The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
Charles Russell was a haberdasher in Allegheny, New York; one of those demented individuals who felt their calling in life was to find the most uncomfortable attire possible for fashion conscientious males and convince them that they just couldn't live without cummerbunds and neckties. Like little Mary Baker, he was originally a devout Congregationalist, but after thoroughly ingesting their theology he had, to the amazement of agnostics nowhere, begun to doubt the truth of the Bible, at least in the way it had been taught to him.
The second coming of Christ was among the prophecies of the good book which Congregationalists routinely ignored. Yes, the Lord might some day return, but as far as they were concerned the exact date was none of their business.
Charlie disagreed; what could possibly be more important than the spiritual homecoming? So, he and a small group of followers perused the scriptures in their spare time and, in the course of their studies, discovered that Christ had already returned; inexplicably, and invisibly, in the autumn of 1874. Not only that, but for reasons known only to him, the Lord intended to remain invisible until 1914.
This joyous news must be shared, that was the feeling; so Charlie & Co. began to publish their findings in religious tracts called the "Watchtower and the herald of Christ's presence."
On the one hand, those who read Russell's writings were shocked to discover that their Lord had crept up on them, just like that; but on the other, many were secretly grateful he was waiting until 1914 to show himself. It gave them much needed time to mend their ways.
Although the methods by which Mr. Russell derived his data were incomprehensible to most people, his conclusions were highly appealing, after all, who didn't want Christ to return?
Charles Russell continued studying and refining his calculations which, considering the subject matter, always seemed to need refining. In 1912, he constructed a photo drama using what was then, state of the art motion picture and sound technology. The subject was the creation and it purported to show the sequence of events from 4026 B.C., the date he set for its inception, on into what was the future and date of Christ's return. It might have been regarded as a prophetic masterpiece in later years except for one minor flaw. 1914 came and went without so much as a "Howdy" from the Lord. Russell hastily re-examined his scriptural references, looked around at the uncertain state the world was in, and concluded that Christ had indeed come back in 1914, but quickly returned to the heavens whence he came.
Apparently, there had not been enough of the prophesied wars, pestilences, famines, and earthquakes to suit the Lord's taste and he was waiting them out. He seemed content to continue waiting, too, because Russell died in 1916 and never lived to see the fulfillment of his predictions.
The ensuing power grab that went on in the high command of the Watchtower Society was acrimonious, to say the least. But when the smoke of battle finally cleared, Judge Joseph F. Rutherford was president. He swiftly imposed his prophetic views on the faithful, and those who couldn't abide his dictatorial style were immediately disfellowshipped.
Having been a judge and a tyrannical one at that, he distrusted any civil power which didn't emanate from him. This attitude was liberally reflected in many of his personal decisions, which soon made their way into the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses. In his view, worldly governments were obviously not Christian so Christians were not obliged to render them any obeisance, whatsoever. The pledge of allegiance and the practice of saluting the flag, any flag, were activities verboten!
Military service was contravened. Catholics, Jews, Christians; their respective faiths were regarded as products of Satanic deception and anything to do with them, their beliefs, and even the observance of holidays, like Christmas, Easter, or Halloween were considered activities incompatible with Christ's appointed.
With nothing but worldly pagans running around loose, this naturally left only them to bear Jehovah's witness in a godless world of demonic excess. And there was little time left; that much was certain. For the Lord would return in fiery zeal and wrath unquenchable to wreak his righteous havoc upon a stubborn and stiff necked humanity, and it was up to them to get out the word.
Since they had, in their estimation, such a short time left to accomplish this task, they dared not trust to just the printed word. The need was urgent. So they began going door to door in neighborhoods all across this land. For them, this was a perfectly legitimate response to a very real problem. The response of many neighbors, however, was far from enthusiastic.
Americans, as a group, are just as religious as the next guy, provided the next guy isn't Billy Graham. They'll tolerate nearly any idiocy they can comfortably remain ignorant of. What they will not abide, in any shape or form, is door to door salvation salesmen.
There is no doubt these wandering Puritans meant well. That they believed in what they were doing cannot be doubted; after all, they had to be a true believers and a half to take the kind of verbal abuse Americans are capable of dishing out to people who invade the sanctity of their homes. And that was what the Witnesses could never understand. People who wanted to hear tales from the crypt were already out there, intently listening to their favorite prophet of doom. Those who didn't spent their spare time with family and the last thing they wanted to hear about during quality time were chilling tales of Armageddon.
There were other reasons the Witnesses' philosophy never caught on in a big way in this country, though. Conventional religions are bad enough; they screw up half of each weekend as it is. With the Witnesses, however, almost all that spare time is spoken for. So much so in fact that there's not even enough time left to go on a decent drunk. And that's not the worst of it. In their estimation, only a select few get to go to heaven. And that lucky number is so small that when it's plotted against the total number of individuals who have ever lived on the planet, it's hardly worth the saving! Let alone the bother.
This lucky number turns out to be 144,000. And it's the product of an arbitrary selection process, as well. A heavenly draft, and like the draft there's not a damn thing one can do to alter the inevitable. If you're not one of the few, the proud, and the incredibly lucky, the best you can hope for is a physical life span, so long it just seems like forever, right here on good old Planet Earth.
Judge Rutherford remained at the helm of the Watch Tower Society through one and a half world wars. He never lost faith that the end was near. During World War I, he and several other Witnesses who politely declined Uncle Sam's gracious invitation to join in the fray, were tried and convicted for the grievous offense of "unlawfully, feloniously, and willfully" (which one had to assume said it all) "caused insubordination and disloyalty by refusing servitude in the military and Naval forces of the United States while at war." Rutherford got eighty years for his impudence, the others lesser terms. All were released from prison when the war ended, however.
The judge died during the middle of the second "war to end all wars," a dispute in which the Witnesses once again refused to take part. Despite the implied constitutional edict mandating an individual's right to freely practice one's religion, it was rapidly becoming clear that such freedoms had definite limitations.
When it's the enemy's time to die, that was it, and there was to be no second guessing kindly Uncle Sam. Even a war with the popularity rating World War II received was insufficient motivation for Jehovah's Witnesses to alter their view point on killing their fellow man. Unlike the deities of other faiths, their God was, in their estimation, perfectly capable of doing his own killing without any help from them.
In keeping with Biblical protocol requiring all true Christians to be in subjection to worldly governments insofar as those requirements didn't conflict with the laws of God, they were quite willing to serve the nation in noncombatant capacities. Some were allowed to fulfill their magnanimous uncle's demands in this manner, but many others who received their hearing in front of less sympathetic judges ended up in the crowbar hotel for refusing to compromise their religious beliefs.
After World War II, the world continued its slippery slide into decadence, decay, and licentiousness, so the Witnesses remain convinced that the human race is, thank God, living in the "last days." They are, therefore, positive that Jesus will return soon to smite the wicked, ban evolutionary science, and elevate the righteous to positions of eminent rulership in New Jerusalem.
With no one left alive but Saints, however, it is unclear who they will rule over.
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