Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Runaway Engine

I had observed to someone recently that my brain feels like a runaway engine, going faster and faster, and that even an attempt to turn off the ignition doesn’t stop it. As I mentioned in my “Marker in the Ground” article, insomnia has taken over my life because I cannot get my thoughts to turn off. However, I didn’t realize how intense the situation has become until I posted the man-made religions article. That article is the 43rd article for this year. In all of 2016 I only wrote 43 articles!

That made me wonder how many articles I’d written in the first two months in past years.


No real point here. I’m just surprised with my verbosity. I’ve heard of the “quiet before the storm,” maybe this is just the opposite, the storm before the quiet.

Is All Religion Man-made?

Over the years I’ve heard the claim that "Religion, ALL religion, is man-made. God did not invent religion, man did that."

I’m frankly surprised when I hear that, especially when it comes from someone that does believe in God. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but my perception is different. These three scriptures indicate that it was indeed Jehovah God that set up not only the social order but also the guidelines regarding worship. It was Jehovah that instituted the priesthood. It was Jehovah that provided the blueprints for the temple. There are other scriptures, in fact, the whole of Exodus 25 covers a number of details. At Hebrews 8:5, Paul confirms that what Moses built was what Jehovah God showed him. The sum of all statutes, regulations, and other details of worship is what the religion of the Israelites became.

Christianity, as espoused in the Bible, likewise has a start with God and God’s Son. Peter, at Acts 4:12, indicated that it was God himself that both prophesied and provided his Son as our savior. Jesus, while on earth, outlined a number of things that would identify his true followers, such as: 1) all Christians are brothers, no one is elevated; 2) the preaching of the Good News is paramount; 3) meeting together as Christians is mandatory (because it provides our encouragement, comfort, spiritual nourishment); and 4) getting our priorities straight and the Golden Rule are essential ways of life. There are many other guidelines for true Christianity as a religion in the Bible. Suffice it to say, man did not invent true worship, true religion. God did. I will however agree that all other religions indeed have their start in human philosophy.

(I will also agree that both modern-day Judaism and the bulk of modern-day religions claiming to be Christian are not based on the Bible, but on human ideas. In fact, regarding Judaism, I was surprised that much of their modern-day beliefs are based on what they call “the oral tradition” or “oral Law.” This seems to have supplanted the “written tradition,” or Law of Moses recounted in the Torah.)
Based on the last paragraph, the question begs itself: “At what point does religion cease being from God and become “from man”? To me the line of demarcation seems very clear. It is the point at which a religion stops following the Bible and starts laying down its own beliefs, which eventually even contradict the Bible. Have all religions been guilty of this? Yes. But the one(s) that adjust their thinking once they realize their error, those are the ones humbly and truly looking to their Creator for direction.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Marker In the Ground

I wish I knew what was happening to me.  Maybe someone coming after me can benefit from my experience if they see the same trends in themselves. I noticed some dark changes in my personality and I don’t like them at all. A couple weeks ago I was in the kitchen when I was overcome with a hugely intense dizzy spell and collapsed to the floor. I have never ever had such an intense spell. I was both unable and unwilling to try to get up and stayed on the floor for at least 5 minutes. Since then I’ve noticed a tremor in my right hand, vision difficulties, shortness of temper—at the most insignificantly stupid things. I've also developed an odd stutter especially with words beginning with "sh" or "st." I’ve become critical at everyone around me and prefer just to be left alone. Where I used to be an eager and constant participant at my religious meetings, now I just sit and quietly listen. I want to participate, I just can get myself to do it.

I’ve mentioned before that my oncologist’s best-guess is that I have about 6 months to live. I really don’t feel that I am that close to death. But there are times while lying in bed that I get a mildly sharp pain in my chest. Insomnia seems to be my constant nightly companion and an ever-increasingly LOUD tinnitus dominates my life 24/7. Perhaps these things have added to my short temper, but I really hate to make excuses. I ought to know better. I am very angry and frustrated with my body for the way it seems to be abandoning me. I dread the idea of becoming incapacitated. Now that I’ve sold my car (after driving for nearly 50 years) and having to be dependent on everyone for getting around, I already see the “writing on the wall” regarding my near future and I don’t like it one bit. Unlike others, I thought of myself as being pretty good about accepting my limitations, but lately I’m not so sure about that.

In short, I hate my body for not letting me rest and for letting me down. I hate myself for alienating those close to me. I wish I understood why I’m acting this way. I’m better than that—or at least I thought I was. I want this article to be a “marker in the ground” so that in a few months I can look back and compare. Again, hopefully someone else will somehow find this helpful.

Please note: I am not looking for any feedback on this post.

Just Be Kindly Truthful

I was preparing some research for an article (probably one of the ones on exegesis vs eisegesis) when I stumbled across an article on “how to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” (It was either that or “How to get them to leave me alone?” I can’t remember the title because I dismissed the link.) Some recommendations included lying and becoming confrontational. I was surprised that just being kindly truthful was not in the list. One of the thinly masked insults was to ask us why we have such a problem with retention. I burst out laughing when I read that one because in more than 40 plus years I’ve seen nothing but growth.

Sure, I have seen some, less than 10, leave our ranks. And that is from having been associated with at least 6 congregations throughout the East Bay and Central Valley areas of California. Just as the general populous is mobile, so are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most move to California from other states to find work (or are being promoted and their employer moved their post to California). As I speak to these (from Ohio, Texas, New York, and many other states), I ask about the health of the congregations they came from. They all mentioned the congregations were thriving.

I thought in this article I’d combine two subjects:
  • Membership in churches in general, and
  • Objections I’ve heard

Waning Membership
So I did find a couple references on the web that claim Jehovah’s Witnesses have the highest churn rate. But in reading the articles, it was very evident they were more than just slightly biased against us in that they made claims that were complete lies about our beliefs. So then I performed a search on the net for “decline in church membership.” In contrast to the claims of the articles saying we have the worst, were three articles (in the following paragraphs) that openly admit churches of the denominations that are opposed to us are experiencing an ever increasing empty pew syndrome.

For example, this article lists nine reasons why church membership is probably declining. Second on the list was that church simply was no longer “the best show in town.” In other words, in this self-gratifying world of “me first,” church is no longer seen as engaging and stimulating. They have better things to do. In contrast, because Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings are designed to mentally stimulate their thinking ability and to engage in willing participation, we love being at our meetings.

Then there is this article that has some shocking details, including “Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!” So while it is easy for opposers to throw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses and make unsubstantiated claim, perhaps the reason for this is because they are so embarrassed by their own failure to hold their adherents. Finally, there is this link which states that “Less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church—half of what the pollsters report.” In further elaboration, the article states: “In another study surveying the growth of U.S. Protestants, Marler and Hadaway discovered that while the majority of people they interviewed don’t belong to a local church, they still identify with their church roots. ‘Never mind the fact that they attend church less than 12 times a year,’ Marler observes. ‘We estimate that 78 million Protestants are in that place. Ask most pastors what percentage of inactive members they have—they’ll say anything from 40–60 percent.’”

Objections I’ve Heard And How I Personally Handle Them
“I have my own religion:” Now, I’ve always been a person that truly enjoys talking with others, so I usually meet this objection with: “Where do you go to church at?” After they answer, I ask what appeals to them about the services. Depending on whether or not the person is relaxing their guard (body language and tone of voice), I may even ask them if they have a favorite scripture. Then I ask if I can share with them one of my favorites. Rarely, I’ll mention that “It has always been my belief that if a person truly believes in their faith, they ought to be excited and enjoy sharing it,” and see how they react to it. In short, claiming to have your own religion (at least for me) is a wonderful segue into a healthy conversation.

“I’m very busy right now:” To that I respond: “I can appreciate that. I know I came uninvited. May I come back later?” Usually the response is “no” but surprisingly sometimes the answer is “yes.” (When the answer is “no,” I surmise that they are just trying to get rid of me.

“I don’t believe in (the Bible, or God):” With so much hypocrisy and seemingly unfair situations in the world (death of a child or other intensely cruel situations) it is not uncommon for people to blame God or at feel that he does not care. Some blame the conduct of religious leaders for their disillusionment with God and the Bible. In this case, my sincere interest is to help restore their faith in God. So I do try to get them to open up, but that typically has not worked out for me personally.

The rarest of objections I get is being told the truth. Something to the effect, “I really don’t want to talk to you people.” In that case, and it is my personal preference, I usually thank them for their honesty and leave. Some others might try to get the person to open up about why. For me, in this case, I’ve learned the kindest thing is just to honor their honesty and leave.

So “getting rid” of us doesn’t have to be a confrontational situation or one where you feel the need to lie. Merely being kindly truthful is best. If you are Christian, being truthful is the right choice. As for membership retention, we’re doing very well. It seems to be all the other religions that are suffering.

Eisegesis On Display

Although I’ve covered the subject of Jesus and the claims Trinitarians make that he is God, just because the topic of eisegesis is fresh on my mind, I performed a web search for the topic: “does the bible say Jesus is God”. Several websites came up, the one I looked at was Sure enough, every scripture they listed is what I expected to see there.

So, we as those who do not believe Jesus is God are charged with eisegesis (intentional misrepresentation of scripture based on select verses that are favorable to our beliefs). Well, the everystudent site is full of the same. A blatant example of using a passage taken out of context to prove Jesus is God is John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”). “What could be plainer?” demand those supporting Jesus’ divinity.

What could be plainer is to pay close attention not only to the context but to the whole of scripture. But to make it easy to the reader, I’ll stay in the gospel of John. One thing our opposers are famous for is interpreting one verse one way, while interpreting another completely different. Did Jesus mean “one” in that they were the same person? John 17:21 makes it quite plain that is not so. (Other versions, interlinear, Kingdom Interlinear) The point is quite clear to those willing to accept what the Bible teaches as opposed to insisting on unscriptural doctrines solidified during the Nicaean Council. The “oneness” is one of unity, unified purpose. Otherwise, to choose to understand John 10:30 as teaching God and Jesus are one person, you must also accept that Jesus was asking that his disciples join the godhead, themselves becoming “God.”

But that isn’t all. Conveniently, those advancing the idea that John 10:30 teaches Jesus is God, manage to ignore the rest of the context. It was his opposers that misapplied his words. He tried to reason with them that God Jehovah even called human judges in Israel “gods” (most probably because of their power of potentially condemning someone to death). He then says that if even humans can, in a very limited sense, be called gods, how can they fault him for claiming to be God’s son. There are numerous other passages in scripture that make it quite plain Jesus is indeed “the son of God,” not “God, the Son.” But one that has always stuck out in my mind is toward the end of John’s gospel. There, he sums up the reason for writing his gospel. One would reasonably conclude that he would use this to drive home his main point. So did he say “I wrote this because I want people to believe Jesus is God”? NO! The verse quite plainly states, in John’s own words, that he wrote because he wanted everyone to appreciate Jesus is the Messiah and “the Son of God.”

So it is our opposers who are guilty of eisegesis, not us.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Has God Ever Been Human

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, the God of the Israelites (Jehovah) is making a critical point (using Moses as his spokesman to the people) about future worship the people might be enticed to engage in. He makes it unmistakably clear they didn’t see any “form” when he appeared to them, but only the fire and cloud. Hence they should never conclude that God looks human, animal, or some other inanimate object such as the sun, moon, or stars.

Since God made such a fuss about not making anything as a representation of him that is in this physical realm, would he then change his mind and want mankind to believe he indeed can be viewed as human? What I am referring to is the perception of many that Jesus was God in human form. Wouldn’t that be a direct affront to what God said in the above passage of Deuteronomy? In support of the conclusion that God didn’t change his stance, is Jesus’ own words that “God is a Spirit.” Since that was spoken by Jesus, while he was standing right there in front of humans, it would stand to reason that Jesus was not God in human form. But I’m sure someone somewhere has a different view. It will be interesting to see what, if any, feedback I get on this.

Looking at All Sides (Exegesis vs Eisegesis)

Perception can be a tricky thing. What we might adamantly insist is true is immediately dispelled once all sides are examined. Three examples of this are the following GIF files:

In the first instance, I would have concluded that the two yellow squares are side by side in the same plane. In the second, if the GIF had been reversed, I would have concluded I was looking at a glass of water on a piece of paper. Finally, the third instance is probably the most pertinent to this article. One person standing at one angle would adamantly swear the letters spell “LISTEN” while a second person, standing just a few feet away, would insist the letters spell “SILENT.” The only thing that cleared up the matter in all cases was looking at it from all sides. One angle compared to all angles is the difference between eisegesis (a preferred, narrow view) and exegesis (a study that looks at all perspectives to arrive at the correct conclusion). In the above, the correct conclusion is that they are all optical illusions – not the reality they seem to be.

An individual I know observed that: “Eisegesis is evidenced in many of the dogmas of Roman Catholicism, and also in a number of 'Christian' fringe groups, and in Mormonism, and in virtually any aberrant cult in existence, and for any number of biblically-baseless beliefs floating around today.” Also included in his estimation is “the fact that the practice of eisegesis is also very much in evidence in Watchtower theology.”

The individual that made those statements has long taken to task the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and will talk with any adherent that gives him an ear. A few times I’ve grown very frustrated with him, even losing my temper. At least twice I’ve tried reasoning with him that if he takes such principled offense at our teachings, he should pay attention to Jesus’ words at Matthew 15:14, the crux of which is to “leave them alone, ignore them, disregard them,” or (finally), as the NWT puts it: "Let them be.” Jesus recognized it does no good to argue or even “discuss” with those whose minds are made up. Further, Paul’s advice at 2 Timothy 2:23 tells us to “try to keep out of foolish and half-educated arguments, knowing that they breed quarrels.”

And indeed, as “polite” as that man sounds, it is very evident that he knows his contentious stand will get a rise out of us. (I’ve even tried considering the possibility that he doesn’t know his ways are contentious. But he keeps coming back with accusations. That to me is contentious.) The rest of what Paul said in that passage (vs 24 through 26) advises true Christians to keep calm, not just on the outside but inside as well. Admittedly, I have not been a stellar example in that, which is one reason I’d rather just let it go…but he keeps commenting on my blog and I’ve always been a tenacious bulldog when it comes to protecting what is mine (my well-researched and studied beliefs). But let’s start over. I wanted to examine first the term he used and then how I feel it is unwarranted that he applied it to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Eisegesis is defined as: “The process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agenda, or biases into and onto the text.” This is contrasted with the positive and noble effort of exegesis. So it is one thing to throw baseless accusations. It is another thing to prove it. Having studied with and been an active member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for over 40 years, here are my observations:

Presuppositions: The only presupposition I am aware that we employ is the Holy Bible is the only and final authority for what should be believed AND that God does not contradict Himself, regardless of which human transcriber (Bible writer) he used. The modern-day religion now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses started when a small group of adults realized that the churches of the day were not holding true to the Bible. It was their noble goal to search scriptures and attempt to formulate what is true by ensuring their yet-forming beliefs were not disproven by another scripture. For example, if they read one scripture that seemed to give one impression, but another scripture would seem to disprove it, they would make note of it and then research it further to ensure their beliefs conformed with what God’s Word really taught as opposed to what they may have been ignorantly, wrongly convinced. Now admittedly, there were some bumps and hiccups and even as recent as the last decade, refinements have been made to make God’s Word true even if it makes every man a liar. While some may find fault with this, the correct conclusion should be that we are humble enough to admit when we are wrong. How many religions can you say that about?

Agenda: Again, the only agenda I am aware of is the preaching of the Good News of God’s Kingdom. We don’t demand a tithe so getting wealthy cannot be the hidden agenda. We are still a very small people, so size is not an agenda. If we forced people to stay with us, that might be an agenda. But we do not do that. If someone wants to leave, there is nothing holding them back.

Biases: The term “bias” itself suggests subjectivity. So let’s set the baseline. It is defined as: “Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” To put this in context of our discussion, the bias being referred to here is an unfair treatment of God’s Word. In the quote from the man at the outset, I definitely agree that it is unfair that Catholics have replaced God’s Word with human dogma, ceremonies, and rituals. It is unfair to God that Catholics have elevated Mary (the human mother of Jesus) to an intercessor for mankind (often in complete replacement of Jesus as mankind’s savior). I also agree it is unfair that Mormons have replaced God’s Word with the Book of Mormon and other uninspired and dubious writings. (And to any Mormon that may be reading this, I have asked Mormons coming to my door if they have read the Bible. Their answer is always “no.”) In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not employ rituals, ceremonies or dogma, not even as an adjunct to our beliefs. The official stand is that the Bible is our main textbook. (Reference 1, Reference 2, Reference 3)

Even the negative application of the first word in that definition is not applicable to Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Prejudice.” Unlike other religions who truly do not regard the Bible as sacred or worth living our lives by, we have no such preconceived ideas. If something in God’s Word reproves us, we take the reproof and change. Now do not for one moment conclude I think we are perfect – no way is that true. All humans are imperfect. But as a collection of official beliefs, we make every attempt to stick to the Bible. Many, including the man that wrote me, feel we have mistreated the doctrines of the Bible, but they have never been successful in proving that claim. The scriptures they use demonstrate they have not closely considered the context, intent of God, or even reasonableness and intelligence. Like the illusions in the introduction, they insist on just one view that would prove them right.

Reference materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses often quote authorities that are not part of our faith. This is done in order to demonstrate that the conclusion(s) we reach are based not on subjective eisegesis but on objective exegesis. Every time that man has assaulted the honor of “the Watchtower,” what he fails to realize is that I have made a thorough search of the beliefs. They are integrally part of my life. So when he throws accusations at my religion, I consider it a personal assault to my well-researched beliefs, which, unto this very day, no one has ever successfully discredited (except for maybe in their own self-approving mind). Then, when I consider the actions and life of my accusers, I feel vindicated. So coming back to the optical illusions introduction, it is my firm belief that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who have examined what the Bible teaches, examined what people claim, looked at what made the most sense based on evidence, and then formed their beliefs to the real truth of the matters of God and what the Bible’s teachings are.