Friday, May 5, 2017

Questions About Patriotism

“Are Jehovah’s Witnesses patriotic?” Recently someone had a series of questions that I am addressing here.

I have found in my years of discussions with people, it is usually best to set a baseline. So here are two English definitions:

Patriot: Per, (noun) 1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. 2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.

Patriotic: (adjective) 1. of, like, suitable for, or characteristic of a patriot.

By the above definitions, the one possible applicable term of “patriot” to Jehovah’s Witnesses is that we, to some limited degree, “support” the governments we live under. That is to say, we pay our taxes, we obey the laws, we respect authority. You will never find us participating in a flag burning or anti-political rallies. Regarding the paying of taxes, we are very scrupulous about this. My personal case is a prime example: My wife has for decades owned her own house-cleaning service. She gained such a reputation for honest and hard work, that she had clients living in million-dollar homes. Most of her clients paid her in cash. She logged the amounts in her calendar alongside the corresponding appointment. At the end of the year, I would open a new spreadsheet, logging date of service, name of client, and amount received. On another tab in the spreadsheet, I had formulas prewritten to summarize each client by month and provide the grand total of income per year. This we faithfully reported even though we probably could have lied and not reported it. This past year, that honesty cost me several hundred dollars in taxes owed. We always budget for it by saving throughout the year. This is a very basic principle of honesty that we have always been taught by our faith.

As far as the rest of the words describing a patriot, no, we don’t particularly “love” any country -- but we do not treat it with hatred or contempt either. In decades past I’ve heard songs written about “loving” America, but what does that really mean? If it is the land created by God, that is not “America,” that is just land. The land would have it natural beauties regardless of who ruled. If it is the political administration, all I ever hear from anyone are complaints of our corrupt and self-serving politicians are. So I’m not sure even non-Jehovah’s Witnesses would say they truly love their country. With all the hatred and divisiveness in the world today; with all the complaining I hear when I am in public places about corruption in government; with all the cheating I have been encouraged by non-JW’s to engage in (such as not reporting my wife’s income), I truly cannot say I’ve recently met anyone, even flag-wavers, that truly love the country they live in.

Finally is the matter of “defending the country or its interests.” Again, we don’t fight against the country, but we also don’t engage in war conflicts. That is part of the “world” (of mankind not following God’s direction) that we are no part of. However, we are instructed to follow the requirement of registering. Here in the USA, that is when a male adult turns 18yo. In times past, refusing military service meant automatic incarceration. This is still an issue in South Korea.

Consider a simple illustration: “Johnny” is raised by his parents to be honest, trustworthy, and respectful. His parents have told him he must be obedient to school authorities unless it conflicts with the parents’ moral instructions. Some of his teachers at school have noticed that in class, Johnny has exemplary conduct. One day during “physical education,” two teachers pick teams for a friendly yet competitive game. (It really doesn’t matter, it could be football, baseball, basketball, whatever.) The teacher/coach of Johnny’s team tells him that it is okay if he “sort of” cheats and pushes kids on the opposing team. Although Johnny assists in helping his team score several points, the teacher notices that Johnny didn’t act on several “open” opportunities to cheat. After the game, he tells Johnny he is not really a team player and that his lack of cooperation nearly cost them the game. Johnny stood his ground respectfully: “Coach, my parents raised me to be honest in all things. Although I obey you in everything else, as long as it doesn’t go contrary to my parents moral and ethical instructions, I cannot obey when you tell me to go against my parents. At the end of the day, I owe my life to my parents, not to any coach, teacher, or school.”

That, in essence, is the situation we live under. Although we are instructed in the Bible to obey governmental authority, it is obvious that does not include disobeying God’s clear instructions about being part of this world, participating in wars, etc.

Question Two: Why is reciting the national anthem, voting in elections and observing national celebrations perceived as a disservice?

National anthems & celebrations: First I performed a Google search for “features of most national anthems,” figuring that key elements must be present in many if not most of them. I came up with this article. It appears to be someone’s college report. As noted by the writer,

One of the most prevalent themes among the world's national anthems is the theme of war.  This also encompasses the struggles of revolution and rebellion.  These anthems often do nothing more than retell an account of a battle in which men succeeded against all odds to emerge as victorious against an oppressive evil.

I have always sensed that national anthems (and celebrations) contain a thinly veiled praising of victorious war, how great the nation is, and by extension, how much the nation ought to be adored. Maybe you won’t agree, but that strikes me pretty much as a form of worship. Speaking symbolically of governments as “wild beasts,” these three passages in the last book of the Bible (Revelation) tell of how people “worship” the wild beasts. In practical terms, this works out to such things as nationalism, patriotism, flag waving, anthem singing and other “devotional” acts.

Voting: Even before I became a Witness, I was never very political. My Catholic father voted. I think he was a Democrat. But he never considered that something to rant about. I cannot remember even one time he discussed that at home. (My father was from a German background, and far from the stereotypical hot-headed German, he was such a mild and reasonable man, I strived to emulate those qualities. I still have dreams of him and miss him dearly.)

However, for the first time in my life, I have actually followed closely the progress of the campaigns. I tried to learn as much as I could about the whole election “fever.” I did so because I have never seen Americans as whipped up, stirred up, and passionately engaging in outright violence. I am still amazed that things turned out the way they did. I don’t know if you’ve read any articles about what is still happening post-election. People are still beating each other to a pulp over divisive opinions. Trump actually encourages such actions. In fact, he is being sued because of it.

I think one of the things that shocked me most was how big a push there was for everyone to register and to vote. People were receiving unsolicited calls from campaign offices. “Your vote counts,” the people were told. They were lied to. It turned out their vote amounted to diddly-squat. It was the “electoral college” that put the current person in power, not the overwhelming vote of the people, who were for Mrs. Clinton.

Changing gears: The Bible tells Christians that they are ambassadors substituting for Christ. In real life, an ambassador is “a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment.” As such, they are not allowed to engage in political activity in support of or in opposition to the foreign government to which they are assigned. That would result in immediate expulsion and they would be viewed as a traitor by their own country. In quite the same way, it would be very hypocritical of Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be representatives of, proclaimers of, and extollers of the benefits of God’s Kingdom, to turn around and support any human government, regardless of how noble it may be. Both Jehovah and his son Jesus would absolutely view that as a traitorous act.

Some (those not of our faith) feel that people should support human rule in whatever country you live until Christ comes again. But when we pull back the curtain on that, what we plainly see is that such reasoning means those individuals are supporting Satan's dominion of divisive hatred, wars, etc. Anyone claiming to be Christian is under command by Jesus to be "no part of the world" because such is direct allegiance to Satan, God's main adversary.

I could carry on about my personal opinion, however, my opinion is insignificant. What matters is what we are formally taught. So, with that, I provide this link.

Question Three: If truly righteous people (in God’s eyes) refuse to participate as elected officials, how can the scripture be true that “when the righteous rule, there is peace.”

Perhaps you were thinking of this verse: Proverbs 29:2

To put this in real life context, two men immediately come to mind: David and his son, Solomon.

David: When he started his rule, it was indeed blessed by God and the nation truly did prosper. However, after his indiscretion with Bathsheba, God doled out must what has been a humiliating and emotionally devastating punishment. Fortunately, David truly had a humble heart and accepted the punishment as "deserved."

Solomon: He was known for his wisdom. Even the queen of Sheva is amazed. Sadly, however, he got sloppy in marrying foreign wives, which was completely against the law of Moses. The end result is mentioned was that the "wisest man to ever live" (up to that time) started worshipping valueless gods that were mere stone and wood.

Indeed, the proverb states a truism that is accurate: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." (KJV) Being righteous in God's eyes is not some intrinsic quality of a select and privileged few, but rather a quality of anyone willing to live their life according to God's direction. God can use such people to cause the ripple effect to those of like-minded determination. Just as demonstrated, even people that Jehovah speaks admirably of, can lose favor.

Therefore, what keeps a rule "righteous" in God's eyes, is that the ruler makes obedience to God a personal goal and then seeks to promote it in his domain. The scripture was written with the kings of Israel and Judah in mind -- they were under command from the Mosaic Law to read a portion of God's Word daily. This was never a requirement of other nations.

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