A Visit to the Kingdom of J
In a remote Pacific Island lies the kingdom of J. King J is believed, by the islanders, to be a god: infallible, never-changing, and supremely good.
So holy is the king, that no man may look upon him, or hear his voice. His laws and messages to his people are delivered by a group of men who act as sort of a press-secretary (and, in fact, are known as the “Secretary Class” or simply “the Secretary”). The islanders listen to the Secretary and obey them as if those men were the king himself.
I recently had the opportunity to interview one of the island’s elders. Highlights follow:
Me: You obey the Secretary as if they were the King, your god.
Elder: That’s correct. Obedience is required because the Secretary is part of the King’s arrangement. To question the Secretary would be to question God!
Me: You believe that the King is never wrong, and never changes his mind, correct?
Me: Yet, when Europeans brought smallpox to the island, the Secretary declared that vaccinations were against the King’s law, and ineffective against smallpox in any case.
Elder: Yes, they did. It was a sad time: many died.
Me: But years later the Secretary reversed itself and said that vaccinations were not against the law, and that they actually did prevented smallpox.
Elder: That is true. That declaration saved many lives, praise J!
Me: But don’t you see that this was a case of the Secretary having committed an error, and having changed its mind?
Elder: Yes, we acknowledge that.
Me: So how can the Secretary be thought of as conveying the laws and messages of an infallible, never-changing king?
Elder: Well, the Secretary is often wrong. Only the King is infallible.
Me: But how can this be? All the Secretary has to do – its sole job – is to listen to the King, and then repeat what he says to the people. How difficult can that be? Did someone appoint total incompetents to these posts?
Elder: No, the King appointed the members of the Secretary class. So, they are the best suited people for the position.
Me: Then how can they get things so wrong? Saying a life-saving treatment is against the King’s law, and causing the deaths of his people?
Elder: They’re imperfect humans.
Me: Okay, sure. But even imperfect humans can get a simple message right, can’t they? Let’s role-play for a moment: let’s say you’re the King, and I’m the Secretary. You tell me: “Go tell the people to get vaccinated against smallpox” and then I go and say to the people: “Hey, the King just told me to tell you that vaccinations are against the law, and that they don’t prevent smallpox.”
In the above scenario I would be arrested for endangering the public, and hauled into court. What possible defense could I give for my actions? Sure, I can plead “human imperfection,” but that doesn’t really explain why I said what I said. More details would be demanded of me. Here are all the possibilities I can think of:
• I misheard the message.
• I thought the message came from the King, but it was from an enemy of the people.
• I thought I heard a message, but it was a dog barking in the street, or the TV playing in the next room.
• I dreamed it, or I was drunk or on drugs at the time.
• I thought I was of the Secretary class, but I was mistaken.
• I never said vaccinations were against the law.
Which defense do you think would fly?
Elder: Well, none of them.
But, the Secretary doesn’t actually receive any messages from the King. The men just consult some dusty old books, and then are “directed” by J’s spirit on how to apply them to modern-day life.
Me: How does he “direct” them? Does he implant thoughts in their head?
Elder: No, no; nothing like that. He just guides them.
Me: But how? Do they write down their ideas, and then throw darts at them, and J guides the darts to stick in the correct paper?
Elder: No, of course not. They just pray about it, discuss their ideas, and then take a vote.
Me: I still don’t understand where J’s spirit comes into the picture. It sounds exactly like these men are just making stuff up on their own, and claiming its coming from King J. But obviously it’s not coming from the King if it changes and it’s wrong.
In our role-playing scenario, why would anyone ever trust me again to get a message correct from the King? If I could mess up so badly that it resulted in the deaths of the people, it would critically damage my reputation as the “channel of communication from God the King.”
And, if I really were in communication with the King, why didn’t he immediately correct my mistake, instead of waiting several years to issue a retraction – years in which his people were dying due to my error?!
Of course, the above story is an analogy directed at the Governing Body (aka “The Faithful and Discreet Slave”) of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This class claims to convey the words of their god Jehovah to their followers (without being inspired, infallible, hearing god’s voice, or having him implant thoughts in their head).
In the 1920’s, when smallpox was raging, the GB declared that vaccinations were against their god’s law, that vaccinations didn’t prevent smallpox, and never saved a life. Years later they did an about-face on all three of these stances. In the meantime, their obedient followers died due to the Governing Body’s error. (For details, please see: Putting it All in Context )
The GB still claims to be directed by Jehovah, their god. Their excuse for such fatal errors is that they are “not infallible nor inspired” and are mere “imperfect humans.” This is odd when we consider that they claim to be the “counterpart” of the first-century apostles – who were infallible and inspired when they published their writings: the Gospels and Epistles.
Can we imagine the apostle Peter sending out an addendum to his epistle, listing several “revised understandings” in direct contradiction to his previous written words? No, yet that is what the apostle’s “modern-day counterpart,” the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has done time and time again in their Watchtower publications. (See Beliefs Clarified)
If they are not sure about a message from their god, for whatever reason, then the “discreet” thing to do would be to keep their mouths shut, rather than repeatedly harm their followers.
If they are sure about a message from their god, and it proves to be wrong (as in the ban on vaccinations), then they are not “God’s channel. of truth,” and all of their other claims and declarations must be held suspect.
The GB expects JWs to take this all in stride, and actually be happy that they suffered for the GB’s errors! Under the heading, “Feelings of Having Suffered Needlessly,” the GB has written in the WT:
Was it unrighteous on Jehovah’s part to allow him to suffer for rejecting what he now might do without consequences? Most who have had that experience would not think so. Rather, they rejoice that they had the opportunity of demonstrating publicly and clearly that they were determined to be firm on the issue of universal sovereignty. (Compare Job 27:5.) What reason could anyone have to regret having followed his conscience in taking a firm stand for Jehovah? By loyally upholding Christian principles as they understood them or by responding to the proddings of conscience, they proved worthy of Jehovah’s friendship.w98 8/15 p. 17 par. 7
As usual, the above rationalization from the WT misses the point. Of course it was not “unrighteous on Jehovah’s part,” to allow the suffering. That’s because it wasn’t Jehovah’s fault; he had nothing to do with it. It was the fault of the GB indiscreetly blurting out that vaccinations were against God’s law, when they weren’t. Witnesses who refused vaccinations/transplants/transfusions were not “taking a firm stand for Jehovah.” They were just slavishly doing what the GB told them to do, and failing to think or act for themselves. It reminds me of what Jesus reputedly said about the blind leading the blind.
The GB can’t seem to fathom any reason a person would have to “regret” having followed them in their mistakes. But those who lost family members and dear friends due to their mistaken trust in this group of men may have deep regrets that they ever joined this organization in the first place.
The GB, by claiming to be the F&D Slave, and “God’s prophet and channel,” and the sole source of truth on the planet, has thereby incurred certain minimum requirements. Requirements that any reasonable person can expect to find associated with such extraordinary claims.
At the top of the list of these minimum requirements is getting their god’s message correct. That doesn’t seem to be something beyond the abilities of an “imperfect human,” if they really are a “channel of God.” In the Catholic religion, “infallible” is taken to mean that God prevents his channel of truth from declaring false doctrines. I agree that, given this definition, infallibility is a mandatory minimum requirement for such a self-proclaimed channel.
The GB, however, has explicitly stated that they are not infallible. They use this admission as their “get out of jail free” card. They think it “saves face” should anyone try to call them on their false declarations or prophecies. In reality, it reveals to all of us that they cannot possibly fill the role they lay claim to. God’s channel would never get God’s messages backward. If it did, God would disown it and find himself a new channel, pronto. (Actually, an all-knowing God would’ve known better than to choose such incompetents in the first place!)
Obviously, the GB has not met the minimum requirements.