The New Covenant vs Old, as Explained in the Letter to the Hebrews

Few things aggravate like being in service and the householder tells you how you can’t earn salvation through good works. Say: “Well, the good works can’t hurt, can they?” Let him try to assert that they do. If they get truly condescending, sloughing you on the basis that they’re Christian (as though you are not), I have even been known to say: “Only a Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you are not doing it yourself.” Watch that smug smile fade. I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than don’t—just not on that basis.

It’s a little dicey. Use it very sparingly, only when richly deserved, and probably not even then, for it is not exactly an example of turning the other cheek. Duh. Every Witness knows that they are not earning anything in their house-to-house ministry. But it is like the mirror that you put under the nose of someone lying prostrate. If that mirror doesn’t fog up, I don’t care how many people tell me that the person is alive—he’s dead. It is the same way with faith.

Besides, it is been there/done that as regards trying to earn life. That is what the Mosaic Law was all about. “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions; anyone who does so will live by means of them,” said God of that Law. (Leviticus 18:5.) You could even say that God had set them up for failure, since it was not possible for imperfect persons to keep that perfect law, and he knew it. Of course, you don’t say it, because the purpose of that Law was to direct them to something better—that they would not have seen the need for before. It was setting them up for the real life. That’s what Paul means about the Law being a tutor:

“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law...looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed.  Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” - (Galatians 3:23-25)

As they trod a path back and forth to offer up sacrifices for their sins, it would occur to a remnant of them that something more permanent would be nice. They couldn’t earn life by following Law. They were flawed. It was beyond them. What they needed was forgiveness for sin, not a just a continual reminder of them via their price tag. As to being “guarded under law,” the Law gave them plenty to do and kept them off the streets where they might get into mischief with the rowdy neighbors.

And so there is the New Covenant, to replace the old Law Covenant [Old and New Testaments, in most Bibles] The old covenant is between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, and inaugurated through the sacrificial blood of animals. The new is between God and spiritual Israel, mediated by the Son, and inaugurated through his own shed blood. The name “Israel’ is even retained—only the identity of those who occupy the slot has changed—those who “contend with God,” as the name means.. It is now “the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) since “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6)

Paul waits until he writes to Christians in Jerusalem [Letter to the Hebrews] before he draws all the parallels. They were at “ground zero.” They were in the host city. Three pilgrimages took place there each year—there occasions when the magnificent temple and even the entire city would be abuzz. Meanwhile, the Christians there were meeting in private homes, not the big glorious temple. Did they suffer an inferiority complex?

If you had been a believer anywhere else, you would not have had that contrast for someone to rub into your face, but in Jerusalem you did have it. It took its toll. After a furious spurt of early activity, the ministry of those Christians had cooled off. “For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food,” the apostle writes at Hebrews 5:12.

They are in some spiritual danger. If you don’t keep forward motion on the bicycle, you fall off. “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God...so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. For we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we hold firmly down to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.” (3:12-14)

Paul draws upon their knowledge of mutual history. Sure, God, led the forefathers out of Egypt, he says, but he afterwards cast off those “testing” him, those “provoking” him, those “always going astray” despite their having seen his works for 40 years—those who gave in to “lack of faith” and became “disobedient.” (3:7-19)

He ups the ante significantly when he speaks of those who accept, but then reject, the free gift: “For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit  and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (6:4-6)

Not to worry, though. He is talking tough, but it isn’t to them: “But in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things, things related to salvation, even though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (6:9-10)

He just hopes that they will pick up the slack: “But we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)

He helps them as he points out that the fantastic temple and the high holidays are not the real thing—they are things that go hand in hand with the Law that has become “obsolete,” is “growing old,” and is, in fact, close to “vanishing away”—which it did, just a few years later when Romans destroyed that temple in 70 C.E. It never had been the real thing. It had been the pattern of the real thing.

These “men [the Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law—[they] are offering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Those Christians in Jerusalem had the real thing—big temple notwithstanding. Even “Moses, when about to construct the tent, was given the divine command....‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’” (8:4-5)

They had the New Covenant, not the Old. Paul refers to how it was foretold through Jeremiah (31: 31-34): “Look! The days are coming,’ says Jehovah, ‘when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.... I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I will write them....And they will no longer teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!”...I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds, and I will no longer call their sins to mind.’” (8:8-12)

 

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Still More Games

 

 

My brother was due for his bi-weekly Scrabble drubbing, but last night it had to be postponed. After the game he tried to follow me out to the car in order to rub in his 80 point win, but his big head got stuck in the doorway.

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Midway through the game, my brother poured concrete on the board, eliminating use of the upper left half. I began to think I had been overconfident and I untied the hand behind my back, but he eaked out an 80 point win anyway. What a miserable Scrabble game!

The game had started so well. I had pulled the dictionary off the shelf to help my brother in case he wanted to cheat and look up some words. As long as I had it in my hand, I checked on the spelling and the existence of another word. Discovering I had a green light, I had jumped to a 4 point lead!

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I forgot my clandestine sneak-a-peak pocket dictionary and I knew my brother would take advantage of that oversight to cheat. During the game I scrabbled, but he unfairly disallowed it because it was spelled wrong.

After my brother beat me two times by 80 points, I said NO MORE!! He beat me by only 60 points last night. It is getting awfully hard to put lipstick on this pig. (When he bent over to tie his shoe, his extra stash of Scrabble letters fell from his pocket, the big cheater.)

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I used my blank to #Scrabble by making “berriet” but my brother screamed that there was no such word!

Check it, I told him. “And if you don’t find it, try ‘berries.’”

The big baby.

I won, but it was not easy. He’s very good.

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I Scrabbled to make “longers,” but my brother challenged it: “Use it in a sentence!” he taunted.

“I see some longers,” I said. (the big baby)

I made other cool words, too, and he STILL beat me: 379 to 351.

He is very good. (and he cheats)

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When I used my blank to scrabble by making “toggues,” my brother howled that toggues was not a word. So I told him it was really “toggles.” After the game I asked if he would mind posing by the board and looking real sad, but he was not cooperative.

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.............

My brother drew a low letter through cheating to have the first turn. But the baby only scored 10 points with ‘oy.’ I got 40 with ‘jar’ but he whined that I had blocked up the board. Just because no one can play does not mean the board is blocked up. He always was a crybaby.

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.........

Can you believe that my brother challenged “ai?” It’s a 3-toed sloth! Duh.

And if there can be one, there can also be many—to reach the triple word score, which I did my next turn.

He had started by dishonestly scrabbling with “weaning” but later I did the same with “panamas” and beat the cheater by 50 points.

He got so mad he almost ran over a pack of ais backing out the drive.

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Wandering N.Y. Route 80–The Prettiest Drive

The traveler just arrived at the whistle stop town asked what folks were like there. The geezer just sitting around responded by asking what they had been like where he had come from. “Aw, they were just great people! Friendly, warm, helpful,” the visitor replied. “I think you’re going to find people here are pretty much the same,” said the old guy.

Another visitor arrived on the next train and asked the same question—what were folks like here? As before, the geezer countered—what had they been like there? “Miserable. Just plain ugly. Backbiting. Hard to get along with.” “You know,” the geezer said, “I think you’re going to find folks here are pretty much the same.”

To set the story up—the moral of which is that people are to a large degree what you focus upon—the circuit overseer had prefaced a history of the locomotives. In the early days, they had to stop every 100 miles or so in order to refuel with wood for the tender and water to make steam. So towns sprung up about that distance apart.

It is true of many transportation modes. The Erie Canal, connecting Buffalo to Albany, triggered quick growth to several former villages in between, most notably, Rochester and Syracuse. Buffalo—at one time the third most populous city in the country—became so because it was chosen as the western terminal. Had the competing village of Black Rock won out instead, nobody would have heard of Buffalo.

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The New York State Thruway, its first section completed in 1954, connects these cities as well, though it skirts well south of Rochester. I can, as a boy, recall politicians of that town grumbling that, whereas Syracuse had five exits on the Thruway, Rochester had only two, and—well—it just wasn’t right. This was partly remedied with 490W extending from the city 20 miles to the west to connect to the big road, but even so, three is not five, and the more exits there are, the easier it is for commerce to take place.

The tolls on the mighty road were meant to be temporary, but the politicians got used to them, and they will no doubt exist until Armageddon. “Worth every penny!” I tell the toll-collector, which they always appreciate, though one in Geneva said: “It is not!” It appears that he will soon be out of a job, because the plan now is for cameras to scan license plates and access tolls with no human interaction at all, and the governor is making everyone in the state switch (for $25) to a new design of plate easily read.

Prior to the Thruway, U.S. route 20 was the primary east-west corridor in New York State. This road scoots well to the south of the Thruway cities, and connects ones that have not grown so quickly, or have even shrunk at being ignored by the big road—places like Lancaster, Geneva, Canandaigua, Auburn, Morrisville, Waterville, and Sharon Springs. It is the road we used to take, prior to the toll road, when visiting the region north of Poughkeepsie where my Dad’s people owned a dairy farm—years after everyone left their agrarian roots, we still referred to family reunions as “going down to the farm.”

Then there is N.Y Route 5, another east-west corridor, and this one does link—like the Thruway—the big cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany, plus a new assortment of smaller towns. The big names I well remember as highway markers along the never-ending drive to and from the reunions, occasions for my young siblings and I to whine from the back of the station wagon: “How soon till we are there?” until my fed-up dad would again holler: “If you kids don’t stop crying back there, I’ll stop this car and give you something to cry about!” I thought that he was being mean then. I did not think of him then as a sage prophet for latter times, for sometimes that is exactly the answer that must be given.

All of these routes—from canal to Thruway to highway—are means of going in a straight line, from point A to B, or A to C via B, or A to D—and so forth. You take them if you want to get somewhere. But if you don’t care about getting somewhere—if you just want to meander, you take N.Y. Route 80, which runs from Lords Corners to Tully to Georgetown to Smyrna to Sherburne to New Berlin to Cooperstown to Nelliston. Never heard of these towns, you say? No, you haven’t—except for maybe Cooperstown because the baseball museum is there.

Why would anyone want to connect these towns with a N.Y numbered route? Your guess is as good as mine. These are not straight line towns. They are more like connect-the-dot towns. The route follows various waterways and stage coach turnpikes of long ago. As the crow flies, the east and west terminals are only about 80 miles apart, but the roadway must be at least twice that.

At times, it seems that the locals have stretched pretty hard to find history where perhaps not much of it actually occurred. Such is the case with a marker for the Beaver Meadow Hotel, which “provided an overnight rest stop for guests passing through the area” in its day. I mean, didn’t all hotels do that? But this is not a New York State marker, even though that is what it looks like. The state stopped funding markers in 1939, and it is left to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to detail and commemorate community history of rural America. All is forgiven. It’s a good idea for a volunteer organization to recall what went down in this tiny locality or that, even if it would be silly for the state itself to do so. This also explained for me why so many New York historical signs—gold print on blue—are in deplorable shape. They don’t do that anymore, and it is left to someone else to notice and pick up the slack.

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Route 80 also takes you through Smyrna, New York, and that’s hardly nothing, is it? That is the town you must go through (unless you go the back way) to reach Wolf Mountain, where “Wolfman” and myself enjoyed a fine visit not too long ago. And at Rogers Environmental Education Center, not too far to the east, I learned through a series of posters that New York has a state bird (the bluebird, though it should be a robin—nobody ever sees bluebirds around here), a state flower, a state fish, a state insect, a state mammal, a state tree, and a state reptile. And no, the state snake is NOT that politician you don’t like. Nor is he any lawyer. Don’t even go there.

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Come to think of it, I have never actually driven the entire roadway, just different segments of it at different times. I think that I have never driven through the mightiest stops on the route, such as New Berlin, population 2700. It doesn’t mean that I won’t someday, but always there are bigger fish—though not the state fish—to fry. But what I have driven confirms what some touristy website stated—that it is among the prettiest drives in the state—winding through lush hills and picturesque villages. It is one for someone who is in no hurry to get anywhere.

 

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When Someone Says: “I Have My Own Religion.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they engage in their ministry, sometimes make uncomfortable people who don’t really care about spiritual things but somewhere in the back of their head is a nagging thought that they should.

And we make uncomfortable those who assume that we are there to change their religion—the religion has not put them on equal footing to discuss intelligently the Bible—they know almost nothing about it. This is a circumstance very strange, when you think about it, since most of them simply assume that the Book provides their faith’s underpinning. What a shocker for some when they discover that it is not so.

With some, judging from their quick response, this discomfort is nearly to the point of panic—just like an ordinary joe might panic at the thought of an encounter with the time-share salesperson. “I have my own religion, and I am very happy with it,” they hastily say.

”Well, I’m not going to ask you to change it, and if I do you can say ‘no’” is my reply. “It’s just conversation.” 

I mean, they may not want to converse—more don’t than do— and if they don’t, that is fine, but I hate it to be for that reason.

One conversation with a college student was interesting enough that I proposed coming back. “To what end?” he said. Nobody had ever replied to me that way before. So I told him my ideal scenario—that over the course of 100 weeks, I would call back 100 times for 100 conversations—during which he would learn the Bible from front to back, and I would learn some things, too—and on visit #100 I would ask him if he wanted to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me and then he could say “no.” Once again, it’s just conversation.

I even asked him to play along on a practice session. I would ask him to become a Jehovah’s Witness, and he was to say “no.” He agreed to this.

”Would you like to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me?” I said. “No,” he replied. “See?” I said. “It’s easy. In the meantime you will learn the Bible and then you can better decide what you think about it”

This is called the Dickens approach and it is suggested by the ending of “Tale of Two Cities.” In that ending Sidney Carton visits Charles Darney, a prisoner in the Bastille being held for execution, during time of the French Revolution. He has repented of his profligate life and has determined to smuggle this better man out. Of course, he can only do this if he takes his place and tricks the guards—it has already been noted in the novel that he remarkably resembles the man in physical appearance. One by one he suggests to Darnay exchanging articles of clothing. Each time Darnay protests—he has no idea what Carton is up to. “What do you think you’re doing?” he objects. “Do you think you can break me out? It’s not possible to escape from here.”

Each time Carton answers: “Did I say anything about escape? Wait until I mention escape and then say “no.” In this way he persuades the man to swap clothes, as though to humor him, though he knows not why.

A strict application of the Dickens method in field service necessitates saying: “Did I say anything about you changing your religion? Wait until I ask you to do that and then say “no.” I have done this, but it’s a little easier to phrase it as I did initially: “Well, I’m not going to ask you to change your religion, and if I do you can say ‘no.’” It comes across as less of a rebuke.

It is important that your householder has not actually read “Tale of Two Cities,” for if he has, he may recall that after the clothing exchange is completed, Carton chloroform’s Darnay, calls the guard to report that his visiting friend has fainted, overcome by emotion, and requests that he be carried out to the waiting carriage. If the householder points out that development, tell him that you do not intend to copy that part of the ending—strictly speaking, that would require you to take his place and become a Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu, and to assume his car and house payment, which may be substantial—not to mention live with his family, who may not be model. Besides, your own wife will throw a fit.

It is a favorite book of mine. Ruse completed, Carton later takes his place in the guillotine lineup. He is giving his life in behalf of his friend, and several times Jesus’ words are quoted as inspiration: “No man has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) Just before him in line is a scared 12-year old girl. She is willing to die for her country if it has been decreed that she must, but she cannot understand just how she could actually have become such a threat to it. Her eyes widen as she discovers that her companion is not actually Darnay, but is someone giving his life for that man. Carton offers to hold her hand, and thereby she finds the courage to face the terrible blade.

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Give My Badge to Anton

“You have been recognized as one of Anton Chivchalov’s top fans. Get your badge now,” Facebook told me.

What in the world is this?

Searching out the answer, I found: “Displaying your top fan badge publicly helps you stand out to Anton Chivchalov Blog and others. For example, people will see the badge when you comment on posts by Anton Chivchalov Blog.”

Oh, for crying out loud! Give the badge to him, if there are any badges to be given. I am indebted to him. I’m not about to wow him or anyone else with my “badge.” He is the one who is aggregating all reports of Jehovah’s Witness persecution in Russia, building an unequaled historical record of the dark days.

He keeps that light burning, and it cannot be easy for him because the subject is both depressing and endlessly repetitive. He assembles the raw data. He tracks each individual, and doesn’t just summarize events from time to time, as I and some others do.

He is not even rewarded with “likes.” I mean, when he posts that some ordinary joe in Russia is assaulted and detained for reading the Bible, his property confiscated, do you respond with a like? Anything that you do say quickly becomes old, because the next day he posts another few examples.

Sometimes he gets a like, though. Like when he posts the photo of Dennis Christensen immersed in the letters he gets from around the world, thanking the senders, displaying pictures that the children have made, assuring all that they need not worry about writing in Russian or even Danish, for he speaks English. That one is easy to like.

Anton, too, speaks English. And Russian. And probably some other languages. He is “bringing his gift to the altar,” keeping his finger on the pulse. Give my badge to him.

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Sticking Up For “the Unrighteous” in Russia - Psalm 37:29 Pronounced Extremist

Russian scholars—they are awfully smart over there—found extremism in an Old Testament phrase in the course of building a case against Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not in the New World Translation—that entire work has been declared extremist and is therefore shelved. It is a passage found in any Bible, even the one used by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The offending verse is Psalm 37:29 [36:29 in Eastern Bibles]: “The righteous will inherit the earth and will live in it forever.”

This verse is actually a threat toward “unrighteous persons,” the experts discerned. It is “about dismissiveness (contempt, aggression) toward a group of persons on the basis of religious affiliation.” It furthers the “‘propaganda of inferiority’ on the basis of religious identity.”

In other words, they are sticking up for the unrighteous in that land. “Well—they’re people, too,” is their stroke of wisdom. If the “righteous” are to be favored with inheriting the earth and living there forever, then the unrighteous should be there, too.

It is breathtakingly stupid reasoning, and yet it is the reasoning that carries the day in Russia. But we should not laugh at it, because it is more evil than stupid, and it is the work of opposers who know what they are doing and will do it here when the time is right. The reasoning is the same—it is only more unmasked in Russia than elsewhere, but it ought to serve as a heads-up for elsewhere.

In both places it is the reasoning of those who hate God. They do not hate him so long as He knows His place. If He allows societal trends and critical thinking to carry the day, He is welcome, but only then. If He tries impose upon people His own standards of “righteousness,” He is not. If He allows the will of the people to prevail, He is welcome. If He says, as in John 6:45: “They will all be taught be Jehovah,” He is not—unless He means that the will of the people is the will of Jehovah. He should know that His role is to sit in the back seat and keep His mouth shut.

The entire warfare of opponents denouncing disfellowshipping is a reflection of their frustration at having the window slammed shut on their fingers as they try to break into the house with their new and improved morality—morality that is not God’s. They are livid that they cannot do that, and so they rail against the tool that thwarts them, even trying to declare it illegal.

The book “Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics” attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today’s church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: “Don’t worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Disfellowshipping—the ability to expel those who refuse to conform to the conduct and speech that they signed on for—is their trump card. It is a last-ditch method of discipline, when all else has failed, to ensure that the Christian congregation remains true to its underpinnings, something that cannot happen without the trump card held in reserve—or at least it never has happened. (See post here)

It is a God-ordained tool from the One who knows humankind better than they do themselves. Actually, humans know it well, too, but they forget it when it stands in their way. If they did not know it, there would be no such thing as advertising—the ultimate manipulative device founded on the premise that humans can be swayed any which way given sufficient propaganda. Corporate interests would not pour billions into advertising if they were not convinced human behavior could be molded. “We made Miller the number two selling brand in the country, and everybody said: ‘Nobody will drink that stuff,’” said Mickey Spillane.

“Righteousness” is an antiquated term for those peddling a new morality and a trashing the traditional one. The term is a threat to them. It is a term that is no longer allowed in Russia, but how far behind can the West be? Acceptable human conduct should be determined by group norm, not imposed by some Bully from above, it increasingly says. The war against disfellowshipping is at root a manisfestion of those who would fight against God.

Says the apostle Peter: “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” (1 Peter 4:3-4)

They do speak that way. But as the discordant ones accumulate in the “low sink of debauchery,” they finally are emboldened to also say: “Water’s fine here in the low sink! Who are you to judge?” The qualities Peter speaks of are simply not the anathema that they once were. Some are openly embraced.

So “righteousness” as defined by a God is an insult. To speak of a world where righteousness will prevail is extremist in Russia, and therefore illegal. For now, in the West, it is just gauche and small-minded. That is changing. If it truly is that God will allow only the righteous in the new world of his making, then anyone on His side will do whatever can be done to be that way. Opponents today want to make that illegal, or at least they want to make illegal the means to do it.

The climate is not just right for opposers here to declare that the righteous inheriting the earth is extremist, as they have in Russia, but that is what many want to do—and it will likely reach that point one day. Should it happen, it will be a development that is on script, and so thereby can be said to be okay. It will not be unexpected. The miscreants are angling for it now.

Nikolai Gordienko, of the Herzen Russian State University in St. Petersburg, once stated: “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.” Jehovah’s Witnesses represent it. They practice it as best they can. The gloves have come off in Russia. They came off long ago with regard to human rights, but now they also come off with regard to the intent of Witness persecution there. It is not Witnesses that are opposed. It is God who is opposed—the Witnesses are just the middlemen who represent him.

Gamaliel cautioned religious leaders in the first century regarding Christians: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone. For if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Otherwise, you may even be found fighters against God himself.” That’s exactly who is in the crosshairs of opponents today—who is He to tell us what is righteous? they glower. Banning the Witness organization was not enough for those opponents in Russia. Banning the New World Translation was also not enough, for the same verses hateful to those demanding moral relevance are found in any translation of the Bible.

How far will opponents get in their quest to enlist the world’s sympathy that they got kicked out of a religion for refusing to abide by the rules—in essence, for refusing to be “righteous?” Time will tell, but until the Lord intervenes, the playing field is tilted their way. The individual rights of those who would kick over the traces garners popular support. The individual rights of those who would impose upon themselves a force greater than they to safeguard against their own weaknesses means nothing.

During Soviet times, dissidents stated that the underlying attitude of authorities was that they didn’t really care if you believed their lie or not, so long as you knuckled under to their power to define reality. Declaring the Psalm extremist—“The righteous ones will inherit the earth and they will live in it forever”—is an example of the pattern reasserting itself: “Yes, it is ridiculous, but who cares? It is what we say it is.”

In the West it is still deemed necessary to believe the lie—that the “offenses” of the people who endeavor to represent God are the objection, and not God himself. That can be expected to change. The offenses are blown up and misrepresented, but they are not, in most cases, untrue. They are, however, not the issues to watch. The issues to watch are those relating to God’s purpose to establish an earth in which righteousness prevails.

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Preaching Where it’s Not Allowed

I wasn’t 30 seconds into my presentation when the householder told me I wasn’t allowed to be there. Wasn’t I? There were no signs to that effect.

I seldom pay attention to whether I am allowed or not. Surely an offer to “read a scripture, you tell me what you think, and I’m gone”—should not trigger a response too ballistic—and this is what I mostly do. I have even observed, right before a “No Soliciting” sign*, that I did indeed notice it and “was a little concerned that you might think it applied to me. It doesn’t, but you might think that it does.” It is simply to clarify—no intent to argue.

You don’t stay where you’re not wanted. Of course, off I will go, but not with my tail between my legs, as though admitting that I had been up to no good. I am not up to no good. I am up to good, and I like when that is the impression that remains.

I can usually parry aside with good nature such remarks like not being allowed—but in this case the woman just got madder and madder. So I turned to go with my tail between my legs, when my companion said: “You do know that we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, right?” I braced for the conflagration set by his pouring gas on the fire.

Companions don’t always behave like the silhouetted figures of the demonstrations, you know. There was even one companion, long ago, who would so reliably trip me up with completely irrelevant interjections—just about nail that point on the resurrection, and he would say: “What about that Trinity?”—that on approaching one return visit I said: “I don’t want you to say anything except: ‘I agree.’” Instantly I was filled with remorse, for he is on my team, after all, but I needn’t have feared. He took it as a great joke—he knows how he is—and throughout the afternoon he happily parroted: “I don’t want you to say anything except: ‘I agree.’”

My present companion then added for the irate householder’s benefit that “the U.S. Supreme Court has guaranteed our right to preach door to door,” and I braced for the nuclear detonation that he had set off. I mean, there is such a thing as a proper time and a place.

To my surprise, however, he had said exactly the right thing. It turned out that this person had nothing at all against Jehovah’s Witnesses—she admired them. What she was cranked up about was that she, too, wanted to go door to door in behalf of her church for some upcoming event and the neighborhood association had told her that she could not—it wasn’t “allowed.” She didn’t know why it should not be allowed. It should be, she thought, but it was not. Jehovah’s Witnesses do it, she said to the neighborhood chief, and the reply that they should not either. So that’s what she was upset with—that we were doing it, but she could not.

I told her that she should. After all, who was she going to listen to—the judge of the entire inhabited earth, or the street boss? If you truly do have what you think is good news, you don’t just sit on it, Jesus said. You put your lamp right up there on the lamp stand so that others can benefit from it—who cares if the street boss would take it down? A “No Trespassing” sign on someone’s own home is a sign to respect—you do not violate those—but not so with just the directive of a third party unless there is unmistakable evidence that the householder is in accord with it.

This particular neighborhood chief didn’t even care. She had told the woman: “Celeste, if I don’t know about it, then there is no problem.” She has enough things to do rather than enforce some stupid directive that she doesn’t care about anyway.

Our conversation became downright pleasant and extended much longer than I had ever intended. She was easily drawn out about her own principles, and she described in some detail how she put herself out on behalf of others—in the case of one alcoholic neighbor, seemingly whether that was desired or not—I mean, it was almost to the point of stalking. Nonetheless, she revealed a good motive. I told her that she was plainly a person with a good conscience, and that she should listen to it more—don’t be bullied into submission by some neighborhood boss who didn’t care anyway. But she said that her conscience told her she had to obey the rules. Sigh....and people say we are the ones unable to think for ourselves.

I’ll call back, this time with my wife. How will it turn out? Will it be a relationship to build upon or will she revert to saying that I am not allowed?

........

*Do not answer: “We’re not soliciting,” if accused of such. I mean, say it if you like, but don’t forget to wave the red flag before the bull. Half the time, you are wrong, anyway, because soliciting goes beyond dealing with money—if it was confined to that we’d be fine every time. Even asking for an opinion is technically soliciting, though not everyone has that in mind. It is one reason that I simply begin with the offer to read a scripture—I don’t know how anyone can get soliciting out of that. What you can say about soliciting is: “I’ll make sure not to do that.” Just don’t get in anyone’s face—why would anybody want to behave that way?

 

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Atop Wolf Mountain - Smyrna NY

Your first impression of Wolf Mountain is that it really is a mountain. This may not be obvious at first—my friend and I arrived 20 minutes before opening time, and the only thing that was obvious was that we were in the middle of nowhere  a few miles outside of Smyrna, NY. When opening time came, the keeper did not drive up from outside as I has supposed she would, but she descended from within, leaving one to suppose that she had slept with the wolves.

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Follow her through the gate, up into the compound and notice the sign advising you to drive slow up the dirt road. Unless you have 4-wheel drive (we did not), you cannot drive any other way.

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After taking in that you are really up there, the second thing that you notice is that these people are truly serious about their wolves. Were a visitor to fall into an enclosure, it might not be as it was with Harambe, the Cincinnati gorilla—the sharpshooter might take you out instead, sparing the wolf. A sign at the entrance demands attention—if you annoy the wolves in any way, you will be asked to leave. If you refuse, staff will call the police.

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Well, they wont get any trouble from my companion, who is pushing 90, and who—alas!—has declared that this is his last major excursion—he had to stop and rest a few times this time around. He is such a nut about wolves that his home congregation has named him “Wolfman.” His love of wolves extends to all canines. When making return visits, the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do, he forgets the names of the people but never their dog. “Let’s go pay a call on where Prince lives,” he will say—a partiality that generally gets him farther than if he had remembered the people.

It is on his account that I have made the trip. I came across the closed facility months ago and thought it was something that he might like. It turned out that he knew all about it, but had never been there. I thought that he might decimate the gift shop halfway through the tour, but he showed admirable restraint. So many people have given him stuffed wolf toys, wolf attire, and the like that he barely has room to move where he lives. He was mildly disappointed with the refuge, for he had watched many YouTube videos of snuggling with the wolves and had imagined himself doing the same.

Our guide was leading his first-time-ever group. He was a graduate of the nearby forestry school in Syracuse and his goal is to one day enter the National  Park Service. For now, he is paying off some bills running a landscaping crew, and he volunteers here at Wolf Mountain. The wolves are getting acclimated to him—they notice right away anyone new, and they notice when anyone is on the grounds after hours, which are fairly limited.

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Staff regards each wolf as family. There are placards introducing each individual, and upon leaving, one encounters a group goodbye from them.

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The owner, like Wolfman, is essentially a wolf nut, who devotes all his energy to his wolf sanctuary. It is privately funded—that is, mostly not at all, other than admission fees and donations of road kill for food. He ventures out to buy 500 pounds of chicken legs per month for the animals. He welcomes donations of chicken, ground deer meat, deer hearts and liver, buffalo, elk, and pork hearts. He does not want woodchuck, birds, innards from slaughtered animals, or wild game not legally obtained. He is also a Native American, and a side theme of the place is preserving Native American culture.

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Oddly, Wolfman, whose father died before he was born, believed and told one and all throughout his life that he was a Native American of the Mohawk tribe. His Inuit appearance easily gives that impression, so it was questioned by nobody. In his later years he took one of those ancestry DNA tests and discovered that he had not a drop of Indian blood in him!—he was mostly Swedish. The revelation came a little late to turn around a lifelong affinity for Native American ways, but even in his heyday he had not taken personally the atrocities done to “his” people—it was just one more example of man’s inhumanity to man, and there were hundreds of examples.

The American Zoo Association decrees that there should be a minimum of 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. Wolf Mountain easily exceeds that, said our guide. I didn’t know about such a rule, nor did the guide know when it had been implemented (which would not affect Wolf Mountain, anyway, since it is independent of that body) but it led to my remark, agreed to by all those of my age, that zoos used to be jails for animals and that now they are much less that way.

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At the Oneida Community Museum / Bed n Breakfast

If you brought a woman into your tiny bedroom at the Oneida Community, no one would raise an eyebrow. If you brought her in the next night, they would. But if you replaced her with another that second night, they would not.

This is because they did the “complex marriage” thing at that socialist community where they believed in sharing all things equally—even each other. It was “selfish” to focus on a single mate. Traditional marriage was a “slaveholding position” toward women, wrote the founder, John Noyes.

Furthermore, everyone knew just who you brought into your bedroom at night. It was their business to know. The tiny bedrooms all opened up, on upper and lower level, off the joint living room areas. Thus, the architecture of the mansion—enlarged several times as the group prospered—served to prod conformance to group norms.

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Oneida was a Bible-believing community (believe it or not) that adhered to a doctrine called “perfectionism” and drew great authority from the Matthew 22:29-30: “In the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but they are as angels in heaven.’” He was replying to the Sadducees who had been trying to trap him.

Taking that “resurrection” to mean heaven, Noyes figured that the one man-one woman marriage model would be obsolete at that place and time, and he determined that the start date was 70 CE, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple. Christ had returned just after that time, he calculated. Human absolution was thereby accomplished, and faith in this doctrine made Noyes theologically perfect, to benefit whoever’s life he touch by his “hastening the coming of heaven to earth.”

Our docent was a retired professor at the community college who had taught sociology. He came to Oneida to investigate an example of a unique marital type—there can be only for, he said, one man/one woman, one man/many women (common), one woman/many men (rare, though there were some, he said), and many men/many woman. He determined that after he retired, he would serve here as a guide, and here he was.

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Those of the Onieda Community were not the only ones to take defining guidance from that passage of Matthew 22, a passage recorded in all three synoptic gospels. The Shakers thought it meant no sex at all in the here and now—it is not surprising that they died out. Somehow the Mormons took from it that a man might take many wives. My own people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) put it not only yet in the future, but also on the earth. Death ends the marriage bond in this system of things. In the new system, it apparently does not pick up where it left off.

The novel living arrangement prevailed only through the tenure of the founder, John Noyes, whose initial plans to practice law had been diverted into religious beliefs. He had attended Yale Divinity College, till embracing “perfectionism” made him an oddity there, so he founded a community based on the new teaching. Toward the end of his tenure, “apostates” sprung up who wanted monogamy, the exact reverse of what has happened in modern times, where monogamy gradually loses out to a Woodstock-inspired life of no rules.

The mirror image is far from correct, our guide pointed out, for the Noyes community was hardly one of no rules—there were myriad rules. Your sexual tryst in the tiny bedroom (I am certain that they were not thought of as “trysts”) was only to last two hours—that way you didn’t get selfishly attached to one person—after which it was well if you rejoined the group, and it was not to reach the point of male climax—“male contraception,” it was called, and booklets explaining it and other practices were put out by the community.

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When you ask the docent how Noyes came to terms with (it is even worse if you say “got around,” as I did) Jesus’ words that a man should stick to his wife so as to become “one flesh,” he braces himself for a barrage of criticism from a religionist, as though he himself is suspected of promoting a lifestyle of shacking up like at Woodstock. I know this because I asked him. I asked him because I thought I saw him so bracing. Nobody knows any scripture today, and if you do, he figures it might mean trouble. However, I told him that with me, it did not.

I even toyed with opening this post by telling of my fictional friend Tom Pearlsnswine, (from “Tom Irregardless and Me,”)  and relating how I had decided to leave him in my home town, since he had embarrassed me at the Ithaca Earth Museum, loudly muttering about the “wiles of Satan” upon seeing all the fossils, and if he carried on like that there, what might he do HERE—I didn’t want to find out, so I cut him loose. In fact, I visited Oneida with my friend, and not my wife, who would break both my arms if I pulled such a stunt as was done here. She would have broken both my legs as well had I told her it was due to my interpretation of the Bible.

It is good that I did leave Pearlsnswine home, for he would not only have muttered about “orgies” here, but also about the fossils. Noyes’s community accepted evolution. Their perfectionism extended to perfecting the intellect, not just the spirit, and they assumed that higher education would do the trick. The mansion included a 1300-volume library, as great a collection of accomplished authors as might be found anywhere in the region. They promoted study and education, and if you mastered any given subject, you were encouraged to teach it.

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The townspeople thought them odd, but not especially objectionable. In the words of Hilton V. Noyes (born 1871), they enjoyed a “priceless reputation for honesty and fair dealing in business, a tradition of manufacturing only the highest quality goods, and a habit of fair dealing and human sympathy amongst themselves, and in their relations to employees and neighbors.” The current museum features a room dedicated to the community’s children, which Hilton would have been one of, and it connects to one dedicated to its one-time greatest product—steel animal traps—a placing that the docent thought odd.

The clergy were less tolerant than the general populace. From time to time they launched campaigns against the group. Adultery was illegal at the time, so they had plenty of fodder to work with. It was one rumored pogrom, which turned out to be a false alarm, that caused founder Noyes to flee into Canada, never to return.  From there he sought to guide his group through epistle, as though the apostle Paul, but with limited success.

Townspeople of today certainly would have been up in arms, not so much at the group marriage—that would be accepted today—but at the initiation of children into the world of sex by adult members of the community. “Older members, more advanced toward perfection, could impart their spirituality to younger members through intimate association. Young people were encouraged to have sex with their elders (ascend in fellowship) and discouraged from forming exclusive attachments to one another,” reads an interpretive poster.

Boys were introduced to it by post menopausal women, so that if they took some time to master withdrawal, it would not bring consequences. Girls were initiated into it by—wait for it—Noyes himself, so that the modern person assumes that the entire “cult” was started for just that purpose. But there appears no murmuring about it at the time, nor do docents of the here and now cluck their tongues over it. They simply relate the history. The present spectrum of pedophilia ranges from, at the lower end, sex with prepubescent children, roundly condemned by all as wicked, to, at the upper end, sex with underage teens, which increasingly becomes a matter of enforcing changing societal norms. If we are to extend the current rules into the not distant past, we must label Lennon and McCartney, the ones who sung: “Well, she was just 17. You know what I mean,” as pedophiles.

“When the Oneida Community felt prosperous enough to have children, they instituted the world’s first eugenics or “stirpticulture” program,” another poster reads. “Their idea was to breed spiritually elevated people who would benefit humankind. 41 mothers and 40 fathers had about 60 children, called stirpcults, who grew up in the mansion.” You had to apply to produce such children, and it caused hard feelings, since only 2/3 of all applications were approved. Moreover, your proposed  child might be approved with the mother you chose, but not with you as father if you were judged as not quite measuring up.

The community practiced “mutual criticism.” You might be “invited” to the stage of the home’s auditorium where the community would tell you everything that was wrong with you, confident that you would thereby improve. When certain ones proved to have too thin skin, the entire group was replaced by committees of 6-8 seniors to impart their degree of perfection to you—ostensibly based upon recognized spiritual values, but probably (the docent agreed with me on this) mixed in with a good amount of just plain old meddling.

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“Glance at a photograph of the assembled members of the Oneida Community and you will intuit the charisma of the leader [right foreground] who dominated the group’s history,” writes Deloris Hayden.

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One might imagine that leaving the group was all but impossible, but in fact, it was not at all traumatic. If one chose to do so, he or she left with he good will of the group and an equal share of wealth, the same as they had once pooled what they had. John sent his oldest boy to Yale Medical School, and when he returned he didn’t believe in God—at best he returned agnostic. His second son left to make his way in business, and when he returned, he proved to be the group’s salvation, for they had floundered with the exile of their chief to Canada.

After Noyes died in that country, certain ones of the group tried to contact him through spiritism (with no more success than when Saul tried to contact Samuel that way). When the docent told us this, I asked him if he knew the two sisters from Rochester, and he said the name before I could—the Fox sisters, who were well known for spiritism. I then asked him if he knew about Nelson Barbour, the publisher/preacher who briefly teamed up with the commonly credited founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, but he did not. Central New York at the time was known as the “burnt over district,” for the number of zealous preachers criss-crossing the region.

The second returning son, Pierrepont, the one who had tried his business hand in New York City, took a laissez faire attitude toward religion, but preserved the socialist orientation of the group, an orientation which was thought to be supported by the early doings of first-century Christianity: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life…all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts 2:44-47) The group took as permanent what most have recognized as a temporary arrangement to accommodate visitors during that first Christian Pentecost.

Pierrepont determined to throw the group’s industry into spoon-making. He changed the name Oneida Community to that of a business corporation, Oneida Community, Ltd, and by 1910, silverware had become the group’s main product. That business continued into the early twenty-first century, and I well recall the company’s advertising. “We were descendants of Oneida perfectionists and were attempting to carry into a modern setting as much of the principles taught by our forebears as seemed to us practicable,” Pierrepont would write later. “No other American communism enjoyed the economic success [and] approached in prosperity or in significance the adventure of the perfectionists of central New York,” writes Whitney R Cross, in “The Burnt-Over District.”

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I know several persons with the Noyes surname, but they couldn’t be the same family, I told the guide. “Don’t be too sure of that,” he replied—it was a very large family. The more I think about it, the more I think he may be right. I mean, this was a Bible-studying non-mainstream group, and so are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can easily picture the descendants of the first opting for the second. Some of those descendants live there today, for the connected mansions are now museum, community center, bed and breakfast, and apartments.

The notion of living in such an apartment sort of appeals to me, but my friend said that for him it was not that way, for it seemed too institutional. Well, it is that, I guess, but I like the notion of being somewhere where so much is going on—unexpectedly as we toured we would encounter roped off areas that were residential and you were asked not to cross that barrier, but there was no reason that they could not cross over to the common area, where there was a comfortable library, well-lit due to overhead skylights, and it was connected by a small joint room to the original library of 1300 volumes. Other rooms are employed as a B&B, something I had not known or I might have stayed there instead of the hotel in Utica. It is also a community center hosting events such as weddings.

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Introduction to Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

In March of 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were invited just once by their parent organization to write Vladimir Putin. Within two months, up to 49 million letters had been sent. They weren’t all to Putin—several other officials were identified, but his was the most recognizable name.

On the surface, the campaign was a failure. Opposition, which would ultimately lead to an April 20th Supreme Court ban of the religious organization, continued unabated. It has only intensified since. Still, Witnesses felt the heat on their Russian brothers and sisters as though it were on them. They longed to do something and here was something tangible they could do. By taking part, they demonstrated to all that there is one nation on earth in which every citizen cares deeply for every other. They fortified their Russian counterparts, who are now in the eye of the storm.

Throughout Soviet times, from the eradication of the czar to 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia. Witnesses who survived the tribulation of Nazi Germany found, if they happened to live in the wrong part of the country, that they had simply swapped one set of persecutors for another. Perestroika and Glasnost set them free in Russia during 1991, but their time of freedom has lasted only until 2017, and the present laws are harsher than those of Soviet days.

Books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can a Witness—they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Three reasons account for this drought. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books. Pathways of publicizing their faith are already well established and few think to go beyond them—why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say? Even blogs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are relatively few. There is also a sense of not wanting to compete with an official channel.

What books Witnesses do author are usually of specialized subsets – say, of endurance under persecution, contributions to civil liberty through national supreme courts, or the topic of blood transfusion. What this writer attempts here he has seen no Witness do before. If they have, he is not aware of it. Non-Witnesses can write of the nuts and bolts of the movement to destroy the faith’s infrastructure in Russia. But they will miss the subtleties of the motive for doing so. They will miss totally the atmosphere impelling every Witness in the world to write relevant Russian officials. They will miss what the rank and file felt as they followed the ups and downs of breaking events.

Enough of “this writer.” Portions of this book are deeply personal statements which will resonate with all Witnesses, and I do not want to calcify them with references to “this writer.” Though there are accepted rules of style and format, ultimately the only rule that counts is what you can get away with. Accordingly, I’ll flip back and forth with the self-references—sometimes “this writer” and sometimes just “I.”

As might be surmised, I am not impartial. This book will not be impartial. I am a 40-plus year member of the faith. While not ignoring other points of view, I will consistently present matters as Witnesses see them. Like most Witnesses, my year-long process of introduction to and eventual embrace of the faith I liken to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have put the pieces together and have reproduced the mountain vista on the box cover, you have a strong basis for faith not easily shaken.

You are not immune, however, to the discouragements of life that afflict everyone. Nor are you immune to your own shortcomings, or to trials your newfound faith brings you. Ultimately, you will lose the game, because the one of long ago that you strive to follow also lost the game—executed after preaching the gospel for just a few short years. But your loss is illusory. It will be transformed into a win, just as the master’s loss was.

The life Jehovah’s Witnesses have their eye upon they would call “the true life” of 1 Timothy 6:19. The true life is not the present reality of an earth carved up into endless squabbling factions, each demanding the allegiance of those within its jurisdiction. It is the life that commences after the end of that system. Contrary to popular view, the Bible does not present a world gradually transformed by Christian values. It presents a world increasingly opposed to them that is ultimately replaced by God for that reason. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” says the familiar prayer. No one would say that God’s will is not done in heaven—surely things must run smoothly up there. But neither would anyone say that his will is done on earth today. There are glimmers of it here and there, to be sure, but no one would ever say that it predominates. It is a present tragedy that is remedied when his “kingdom comes.”

A pitfall I had to face early on involved taking care that whatever I wrote would not be banned in Russia as extremist. Of course, it is possible that the whole book might be—the present federal list of writings designated extremist includes, at present, over 4000 works,1 but why ensure the fate by quoting from works already on the list? Most Watchtower-published material the Russian government has declared extremist. Even the children’s books are so labeled. Even the Bible translation they use is so labeled. Even their website is extremist and off limits. If you are in Russia, you cannot read it. If you are anywhere else, you are okay.

I did not immediately realize the ramifications of this. In my early drafts I linked a few times to the website. Must I remove those links? Here and there I quoted some Watchtower publications. Must I rewrite those portions? It wasn’t my only option. Early on, I imagined writing two versions: the first as I pleased and the second with offending passages redacted, highlighting the silliness of it all, for the passages are all innocuous. The cover of the public work would carry a caution at the bottom: “Warning – Do Not Read in Russia” and the cover of the redacted would be typewritten and without image, as one might expect of an underground work. In the end I settled upon a mix of both. There are two versions with identical covers, one warning in an orange circle to not read it in Russia, the other “safe” version with orange circle saying it is okay. Watch those orange circles. Make sure you are reading the right book. You do not want to be thrown into the hoosegow.2

I did realize from the onset that the New World Translation would have to go. Even a quote from it is enough to designate a book as extremist. Even, in theory, Jesus’s words about how one must love one’s enemy. Such quoting might not actually draw the wrath of officials, but it is difficult to know for sure. Russia is a land of Kafkaesque contradictions in matters of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses are declared extremists in Russia and shortly thereafter Putin inducts one into the Order of Parental Glory as a fine family example. The mischievous mind envisions him awarding an ISIS family the next week—for they and Jehovah’s Witnesses are both declared extremists under the same law—with grenades hanging from belts. A town official honors a Witness for cleaning up the public park. Shortly thereafter that Witness is carted off to jail for conducting a Bible study meeting. One envisions that same official next week honoring ISIS for cleaning the park and then being blown to bits by a mine left behind while strolling the grounds, for they are extremists.

The only safe assumption is that there are, at present, four approved faiths in land of the bear—just four—that’s more than enough, the government decrees. For the religiously inclined who favor the Christian brand, there is the Russian Orthodox Church. Going anywhere else is dicey. Church protodeacon Andrey Kuraev is no friend of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he verbally savages them, “but blaming them for extremism is not even funny. This decision cannot be called anything other than glaringly idiotic: to accuse pacifists, uncompromisingly non-resisting Tolstoyans of extremism!”3  

“Prohibiting is irrational,” he continues. “And certainly not with the arguments that were given (or, on the contrary, not given). Especially since there haven’t been any intelligible arguments quoted yet. By the way, there are a number of these forbidden books in my house, [uh oh] I did not notice anything extremist there. So, and now I have to arrest? Yes, they have harsh statements about other religions. It’s true. But the same Supreme Court of the Russian Federation a few years ago decided that criticism of religions is not a crime.” (brackets mine)

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

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

Kuraev goes on to observe that “our Christian authors, including sacred, ancient, authoritative, have extremely negative statements [about other religions].” And he points to Jesus’ own words about the founders of other religions: “All who [have] come before me are thieves and robbers.”4 He continues: “The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation seriously compromised this decision. The belief that you can trust the judicial system of Russia, even at the highest level, is shattered.” He fears lest “the ax once clamped against the Jehovah’s Witnesses does not attack us with the same arguments.” He worries the Court’s decision “shakes the boat, represents power in an evil and unpredictable manner and thereby creates unnecessary distrust and fear in society.”5   

Since there are but four approved religious channels, Jehovah’s Witnesses are plainly not the only minority faith to experience persecution in Russia. All of them do to some extent. Witnesses are in the vanguard; they are the first to have their organization outlawed, but many are shaking in their boots that they will be next. They watch things unfold. Had Witnesses prevailed in the Court, they would have claimed equal victory. They mostly held back, not challenging the government prosecutor’s assertion that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. The definition of cult has changed greatly over the years. It once had a precise meaning. These days it has been expanded to include people we don’t like, just as news we don’t like is fake news. Gone are the days when nefarious deeds and the withdrawal from life under the spell of a charismatic leader sufficed to be labeled a cult. Approaching are the days where simply standing against contemporary trends and mindsets is enough. The entire New Testament could be reinterpreted as the writings of a cult by this definition, for it is not warm and fuzzy toward the popular culture of its day, and those who embraced the new faith it espoused withdrew from that culture.

If they withdrew from it then, they withdraw from it now. This is a point of much concern to Witness detractors, as will be seen. After a period of investigation into the Bible, seldom lasting under a year, Jehovah’s Witnesses come to feel they have found something better, and most immerse themselves in it, sometimes to the point of losing touch almost completely with the day-to-day political concerns that preoccupy others.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, which claimed the lives of 2,753 persons, teams of Jehovah’s Witnesses, organized at the branch level, visited the scene. Branch member Gregory Bowman relates: “When we were ultimately granted access to ground zero, and we started encountering the first responders, we let them know how much we appreciated their hard work, and that they had a skill-set that we didn’t have, but yet our skill-set was trying to offer comfort to them. We shared a scripture with them. Immediately we could tell that that was something that caused emotion to rise up in them right away. And they expressed great appreciation for that. One of the beautiful things about the scriptures is they’re calming, soothing, comforting, and the scriptures did not let down the workers that were there at ground zero either.”6

Likely, the representatives of many denominations took action to comfort people. But what could they say? “Out of evil, comes good”? “God works in mysterious ways”? “He (she) is in a better place, now”? Witnesses would never say any of these things. It is from such banal and insensitive remarks that atheists are born. I like the expression “skill-set,” both applied to the first responders and then to the Witness volunteers themselves. The “skill-set” of Jehovah’s Witnesses is an accurate understanding of the Scriptures and a cultivated desire and ability to share it. An accurate understanding of the Bible makes unnecessary the trite sayings above. In fact, it eviscerates them, and offers something far better, as will be seen.

This writer, too, regards himself as having a skill-set, and finds, to his surprise, that it is a somewhat unusual one. Newsmakers have little insight into the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In turn, Jehovah’s Witnesses have little insight into the political doings of this world. In a spiritual sense, they would say that they do have insight, but that is not the sense that that world itself is most familiar with. I am passably familiar with both and can build a bridge between them. It will not be a literal bridge that people can cross in either direction, but it will be a bridge of joint understanding, which can hardly be a bad thing. Even in the current climate of distrust bordering on hostility between the United States and Russia, it is generally conceded that understanding the other’s point of view is an asset, not a liability.

Choice of a substitute Bible translation was not easy. Perhaps it should have been. Any of them will do. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are accustomed to the divine name appearing in the Bible. They are frustrated by its banishment. They think that if an author puts his name in his work 7,000 times, it implies strongly that he wants it there and may not be happy with any who would hide it. They choke when they watch The Ten Commandments movie, and the Israelites are distraught early on because they do not even know their God’s name but later they are as pleased as punch because they have finally learned it—it is “the LORD.”

There are some translations that render the divine name whenever called for as Jehovah or the more Hebrew-flavored Yahweh.7 But most of these translations are old and afflicted with archaic language. Many translations, even the Russian synodal one, employ Jehovah in a few token places. The newer ones, though, are apt to remove it completely, substituting LORD in all capitals to distinguish it from “Lord.” The first verse of the 110th Psalm contains both LORD and Lord, and this writer, in his own house-to-house ministry, will sometimes ask the householder if he knows why that is.

The house Bible for this work shall be the New American Bible – Revised Edition, a Catholic translation. I’ll just have to get used to reading The LORD everywhere. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” Jesus begins. What is that name? The LORD. I’ll just have to get used to it. The New American Bible came in second place in the Jason Beduhn book Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. He liked that it was free of what he called the “Protestant’s burden.”8 The New World Translation is a relatively recent work, its first complete edition appearing in 1961. If it dictates something different from the Witnesses’ current practice, the latter can simply change, as they did recently with the specifics of appointing elders.9 If the Catholics encounter the same problem, they don’t have to change. They have long held that Scripture is not the final word; it can be superseded by saints or tradition. But the Protestants are in a tough spot. They insist they follow the Bible in every detail, and yet it was written long ago. There is therefore always a powerful temptation to translate in a manner that accords with current practices, even if that translation is “stretching it.” Beduhn states such translators “all approached the text [John 1:1] already believing certain things about the Word…and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs.”10 (brackets mine)

If the New American Bible is Beduhn’s second choice, why do I here employ the revised edition of it? That was largely an accident. I had written some time before I noticed it and decided to let it slide, on the theory that a revised version of anything is usually an improvement over the original. I also decided not to place scriptural citations of that, or any translation, within the paragraphs, as though in a Watchtower article, but in endnotes. First, this book is not a Watchtower publication, and I wished to avoid any confusion. Second, many readers will be non-religious—why should they think they are being preached to? Third, in these days of search engines, it is an easy matter to enter any passage and find its source. 

I am a rank-and-file member of Jehovah’s Witness and not an insider. I am a foot soldier. I am a good foot soldier, and loyal. I have been around for a while and have even served as a congregation elder, but otherwise I am nothing special.  But I am a foot soldier who can write well, especially if one is not fussy. Foot soldiers can tell splendid history when they get around to it, but one must cut them some slack. This foot soldier looks at the established rules of scholarly writing and they seem burdensome to him, like Goliath’s armor, so he sets them aside and hopes for the best with his sling. I will even accept the derisive title given the apostle Paul by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who wanted to know “what is this scavenger trying to say?” Literally the word means “seed-picker” and it denotes a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there.11 That is all I am doing. That is all most writers do. 

I am not even a thinker, really, at least, not a rigorous one. I am like Pastor Inqvist’s substitute preacher, specifically selected for his dullness, because the pastor does not want to return from vacation and see the disappointment in the eyes of his flock.12 So he chooses a substitute that they will listen to and say: “I’ll bet he’s good in the shepherding work.” Then he will come to their house and they will note the lack of eye contact and say: “Maybe he’s a scholar.” I am not a scholar either. Leave the deep thinking to others—I don’t trust it anyway—but I do have a certain knack for refocusing and crafting words in ways not typically crafted. It will have to do. Only a foot soldier can relate the emotions prevailing as every Witness in the world wrote Russia.

I know no “higher ups” and do not want to know any. As soon as you know some higher-ups you will know some who have erred because they are human. As soon as you know some who have erred because they are human, you have a media that wants to know what those errors are. As soon as the media knows what those errors are, they have but one solution: Fire them! Isn’t that why nobody knows anything today? At the first misstep it is “Off with his head!” Better not to know them and focus my writing as a foot soldier with 40 years of service. I’ll present the facts as persuasively as I can and if readers don’t believe me, they don’t believe me. In matters of religion, as in most other matters, people decide up front anyway, and choose from the available facts afterwards to fit their viewpoint. It is a sign of the times we live in and is evident everywhere.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” but perhaps it has not all been collected in one place. No non-Witness can write with the same passion as me on this topic. If they could they would become Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. The overall topic does not relegate itself to side dish status. It ever pushes to be the main course. “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,” says Hebrews. Furthermore, “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”13 One either embraces such news or runs away; it is very hard to be a neutral bystander. Strangely, in today’s atmosphere of critical thinking, the moment people embrace a cause, they are considered biased, and their testimony is looked at askance. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this effectively means that their detractors get to write much of the story, since strictly neutral persons are uncommon.

My rank-and-file qualifications are high enough to know the Witness organization well. It is the most transparent organization in the world, and if you are a member who knows one Witness, you know a thousand. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no clergy. Anyone doing anything was once an ordinary congregation member as yourself and you will have kept in touch with many of them and met many more. They all talk. Watchtower literature is extensive and easily accessible, especially to anyone who has collected it, as most Witnesses have, or did, until electronic formats made bulky bound volumes collections less desirable; they have been called (by me) “the family gods” of the Abrahamic variety, in that they were cumbersome, never discarded, but seldom resorted to (at least in my case—doubtless there were better students). Online resources and computer CD’s are just so much more compact and convenient.

All of the preceding makes for great transparency. Individual Witnesses go directly to doors to present their faith. What could be more transparent than that? But it is not necessarily the transparency that the world’s media would like to see. The latter likes to send reporters to cross-examine those “at the top.” The Watchtower declines such requests and contents itself with a Newsroom tab on the web page. The way to find out about the Witnesses is to ask the next one who stops by. But news outlets often hesitate to do this for fear that those Witnesses may (gulp) witness to them. The lazier ones copy material about them off the Internet authored by those who don’t like them. Even the expert witness that the Russian Supreme Court relied upon is known to do this.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are fundamentalists in some respects and quite liberal in others. They are not easy to pigeonhole. Zealous advocates for and dissenters against them serve to further muddy the waters. Witnesses are Bible-believing, yet they acknowledge that the creative days of Genesis are “epochs,” the time preceding them “aeons.”14 They are socially conservative, yet they remain entirely apolitical—their standards are theirs alone and they do not attempt to force them through legislation upon others. Joel Engardio, a journalist and human rights advocate, who was raised a Witness, says they provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarizing ideas can yet coexist peacefully.15

They look to the Book for direction. If you grant that there is an interested God, there is no finer way for him to communicate with humans than through a widespread book, and no book is more widespread than the Bible. The more familiar you are with it, the better off you are. Is such-and-such in the Book or isn’t it? The trouble with religion by revelation is that you invariably come across people who have also experienced revelation, but their revelation is different from yours, and then there is no way of ever getting to the bottom of it. To be sure, endless people muddy the waters, offering this or that interpretation of verse. Some would paint the book as unreliable on that account, and others as outdated. But at least there is always something to go on with a book, and not just “God told me so.”

Knowledge of the Book may be quite surface with many of these ones, extending little beyond some formula texts to argue this or that doctrine. I once worked with an agnostic woman who knew that God’s name was Jehovah because she had seen an Indiana Jones movie. She knew that God’s original purpose was for the earth to be a paradise because she had seen the film Dogma. Though she had never been in a church, she knew more about God, from two movies, than do the majority of regular churchgoers.

Nonetheless, there will be little discussion of doctrine here—only so much as to set up the occasional punch line. Most of it must be read between the lines and may not reliably be found even there. Suffice it to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are generally credited with knowing their Bibles well and they think that most teachings of the traditional churches are wrong. Seeking to obscure the fact that President Eisenhower was raised a Witness, as though wistfully envisioning a standing tree without roots, a family member recalls that “Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance. Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted,” since they “lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion.”16 Yep. It is usually true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They usually know it “from one end to the other.”

Almost all brands of religion respect Jesus. He is also a common denominator for the religious and non-religious. Mark Twain savaged religion. He savaged the Bible. “He was a preacher, too… and never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too!” one of his fictional characters (Huck Finn) says. But Twain never had an unkind word for Jesus as related in the gospels. To the contrary, the problem in his eyes was that nobody followed him.17 This is among the reasons the book The 100, by Michael Hart, rates Mohammed before Jesus in importance. Both are founders of religions, but Mohammed’s followers, by and large, follow him and Jesus’ followers, by and large, do not.18 “There has been only one Christian. They caught and crucified him–early,” Mark Twain says.

Therefore, start with the words of Jesus and you are usually on firm ground. Hang with the gospels long enough and you begin to speak as he does. You begin to think the heart is much more important than the head, even though leadership in the greater world today is invariably presumed to be a matter for the head, and only the most educated need apply. Jesus addresses the heart, spinning parables not readily grasped by head alone, and therefore dismissed by ones of little heart as unworthy of their time. In elevating heart over head, you may trigger the scorn of those who would reverse the order. They might feign pity over how you must be suffering massive cognitive dissonance to be so intransigent in the face of their mighty arguments.

Don’t let it bother you. If there was anything to cognitive dissonance, Americans would explode watching television pharmaceutical ads, with narrator insisting that you must have the stuff peddled and voiceover saying it may kill you. One way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to acknowledge that you don’t have to know everything. Another way is to acknowledge that you don’t have to know it now. There will always be some cognitive dissonance in searching for the human/divine interface, as we will be doing. Some people derive energy from debating, like a hurricane gathering strength over warm water. Step aside and let them drown in it. Jesus relied upon heart and common sense. Sometimes common sense turns out to be wrong and should be rejected, but never for the sole reason that it is “common.”

Some of my initial assumptions about Russia proved questionable. Others proved flat-out wrong. No matter. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not political people—some of them barely know that stuff exists. They are not experts on the issues that governments face nor their underlying philosophies. They don’t know much about the world of kings. If some initial assumptions prove inaccurate, they never said they knew about them in the first place. This book tells of our efforts to reach Russian officials as persons, not as government leaders. I like to think the best of people. Sometimes that turns out to be naïve. What I hope to do is capture the emotion, the hopes, and even the joys of those given an opportunity to identify with their “brothers” in a distant and different part of the world. This will be a human story, not a political one. It will be an account not only of what happened, but of what people thought was happening.

What Witnesses know most about government is that they’d like for them to leave them be. “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity,” writes the apostle Paul to Timothy. “Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose.” Okay. Got it. Jehovah’s Witnesses will not make trouble as they lead their quiet, tranquil lives of devotion and dignity. But sometimes trouble searches them out.19

Several have thought me too charitable in my assessment of Russian officials, to which I acknowledge that my assessment is to some extent built upon wishful thinking and a distaste for imputing motive. How can anyone know for sure? I am halfway around the world, immersed in a completely different culture. Modern life molds us to ignore fundamental principles of getting along that once were as common as dirt. Always impute good motives. If it turns out you are wrong, drop a notch and see if you can get your head around how the villain became a villain; sometimes that allows you to snatch a measure of victory from defeat. But if you accuse every foe from the outset of ill motive you have lost before you begin.

As far as I am concerned, Trump v Hillary is a godsend for the preacher of the gospel because it brings into stark relief 2 Timothy 3:1-5, that run-on list of negative traits: “There will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power.” It used to be that if you cited the passage and your listener didn’t agree it is fulfilled now more than ever, there was not much you could do about it; manifestly, it is subjective. These days its fulfillment is evident. It used to be that people would scream at each other till the cows come home over God/no God, medicine/alternative medicine, science/metaphysics or various other sideshows that could be ignored by the average person. But with Trump/hate Trump, almost everybody is drawn in and Two Timothy 320 becomes the defining year text for this entire system of things.

Even “truth” and “lies” have become subjective. Everyone has their own. It is as the Bible Book of Isaiah says. People say: “what is bad is good and what is good is bad.” It is not just true in spiritual matters. It is true in every aspect of life today: in politics, in philosophy, and in the general discussion of all things, whether slight or serious. Charles Manson’s greatest contribution to humanity, perhaps his only contribution, was to say: “Once upon a time, being crazy meant something. Nowadays, everyone is crazy.” This new normal adds a new relevance to Jesus words: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” an utterance always on the list of favorite Witness scriptures. “As a witness” is the best one can consistently hope for, a witness to another way of life in which people actually get along with one another.21

Let us not be too maudlin in telling this tale. We could be forgiven for doing so. The 56-year-old Witness chatting with friends who suffered a liquor bottle smashed over her head by someone screaming “You Jehovists are banned!” so that people nearby thought they had heard a shot – she may not laugh for a while.22 It may be some time before Dennis Christensen, the first modern Witness in Russia to be jailed for studying the Bible, will laugh. How funny can it be languishing in prison? though he actually did break into encouraging song at a video court appearance before the guards told him to shut up. But let us not sing the blues, much less “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”23 In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a happy people. Knock them down and they get back up. They laugh a lot. It should not be a great surprise as God himself is said to be happy. If he is, those who trust in him will also be.24

Christians are described as providing a theatrical spectacle to the world.25 It is theater enacted on countless front porches, which must suffice for the stage. Sometimes Witnesses get rave reviews. Sometimes they are booed off the stage. There is an element of comedy to it. “I can never get over a Christian’s “need” to save people,” one atheist told me derisively. It is a little funny, isn’t it? I played along and told him my psychiatrist had diagnosed in me just such a need, on the hunch that maybe he would play ball if he thought he was cooperating with science.

The verse I was suggesting that day, from Job, was one that can set the stage for many a discussion about suffering and why God permits it. “You that have understanding, hear me: far be it from God to do wickedness; far from the Almighty to do wrong!”26 I like that verse because some people think he does do wickedness. Others look at all that is transpiring and say: ‘I don’t think there is a God.’ An ensuing conversation can veer in so many directions. This particular stage featured a new twist: the householder was in a wheelchair. I had noted walking up the driveway two bumper stickers, “Born Right the First Time,” and “There are Death Squads in America – They Are Called Insurance Companies.” Now, I am not one to read too much into bumper stickers, but sometimes they tell it all. “You are here to tell me about suffering?” he hurled in my face. “No,” I answered. “I am here so that you can tell me.” You never know what will happen. The porches are stages. The door to door ministry is the show. Best not to be rigid in what you plan to say or do.

Let us also avoid any “clash of the titans” tone. Leonid Bershidsky writes in Bloomberg about the turmoil in Russia. He is a fine writer. He gets everything right. He has read Emily Baran’s book (more on that later) which everyone should read. He misses only the possible machinations of the rival church, which is not his specialty. But he cannot resist a dramatic flair at the end: “Russia has no more patience with openness and tolerance. Putin’s regime doesn’t care whether it passes any tests on that score. In a way, it’s as defiant as the Witnesses, and so far, it’s just as resilient. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been resilient for longer.”27 Such dramatization makes for more gripping a read. I do it myself. But Witnesses don’t carry on in this way. They are resilient, but they would not characterize themselves as defiant. They stay low-key. They are not the Hollywood version of The Bible in which Moses pops Pharaoh in the nose and gets the girl. They are the Bible’s own version of itself in which Moses squirms to avoid his commission because he is clumsy of speech and acquiesces only when he is told Aaron will be there to hold his hand.28  

Neither will we demonize Russian President Putin. He is head of a different type of government—a different type of “human rulership.”  I am a product of the West and I like it here. But if I were a product of the East I would no doubt like it there, too. Russian Witnesses (absent the persecution) are perfectly content within their country of origin and go out of their way to behave there. Often as one surveys news reports one reads statements to the effect that they love the people and culture and would prefer not to leave. They set themselves up as neither cheerleaders nor resisters of any form of government. “Tell us your rules for maintaining public order,” they say to the king, “and we will follow them.” The temptation to demonize officials is strong. Outright confiscation of the Watchtower branch facilities in St. Petersburg, which essentially means picking the pockets of modest and poor people the world over who donated toward it, provides such temptation. But let us not go there. All human governments are a mix of virtue and villainy. Let us not attempt to sort it out here.

Though unapologetically a Witness, I promise, more or less, not to take any cheap shots at Witness detractors. Cheap shots are in the eye of the beholder and there are intransigent opponents of the faith to whom anything short of a complete renunciation of beliefs will be a cheap shot. There is little I can do about that and I won’t try. But everyone else gets a fair shake and even the opponents themselves are not deliberately antagonized. My audience will vary from non-Witness to current Witness to former Witness. Roll with it if you can. The task is all the more challenging because I have not renounced sarcasm, “the language of the Devil,” as Thomas Carlyle called it. If Bershidsky cannot swear off the dramatic flourish, I cannot swear off the sarcasm. It may be the language of the Devil, but it is also the more stimulating, and ye (that is, me) of little willpower falls for it every time. But I do not want to be like the American celebrity who blurts out something blatantly partisan and thus antagonizes half his or her audience. I have endeavored to keep it under tight control. Expect nothing but joy and love around here, with minor caveats.

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

  1. “Inventing Extremists: The Impact of Russian Anti-Extremism Policies on Freedom of Religion or Belief,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, January 2018, 4
  2. ‘Hoosegow’ is American slang for ‘jail’ that might not be known outside America. It brings up connotations of the lawless Old West, and that seems to me an appropriate connotation when dealing with the possible detainment of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the grounds of extremism.
  3. Andrei Kuraev, “Prohibition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Undermines Trust in Court,” To Truth, a project of the Tomsk Information and Consulting Center on the problems of sects and occultism, April 25, 2017
  4. John 10:18
  5. Kruaev, “Prohibition of”
  6. “Refreshing Those Toiling and Loaded Down,” JW Broadcasting, a seven-minute video presented at congregation meeting the week of January 28, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwb_201705_4_VIDEO
  7. “Hebrew-flavored” because the work of Nehemia Gordon suggests the name was pronounced “Yehovah.” One who has worked as a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he and his research team have discovered hundreds of ancient documents with that complete pronunciation. See “The Original Hebrew Name of God Re-Discovered in 1,000 Bible Manuscripts,” Religion News Service, January 25, 2018, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.religionnews.com/2018/01/25/the-original-hebrew-name-of-god-re-discovered-in-1000-bible-manuscripts
  8. Jason Beduhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003) 163
  9. Per a letter from the Governing Body read to all congregations during 2014, where it was noted that traveling ministers of the first century directly appointed congregation elders and did not defer the job to the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem, citing verses as Acts 14:33 and the record of Titus and Timothy.
  10. Beduhn, Truth in, 124-125
  11. Acts 17:18
  12. Thanks to American humorist Garrison Keillor here. Pastor Inqvist and his Catholic counterpart, Father Emil, were fixtures in Keillor’s Tales from Lake Wobegon, his fictional Minnesota hometown, “where all the men are strong, all the women are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The gentle humor of his two-hour weekly radio show landed him on the cover of Time magazine, which he spoofed with his song: “Mr. Coverboy.” He is a significant influence on my own writing.
  13. Hebrews 4:12
  14. See, for example, The Watchtower, Feb 15, 2011, 8-9
  15. Joel Engardio, “Filmmaker Statements” to the 2006 documentary ‘Knocking,’ accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/knocking/statement.html
  16. Melvin Eisenhower, as quoted in Modern Maturity Magazine. The quote also appears in Awake! Magazine, April 22, 1975. Additionally, the October 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a World War II American soldier who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to explain to his superiors his newfound neutrality went nowhere, so he resorted to writing a letter to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces’ (then the future President, Dwight D. Eisenhower) mother, Ida Eisenhower, which Awake! reprints.
  17. Gary Sloan, “A Connecticut Yankee in God’s Court: Mark Twain’s Covert War with Religion,” Skeptic, vol. 8, no. 4, 2001. See also, for a moderating view on Twain’s spiritual outlook: Tom Rapsis, “It’s Time to Take Mark Twain Back from the Atheists,” Wake-up Call, October 22, 2014, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/2014/10/its-time-to-take-mark-twain-back-from-the-atheists/
  18. Michael Hart, The 100- A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons of History (New York: Citadel Press, 1992) 3-19, 17-21
  19. 1 Timothy: 21-2, Romans 13:3-4
  20. The ‘Two Timothy’ is deliberate. In seeking to rally the religious crowd, which politicians have done since the beginning of time, Trump cited ‘Two Corinthians 3:17,’ rather than 2 Corinthians 3:17. This employment of verse persuaded his audience that he was indeed one of them, though they conceded perhaps he was still growing as a Christian.
  21. Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 24:14
  22. “A Brutal Attack on Believers in the Moscow Region on the Basis of Religious Hatred,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, September 4, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, https://jw-russia.org/news/17090416-211.html
  23. An African-American spiritual song, first published in 1867
  24. 1 Timothy 1:11
  25. 1 Corinthians 4:9
  26. Job 34:10
  27. Leonid Bershidsky, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Foes Before Putin,” Bloomberg.com, April 21, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-04-21/jehovah-s-witnesses-had-foes-before-putin
  28. Exodus 4:10-16

 

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