Chapter 1.2 – …And I Feel Fine.

Chapter 1.2 – …And I Feel Fine.

 

Continued from Chapter 1.1.

As I look back and try to explain my childhood to people, I realize how bizarre it all sounds. My entire worldview including the purpose of religious community; my understanding of the nature of God; and the way I related to other human beings outside my church was quite literally sociopathic. But our community was not as ‘doom-and-gloom’ as your might imagine. In fact, the congregation was full of people who were good-hearted, humble and loving. They genuinely believed what they were teaching, and wanted to help as many people as possible be saved before The End would come.  

We feared God’s wrath (in a healthy way, we insisted, not like pagans who feared the whims of their idol gods), but our focus was always far more on His promise to save the obedient of humankind and us a ‘second chance’. While we lived in a state of preparedness for the End Times, the real motivation for us was always The Paradise.

According to our theology, God and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and instructed them to ‘be fruitful and become many and fill the earth’. Only after they chose a life of sin did they pass on death and misery to mankind. They had ‘broken the template’ with sin, and like a mold with a crack in it, any offspring they produced thereafter would bear the mark of sin. Adam and Eve had traded their eternal life as God’s subjects in a beautiful garden world, and now all of us were subject to illness and death.

We believed that all of biblical history, including the ministry of Jesus, were God’s way of helping humans return to The Garden. Jesus had come to earth to sacrifice himself as a perfect human sacrifice to pay for the first perfect human Adam’s original sin. We didn’t believe in ‘the good go to heaven when they die’, but believed that only 144,000 chosen people in human history would join God in heaven after they died and spend their afterlife in heaven (Revelation 14:1). Those who died faithful before The End would be resurrected once Armageddon had cleansed the earth. This who died unfaithful would simply die out of existence, alive no more. There was no concept of hell. Just eternal death.

Based on Matthew 24:14, we believed that once the message of God’s Kingdom was shared throughout the earth: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (NIV) Once that mission was accomplished, God would take action and restore the earth to His original purpose — a beautiful parklike garden planet full of perfect humans (and devoid of evil), living in harmony with His creation.

Yes, that would eventually mean that He would have to destroy all wickedness once and for all, and lots of people would be killed. But He was giving us plenty of time to save ourselves and others so that when the destruction came, only those who consciously rejected truth were destroyed. The rest of us? Back to Eden, in perfect health, forever and ever. Amen.

For every scene of Armageddon’s death and destruction in one of our publications, there were three scenes of a glorious paradise that was inhabited by people of every color enjoying a peaceful existence with one another. Children played with lions and tigers; and beautiful, healthful, youthful adults beamed at one another in their parklike surroundings. It was this promise of a world cleansed from wickedness, and an eternal life of peace that drew my parents to their new religion—and millions of others like them.

The 1960s had been full of war and strife. Many young people had turned on, tuned in and dropped out of society during their teenager years; they had envisioned a utopia where war, racism, and corruption were no more, racism was eradicated and the ailing environment was restored. But as the 1970s dawned, that utopian vision slowly crumbled. Those who began to mature out of the counterculture were desperate to find something that let them live out their ideals.

In fact, in the years leading up to “The End”, The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society saw exponential growth in converts. In 1970 the organization claimed 1,384,782 active members worldwide. In 1975, due to their end times predictions and heavy proselytizing, the number had grown to 2,062,449. Many of these converts were young people who had been ready for a new world for more than a decade. Where youth culture had failed them, the bible would not. Until it did.

These youthful optimists–most of whom now had settled in to their religious communities and cut ties with their ‘world’ family–were faced with a choice: either give up their new religion, or go along with the new ‘revelation’ from Watchtower leadership and continue to wait for The End to come. For most of the people we knew, the community we’d found in the early years and the intoxicating promise of a beautiful paradise future was more important than prophetic accuracy.

And so, as the 1970s drew to a close, we huddled together like Noah and his family in our figurative ‘ark’ waiting for the the destruction of The World, venturing out to save souls. There was no political activism. No social justice work.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically agnostic. My parents never voted (or were registered to vote) the entire time I was growing up. We didn’t volunteer ‘outside’ – most of the work we did was self-supporting, helping members of our own congregations. While we went to work and public school, the often quoted verses about ‘being no part of the world’ were used to create a bubble wherein we felt safe, and righteous.

I grew up with a healthy distrust of government and political machinations. We believed that Jesus was our King, and that we lived under a literal theocratic government within the confines of our respective modern-day societies. That is, while we were citizens of the United States, our primary allegiance was to God first. That said, we were supposed to be model citizens, paying our taxes and following the law… up until the point that it conflicted with The Truth. (For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are conscientious objectors; they voluntarily take prison time over enlisting during a draft. Killing people on behalf of a worldly government, they reasoned, was a direct conflict to God’s Law to not kill people as much as committing murder. So they’d rather take the punishment of prison than go against their commitment to God’s Will.)

Needless to say there were lots of people for whom this kind of ‘separate from the world’ behavior did not sit well. We certainly met lots of angry people who accused us of being un-Christian, un-Patriotic, and even cultish. That, however, only reinforced our understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Christ: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” – John 15:19  (NIV)

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