Sunday, 30 September 2007

Chuck Norris Facts

at the end of the trail this morning was Chuck's column at the exceedingly conservative site Worldnetdaily, which generally makes uncomfortable reading, whether or not you happen to agree with all, some or none of it!

When I searched under his name, I was reminded of and the man's amazing powers. His column of 1 October, 2007 was already coming up on search engines.

Chuck Norris' writing, like his biceps, can bend time and space.

Or, better...
It is Chuck Norris' pen that is mightier than the sword.

web-trail joy

The wikipedia page on Imhotep (he of predictive text fame) was quite interesting.

From it, I came across an associated page that mentioned other Imhoteps, in order to avoid confusion...

This led me to a reminiscence about the great cheapo black horror comedy, Bubba Ho-tep, which Kate and I had enjoyed and been revolted by a couple of years ago when milking the free offer at for all it was worth.

Which, naturally led on to the link about actor Bruce Campbell, the kind of guy for whom the phrase "cult following" was invented.

But of course, it was Chuck Norris for whom the phrase was actually invented (as the hilarious Chuck Norris Facts website doubtless says somewhere... a website that Bruce's fans have flattered with imitation, hence the link)

This page gave me the startling information that Chuck Norris was a Christian (praise God!). But now it was time to leave wikipedia for greener pastures...
Bed-wettingly funny.

And thence to the man's own web-page, with its very own 'Christian Area', but not a huge amount else about Christ, rather more about his illustrious career and general humanitarian efforts for the last few decades (which are impressive, and show that philanthropy of time and cash is a very good thing for society and for those in need). And what a good old militaristic American patriot he is, too.

I can't say I've thought a whole lot about personal violence and life changes after Christian conversion, but something about promoting extreme combat as entertainment grates with me. But hey, I'm skinny, English, intellectual, etc. What do I know?

Predictive text

is sometimes as reliable as astrology, sometimes surprisingly thick, and sometimes downright weird. So, as I come to write 'going' on my phone, 4-6-4-6, up pops 'Imho'. Why anyone thinks that Imhotep is going to be a common word, I don't know. Odder still, when you DO try to write 'Imhotep', you end up with 'Gointes'. And there's not even a wikipedia article about that.

Probably there's a conspiracy by the Illuminati to get us all to embrace the Egyptian-mystery-cult-origins-of-Christianity theory one finds on skeptics' websites. Or not.

World Championship

Chess, of course. Just finished in Mexico City - and now we have the first non-Russian to hold the title since Bobby Fisher, American Maverick par excellence and uncertified nutcase, in the 70s. The Indian, Viswanathan Anand (try saying that with a mouthful of Bombay mix), has triumphed over seven of the strongest players out there (lots of Russians, an Armenian, a Hungarian, an Israeli who was quite possibly from Russia originally...) including former champion Vladimir Kramnik. Anand has been hanging around the world's top three spots for at least a decade and plays exciting chess, so it's fitting that he should have come out champion - undefeated in this tournament, in fact. has been my faithful guide to this process, and it's just a shame it's all over. Oh, and also a shame that no one played the King's Gambit - it would have been interesting to see what Anand would have made of that! Far too many Catalans and Slavs (chess openings, not people) on the board for my taste. But Grandmasters will be Grandmasters...

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Smith-Morra Gambit

What kind of obscure sub-culture operates with this sort of tag?

Chess, obviously. My losing streak continues, but this afternoon, after teaching a piano lesson to PH we played a couple of exploratory games in the aforementioned opening.

An interesting line with early Bf4, which is quite unusual.

Black’s play clearly leaves something to be desired at more places than those moves marked as dubious, but the multiple sacrifices are worth watching. White gives up two knights and two rooks in the space of six moves, and wins!












































































Hmm Bilezikian

Particularly fine points in the conclusion:

  • personal piety cultivated apart from the church leads to legalism
  • strengthening ‘family values’ apart from church community values will fail
  • authentic community living requires each member to go out of his/her way to demonstrate risky love to others in the body

GB runs with an interesting idea [standard evangelical feminist reading] that the churches in Ephesus were in trouble because of false teaching and the pagan cultic background of their leading women (1 Timothy), while the churches in Crete were making a lot more progress toward mutuality, having come through the worst of the false teaching phase (Titus). This suggests to him that in today’s churches there ought to be a continuum from ‘remedial leadership’, which of necessity is (temporarily) hierarchical but which ought to move towards the other end of the continuum, to a normative model of communal involvement (‘total participation in ministry of all the constituency’, p.181). So, congregations should mature towards a situation in which, as believers are built up, they exercise more and more gifts, and the grip of particular leaders becomes progressively less marked.

As a practical point this has a lot to recommend it – crises may require strong leadership, and yet the aim of all churches (specifically the aim of the four types of foundation-leader mentioned in Ephesians 4) is to empower God’s people for works of service. But even in GB’s ideal world at the end of the rainbow-continuum there is not total participation in all ministries by literally every person in the constituency. And in any case, the best complementarian theology and ecclesiology does embrace the priesthood of all believers, and the participation of men, women and children in all ministries. Women are to teach (they are to teach other women and children) and to pray and prophesy publicly. However, they are not to be in the position of ‘overseer’ – this by specific mention in texts to both the allegedly troubled churches of Ephesus (1 Timothy) and the doing better churches of Crete (Titus). That does not exclude women from operational and strategic leadership of particular ministries in the church – so women with leadership gifts can exercise them (contra the claims of egalitarians that it’s an all-or-nothing situation). Full participation talk is a red herring (though it may strike at some conservative one-man-show churches that need to learn about the ministry of all believers) in the logic of the properly conducted gender debate because complementarians restrict just two roles to men but only in relation to the whole congregation – women are to teach and lead.

In the course of this argument he omits a crucial clause found in the New Testament passages alluded to. Can you spot the deliberate mistake?

As unpalatable as they may seem, the purpose for the restrictive measures is to bring dysfunctional congregations back to good health and to enable them to perform their rightful ministry. // The fact that Paul was urging women in the churches of Crete to become teachers (2:3) while the women in Ephesus were still forbidden to teach (1 Tim. 2:12) indicates that the Cretan congregations were moving faster than the Ephesian church away from hierarchy and closer to the normative model of communal participation. The same move toward total participation should characterize all healthy churches. [182]

Yes, that’s right, in Titus 2:3 Paul encourages women to teach women, whereas in 1 Timothy 2:12 he forbids women to teach men. I would say that was a pretty important distinction, neatly ignored so that GB can fit the texts into his continuum model of church maturity. Not to mention the fact that in 1 Timothy, just before the sentence about teaching, in the very same section of practical teaching about worship, women are commanded to focus not on outward beauty but on good deeds: is that also a temporary concession to a bad church situation that we should expect women in Crete to transcend!?

Furthermore, logically speaking, hierarchy and total participation can in fact co-exist [except in pure congregational democracy, which no one is advocating, except maybe the Quakers, and in practice the same distinctions arise between those who feel moved to speak regularly and those who quietly know their place…] as GB lets slip over the page… He inadvertently reveals how difficult it is to leave behind a two-tier Christianity, even for confessing egalitarians. Willow Creek Community Church (where he is theologian-in-residence) apparently offers courses and conferences to those who want to help their churches move down the continuum. After singing the praises of these products, GB notes that

[a] number of these conferences are open not only to members of the clergy but also to laypeople (183).

Wow, how kind. Do they get patted on the head as well for making it along to the conference? Glad to see that no one is stuck with a hierarchical ecclesiology…

Yes Bilezikian

Thus, one need only go three verses into the Bible to discover what is amply taught in the rest of Scripture, especially in the New Testament, that God is presented as a Tri-unity of divine entities existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the eternal community of oneness from whom all other communities derive life and meaning. Like Christians, Jews and Muslims also believe in one God. However, because their God is one person within one being, he is the prisoner of his own limitation. Frozen within the singularity of his own transcendency, he can never experience community. Not so for the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Although one being, he is eternally three persons within oneness. He values community supremely because he experiences the dynamics and snergy of three in one. Thus when he creates he creates community.

Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness (Zondervan 1997), pp. 17-18

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Isaiah 2

(1-4) The future pre-eminence of Zion
(5) so, let us walk in the light of the LORD
(6-18) God has abandoned Jacob because of their idolatry, sorcery and wealth: a day is coming for all the proud and lofty [in Israel or in the world?]
(19-21) this day will be terrible and many will flee to caves to hide from the LORD

(22) stop trusting in man!

The predictions of judgement and calls to repentance continue in the same vein until the first verse of chapter 4. However, chapter 2 has a more ‘worldwide’ feel to it (excepting vv.6-8) while 3:1-4:1 focuses more on Judah and Jerusalem.

Elevation and abasement are the main spatial themes here.The great hope is the bringing in of the nations (that’s us).

1-4 is a daring vision, since Isaiah had only some Psalms and possibly Amos 9 available as precedents – and this is a more vivid passage than any of them.

Note the arrogance of the United Nations in taking a phrase from this passage (swords into ploughshares) and claiming to be bringing that about, inscribing it on a foundation stone at their HQ. The CIA plays equally fast and loose with “the truth shall set you free”.

The mountain here is the pre-eminence of the King (Jesus) and his kingdom (the church), along with the authority of the King and the honour due to him (as the church grows, so more people flock to the mountain of the LORD to honour the King). The physical mountain has been superceded; there’s no way to fit this in to a date-setting (or more circumspect) pre-millennial eschatology involving an actual lump of rock in the Middle East. We can also note that there is no mention of human mission in this vision. The law doesn’t go out in any particular way – so the emphasis is on what God accomplishes. However, verses 1 and (especially) 5 hint at the role of God’s people in this.

Verse 4 should find several fulfilments: in the immediate fellowship of the church family; in larger communities coexisting peacefully (through the efforts of Protestant Irish Republicans, for example?); perfectly, at the return of Christ.

Regarding the second one, did the medieval papacy bring this about at all? Or maybe in the pacification and conversion of the Bulgars by Byzantium in the 10th/11th century? Or the Saxons or the Irish before that…? We always need to ask the question implied in verse 3: “was it of the LORD?” So, to equate the political influence of established churches with this process is not so easy to do (of course we would say that, we’re quasi-congregationalist Protestants!) and perhaps the work of Wyclif and Hus is more like it.

The judgements of 6-22 also find their fulfilment then (destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians), now (as the proud are humbled, die to sin and bow the knee to Christ) and in the future (at final judgement). Note the frightening image of along-suffering and patient God getting up out of his throne in 19-21...

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Fatuous, or what

The not-quite-so-recent furore in Exeter University (and a few other places) surrounding the evangelical Christian Union's membership of the Student Union, use of facilities, etc, is not a simple matter. There are serious questions that need to be asked about 'the' CU's relationship to other 'Christian' societies on campus. Plenty of intelligent-sounding bloggers have discussed the matter in way that does not support the actions of the CU.

However, the question of a name, and of cordial relations with Methsocs, Cathsocs, Orthodox, etc. is quite separate from the issue of whether or not the society (in this case an evangelical group) can control access to its membership or leadership in any way. It seems pretty clear to me that it ought to be able to. So I signed a petition on the Downing Street website. And this is what the government had to say about it.

Legitimate faith groups on university campuses should be affiliated with the relevant students' union provided they are operating within the law and the students' union framework. Students' unions should be inclusive and generally require all affiliated bodies to be open to any student.

The Education Act 1994 requires university governing bodies to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure the student union operates in a fair and democratic manner - and they are expected to do so in cases involving faith groups or any others.

No, really, that's all they had to say about it. Glad that's cleared things up...

Friday, 14 September 2007

World Championship

The chess World Championship is being held in Mexico at the moment. There seem to be some beginners playing in it - four draws (OK, this is a sign of Grandmaster chess, since beginners almost never draw), all involving extremely early advances of the h- or a-pawns, the classic novice flank attack!

Still, who am I to criticise - I haven't won a game of chess for weeks now. Maybe I should try the old h4...?

more echoes

Reineke, that unknown German Romantic, remembered today only for his phenomenal Undine Sonata for flute and piano, wrote a few slightly clunky symphonies (along with a tons of other stuff). The style is basically Mendelssohn with middle-aged spread. He was not a musical innovator, but a pillar of the establishment. His hometown was on the German-Danish border, and changed hands several times during his life.

The third symphony, in G minor, however inspired a thoroughgoing Dane, Carl Nielsen, in his first symphony of the same key. Nielsen was definitely a musical innovator, with an idiosyncratic style that took him to almost to atonality in the course of his career.

Themes of the two first movements are very similar - declamations based on the first three notes of the scale (G, A, Bb, G, Bb...), which for Reineke is the main theme, and for Nielsen, a later theme that intrudes more and more as the movement goes, totally dominating the last couple of minutes. But the works are very different – Reineke's rather staid, with the punch of a sixty-year-old boxer, Nielsen's burtsing with the youthful vigour of a rising star and full of interesting harmonic juxtapositions (G minor-C major, for example, in the opening chords).

Actually, I misled you just now. Oddly enough, the influence, if there was any, went completely the other way. Reineke wrote his symphony in the late 1890s only a decade before his death and several years after the premiere of Nielsen's 1st!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Films about identity and responsibility

Yes, really, Hollywood does make them.

The Bourne Trilogy (rounded off a month ago with The Bourne Ultimatum) and Unknown (a smaller-scale, edgy drama) both raise the question of 'did I do it?' If your memory goes, can you still be held responsible for what you did before then...?

What kind of reconciliation is possible if you are, in crucial respects, a different person? Jason Bourne is OK because he had no meaningful ties prior to losing his memory, and he killed lots of bad guys so he must be alright now... But the man who turns out to be the main protagonist in Unknown is in a slightly more tricky state. After all, his memory is coming back in the closing moments of the film, and what he sees he does not necessarily like...

More seriously, Christians must affirm a continuity of personhood despite a loss of memory, or otherwise all believers with Alzheimer's and serious dementia would have no hope. Of course it is the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit that will preserve such believers despite what appears to be completely lost from the perspective of the observer. On the other hand, we must recognise some sort of discontinuity when it comes to how we deal with people with Alzheimer's who become violent or foul-mouthed, who appear to have a totally new 'personality'. If they forget or reject Christ because of brain degeneracy, 'they' have not done so.

Who's the boss?

The process of emphasising human authority and the intensifying of human control by means of centralised authority which Rutherford had so ably developed over three decades, was carried along with even greater ability by his successes. Their language progressed beyond the blunt, even openly dictatorial, expressions typical of his presidency. It employed far more sophisticated, complex argumentation and smoother, more appealing speech. Yet it achieved the same degree of intellectual into negation and sought to impose the same sort of guilt complex on any who did not promptly line up with whatever teaching proceeded from the central headquarters in Brooklyn. (In Search of Christian Freedom, 100)

Franz compares this with an analysis of Paul Johnson’s account of the view of the church held by Cyprian in the third century. According to Johnson Cyprian view was that the only unambiguous instruction the Bible contained was to remain faithful to the visible church and debate its rules. Now, sectarian movements such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (and to a certain extent all Protestant denominations) are very fond of decrying the institutional church’s “fall” in the third and fourth centuries, since this for them represented a decline both in terms of individual freedom of interpretation and in terms of moral compromise as the church courted and then married the state, forsaking Christ, her true spouse. In the case of the Watchtower, this decline and fall took only a few decades, rather than the few centuries it took the church.

Although the Watchtower acknowledges that the real ‘mother’ of Christians, to use Cyprian’s terminology, is not an earthly organisation but a heavenly one, the spiritual mother is said to have a "visible channel of communication" or congregation members and that Channel is the earthly organisation. Which, in plain words, means that when "mother" talks it is through the "visible Theocratic organisation" and so if one wishes to listen to the "heavenly mother" he or she must do so by listening to the visible organisation of the Watch Tower Society. In effect then whatever is left of the invisible spiritual heavenly mother becomes applicable to have supposed earthly channel without whose direction members cannot understand the Bible. (101)

The language from the article he quotes at length (Watchtower, May 1, 1957) could have come out of a conservative Catholic polemic against Protestants in the 16th century!

“Some who call themselves Christians and to claim God as their father boasted that they walk with God alone, that he directs their steps personally. Such persons not only forsake the teaching or law of the mother, but they literally throw blogs woman out into the streets. The light of God’s truth is not for them… Today, also, God requires and exacts from his children obedience, honour and respect. These must be rendered not only to the living God himself, but to his wifely organisation as well.” (quoted by Franz on 101-2)

[By the way, doesn’t “his wifely” seem like a slip that implies that God himself is the husband of the church – which orthodox Christianity, contra the Arian JWs, insists is true since the church is the bride of God the Son, second person of the Trinity! Whoops, Watchtower… ; – ) ]

There is more of this in JW publications from 1967, 1976 and 1981… Dissent is of course not tolerateed, either in print or in person - there is no intellectual space for freedom of interpretation or discussion, and in practice extreme sacntions are applied by the organisation to any who demur.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

music and martyrs

move me greatly. The other day, tears streamed down my face as I listened to Reineke's Undine Sonata (late 19th century passion) while reading about the tenacity and humble service of Filipino Christians in Saudi Arabia today - their patient endurance in the face of suffering and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for Christ is astounding.

colour is not sitting still

For some reason it is easier to understand this idea of electromagnetic waves actually altering what they touch when you are talking about invisible ones like x-rays. It is hard to believe that light - lovely friendly white light - also changes almost every object it hits...

The best way I've found of understanding this is to think not so much of something 'being' a colour but of 'doing a colour'. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering - or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be a joyful as the colours they describe - in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red - meaning paradoxically that the red tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red.

Victoria Finley, Colour: Travels through the Paintbox (Sceptre, 2002), page 6.


About half way through Elgar's Cockaigne Overture on Radio 3 this morning, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra suddenly started playing the romantic theme from 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (score by Michael Kamen).

One of the most blatant borrowings I have heard! And because the original is tucked away as a minor episode in the Elgar Overture, MK must have thought no one would notice... Either that or he was making a very clever statement about how medieval England (specifically the Sherwood kingdom of Hood & Co.) was the mythical land of Cockaigne, flowing with milk and honey and free from trouble, that the medievals wrote about.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Isaiah 1

The first selection from some thoughts from studies I have just begun with a retired pastor who has been a great and godly influence on me over the last 5 years...

Isaiah 1

(1) announcement of recipient of vision and its duration, four kings' worth...
(2-4) The LORD says that his people have rebelled and are utterly estranged
(5-8) The LORD asks why the people continue to rebel even as they are desolate
(9) the survivors reflect on their close shave
(10-15) conparing them to S and G, the LORD declares their religious observance to be worthless
(16-20) commands to remove evil, bring justice to fatherless & widow, and promise of the good of the land
(21-23) the faithful city has become a whore, its population all corrupt
(24-31) the LORD declares his vengeance on foes, and purging of dross from Zion, renewing her but burning up those who forsake Him...

To ponder:
The more specific the prophecies are in no reference to real, particular events, the harder it is to give distinctively 'Christian' interpretation. Is the desolation of vv.5-8 the occupation of the land by Sennacherib during Hezekiah's reign? If so, is the rescue alluded to at the end of chapter merely the removal of the Assyrian army?

Maybe, but chapter 1 is not the complete vision of Isaiah. The time of the redemption and the nature of the redemption and the amazing effects of the redemption return again and again in the prophecy. Our understanding of Sion's future in Isaiah should not merely come from chapter 1. Instead, we must allow our vision to be gradually broadened as the book unfolds. Even allowing for hyperbole, something bigger than a seventh century military conflict is in view.

The covenant people of God are addressed corporately in Isaiah 1: how does this work for Christians today? Are we addressed corporately? If so, is that as universal Church, denomination or congregation? [This then raises the whole question of the organisational unity of God's new covenant people. Does Revelation 1-3 have something to say about the functional independence of different congregations from each other, and about the possibility that individual churches/denominations can lose their lampstand, ie. come under judgement? If so, can we ever be sure of identifying that? You can tell that ecclesiology is exercising my mind these days...!]

The most striking teaching of the passage to the contemporary evangelical reader today is verses 15-17: God will not hear our prayers if we ignore social injustice and the plight of the marginalised within the covenant community. So who are the widows and orphans known to me? And how seriously do I take Paul's cry that to abandon care of your relatives is to deny the faith?

Jonah 4

Kate led an excellent fast-pasec study on Jonah 4 in homegroup last week. Doing a high-level analysis of what God does and what Jonah does in each chapter reveals some interesting patterns.

1. God said go, Jonah said no...
  God saved
2. Jonah prayed (desperately, gratefully), God saved...
3. God said go, Jonah said OK...
  God saved
4. Jonah prayed (angrily), God provided...

Most importantly it shows how Jonah, the most numerically 'successful' prophet in the whole Bible is consistently the opposite of YHWH, which he even acknowledges in 4:3. What amazing mercy God shows - even while we were sinners Christ died for us, Jew and Gentile alike!

Saturday, 8 September 2007

JWs' unfortunate (lying) prophecies

1799, 1874, 1878, 1881, 1914...

Charles Taze Russell, who had referred to himself as "God's mouthpiece", died in 1916. He left behind a legacy of time prophecies not one of which had brought the results foretold. He also left behind thousands of confused followers (Franz, Crisis of Conscience, p.204).

1918, 1925, early 1940s...

And the Watch Tower continued to make false prophecies about the ending of the current world system, couched in such terms as to brook no disagreement from its adherents, all of which proved false (or, like the book of Mormon, unverifiable, since they referred to the 'invisible' reign of Christ beginning in X year...) In writings subsequent to each of the failed prophecies the organization glossed over its failures, covered them up or toyed with its readers along the lines of 'we weren't trying to say we were sure about that date, just zealous, and anyway look at how it made you all behave so much better thinking the end was nigh' (see Franz, Crisis, 205).

In the years leading up to 1974, 1975 was proclaimed as the big one. Occasionally in speeches a cautionary note would be sounded, but the tone was full of excitement and pregnant with expectation so that the implication of certainty ended up more powerful than bald assertion of certainty would have been - especially for those fed on a diet of Watch Tower and used to doing what they were told. This paragraph is typical - just as it is typical of JW writing style (use of 'Bible' as an adjective, putting a passage to the opposite use from its actual meaning and import, random proof-texting without argumentation, etc.) Conveying its message without properly supporting it, but in a skillful fashion that leaves the desired effect in the mind of the uncritical reader.

One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man's existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24.34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent. This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that "concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matt. 24.36) To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the "day and hour". (WT, August 15th, 1968; in Franz, Crisis, 246.)

If only the Watch Tower heeded its own advice and ceased toying with the words of Jesus. The effect on the uncritical JW readers was to make many give up thoughts of marrying, give up their jobs, and generally uproot themselves in preparation for the end. Should we laugh or cry? That's a serious question.

Just in case you were wondering whether the Watch Tower speaks with hand-waving only (or, more charitably, with merely a commendable excess of zeal and enthusiasm), here's a moment of certainty from 1922 frozen in print:

There exist, however, well-established relationships among the dates of present-truth [coining clunky noun-adjectives as usual...] chronology. These internal connections of the dates impart a much greater strength than can be found in other chronologies. Some of them are of so remarkable a character as clearly to indicate that this chronology is not of man, but of God. Being of divine origin and divinely corroborated, present-truth chronology stands in a class by itself, absolutely and unqualifiedly correct. (see Franz, 266)

There are so many examples over the last 100 years of the mocking of those who doubt, of the disfellowshipping of those who demur, of the hearts and minds messed around by these predictions - every one of them false. It's only because the organisation covers its tracks so well (e.g. Russell's works are all conveniently out of print, past mistakes are glossed over, organisational history is rewritten or suppressed) that we don't see more people leaving the Watch Tower. May God grant that more people read Franz's works and go further, to realise what real Christian faith is.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Watchtower on interpretation

[T]he Watch Tower Organisation calls upon Jehovah’s Witnesses to pass over its errors, asserting that these are counterbalanced, and outweiged, by other more favorable factors. Yet it does not apply that standard in its dealing with those under its authority. If they hold any view, even though minor, that does not coincide with the Watch Tower’s teachings, this is not viewed just as human “error” which may in time be corrected, but instead is deemed a basis for disfellowshipping. The fact that the overall picture may show that the individual who disagrees clearly manifests genuine Christian qualities is not considered relevant. He must agree with the organisation.

Raymond Franz, In Search of Christian Freedom (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1991), p.29.

On November 1st, 1946, the Watch Tower magazine carried a remarkable defence of individual freedom in interpretation, even engaging briefly with traditional Roman Catholic arguments against Protestantism, and strenuously denied setting itself up as ‘the one holding the magisteruim or teaching office and hence the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible’.

While there is more to say on that subject – and more interaction necessary with the idea of tradition (in RC, Orthodox and Protestant discourse), the relationship between primary and secondary doctrines and different types of disagreement with professing Christians – and while the plonking in of 1 Tim 3:15 [“Thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God…”] to somehow back up the implication that freedom of interpretation under God and Christ will lead us all to the right answer really [classic Watchtower ‘failure to specify’ in its proof-texting and decontextualisation] is dubious – my purpose is not to criticise the 1946 article, because its stand is clear and commendable.

Which makes the statements made in a Scottish Court in 1954 all the more shocking. In a case centering on whether or not a JW elder counted as an ordained minister of religion, three of the most senior members of the Watch Tower Organization testified publicly that the Watch Tower was precisely the divinely appointed arbiter of 'Truth' and correct Biblical interpretation (Franz reproduces court transcipts on pp.18-28). One of those Witness witnesses was the author of the 1946 article!

But the sectarian spirit of control was there almost from the start, at the end of te 19th century. It is remarkably difficult to defend freedom of interpretation and conscience while remaining in charge of a religious organisation… The founder of the JWs, Charles Taze Russell, who actually came off quite well in Franz’s first book, Crisis of Conscience (benign dictator) published his views on the subject late in life, asserting that reading his Bible Study material was more important than reading the Bible itself and that mere reading of Scripture was essentially unprofitable. Repeatedly his interpretations are held up as the correct ones, as guided by God, as necessary for keeping people on the straight and narrow (Watch Tower, September 15th, 1910, in Franz, Christian Freedom, pp.30-31). Sounds just like the Roman Catholic church, bugbear of Protestants and sectarians everywhere...

Frightening, but true. The rhetoric of freedom, but no reality.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Crisis of Conscience

Crisis of Conscience: The struggle between loyalty to God and loyalty to one's religion (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983).

At long last I have got round to reading that book which is advertised on the pages of EN (in that small advert announcing that EN itself has copies available... who bought too many a decade ago, I wonder?!), and mentioned by those in the know about [The] Jehovah's Witnesses.

As it happens, my copy came off Amazon - it's a 4th edition from 2002 (2007 printing, so it looks and feels very good indeed considered as a reading object) in a sober paperback design that reflects the tone of the work but belies its explosive import.

Raymond Franz, formerly of the Governing Body, charts various organizational changes and doctrinal shifts in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, exposing the remarkable dangers of a top-down controlling sect in compelling understatement and relentless detail. I cannot recommend this book more strongly to anyone who, as I do, feels great pity for those whose consciences, vitality and lives are manipulated, blanketed and extinguished by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Every time they come to our door I regret my failure to persuade them of the falsity of their beliefs and the duplicity of their organisation - even though I know it's not my job to 'save' them, as if I could, and even though I am as irenic as I can be in conversation.

Chapters 5 and 6 are particularly telling. Franz exposes the whitewashing and distortion of organisational history and culture indulged in by the Watchtower Magazine and associated publications, and he also reveals the astounding double standards at work in policy.

Through the 1960s and 70s in Mexico, Witnesses were advised that bribery of government officials was permitted in order to gain de facto exemption of regular military service (even though this technically made the Witness a member of the reserves of the armed forces) while in Malawi [Nyasaland] Witnesses were told that they could not purchase a membership card of the one-party government - which led directly to mob violence, theft, vandalism, rape and murder of thousands of Witnesses. [One thing I have learned that has made a big impression is the incredible hardship that many JWs have undergone for the sake of their beliefs; they have been brutalised by governments and neighbours across the world and have accepted such treatment meekly with remarkable tenacity.] The explicit instructions of the Society are there for all to see. On the one hand moral compromise, on the other callous intransigence: above it all, a tiny group of men in New York dictating the consciences of millions, almost without accountability and certainly without justification even in their distorted translation of the Bible.

The sequel, A Call to Christian Freedom, awaits me in even sturdier hardback in a bookcase upstairs. It was bought from EN at a wonderfully reduced price!

Records and round-up

Last month saw a record number of posts on noearthlycity. Most were somewhat frivolous, as I constantly defeat my own intentions to have a serious blog! Something about the extra discipline actually required to write decent, meaty posts on the many theological topics buzzing round my head puts me off.

The week before last saw none due to an increase in work and a general build-up of jobs in the run-up to the launch of Hope Community Church and an 8-day adventure taking in five countries.

Last week saw none at all due to a lovely warm trip to Turkey (via Switzerland) for our friends' wedding - followed by a whistle-stop visit to Pembrokeshire (via Poland and a relaxing day at my parents' house in Bath) for some other friends' wedding. Neither occasion was a wedding as might be traditionally understood in Britain, and that was the occasion for some musings as we thought about these things ourselves and explained our cryptic reporting of the holiday as visits to "not-weddings". I wonder if my views have even changed on that subject as on so many others. Well, musing later, as time is short...