In light of the horrendous terror attacks in Paris last week, Facebook users received the option to update their profile photos with an overlay consisting of the red, white and blue colors of the French Flag.
It’s reasonable to assume that individuals who update their profiles with this feature do so in a sincere display of solidarity with the people of France and the victims of a gruesome crime committed by backward thinking, brainwashed Islamic terrorists. Few people would perceive such a gesture as a pledge of allegiance to a government.
Apparently, some active Jehovah’s Witnesses dared to take part in these displays of the French colors, and it quickly stirred up disquiet among pro-JW Facebook groups.
Hemant Mehta over at the Friendly Atheist blog wrote about this very subject a few days ago. He makes some very valid arguments and you may read his article for yourself but I’d like to highlight the kind of silly contretemps this subject has induced in these pro-JW Facebook groups. (See screenshot)
When a Jehovah’s Witnesses inquires whether it’s proper to display French colors in their profile, they are essentially asking; would such a gesture violate my neutrality and my faith?
It’s sad that someone would need input from strangers on a decision that is really a personal matter, but let’s not focus on the inquirers when there is a much more disturbing sentiment in the response by pro-JW moderators of these groups, and in the comments of rank-and-file JW Facebook users.
That disturbing sentiment is… indifference.
Jehovah’s Witnesses use the doctrine of political neutrality to explain why they don’t salute the flag, sing the national anthem, vote in elections or volunteer for military service. They believe that God’s heavenly Kingdom is the only solution to humanity’s problems and as such, most acts of civic duty constitute a lack of faith in God’s Kingdom.
On the surface, such a belief seems harmless, but for most Jehovah’s Witnesses this doctrine envelopes all displays of political awareness including gestures of sympathy. So, it’s no surprise that the reply by the moderator for the “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses Worldwide” group would include the following statement:
“Those who are putting the colors of the French flag on their profile pictures are thus not showing the same impartiality as Jesus did.”
Not once does the Moderator acknowledge that it could be a solemn sign of sympathy for the French people or even the victims themselves. Instead, the Moderator argues that these gestures aren’t made for “similar or worse terror attacks” and questions: “why should France receive preferential treatment?”
This last statement is a clear snapshot of the Moderator’s indifference: “Terrorism is a part of the world system today; it is a symptom of the corrupt governance that runs the world today. Genuine Christians would therefore stay completely neutral in matters of this sort, and not become nationalistic in their thinking.”
The unquestioned obedience to a group of old men in Brooklyn is bad enough, but the callous indifference to the suffering of human beings that may not share your religious views is far more dangerous.
“How can a religious group that evangelizes to save lives be dangerous?”
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses would argue that they care about their neighbors, and this may be true at a personal level. But really most of their interaction with non-witnesses outside of secular work occurs within the context of trying to convert non-believers.
The truth is there are no JW charities, JW soup kitchens, JW clothing drives, or JW support groups. So far as I know, there are no JW organizations trying to improve the lives of others outside of the ministry work.
It’s difficult to blame rank-and-file JWs for their lack of charity. The organization is run by a group of delusional men who live in a social bubble. They’re protected from the day-to-day worries of the average person and are surrounded by “yes” men. All of their basic necessities are covered and they bask in the adoration of millions of followers who cling to every decree that comes down from the ivory towers in Brooklyn. Their indifference trickles down in their teachings.
Here’s a real example of how this can occur…
On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 I would have found myself at 150 Broadway in Downtown Manhattan, two blocks away from the World Trade Center, had I not taken a personal day from work to support the service group during a Circuit Overseer visit.
I wouldn’t have been in direct risk of harm as the offices were far enough away to see little harm other than being overcome by the dust storm that followed the Tower collapses. In the aftermath, the company relocated the staff to the midtown offices because parts of downtown would be inaccessible for the weeks that followed.
I make these disclaimers because I don’t want to exploit the 9/11 tragedy to make my point, but my proximity to everything made the events of that day a very personal matter.
Just like millions of people across the world, I watched events on television. I also climbed to the rooftop of my apartment building for a clear view of the Downtown skyline only to find dozens of my neighbors already up there watching the horrible scenes unfold. The Towers eventually collapsed, and the eerie silence of a city that was always buzzing remains the most vivid memory of that day.
Later that evening, I received a Nextel “chirp” (remember those Nextel walkie-talkie phones?) from the Security Coordinator at work. They were trying to organize volunteers to help dig people out of the rubble. I was immediately compelled to assist in any way possible, so I recruited my brother and another Ministerial Servant from the congregation, and we set out to make our way into Manhattan.
Our efforts were thwarted by the police at every bridge and tunnel crossing into the city. Only Emergency Personnel and their vehicles were allowed to pass.
We eventually made our way to the waterfront Promenade in Brooklyn Heights at the feet of Watchtower’s Brooklyn Headquarters. I rang a Bethelite who served in our congregation; he came down from one of the Bethel residential buildings and joined us at the Promenade. The four of us stood there, leaning over the rails, looking across the East River. We could see and smell the smoke that filled the space where the Towers once stood. It felt so close I could touch it.
By that time, my brother and our friend had given up trying to get into Manhattan, but I would not relent. I asked a Police Officer how we could assist, and he pointed us to a nearby Red Cross office that was enlisting volunteers.
My brother and our friend agreed to go with me but they balked at registering to volunteer with the Red Cross because in their minds it was a “religious organization.” I then looked to our Bethelite friend to see if he’d be willing to join us, and he uttered the words that I would never forget: “Let the dead bury their dead.”
My Bethelite friend was quoting the words of Jesus in Luke 9:60 responding to a man who wanted to spend time at home with his aging father before committing himself to follow Christ.
At first I thought; “Surely, he isn’t using this bible quote to point out the futility in offering ourselves to aid in the rescue efforts?” Our Bethelite friend followed up with “the best thing we can do for these people now is inform them about Jehovah’s divine plan.” Those words defeated me.
I did register with the Red Cross and volunteered the next day to clean up Emergency Vehicles that came across the bridge covered in the dust and ash of the rubble, but the indifferent words of my Bethelite friend disturb me to this day.
Overall, my Bethelite friend is a decent human being. I like to think that the events that day simply weren’t as personal to him as they were to me, and that if confronted with the opportunity to lend a hand to someone in need, under different circumstances, love and compassion would motivate his actions.
The reality is that he looked at the events through the filters of his indoctrination. Sure, he was present but not connected in any real way with the victims of the atrocity. He was taught since childhood that it really is a futile endeavor to try to improve the world; that the ONLY remedy to all the bad things about the world is Jehovah, and that we should busy ourselves in the ministry work instead. It probably didn’t help that he also lived in that Bethelite “bubble,” an environment that fosters indifference.
Indifference is the reason a Jehovah’s Witness can view something trivial like displaying French colors on your Facebook profile as an act of disloyalty to Jehovah. Not because they are absent or don’t observe the tragedy, but because they are not connected with the victims.
The indifference does not allow them to look at non-believers as more than just sinners that have not yet accepted the “truth” and converted. It does not allow them to question the authority of those who invent their doctrine and enforce its rules.
This might seem like elitism, pride or arrogance that one could chalk up to a flawed ego. The reason this indifference is dangerous is that it’s not ego, it’s a symptom of their brainwashing. When we stop viewing our fellow man as human, as our equal, we tend to disconnect.
A quote often attributed to Edmund Burke says; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If we think about many of history’s atrocities, we soon understand that most, if not all of them, occur because a large group of people were indifferent towards another group, often a smaller one.
Most Germans didn’t hate Jews, but their indifference allowed Nazi Anti-Semitism to spread. Most Americans didn’t hate African-Americans, but their indifference allowed those in power to embed their racist views in the political fabric of the country for centuries.
What atrocities have Watchtower leaders been allowed to nurture because they’ve promoted a spirit of indifference within their ranks?
Most Witness love their families, but the indifference that streams down from the Governing Body allows them to view their loved ones a sinners, destined for destruction and worthy of shunning.
Most Witnesses are kind, friendly people, but indifference allows them to accept a view that non-believers are to be kept at arm’s length, and are worthy only of necessary interactions or spiritual aid.
Most Witnesses love their children and would risk their lives to protect them, but their indifference toward life in this “system of things” allows them to forfeit their inherent paternal instincts. They refuse lifesaving blood transfusions for themselves and their children in acts of loyalty to an organization in exchange for the promise of some future life in “paradise.”
I could go on forever about the things JWs forfeit due to the indifference their indoctrination promotes, but I’d rather make a call to action.
The Remedy to Indifference… Action
If you are an Ex-JW still reeling from the damage this cult has caused you, or if you’re an active JW mentally out and unable to walk away right now – you are not powerless. The remedy to indifference is action.
You may not be able to change the minds of those around you directly. It’s also unlikely that anyone in the Watchtower’s hierarchy can be moved to change by your actions alone. However, your activism doesn’t have to be related to the “JW world” in any way. You don’t have go “full apostate” to affect positive changes in your own world. All you have to do is connect.
Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Run a 5k to raise awareness for a cause that is personal to you. Take your kids with you. Show them how you can help other humans in more ways than handing them a bible tract or a Watchtower magazine.
If you can, participate in school functions, bake sales, PTA meetings, community yard sales, potlucks, etc. Invite your JW friends too. Chisel away at the indifference and you’ll find yourself connected to the community around you, and not just to people at your local Kingdom Hall. You’ll not only see the world without “JW Goggles” – you’ll be more inclined to sympathy, empathy and forgiveness toward humans in general, but more importantly… yourself.
You may not be inclined to fly the colors of the French flag in your Facebook profile, but you’ll understand those that do. And you may even understand that those hyper-sensitive “moral agents” who think a display of solidarity is treason against a publishing company are merely cold and indifferent self-deceivers.
Let’s take back our lives and connect with world.
Let’s be humane to the humans.
Oh and by the way… “Vive la France”!
A guest post by James Sequoia