by “The Black Sheep”
In one of Charlie Chaplin’s cinematic masterpieces, Modern Times, there is a scene in which a salesman mutely enters the room, sets up a gramophone, and plays a pre-recorded speech about his product (a hilarious automated feeding machine for factory workers).
Chaplin’s film depicted the dehumanizing influence of an increasingly mechanized society. The “little tramp” was reduced to a cog in the wheel of industry: not much more than a machine himself as he labored on the assembly line with repeated motions that took an effort for him to stop even after he left the line to take an all too brief break.
When I first saw that movie, can you guess what it reminded me of (especially since I had recently resigned as a Bethel factory worker)? I had felt the same way as a Jehovah’s Witness.
The gramophone scene in particular reminded me of how in the old days the Witnesses had used them at the doors: they would carry gramophones with them and play records of Rutherford’s speeches.
Now, despite Chaplin’s movie (which was semi-silent by design), I doubt that many (or any) salesmen in the world outside of the Witnesses actually used such a selling approach. Salesmen want to be personable, and presenting a canned speech is anything but. So why did Rutherford have his Witnesses do this odd thing? I think this question is worth asking as it makes obvious what the Watchtower wants from its
Rutherford wanted his words: his exact words presented to the world. Radio was his favorite medium, but with radio he couldn’t thrust one of his books under a listener’s nose. This was one thing he needed from his
cohorts Witnesses. If he could have trained monkeys to do the work service I’m sure that would’ve been even better in his estimation. A machine was delivering his message, and if he could’ve found a machine that would cart around the gramophone that would’ve been best (in fact he did just that with “sound cars”.)
In short, the Witnesses were just impersonal devices to him: machines. In a word: “robots”.
Eventually, the Society wised up and started training its people to speak, so that soon they were parroting the words of their
masters governing body. Thus emerged the Theocratic Ministry School in which they learned the canned speeches by heart, right down to the “use of gestures”. However, at its core “going out in service” is still very much a robotic activity.
Which puts me in mind of something else smacking of artificial intelligence: The Watchtower Study meeting. Every Sunday I would attend this dreadful meeting where we would read a paragraph out of the latest Watchtower magazine, then ask the canned question out of the Watchtower magazine, and then read the answer out of the same paragraph we had just read in the Watchtower magazine. To make it even more mindless, we would’ve “studied” this article on our own (or in groups) prior to the meeting. “Studying it” meant underlining or highlighting the answer in the paragraph for the questions asked at the bottom of the page. To eliminate the unnecessary firing of any neurons, each question even referred to the numbered paragraph that contained the answer. So then at the Hall it was a no-brainer; everyone had the same answers previously emphasized in their magazine, ready to be read out when called upon.
Of course we were encouraged to phrase the canned answer “in our own words”. The attempts at paraphrasing were typically pathetic: mostly consisting of incorporating the phrase “a blessing from Jehovah” in there somehow.
Looking back, it gives me a good laugh now. But how anyone could’ve looked upon this as an enjoyable, edifying way to spend an hour has always been beyond my comprehension.
To add further insult to any shred of intelligence remaining, when I was at Bethel we had an additional mandatory Watchtower Study meeting every Monday night to prepare us with “role-model answers” to give at the following Sunday meetings in our individual congregations. This meant that we would go over the article at least three times! The articles themselves, of course, were mostly just a rehash of things we’d all read too many times before. Can you say “brainwashing”?
The Tuesday night “Book Study” meeting was conducted in the same manner. Compare that to a real-world book discussion group in which people read the same book and then come up with their own opinions and ask their own questions. Now do you begin to see how mind-controlling the Witness meetings are?
Once, I was left with oversight of a bunch of JW children for an hour or so. Their parents had asked me to conduct a book study with them from the “Great Teacher” book. Instead of doing this in the usual way, which I assumed would be too boring for any child, I quickly read the chapter over to myself and then told them the story and asked them my own questions about it. I was about 3/4 of the way through this process of actual discussion with them when one of the kids said, “Can we please start the book study before we have to go?” They hadn’t caught on that we were going over the lesson in a different, more natural way. They wanted the routine they were used to: rote answers to canned questions. I realized it was already too late for them, so they all took out their books and we followed the standard procedure. It saddened me to see children already so inflexible.
When I was a Witness I thought that giving us the answers was pointless. Looking back now, that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that they gave us the questions! Maybe that’s what they are referring to when they say they “encourage questions”! Why bother questioning anything yourself when the Watchtower has already taken the trouble to provide you with the questions you should be asking, along with the convenient answers at your fingertips? The problem is: the supplied questions are never the vital ones that a Witness should be asking.
In the opening scene of Modern Times we see a flock of sheep being herded through a corral. This scene then dissolves into a crowd of people rushing off to work.
Besides noting the perfect metaphor for the Witnesses (who picture themselves as sheep as opposed to the “worldly goats”), I want you to take particular notice of the black sheep in that flock. The “little tramp” regained his humanity when he broke free as an individual. Initially dancing around the factory and creating mayhem as he ran amok; eventually becoming the hero of his own life as he went on to find meaning, hope, and love.
When I was a Witness, I was a sheep, but at least I was a black sheep. I largely ignored the “presentations” given at the Hall. I would ad-lib at the doors. Anything else seemed too artificial to me. To my credit I never answered a question at a Watchtower Study meeting (well, there was that one time, I’ll admit, but it was only after having being “counseled” about my lack of participation). I mostly got away with this by volunteering to “run the mikes”. This also gave me an activity to occupy that otherwise vacuous hour (a good tip for any of you still stuck attending these meetings). At Bethel I got into trouble for skipping the Monday night Watchtower Study all together. But I was just about fed up with it all at that point anyway, and no longer cared who I was pissing off.
I will confess to having been an uneducated idiot who arrogantly believed I knew the “Truth” back in the day. But some things were just too stupid even for me at that time.
I never sang any of those dumb songs either. I stood mute, and rolled my eyes at them when no one was looking.
Not I, robot (at least not entirely, and not for too long).
How about you? White or black sheep? Android or human?
It’s never to late to kick up your heels and start your dance.