Recently I’ve posted on FB a meme where a two pairs of hands held open a Bible and the Quram side by side. Then I wrote on it:
“(Faith + Fundamentalism) x (Hate + Propaganda) = Legitimation of intolerance and violence. The sinister religious equation. Have YOU done the math?” I intoduced the meme with the comment that the recent terrorist brutal attacks in Paris should be cause for all of us to ponder on what we are doing.
One JW - former Elder in his early 50’s but very much still “in” - commented back and said: “I have done my pondering already! That’s why I’m more and more persuaded that the root of these problems has to do with the utter indifference towards what our Creator says. This is given more reason by the fact that He condemns all these religious fundamentalists! It’s sad that we depreciate what we know it’s true.”
Setting aside the underhanded personal attack implied on the comment, I think it shows something that is a common trait among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They think that concepts such as “fundamentalism” and “fanaticism/extremism” apply to others and are completely foreign to them. Is that the case?
Understanding the concepts: “Fundamentalism” and “Fanaticism”
Fundamentalism – “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles ; a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching” (Merriam-Webster); “the practice of following very strictly the basic rules and teachings of any religion ; (in Christianity) the belief that everything that is written in the Bible is completely true” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary); “a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts” (Dictionary.com)
Wikipaedia defines it as “unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs, but fundamentalism has come to be applied to a broad tendency among certain groups, mainly, although not exclusively, in religion. This tendency is most often characterized by a markedly strict literalism as applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which it is believed that members have begun to stray. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.”
Fanaticism – “wildly excessive or irrational devotion, dedication, or enthusiasm” (Dictionary.com); “the character, spirit, or conduct of a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” (The Free Dictionary); “fanatic outlook or behavior especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject” (Merriam-Webster);
Wikipaedia remarks: Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal or with an obsessive enthusiasm. (…) The fanatic displays very strict standards and little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions. In his book Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk, Neil Postman states that "the key to all fanatical beliefs is that they are self-confirming....(some beliefs are) fanatical not because they are 'false', but because they are expressed in such a way that they can never be shown to be false." The behavior of a fan with overwhelming enthusiasm for a given subject is differentiated from the behavior of a fanatic by the fanatic's violation of prevailing social norms. Though the fan's behavior may be judged as odd or eccentric, it does not violate such norms. (…) the subject of the fanatic's obsession may be "normal", such as an interest in religion or politics, except that the scale of the person's involvement, devotion, or obsession with the activity or cause is abnormal or disproportionate to the average.”
In view of the above, can the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement be characterized as fundamentalist and fanatic? The answer can only be affirmative beyond doubt.
I’ll start by addressing my friend’s claim that God “condemns all these religious fundamentalists”. Does he? Exactly what “all these fundamentalists” are condemned by God in the Bible? The last books of the Bible were written on the second century CE, the latest. Mohammed, the prophet founder of the religion of Islam, had his revelations circa 610 AD. Therefore, if any words of condemnation of fundamentalism are to be found in the Bible, certainly they weren’t addressed against Muslim fundamentalists.
It’s clear that my friend doesn’t understand what fundamentalism and fanaticism are. He seems to conflate violence with fundamentalism and fanaticism with killings. Let’s be clear: when a person grabs a belt of explosives and blasts himself in the middle of a crowd in a market, he’s neither being a fanatic, nor a fundamentalist. He’s being an assassin. Perhaps it was his fundamentalist beliefs and his fanatic behavior that ended up persuading him to take that crazed deed. But there are literally millions of fundamentalist, fanatic people in the world who don’t need to kill anyone to be such.
Fundamentalist and Fanatical behavior in the Old Testament
Only after a few chapters into Genesis, Yahweh brings wholesale genocide to mankind by means of a global flood that killed men and beasts, only allowing Noah and his family to survive the global catastrophe. Why? Yahweh justified: “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, because the earth is full of violence on account of them”. So, in order to stop violence, the Almighty God decided to respond with an unimaginable act of violence – not only against the perpetrators of that said violence, but also against their alleged victims, and animal life too. However, it seems that the omniscient God could not foretell that such incredible slaughter was pointless, since Noah’s descendants quickly descended back to wickedness. – Genesis 6:13; 7:1-13; 10:8-10
Abraham, who is at the origin of three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is a character whose existence cannot be attested by independent, historical means. He may or may not have existed, and what was written about him may be only legendary material, but one episode ascribed to him is the epitome of religious fanaticism: When commanded by Yahweh, without any explanation whatsoever, to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice on mount Moriah, Abraham reacted with uncritical zeal and strict obedience, willing to take his own son’s life, just because a voice from the spiritual domain, whom he believed to be the true God, told him to do so. He “as good as offered up” Isaac, for “he reckoned that God was able to raise him up even from the dead”. That makes Abraham a religious fanatic and also a fundamentalist, a worthy founder of religions that demand total obedience and compliance from their members. – Genesis 22:1-18; Hebrews 11:17-19
When Yahweh decided to put an end to the enslavement of the offspring of Abraham’s family in Egypt, the 10th plague dealt an incomprehensible and disproportionate suffering to the Egyptians, most of them entirely alien to the plight of the Hebrews, by killing their firstborns. Not just the firstborns of those in a position to oppress them, but down “to the firstborn of the prisoners of war in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.” (Exodus 12:29) Thus Yahweh vindicated his name at the expense of presumably many thousands of lives of innocent children.
During the Exodus, Yahweh was swift in commanding or causing wholesale killings of his own people whenever they were found guilty of idolatry, sexual misconduct, greed, or dissent from Moses’ authority. (Exodus 32:27, 28; Numbers 25:1-9; 11:31-33; 16:1-35) Yahweh said about himself that “he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, bringing punishment for the error of fathers upon sons and upon grandsons, upon the third generation and upon the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7) Thus, no mercy was extended to the guilty ones: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel has said, ‘Each of you must fasten on his sword and pass through all the camp from gate to gate, killing his brother, his neighbor, and his close companion.’ The Levites did what Moses said. So about 3,000 men were killed on that day” – Exodus 32:27, 28
After the exodus, Yahweh commanded the descendants of Abraham to perpetrate barbaric acts that in today’s society would be described as war crimes: ethnic cleansing, genocide and mass rape.
“ … in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods…” – Deuteronomy 20:16-18
“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17-18)
“At God’s instructions, the Israelites “utterly destroyed the men, women, and the little ones” leaving “none to remain.” And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. (Deuteronomy 2:33-36)
“The people utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21-23)
The law that Yahweh gave to Moses was absolutely intolerant towards other forms of religion in the territory of Israel: “And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens, ...and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die." (Deuteronomy 17:3-5)
The prophets of Yahweh were intolerant towards worshippers of other deities, such as the ‘prophets of Baal’. Elijah himself supervised personally the slaughtering of 450 of them in Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18:39-46) Another prophet, Elisha, infamously had 42 children tore apart by bears because they didn’t show due respect for the prophet of Jehovah and mocked him for being bald. – 2 Kings 2:23
After the Babylonian captivity, the new religious elite of Israel, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, was imbued of a fundamentalist zeal that was keen on ensuring that the Israelites would never return to the sins of the past, chiefly spiritual impurity, that, in their opinion, were the root cause of Yahweh’s displeasure with them. Xenophobic policies were enforced, resulting in mixed marriages with foreign women (non worshippers of Yahweh) being forcefully dissolved and the women and their children summarily dismissed from the land and he names of the errant Israelites recorded for posterity. This matter was deemed so urgent, that Israelite men were summoned to Jerusalem with three days notice to attend a religious meeting amidst a severe winter storm, under penalty of having their assets confiscated. - Ezra 10:1-44
Many other examples could have been provided. There’s ample evidence that the books of the Old Testament portray Yahweh as a petty, vindictive and wrathful God, and his more zealous followers as fundamentalist, fanatic worshippers. To the true believer, the uncritical zealous enthusiast of God, the Almighty can do no wrong. Whatever He does, even in what defies reason, common sense and basic decency, there must be a superior reason that entirely justifies it. Those among the Jehovah’s Witnesses that nod when they read an article in a Watchtower publication that justifies God for the horrendous deeds in his name depicted in the Old Testament, they are simply being fanatics.
Cherrypicking the New Testament
Surely, Jehovah’s Witnesses point out to the teachings of Jesus to support their thesis that Christianity is a religion of non-violence. Such as this one found in the sermon of the mountain: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) They also claim that Jesus taught that his disciples should not bear weapons, even to defend the true religion. (Matthew 26:52). But, can it be truly said that Jesus was an advocate of peace between people of different faiths?
If that was the case, then Jesus would have surely departed from any connection wih the God of the Old Testament and would make sure everyone knew without ambiguity that he disavowed the actions of Yahweh. Did he do such thing? No. He never objected to being called “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28), or son of Yahweh, in the Jewish world. He commonly referred to the Israelite God simultaneously as his God and his Father. (John 20:17) In this, he was repeating the Jewish creed since the days of the prophet Isaiah: “You, Yahweh, are our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is your name”. (Isaiah 63:16). He acknowledged that this is the same God of Genesis and the Hebrew Scriptures. – Mark 10:6-9
In his parable of the nobleman who travelled to a distant land, Jesus concluded his parable with a lesson: “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (Luke 19:26, 27) The most benign preterist interpretation of the Gospels sees this as Jesus forewarning the opposing Jews that, unless they accepted him as King, they would soon be slaughtered – which happened in 66-70 CE when the Romans overrun Jerusalem. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do NOT have a preterist interpretation of these parables. Instead, they believe in a literal reading of these words, in an apocalyptic, future end-times prophetic sense. They actually believe – and fervently support – the notion that Jesus is entirely justified in killing his enemies, even if that amounts to billions of human beings.
Even those who don’t oppose, but merely fail to actively support Christ’s disciples are deemed worthy of destruction. In the parable of the sheep and the he-goats, Jesus described how those who merely fail to show support to his disciples will be treated: “these will go off to eternal punishment”. – Matthew 25:31-46
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses emphatically promptly point to the incident recorded by all four gospels when Peter drew a sword and hurt a servant in a pathetic attempt to defend Jesus from being arrested as “proof” that God condemns the use of violence to defend religious beliefs. However, a closer look at this incident puts it in a whole different light once the fine details are investigated. First of all, it must be noted that the four accounts of the gospels do not coincide about what Jesus said. Only in Matthew Jesus appears to rebuke Peter for resorting to violence: “Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52 NIV) In the gospel of Mark, Jesus doesn’t rebuke at all the unnamed apostle that draws the sword. (Mark 14:47,48) In Luke, Jesus simply calls for the sudden outburst of violence to stop at once. (Luke 22:49-51) In John’s gospel Jesus rebukes Peter, not for the violence, but for attempting to disrupt the prophetic sequence of events that would lead to his death. (John 18:11) Actually, just hours before this incident, Jesus advocated that, after his departure, his disciples should acquire weapons for self-protection (Luke 22:36) and he didn’t rebuke his disciples for carrying swords. (Luke 22:39) So, is this incident “proof” that Christ advocated for non-violence as a behavioral tenet of his disciples henceforth? A consistent compared reading of the entire account shows that’s not the case. In fact, by comparing the four accounts of this incident, it’s clear that the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:52 aren’t a “Christian teaching”, but simply a circumstantial warning to his disciples that were packing swords that if they draw the swords on that occasion, they would end up dead, because they were outnumbered by their enemies.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses may point out that the apostle Paul exhorted his fellow Christians to “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) However, it was this same apostle Paul, champion of Christianity, who agreed with the ‘obsolete’ Moses’ Law, considering entirely righteous that sinners, among them “God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful” and those who “disobey their parents” be put to death by the will of God, when he mentioned “God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” (Romans 1:28-31) The apostle Paul advocated this same vindictive vision of God and Jesus as perfectly justifiable: “ …This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction …” - 2 Thessalonians1:6-8
The writer of Revelation, which the Witnesses believe to be the apostle John, claims to have received visions of a future wholesale destruction of the followers of the “beast”, an enemy of Christianity, who include “kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small”. (Revelation 19:18) Those who are guilty of grave sins – including the sin of being an unbeliever – will be “consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur”. – Revelation 21:8
The Jehovah’s Witnesses also point to 1 Peter 2:17, where Christians are urged to “show proper respect to everyone”, presumably this including non-believers. However, the writer of 2 Peter, which the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe to be the same writer of 1 Peter, and that person being the apostle Peter, expressed his belief that heretics deserved to be killed: “…there will be false teachers among you. (…) Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3) Furthermore, after reminding his readers of the past acts of wholesale killings by God, such as the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the writer of 2 Peter expressed his certainty that God will “hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment”. - 2 Peter 2:4-9
The Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to agree that Jehovah is entirely justified in bringing this wholesale destruction to everyone who doesn’t worship the true God – even if they accept Jesus as their savior and profess belief in the God of the Bible, as evidenced by the following quotes: “…without question the execution of divine judgment upon apostate Christendom and the rest of Satan's world is imminent." (Watchtower 1984 Oct 1 p.11); “There are billions of people who do not know Jehovah. Many of them in ignorance practice things that God's Word shows to be wicked. If they persist in this course, they will be among those who perish during the great tribulation." (Watchtower 1993 Oct 1 p.19); “Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the "great crowd," as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.” – The Watchtower, 1989 Sept 1, p. 19
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, like most Christian believers, cherry-pick from the Bible the bits that conform to the religion they want to fashion for themselves, and forget about the rest that doesn’t seem to fit in their worldview. However, if one advocates that “all Scripture is inspired of God” and claims that this means that this collection of books is “Jehovah God’s infallible Word, the Holy Bible”, and thus must be accepted as a whole, have to admit that their holy book and its main characters – Yahweh and Jesus – advocate and condone extreme acts of violence, either perpetrated by humans in the name of God, or by God himself. It shouldn’t be a shame for those who truly follow them to the letter admit, and even be proud of, being fundamentalist fanatics. So, why are they so adamant to distance themselves from such label?
P.S. - Mrs. Eden was right, I was being silly. Nothing like a week rewiring my studio to clear my head and put things into perspective. Moving on.