I nearly met up with Brother Ted F. the other day. I say nearly, because I arrived round my mother’s house just a few minutes after he left. She’s always thrilled to tell me all about him. Though no longer her official study-conductor – he stepped down - he still makes time to call round and see how she is (she’s very ill) and he does genuinely care. He is one of the good-guy elder-types, he does have real warmth and compassion.
I haven’t seen him in years. Last time was at my nephew’s wedding, in the early nineties, but we didn’t really talk then – just a few pleasantries as we passed each other. The last meaningful conversation with him must have been 25 years ago.
But nearly seeing him got me thinking. Time was, when I was Robin to his Batman. His little protégé, “little Ted” they called me in the congregation. Apart from my mum, he was my biggest influence in the Truth. He pretty much brought me up in it.
I found my mind wandering back to the many times when I was young and he would describe the Paradise Earth to me. His ideas were always hugely influential in my mental picture of the new system.
“Oh, it’ll be marvellous, Duncan! We’ll all be living in the most wonderful countryside…” – it was always “countryside” with Ted, the word had a magical power for him, the New System had nothing to do with dirty overcrowded cities, brick-and-concrete landscapes, or motorways. “…and we’ll all have our own farms and grow our own food, Duncan, just like Jehovah always wanted us to do. And nobody will be rich, and nobody will be poor. There won’t even BE any money. If I grow some apples, I’ll call round to you and barter them for some of your milk. That’s the way it should be done, Jehovah’s way. Not for money, not for profit. Absolutely filthy stuff, money! Satan’s invention, to harden the hearts of men.”
Now, I surely can’t be alone in this. Anyone, like me, brought up “from infancy” in the Truth must have had this kind of Theocratic Economics drummed into them as a child. I’ve never forgotten it. It was all a part of the dreamy-fantasy New World: it would have nothing ugly in it, no power stations, no oil refineries or factories. But somehow we’d all be clothed and fed and comfortable. We’d all be living in the Countryside on our farms bartering our produce among our friends and no one would ever worry about money again.
I look back now on those sessions with Ted – who, I’m assured still believes every word of it - and reflect upon how shallow, impossible and childish the whole pipe-dream was. How flimsy the entire concept.
Last summer, in June, I went on a Father-and-Son camping trip with my 9-year old boy. He’s a keen cub-scout, and the troop leader, Toby, organises these things every year. They last from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, in a woods a few miles from here, on a patch of land owned by the Scouts organisation. They are always hugely enjoyable events. I went on two or three a few years back with my older son, so I know the form, cooking over open fires, sleeping under canvas, and the days full of good-natured competitive activity. Toby always divides the group into two teams, and sets the boys – and their dads (when they can be dragged out of the beer-tent) - a series of games and challenges.
One of these games last year was “Card Run-outs”. This is how it is played: Toby had obtained 4 full sets of playing cards, two red and two blue. He and his helpers had pinned one full set of 52 red cards, and similarly 52 blue cards randomly onto the trees in the woods behind the tents. After lunch he told the boys that he had one pack of red cards, and one pack of blue cards on his bench in the control tent. The boys in the two teams were to go to the tent, pick up a red card or blue, depending on team, and then rush off into the woods to find its match. Once this was located, the boy was to bring the two seven-of-spades (or whatever) back to Toby to score a point. The first team to 52 points would win.
I’ll admit, this sounded a bit too much like mindless hard work to me, so I hung around with some of the other dads shooting the breeze over a couple of lagers while the boys charged around the woods. There were about 7 or 8 boys in each team, and the game was scheduled to take about an hour.
I ended up getting involved eventually because my son came over to me complaining that the Blues were cheating. After only twenty minutes, the reds had half-a-dozen cards found, but the blues were all finished.
It turned out that one of the boys on the blue team had had a brilliant idea. Whereas the red team were following instructions, collecting their card, and searching all the trees for that particular red card, ignoring all others, the blue team had a game plan. Every time they spotted a blue card at all, whatever card it was, they unpinned it from the tree and took it to a particular boy who had set up a control point down by the farmers gate. All the blue cards, once found, got put there, and so it was no trouble at all finding your particular match. Toby had been awarding points to the Blues every time they brought him a matching pair, seemingly suspecting nothing when a boy was handed a card and came back within a minute having found its twin.
I have to say, much to my son’s disgust, I rather thought the blue team deserved their win for the intelligence they had shown.
I’m an accountant by training, and I couldn’t help but reflect on what the blue team had done. Their achievement, in that game, was nothing short of having discovered, or perhaps invented independently at nine years old, the whole concept of the market-place.
Think about it a moment:
By setting up a control-point they had invented a means by which those people who were seeking a particular item could be put in touch with those people who had that particular item, with the minimum fuss and no tedious searching. Cards in this case, in a trivial games-playing context, but the principle is the same for any item..
Markets developed in human culture, not because “men’s hearts are wicked and their thoughts always tend to evil” but because they are an IMMENSELY useful means of getting buyers and sellers together. And all human cultures, no matter how primitive, have discovered this to be true. Markets exist because they are a good, efficient idea.
And once you have markets, a little bit of further development will see the emergence of money. Money – not a foul and abominable invention of Satan, but another hugely useful idea – a common means of exchange, and a store of value. All human cultures sooner or later invent money, too. It is just too useful an idea to do without.
And, of course, when you have markets, and when you have money, it is going to be the case that over time, some people will accumulate more of it than others. Hard-working people, perhaps just lucky people, or the children of already -rich people. You might not like it, but the fact that there are rich and poor people is not the fault of the idea itself.
So, back to Ted and his New Order Economy. I used the word “flimsy” to describe it a while back, and it was a carefully chosen word. Once you start to thinking in any depth about the silly ideas tied up with the whole JW Paradise Earth teaching, the concept quickly falls to pieces.
Ted’s barter arrangement would have collapsed in a matter of days, or we’d have all starved. Neighbours swopping baskets of apples with each other is no way to feed a population. Pretty soon the need would become apparent to take all your produce to a central location to swop it around among a larger population than just your immediate neighbours. Then you’d start to get travelling traders, and, in time, money. And then banks, and loans and interest rates and mortgages and eventually unit trusts and derivatives.
Change of tack: Think about animals for a minute. A lion that eats grass would, in fact, be a very different animal from the one we know today as a lion. Why those sharp teeth, and powerful jaws? Why the slashing claws and body strength? Grass doesn’t run away or fight back. Its whole digestive system – its whole body – needs a complete redesign to accommodate the new grass-based diet. It simply would not be a lion anymore.
Think about clothing. With no mills to make the cloth? Or sewing machines to make the clothes (no nasty factories making the sewing machines, remember!). Perhaps we’ll all be dressed in hand-knitted clothing made by our own families. Just thinking about that idea for a minute makes you realise that the New Order – without the benefit of the Industrial Revolution – would be a relentless life of drudgery, your whole life spent laboriously making articles by hand.
And so on, and so on.
When these ideas and doubts about the new system used to present themselves to me, I used to squash them from my mind. “Oh, it’ll be different – we’ll be perfect then, it won’t be the same at all. And besides Jehovah will use his active spirit to make it all work.”
Which, of course, is just a grown-up way of saying “God will use his Special Magic to make it happen” - which is exactly the fall-back children always use when THEY fantasise about pretend worlds. How did the Princess escape the Dragon? “Oh, the Wizard used his magic!”
It is, in fact, the exact same thing Witnesses always resort to whenever reality gets too close for comfort to any of their cherished ideas. Ever seen any of those threads here on JWD or H2O when AlanF or someone has just demolished some faithful JW’s idea that there is a scientific basis for the Flood? The typical dub reply goes: “Ah, but that’s arguing from mankind’s present knowledge of science. Jehovah can do anything, even if it is outside of our knowledge of science!”
In other words: Jehovah used his Special Magic to make it happen.
The day eventually dawns when you have grown enough, you’re mature enough to realise that God, or Jehovah, or whatever you call him, doesn’t (if he’s got any sense) actually want you to believe in him using His Special Magic to run a fantasy-world.
There’s a real world to deal with, as sensible, mature, adult people.
And I despair that Ted, who is now in his sixties, and millions of good-hearted people just like him, will never understand that basic fact of grown-up life.