Monday, May 16, 2016
How different are Jehovah's Witness beliefs?
To start at the end: Not very different at all.
Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah's Witnesses, was originally a Presbyterian and quite a lot of JW doctrines are held in common with traditional Presbyterians. Like a lot of strict Presbyterians, particularly in Scotland, the JWs don't like drinking or smoking and are dubious about dancing. Both denominations believe that the Bible is the word of God and that salvation is needed to get God's reward in the afterlife. And the hymns that JWs sing are just slightly re-worded versions of generally popular hymns.
Perhaps the best known doctrine of the JWs is that we live in the "end times": That Armageddon, the end of the secular world, is around the corner. And that is actually a common belief among a variety of Protestant groups, though usually a belief by a particular congregation rather than by the whole of a denomination. Matthew 24 makes it pretty clear that Jesus too believed that the end was nigh, and the apostle Paul clearly did (1 Corinthians 15:51), so it is hardly surprising that some Christians still do.
And their pacifism is also shared by a variety of other Christians -- such as the Quakers. After reading Matthew 5:39 I was once a pacifist myself.
Their rejection of blood transfusions is a little peculiar but it should be noted that both Jews and Muslims are superstitious about blood and take great care not to eat any. JWs think likewise but add that it is inconsistent to avoid taking blood into your body via your mouth and then take it in by other means. So their sensitivity there is just a refinement of a prohibition followed by over a billion people.
And here's the kicker about that: There was a study of survival after heart surgery that took a particular interest in survival by JWs. Apparently transfusions are common during heart surgery so they expected a greater mortality among JWs after they had refused transfusions. The study found that about a third of non-JWs died but NO JWs did. Tranfusions cause stresses of their own. Use of transfusions has declined markedly since then. So JWs did have the last laugh. God's wisdom? They think so.
JWs also reject the messy doctrine of the Holy Trinity but they are not entirely alone in that. As the name implies, Unitarians do too -- if there are any of those left. Christadelphians also reject the Trinity doctrine. But it is a major break from Chistianity generally. Even Seventh day Adventists accept the Trinity. It should be noted that the doctrine of the Trinity was introduced by Athanasius in the fourth century as a theological compromise. Even the word "Trinity" is not mentioned in the Bible.
JWs also reject Christmas and Easter as being pagan celebrations but that is widely acknowledged among more scholarly Christians.
But the biggest break from other denominations is the JW belief that the soul is not immortal. Since there are quite a lot of places in the Bible where the soul is said to die, it is not a surprising belief but the doctrine of the immortal soul is apparently too ego-pleasing for anyone else to give up. Since the favorite scripture of most Protestants -- John 3:16 -- says you don't automatically get immortality -- you can perish -- it is a real wonder that the belief in an immortal soul is so widespread. Ego trumps scripture.
It should be noted, however, that the original Jewish teaching was that eternal life for the righteous was attained by resurrection at the second coming of the Messiah. Popping off to heaven when you die was ignored as a pagan teaching. Jews believe all sorts of things these days but most would, I think, be comfortable enough with JW teaching on the prospect of an afterlife. As the Jewish Encyclopedia says:
"The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture"
So JW's have at least some Jews on their side in the matter. Their view of the afterlife could be said to be Jewish.
On church government JWs departed early on from Presbyterian practice. Pastor Russell was originally elected but that seems to have just faded out. JWs are governed by a central government, a theocracy, unlike the democratic Presbyterian practice. JWs are governed much as Roman Catholics are -- but their "pope" (Don Alden Adams) keeps a low profile these days.
The best-known difference of JWs is their practice of doorstep preaching but the Mormons do that too.
The overall zeal of JWs is striking. Hitler gassed a lot of them for refusing to bow the knee to him. But such zeal has much precedent among other Christians. Can you believe that at one stage even the Church of England had bishops being burnt at the stake for their faith?
So there is no major point of JW doctrine that is not held in common with some other Christians or Jews. Like all other denominations, JW beliefs are a particular pick-and-mix of common beliefs. It is probably true, however, that the particular pick-and-mix chosen by JWs is closer to first century Christianity than is the doctrine-set of any other denomination.
Mega Mogul Backs Trump
Big time GOP donor Sheldon Adelson has announced that he will be backing Donald Trump in the general election, in what will be a huge fundraising boom for the New York billionaire:
"Like the Derby, the race for the Republican nomination started from a wide gate — some entries with better post positions, others with more backing. We had candidates with such perceived advantages as wide name identification, large campaign war chests, supposed geographic benefits and other assets they hoped would tip the race in their direction.
Ultimately, each candidate had to convince the party’s primary voters across the country that he or she deserved to be the nominee.
One candidate has won that race, and now Republicans must join together to make sure he wins the next one.
While the primary cycle still has some important elections ahead, it is clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.
I am endorsing Trump’s bid for president and strongly encourage my fellow Republicans — especially our Republican elected officials, party loyalists and operatives, and those who provide important financial backing — to do the same.
The alternative to Trump being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president is frightening"
This is a major boost for Trump, who, despite being a billionaire, likely faces a major fundraising deficit against Hillary Clinton.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is disturbed by how much the elite get away with:
He's right. He is one of the saner Greenies and has been a leading economic reformer -- advising backward nations on how to transition to capitalism
THE PANAMA PAPERS opened yet another window on the global system of financial corruption, showing how political leaders and businesses use shell companies in secrecy havens like the British Virgin Islands and many US states to evade taxes and hide corruption and other crimes. Yet the system of corruption depends on another factor beyond secrecy, one that is perhaps even more important: impunity. Impunity means that the rich and powerful escape from punishment even when their malfeasance is in full view.
Impunity is epidemic in America. The rich and powerful get away with their heists in broad daylight. When a politician like Bernie Sanders calls out the corruption, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal double down with their mockery over such a foolish “dreamer.” The Journal recently opposed the corruption sentence of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for taking large gifts and bestowing official favors — because everybody does it. And one of its columnists praised Panama for facilitating the ability of wealthy individuals to hide their income from “predatory governments” trying to collect taxes. No kidding.
Our major institutions, the ones that should know better, are often gross enablers of impunity. Consider my alma mater, Harvard University, and its recent nuptial with hedge-fund manager John Paulson. Paulson was the coconspirator with Goldman Sachs of one of the most notorious scams of the recent financial bubble.
Paulson and Goldman constructed and marketed a portfolio of toxic assets to sell to unwitting investors so that Paulson could bet against the portfolio. Goldman and Paulson thereby turned the sucker investors’ quick $1 billion loss into an equivalent $1 billion gain for Paulson, with Goldman collecting on fees. The SEC fined Goldman but left Paulson untouched. As one disillusioned SEC investigator put it: The SEC is “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors.” Yet Harvard was delighted last year to take $400 million of Paulson’s ill-gotten gains, leave Paulson with the rest, name its engineering school after Paulson, and declare Paulson to be “the epitome of a visionary leader.”
Impunity. Paulson remains a much-celebrated figure on Wall Street. He has many kindred spirits, such as his partner in crime, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who has described himself as just a banker “doing God’s work.” Or consider JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, whose bank has paid well over $30 billion in fines while Dimon remains CEO with a $27 million salary for 2015. The hedge-fund industry itself is a case study of impunity. With few exceptions, it is domiciled in tax and secrecy havens, enjoys crass tax breaks brokered by cronies in Congress (such as Wall Street Senator Chuck Schumer), and pays itself billion-dollar-plus paychecks even while leaving investors with below-market returns or outright losses over the years.
The recourse to cheating within the financial industry now seems to be deeply ingrained, part of the corporate culture, and enabled by the prevailing impunity. An ingenious scientific study published in December 2014 showed the rot. Employees of a major international bank were divided into a control group and a treatment group. All subjects were asked to flip a coin 10 times and report truthfully on the number of heads, with more heads resulting in a bigger monetary prize. The treatment group was subtlety reminded they were bankers, while the control group was not. Simply reminding them that they were professional bankers was enough to induce the employees to cheat by exaggerating the number of heads they flipped.
Impunity is of course not limited to banking. Consider the poster-child of impunity in Big Pharma, Gilead Sciences. Gilead brazenly bought the patents on a life-saving cure for Hepatitis C and then gouged patients and taxpayers by charging $1,000 per pill — for a drug that costs $1 per pill to manufacture. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are unable to afford treatment, and many are dying, while Gilead earns far more in profits each year than it paid for the patents. Gilead adds to this deadly effrontery by booking its profits in an offshore tax haven.
Or consider another tech company in the health sector, Theranos, led by Elizabeth Holmes, until recently much lionized on Wall Street. Holmes, it now seems, may have been lying about Theranos’s supposed high-tech blood-testing technology and reporting faulty blood test results to boot. Yet when confronted with these serious concerns, Theranos board member and famed lawyer David Boies expressed his view that the board has “complete confidence in Elizabeth Holmes as a founder of the company, as a scientist, and as an administrator.” It seems not to have dawned on Boies and the board to call for an urgent, impartial, and complete investigation of the serious allegations swirling around the company.
Impunity is not an accidental or incidental defect of American society. It is a system foisted on us by the rich and powerful, and it continues to work its magic. It has enabled Hillary Clinton to come within reach of the presidential nomination without releasing the transcripts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street banks. The Clintons long ago perfected the art of impunity, becoming rich and powerful by blurring the lines between their campaign fund-raising, public policies in office, Clinton Foundation work, big-money speeches, and off-the-record favors for foreign governments.
This week British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted an Anti-Corruption Summit in London in the wake of the Panama Papers. He was speaking accurately when he was caught on an open microphone telling the Queen that leaders of two “fantastically corrupt countries,” Nigeria and Afghanistan, would be at the summit. Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, himself a corruption-fighter, concurred with Cameron’s assessment, but called on the UK to return the money stolen by Nigeria’s former leaders and deposited in British and other Western banks. He might well have added the historic role, for more than a half century, of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria’s oil-sector corruption.
Buhari is, in fact, making a much larger point. While there is enough top-level political corruption to go around — from Afghanistan and Nigeria to Malaysia, Brazil, South African, FIFA, and many more places — the channels of corruption and secrecy havens are largely owned and operated by the big boys — the United States and the UK — and depend absolutely on the gross impunity that prevails at the highest reaches of power and finance in the United States.
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Posted by JR at 12:22 AM