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Rewriting the JW Implanted Belief List

Rewriting the JW Implanted Belief List

As a therapeutic exercise, I attempted to rewrite the list of possible EX-JW Dysfunctional Beliefs from Mindful Construct in terms of my own perspective. I meant this to be simple, but it didn’t work out that way. Some of it is rewritten, some of it is explanatory, some of it is questioning – but I’ll honor where this took me and not go back and make the form of the responses consistent.

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who know God, he has shown them the truth about the world because they are honest and sincere and want to know truth. The Ultimate Deity, if there is one, could by definition be the only one who is and possesses Truth. Many believe that humans can participate in truth and love, but no-one can fully live or possess it. The God of Love shows authentic seekers the path of love within their own context. There are people who try their best to take the path of love in every religion, and outside religion. In every collective group, there are lovers and haters, there is faith and fear. And within each person, it is the same.
  2. Studying the Bible with the Witnesses is the only way to understand the full truth we need to know right now so that we can love and live forever. As a sacred collection of texts, the bible has been and can be a source of spiritual insights. There are many ways to read the texts, but taking small bits out of context is superficial and often misleading. The Witnesses’ interpretations are as flawed as those of any other group, and the claims to authority and transparency are arrogant rather than humble. People have created many methods to pursue truth. Most of them do not involve the shutdown of dialogue, caring, and freedom.
  3. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York are God’s channel of truth, like Moses was. They are full of love and truth. The spiritual status of the Governing Body is unknown, just as for any other group who claims to speak for God’s Will. What is known is that the Governing Body is very concerned with organization, legal protections, real estate deals, and authoritative control of membership. Jesus warned of false prophets, and to measure teachings by their accordance with his own. Teachings that inspire fear, self-righteousness and a fundamental dismissal of others are lacking in love and kindness. Judge by the fruits of the spirit (I still like that one).
  4. I am on an evil course in life because I have left the Witnesses and disassociated myself. It would have been a betrayal of my own spirituality and relationship with the cosmos/God to have stayed within the group. My own path required that I explore, inquire, and even celebrate. That my fundamental wellsprings of spirituality could be considered evil suggests that the Watchtower has made of itself an idol. Group membership at its best provides community, love, support, and inspiration –things that are sometimes profoundly lacking within the Witnesses.
  5. Everyone who is not a Witness is knowingly or unknowingly under the devil’s control. The line of good and evil runs down the center of each person’s heart. What we choose to do, how we choose to navigate situations, builds the type of character that we are becoming. If we cannot take responsibility for our shadow sides, we can’t integrate its strengths, and we tend to fall back into projecting evil onto the other. The issue of control that runs through much of this illustrates much in itself.
  6. I should not trust myself. I trust that there is an innermost quiet voice that already knows so much if I can learn to listen. I trust that I can more often than not tell when something is wrong. I trust that to hand your ethics over to someone else is an avoidance of spiritual responsibility and growth. I trust that I can learn to listen to the stories of others before making judgments. I trust that I have understood enough to know – basically at least – what is wrong and right for my path. However, I do not *blindly* trust myself or others. I trust that my understandings are always evolving and that I may make some turns along the way. No-one is completely transparent to themselves, and everyone makes mistakes. It’s easy to believe only what is convenient to believe, so a position of doubt helps to guard against hubris. It’s a matter of balance – to be self-confident and self-trusting, but not to stop listening and learning.
  7. Thinking independently from Jehovah/the Witnesses/the Bible is evil. There is no place to think completely independently – we are all influenced by our culture, our language, our relationships and groups, our education, and many other aspects of existence. However, even the Witnesses have said that it is wrong to put an organization between God and a person seeking/loving God – they just forgot to apply that to themselves. What they mean by thinking independently is to question or debate their interpretations and guidance, to study the bible outside their literature (even within the congregation), or to suggest that there are stronger and weaker interpretations of biblical texts. Even honest questioning – presented to the elders – can get you in a whole lot of trouble. They seek obedience to themselves and their interpretations, and they don’t want anyone shaking things up with actual debates. In this, they are profoundly anti-educational and anti-pastoral. Human beings have a capacity for questioning, for thought, for curiosity – these things can help us to grow and thrive.
  8. The devil is trying to mislead everyone into thinking independently and opposing the Witnesses so they will die when the end of the world comes soon. It seems to be taken for granted that thinking independently will as a matter of course lead to opposing the Witnesses. That’s amusing on a number of levels, so stop and smile here! The biblical devil was once an angel of light, but he became overly proud and lost a sense of his positionality within all things. It seems to be that Sa’tan represents the spirit of unfettered opposition – the principle of duality. He is also presented as God’s interlocutor, a sort of prosecuting attorney, in the case of Job. The sense of evil as something unclean and nonholy is here too, and also possession – being tormented by internal voices. So – in a sense, they are right that if you are possessed by all the internal voices to the extent that your life is centered on opposition to the Witnesses, you’ve missed something you needed for your spiritual path. However – the solution to that is (you guessed it) independent thinking! Why? Because if you are still trapped there, still trapped within these limiting beliefs, you are not independent at all – you’re just living on the flip side of the same mentality. Eventually, thinking, meditating, reading, having dialogue, and experiencing care and kindness will help you to move on from this stage.
  9. People like me who accurately understood the truth as taught by the Witnesses but rejected it are even worse than those who never knew. I am an apostate. People who understood the interpretations and rules of the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society became very familiar – ad nauseum – with narratives that might hold some kinds of truth. There are levels and types of truths. However, to conflate this very limited kind of education with “the truth” can prevent you from continuing on your own life journey – the education that never stops. The word “apostate” has a specific demonized meaning within the JWs. I am not an apostate.
  10. Since I was the spiritual leader of the family, God will hold me responsible for stumbling them and leading them into apostasy. This is a tough one! It is tempting, even now, to accept this teaching and say that ministerial servants, congregational elders, and district or circuit overseers will be held responsible for leading the “sheep” astray. It feels right, but when I apply the method of self-doubt and self-acceptance and caring, I realize that I would only like this to be the case for the sake of all the people that have been damaged and hurt by the organization. There is a sense that retribution would be just. But this scripture was never about retribution; it was about responsibility. Those who are leaders have a special responsibility to care more deeply, to be careful about what they do and say, and to serve the congregations with love. If they are misled about that themselves, and have done their best to be true to the Spirit, one can only hope that the God of Love would judge them as we hope to be judged ourselves. I am opposed to the behaviors often evident, I am opposed to the often heartless judgments, but the path of love says that good must be the response to evil. Ultimately, I think that that those who attempt to use and control others have created their own hell, nor are they ever out of it. Oh, what they are missing!
  11. I am a special target of the devil, now that I have left the Witnesses he will trick me into opposing all that is good and will lead me into suffering and destruction. Projecting your choices onto a demonic creature has never been very helpful to me. The very threat of becoming a target of the devil and demons works to instill fear and a reluctance to leave. It can be a little bit of a self-fulfilling script, too. It’s a very common thing that the new ex-JW still accepts the definitions of all the things they aren’t supposed to do – and goes right out and does them! I’ve seen a parallel here with first-year college students, away from the home rules for the first time. Sometimes that first year is a little wild, and some do self-destruct. Just being able to break rules is not freedom yet. You’re still being defined by others. You can choose not to do that.
  12. Alternatively, the devil will bless me with abundance and prosperity, but it will only be temporary and deep down I will still be an evil traitor. This is a great way to cover all situations – hardship or blessing, anything outside the JWs is evil. There is no necessary correlation between hardship and goodness, or success and evil – or vice versa.
  13. If I practice hypnosis, evil spirit beings called demons will enter my mind and possess me. By doing so I am inviting great evil and harm into my life. Hypnosis is one technique to gain some distance from destructive habits of thought and replace them with more helpful thoughts. It may be a good “jumpstart” but should not replace careful meta-reasoning on your own. You should know and approve of the content in advance, and have established a relationship of mutual respect and trust. If you are very nervous, a recording of the session might ease your anxieties. Also, meditation and prayer can both establish similar states of awareness of the progression of your thoughts and feelings (if you know, or can learn, how to pay attention).
  14. Only someone evil like me would undergo hypnosis to purposefully transform their beliefs after knowing the one and only truth about reality that I’ve known. This kind of self-hatred programming can be very difficult to overcome. There are a whole slew of “if I do this, I must be evil and God hates me” kinds of suggestions to transcend. Some people just accept it and say – “Fine, I’m evil,” but the entry point here is to ask on what basis – really – someone is justified in thinking that they know the “one and only truth about reality” in the first place. An irony here – the methods used by leadership on their congregations sometimes come very close to hypnosis.
  15. My evilness must be even greater than most others because of the depth to which I understood the truth. I was a teacher of the light, now I am in deep shadow. Delving into the shadow-side is sometimes unavoidable and can be a very revelatory experience, but new ex-JWs are in no way prepared for this kind of thinking. I read a lot of Carl Jung before I could even process what he was talking about! So, how about this? In some ways, I was a teacher of light and in some ways I totally missed the light without knowing it. Now, I am more careful about claims of light and darkness, and of such wide-reaching dualistic judgment. Reality involves the blending of light and darkness (cf. Taoism) – think of the sun shining on the leaves, the interplay of light and shadow that creates beauty. Don’t confuse darkness with evil. Evil can appear (at first) as an angel of light, too.
  16. All spiritual or religious belief systems besides the Witnesses’ belief system are special tools that the devil uses to mislead people and invite demons. This is what some other fanatics say, too. The projection of demons onto other religions was a really cool tool for missionaries that tried to pull people away from their religions. It’s no coincidence that contemporary images of the devil look a lot like the Horned God of some more ancient religions – you can even see Pan there! Religions have tended to try to answer the current needs of the community, but if the only way to define membership is by who is not included then I think that is usurping God’s role. Many, many people disagree with me on that; it’s one reason why I have no church membership.
  17. Those who celebrate Christmas and other holidays are under the devil’s control, since it prevents them from understanding the truth about Jesus and Jehovah. Control, again. I actually think some of the ideas about holidays are interesting, but there’s a lot more to the story. Following the history of the transformation of holidays, across different countries, is fascinating. Usually the argument would be that they are of pagan or nationalistic origin. What tended to happen is that the old celebrations were assimilated and transformed into the newer ones, over and over and over again. There is a deeper truth hidden here by the presented either-or; it pretends that all the celebrations are static – they have an origin that is secure and for all time. That is not the case. What relationship holiday celebrations may have to preventing understanding is unknown, but at first glance, it seems reasonable to someone used to accepting what they are told.
  18. Jehovah is the Creator and source of all life. The only way to know truth is to know him. The only way to know him is through Jesus. The only way to know either of them is through the Bible and the Witnesses’ lives and teachings. Lots of people hold to some version of this belief, the central version of which for Christianity is that Jesus is the way and the life. But I think a more profound way to frame this is to think less about assent to beliefs as a measure – and to think more about commitment, caring, responsibility, kindness, openness, listening, and attune-ment. Jesus was one example – for me there are others as well. And, you know, pleasure and fun and creativity are ok – they help. Have you ever lost yourself in doing something you’re really good at? That’s a form of communion – dance, painting, building something…
  19. The only way to know truth is also through the Holy Spirit. Only the Witnesses really have Holy Spirit, that is how they understand the Bible more fully. The Witnesses are alone, I think, in believing that the Spirit is God’s force of action. It’s a little bit like electricity. They are anti-trinitarian, so the relationships are those of separate entities. They believe that Jesus was filled with the Spirit. He was not God, but God’s son. To me, the Holy Spirit is a very interesting topic. Track it through the biblical texts sometime and all sorts of strange thoughts might occur to you. I keep thinking of extraterrestrials… Since it’s so very mysterious and strange, I tend to think of it as a form of love-possession, but it seems to have physical properties too (like a virus? Hmm?). It is the mirror of demonic possession. Very bizarre. There are many testimonials of being filled with the Spirit, and that it’s the only way to know the truth. But the Witnesses don’t believe that they are filled with the Spirit – they only believe that the Governing Body and the 144,000 chosen ones are – so they accept being part of the “great crowd” that gets to live on Paradise Earth after they clean up the bones and stuff. This is part of the way that the Watchtower Society is able to maintain control – because the rank and file are *not* filled with spirit, they have to trust the ones who are. There is no outward display of any of this, nor do they honor the ideas of calling or of spiritual gifts (especially for women!)
  20. I do not deserve to live because I am a sinner, that is why people die (they are too). Again, a common Christian thought, but the other side of this is the “new life” Christians are offered as an alternative. Myself, I don’t think anything deserves to become a living being. Life is not about being deserving. What would that even mean? JWs take it further. It’s not just that we’re all sinners because of events in a long-ago garden experiment, but it’s that there really isn’t any such thing as grace for them. They never use the word. Sometimes they say “loving-kindness” or “undeserved love” to express forgiveness of “imperfection” – but they are very focused on “keeping the congregation clean.” Their idea of service that matters to God is keeping track of how many hours a month people go door to door.
  21. I should not be living for this world but for the New System, when everything will be perfect on the earth. Only perfection is good enough for life to be worth living. I have no idea what perfect life on earth would be, but it still must have some kinks in it, because a bunch more people will be destroyed after the first thousand years. The New System, also called “God’s New World Order” is a kind of terminology that should give everyone pause (cf. Nazi belief-system, secret societies in general, Google “New World Order”). Outside of this truly creepy but undefined idea of the post-apocalyptic theocracy, one can ask whether only perfection is good enough for life to be worth living. I suppose it makes sense if there is an ideal balance of perfection and imperfection that becomes perfection again. After all, what would become of longing, wistfulness, and a million other emotions that require a bit of imperfection to make any sense? Life thrives only under a mix of order and chaos – it needs process and transformation. The New World Order sounds really… ordered. Guess I’ll miss out on that lion/lamb thing. My eyes are on a different sort of prize.
  22. God’s Kingdom, a heavenly government that will destroy all other governments soon, is the only solution to mankind’s problems. Very militaristic! The Messiah was originally supposed to be some sort of military leader, I think. I’m waiting for the day that someone will act out some specific prophecies to try to kick-start the thing. Or wait… maybe that’s already happening. I believe that the kingdom is within you. Even more than that, I believe that the kingship metaphor doesn’t really work for us anymore. The claim to heavenly government really foments a lot of hatred and violence (Google extremists, religious terrorism, witch trials, inquisition, Christian reconstructionists, etc.). I can make no truth claim on this one way or another – it depends on how the scriptures are interpreted, and it depends on the status of the scriptures in your belief system, and it depends on how many levels of thinking you can manage beyond literalism. For me, there are two options. First, no such literal event will happen – at least not beyond what has happened before and is happening and will happen again. Second, there really will be such an event, just as JWs believe, and I will then know beyond any doubt that the God they worship is not the God of Love.
  23. Efforts to make the world better or to change the world now are futile. The world outside the Witnesses is a dark and evil place controlled by Satan. Control again! Efforts to make the world better may or may not be futile – there are a lot of powers at work for both creation and destruction. Working together for good has benefits beyond the benefits to the world because it fosters cooperation, and even can help the economy. In addition, the biblical texts suggest that humans are responsible for the stewardship and maintenance of the planet. If you believe that, then allowing it to become a slash and burn zone may have some sort of repercussions. Last, I hope everyone’s noticed that there’s really no place else to go. What we do with the planet and each other creates the space within which we all must live.
  24. Non-Witnesses cannot be trusted, they will betray me, they have no real loyalty, they do not know real love. We are deep in the time of the end in a loveless world. Developing relationships of love and trust can happen anywhere. Betrayal and destructiveness can happen anywhere. If you expect that the world will be loveless, it probably will seem that way. And if you have few experiences of love and trust, it may be more difficult to trust and love. Do JWs foster trust and love among each other? Sometimes, sometimes not. Some of the policies are distinctly mistrustful, even paranoid, and the view of love is extremely truncated. However, there are also Witnesses who are capable of love and trust – it’s just that it’s more difficult for them to thrive. On the “time of the end” – I believe that every day includes aspects of Genesis and Apocalypse, birth and death, creation and destruction – around the world, and within yourself.
  25. The devil wants us to live for now instead of the New World that God will bring. Flip it. Does God want us to live for the New World, and not live now? If so, why all this urgency about placing literature? Seriously though, many religious traditions express some kind of caution about living *only* for today. Others say that that one *can* only live in the moment. The devil has expressed no opinion on the matter.
  26. Going to college or making a lot of money is dangerous to my spiritual health. Lots of things can be dangerous to your spiritual health, including parochialism and cowardice and paranoia. Your ideas may be challenged in college, and if you don’t know how to debate in a civil way, you might become threatened and lose the chance to learn. If you are solely motivated by money and power, you may forget the essential humanity of others. There are risks and challenges to every aspect of life, including the refusal to think or to be kind, which can be very damaging to your spiritual health.
  27. Success in this world is dangerous to my spiritual health. The more I succeed in life outside the Witnesses, the more I am under the devil’s control. There is no correlation between success and control by demonic forces, assuming such exists. This is another control mechanism.
  28. Non-Witnesses are dangerous to my spiritual health. Being trained to be a non-questioning follower is dangerous when you might be following the wrong person or movement. Either a JW or a non-JW can mislead you into a situation that you might not be good for your spiritual or physical or emotional health. Anyone can be a teacher, but sometimes the lessons are difficult. On the other hand, there are amazing wonderful kind people who can inspire you and help you. Personally, I found more of the latter outside the Witnesses.
  29. Not going to Witness meetings or from door-to-door is dangerous to my spiritual health. God doesn’t care about hours or territory maps. God doesn’t require constant indoctrination from an organization. Or – if God does, such a God is not the God of Love.
  30. I am going to be responsible for the deaths of others when the world as we know it ends because I stopped preaching about the end of the world. I am heartless. It’s heartless to try to make someone feel responsible for the deaths of others just because they do not continue to promote your publishing company and your biblical interpretations. Each person’s path is their own.
  31. I have no future in this world because soon the world as we know it will end and I will die if I do not go back to the Witnesses. If the world ends, none of us will have a future. It’s possible. We might blow the place up or pollute it to death or any number of other things. However, being a JW will not protect me from these things if they happen.
  32. The sincere Witnesses will live happily forever in the paradise without me. If JWs, including my closest friends and family, can imagine living happily forever in paradise without me and without other loved ones, they have lost something very essential. I can only grieve for their loss, and hope that they will someday have access to a view of others that makes them a little less disposable.
  33. Loving people do not leave the Witnesses. Only crazy and/or evil-minded people like me do. Loving people sometimes have to leave the Witnesses. Crazy, evil-minded people sometimes have to stay in the Witnesses.
  34. Jehovah (God) will forgive me if I go back to the Witnesses. Then, and only then, will I be happy and truly satisfied in life. Godd(ess) will forgive me for my mistakes because that is the nature of love. There is no covenant for happiness – happiness is momentary, it sneaks up on you, and maybe you’re most happy when you’re not pursuing the idea but just being-there.
  35. The demons can drive people crazy when they leave the truth. Indoctrinated control mechanisms can make it very difficult for some people to leave everything and everyone they know, but there are methods to prepare yourself and find your way.
  36. The only other explanation for my leaving the Witnesses, if I am not evil, is that I am crazy. The JWs have all of the ingredients to psychologically damage people. People leave the Witnesses for many different kinds of reasons. Higher principles, search for acceptance and love, wanting to marry a non-JW, becoming involved in a self-destructive activity like drugs to escape or rebel, caving under the pressure of maintaining a theocratic outer self under the knowledge of one’s own faults and desires, refusing to shun a friend or family member, witnessing acts of cruelty. The list goes on, the high road, the low road, the middle road, etc. Not a binary.
  37. It is better for me to be locked in a mental institution and be crazy or die than to live successfully as a non-Witness. Then maybe I wouldn’t be evil after all. It would be easier for JWs to scapegoat you in your absence if you would oblige them with an example of why people mustn’t leave.
  38. I am a liar because I dedicated my life to do Jehovah’s will and work and now am purposefully not doing it. Maybe. Depends. To what extent are you convinced that what you were doing, how you were thinking, and what you were feeling were in any accordance with the fruits of the spirit? How about now? Then, there is also the possibility that at age – what, 16? – you might not have fully understood what your dedication would mean. Even if you were an adult convert, there is probably even less chance that you fully understood. It might be helpful to articulate what you are committed to and dedicated to now – and update rather than overturn. Look around – If God exists, it follows that God would understand growth and transformation.
  39. I have taken the evil side. There are only two sides, Satan’s and Jehovah’s. Satan has convinced me to decide for myself what is right and wrong. All this focus on Satan! Could it be that Satan is more powerful than God in their eyes? I believe that I cannot completely decide for myself what is right and wrong, but I have a pretty good idea. In addition to my own insights and feelings, I rely on the narratives of the people involved to round out a contextual point of view. I rely on the thoughts and experiences and examples of people I admire, too. But I don’t rely on any one organization’s interpretation of what non-humans might want or not want from me.
  40. I am like Satan. All those like me who know of but reject Jehovah’s Universal Sovereignty and try to decide for themselves what is right and wrong are not loving. Love is the entry point into starting to understand ethics, but ethics reinforces love. One cannot force empathy or caring – one cannot be told to care as a matter of obedience. I am like Satan, in that I will be “the devil’s advocate” to push a debate to its limits and find its boundaries. I am like Jesus in caring about those who have been hurt or abandoned or not allowed to speak. I leave God to being God. Or Goddess to being Goddess. Or whatever that Ultimate Deity might be that we love to project gender upon. All I know is that love is at once the most humble and the most powerful force in the universe.
  41. I am a betrayer, just like Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. I am betraying the loving God and his Son and all those who love them. Therefore I will be betrayed. It is worth remembering that there would have been no religion of Christianity without the kiss of Judas. Does anyone pray for his forgiveness? Betrayal is an action, not an identity. If karma is real, maybe betrayal comes back around. However, leaving a controlling group – even if it’s very difficult – may not be a betrayal at all. Maybe it’s opening your eyes.
  42. Only an unloving person like me would forsake the sacrifice Jehovah made through Jesus by opposing Jehovah’s work being done by Witnesses. The constant association of love with membership is absurd. The work done by Witnesses is to spread a certain theology that emerged at a particular place and time and has its own very specific history. The way to be a loving person is to cultivate kindness and caring and empathy for others just as much as you can.
  43. In a marriage, a man is the head of the household. Some cultures have worked out a division of responsibilities in which the male makes certain kinds of decisions. This is not universal, and may even have developed as a response to an earlier matriarchy. Even within the Witnesses, headship is service and the method is to follow Jesus – for the husband to care for and protect the wife and the household in deep respect and responsibility. Like the stewardship of the planet. It is not an excuse to replicate the controlling aspects of the Watchtower Society within the household. Some will disagree with me, I know, but I also happen to think that each marriage is a team effort, and those who don’t need to rely on certain kinds of roles within the marriage can divide up the responsibilities in whatever ways work out best for them. It’s a task of marriage to do so with mutual respect and fairness.
  44. It is wrong to have sex with anyone, even if you love the person, unless you have a legal certificate of marriage. Marriage is an institution designed to protect assets and the welfare of children. Ideally, a married couple is committed to and deeply in love with one another. They respect each other, they work together, they are honest about their needs and desires, including sexual ones, and through the feedback loops involved in living, they enjoy periods of intense and wonderful sex. Marriage also involves challenges, and there are periods in which things are more tense or withdrawn. On the other side, it is possible to express loving in a sexual way in other situations besides the bond of marriage. That is the decision of the two people involved. There are many kinds of relationships in the bible, but marriage is about family. So, am I saying that all sexuality is ok? Actually, no. It is wrong to have sex with anyone if you view that person as a commodity, or as a tool for addressing your own desires. When your sexual partner is really just a walking doll for your gratification, you’ve not learned anything about either love or sexuality (and it’s obvious, by the way). If you’re having sex only to address some insecurity about yourself, or because you think that’s the only way someone will like you, or because you’re using sex as an escape addition or a power trip – then you’re missing out on the magic. And the magic is what it’s all about.
  45. Any sexuality of any kind outside of a legally recognized marriage, including masturbation, deserves the punishment of death for the unrepentant. The sin of Onan was in disobedience, taking pleasure without responsibility. He was to take his dead brother’s wife to bed as a surrogate so that his brother’s line (and assets) would continue. Instead, he used the “withdrawal method.” Technically speaking, that’s not even masturbation. There is a lot of same-sex love in the bible – David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his apostles. Whether these were sexual relationships too, I don’t know. There are prohibitions on homosexual behavior, but then again these were very close tied (by vocabulary choices) to people who sold themselves to others. If you’re going to rely on Leviticus in any case, read around in the same section about how to treat your slaves and things like that. No – I come back to the same ideas of kindness and caring and respect. If those things are absent, a marriage won’t solve the problem. People love who they love – and where there is love, the spirit is there, too.
  46. I deserve to die just by being born sinful and for overstepping the law of God after knowing the truth. The only way for me and other sinful humans to receive forgiveness and be happy forever is to pray to Jehovah through Jesus. Oh, this list is so long! Ok. There’s nothing you can do to deserve forgiveness, but you can start with being accurate about what mistakes have actually been made. When you can admit that you’ve made mistakes and are trying to rectify them and to learn from them, then the process of forgiveness has already started. If all it takes is an incantation, that’s not very authentic….
  47. I will die at Armageddon because I have stopped praying for Jehovah’s forgiveness of my sins through Jesus. He is the only way to life and truth. Many Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to life and truth. There is some wisdom in that, because Jesus oftentimes illustrated and incarnated that way, and that way is the only way – at least, it’s a really, really, really good way. I will probably not even get to see Armageddon, after all that build-up!
  48. Even if I seem happy for a while living as a non-Witness, eventually if I am a loving person I will realize the truth that the Witnesses were right all along. This one and the next one are very tenacious. There is this feeling that you’ll always see eventually, that you need to come back. Some do! I see no correlation between that and loving, unless it’s that your family have blackmailed you with this and have shunned you meanwhile, so if you want to feel loved and worthwhile, you might feel you have to go back.
  49. Deep down I know the truth — the Witnesses are always right on the main points. I’ve been programmed deep down that the Witnesses might not always be perfect but have always been right on the “main points.” This is so deeply ingrained that it comes up in almost every conversation on this topic. It’s something that even those who have been out for a long time sometimes wrestle with. I had to study for a lot of years before I could shake it, but I feel confident that the Witnesses have some occasional insights, but they are not, and have not, always been right on the main points. Their policies are more destructive than constructive, and more anti-agapic and controlling than loving and pastoral.
  50. I will never really be happy living as a non-Witness. I would have no chance at all for happiness if I was living as a Jehovah’s Witness. In my case, I would also not be living, since I would have refused the blood transfusion that saved my life. I would be intellectually dead because I would have to kill off my talents for inquiry, stop asking questions, stop reading, etc. I would be emotionally dead because I would have to play along with the various petty congregational intrigues and fascades. I would be sexually dead because I’d be trapped in a loveless marriage with a likely abusive JW husband. I would be spiritually dead because I would have to deny years of exploration, insights, mystical communion, and ethics. If I had to live as a Jehovah’s Witness, I could not even work toward becoming the one me in the universe that God might mean for me to become, or be able to accept the me that God somehow loves already. I couldn’t be any me at all without making these things a matter of my deep committment, faith, and life of concern and authentic questioning. I would only be a saleperson, a puppet, a robot.

“It delivers people who have no tolerance for ambiguity from having to make moral choices. It allows self-loathers to project their hatred onto the world. It translates the allure of the world into Satanic temptation, so that those who fear its enticements are armed against seduction. It provides ego balm for the lowly, an identification with the The Chosen. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe as little in psychology as they do in philosophy, it tames or numbs the wilderness of the heart by closing valves of inquiry.” – Barbara G. Harrison

Atheism is Not Enough

Atheism is Not Enough

Slavoj Žižek makes a very interesting defense of atheism in the editorial “Defenders of the Faith” (New York Times, 3/12/06). Certainly atheism deserves the restoration of the inherent dignity of its position. But his overall argument, at least in the context of our current realities, is flawed. It could be a readerly effect, since the article looks as though it might have been chopped up. (Boo-hiss to the editor if that is the case – Žižek deserves better.) Still, I read the piece and was surprised. So I’ll respond.

In the piece, Žižek proposes atheism as the (only?) position or standard that might offer a chance for peace.

Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow.

…the lesson of today’s terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the “godless” Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.

Very interesting comparison. Although he then nods in the direction of compassionate ethics as a mode of the religious (something I see in more progressive faith positions), he attributes to atheism the standing of being the only home of ethics in contemporary reality. Why should people act ethically, why should they do good, be good, strive for good? Doing so for reward (praise, salvation, paradise, heaven) or from fear of punishment (opposition, scapegoating, shunning, criminal punishments, hell) is a low moral standard – but it has often served as a starting place.

It’s true that you don’t need to believe in God to assess a situation and do what you think is the right thing. A moral deed doesn’t require God. One can do a good thing because you feel you should, or when your compassion rises, or when it increases your well-being, or even because it’s just not too inconvenient at the moment. You could do the right thing for the wrong reasons. You could do the right thing completely by accident. Or you could do the right thing because that’s the kind of person you have become – by habit, by inclination, by choice, because you like attention, or are turned on by sacrifice, because of a sense of noblesse oblige or solidarity, to gain some greater advantage, or just because your mamma told you to.

It’s the fixed idea of absolute authority, absolute truth that is more of a problem. The article even gives the idea of Communism that became a kind of “religion” as an example. One could add “manifest destiny” or “privatization” or “superior race” or any number of other ideas – when such an idea is ascendent, watch out!

So it seems to me that the alternative should properly be a kind of agnosticism, rather than atheism, which can be just another form of fanaticism (the zeal of the truly anti-religious).

I would go further than Žižek does here in this respect, and claim that religious systems of belief actually undermine ethical thinking and actions in very specific ways. Beliefs interfere by mandating rules that can and do silence narratives of experience, or cut some people off from equal consideration, or simpy reinforce existing power structures, no matter how oppressive they might be. Beliefs set up clusters of priorities that may have little relevance to the actual situation. Moreover, Zizek misses here his strongest argument, which is the tendency of some to claim authority (even the authority of the absolute – of God) as their own simply to take advantage of their apparent ability to do so. If God is in any sense within us, God is within us all.

However, I am not at all convinced that atheism is the solution. While atheists might (not always!) tend to be more tolerant of religion than the religious are of atheism, there are no guarantees that atheists are good, or will strive for the good, either. There are nasty horrible atheists, too. I don’t actually find that religious affiliation (or a lack of one) really has very much to do with what kind of a person someone is, or how they behave. Religion only creates a set of standards on what the community of believers will regard as good or bad. That creates its own effects, such as the thrill of transgression. Sometimes people will create a public persona to conform to the standard, while having a secret life that is quite different.

Žižek says that when he himself does a good deed, he does it “because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror.” Fair enough, and it’s also a standard of my own. I judge myself a bit harshly (more so than I would judge others), perhaps as a holdover from having been a Jehovah’s Witness. It is difficult to judge oneself clearly and honestly, even when one really truly wishes to do so. There are also those (whether fanatical, religious, or without significant motivations based on systems of religious belief) who are not terribly concerned with honest, realistic self-evaluation or insight. It’s a completely separate topic from the one at hand.

The larger points – that it is better to do something out of love than because you have been trained to do it, and that atheism actually creates a “safe public space” for believers – really illustrates how far the religious world as a whole has fallen. Those are both religious concerns!

These weird alliances confront Europe’s Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the “godless” atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims’ only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.

However, allies are not always accepted (or seen as allies) if one feels disregarded or insulted – or when one of your own is whipping you into a frenzy. One has to look at how different people will prioritize the spheres of difference.

What does it really mean to respect the beliefs of another? What follows from that ideal?

If you take it seriously as a high value, then according to Žižek you are left with an aporia. Your choice then is either a patronizing tolerance (as toward a child – Santa Claus, the tooth fairy) or a relativist stance of multiple “regimes of truth” in which ultimate truth claims themselves become a kind of transgressive violence. The first choice has obvious problems. I lean toward the latter myself because I have come to believe that “Truth” is more of a goal than a possession, and that we project our truths as much – if not more so -than we discover them. Neither of these alternatives faces the actual situations he concerned with here, nor does the admittedly fascinating historical events he mentions.

We’re missing some pieces. I think there are other alternatives – alternatives that are not new, just not being activated. One is reciprocal dialogue (I agree to listen if you agree to listen, etc.), but this – and other options – depend on the will to dialogue, a will to the cessation of violence, a will to peace. Why don’t we have this, do this? That is the central question, and it is to some extent a religious question.

Critical analyses of belief structures show respect, treating even the most problematic of “believers” as adults, responsible for their beliefs. But is that really the issue? Why would a zealot feel he has to justify himself to an unbeliever anyway? Where is that going to go? In any case, I question whether the return of fanaticism and violence really has much if anything to do with beliefs. Atheism does provide a safer “space” in many respects, but it is still an absolutist “position.” How do you know that God does not exist – and what does that question really have to do with what is happening anyway? Is this what he means to argue here? Does he really mean something like liberal democracy? (If so, we could use it in America too).

I think a better strategy would be really to push for true public debates, debates that include more voices from within each tradition and viewpoint – and across traditions as well. We are talking past one another. Even in America we are subjected to outright propaganda from all sides. We hear fewer informed perspectives in the media with each passing week, in a country that used to be known for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and public protest. Now we have biased reporting, “no-protest areas,” illegal surveillance, censorship, use of “propaganda assets,” and erroneous “terrorist” labelling of dissent/anti-war groups, even if they are pacifists!

Critiques of fundamentalist views from the position of atheism, “godless humanism” (and post-humanism) and so on are valuable. I agree that atheism should be afforded its former dignity and more (especially considering how many atheists there really are, even within religious communities). But I also think that critique and reasonable debate “from the inside” of communities is actually much more powerful – especially for adherents and members of a community. Even the simple display of events of such dialogue and debate would be a meaningful improvement. Let’s see the best minds grapple. Let’s fight with words – not fists, not bombs, not backroom deals. Such a series – broadcast all over the world – would be much better than American “Idol” (did they really think that one through?).

Religious traditions are a kind of transmission, meant to preserve the best of what has worked in the past – for stability, for group coherence, for common good, and even for human transformation and spiritual growth. Sometimes the transmission is garbled or misunderstood. Sometimes the conditions under which traditions worked for a long time no longer apply. Sometimes the rules become destructive, and sometimes they are problematic in the first place. The message means different things at different times and with different receivers (the people who hear, practice, mediate, interpret). Where the climate is cold, the vision of hell is colder. This is the time for prophets – they challenge, they teach, they realign, they reattune. Every one of us has something of the prophet within, but also something of the community that resists the prophet. Reattunement, at once longed for and feared, is a process that can never be finished. We find our way by tracing out paths, going off course, adjusting.

A loving, thinking community that argues and critiques itself from within is a stronger and more adaptive community. When communities can no longer do this – even while change is going on all around them – then I question whether the problem really has so much to do with specific beliefs. Does repression, silencing, inciting to violence, and self-righteousness (on any side) show honor to God? Yet there is an undeniable appeal for all of this among many people. What is the nature of the energy that is being tapped here? Can that speak and be addressed in some other way?

The substantial problems that we see have less to do with religious beliefs, practices or traditions than they do with other factors. Simple manipulation of the masses hasn’t gone away, nor have the old social dynamics like the ones that produce the myth of the “good old days” or the idea that diseases start elsewhere. There are economic and political factors. There are power grabs and clashes. There is greed and there is poverty. There is actual suffering and frustration. There are miscommunications and hostilies. There is powerlessness. There is love.

The ethical “accounting” for beliefs that Žižek would direct at violent believers is perhaps something like step 3 in a process that would ethically hear and respond to the multiplicity of issues involved (even supposing that a fundamentalist of any stripe would submit to being judged by anyone who did not share very deeply felt, shaping beliefs – my own modest experience suggests its unlikelihood).

Critical analyses, but also serious public discussion and dialogue across the positions, are lacking. When people are reduced to violence (there are many kinds of violence), it is not about religion – or not only about religion, although religion may be used as a tool. From almost all sides, the participants in conflicts involving religion/culture/nation/ethnicity/race/class/gender/… (almost ad infinitum) appear to lack interest in developing a consensual process to arbitrate disagreement and clash. There are significant power imbalances. Substantial discussion does not take place. Common ground is not found – nor sought.

  • Shame on us all for lacking the wisdom, courage and will to use the tools we have.
  • Shame on us all for treating anyone as subhuman, of treating anyone as unworthy of speaking or of being heard.
  • Shame on us all for turning against one another in hatred, whether in God’s name or in the name of any other.

The twilight space for safe meeting seems to have been taken or destroyed – and it needs to be rebuilt. Realistically speaking, I don’t think that atheism is a viable ground for discussion. I wonder whether we will have to find a common enemy of humanity before we can understand our common interest in our own survival. Is that the plan, to bring us to the brink of global destruction? That’s a dangerous game.

We won’t find solutions, and can’t find solutions, until we can gain consensus and wisdom on the actual problems – and summon the collective determination to face them together.

JW Background History Video

JW Background History Video

Jehovah’s Witnesses exposed (download available) – Jeremiah films

The comic-book style explanation of Jesus/Michael, his resurrection, and his judgment at Armageddon (minutes 26-29 or so) is especially worth watching now. The destruction of New York in back of the Statue of Liberty resonsates very differently after 9/11. I actually had a lump in my throat from minute 33-36 – it brought so much back to me. Some parts may be a little dull to non-Witnesses, who might not grasp the importance of the questioning and contradictions – but it’s a good film overall. This film is clearly not terribly recent (1986, coincidentally the year of my college graduation), but it holds up on the information it presents. I even thought the very last minute or two was sweet and touching. Some former JWs will not appreciate the “grace and a personal relationship with Jesus” alternative just at that moment, others will. It would have made me very uncomfortable years ago, but not now.

Banning hot cross buns?

Banning hot cross buns?

What do you get when you pour very hot water down a rabbithole?

Hot cross bun(ny)s!

One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns!

It’s official – the memes of repression in the name of freedom and diversity have travelled to the U.K. Or have they?

For fear of offending the religious minorities at The Oaks Primary School in Ipswich, headteacher Tina Jackson has asked suppliers to remove the cross from their hot cross buns. .. “The cross is there in recognition of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ but for our students who are Jehovah Witnesses hot cross buns are not part of their beliefs. “We decided to ask to have the cross removed in respect of their beliefs. It was just a currant bun.”

For some reason, they seem worried -only- about Jehovah’s Witnesses. JW’s are not activists for such things – I smell mendacity here.

Evening Star – School decides to ban the bun

Albert Berwick, a minister with the Ipswich Cavendish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the buns would indeed be offensive to members.

He said: “I can understand why the school has done this and I support the decision. Hot cross buns are a pagan symbol of fertility no different to bunnies, eggs and Easter.

The sentence is so typical in its self-confusion and half-understood prohibitions. I notice they didn’t get any offical statement from the Watchtower Society, who would never put it quite this way. Excusing the grammer (or lack thereof) for a moment, I’m simply trying to understand how hot cross buns are a symbol of fertility – you know, exactly. Since when is bread, currents and the shape of a cross made in icing a symbol of fertility? If you want to talk about the “pagan” roots of the resurrected god, that’s one thing, but this? “Hot cross buns” does of course sound a little bit suggestive (or is it just me?), but “hot cross buns” are a very different thing than “hot buns” in general…

The cross, cut into the dough before cooking or added later (as in this case) with icing, was thought to ward off evil spirits. You might not have noticed, but JWs don’t say anything when someone sneezes. The common “God bless you” or “gesundheit” has the same sort of ancient belief attached.

Of course, bunnies and eggs harken to something other than Christianity – but everyone knows that. Are egg hunts “offensive” to the Church of England?

Are the Brits turning into JWs? I’m curious about how exactly this school made the decision, and why they leave it at the feet of JWs. If they wanted to mollify JWs, they would have to end all of the holidays, delete all of the celebrations, get rid of anything that suggested a connection to any of them. Somehow I don’t see that happening.

My recollection is that JWs who are troubled by “pagan” celebrations and symbols simply do not participate, and they do not partake of those foods if they feel they are too closely associated. They simply wouldn’t eat the buns. Or – they could have an alternative, such as regular bread. Or they could simply smear the icing. You can’t spend your life trying to avoid symbols – anything can be a symbol.

An aside – I wish my son had the option of hot cross buns at school – they are delicious.

So is this for real, or are the same folks operating over there as here? Sounds either bogus or extremely silly to me. It’s a Monty Python sketch in the making. I welcome any contact from the school administrators. It would be an interesting conversation. No mention of any other religions…

As a former JW and an American liberal (as well as a scholar of religion, ethics and literature), may I suggest that banning hot cross buns has nothing to do with liberation, affirmation of cultural or religious diversity, or reducing hatred of those different from one’s own comfort group?

Pretending that traditions do not exist is not “politically correct” at all, even if you forget that the designation of “political correctness” is meant as an insult rather than a description. With all my disagreements with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t know a single one who would be “offended” by such a thing as hot cross buns. If there is someone who is in fact offended by hot cross buns, please send contact information and an interview invitation. That would be the story here – someone is offended by hot cross buns! Let them explain.

A better solution might be to include some foods from other cultural and religious traditions. Some of them are downright yummy.

Inclusivity, toleration, respect and dignity for all people regardless of their religious beliefs – these are the deeper issues, and I don’t see how these are served by eroding and erasing one set of beliefs for another. There is no need to become bland in order to have dialogue. This attempt, if it was sincere, only reinforces resentment – the JW is reconfirmed in his own sense of superiority above the “impure” and the “pagan” remnants tied up with Christian tradition (as though there were a “pure” place without such influences), and the traditional Christians feel threatened and upset that even the most innocuous food should(?) be sacrificed (they don’t necessarily know the history of traditions, but why spoil them for everyone?).

If what has come to be called “political correctness” is really about attempting to erase difference in some authoritative way, then it no longer represents a move toward a language of liberation and freedom. As I recall, the main point was to create a language of inclusivity and dialogue so that everyone could speak – not to make every utterance so problematic that people were afraid to speak at all. Those who would make freedom of expression a way to limit expression have profoundly misunderstood. The regulatory function has to do with limiting hate speech, not with erasing one’s own differences from others.

Compare this to the situation of depicting Mohammed in cartoons – misunderstanding all around. The cartoon used the Prophet as a visual shortcut to depict radical Islam as terrorism. It’s sloppy, but no more so than the cartoons of Jesus and God that are seen all over. The main problem is not so much the comment on terrorism as its collapse into Islam generally, which isn’t really fair and, most importantly, it is regarded as blasphemous. There is a prohibition on depicting God (and by extention, perhaps) the Prophet in images. By the way, this prohibition is technically shared with Judaism and I’m not exactly sure how the Christians got around it. It’s a commandment. Here is the wriggle room – how does anyone know that the cartoons depicted the Prophet specifically? Were they actually labelled as such, or could they have been depictions of terrorist leaders? Personally, I was more disturbed by the exaggerated features on the one I saw, which seemed a caricature of race/nation/people more than of religion per se. There is a whole history of such caricatures of the “enemy” (see, for example Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of a Hostile Imagination by Sam Keen).

The culture clashes on religion can be mediated – with difficulty, but it is not impossible. Why just jump in to opposition, hatred, violence – without speaking with one another, without even an attempt at dialogue? Again, the differences are reinscribed as opposing ones and all sides have forgotten to care for one another as all religions of the book agree we ought to do.

Fox’s 95 Theses

Fox’s 95 Theses

I first read the theologian-priest Matthew Fox as a graduate student in philosophical theology and ethics at the University of Iowa. He is perhaps one of the most controversial religious figures of our time. He’s a bit wacky in some ways (see techno-cosmic mass) but I tend to agree with much of what he says. My friend Grateful Bear recently discovered that Fox not only has his own blog, but that it includes a Luther-inspired “95 Theses” on it – in English and German!

In case you don’t know, Martin Luther nailed his own 95 Theses (don’t get it confused with “feces”) to the door of the Wittenberg Church on Oct. 31, 1517. The 95 Theses of Luther attacked papal abuses and the sale of indulgences by church officials – and argued for a return to the Gospel. It was a pivotal moment that led to divisions in the church – from the Protestant Reformations, to the Catholic counter-reformations.

“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.” – Luther, in Defence of his 95 Theses, April 18, 1521

Fox describes his version as “95 faith observations drawn from my 64 years of living and practicing religion and spirituality. I trust I am not alone in recognizing these truths. For me they represent a return to our origins, a return to the spirit and the teaching of Jesus and his prophetic ancestors.” Here are a few that I particularly like, but it is worthwhile to read and meditate on all of them – if nothing else, it will certainly help you focus your own belief-structure. My own view of authentic Christianity shares many traits with this. No – I am not an agnostic or an atheist. I just don’t believe in most of the standard doctrines and mythologies.

4. God the Punitive Father is not a God worth honoring but a false god and an idol that serves empire-builders. The notion of a punitive, all-male God, is contrary to the full nature of the Godhead who is as much female and motherly as it is masculine and fatherly.

6. Theism (the idea that God is ‘out there’ or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (panentheism).

7. Everyone is born a mystic and a lover who experiences the unity of things and all are called to keep this mystic or lover of life alive.

8. All are called to be prophets which is to interfere with injustice.

20. A preferential option for the poor, as found in the base community movement, is far closer to the teaching and spirit of Jesus than is a preferential option for the rich and powerful as found in, for example, Opus Dei.

23. Sexuality is a sacred act and a spiritual experience, a theophany (revelation of the Divine), a mystical experience. It is holy and deserves to be honored as such.

27. Ideology is not theology and ideology endangers the faith because it replaces thinking with obedience, and distracts from the responsibility of theology to adapt the wisdom of the past to today’s needs. Instead of theology it demands loyalty oaths to the past.

33. The term “original wound” better describes the separation humans experience on leaving the womb and entering the world, a world that is often unjust and unwelcoming than does the term “original sin.”

36. Dancing, whose root meaning in many indigenous cultures is the same as breath or spirit, is a very ancient and appropriate form in which to pray.

38. A diversity of interpretation of the Jesus event and the Christ experience is altogether expected and welcomed as it was in the earliest days of the church.

40. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through participatory democracy in church structures and hierarchical modes of being can indeed interfere with the work of the Spirit.

54. The Holy Spirit works through all cultures and all spiritual traditions and blows “where it wills” and is not the exclusive domain of any one tradition and never has been.

70. Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality.

Matthew Fox 95 Theses – or Articles of Faith for a Christianity for the Third Millennium

(Thank you thank you Grateful Bear!)

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