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We Now Return to Our Regular Program

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Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to live a modest life and be content with simple things.  This is so that they can throw themselves into their service to Jehovah.  They are discouraged from pursuing wealth, fame, or even a career because these things will tend to draw them away from God.  It’s called a “theocentric” life and is the source of true happiness.  In return, God will make sure they have everything they need.

There are a gajillion stories in the Bible about how Jehovah provided for this prophet or that widow.  One prophet had fled to the barren desert to escape the wrath of an evil queen, and Jehovah sent ravens to him to provide him with food.  God provides for the sparrows – why would He not provide for you?  During a famine one faithful servant of God found herself with an inexhaustible supply of cooking oil and flour.

Jesus himself said, at the conclusion of a parable on the folly of pursuing wealth, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.”

My ex-husband and I were very sincere in our beliefs.  We were always looking for ways to improve ourselves and boost our spirituality and usefulness to Jehovah.  In return, we believed that we would be cared for by the god we worshiped.

Hubby’s parents raised him as a JW.  They envisioned him rising quickly through the organization to become a circuit overseer or district overseer – maybe even becoming a bigwig at Bethel.  Consequently, he would not need to learn a trade.  In any case, the end was so near that he wouldn’t have to worry about it.  In fact, his parents were told that he wouldn’t graduate high school before the end came.

I should add that he’s 61 years old now.  Whoa, talk about your failed prophecy.

My parents were more practical, pushing me to take typing and business classes in school so I was always able to find work.  However, it was never enough to support the two of us because I was determined to follow the counsel from Brooklyn – it’s not a career, it’s just a job.  I worked in a number of different industries – insurance, banking, oil, medicine, and always got terrific performance reviews, but I never got much farther than entry level in any one of them.  Just when I was getting somewhere we ended up moving because hubby couldn’t hold a job, partly because he had no skills and partly because of his daddy issues (couldn’t deal with male authority).  To be fair, I should add that he did eventually settle into a decent job, and as far as I know he’s still working there.

We focused on doing the divine will by faithfully serving Big J and being good Christians according to WTS teachings (hubby was working toward becoming an elder), but we were always barely scraping by.

In the midst of one particularly lean period of time I was sitting in my seat between sessions at a district convention chatting with two sisters from my congregation.  They were discussing the new ring one of them had just been given by her husband and the Disney vacation the other was going to take after the convention.

Now, wait a ding-dong minute here.

Hubby and I were working our tails off being good servants of Jehovah, but we were driving a 20-year-old clunker, living in a two-room apartment where water froze on the floor in the winter, and sometimes eating only rice.  And here were two less-than-average publishers (oops, got a tad judgmental there) who were enjoying luxuries.

Being a well-programmed JW my first thought was that we must be doing something right if Satan were testing us so savagely.  My second thought was, “What are we – chopped liver?”  Why are we clawing our way through the mud while these two chicks are gliding in style down Easy Street?

What I wanted to do at that moment was throw myself onto a fainting couch a la Scarlett O’Hara and weep bitter tears, but what I did was smile and nod and reprove myself for my momentary lapse into selfish thinking.

I had to remind myself that serving Jehovah is its own reward.  I mean, maybe my material circumstances were threadbare, but I was living the best way of life, right?  I had the spiritual paradise at the kingdom hall, I had a clean conscience, I had Jehovah’s approval, I had a good marri…well, I didn’t know any better back then.  That’s it – focus on the positive.  Focus on hubby’s good qualities, focus on the fact that you indeed have food to eat and a roof over your head, focus on the important disciple-making work, focus on the glorious future you have before you – the New System where everything will be perfect.

There, that’s better.  Hubby returned to his seat next to me and the afternoon program started, completely diverting all of my troubled thoughts.

I was back to my regular program.

 

 

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Don’t Spoil a Good Doctrine by Strict Adherence to the Facts – Part 3

Even More Doctrinal Romping

When my father started studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses my brother and I were 10 and 12 respectively.  At first, the entire family assembled in the living room while Chuck, the man who studied with us, attempted to conduct the study.  Dad loved the sound of his own voice and more or less took over the proceedings so that the study, which should have lasted an hour, would go on for 3 hours, during which time we kids would nod off.  After a few such sessions Dad told us we could watch TV in a distant room and then turn in at our usual time instead of sitting in on the study.

Surprisingly, Dad eventually talked himself out, and he and Mom made actual progress on the study.  At that point Dad decided to include the kids in the study.  That first night we sat around the dining room table while Chuck brought my brother and me up to date.  We covered every doctrine in a single session.  The effect of it blew my hair back.  I wasn’t some ignorant little kid.  I actually believed some of the stuff we had learned in Methodist Sunday school – not that I could explain any of it.

Chuck read scriptures and presented arguments that blasted holes in everything I believed.  By the end of the evening I was left standing dazed amidst the rubble of my religious upbringing wondering how I’d got to Oz.

After that night, Chuck started bringing along his 14-year-old stepson, Mark, to conduct a separate study with little brother and me.  Mark could put all of his enthusiasm for the Bible into the tip of his pinky finger and still have room for a standing rib roast.  He’d go over a couple of paragraphs in the book we were studying and then adjourn to the front yard where we’d just hang out until the adults were finished.   After a few weeks of that, Mark stayed home and Dad took over the Bible study with us.

But, I digress.

Spirit/Soul

Bad news, folks.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses you do not have an immortal soul. The doctrine is based on the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated “spirit” and “soul.”   Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the soul is the person themselves.  Your physical body is a soul.  You don’t have a soul, you are one.  In this sense, every creature on earth is a soul.  Your dog is a soul, that spider just landing on your shoulder is a soul.  (Did you look?)  When you die, your soul dies too.  Kaput.  You’re gone.

The spirit is the life force that animates the body, as in “the breath of life.”  It has no special qualities and does not exist apart from the body.  (Based on that I can’t even begin to explain what “spirit fingers” are.)  When the body dies, the spirit is gone.  So, JWs don’t believe in any paranormal stuff, right?  Well, we covered the demons a few weeks ago.  They sure do believe in it, but they blame it on the demons, not dead humans.  Now, the Bible does say that when a person dies his spirit returns to God.  JWs interpret this to mean that the person’s hopes for future life return to God, meaning that He can decide to resurrect you after Armageddon or not.  This understanding seems forced.

Now, they do refer to angels, demons, and God as “spirit creatures,” which makes this whole doctrine a bit confusing.  They use the same word to refer to an impersonal, unintelligent life force as well as an intelligent being with personality.  Eh?

I always thought these teachings were, first of all, a huge bummer, and secondly, contrary to my instincts.  To me, the human spirit is so dynamic and creative the idea that it could fizzle away like a drop of water in a hot frying pan seems ludicrous.  What a waste!  Of course, I kept those thoughts to myself or I would have been unceremoniously drop-kicked out the door.

 

The Bible

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is God’s Word.   It is their ultimate authority.

Even though the Bible was written by men, JWs believe that these writers were inspired by God.   For example, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible which describe events that happened thousands of years before Moses was born.  A logical explanation for this record is that Moses was writing from oral tradition passed on from generation to generation.   JWs believe that Moses wrote as God placed the information into his brain, “as he was borne along by holy spirit.”

Same thing with the writers of the gospels.  These books were written sometimes decades after Jesus’ death, but they are accurate (to the JW mind) because God transmitted the detailed information to the writers’ minds.

Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, they say that the Bible does not contradict itself, and this “fact” reassures them that it is indeed God’s word.

Because of this steadfast belief, they are supremely confident that the Bible is a book they can rely upon without question.  Every word of it is from God.  How do they know?  The Bible itself tells them so.  At 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 it says, “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”  So there you have it – the ultimate self-help book.

Alarmingly, if you actually read this self-help book, this guide to living, there’s some whacked-out stuff in there.  There’s a whole book, written by the Donald Trump of the ancient world, Solomon, that’s about sexual attraction.  However, to the JW mind it’s a lovely analogy for the relationship between Christ and the anointed.  All I can say is, YUCK.  Here’s a sample.  Decide for yourself.

“Look! You are beautiful, O girl companion of mine.  Your eyes are those of doves behind your veil.  Your hair is like a drove of goats that have hopped down from the mountainous region of Gilead.  Your teeth (this guy is nothing if not exhaustive in his praise of her physical features, so let’s skip a bit)…Your two breasts are like two young ones, the twins of a female gazelle that are feeding among the lilies.”  A little farther on he says, “With comb honey your lips keep dripping…”  This guy is dead gone on this girl.  “A garden barred is my sister, my bride, a garden barred in, a spring sealed up…”  Then she responds, “Let my dear one come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits.”  We all know what that means.

The very first part of the Bible is full of stories of bloody conquest, genocide, and a God who can only be described as petulant and vindictive, striking down people left and right for the slightest offense.

Later in the Old Testament you will find a large book of poetry followed by a couple of books of proverbs and wise sayings, which are very good.  Then comes a long slog through some dense prophecy and denunciation against Jerusalem for disappointing its God so grievously.  JWs have a field day in this section, picking and choosing verses to support their story of a future paradise earth.

Things lighten up in the New Testament which is a series of 4 accounts of Jesus’ life, then a book that follows up what his 12 apostles did after he died.  Then you get a long series of letters from various prominent men to various congregations in Asia Minor.  This all builds up to the final book, Revelation (notice – no “s” at the end) which reads a lot like John, who wrote it, got into a bad batch of ‘shrooms.

In any case, I’ve read the Bible through, lid to lid, at least 9 times, believing the entire time that it was the word of God.  Not so much anymore.  It’s definitely a good piece of literature, but holy cow, I wouldn’t want to do what JWs have done – base my entire life on this one book which was largely written by people whose diet included a disturbing percentage of goat meat and didn’t even have indoor plumbing .

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Next week:  Jesus Christ!