In the latest broadcast on the internet TV channel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, tv.jw.org, one of the assistants to the religion’s governing body gave a long-winded discourse about what JWs call the “unforgivable sin.” The man was differentiating between the concepts of “grieving the holy spirit,” “sinning against the holy spirit,” and “blaspheming the holy spirit.” These are apparently important concepts to Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the bible seems to say that someone who “blasphemes” the holy spirit has no forgiveness available to them, while “grieving” and “sinning against” the holy spirit can be forgiven. (Mark 3:29)
Confused yet? I probably can’t help, but let’s press on.
Blasphemy I Tells Ya, Blasphemy!
There are two things wrong with the broadcast, one being that I still don’t know what it means to “blaspheme” the holy spirit. The presentation went on to talk about when Jesus performed a miraculous healing, and the religious leaders of his day denied that it was performed by holy spirit. The explanation seems to say that, if you know something is done by Jehovah’s holy spirit but deny it or doubt it, then you’ve blasphemed the holy spirit.
My problem with this is that trying to determine what is, or is not, done by Jehovah’s holy spirit is a bit tricky. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim all the time that they are guided by holy spirit.¹ They even claim that the appointment of elders and ministerial servants in the congregation is also directed by holy spirit.²
Which begs the question, what happens when Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong about something they predict, as has happened time and again? (Please see JWfacts for a quick rundown of changed teachings and failed predictions.) How can you say you’re guided by holy spirit when you get your information and interpretations wrong; is the holy spirit wrong? Taking a break at that time? Just messing with your heads?
What happens when one of those men, appointed as an elder under the guidance of this holy spirit, turns out to be a wife beater or child rapist? You can read the Pedophilia and Domestic Violence categories of this site to see how often men who have supposedly been appointed by holy spirit wind up committing these vile acts, with other elders turning a blind eye, blaming the victims, and so on.
The point is, when someone doubts that Jehovah’s Witnesses are appointed or guided by holy spirit because they see these failures and know firsthand about these scandals, are they somehow guilty of “blaspheming the holy spirit”? Their doubt, or even outright thinking that only something evil could be behind such horrific crimes in an organization, is “blasphemy”? They’ve committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness? That seems a bit suspect.
Questioning what is, and what is not, blasphemy is one thing, but what is also most disturbing about this video is that it was demonstrated to the audience with the use of actual loaves of bread. (*pause for the rolling of eyes*) The speaker showed how adding garlic powder to the bread makes it distasteful but still useful, like humans who sin but who are still acceptable to god. Dipping one side of the bread in mud is still workable, as you can cut off that muddy chunk and throw it away; in the same way, you can be forgiven, or get rid of, even serious sins.
However, this unforgivable sin or blaspheming the holy spirit is like squirting poison all over the bread. It’s no longer good for anything:
“That person’s relationship with Jehovah is forever ruined. Jehovah discards the person like a piece of garbage.”
A piece of garbage.
I can’t comment much on bible teaching since I’m pretty much an atheist and have never really believed in, or felt drawn to, the bible, but I would need to strongly question the idea that any loving god would discard someone like “a piece of garbage” simply because they question, doubt, or even outright deny supposed works of his. Isn’t that what it means to be a human, to question, to be skeptical, and to expect extraordinary evidence from anyone who claims to be representing god?
Also, these child molesters in the congregation, and those who practice these other horrific things like domestic violence and shunning, they’re not garbage? God disposes of someone who questions or even rebels against his miracles, but not someone who molests little children, or tells a rape victim to her face that she didn’t scream and fight and resist enough so that she “consented” to the violation; they’re not the real garbage here?
Wicked Hearts, Self-Esteem, and More Blasphemy
Another part of the problem with this teaching; I could understand god tossing away certain people who commit horrible, vile acts, and who have no interest whatsoever in changing their ways. I’m sure we’ve all seen the faces of certain war criminals or thieving politicians and figured that they pretty much amounted to human garbage.
However, telling people who have doubts, who don’t believe people when they claim they’re from god, who leave certain religious leaders or ideas, that they are garbage to be tossed into a can, is inexcusable. Many people who leave Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially after seeing pedophile scandals and failed prophecies, don’t need someone to tell them that they’re human garbage, completely useless and only meant for the rubbish bin.
It’s also worth mentioning that, while the word blasphemy means “an impious utterance against god or the act of cursing and reviling god,” it also means “assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of god.” (Dictionary.com) Might this be applied to the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
As an example, the May 15, 2006, Watchtower stated:
“Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah’s universal organization.”
I can’t see where this is backed up in the bible; the example of Noah is a far stretch. Telling people that they need to associate with you or they won’t survive god’s judgment seems a bit blasphemous; isn’t it up to god to tell people what is acceptable, and to determine if people deserve salvation?
Also, as I bring out in this post, one thing I found surprising about the secret handbook that elders use, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” is that they are told they exercise judgment over others. Yet, the bible at John 1:22 says, “For the Father judges no one at all, but he has entrusted all the judging to the Son.” The elders haven’t been given this privilege to judge, according to the bible’s own words, but this is done by the Son. Saying that you’re going to fulfill a role that is given to Jesus, or assuming those rights to yourself, also seems blasphemous.
I don’t know if this teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses about the unforgivable sin is accurate according to the scriptures, but I do know that a person doesn’t need to leave the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses to have doubts about its leadership and teaching. Yet, the implication seems to say that if you just have those doubts or disagreements, even if you haven’t left, you’ve committed a terrible sin for which there is no forgiveness. You’re just human garbage.
To say that this sin means to blaspheme the holy spirit when the leaders themselves are also apparently guilty of blasphemy is hypocrisy at its finest. When you think of it, who really should be considered human garbage, those who doubt and question because of scandal and lack of evidence, or those who commit the scandals and lack the evidence?
¹February 15, 2010, Watchtower, “…our speaking with boldness and our using the Word of God skillfully in the ministry demonstrate that we are directed by God’s spirit.” April 15, 2010, Watchtower, “Jehovah uses his spirit to lead his organization in the direction that he wants it to go.”
²January 15, 2001, Watchtower, “The whole process of such recommendation and appointment is directed, or guided, by holy spirit.”
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