The camera takes its sweet time tipping its hand to reveal a tragedy beyond what anyone would have imagined. The video can be found on JW Broadcasting: ‘Hope for What We Do Not See.’

In recent years, the tech-savvy young people have even talked Governing Body members and their chums into doing video montages, interspersing laughing clips of themselves with other Kingdom footage. Well…if they think it’s alright, then I guess it is. I’ll get my head around it. But there’s no way I’m going to put up with the commercial TV news team doing the same, as they’ve tried to do. Daily they tell me of mayhem, sleaze, and murder. I’m not going to suffer through a jolly clip of them laughing and frolicking as though enjoying a most pleasant party. If members of the Governing Body laugh and frolic, at least I can console myself that they truly are enjoying a most pleasant party.

People can get crotchety as they get older, I’m told; why should I begrudge anyone laughing and frolicking? I’ll have to keep an eye on that tendency. I’m not as bad as Tom Pearlsnswine, who declared skateboards a sure sign of the decadent last days when he first saw them, (and you should have been there when I told him students matriculate right there on the local college campus!) but I’m getting there.

I brought it all up on a subsequent visit with Bernard Strawman; I told him of all our media use. He had not been able to attend, though I’m sure he had wanted to. “You’re just giving them a free pass because they agree with you,” he said. “It’s confirmation bias,” and he took a sip of his cognac. Is it? Well…maybe. But I get so obnoxious watching television at home, picking at every little thing, that my wife banishes me to another room. It wasn’t at all that way at the convention. Whereas I once had to overlook awkwardness on the grounds that they meant well, nowadays there is no awkwardness to overlook.

On Saturday morning, one sister had to be baptized three times. Her knees kept popping up. I’ve never seen three times before, only two. A poolside attendant gave two thumbs up at the final success. I mentioned it to Nosmo Jones, and he went to track her down for a selfie. We don’t have a lot of celebrities here – we have to make do. But she had vanished into the crowd.

 

All were moved at the program’s end; that closing segment was very powerful. Even Tom Pearlsnswine adjusted, once he got over learning that the new videos were to be released via internet only, and not DVD. “I can see I’m not going to get anything from the Society unless I spend fourteen thousand dollars on computer equipment!” he grumbled. But he’ll be okay. Hannah will help him out, or maybe even Ted Putsch.

Hannah hails from that congregation in the sticks and over the hill. She’s 15 years old. Her congregation is yet behind the curve; there aren’t the friends with tablets like around here. But she’s catching them up fast. She knows where to get the best prices and she helps them get set up. “Hannah!” cries 82-year-old Henry when his screen goes black, especially when he is conducting a meeting part. Hannah scurries up to the platform to bail him out once more: “you have to close the flap when you’re not using it, Brother Hoodwinkle.”

During the entire three days, no collections were taken, just as they never are at the Kingdom Hall. Contribution boxes were located throughout, but the only mention of money was on the printed program:

At considerable cost, arrangements have been made to provide adequate seating, a sound system, video equipment, and many other services that make attending the convention enjoyable and help us to draw closer to Jehovah. Your voluntary contributions help to cover these expenses and also support the worldwide work. For you your convenience, clearly marked contribution boxes are located throughout the facility. All contributions are very much appreciated. The Governing Body wishes to thank you for your generous support of Kingdom interests.

One of the daily announcements was probably that electronic terminals to receive donations were located in a few places – I don’t really recall. It happens at the smaller Circuit Assembly, is it also at the Regional? At any rate, it isn’t in-your-face.

 

There was also Brother Wease, from seven years ago. Brother Wease is not a brother like Brothers Oxgoad, Pearlsnswine, or Brexit. ‘Brother’ is a handle for him. He is the shock jock on a local radio station. His show is crude. But he supports many local causes, and is personally very popular. The first day of the convention he called the news department. Can they send someone he can interview on air? They did. It turns out that Brother Wease had been visited by our people a few weeks ago and he was impressed. His warning that he was the antichrist with no use for religion had not sent our people scampering as he had anticipated. Instead, they stayed, he warmed to them and found things he liked. He gushed about that visit on air. Even some of his on-air cohorts, who are essentially there to interrupt with wise-acre remarks, came around, sort of. “These are my people!” Wease exclaimed. He loved the part about Witnesses not going to war under any circumstances. He got so caught up with the notion of brotherhood, ‘brother this, brother that,’ that he even prattled on about how Jehovah’s Witnesses had stood up to ‘brother Hitler’ during World War II, before catching himself.

Our Brother Kevin returned to his show after the convention. The producers told him that the cohorts would interrupt, but would only go so far. Kevin thanked them for the heads-up, but added that he didn’t really care – bring them on! Playfully goading him on-air about his own course language, Wease asked: “aren’t the real swear words ones like ‘kill,’ ‘rape,’ ‘war?’ The words I use [a lot] are just silly words.” To which our guy replied that since they are silly, we try to avoid them, but he didn’t disagree with Wease’s premise. That second interview was okay, but not so good as the first, as the cohorts managed to giggle away most of Kevin’s remarks.

 

Nosmo Jones, sitting up there with the Pearlsnswines, is an amhaaret. He is one of the ‘people of the dirt.’ So are we all. Sometimes people who leave Jehovah’s Witnesses do so because they want to get away from Nosmo. They don’t want to be with amhaarets. They want to be with cool people: sophisticated, educated, cultured. Who are they trying to kid? You don’t think those cool, sophisticated people are anything more than gussied-up amhaarets? Better to be the unvarnished real thing. These days, God works with the amhaarets:

For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not may powerful, not many of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world to put the strong things to shame; and God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things looked down on, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28)

God has built them into an organization that knocks the socks off the queen of Sheba:

When the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he built, the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the table service of his waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, and his burnt sacrifices that he regularly offered up at the house of Jehovah, she was left completely breathless. So she said to the king: ‘The report that I heard in my own land about your achievements and about your wisdom was true. But I did not put faith in the reports until I had come and had seen it with my own eyes. And look! I had not been told the half. You have far surpassed in wisdom and prosperity the report that I heard.” (1 King 10:4-7)

When the convention ended, Nosmo, too, was impressed, and declared that he much preferred it to the ‘Judge First – Ask Questions Later’ get-together his church had sponsored the previous year.

 

Watchtower literature will win no Pulitzers. They are written for Nosmo. Metaphors contained within are simple. Illustrations abound of hearts soaring, swelling, sinking, bursting with pride, and so forth – probably because they translate universally, as ‘beating around the bush’ does not. Arcane illustrations that will please the eggheads but go over the heads of everyone else are avoided. Complex sentences that refuse to translate are avoided. Our writing must go into 800 languages, after all – better not to get too cute. It’s not easy devising metaphors understood everywhere. One brother used to say ‘a working mule won’t kick, and a kicking mule won’t work.’ He was a sensation in the hills, and everyone got his point, but then he got to the big city and people wondered what a mule was.

Watchtower literature will name few names. “One businessman said…” “A spokesperson for an African nation wrote…” Which businessman? Which spokesperson? It used to drive me crazy until I realized that it doesn’t matter which businessman or which spokesperson because they are interchangeable. It’s the play they are watching. You don’t have to know the actors to follow the play – it can even be a distraction if you do. Similarly, villains today are a dime a dozen. But name a villain and you create the impression that removing him fixes things. Instead, he is instantly replaced with another villain because the backdrop is conducive to villains. Watchtower literature doesn’t focus on the villains – it focuses on the backdrop.

I’ve tried to follow the same pattern in this book of not naming names, but haven’t been entirely successful. The god of circumstance and the god of journalism has thrown Dr. Klitzman, Sam Harris, and Tim Tebow into the path of the oncoming train. I tried to pull them out, but the train was barreling in too fast. It’s nothing personal. It’s not them; they’re but actors in the play I’m attempting to follow. The minute they exit the stage they are replaced by another.

One sixth of the world’s population is illiterate. Does anyone other than Jehovah’s organization even know these people exist? They are most emphatically amhaarets. Periodically, you can read how this or that government has recognized local Witnesses for promoting literacy among their population. Watchtower publications even include picture brochures and simplified versions of magazines already written simply. Basic education isn’t a priority in the world today and many existing schools don’t work. We cater to whatever they have turned out, rather than write airy articles for the college people, as though they alone mattered. They can read a few levels beneath them if they’re not too full of themselves.

 

After the program, the unknown person in the Devil suit (it was Victor Vomidog!) was nowhere to be seen. Victor shows up early at these events, but he’s never around when they end. He actually did ensnare one of our young people recently. We don’t necessarily handle apostates well; many of our folks think of them as the bogeyman and know little of what makes them tick. It affords them an air of mystery that they don’t deserve, for there is nothing mysterious about them at all. Our people stay away from apostates. ‘Good idea!’ says Bethel, which strongly recommends that course. But Tim Texodus ran across Victor at his workplace – the two were assigned together on a project. Had he not been puzzled by the nature of Victor’s game, he would have been okay. But he was puzzled by it. He had assumed Victor would assail him with scriptural challenges to which he had answers. Instead, Victor confronted him over arcane matters with which he carried on about cognitive dissonance, a term Tim had never heard before. Victor succeeded in pulling him away. He had another Devil suit sewn up for him, and I wasn’t happy.

I know Victor from the old days. We pioneered together at one time. He was very enthusiastic once, but he began finding fault with some in the congregation. As he began muttering more and more, I tried to speak with him. “What about the nearness of the end?” I had asked. “You got a timetable on that?” he shot back. Sigh…no, I don’t. Isn’t that really at the crux of everything?

We don’t get a timetable. Jesus said “keep on the watch” and “at an hour that you do not think to be it the Son of Man is coming.” Each time we have tried to get specific we have been burned. And, no, it isn’t frequent! It’s happened just once in anyone’s lifetime, and even my arch-nemesis says (almost) that that time doesn’t count. What we have today is a mix of prophesy confirmed by steadily degrading world conditions and positive developments in advertising the good news – but not a date.

It’s enough for Jehovah’s Witnesses. We’re convinced this system of things is a failure and will be replaced by God’s Kingdom. Our hearts are there and not here. We proclaim it. We refer to it as the ‘real life,’ as does Paul writing to Timothy. But if your heart is with this system of things, all our work, practices and beliefs seem extreme, unnecessary, or even deleterious. It all depends on your focus.

If ever that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and he starts to beat his fellow slaves and drink with the confirmed drunkards…” Matthew 24:49 says. The ‘master delaying’ is at the crux of all.

Why go out on a religious limb? Why not hedge your bets? Why not hold back? That way, if you go sour on Christianity one day, it won’t be hard to reintegrate into the world, since you never left it in the first place. Why not have your religion but keep it in its place? (last place) Wouldn’t that be more practical?

The trouble with that course is that it makes you lukewarm, and Jesus doesn’t like his followers lukewarm. To the Laodicean congregation, he writes:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

At church, they hate verses like this. What they love are verses like ‘believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.’ Now we’re talking! The easier, the better! The rest of Scripture is just so much fine print.

You might even liken Victor Vomidog to a bad Baruch. You remember Baruch, serving by Jeremiah’s side for decades before the Babylonian invasion. He grew tired of it at one point and the 45th chapter of Jeremiah is written for him:

This is what Jehovah the God of Israel has said concerning you, O Baruch. You have said: ‘Woe to me, for Jehovah has added grief to my pain! I am weary from my groaning, and I have found no resting place.’ You should say to him, ‘This is what Jehovah says: “Look! What I have built up I am tearing down, and what I have planted I am uprooting – the entire land. But you are seeking great things for yourself. Stop seeking such things. For I am about to bring a calamity on all flesh,’ declares Jehovah, ‘and wherever you may go, I will grant you your life as a spoil.’

And Baruch proceeded to say: ‘you got a timetable on that?’

Oh alright, alright! So he didn’t say it. I just threw that in – what a bunch of sticklers! Apparently, Baruch took the council to heart, for he is mentioned later in a favorable light.

 

“The overwhelming majority of people who disengage themselves from…non-conforming religions harbor no lasting ill-will toward their past religious associations and activities,” wrote Dr. Lonnie Kliever in 1995. Dr. Kliever was a Professor of Religious Studies of the Southern Methodist University, then writing a paper entitled ‘The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements.’ It’s not reliable at all, he concluded.

“By contrast, there is a much smaller number of apostates who are deeply invested in discrediting if not destroying the religious communities that once claimed their loyalties….There is no denying that these dedicated and diehard opponents of the new religions present a distorted view of the new religions to the public, the academy, and the courts by virtue of their ready availability and eagerness to testify against their former religious associations and activities. Such apostates always act out of a scenario that vindicates themselves by shifting responsibility for their actions to the religious group. Indeed, the various brainwashing scenarios so often invoked against the new religious movements have been overwhelmingly repudiated by social scientists and religion scholars as nothing more than calculated efforts to discredit the beliefs and practices of unconventional religions in the eyes of governmental agencies and public opinion. Such apostates can hardly be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists,” Dr. Kliever said. Victor Vomidog can’t stand Dr. Kliever.

Victor even objects these days about Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching God to their own children. But caring parents have always done that, whether their teachings be of God or not. It is not true that if you hold off teaching your children values they will grow up free and unencumbered and, when of age, select their own values from the world’s rich cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will teach them. If we follow through on Victor’s gripe, we will forbid all parents to teach their children anything. Declare all children wards of the State! That solution has been tried before to unsatisfactory effect.

 

My wife and I fell to chatting with friends after the program ended, and we left well after everyone else. Just outside, a man was playing his accordion – everyone in Rochester knows this fellow. In a mellow mood, I tossed a couple of dollars into his case. He thanked me: “You’ve got to be the most generous Jehovah’s Witness there is,” he said.

I stopped. I almost took my money back. Instead, I spoke to him: “Let me tell you something you don’t know,” I began. “The people you’re serenading have spent three complete days without a hint of money being exchanged – they’ve almost forgotten what it is. There have been hospitality workers, cleaners, speakers, sound people, equipment movers, all sorts of attendants, first aid people, coordinators, video people – all of them volunteering for each other. Not a dime has changed hands. And then – it’s not your fault, there’s no reason you should be expected to know this – they don’t get 30 feet from the building and here you are playing your accordion for money! It’s too quick of a contrast for them. They’ll fill your case at any other time.”

Did I really say this? No. Our best lines invariably occur to us too late. Instead, I resumed strolling with my wife and let him think I was the most generous Jehovah’s Witness in the whole wide world.

 

back

CHAPTER 5 – ENEMIES

As though it happened yesterday, this gem appeared on an Australian jurisprudence questionnaire:

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses approach people in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighbourhood and play a CD, entitled ‘Enemies’, to them. The CD describes all organized religions as ‘instruments of Satan’ and then viciously attacks Catholicism in particular. Do you think that the law ought to prohibit conduct of this kind? Discuss with reference to rights and the public/private distinction.

So a certain blogger assumes it did happen yesterday – why would she not? She fires off a response: “Oh I really believe this scenario. It’s exactly what they’d do…Oh how embarrassing! No wonder other churches call them weirdo religious strangers. They call other churches ‘enemies’ and ‘instruments of Satan,’ for goodness sake!”

Well, for goodness sake, it does seem over the top, doesn’t it? Enemies? Instruments of Satan? How mean-spirited can you get? Except, it didn’t happen yesterday. It happened eighty years ago. And it wasn’t a CD. It was a phonograph record. There is such a thing as context. Someone’s doing a hatchet job here, trying to make me mad.

The book and the record ‘Enemies’ were released in 1937. They were distributed for nearly ten years. Though they strike the ear as astonishingly vicious today, they were entirely appropriate for their time. Given the same circumstances, I believe the Watchtower organization would do it again.

An aftermath of World War I was that the mainline churches had proven themselves enemies of God, of Christ, and of man. They had, on both sides, stoked and cheered the conflagration which had claimed sixteen million lives, with an additional twenty-one million wounded. With another world war approaching, they showed every sign of resuming that role. Yet in the interim they had presumed to slide right back into that cozy chair of representing the Prince of Peace, claiming to speak in his name. Yes, the religious leaders of Christendom were the enemies denounced in that record.

Eighty years later, it’s hard to appreciate how enthusiastic church leaders were for the war, how they fervently applauded it from both sides. It doesn’t seem possible. Surely, there must be exaggeration. But there is not. If we replay statements of the day, collected in sociologist Ray H. Abrams’ book, ‘Preachers Present Arms,’ the truth reveals itself. British Brigadier General Frank Crozier stated, for example: “The Christian Churches are the finest blood-lust creators which we have and of them we made free use.”

Bishop of London Arthur Winnington-Ingram urged the English people: “Kill Germans – do kill them; not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends…As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.” He said it a thousand times!

 

From the other side? The Archbishop of Cologne, Germany said this to German soldiers: “Beloved people of our Fatherland, God is with us in this fight for righteousness where we have been drawn in against our wish. We command you in the name of God, to fight to the last drop of your blood for the honor and glory of the country. In his wisdom and justice, God knows that we are on the side of righteousness and he will give us the victory.”

From America? An editorial in the Christian Register says it all: “As Christians, of course, we say Christ approves [of the war]. But would he fight and kill? … There is not an opportunity to deal death to the enemy that he would shirk from or delay in seizing! He would take bayonet and grenade and bomb and rifle and do the work of deadliness against that which is the most deadly enemy of his Father’s kingdom in a thousand years.” Christ would do this, he says!

 

You would expect such fighting words from a general, and, in the midst of war fever, from a statesman, patriot, businessman, even from the average citizen. But from the church, the institution avowing that they and they alone speak for Christ? Is it not at odds with Christ’s own words?

By this all will know that you are my disciples – if you have love among yourselves. (John 13:35)

After the war, after the dead were buried or left to rot, should those clergymen succeed in sweeping their thirst for blood under the rug? Praying for God’s forgiveness, then immediately taking it for granted, should they once again presume to speak in Jesus’ name? Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t think so.

Now, let us put this question on the Australian Jurisprudence Questionnaire into the context it belongs – let us apply it, not to the tranquil Australian churches of today, but to the ecclesiastical cheerleaders of the two world wars who sent millions to be slaughtered. Would it be permissible to demur at their conduct? “Do you think that the law ought to prohibit conduct of this kind?”

If the record ‘Enemies’ plays mean-spirited today, it was but a love song compared to the catalyst that provoked it. Why not ask our question of the clergy’s war-mongering? “Do you think that the law ought to prohibit conduct of this kind?” In fact, why not even ask it about the slaughters they rooted for – World War I claimed 16 million lives – World War II, 60 million: “Do you think that the law ought to prohibit conduct of this kind?” And what does this say about the liars who inserted ‘Enemies’ into a setting where it has plainly no context? Slamming Jehovah’s Witnesses is far more important to them than revealing any unflattering facts about religion.

You must admit that it would have required guts to distribute that book and play that record back then. Nowadays every milquetoast of an atheist takes swipes at religion, imagining himself courageous; Jehovah’s Witnesses went eyeball to eyeball with the enemy. What’s more, they went to members of their flocks as they were leaving their churches. Introducing ‘Enemies’ to a convention audience in Columbus, Ohio, Watchtower President Joseph Rutherford declared: “You will notice that its cover is tan, and we will tan the old lady’s hide with it!”

 

A few years back, Sam Harris the Atheist hit Rochester, my home town, and City Newspaper lauded him as an evangelical would laud the rapture. He promoted his book, ‘Letter to a Christian Nation.’ City gushed that it was “putting a fresh, positive face on atheism.” I’m not sure how fresh and positive it can be. What if there were an atheist nativity scene to counterbalance the church nativity scene? Would it not have to be a guy in his coffin?

Being atheist, Mr. Harris trashed religion. Books like his are very popular today. Fundamentalist religion is bad, City readily agreed, but what of the moderate churches? They are just as bad, Harris replied. They refuse to call a spade a spade. They refuse to condemn their fanatical religious cousins. They are tolerant where decency demands they be livid.

Harris did not mention that he and his crew are able to take their shots at religion only because Jehovah’s Witnesses showed them how decades ago. Calling ‘a spade a spade?’ Tough words, Mr. Harris. How about calling ‘a whore a whore,’ as did ‘Enemies?’

A coworker bought Sam Harris’s book: “Yeah, Tom, you should read what he says about religion! This guy doesn’t pull any punches! He just lays out the facts! All the wars and the hatred and the prejudice – there’s always religion behind it. Terrorists and crusades and kamikazes – it can’t happen except for religion. You think someone would strap himself to a bomb if they didn’t tell him he would go straight to paradise? He just lays out the facts, Tom. I’m telling, you, religion is dangerous! It’s the biggest force for bloodshed that’s ever been!” This nettles me because Jehovah’s Witnesses have been telling him this for years and he just yawns.

Now, with Sam, the same rules of engagement apply as with Dr. Klitzman:

No, really, Tom – he’s a decent man.

I’ve no reason to doubt it. It’s nothing personal. He’s not the target. He’s but an actor on the stage. The moment he walks off, he is replaced with someone else.

Starting in 1938, the slogan ‘Religion is a Snare and a Racket’ become synonymous with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The words first appeared on sandwich board signs paraded by one thousand Witnesses through London streets as part of a campaign to advertise a public address at the Royal Albert Hall. The words captured attention, much of it hostile. It’s trendy to badmouth religion today. It took guts back then.

But the words were timely, and proof would come just one year later with the outbreak of World War II. A slaughter eclipsing even World War I, (initially called ‘the Great War’ – who then could imagine it was but a prequel?) it was fought mainly among nations claiming to be Christian. Once again religious platitudes proved no match for national interests. The German population, overwhelmingly Lutheran or Catholic, readily embraced Hitler’s Gestapo and later Holocaust. Belt buckles of German soldiers bore the standard inscription: ‘God is With Us.’

Since some who saw that 1938 procession took Witness marchers for atheists or communists, subsequent processions featured alternating signs bearing the words ‘Serve Christ the King and Live.’ For many years, it was routine for Jehovah’s Witnesses to advertise public events in this way.

This campaign exposing religion predates Sam Harris by eighty years – he wasn’t even in diapers then – and has the added advantage of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is it God’s fault that the churches betrayed him? Especially when his Word exactly foretold that development? Religion unfaithful to God can be likened to an adulterous wife, deserting his rulership so as to snuggle up with the human governments. The book of Revelation, chapters seventeen and eighteen, describes such a woman, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have long identified her with the world empire of false religion – religion that claims faithfulness to God, yet belies that claim through its conduct.

Courage, Sam Harris? This is how you describe it, from the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

The phonograph work was not carried on without opposition. Ernest Jansma tells us: ‘There were cases of some having their phonographs literally and viciously smashed right before their eyes. Others had them ruthlessly thrown off porches. One brother in the Middle West stood by and watched an angry farmer blow his machine into oblivion with a shotgun, then heard pellets whine past his auto as he left the scene. They were vicious and religiously fanatical in those days.’ Amelia and Elizabeth Losch tell of an occasion when the recording ‘Enemies’ was played for a crowd on the porch of a certain home. After the talk ended, one woman took the record off the machine and broke it, saying, ‘You can’t talk about my Pope like that!’

Today the clergy’s influence is insignificant compared to what it was then. They’re respected so long as they stay in their place, but their place is much reduced from what it once was. In the days of ‘Enemies,’ their place was anywhere they wanted it to be. They maintained a stranglehold on popular thought. Catholics in particular were not supposed to read the Bible; that’s what the priest was for, and he would explain it as he saw fit, in accord with Church teaching. In town after town, Jehovah’s Witnesses would place literature with persons – clergy would follow and demand it back. Intimidated, people regularly handed it over.

If Christendom’s influence is a ghost of what it once was, it is Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doing. Had Witnesses not done it, someone else might have. Maybe it might even have been Sam the Atheist. Everything he says about religion’s record is true. But Sam would throw a fit if others represented his work as their own; why doesn’t he and his fellow atheists extend to us the same decency? He knows about our courageous record but dismisses it all as a turf war among equal religionists. What a bunch of liars, stealing without attribution the deeds of the truly brave ones!

Seeking any pretext possible to grouse about Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ve even heard the complaint that they have become too cordial with other religions lately, that they have made their peace with them, that they have ‘wussed’ out. But there’s no point in kicking the old lady while she’s down. Let the atheists do that, now that it’s easy. We kicked her while she was up, when it was tough, before it became trendy! Are you proud of yourself, Sam, stomping on the fallen statue of Saddam Hussein? Be truthful and admit Jehovah’s Witnesses felled it for you decades ago! You wouldn’t have the balls! And as we felled it, we didn’t get to give TED talks; some of us were tarred and feathered!

Of a 1918 bill to impose the death sentence on anyone refusing to take up arms in war, a bill crafted specifically for Jehovah’s Witnesses, General James Franklin Bell told Watchtower President Rutherford: “that bill did not pass because [President Woodrow] Wilson prevented it, but we know how to get you, and we are going to do it!”

You’d pee your pants if the general threatened you like that, wouldn’t you, Sam? How dare you take credit for what the Witnesses have done denouncing religion. How dare you! If you must hitch your ‘me too’ wagon to ours, at least admit who is driving! Due to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the oppressive hand of religion was loosened ages ago. Because of it, people may dare listen to what the Bible really teaches. That’s all we ever wanted. Whatever account the old lady must render is with God, not with us.

 

World War II began. Never was the determination of Jehovah’s Witnesses to live the words of Isaiah that now adorn the United Nations building so severely tested:

And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

If you’re not going to apply those words in time of war, just when do you apply them?

 

Nations resumed their familiar role of gutting each other. The churches resumed their familiar role of cheering them on. Jehovah’s Witnesses clarified their role, from one of pacifism to one of neutrality. Pacifism allows for entry into the war effort as noncombatants. Neutrality does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses recognized they were to be “no part of the world,” as Jesus stated. (John 17:14) Their role was to represent Kingdom interests as ambassadors.

If you are the ambassador representing Krukordistan, you live in Washington or Moscow or Beijing. You adapt to all your host country’s laws and customs. You likely come to love the land in which you live and its people. But when it comes to the politics of your host country, you don’t take a position, nor does anyone expect you to. It’s not your business. Your business is to represent Krukordistan. Even if heavy issues develop and positions evolve for which, since you live there, you may have some feelings – still, it is not your business to take sides. You’re neither callous nor apathetic. You don’t lack in interest for your fellowman. It simply is not your place to take sides in the disputes of your host country. You don’t join the military. You don’t vote in the elections. You don’t salute the flag.

You are honored for this position unless you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses representing the Kingdom that rules from heaven:

We are ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

When the whole world comes down with war fever, it’s not easy representing the one nation that abstains. It’s not easy being neutral, particularly when the good guys and bad guys seem so uncharacteristically distinct as they were in World War II. It’s not easy to not salute the flag. Once again, it takes guts. “Let’s ALL fight!” screamed a typical poster of its time.

 

There is a distinction between true patriotism and phony patriotism. There is the flag salute that reflects love of country, and the flag salute that reflects going through the motions. Patriots salute the flag, but so do scoundrels. The gesture means nothing in itself; it is only what is in the heart that counts, and that cannot be seen.

During World War II, leaders were satisfied with the appearance of true patriotism. In the late 1930’s, shortly before America’s entrance into the war, zealots thought it noble to force schoolchildren to salute the flag. Some communities wrote it into school bylaws, to be obeyed upon pain of expulsion. This created a problem for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first and second of the Ten Commandments states:

You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters below the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be enticed to serve them… (Exodus: 20:4-5)

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, saluting the flag – any flag of any country – means violating this direction from a higher source. Plainly, their motives have nothing to do with patriotism, but are spiritually-based. They want to avoid idolatry.

Motives made no difference to a certain Pennsylvania school board. With war on the horizon, the school board demanded patriotism or the appearance thereof. Surely, forcing children to salute would instill the real variety! Two Witness children, William and Lillian Gobitas, age ten and twelve, refused. They were expelled from public school. Through their father, they took the matter to court.

Early court decisions went in favor of the Gobitas children. One court wrote into its decision the words of a certain Colonel Moss, who had authored several WWI training manuals:

Another form that false patriotism frequently takes is so-called Flag-worship – blind and excessive adulation of the Flag as an emblem or image – super-punctiliousness and meticulosity in displaying and saluting the Flag – without intelligent and sincere understanding and appreciation of the ideals and institutions it symbolizes. This of course is but a form of idolatry – a sort of ‘glorified idolatry,’ so to speak. When patriotism assumes this form it is nonsensical and makes the ‘patriot’ ridiculous.

The court also noted that:

there are schools all over the United States in which the pupils have to go through the ceremony of pledging allegiance to the flag every school day. It would be hard to devise a means more effective for dulling patriotic sentiment than that. This routine repetition makes the flag-saluting ceremony perfunctory and so devoid of feeling; and once this feeling has been lost it is hard to recapture it for the ‘high moments’ of life.

Nonetheless, those who desired the appearance of patriotism appealed each verdict. The case reached the United States Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court decisions by an 8:1 vote. “We live by symbols,” it declared. “The flag is the symbol of our national unity…” The school board could indeed force children to salute the flag. Religious conscience was set aside to placate the majority. Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, the only one who voted against the decision, wrote the dissenting opinion. Three years later that dissent would become the majority opinion.

War fever ran high in 1940, just as during the first world war. Any perceived dishonoring of the flag brought public vengeance. The Court decision lit a fire of intolerance. Mobs formed, waving the flag, demanding Witnesses salute it. When they would not, they were attacked and beaten, even into unconsciousness. Their homes, automobiles and meeting places were torched. In small towns, some were rounded up and jailed without charge. In four years, over 2500 mob-related incidents occurred.

The Solicitor General of the United States took to the airwaves:

Jehovah’s Witnesses have repeatedly been set upon and beaten. They have committed no crime; but the mob adjudged that they had, and meted out punishment The Attorney General has ordered an immediate investigation of these outrages…The people must be alert and watchful, and above all, cool and sane. Since mob violence will make the government’s task infinitely more difficult, it will not be tolerated. We shall not defeat the Nazi evil by emulating its methods.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt echoed the plea of the Attorney General. The ACLU also spoke out: “It is high time we came to our senses regarding this matter of flag-saluting. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans…They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.

Was it this vigilante atmosphere that led three of the justices to declare, in another case, that they believed Gobitas had been wrongly decided? Yet another two justices retired and they were replaced by ones thought to be more on the side of individual liberty. If compulsory flag salute was presented anew to the Supreme Court, would the decision remain the same?

David McClure, our former circuit overseer, found his faith in God put on trial when he was but a boy. He was the son of Lucy McClure. Along with two other families, Lucy sued a West Virginia school district after Dave and other Witness children were expelled for refusal to salute the flag. Years later, the grown-up Dave spoke at a special assembly in Niagara Falls, NY. He related those harrowing experiences of ‘West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette’ as seen through the eyes of a child. He spoke of regularly getting beaten up walking to and from school. As only Dave McClure could do, he made getting beaten up sound almost like fun.

The first court to hear the case, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia refused to follow the precedent of the Supreme Court decision and ruled in favor of the Witness children:

Ordinarily we would feel constrained to follow an unreversed decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, whether we agreed with it or not…the developments with respect to the Gobitas case, however, are such that we do not feel it is incumbent upon us to accept it as binding authority…The tyranny of majorities over the rights of individuals or helpless minorities has always been recognized as one of the great dangers of popular government. The fathers sought to guard against this danger by writing into the Constitution a bill of rights guaranteeing to every individual certain fundamental liberties…We are clearly of the opinion that the regulation of the Board requiring that school children salute the flag is void insofar as it applies to children having conscientious scruples against giving such salute…

The issue was again appealed up to the Supreme Court, and this time that body reversed itself. By a 6:3 majority, the Court ruled that compulsory flag salute was unconstitutional. Their verdict was announced on June 14, 1943, Flag Day. In writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Frankfurter grumbled:

As has been true in the past, the Court will from time to time reverse its position. But I believe that never before these Jehovah’s Witnesses cases (there were many others) …has this Court overruled decisions so as to restrict the powers of democratic government.

It is ever that way with governments, democratic or not. They don’t like to see their power restricted. In all matters unrelated to faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses unfailingly yield to them; surely a country cannot ask for more law-abiding citizens than they. But when governments grab for yet more power – power over the consciences and souls of their people, someone has to call them on it. And that someone has often been Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

In the United States, Jehovah’s Witnesses took their neutral stand amidst much opposition. Where applicable, where persons had ministerial duties in the congregation or occupied themselves full time in outside ministry, some would request the 4D minister exemption of their local draft board. Church ministers never had the slightest difficulty obtaining such exemptions. For Jehovah’s Witnesses they were invariably denied. Draft boards recognized neither the scriptural nor legal definition of minister. They knew only the popular definition: one who “had a church” and “got paid.”

Paul, the apostle, would not have fared well under this definition. He was not paid for his ministry. He worked to support himself. He ministered to those on the outside, not inside a “church.” (the word rendered “church,” in the New Testament, always refers to a group of people, never a building. Accordingly, the New World Translation renders the word “congregation.”) For example:

.and because he had the same trade he [Paul] stayed at their home and they worked with them, for they were tentmakers by trade. He would give a talk in the synagogue every Sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:3,4)

And:

On the contrary by labor and toil, we were working night and day so as not to impose an expensive burden on any one of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:8)

Paul was incensed at the very suggestion he should preach for pay, calling his self-funded ministry his “reason for boasting.” (1 Corinthians 9:15)

Jesus would not have fared well either with the draft board. Everyone knows he was raised a carpenter. Sending his followers out to preach, he told them: “you received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:8) Paul and Jesus would have both been denied a 4D minister exemption.

You cannot read the Book of Acts without realizing that first-century Christians preached. Seemingly, all of them did, not just the ‘pastor.’ When the early Jerusalem congregation was broken up by its enemies, described in Acts chapter 8, the movement didn’t shrivel up and die. It overflowed its banks. “However those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (vs 4) Public preaching is a continual theme of Paul’s letters.

But in time, preaching got old. Christians seldom reached anyone who hadn’t already heard their message. Therefore, the brothers who liked to hear themselves talk – the “oppressive wolves,” thought that they’d rather preach to the choir, which was less stressful than to the community:

and from you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves. (Acts 20:30)

All that remained was to convince the choir that that was a good idea. Forget preaching! Weren’t they getting tired of it, anyway? Just come to church once a week and hear men like Obscurious Vomidog preach. That way, they could get on with their lives the other six days. Of course, Obscurious wasn’t preaching free, though he always had in public. How to rectify the matter? Aha! The birth of the Collection Plate and of the ministry as a paid profession!

It must have happened something like that. Something has to account for the present model, so different from first century Christianity. From their modern-day beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses have recaptured the spirit of the original Christians. They preach publicly. They work to support themselves. They have no paid clergy. They thus ran afoul back then of local officials who could recognize nothing but the mercenary model of ministering.

When Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared before draft boards, though their ministry might plainly be the most important thing in their lives, and the time spent thereof exceeding time spent in any other work, draft boards would shoot them down. Occasionally, a judge or two would rule our way. Attorney Victor V. Blackwell tells of a young Witness he represented who, per the biblical and legal definition, plainly was a minister. Before he could complete his argument, the District Court judge took up his case, saying: “If I remember my Bible, our Lord was a carpenter, Peter and John were fishermen, and Paul a tent-maker. They were ministers. Young man, I commend you for working at an honest occupation to support yourself and your ministry. I wish my preacher would go to work.”

Mr. Blackwell represented hundreds of our people during the hot years of World War II. He recorded his experiences in his 1976 book: O’er the Ramparts They Watched. It is a thrilling account from one who was in the trenches, not comfortably ensconced in academia.

Far more typical than the above was another experience Blackwell relates: “After giving light sentences, each one suspended in favor of probation, to a dozen or so who had confessed to various crimes against society, some quite serious, the judge turned his attention to our brother: ‘Your whole life record is spotless. You were a model young man in high school, no smoking, no drinking, no fighting, no running around. One of the finest pre-sentence reports I have ever read. Do you have any words to say before I sentence you?’ The youth replied he did not. ‘Do you, Mr. Blackwell, wish to say anything in behalf of your client?’ ‘Considering that fine report Your Honor has just read, and the leniency shown toward the others who just appeared before you, it would be unthinkable that you would send this youth to prison.’ The sentence: ‘I cannot tolerate that someone like this will defy the law. I sentence you to serve two years in some institution to be designated by the Attorney General.’”

Unlike the case preceding it, this youth was a rank and file Witness, and made no claim for ministerial exemption. He had been assigned 1-O, conscientious objector status, and assigned to “civilian work of national importance.” Finding this work squarely in support of the war effort, his conscience would not permit him to comply, and for this he was prosecuted.

Often our youths were sentenced with considerable emotion. Like this one: “I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years!”

There was price to pay for all who would actually apply the United Nations words of Isaiah 2:4 and refuse to learn war. You’re lauded to high heaven if you inscribe the words on your building, but just try applying them in wartime, when emotions run hot; just try it, and see what happens.

 

The foregoing happened in the United States. Each nation has its own story and some continue right up to the present. For example, Chong-Il Park was the first of a long line of Korean Witnesses to be sent to prison for refusing military service, a line which yet continues: “Coward! You are afraid of dying at the front lines. You are trying to evade military service on the pretense of your religious conscience.” With those words, he was beaten and subsequently sentenced to three year’s imprisonment. That was in 1953 when there were less than 100 Witnesses in the entire country and their beliefs, let alone their neutrality, were little understood. Today that number has increased a thousand-fold.

“Many who were imprisoned as conscientious objectors when they were young men have seen their sons, and even their grandsons, go to prisons for the same reason,” relates Mr. Park. He expressed hope the situation may change. “One lawyer who had prosecuted a Witness conscientious objector even wrote an open letter of apology for what he had done, and it was published in a well-known magazine,” he says in a December 2008 interview for the Watchtower magazine.

Another exchange from Mr. Blackwell’s book: “Judge: ‘This whole matter troubles me. What, with Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing and spreading out all over the earth, if everybody got to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, where would we be….’ Mr. Blackwell: ‘Your Honor, if everybody on earth became Jehovah’s Witnesses, there would be no war, and no need for armed forces of any kind, in any nation. Would the Court object to that state of affairs?’ Proceed with the case, the judge said.”

 

The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States was but child’s play to what occurred in Germany:

All those who suffered persecution because of their religious or political beliefs and who were willing to accept death rather than submit deserve our great respect, such respect as is hard to express in words. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only religion that completely refused to accede to the demands of the Hitler regime: They did not raise their hand to give the Hitler salute. They refused to swear allegiance to ‘Führer and State,’ just as they refused to perform military and labor service. And their children did not join the Hitler Youth Movement,

declared Peter Straub, president of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, during a speech on the 58th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Among those imprisoned in Germany during the war were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were unlike all other groups in that they alone had the power to free themselves. All they had to do was renounce their faith and pledge cooperation with the Nazis. Only a handful complied, a fact which, eighty years later, I still find staggering.

There are any number of serial gripers on the internet who are alarmed at any favorable mention of Jehovah’s Witnesses and who immediately attempt to negate such praise. Some of these characters strive with all their might to denigrate the Witnesses’ stand during the Holocaust. Of course, this is not easy to do, because the stand is among the most courageous in history. But they try. Generally, they feign applause for the astounding courage and faith of individual Witnesses, but then take shots at their organization, as though it were entirely separate. “Those Witnesses were brave,” they say. “Too bad they were sold out by the repressive Watchtower machine.”

What about that 1933 German Branch letter to the government, they say: ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ Ha! Victor Vomidog points to it with glee. Proof that the Witness organization was trying to cozy up to Hitler! Proof that their neutrality was a sham! No! Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, dismisses it as inconsequential. The infant Nazi government had just emerged and Witnesses tried to reassure it that they were apolitical, not a threat. Once the regime showed its true colors, Witnesses dug in and confronted the greatest barbarism of modern time. Victor Vomidog wants his accusation to stick; he wants so badly for it to stick. But anyone without blinders can see who the liar is.

Sold out by the Watchtower, my rear end! Any Witness will tell you that it’s because of, not despite, the support and direction of their organization, that they withstood Hitler. Nazi troops overran Watchtower Branch offices in lands they controlled. Occupants there were arrested and imprisoned with rank and file Witnesses. Meanwhile, the mainline churches refrained from criticizing the Nazis, lest there be reprisals. “Why should we quarrel?” Hitler boasted. “The parsons…will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes.” (The Voice of Destruction, Hermann Rauschning, 1940, pp. 50, 53) The major churches received large state subsidies throughout the war.

Not so with Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the war, Genevieve de Gaulle, niece of latter French President General Charles de Gaulle wrote:

I have true admiration for them. They…have endured very great sufferings for their beliefs…All of them showed very great courage and their attitude commanded eventually even the respect of the S.S. They could have been immediately freed if they had renounced their faith. But, on the contrary, they did not cease resistance, even succeeding in introducing books and tracts into the camp.

They not only smuggled books and tracts in, they smuggled reports out. Detailed descriptions of Nazi camps were published in contemporary issues of the Watchtower magazine and given wide distribution. Since it was the Watchtower magazine, and not Time, nobody believed it. Nor did Time when we (presumably) showed it to them. It doesn’t matter what is said. All that matters is who says it.

Would that Catholics and Lutherans, who comprised 95% of the German population, were similarly sold out by their respective churches! The Hitler movement would have collapsed. After the war, Catholic scholar and educator Gordon Zahn examined the records and, diligent though he was, could find just one among 32 million German Catholics who conscientiously refused to serve in Hitler’s armies. He found another 6 in Austria. Why so few? He reports that his extensive interviews with people who knew these men produced the “flat assurance voiced by almost every informant that any Catholic who decided to refuse military service would have received no support whatsoever from his spiritual leaders.”

Instead, Pope Pius XII, in 1939, directed chaplains on both sides of the war to have confidence in their respective military bishops, viewing the war as “a manifestation of the will of a heavenly Father who always turns evil into good,” and “as fighters under the flags of their country to fight also for the Church.” (quoted from the December 8, 1939 pastoral letter, Asperis Commoti Anxietatibus, and published in Seelsorge und kirchliche Verwaltung im Krieg, Konrad Hoffmann, editor, 1940, p. 144)

One might imagine that, chastened by their shameful World War I record, the clergy would have resolved to do better come the next crisis. It didn’t happen. See the article ‘Pope Pius XII and the Nazis – A Fresh Viewpoint,’ in the February 22, 1974 Awake magazine, from which most of these detailed quotes are taken. No, it was not Jehovah’s Witnesses who were sold out by their organization.

 

So here I am, blogging along contentedly, when along comes RaGoth – good old analytical RaGoth, who can always be depended upon for substantial comments. RaGoth, meaning no harm whatsoever, who

would also point out the Confessing Church during World War II, a la Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Granted, most of them were put to death, Bonhoeffer for spying for England and being involved with the plot to assassinate Hitler, but they stood their ground in opposition to the Nazi take-over of the German church. Now, also granted, they didn’t take a pacifist stance. Bonhoeffer and Barth originally started that way, but Bonhoeffer became convinced that as evil a thing as it would be, he would have to suffer the consequences in the afterlife to help the Brits, and, eventually, to become involved in the assassination plot…they were a relatively small group, but, I just wanted to throw in there were some other religious groups openly and constantly opposed to Hitler and the Nazi party, even in the face of death threats and directly against the rest of the churches out of which they came from.

RaGoth has a point. Not everyone in the German churches supported Hitler. Perhaps 10% of German Protestants took a stand against the Nazis. Doubtless Catholics as well. The point is, though, that they had to defy their church to do it. They were an embarrassment to their respective churches, from whom they received “no support whatsoever.” So some of them banded together into schisms of their own, such as the Confessing Church. Others acted independently as renegades. Perhaps these were listed as “political prisoners.” I have nothing but admiration for these individuals. RaGoth is absolutely right to recognize and honor them. They were extraordinary people.

But not everyone is extraordinary. Most people are quite ordinary. It’s true with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some are extraordinary but most are just regular folk. Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have to stand against their own religious organization or form new ones because theirs had betrayed its values. We stood against Hitler largely because of our religious organization. Those others stood against Hitler despite theirs.

People benefit from organization, even though that be practically a dirty word today. Even the minimal organization of family is too much for many these days. You should hear how often the terms “brain-washing” and “mind control” are thrown at us! But without leadership from a genuinely principled organization, only 10% of Germans proved able to resist the greatest atrocity of modern time. With leadership from a principled organization, virtually all resisted. If there really is a God, why would he not be able to provide some sort of organization so that believers are not abandoned to the barbarism of the Devil?

I don’t want to hear bellyaching about the manipulative Watchtower. It’s slanderous rubbish. It comes only from those who despise all of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the fall of France in 1940, the Vatican’s Cardinal Eugène Tisserant wrote to a friend that:

Fascist ideology and Hitlerism have transformed the consciences of the young, and those under thirty-five are willing to commit any crime for any purpose ordered by their leader.

His remarks illustrate how people are. They run in herds, overwhelmed by national, economic, social or class concerns of the day. The then-current generation ever imagines they are the first to break the trend. When the dust settles, however, they’re found to be subject to the same laws of human nature as everyone else. It takes a loyal God-centered organization to cut through the prevailing party line and keep moral principles ever before its people, as happened in World War II and as happens today.

 

One prominent churchman who ran with the herd was Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict. As a youngster, Benedict was a member of the Hitler youth, and later served in the German military. I don’t fault him for it. Benedict was a kid at the time, and without a strong support system, which the Church was not, he could hardly have been expected to refuse Nazi cooperation. Nobody says he embraced it wholeheartedly. I’m sure he did not. He later deserted from the military, to his considerable credit.

Nonetheless, we have some irony. Martin Poetzinger, of the same generation, was a Holocaust survivor. Later, he served on the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If visitors from another planet were to play ‘Match Game,’ surely they would connect the man who cooperated with that despicable regime, albeit as a vulnerable youth under duress, with the future governing body member of a derided religion, while the man who had refused any fellowship with those felons as a youth would certainly be the one later to lead the world’s largest and most prominent church denomination. But they would be wrong, and they would return to ProximaB to tell leaders there they knew not the first thing about these earthlings.

 

The October 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a World War II American soldier who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So the fellow wrote, not to General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Troops, but to his mom! Sometimes you have to do that. Do you want President Trump to do something for you? You can’t write him – he’s busy. You have to write his mom, who will nag him into doing what you want.

The reason our soldier thought a letter to Mom might work was because Eisenhower had been raised one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Imagine how he might have contrasted his youthful training with his experiences after the Battle of Normandy, where “one could walk hundreds of yards and step upon nothing but rotting human flesh?” Or what he must have recalled, when he had liberated the concentration camps at World War II’s end, and the mayor of a certain German town pleaded ignorance. Enraged, Eisenhower made him tour the nearest camp, he and the entire town’s population. Next day, the mayor hung himself.

After the war, Ike played down his Witness connection, and a grateful nation elected him President. He merely let on that he had been raised “Protestant,” a good catch-all term for anything not Catholic or Jewish. I can’t fault him for this. I mean, I can just see those political cartoonists skewering a Witness background – frankly, I would have enjoyed a crack at it myself. There would be Ike and his wife standing in front of the White House, holding up the Watchtower: ‘Can World Leaders Bring Peace?’ Oh, yeah, they would have had a field day with it!

 

“One testy exchange with our new brother and his superiors turned around quickly:

As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the ‘top brass’ had gathered, I didn’t salute.

One of the officers said: ‘Don’t you salute your superiors?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Why not?’

Respectfully, I gave my reasons, based on my understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: ‘General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!’ ‘Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?’ I asked. ‘What do you mean by that?’ he shot back.

Reaching in my pocket and taking out Sister Eisenhower’s letter, I handed it to him. ‘I just received this letter from the General’s mother while waiting for you to call me.’ As he read the letter, which you see reproduced on the opposite page, the other officers also gathered around to look at it. Thoughtfully, and with a greatly changed attitude, he handed it back to me. ‘Get back to ranks,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.’”

Abilene, Kansas.

August-20-’44.

 

Mr. Richard Boeckel.

Dear Sir: A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in your privilege of attending such convention.

It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.

My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.

Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.

I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.

It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.

I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.

And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.

There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.

Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.

Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.

Respectfully yours in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,

Ida E. Eisenhower

 

My wife and I blew into Ithaca, New York, just as the whole city was about to stand up for peace. Of course, we didn’t know they were going to do that. We’d just come down to catch the tail end of a three-day music festival. But we hadn’t been in town more than half an hour before a counter-cultured person urged us to get to Stewart Park where, at 3 PM, folks would congeal into a giant peace sign to be photographed by helicopter and submitted to the Guinness Book of Records.

If someone says “I’m going to Ithaca, want to come?” you should always say yes. So alluring is Ithaca that some graduate from the local colleges stay put. They hole up in a commune in the hills and grow organic food. Or they work at the local bookstore. Or they start a green business. Cascading rivers trisect the small city. 150 waterfalls can be found within a ten-mile radius.

Folks are pleasant, though you can’t be one who clucks your tongue at unusual characters. Opening day parade for the music festival included: “an automotive ballet composed of a procession of Volvos in synchronized driving formation. A group of burly He-Men toting chainsaws as if they were trombones, a distinct absence of Odd Fellows, but no shortage of weirdos,” according to the Ithaca Journal.

The local right wing broadcaster calls it the ‘People’s Republic of Ithaca.’ It has its own currency. I once worked with a young woman whose divorced father turned up years later as a nudist just outside Ithaca. So, do I really want to run down to Stewart Park and stand for peace with these characters, when I come from a people who have stood for peace when it cost them their freedom and even some their lives? Over ten thousand Witnesses were incarcerated in Nazi Germany for their neutral stand, forty-three hundred in the United States. Having seen people really stand for peace, I don’t read too much into a human peace sign on a sunny day of leisure.

Let them think we’re warmongers! We stayed in the Village Court where a Cajun band played. I heard later that six thousand people had shown up. Alas, they took only third place with Guinness, though first with the World Record Academy. (I can’t quite figure that out, but I haven’t put a lot of time into it) You would think that the religion which, not only ‘gave peace a chance,’ but insisted upon it, come what may, would get more respect than it does. “It’s because you have a reputation of being so strange” Mr. Strawman told me, sipping his cognac, as though anyone not strange by today’s standards is going to actually practice ‘beating swords into plowshares.’ An organizer of the peace event enthused that:

we’re not going to trash any weapons because of this, but if everybody has the same idea in their mind, that they are coming together in peace and unity, then there’s a community started.

Um…yeah, I guess…whatever that meant. I forwarded that one to the Governing Body, who were all very impressed, I’m sure.

 

Eighty years prior, on another continent, twenty-year old Wolfgang Kusserow of Germany was executed for refusing to go to war. He made this parting answer to his military tribunal:

I was brought up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to God’s Word contained in the Holy Scriptures. The greatest and most holy law he gave mankind is: ‘You shall love your God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.’ Other commandments read: ‘You must not kill.’ Did our Creator have all this written down for the trees?

 

Eighty years afterwards, back home, the oldest known male Holocaust survivor, Jehovah’s Witness Leopold Engleitner, wrapped up the final leg of his ‘Unbroken Will’ tour in California USA, relating his experiences to classrooms full of spellbound students. He was a “happy boy,” he said, who had “no time to die.” In a nod to former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator days, he vowed: “I’ll be back!”

I’ve no doubt of it. I’m sure he will return. But it will have to be in the new system. Somehow he found the time to die, at 107 years of age.

 

I have been dwelling far too long with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war. (Psalm 120:6-7)

 

back

CHAPTER 6 – SUFFERING

Any discussion as to why God allows suffering, and why he doesn’t alleviate it now, must necessarily link to Adam and Eve, and link to them rather substantially. They simply are that key of a building block. You thus have to contend with “we are wise and learned adults – far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. What’s next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?” syndrome. There’s a lot of it going around, and it’s every bit as injurious as VIP syndrome.

But you can acknowledge that most folks consider this allegory, and move on. Few people in the West think these verses are literal; you don’t have to rub their noses in it. Better to simply focus upon the moral issues raised, and move on. Let people draw their own conclusions afterward. The Adam and Eve account, brief though it is, highlights how conditions earth-wide might have turned out differently. The verses highlight God’s original intent:

God blessed them [the first humans] and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many, fill the earth and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28)

The very name Eden means ‘pleasure;’ ‘garden of Eden’ becomes (when translated into Greek) ‘paradise of pleasure’, and ‘subduing the earth’ means spreading those conditions earth wide. That account of human history shows that, from the beginning, there was trouble. Genesis 3:1-6 states:

Now the serpent was the most cautious of all the wild animals of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it said to the woman: ‘Did God really say you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden. But God has said about the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden: “You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it; otherwise you will die,”’ At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die. For God knows that in that in the very day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.’ Consequently, the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something desirable to the eyes, yes the tree was pleasing to look at. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the “knowing good and bad” to be a matter of declaring independence. “You don’t need God telling you what is good and what is bad – you can decide such things yourself, and thus be ‘like God!’” The serpent even portrays God as having selfish motive, trying to stifle the first couple, a sure way to engender discontent. The ploy was successful. The two chose a course of independence, with far-ranging consequences down to our day.

God purposes, after a lengthy time interval allowed so that all can see the end result of human self-rule, to gather all things together as per his original intention:

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite. (Daniel 2:44)

One can only benefit from knowing the reason that God permits suffering. In a letter to American colleague Asa Gray, Charles Darwin stated: “I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world.”

Imagine if he had seen it. He wished to. One can even speculate as to whether there would be an evolution theory from him if he had. After all, the emotional pull of evolution is stronger than its intellectual pull: Finally! A rationale with which to pull the rug out from under the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, overbearing clergy! No longer are they guardians of history and sacred truth. Instead, with evolution, they are the guardians of children’s’ stories and nonsense. Keep God out of the picture. As soon as you let the Divine foot back in the door, all his so-called buddies slither in with him.

 

If you know your audience and you know that the mere mention of Adam and Eve will make them choke, start with some common ground, as Paul always did. You may still get slaughtered, but you can try. You can start with the poet Diagoras of Melos. The Cleveland Freethinkers, an atheist promotional group in Ohio, recognizes him as history’s first confirmed atheist.

J. M. Robertson says that he: “declared that the non-punishment of a certain act of iniquity proved that there were no Gods. It has been surmised, with some reason that the iniquity in question was the slaughter of the Melians by the Athenians in 416 BC and the Athenian resentment in that case was personal and political rather than religious.”

Note the reason for his atheism: the home team lost. Note also that there would have been no corresponding atheism from the Athenians until they, too, got their rear ends kicked years later. Essentially, Diagoras felt, as do many today, that God should be Santa Claus, who ensures that no parties get hurt even when they go to war.

To extend the logic, we should expect, in any conflict, for victor nations to high-five God, and loser nations to go atheist. Fast-forwarding to include the God of Football, (to be dealt with soon) all Seattle residents should have gone atheist after an unjust god awarded the 2015 Super bowl to the wicked Boston Patriots – winking at ‘Deflategate’ as he did so, which was, after all, merely a clever ruse, like the Gibeonites pulling the wool over Joshua’s eyes. Seriously, or at least as serious as you can get in the face of such idiocy, why didn’t God solve Diagoras’s problem, and stop the man from going atheist?

It’s because he’d never be able to do anything else. He’d be sticking Band-Aid after Band-Aid after never-ending Band-Aid on a system of things that is inherently unjust, even designedly so. Instead, in keeping with his original purpose, he purposes to replace this system of things with one of his own making. Injustice in that system of things will be a memory only:

And the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. (Isaiah 65:17)

After all, what is the injustice that caused Diagoras such soul-searching? Only the one that touched him personally! Had he not witnessed hundreds of injustices in his lifetime? To say nothing of ones his society was built upon. Bernard Strawman positively slobbers over the Greeks as the cradle of civilization, birthplace of democracy, haven of free thinking, and so forth, yet they enjoyed their privileged status only on the backs of others. They embraced slavery. They treated women abominably. Weren’t they the original pedophiles? Sexual abuse of children was enshrined in respectable Greek society. Are these among the injustices Diagoras was concerned with? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Few situations of this system today are win-win. Generally, someone pays the price when another wins. It is usually someone not seen, in another land or social class. But there is someone, and we seldom hear about it. The system is designed that way. Get the sufferer as far away from the privileged one as possible, so they see no link, and declare any complaints the mere whining of losers and crybabies.

When outside forces conspire to take away everything a person has, including loved ones, including future prospects, that person can easily become a hate machine. His guiding principles have not prepared him for such calamity, and he determines to strike back at someone, at anyone. Don’t think that any political system has the solution – the situations crop up repeatedly in any form of human self-rule. A new system of things brought about by God is in keeping with the Bible’s premise that humans weren’t created to be independent of him. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” says the Lord’s Prayer. Does anybody seriously expect God’s will to be done on earth under the present system of human governments? It will be done, however, when human rulership is replaced by God’s Kingdom.

Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that God’s permission of injustice, and even evil, is bound up with this trial period of human rule that is soon to end. In a sense, the modern-day atheist counterparts of Diagoras have voted for the wrong party. They have voted the just party out of office and are now incensed that there is injustice. God’s Kingdom is the arrangement that will end injustice, but they continue to vote for human rule. What the dissatisfied ones really want is, not so much an end of injustice, but an end to the symptoms of injustice – mostly the ones that affect them personally, as with Diagoras. But human rule itself is the source of injustice. We’re simply not designed with the ability to rule ourselves. God’s Kingdom will not treat the symptoms of injustice; it will uproot the source.

 

One fine day in 2001, I drove past a church marquee:

Don’t worry, I’m in charge – God.

There must be a subscription service somewhere that pumps out banalities like this for pastors to slap on their streetside signs. The next day, terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers buildings of New York City. The day after that, I began to wonder if that stupid slogan was still there. I drove by the church again: “God Bless America!” it said. Had the pastor furtively swapped letters at 3 A.M, hoping no one would see him? It’s a wonder we’re not all atheists with such offerings from the church!

Immediately after 911, the clergy, for once, had nothing to say. Many were wondering how they could possibly explain events for their Sunday sermons. Jerry Falwell had the answer: God was mad about pagans and abortionists and feminists and gays and lesbians, but the outspoken clergyman later backed away. Still, as long as you maintain that God’s in charge, it does seem that you have some serious explaining to do.

Only Jehovah’s Witnesses had answers that day. The truth is that God is not in charge. The slogan is wrong. The patchwork of sovereign powers all pushing and shoving each other, as though some adult version of King of the Mountain, is not God’s idea. He doesn’t bless it. It’s not his arrangement for governing the earth, but is a consequence of rebellion at mankind’s beginning.

In the year 29 CE, just after Jesus was baptized, he was led off into the ‘wilderness,’ where he fasted 40 days. During that time, he was tempted by ‘the Devil.’ The second temptation is instructive:

So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time; and the Devil said to him: “I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.” In reply Jesus said to him: “It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’ (Luke 4:5-8)

Jesus refused the offer, but he did not deny the premise that the Devil is in charge of all kingdoms, and he can deliver it to whomever he wishes. Just as if one offers you a watch, it is understood that the watch is his to give. At any rate, Jesus says nothing to the contrary. So the Devil, not God, is the one in charge of this present hash of manmade governments. He assumed default leadership when that first human couple rejected God’s rule.

I was one of many in the ministry the day after 911. People were mellow, freshly sobered, easy to talk to, more open than usual to the Bible’s promise of God’s Kingdom rule, which will accomplish for earth what no human government can even dream of.

 

I’ve said nice things about Carl Jung before. For example: “The next time I need my head examined, that’s the kind of guy I’ll seek out, rather than some modern-day rationalist type who declares: ‘the first thing we have to do is get rid of this nutcake religion!’” This isn’t entirely fair, for even the modern-day rationalist types usually acknowledge the supporting value of faith and community. But we’ll run with it anyway.

Jung goes further. Not only is there a spiritual side to life, he maintains, but the spiritual side is the one to watch. The “inferior” statements of the conscious mind initially seem persuasive, but, in reality, may prove to be “snares, delusions, lies, or arbitrary opinions.” These are not limited to the conscious mind of the individual but include entire populations, movements, nations, and eras. Doesn’t history bear this out? Nor should we think for one second that the modern-day age of science alters this. Science gives us technology but doesn’t teach us how to get along with each other.

I like Jung. I like his writings on extroversion and introversion. I like his analogy on how the perspective of the rising sun differs from that of the setting sun. I like his work on personality types. Did you know his insights are the driving force behind those vocational tests in which you answer all manner of personal questions and are rewarded with career advice?

You have to be careful critiquing Jung, since he is a Great Man and you are not. If he writes something spiritual with which you disagree, upon what basis do you disagree? “The Bible SAYS what it MEANS and MEANS what it SAYS!?” Be careful – you don’t want to come across as some Bible-thumping redneck. But sometimes, even with Jung, a guy has to stand up and shout: “the emperor has no clothes!” Such is the case when Jung starts analyzing the book of Job, which he does in ‘Answer to Job,’ published in 1952.

You also have to know going in that, if Jung believes in spiritual things, that does not mean he believes in the Bible. Rather, he maintains that certain spiritual legends and myths are universal; they are to be found in our “collective unconscious,” where they pop up continually, wisps and ghosts and hints in various places, the Bible being but one. I don’t know why one need take this viewpoint; isn’t it but a manifestation of “we are wise and learned adults – far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. What’s next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?” syndrome? The Bible itself, far more simply, accounts for the fact that diverse religions, peoples, and cultures share common myths and legends: they have a common origin and share a common past, as described in Genesis chapter 11. But that explanation requires acquiescence to Adam and Eve, for whom we have grown far too clever.

You will remember the story of Job. He’s set up as an example, a test case, if you will, to settle the question of whether man will keep integrity to God when under adversity. Satan, who appears only in the first two chapters of the book, charges that he will not:

Skin for skin. A man will give everything he has for his life. But, for a change, stretch out your hand and strike his bone and flesh, and he will surely curse you to your very face. (Job 2:4)

It’s a challenge. God takes him up on it, and gives Satan permission to raise all manner of calamity. In short order, Job loses everything he has. Then he is struck by an agonizing illness. Chapter after chapter describe his intense suffering. Job’s three friends come calling, supposedly to comfort him. As time passes their comfort becomes accusation. ‘You know,’ they point out, ‘God doesn’t punish people for no reason. If you’ve fallen on hard times, surely it’s your own fault. Yes, never mind outward appearances – God knows a rascal when he sees one. He’s settling the score. Why don’t you ‘fess up, and he’ll put things right for you?’ They merely hint this at first, but as Job protests his innocence, they grow ever more strident, till toward the end they’re almost hurling epithets at the poor fellow.

Job is unaware of the Satanic challenge. He hasn’t the least notion as to why he is suffering, nor does he have any indication that it will end. But he does know that he’s done nothing to ‘deserve’ it. Egged on by his false friends, he gets heated declaring his innocence, hinting at first, then hinting more strongly, and finally outright accusing God of villainy. Yes, if he could only confront God face to face, he’d show him who’s in the right – he’d show him who’s moral. He’d argue his case, which was irrefutable; God would have no choice but to back down! Job really lets fly under his intense suffering and the provocation of his pals. Who hasn’t been there before – going way overboard while beating back the scoundrels?

Toward the end of the book, Job gets his wish. God does speak to him! But not to be reproved. Rather, God poses a long series of questions to Job that serve to readjust his thinking. Afterwards, his health and possessions are restored, for he has successfully answered Satan’s challenge – a challenge he never knew existed in the first place!

 

There are many things that annoy about Jung’s commentary on the book of Job. In fact, almost all of it does. For now, let us focus on but two. Why does Jung have to put the worst possible spin on everything? For example, with regard to when God manifests himself to Job, he writes:

For seventy-one verses he proclaims his world-creating power to his miserable victim, who sits in ashes and scratches his sores with potsherds, and who by now has had more than enough of superhuman violence. Job has absolutely no need of being impressed by further exhibitions of this power…Altogether, he pays so little attention to Job’s real situation that one suspects him of having an ulterior motive….his thunderings at Job so completely miss the point that one cannot help but see how much he is occupied with himself.

But isn’t it Jung who completely misses the point? Why not phrase matters as the Watchtower does? (October 15, 2010):

During his time of suffering, Job struggled with despair and became somewhat self-centered. He lost sight of the bigger issues. But Jehovah lovingly helped him to broaden his viewpoint. By asking Job over 70 different questions, none of which Job could answer, Jehovah emphasized the limitations of Job’s understanding. Job reacted in a humble way, adjusting his viewpoint.

There! Isn’t that better? I mean, before you go telling God how to run the universe, ought you not be able to answer at least one of the seventy questions? Issues were swirling about of which Job knew nothing. Isn’t that always the case with we humans?

For the true God is in the heavens, but you are on the earth. That is why your words should be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

And don’t carry on about God bullying Job while he is in abject misery, as though holding a captive audience through your plodding lecture when they urgently need to visit the rest room. An appearance of God will always make your day; it overrides anything else. Besides, God shortly restores Job’s health.

Furthermore, Carl Jung presents the entire matter as though it were a friendly wager between God and the Devil, serving no purpose whatsoever other than their amusement, treating as nothing the intense suffering Job goes through! Why does he do that? It is Jung who completely misses the point that Job is a test case to establish that man can keep integrity to God under the most extreme conditions. For, in fact, people do suffer intensely at times. And when that occurs, some are inclined to blame God. Should they? In its opening chapters, the Bible spells out how mankind came to be in its present sorry state. In its closing chapters, it spells out how matters will ultimately resolve. Illuminating details are in between. Make a search of these things, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have, and you’ll find why God is not to blame for human suffering. But you can’t turn to the world’s religions for that illumination. They’ve sawn off the limb they should be perched on, abandoning Bible truths for sentimental doctrines that do not satisfy.

 

To illustrate, let us revisit Charles Darwin. Already, we’ve lamented it would have been nice had someone explained the nature of evil to him. In his early days, Darwin toyed with becoming a church minister. This is not to suggest he was, at any time, a Bible-thumper. Such a ministry was then a respectable career choice for a man of letters who couldn’t otherwise decide what he wanted to do with his life. With few designated responsibilities, a clergyman might have abundant time to indulge outside interests. Many discoveries of science, most notably the basic principles of heredity, were discovered by clergymen putting free time to good use.

Darwin had a daughter named Annie who was, by all accounts, his favorite child. At age ten, Annie contracted scarlet fever and died after six weeks of agony. Also a casualty was Darwin’s faith in a beneficent Creator. The book ‘Evolution: Triumph of an Idea,’ by Carl Zimmer, tells us that Darwin “lost faith in angels.” It’s an odd expression. What might have accounted for it?

Did those sappy preachers tell him, as they would today, that God was picking flowers? That he needed just one more angel to make his garden perfect? I wouldn’t put it past them. You almost have to do that if you want to uphold the lie that we have immortal souls. Devastated, Charles Darwin was later to pen the work that would pull the rug out from under all those clergymen. It’s a classic tale of revenge never presented that way because it would have taken place subliminally. Destroy a man’s values, and he looks elsewhere. If he is clever, as Darwin was, he devises his own.

Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous! No wonder people go atheist! Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that? Yet we hear it all the time, and the younger the deceased, the more likely some pious preacher will use it: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more – there’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Tough!

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, drooling over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, gets her pregnant, and silences her husband by having him killed! 2 Samuel 12:1-7 (NIV) tells us:

The LORD sent Nathan [a prophet] to David. When he came to him, he said, ‘There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.’ David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’

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

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do preachers use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘when we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy, which is what the Bible says pointedly at 1 Corinthians 15:26.

Abraham Lincoln said he wasn’t smart enough to lie. He meant, of course, that once you’ve told a lie, you never know when you will have to tell another to uphold that first lie – in this case, a fiction like ‘picking flowers,’ to uphold the lie that we have immortal souls that survive our deaths. We don’t. Upon death, we cease to exist. We stay in nonexistence awaiting a coming resurrection. Jesus likened death to sleep in John chapter 11. You’re not conscious when you sleep. But you eventually wake up. And when you wake up, you’re still right here on terra firma, not in heaven nor hell.

The Hebrew word from which soul is translated is nephesh. It occurs in the Old Testament 754 times. Only twice in the KJV is soul translated from any other word. Therefore, find the meaning of nephesh and you’ve found the meaning of soul. The first Old Testament instance of nephesh applied to humans is at Genesis 2:7:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (KJV)

A man who becomes a plumber is a plumber – he doesn’t have a plumber. A man who becomes an architect is an architect – he doesn’t have an architect. A man who becomes an atheist is an atheist – he doesn’t have an atheist. And a man who becomes a soul is a soul. He doesn’t have a soul. The soul is the individual himself. In some cases, it represents life the individual enjoys. It never stands for some mystical substance that survives our death. That latter notion is common among ancient peoples, but is nowhere found in the Bible. Attempting to infuse ancient philosophies into the Bible, theologians seized upon nephesh as the equivalent of that immortal substance, but an examination of the Hebrew word reveals it to mean something else entirely. The Bible is unique among religious books in that it does not teach an immortal soul.

Here the New World Translation, prior to the 2013 revision, does something so intrinsically honest that its translators ought to be lauded for it. Every time nephesh occurred in the Hebrew, the 1984 NWT translates it soul. Thus it is easy to look at every instance of soul and discern by context its meaning. Few Bibles do this, certainly no mainline ones. They bury nephesh amidst multiple renderings, so that you can’t tell what it means. In 2013, the New World Translation joined them, for the sake of clear translation into other cultures, relegating nephesh to footnotes and appendices. This does no disservice to Witnesses – we read footnotes and appendices. For the most part, churchgoers don’t notice footnotes and appendices in their Bibles, since they don’t notice the Bible itself, other than a few formula verses with which they can argue cherished doctrines.

 

However, we have allowed ourselves to be sidetracked. Let us get back to Carl Jung and his ‘Answer to Job.’ In chapter 17, Jung observes regarding evil:

We have experienced things so unheard of and so staggering that the question of whether such things are in any way reconcilable with the idea of a good God has become burningly topical. It is no longer a problem for experts in theological seminaries, but a universal religious nightmare….

Carl Jung wrote this book in 1952. What unheard of and staggering evil do you think he had foremost in his mind? The most sadistic infliction of mass suffering in modern history occurred in Nazi Germany a mere decade before Jung wrote his book. Entire populations were herded into concentration camps, where many were gassed, starved, beaten, or worked to death. Twelve million died. Those who survived left as walking skeletons. Jehovah’s Witnesses preceded the far more numerous Jews, having early on triggered Nazi wrath with their neutrality. The Nuremberg trials brought justice to some of those Holocaust Nazi criminals. They concluded in 1946. They ensured that every detail of humanity’s fling with barbarism be imprinted upon Carl Jung’s psyche.

From the Watchtower of February 1, 1992:

In concentration camps, the Witnesses were identified by small purple triangles on their sleeves and were singled out for special brutality. Did this break them? Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim noted that they ‘not only showed unusual heights of human dignity and moral behavior, but seemed protected against the same camp experience that soon destroyed persons considered very well integrated by my psychoanalytic friends and myself.’

Why didn’t the well-integrated psychoanalytically-approved prisoners hold up? Probably because they read too much Jung and not enough Watchtower! Not Jehovah’s Witnesses! They weren’t hamstrung, nourished on Jungian theology. Job meant something to them. It wasn’t there simply to generate wordy theories and earn university degrees. A correct appreciation of it afforded them power and enabled them to bear up under the greatest evil of our time, a mass evil entirely analogous to the trials of Job! They applied the book! And in doing so, they proved its premise – a man can maintain integrity to God under the most severe provocation. Indeed, some Witnesses are on record as saying they would not have traded the experience for anything, since it afforded them just that opportunity!

Carl Jung, in Holocaust’s aftermath, stumbles about trying to explain how such evil could possibly occur, and can do no better than endorse the already prevailing view that the God of the Old Testament is mean, whereas the God of the New Testament is nice. He ought to have spoken to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter didn’t experience the Holocaust from the comfort of their armchairs. Those in Nazi lands lived through it, due in large part to their accurate appreciation for the Book of Job.

 

The documentary ‘Knocking’ interviews Holocaust survivor Joseph Kempler, who offers the most compelling reason for serving Jehovah that I have ever heard. As a teenager, he was shuttled though six Nazi concentration camps. He was interred as a Jew and freed as a Jew. While confined, he observed Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the war, he became one. “It’s difficult to speak to Jews,” he says. “They say I became a traitor. Six million Jews died and I joined the other side. I was among those survivors who felt that God was really responsible and guilty. He was the one who permitted the Holocaust. So we didn’t fail him, we didn’t do anything wrong. He failed us. And this is a very common belief. God is being maligned and misunderstood and in many different ways looked down upon as being uncaring or dead or whatever, and there are all kinds of distortions as to what God is and who he is. To be able to speak up in his defense…what a powerful turnaround from somebody where I was to become a defender of God…what a wonderful privilege this is.”

 

back

 

CHAPTER 7 – THE GOD OF FOOTBALL

I have nothing against Tim Tebow.

– ‘Tom, he’s really a nice guy’ –

I’m sure he is. But the iceberg has rotated to thrust him into the spotlight, just like it did with Dr. Klitzman. Wrong place, wrong time – that’s all. He’s playing baseball now. I wish him well. But it won’t seem that I am wishing him well when I use him to represent worship of the God of Football. Furthermore, I will write about him in the present tense, because I want to, even though his football days are behind him.

Is not the God of Football the same God we all worship, just in another way? No. He is not. Mention some acquaintance by name and see your companion’s face brighten because he knows the fellow but then cloud back over because your description does not match his. There’s no mystery. It’s a no-brainer. It is two separate people you’re speaking of who happen to share the same name. This common-sense solution applies everywhere except in religion.

Admittedly, it’s not quite that simple with God. The trouble is, when we speak of Him, everyone likes to assume that their own God is the Big One, the One who is All-Powerful, the One who truly merits the capital G, and not just a lower-case g, a letter which, after all, can also be used to begin words like garbage gangrene, glutton or gout. No one wants to be stuck worshiping some loser of a god, and no one will admit to it. So it’s not exactly the same as discussing Ida Ho, a name everyone knows might belong to either a princess or a pig.

But it’s close enough. After all, in Bible times, different nations worshiped different gods and they all thought that their Guy was the Big One. Any Bible reader knows this. Furthermore, it was understood that different gods had different attributes. When the fighting Israelites mopped up the hills with the Syrians, the latter figured it was due to Jehovah being a God of mountains. “Let’s try them again on the flatlands!” they said. Alas, Jehovah turned out to be a God of the flatlands as well. (1 Kings 20:23-25)

I’ll take the old way of thinking any day. Different peoples worship different gods who have different attributes. The god of the evangelicals, for instance, is a god of football. I don’t know how one can conclude any differently after watching Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos play. Time and again, Tebow quarterbacks his team to cliffhanger come-from-behind wins. Each time, and many times in between, he drops to one knee to thank Jesus. It’s a verb now – tebowing. Nobody, but nobody, praises the Lord more on the football field than does Tebow. Is the Lord really honored that way?

When I saw him scoring, (the player who caught his 80-yard pass, clinching a 29-23 win over the Steelers, making for an eleven second ending to an overtime game) first of all, I just thought, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” Tebow said. “Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him – Like I can catch up to D.T! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I’ve done that. That was fun. Then, I got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans.

The media eats all this up. They love it! They take it all just as Tim apparently means it, as a Feather in God’s Cap, genuine praise for the Football God. After every grueling play that goes well he drops to his knee to praise the Lord. All this in front of tens of thousands of fans. The evangelicals go nuts! “Players have been pointing to heaven when they score and joining in post-game prayer circles for more than a decade. And every time the limelight lands on a prayer moment, evangelicals are delighted,” says Tom Krattenmaker, author of ‘Onward Christian Athletes.’ They’re not embarrassed to be trivializing God; they’re delighted!

The fellow wears John 3:16 painted on his eyelids, for crying out loud, as do several other players. It’s his favorite scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son….” During one game, he actually threw for 316 yards, and you should have heard the euphoria! Evangelical fans, shouting thanks to God for each and every spectacular play, have John 3:16 painted on their bare chests! Just once I’d like to see some fan sporting Matthew 6:5 on his bare chest: “when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen…”

Man, this stuff is offensive! How can anyone stand it? God doesn’t do much about injustice, depravity and mayhem worldwide. All those things go unchecked; they don’t seem to interest him. But he never misses a game, eagerly tweaking his favorite players on this team or that! How dare the evangelicals link God with something so trivial! How dare they! I tell you, the enemies of God are not to be found among the atheists. They’re to be found among those who claim to be his friends. The only way I can keep from hurling my cookies on this is to point out that these guys are not worshiping Jehovah God at all, nor even his Son. They are worshiping the God of Football.

And please don’t think I have anything against football. I do not. Though, truth be told, it is sort of competitive…um, not to mention violent, two traits that can’t rank it too highly on God’s approval list. I suspect that, at best, God tolerates the game and those who watch it, reckoning it as just one more run-of-the-mill human foible. At any rate, I don’t investigate too deeply for fear that his disapproval may be stronger and then I won’t be able to watch any more games which I seldom do anyway but why cut off my options?

It may even be that my only lukewarm interest in football stems, not from any latent righteousness on my part, but from my proximity to the Buffalo Bills, our geographically closest NFL team. The God of Football has not been kind to the Bills for many years; it has a way of cooling one’s ardor. I don’t know why He doesn’t Treat them better. They also have players who pray to him. Like when one of them dropped the game-winning pass in his team’s overtime; it was a perfect pass and it just flew through his fingers. So he prayed to God that evening, using Twitter:

[_ I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO... _]

That’s the trouble with being the Football God. You get praises from your worshipers on the winning team. But those on the losing team cuss you out something fierce.

After that first season of Tebow ended, though it had been mere whimsy at first, the more I turned the idea over in my head, the more I found that I’d love to see it the following year: atheist football players with Matthew 6:5 on their eye black. Or atheist fans with that verse on their bare chests:

Also, when you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the [stadiums] and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men.

Wouldn’t that balance out those characters praising the Lord after every good play? Ought not today’s American atheists be ashamed of themselves for not yet doing it? They’re wusses, just like their British counterparts who rolled out busses with the message: “There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” completely gutting their own message with a ridiculous “probably,” and only because they were scared of the ‘Truth in Advertising’ law.

‘But wait, Tom! Just wait. Would you really, truly like to see it? Wouldn’t that turn God into a laughingstock?’ It’s a well-meaning question, but the trouble is that evangelicals have already turned him into a laughingstock. And that’s the best face you can put on it. The worst is that they’ve turned him into an obscenity! Uninterested in world travails, but avidly interested in the game, tweaking each play to bless his buddies! That’s the God the evangelicals present us with. Can atheists make matters any worse? I don’t think so.

‘But – but – what if the effusive John 3:16 crowd gets mad, and fistfights break out on the field and in the stands? Wouldn’t that be bad, Tom?’ Well – that could happen. And yes, that would be bad. But no more so than the present spectacle, and it might even prompt these gushing religionists to conduct their prayer life in accord with the Lord’s words at Matthew 6:5. And that would be good.

I don’t know how to play this Tebowing sensation – it infuriates me so. It’s like Paul strolling through the Areopagus growing ever more irritated at the idols. If that got him going, he would positively lose it over this! Should I spin it satirical? Relate how, back in the first century after a hard day doing religious stuff, the disciples would pair off into teams and play athletic games? And if one of them scored a goal, or run, or touchdown, he’d pump his fist and holler “GO LORD!” or “YEA GOD!” And how Peter especially would shout at such times “LORD, YOU ROCK!” an expression which found its way into scripture in a curiously garbled way? And how eventually the disciples forgot all about the religious stuff because the games were just so much more fun? But won’t this border on blasphemy if I write all these things? Yes, I fear it will. But no more so than that which it satirizes, that which we see every Sunday on the field, throwing a pass, sacking a quarterback, scoring a touchdown and praising God for it! As though the greatest miracle He might perform is to produce Perfect Stats! As though he revels in all the trophies he has produced for evangelical players, knowing that their trophies are really His! Beaming with pride when the quarterback, having won a game, says “First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!”

It wasn’t always this way. Fran Tarkington, who quarterbacked for the Vikings and Giants during the 1960’s and 1970’s, was religious. Son of a Pentecostal Holiness minister, he had attended church services every Wednesday night, Friday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. That’s more meetings than Jehovah’s Witnesses ever attended! Far from his faith being honored, he had to get a special dispensation to play in the NFL! In a piece for the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, Mr. Tarkington writes that he “never understood why God would care who won a game between my team and another. It seemed like there were many far more important things going on in the world.” See? Common sense once prevailed before evangelicals came upon the scene. Even when Fran relates how the New York Giants team owner would invite “half the priests in New York City into the locker room before games.” At least they didn’t burst on field with players from the locker-room, crossing themselves as they ran!

Still, even after Tarkington smashes right through the hypocrisy of making God a Fan, he concludes:

But seriously, isn’t it refreshing that the chatter around the NFL is about a great athlete with great character who says and does all the right things and is a relentless leader for his team – and not about more arrests and bad behavior from our presumptive “heroes?”

No, no, no, no, Mr. Tarkington! NO! It isn’t! Sam Harris is right. You must call a spade a spade! Of course Tim Tebow is a great guy and a great player! Of course it’s good that he’s not raping and pillaging as some of his cohorts are wont to do. That’s not the point! The point is that he trivializes God, painting Him an avid fan who takes little interest in the unspeakable atrocities we daily see on the news! All that remains is to paint Him with a Beer and a TV Remote, his Heavenly Throne a Celestial Easy Chair! Imagine yourself a victim of some atrocity – you cry out to God for justice. “Not now, not now! What – .do you want Me to miss The Game?” This is what the evangelicals bring us! No matter how much I rail about it, it’s not enough!

It’s not just Tarkington. Michael Medved, scratching his head, it seems, also writes in the Wall Street Journal. There have been other great religious athletes, he observes. “Three great Jewish baseball players—Hank Greenberg in 1931, Sandy Koufax in 1965 and Shawn Green in 2001 – drew mostly admiring comments when they refused to participate in crucial games that fell on Yom Kippur…So why should Tim Tebow draw more resentment than other religious athletes?”

Are you kidding me, Mr. Medved? You really don’t know why? It’s because Greenburg, Koufax, and Green’s actions represent sacrifice. They represent service to God. They’re giving up something, something important to them, for the sake of their faith. They’re not simply putting a God smiley-face on what they’d be doing anyway, an activity which hardly seems endorsable by a God who says he doesn’t care for violence or the competitive spirit. That’s what rankles folk. Look, if you want to play football, play football. Nobody has any problem with that. But don’t go carrying on as if it’s sacred service you’re performing. It’s not. It’s football.

Matthew 6:5 resonates. It rings true. Those oh-so-public in-your-face prayers punctuating high points of a decidedly un-Christlike activity just make you want to puke. “Hypocrites” is the inspired word Jesus uses at Matthew 6:5, and everyone except the evangelicals knows he hits the nail on the head.

There was some bunch of atheists somewhere who denounced Tim Tebow as a hypocrite, even adding that he was “full of crap.” But there’s no reason to think that is true. By all accounts, he lives a virtuous life off-field. No, it’s not a personal hypocrisy that he can be charged with. It’s a systemic hypocrisy inherent with the me-first religious system he’s bought into – a system that puts personal salvation above all else. Followers pick it up as readily as breathing. I hope it will not stumble anyone in the evangelical world if I let spill that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not purchase a spectator box at the stadium.

Now that he is retired from football, I’d love to think the Tebowing sensation is safely buried, but I am worried. He has signed on with the New York Mets baseball team. He swatted his very first pitch of the training season over the fence! At another game, a fan suffered a seizure, and he rushed over to pray with the fellow until the ambulance arrived. We may just be getting started. At least give the Football God time enough to fetch his Baseball Cap.

 

back

CHAPTER 8 – PLATO

 

In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know much when it comes to the ancient Greeks. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables and not “So-crates.” To be sure, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time in which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don’t consider knowledge of them indispensable. The Russian, Chinese, and Indian populations are ignorant of the Greeks – the root of Western civilization, but not of theirs – and don’t bemoan the loss.

Bernard Strawman positively adores the Greeks. He loves to drop the names of any famous person, but the Greeks send him into euphoria. So, it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?

Plato recorded his concept of ideal government. He advocated rule by “philosopher-kings.” Mr. Strawman has often spoken of them. Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected, by already existing rulers, on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, so lengthy that it seems nobody under age fifty would be eligible for consideration.

Consider an excerpt from ‘The 100,’ an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history; Plato is number forty:

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will recognize at once that these words almost exactly describe their Governing Body. Only the “mates in common” does not apply, and we can overlook that dissimilarity based upon what we’ve learned of the Greeks: they were slave-holding, misogynist pedophiles – all except for Plato. When time travel is invented, the morals police will give a friendly wave to the slave-owning American forefathers as they rush past in time to bring the scoundrels of ancient Greece back in leg irons to face the music of contemporary wrath.

A less obvious dissimilarity is that the Governing Body does not look to philosophy for guidance as do Plato’s philosopher-kings. They look to Christ for direction; they don’t imagine even their own ‘philosophy’ to be a reliable guide. The surface of philosophy is vast, but it’s depth is slight. The Governing Body looks elsewhere than human philosophy. They, along with all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, incorporate continual Bible study into their routine. They accept the book as God’s communication to man. They look to it almost as do governments to their respective constitutions for direction on handling current events.

This is absolutely too rich – the group who, without fuss, and no doubt unknowingly, actually applies the words of the learned Plato, is a group for which the learned ones of today wouldn’t spare the time of day, a group they consider beneath their notice due to their uneducated status – Jehovah’s Witnesses!

One may object: Plato’s recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number between about eight million; that’s more than the population of many nations. Too, the Bible speaks of God’s people as

a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and I will bless you. (Genesis 12:2)

Open the gates so that the righteous nation may enter, a nation that is keeping faithful conduct. (Isaiah 26:2)

The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation producing its fruits. (Mathew 21:43)

Scripturally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a nation as real as any nation on the world’s roster of nations today. In fact, they are more so, since their citizens are truly united.

They also are universally regarded as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration – governing, since there are ever so many groups that claim to follow the Bible but whose members’ lifestyles belie that claim. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose. They are governed effectively. They are Plato’s dream come true.

Author Hart allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato’s ideal. He suggests: “there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato’s guardian class.”

It is not so striking, or if it is, it is surely compromised by the staggering accumulation of wealth at the Church’s top – Plato said his philosopher-kings were to be of modest means, if not downright poor. Outside of the Church, Hart acknowledges, Plato’s ideals have never been adopted by any human government.

So here we have Plato, poster boy of modern intellectuals, devising a system of government that they sigh and swoon over, but can’t reproduce, and then the Governing Body stumbles along and says ‘hey, we’ll try some of that,’ and implements it without sweat!

The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it and the intellectuals can’t is that Plato’s system depends upon persons who are neither ambitious, nor materialistic, nor overly proud. It’s not that such persons can’t be found among the general population. It’s that the values of this world are such that these persons can’t rise to the top. Once they are spotted, they are dismissed as impractical nuts, and shunted off to the bottom, as in some great antitypical game of ‘Chutes and Ladders.’ But in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, these people do rise to the top, and part of their very qualifications is that they don’t regard themselves as ‘rising to the top,’ but only as brothers willing and able to serve.

Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I don’t suggest it. But I can picture Bernard Strawman rushing to embrace him as of his own, plying him with cognac, and letting him stay in one of his guest rooms. Plato would graciously accept, of course, but in time he would learn that, while he was honored with words, he was yet dismissed as an impractical dreamer. In time – it might be a long time – he would discover that Jehovah’s Witnesses had put his ideas into practice. He would rush over to Bethel to consult, where they, having no idea who he is, would make him take a number. And he’d have to lose the robe; it’s ties only at Bethel.

But, of course! Mr. Strawman! Wait until I tell Bernard Strawman! He’ll be excited! While the entire car group sat twiddling their thumbs, I brought up the subject with him. With a forklift, he retrieved the tome ‘The Greeks’ from his library. I explained to him Michael Hart’s book. You would have thought I had slapped him! His face grew red:

That doesn’t count! They’re philosopher-kings, not plumber-janitors! Plato’s for educated persons!

And like Buck Turgidson before the Russian ambassador, he covered over his book so that I couldn’t see it! In his haste, he even knocked over his cognac.

In the first century, the “apostles and older men” in Jerusalem formed a governing body to set policy for the rapidly expanding Christian faith. That agency determined how scripture would apply to new developments. Acts chapter 15 provides a specific example of how Christians were governed then. The specific issue doesn’t matter – it’s not a burning topic today. It is the template that matters. Today, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses that template in directing modern Christian activity. Note, in Acts 15, the dispute and the agreed-upon channel of redress. Note how, prior to reaching a decision, scripture is considered, both historical and prophetic. Witnesses are heard who testify to the role holy spirit is manifestly playing among the congregations. The resulting decision is put into writing and sent to all the congregations. Acts 16:4-5:

Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.

Alas for those who suppose God is an American! Alas for those who suppose Christianity ought be based upon Western democracy! Churches here invariably paint God as American. He’s enthralled with democracy and majority rule and freedom of speech. But, it wasn’t guidelines being delivered back then by the Acts 15 apostles and older men. It wasn’t suggestions. It wasn’t proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decrees which were to be observed.

It’s not just the New World Translation. Nearly all English translations use words as ‘decrees” or “decisions.” The New International Version calls them “decisions for the people to obey.” The Amplified Bible says “regulations,” Moffatt’s NT translation: “resolutions,” the Good News Bible: “rules.” Only the ridiculously paraphrased Message translation waters down the phrase to “simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful.”

Isn’t this what one would expect? If God’s ways are truly higher than our ways, as Isaiah 55:9 states, and people become Christians precisely for that reason, does anyone really think that God’s ways would be determined by majority vote? If that’s the case, who needs God?

There must be a governing agency. God saw to that in the first century. The apostles and older men governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They weren’t ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession. Is this arrangement to be extended into the present? Jehovah’s Witnesses say yes. It’s what they glean from consideration of Matthew 24:45-47:

Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.

At first glance, one might wonder if these verses can refer to governance at all. I’ve had someone try to tell me the verses are no more than a nice little story with the moral to always do your best. But consider that the verses are embedded in Matthew 24 and 25, two Bible chapters filled with prophesies and parables about Christ’s return. Matthew 24:3 leads with the question posed by Jesus’ disciples: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” Matthew 25 consists of three parables in which the Master returns after a long absence and settles accounts with his slaves. What have they been up to while he was gone? Some have been diligent. Some have been negligent. Some have kept alert. Some have fallen asleep. Some have done well by his brothers. Some have ignored them. As always, Jesus speaks in illustrations.

Today, among Jehovah’s Witnesses that “faithful and discreet slave,” sometimes called just “the slave,” found by the “master on arriving” to be giving “food at the proper time,” has been appointed over all [the Master’s] belongings. It defines a governing body which oversees Kingdom interests on earth. As closely as possible, it models itself after the pattern set by that first century governing body. In this way, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed. They thereby maintain unity. They stand for something separate. They don’t just reflect cultural norms of the day endorsed with a smilely God stamp of approval.

 

Just as Daniel apologized for his countrymen though he’d done nothing blameworthy himself, so Ronald J. Sider bemoans America’s evangelicals, telling it all in his 2005 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Sure, they believe the Bible, as they are quick to tell you. But they don’t practice the Bible. They don’t apply it in their personal lives. Some do. Some are upright. But in no greater proportion than the world in general.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a point which chapter two of his book makes abundantly clear. That chapter is as concise and comprehensive a discussion of the subject as you will see anywhere. Taking each New Testament book in succession, Mr. Sider highlights scripture after scripture to show that Christians were (and are) expected to live under Christ’s law, and that doing so would produce a people who lived so decently that their lives, not merely their words, would be a drawing card for the faith:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

“If Paul is even close to being right about what it means to be a Christian, one can only weep at the scandalous behavior of Christians today,” Mr. Sider states. “How many preachers today speak that clearly about the sins of greed, adultery, and slander?”

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:3-4)

Apparently, the countercultural lifestyle of these early Christians was obvious to outsiders, notes Mr. Sider. Not so today among the evangelical community.

Our disobedient lifestyles crucify our Lord anew.” After reviewing the evidence, “we have seen the stunning contrast between what Jesus and the early church said and did and what so many evangelicals do today. Hopefully that contrast will drive us to our knees, first to repent and then to ask God to help us understand the causes of this scandalous failure and the steps we can take to correct it.

Mr. Sider does just that, and offers some remedies. You cannot read these remedies without noting they are the very building blocks of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. And they do, to a great degree, solve the woes Mr. Sider describes.

First, says Mr. Sider, the Western world’s obsession with independence must end, to be replaced with recognition that Christians are a community belonging to, and having responsibility for, each other. Paul goes so far as to say Christians ought to be slaves to one another. Galatians 5:13 literally reads “be slaves to each other,” yet most popular translations, Mr. Sider notes, dilute the verse to a more independence-savoring “serve one another in love.” (but not so the New World Translation, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It reads: “through love slave for one another.”)

Many churches today trumpet that they are “independent Bible believing,” yet the very notion is “heretical,” says Mr. Sider. To be part of the body of Christ, a church must align itself with a larger structure to give “guidance, supervision, direction, and accountability.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have exactly such a structure in their Governing Body. Soreheads rail against it as “mind control.”

Second, Mr. Sider suggests, any congregation with over fifty members ought to arrange its people into small groups, where oversight and encouragement can more effectively be offered. They’re called ‘service meeting groups.’ Since as long as anyone can remember, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have made use of such small groups.

‘Make it harder to join’ is a third suggestion. ‘Evangelical Conscience’ points to early Anabaptists and Wesleyans, as though no modern examples existed. These groups took their time admitting new members, ensuring that their conduct as well as words lined up with Christ’s teachings. They did not just settle for a quick “accept the Lord and be saved.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for requiring an extensive period of Bible study as a prerequisite to baptism.

Lastly, “parachurch” organizations, groups like ‘Youth for Christ,’ that transcend the larger church structure, have, by definition, no accountability to anybody: “Many of the worst, most disgraceful actions that embarrass and discredit the evangelical world come from this radical autonomy,” says ‘Evangelical Conscience.’ Somehow, such groups have to be brought into tow, though Mr. Sider admits that he has no clue as to how to accomplish this.

 

The ink wasn’t dry on that September ‘Kingdom Ministry’ when Victor Vomidog called. I don’t speak to him – I really don’t – but he’s left hours-long diatribes on my voicemail:

Did you see it, Tommy? Hah, did you? It’s right there in the question box, Tommy! Did you see it?

There was an article about some of our people grouping together to explore deeply this or that spiritual topic, delving where no one had delved before. They’d done extra research, released their own extra findings, to augment material coming from the slave. They’d held conferences, published books, and hosted web sites where collaborators from all over could contribute their own research. The faithful and discreet slave didn’t like the idea, didn’t like it one bit, and strongly discouraged it. They cited a few verses, such as:

Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Might not independent research groups pose a danger to the unity Paul spoke of? In fact, there were some lone rangers back in the first century, with the following results:

For some from the house of Chloe have informed me regarding you, my brothers that there are dissensions among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’ Is the Christ divided? Paul was not executed on the stake for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (vs 11-15)

Western society puts such a premium on independence that any notion perceived as pulling in the reins is suspect, as though only despotism could account for it. But consider Ronald Sider’s observations about the evangelical community, a community which makes thorough hash of living the faith they do so well talking about. The culprit is today’s spirit of independence. It’s manifested in the ‘parachurch,’ providing an umbrella for the scandalous conduct endemic in the evangelical community. “Frankly, I do not know how to solve this problem,” Sider admits. The faithful and discreet slave does. But it takes guts to implement and it earns them taunts and abuse from characters like Victor Vomidog. Are there even some evangelicals who join in with catcalls?

So the Christian congregation adjusts to oversight from the faithful and discreet slave, which steps on a few toes (ouch!) of those whose motives, not only are not bad, but are generally noble. These are loyal, faithful brothers. Their goal is not to contradict or undermine, but to reinforce and supplement. They are people of a scholarly bent who have made the truth their life and want to bring their own talents to bear. How can one not sympathize? But there is a potential danger to Christian unity in that direction, which the article points out. It’s not even a prohibition, really, but just a statement that the organization “does not endorse” such activities. Though, to be sure, Tom Pearlsnswine informed me later that the organization DOES NOT ENDORSE! such activities.

Furthering the attack, one of Victor’s new buddies chimes in. At his church, he could form a debate club if he disagreed with the pastor about something: “Could you? Nyah, nyah, Tom – could you?” he taunts. “Or would you be scared?”

It is axiomatic to him that the Church be patterned on Western values – God is American! And in the West, we have RIGHTS! First and foremost is the right to free speech. Robust debate! Can anything be more healthy? Wasn’t it Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it!” How Western! Mom! Baseball! Apple Pie! Surely that must be in the Bible!

However, Evelyn Beatrice Hall was not one of the twelve apostles. She might not agree with verses like:

It is necessary to shut their mouths [of self-styled authorities], because these very men keep on subverting entire households. (Titus 1:11)

And

…command certain ones not to teach different doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:3)

How’s that for free speech? How’s that for robust debate? You cannot read the New Testament without being struck by the apostles’ efforts to prevent sects, divisions, dissention, and at the extreme, apostasy. Christianity started in unity. They wanted to keep it that way, but it’s not human nature to agree. Small disagreements can quickly widen into large ones. Yet Jesus disciples were to be “one flock, one shepherd.” So, there was a human governing agency in the first century congregation, consisting first of the apostles, and it was through this agency that Christian unity was preserved. Every Christian was encouraged to know the scriptures, well before they were assembled into a ‘Bible.’ The earliest Christians had known Jesus personally. This worked toward unity and agreement. But as Christians increased in number from twelve individuals to congregations throughout the contemporary world, does anyone really think that unity would remain unmarred without a human authority to resolve disagreements? If authority was necessary then, how much more so today with congregations throughout the globe?

I don’t even like the question posed: could I start a debate group if I disagreed with this or that teaching? I don’t like the premise. Christians aren’t inclined to debate. They’ve signed on to a manner of thinking that holds that truths aren’t established that way. They endeavor to reflect the

wisdom from above,” which “is first of all, pure, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey… (Jas 3:17)

They allow themselves to be “readjusted” through the influence of a governing agency:

And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, to build up of the body of the Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-13)

 

The internal discipline now practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses was practiced in most Protestant denominations until less than 100 years ago, and was based on the same scriptures Ronald Sider speaks of. But when it became unpopular, they gave it up. As a result, the morals and lifestyle of today’s evangelical church members are indistinguishable from that of the general populace. That’s not good. The Bible is clear that the Christian congregation is not supposed to be a mirror image of today’s morally bankrupt society. It is supposed to be an oasis.

I vividly recall circuit overseers pointing out that 60 years ago the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral. Time was when there was little difference between the two groups with regard to conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” Sider writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He then quotes Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls ‘consumerism:’

Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.

They do. And because the church promotes it, caters to it, does whatever it must to hold onto its ranks, its people cannot be told apart from general society. They can argue Trinity and hellfire till your ears fall off, but otherwise live no differently than anyone else. The ones who actually apply Christianity are left unreinforced, in some ways even challenged, by their own church.

Does it not remind you of the nineteen adjectives said to characterize people of the last days? Paul writes:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” As he winds down his list, he observes that such people, far from being atheist or agnostics, are “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

‘Church discipline’ must reinforce Bible training:

God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Get this undisciplined church mob away from me! Because of their misdeeds, we who must preach the good news in all the inhabited earth suffer. If they’re not dressing up in Devil suits crashing my convention, they’re plunking God in an easy chair for the Game. If they’re not plunking God in an easy chair for the Game, they’re aiding and abetting him in kidnapping babies for his garden. If they’re not aiding and abetting him in kidnapping babies for his garden, they’re putting him into office – the Grand Politician, frowning upon national government, scheming to change laws so as to conform to his own ideas. Authoritarian governments hoping to preserve social order in lands they govern watch the religious rabble of freewheeling lands and say: ‘we want no part of this.’ They usually acquiesce that change is coming, but they know what happens when one suddenly releases a compressed spring. Better to stick with a ‘house’ Church, which will provide a spiritual side to the State, for any who want that, and which will, above all, be a force for national cohesion. The first thing the house church does is squelch the opposition, as they do in any country where they can muster the power. Terrible things happen. One nation passes a law to combat extremism and the most peaceful religion on earth takes the hit! Ideally, the Witnesses’ reputation as people who do not agitate, protest, or meddle, will, in the end, work in their favor. But it would be nice if there were not the unruly church rabble to muddy the waters.

Another authoritarian nation examines jw.org and realizes that it only helps them to promote decency and industriousness among their citizenry. Appreciative brothers, according to one report, offer to help the government of that nation with some foreign printing presses they have purchased. Does the government need the help? Not likely. If they’ve demonstrated anything over there, it’s that they could bulldoze the entire press into the bay and invent a better one within six months. But it’s expedient to take advantage of a local offer to help, so they do so. Our people are not always discreet in certain matters. ‘Jehovah had performed a great victory!’ they shout when they should recognize a delicate situation and keep their mouths shut.

Here in the West, the perception is that ‘authoritarian’ is ‘bad’ – we are so accustomed to unrestrained ‘freedom’ – and that anyone leaning that way is a mini-Hitler. Is that perception accurate? Or might it be governments, taken aback by the total chaos of the West, that want to ensure social stability among their own? It’s better to build bridges than to condemn. Doubtless, government leaders there look out for their own interests, but that is no less true here. Over half of Congressional members are millionaires. It doesn’t mean that their concern for their own people isn’t genuine. Humans have devised different forms of government in different parts of the earth, that’s all. It’s not helpful to divide governments into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ They all have their own plusses and minuses. We cooperate with them all as we preach the good news of God’s Kingdom during these turbulent times.

 

Yielding to no one, the Governing Body has held steady in its direction, despite persons who wanted to let up on discipline, despite persons who wanted to relax morals, despite persons who thought this or that stand out-of-date, despite persons like Victor Vomidog, despite persons like me, who never doubted this was the truth but wondered why one couldn’t live a more normal life. “How can one live a normal life,” they’d say, “in an abnormal world?”

The Governing Body is comprised of ones old enough to remember when you could buy a bottle of anything and pop open the top; you didn’t have to be a safecracker. It was inconceivable that a product for public consumption might be tampered with. They also recall how you could pull up to the airport with minutes to spare, buy a ticket and hop on the plane without fuss. Nobody wanted to strip-search you. The Governing Body doesn’t go carrying on as though lacing medicine and bombing airplanes is normal. They’re old enough to realize human society is getting sicker and sicker, and they’re wise enough to realize that technological gadgets don’t compensate for that.

Over the years, the Governing Body has delivered on its promises. Unlike politicians, they have not promised that the world will get ever rosier. They’ve said all along that conditions are rough and will get rougher as humans display their total inability to govern themselves. They’ve not been afraid to lead, pressing ahead with a message distinctly unpopular among those who put all their trust in human efforts. Telling about the four horsemen and their gallop over the past century doesn’t win you friends from that crowd. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.

 

I once crossed paths with a member of the Governing Body, sort of. By odd coincidence, one of my pals has the same first and last name as one of that group. Only the middle initial is different. My friend entered Bethel around 1980 and later married. My wife and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary, and it was the Governing Body member who replied! He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related how he and his wife had been traveling, how they’d been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa – boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, we thought. Funny, the wives’ names didn’t match. Ah, well – maybe someone has a nickname. How could we have known? Here is a Governing Body member taking time to respond to a card, writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he does not know, not willing to risk hurt anyone’s feelings. I mean, these are not pretentious people.

It used to happen all the time – they’d pass each other in the corridors throughout the day. ‘I’ve got one of yours, John.’ ‘And I have two of yours’ would come the reply. Of course, I would not be so indiscreet as to reveal my friend’s name. He just wants to live a quiet life. Well…he has no need to worry. I am discreet! His identity is safe with me! I would never give out his name! But the name of the Governing Body member is John Barr, who has since passed away.

I sort of met still another one. As a ministerial servant, I was tending to duties just before the meeting when I heard an unmistakable voice followed by a greeting that spelled doom: “Brother Friend! What a surprise! What brings you here?” It was Maxwell Friend from the Governing Body! And what did bring him so far from his home turf? It turned out he was chums with an elderly couple from the sister congregation and he was in town to visit. Brother Friend’s voice was distinctive, easily recognized from recorded dramas.

Of course, normally this greeting would not spell doom at all. I would be happy to meet him. But I had a teaching part on the evening’s program, a Q & A session, and I hadn’t really prepared to the extent I would have liked. I wasn’t unprepared, you understand, just not prepared enough to be brimming with confidence. “Great,” I thought, “just great! Here I’m going to show myself an unprepared greenhorn before one of the Governing Body!”

But I’d done these parts before and this one went fine. Brother Friend sat in the audience just like anyone else and raised his hand to comment just like anyone else. I called on him. He made some brief remark just like anyone else; it wasn’t some super-profound utterance as though from on high. It was just an ordinary comment. Imagine: a member of the Governing Body sitting indistinguishable in the congregation, obediently answering my Q & A questions! The point is, he didn’t put on any airs. No one kissed his hand. No one swooned in his presence. VIP syndrome did not occur.

After posting this experience, a brother contacted me to say that I was wrong; I hate when people do that! Maxwell Friend had never been on the Governing Body! He had been at Bethel forever and had done everything, but he’d not been a Governing Body member – he was a Gilead instructor. I was getting him confused with Martin Poetzinger, a Holocaust survivor who later served on the Governing Body. Maxwell Friend was merely born of Jewish parents in Austria, with the given name Freschel. He had broken his mother’s heart when young – like Joel Engardio, only in the other direction, by becoming a Witness. He had lost three Jewish brothers in the Holocaust, but he was not Martin Poetzinger. An honest mistake on my part. It’s hard to get your ducks lined up when they don’t cooperate. I but imagined he was on the Governing Body. Ah, well – that’s enough for him to have been on it. It will do for my purposes – to illustrate the spiritual qualities of long-time Bethel members who exercise authority. Actually, I’ve never met any of the Governing Body, though I carry on as though they were my best chums.

Now that they routinely appear on JW Broadcasting, Governing Body members are getting a whiff of VIP syndrome themselves. They don’t like it one bit. You’ll see them on TV. You start to feel that you know them. I’ve even heard that Brother Lett’s background is with the Sign Language field, and I would love to believe that unconfirmed report because it would explain a lot. ‘Don’t mob us at conventions. Don’t crowd us to take selfies,’ they say. ‘Don’t ask us to sign stuff. We’re not signing anything’ except that absurdly legible ‘Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ script in the annual Yearbook. These men don’t know anything about putting on airs. The very first thing you do is make your signature illegible. Mine has caused the most learned Egyptologists in the world to throw up their hands in disgust.

Victor Vomidog left a post on my Facebook page. I didn’t know it was Victor Vomidog – honest I didn’t! His profile said Victor Puppydog! He related that one Governing Body member had told another to “stop acting like an idiot!” It had an effect upon me, but not what Victor had hoped for. See, I have seen both of these men and I could picture it happening, if for no other reason than if one of them were me, it would happen. If the story is true, it is no more than Acts 15:39 brought to modern-day life:

At this there was a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus

Pat Larkin, who had an extraordinary gift for dramatization, put that first century experience in modern context. In a public talk, he presented a fictional irate householder pushing back at our brother: “Listen, don’t tell me about your fine qualities! I was there at that meeting in Antioch! You see those two kids over there? They don’t fight like I saw those two leaders of yours fight! Why don’t you try applying to yourselves what you want me to do?!”

Members of the Governing Body are on a learning curve now that there is video. They’ll learn to respect VIP syndrome. They’ll learn not to let the genie out of the bottle. With alarm, I viewed a coordinated video campaign meant to offer a foregleam of the paradise earth. A strikingly pretty sister strolling with her husband along some tropical beach – photos of her also gracing a Watchtower issue and an invitation to a special meeting. Countless Witnesses handed it out to millions of people. Panicking that VIP syndrome might not only have occurred but knocked her senseless, I phoned her. Had the campaign given her a big head? Her publicist assured me that it had not.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 9 – PIPE DREAMS

The Queen of Sheba saw the orderliness of Solomon’s household and nearly fell on the floor.

So she said to the king: ‘the report that I heard in my own land about your achievements and about your wisdom was true. But I did not put faith in the reports until I had come and had seen in with my own eyes. And look! I have not been told the half.’ (1 Kings 10:4-6)

She had to see it with her own eyes.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have similarly organized their household down to the smallest detail – how can they not be Plato or Ronald Sider’s dream come true? They’ve done it, not to impress the queen, but to please God. You can get things done with organization that you cannot get done otherwise. If you don’t want to get anything done, it doesn’t matter. But if you do, you must organize effectively.

Mr. Sider made his suggestions about organization, discussed in the last chapter, with a view toward keeping unseemly conduct in check – avoiding the negatives. He appears not to have imagined the positives that organization unleashes. Consider Plato’s and Sider’s dream government in this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter:

http://www.thegaryhalbertletter.com/newsletters/2005/09-02-05.htm

(Also read the follow-up; Mr. Halbert doesn’t want any more letters. He’s had enough. He received many supportive letters after his recommendation but also two critical ones pointing out that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. However, he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” what Witnesses believe – he just knows that they alone get the job done):

https://www.thegaryhalbertletter.com/newsletters/2005/09-15-05.htm

They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I’ve ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. All of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I’ve toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it’s amazing…I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.

They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF….I could go on. But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs.

How can this not be a fellow Witness writing? Jina Henry – I can spot it mile away, but her description is accurate. I’ve been a Witness for forty years. I, too, have seen and experienced it. What she neglects to mention, for it is not here relevant, is the organization’s scale. What she describes occurs worldwide, coordinated from any one of scores of Branch organizations.

DISASTER RELIEF is in all caps because it is what is relevant at time of writing. In the aftermath of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the online community was abuzz with the question: ‘Is there anywhere I can donate funds so that they will not be wasted?’ In a prior letter, Gary Halbert himself had asked: “What should we do? How can we help these people?” and then gave the only reasonable answer there was to give: “The truth is, I don’t know.” Consequently, “that leaves me an option I can’t believe I ever would have endorsed!”

Did Ms. Henry recommend that one should donate to the Watchtower to solve all disaster woes of post-Katrina New Orleans? If so, it’s because she’s like the queen of Sheba, swept away in the moment. She means well, but the Governing Body would not agree. Watchtower disaster relief efforts are aimed primarily at getting Witnesses back on their feet so as to resume normal Christian life. The relief teams are almost entirely individual Witnesses using vacation time or unpaid leaves of absence. They are not in position to do a general rebuild of the city and have never represented themselves that way.

However, at times, Witnesses still end up aiding the greater community more than the career relief agencies, even though such aid is but a sideline of their main relief thrust, which is itself a sideline of their main Bible education work. Back to thegaryhalbertletter.com:

During Hurricane Andrew, the Anheuser Busch company donated a truckload of drinking water. On arriving, the driver asked officials where he should deliver the water. He was told that the only ones who had something organized were Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, within a week after Andrew struck, some 70 tractor-trailer loads of supplies had arrived at the Fort Lauderdale Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A volunteer there reported (I’m quoting from the magazine here): “So we received a whole truckload of drinking water. We immediately included this among the other foodstuffs that we were sending to the distribution centers at the Kingdom Halls. It was shared with the brothers and with the neighbors in that area who were in need.

In the beginning, city authorities were sending non-Witness volunteers to the Kingdom Halls, saying, ‘They are the only ones who are properly organized.’ Eventually the military moved in and began to set up food and water relief centers and tent cities.

The original Witness staging area was set up by the relief committee at the Fort Lauderdale Assembly Hall, which is some 40 miles north of the main disaster zone around Homestead. To relieve some of the pressure, a primary staging area was established at the Plant City Assembly Hall near Orlando, about 250 miles northwest of the disaster zone. Most relief materials were channeled there for sorting and packing. The committee ordered its needs from Plant City on a daily basis, and huge tractor-trailers were used to cover the five-hour drive down to Fort Lauderdale.

In turn this staging station supplied food, materials, water, generators, and other needs to three Kingdom Halls that had been repaired in the center of the disaster area. There, capable Witnesses organized building and clean-up crews to visit the hundreds of homes that needed attention. Kitchens and feeding lines were also opened on the Kingdom Hall grounds, and anybody was welcome to come for aid. Even some of the soldiers enjoyed a meal and were later observed dropping donations into the contribution boxes.

For many of the homeless, alternative accommodations were found in the homes of Witnesses untouched by Andrew. Others stayed in trailers lent or donated for that purpose. After Hurricane Andrew, the superbly-organized relief program of the Witnesses was so well-known that some business establishments and individuals who were not Witnesses and who wanted to make significant donations of relief supplies turned these over to the Witnesses.

According to the article, these folks knew that their gift would not be simply left in a stockpile, nor would it be used for profit, but it would truly benefit the hurricane victims, both Witnesses and non-Witnesses.

In the research I have done, the disaster relief efforts organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses are too many to mention. Again, their honesty, use of donated funds and organizational abilities are unsurpassed.

Even expenses that would not be questioned in a secular charity: salaries, retirement benefits, vacation, health care insurance, lodging, meal, and transportation expenses, Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid. They travel at their own expense. They utilize hospitality of fellow Witnesses or prearranged housing. If they dine at restaurants, they do so at their own expense. Their motive is brotherly love.

 

In contrast, the Red Cross, America’s ‘charity of choice,’ succeeded in raising half a billion dollars after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. Five years later, ProPublica and NPR jointly reported that they had astonishingly little to show for it; “It’s difficult to know where it all went,” they wrote. Search through their June 3, 2015 report and read the devastating consequences of not having Bible education.

Read how the ones in charge couldn’t speak the native languages and often skipped community meetings on that account. Read how some disrespected the local workers. Read how Washington headquarters micromanaged everything, how shifting senior management slowed progress to a crawl, how leaders with “absolutely no expertise” wielded authority. Read about hand-washing campaigns launched with huge fanfare to people who had no access to soap or water. Read about the 130,000 claimed to have been housed, but who actually just attended a seminar on how to fix their own homes, received temporary rental assistance or provisional shelters that started to disintegrate after three to five years. And be fair to the Red Cross: Read their response. Read it all. Were it not so tragic, it would be laughable. It was all so preventable. All that was needed was Bible education. Jehovah’s Witnesses have it. They value it. They didn’t suffer from the Red Cross’s problems.

You should be fair to the Red Cross – don’t pile on just because the herd does. Haiti is a spectacular train wreck for them, but probably they do better elsewhere. Doubtless they have fine people doing their best. No one alleges theft. They offer an explanation for their performance. Read it. Essentially, they had problems because they didn’t know what they were doing: they didn’t mesh with the locals, they didn’t understand the local laws. Cut them slack on these things, if you like, but also note that such problems would never occur in Jehovah’s organization, where local people are highly valued, if not placed in charge.

Author Bill Underwood in the now defunct examinier.com compared the disaster relief efforts of several religious organizations. Most issued urgent appeals for money. Most provided only sketchy details as to what they would do with those monies. But when it came to the Watchtower:

Well, that was refreshing. I went to watchtower.org and searched it for references to money, donations, charity. All I found were Watchtower articles such as ‘Is money you master or your servant?’ Try as I might, there was no way to donate any money to the organization, nor any request for donations. The only mention of money I found, in connection with Haiti, was in a public news release at jw-media.org entitled “Witnesses’ relief efforts well under way for victims of earthquake in Haiti.” A single line at the bottom read, ‘The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is caring for these expenses by utilizing funds donated to the Witnesses’ worldwide work.’

 

At the home of Victor Vomidog, an alarm panel light pulsed red. Victor read the incoming feed. It was serious. Someone was saying nice things about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instantly, he swung into action. There was not a moment to lose. He opened his door and whistled. The media came running. “Witnesses are selfish!” he cried. “They only think of themselves! Why don’t they help everyone? Why do they just do their own people?” That evening, media ran the headline: “WHY DON’T THEY HELP EVERYONE?”

But they had asked the wrong question. The headline they should have run, but didn’t, because they didn’t want to deal with the answer, was: “WHY AREN’T OTHERS DOING THE SAME?” The answer to the first question is obvious: Witness efforts consist of volunteers using their vacation time. Just how much time is the boss going to grant?

So do it yourself, Victor! Organize your own new chums! Or send your money to some mega-agency where they think Bible education is for fools. Be content to see monies frittered away on salaries, hotels, travel, retirement, health care benefits, and God knows what else! Be content to see much of what remains squandered! It’s the best you can do – embrace it! Or at least shut up about the one organization that has its act together.

The obvious solution, when it comes to disaster relief, is for others to do as we do. Why have they not? There are hundreds of religions. There are atheists…aren’t you tight with Sam now, Victor? Organize them, why don’t you? They all claim to be unGod’s gift to humankind. Surely they can see human suffering. Why don’t they step up to the plate themselves?

They can’t. They are vested in a selfish model that runs a selfish world. Let them become Jehovah’s Witnesses and benefit from the Bible education overseen by the Governing Body, Plato’s and Sider’s dream brought to life. But if they stay where they are, they must look to their own organization or lack thereof. There’s no excuse that they should not be able to copy us. They have far more resources to draw upon. We’re not big enough to do everyone for free, and we don’t know how to run a for-pay model; we’ve no experience in that. Instead, other groups must learn how to put love into action, as we did long ago.

C’mon, Victor! If all the world needs is to ‘come together,’ then see to it! We don’t know how to do that. People without Bible education tend not to get along. You make them do it! You don’t want to, or can’t, do large-scale relief, yet you want to shoot down those who do! What a liar!

 

Brazil has just pulled off a successful 2016 Summer Olympics. They were proud of it. They “cleaned the house, hid the clutter in the closets, and swept dirt under the carpet,” wrote a local journalist. But they could have used some help. The country’s economy is in tatters. When poverty strikes as it’s your turn to host the family bash, don’t you hope the guests will bring a casserole? Instead, most news stories focused on how unprepared the host country was and what a disaster their games were going to be. Why couldn’t they have lent a hand, instead? Brazilians were furious about being so disrespected. Visiting athletes trashed a public area and invented a tale of mugging to cover it – ‘what’s one more mugging in Rio?’ Didn’t they worry about local law enforcement seeing through their scheme? Didn’t they know that the cops there could read?

None of this would have happened in Jehovah’s organization. Every year, some 200 Regional Conventions are held worldwide, three days in length. Sometimes they are in stadiums holding tens of thousands. One such convention cannot be compared to a worldwide Olympics, but surely 200 of them, each year, serving eight million persons, can. When our delegates attend foreign conventions, they behave themselves. They’re even selected beforehand as ones who are exemplary. Jehovah’s Witnesses know no boundaries. If there are local shortages because the host area is poor, we equalize that shortage with resources from wealthier areas. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a result of Plato and Sider ideas realized. It’s a result of people who have Bible education and are effectively governed.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses also comprise the world’s largest construction organization. In terms of paid employees, they do not appear on the list, but in terms of completed projects, they are at the top. Every building project of Jehovah’s Witnesses, from Kingdom Halls to Branch Headquarters complexes, are completed by Witness volunteers. The use of outside contractors is unusual – most religions rely on outside contractors to build an outhouse. Because Bible education emphasizes hands-on work, we’re well supplied with doers and builders. Witnesses projects are invariably cutting edge green technology. The organization helps the communities where they reside. When Witnesses constructed their Educational Complex in Patterson NY, they built a firehouse for the town. When they set up shop in Warwick, they repaired the deteriorating local dam threatening 200 homes downstream.

 

On a typical church build, construction workers spit, cuss, oogle, belch, drink, smoke, pick their noses, swear, fart, and catcall. After several months, out comes this church. But on a Kingdom Hall build, the very animals of the forest join in, chipmunks swinging tiny hammers with their cute paws, robins and bluebirds bringing in roof trusses with their beaks, and all the while cheerful music comes from – where does it come from, anyway?

Alright, alright, I exaggerate. Chalk it up to artistic license. Still, since Kingdom Halls are invariably built by Witness volunteers, typically in a weekend or two, the atmosphere is unique. And it is a fact that a Fredrikstad, Norway city official showed up one Saturday with his brass band to serenade Kingdom Hall volunteers. He was atoning for his initial skepticism, for he and everyone else at City Hall had laughed their sides off when Witnesses said they’d have the project done in three days. But even on day one, it was obvious the work would go on schedule. This was back in 1987.

How could you blame him for doubting? I remember the first time I heard of such projects. Bobby Dodge was telling Bill Ding, a lifelong builder, of reports he’d heard down south. “I don’t know,” Bill kept turning the idea over in his head, “there are so many things that have to come together on a building, can it really be done in a weekend?” But now it’s clear that it can. Jehovah’s Witnesses do it routinely, though in recent years they have come to settle for two weekends, and later still they have abandoned that for a model yet more efficient.

On a quick-build near Rochester, a neighbor charged over bright and early one Saturday morning, at hammers’ first swinging, and made quite a scene. She’d opposed the project from the beginning and it hadn’t helped when she’d learned it would be an all-volunteer work force. ‘Great – just great – this will drag on for months, maybe years! Cars parked everywhere, garbage strewn all over!’ “Tuesday morning I’ll have this shut down!” she raged, and stormed off to rehearse her speech to town officials. “What she doesn’t know,” one of our people remarked, “is that by Tuesday morning it will be done.” And so it was.

I used to think the sight of such projects would instantly swell the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Surely, you can forgive me for that. I mean, this is a world in which nothing gets done in a timely way, in which cooperation on even tiny projects is newsworthy, in which grounds for bickering emerge over matters ever more trivial. As if to illustrate, here is a fellow from the neighboring office building, on his lunch break, standing with mouth agape, watching the three-day build, blown away by the seamless flow and order. “Who are these people?” he asks? So, yes – I thought such evident harmony and cooperation would draw people. Not that it was done for such reasons, mind you. It was done because our folks are volunteering limited time, and no one wants to waste it. But even so, I thought the projects might trigger more influx. Instead, soreheads hop on the internet and attribute it all to brainwashing and mind-control.

If I had it to do over again, I think I’d have involved myself more with such projects. If nothing else, I’d have picked up practical know-how, something not now my strength. “It’s not too late,” a brother reminds me at the Kingdom Hall. Yes, I know…but…well…I was there at that Assembly Hall project nailing a tarpaulin into place above my head, and John Weedsnwheat strolls by leading a tour group. They all paused to watch: “Look how that brother is missing the nail every other swing,” one of them observed.

“Yes, but many activities on the Regional don’t involve building, but rather purchasing supplies, real estate, planning, food service, and such things. You could do that.” To be sure, a three-day Kingdom Hall build is three-day in construction only. Planning and negotiating can take months, sometimes even years. I know, for I worked on some of this preliminary stuff years ago with Oscar Oxgoad and it wore me out.

If you’ve see either ‘The Astronaut Farmer’ or ‘Tucker,’ then you know Oscar. You know the main character’s attributes: incurable optimism, unshakable good nature, bedrock decency, and an absolute inability to see, as everyone else does, that his goose is cooked. The traits combine to make their holder unstoppable. In real life, these guys make invincible salesmen. Sure enough, in real life, Oscar was a salesman. You’d sooner get his customers to kill their mothers than buy from a rival.

In the congregation, Oscar was fully capable of remarks as unpredictable as they were nutty, such as how you could forget about a resurrection if you died on an amusement park ride since you had deliberately risked life and limb for frivolous reasons. Somehow, nobody was troubled. “That’s just Oscar,” they would say. The secret of human relations is to appreciate folks for their strengths and cut them slack on the rest.

Oscar would be offered oversight of this or that department at the circuit or even district level. Of course, he’d accept: ‘never turn down a privilege!’ They’d dig up some assistants for him. The assistants would putz along, confident in Oscar’s sure hand and direction. But two thirds of the way through they’d realize, to their horror, that Oscar had absolutely no idea of what he was doing! So they’d work their tails off, double-time, triple-time, and as a result, all would turn out well. “You see?” Oscar would chime in, “Jehovah provides!” And who’s to say that’s not leadership? The assignments got done. The assistants developed skills they never thought possible. I even think Oscar attracted a corps of young Ministerial Servants eager for the challenge.

But I wasn’t one of them. We both served for a time on a committee looking into a Kingdom Hall build. Oscar was enthralled with those then-new fold-down baby changing tables: “We have to have two of those!” he’d gush. “Put one right there in the men’s room! Why should it be only the sisters who change babies? Times are changing! Not just the wives, but also the husbands should share!” On and on he’d go, so enthused. For crying out loud, we hadn’t even found land yet!

So, yes, I could do that, get involved at some level, I suppose, but – hang it all, I just like to write. It’s a great hobby. I’ve developed a dogged persistence for it, if not necessarily talent, and not that many do it. You can’t do everything. Maybe that’s why the Bible promise of living forever in paradise on earth has always appealed to me. As The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life asks, can it really be God’s purpose for us to spend 20 years growing up, a few decades to gain knowledge and experience, and just when we’ve acquired a little wisdom, to be betrayed by our own bodies and end up a heap of dust?

 

Besides developing an international network of building volunteers, which readily switches to relief mode when needed, an organization which will no doubt provide a significant jump start going into the new system of things, I suspect Jehovah’s Witnesses have transformed the construction industry. Don’t structures of all sort go up quicker than they used to? Did we have anything to do with that?

I was discussing this with Tom Brexit one day and he told me about Taco Bell. It seems that during the Los Angeles Rodney King riots, one of their restaurants burned to the ground. Taco Bell wanted it up again as soon as possible. They hired as general contractor one of our people, a Canadian brother who was active on a Regional Committee. He was hired for precisely that reason. To the degree possible, the project was to be organized just like that of a Kingdom Hall build, even to the point of the drinks – lemon and lime water – served for refreshment from the heat: ‘we’ve found pop gives a quick energy boost, but once it wears off, fatigue sets in,’ he said.

Business and theocratic interests aren’t the same, though. Construction workers generally want to stretch out the project, which is, after all, their livelihood. Why shouldn’t they? Why should secular work be all about speeding things up for the man? It’s a whole different story with theocratic building.

 

“What ever happened to that irate neighbor?” I asked one of the elders during a visit to that Kingdom Hall, “how did it turn out with her?” Well, it turned out that she is now as friendly as can be, even after a second building was erected closer to her property than the first. It turned out that she’d been concerned mostly about property values and privacy. She’d lived next to a vacant lot for decades. Let’s face it: nobody wants to live next to a public building of any sort. But when she discovered the brothers were quiet, respectful, and the property well-tended, all her opposition melted away. Though another neighbor directly across the street, who was never motivated by property values at all, but by dogma, has taken her place. “Jesus is God!” declares huge letters plastered on her garage door. You can’t miss it as you exit the Hall.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 10 – BLOGGING

Online, Victor Vomidog logs in as Victor Puppydog, as already mentioned. You have to watch out. In these parts, everyone knows it is Victor Vomidog, but the internet knows no geographical bounds. Others just see warm and fuzzy Victor Puppydog. What a liar! He’s the spiritual equivalent of the filthy slob in his underwear wooing the naive girl’s heart in the old Watchtower PSA ‘Hey, we should meet in person!’ he finally suggests to the girl. ‘What a cool idea!’ she thinks. ‘He sounds too good to be true!’ “He is,” intones the voiceover, as the curtain is pulled back on his pigsty apartment; why, he’s a predator!

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is made up of old people who have been around the block. They don’t swoon over VIPs. They don’t queue up for iGadgets. They are likely to be suspect of anything new. They ask: ‘how indispensable can it be?’ since they’ve lived decades without it and have never been miserable on that account. They wonder how the scoundrels will misuse it. The thief has switched getaway cars, and the Governing Body follows the thief before examining the cool features of the new car.

Venturing online with social media: isn’t that the modern-day equivalent of playing in the street that their parents used to warn them about? Online you can get run down by Victor Vomidog. He’s certainly reckless enough. The Governing Body feels a responsibility to ‘shepherd the flock;’ surely a new virtual world complicates the task. They worry about the filthy slob in his underwear. In recent times, they’ve come to admit, even if at first begrudgingly, that if you ‘friend’ people who you personally know, you’re probably okay – at least if your parents agree. White board animations at jw.org feature social media advice, along with other topics of interest to teenagers. I’ll play these videos to teens whenever I have the chance. I’ve yet to find one who didn’t pay rapt attention. They know when they’re being talked down to, and they’re not being talked down to at jw.org.

 

When we were our raising kids, music was of more concern than the internet. Any discerning parent realizes the entertainment world is, for the most part, a foe. If you don’t instill values into your kids, it’s not true that they will grow up free and beautiful and unencumbered, eventually selecting their own values from the rich cornucopia of ideas and thus escaping your ignorant prejudices. No, all it means is that someone else will instill values into them. That someone else is not likely to have your kids interests at heart, certainly not like you do. Heaven help you if that someone else is the entertainment world, which pushes against even the limits of Sturgeon’s law: “Those who say ‘90% of science fiction is crap’ are correct, but then, 90% of everything is crap.”

You have to shield the kids somehow. You cannot do what the entertainment industry tells you to do: watch this or that show with your child and then discuss its values or lack thereof. They just want to double their audience. In our household, adults didn’t have the same amount of free time as did the kids, and I didn’t want to blow all mine playing ‘bad cop.’

TV tickets worked reasonably well. You’d allot the kids so many TV tickets per week. Using them as they saw fit, they were able to watch two hours or so per week of commercial TV. Public TV was unlimited. We didn’t have cable; why torture them with unlimited channels they can’t watch? I remember my son, at six or seven, telling someone how much he enjoyed TV because he learned so much. He actually thought that was its purpose! True, we found out years later that the kids had cheated some; they’d found a way to counterfeit the tickets or whatever, but even so, it’s a policy I’d repeat in a heartbeat were I to come along with a second crop of kids, which isn’t going to happen.

Or you might just do away with the television. That sounds a little drastic, but here and there you run across families that have done just that. True, it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it’s not that great of a baby, anyhow. As a single person, I went through long periods without a television, and to this day there are old TV series deemed indispensable of which I’ve never seen a single episode. Ironically, I found not having a TV was a good way to acquire one. People would come to visit and notice the gaping hole in your apartment. They’d feel uncomfortable, even a bit sorry for you, as though they’d found your cupboards bare. The next thing you knew, they’d buy themselves a new TV and give you the old one! I can’t tell you how many TVs I got in that way. I think I only bought one. The method still worked when a pal bought one of those then-new half-acre-sized TVs and gave us his old 25-inch one, a decided upgrade. But now, nobody throws out the half-acre ones, and I finally had to buy my own.

The organization tried to help with tips for screening, not so much TV shows, but music. We all know that kids have unquenchable thirst for music, and we all know that they stopped making good music that day we stopped actively listening to it. We view new music with suspicion. ‘Why don’t you look at the CD jacket?’ the organization would say, or even consider the name of the group; is it suggestive, or even obscene? Or is it reassuring, like ‘the Righteous Brothers?’ ‘Wise counsel,’ I thought. When can I apply it?

The Barenaked Ladies came to town. My kids wanted to see them in concert. I consulted my system and it flashed red alert! Barenaked Ladies? What kind of a name is that? That’s not very modest; surely these guys were up to no good. You can’t have bare naked ladies running all over the place. If bare naked ladies showed up at the Kingdom Hall, you’d tell them to cover up! There’s no way my kids were going!

But…how to break the news? Hmm. Maybe try ‘reaching their hearts?’ “Son, do you think God likes it when ladies are bare?” “Um, no Dad, he must really hate that…thanks for caring. I’ll burn my BNL CDs right away.”

In the end, I decided to stick with what I knew: “NO KID OF MINE IS GOING TO ANY BARENAKED LADIES CONCERT!” my voice thundered throughout the neighborhood.

Alas, it spelled the death of my system. It turns out that the Barenaked Ladies is just a good-times band – a fun, largely innocuous, wittier version of the Beach Boys. How many friends have sung ‘If I Had a Million Dollars?’ Who cannot spot the joke behind ‘I Love You Intermittently,’ a song whose composition suggests undying love but whose words say the exact opposite? It’s hard not to like these guys.

After that drubbing, I changed tactics. I went with my boy to a couple of concerts at the Water Street Music Hall; he was thrilled to have me along. That’s how I came to hear Weezer, whom I liked well enough allowing for generational differences…’Wait a minute! What were they ‘wheezing’ from? It better not be marijuana smoke!’ but I smelled not a trace of it. All they were was loud. At the entrance, everyone held out their hand to get stamped, so I did too. “You don’t need a stamp,” the bouncer waved me by, a little disrespectfully, I thought. “Aren’t there any grownups here?” I shot back. Oh yeah, the boy was delighted to have me along. But Weezer wasn’t too bad, and to this day whenever I hear them on the car radio, I refrain from ripping it from the dashboard and hurling it out the window.

I owe my kids a debt. I would be stuck with the ‘oldies’ were it not for them, as many of my friends are. They made me broaden out. Years later, my daughter took me along to see Ani DiFranco play at the Auditorium Theater. I was easily the oldest person there. I loved her performance, even though she hobbled on stage in a full leg cast, and not one of those ‘muy moderno’ casts like my daughter herself wore in the Dominican Republic. No! It was a heavy plaster job with which you could remove and club to death a rhinoceros. I sought out some of her CDs after that show and even opined that she might be the next generation’s Bob Dylan. True, her lyrics were much cruder than Dylan’s, but then, it’s a much cruder age, isn’t it?

But we’re not talking about music at all. Didn’t we start about social media? We did. Get back on topic!

 

Sometimes Facebook friends spot a wolf among the sheep, someone who is not as he appears, and spread the alarm. Am I missing something? You should assume upfront that everyone is a wolf, even JW friends whom you don’t know personally. How can anyone know for sure who’s who? That drop-dead gorgeous woman so intent on friending you might really be the filthy slob in his underwear. The internet is not the congregation. If they turn out to be sheep, you take it. It’s icing on the cake. But you don’t assume it upfront. They have to prove themselves fully, and they can’t, because they’re digital bits. You have no safe congregation space in which to meet them, and they don’t form your own personal congregation. Where is the channel for dispensing spiritual food? Where are the elders? Where are the personal relationships, so that you know if you’re speaking with a spiritual giant, a spiritual infant, or Victor Vomidog? It’s inherently slippery online. As long as people behave, they can remain my Facebook friends. I have no way of knowing who they really are.

There is such a thing as the pure language of Zephaniah 3:9, and if you’re not too naïve, you can spot frauds. Inexperienced ones, by definition, are naïve. Ideally, adults are not. Decades ago in Russia, the KGB tried to break up our organization, even utilizing a scripture. They intercepted a letter from the branch and modified it. Both letters are on display at Bethel. They inserted Genesis 13:9 into the letter.

Is not the whole land available to you? Please separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left!

The modified letter didn’t fool the brothers for a second. It stunk to high heaven. It wasn’t the pure language at all. It was a cymbal crash.

 

I blogged for six years, at a time the Governing Body was not thrilled about blogging, and I worried about it. I didn’t want to be not with the program, so I spun things that were written in my favor. Some ‘indiscreet brothers’ are hosting websites, the Kingdom Ministry would point out. It gave me a pang, but I reasoned that I was not one of them; I was discreet. Another ominous thrust: ‘It is not necessary for brothers to host websites.’ But I reasoned that I never imagined my blog was necessary, it was just me indulging a hobby; I like to write. I could, however, easily picture tech-savvy youngsters thinking the internet a fine new avenue for spreading the good news, and thereby being ‘necessary.’ That’s it! – the Governing Body’s counsel was for those bad brothers, not me! In fact, the internet is not a great place for witnessing since nobody in recorded history has ever changed his or her mind online. If you blog with that goal, you will be sorely disappointed.

While my back was turned, the organization quoted 2 John 9-11:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works,

and published: “What is involved in avoiding false teachers? We do not receive them into our homes or greet them. [‘check,’ I thought] We also refuse to read their literature, [check] watch TV programs that feature them, [check] examine their Web sites, [uh oh] or add our comments to their blogs. [umm]”

Well…they had me there. I mean, I never intentionally visited anything apostate…oh, all right! maybe I did; it’s easy to get sucked in as with hooks in your jaws. But if it happened, it wasn’t frequent. Usually I had no way of knowing. Was this grouser an apostate or just a pinhead? Was he toxic himself or just someone Victor Vomidog had been haranguing? Only by probing could one find out. If it turned out that someone genuinely was apostate, I was gone. I’ve always been amazed to see folks who claim to be Witnesses (can they really be so?) arguing at length with these characters; they never ever get anywhere. “Why do we take such a firm stand?” the organization continued. “Because of love. We love the God of truth so we are not interested in twisted teachings that contradict his Word of truth.”

They’ve actually written little about online activity over the years, but because they are so respected, a little goes a long way. What they publish are not rules – they’re not into that:

Not that we are masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Instead, they publish guidelines based upon Bible principles that are for your benefit. The guidelines might be likened to guardrails on a dangerous road; nobody feels confined by such guardrails. They are, after all, guidelines for your benefit. Once again, however, Tom Pearlsnswine comes along and points out that the Watchtower has published GUIDELINES FOR YOUR BENEFIT!! based upon Bible principles.

I got tired of seeing God’s people slammed on the internet without rebuttal and, like Joel Engardio, I didn’t want to wait for the Kingdom to fix things. I wanted to fix things now, through journalism. I didn’t want to follow Charles Taze Russell’s advice: “If you stop to kick every dog that barks at you, you’ll never get very far.” I wanted to stop and kick them. I had nowhere pressing to go anyway. Maybe I could prove Jesus wrong: “you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” I’m good at writing, especially if you’re not fussy. Surely I could make the nations love us.

 

After six years, I stopped blogging. It was enormously time consuming. My wife never gave up on wanting me to mow the lawn and such things. It wasn’t as though I was making any money blogging. Too, the organization had launched jw.org. Their old site was adequate but the new site knocks your socks off – or it does mine. It is so well done that I began to feel silly authoring my own blog, as though hosting a competing site.

Nobody ever spoke to me about blogging while I was at it. To be sure, I didn’t advertise (‘brothers, have you seen my latest post?!’) but neither was I secretive. Lots of people knew. Word got around. Maybe my stature as having been somebody back in the day kept would-be counselors at bay. Even now I’m well regarded at the Kingdom Hall and whatever quirks I have are excused: ‘He may be a nut, but he’s our nut!’ they say. Even Tom Pearlsnswine, who likes to point to COUNSEL! stayed away.

What are you going to do with Tom Pearlsnswine? Many have written Bethel on his account over the years. But Bethel will reply, more or less, with the words of Rodney King: ‘can’t we all just get along?’ They will cite a Bible verse or two and leave it at that. They don’t want to insert themselves into every little squabble. They trust in the molding influence of God’s holy spirit to act, not only upon the sheep, but also upon the shepherds. They even trust it to act upon Tom Pearlsnswine – how’s that project going, anyway?

 

Since they’re all liars on the internet, why was I there in the first place? Because I’m a communicator, and I gots to communicate! “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!” says Cool Hand Luke before getting shot. Not on my watch – I’m communicating! You’d get fed up with me in a hurry. I’m okay from a distance – ‘that Tom sounds like a nice guy’ – but the novelty quickly wears off. When I used to communicate at your Kingdom Hall, giving the talk, you’d say: ‘that brother sounds like he’s talking in my living room.’ That’s because I was. And as soon as you’d get up to use the bathroom, I was in the kitchen rummaging through the fridge.

Early on, I was much dumber than I am now. One person I ran across I felt sorry for. He did lots of bellyaching, lots of woe-is-me, but coming from the same background, I thought maybe I could help him. I gingerly offered a few sentences to see what would happen, and hit ‘send.’ My hand wasn’t back on my lap before I was slammed with an auto-response that went pages. It had pyramids on it! Stuff about miracle wheat! What do I know about pyramids and miracle wheat? What do I care? If Pastor Russell grew miracle wheat on pyramids it would be a yawner by now. It was over a hundred years ago. These days, actual villains remake their image within twenty. Who cares if someone fell for the miracle wheat hoax a hundred years ago? If you have to go back that far to dig up dirt, there can’t be too much dirt to dig.

At the very worst, Charles Taze Russell can be charged with faulty judgement over two or three insignificant things. I’m not going to pillory him over that. Why not focus on the fact that his weekly sermons saw publication in 4000 newspapers? The Continent said of him:

His writings are said to have greater newspaper circulation every week than those of any other living man; a greater, doubtless, than the combined circulation of the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America; greater even than the work of Arthur Brisbane, Norman Hapgood, George Horace Lorimer, Dr. Frank Crane, Frederick Haskins, and a dozen other of the best known editors and syndicate writers put together.

Or that he died at age 63 on a train tour, essentially having worn himself out from years of exertion? “Some say that when he died only the Bible and the Chinese almanac were in greater circulation than his myriad books and pamphlets,” writes an unfriendly source, which brands him a ‘false teacher.’ But how much sense does it make to brand him a false teacher, what with 4000 newspapers? I know that the Devil is able to masquerade as an angel of light, but he shouldn’t be able to clean God’s clock!

In time, I learned more about this pyramid pitcher. He was raised a Witness but broke away eons ago. He’s a legend among apostates. No one is more prolific than he. He had a site – I saw it once – in which he offered expert legal testimony for families suing Jehovah’s Witnesses and expert legal testimony for people suing the antidepressant makers, apparently not realizing that each claim undermines his credibility for the other. I never contacted him again, but his comments would appear everywhere. Even breathe ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ or ‘Watchtower’ online, and he was there with rabid, usually irrelevant tirades.

 

 

At Bethel, the telephone rang. “I just came from Brother Russell’s grave,” a sister visiting Pittsburgh explained. “It’s not very well kept up.” The apostates had somehow gotten hold of Russell’s body to bury it. After his death, they had frozen time around him. With any new development, it was ‘what would Pastor Russell think of this?’ They had placed a pyramid on top of his grave. I’m not really sure what pyramids are all about, but they were important back then among lots of people, not just us. To this day, many features of the pyramids are hard to explain.

“Oh, well,” the Bethel brother supposedly replied, “I’m sure Brother Russell doesn’t mind.” And why should he? Sleeping in the grave is what he’s doing. (John 11:11) We got the person. They got the corpse. Just like with Clara, who was baptized in her seventies, but her well-to-do family could never get their heads around it; a Jehovah’s Witness mama was embarrassing to them. When she unexpectedly died, the family got in there so quick as to make your head spin. She had a Catholic funeral, and everyone who wished to remember her as she was ten years ago was there. “Well, this is nice,” I told her ringleader son, who was as embarrassed to have been caught red-handed as he was to have had a renegade mother, “but we’ll also have a memorial service for her at the Kingdom Hall, since that’s what she would have wanted.” Everyone in her family was gracious to me, but none of them showed up for the service. Once again, we got the person and they got the corpse. Tragically, I’m not sure they were dissatisfied with that deal.

If Brother Russell is in a pyramid grave with a few weeds surrounding him, he certainly doesn’t care. He’s sleeping. He’s not clucking his tongue saying ‘why aren’t the apostates taking care of my grave?’ They probably are by now. Maybe one of them just got sick. It’s the same way with me. Because of people’s sensibilities, my body will be treated respectfully when I die, but I won’t be there to know if it isn’t. Or care: “Lord, my body has been a good friend, but I won’t need it when I reach the end,” sings Cat Stevens. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t want to die – it’s inconvenient and it makes others feel bad. But they don’t fear death itself. Sleeping until the resurrection – what’s so bad about that? Being asleep in death, they don’t grumble about who’s taking care of their gravestones.

 

I enjoyed blogging. I met a lot of people doing it, though usually I’d just exchange a comment or two and off I’d go. You don’t argue with people online, especially on their own blog; everyone gets the last word on their own site. Nor do you let them argue on yours. “Ah, well – sometimes people disagree – I can live with that,” is a fine way to end a discussion with a bonehead, as is “having exchanged a comment or two, I’m content to throw it in God’s lap, he knows if he’s a Trinity or not.” Or, in the case of atheists: “he knows if he exists or not.”

It’s true that there are plenty of people who positively live to argue; don’t play that game. ‘What’s the matter, scared of me? Don’t you have a duty to convert me?’ the evangelists will come at you. No, I don’t. And religious pinheads, bad as they can be, can’t hold a candle to the ‘science worshipping’ pinheads.* Snarlpits of contempt and condescension, completely intolerant of anything outside their own narrow world view, they begrudge your very existence on their planet. It usually isn’t the scientists themselves, (they just go about doing science) but that buttressing layer of science-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist types that ram science down everyone’s throat as the be-all and end-all. Leave them alone. Make a comment or two, if you must, and then run for the hills.

*[it’s a subjective assessment. In fact, it’s confirmation bias. For whatever reason, the religious squabblers don’t interest me. I quickly pass them by to engage with the rationalist crowd, who can indeed be ornery, but probably no more ornery than their polar opposites.]

As soon as you agree to debate, you agree to the premise that debate is the way to resolve matters. You agree to your opponent’s set of rules, the first of which is that you can’t move any of your pieces. Bring up a parallel point, and you’re accused of raising a strawman. There’s nothing wrong with strawmen. I use them all the time. Some of my best friends are strawmen. It’s a fine rhetorical way of saying: ‘your point it too silly to merit a serious response.’

Similarly, the critic who rails on about your cognitive dissonance merely reveals he is full of himself, presupposing his point strong enough to create cognitive dissonance. How can there be cognitive dissonance? The fat ladies have yet to sing on either side. Be patient and wait for them to do so. Any conclusion of science is always tentative and subject to revision. The reality is not so pronounced as is the old joke about the weather, (don’t like the weather here? Just stick around, it will change) but it is in the same ballpark.

For example, since Darwin’s time, one has not been permitted to believe that an organism’s acquired characteristics could find expression in succeeding generations – they were limited to just that organism. A decade ago, you were an ignoramus to even suggest otherwise. But in recent years, the epigenome, which modifies the genome, has been recognized. The epigenome fits over the genome, like a porous sleeve over the arm, and determines whether a given gene will find expression or not – whether or not that gene will be ‘read.’ The genome may not change during one’s lifetime, but the epigenome, which controls the genome’s expression, does. Today, with that scientific update, you are permitted to believe acquired characteristics can be passed along; in fact, you are a fool to deny it.

David Shenk wrote a book in 2010: ‘The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong.’ We all know it: conclusions of science change. Generally, science builds upon its present foundation, but it is not unusual to scrap the foundation altogether and start anew. ‘Everything you’ve been told about ‘x’ is wrong’ is a headline we’ve seen many times. Yet, before that story breaks, just try straying from the current scientific dogma, and see what happens – just try it.

This is nowhere more true than with the hawkers of science-based medicine. They will pummel you into powder for daring to doubt their recommendations because they are ‘based on science.’ Then will it turn out that their scientific ‘study’ was just some hasty little job designed to push product out the door; a more thorough study will have revealed that the drug in question barely works and is dangerous. The product may be pulled off the market, as was Vioxx, or it may be retained in apparent hopes that nobody’s paying close attention to bad reports.

Cognitive dissonance is a genuine phenomenon but it is too often employed as a weapon, as a ‘scientific’ name-calling – ‘you must be dealing with massive cognitive dissonance in the face of my flawless argument.’ One stumbling over it is usually one who is mentally a child, unable to live with ambiguity. No one pushes the notion of cognitive dissonance more than the scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheists types who so infest the internet with their intolerance for what they don’t like. Most things in life contain ambiguity. They will contain them for a long time, until all the facts are in.

There’s no need to get your knickers tied up in a knot of cognitive dissonance; just wait to see if something changes. I’ll side with John Lennon: “Everything they told me as a kid has already been disproved by the same type of ‘experts’ who made them up in the first place.” Just try disagreeing with a former Beatle in my book and see what happens – just try it. It’s not hard to see how he handled his cognitive dissonance, is it?

Don’t expect change to come only from the other side, it may also come from us. We’re not dogmatic. We try to keep up. We’re not the ones who say everything happened in a few 24-hour days. We’re not the ones who put dinosaurs on the Tennessee ark. We’re not the ones who think they went extinct because little Jackie Paper stopped playing with them.

The creative days of Genesis were once thought to last 7000 years each; it seemed to fit some prophetic patterns. That view has been abandoned. Scripture does not insist upon it. Instead, the days are now said to be “epochs,” the accumulated time periods, ‘aeons.’ (Watchtower, February 15, 2011) God created life forms “each according to its kind.” Awake (October 15, 2015) discusses the subject: “The Bible says that God created living things according to their kinds. Can variation occur within a kind? Yes.” In that article, a silhouette of a monkey is superimposed over that of a man. What does the caption say? Are they two separate kinds, which cannot evolve one from another? Or do they represent possible variation within a kind? There is no caption! We’re not dogmatic. Readers can think what they will as they seek to reconcile Scripture to present scientific view.

If scripture doesn’t insist otherwise, why squabble when scientists put forth numbers on life’s development? Do the scientists think the universe is billions of years old? We have no issue with it. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) is before the beginning of any creative days. We’re not anti-science here. Science is a tool of discovery. We’ve nothing against it. To be sure, we don’t see it as the be-all and end-all, and when scientists say “jump!” we don’t respond with a “how high?” But we’re willing to go along where there is no biblical conflict. Far from being rigid, the Witness position allows for incorporating findings of science.

You can forgive science devotees for not embracing Adam and Eve as two of their own. It’s pretty farfetched from their point of view. It goes against all their training. You can forgive them. That forgiveness wears a little thin, however, when you hear they are ardently debating the ‘simulation hypothesis’ – that all existence is but a simulation on a superior being’s hard drive! Simulation on a hard drive? Really? These donkeys are every bit as susceptible to superstition as the commoners they ridicule – it need only be scientific superstition to satisfy them. Perhaps I can’t prove Adam and Eve, but surely it has as much going for it as that idea.

Often, ‘proofs’ of evolution prove nothing of the sort. Do similar features in diverse organisms prove that they evolved from common ancestors? When a manufacturer comes across a clever design, he will incorporate it into many separate products. The only thing that will convince these yoyos is to discover Bible scriptures, and not genes, within DNA. Don’t let yourself be bullied by them. They haven’t earned that right.

Don’t get into debates. Debate has limited value. Chocolate is tasty, but you can never prove it to someone in debate. The Bible says very little about the ‘good heads’ of debate, but it speaks at length about ‘good hearts.’ The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses never debates, nor do its representatives. They present their version of truth as best they can. Some will accept it. Some will not. They are content with that. I tried, whenever blogging, to imitate them, and I avoided protracted debate. Exchange a few comments, but don’t get drawn into arguing with the boneheads or the pinheads, because they will never stop.

It’s better to be a seed-picker, like the apostle Paul. “What is it this chatterer would like to tell?” ask the snooty philosophers of Athens. (Acts 17:18) Chatterer is a derisive term, as is so much from that quarter. It literally means ‘seed-picker’ and has reference to a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there. I’ve no problem with being a seed-picker. I’m comfortable with that role. The alternative is to couch your every word in excruciatingly exacting scientific rigor guaranteed to put everyone to sleep. There is a place for scientific rigor – no one’s saying otherwise – but half the time its devotees are too self-absorbed to notice their work is being hijacked and misrepresented by economic or career interests – as it was with Prince’s opioids, as it even was with Nora O’Donnell’s dental floss. A former pharmaceutical executive tells how it is with research in his arena: ‘Nobody has money, only Pharma. Hire out and fund some scientific studies. If the results come back favorable to the product, that party can expect to be funded for further research; if it does not, they’ll never hear from Pharma again. No agreements have been entered into, but everyone knows what they must do.’ For better or worse, (mostly the latter) the prevailing model today is:

1. determine what you want to be true, and

2. go find some experts to back you up.

They are hired guns. They are a dime a dozen. Go find some who will cloak your desires in respectable rational attire.

Instead of this, you should be a seed-picker. Pick up common sense here, dispense it there. Don’t be afraid of those who sniff at your common sense because it is common. Let the heart figure it out. The heart can discern what is true, and that which is strictly academic isn’t crucial.

 

You never knew who you might run across online. For example, here’s a wayward child flying solo:

Life is just not worth living under restrictions we all just need to break free!!!!!!!!!!

Isn’t that a beaut? I love it! Irrepressible, fearless, unguarded youth! You’ll have to rein her in some, won’t you? Where is her mama? Dunno. It’s the internet – they’re all liars. So I added my two cents – creeped her out, probably! (‘who is this stalker!?’) But it’s her own fault! She should have set her account to ‘private.’ If you have a public account, you can’t be put out if one of the public responds. She could have done worse than me. She could have been contacted by the filthy slob in his underwear.

She wasn’t even carrying on about social media, but about dress and grooming. That’s another big topic. She had noticed a respected sister in another congregation with a body-piercing and wanted to know:

could i rightly get pierced? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY NOT. god, i can’t even wear an anklet without someone going… ‘you know, prostitutes wore those.’

HA! Yeah, it is sort of that way. So I told her about Hester Prynne from the Scarlet Letter, in just a sentence or two; you don’t rattle on forever: “People who think the most bold of thoughts have no difficulty conforming to outward norms of society.” Nobody thinks thoughts more bold than those of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What…she might not know who Hester Prynne is? Well, tell her to look it up; it will be good for her. Stay off social media if you don’t want to risk outside contact, or stay private. Talk it over with the parents. Usually it won’t be me who comes around. It will be the filthy slob.

 

I even founded doctrine online. Like how to discern the day and the hour. It’s not hard at all. You start with Mathew 24:36:

Concerning that day and hour, nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens or the Son, but only the Father.

That’s really all there is to it. Every time you find someone who claims to know the day and the hour, that’s not it! Consider an example: May 21st is a fine one. Suppose that someone declares this day to be the end of the world. Since he knows it to be true, and the verse says no one will know, that’s not it. On your calendar, you cross out May 21. Repeat the process. Whenever you come upon a day someone just knows is the day and the hour, cross out that day. Eventually, they’ll all be crossed out except one. That’s the day! Be ready.

Within ten minutes of posting, the naysayers were making me trouble: “Hold on a minute, Tom! You can’t tell me that every day of the calendar is taken. There may be a lot of nutcakes, but surely not so many as to fill up every day on the calendar!”

On the surface, it seems a valid objection, but in reality, it just reveals laziness on the naysayer’s part. I admit, if you just count nutcakes predicting the day and hour you’ll fall short. You must count more than the nutcakes. You must also count the screwballs, the cranks, the fruitcakes, the lunatics, the false prophets, the idiots, the crackpots, the demented, the crazies, the berserkos, the wackos, and the schizos. It’s a little work but it’s not rocket science. If you count all these characters, you easily eliminate the wrong days, leaving only the truth to assert itself! Since I do nothing but think about God all day, I’ve worked through all this and I know the date. I am busy right now structuring a business model to monetize that insight.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do end-of the-world dates. We’ve gotten burned too often. And again, it doesn’t happen often. Just once in anyone’s lifetime – 1975, which, as stated, even my arch-nemesis said didn’t count. There was 1914, then there was a date or two right around that time, sort of like when you miss the nail, and in frustration you hit all around the spot – maybe something like that. Then, I think there was something in 1925. Not the big deal that was 1914 or 1975, but something. How widespread, I’m not sure. I’ll bet, though, that since 1925 differs from 1975 by fifty years, it had something to do with the Jubilee, in which every fiftieth year had significance. Aspects of that system were long thought prophetic.

And on the internet, from guys like Victor Vomidog, one occasionally comes across 1994. I’ve no idea what that is. I was active throughout that time, and I never heard a thing. It was certainly never in print. I think it’s either the soreheads or the pinheads, or possibly even the boneheads, trying to inflate the number to embarrass me.

All the same, setting dates brings nothing but trouble. We’re done. Besides, we’ve sailed past all the markers, I recall one speaker saying. It’s not even as though we are needed to set dates. There was 2012 from the Aztecs. Since this one is Bible-free, it was popular with new-agers, astrologers, witches, and the like. And, alas for the rationalists – their poster boy, Isaac Newton, the Father of Science! declared 2060 to be the year of doom. One cannot even say with certainty, at this point, that he is wrong.

I am willing to give Harold Camping, the May 21st fellow, some credit. It’s not without reservation. His formula, seven 1000-year days after the flood, seems awfully simplistic. He threw everyone into a tizzy over that? Isn’t he one of those fellows that buys into hellfire? Who wants to risk that? Maybe if I say kind words about him, though, I will risk only going to a softer version of hell, some place with merely an abominable climate – like here in Rochester, which I am used to. At any rate, I’ll acknowledge that he didn’t just blow off Matthew 24:36 as if it never existed. He worked around it. He said that the verse related only to that specific period of time in which it was written, not now! Look, he stuck his neck out and looked ridiculous, his people looked ridiculous, and none of them were wearing ties, but least he was in the spirit of Jesus’ caution to “keep on the watch.” I’ll give him credit for that. Too many do nothing but snooze away as Rome burns.

You wouldn’t think people would be so spiritually lethargic in a time of such cataclysmic events. But they are. Events that would have once set folks back on their heels for weeks, now they just shrug off as ‘one of those things,’ and carry on. Just like Jesus’ words:

For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be. (Matthew 24:38-39)

Talk about the end of this system of things, and people take it as a big joke, just like Peter wrote:

For you all know that in the last days, ridiculers will come with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as they were from creation’s beginning.’ (2 Peter 3:3-4)

People reel in the face of some new atrocity, but quickly readjust; it soon becomes the most natural thing in the world to experience what was unthinkable a month ago. So if Harold Camping kept on the watch, but jumped the gun a bit, I won’t down him on that account. Maybe on others, but not that one. Runners jump the gun all the time and they simply restart the race. Besides, it turns out that he didn’t believe in hellfire after all, which is a plus in my book.

I’ve heard atheists and skeptics carry on about how people can be so credulous as to buy into end-time obsessions. I’ll tell you how. You need look no further than the March 28, 2011 issue of Newsweek, with its front cover crying: “Apocalypse Now… Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Nuclear Meltdowns, Revolutions, Economies on the Brink,” followed by tearing their hair out with: “What the #@%! is Next?”

When I was a boy, my seventh-grade teacher made us all subscribe to Newsweek, imagining she could stimulate an appetite for current events. The articles were all dull to a twelve-year old. I looked for juicy celebrity stories, but there weren’t many back then. Or else any celebrities were old enough to be my parents – what a yawner. Not once did I see a “What the #@%! is Next” on the front cover. I nevertheless opened my oral report with: “What the #@%! is Next.” My teacher sent me down to the principal’s office, and I yelled “What the #@%! is next” as I left the room.

And to think that I’ve heard Victor Vomidog carry on about how Witnesses instill fear into their children, teaching them about Armageddon! At least Armageddon has a happy ending. At least it ends with a message of comfort. Let’s see: does Newsweek have comforting words for the children? Ah, yes…here they are: ‘What the #@%! is Next?’ The generation that has failed its children in so many ways now fails them even in reassuring rhetoric. ‘What the #@%! is Next?’ is the best they can manage.

 

“I wonder, Tom, if you’ve even taken the time to read any of these atheist books?” asked one of my interrogators. Dawkins and crew had come up in conversation. “Well – um – ah – ahem – that is to say…no,” is my answer.

Perhaps, in fairness, I should read one or two. Bernard Strawman positively pleads with me to do so. The trouble is, I’ve read atheist arguments singly and have not been impressed. Why think that would change were I to read them in orchestral form? I come from the agnostic point of view in the first place. I worry these books would exasperate me, since I’d agree with much of them. By all accounts, they expose religious hypocrisy; I’ve no problem with that. But it would be ‘been there, done that.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses were exposing religious hypocrisy before these guys were born and before it became trendy. Those books would infuriate me, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, discerning no difference between God and the hucksters claiming to represent him.

I’d be livid when the ignoramuses would pass over verses like:

there will also be false teachers among you. These will quietly bring in destructive sects and even will disown the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their brazen conduct, and because of them the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. (2 Peter 2:1-2)

and

They publicly declare that they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort. (Titus 1:16)

Okay? The Bible foretells that religion will be hypocritical. Don’t cite hypocritical religion to prove that the Bible is wrong.

The atheists ought to see verses such as this and recognize a foretold drama unfolding. They ought to see the ‘Enemies’ campaign and realize that their harshest condemnations are but polite murmurings in comparison. They think that they are the first to spot religious hypocrisy? They’re either too smug or too dishonest to acknowledge that they were upstaged long ago. So I should read their books? I don’t need that kind of aggravation!

Besides, one can only do so much reading. My long-suffering wife suspects I read too much as it is, to the detriment of nobler pursuits like home repairs. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; if it is broke, don’t fix it,’ she accuses me of believing!

But that opening question about reading atheist books? It was a trap! My interlocutor responded: “My question to you was actually a bit loaded, because the organization that you are a part of would not wanting you reading such things at all. My church, on the other hand, would encourage such reading because we know we have the truth and have nothing to fear.”

Actually, I’ve heard it put more strongly than that. From time to time, you will hear crybabies carry on about how Witnesses aren’t ‘allowed’ to read anything but Watchtower-published material. I swear, how can grown-ups make themselves such children? Who do they think is going to ‘not allow’ you? One might hear counsel to not waste your time on drivel. Is that the same as ‘not allowed?’ These days, cigarette packs feature the caution: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.” Does that mean people are not allowed to smoke?

Making that point, I replied: “I assure you that if congregation elders were to pay me a visit and the entire Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity was lying on my coffee table, I would not be in trouble.” Some other sorehead quoted the line to howls of disbelief. What is it with these people? It’s as though they write the Carolyn Hax column for advice, and then fear Carolyn is the Gestapo coming to enforce her orders.

Oh, I suppose if the meddlesome people are coming around you might tuck those books out of sight, unless you deliberately want to get a rise out them – you should see what I lay out when Tom Pearlsnswine visits! And you might tuck those books away if ones whom you respect are coming around, the same way you might silence a CD with smutty lyrics – mostly out of embarrassment; as you ask yourself: ‘if I’m embarrassed listening to this in their presence, why am I listening to it at all?’ These are purely human factors and have nothing to do with ‘getting in trouble.’

Actually, I’m not likely to have those books lying around anyway, on account of 1 Timothy 6:20:

O Timothy! Guard what has been entrusted to you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called knowledge.

It’s counsel I take to heart, at least, within the context of someone who must read everything he sees.

 

From time to time in the ministry you will run into those who offer you things to read, just as we offer them things to read. This, if not a little awkward, is at least not what you would expect. After all, by the time you’ve mustered up boldness to call upon complete strangers, it’s not likely that you’re yet searching for truth, and even to the extent you are, it’s not likely you’re seeking it from random strangers. When I was searching, I would have read all that stuff. But I’m not searching anymore. My search has ended. There’s tweaking and exploring ahead, to be sure. But the basic framework is intact. It’s been tested with much shaking. It holds.

To hear Victor Vomidog carry on, you’d think persons new to Jehovah’s Witnesses were bound, gagged and force-fed. Look, you cannot become a Witness on the spot, as though a convert for the evangelical churches. You cannot ‘come down, and be saved!’ You cannot do it, even if you want to. Anyone who joins Jehovah’s Witnesses must first go through a period of Bible study, seldom lasting less than a year in these parts. Wayne Whitepebble tells people who imagine he is recruiting, taking a cue from Dickens: “Have I asked you to join? I haven’t. Wait until I ask you to join, and then say no.”

While people study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they weigh what they’re learning. They sift and compare. They consider how new points apply. By degrees, they make various changes to align their lives with the Bible. Throughout this time, they function in everyday life just as before; it’s not as though they’re suspended from daily routine. If that’s brainwashing, a common accusation, then so is every other endeavor upon which people eventually take a stand. You know how the crybabies are today: if you reach any conclusion that they personally would not have reached, it can only be because you’ve been brainwashed – now that’s cognitive dissonance. In no way do Jehovah’s Witnesses fit the traditional definition of a cult. They do, however, fit to a tee today’s new updated definition of a cult: people we don’t like.

Should a person studying eventually choose to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he may well decide thereafter to read mostly Watchtower published material from which he learned Bible teachings in the first place. He trusts the source. In the late 1960’s a newspaper editor in Trenton, Ontario commented on Watchtower literature:

Among the interesting plethora of publications, some come regularly from the Watchtower Bible Society, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is an organization which, by any man’s standards, must command respect. The magazines are well written, with plenty of research, and quite apart from the special religious theories advanced, with which many may disagree, the society touches on every aspect of human life and the world God gave man. It upholds Biblical principles, and inculcates in its adherents the ideas of honor and purity, good citizenship, and impeccable behavior, which a world rent by the distortions of so-called freedom would do well to read.

They’ve cut way back on the printed page in recent years, but have more than made up for it with jw.org and JW Broadcasting.

There is only so much time people have for reading, and in many cases, only so much interest. So if somebody chooses to consume only Watchtower publications (and there are many people like that) what problem would I have with it? It’s not as though they’re all reading Plato on the outside – it’s more likely to be porn. People prioritize reading as they see fit. Christian values are poles apart from those of the world in general. Not in shallow surface ways, but in the most basic and fundamental of ways. So, once you decide to diet, why stuff the fridge with ice cream and the cupboards with chips – things which will only serve to undermine your newfound determination?

The Watchtower organization is unafraid of verses like 1 Timothy 6:20. Everyone else in the world of churches pretends those verses don’t exist, terrified lest they be thought narrow or restrictive, the worst of all possible sins today. The Governing Body embraces those verses, unconcerned with what the world will think, so long as they discharge their scriptural responsibility to warn against specious reasonings. They want Christians to

attain to the oneness in the faith and…the accurate knowledge of the Son of God…so we should no longer be children, tossed about as by waves and carried here and there by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in deceptive schemes. (Ephesians 4:13-14)

It’s a stand that takes guts, that exposes them to ridicule and sneering charges that they want to control people. But they don’t care. They have shepherding to do.

There is caution about what we read, what we view for entertainment, and so forth. It’s the GIGO ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ principle. You can find such counsel in Watchtower-published material. You ought to be able to find it in other religious organizations. Perhaps then they might stand out as separate from a morally decaying world, rather than part and parcel of it. But counsel is just that: it’s counsel. It is sometimes strong counsel. But it’s not law and it’s not presented as though it is.

 

By sheer accident one fine blogging day I came across Brian, a Witness youngster who’d decided that the home team was wrong and that the atheists were right. The atheists! So he figured he’d better tell the Watchtower off. He had his letter of disassociation posted right there on the internet, building up courage to submit it to the elders. The letter contained six “blatant Watchtower errors.” He was worried about the consequences but brave enough to face them. Atheists were in the background egging him on:

‘You could be with us! Forget the fountain of youth; we have the fountain of death! Fifty good years, and then you’re gone! No God to suck up to! No elders telling you what to do! You can be free!!!!!!!!!!’

But it wasn’t the atheists who would face the consequences of Brian telling the brothers to take a hike. “What is that to us? – you must see to it!” the chief priests told Judas before he hanged himself. Formal disassociation would mean that few, if any, Witnesses would speak to him afterwards. Would the atheists be there for support? Or would they let him twist in the wind? Brian was not sure exactly how matters would unfold.

So I told him. And I suggested how to better submit his letter. Shorten it. Delete five points. If any one of them is enough to justify jumping ship, why include them all? That’s just the atheists stoking the fire. Offer just one point, and then you have the option of discussing more at any subsequent meeting; you haven’t locked yourself in that way. ‘Look, it’s not a good decision, but if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.’ Furthermore, I challenged two of the points. Not vigorously, not condescendingly – indeed, the specific facts were not incorrect, they were just skewed in a peculiar atheist light. ‘Here’s another light in which you might see them,’ I wrote.

Next thing you know, Brian has hit the books, uncovered the atheist ruse, torn up his letter, and deleted his blog, leaving the atheists shaking with rage! Trust me, I had no idea such a thing was going to happen. I was even a little sorry about it; I’d looked forward to commenting a few times on his site. They’re slippery, those atheists are, ignoring 2nd Peter 2 and the ‘Enemies’ campaign, masquerading as saviors of the human race. I don’t like them, and they don’t like me. One of them said online that I reminded him “of the ‘too clever’ Witnesses that were in love with themselves.” How did he know?

Where is Brian now? Who knows? Like Bob Dylan sang:

What can I say about Claudette?

Ain’t seen her since January.

She could be respectably married,

or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires.

Same with Brian. Did things turn out good or ill? No idea. Is he pioneering, or is he flying the Scarlet ‘A’ somewhere on a blog, Nathanial Hawthorne notwithstanding? Did he ever even exist, since they’re all liars on the internet? Maybe he was the filthy slob from the Watchtower PSA. Who cares? If he wasn’t the real thing, he so closely resembled it that I couldn’t tell the difference. If he was real, he has a real congregation to attend to his spiritual needs. If he existed, I nudged him a little in the right direction, and that’s not so bad.

Is it too harsh to call them all liars on the internet? If you think so, it’s because you were born at the wrong time. If you were born earlier than me, you remember those trusting days when you could hitchhike across the country. Nobody thought that was risky – people did it all the time. If you were born after me, well…young people are idealistic; surely everyone can’t be a liar! Yes. They are. You have to be born at exactly my time to know it. One day before is too early. One day after is too late.

 

I found another atheist on the internet. This one was also raised a Witness, as was Brian. He too, was still a kid. It’s unbelievable! In his heady days of breaking break free!!!!!!!!!! he gushed on about his newfound ‘rationalism’ for the benefit of everyone else:

Rationalism for me means a life of pure freedom. ….. But this means that this life that you’re living now is the most precious thing you’ll ever have. …. Because there is no Big Daddy to appease or suck up to, or be afraid of, you should be nice to people because it’s nice! You should treat people like you want to be treated! You should not steal or murder because it hurts people, and hurting people is wrong. Always. No one needs a god to tell them this…..Being a rationalist….If you say something irrational or realize the error in your own thoughts, a red flag immediately raises. …..rationalism is a worldview with no drawbacks, and only positives. It encourages honesty and truth…..It promotes interest in the common good…

The idiot! The young naïve idiot! Why does he leave? Because he wants to go where there is no Big Daddy to suck up to! It doesn’t occur to him that with the gamut of human governments, the casinos that are world economies, the health woes that lead straight to death, he will do so much sucking up that God and the Governing Body will seem like doddering indulgent grandparents in comparison. ‘C’mon, Tom, don’t be so hard on him! That’s the nature of inexperienced youth. They make mistakes.’ Agreed. All is forgiven. But what about the experienced liars that have misled him?

How lofty and soaring his words of rationalism sound! How much crap they are in reality! ‘The Toxins Trickle Downward’ (Economist, March 14, 2009) examined fallout from the financial crisis triggered by the misdeeds of those at the top of finance and government. Credit markets were now closed to the third world poor, commodity prices vital to their survival had collapsed, and remittances from citizens working abroad had dried up. The World Bank reckoned the crisis would account for 200,000 – 400,000 African lives lost, all children.

People at the top had used their “pure freedom,” to grind others into the dirt, and not to “treat people like you want to be treated!” (an exclamation mark, no less; oh, the joys of rationalism!) They were not “nice to people.” They “hurt people,” even though “hurting people is wrong.” Not only did they “hurt people” – they killed them, two to four hundred thousand of them!” All children! Plainly, we do need a “Big Daddy to appease” and a “god to tell us how to live.”

If you had had a son or daughter high up in the banking world back then, who was devising the complex financial instruments that would ultimately ruin us all, even killing the poor, you would have carried on about how well Junior was doing for himself, how respected he was in his career, and so forth. You wouldn’t have said ‘too bad he killed a few hundred thousand in Africa.’ You wouldn’t even have known about it. There is sufficient disconnect in this world’s construction so that the players on top can remain oblivious to the havoc they wreak below, oblivious to any need for soul-searching, until Eisenhower comes along and rubs their noses into it like the German mayor and the concentration camp.

The failure of human rule could not have been shown in more stark relief as in that article, with consequences so directly traceable to the human wisdom running the show. Russian President Vladimir Putin was both blunt and harsh: “Everything happening now in the economic and financial sphere began in the United States. This is not the irresponsibility of specific individuals but the irresponsibility of the system that claims leadership.” In 2016 America, all that remained was to Photoshop Putin with horns, gleefully pecking at his keyboard, doing his level best to hack the American election, but it was he who nailed it about unrestrained greed.

The 2011 film ‘Inside Job’ expressed dismay that no “specific individuals” were brought to justice: Charles Ferguson (film director): “Why do you think there isn’t a more systematic investigation being undertaken?” Nouriel Roubini (professor, NYU Business School): “Because then you will find the culprits.” Culprits and regulators alike belonged to the same social set and were members of the same country clubs; they had no desire to turn on one another.

Humans were not designed to rule themselves. It’s not an ability they have, the same as they cannot flap their arms and fly. Whether through greed, ignorance, pride, cowardice, or some mix of the four, the record of human rule aptly illustrates Jeremiah’s words:

I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step. (Jeremiah 10:23)

God has designed a government which will one day replace human rule. He will bring it about himself. Those who have sided with him are mere bystanders when the time of that government arrives. They’ve announced it beforehand, that’s all:

And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Today, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses organizes that preaching. It also governs the Christian congregation in accord with Bible principles, and thereby provides a revealing foregleam of life in the new system. Benefitting from Bible education, racial and tribal divisions, economic and class divisions – the ones tearing apart today’s world – fail to divide Jehovah’s Witnesses. Kingdom Halls in the third world are often the most impressive buildings in town, surpassing anything the local folk could have afforded on their own. A piece-of-cake accomplishment? A feat that should be a given, taken for granted? Then what about the Olympics, where the world’s greatest athletes competed in a toilet bowl? The bay was filthy. The diving pool turned green with algae. The host country performed mightily; it overcame huge challenges, but the country’s economy is a mess and they needed some help. Is that so hard?

Yeah, Tom, but, the nation-model doesn’t work that way.’ Well, why don’t you make it work that way? That spectacle of the world’s greatest athletes competing as they did would never happen in God’s organization, where there is, without fuss, an equalizing of resources.

 

If you kick butts among the liars, sometimes you can look better than you really are. I was even flattered online, a circumstance that would go straight to the heads of lesser ones, but didn’t affect me at all:

First of all, wow. I’ve been checking this and your other entries and I’m impressed at your honesty and non-bias. You have got to be the smartest JW out there.

He is not actually saying I am the smartest JW. He is saying that I am the smartest JW ‘out there.’ Most of us are in. Nonetheless, it is instructive to explore the premise that I am the smartest JW. Am I? Yes. Not just of JWs, but of anyone. Nobody comes close. But I have not made a big deal about this because it hasn’t done me any good. By any reasonable measure, I have plodded along unremarkably at everything other than family and spiritual matters, and even they have not always gone swimmingly. I have plowed headlong into potholes that a more astute driver would have avoided.

Smarts are okay, but they’re overrated. There’s no great honor in being dumb, but the world is run by ‘brilliant’ people. Ought that not suggest something about the relative merit of brilliance? Jehovah’s Witnesses are mostly average people, not especially brilliant. Yet their accomplishments are unmatched, because they focus on qualities besides smarts: faith, loyalty, love and humility. They are just like the first century Christians, who were “uneducated and ordinary.” There’s nothing wrong with being smart. Go for it. But other qualities are more important.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 11 – THE PEW REPORT

The Pew Foundation studied religion and average income. They published their results. Anyone religious dropped whatever they were doing to check where they stood on the list. I know I did. Right at the top, that’s where I wanted to be! I mean, nobody wants to be in one of those loser religions at the bottom. If you’re not pulling in the dough, then (let us not mince words here) what good are you?

But as I checked my ranking, I was nervous. I hoped, but still I had my heart in my mouth. See, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I knew very well I wouldn’t rank at the top. Maybe middle of the pack. Surely I must rate higher than the…OH NO! DEAD LAST! Even worse than last time!

I couldn’t handle the disgrace. I pulled the shades down, turned off my phone, and didn’t leave home for a month. How could I face anyone? The elders came around. They hadn’t seen me for a month. Was I experiencing some problem? Yes, I was experiencing some problem! How could they ask that!? The Pew people said I was a deadbeat!

But they visited with me a while – they really are a good bunch – and presently I saw matters in a different light. If persons claiming to be Christian actually apply the Bible in their lives, will that not, in itself, put them at the low end of the spectrum? Any number of passages advise living simply. For example, from 1 Timothy 6:7-8:

For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having food and covering, we will be content with these things.

Seen in this light, it’s almost a badge of honor to be on the low end of the spectrum. It’s evidence that your group really is content with food and covering, as Paul said. Yours is a faith that doesn’t just shunt aside such verses so as not to distract from what’s really important: money! Just the thought that religious people will high-five each other seeing themselves at the top of the list – ought they not be embarrassed to be there? For the most part, the greater religious world has it backwards: chest-thumping for those at the top, hoo-hawing the rabble at the bottom.

But again, it’s not the Christian pattern to be at the top:

Stop storing up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

and:

No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. you cannot slave for God and for Riches. (Matthew 6:24)

and:

For all these are the [material] things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:32-33)

Other than Jehovah’s Witnesses, does anyone actually do this? “Seek first the Kingdom,” instead of “eagerly pursuing” material things, trusting that your heavenly Father “knows you need all these things” and will “add them to you?” Certainly, there are individuals who apply such counsel, swimming against the tide of their own churches. But are there entire religions who apply such words, other than Jehovah’s Witnesses? It makes me proud to be a Witness. We’re all about seeking first the Kingdom.

If your main goal is advancing your secular career, using religion to put a smiley, softening face on that quest, you won’t be attracted to Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s not us. “It’s okay to have your religion, just keep it in its place,” they’ll say. They invariably mean last place. That’s not us. We keep it in first place, “seeking first the kingdom,” acting upon such verses as Matthew 24:14 to preach the good news of the Kingdom for a witness to all the nations. Obviously, the good news of the kingdom will be preached by those who believe in it; who else is going to do it? We adjust our lives to have such a role rather than chase after money.

And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things. (Matthew 28:18-20)

You don’t make yourselves wealthy doing that. You’re not going to be at the high end of the Pew spectrum. Money’s going to be a tool for you, not an end in itself. You’re deliberate in your choices. You don’t want work so low-paying that there’s neither time nor energy left for the ministry. But neither do you want work so engrossing that no time or energy remains. You maneuver yourself to get into that position. It’s a great balancing act, especially for one with a family. It’s not easy. It requires planning. Some have even come to regret decisions they’ve made. But we don’t just blindly chase after maximum income, valuing material things above all else, which is the Western pattern, if not the universal one.

For example, the Watchtower (March 15, 2011) advised:

Of course, God does not want you to be imprudent or irresponsible, especially if you have a family to care for. (1 Timothy 5:8) but he does expect his servants to trust fully in him – not in Satan’s dying world – Hebrews 13:5. Consider the example of Richard and Ruth, parents of three young children…“I had a comfortable life but felt that I was just giving God my surplus, as it were. After praying about the matter and counting the cost, Ruth and I agreed that I would ask my supervisor for a reduced work schedule of four days a week – even though the country was in the middle of an economic crisis. My request was approved, and I started working the new schedule within one month.” How does Richard feel now? “I get 20 percent less pay than before,” he says, “but now I have an extra 50 days a year to be with my family and train the children. I have been able to double my time in field service, triple my number of Bible studies, and take a greater lead in the congregation.

Imagine: an extra 50 days a year to be with family! He’s not worried about lousing up the Pew survey, is he? Talk about ‘counting the costs!’ This fellow has counting down to a fine art. Does anyone other than Watchtower publish such counsel? Religions today embrace, if not sanctify, the pursuit of career, if for no other reason that they know they’ll get a chunk of the income. But who actually encourages their people to live simply besides Jehovah’s Witnesses? Even our wealthy ones – we do have some, the Pew figure is merely the average on a bell curve – are not gushed over, as is typical in religion today. Like the fellow in the September 2008 Watchtower: ‘Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry,’ a Witness who was raised a Mennonite. I know him. I’ve been to his home. As a Mennonite, he was chased from Russia to Germany. There he studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses, was baptized, and emigrated to Paraguay. He began preaching in a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, where they promptly spread warnings about the newly arrived “false prophet.” With his growing family, he moved to upstate New York. The article touches upon experiences and spiritual highlights of his life.

What it does not even mention is that the man became a millionaire. I mean, he must have, unless he gave it all away, which is possible; he’s a very generous man. He became one of the area’s premiere homebuilders. Tracts of homes bearing his company name are everywhere. But there’s absolutely no mention in the Watchtower of his material success. Instead, the focus is exclusively on the spiritual. Probably the next person featured in the magazine didn’t have two nickels to rub together. It’s a matter of no importance to the publisher.

Finally, a group that sees through the shallow goals the greater world teaches us to drool over. Finally, a group not awed by social prominence, material success, or even being ‘cool.’ When our people are cool, it’s incidental, and believe me, Tom Irregardless is not cool! Finally, a group that gets the sense of 1 John 2:15-17:

Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but the one that does the will of God remains forever.

It’s not so shameful to be at the bottom of the Pew list, after all. Rather, for a Christian denomination, it’s shameful not to be there.

 

When the retired circuit overseer gave our public talk, we invited him to the house for lunch afterward, along with a few twenty-somethings. Mutual encouragement: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens his friend.’ Presently, young Justin approached the fellow:

“So, how long were you in the circuit work?” he asked.

“Thirty years!” came the reply.

“Wow! You must really miss it.”

“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.

“Well…um…I mean…that is,” (this was not the answer he’d expected) “it must have been a big adjustment.”

“I adjusted that afternoon!”

“Look, I don’t want to sound unappreciative,” the C.O. told a friend later. “It’s just that a lot of the job is not my first choice. You know me, I’m an outdoors guy. (in his younger days, he’d worked on the railroad) And so what am I doing all day? I’m sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has found a use for me, so I’ve stayed the course.”

It’s called ‘counting the costs.’ It’s a good thing to do. It affords emotional control of one’s circumstances. Aren’t mid-life crises launched when people don’t count the costs, then are floored when the bill unexpectedly presents itself? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life: people go haywire for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go, acknowledge this part is good, that part not so much, and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications…well, I’ll trust those folks much more quickly than those who have never made introspection.

And Jehovah did have a use for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to him. A favorite, he was a man of real empathy, who’s trademark expression, ‘just do the best you can,’ is recalled by all in these parts, though there were some who feared that those hearing the words might ‘take advantage’ and do nothing. When he retired, he settled in a nearly congregation, where he continues in full-time service to this day.

 

The Christian life calls for counting the costs. “What if it’s not true, Tom, what then?” (some scoundrel is trying to get me going) “What if the whole Universal Court Case and Armageddon and all of it is just a story? What if there is no God? What if there is no purpose? What then? Won’t all your preaching and your meetings and your Bible reading be just wasted time?” He’s convinced his point is original. In fact, Paul’s beaten him to it:

Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you remain in your sins. Then those who fell asleep in death in union with Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone else. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Is this a weak point for Christianity? Or a strong one? There’s no question that the Witness organization does not hedge its bets, and that it stands for a life of not hedging bets. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a serious religion that maintains today’s world is fundamentally out of harmony with God’s will. Not merely on the surface, fixable by mere tweaking, but fundamentally. So we don’t try to put a happy face on it. We take positions involving goals, lifestyle, employment, and associations, which are in harmony with the Bible, but diametrically opposed to today’s mainstream thinking. So much so that if someone reassesses their goals and leaves the faith, he finds himself seriously out of sync with the mindset he repudiated years ago.

In my early years of Christianity, younger chums and I were inclined to view the Christian life as so refreshing – enjoyable activity surrounded by good people – that even if it turned out to be not true it was still worth pursuing. Frank would have none of it. The older you get the more the costs become apparent. There are activities and goals you pursue that you wouldn’t otherwise. There are activities and goals you don’t pursue that you might otherwise. It’s not to say the costs aren’t worth paying; people pay costs in all areas of life. But it’s well to count them ahead of time, so they don’t sneak up on you unawares.

On the internet somewhere is a person who frankly acknowledged he left the faith because he wanted to advance professionally. To really advance, he pointed out, you have to be clubby, you have to hang out socially with your work colleagues, and Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do that; they hang out with each other. With distance behind him, he’d come to think of other Witness things he disagreed with, but at the time, it was professional considerations alone that moved him. Paul would have summed him up quickly:

Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things. (2 Timothy 4:10) It happens.

As I get older, I side with Frank, though one must concede the youngsters also had a point. Considering how some lives spiral ever downwards into all manner of chaos, a religion that transforms them into honest, clean, productive persons, even if it turned out to be untrue, would be a significant advancement. One sorehead carries on about how, when one dies after a lifetime propagating Witness beliefs, it is far more than a waste of time – it is a tragedy. Give me a break! Don’t tell me about wasted lives. Look at all the ‘fulfilled’ people on the TV news rioting, starving, raped or butchered in the latest conflict. How many embittered and disillusioned people are there today? How many betrayed by their goals? How many slammed by blow after blow of indifferent life? How many once-respected and prominent people broken, having succumbed to a temptation, then gleefully busted in the media? How many contend with closets packed full of skeletons? And for those who have found fulfillment in a self-directed God-free life, it is always with the caveat that, just as you begin to feel you’ve got a handle on things, your health fails and off to the grave you go! You can escape futility for a time, but it eventually catches up with you.

The foregoing is merely to answer those who’d judge the Christian life a waste of time. We don’t take such a position. We look to the fulfillment of what things God has promised. No one would ever assert that every ‘i’ is dotted, nor ‘t’ crossed. Are they anywhere? But there is enough to go on. It’s like the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith: “Faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen.” It’s not like: “this time, for sure, my lottery number will come up!” It’s like: “This time, for sure, the sun will come up tomorrow:” It hasn’t happened yet, but I know the concept behind it.

There is much to work against faith today. Atheists parade a no-God gospel almost with the zeal of, well…Jehovah’s Witnesses, as if their message, too, is good news, and not just sawing off the branch upon which they once sat. Religious crazies shoot up people in public places. Reporters covering such things develop PTSD. ‘If this is God, I want no part of it!’ say more and more people. The prevalence of counterfeit money does not prove there’s no such thing as real money, but to many it does. Does it not make Jesus’ question timely: “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find this faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Relentlessly, Jehovah’s Witnesses buy out ever more time for the ministry, a fact absolutely astounding given the squeeze this system puts on people.

 

People don’t all have the same start in life. Physical and mental health varies. So does inherited disposition. Some folk are smarter than others. Or calmer. Or sturdier. How you were brought up may have helped or hindered you. Therefore, you have to look at people in terms of how far they have come, not just where they are now.

It’s difficult to quantify the term ‘oddball’ or determine just how pejorative the word should be. Worldwide, prisons are stocked full with murderous, conniving thugs, yet most would not be categorized as ‘oddballs.’ Violence and slickness are enshrined values today; these hapless jailbirds went too far, that’s all, they stepped out of bounds, but the direction itself is not out of harmony with contemporary values. In contrast, we have plenty of ‘oddballs,’ but they wouldn’t harm a fly.

I’ve even heard it said that Jehovah’s Witnesses suffer mental illness in greater proportion than general society. Can that be so, or is it just the ‘spoken against everywhere’ slam of Acts 28:22?

truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.

I drove by the psych ward after I first heard the remark (it’s always full) to see if it was all our people. It wasn’t. But I’ve since learned that sometimes there is one or even two. If our rate of mental illness is a bit higher among Jehovah’s Witnesses (I don’t know that it is, but I’ll run with the idea) is that not what one would expect among a truly Christian congregation? Jesus likened himself to a doctor and said: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are ill do.” (Matthew 9:12) Jehovah’s Witnesses come from the ranks of those who are ‘ill,’ deeply distressed by the world’s strife, greed, injustice, and so forth. Surely this would include some who are literally ill, including some mentally ill. Frankly, I’m more concerned about those who take today’s world conditions in stride, as if all things are exactly as they should be. Whenever I grow weary of any mentally troubled people among us, I refresh myself watching the news, where I see well-balanced people running the legs off the cops, social workers, and judges charged with keeping them in tow.

A truly close-knit organization will seem to have more oddballs then one in which people stay at arm’s length. It’s for the same reason that your own family members seem odder than most. You know them better and you’re stuck with them.

Christ’s message is of love and hospitality. The Christian congregation reflects that. Troubled persons will be drawn to such an environment; how many other groups will put up with them? Among Christians they find a welcoming home and over time they become less odd. In fact, perhaps that should be a litmus test for true Christianity. For any group that claims to follow Christ, we should insist upon seeing their oddballs. If they don’t have any – if all their people are cool, or if their oddballs are not of truly high caliber – then that group cannot represent true Christianity, can it? Odd though it may seem, you must have oddballs if you are truly following Christ.

 

‘Amhaarets’ is a Hebrew word. It’s historically been a derisive term meaning ‘peasant,’ ‘ignoramus,’ or ‘boor,’ though in recent years, some Jews have picked up on it to stress their connection to the actual land of Israel. The Watchtower has run with it as ‘people of the dirt.” The Pharisees used the word derisively in dismissing those attracted to Jesus: “But this crowd who do not know the Law are ‘accursed people’ [amhaarets].” (John 7:49) It is clear we are not speaking of the elite movers and shakers; we are speaking of the work-a-day people.

If there is any story ridiculing the amhaarets, I don’t go there. I like amhaarets. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion of the amhaarets. Members of the Governing Body are amhaarets who have devoted their entire lives to full-time kingdom service.

The Jews are inclined to spell it ‘amhaaretz.’ Alarmingly, they usually write ‘am haaretz,’ making it two words. There is a news outlet without the ‘am:’ haaretz.com. It’s their term; they ought to know. Maybe I am butchering it. But they probably don’t want me appropriating their word in the first place, and no one other than they and Jehovah’s Witnesses use it. Better to mangle it some so that Rabbi Singer can say, if he wishes: “the shmendrik doesn’t even know how to spell the word.”

Christianity starts with and remains a religion of the amhaarets. It’s not closed to elites; hopefully these ones will come on board, but not to assume the takeover rights that they’re accustomed to. Christianity has the occasional apostle Paul, gifted and educated, who offers much. But he must get used to working with the amhaarets, even taking directions from them. In general, amhaarets don’t think themselves too clever to be taught by God, don’t get ensnared by intellectual fads, and aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade.

The very manner of our Lord’s birth tells from the outset the people God looks upon with favor. Jesus was born in a manger. Why? Jehovah knows a lot of people. Why was his Son not born in the Hyatt? Plainly, we have a lesson from day one that God is not impressed with the trappings of humans. VIP syndrome does not occur. The growing Jesus doesn’t attend the schools; he learns a trade. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asks Nathaniel, upon hearing that Jesus is the long-awaited Christ. He reflects doubt that wisdom could come from the intellectual backwaters, and not cosmopolitan Jerusalem. Indeed, the disciple who later betrays Jesus – Judas, of Judea, is the only disciple not born on the bayou.

Jesus enlists blue-collar men as disciples. He marvels that God has

hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and has revealed them to babes. (Matthew 11:25)

The rulers and chief priests interrogate Peter and John:

Now when they saw the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were astonished. And they began to realize that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

They’d never gotten their heads around Jesus, either:

How does this man have such a knowledge of the Scriptures when he has not studied at the schools? (John 7:15)

Then, as now, “the schools” served to obscure understanding, not enhance it. As always, the upper classes fail to see the forest for the trees.

Paul embraces the amhaarets he joins:

For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not many powerful, not many of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to put the wise men to shame,” it almost seems a game,“and God chose the weak things of the world to put the strong things to shame; and God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things looked down on, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are…

If you were to make Christianity a movie, you would call it ‘The Revenge of the Amhaarets.’

Celsus, of the second century, does his level best to ridicule contemporary Christianity – why they’re no more than “labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men.” Being a movement of the lower class, the higher class takes no interest in it until it dawns upon them that it isn’t going away. Then they hijack it, monetize it, intellectualize it, ‘dress up this pig,’ to make it fit for respectable society. As already noted, Obscurious Vomidog is the first to break with free preaching to the public (‘yecchh, who wants that?’) in favor of paid preaching to the choir. (‘that’s what I’m talking about!’)

Victor Vomidog is openly derisive about all this. Since Witnesses eschew higher education, they end up with congregations filled with drywallers, carpet installers, and bricklayers like Bill Ding, he says. There is something to this, but it’s not a bad thing. It leads to an army that can instantly mobilize in times of natural disaster – get things up and running! – while the educated all-thumbs people pour their money into charitable rat holes that deliver precious little on the dollar. Not all of them, but not few, either.

Vomidog even carries on that it’s impossible to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses without being disfellowshipped. But this is just a consequence of his own resolve to go out with a splash. Had he simply pursued his new interests, all would have been well. Unfortunately, his new interest was to bite the hand that once fed him; few human governments will smile benignly as their citizens declare them illegitimate. Vomidog was shunned and he’s been bellyaching about it ever since.

Had he simply been content to fade away, he could have done so. He still would have lost past associations, but that often happens when one does an about-face from previously cherished convictions. Formal shunning takes place to keep the congregation clean. “Remove the wicked person from among yourselves,” says 1 Corinthians 5:13. Passages like 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 defines what “wicked” is. But if you remove yourself, no one tracks you down. Some of those who leave or who have been shunned eventually return. Others move on. In any case, they’ve made a choice. Anything that has an upside is likely to have a downside. Maybe we’ll see them again someday – we’d like that – but maybe not.

There are quite a few of them out there – some shunned, some not. Some go online. They’re not necessarily wrong as they relate their experiences and viewpoints. Some have had run-ins with Tom Pearlsnswine, who never met a fly he didn’t counsel. Some caught the consumer mentality of religion and could “no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer.” Others lost their balance as standards of child-rearing veered more sharply than ever before. ‘If you kids don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!’ my non-Witness Dad would holler, a phrase that was no idle threat – every child knew that phrase, as they did “I’ll kill you for that!” It was a commonplace ‘threat’ bestowed almost lovingly on a mischievous child – I can’t tell you how many times my mother said it to me – but the deed itself was rare. Today the deed is commonplace but you’ll have to explain your words before the judge. Lightning-like shifts in morals and mores caught youngsters and parents alike flatfooted. Besides – let’s face it – a lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses are nuts. Probably in no greater proportion than the world in general and certainly without the baggage of violence that can so easily attach itself to non-Witness nuts, but that doesn’t mean they’re not nuts. Sometimes your best option is to hit the reset button.

Some persons who leave move on in life. Some return to the fold – Jehovah’s organization invites them back, extending the olive branch. But some hole up in bunkers, intent on starting WWIII with their former spiritual allies.

 

back

 

 

CHAPTER 12 – JOHN WHEATNWEEDS

You knew you weren’t getting out anytime soon in the ministry when John Wheatnweeds was conducting the meeting for field service. His heart was with the old-timers doing things the old-timer way. Bethel tussled with him for years and finally gave up. They had won a few battles but they had lost the war. He just longed for the old days, that’s all, when you’d extract a full half hour of comments out of a single paragraph daily text. Bethel, happy enough to do that for years, started getting antsy when the impatient young people came on board. “You know how they are,” John told me.

In time, Bethel wrote not to consider the text every day, do it only if it pertains to field service. “Every daily text pertains to field service,” John would tell me, “since it’s from the Bible. What Bethel is trying to tell us is that we should still consider the text, and even more so if it is especially about preaching.”

Later, Bethel said: ‘Shorten consideration of the text and practice some field service presentations.’

John was delighted. “What wisdom! What Bethel is trying to tell us is to consider the daily text and field service presentations.” The meetings he conducted lengthened.

‘Listen, cut out the text,’ Bethel said. ‘People can do it at home. Focus on field service.’

“What Bethel is trying to tell us…” he was getting confused. But he still took half an hour conducting.

‘No more text,’ Bethel said. ‘Just do field service points.’

John shortened the text and made up for the time by waiting for stragglers and talking about preaching experiences.

‘Look, we don’t care what you talk about,’ Bethel said. ‘Just get those publishers out the door in seven minutes!’

“What Bethel is trying to tell us….” John began.

‘We’re not trying to tell you anything!’ Bethel said. ‘We’re telling you!’

Oddly, John Wheatnweeds’ brother, John Weedsnwheat, in the other congregation, never fails to get the group out on time.

Shem Sheepngoats used to dread showing up for field service to see John conduct. He liked John – who doesn’t? But he wanted to get moving; drag your feet too long, and he was no longer in the mood. He preferred anyone else conducting, even Nate Nazi, who would drive the group relentlessly and begrudge even the shortest break, but at least he would get them out there. Besides, you could always push him on breaks, ever since a circuit overseer had broken him years ago.

The group had been out in service about an hour when the circuit overseer observed that it was time for a break. Nate told him about the local rules: no breaks during field service. “Well, in that case,” the circuit overseer drawled, “you can just drop me off here at the coffee shop and I’ll be in there sipping my coffee. Meanwhile, you can sit out here in the parking lot and sip your rules.” Brother Nazi later told someone that the happiest sight he ever saw was the tail lights of that traveling overseer leaving for the next congregation, but the damage had been done. Thereafter, whenever he tried to suppress a break insurrection among the friends, someone would bring up what that circuit overseer had said. So eventually, you could take a coffee break on his watch, but you were never able to chow down.

To appease Bethel, John Wheatnweeds has learned over the years to get the service group out the door in reasonably short order – not seven minutes, but not all day, either. No more visiting with the friends in the Kingdom Hall – move it out to the parking lot! He can get very befuddled on days when Hans Irregardless pulls in twenty minutes late, Levi Whitepebble has a return visit in thirty minutes, Maisie Oxgoad wants to break at Pizza Monster, and Landon Brexit can only work until 11:20. Occasionally, in desperation to get some time going, he will lead his car group to call on a close-by return visit of his who has proven conclusively down through the years that he is never home at that time. On such days he reminds himself that efficiency is not one of the fruitages of the spirit.

 

Shem Sheepngoats recently vowed he would not do weekday morning service for a while. Instead, he would focus on the Gibsonville Heights townhouses and apartments near his home. He was getting frustrated. He wanted to speak with more people. His conscience had long nagged him because he would work a street in the morning to find it a ghost town, then drive by in the evening to find it teeming with life! So he began to work Gibsonville Heights in the evening.

He had not planned to work alone but he soon found himself doing so. Gibsonville Heights is a fishbowl of a place where every move you make is instantly telegraphed to two thousand people. He had felt particularly awkward working one evening with Tom Pearlsnswine – who doesn’t? He breathed a sigh of relief when Tom refrained from spreading out a map on the hood of the car and gesticulating where everyone was to begin; after all, there was only two of them. But he gasped afresh when Pearlsnswine lugged his bookbag from the car, which, even when not stuffed full, can be seen from Mars.

As it turned out, Pearlsnswine wasn’t all that comfortable in Gibsonville Heights, and never went again. Shem Sheepngoats, after some experimenting, began to work those apartments alone with only his iPad and some cards. Some thought he was a building inspector. By degrees, he simplified his presentation to a simple scripture-video one. He’s very innovative like that. He shared it with me:

“Hi, I’m Shem. I want about a minute, a minute and a half, max. I’ll read you a scripture,” he’d tap his iPad, “you tell me what you think, and I’m gone.” Nine out of ten persons, sometimes four out of five, would say no, but they’d usually thank him for calling. Were they blown away by his brevity? At first, Shem had said he would ‘be brief,’ but that did not work because Oscar Oxgoad says he will be brief when he means ‘I’m going to stay here as long as I possibly can.’

To the householders who would say ‘go for it,’ Shem would tap up a verse on his iPad. “Which one do you use?” I asked. “Whatever I feel like,” he replied. He’d then chase his verse down with a sentence or two as to why he read it. Last night he had used Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone saying to me. ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, but only the one doing he will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Any will say to me in that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’

“The reason I read this,” Shem explained, “is because some may be surprised to find such a thought in the Bible. They may have been led to believe that Jesus pretty much smiles on everyone and everything, that it’s almost impossible to get him mad, but if these verses are true, even many of those who say they’re following him, he wants no part of.”

At that point, he’d observe that his time was up; he’d only asked for a minute and a half, and he’d be on his way unless his householder had observations, comments, questions, whatever. The householders’ response, now that he had had time to overcome his initial surprise and size Shem up, would dictate his next move. The last thing a person expects is to be suddenly confronted with a door-to-door minister. They need a moment to size you up. So your best chance is to be relaxed, friendly, non-threatening, and to hold back.

If the person’s response was favorable, Shem would hand him the video: “This runs almost four minutes, but you don’t have to listen to it all. The minute it gets boring, give it back, and I’ll be off.”

Shem loved his presentation. If he was met early on by some bulldog who demanded he produce his papers, he’d say: “I’m a religious nut who’s wants to read a scripture, get your thought, and disappear.” “It’s the truth”, he told me. “Who else but a religious nut goes by himself, in the evening, into formidable Gibsonville Heights, like Jonah into Nineveh, and wants to read a Bible verse?” He urged me to try it.

I like Shem. He’s the one that came up with that answer for smug people who would hear him out patiently, then dismiss him with: “no thanks, I’m Christian.” As though he wasn’t! It’s okay to be dismissed – it happens more often than not – but it’s a cheap shot to be dismissed in that way. These are usually just people who don’t want to do the work Christ commanded, but want to feel morally superior to those who do. Shem put his mind to work on it, the way he does with everything, and came up with a response. I worked with him in service later on, and, sure enough, a householder said: “No thanks, I’m Christian.” Shem replied: “Actually, only a Christian would do the work we’re doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised you’re not doing it yourself.” They don’t play the ‘Christian’ card on him anymore.

 

A week later I was working on Pretencia Pond Way with Tom and Pearl Pearlsnswine, and also Bill Ding. I was already off to a bad start. It’s always dicey working in the same car group with Tom Pearlsnswine. I knew he’d do something outrageous. He always does. More than once I’ve vowed never to work with him again, but I always repent. I’ll just about have nailed that point on why a loving God would permit suffering and he’ll bring up the Trinity. Or I’ve just about clinched something about the resurrection and he’ll point out that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Christmas. One time we approached a door – my door! – and I said in exasperation: “I don’t want you to say anything except “I agree.” Instantly I was filled with remorse, but he treated it all as a great joke – he knows how he is. “I don’t want you to say anything except ‘I agree,’” he parroted all morning.

As we cruised by the massive homes of Pretencia Pond Way, where the only Bible to be found in many is Consumer Reports, I watched uneasily in the mirror as Tom’s brow darkened. He began to mutter under his breath and presently erupted: “I don’t know how it happened! The pigs have escaped from the barn and they’re in the farmer’s house!” He is such an idiot!

Tom and Pearl worked together. I worked with Bill Ding, but when it came his turn to speak, he asked me to take a few doors; he wasn’t yet in the groove. I’ve been there. Who hasn’t? Look, it’s not a piece of cake working Pretencia Pond Way. We’re intimidated by the sprawling grounds. Not a few residents here suffer from high self-esteem. Only a few decades ago, not a few others would call a charity when they saw a black person on TV and call a cop when they saw one on their street. Few will appreciate the sacrifice of Bobby Dodge, who screws up every ounce of courage he has to work out here. He doesn’t have to. When his service group leader has drawn the territory, he can stay where he’s more comfortable. Sometimes he does. He doesn’t have to be out at all unless he wants to be. But he’s signed on to service to God, doing the work Christians are assigned to do, and he carries on manfully. He has a return visit on Loftyhouse Lane where he regularly places literature. Send a more educated brother out there, and the fellow won’t give him the time of day.

For Bill Ding’s sake, (and mine) I thought I’d do something really simple that he could watch, and I went with Shem Sheepngoats’ presentation. Only, I used a different verse. Along Pretencia Pond Way, most householders also suffer from ‘we are wise and learned adults, far too clever to be sold Adam and Eve. What’s next, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?’ syndrome. So I thought I’d use a verse to show the Bible is not the backwoods yahoo book some think it is. I used Job 26: 7 and 10:

He stretches out the northern sky over empty space, suspending the earth upon nothing…he marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters; He makes a boundary between light and darkness.

“This was written three thousand years ago: Suspending the earth upon nothing.” I let go of a twig to see if I could suspend it upon nothing; “Boundary between light and darkness:” the Bible writer knew that the earth was round! Everyone else back then thought it was flat. “The Bible’s not a science textbook. But if it’s right on this matter of science, in contrast to what everyone else thought at the time, maybe it is right about what it does claim to be a textbook on, about how we should best live.”

“The great thing about this presentation,” I told the car group, “is that you don’t have to prepare. Anybody can come up with a verse and a reason for reading it. It all just leads to the video anyway, which explains us better than we do ourselves.” At the mention of ‘no preparation needed,’ Tom Pearlsnswine’s ears pricked up; he has never prepared for anything in his life. He began to work with that presentation, too, only he used Revelation 21:8:

But as for the cowards and those without faith and those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and the sexually immoral and those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.

“The reason I chose this scripture,” he said, “is because sinners are going down and you’d better shape up!”

 

“Oh, you are not going to tell me that Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t fundamentalists. Please don’t tell me that.” But I did tell him that, right between the eyes. We’re not fundamentalists. Alright, so we have some attributes in common with fundamentalists, but we also have attributes in common with the liberal churches and the science-rationalist bunch. We’re all over the board and not easy to pigeonhole. My daughter – I was working with her that day, which is a rare occurrence since she attends the other congregation – she would have said yes, she told me, she thought we did fit the fundamentalist label. But I found the August 2010 Awake magazine, and it said: ‘no, we don’t:’

On the FAQ page: ‘Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestants, Fundamentalists, or a sect?’

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics – they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural. For example, the Bible does not teach that God – the very personification of love – tortures people forever in a fiery hell. Nor does it teach that humans have an immortal soul or that Christians should meddle in politics. (Ezekiel 18:4, John 15:19; 17:14, Romans 6:23)”…Some fundamentalist organizations “have adopted social and political positions based on a literal use of biblical texts. That definition does not fit Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The chief lesson to be learned here is that Papa is always right. Always. Consider conversations I’ve had with my wife, proving the closely related theory that her husband’s always right:

“Have I ever let you down?” I ask rhetorically.

“Yes!” she answers immediately.

“Lately?”

“Yes!”


“Today?”

“No,” she admits.

“All right, then!” 
 


 

But we’ve strayed from our householder: a lapsed Catholic, he told me. The fellow lives in a territory I used to work all the time: southeast Rochester. It’s an eclectic area. At one door, you’ll find a Buddhist. At the next, a nudist. One stately single family home, the next house just as stately but carved into four or five apartments. There are lots of gays in the neighborhood, too, and you must admit, where there are gays there are the arts, music, bistros, restored homes, gardens, and so forth. Why is that?

They can be somewhat hostile if you approach them in the wrong way, and almost any way is the wrong way, since they are apt to assume you are intolerant, which they don’t like, but I can sometimes converse with them by telling them about my gay roommate back in college days. I didn’t know he was gay at the time – he hadn’t yet come out. I got along with him well. He was an organ major, and he scored some minor film project I made. Now…you know how they say that most gays are outwardly just like anyone else and you can never spot them by appearance alone? Well, this fellow you could; he fit every stereotype to a tee, the full-length fur coat should have been a tipoff, but I just never pay attention to those things. Anyhow, after summer recess one year, he says he has some big announcement to make, and we meet at a local college hangout. He’s gay, he tells me; he always has been, and now he’s come out of the closet, and how does that affect the way I’m going to look at him? Um…well…hmmm…I don’t really know why it should make any difference, and so forth; he’s still the same person, after all…all this happened long before I became a Witness. But whatever the milquetoast answer I might have given, he was conscious of a new status between us and gradually withdrew. In time, I didn’t see him anymore.


But, once again, returning to our householder: He was using a weed whacker or something in his side yard, whacking weeds. Now, I used to hate when people were whacking weeds or doing anything outdoors, because it was painfully obvious that you were interrupting them. Most Witnesses prefer people to be behind their doors where they belong. But over time I began to realize that they’re doing things indoors as well, only you don’t see it, so you assume they’re just sitting on their hands. So it really doesn’t matter to me anymore whether they’re inside or out, although, it must be admitted, groups of people outside remain a challenge and usually the game is lost before you begin. They see you coming afar off, and even if this or that one might be up to conversing one-on-one, fat chance they’ll want to do so in front of their peers. Best to say something a little outrageous, like “you look like guys that want to talk about the Bible!” Sometimes that buys you a little space you can cling to with your fingernails, but even if not, it generally leaves everyone in reasonably good humor.
 


The all-time awkward situation I encountered was when working with Andy Laguna, the circuit overseer, who didn’t find it awkward at all. We were working a city residential territory and there was a bar on the corner, so he walks right in and starts witnessing to the bartender amidst a few half-tanked patrons. Andy’s friendly and persistent, unafraid and non-threatening, and it went well for a time, but eventually conversation veered south; some of the patrons got a little surly. “Why are you telling us this?!” they grumbled. Andy had been speaking of good government, integrity, honesty, and so forth, with a view towards how God’s Kingdom can deliver what human governments cannot. “What you should do is go into City Hall and tell all those dirty rotten politicians, yeah, tell them! They’re the ones who need to hear this, not us!” one fellow blurted out, getting worked up. “Oh, we do…we do,” Andy replied sweetly, the way he always did. “And you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons!”
 


 

But back to the lapsed Catholic whacking weeds. As I approached him hesitatingly, I said: “I wonder if I can get away with interrupting you for a couple minutes.” “Try,” he responded encouragingly, so I did. I was working with that Habakkuk presentation that I learned from Tom Brexit, and I made appropriate remarks about not intending to stay all day, and so forth.

Although the fig tree may not blossom, and there may be no fruit on the vines; and the olive crop may fail, and the fields may actually produce no food; although the flock may disappear from the pen, and there may be no cattle in the stalls; Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Whenever Tom Brexit would use this verse, he’d point out that Habakkuk’s response isn’t what one would expect from the conditions he describes; you’d expect him to complain, even to say ‘if this is the best God can do, I want no part of him!’ It’s the more human response. It’s immediately understandable. First Atheist Diagoras became an atheist after “an [unspecified] incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods.” Did Habakkuk know something that Diagoras did not? It’s a good lead-in to a discussion as to why a God supposedly of love would permit mayhem and suffering.

Bringing up a scripture in the public ministry isn’t so hard as you might think, but you don’t want to be clumsy about it. You don’t ask, for example, ‘is it okay if I read a scripture?’ Of course it’s not; the very question reveals you think it a significant escalation. Who’s not going to balk at that? Instead, ask yourself: ‘why should it surprise anyone if a minister of the Bible wants to read a scripture?’ Would you be shocked if a mechanic pulled out a wrench? You’d be disappointed if he didn’t.

If you invite your householder to comment on world conditions and he doesn’t give the right answer, which is ‘everything’s going to hell in a handbasket,’ you might get flummoxed. Your person might say something like: ‘the world is what we make it,’ or: ‘I guess we just have to be optimistic.’ Of course, if the SWAT team stormed through his neighborhood yesterday, then he has no choice but to say ‘the world is going to hell in a handbasket,’ but if a week has elapsed, he’s had time to accept this new normal.

His initial answer doesn’t matter. No need to contradict it if it’s ‘wrong.’ Acknowledge whatever he says and then say: ‘the reason I bring it up is because of this thought,’ and go into Habakkuk 3:17-18. Plenty of people give the ‘wrong’ answer, yet become very attentive when you read that scripture. There is no wrong answer, anyway – it’s a viewpoint question. You can’t expect people to pour out their hearts speaking to a total stranger. Even when people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, they’re not likely to say it to you; who wants to be thought a crybaby?

 

But the lapsed Catholic brought up a few things of his own; he was an intelligent man. It was hard not to like him. “Well…I said I was just going to stay a couple of minutes, but now you’ve brought up a whole new topic. If we go there, it’s on your dime, not mine.” We may have visited twenty minutes. It’s well to end your remarks with something gracious: “We come without appointment, people are doing things. You certainly have no obligation to speak with us, yet you did anyway. I appreciate that.”

Oh…and by the way, I think it was from Andy that I learned a not-bad way of handling aggressive evangelicals, loaded with a stack of anti-JW literature and non-stop rhetoric to match. Andy would ease into: “Look, if I came to visit you, it must be because I felt I had something to offer. Now, I might entertain what you want to offer me, but it would have to be at a time when you drop by my place.” “Where do you live – where do you live – where do you live?” the other would rapid-fire respond. “No, no,” Andy would reply sweetly, “you’ll just run into me eventually in the course of your normal house to house ministry.”
 


Oh, and back to the lapsed Catholic…um, you know, I kind of forget what else we spoke about. But we had a pleasant conversation, I remember that. It was a fine day in the ministry, low 60’s, and the sun was out.

 

Living forever on a paradise earth sounds like a fairy tale; why expect anyone to waste their time chatting about that? But it also sounds good. If the time involved was substantial or the cost prohibitive, you could expect everyone to dismiss the notion instantly. But if the time involved is an hour a week, and the cost is free, some will decide to investigate. They’ll appreciate that someone has gone to a lot of trouble to bring that message to them. Once a person has the satisfaction of putting the puzzle pieces of the Bible together, seeing the completed portrait of a puppy dog or a mountain range, they change. You can’t put that puzzle together in church – they’ve altered too many pieces, and they don’t fit anymore. Once you have looked upon your completed puzzle, you’re immune to the critic who says your interpretation is wrong. You are especially immune if his puzzle lies unassembled in the box on his closet shelf. And if you’re cruising down the highway at 55 miles per hour, even the atheist on the radio telling you your car doesn’t run needn’t be a cause for concern. You don’t have to prove to him that it does.

 

I deliberately arrived early at the Brexit home one breezy morning. The meeting for field service was not for another fifteen minutes. I wanted to marvel at that house of cards Tom and Brianna have been building – it’s amazing how elaborate it has become. “We can build forever!” Brianna cried as she reached out with a card for the eighteenth level. I went to open a window for some air. “Get away from that window!” she snapped.

Tom thought he could fix the house – shore up that foundation! But as he reached out with his fat fingers everyone grew very still. Just then Wayne and Wendy Whitepebble arrived. Wayne looked that house of cards up and down and let out a low whistle. Then he and Wendy sat down to review their field service presentation about the Kingdom, mankind’s true hope.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 13 – JOEL ENGARDIO

Joel Engardio is a gay man. He is a journalist. He was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a young man, he left the faith. But he didn’t leave it because he was gay. He left it because he didn’t want to wait for the Kingdom to fix the world. He wanted to fix it now, through journalism. How’s that project going, anyway?

To be fair, it depends upon where you look. If you look toward gay rights, as Mr. Engardio might, it’s going pretty well. Who would ever have thought sexual norms would be so quickly reshaped as has happened? In my lifetime I’ve seen homosexuality go from reviled fringe to cutting-edge alternative.

 

Talk about politically incorrect! Senator Anderson punches his gay ex-lover in the face. The poor fellow drops face-down in the gutter! Now, there are many things that can happen to a person when he’s punched in the face, but this guy goes in the gutter! Face down! The unmistakable symbolism: that’s where he belongs!

That’s how Otto Preminger treated homosexuality in his 1962 movie ‘Advise and Consent.’ (He wasn’t homophobic. Rather, his aim was to renounce that display of homophobia. He was ever known to take on controversial topics.) A former Academy Award winning director, Preminger basked in praise for his film. Today, he’d be crucified for it. When the movie was remade for DVD years later, the homosexual sub-plot was replaced with a Jewish one, even though the original was based upon a true incident.

Times have changed. Today, it’s anyone with an unkind word about homosexuality who belongs in the gutter. The district overseer can barely believe his own words as he observes: “nowadays only homosexuals want to get married,” more evidence, he maintains, that the world is “upside down.”

It certainly seems that way from any historical perspective. There once seemed nothing more unlikely than these verses from Romans becoming reality:

That is why God gave them over to uncontrolled sexual passion, for their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; likewise, also the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males…. (Romans 1:26-27)

Gays don’t like these verses; they’re not flattering and they get worse. But they’ll likely agree that the writer Paul here anticipates that homosexuality would one day go mainstream. What was he smoking? Nobody of my generation would ever have seen it coming. Just going against what was ‘natural’ seemed enough to rule it out. With gay sex, aren’t there hardware issues? Parts don’t fit. Straight sex comes easy. Gay sex, not so much.

Preminger’s film plays mean-spirited today, blatantly bigoted. Yet it was right in sync with popular sentiment of that time, just sixty years ago. Homosexuality used to be ‘perverted.’ Now it is ‘edgy.’ Heterosexuality? Well, it gets the job done for survival of the species, but it’s not very imaginative; it’s almost dull in comparison. The very words straight (inflexible) vs gay (happy) are rife with the implication. The gay character on TV is cool, intriguing, hip, completely upstaging the straight dullards on the show. Tabloids breathlessly speculate about this or that star. Are they attracted to (yawn, how boring) the opposite sex, or are they enamored with (cross your fingers, oh please, please, please) the same sex! Yes! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses produce a two minute ‘Caleb and Sophia’ cartoon. Sophia is confused over a classmate with two mommies and her mom explains it from a biblical point of view. The Gaystapo goes nuts! “What hateful bigotry! She told her daughter that gay couples will not go to paradise!” She told her nothing of the sort. She used the analogy of triggering the airport screener, carrying baggage not allowed. The problem is solved by leaving behind the baggage.

“People can change,” Mommy says. “They can’t change!” screams the Gaystapo. “And they don’t want to! You change!” A spokesman for the Netherlands branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses points out that they had not intended to insult people “and I do not think that is what the video does.” For crying out loud, it’s just Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching their own children the same values that have held sway throughout history, save for the last fifty years, and still do in most parts of the world!

‘Careful, Tom – how do you know it was the Gaystapo? What do you know about them?’ Nothing. But that conclusion seems a slam dunk in the light of Courtney Kirchoff’s article for louderwithcrowder.com. She’s fed up with Hollywood’s gay agenda. It’s overkill. Homosexuals make up 3.4 percent of the population, but 14 percent of films released in 2014! The percentage is higher still on television: “The one and only modern show I can think of without any uber-gay plot line?” she writes. “Breaking Bad.” Thanks to Hollywood, most Americans believe the gay population is 23 percent or more, not the 3.4 percent it actually is, she says. Didn’t the Watchtower (or was it Awake?) write decades ago of a powerful Hollywood homosexual entertainment lobby? What were they smoking? “Get your head out of New York City!” some said. But now it becomes evident that they were merely standing upon the shoulders of giants, seeing farther than others of their time.

If Ms. Kirchoff is to be believed, (and why not?) gays today want nothing to do with the militants claiming to represent them:

As stated before, the Gaystapo and now the Hollywood Gay Agenda Pushers DO NOT represent millions of gay people who just want to live their lives in peace. Okay?

Okay. That’d be good news for us, who also want to live in peace. Let God sort it out. We don’t have to. All we have to do is preach the Kingdom and the Bible’s requirements for those who would embrace it. Okay? We don’t have to be like the evangelicals, and we’re not like them: scheming to forge anti-gay laws, repeal existing pro-gay ones, or elect politicians who will do the dirty work for us. No! Because it’s not our work. Our work is to preach the good news of the Kingdom.

Unlike many groups with ‘moral’ stands, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ views on homosexuality are theirs alone. They apply them only to themselves. They don’t force them upon general society. At first glance, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most intrusive people on earth. At second, they are the least. If you tell them no, they go away. They don’t afterward scheme with politicians behind your back. Would that all groups were like that. To be sure, they don’t keep their views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as among the constants of everyday life. But the gay community coexists easily with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and where they don’t, they should, for gays have no problem with other viewpoints existing – such is the nature of a pluralistic society – so long as that viewpoint is not imposed upon them. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is not.

Mr. Engardio has stated in his film debut ‘Knocking’ that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since Witness beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn’t.

 

By the time I first heard of ‘Knocking,’ Joel Engardio was a well-known name among NPR news people. I once remarked it a curious fact that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah’s Witnesses was an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? But he wrote me to say he was not an apologist – too many doctrines he disagreed with. Well…that says something about putting your trust in the internet, for that’s where I read he was an apologist. Still, he’s written about us in numerous news outlets. His articles are accurate and respectful. Likely, that’s why the Watchtower organization gave him unusual access to Bethel resources, in order to film ‘Knocking.’ Letters about the upcoming film and its unofficial stamp of approval were sent to the congregations. Anticipation built among congregation members.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we’re coming from. Jehovah’s Witnesses contrast with their own life experience in ways fundamental. They either attract or repel. It’s hard to stay detached. Without deliberate intention, the journalist experiences Hebrews 4:12:

the word of God is alive…and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit…and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.

‘Knocking’ was the first fair shake I’d ever seen from the media. It won a few awards, such as ‘Best Documentary’ at the USA Film Festival. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN:

Riveting and illuminating. Knocking takes us inside the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren’t political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. How’s that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today’s power brokers? Mr. Engardio is in a position unlike his colleagues. He knows both worlds well. He writes that, as a youngster, he was often the designated doorbell ringer, a “cool job for a four-year old.” He broke his mother’s heart twice, he says – once by leaving the faith, and once again by declaring he was gay.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses follow biblical scripture. We feel God should lead us rather than we him. We don’t harp on anti-gay themes. When we discuss it, it’s just enough to prevent our folk from getting swept away by today’s pro-gay euphoria. There are no anti-gay crusades. Many churches whip their congregants into a froth over the topic. We don’t.

We don’t condemn homosexuals. Following Bible laws, we condemn homosexual acts. It’s a distinction that is lost on most gay persons, but to gays within our ranks, it is important. From time to time, a congregation member will decide that individual sexuality trumps all other concerns and will break from the faith. How many gays are among us who have not done that? How would I know? Self-proclaimed gays take years to come out of the closet. Why think that those hoping to merge into the Christian norm would advertise their present struggle?

Fortunately, none of us are judged on feelings, but rather on deeds. Still, it’s good to get one feelings aligned with God’s standards, if at all possible, because feelings have a way of eventually showing up as deeds. I have only admiration for those Christians with gay leanings who are determined to live in accord with Bible standards. They are determined to stay celibate, if need be for the duration of this system, in their service to God, with faith that it will turn out well for them in the end, that their homosexual leanings will lessen and disappear over time, whether in this system or the next. This, in the face of a cacophony of propaganda that insists: ‘once gay, always gay.’

With any gays among us, it’s like swimming when swept out by the tide. They don’t try to swim against it, exerting all their might to will themselves straight; that’s a great recipe for failure – human sexuality doesn’t work that way. They don’t try to swim with the tide, abandoning themselves as slaves to their feelings. Instead, they swim parallel to it, likely for a long time, in hopes their feelings will eventually modify, allowing them to reach shore. Who else faces a comparable battle? It doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? One might argue that their faith in God is deeper than that of most, since they stay loyal to his arrangements despite the very real testimony of their own bodies. I have zero respect for frothing church types who rail against gays when they themselves have never been called upon to raise their little finger in comparable struggles.

Singleness as a way of life was once a quite common and respectable lifestyle, with no connotations whatsoever of abnormality. Read the classics and that point is easily established. But today, largely through the media, everything is sex, and people have come to define themselves in terms of their sexuality. It’s a herculean time for a gay person to be “fighting the fine fight.”

 

So firmly entrenched has gay culture become that cousin Barb’s comments would be hate speech today. Cousin Barb! Of the liberal church background, who used to vacation in Europe. “I’m not prejudiced,” she’d start. “I mean, if they’re going to be homosexual, that’s okay with me – it’s not that at all. I mean, it’s okay to swing both ways,” (would she really wink just then?) “but why couldn’t they coin their own word? Why did they have to steal the word ‘gay?’” She’d go on and on about it. It was her pet peeve, but it would all be hate speech today.

We’d set her off on purpose, just to watch the fun: “You know, Barb? It’s a shame we can’t say the word ‘gay’ anymore.” “That’s just what I think! Now, I’m no prude. If some go AC/DC, that’s their business. But why did they have to take ‘gay?’ It’s not that…”

“She’s just upset,” I said to my right-wing relative, “that she can no longer say ‘gay Paree.’” But my relative, who lost any love he may have had for the French after the fiasco in which French fries were rechristened ‘freedom fries’ said: “why can’t she?”

 

Whereas gays took decades to gain public acceptance, transgendered people have managed it in months. This, despite a more complicated premise: a person does not necessarily identify with the physical sex into which they were born. They might have been assigned the wrong sex at birth! Educators, always on the cutting edge of such things, have encouraged children as young as seven to examine their assigned sex to see if they identify with it. If a child does, it is cisgender. If it does not, it is transgender. Today there are doctors who perform gender reassignment surgery to correct such biological blunders. As I write, a New York proposal would have Medicaid pay for such surgery among teenagers. Only the god of evolution could botch something so straightforward as the two sexes. What an idiot he is!

‘Wait, Tom, just wait! Gays and transgendered people are not the same! How can you speak of them in the same breath?’ Well, they are on the same LGBT chain, aren’t they? That’s license enough. The initialism LGBT has been around for some time.

If gays took decades to gain acceptance, and transgendered people months, Q’s have taken mere minutes. Media instantly appended Q to the chain when they were told to, before they even knew what it meant. “I had to look it up,” admitted Gayle King. It means ‘questioning.’ I suspect there is yet dissention within the ranks of the LGBTQ movement itself, since I have also heard ‘queer.’ Most likely the Gaystapo ordered Q be added and no one dared ask the reason.

 

How can this all be the rage? How can this have gone mainstream? Yes, as a small fringe; that has always been the case – one could envision getting used to it, rooting out bias against it, and so forth – but how could it go viral? How could it rival traditional sexual attraction?

Ms. Kirchoff, from louderwithcrowder.com, continues:

apparently men can no longer be just friends. Your militant Hollywood Gay Agenda Pushers seek to turn healthy male friendships into closeted gayness. As if all people are secretly gay, they just need to meet the right person to be gay with. Then and only then can they truly blossom into a gay butterfly, in all their gayness …why make an existing straight [movie] character into a gay one? I see it as more than just a way to push gayness. It’s also seeking to destroy traditional masculinity.

And people ask “what was Paul smoking?!” What accounts for this rapid embrace of new sexuality? Genetics? Are gays born that way? The Watchtower does not argue that genetics might play a role. Freud? Did parental dynamics make them that way? That was common thinking decades ago. The media? If you repeat anything often enough, people begin to accept it. The endorsement of the psychiatric profession? ‘If it’s okay with the experts, who are we to say otherwise?’ Might it be the excess hormones readily found in modern food and water supplies? Not that this would cause homosexuality, I wouldn’t imagine. But it might it push sexuality to be more fluid, more susceptible to other influences. Might it be the new field of epigenetics, which has established a notion once ridiculed by scientists – that acquired characteristics are indeed passed along to successive generations. Pure guesswork on my part. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing. Never would my generation have anticipated that sexual identity would be so pliable as it has proved to be. That the Bible foretold this, against all then-common wisdom, is to me its most striking prophesy, even though it’s found in a book not regarded as prophetic.

 

Prophesies are generally more subjective than that one in Romans 1:26-27. If your householder doesn’t agree that the nineteen adjectives of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 are more true now than ever before, for example, there’s not much you can do about it:

But know this, that in the last days, critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.

The subject came up when I brought Ted Putsch, now an unbaptized publisher, along on my return visit with Bernard Strawman. Mr. Strawman put aside the notes he was working on for his upcoming address to the Academy of Thought Leaders which I was eager to hear because I knew it would be very learned.

When Ted told him that homosexuality was nowhere to be found among the animal kingdom, but only among humans, Mr. Strawman invited us into his library. There on the shelves amidst tomes so massive he’s had to jack up that side of the house, I spotted one of our little bright-colored books – Yes! Funny, it looked bigger on my shelf. But he passed over it to reach for one of its shelf-mates: Comparative Zoological Sexuality, and he told us of fifteen hundred species in which homosexual behavior had been observed. Ted told him about the little poodle dog next door that had tried humping my pant-leg. He also looked at his watch.

After an hour’s fascinating discussion on the fifteen hundred species caught red-handed, (during which Ted Putsch dozed) Bernard Strawman took those nineteen adjectives of Second Timothy and tried to turn them on their head! The change of subject caused Ted to look up with hope. “So you maintain those verses show why there is more violence and mayhem than ever before?” Mr. Strawman asked. “Yes!” I replied. “Just look at the news today. People are very bad.” Ah – now I was really making him think! “Except they’re not,” he said. “Statistics show that violent crime is decreasing. Violence is far less acceptable as a means of settling problems than it was one or two hundred years ago. People aren’t getting worse. They’re getting better!”

Ted Putsch remarked that we really ought to be going. He’d been saying this off and on, but I didn’t want to leave Mr. Strawman in the lurch. I overlooked Ted’s impatience because I knew he was concerned about the car group waiting in the driveway. After all, as teacher, I had taught him to be considerate. As he was making to leave, Bernard Strawman asked: “Tell me, because I really want to understand. Why do you want to think that everything is getting worse? What does that view do for you?”

“It helps me to explain why the Doomsday Clock says five minutes to midnight and not ten-thirty AM!” he said. “I’ll be in the car, Tom,” and he left! Ted Putsch can be so rude. I’ll have to help him overcome that. I hope he didn’t stumble Mr. Strawman.

 

Sometimes the spirit of an entire age is captured in a single event. Even better, sometimes the spirit of an entire age is bookended by two separate events, one defining the ‘before,’ the other the ‘after.’ Whenever this happens, it’s a fine thing. It saves a lot of work. You don’t have to read up on the entire age. Don’t you have enough to do already? Just get your head around the two bookend events and you’re home free. Like Morgan Freeman asked Miss Daisy: “we don’t have to worry about what’s in the middle?” No. We don’t.

We had exactly this situation recently with regard to the Costa Concordia, that luxury cruise liner that capsized in 2012 off the Italian coast. It was a nautical bookend. Its complement, the Titanic, also capsized, a century ago in 1912. The age thus bookended is the ‘last days’, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been saying forever. They began in 1914 and are near completion, since we are ‘right around the corner’ from the end of this system of things. 1914 was the year of World War I and marks the first time the entire world went to war concurrently. Strange though it may sound, that year can be determined by Bible prophesy, and if you poke around long enough at jw.org, you will come across the explanation.

If ever there were contrasting events to illustrate the fulfillment of the nineteen adjectives, they are to be found in these behemoth boats. The verses point to a general deterioration of human character. People have become worse during the last days, despite Mr. Strawman’s assertion. As Pop, who’s even older than I, and not a Witness, readily asserts: the “world is going to hell in a handbasket.” But this is not necessarily easy to prove to one who thinks otherwise. It’s subjective. Again, it depends upon where you look. If you think in terms of technology, for instance, the notion of things worsening is plain silly. One is reminded of that line from the 1968 book The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life: “True, there has been progress in a materialistic way. But is it really progress when men send rockets to the moon, and yet cannot live together in peace on earth?” Some people think it is.

In other ways, too, conditions have become better. For example, people have to clean up after their dogs today. In the old days, you never knew when you might step into or even slide through (if you were playing baseball) a pile of you-know-what. Let me assure my younger readers that there is no experience quite like it. Thanks to modern advances, it doesn’t happen anymore.

Excluding these red herrings, the best chance we have of illustrating 2 Timothy 3:1-5 overall lies in contrasting similar events, like ship sinkings, occurring in different time frames. Consider: after the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912, the captain expedited rescue efforts, then went down with his ship. After the Costa Concordia struck a rock in 2012, the captain, seen beforehand schmoozing up the women in the bar, was among the first to jump ship. Titanic’s crew, in 1912, urgently prodded passengers into lifeboats. Costa Concordia’s crew, in 2012, told them to go back to their rooms – surely this crisis would pass. With the 1912 Titanic, it was “women and children first.” With the 2012 Costa Concordia, it was “every person for himself.”

In short, all that was noble and self-sacrificing is replaced today with all that is cowardly and self-serving. That’s the relevance of 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Tell that to fatheads who can’t see any change in people! Even the big liners themselves seem to fulfill 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Titanic, in 1912, went down majestically, symmetrically. Costa Concordia, in 2012, rolled over on its side like a fat pig and languished there in the sun, like our overstuffed cat does in hopes someone will scratch its belly. People of the last days can’t even sink a ship properly!

Okay, okay! So it doesn’t prove anything, comparing the two sunken ships. When I brought along Wayne Whitepebble, who had not volunteered his own return visit quickly enough, Bernard Strawman argued every point. Even the ‘common ground’ points – he argued those, too! On the way home, Brother Whitepebble said to me – well, never mind what he said. Some of my brothers have yet to learn the farmers’ patience in nurturing the crops.

The two ships are pure symbolism. I understand that. But as symbolism goes, it doesn’t get any better. I don’t do many prophesies, being a modest guy, but I’m comfortable with this one: James Cameron will never make a film entitled ‘Costa Concordia.’

 

Apparently, there have always been grief counselors. The job is not new. But the notion of dispatching them as you would the fire department to bring a bad situation under control stems from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two students shot up their school, killing 13 and injuring 21. Thereafter, no news anchor could bring up the story without reassuring the audience that grief counselors had been dispatched. “I’d love to hear what they have to say,” I commented to a woman at the door. Her eyes widened: “You have an interesting job!” she said.

 

A 2008 California referendum banned gay marriage throughout the state. Mormons campaigned for it. “We’ve spoken out on other issues,” said a Church spokesperson, “but we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this.” Eighty to ninety percent of all Proposition 8 foot soldiers were Mormons, said the New York Times. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state’s voters.

Two years later, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban. It violated California’s ‘Due Process and Equal Protection’ clauses, he said. On page 116 of the judge’s lengthy opinion is cited ‘West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette.’ That’s the 1943 Supreme Court ruling stating that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever, that stated they could.

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of ‘West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette,’ noted that the “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and “place them beyond the reach of majorities.” In 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. “That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant,” he wrote.

It was Joel Engardio, director of the 2006 film ‘Knocking,’ who first noted the Witness connection in the fall of Proposition 8. His observation prompted an unfriendly blogger to write: “The reference by Judge Walker to ‘West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette’ will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. ‘How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?’ they will be asking themselves.’” To which I replied: “No, they will not.” Well… “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserted. “Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

There are countless gay websites that absolutely loathe Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve never known one to speak favorably of them. You can hardly expect them to be cheerleaders, but you might expect some to distinguish us from the rabid foes they normally battle. Unlike their true enemies, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t interfere with their interests; we just advertise a different view. Lord knows they advertise their view to us and everyone else through the media, as Ms. Kirchoff writes. If our views turn out to be incorrect, we go down in history as a laughing stock, but never as a physical threat to anybody. We’ll take that chance. Whatever is to be done, God does it, not us. We’ve never been violent and there’s no way we’re ever going to get violent. Plenty of people today do get violent – politically and even physically. These are the true enemies of the gay community. Wouldn’t it be nice if Al Qaida felt that Allah, not they themselves, would settle the score with their adversaries?

My mention of Joel Engardio landed me into a skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my nemesis. He is promoting himself and his film. Is he? Well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? Lord knows it would find a greater audience. My adversary grumblingly acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah’s Witnesses have tried over fifty cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940’s and 1950’s but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court. Their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens. Said U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: “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 same can be said in several other countries. The gay community – in fact, advocacy groups of all stripes benefit from the groundwork Jehovah’s Witnesses have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses.

As to Mr. Engardio’s motives that my villainous foe challenged, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values Witness contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what’s true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don’t have to know everything. His motives are his. Nor has the ‘fat lady’ yet sung, though she is clearing her throat. Maybe he’ll turn out like that fellow who pulled Jeremiah out of the mire. He did okay for himself when the evil empire stormed into town. I haven’t a clue. But when Joel writes about us, he writes about us honestly. I appreciate that.

There is a large part of me that says: ‘what do I care what two people do in each other’s company?’ Nobody ever said today’s world would be all Jehovah’s Witnesses and their values – what do I care? I don’t. But I have signed onto a program that says God’s ways are higher than our ways – that’s why I can’t figure them all out either – they’re higher. Those ways include sexuality. I observe them myself but I don’t force them upon anyone. Put sexuality on the shelf when we come calling, if you can. It will have to be a reinforced shelf, for the issue is heavy – I understand that. I don’t know if I could do it were I in your shoes. But the future the Bible foretells is very appealing and the pillars supporting it are strong. Hear us out. Nobody else takes the trouble to bring the Bible’s message directly to your door, and we’re not doing it for our health. Well, in a way, I guess we are, but it is still a good message. Hear us out. Be like Sidney Cotton: ‘have I asked you to go straight? Wait till I ask you to go straight and then say no.’ Of course, he’ll ask you eventually – you know that. But by then perhaps your appreciation for Bible teachings will be enough for you to consider it. It won’t mean swimming against the current. That won’t work. You know it and I know it. It will mean swimming parallel to the current, probably for a long time. But great trials dwarf in comparison to the grand prize. Our people died in the concentration camps the same as your people. The only difference was that our people could have written their tickets out by renouncing their faith. They didn’t – the future is too appealing and our God is too good. We took comfort in 2 Corinthians 4:16:

Therefore we do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day.

 

 

back

 

CHAPTER 14 – JOE PATERNO

“You watch,” I wrote at the time, “Now that they’ve canned Joe Paterno, they’ll pull down his statue at Penn State. And once they do, moralizing media folk will up and stomp on it, just like Iraqis did with Saddam Hussein.”

What is it that rankled about Penn State firing the 84-year-old Nittany Lions head coach? Why should it have even registered? I don’t know anything about college football, and had you asked me at the time who Joe Paterno was, I would have drawn a blank. That is, until he became national villain of the week – the top, if not the only, news story for a short time.

Matt Dillon, of the television show ‘Gunsmoke,’ will serve as the messenger preparing the way for this discussion. He will be like Charles T. Russell clearing out Trinity and hellfire 120 years ago. You can’t build until you’ve cleared away the debris. The false doctrine Matt Dillon will dispose of is the quaint notion that a person can be forgiven for a mistake. It once was true. It no longer is. One episode of the 50-year-old TV show features a “strict, but honest” agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs who has stirred up all kinds of mischief toward the local Indians. At the show’s end, he has an epiphany. Why, he’s been wrong all along, the Indians are right! Full of remorse, he tells Marshall Dillon that he will tender his resignation to the Bureau come next day. But Matt replies something like – get this – “I don’t think that will be necessary. It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, and it looks to me that you’re just the right man for this job.” Such a statement plays almost blasphemous today.

Back when ‘Gunsmoke,’ the one and only show that Pop never missed, emerging from his den like clockwork at the appointed time, was popular, you could blunder along for the longest time, yet be redeemed in a second by heartfelt repentance. Today it’s the exact opposite. You can serve nobly for the longest time, yet be trashed without a prayer of redemption for a single misstep. Isn’t that why nobody knows anything today? One mistake in word or deed and it’s ‘off with his head!’ leaving only inexperienced dolts to run the show.

Joe Paterno’s decades-long performance as Penn State’s head coach had been impeccable, without blemish. Nobody says otherwise. In a world routinely rocked by scandal and exploitation, he’d kept his program clean. A few excerpts on the man, from the website GoPSUSports.com:

He’s putting together this winning program, but meanwhile he’s teaching 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds how not to screw their lives up, how important education is, how important it is to have social acumen,” All-America linebacker Greg Buttle told the San Antonio Express-News in 2007.

Obviously not a person of misplaced priorities, Paterno always has concentrated on seeing that his student-athletes attend class, devote the proper time to studies and graduate with a meaningful degree. He often has said he measures team success not by athletic prowess but by the number of productive citizens who make a contribution to society.

He is, simply put, the most successful coach in the history of college football – a fact that was validated during the 2001 season when he moved past Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant to become the leader in career wins by a major college coach. He also is one of the most admired figures in college athletics, an acknowledged icon whose influence extends well beyond the white chalk lines of the football field.

In an exceptional display of generosity and affection for Penn State, Paterno, his wife, Sue, and their five children announced a contribution of $3.5 million to the University in 1998, bringing Paterno’s lifetime giving total to more than $4 million. The gift was believed to be, Penn State Vice President for Development Rod Kirsch said, “the most generous ever made by a collegiate coach and his family to a university.”

Got it? He’s a good guy. A role model. A name you could fling back at smart-alecks when they told you smugly that nice guys always finish last. What could possibly cause a man like this to be sacked in disgrace?

Joe’s sin was that he heard an allegation of child sexual abuse years ago and reported it to his bosses, as he was legally obligated to do. But nine years after that, the report turned out to be true. An assistant coach running a separate private charity was accused of abusing seven children, and the number grew. As though Joe should have foreseen this, the charge was made: why didn’t he do more? Why didn’t he go straight to the police with the allegation, Surely, forget whatever the law says, going just to his bosses was not enough!

Today in the United States tracking down pedophiles is a national obsession, if not hysteria. They’re not easy to track. They don’t drool or otherwise act perverted. They fit right in with respectable society. And they are seemingly everywhere – one had been found right there among Penn State’s own staff. So Joe was out. He should have known, he should have acted, he should have gone beyond the law, so the feeling was.

What of his sterling record? USA Today calls him a “man who set the standard for ethical behavior in the tawdry world of college football,” and elsewhere: “he kept the program’s reputation clean – remarkably so for a program that made its home in the national ranking” for all of his 46-year tenure. Didn’t mean a thing.

What of his remorse? “This is a tragedy,” he said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Doesn’t cut it, Joe. This is not the Matt Dillon Gunsmoke world you knew. This is a new ‘gotcha’ world, where pundits delight in taking down public figures. What of loyalty for past service? Not a bit of it. Tolerance for human error or weakness? Nope.

What of this verse? Doesn’t it apply somehow:

Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

No, it doesn’t apply. Not anymore. People do nothing but point fingers today, totally ignoring, as everyone’s mom used to say, that when you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you.

When news broke that Joe had been fired, those who knew him best, those who’d been the most positively influenced by his lifelong integrity – the Penn State student body – responded in a very predictable way: they rioted. Mobs of kids took to the streets shouting: “We want Joe!” They pulled down lampposts. They overturned a TV truck, thinking (no doubt correctly) that it represented those hoping to turn local events into a national circus. It took cops in riot gear to send everyone home.

Now, the other side of the coin is the ongoing battle to stamp out child sexual abuse. And don’t get me wrong. It’s a worthy battle. No one’s saying that those who molest children ought not be punished. No one’s saying that those legally obligated to report allegations ought not be called to account if they fail to do it. Joe acquits himself well here. His flaw is not legal, for he did everything legally required. His flaw is said to be “moral,” since the legal answer didn’t work. You run a huge risk defending anyone who’s perceived to have fallen short in any way in the fight against child sexual abuse. “So you approve of child sexual abuse yourself, do you, Tom?” they’ll say. “Are you also a pedophile?” I tell you, it’s risky. The media certainly took no such risks. They scolded Joe at every turn, overlooking his irreproachable career, overlooking the three fingers pointing back at themselves.

But there’s a reason you turn a “moral” obligation into a legal one. It’s because the “moral” course to take is subjective. People don’t reach identical conclusions. Harping on one’s “moral” obligation allows for Monday morning quarterbacks to attribute motives, invariably bad ones, though they know nothing of the actual circumstances. All Joe did was fail to relate an unspecific allegation directly to the police. Should we assume that when someone does that it betrays that they don’t give a hoot about protecting kids? People routinely ignore warnings when their own lives are at stake – evacuation orders in the face of impending natural disaster, for instance. God help us if we someday decide that notifying police is the gold standard in other arenas of life, say in the event of a traffic accident. It won’t be enough to assume one of the ten cars already stopped has called 911. You’ll have to also do it yourself, or else fail your moral obligation, and lose your license.

Anyone my age remembers when you never ever heard of child sexual abuse, and thus assumed it didn’t happen. And how within just a few years, proven allegations had vaulted it to chief national evil, eclipsing any other wrongdoing. It took a staggeringly short time to go from unheard of to #1. One mustn’t disparage its newly revised status but people don’t turn on a dime. The older the person is, the longer they require to pivot. I can readily picture Joe saying: “Look, I’m not a pervert. I don’t like perverts. I don’t hang out with perverts. I never knew there were many perverts. And yet now all of us are on ‘pervert alert’ with everybody under suspicion!” Well, as it turns out, we are on pervert alert, but it takes an 84-year-old awhile to get his head around it. For crying out loud, Joe remembers (as do I) when you swam nude in the YMCA pool, boys and men alike, with no thought of impropriety whatsoever. A letter (November 16, 2011) to USA Today states: “I’m sure my father would have done exactly as Paterno did (being a product of his time), notifying only his superiors, and he also probably would be as dumbfounded about the outcome of events as Paterno might be.” Yep. Same with my dad.

The times they are a changing, and you’d better keep up. That was Paterno’s real sin: being a relic of the past. Seething with moral outrage, USA Today asks searing (in their opinion) questions, such as: “Why didn’t Paterno notify law enforcement of the 2002 shower-room incident? Was he protecting his saintly image as ‘JoePa?’” No, you moralizing idiots! If he was protecting his saintly image, he would have reported it, for nothing is more saintly these days then turning in a molester. And he did turn him in, so he likely thought, by relating it to the ones with legal responsibility.

The newspaper continues: “Or was he blinded by a 30-year friendship with Sandusky and unable to believe he could do such a thing?” Notice here how friendship is portrayed as a flaw, as though life would be so much better if we dropped that antiquated meme and treated everyone as a suspect. Look, sometimes friendship can blind one to the faults of another, perhaps it did so in this case, but it will be a sad day when we fail to cut a person slack for that shortcoming.

The thinking that prevails today is expressed in another letter (also November 16, 2011) to USA Today: “I find it heartbreaking that those college kids reacted to finding out that their hero inadequately addressed allegations of child abuse by rioting in support of him instead of rising up against him. [Rising up against him! Why not also lynch him?] As a base human reaction, that is disgusting.”

Another source says that, instead of defending Joe, they should have been aghast for the seven victims. Yes, that’s how people think today. But it’s just possible that those students, the ones who knew Joe best, realized:

1. that his role in the abuse was zero, and his role otherwise, if he even had one, was very limited,

2. that he apologized sincerely,

3. that he had four and a half decades of sterling service to his credit, plus

4. that he’d given millions of dollars to both university and community in his lifetime,

5. that tens of thousands of people die each day, butchered or starved through human depravity, with no one at all held accountable, and perhaps even

6. that they themselves would soon graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt with few job prospects in sight, victims of a worldwide financial fraud, also with no one being held accountable.

In other words, those seven victims, evil as the crimes against them are, are hardly the only ones victimized by human villainy, so as to be the undisputed focus of national rage.

I grumbled about the hatchet job on Joe, but I did so from a good distance, like the disciples after the Lord’s arrest. I didn’t want to press it. I didn’t want to see the headline: ‘LOCAL MAN SUPPORTS PERVERT – IS ONE HIMSELF!’ I knew the retraction ten days later: “oh…we suppose he’s not…sorry” on page 32 would be a scant consolation prize. So I was prepared to move on. You don’t win them all, and when you lose, do it graciously. Don’t go beating a pet peeve into the ground, as though you have no life of your own. Besides, it’s not as though I couldn’t see the other side of the argument. I could. So I was turning my attention to less sordid things, when along comes another salvo in Rochester’s home-town paper, the Democrat and Chronicle, that dragged me into it all over again!

Since JoePa was irredeemably trashed for not reaching beyond his legal obligation for a higher moral one, I had assumed that reporting compliance for those with legal obligation must be close to 100% percent. Isn’t that a reasonable assumption? Silly me! Said the Democrat and Chronicle article: “….it’s a mistake to think that the failure of Penn State authorities to report the abuse is a rarity....Studies over the past two decades nationally have consistently shown that nearly two-thirds of professionals who are required to report all cases of suspected abuse fail to do so.....‘I think that we fail miserably in mandated reporting,’ said Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Kristina Karle.”

Two thirds! Two thirds of those required to report suspected abuse to police don’t do it! So how is it that Joe Paterno, who was not required to report to police, yet did report to his bosses, how is it that he gets fired?! I tell you, this is so arbitrary, this so closely resembles a witch hunt, that you just have to cry foul. I suppose a witch hunt is okay if you actually catch witches, but the two thirds who should be fired, if fired is the ‘nirvana’ solution, have they all been fired? I don’t think so.

Further confounding my best intentions to put this subject behind me is that it started up all over again, with another coach from another college, closer to home. Syracuse! Only 90 miles east of where I live. I’ve been to Syracuse many times while passing through to somewhere else. Two stepbrothers there accused a Syracuse Orangemen assistant coach of molestation. To my knowledge, no one’s saying (yet) that longtime Head Coach Jim Boeheim knew or should have known about it. But, alas, his initial response was (not surprisingly) to defend his longtime associate, calling the accusations “a bunch of a thousand lies” (one of the boys’ own father said the same) motivated by a grab for money.

That was a mistake. An ESPN tape later surfaced. It was of a phone call made years ago by the assistant coach’s wife to one of the parties saying her husband does indeed “need help” and “has issues.” In the light of some substance to the charge, Boeheim quickly retracted: “What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”

Was it ‘too little, too late’? For one brief moment, Coach Boeheim failed to assume that his long-time associate accused of child abuse was automatically guilty by mere reason of an allegation. He reacted emotionally. Mike Paul, a New York based “crisis consultant” predicted he would be “toast.” “I believe Boeheim has an attitude problem the same way Joe Paterno had an attitude problem, where they are saying: ‘This is my program. I built it. You won’t say anything negative about me, my coaches and my game.’”

What is it with these characters, so ready to assign an “attitude problem” to anyone who has built anything? Doesn’t it burn you up when people assume, completely without evidence, that anyone who has ever worked with a molester, guys like Boeheim or Paterno, must somehow be complicit, that they must wink and nod and say “ah, well, that’s just Bernie doing his thing. But who cares? I’ve got a program to run, and no one’s going to say anything bad about it!” It’s a mentality that is hard to fathom. As the dust began to settle, less hysterical views could be heard, and soon another blog post examined “why Joe Paterno should sue for libel and journalists should lose their jobs.” Yeah! But they won’t – ‘gotcha’ thinking is too firmly entrenched today. Besides, Joe died two months after being sacked, perhaps (let us not get too maudlin here, but maybe not too little either) the victim of a broken heart.

They’re horrible people, those who would prey upon children. But it’s also the damage they do to those who legitimately work with young people: coaches and teachers and counselors and pediatricians and so forth. All these folks come under suspicion whenever a molester is nabbed. What is their real motive for choosing their line of work, people wonder? It’s as though molestation is the only reason anyone would want to give a child the time of day.

For example, a former coach of youth sports, Bob Cook wrote: “The most upsetting thing about many child-protection rules is they assume any adult is capable of doing something bad. If you think of yourself as a good person, and the people around you as good people, you can’t help but be taken aback. You can’t help but think a wall has been put between yourself, the children you coach, and the families you deal with. It’s a wall that seems patently ridiculous when, in the case of the Catholics involved in my Virtus meeting, were tight-knit, south side Chicago parishes where families had known each other for generations.”

The depravity of child sexual predators is enough to catapult efforts to catch them into a national crusade. I understand that. But doesn’t the intense focus also stem from it being the one crime that people can truly get their heads around and do something about? “We may not be able to stop terrorism,” they say, “or poverty, or hunger, or climate change, or natural disasters, but, by God! we can stop pedophiles molesting our kids!” But, in fact, they can’t even do that. Two thirds of those required by law to report allegations don’t do it.

Why don’t they? I’d guess it’s because one wants to be sure a charge has real substance before turning a colleague, a patient, or friend over to zealots who are apt to descend upon that one’s home with TV cameras and reporters and make that one’s life a living hell. If the allegation turns out to be true, few will feel sorry, but if it is not true, it’s a little hard ever to look that person in the eye again. The media retraction will be a tiny footnote somewhere, which nobody will see; it won’t be the screaming headline that was the allegation.

If ‘moral duty’ has become the new imperative, why has that not become the new legal duty? Isn’t that the purpose of laws? It’s not as though legislative bodies don’t know how to pass laws; I can’t hurl a stone without hitting ten of them. Perhaps, if ‘moral duty’ is not mandated by law, it is because legislators are reluctant to lionize hearsay. Otherwise, why not pass such laws? Unless they’re disheartened by the fact that existing laws go unheeded. Better to leave it to the media to apply vigilante justice, arbitrarily inventing ‘moral law’ whenever it will make a good story.

That understandable reluctance is what that Democrat and Chronicle article identified as the reason: the two thirds fail in their duty because “they are uncertain of whether abuse occurred, are fearful of making false accusations, or are unsure of their obligation.” In fact, that is why ESPN, who sat on their tape for eight years, despite media eagerness to point fingers at anyone else who would hold back, kept their own mouths shut: they did not “report the contents of the tape, because no one else would corroborate his story.” That’s no excuse! No one has to corroborate anything these days! An accusation is enough to destroy a lifetime of good work.

Thirty years into the war against pedophiles, they keep surfacing everywhere. Have they always been around, or does today’s culture spawn them? Or both? Most people were quite naïve when the epidemic suddenly burst upon the scene – unheard of one day, Public Enemy #1 the next. Determined to leave no stone unturned rooting out pedophiles, the god of the sex offender registry has arisen in the United States. Unfortunately, he is another idiot. The nature of his game changes from state to state. The name you spot on the sex offender registry that you assume is that of a child rapist is really just the adult who, as a teen, texted half-dressed photos of herself to schoolmates. Or he is the fellow who, as a teen, had sex with his underage girlfriend. Or she is the dope who streaked naked across the football field. Or he is the drunken clod who peed in public. Or he is even the character who put his hand on a child’s rear end – not good, but perhaps not worthy of a sex offender registry where he will water down efforts to track violent predators; historically he has been controlled by parents alerting children to let no one touch them inappropriately, not even Uncle Feely (This is the topic of another ‘Caleb and Sophia’ video – everyone should have the tools to safeguard children that Jehovah’s Witnesses have; Caleb and Sophia learn to say No! and then tell a parent) – or he perhaps really is the serial child molester, but probably not – that scoundrel is hidden in a sex offender list so long that it is worthless to law enforcement.

Like the church god of hellfire, the god of sex offender registries torments his victims for life in some states. He cackles when the twenty-something dope who once streaked naked across the playing field now can’t take his own kids to the playground. He rubs his hands with glee when the harebrain who once texted naked pictures of herself to classmates goes to jail because she forgot to re-register again. He guffaws when investigators throw up their hands in helplessness because they know there are some real sickos on their list somewhere (investigators who must track the vilest of kiddie porn in order to do their job liken it to Medusa: one glance and you turn to stone) but they can’t find them for all the innocuous people there. Politicians feed the god of registries because they have found there is no more surefire way to stay in office than to be ‘tough on pedophiles.’ In one state, the god of registries floats a proposal that no convicted child abuser can live within 1000 feet of a school bus stop. He is thwarted and shakes with fury when someone draws a circle around all bus stops and determines former abusers cannot live anywhere. (Economist magazine, August 6, 2009)

Working himself into a lather, he passes a law in Arizona (2016) criminalizing contact with the private areas of any child under 15 regardless of intent. That makes criminals of parents changing diapers, aghast parents point out, but he doesn’t care. No “sane or reasonable prosecutor” is going to misuse the law that way, he says. Besides, if one did, you’d have your day in court to point out your lack of ill intent; it would be a fine defense. It is reassuring to know that the sane and reasonable prosecutors will leave you alone, but what about the insane and unreasonable ones? What about the political hacks or young firecrackers keen to show they are tough on pedophilia? What about the prosecutor who knows the charge is ridiculous, but wants to string it along anyway as a bargaining chip for an unrelated crime? Sometimes you think the god of registries is helping the god of the adversarial judicial system so that the latter’s devotees do not suffer unemployment. “Just try repealing the law,” the god of registries taunts, “just try it, and I’ll tell the voters that you love pedophiles.”

Wherever law requires it, Jehovah’s Witness elders will report a mere allegation of child sexual abuse to authorities, in the spirit of complying with law. There hardly seems a point to it otherwise, since those authorities drop most of what’s tossed to them anyhow. The god of sex registries has made his registry mostly a tool of public shaming and revenge; it’s of little value in tracking violent predators.

Sexual attraction is a wondrous thing, but it must not dominate, for it will show no regard for the ‘one man – one woman’ rule. It will not respect traditional gender separation. It doesn’t give a hoot about any underage cutoff age. To a greater or lesser degree, all humans are physically attracted to all others, like particles in Newton’s universe. Sexual attraction is part of the package – it’s what we are. But it cannot be allowed in the driver’s seat where the media insist upon putting it.

 

On the one hand, I could certainly see it. The boy was molested repeatedly, by the same individual, over a long period of time. Shouldn’t someone have been held accountable? Of course.

On the other hand, it was an organization that was held accountable, and that organization has one of the strongest child-protective policies of anyone, and they’ve had it for a long time. Ironically, that long track record, which you would think would play in their favor, was used against them. If they’ve had it for a long time, and yet pedophiles still slip through, they should have strengthened it! They were negligent! Sometimes you try to be proactive and all you do is make yourself a bigger target to those who don’t like you. Whereas, if you hide your head in the sand and wail like Sergeant Shultz, “I know nothiinng,” you come out better.

At any rate, early in 2010 a Portland, Oregon jury determined the Boy Scouts of America was responsible for the above gross sexual abuse of a child, and assessed a judgment of $18.2 million in damages. That was said to be the largest such verdict in American history on behalf of a single plaintiff.

Eighteen million is a lot of dough. What’s one person ever going to do with it? But it plays into that uniquely Western notion that money is the way to compensate for anything. Sometimes I think much anti-West sentiment is stirred up through that mindset, especially among nations where family ties are strong. Some foreign national is killed through Western action. “Gee, that’s a shame,” is the response, “oh well, here’s some money.” Who can forget the French peasant in Tale of Two Cities who wasn’t satisfied with the silver coins tossed from the coach of the aristocrat which had run down his child?

Possibly one can argue that, if money truly is the god of society, anything short of a huge monetary penalty will have no effect. You can’t shame or guilt anyone, so the theory goes, since we have ridden ourselves of those concepts. A representative of the plaintiff’s legal team stated afterward his belief that the Boy Scouts have undertaken a truly noble and important task in mentoring young boys, for which they are to be commended, and it was his sincere hope that the $18 million judgment will impress upon them the need to do it better. Now, that is an American sentiment if ever there was one. I guess I’d be more persuaded if that team plowed their one-third of the award back into charitable causes, perhaps even the Boy Scouts themselves, with the stipulation that it be used for anti-pedophile purposes. And maybe they did. Do you think so?

Now, I’m no Boy Scout. I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, whereas I alluded to the fact that some may not like a given organization, does anyone really not like the Boy Scouts? Perhaps in these days of contempt for authority, some will look askance at their practice of stuffing kids into uniforms and directing them to earn badges, as though in preparation for later military careers. In the main, however, Boy Scouts are highly regarded. They teach responsibility. They take you out camping. They show you how to tie knots.

However, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t show you how to tie knots. They wake you up when you’re sleeping in. But, like the Boy Scouts, they also have a child-protective policy that outclasses that of anyone else. Enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses reacted with glee when, long after the Catholic priest pedophile scandal broke, Jehovah’s Witnesses, too, were tarred with the pedophile brush. I admit, I was stung. Nothing in my long association with the faith lent any credence to such accusations. But they have persisted down to this day in some circles. They are, however, bogus.

Not that child molestation has never occurred among our people. Of course it has. We are people. And in an organization of millions of people, you’re going to find many examples of anything. What is bogus is the attempt to draw a parallel between us and the never-ending reports of churches, schools, and youth groups in which young boys are victimized by leaders.

This is not hard to discern if one has the motivation to look beyond the hysteria. Take this excerpt from a 2002 New York Times report, for example. On the surface, it looks damning:

But the shape of the [JW] scandal is far different than in the Catholic church, where most of the people accused of abuse are priests and a vast majority of the victims were boys and young men. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where congregations are often collections of extended families and church elders are chosen from among the laypeople, some of those accused are elders, but most are congregation members. The victims who have stepped forward are mostly girls and young women, and many accusations involve incest.

“Some of those accused are elders.” How many? Eleven, in the course of 100 years* All others are “laypeople,” though doubtless some are ministerial servants, roughly the equivalent of church deacons.

To the extent the report is true, you can’t be proud of it, can you? Yet what is really being said? If you expand the base by, say, 30 or 40-fold to include, not just clergy, but also laity, and if you broaden the definition of child abuse to include, not just young boys, but also girls and “young women,” then and only then do you find numbers and percentages among Jehovah’s Witnesses comparable to the leaders of other groups! Put another way, if you want to catch pedophiles in most groups, you need search no further than the leaders. But if you hope for the same catch among Jehovah’s Witnesses, you must broaden your search to include everybody!

Just try tracking child abuse among the laity of the Catholics or evangelicals, as has been done with Jehovah’s Witnesses. AI would go insane in its attempts to list all the names, I suspect. It’s a little hard to say for sure because nobody, to my knowledge, has ever attempted it. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses are so scrutinized. Why Witnesses and only Witnesses?

“Man, Tom! You make it sound as if you don’t care about cases of abuse among your own people!” Not so! Every such instance is shameful, make no mistake. But it’s also shameful that those who despise Witnesses would hold them to a standard 30 times higher than that of anyone else, yet act as though they are comparing apples with apples. So, have at it! Someone show some initiative and keep track of other groups. Let me know how it turns out with the Catholics, the evangelicals, the politicians, the atheists, the environmentalists, yes – even the Boy Scouts. I’m pretty confident. After all, if the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the cleanest of anyone (11 in 100 years) due to the application of Bible principles, surely the same will be true among the rank and file.

Some, to their credit, have been able to see though the deliberate smear campaign. For instance, I commented on a site from someone who compared instances of gross sexual abuse among the various religions. The author stated: “Quakers, Reformed Jews, and (surprise surprise) Jehovah’s Witnesses have so far shown a pretty low incidence of abuses.”

And why is it “surprise surprise?” Because, quite obviously, someone has deliberately, and with some success, has endeavored to distort the facts.[++] I won’t go so far as to call them silent phonies, for I have no doubt there are genuine victims of child abuse among them. I won’t even say that the following case is typical; I don’t know that. But doesn’t it appear that those who coached the victim here are more interested in discrediting the Watchtower than they are in helping victims of abuse?

In Canada, Ms B brought a civil lawsuit against the elders of her former congregation and the WTBTS asking for $700,000 dollars concerning her child abuse at the hands of her father who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses claiming they were negligent, breached their duty, advised her against contacting the authorities, and against seeking professional help. What did the court find?

Presiding Judge Anne Molloy ruled that the WTS and elders were not at fault and did not contribute to or promote in any way the child abuse that took place. The court said, ‘There is no foundation on the facts to support an award for punitive damages. Most of the allegations against the defendants have not been established on the facts. The defendants who interacted with the plaintiff did not bear ill will toward her. They accepted the veracity of her account, were sympathetic to her situation and meant her no harm. The claim for punitive damages is dismissed.’

Apparently irked that the case was frivolous, Judge Molloy ordered the plaintiff to pay all legal costs of the defendant. Had the Watchtower insisted on this aspect of the verdict (nobody on her side seems to have stepped up to the plate) the plaintiff would have been bankrupted. However, they did not.

 

But what really gives me the warm and fuzzies was this response from a blogger who positively loathes Jehovah’s Witnesses. His words, particularly in the comment section, could hardly have been phrased more abusively. He slams us with every stock internet slam there is. So I called him on one. Now, you have to be careful doing this. You probably ought not do it at all. You don’t challenge him on everything, and you don’t challenge him on something over which you’ll get creamed – in short, something that is as much a matter of viewpoint as fact. Frankly, I did get creamed on the first point I raised, but not the second. The fellow responded: “You know, I’ve got a nice glass of wine, Muddy Waters is singing about ‘Champagne and Reefer’ and I’m feeling generous. I’ll back down from that one. (Plus, I did a little more research…) You do have an acceptable track record on the subject.”

I wouldn’t really call it “acceptable.” But I know what he means. Compared to most, JW occurrences of child sexual abuse are low. It won’t be “acceptable” until it’s gone, and given the nature of imperfect humans, that seems unlikely. It was a relatively small concession, since I otherwise couldn’t set foot on that site without having the hounds sicced upon me. It probably wasn’t a good idea. Bethel wouldn’t like it. I had to endure a lot of abuse to gain my concession, I assure you. But gain it, I did.***

 

If you want to slander someone today, there is no finer than way to do it than with the P-word. The theme of true Christians being maligned crops up repeatedly in the Bible:

Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake, says Jesus. (Matthew 5:11)

When the apostle Paul visits the synagogue in Rome, he asks the older men there whether they have heard bad reports about him – anyone ‘lyingly say[ing] every sort of wicked thing.’ They reply:

We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect [then-new Christianity] we know that it is spoken against everywhere. (Acts 28:21-22)

That’s how it is to be among true Christians. They will be “spoken against everywhere.” If a given group is not “spoken against everywhere,” then, from a Christian point of view they are a fraud. That doesn’t mean the reverse is true, that revulsion is proof of authenticity. Many reviled groups are reviled for good reason. Look for the group whose members are individually praised but collectively maligned.

Being “spoken against everywhere” translates into physical persecution in some lands. Witnesses don’t like persecution at all. Short of compromising their principles, they do whatever they can to avoid it. But sometimes it occurs and there is a silver lining. Outsiders will say: ‘why are they making trouble for the Jehovahs? – they’re nice people.’ Time and again Witnesses emerge from periods of persecution in greater numbers than they had going in.

 

back

 

 

*In 2007, the Watchtower Society settled a number of abuse cases, which made a huge on-line splash among opposers. This statement was released to the media at that time:

For the sake of the victims in these cases, we are pleased that a settlement has been reached. Our hearts go out to all those who suffer as a result of child abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are united in their abhorrence of this sin and crime. We do not condone or protect child molesters. Our elders expel unrepentant sinners who commit this crime. In the US over 80,000 elders currently serve in over 12,300 congregations. During the last 100 years, only eleven elders have been sued for child abuse in thirteen lawsuits filed in the US. In seven of these lawsuits against the elders, accusations against the Watchtower Society itself were dismissed by the courts. Of course one victim is one victim too many. However, the incidence of this crime among Jehovah’s Witnesses is rare. Congregation elders comply with child abuse reporting laws. We do not silence victims. Our members have an absolute right to report this horrible crime to the authorities.

back

 

The same site goes on to offer an analysis for the varying levels of gross sexual abuse observed in different religions:

But the incidence of child abuse is not traceable to religion as the main cause, but rather permissiveness towards clergy misconduct, lack of accountability, and absence of tracking known abusers. Denominations that have a documented infrastructure, an internal investigation process, and an appeals process have far fewer incidents of abuse than those that do not. Religions that simply put up higher hurdles for men to get ordained have a lower incidence of abuse. After all, why would a child molester spend 8 years learning ancient Hebrew when he can attend Hyles-Anderson for one year, drop out once he picks up the lingo, and then declare himself a Christian Fundamentalist preacher?”

back

 

*** Performing due diligence, I notice that the ‘surprise surprise’ line has changed since I first quoted it several years ago. No longer is it: “Quakers, Reformed Jews, and (surprise surprise) Jehovah’s Witnesses have so far shown a pretty low incidence of abuses.” Now it is: “Quakers, Reformed Jews, and (surprise surprise) liberal, mainstream denominations, have so far shown a pretty low incidence of abuses.” Thus, the casual reader of this book does fact-checking and concludes that I am a liar. It is far easier to show what is there than to show what was once there, but will minimal forensic effort, we will succeed at the latter.

First, note how the substitution makes no sense. Have ‘liberal, mainstream denominations’ ever been suspected as hotbeds of pedophilia so that it should be ‘surprise surprise’ to find they are not? ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ on the other hand, are frequently accused. But the smoking gun is revealed in that the original ‘surprise surprise’ formed the basis for discussion in the Muddy Waters blog. I said I had to struggle for my concession there. Now you will see why. Here are some snippets from the comment section:

Muddy: “Relax – I’m not going to even touch the JW history of covering up child sexual abuse that’s almost as bad as the Catholic Church.”

Me: “Good. Because this post might alter your thinking, if that is possible.” (I cited it)

Muddy: “Really? A post where somebody concentrates on Baptists saying that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a low rate of sexual abuse?”

Me: “No. The author concentrates upon one area [Christian Fundamentalists], because that’s where the abuse lies. He likens the amount of abuse occurring among JWs as comparable to that occurring among Quakers and Reformed Jews.”

Muddy: ‘You know, I’ve got a nice glass of wine. Muddy Waters is singing about ‘Champaign and Reefer” and I’m feeling generous. I’ll back down from that one…”

Read them both, and as an added bonus, you will see the first issue (blood transfusion) over which I did get creamed. True, I did not deliver my final word on that subject. There is much more I might have said. But it is the rare blogmaster who will let his opponent’s final word stand. I’ve done it before, but I don’t do it routinely. No, he will counter your argument. You will counter his counter. He will counter your counter to his counter. You will be preparing your counter counter counter counter as the Armageddon bus leaves the station.

 

http://jeriwho.net/lillypad2/?p=4820

http://tinyurl.com/h3cw232

 

Either of these characters might change his post again for whatever reason. Perhaps it will one day be: “Quakers, Reformed Jews, and (surprise surprise) the Mafia has so far shown a pretty low incidence of abuses.” It will do them no good. Having been burned once, it won’t happen again. I have screenshots of both blogs.

It’s just as well that the first post was changed because it goes to illustrate a final point: online praise of Jehovah’s Witnesses must not be allowed to stand. Most likely, this fellow’s church buddies screamed at him, shrill as the Gaystapo: “Are you out of your mind? You’ve said something nice about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Change that post right now!”

 

back

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15 – DR MIKE ‘ACE’ INHIBITOR

Wayne Whitepebble read the obituaries and saw his name. No wonder he felt terrible! Then he doubled over in pain and his wife rushed him to the hospital. We were all worried. Maybe it was his heart! Just breathe ‘heart’ in the Emergency room, and they rush you straight to the fore. But tests said his heart was okay. Hmm. Wayne watched 100 reruns of COPS while hospital people scratched their heads. Two of Nosmo Jones’ kids have starred several times on that show, but they weren’t on that night.

Several hours later came the verdict. It was a bad gall bladder. It had to come out. Wayne and Wendy did everything at the hospital that anyone else would do, plus one more thing. They explained to personnel their stand on blood transfusion. Hospital staff photographed his ‘Health Care Proxy’ form, and said it shouldn’t be a problem – not to worry. Wayne explained it more than once, to different people.

Since he’d come in unexpectedly he had had to take a number. Hep See, the floor nurse, wheeled him into a depressing ward with six terminal cases of VIP syndrome and four who were dying of cognitive dissonance. Hospital tech Moe Movantok brought in the therapy dog OpieOid for Wayne to pet. Someone wished Wayne well on his Facebook page and every Witness on the planet stopped in to visit.

The next evening, his surgeon, Dr. Tracy Tracibareddi introduced herself. She’d looked over Wayne’s X-rays. She was ready. Wayne brought up the blood issue again. Not to worry, Dr. Tracibareddi reassured him; she had done many gall bladder surgeries, they were routine for her by now. Wayne was instantly put at ease. He’d been recalling the old ‘Herman’ cartoon with the two nurses whispering behind a patient: “Butcher Harris is doing that one tomorrow.” As he was settling in for the night, Hep See hooked him to a machine that screeched if he so much as breathed. It took him twenty minutes to disable it.

Monday morning, she wheeled him into the operating room. Medical staff fussed over him. Minutes before he was to go under, in popped his anesthesiologist, Dr. Mike ‘Ace’ Inhibitor, to introduce himself. He looked at his chart. “If you should need a blood transfusion,” he asked, “do you want me to give you one? Or would you rather die?” Wayne Whitepebble frowned. Wasn’t this a little late in the game to bring this up? Hadn’t this already been settled? It’s not as though he’d yelled: “Surprise! No blood!”

What he wanted, in that event, was for Dr. ‘Ace’ Inhibitor to find another anesthesiologist who would not think a blood transfusion was necessary. But that was hardly a practical answer and he didn’t give it. Should he give Dr. Inhibitor a piece of his mind for waiting till the last second to object? What if he got him riled and jittery? He pictured his headstone: “Here Lies Wayne Whitepebble. I Guess He Told That Anesthesiologist a Thing or Two, Didn’t He?” He tried to soften the ultimatum, but Dr. Inhibitor spun it hard again: “Okay, you’re saying you want me to do anything possible to avoid a blood transfusion and only give you one if it is absolutely necessary.” Wayne shot back, peeved: “You heard what I said, and that wasn’t it!”

A few more words were exchanged. Nobody budged. In the end, Whitepebble replied, exasperated: “Alright, if you insist on phrasing matters in the most extreme way possible, (hadn’t Dr. Tracibareddi assured him this would be a piece of cake?) then YES, I would rather die than accept a blood transfusion!” “Okay,” Ace said and went about his preparations. Uneasily, Wayne probed: “I didn’t get you riled, did I?” “No, not at all,” Dr. Inhibitor replied pleasantly. Wayne went under with two new thoughts:

1. His anesthesiologist didn’t give a hoot in hell about his convictions.

2. Dr. Tracibareddi was an orangutan, perfectly capable of botching an operation she and everyone else had said was a cakewalk.

Dreaming, Wayne had to get up. He had forgotten something critically important; he had to attend to it right away! But people kept holding him down! The more he struggled, the firmer their grip! “Why are you doing this!” he started to panic. “This has nothing to do with you! There’s no reason for you to do this! I have to get moving!” Later, he awoke and told the medical people his dream. “That was no dream,” Hep See, the nurse, said. Did Wayne only imagine her colleagues had frowned upon her? Nurse Brio had told Wendy that the operation had gone well, but recovery had been rough; the team had had to put her husband in restraints.

 

Wayne met Dr. Tracibareddi two weeks later for follow-up. “I know it’s unorthodox,” he said, “but I want to start with a complaint.” Tracy Tracibareddi was all ears. “What!” she cried, when he got to his punch line, “that should never happen! Are you sure?” When told the anesthesiologist was Ace, she exclaimed “he’s the sweetest man – it’s hard to believe! He doesn’t decide on transfusions, anyway. I do!”

Wayne phoned Dr. Inhibitor later – he was occupied. He returned the call within fifteen minutes. He was polite and respectful but he didn’t give an inch. It was his responsibility to give a blood transfusion if he deemed it necessary. It was his call. Wayne told him Dr. Tracibareddi had said it was her call. Ace offered to set her straight on that point. He asked Wayne what course should he have taken. ‘Okay,’ Wayne thought, ‘good question – he sounds sincere.’ Probably he’d received only five minutes training on the subject: “Run with them if you can, but run them down if you can’t.”

So Whitepebble told him about Larry Lameduck who’d had knee surgery elsewhere, a surgery he’d planned well in advance. Larry had checked about blood one final time in consultation, and the doctor had told him there were so many options before anyone might even dream of a transfusion that he ought not concern himself about it. “Call the many options b, c, d, e, f, and g,” Wayne said. “When you introduced yourself to me, my impression was that you knew only about option z, and that made me worry.” Some suggested Wayne report Dr. Inhibitor – make trouble for him. But Wayne preferred one-on-one communication. After all, the fellow was just being conscientious. If Wayne could help him to see things from a different point of view it would be a win-win. Besides, Ace was probably within his rights professionally – at most he’d run afoul of some public relations bromide about treating the whole person.

In every area of medicine, Jehovah’s Witnesses know less than their doctors, and they never pretend otherwise. But in the area of blood transfusion, sometimes they know more. This is not because they’re smart, but because it’s their special cause. JW.org has the largest collection of peer-reviewed material anywhere; again – it’s their special concern. One will also find there a global-wide accumulated collection of pioneering medical techniques that the local doctor, who knows primarily what is in his hospital’s toolbox, might not know about. “The trouble is,” Wayne told Dr. Inhibitor, “our people are likely to know about the New Scientist article, and if you appear not to, they will panic, even to the point of questioning your qualifications.”

 

The New Scientist article: April 26, 2008

 

If you’re speaking medicine with someone who doesn’t care for Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’ll find that ‘blood transfusion’ is always linked with ‘life-saving.’ There are no exceptions. The noun and adjective must never be separated. At least, not until recently. For at long last, the link is starting to crumble. The correct coupling, still emerging from the cocoon, as it will be for some time, is ‘life-threatening blood transfusions.’ Not among Witness detractors, of course, who will still be chanting ‘life-saving blood transfusions’ as they are lowered into their graves. But among those who actually know anything, matters are changing fast.

It’s the only conclusion you can reach upon reading the New Scientist article. Entitled ‘An Act of Faith in the Operating Room,’ it reviews study after study and concludes that for all but the most catastrophic cases, blood transfusions harm more than they help. Says Gavin Murphy, a cardiac surgeon at the Bristol Heart Institute in the UK: “There is virtually no high-quality study in surgery, or intensive or acute care – outside of when you are bleeding to death – that shows that blood transfusion is beneficial, and many that show it is bad for you.” Difficulties stem from blood’s deteriorating in even brief storage, from its assault on the immune system, and from its impaired ability to deliver oxygen. In short, the “act of faith” referred to is not withholding a blood transfusion. It is giving one.

One study cited is from the journal Circulation: (vol 116, p 2544)

For almost 9000 patients who had heart surgery in the UK between 1996 and 2003, receiving a red cell transfusion was associated with three times the risk of dying in the following year and an almost six-fold risk of dying within 30 days of surgery compared with not receiving one. Transfusions were also associated with more infections and higher incidences of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure – complications usually linked to a lack of oxygen in body tissues.

Several times I have ventured into the blogosphere with similar thoughts and I count myself lucky to have escaped with my life: “You can have your belief that blood is a dangerous substance that God wants you to avoid,” said Wayne Woo, “but please don’t claim that you are doing so out of reason.” Mickey Meme screamed: “Refusing a life-saving blood transfusion (which hasn’t even any side effects) is clearly insane!” “In the USA we have the inalienable right to be idiots, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else,” echoed Alvin Adhominum. “My take on the matter,” Fred Flownose wrote, “is that ultimately anyone who subscribes to the no-blood doctrine has been brainwashed, and is not fit to make decisions for themselves.” Zeke Zanex: “Why is this crazy religion not a form of mental incompetence?”

And you should have heard them when I mentioned Dr. Bruce Speiss! They went positively apoplectic when he dared to use the R-word: “So it’s just largely been a belief system – almost a religion, if you will – that if you give a unit of blood, patients will get better.” “WHAT?! He said that?! Where’s his license? Isn’t he that huckster selling cherry Kool-Aid as a blood substitute? Didn’t he buy his medical degree online? But now it turns out that everything Dr. Speiss said was correct – yes, even the religion part. Says New Scientist:

At first glance it seems astonishing that a technique used so widely for so long could be doing such harm. Yet many surgeons have proved reluctant to submit their methods to systematic study – [their] assumptions went untested for the better part of a century

And you should have heard them scream when I suggested that the medical community might one day owe a debt to Jehovah’s Witnesses for setting them on the right track, spurring the development of bloodless medicine. ‘Scientists invented bloodless medicine all by themselves!’ they shrieked, ‘guided only by the Scientific Method, forging ever onward, fearlessly pushing the bounds of human knowledge, all to the glorification of Science and Truth! They don’t give two hoots about your pissy little religion!’

But in fact, some of them do: “[Bloodless surgery] was originally developed to enable Jehovah’s Witnesses, who shun transfusions, to undergo major surgery” states the article, and then considers some of its advantages. Indeed, New Scientist opens with scripture: “‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood. No soul of you shall eat blood.’ So says the Bible’s book of Leviticus, and it is for this reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses shun blood transfusions.” It’s a good scripture to cite, for it speaks to the reason; it shows objection to blood is not a mere matter of diet, as some insist. Perhaps, the magazine suggests, all persons should be treated as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

Now, I don’t want to gloat over this development. I really don’t. Really and truly. It would be unseemly. How un-Christlike! On the other hand…

C’mon! You would too if you were in my shoes! For decades, we Witnesses were the ignorant slaves of superstition. Transfusion proponents were the all-wise devotees of modern medical science. What right had we to not do as we were told? I’ve known three persons in my lifetime who were told, point blank and without the slightest empathy, that they would die if they did not agree to a blood transfusion. None agreed. None died. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t smoke, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink to excess – all factors with health risks that far outweigh anything having to do with transfusions. They are entirely cooperative with all aspects of medical care except one. If you’re not fixated on just that one, you couldn’t ask for better patients.

Better to be like Dr. Bernard A. Yablin, who posted a letter to City Magazine: (October 17, 2010)

In my practice years, I served three counties, which meant that I cared for children in at least six families of Jehovah’s Witness faith. We worked together in a sense of communication, mutual respect, and understanding. This included ongoing discussion of therapeutic options for various conditions. I’m not sure whether today the internet would change all of this. Hopefully my “families” might still remember me.

It’s an oddly touching letter, isn’t it? I’m sure they do remember him. Doctors proficient in the healing arts who can also relate to the patient with “a sense of communication, mutual respect, and understanding,” are not that easy to find.

 

The New Scientist findings, so new to the medical establishment, are not new to us. We’ve been accumulating them for years, trying to share them with doctors – [+ [this video is lengthy]+] usually being rebuffed, all the while with the media whipping folks into hysteria. All we ever wanted was that our own religious conscience be respected, that medical people would not huff: ‘it’s my way or the highway!’ and run roughshod over us. Treat it as an allergy ruling out the favored treatment, if you must, and do the best you can. Confronted with an allergy, doctors don’t whine or become angry. They don’t declare ‘our hands are tied.’ They man up and carry on. Decades ago, Jehovah’s Witnesses formed Hospital Liaison Committees from local volunteers and sent them into medical establishments to keep them informed on the latest advances in bloodless medicine. Believe me, it was not easy. Constantly we had to contend with: ‘and what medical school did you get your degree from?’ But it has paid off. Here and there, fearless doctors acknowledged our point of view and worked to accommodate it. They didn’t necessarily agree with us about blood – they generally didn’t, but they were willing to acknowledge that other consciences matter. We are most grateful to these medical pioneers who usually had to withstand much pressure from their own peers.

There were even forerunners of this at Dr. Mike ‘Ace’ Inhibitor’s own hospital, Wayne pointed out to him. He found an article on its own website calling bloodless medicine “a wave of the future.” But if it’s a wave of the future for them, it’s only because they’ve been dragging their feet for so long. It is long established elsewhere. A local sister’s unborn child was diagnosed with a critical heart defect. No way it could be fixed without blood, that hospital insisted – you know they would have summoned Child Protective Services in an instant had the child already been born! The family instead went to a Cleveland hospital where they do it all the time without blood. The hospitality of the Cleveland brothers so impressed the unbelieving husband that he came into the truth and related his experience at the Regional Convention. Look, bloodless medicine is a specialty for now, and one can hardly expect all doctors to specialize. But don’t go carrying on as though anyone not acquiescing to the mainstream model has a death wish.

Did the New Scientist article declare blood transfusions inadvisable in all circumstances? No. They were still thought the best option in cases of severe anemia and catastrophic blood loss. But I suspect these views, too, will change. After all, if blood threatens harm to a healthy person, can it really be the treatment of choice for a critically ill one? Surely something from the field of bloodless medicine will emerge as superior, if it hasn’t already. Unsurprisingly, blood banks planned no changes, as of 2008. “If all blood had to be used within two weeks [before it loses all oxygen-carrying ability], it would cause a major inventory problem,” said an adviser to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Right! Just like the time I bought a basket of spoiled fruit and sat on the toilet for a week. I wasn’t upset. I realized it was for me to grin and bear it. I didn’t want to screw up their inventory!

 

Just like churches gave up discipline when the winds of popularity shifted, so they gave up on avoiding blood. Professor of Anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Thomas Bartholin, from 1616-1680 – yes, it’s a long time ago, but it indicates that many used to think as only Jehovah’s Witnesses do now – wrote:

Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely…Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited.

Today, nobody regards this aspect of “divine law” as of any import. Everybody except Jehovah’s Witnesses abandoned it when it became inconvenient – when blood transfusion became a popular medical therapy. We have not abandoned it. In fact, we can’t, for it is divine law.

 

As if offering a pinch of incense to the gods, another article begins: “Blood transfusions have saved millions of lives.” But doesn’t the very next phrase douse the flame? “Yet stored red cells may be less effective than hoped for because they can quickly lose much of their ability to deliver oxygen.”

They can? They do? If so, blood transfusions haven’t saved as many lives as they are credited with, perhaps no more than simple saline solution or any other fluid that merely aims to replace lost volume. How many times have I read that blood substitutes seeking to replace volume are no good because only the real thing, only real packed red cells, delivers life-saving oxygen to the body? According to this article, they don’t!

The problem is that transfused blood needs nitric oxide to keep the blood vessels open. Otherwise, the carried oxygen never reaches the tissues. But nitric oxide begins to break down within three hours of storage, and donated blood is stored up to 42 days. To be sure, researchers think they can remedy the problem. But that does nothing to improve effectiveness of transfusions already given, each one of which was hailed as life-saving, yet few of them actually were, if this report is to be believed – at least not any more so than saline solution, which offers no danger of rejection; we all know that the body spots foreign tissue in an instant, and tries hard to get rid of it.

Oddly, there were two versions of this AP story by Randolph E Schmidt. One lead with the near mandatory “blood transfusions have saved millions of lives” and one didn’t. I suspect Mr. Schmidt, who is a science writer, did not include it. But somewhere along the line some editor unable to tolerate an affront to the god of blood transfusions added the phrase. Six years later, all versions of the story, with or without the phrase, have disappeared, and all that remains is an original study detailing the problem:

 

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-06-nitric-oxide-blood-transfusions-safer.html

 

All this reminds me again of Bruce Speiss, addressing the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists. He declared, too, that blood transfusions have hurt more people than they’ve helped. “Blood transfusion has evolved as a medical therapy and it’s never been tested like a major drug,” he said. “A drug is tested for safety and efficacy; blood transfusion has never been tested for either one.” Another doctor likened transfused blood to “water from a dirty fish tank;” it transports waste products, but doesn’t transmit the life-giving oxygen to the extent it is hyped, and after some days, not at all.

 

When a person passes through a meat grinder and refuses a blood transfusion afterward, the media report fanatical opposition to a life-saving blood transfusion as the cause of death. And you should hear them when a youngster refuses a blood transfusion and dies! Frothing indignation over a lad they took no interest in before and will take no interest in after, they have gone so far as to demand people be jailed. The picture they convey is invariably that of a vibrant youth with everything before him if not for his medieval religion. But, generally speaking, the youths in question are leukemia patients for whom a blood transfusion is proposed to buy a few weeks or months of life, during which time a cure for cancer may hopefully be found -how’s that project going, anyway? In some cases, they have been force-fed blood repeatedly against their will, and have finally said, when of age, ‘enough.’

Dennis Lindberg is an example. A 14-year old from Seattle, Oregon, he firmly refused blood transfusions deemed critical by his doctors. He died. The lad had suffered from leukemia. Nobody imagined they could cure him. Instead doctors thought he would likely (70% chance) survive at least for the next 5 years with their regimen which included regular transfusions. The courageous youngster was assessed by a judge who interviewed the parents, his aunt (who had custody), social workers and the boy’s doctor. “I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion,” the judge stated. “He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision.”

The boy’s natural parents emerge as heroes in the story since they opposed the judge’s ruling. The article stated: “For Dennis Lindberg, most of his childhood depended on the kindness of strangers to help him survive…It is a saga that began when he was a baby born to parents addicted to methamphetamine.” The article highlights the consequent hardship the boy endured for 10 years before the boy’s aunt was awarded custody. At the time of writing, the natural parents had completed a drug treatment program so as to get their lives back on track and had suddenly burst upon the scene as heroes.

Picture yourself losing your life in the course of holding true to your chosen course; would you want your opponents to use you as a pawn in order to advance their own agendas? I went to bat for Dennis. I had never met him. I had only read of him online. I don’t mind my own business. But at least when I weigh in, it is to say what he would want said. He would not want to be portrayed as a fanatic nor the victim of fanatics. He would not want to see his sincere religious convictions dragged through the mud by intolerant persons. The boy’s father stated “My sister has done a good job of raising him for the past four years,” though he felt she imposed her religious beliefs on him. The facts spoke otherwise. Dennis had made the beliefs his own.

That said, the death of a young person is always tragic. You can be sure he would have far rather have lived. Yet people routinely put their lives on the line for any number of causes and they are generally lauded as heroes, not deluded nuts, for it. Which are they? Take the one who ‘gives his life for his country,’ for example. Only some of that person’s own countrymen will think his death noble. Everyone else will figure he died in vain. Is the god of nationalism to be chosen over the God of the Bible? If all persons refused transfusions, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, and all persons refused to take part in war, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, this would be, on balance, an infinitely healthier world.

Don’t more youngsters die in high school sports than in refusing transfusions? The number of Witness youths finding themselves in Dennis’ predicament is proportionate to those student victims of sports. Each year I read a few local examples of sports deaths. I’m not sure I would know of any transfusion deaths were it not for news media hyping any such event around the globe. Does anyone think high school sports should be banned or it’s coaches judged accessories to negligent homicide, as some thought appropriate for those who may have contributed to Dennis’ mindset?

Death of any youngster in such circumstances pushes a lot of emotional buttons; I understand that. But the hard fact is that most of those voicing strong opinions were nowhere to be found during the first ten years of Dennis’ difficult life. Nor did they lend any support to the aunt generous enough to assume raising the boy after that. Nor, had this crisis resolved itself in any other way, would they take any interest in his subsequent life. The ones who should speak for Dennis are those who knew and shared in his convictions

One also must address the assumption, never challenged in the media, that rejecting a transfusion is tantamount to suicide. The judge didn’t buy it: “I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses steadfastly refuse blood transfusions. As a result, bloodless techniques have been invented. By eliminating the risk of foreign tissue, human error, and blood-borne diseases, these new techniques offer a safety margin that conventional blood transfusions do not. ‘Knocking’ stated that there were over 140 medical centers in North America (as of 2006) that offer some form of bloodless surgical techniques. Might the day come, or is it even here already, when the number of lives saved through such medicine will outnumber those lost by a few members of a relatively tiny religious group that stuck to its principles amidst much opposition?

In a parallel development, early deployment of automotive driverless technologies has produced a few fatalities. Media screams over each one. ‘Think this through carefully,’ says Tesla CEO Elon Musk. ‘Driverless cars will save 600,000 lives per year. If you scare people away from them, aren’t you responsible for 600,000 deaths? The situation is not entirely parallel to Witnesses and bloodless medicine, but it’s close enough. Don’t focus on the few Witnesses that have died. Focus on the many who are and who will be saved via bloodless medicine. If Dennis’ death is seen in that light, it is not in vain, even in a non-Witness context. He should not be remembered as some deluded kid. He deserves better.

 

In the May 1994 issue of Awake, someone wrote a sloppy byline, and Victor Vomidog beat them over the head with it. “Jehovah’s Witness kids are dropping like flies! Their religion won’t let them take life-saving blood transfusions!” he screamed. The magazine had said: “In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.”

I knew Vomidog was up to no good. What was the context of that statement? I checked, only to find that there is no context. It is a one-line blurb in the table of contents designed to pique interest in the articles to follow. The articles that follow describe the cases of five Witness youngsters in North America. Each had been admitted into a hospital for aggressive cancer or leukemia. Each fought battles with hospitals, courts, and child welfare agencies determined to administer blood against the patient’s will. Each eventually prevailed in court, being recognized as mature minors with the right to decide upon their own treatment, though in two cases, a forced transfusion was given prior to that decision. Three of the children did die. Two lived. It’s rather wrenching stuff, with court transcripts and statements of the children involved, and those of the participating doctors, lawyers, and judges. In no case do you get the sense that blood transfusions offered a permanent cure, only a possible prolonging of life, ideally long enough for some cure to be discovered. One of the children, who did die, was told that blood would enable her to live only three to six months longer, during which time she might “do many things,” such as “visit Disney World.” There’s little here to suggest that “thousands of youths are dying for putting God first” who would otherwise live. It’s an unclear byline: “They are still doing it.” Doing what? Dying? Dying by the thousands? Or putting God first without regard for the immediate consequences?

 

The Watchtower organization never meant to kill a god; we just wanted him to leave us alone. We initially assumed, when doctors told us we were crazy for refusing blood transfusions, that we were, at least insofar as the present life is concerned. But each passing year has revealed our position to be more sound medically, and the god’s less. We never imagined doctors would ultimately expose transfusion as a sham and kill the god. It wasn’t our intention for that to happen. We don’t gloat about it.

To be sure, it hasn’t happened. The god of blood transfusion is not dead. He’s alive. But he’s not well. He’s limping where he once walked tall. He is like the god of churches that Sam Harris boasts he has killed. He’s respected so long as he stays in his place. But his place used to be anywhere he wanted it to be. He’ll be around for a long time because too many incomes depend upon him. But he’s not the god he once was.

In 2014, The New York Times reported on turmoil within the blood bank industry:

Changes in medicine have eliminated the need for millions of blood transfusions, which is good news for patients getting procedures like coronary bypasses and other procedures that once required a lot of blood. But the trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks unlike anything the industry…has ever seen…One reason for declining demand is that recent studies have found many transfusions unnecessary, so patients are no longer getting expensive services that did them no good.

“Did them no good,” the Times writes, yet every of them one was “life-saving.” The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, for example, changed the guidelines for transfusions after coronary artery bypass grafts beginning in April 2012. A normal hemoglobin count is 12 to 16 grams per deciliter of blood, depending on gender. Some doctors automatically ordered a transfusion after surgery; others did so only if the patient’s hemoglobin level fell to 10. Under the new guidelines, transfusion is not recommended until the level falls to seven.

The hemoglobin trigger of 10 is an arbitrary number set in the 1940’s, and was unquestioned dogma until recently. Imagine: eighty years old, universally adhered to, but completely arbitrary. Today, hospitals, tired of lawsuits from transfusion errors or complications, simply lower the number. I have consistently found that the most unreasonable persons on this subject are the very persons, the scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist crowd, who insist that that they and they alone have a lock on reason. It’s hard not to suspect that they would have come on board ages ago were it not for a despised religion taking the ‘other side.’ But their hatred of religion blinded them to the very real advantages of bloodless medicine.

If the numbers don’t look good for the blood supply industry, they do for hospitals that have adopted bloodless medicine. Yes, bloodless is initially more expensive. But it’s repaid by faster recovery times and shorter hospital stays. Everyone knows the body is unreceptive to foreign tissue and immediately launches an attack. Remove that stress, and patients heal more quickly. Plus, no one sues for mismatched or tainted blood. Even the U.S Army gets into the act, training personnel in the bloodless techniques first developed to serve Jehovah’s Witnesses. The new training will save both lives and money, says a spokesman. Chalk all these advances up to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have prodded medicine in the right direction.

 

With Oscar Oxgoad, it’s never a question of if he will say the wrong thing, it’s only a question of when – I’ve seen it take as long as two minutes. Then he catches himself and turns beet red. Hastily, he’ll attempt damage control…and say something four times worse! Two days after Wayne Whitepebble returned home all patched up from his surgery, Oscar dropped in.

“Oh, Wayne,” he said, greatly troubled, “you look terrible!” But then he remembered he was there to comfort. “But don’t you worry! Why, I knew someone who looked exactly the same as you do now and he made out just…oh…uh, wait a minute…he died. Uh…ahem…well…I’m sure it will be different in your case………he did look just the same, though.”

 

back

CHAPTER 16 – THE NEW WORLD TRANSLATION

There is a saying among Jehovah’s Witnesses that any new member should be locked up for six months, or at least followed for that long. They are like the locusts released from the abyss of Revelation – delirious with joy to be free at last but furious that it took so long – and they work through their angst by stinging everyone in sight. Ted Putsch, who has progressed more rapidly than I would ever have imagined possible, is like this. He forgets that it took him eight months to get to where he is. He expects everyone to absorb everything instantly.

“Will you look at the size of that jug!” Ted had spotted a decorative jug on the householder’s front step. I knew he was thinking about his ‘Adam to Armageddon’ speech.

“Yeah, it’s big, Ted,” I replied, “but it would take forever to fill it. Look at the narrow neck. You’d have to dribble liquid in.”

“Dribble, shmibble! Just think how much that bad boy will hold!”

In his zeal, he has been tactless in field service. Not to worry. It is the job of the teacher to guide his student in the ministry, and who is better qualified for this than I? It has been already established that I am the most generous and smartest JW out there. For the sake of the modesty, as Poirot would say, it has seemed indecent to spill all at once, but now the time has come for full disclosure: I am also the mildest and most patient JW out there, and the best coach. I am lovingly giving Ted pointers, such as: ‘a slave of the Lord does not need to fight but needs to be gentle to all,’ (2 Timothy 2:24) and I am happy to report that he is coming around nicely. He is quickly becoming the very personification of meekness and tact:

“Look, you pompous buffoon,” Ted leaned into Mr. Strawman, “it isn’t that hard!”

Bernard Strawman and I had been engaging in extended discussion on religious views of the afterlife, with the car group waiting outside. As always, he wasn’t budging an inch, but I know that with patience I will reach his heart!

“With just one exception, all instances of ‘hell’ stem from just three original language words. Find the meaning of those words, and you’ve found the meaning of hell! It couldn’t be easier! Or is that the problem with you?” OH NO! My Bible student can’t stand my return visit!

Mr. Strawman was momentarily taken aback but he regained his composure. “Ah – but there is a lake of fire metaphor in Revelation,” he pointed out, smiling.

“Yes! You said it! It’s a metaphor!” Ted Putsch nearly shouted. “the Devil has a summer cottage on the lake of fire! It doesn’t bother him a bit! It doesn’t occur to you we’re into heavy symbolism here?!”

Decidedly less sure of himself, Bernard Strawman ventured that he had read of ‘everlasting fire’ and again smiled, though not so broadly. Ted tore and wadded up a page from the autobiography Mr. Strawman was working on, ‘Portrait of a Man,’ and threw it into the fireplace – cognac splashed all over the place – where it immediately burned up! “There’s your everlasting fire!” this time he did shout! “Still burning, isn’t it? Now where’s your pretentious story? I’ll be out in the car, Tom!”

I did damage control for several minutes (we must not stumble Mr. Strawman!) then glanced out the window. Ted Putsch was indeed waiting, along with the rest of the car group. I joined them and built everyone up relating our wonderful field service experience.

It used to be easy with the New World Translation, now they’ve made it less so. The three words were once transliterated; if they appeared in Hebrew or Greek, they appeared also in the English translation. It was thus easy to find the scriptural meeting of hell, you had only to look at context. Unfortunately, the technique doesn’t translate. The speaker of Fijian has no means of investigating Sheol, Hades, or Gehenna, and thus concludes they are geographical places like Seoul, Hanoi, or Guyana. So New World Translators changed two of the three to read ‘grave’ and you have to go to the footnotes for the original word. Gehenna, which actually is a geographical place, remains unchanged.

 

Like aficionados fleeing a fart in the concert hall, church scholars rush to remove God’s name from the Bible. It’s right there, plain as day, 7000 times! But they remove it. When you see LORD (and not Lord) in the Bible, it is the name Jehovah being replaced. The forward, footnotes or appendices will tell you this, unless the translators are being especially devious. Sometimes people render it Yahweh. It’s the same. The consonants match: JHVH to YHWH, allowing for Latin to Hebrew conversion.

I have made your name known and will make it known, Jesus prays to his Father. (John 17:26)

‘Not if we can help it,’ reply the churchmen. This all works out well for us. We worship Jehovah. Everyone else worships ‘God.’ The Methodists worship him, as does ISIS, only in different ways; ‘There are many paths leading to God,’ we hear ad nauseum. And ‘God’ apparently accepts it all; at least he tells neither group that their worship is unacceptable. Meanwhile, we worship Jehovah.

‘We couldn’t restore the divine name even if we wanted to,’ the translators say. ‘Our work would be doomed in the marketplace! People would think we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses! We wouldn’t want that.’ We wouldn’t either. It’s a win-win! Meanwhile, the New World Translation restores the divine name completely and is not doomed in the commercial marketplace because it does not depend upon the commercial marketplace. It’s distributed entirely through the work of dedicated Christians. Isn’t this the way it should be? Should God’s message really be distributed through big business? The two don’t exactly see eye to eye, do they?

 

If you’re speaking with someone who has one of those smart-aleck Bibles that have removed God’s name throughout, Psalm 110:1 can come to your rescue: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand…’” (NIV) Two Lords! One with all caps, one with but the first letter capped. Does your householder know why that is? And if you’ve put your name in your book 7000 times, only to find someone else has taken it out, though your own Son had said it was to be hallowed, won’t you be peeved? It’s the classic ‘can’t see the forest for the trees.’ The church translators cite technicalities: ‘If we don’t know the exact pronunciation, maybe we shouldn’t say it – isn’t it like calling your father by his first name?’ But if you strive for an actual personal relationship with God, technical issues vanish. He put his name there 7000 times – he must want it known. How hard is that?

Putting God’s name into the Old Testament when translating Hebrew into English is easy. Nobody who knows anything will give you any grief over this. Every time you see the tetragrammaton, insert Jehovah. You may come across rationales like that in the Revised Standard Version preface, but they are easily disposed of:

For two reasons the [translation] Committee has returned to the more familiar usage of the King James Version: [rendering YHWH as LORD] …the use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from whom He had to be distinguished, was discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is entirely inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church.

At first glance this seems plausible, but at second, it is pious drivel. ‘Doesn’t need to be distinguished from other gods?’ He needs so now more than ever. Otherwise he is mistaken for the ‘judge first – ask questions later’ god, or the baby-thief god, or the football god. If you are speaking with someone about a jointly known name, and the attributes don’t line up, you soon realize that you’re speaking of two separate persons who share the same name. Nobody thinks you are both speaking of the same person whom you merely approach in different ways. In fact, my God Jehovah does not take someone’s baby because he needs a flower in heaven. He does not roast people he doesn’t like forever in hell. He does not watch the NFL games, tweaking each play for his players, though the church God wears a jersey – any number is okay except 666. I’m happy Jehovah has a name, to distinguish him from the God who does not.

 

Putting God’s name in the New Testament is trickier. You have to justify your action, and even then, church translators will grouse. At first glance, why would you not use the name Jehovah in the New Testament? The New Testament is packed with direct quotes from the Old Testament. If the Name appears without controversy in an Old Testament verse, why should it not also appear when that verse is lifted and inserted into the New Testament?

But at second glance, it’s not quite that simple. There is an intermediate translation. Centuries before Christ, as Greek became the dominant language, scholars translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. That translation is known as the Septuagint. When New Testament writers included direct Old Testament quotes, they took them from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text itself. What difference does it make?

Ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament contain the divine name. Ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do not. Maybe you think that they should, but they do not. That’s strange – why would a direct quote pick up every word except the divine name? Where you would expect to find the Name, you’ll find kyrios, a Greek word that means ‘lord.’

The reason? Just like scoundrels removed God’s name from their Old Testament translations, so they removed it from their Septuagint translations! Early versions of the Septuagint have the name, later versions do not. Early complete versions don’t exist, because they’re early, but fragments of them do. Those fragments contain the divine name. Lazy, dishonest, or at the very least, incurious church translators don’t go to the more relevant fragments that contain the Name, from versions that the NT translators would have used; they go only to nice complete versions that do not contain the Name – versions produced after the original Hebrew-to-Greek translators were dead and buried.

It’s reprehensible! Say what you will about Jews refusing to pronounce the divine name. Maybe you disagree with that stand – but they never removed the Name, they just stopped saying it. The difference between their actions and that of the church translators is the difference between religious interpretation and outright fraud. So put the name into the New Testament! Let them scream! Remember, it wouldn’t be in the Old Testament either if they had their way.

George Howard of the University of Georgia writes in Journal of Biblical Literature: (Vol. 96, 1977, p. 63) “This removal of the Tetragram[maton], in our view, created a confusion in the minds of early Gentile Christians about the relationship between the ‘Lord God’ and the ‘Lord Christ’ which is reflected in the MS tradition of the NT text itself.” That confusion is not only the effect of the removal. I say it is the intent. And its proper restoration is resisted precisely to perpetuate that confusion.

Christians are to be identified with that name:

[Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. (Acts 15:14 KJV)

It’s a little hard to do that when church leaders hide it. Nonetheless, most churches today are determined to hide it: The Boston Globe reports:

The Vatican, saying the name of God deserves more reverence, earlier this summer instructed that Catholics stop using the word Yahweh in worship…. And now comes Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, talking with Protestants about the issue. One of several perspectives reported in the article: Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. ‘It’s always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name,’ she said.

The name has always left her “embarrassed!” Do you think she is part of the “people for his name” that Peter writes about?

That’s fine with us! Let the Name be associated with those who strive to keep his worship uncontaminated with non-Christian teachings – ones like picking flowers, like roasting unbelievers, like cheering the games – his son’s feeding of the crowds transformed into a grand celestial tailgate party.

Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. (Isaiah 26:2)

 

The world’s most popular Bible translation today is The New International Version. It does not even once contain God’s distinctive name. Edwin H Palmer, Executive Secretary for the NIV committee, was asked about that:

“Here is why we did not,” he replied. “You are right that Jehovah is a distinctive name for God and ideally we should have used it. But we put 2 1/4 million dollars into this translation and a sure way of throwing that down the drain is to translate, for example, Psalm 23 as, ‘Yahweh is my shepherd.’ Immediately, we would have translated for nothing. Nobody would have used it. Oh, maybe you and a handful [of] others. But a Christian has to be also wise and practical. We are the victims of 350 years of the King James tradition. It is far better to get two million to read it—that is how many have bought it to date—and to follow the King James [which does include the name in four places], than to have two thousand buy it and have the correct translation of Yahweh…It was a hard decision, and many of our translators agree with you.”

Is Mr. Palmer a bad person? No. He is a good person. “Ideally” the Name should have been there he says. But he spent a lot of money on his translation. Should he be expected to flush it all down the toilet? He wants to be ‘wise and practical.’ What’s wrong with that? Would we prefer ‘dumb and impractical?’ But, surely, something is wrong with a model in which ‘wise and practical’ means disrespecting God’s name.

Suppose a person loves this book, but will buy it only if I remove my name, which they can’t stomach. What an insult! I’ll sell it to them anyway, of course. I can use the money and I believe in the message. But God doesn’t need the money:

if I were hungry, I would not tell it to you. (Psalm 50:12)

and his message centers on the vindication of his name. You’re not exactly off to a fine start if you plug your ears when you hear it.

Mr. Palmer’s caught in a bind and he knows it. His work is to be promoted by the world’s commercial interests – by the for-profit book publishers. It will succeed or fail by popular vote. Insert something gauche, like God’s name, and people won’t buy it. Mr. Palmer’s not happy about it but he doesn’t know a way out.

But true ‘wise and practical’ Christians are more wise and practical than he realizes. They are not only wise and practical, they are ‘faithful and discreet.’ They produce a translation that is precise, and they’re not concerned in the slightest whether big business likes it or not. They dispense with commercial distribution channels entirely and do not try to run Christianity as a popularity contest. The New World Translation is translated, published, and distributed by faithful servants of Jehovah. Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized as a separate Bible society, in no way beholden to the commercial interests that checkmated Dr. Palmer. The translators were free to focus on accurate translating, unconcerned with any commercial verdict, feeling no need to pander to the crowds.

 

If reviews of a film all rot, that tells me the movie’s a stinker. If reviews gush with praise, that tells me the film’s great. But if some reviewers savage a film and others praise it – the same film! what that tells me is not about the movie. That tells me about the reviewers. So it is with the New World Translation. Scholars give mixed reviews, with extremes at both ends.

Here’s a nasty one:

Finally, a word should be said about the New World Translation by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to the sectarian bias of the group, as well as to the lack of genuine biblical scholarship, I believe that the New World Translation is by far the worst translation in English dress. It purports to be word-for-word, and in most cases is slavishly literal to the point of being terrible English. But, ironically, whenever a sacred cow is demolished by the biblical writers themselves, the Jehovah’s Witnesses twist the text and resort to an interpretive type of translation. In short, it combines the cons of both worlds, with none of the pros.

On the other hand:

Original renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures into the English are extremely few. It therefore gives us much pleasure to welcome the publication of the first part of the New World Translation [of the Hebrew Scriptures], Genesis to Ruth. This version has evidently made a special effort to be thoroughly readable. No one could say it is deficient in its freshness and originality. Its terminology is by no means based on that of the previous versions.

Another sorehead:

Once it is perceived that Jehovah’s Witnesses are only interested in what they can make the scriptures say, and not in what the Holy Spirit has already perfectly revealed, then the careful student will reject entirely Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower translation.

Then, again: Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek New Testament in ‘An American Translation.’ (in a letter dated Dec. 8, 1950):

I am interested in the mission work of your people, and in its worldwide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank, and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.

And:

[Jehovah’s Witnesses’] translation of the Bible [has] an impressive critical apparatus. The work is excellent. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Gale, 2005, Vol. 7, p. 751.

What we learn here has little to do with the New World Translation and everything to do with scholars. They are not gods. They are humans with the same mix of opinion, bias and pig-headedness suffered by all the rest of us. They put their pants on as we do. They are like psychiatrists in a murder trial, where both prosecution and defense searches for one compliant to their respective sides. You don’t tremble with fear when the other side produces a scholar who disagrees with you. You expect that to happen. Even sheer numbers of opposing scholars don’t mean much. The view currently in vogue will always produce the greater number of scholars. Humans are like that. They run in packs.

Line up all scholars with similar views and their writings indeed seem impressive. Line up the scholars with opposing views and their writing also seems formidable. But combine the two and one is sorely tempted to equate scholarship with so many rolls of toilet paper. They squabble no less than we lesser mortals. No one’s saying to ignore them but too many people employ them the way lawyers employ psychiatrists: decide up front what you believe, then search for experts to back you up.

The other thing we learn about scholars is that the ones who can’t stand the New World Translation are, with very few exceptions, Trinitarians. Believe that Jesus and God are synonymous and you will loathe the New World Translation. Believe otherwise and you will be okay with it. You may critique it on this or that point, as with any translation. But you will rank it as a legitimate and intelligent translation, with both strengths and weaknesses.

Scripturally, the Trinity doctrine can survive only when readers take literally phrases which, in any other context, they would instantly recognize as figures of speech. If you were to use a family analogy to illustrate equivalency in a superhuman relationship, would you use father-son? Would you not instead use brother-brother? The New World Translation dares to tamper with certain churchy phrases for the sake of clarity. Many other translations have done the same but they are all cut down in the commercial marketplace.

There are few flags redder that one can wave before the Trinitarian bull than John 1:1. It’s easy to see why. The King James Version and most popular Bibles today render the verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Other than the insertion long recognized as spurious at 1 John 5:7, John 1:1 most directly states the Trinity, or at least two of the three parties. But the New World Translation, unforgivably in Trinitarian eyes, renders that verse: In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

It’s not the only translation to do so, but there aren’t many. However, there are many that straddle the fence; while not translating the Word as ‘a god,’ they render it in terms of an adjective or quality. Such as:

“and the Word was divine” (The Bible—An American Translation)

“so the Word was divine” (The Authentic New Testament)

“the Logos was divine” (A New Testament: A New Translation – James Moffatt)

“was face to face with God” (The Centenary Translation

“and godlike sort was the Logos.” (Das Evangelium nach Johannes)

Trinitarians grumble about these, but have evidently decided they can live with them. Not so with the ‘a god’ of the New World Translation.

Turning the tables on those who would charge the New World Translation with bias is a 2003 book by Jason Beduhn entitled ‘Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament.’ Dr. Beduhn holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Illinois, an M.T.S. in New Testament and Christian Origins form Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Study of Religions form Indiana University, Bloomington. His book compares nine popular English translations, viewing selected verses, and concludes that the New World Translation is the most accurate, the freest of bias. The Catholic New American Translation came in second. John 1:1 is among the verses he examines. He writes:

Surprisingly, only one, the NW, adheres to the literal meaning of the Greek, and translates ‘a god.’ Translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, NASB, AB, TEV and LB all approached the text at John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word… and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs.” He also responds to those who charge the NWT translators with doctrinal bias: “It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek.

Search the internet and you will find furious discussion of Dr. Beduhn, his book, and John 1:1. Though I was told he was active online, it was hard to find him. He was absolutely buried amidst attacks from Trinitarians, in near panic mode, desperate to undermine his credentials. Isn’t his real language of expertise Pig Latin? Didn’t he buy his degrees online? Doesn’t he pick his nose a lot? Years later, one can find Dr. Bedhun’s pithy online retorts to New World Translation critics. It’s not easy to be pithy. Not many do it but he’s good at it. It’s makes for joyous reading. Meanwhile, I was advised online that “it would be more credible to have a JW write an academic thesis that holds water than to find scholars here and there [where else would you find them?] to defend the NWT.” The trouble is, the thesis will not be found to hold water by any Trinitarian scholar, because their beliefs dictate their scholarship.

Translators ought to translate rigorously and let the results teach them about Jesus, about God, about the Kingdom, and everything else. Instead, Beduhn maintains, most approach the task with pre-existing views of who and what Jesus was, and then make sure their translation reinforces those views. Dr. Beduhn, in his book, refers to the ‘Protestant’s burden.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t suffer from it. Their organization is recent. If it’s found not to conform to something in the Bible, they simply change their organization, as they did recently with the process for appointing congregation elders. Catholics also don’t suffer from the Protestant’s burden. Though they are old, they’ve not claimed to be directed by the Bible only; Saints and tradition can modify their teachings. Therefore, if some teachings don’t line up with the Bible, it’s no deal breaker, nobody ever said they must. But Protestants are caught in a bind. They are old and they self-proclaim that they follow the Bible to a tee. When a Bible verse being translated reveals otherwise, they experience powerful pressure to obscure it.

The New World Translation has undergone revisions, most notably in 1984 and 2013. Valid criticism has been addressed, Trinitarian concerns have been ignored. Its word count for 2013 is greatly reduced, no longer being “slavishly literal to the point of being terrible English.” Surely it cannot be a crime to be slavishly literal when dealing with God’s words. But it makes for better comprehension to moderate it. Current NWT translators are no longer insistent upon such matters as the precise Hebrew verb tense, unless it be indispensable to accurate understanding.

 

Getting his clock cleaned on another topic, one grouser has had enough. Time to change the subject! Who translated the New World Translation, anyway? What qualifications did they have? “What were the qualifications of the men who translated the NWT into English?” he demands of me. What he is hoping is that I will admit we didn’t really use translators at all, but trained orangutans. It’s a common taunt from those who can’t stand Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just who are these translators? Do they have letters appended to their names? Do they actually know any language besides Pig Latin?

It’s not easy to satisfy on this point since the NWT translating committee has ever remained anonymous. Not just the New World Translation; everything the Watchtower organization publishes is anonymous. One consequence is that people must focus on the work itself and not just who wrote it. But it’s much easier to do the reverse: find out who wrote it, then determine on that basis if it’s any good or not. It’s the tactic of a lazy lout. After all, checking a work takes time. Checking credentials of the author can be done in two seconds.

Is the New World Translation any good or not? One ought to be able to determine that without knowing the qualifications of the translators. Instead, qualifications become apparent through examination of the work itself. That holds true in any other aspect of life. Why should it not hold true here as well? When my wife and I moved into our present house, we looked it over for quality. We even hired an inspector. Satisfied, we purchased it. But we don’t know who built the house and we’ve not lost any sleep on that account. The qualifications of the builders are evident from what is built.

Shortly after the New World Translation’s release, back in 1963, the Andover Newton Quarterly wrote:

The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.

How do they know the ‘scholars’ are ‘qualified’? They examined the work itself. Does it bother them that the translators are anonymous? It doesn’t seem to:

The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed — a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek

the journal wrote in 1966. They could tell the work was well done without knowing the authors, just as you can tell the earth is beautiful without knowing its Creator. But stupid and lazy persons insist they have to know the authors first. Rubbish. To insist that credentials determine a work’s value is to insist that Microsoft and Apple are flunkie outfits because their founders are ‘unqualified’ – they’ve held no degrees in computer science, and neither completed college.

 

No finer exposure of the man behind the curtain of qualifications can be found than in former MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones. During her tenure, she became very skilled at spotting applicants who had padded their resumes. Nevertheless, the school fired her in 2007. She had padded hers! Padded it quite a bit, actually. She’d claimed BS and MS degrees from Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical College. That’s how she’d landed her first job 28 years ago. But she’d only studied at Rensselaer for a year and had never graduated anywhere.

You cannot read Marilee Jones without liking her. She wrote an editorial for USA Today (January 1, 2003) in which she related a note she’d received from an applicant’s father. It read: “You rejected my son. He’s devastated. See you in court.” The next day came a note from the applicant himself: “Thank you for not admitting me to MIT. This is the best day of my life.”

In an era where ambition-blinded parents push their reluctant offspring to the point of suicide, Ms. Jones offered unheard of nurturing and common sense: lay off on the self-stress, enjoy life, stay healthy, stop trying to be perfect. MIT officials, even as they canned her, were universal in their praise. “She’s really been a leader in the profession,” said her predecessor Michael Behnke. Her peers agreed. Ms. Jones was “one of those people who was trying to bring sanity back to the whole admissions world. She’s spoken persuasively and thoughtfully both to parents and admissions deans about restoring the humanity to this process and taking some pressure off kids,” said fellow dean of admissions Bruce Poch. But now she’s gone and insanity can reassert itself.

The surface lesson: always tell the truth on your resume. The real lesson: do not cross the god of qualifications. ‘Qualifications’ exist for two reasons: They make hiring easier, since you can cart two thirds of all resumes to the trash, unread. And they inflate the education industry, ever eager to dream up new areas of expertise for which they create curriculum and overpriced textbooks. The process serves to eliminate the creative and the innovative in favor of the plodders and the dull.

My wife and I ran up against this mindset when we set out to homeschool our kids many years ago. Educators huffed at our not being certified teachers. It led us to uncover the truth that certified teachers taught no better than uncertified ones, though they cost more. Catholic schools rarely used certified teachers, yet achieve results as good or better than public schools. Even the word is suspect: “educators” – as though nobody would know a thing without them.

It is in this light that we can understand a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle headline: ‘Computer Workers May Have to Report Child Abuse.’ (May 2, 2007) Lawmakers in two states think this is a fine idea, and it will be hard to resist – the god of registries is pushing for this with all his might. Apparently, the technician at Best Buy and even the independent shop two doors down, should this ever become law, will have to alert the police when they spot something unsavory on a hard drive. I suspect most of them already do, just on the basis of being decent people.

Michael Wendy, spokesman for the Computing Technology Industry Association, based in Illinois, offered some common-sense hedging. Sure, technicians want to help out, he said, but they’re concerned about liability should they miss something. As well they should be. Lawyers will undoubtedly love this new proposal. As will insurance people. Technicians will have to load up on liability insurance. Repairs will be so expensive that no one will bother; you’ll just junk your machine and buy another. Repairmen will need a master’s degree to touch your machine, with advanced courses in sociology and human sexuality. Educators will like that.

But didn’t we digress from qualifications of the NWT translators in order to do battle with the god of qualifications? Yes, we did. Get back on topic!

 

In the first century CE, opponents sneered at the apostles for lack of qualifications:

Now when they (religious leaders of the day) saw the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were men uneducated and ordinary, they were astonished,

Acts 4:13 tells us. Jesus fared no better:

Therefore the Jews fell to wondering, saying: ‘How does this man have such a knowledge of the Scriptures, when he has not studied at the schools?’ (John 7:15)

Got it? Christianity’s a flop because its founder was not qualified.

The Watchtower organization, through its program, structure and dedication, is a school in its own right. Can one learn languages only through the world’s universities? A two-year-old raised in a bilingual home picks up both tongues without effort. Put him in a tri-lingual home and he picks up three. Okay, ancient language adds a degree of complication, I admit, but still, language is just a means of communication and surely there are many avenues through which one may learn that. Besides, what do they do most there in Bethel? What are they known for? Translating! Surely the 800 languages of jw.org testify to that. Language schools should come crawling to Bethel for pointers, not the reverse. The arena of language itself is familiar to them, and when special expertise is needed, they reach into the ranks and pull it up, as they have done with printing, web design, video, and science.

If it turns out that NWT translators bypassed the advanced degrees of prestigious universities, that’s not the big deal detractors make it out to be. Yet, even that can’t be determined for sure. Detractors claim to know who the translators were, and have a field day with their supposed ‘lack of qualifications.’ But how you positively identify a group which has never identified itself is beyond me.

“Maybe there were many others,” admits one sorehead. “But again, in a matter like this, what or why would they hide? Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl? Honestly, provide one reasonable excuse why these men should be anonymous.”

What’s wrong with modesty? By remaining anonymous, they direct attention to the work and its true author, and not themselves. ‘Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl,’ my rear end! They’ve not put the work under a bowl. They’ve put themselves under it. Today, upon completing anything consequential, people are given to strutting around and basking in the praise of their peers. To forsake that shows unusual modesty. We live in a culture in which people focus, not on the words, but on who said the words. Anonymity thwarts such laziness.

 

So there was this Lutheran Evangelical, and he approaches this Rabbi so as to SAVE him. Only, he doesn’t know he’s wearing a big “Kick Me” sign on his behind. No sooner does he finish his pitch and the rabbi does kick him. Hard! HA! ‘Okay, okay, Tom, don’t gloat. Stop it! The rabbi doesn’t like you either. Maybe he’ll try to kick you, too. Well…maybe, but at least I have one saving grace; I’m using a decent Bible translation.’

Dear Rabbi: [Tovia Singer, who runs Outreach Judaism and responds to issues raised by ‘missionaries, cults, and Jew for Jesus.’] “…….I admire your commitment to your faith.” [Roll eyes. Does he also admire the Pope’s commitment to his faith? Man! When you’re writing to someone like the rabbi, you don’t lead off with patronizing twaddle about admiration. If you truly admire him, the tone of your letter will show it.] Brackets mine, by the way.

“yet I am perplexed as to why you so assuredly reject Jesus Christ as your messiah.” [Not the Messiah, but your Messiah. What…is he trying to get this fellow mad? You have to know your audience. Even Jesus’ disciples referred to him as the Messiah. Do these modern-day evangelicals simply love him more than the original twelve?] “He came not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews as well. He was born to a Jewish mother and came to the Jewish people.” [Perhaps the rabbi has never heard this.]

[Wait a minute – haven’t church members treated Jews abominably through the centuries? Better defuse that one. Shouldn’t be a problem] “I know that the Jews have been maligned and persecuted by so-called Christians. This has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Jewish people against Christ; but certainly you must know, rabbi, that these were not real Christians, for a believer in Christ must love the Jew, for his Savior is a Jew….The true Christian loves the Jewish people.” [There! Done! Easy as Pie! Hundreds of years of persecution out of the way! Now, on to business!]

“You surely have read the 22nd Psalm which most clearly speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion. Read verse 16. [Do it, Rabbi. NOW!] It states, ‘Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.’ Of whom does the prophet speak other than our Lord? This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross. What greater proof is needed that Jesus died for the sins of mankind than this chapter which was written a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth?”

I’ll concede I’m being hard on this Lutheran fellow. He’s certainly sincere enough. But these guys come after us all the time, too, set to save us. Positively cooing love until you spurn them, and then roaring hellfire. Well, if you’re going to pull a stunt like this on the rabbi, you’d better have your ducks lined up. As it turns out, this fellow’s ducks are waddling all over the place, and the rabbi pounces upon them and eats them for supper.

His verse is fraudulent translating, the rabbi replies. It does not read in Hebrew ‘they pierced my hands and my feet.’ It reads ‘like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.’ The Hebrew word is kaari. It means ‘like a lion.’ It does not mean ‘pierced.’ Furthermore, this is no accident of translating, the rabbi asserts. It is deliberate. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 38:13, the Hebrew work kaari is translated ‘like a lion’ as it should be. Only at Psalm 22:16 (some translations have it at verse 17) is it ‘pierced,’ a word that in this setting, just sounds so much better for religionist church translators! Never mind that there actually are Hebrew words that mean pierced, words that are not used in the verse. No, we’ll just change the word kaari so as to support an image we like!

Well…honest mistake, reply some churchy types that know about the switch. You see, they explain, those early church translators mistook kaari for kaaru. It’s only one letter off, and kaaru means ‘pierced.’ They probably suppose Jesus maneuvered matters this way. The rabbi’s not falling for it: there is no kaaru! No such word. Or, at least, not until those religionists coined it to justify their mistranslation.

Now, I didn’t know any of this. I checked various translations, some in my own library and some on the internet. Between biblegateway.com and studylight.org, I was able to compare fifty. Only four read “like a lion.” Forty-six say “pierced.” The ‘can’t we all just get along’ Easy to Read Version uses both: “Like a lion, (they have pierced) my hands and my feet.”

Are lions known to pierce hands and feet? Naturally, neither of these search engines included the New World Translation, since we are a cult. I looked that verse up in the New World Translation:

For dogs have surrounded me; The assembly of evildoers themselves have enclosed me. Like a lion [they are at] my hands and my feet.

The New World Translation gets it right, one of only a handful of translations to do so! Since the other correct translations are obscure, for all practical purposes, the NWT is the only accurate one out there! Moreover, in translating the word kaari accurately, the NWT works ‘against’ its translators’ own interests, since we also believe the Christ is foretold in various psalms, including the 22nd. We’d love for it to say ‘pierced,’ too, but it doesn’t. You can’t lie to support your case. The Foreword of the New World Translation (1984 edition) says, in part:

The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible.

They ought to cite Psalm 22:16 as a case in point, for here they ignore a rendering they agree with doctrinally, because the original Hebrew word does not allow it.

There was a trial decades ago, you’ll see it all over the internet, in which Fred Franz is asked to translate an English phrase into Hebrew and he replies “I won’t attempt to do that.” “See?” his detractors jump up and down in glee, “he’s a moron!” He doesn’t know Hebrew at all, and yet he chaired the NWT translating committee! Does he even know Pig Latin? But all sneering aside, the New World Translation alone got Psalm 22:16 right. Everyone else repeats uncritically (they surely by now have had opportunity to correct matters) the faulty King James rendering. Instead, they vigorously defend it. Possibly, one might delicately allow that the verse, in Hebrew, is homonymic. Alas, such wordplay, along with poetic devices as alliteration, rhyme, onomatopoeia, and so forth, is not translatable. Even if you were to attempt it, you still need a crushingly heavy dose of ‘translator privilege’ to derive ‘pierced.’ Not to be lost sight of is the fact that this verse is not cited as messianic in the New Testament, although other Psalm 22 verses are. In the end, responsible translating demands you translate only what is actually there.

By the way, the rabbi’s not buying this ‘love the Jews’ slogan, either. Doesn’t this Lutheran character know about Luther?

Among all the church fathers and reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no lips that uttered more vulgar curses against the children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation whom you apparently revere. Even the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the church fathers pales in comparison to the invectives launched by Luther’s impious tongue during his lifetime. Have you not read his odious volume entitled ‘Of the Jews and Their Lies’?’ Although evangelicals repeatedly declare that true believing Christians love the Jewish people, the annals of history clearly do not support this slogan. With few exceptions, the tormentors of the Jewish people emerged out of the fundamentalist genre of Christianity. Remarkably, denominations that evangelical Christians regard as heretical, such as Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not have a strong history of anti-Semitism.

And while we’re at it, the rabbi also takes a swipe at Trinitarianism, which he wrongly equates with Christianity. Psalm 22 opens with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If these words are to be attributed to a Trinitarian Jesus on the cross, asks the rabbi, (Matthew 27:46) can it really be that God has forsaken himself? This is the sort of nonsense you have to buy into repeatedly when you accept the Trinity doctrine. It’s nonsense that clears up instantly once you appreciate that Jesus and his Father are two separate beings, just like any other son and father we can imagine. Indeed, that’s why the Bible uses that bit of personification: so as to highlight the closeness and harmony existing between them, while all the time making clear they are separate beings.

I tell you, it’s hard not to like the rabbi. Maybe it’s a ‘foe of my foe is my friend’ kind of thing. I’m trying my best not to like him. After all, if you get too fast and friendly with the other team’s quarterback, he’ll clobber you, like on the TV ad: “o yeah, baby, Geico’s as fast and friendly as it gets!”

But I can’t do it. I heard once that the Hasidic Jews in New York City aren’t nice to our people when they come calling; it doesn’t matter. I’ve heard the rabbi on the radio being interviewed by snarky religionists trying to crucify him. They interrupt him when he scores a point, they break for a commercial as he threatens to score another. He nonetheless treats them with deference. I respect his sincerity in safeguarding the ‘children of Israel.’ Besides, I like Jews. They are our origin. Everything about their worship is clean.

How can you not love Jewish folk humor? It’s irresistible. How can you not love Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story friend whose metaphor for life was that of a chess against God. He’d get slaughtered with every move. But it wasn’t all bad. Nobody wants to waste their time on an unworthy opponent and it was a great honor playing against God.

The friend, a fixer, was called to fix a window casing. He was relieved to find the vile, jealous brute of a husband not at home, but his drop-dead gorgeous wife was there ill, bedridden. The fixer had to use a stepladder and reach over the woman to work on the casing. He slipped! He fell on top of the woman! Belt buckles locked and they couldn’t separate! At that moment, the door flew open; the husband had returned from work! His eyes and nostrils widened! He charged with fists clenched! Our hero had time for one thought only: “Masterful move, God! Absolutely brilliant!”

How can you not love it? Imagine – playing chess against God, but always in the spirit of devotion on the one side, fondness on the other. And when he grinds you into powder for the umpteenth time, he says:

“Fine game, Tevye. You’re improving! Care for another match?”

The rabbi won’t like it that Judaism is our origin only; he’ll be mad it’s not our destination as well. Maybe put us into proximity someday and we will fight like cats and dogs. But today’s not the day. Isaac Bashevis Singer has seen to it.

 

The copyist reads scripture and he gets madder and madder. His most cherished belief, the Holy Trinity, is nowhere to be found! Sure, that meaning can be teased out of the Bible. But only by taking obvious word devices literally. Surely the Bible can do better than that!

The copyist looks to his right. He looks to his left. He is alone! Quickly, he wedges in 1 John 5:7:

For there are three that bear witness on earth, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.

The words found their way into the 1611 King James Bible. With the advent of the twentieth century came the discovery of more ancient manuscripts, manuscripts that did not contain the inserted words. Thereafter, Bible translations either delete the words or footnote them as suspect. The only direct statement of the Trinity is a King James Version fraud!

How does this Trinity come to be the central church doctrine, when it has so little support in Scripture? The New Encyclopedia Britannica, back when there were encyclopedias, writes:

Christians who had some training in Greek philosophy began to feel the need to express their faith in its terms, both for the own intellectual satisfaction and in order to convert educated pagans.

It’s a teaching of that era’s ‘university people!’ They foul everything they touch! At various church councils, according to Greek and Roman historian Charles Freeman, those who tried to insert ‘Jesus is God’ “found it difficult to refute the many sayings of Jesus that suggested he was subordinate to God the Father.” So they began to elevate intellectual opinion, the sayings of Church Fathers, over the scriptures themselves!

Christianity began as a working-class religion of carpenters and fishermen, not an educated, elite religion. From the former come folk who can call a spade a spade. From the latter come folk who can lift scripture to a loftier plane, make it respectable, and monetize it. Get a load of this snooty comment from theologian Gregory of Nyssa, mocking the lowlife dumb enough to take scripture at face value:

“Clothes dealers, money changers, and grocers are all theologians. If you inquire about the value of your money, some philosopher explains wherein the Son differs from the Father. If you ask the price of bread, your answer is the Father is greater than the Son. If you should want to know whether the bath is ready, you get the pronouncement that the Son was created out of nothing.”

The quote from Gregory appeared in the January 15, 2012 Watchtower, and was discussed at a congregation meeting. Witness detractors accused the Watchtower of manufacturing the quote out of thin air, since they couldn’t find it themselves on the internet, and figured if it’s not such low-hanging fruit, it must not exist! But Weedhacker would have none of it and tracked down Gregory’s words in both Greek and Latin, and posted it at

http://Matt13weedhacker.blogspot.com. (March 9, 2012) So there!

 

When you take your trash to the curb for pickup, you attach no note explaining your motives. You do not point out to Waste Management the reason you think what you have left them is trash. Similarly, before the brothers built at Warwick, they had to tear down some dilapidated structures. They had to remediate the soil. Yet no one who comes to visit will say: ‘Wow! The brothers carted off the trash!’ It is that way with the ‘false doctrines.’ They are trash which must be hauled away before the real construction can begin. C. T. Russell and his crew were the messengers preparing the way. Much of preparation is cleaning out the trash. Brothers new to the faith will go into endless detail pointing out why the trash is trash, and they never completely tire of it. After all, it is necessary, so as to help those who yet imagine it the most fragrant perfume. But as they mature, they lessen fixation on the trash to focus upon the theocratic building that has characterized the last century.

 

I was offering the magazines with Tom Pearlsnswine, who was then new and deadly serious, like he still is, back when the magazines had no pictures on the cover, back when each issue looked like a Craigslist page. We were working with the issue about snake handling in worship – that subject had top billing. Now, in all fairness to Pearlsnswine, how do you offer an article about snake handling in worship?

“Sir, we are speaking with our neighbors about the alarming practice of snake handling in worship,” he led off.

“I don’t think we have to worry about that here,” the householder replied. With excruciating sobriety, Pearlsnswine answered:

“You can’t be too careful.”

No, you can’t. The article Tom offered focused on that verse in the last chapter of Mark, really the only verse from which you could have written such an article:

Furthermore, these signs will accompany those believing: By the use of my name [Jesus] they will expel demons, they will speak with tongues, and with their hands they will pick up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly it will not hurt them at all. They will lay their hands upon sick persons, and these will become well. (Mark 16:17,18)

It’s an odd verse, to say the least. Use of God’s name, obedience to the Christ, proclaiming God’s Kingdom, love and unity among fellow believers, no part of the world – yes, all these things we hear about as earmarks of discipleship. But snake handling? Drinking poison? It doesn’t really fit the pattern, does it? You can’t quite imagine Jesus saying it.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) notes that “it’s vocabulary and style differ so radically from the rest of the gospel, that it hardly seems possible Mark himself composed it,” that is, verses 9-20, not just verses 17-18. Of course, the King James Bible of 1611 uncritically runs all verses, but not so newer translations – translations which, counter-intuitively, are more accurate, since they reap the benefits of archeological progress through the years yielding the discovery of more ancient manuscripts which are without verses 9-20.

The New International Version, wishing to spare its readers details it apparently fears will bore them, inserts just before verse 9, the phrase “the most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” That’s further than most translations go. The Revised Standard Version, wishing to step upon nobody’s toes, states:

Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concluded the book by adding after verse 8 the following: [text supplied]….Other authorities include the preceding passage and continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities, verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8; a few authorities insert additional material after verse 14.

They’re all ‘authorities!’ No attempt is made to distinguish the morons from the sensible. Choose whichever you like, all roads lead to heaven. It’s the classic milquetoast take-no-stand approach.

The New World Translation is more helpful. It lists, through abbreviations, the key to which is provided in the study notes, just which “authorities” (manuscripts and versions) contain the passage and which do not. If you’re a student of the Bible, and not just one willing to be talked down to with drivel about “authorities,” this information is crucial. You can do research. And you will find that the manuscripts not including the verses are more ancient than the ones that do. Bible translator Jerome, in the fifth century, said that “almost all the Greek codices [are] without this passage.” Contrary to what the critics say, the New World Translation encourages Bible study, while most popular translations do much to impede it.

 

When Dave McClure, the circuit overseer, the one who used to get beaten up for non-salute, was confronted with something unexpected, he would frantically move his right hand from breastbone to abdomen, back and forth, over and over again. Any companion would look at him quizzically – ‘what’s with you?’ Not to worry, he’d say: ‘Just making the sign of the stake!’ He was merely staking himself!

Any Witness he pulled this on either thought him funny or would at least tolerate him. Naturally, the joke would be lost on everyone else and even offensive to some, but he never did it in front of anyone else, just fellow Witnesses. He was just clowning. His joke could be made with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and them alone, because Witnesses are well known for rejecting that Christ was executed on a cross. We maintain he was put to death on an upright stake. Where many Bibles say “cross,” the New World Translation says “torture stake.” The Greek word is stauros.

I had mentioned this quirky aberration from common dogma only once on my blog, and even that was in response to someone else – the scientist from Iceland, who was impressed with a dialogue between the two of us and chose to reproduce it on his own blog, assigning icons to himself and me. He, man of science that he was, represented himself with the double helix. I got stuck with the cross! So I fired back my reply that we don’t believe Jesus died on a cross. “Yeah, I know,” he admitted, “but I had to use something, and a stake looks ridiculous as an icon.” I had to admit it does, but then who says that the instrument of Jesus death should be used as an icon, anyway, kissed, and worn around one’s neck? What if he had been sent to the electric chair? Would people wear tiny electric chairs around their necks?

But I otherwise hadn’t mentioned our belief about Jesus and the cross, because once you come forward with something like that, people latch on to it as the definitive Jehovah’s Witness belief, whereas it really is only a detail for us. “What do you know about Jehovah’s Witnesses?” they’ll be asked, and they will reply “well, I know they don’t celebrate Christmas and they don’t take blood transfusions and they don’t believe Jesus died on a cross.” All true, but it’s as though someone asks you at a party: “what do you do?” and you say: “well, I brush my teeth.” So I hadn’t made a big deal about this point.

That all changed in the summer of 2010, when ABCNews.com made a big deal about it. “Jesus Christ May Not Have Died on Cross” ran the headline of July 2, 2010, followed up with: “No Evidence in Ancient Sources Backs Up Defining Symbol of Christianity, Scholar Says.” The text went on to tell about Gunnar Samuelsson, an evangelical preacher and theologian, who researched the cross for his doctoral thesis and concluded it’s a mistranslation. Stauros is the Greek word generally translated as ‘cross,’ but it doesn’t mean that. Or, rather, it didn’t mean that at the time it was written; it has been assigned that meaning retroactively by some who want to read their doctrines into the New Testament. Rather, Samuelsson says, stauros, at its time of use in the New Testament, meant stake, or pole, or even tree trunk.

The evangelical preacher searched through thousands of ancient texts to research his 400-page ‘Crucifixion in Antiquity:’ “If you chose to just read the text and ignore the art and theology,” he says, “there is quite a small amount of information about the crucifixion. Jesus, the Bible says, carried something called a stauros out to Calvary. Everyone thought it meant cross, but it does not only mean cross.”

“Ignore the art and theology,” Samuelsson says. Now, that is exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They focus only on what the text says, not the art and “theology.” So, not having to grapple with these red herrings, Witnesses have recognized for over 100 years the truth about the cross. If anything, Mr. Samuelsson’s seminary education impeded, rather than advanced, his quest for truth. He should have just read the Watchtower, but he didn’t because it’s not written by university people and we’re a cult. Not only was Christ not put to death on a cross, but the symbol itself far predates Christianity, and finds its roots in beliefs which, from a Christian point of view, are unsavory.

From ‘An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words’ (London, 1962), W. E. Vine, p. 256:

The shape of the [two-beamed cross] had it origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A. D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical systems pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.

Samuelson originally printed just 200 copies of his work. He figured family and friends might like it, and maybe a few others. Instead, he got his Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of worldwide fame. The ABC.com piece alone is followed by (at last count) 463 comments. (No, I didn’t read them all; if I don’t exactly have a life, at least it’s not to that extent) I skimmed through some of them. There’s a few scholarly types saying scholarly things. And quite a few religionists essentially calling him the antichrist, since they know “by faith” that Jesus died on a cross. Then some atheists spinning that, not only did Jesus not die on a cross, but everything else about him is also rubbish. Then the aforementioned religionists responding “Oh yeah?! Well, you atheists will be singing a different tune when you’re BURNING IN HELL!” And then, somewhere along the line, Jehovah’s Witnesses discover the post, and they…shall we say…pile on? with comments that, in some cases, amount to “nyah, nyah, told ya so!” But how can you blame them for piling on? It’s irresistible! Witnesses have said this about the cross forever, only to be told to shut up since they haven’t attended university, and then some university fellow concludes the same, and it’s ground-breaking research! Once again, we see it’s not what is said that counts, but who says it. If Dr. Samuelsson had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, his story would not even line the bottom of ABCNews.com’s bird cage.

Frankly, I’ll bet he, an evangelist preacher, curses the day he ever thought to write about the cross. He thus joins the ranks of people like Bruce Speiss, Jason Beduhn, and Joel Engardio who write something that squares with JW beliefs and spend the rest of their days on earth denying that they are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Occasionally, they must issue statements: “Look, I’m not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses.” But it’s too late! The damage has been done! What’s a scholar to do? Agreement with Jehovah’s Witnesses is detrimental to one’s career, and yet Jehovah’s Witnesses are right about so many things. And the things they are right about, they have been saying for a long time, so it’s embarrassing for cutting edge scholars to endorse what the Witnesses have been saying all along. Alan Greenspan had better be very careful the same fate does not befall him. He recently completed his memoirs, in which he observes that 1914 was a turning-point year, something you-know-who has said for 90 years.

We cannot let this subject go without putting in another good word for the New World Translation. There’s not a cross in the entire work. Stauros is consistently rendered “torture stake,” and xylon is consistently rendered “stake.” Nor are there any “crucifies” in the NWT; the verb form of stauros is rendered “impale” throughout. Nobody else had the guts to do this, but now, per Samuelsson’s research, we see that such translating is exactly correct. I am so sick and tired of know-nothings, guided by their ‘divine revelation,’ and not scholarship, trashing the New World Translation solely because it doesn’t parrot their favorite doctrines. It doesn’t parrot their favorite doctrines because they are not to be found in the Hebrew or Greek scriptures; they are found only ‘by revelation,’ and the trouble with knowing things by revelation is that eventually someone else comes along who also knows something by revelation but his revelation doesn’t square with yours and how is anyone else ever to get to the bottom of it? That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses have always let their Bible study dictate their beliefs and not the other way around.

The closest any mainstream non-Witness Bible comes to exposing the cross dogma is the King James Version and a few derivations that have kept its wording, such as the Revised Standard Version. Translating the Greek word xylon, the KJV reads: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” (Acts 5:30, see also Acts 10:39) Not to worry, though. Most modern Bible translations have cleaned up this apostasy, either crucifying Jesus, or hanging him on a cross, so as to conform to that ‘ol time, if inaccurate, religion.

Gunnar Samuelsson deserves credit for his investigative work; there’s no taking that away from him. Nonetheless, his discovery has been written about before, just not lately. The Watchtower organization can cite many sources. Such as this one from the Imperial Bible-Dictionary (Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376):

The Greek word for cross, [stau·ros’], properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground….Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.—Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376.

“An upright pole…on which anything might be hung.” Yeah. That struck Samuelsson as odd, too. Says the ABCNews.com article: “Part of what tipped Samuelson off to the apparent mistranslation, were routine references to things like fruits and dead animals being “crucified” in ancient texts, when translating the word as “suspended” made more sense.”

Here’s another source: The Non-Christian Cross, by J. D. Parsons (London, 1896):

There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross…It is not a little misleading upon the part of our teachers to translate the word stauros as ‘cross’ when rendering the Greek documents of the Church into our native tongue, and to support that action by putting ‘cross’ in our lexicons as the meaning of stauros.

“It is not a little misleading,” the work says. If your teachers are “not a little misleading,” doesn’t that indicate you need new teachers?

 

back

CHAPTER 17 – ME

I have a degree from a school so prestigious that were I to mention it, VIP syndrome would occur like a collision with a freight train and you would have to get CPR. So I don’t mention it, but not just for that reason. I also keep my mouth shut because it has done me no good. It’s my fault, not theirs. I catapulted directly from high school into college as the path of least resistance. Guidance counselors have ever pushed that route; they were and are much troubled at the mere suggestion one might take a year off so as to grow up – what if one never again got back on track? As to finances, my folks were generous, but they didn’t think of themselves that way. Putting one’s kids through college was just part of good parenting at the time. Conditions were then such that a middle-class family could do it without undue stress, even with several children.

If I can write a little, I didn’t learn it in college. I learned nothing there that could not have been learned anywhere else. Does one need college to write? After high school, William Safire attended Syracuse University, but couldn’t be bothered to finish, dropping out after two years; college was impeding his goals, not facilitating them. He went on to write a 400,000-word political dictionary. He joined the New York Times in 1973 and won a Pulitzer in 1978. For thirty years until his death, he wrote ‘On Language,’ a weekly New York Times Magazine column of popular etymology – an absolute delight to those savoring every nuance of the written word. He was, as the New York Times wrote in his obituary, “a college dropout and proud of it.”

Perhaps I’ll credit college with indulging a desire to read. Perhaps that is fair, but is it worth tens of thousands of today’s dollars for someone to tell you to read? You can do it on your own. Just opening a Twitter account and following diverse sources is a good start. If they are truly are diverse, you’ll have a leg up on the 90% who keep track only of the home team.

 

The kids are starting fall semester at the University of Rochester as I write. Combined room, board and tuition is $62,000. ‘Ouch,’ say the local newspeople, but they do not question for a moment the wisdom of sending kids down that road. One suspects it could cost a million dollars and it would make no difference; it’s the American religion, worshiping the god of smarts.

Students are far from having grown up, which is fine if they are on campus, but not necessarily so if they are in the greater community. A few miles from where I live, there was once a quiet, residential community. You could raise children there in peace. But during a financial downturn, some homeowners thought they’d be better off renting houses to the students. They make terrible neighbors. Each with his or her own car, they’ll park six to a house. They like to party. They like music. They like it loud. Non-student neighbors keep cameras ready to document misdeeds. ‘Perhaps we could offer coursework on how to be a good neighbor,’ a school spokesman offered with a straight face. Of course, I volunteered to teach.

I addressed my eager first class: “Lesson one,” I said: “don’t pee on the street when drunk.” Their brows furrowed.

“Is this going to be on the test?” one of them asked.

“Lesson two,” I began the next week: “turn music down after 2 AM.”

I smiled upon them lovingly. They were trying so hard to grasp the concept. I took my students on a field trip. “Note the windows of these homes – how they have curtains in them.” My students took pictures. Pointing to another house, I said: “these things out front are called flowers. The big green things next to them are called shrubs.” My students resolved that they would hire someone to do this stuff for them when they grew up. At the end of the semester, my work was rewarded and my heart soared. “We have learned so much from you, Professor Harley. We’ll never forget you!”

 

I was a student in the late 1960’s. The massive student protests evaded our town, but we had smaller ones. I always thought they were phony, and this was well before I became a Witness. Perhaps they weren’t phony everywhere, but where I was, on the campus I traipsed, it all seemed but a big excuse to party, to riot, to escape the tyranny of anyone who would tell us what to do. I followed fellow students as they trekked into ‘downtown’ Potsdam (New York) to vent rage over the Vietnam war and things in general. I caught a whiff of pepper gas (Man, you don’t want to get remotely near that stuff!) when the police turned up. It was a wild party gone bad. Maybe there were mature protesters somewhere. I assume that there were. But I didn’t see them. Zhou Enlai’s observation: “Restless youth looking for change and not sure how to bring it about,” seems to dignify them too much. But, in the event that his description was spot-on for these characters, suffice to say that they’re still not sure.

I suppose I was one of them – ‘restless (and immature), looking for change.’ I began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses during my college years. I came to feel that any meaningful change for the better would never come through human efforts, or had I thought that already? I continued traveling the path of divine education made possible by contact with the Witnesses. It was a let-down for my mom, who was ever conscious of what the neighbors might think. But my dad had been raised on a dairy farm where one walked through the mud and around (even through!) the cow pies. Secular stature didn’t impress him in the slightest. He never had any use for Witness beliefs but he never opposed me either.

Convinced I was dropping a bombshell, I had one day asked my folks if they had ever heard of the Watchtower and Awake magazines. Yes, they had! It turned out that they had accepted them for years from a visiting elderly Witness and must have unfailingly put them in the trash, for I had never seen them lying about. My dad was amiable, however, and would always chat with his visitor a few minutes.

 

They have been promoting a new show for Anderson Cooper, who is hot these days. He says: “I may not know the answers but I know the questions.” That’s how it is today. Nobody needs answers. Questions are enough. However, people become Witnesses because they seek and find answers. That’s why I did. Not necessarily answers to the questions Anderson Cooper asks – after all, as the Titanic was about to disappear forever, what were the answers? – but on the substantial questions of life.

Tweeting, the way I love to do, (instant gratification for a loudmouth!) I came across an SOS from a company officer: “Stupid janitor forgot to leave an extra roll of toilet paper. I’m screwed.”

I tweeted back: “I read 52 of 100 books from the BBC Great Books list, more than anyone else. Read them via Books on Tape while working as a janitor. Sorry about the toilet paper.”

Imagine: 52 of 100. “Wow! You’re smart – it’s because you went to college!” someone says. No, it’s because I was a janitor.

At a family gathering, my bride introduced me around long ago. “So, what does Tom do for a living?” a relative asked. She replied that I cleaned. “Oh,” was the disappointed response. “He owns his own business,” she added. ‘Oh’ again, but with opposite inflection! It’s all theater! It’s all spin! It doesn’t mean a thing. While cleaning, I rubbed shoulders with everyone from factory workers to CEO, nobody else had universal access, and I ‘read’ War and Peace, a book I highly recommend for those who have a spare month.

When they canned me, I could have avoided it. ‘Tom, you’re a great guy, everyone likes you, and your work is top-notch. But Penny the [new] office manager [‘who did not know Joseph’ -– Exodus 1:18] says we can get cleaning services far less expensive. You don’t have to be the low bidder – just come down into the ballpark and you can be here forever.’ But I had grown with this company since they were tiny, before the new CEO made them hugely profitable. I’d begun working long and absurd hours without benefits of any sort – if I was going to keep that routine, I was going to be well paid for it. Maybe it was time to move on,’ and I did - to somewhere else where they also canned me, or did I can myself before they could get around to it?

 

There are fascinating careers in this world. I don’t doubt it for a second. But I’ve also seen highly paid college people chained to mind-numbingly monotonous routines. Sometimes you think the very purpose of this system is to take work that could be enjoyable and make it hateful. Long ago I read the most stress-free job was that of the garbage man. See a problem – solve it! – scores of times per day. Half the joy surely lay in waking sleepers directly above your clanging metal cans; garbagemen used to come for the cans, you didn’t have to bring them to the curb. But that was long ago. The god of multi-tasking noticed garbagemen enjoying themselves and put a bug in the ear of the god of higher education, who inspired his worshippers to restructure garbage hauling so that a garbageman’s job is now as hateful as anyone else’s.

I spoke with Black Mack once and attributed his bearing to obvious college training. He was indignant – he’d never gone to college – that I would think it impossible to acquire bearing outside of that channel. As years go by, I’ve come to know just how he felt. It parallels my exasperation with Sam Harris, stealing the credit for the deeds of his adversary.

 

My old college has never forgotten me, though I’ve given them every reason to do so. Each year I receive alumni material. I’ve never given them a dime. I’m not mad at them, but neither am I grateful. Most of the values I hold dear, they trash. Whatever success I have achieved has nothing to do with them. By no stretch of their imagination would I be thought successful. If I have succeeded in any way, it is in matters of family, friends, and spirituality. You don’t need a degree for those things. A degree can even jeopardize them, by selling a bill of goods that can interfere with the pursuit of rewarding life.

I loathe name-dropping, but that may be because I have few names to drop. If I am pressed as to secular work, I will say that I used to work at the group home with the developmentally disabled. It is the most emotionally rewarding work I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, the agency showed me the door after just a few years. Though I was wildly popular with the residents – please don’t give me grief on this, it is impossible to read this book without saying: ‘I’ll bet he gets along just fine with the mentally retarded folks’ – I foundered as influential ones came on board higher up, each slapping on rules so as to justify their own existence, until the residents suffered for it. On a paper level, they did not; one could point to detailed procedures followed for their benefit. But on an emotional level, they did. Just hire people with empathy and let them do whatever they want! But it’s not a practical solution. The system for the developmentally disabled is built, as is everything else, on the foundation of higher education. They have no means of recognizing empathy when they see it.

I much enjoyed treating these folks with respect, something that didn’t come naturally to everyone. A common mindset was: ‘I raised a set of kids back home, now I’ll go to the agency and raise another set.’ But the residents were adults, not kids. Treating others with respect is not a skill I learned at college; I learned it at the Kingdom Hall. I was let go on a Friday afternoon, the time when it usually happens. I had reached the maximum of write-ups. They were all for trivial things. None involved cost or safety. Certainly, there was no hint of the customary reasons behind discipline: tardiness, surliness, insubordination, or dishonesty. Any errors in documenting I made (sigh…I did do that) were easily corrected one management layer up with but slight inconvenience.

“Tom, you have to be more careful not to screw up,” my last supervisor said. “They wanted me to write you up, and I refused. They said ‘the next time you refuse, we will write you up.’” I didn’t take it well, being fired – none of this ‘turn the other cheek’ stuff. I was angry, but also hurt. Monday morning, the consumers arrived to be told: “Tom Harley is no longer with the agency,” and were left to conclude, as they always are: “I’m not even worth saying goodbye to.” Few of the developmentally disabled have active family involvement; their only friends are among the staff, and they take it hard when these ones vanish into thin air. ‘The agency has very tough rules prohibiting abuse, emotional abuse being a major no-no,’ I told the unemployment insurance judge. “I don’t know why they have them, since they are the worst offenders.”

I’ve seen a few of the residents since in the community, and I stopped in unannounced one Saturday to see Bob, with whom I was especially close. We had a great visit, and he wanted to me to come more. But he cautioned me to check with management beforehand – wasn’t there some sort of rule about ex-employees? Of course there was – the place choked on rules. I’ll come whenever I want, until they drop all pretense that residents are free to integrate with the outside community.

Still, on balance, group homes offer a far better life than residents would experience otherwise, than they did experience back in Willowbrook days, before Geraldo Rivera. (the crowning moment of Geraldo’s career occurs at its beginning, rather than its end!) If the model is broken, it is broken no worse than in other organizations, and in some respects less. The agency’s CEO roamed near and far to secure work contracts for the residents, no small accomplishment. The new daytime facility was state of the art. Doubtless it must itself adhere to rules from on high so numerous that its mere existence is a wonder. There’s no sense in nursing sour grapes.

I have fond memories of the job. There is no finer way to win respect from people than to take these folks on an outing. As they drool on the table, spit up and slop food about, total strangers approach to tell you how wonderful and caring you are. When one barks, more or less literally, that his bowl is empty, holding it aloft to make his point, waitresses interrupt whatever they’re doing to fill it. If you led Celeste in song – “Okay, Mama, we’ll handle the entertainment here” – such as ‘Unforgettable,’ you’d find she would join in with perfect pitch, though she’d manage only a line or two undistracted. She used to sing, so she said, on a stage in New York City when she was seven years old – several people in the last doctor’s waiting room said she’d made their day. When I took George to see the all-girl group ‘It’s My Party,’ he held his arms open for hugs and received them, not only from each band member, but from many of the spectators! When I documented it back at the home, I appended to the record: ‘how does he do that?’ I mean, it’s not as though anyone offered to hug me.

Sometimes when I assisted these folks in their daily routines, I would imagine seeing them again in the new system with sound body and mind. But for dumb luck, life might easily have turned out differently, with them assisting me. In many ways, working in the disabled home was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. And it changed my overall conduct. Now, if I am invited to a party or someplace, I will put my hands in my pockets, murmur some niceties to whomever I must, and then go search for some mentally retarded persons to hang out with.

Everybody cans me – it’s just a matter of when. I can’t blame them – the temptation is irresistible. Fortunately for me, but perhaps not so much for him, Jehovah is not able to can me. I signed aboard decades ago and have done nothing to betray my dedication to him save for minor trespasses easily chalked up to human imperfection for which I can and do invoke the ‘forgiveness’ clause. He’s stuck with me. With that clause, he is checkmated. I’m doing better than Isaac Bashevis Singer. Unlike the other scoundrels I have worked for, he’s not able to double-cross or even lie. The pay is nothing (literally) to write home about, but the benefits are good. He, too, writes me up all the time for indiscretions that would get me fired in a heartbeat at the agency, but at the end of the day he carts the whole stack out to the trash.

 

I never intended to become a storyteller. Much of it is due to the Theocratic Ministry School, which emphasized speaking the way Jesus did – with illustrations. With that influence, one can eventually come to think in illustrations, even in preference to the actual point. ‘Say your illustration and draw links to the reality,’ the School says, but the illustrations are so consuming, the actual point so mundane, that you never quite get around to drawing links. I agree with Carl Jung, who not only acknowledges there is a spiritual side of things, but asserts that side is the more genuine, the more real, the more true. The statements of the conscious mind, he says, may easily be snares and delusions, lies, or arbitrary opinions, but this is certainly not true of statements of the soul. I agree with Jesus, who often spoke in unlinked illustrations – let the heart figure it out.

In my twenties, I took one of those tests that predicts what you’d be most suited for. I figured, suburban lad that I was, that I would be steered toward something lucrative and respectable. Not at all. ‘Music performer’ and ‘youth counselor’ topped the list; nothing else came close. Decades later, I’ve never done either of those things, but I’ve come close enough to satisfy those leanings. Public speaking is not so different than music performing. Congregation interaction is not so different than youth counseling.

 

During the summer of 2016, police shot hundreds of suspects. Media gave a few wide publicity. Thereafter, there began nationwide retaliatory attacks on the police and several were killed. “Don’t forget,” a black think tank expert opined on PBS, “those white officers are afraid of black men.” They are? I hadn’t thought of that. But to the extent they are, it makes me glad to have had Bible training. Otherwise I would be just like them – isolated among my white peers, with perception and values adhering to their norm, encountering black people only when coming to work. Instead, as a Witness, I routinely rub shoulders with all cultures. Sometimes I’ve had oversight over black brothers, sometimes they over me. It’s where the Christian ministry has taken me. I’m grateful for it. In many ways, the black culture is more desirable than mine. Like when I was sitting in the inner-city kitchen of Rose and she recalled: “our doors were always open to white people. They were always welcome. But they didn’t want it.” There’s much to be said for warm unreserved hospitality. In the ministry, I’ve been in homes of stark poverty one hour, stunning wealth the next, completely at ease in both. That is due solely to Bible education.

 

A sister works at the senior home. When the old folks there aren’t distracted, they can look bewildered. ‘Is this all there is?’ they seem to ask. They are people who have enjoyed successful careers. They have raised caring families. They have enjoyed life, save for a few rough patches. But as the clock winds down, they ask: ‘Is this all there is?’ Surely it highlights the value of Solomon’s admonition to “fear the true God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole obligation of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

I have two, if you’re not fussy, famous people in my family. No one recalls them better than I. On the family bookshelf sits the tome: ‘Flood Conditions of the Genesee River,’ by Edwin A. Fisher, my great grandfather. It’s a real page-turner. As City Engineer from long ago, his work preceded the dam in upstream Mt. Morris which ended the floods that periodically ravaged Rochester. He designed the water supply system still in use today, from Hemlock Lake, gravity-fed to the city. He maintained a consultant’s office at City Hall until his death at 102. He has a monument in Cobb’s Hill Park.

Joe Jennette has a monument, too. He even has a street named after him in Jersey City. His gym still stands. Whenever Pop used to visit as a boy, he would slap about the punching bag. Going to visit Joe and Addie was a big deal in the years of the Great Depression; you never knew when Joe would spring loose with a quarter!

He was one of a quartet of black heavyweight boxers who regularly fought Jack Johnson in the early days. Jack went on to become the first black heavyweight title holder. Whites had never condescended to fight blacks before – Jack tailed and taunted Tommy Burns around the country till the latter gave in, agreed to a match, and got the stuffing pounded out of him. However, pundits agreed it might have been any one of the four. Jack thereafter refused to fight his former mates. He felt confident pounding the white boys all day long, but wished to take no chances with Joe or the other two.

Joe married into our family. It was shocking. Not only was my great aunt ostracized from the white community, our entire family was! “That’s the family where the woman married the nigger,” people would say. If I never heard a word of prejudice growing up, Joe Jennette is the reason. Having seen the ugliness of bigotry, my folks were in no hurry to pass it along to their offspring. One’s own upbringing invariably defines what is normal, and I was slow to imagine bigotry might exist in any white family, since it didn’t in mine.

Joe carried me around on his shoulders some; that’s about all I can recall. And he might distract a child as though in the ring – ‘Watch the birdie!’ and then attack with tickling! My family lived far away and only visited yearly. But my cousins lived close to he and Addie. They never realized he was black. Nor did they think he was white. He was just Uncle Joe. Then one day they saw some ‘Negroes’ in the newspaper and they looked like Joe. They asked their mom, who confirmed that Joe was black. But they didn’t care. Why should they? He was Uncle Joe.

Nobody cares more about keeping these two in the public eye than me. They are family. Yet they are completely forgotten, despite their monuments. Even if a handful of people can, through research, uncover their accomplishments, nobody has a clue as to who they were as people.

I vividly recall Brother Benner, the District Overseer, playing Devil’s advocate with his own argument, an argument drawn from Scripture about the brevity of life and its consequent futility. Build as you may, you are not around to reap much benefit from your work. Solomon reflects upon this:

I came to hate all that I had worked so hard for under the sun, because I must leave it behind for the man coming after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? Yet he will take control over all the things I spent great effort and wisdom to acquire under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19)

Brother Benner was discussing verse eleven of the first chapter, which visits a recurring theme of Ecclesiastes: “No one remembers people of former times; nor will anyone remember those who come later.” We, who were originally created to live forever on earth, are now subject to that sad reality of death and erasure. He spoke of how someone might attempt to counter the verse, for example, by pointing to some musician or other: ‘Yes, so-and-so may have died,’ they might say, ‘but his music lives on and on.’ “Give me a break!” Benner interrupted himself. “Who was the most famous singer in George Washington’s day?” Exactly.

The brevity of our life is what defines it. You don’t get too many shots. There’s built-in frustration, since every door we open represents several we have closed. Pathways take time to travel. The more ambitious the pathway, the more time it takes and the fewer you will travel. And yet we want to travel them all. Is this what Solomon meant about life being ‘calamity?’ Today’s age of specialization makes the calamity more pronounced. Increase your wisdom or wealth, as Solomon did, and you increase the pathways you can pursue. But you also increase perception of the many more you won’t get to before the clock runs out.

It was not meant to be so, and it will not be so one day in the future. Humans, created to live forever but now relegated to a few score years, are yet to have opportunity for everlasting life on earth. Edwin Fisher, Joe Jennette, and persons we can no longer even attach a name to are among the ‘righteous and the unrighteous’ emerging from the memorial tombs. It is the Bible’s hope. It has intrigued me from the beginning. Ideally, I am building a record with the heavenly “Father, to whom every family in heaven and earth owes its name.” (Ephesians 3:14-15)

 

‘Thinking you can earn life, do you? Hmm?’ taunts Victor Vomidog. No. Nor are any of Jehovah’s Witnesses. No Witness thinks for a second he is earning anything. Instead, he is showing appreciation for the inestimable free gift of Christ’s ransom sacrifice. Do you not have to wonder about someone who accepts a priceless gift then carries on exactly as before? ‘Thanks for the Ferrari, Pop! Wow! Cool! Now – back to Pokémon Go.’

 

CIA Director James Brennan admits on the morning news that his agency fell down on the job. It did not have ‘the pulse of the street,’ and so stumbled along clumsily during the Arab spring. He asserts that the blunder can be remedied with more diversity in the agency he heads. But the diversity he appears to favor will be diverse in all aspects except the one that matters. ‘The street’ has not gone to college. The CIA will draw only upon those who have. Put more college-educated women, gays, and Muslims in the CIA ranks, but it will not matter. Put those from the street in the ranks and it will. But the god of higher education will prevent that from happening, for he has convinced everyone that non-college people are valueless in the arena of thought. Handymen are okay for unclogging toilets, but leave the thinking to those who have been to college and know how to do it.

It was Lee Chugg who used to point out how Newsweek and Time would so often completely miss the thrust of this or that story, whereas Awake would capture it. Not if the subject was politics or business, of course, but if it had to do with the general populace, Awake would win hands-down. Those two secular magazines would send their wildly overeducated reporters into this or that barrio and the locals, thoroughly over-awed, not wishing to appear stupid, would tell them anything they wanted to hear. Awake would send in their peers and get the true picture.

It happened again just recently. BBC interviewed a poverty-stricken man of a third world nation. “Whom can you trust?” the reporter wanted to know. “I trust in God,” the fellow replied. “Yes, yes, you trust in God,” repeated the newsman, eager to get this useless bit of trivia behind him, “but what about politicians?” “Some politicians, but not all politicians,” the man said. Ah – at last – now we’re talking – human efforts! Awake would have zeroed in on his initial answer, taking for granted the general irrelevance of politicians.

This is the same Lee Chugg who used to point out how people today have minds of concrete: all mixed up and firmly set.

 

back

 

CHAPTER 18 – SAM HERD

‘As my old pappy used to say…’ Bret Maverick began, but Pappy had had it:

‘I never used to say any of those things! You’ve been misquoting me all your life!’

‘Well, you said so many dumb things it was hard to keep track!’

As we near the end of our narrative, we can take comfort that we have not done that. We have said no dumb things. Every word has been pure gold, save for occasional bits of hogwash that can be chalked up to human imperfection.

If we have poked some fun at Tom Irregardless, Oscar Oxgoad, and Tom Pearlsnswine, it is to establish the greater picture that God uses people like them to accomplish feats their higher-ups, though they have far more education, can only dream of. There’s not much that God can do with independent-minded people, and proud ones stop him dead in his tracks. With humble ones, conscious of their spiritual need, he can do a lot. With the others, it is like herding cats.

‘We don’t want herding, anyway; it’s demeaning!’ they object. ‘We are autonomous adults!’

Yes…okay, but the world you’ve collectively built strongly suggests some godly herding might not be such a bad thing.

We are close to having fulfilled Sam Herd’s directive to pass on knowledge to the younger generation. It will be for them to separate the wheat from the chaff. They’re smart; they’ll do okay if they stick with God and his organization and keep away from the liars. All that remains now is to tie up some loose ends and catch up with some characters.

 

Nobody is more welcoming to refugees than Jehovah’s Witnesses, even going so far as to learn their language. Who else does that? The Witness’s interaction is on an individual basis, the only basis we know. Let the nations struggle with the group basis. How to assimilate millions of persons jumping from sinking ships to more stable ones? It’s a major headache, but it’s not our headache. As Prince said, we’ve “got no dog in that race.”

It’s not our headache. We look at refugees as individuals. We weren’t able to go to them, so they come to us. As refugees enter whatever country, Jehovah’s Witnesses seek them out. Some get baptized and become members of the congregation, whether they be legal or not. And when they reach out for privileges? At that point, they’ll have to be legal in all respects, most likely. It was like that when I was in the loop. I think I would know about it if it had changed. We’re transparent.

In 1990, The Watchtower organization published the book ‘Mankind’s Search for God,’ a synopsis of the world’s major religions, their beliefs and histories. I thought it was a waste of time for them. ‘Populations are shifting,’ the publishers said, ‘better get to know them.’ They weren’t shifting where I was. Where I was, there where whites, blacks, and Hispanics, and they hadn’t shifted at all in my lifetime. It was rare to see persons from any other background. But the book was just twenty years ahead of its time. Borders are porous today and refugees pour though them, fleeing chaos back home. “What does that suggest to you about the stability of human rule?” I asked one refugee agency director.

Many of our young people have chosen to specialize in foreign language groups. Can one imagine a better education for life? Not if your goal is to better understand peoples and their cultures. Not only will our youngsters work with the refugees here, but they’ll sometimes fly back to their countries of origin, where they pick up every nuance of language and custom.

 

When the four Muslim men invited me inside, I thought: ‘uh oh. Terrorists!’ But there was no real reason to think that, so I stepped inside and took the seat offered me on the couch. They were just four young men sharing an apartment; plenty of American-born students do the same. It was a pigsty; but then, so was my apartment when I was in school. (my wife inexplicably thinks that my study still is!) I started playing the ‘Why Study the Bible?’ video, but there was much chatter. They apologized for it; two of them were translating for the other two. I took the video back and replayed it in Arabic.

They were astounded to read ‘Jehovah’ at Ps 83:18; “I have never seen this before,” one of them said. He certainly didn’t roll over and give up; he wanted me to read the Quran. “Not any Quran. A good one.” Mohammed is the prophet more recent than Jesus, he said. ‘Ah, but did he die for our sins?’ But the brother taking the lead in our area’s Arabic group said, with so many refugees absolutely fed up with the violence done in the name of God when all they want is simply to live in peace, that they just pass over any who want to argue in any way; they’ll bid them a good day, and move on. There’s just so many who are instantly drawn to the biblical teaching of a paradise earth. Maybe on the next go-round they’ll speak to the ideologues, but not now – and the current round is huge. It’s probably good, though, if you can let them know that the Bible’s teaching on God’s oneness and against idolatry squares with their own:

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold the work of human hands. A mouth they have, but they cannot speak; Eyes, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear. There is no breath in their mouth. The people who make them will become just like them, as will all those who trust in them.” (Psalm 135:15-18)

When I return to these guys, before I say anything, I’ll point out how Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral and don’t vote. I’ve heard the terrorist argument that there are no innocent civilians in the West, since they the elect the leaders who go on to commit atrocious misdeeds.

 

Brittany Brexit and her husband sat on the floor to conduct a Bible study and their Karen students panicked. No! They must sit on the couch, for that’s the best spot! Their religious leaders always sat there. The two protested, but it was no good. So they sat on the couch and slid onto the floor during the course of the study.

At one house, the religious leader was there on the couch, dominating the family. “Why do you keep visiting?” he said, “You are not needed here. Do you understand?” “No,” Brittany’s husband said, “I don’t.” Whereupon his companion, a newly baptized Karen publisher, entered into long discussion in that language with both the leader and head of household. Brittany held her breath – the words were coming too quickly for her to follow. What was being said? Only afterwards did she discover the householder was much put out by the religious leader’s manner and welcomed more visits from our two.

At the Regional Convention, all are asked to bring a simple lunch. Brown bag it. Also, no glass is allowed, for safety reasons. But at noon, up in the nosebleed section, out come the crockpots from the newly associated Karen group. “It’s their culture,” comes the word from somewhere on high. “Leave them alone!”

Given the perils of raising children in today’s atmosphere, given the expanding foreign field, Brittany and her husband have postponed having kids. Maybe in the new system. They’ve just returned from a month in Myanmar, and they fetched their dog, Brexit’s granddog, from Tom and Tina. She’s told me her dog will never say that it hates them, or that it is on drugs, or that it is gay. They run the legs off that dog – it is the happiest dog on the planet, running it five, ten miles at a time, as they train for the marathons they run.

Most of the field service presentations she learned growing up will not work in their new territory, Brittany told me. They are considered rude. You can’t just launch into what you’ve come to talk about. First you must inquire about their family, and tell about yours. You have to tell about your children, for family is very important. When she tells them she doesn’t have children, they are concerned. Of course, part of hospitality is to find out why. They smile. ‘You married late in life;’ that is the reason. When they find that it is not, they realize you are on your second marriage. When that conclusion, too, proves false, they are very saddened: you lost your children in some tragic accident. Then they grow very still when you tell them you did not. They have finally discerned the true reason, but it is almost too delicate to bring up, though they do anyway – something is wrong with your equipment. Brittany’s student has drawn her a chart to help her understand how many children she should have at her age.

 

I arrived late for dinner, I forget why. The rest of the family was already there at the home of our Vietnamese friends and students. Amidst myriad dishes (you never quite know at a Vietnamese meal where your turf ends and that of your neighbor begins) I took a sip of my soup. It was the vilest stuff I had ever tasted! Yecchh! But I must not hurt Hoa’s feelings – she works so hard! I braced myself inwardly, smiled outwardly, and took small sips. Hoa spotted me. “Tom is eating the nuoc mam!” she cried. Everyone collapsed in laughter as she sprang from the table to tell everyone on the planet!

 

Whatever national discomfort there is over foreigners stems from the fact that they wipe the floor with us when it comes to haggling for the best price. If there is a market back home, look out! Americans ask the price, gulp, and reach down as far into their pockets as it takes; refugees ask the price and consider the answer an intriguing opening gambit. Got Nuoc, our new Vietnamese publisher, positively takes the prize on this. Picking up his new Toyota, he circled it carefully. Suddenly, he spotted something that should not have been there. “What’s that?” he cried. “This is not my car! I don’t want it!” The salesperson got nervous – of course it was his car. Got pointed to the attached dealer’s insignia. “Oh, that’s just our logo! Every customer gets one of those!” Got gasped incredulously: “You want me to advertise for you for free?” They offered him some free oil changes. “Don’t insult me,” he replied. He haggled a few hundred dollars out of them! “I didn’t really plan on doing that,” he told me later with a smile. “It just occurred to me then.”

I invited Got Nuoc along on my return visit with Bernard Strawman. Maybe if Mr. Strawman, who has a degree in Transnational Populations, meets him, it will encourage him in his progress! Mr. Strawman poured him a glass of cognac, which Got Nuoc eyed warily. Presently he asked about the state of geopolitical relations surrounding Vietnam. Brother Nuoc didn’t know anything about that. Mr. Strawman inquired about Pacific Rim Trade relations. Got Nuoc brightened and he explained how he had once traded a water buffalo for seven goats. After that, Mr. Strawman didn’t know what to say until we left, when he said goodbye.

 

The People’s Republic of China recently announced it would reorganize media operations to better represent its people before the world. Yes. Tell us about them, for we want to know. Just like you hosted the ping pong team long ago (and let them win some games!), now tell us more. Go light on the politics if you can for we have learned to tune that out everywhere – just tell us what are the ground rules for public order and we will follow them when we visit.. But, yes, tell us of the Chinese people. Everything we see and hear suggests they are a beautiful people. They were held back for years by outside interference. Their struggle thereafter has been intense. But they have caught up with, and in many ways surpassed, progress in the West. I write from Rochester, a city 300 years old, yet 3 or 4 skyscrapers, really just ‘tall buildings,’ suffice for area needs. You have myriad cities of myriad skyscrapers. That cannot occur without wise stewardship. We know that. We respect that. Please don’t interfere with the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom, for it is no threat. Applied Bible principles will only aid you in your efforts to promote and preserve moral decency among your people.

Don’t be put out if Tom Pearlsnswine says something dumb. Believe me, he drives us nuts, too. But we are stuck with him. You are wise and can distinguish between a person with quirks and an overall policy. Perhaps you can teach him some discretion and tact – good luck on that! Or report him to us and we will do it – good luck on that, too! It’s just an assumption on my part – I don’t really know. I merely assume he does dopey things where you are because he does dopey things everywhere. He’s a nut – there’s no two ways about it. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly and he loves pandas.

 

Against all expectations, Tom Irregardless has become immensely popular with the Vietnamese group. He is very pleased with himself over his mastery of the language. Dubious, I asked Got Nuoc about it – does he really speak fluent Vietnamese? “No, he quacks like a duck,” Got Nuoc replied, but strangely enough, it doesn’t matter. Tom’s language is not one of words but of heart, and he is all heart. He glad-hands them freely – they don’t know what to make of him. The men are not much given to smiling in public. But presently they decide he is okay. It helps that somehow he senses when he is too much, and he turns his volume down. But he is attuned to challenges they face in a strange country – somehow he can read them – and he is there for them when they need help.

Around 1940, Joseph Rutherford commented: “It looks as if the great multitude is not going to be so great after all.” Imagine – the Watchtower Society’s president saying his own organization’s prophesy was a dud! But he had merely jumped the gun and shown himself impatient. There were under 100,000 Witnesses then worldwide; today there are over 8 million. Part of the reason behind the focus on foreign fields was that growth seemed to be stagnating in the West. But if history teaches us anything, it is that matters can turn around on a dime. We’ve seen it happen many times before.

The good news is preached in all parts of the earth under circumstances both favorable and unfavorable. Do not underestimate the sacrifices some have made in being loyal. Thirty years ago, I studied the Bible with a refugee from Czechoslovakia who adopted me like a grandson. I conducted from ‘The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life’ in English, she followed along in her Czech. Several times she mentioned that Jehovah’s Witnesses in her country were the most crude and backward (she said ‘ignorant’) of people. Several times she mentioned that her book was a terrible translation. What was amazing was that it was a translation at all. Our Czechoslovakian brothers then were denied education. The regime saw to it they were fired from their jobs. They subsisted by means of picking up such skills as shoe repair. Time and again they were sentenced to prison. Upon release, they were picked up and sentenced again. Surely they were the modern-day examples of Hebrews 11:37:

they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in need, in tribulation, mistreated; and the world was not worthy of them.

Everyone else found back then found it impossible to be denied buying and selling. They therefore accepted the mark of the beast. Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to give in and faithfully carried out their ministry under the most repressive of circumstances.

 

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been headquartered in Brooklyn Heights for over 100 years, but in 2016, they moved to new facilities in Warwick, New York. The neighbors were glad to see them go, but not all. Some remembered how they had kept their properties spotless in a most rundown area, preserving a core for later gentrification. But theirs was a huge chunk of land to be tax-exempt, and the new gentry grew weary that Witnesses were self-contained and didn’t maintain retail space on the first floors of their buildings. So it’s a win-win. The now upscale neighborhood has new property to develop and the brothers have moved out in the country. The internet mode of communication has made possible what waterway shipping could not. Brothers will remember Brooklyn Heights fondly, but it’s time to move on.

My Bethel friend used to tell me how visiting speakers from the hills would rail on about the wickedness of the big city. It made him squirm – ‘New York City is our home,’ he’d say. He and his wife maneuvered forever to land a magnificent, if stamp-sized, apartment in the Sliver Building – housing is on a seniority basis. We joined them there for wine and cheese after a day sightseeing. Unwinding with a breathtaking view of Manhattan beneath them – ah, what a life! But they were soon transferred to Patterson where they would look out their window and see cows.

Neighbor relations in Brooklyn Heights ebbed and flowed. ‘How are they now?’ I asked during one visit. “Better,” he said. It turned out that Bethel had bought the dilapidated Tower Hotel and restored it to its former glory. The building had once been home to the Brooklyn Dodgers whenever they were in town. That team won the National League pennant six times in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and partied each time in the top floor ballroom. The brothers polished up the ballroom and invited the neighborhood. ‘Don’t witness – let the building witness,’ they were advised. Everyone who showed up claimed to have been there in the glory days, far more people than would have been physically possible. It’s cherished history, but it’s time to move on.

Being an organization with abundant hands-on people, it will not be surprising to learn that Warwick features every conceivable application of green technology. It’s not unusual with Witness projects that local building inspectors have to be brought up to speed, having never seen technologies that the Witnesses employ. Many brothers and sisters from these parts have lent a hand, almost like a voluntary hajj – for a year, a month, or just two weeks. I wanted to go too, but Bethel had heard about me nailing the tarpaulin at the Henrietta assembly hall: ‘You’re a nice guy, Tom, but isn’t there something you can do back home? What – you like to write? Okay, why don’t you write? How much trouble can you get into doing that?’

 

There’s not many women in this book. It’s my bad and I feel embarrassed over it. It’s not an intentional slight on my part, nor does it reflect a lesser role for women. Rather, it’s a frank admission that I really don’t know much about that species. Better to stick with what I know.

The only thing I really know about women is that if you have one in the car when you are driving, you will swelter, even though it is cool outside; she will not permit the windows lowered because she doesn’t like the breeze. And if she spots electrical outlets in the house, she will block them with heavy pieces of furniture. And if your TV antenna is pulling in stations, she will move it to where it does not because it looks nicer there. And if you are doing a job – any job! – she will follow along behind to tell you what you have missed. And if she says ‘Fine! Just Fine!’ she means exactly the opposite! But outside of these few facts, I know nothing about women at all.

Maurice Tottle was disturbed when he saw no talking-head women on the website. “We use our women in many capacities,” I explained, “a local sister who commutes to Bethel as an attorney comes to mind – but teaching in the congregation is not one of them. It’s scriptural direction. We’re not free to change it.” Alas, I’d chosen the wrong words. “You USE your women?” he retorted. “And I suppose your women would dare to say that they use their men?” I should have seen it coming, I’d stepped right into it. “Yes,” I told him, “they would, if the subject came up as it has here. Will you please get over your obsession that different roles automatically require one group to be using the other!”

In fact, the Bible’s headship arrangement is one of congregation and family organization. It has nothing to do with specific responsibilities. Traditional male-female responsibilities need not apply in any given family and it is commonplace in Bethel for sisters to direct brothers in work concerns. Seldom are our women career-minded, but this is also true of our men. Careers, in the modern sense, are a distraction from the real life. Focus on spirituality, family, and friends.

I suspect that when traditional roles apply in our families, it is more for mundane reasons than any concerns over gender representation. Men are slobs and women get fed up. Men simply will not do it right. They are like Randal P. McMurphy swishing a quick brush inside the bedpan: ‘There!’ he says, ‘that may not be clean enough for some people, but I intend to piss in them, not eat lunch out of them!’ And that’s the best face you can put on it; the worst is that you will find a few men who will eat lunch out of them. So the women get fed up – who can blame them? Of course, I know plenty of tidy men, but not so many as women. Men are just less particular. It is like the woman in the group home: ‘Tom, tell us when you’re done (cleaning the kitchen) so that we can do it again. It is like preparing Jesus body for burial:

But the women who had come with him from Galilee followed along and took a look at the tomb and saw how his body was laid, and they went back to prepare spices and perfumed oils. (Luke 23:55-56)

The women saw what the men done and then set off to do it right.

 

In these days of wild reports, the Watchtower organization urges brothers not to be gullible, not to believe whatever comes down the pipe:

The naïve person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.

Stop and analyze. Just how much evidence is there behind this or that new report? Does it square with what you already know to be true? The trouble with conspiracy theories is that, once a few of them prove to true, it’s so easy to believe the next one coming out the gate. One might expect to find Witnesses especially suckers for conspiracy theories, having weathered the life-saving blood transfusion mantra, but as near as I can tell, they are no more so than anyone else. It’s a delicate balance because, when push comes to shove, the whole world is a conspiracy theory realized. How else can one account for:

We know that we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one? (1 John 5:19)

Or Jesus saying:

I shall not speak with you much because the ruler of this world is coming?

“You mean everything’s rigged?” Chris the hippy exclaimed ages ago, “I knew it!” Jehovah’s Witnesses will appeal to those who think something, if not everything, is fundamentally out of whack today. But if you think the world needs merely a bit of tweaking to nudge itself back on track, Witnesses won’t interest you.

Modeling itself after the first century Christian congregation, Jehovah’s Witnesses have created a worldwide organization united on spiritual matters and undivided by forces shredding the fabric of the outside world. At the Kingdom Hall, they ‘learn war no more’, making reality out the United Nation building’s slogan. War isn’t inborn; you have to learn it. The world’s education teaches it from infancy, dividing children into national, racial, economic groups, even instilling pride to be so divided. It’s not good. In America, God is not American. In Russia, he is not Russian. In China, he is not Chinese. He is God, who never purposed that the earth be carved into competing nations in the first place. Our Kingdom Halls serve to unite the people this world strives with all its might to divide.

Having separated its own people from the rest of humankind, it is a piece of cake for human governments to coax them into the latest war. Just once I’d like to see a war in which one side or the other says: “we are the bad guys.” But no! They are always the good guys – both sides! because the education of this world teaches them that from day one. Not so at the Kingdom Hall. Divine Education 101 teaches we are all the same. The great crowd surviving the great tribulation comes from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” They learn war no more now, not later on in the new system of things. I wouldn’t trust a non-servant of Jehovah for a moment in the new system, since he has already proven in this system he will blow my head off with a gun if someone with authority tells him to.

Is Christian abstinence from war a threat to governments prosecuting their own war efforts? How can it be so? If Witnesses here do not fight, they are offset by Witnesses there that do not fight; they’re not some local peacenik group whose stand has no counterpart in the other nation. If they fight here, they’ll also fight there, and cancel each other out. Let them be. They contribute to public order no matter where they are. They don’t undermine any government’s defense efforts. They don’t seek to turn others away from doing their perceived patriotic duty. They don’t protest or sabotage any nation’s war effort. Let them be, to stabilize the people among whom they live and work.

Should Christians pray for God to bless world leaders today, as they seek with one hand to unite the people they divide with another? Why have such prayers not been answered to date? Christians do, however, pray for leaders in one sense:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made concerning all sorts of men, concerning kings and all those who are in high positions, so that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with complete godly devotion and seriousness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Witnesses pose no threat. They undermine no one. They are neutral as they carry out a Bible educational work which, insofar as it relates to governments, teaches compliance:

Let every person be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is not authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. (Romans 13:1)

Imperfect though they are, human governments provide for necessary public order, and for this they deserve respect.

 

What we’re not very good at is sitting when the convention music is playing, for we want to keep visiting with friends we haven’t seen in a while. ‘We know you want to visit, and we have given you time for that,’ Bethel says, ‘but sit down during the music.’ The Witnesses who record convention music gather on their own dime twice a year for that purpose, even paying for their own replacements in the cases of those who belong to Philharmonics. ‘Sit out of appreciation,’ Bethel says. Many of us speak about this and resolve to try harder. But it is only Oscar Oxgoad who tells of the attendant with the ‘Please Be Seated’ sign who was jumped and beaten up by six brothers determined to stand. This evil report traveled even beyond the circuit and made quite a stir but eventually the truth got its pants on and folks learned of the report’s origin: “Oh…well, you know Oscar; he says things like that.”

Dr. Mike ‘Ace’ Inhibitor was named head of bloodless surgery at the new hospital to which he transferred.

Members of my car group were named ‘Persons of the Year’ at Patience Magazine.

Brother Lett gave a talk in the Ministry School and was given a ‘W’ (work) for gestures. Surely if he applies himself he can learn to be more expressive!

 

Mickey Spillane, author of the uber-violent novels of the 1940’s, who cleaned up his act upon becoming a Witness, submitted his life experiences to Bethel before he died in 2006. They are locked in the Bethel vault awaiting publication on a slow theocratic news day:

“I smashed the door with my fist. A yellow, scrawny guy answered – a real punk. Said he wasn’t interested. I’d show him what ‘not interested’ was. I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him inside. I slammed him down on the couch. The dog left its bone and ran for cover, whimpering. ‘Smart bitch!’ I muttered under my breath. I opened my Bible to 2 Timothy 2:24 and rammed his nose into it: “For a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle to all, qualified to teach…” I’m here to save your filthy hide come Armageddon. It’s not my idea, you worthless scum. I’d let you drown in your own piss. But God loves you.”

Wayne Whitepebble’s second son, Levi, studied electricity. He helped at Warwick for a time and now contracts locally. Wendy and Wayne’s daughter is a paralegal, part-time, and pioneers with the Russian Group. Was it about her that Eddie’s Ukrainian neighbor exclaimed: “Eddie, someone from your church stopped by and they spoke Russian! It was very bad Russian, but it was Russian!”

Bernard Strawman continues to make fine spiritual progress. Recently he said he might one day begin to think about possibly attending a congregation meeting if he had nothing else to do! See? The circuit overseer was wrong! He also said something about climate change in hell, but I didn’t understand what he meant by that.

 

For years after he stormed out of the congregation, Victor Vomidog would visit hospital transfusion rooms, roll up his sleeve and say: ‘fill ‘er up!’ just to show Jehovah’s Witnesses what he thought of them. Finally, he caught something and died. But before he did, he summoned me to his bedside. ‘Come quick, I’m fading fast!’ he pleaded. Throwing caution and counsel to the wind, I rushed to his side. My old friend Victor Vomidog! We used to pull together shoulder to shoulder in the work! How I regretted having cut him off when he’d changed sides. How judgmental I’d been! If only I could have another chance! His pained eyes met mine from his hospital bed. With trembling hand, he beckoned me close. I strained to catch his last words:

There’s two, Tommy. That Watchtower you study? It’s not the same as what the public reads. You’re being indoctrinated, buddy. When are you going to wake up? They’re different.

Oh, for crying out loud! I rolled my eyes and he died. Of course they’re different! When Stephen Hawking has his science chums over, do you think they crack open their Physics 101 college textbooks?

Sam Harris gave yet another TED talk in which he asked: “Can We Build AI Without Losing Control Over It?” The answer is no; you’ll screw it up like you screw up everything, like you drove Albert Einstein to say “if I had known, I would have become a locksmith.”

Reporters asked Larry Graham, who once played in a superstar band of his own, why Prince would choose such a restrictive religion. Prince didn’t see it that way, Graham answered. “It’s more like protection from things that could harm us…and making you a better person.” They’re not restrictions. They’re guardrails. Nobody becomes wrathful at the guardrails on that winding road. Nobody feels hemmed in. It’s the same way with life. If God sets up guardrails along the road – someone should be upset over that?

Metallica releases their “best work in decades,” one critic writes. It will remind you of the Who 45 years ago: ‘We Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ which ends with a primal scream because they did get fooled again, like they always do! “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss!” and they destroy their instruments in rage, like they always did. But the clock is ticking. Conditions worsen. Metallica’s song makes the Who’s little ditty seem like a cooing love ballad:

We are so f—ked, S—t outta luck, Hardwired to self-destruct…do you feel that hope is fading? do you comprehend? do you feel it terminating? in the end.

It’s a “righteous blast of fury,” another critic says, “catchy, very dark.”

Yes! Exactly! Now you’ve got it! You are so f—ked! You are shit out of l—k! But it doesn’t have to be that way. You’ve been hanging too long with the liars. Why didn’t you listen to the Joker:

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –

crap! –‘

Why did you buy into that crap? But take heart! It’s not too late! Get away from those liars! Stop running from those Witnesses! Crack open that Bible! Clean up that language! Cut that hair! Get some ties on! Keep your noses clean for a while and they’ll let you do one of those catchy [+ original songs+] at JW Broadcasting. Why, with your background, they might let you do two.

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. But in the new system it will happen. I’m looking forward to it. In fact, a few hundred years on, once I’ve learned to play guitar, we’ll even jam together musically. He’ll put up with me plucking along, even as he casts a revisionist’s eye toward the Kingdom Songs.

 

Tom Irregardless moved to the congregation hosting the Vietnamese group. At last! When I heard of it, my heart soared to the heavens – they had to call NASA! Don’t misunderstand, I love him and his family, but – oh man, I am irregardlessed out! No more! I’ve done my time! I am free!!!!!!!!!! If I never hear the word irregardless again, I…OH NO!! Ike Incumbantuponus just moved into our congregation!

Ted Putsch is now a regular pioneer and has moved to that other congregation with Tom. Who would have thought they’d become such good friends given their different backgrounds? I was so sure that all was lost at that first public talk almost a year ago. But, no! Ted goes camping with the Irregardless family on their vacations. Tom taught him how to look over a used car so he doesn’t keep getting fleeced like he always has. He…wait…you don’t think Tom is playing matchmaker, trying to marry off his daughter, do you? I hope the oaf at least told her. At any rate, in their new congregation, the two have become inseparable. Saturday mornings, they are always in field service together, irregardless!

 

back

 

###

 

AFTERWORDBLACK MACK, SLOW JOE, AND DAVEY THE KID

They rode in from the distant past, from the land where each one did what is right in his own eyes. Black Mack, Slow Joe, and Davey the Kid descended on a single congregation to bail out a rookie elder (me) who didn’t know anything. Well – just two of them came from that land. Davey the Kid was younger. He’d passed over a college scholarship to pioneer. Then he’d gone to Bethel where they had him making cheese. Then he wrote a book on making cheese. Then he formed the Farmhand Band and wrote catchy songs:

 

I know you hear it, You hear it all the time,

People say’n television is chew’n gum for the mind.

I don’t believe it, and you better me.

I learn lots of good stuff when I’m watching TV.

Can’t understand this say’n going round that says

Put more on with lessons,

and less on for morons.’…

 

We got channel 2! – channel 6! – channel 8! – channel 9! –

And… um, um, some other channel!!

 

(a woman from the channel 21 team partying at his debut tavern performance whispered in his ear to include her station. When he did, they all went nuts)

 

Channel 21!

Channel 5! – channel 4 – channel 3!

S-E-X is what you S-E-E!

 

Then Davey built a Kingdom Hall and then an Assembly Hall. But he had to support his family. He entered the eight story Medical Arts Building to bid on the cleaning contract. The manager noted a few challenges, admitting: “I don’t know much about cleaning.” “That makes two of us!” Davey thought as he wowed the other with his personality. “It’s my gift,” he told me later, “they never say no.” But, in time, he tired of cleaning. So he took some courses, claimed college credit for life experiences, and became a psychotherapist. “Poor Davey,” Tom Brexit would say. “He always thought half of us were nuts. Now that he’s a psychotherapist, he sees that even the half he thought were sane – they’re nuts, too!”

 

Never in his entire life had Davey the Kid not received a ‘G’ (good) in the Theocratic Ministry School. Never in his entire life had School Conductor Slow Joe awarded one. You could feel the tension in the air when the congregation met that Thursday at high noon. They filed in and seated themselves solemnly, like a jury. Little children hid behind their mothers’ skirts. The time approached. You could hear a plane drop.

When the moment arrived, Davey mounted the platform, looked Slow Joe dead in the eyes, and fired off his five-minute talk. It was seamless. Every syllable a marvel. Every inflection a masterpiece. Every sentence tied to every other like neurons in the brain. ‘The voice of a god, and not a man,’ someone thought, but didn’t say it. Davey the Kid slowly dismounted the platform and took a seat in front of me. A flash of lights. A deafening crash of thunder shook the building. Turning slowly about, Davey said to me: “Sorry. I dropped my wallet.”

All eyes fell upon Slow Joe. Surely he had met his match! He took his time walking to that platform. Squirrels and chipmunks fled in terror before him. “Well, Brother Davey,” he stared Davey down. “You were working on – .” he summed up a few counsel points and ended with: “…………so…………..I’m going give you a ‘G’………………….But – next – time – it – may – not – be – that – way!”

 

Davey and his wife had once invited Slow Joe and his wife for supper. The two titans eyed each other warily. “I could hear the food chewing,” Davey’s wife told me later. But Black Mack kept the peace between them. A feared presence in his own right, none dared cross him.

“Once you learn the truth, it doesn’t change; it doesn’t flip around like worldly reasonings. Once you learn what God requires of you, just do it.” That was Black Mack’s reasoning. Nobody can ever say that he didn’t just do it. He did it by doing what Bethel said not to do. ‘If you do street work downtown, don’t just stand there like a signpost,’ they’d say – what good is that? Intrigued, I went downtown and just stood there like a signpost. After a while I felt like one. People rushed by preoccupied. Did anyone notice I existed? Did I exist?

Mack just stood there like a signpost, too, but it was always in the same spot at the same time, so that you could set your watch by him. Passing businesspeople would eye him half a dozen times, eavesdrop, note his immaculate demeanor, note that he was amiable, dignified, in no way a screwball, and would end up chatting regularly. He’d speak with people all day long. That’s how he caught Bob Lonsberry’s attention. Now a local radio personality, then a reporter for the local newspaper, Bob wrote about Mack:

In friendly conversation, Malcolm is hard to reject. He is commanding of respect; he’s dignified. He is 68, married 45 years and a grandfather of 18, [he took ‘be fruitful and become many and fill the earth’ seriously, his memorial speaker later pointed out] coming back from a stroke last year.

His manner and speech matched that of the most prominent businesspersons with whom he would speak. They would have been amazed had they known his modest circumstances. They would have been more amazed had they known it was by design. Mack worked part-time blue collar work, so that the majority of his time was his. That was all he asked. Even among we who constantly hear the virtue of simplification, few had the faith to simplify to Mack’s extent, particularly while raising a family. Yet, spending time with Mack made it seem doable, reasonable, and you began to wonder why you weren’t doing it yourself.

He was frugal. There he was, having run across a fellow who had built his own furnace from scratch, rattling on and on about it. “Why would anyone do that?” his pal responded – “just call a furnace guy.” But Mack was always impressed with those who could make do. He had that green Volare, he must have driven that for 100 years. One day I stopped by and there were two of them in his driveway. Identical. Same color. One was for parts. “You probably paid more for those shoes than I did for this car,” he said. Sure enough, the shoes had cost more.

Mack told with admiration of one brother who would pat his shirt pocket just once to find his pen. If it wasn’t there, he didn’t have it. He wouldn’t pat down his shirt pocket, then his pants pockets, then his coat pockets, then do it all over again, then pull stuff out of all pockets just to make sure, like I would. No. He was organized. There was only one place that pen could possibly be. Mack was also like that.

And he wouldn’t blow his horn. On the mean streets of Rochester, where people routinely block traffic so they can gab with their pals – not in the la-di-da suburbs, where ‘such things aren’t done’ – but in the city, where they’re done all the time, Mack wouldn’t blast his horn to break up the jam. “Daddy, just blow your horn,” his daughter would say, “that’s what people do.” But Mack wouldn’t. “You never know when you are going to be the last straw,” he’d say.

He had hoped – in vain, as it turned out – that his own funeral would not be a big deal. “Just put me in a pine box and lay me down quietly,” he’d say. “Don’t make a fuss over me.” He was troubled that his death would inconvenience people, make them take a day off work. “Mack, it’s not for you, it’s for us,” a friend replied. “You’ll be asleep. We’re the ones who’ll be comforted by it.” He smiled, in that way only he did. It was the only answer that could have prevented him from going on and on.

“You coming to visit me again?” he asked me at a circuit assembly. “It depends on if you’ll give me a beer,” I responded. Mack liked beer. “I’ll give you a whole case,” he replied. Six months later, in one of those strange convergences that you don’t quite know what to make of afterwards, I was mentioning to my wife how I was going to pop in for a visit; I brought the subject up several times. But I was too late. At the next meeting, they announced Mack had passed away. I’ll probably hear about it in the resurrection.

 

Damon from Bethel gave Mack’s memorial talk. He was grateful to the spiritual man. Damon had grown up sort of in the truth, but mostly not. His mom had tenaciously studied the Bible with him as he grew. But Dad forbade congregation meetings. He stressed education – beat the white man at his own game! Damon won a scholarship and went to Harvard. He graduated, took some fancy-pants job, and lived in the big city. ‘Is this all there is?’ he thought after a while. He quit his job, having carried out all his father’s wishes, and moved back to Rochester. He sought out Black Mack, there at his spot, and studied the Bible with him. He got baptized, pioneered, and served at Bethel.

Did he miss his former life? He told me how he’d met two of his old classmates, now with Goldman Sachs. They were part of a delegation trying to sell Bethel a certain financial instrument, which Bethel declined to buy. They looked all around themselves in wonder, Damon said, as though they were on another planet, just like the reporters had looked all around at Prince’s funeral, unable to get their heads around the fact that nobody was paid.

 

Davey the Kid gave the memorial talk for Slow Joe. He related how Slow Joe, preaching during wartime fever, had been surrounded by a mob. A bellicose fellow grabbed him by the lapels. Ah…surely Slow Joe turned the other the other cheek! How mild! How Christlike! Nope – he popped the guy in the nose.

 

Davey the Kid also died, years later. He came down with something that so closely resembled muscular dystrophy that nobody could tell the difference. Immovable in a wheelchair, he conducted a Bible study via Skype with a man in China. At the Assembly Hall, he gave the Memorial talk for the Lord’s Evening Meal, where it was all he could do to maneuver his chair with his one good finger at the control. Davey was the last of the three Titans. When he died, the clock paused for a moment of silence, and then continued on its way.

 

back

 

###

 

 

About the author:

Tom Harley loves self-deprecating humor. He also likes the kind of humor where you make fun of yourself. He loves hyperbole. He also likes wild exaggeration to make a point. He is worried that he may have stuck in a ‘whom’ where it should be ‘who.’ Chalk it up to his terror of enraging the whomnicks.

 

He is good at zany storytelling. He is good at explaining Jehovah’s Witnesses. He is not good at anything else. He has combined these three skills to write “Tom Irregardless and Me,” which he hopes you found entertaining but serious at heart.

 

Thank you for reading “Tom Irregardless and Me.”

 

If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer? No – really. The casual reader does not realize just how important a review is to the longevity of a book. Two or three sentences will suffice. ‘Thoroughly tolerable!’ raved Brittany Brexit.

 

 

Thanks!

 

Tom Harley

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Tom at [email protected]

Follow him at http://www.tomsheepandgoats.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/truetomharley

 

 

He’ll try to get back but can’t guarantee. He’s not a debater – he’s afraid of getting his clock cleaned. Sometimes people disagree. He can live with that.

 

For investigation of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses visit http://jw.org

 

back

 

Following is a preview from my Ebook: No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash:

No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Table of Contents:

 

Foreword – Adieu Adieu Fine Stories of 2016 – We’ll Never Forget You

Chapter 31 – Santa Claus

Chapter 1 – Choosing

Chapter 26 – Wegmans

Chapter 9 – Bill Belichick

Chapter 14 – Celeste

Chapter 25 – The Shooting Channel

Chapter 3 – The Surly Bear

Chapter 7 – Mark Twain

Chapter 24 – Trolls

Chapter 12 – Dirty Rotten Lowlifes

Chapter 20 – Randy Newman

Chapter 29 – Piltdown Man

Chapter 30 – Denyers and Evolootionists

Chapter 10 – Tom, You Know all These Answers

Chapter 13 – Charlie

 

FOREWORDADIEU ADIEU FINE STORIES OF 2016. WE’LL NEVER FORGET YOU

 

Here are the top news stories of 2016:

1. Trump won.

2. The other side blamed Putin, who

3. Got mad.

4. I worried it was my fault. I was then writing ‘Tom Irregardless and Me,’ my first book, and I licensed out to the media video of my flying fingers for reasons of cash flow. Now – I like a good shot after every meal, and I unfortunately left the bottle of vodka in plain sight by the keyboard. The media jumped to conclusions. Trump himself came closest to the truth. ‘It could be Russia, it could be China, it could be some 400-pound guy in New Jersey.’ Wronnngggg! – I’m in New York, not New Jersey. And I’m not 400 pounds (yet). At the next debate, they brought out a 400 pound guy – was he there to rattle Trump? They seated him behind a skinny guy, so that he looked 600 pounds.

5. Jehovah’s Witnesses (my people) moved their headquarters from Brooklyn Heights, where they had been for over 100 years, to way, way out in the sticks.

6. Jerod Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, bought their old building. Video of him saying nice things about Witnesses appeared on jw.org. I had no idea who he was at the time, but when I found out, I worried anew. See – I caught a heavy dose of news each day while I was writing, and it irritated me, but I stuck with it – how else would I learn about the snowfall outside my window? Now, no one is capable of total non-bias, but they are capable of trying. I’m not used to the referee leaning on the scales – it never used to happen. But when I would grouse about the media, which I did a lot, some took it as support for Trump! I could picture the Watchtower sign going down, a Trump sign going up, and fellow Witnesses, who weren’t paying overclose attention saying: ‘how did Tom manage that?’

7. I don’t want to do one of these stupid lists. I’ve got a book to launch. But if you don’t do a story like this, everyone thinks you’ve taken your eye off the ball and your journalistic credentials are toilet paper. You must bend with the wind. You only snap in two when you stand erect in the maelstrom. These lists are not easy to do. Start them too early, and George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds die at the last minute and you must make modifications. Release them too late and readers have lost interest, for they are too engrossed doing battle with the beast that is 2017. The window of opportunity is small. You have less time to check things. Yet make one slip on the keyboard and the errorists have won.

8. Bob Dylan accepted the Nobel Prize for literature, then ignored it, then accepted it again, then said he would send a helper to pick it up. For crying out loud, it’s the Nobel Prize, not a Tupperware dish!

9. Boston Patriots coach Bill Belichick destroyed his tablet in full view of millions of football fans. One company executive said to another: ‘Well – that was certainly $400 million well-spent.’

10. Sometime during the year, JW Broadcasting reached critical mass and you can now stream it without dread of repetition. You can see how the Christian ministry plays out in far-flung lands, cartoons for the kids (I love how the green glob eats the lamp!), whiteboards for the teenagers, and music videos for everyone. The Kingdom music never did it for me until I could see it performed on TV. ’It’s okay,’ I’d say, ‘but it’s not Bob Dylan.’ JW.org can now become the main menu – just sprinkle in some favorite TV shows for variety. You’ll see diverse peoples and cultures. You’ll learn nothing of local politics – some of our people barely know that stuff exists, but – C’mon! do you really want your gravemarker to read ‘He Supported Hillary,’ or ‘He Supported Trump?’

11. The man who invented auto-correct died. ‘Restaurant in peace,’ some meme generator responded, saddened by this grave news.

12. As the campaign teapot was boiling over, Billy Fucillo launched yet another bombastic car ad with: “Folks, everyone’s talking about the election, but I’m not one of them!” Yes! I bought 15 Hyundais that day out of gratitude. All was forgiven! Even though he desecrated Also Sprach Zarathustra in another ad, ripping the needle from the record when the promo was done. It was hardly his fault – they all do it. Richard Strauss, from the grave, has cursed the day Stanley Kubrick ever thought to use his little ditty for ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ because everybody since has used it to sell cars, carpets and mattresses.

13. Oh, speaking of mattresses – a mattress company began using a guru during the year to contort on their products, strongly suggesting that the purpose of life was to sell mattresses. My wife and I bought one of them, for we are moving in with Pop. It’s time. Our own place we’ll let out to cultivators, just like the man Jesus spoke of. Surely I’ll have a fine experience when I come to check on it.

14. BigPharma began to recommend we ‘ask your urologist,’ ‘ask your cardiologist,’ ‘ask your podiatrist,’ planting the notion that each American maintain an arsenal of doctors.

15. David Bowie died.

16. Prince died.

17. George Michael died.

18. Carrie Fisher died.

19. Debbie Reynolds died.

20. Isn’t there anyone who didn’t die?

21. I borrowed Paul’s time machine to see what they had said about my death. “He didn’t have a nice bone in his body,” said one person. “He’d take the shirt off your back,” said another. ‘Good riddance!’ said Genral Garrett on CBS This Morning. I burned rubber heading home.

22. Rochester’s youngest reporter, a 14-year old from the gritty city, was robbed! He tweeted the bad news @GslShow. They lifted his camera from his bike while he was in the Family Dollar! It was worth $1000. But he promptly started a gofundme page and had it all back within 24 hours. It’s impossible not to love this kid. The cops in Rochester certainly do and have adopted him as one of their own. When he started getting bullied (for hanging out with cops) he marched into City Hall and asked what they were going to do about it! CBS This Morning ran a very nice story about him. Alas, some editorial idiot bannered it: ‘Local Youngster Follows His Dreams!’ He’s probably just having fun, the goal of all youngsters. I hope he doesn’t get too big for his pants, but the sycophants will encourage that outcome with all their might.

23. Rio hosted the Olympics.

24. Yet another ‘everything you know about such-and-such is wrong’ story appeared, the such-and-such being peanut allergies. Children have them now in record numbers, and it’s long been thought obvious that the solution was to keep them as far from the stuff as possible. However, doctors found that if you expose them to peanut protein starting at 4 months, they are 80% less likely to develop allergies.

25. Police shot some people and nation-wide riots ensued.

26. Long-time employer Rochester Urinal closed up shop and moved to Mexico, where they are less progressive. It was a major blow, coming so soon upon the heels of Rochester Shoehorn’s exodus. As the transgender wars unfold, many small businesses, having no idea what to do and not daring to offend anybody, simply convert both men’s and woman’s restrooms into unisex rooms, eliminating need for a urinal. Rochester’s pride and joy, Wegmans, stepped into the fray briefly – they are expanding into North Carolina – and were lambasted by a local town councilman, as though it was his business, for not kowtowing to activists down there pertaining to that war. Wegmans handled it well, as they always do: ‘Wegmans is a company of caring people who value and respect the differences in one another. We are moving forward in North Carolina, in large part because we don’t believe that reversing course is an effective way to influence change. With regard to restrooms, we have no policy that governs their use, nor have we felt the need to implement one. We also offer the choice of a family restroom for those who want more privacy. Like any issue, when a concern is raised about the use of restrooms we use common sense and courtesy to resolve it.’ Well – okay. Common sense and courtesy bailed them out this time, but just as Slow Joe cautioned Davey the Kid: ‘next time it may not be that way.’ The trick is to enforce new social norms in ways so bewildering that everyone gives up and moves to Mexico.

27. Someone launched a program to search for and destroy ‘Fake News.’ I was ecstatic. I had become so thoroughly fed up looking like an ass when my blockbuster exposé would be itself exposed as resting upon a pillar of Fake News. I broke out the vodka to celebrate. But while I was yet celebrating, I forgot to clean the cat’s litter box and my wife let me hear about it – it’s not the first time that cat has made me trouble. To prove my repentance was genuine, I posted online: “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I hold myself accountable. I take responsibility. I have reformed my ways. I will never, never, ever forget to clean the cat box again. I promise. You can depend upon me.” It only made things worse. My wife saw the words the next day – Facebook had stamped them ‘Fake News!’

28. In December, there was a spate of package-delivery thefts. Fed up, one man packaged his dog’s droppings and left it on the front porch where thieves immediately stole them. Inspired, I quickly ran up a reputation as a pedophile and an ax murderer and left that on the front porch. Immediately, identity thieves made off with it.

29. Scientists succeeded keeping a man alive in suspended animation, cryogenically frozen, for 20 years. They were astounded when he did not lose his job at the New York State Bureau of Particular Preparedness.

30. Dr. William Woo rocked the mathematical world with proofs regarding theroems dependent upon pi. They do not work – none of them – when it is apple pi.

31. Thoroughly upended by a villainous year, I opened the Christmas card from my attorney*: ‘We wish, but by no means guarantee, you a Merry Christmas.’

 

CHAPTER 31 – SANTA CLAUS

 

*okay, okay! So he’s not my attorney (yet). But he did tweet the words and draw the cartoon. I fell on the floor laughing. Then I invited him along with my Christmas caroling group, but he screwed up everything:

‘We wish, but can by no means guarantee, you a Merry Christmas,

‘We wish, but can by no means guarantee, you a Merry Christmas,

‘We wish, but can by no means guarantee, you a Merry Christmas,

and a happy New Year.

okay, okay! So as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t do Christmas. It was a joke! Sheesh!

It all served to remind me of my drop-dead gorgeous wife driving years ago, with our daughter in the back car seat. “Mom, let’s stop at Wegmans for a free cookie,” she said. Imagine: a free cookie just for showing up! What a family friendly policy!

“I’m sorry, dear, we can’t. Wegmans is closed” What? Wegmans closed? How can that be? “It’s Christmas,” explained my gorgeous wife, passerby snapping their heads around to get a look as she drove by. She continued to drive for many minutes, her mind lost in a tangle of deeds she envisioned for the day. Presently, there arose a low ominous rumble from a toddler. “I HATE Christmas!” she muttered.

 

Brothers worldwide have flooded me with requests to report on how Mr. Claus is doing on his Bible study. Or at least you never know when they may start. I’ve called on him for years, but it was only after that recent study article touched on beards that he agreed to a Bible study.

I am happy to say he has been doing well – he’s a very progressive student. And he loves the meetings. It’s even a bit annoying. If the speaker makes even the lamest attempt at humor – say, he makes some crack about the microphone being too high or too low for him because the previous speaker was tall or short, Mr. Claus will burst out with an ear-splitting ‘HO! HO! HO!’ which is beginning to get on everyone’s nerves.

In fact, he can be so disruptive that the elders asked him (and me, to keep him company) to sit in the second auditorium. As we entered that room, he told me that the elders were ‘bad.’ He’s very judgmental that way, always declaring ones good or bad on insufficient data.

Lately I had become concerned. He had canceled his study for December 24th. A ‘prior engagement,’ he told me. Of course, I nosed around until I discovered what he intended to do. And I didn’t like it. Surely, it was a violation of Bible principles. Of course, a new student progresses at his own rate or not at all – it’s completely up to him. But I determined to help him see how he could better please God.

“Of course, you do what you like,” I told him. “But you are making such good progress, and I know you want to move forward, so I will tell you things that haven’t yet come up in your study,” I began. “You really are going to fly throughout the whole world in a sleigh pulled by animals that don’t normally fly, through frigid weather, and slide down millions of chimneys (at your age and girth!) with presents in the middle of the night? It goes against Bible principles! It is an extreme sport and shows gross disrespect for the precious gift of life!” I’ll know more about his progress next year.

 

It’s fairly well accepted by now that Jesus was not born December 25th. That date was selected centuries ago as a slick marketing ploy – make the birthday of the sun (the Saturnalia) the birthday of the Son! Cool! That’s the gist of it. Close enough. Look up the specifics elsewhere. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a hoot. It’s just the rubble that must be cleared away before the real building can begin. It was identified as rubble ages ago by the messenger preparing the way. I don’t want to leave a detailed note for Waste Management explaining just why I’m throwing the trash away. If the details don’t line up in every respect, one must remember that we have employed them to counter the myth of the 25th. If the original is untrue, why need the correction be a Joe Friday special?

Isaac Newton, however, was born on Christmas day. Isaac Newton! The father of science! The inventor of calculus! But he wrote more about spiritual matters than about math and science combined. To him belongs the last ‘end of the world’ date out there: 2060. One cannot even say at this point, with certainty, that he is wrong.

 

Newton also didn’t buy into the obligatory Trinity doctrine. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus said at his execution. He’s asking himself to forgive himself? How can that be? But Newton had to guard his tongue carefully. He was chancellor of Trinity college! Then, as now, the Trinity folks were rabidly intolerant. One slip of the tongue would have cost him his job and perhaps his freedom.

 

When Richard Dawkins blessed the atheist buses rolling out of London’s central depot in 2010, busses there only because the rabid religionists had goaded him with prior bus ‘hellfire’ signs, the word ‘probably’ didn’t faze him at all. “There probably is no God,” announced those buses via new placards pasted to their sides, “Now get on and enjoy life.” He defended the clunky wording here: “If we say ‘there’s definitely no God’ – you can’t say that,” he waffled. Actually, it’s the British Truth in Advertising law that wouldn’t permit the more straightforward statement and Dawkins was afraid to cross them.

However, Captain Fogg pointed out that “science and reason in this era of quantum physics rarely uses such absolutes as ‘God doesn’t exist,’ but usually talk about probabilities being vanishingly small. Since the chances that I will suddenly disappear and rematerialize in your living room can actually be calculated, it’s technically more accurate to say I probably won’t, even though I’m not betting on it, cause it ain’t gonna happen.” He was thinking he would bamboozle me with this scientific lingo. It didn’t work. “JW scientists have been working on the problem for some time,” I informed him, “with obvious applications for the ministry.”

Now, I write from America, a land whose people are a curious mix of gunslinger and crybaby. And – let us not mince words here – our atheists are better than their atheists. You’re not going to catch our atheists going weak at the knees, sniveling up with a namby-pamby ‘probably.’ No! When our atheists posted a sign on the Illinois State Capitol grounds, it was to proclaim:

At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Any wimpy ‘probably?’ Not on your life! British atheists should be ashamed of themselves. A bunch of wusses – make no mistake!

The American atheist sign was smack dab next to a Christmas tree and uncomfortably close to a Nativity Scene. It enraged a local politician who attempted, with cameras blazing, to tear it down, but Capitol police chased him away on account of free speech.

What is it about this atheist billboard that rankles? It’s not a matter of accuracy. Other than its conclusion, which is opinion, not fact, its tenets are more accurate than those of the Nativity scene. After all, religion certainly can affect people in the way the sign says – it comes in many brands and flavors. Moreover, December 21st is the winter solstice, whereas December 25th is not Christ’s birthday. Shepherds are not going to be sleeping outdoors with their flocks at that time of year as the Bible says they were. Herod is not going to require his surly Jewish subjects to travel to the towns of their birth in the dead of winter. These matters are common knowledge. Jesus may have been born in early autumn, but he certainly was not born December 25.

By the time the Nativity Scene’s ‘wise men’ (magi) showed up with presents, the child was two, long out of the stable. They were supposed to report Jesus’ whereabouts to Herod, who intended to have the child killed, since the last thing he wanted was a newborn ‘King of the Jews’ – ‘Wait a minute – I’m king of the Jews! – amidst his rebellious subjects. But the wise men ran way and Herod, furious, had all the 2-year-olds in Bethlehem put to death, figuring one of them, surely, would be the toddler king. Jesus parents were a step ahead of him, however – they’d fled into Egypt.

No, it’s not the supporting details that rankle about that atheist sign. What is it? Could it be that, in advancing ‘reason’ as a cure-all, those atheists presume to have a monopoly on it? Partly. Am I wrong in thinking that when people say they want reason to prevail, they really just want everyone to come around to their own opinion – an opinion which to them is invariably reason personified? Consider the role ‘reason’ might play in a recent diplomatic spat between Britain and China. The Chinese had just executed a British citizen for drug trafficking in their country, the first such execution since the 1950’s. The Brits had wanted him spared owing to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They’d lobbied hard for that outcome.

When they didn’t get it, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown cried: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted……I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.” But China would have none of it. “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”

What we are dealing with are different cultural attitudes towards social policy, criminal conduct, mental illness, personal responsibility, individual rights, and drug use. These are values. I defy you to tell me what ‘reason’ dictates with regard to the interplay between them. For the most part, the two citizenries lined up with the viewpoints of their respective governments. Is ‘reason’ only to be found among one or the other population? If so, which one? It was China that played the ‘reason’ card first. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally,” Jiang said. Why didn’t the Brits think of enshrouding their plea in rationality? Too late now. China beat them to it, and now the Brits are, by default, irrational.

Yet, even that isn’t it in its entirety. In fact, I think it is no more than a contributing point. No, that winter solstice sign rankles for other reasons as well. Might it be the crassness of plunking it right next to the Nativity Scene, as if it, too, represented a message of hope? For the Nativity Scene, even if poorly understood, even if misportrayed, even if misrepresented by charlatans, still represents hope to countless millions of people that this life, so full of hardship, is not all there is. If there was an Atheist Scene, and not just a sign, would it not have to be a guy in his coffin? You are telling the impoverished and disadvantaged, forever punted about and trod upon by human entities, that not only is this life rough – it is also all they are ever going to get. Atheism may be attractive and trendy to the young and monied, but it sure is a downer to those poor, hungry and abused. They’re to get the warm and fuzzies over ‘reason prevailing?’ I don’t think so.

Yeah. That’s it. That’s what rankles most. Look, if you believe it, you believe it. It’s not holding the notion that annoys me. It’s heralding it as if were some sort of great news – worthy of the Births column, and not the Deaths (atheist concession: ‘Passages”). H. G. Wells, in his Outline of History, observed: “The Darwinian movement took formal Christianity unawares, suddenly. . . . The new biological science was bringing nothing constructive as yet to replace the old moral stand-bys. A real de-moralization ensued.” Then, connecting that attitude with an increased appetite for war, he continued: “Prevalent peoples at the close of the nineteenth century believed that they prevailed by virtue of the Struggle for Existence, in which the strong and cunning get the better of the weak and confiding. . . . Man, they decided, is a social animal like the Indian hunting dog . . . so it seemed right to them that the big dogs of the human pack should bully and subdue.”

Got it? This stuff, whether true or not, is not an upper. It’s a downer.

 

Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old, wanted to know about Santa Claus, so she asked her dad. He dodged the question, perhaps uncertain whether it was really such a hot idea to lie to his own child. Instead, he suggested she write the newspaper:

 

Editorial page The New York Sun September 21, 1897

 

Dear Editor:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Signed Virginia O’Hanlon

 

Virginia, your little friends are wrong……

They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. …..

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. ……

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

 

What a heart-warming answer! It tells the true meaning of Christmas and Santa Claus!. Sentimental folks have gushed over it for a hundred years, but two fundamental points should not be lost sight of, lest we all drown in sentimental slop:

1. Virginia asked to be told the truth.

2. The paper lied to her.

 

To be sure, it wasn’t a bald-faced, flat-out, self-serving lie, like when Tom Pearlsnswine told his kid that the jingle jangle of the ice cream truck was really the Devil approaching. No, this lie was merely a white lie, and served as the framework for conveying transcendent symbolism on wonder, generosity, imagination, joy, and so forth. It’s a great answer for adults. But children don’t pick up on symbolism. To an eight-year old, it’s a lie. And even though Pearlanswine’s smart aleck answer was never meant to be taken seriously – it was said in obvious good humor – the blockhead was amazed to find, years later, that his son believed it for the longest time.

All this brings to mind the young girl Ida Ho, who also asked her parents, when young, if Santa was real. The parents assured her that he was. There were some kids down the street, however, who told Ida the truth.

When she lost her baby teeth, her parents told her that there was a tooth fairy who would leave some cash under her pillow. The kids down the street told her the truth.

When Easter came, her parents told her about the Easter Bunny – a generous rabbit who would fill your basket with chocolate eggs. The kids down the street told her the truth.

Ida reached adolescence and her responsible parents told her about sex.

But she had never gotten a straight answer from her folks. It was always nonsense. The kids down the street, on the other hand, had never been wrong. And so, with regard to sex, they had a different approach, and the boys among them offered to demonstrate.

Persons who knew Ida could never say just where she had gotten her wayward start.

 

Santa, the concept: [a man who] stay[s] up all night distributing presents to children of doubtful deservedness. There is a point where altruism becomes sick.’ The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, by John Updike

 

 

back

 

No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


ipad copy of tom irregardless

  • Author: Tom Harley
  • Published: 2017-03-23 00:20:17
  • Words: 119572
ipad copy of tom irregardless ipad copy of tom irregardless