When I got my leaflet through, inviting me to the memorial last month, memories came flooding back as I drew a monobrow on Jesus, then turned him into a member of the Borg from Star Trek. The feeling of the pen on the paper reminded me of all those endless hours spent trying desperately to enjoy the meetings that I was urged to attend.
The fact is, though, that I do not have the same story has many of the other adult former Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wasn’t baptised, I never spoke or did an introduction in the door-to-door ministry and, overall, I never really felt like I should be there. That was a childhood under the Watchtower dome, and I think it typifies many of the experiences of the children who left the faith in their teens. If we are lucky, then we avoid all of the ways in which our sense of guilt could be increased when we don’t show as much zeal as the next kid, already a pioneer and only twelve years old.
A lot of the teens that leave often hold it against their parents. I don’t necessarily think that’s where the blame lies – it’s the Watchtower. They are breeding generation after generation of people engineered, almost from birth, to be loyal followers of every word that they print. I was a loyal follower – despite the problems I had with the faith that I’d never mention out loud – because that was the environment I lived in. Had I not found love early in my teens and experienced reality, I worry that I may have never really escaped the organisation.
My father grew up Catholic, but not a very good one. After years of travelling the world and having a really exciting life, he met my mother. During the beginning of their relationship, my father found an Awake! lying on the kitchen table, whilst waiting for his girlfriend and her parents (obviously, my grandparents now) to return from their Sunday meeting. According to him, he found all the answers he’d been looking for. And that was it. It took so little. Something inside my father – a classic, unresponsive enigma of a father figure if you need an idea – had been building up. Perhaps it was desperation, or wondering without knowing where to go, but I think it was depression. Depression caused his need to find meaning in a meaningless existence. And now here I am, probably about thirty years since that fateful day that he picked up a society publication and began his indoctrination, writing about an organisation that took away my childhood.
My mother had the good sense to leave the faith some years later and I’ve benefitted from her help in the turbulent decision to leave the good graces of the believing family in my late teenage years. Now in my twenties, with the task of living independently and making a success of my life, a childhood of guilt and seclusion still haunts me as I try to be who I want to be.
It’s likely that over the past 12 hours, you’ve been watching and reading the updates of the horrendous events that happened on the 26th mile of the Boston Marathon. After two bombs were detonated, and two more unexploded devices defused, we are left with the stark reminder that there is a wound in humanity, one that may never be fixed.
As the news rolled in, minute by minute, some reports began to give me faith in humanity again. Random acts of compassion and kindness were springing up in every area (you can see a brief list here) and it just proved that there is a wonderful nature of love that resides in the vast majority of the human species. Perhaps one of the most poignant pieces of information I read was that upon finishing the marathon, runners continued to run on so that they go and donate blood. It was done in such high numbers, that the Red Cross posted online that they had enough to meet demand.
Now, I’m not going to discuss the theological debate over blood – a fellow former JW, Tracy Metcalfe, discusses that with great detail over at My Analysis – but the Watchtower places on its members at times such as this in an incredible moral difficulty. In my relatively short life, I’ve seen great acts of kindness shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whilst many can be rightly accused of only helping their own, I have met many who simply help in charitable ways whomever needs it. That shows a deep desire to show love to fellow human beings, and whilst not comparable, in my opinion, to that shown by many other non-belief and belief groups, it’s still a sure sign that they would, if they could, do a lot more. Now think again to those blood donations, those people out on the streets offering all that they can, the very thing inside their body that is essential to their survival – and they want to share that thing.
Is it accurate to suppose that the person behind the Jehovah’s Witness, the one who lies dormant and suppressed behind blackmail and propaganda, would not also want to do the same? I think they would – the majority anyway – and yet it is the Watchtower’s murderous policy on blood that keeps them from partaking in life-giving acts such as this.
In my heart of hearts, I hope that Witnesses have no qualms about opening their homes to victims of any tragedy when it comes to where they live. I hope they offer all they can in all the same ways that many others have done. But above all, I hope they credit that kindness to humanity, and not to a god that the victims and the volunteers don’t believe in.
In the wake of the death of one of the most controversial figures over here in England, Baroness Thatcher, I’m feeling the weight of the issue of showing appropriate respect. There’s been a huge media furor about some of the frankly disgusting things people were saying when the news broke and it descended into this completely confused discussion of a thousand different voices into how to treat a legacy and a person after their death. Well, I won’t go into that, but I did find it making me consider more how to tackle things that relate to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After all, much of what I say is usually spurned on by a family member’s outburst.
That was what started this blog – it was an argument I had with my father about evolution. That was two years ago now, give or take a month, and it still winds me up to this day. I see him and we get along fine nowadays but we do have a rule that has only been mentioned once between us that we will never speak of Evolution to each other. He has, to some degree, calmed down in his discussions of his religion, but that is totally unpredictable one way or another. And perhaps that’s what I’m getting at. With the suddenly increases that my Jehovah’s Witness family can have in their religiosity and my desire to discuss it hear on the internet, where does the line get drawn?
The BBC News was on the other day and, as I’m visiting at the moment, my grandma piped up during a section on the North Korean missile crisis going on.
“Oh, well, it’s not Armageddon yet – they have to cry Peace and Security first!”
It was so off-hand and casual (but ever-so confident as is the JW way) that it caught me off guard. I often forget that it is with my grandparents that the religion was mostly introduced. My father’s half brother began a Bible Study in secret but it was only when my father and mother met that the Jehovah’s Witness bug was fully contracted throughout the family. Luckily now my mother is long out of the religion, her sister and family are also not religious and me and my older brother have only academic and critical attitudes when it comes to the organisation’s claims and doctrine. But there I was, with this reminder that despite her resolve that she will not survive Armageddon for her sheer lack of door-to-door ministry throughout her life, she still has it fully ingrained that what has been preached has been totally accurate.
And there you have it. Can you really discuss family in a blog that openly criticises so much of their lives? It’s a tricky moral question and however people want to argue over it, I don’t think there is a moral Truth that sorts it absolutely. Show respect, but don’t back down – that’s my attitude. As I said, my father and I have an agreement not to speak of Evolution. Now, some of my fellow Ex-JW friends may think this counter-productive – surely, after all, if I consider my family to be trapped in a mindless cult, should I not challenge their beliefs so as to release them?
As Carl Sagan once said, “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.” They need to believe now, more than ever, because this is their entire world and their entire support-group. My family, especially those advanced in age, have only the Witness community. They have always avoided extremism and even silently protest shunning to the degree at which it is demanded of them as rank and file members. As I sit here now, I am in the back room of my grandparents’ house, surrounded by books spanning five decades of Watchtower writing, and yet the only thing my grandma pulls of the bookshelves is cookery books. I consider myself lucky. There are children who then grow into adults, like myself, whose upbringing was deeply religious and the escape from that world is what shapes them. Although my escape took many years for my family to accept, I was never shown the hostility that I hear of from so many other peoples with similar backgrounds. So, I keep my mouth shut and I type away – though on far fewer occasions recently – resolute that only in very unlikely circumstances will I do more than smirk when they utter a particularly ludicrous Witness belief.
Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:
I had forgotten that the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) forbid blood transfusions, but this article in last Sunday’s New York Times reminded me. It’s about physicians who are performing bloodless operations to accommodate the JWs who can’t receive blood.
The piece starts with the tale of Rebecca Tomczak, a JW who needed a lung transplant because her own lungs had been destroyed by the disease sarcoidosis. After shopping around, she finally found a hospital that would operate on her without giving her extra blood.
The article discusses the refusal of JWs to accept blood, a stand that is, of course, based on scripture:
The reason: Ms. Tomczak, who was baptized at age 12 as a Jehovah’s Witness, insisted for religious reasons that her transplant be performed without a blood transfusion. The Witnesses believe that Scripture prohibits the transfusion of blood, even one’s own, at the risk of forfeiting eternal life.
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Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:
Andrew Sullivan, gay activist, staunch Catholic, and blogger, has a pretty incendiary post up at The Dish. I reproduce part of it without comment, except to say that someone who is gay is more likely to be an accurate detector of gay behavior:
But this is what really made me sit up straight, so to speak:
Benedict’s trusted secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, will be serving both pontiffs — living with Benedict at the monastery inside the Vatican and keeping his day job as prefect of the new pope’s household. Asked about the potential conflicts, Lombardi was defensive, saying the decisions had been clearly reasoned and were likely chosen for the sake of simplicity. “I believe it was well thought out,” he said.
So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well…
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Colossians 2:8 reads, “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” What sort of “philosophy and empty deception” should you be wary of? Of course, mankind has shown itself to be a danger unlike any other to both itself and to the rest of nature – but perhaps by simply labelling anything that argues with your current standpoint – your own philosophy and beliefs – as “empty”, you are failing to investigate and analyse evidence. Likewise, Proverbs 2:10,11 comments that “knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul” and that “thinking ability itself will keep guard over you” – so surely, to gain accurate knowledge is essential! After all, knowing not to walk at night in certain areas or avoiding suspicious tradesmen can save you a lot of worry, pain and, ultimately, keep you alive.
Some years ago, I was about to begin studying with my Jehovah’s Witness father. Like many others, I was jealous of the other teenagers in my congregation getting baptised and beginning their pioneering. The prospect of attending Bethel, giving public talks and pleasing my Witness family members spurred me on to work hard to understand what the Bible taught. When I felt my spiritual identity was in danger, I wrote a heartfelt letter to an elder and he advised me on how to combat negative emotions towards the meetings and to rearrange the way I viewed my relationships with non-believing friends. I began to listen to the talks, pray hard and write notes.
However, before my studies began on the long road to baptism, I left the congregation. I refused to attend any more meetings. I have since been in a Kingdom Hall only once – that was for the Memorial, and only because I did not want my father to feel bad going alone for the first time. So, what changed? Was I tricked by Satan? Did I fall victim to the “empty deception according to the tradition of men”? Was I enticed by drugs, promiscuity, alcohol or violence? Or was it something else?
Questions. They are amazingly good things. Are there bad questions? No. Simply not – unless it’s something like, “How would you feel if I told you I had smashed your iPhone?” . Our first signs of an intellectually healthy mind when we are very young are the questions we ask. I am told that when I was very young, I suddenly began to ask mountains of questions – my mother tells me this happened almost literally overnight. Something ignited inside me and I had to know the world, the universe. I had to know why and how and when and what.
He was preparing for a public talk and wanted to be thorough. This got my attention. I was terrible at maths and have still only slightly improved since, but I felt the desire to do the same. I wanted to work out how the organisation gets to the year 1914. I wanted answers to my questions.
Now, researching a Watchtower teaching is risky. Why? Because they dissuade you from going on secular websites – and that’s where the vast majority of information is, with the inevitable commentary on websites run by ex-JWs. The 2004 Watchtower (February 15) reads, “It would be a mistake to think that you need to listen to apostates or to read their writings to refute their arguments. Their twisted, poisonous reasoning can cause spiritual harm and can contaminate your faith like rapidly spreading gangrene” – but surely not all information is apostate? Of course not! In fact, the overwhelming majority of information concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, Babylon, and the subsequent process of reaching 1914, is from academic sources. So what do the experts say?
Before we do go into this, let’s define the word ‘expert’. Google says it is a “person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” And how would this be decided? The ancient Greek, and as Cicero called him, the”father of history,” Herodotus was the first to begin to employ the scientific method; from there the specific skill of cross-referencing information to gain clarity has only been tightened, reformed and cleansed of error. Of course, in recent years, ‘science’ has become a word associated with Biology, Physics or Chemistry, but its actual practical implications spread across all of academic work – all knowledge is subject to scientific standards of inquiry. For example, academic Theories are not guess-work, they are actually the grouping of known facts of a certain avenue of study, then analysed and given a title that encompasses all what they cover – like the Theory of Gravity or Relativity – these are then reviewed, not only before publication in the Peer Review process, but unendingly by academics across the road after publication. I study Linguistics and the moment any publication is criticised, not only ourselves as undergraduates are required to analyse and find errors, but also the faculty of the university will actively engage in developing an improvement. Simply put, an expert is one whose main achievements are those that have withstood an onslaught of criticism and rectification to make it to the point at which they can be called an ‘expert’.
With this now in mind, I did – as I do now, having refreshed my memory – leap into the mountains of information concerning Jerusalem’s destruction. And what did I find?
To explain plainly to all those that do not know of the relevance of the fall of this ancient city: if the organisation’s claim that the destruction happened in 607 B.C.E. (instead of the universally accepted 587 B.C.E.) is correct, then – after utilising prophecies found in the book of Daniel, chapter 4 – 2520 years later (a span of time deciphered from Biblical analysis) would mark the beginning of the end, and the year known today as 1914. This was when Jesus Christ is believed to have returned invisibly and, after an inspection of the Christian denominations, appointed the Watchtower movement in 1919 as his sole “mouthpiece” and “channel” on earth.
The first president of the Watchtower Society, Charles Taze Russell, presented this date, alongside many others, as a monumental moment for true Christians. Since then, all of his other prophetic dates have been dropped by the Society, yet 1914 remains, floating alone in a sea of reliable, secular historical records and pieces of evidence that completely refute the claims of Jerusalem’s fall as 607 B.C.E.
Many Witnesses may be inclined to suggest that this secular disagreement is just another attack on God’s People from Satan’s worldly rule and influence. They may also, as one Gilead Missionary School student did in an internet forum, try to support the claims by offering the details of ‘secular’ scholars that agree with the Watchtower teachings. Who are these scholars?
Morton Edgar was a Pyramidologist. In a collection of his letters published online here, the frequency of terms are this: References to ‘607’ = 0; References to ‘1914’ = 8; References to ‘pyramid’ = 62. Are we to then decide that his is work worth counting towards a secular argument for the Watchtower’s teaching? After all, working closely with Charles Taze Russell would suggest clear religiosity. Finally, when Joseph Rutherford, the second president of the Watchtower Society took control of the organisation, all work concerning the pyramids was banned from being offered by the Witnesses, which prompted Edgar to refer to him as the ‘Evil Servant.’ Secular? No. Reliable? No.
Julian T. Gray authored a book entitled, ‘Which is the True Chronology?’ and in it (pages 97, 98) he refers to the “Biblically proved and scientifically verified measurements of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, the “Bible in stone.”” Is this appropriate for a secular, balanced review of evidence? of course not. Once again, we have a Pyramidologist – the very type of biased, pseudo-science that Rutherford threw out at the first opportunity. Secular? No. Reliable? No.
As the author of “Pastor C.T. Russell: messenger of millennial hope, distinguished founder of the Bible Students and his legacy”, Charles F. Redeker is, once again, not the kind of ‘scholar’ the Witnesses should be quoting from. First of all, let’s note that for searches of Charles F. Redeker online, we are inundated with links for the Pastoral Bible Institute, a Pyramidological, Russellite Bible organisation. Surely the two organisations can’t be justifying their beliefs by each other? Wouldn’t this weaken the importance of the split when Rutherford took over? In his work, he can be quoted in direct support of Russell: “Pastor Russell was convinced that “the uncertain dates of secular history [should be made to] conform to the positive statements of the Bible,” and not the other way around.” Secular? No. Reliable? No.
Jerry Leslie is a particularly weak reference for a Witness to rely as he himself quotes Russellite Bible Student literature, pyramidology writings and Morton Edgar to a great extent. There is simply very little reason to even include his name as a defence of the Watchtower teachings. In a piece written by Leslie, we see an insight into the internal quotations that loop around the same sources, giving the illusion of evidence: “Although Edgar does not deal with the archaeological record, he does address the Scripture record extensively.” So, is this secular? No. Is it reliable? Not even slightly.
Finally, we come to Paul Johnson. This man is like quoting from someone who is presented as a villain and thief – but, well, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Johnson is an ex-Bible Student. In the Proclaimers book, we read:
“Johnson appeared at meetings of the Bible Students and made it seem that he was in agreement with their beliefs and activity. But after gaining the confidence of some, he would sow seeds of doubt. If anyone suggested a break with the Society, he hypocritically discouraged this—until the loyalty of the group had been thoroughly undermined…. Over 20 years later, prior to his death, Brother Russell expressed his intention to send Paul S. L. Johnson, a very capable speaker, to Britain to strengthen the Bible Students there. Out of respect for Brother Russell’s wish, the Society dispatched Johnson to Britain in November 1916. However, once he was in Britain, he dismissed two of the Society’s managers. Seeing himself as an important personage, he argued in speeches and correspondence that what he was doing was foreshadowed in the Scriptures by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Mordecai. He claimed to be the steward (or, man in charge) referred to by Jesus in his parable at Matthew 20:8. He tried to take control of the Society’s money, and he instituted a suit in the High Court of London to achieve his aims.”
Do we need to say it? Reliable, or secular, this man was not.
And there we have it. The ‘scholars’ are not scholars at all. But OK, so they scholars aren’t worth mentioning, but what about the solid, mathematical calculations made by the Watchtower? Surely these are consistent – especially when the doctrine is so important?
Another source that the Watchtower uses is the work of Rolf Furuli. This man has written two books defending the Watchtower’s chronology and is speculated to have been relied upon for their October and November 2011 issues of the Watchtower magazine. He is however, highly criticsed by experts. Most notably by those who work within the field and provide much of the information that the organisation uses.
As many of my active Jehovah’s Witness readers may not want to stray onto what they may see as an apostate website, I will reproduce a table found on jwfacts.org. Surprisingly, the lengths of Kingly reigns and the dates supplied in the Watchtower publications actually contradict their own claims. As you will notice in the table, all information is taken from Society literature and yet still points to the date of 587 BCE, and not 607 *. If it were a complete, solid claim to factual evidence, then why the contradiction? Truly then, the organisation is coming across yet another dramatic error in their basis for the 607 BCE teaching.
For confirmation of the quotes from Babylon the Great Has Fallen, please ask. I am aware it is not widely available in digital form.
RECOMMENDED READING MATERIAL
An extremely interesting article from Jonsson http://kristenfrihet.se/vtsvar/vtsvar1.pdf
Jonsson’s English website http://kristenfrihet.se/english/epage.htm
607 vs 586
Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.11 “The Bible says that apostates are mentally diseased and that they use their teachings to make others think like them.”
If you do nothing else today, you must watch the YouTube video below. If you’ve already seen it, I’m sure that you were just as impressed as I was with the immediate credibility of Bo Juel Jensen.
But it’s not just Bo; it’s what he is telling the world community that will tug at your heartstrings. So who is Bo Juel Jensen, and what is his message? I would like to tackle that question with the following story. And I have a sneaky suspicion that he may soon become the Watchtower Society’s worst nightmare.
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