Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 018
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 18 OF ONIONUNLMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. This is the first part of a new series I’ve entitled The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn, named after the 1928 booklet of the same name by writer Bertram Henry Shadduck. Shadduck was an American author who was born in 1869 and died in 1950. After a born-again experience when he was 18 he joined the Salvation Army, and later became a Methodist minister.
In 1928 Shadduck published The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn, the first written exposé of the Watch Tower to ever utilize their own writings. Shadduck had offered to publicly debate with Watch Tower’s foremost proponents, but was met with ludicrous terms of acceptance which required him to produce a $500 bond which he would forego should he use any of the Bible Students’ literature against them. He declined the terms and The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn was his written response.
The cover of this booklet carries the title, The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn, a reference to the 7 volumes of the Millenial Dawn series of books by Charles Taze Russell, later renamed Studies in the Scriptures. It’s illustrated by 7 bolts of lightning on the front cover and, for some reason I’m unsure of at the moment, a burning candle.
On the inside cover, there is a hand-drawn illustration of Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Franklin Rutherford in what appears to be a circus ring, with a number of ponies jumping through hoops that they are holding. The ponies are each labelled with a date, three of which are 1914, 1918, and 1925. Russell is holding a sign that reads “Plan of the Ages”, a reference to his first Millenial Dawn volume The Divine Plan of the Ages, and Rutherford is holding a sign that reads “The world has ended”. Russell, remember, had prophesied that Satan’s world would end in 1914. When it didn’t, his successor, Rutherford promoted the idea that it had ended, but in a legal sense.
The illustration carries the heading “Repudiated” in large, bold, capital letters, and cites Deuteronomy 18:22: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” (KJV). To the right of the illustration, there is a box containing the following question: “After Russell and Rutherford both failed to make the years go through their hoop”—a reference to the dated ponies there—”why does the show keep advertising them?” Why indeed!
The next page carries an introduction explaining the purpose of the booklet. Let me just read some of that to you.
Interesting that Shadduck calls it “Russellism”. The early Bible Student, of course, were often referred to as Russellites, after Charles Taze Russell, much as Millerites were names after their found, William Miller. Shadduck declares at the outset that he is going to “call back some of its own words that it would like to forget, and let it tell its own blunders”, much as ones like myself, Larchwood, JW Facts, and others do today. One of the most effective ways to highlight error in Jehovah’s Witnesses is simply to read the literature they have produced over their 140-something-year history, going way back to Russell. It becomes very obvious very quickly that they have predicted—prophesied—so many things that have failed to come true, so that anything Watch Tower proclaims as “the truth” today should really be taken with a pinch of salt.
It wouldn’t be so bad if over time they had moved away from relying so much on dates, but they haven’t. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses still clings desperately to 1914 as the start of Jesus’ presence and the beginning of the last days, even though it’s become very clear that this date has no scriptural relevance. Why? Why do they cling to this date? Because they have so much invested in it, not least of all their supposed appointment by Jesus as “the faithful and discreet slave” a few years later in 1919. Will they ever move away from 1914? Possibly. I think at some point they will have to. It’s already been 107 years since 1914 and there’s really only so long you can keep claiming “the world has ended” in a legal sense or otherwise before it becomes apparent that it hasn’t. Will they drop 1919? I that’s more difficult. They’ve invested a lot in that particular “pony”. The problem is, Matthew 24:45 which discusses the “faithful and discreet slave” is clearly linked to Jesus’ presence, so it would be tricky to drop 1914 without it somehow affecting the 1919 date also.
The governing body have really backed themselves into a corner, and are depending on the end very coming soon now, otherwise, their whole doctrinal structure will collapse. I believe it’s already started crumbling. David Splane’s attempt at convincing his audience that the “generation that will not pass away” is somehow an overlapping generation was very poor and certainly not a wise or discreet move. Indirectly, he set an end-time date of somewhere, I calculated, between 2034 and 2074. Beyond that, the doctrine falls flat. Obviously he, and his fellow governing body members will be long gone by 2074, so it won’t be a personal problem for them, but certainly the cracks will begin to show if they haven’t been raptured to heaven by 2034.
Notice that B H Shadduck refers to the Bible Students as a cult. When he wrote this book in 1928 there had been a number of failed predictions. 1914 obviously hadn’t resulted in the end of Satan’s world, despite Rutherford’s ridiculous claim that it had ended legally. The saints hadn’t been raptured to heaven in 1918 as Russell had prophesied, and the biggest blunder of all—the “faithful worthies”, the likes of Abraham, Enoch, Moses and others, hadn’t been raised from the dead as promised. By 1928, Rutherford had to downplay the failure of his 1925 prediction, and Shadduck wasn’t having any of that. He wanted people to know that Russell and Rutherford were false prophets and that their movement was a cult. I find it amazing how little has changed. Here we are, almost 100 years later, and we’re still having to point out the failure of Watch Tower to predict anything with accuracy. Their prophecies have failed time and time again and, undoubtedly, will continue to fail while ever they exist as a cult.
Now whether you believe in God or not, cults and “isms” as Shadduck calls them—Russellism, Millerism—do, over time, tend to unravel. Some take longer than others. I’m often surprised how long Jehovah’s Witnesses have managed to keep hobbling along. By 1845 most Millerites had abandoned their failed expectations, some joining the Adventist church which Miller helped to establish, but the Bible Students, under the watch of J F Rutherford, morphed into the religion we know today as Jehovah’s Witnesses with some 8 million members worldwide. They would claim this demonstrates God’s blessing, but as Deuteronomy 18:22 shows, God is never behind false prophecies, and that is what Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organisation is based on. 1914 and 1919 are still its kingpins, and without them, the whole thing just falls apart. I really do believe Jehovah’s Witnesses are on borrowed time. If they are to continue for another 40 or 50 years the governing body will need to find a way to drop 1914 and 1919, while somehow retaining their authority over the organisation as the “faithful and discreet slave”.
I think the way to do this would be to publish “new light” saying that Jesus’ presence is a future event. If they did that they could perhaps jettison 1914 and then push associated events such as the throwing down of Satan to the earth, the start of the last days, and the resurrection of the anointed to some unknown future time. They could still claim they were, as Geoffrey Jackon said, trying to fill the role of the “slave”, but just claim they were waiting for Jesus’ future return to confirm their faithfulness and discreetness. It’s certainly doable, with a bit of jiggery-pokery, and it’s not without precedent.
However they approach things, they will need to rely on the gullibility of Jehovah’s Witnesses as individuals. As Shadduck noted next in The “Seven Thunders”:
Without realising it, Jehovah’s Witnesses are, as Shadduck says, “feed[ing] money into a gambling device”, their actual money, but also their time, their lives, hoping—just hoping—that they’ve backed the right “pony”. It really does sadden me when I think of the thousands—millions—of Witnesses that have spent their entire lives believing that the end will come in their lifetime. Every Witness that has ever lived and died has died without seeing the prophecies of Watch Tower come true, and the sad fact is, every Witness that will ever die will also die disappointed. They’ve been fed a lie, and they continue to believe it because it gives them hope.
I’ve heard Witnesses say, even if it was all a lie, they would still believe it because think it makes for a better life—a life of hope, and one of morality, friendships, a relationship with God and so on, but really what value is hope if it is false? How moral is a person if it takes being in a cult for them to do the “right thing”? The “love” and friendships that seem to exist within a cult are, sadly, conditional. You only realise this if you leave, and do Jehovah’s Witnesses really have a relationship with God? I would say no. Their relationship is with the organisation and with the governing body. You see, “organisation” and “governing body” are now synonymous with “Jehovah” or “God”. As Shadduck pointed out, “man is prone to gullibility”, and that, I believe is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are so indoctrinated—brainwashed—that “it does not occur to them that by some possibility, they might be misled.”
The “Seven Thunders” continues:
Now, that’s an interesting observation, isn’t it? “Their promises persisted when their prophecies failed.” That was certainly the case with the prediction that the “faithful worthies” would return from the dead in 1925. When they failed to appear, Watch Tower kept peddling the promise that they would show up at any moment, even building a mansion for them to live in in 1929. They stopped giving a date for the resurrection, but they continued to say that it would happen very soon. This is so similar to what Watch Tower is doing now. On JW Broadcasting we are continually told that we are at “the threshold of the new world” and that Armageddon is “coming soon”, but there’s no basis for such a claim. As we’ve seen, their “overlapping generation” teaching has pushed the end off to, at the furthest point, 2074—another 53 years from now—yet they continue to claim they don’t know when the end is coming. It’s really is all wishful thinking, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, unfortunately, buy into this.
Next, Shadduck uses an illustration. This is really good actually:
So, what’s he saying? You can make a pumpkin look like a bomb. I don’t know why you would do that, but, okay. People would be expecting the bomb to go off, but it wouldn’t—because it’s a pumpkin. Eventually, someone sire;u would—you would imagine—say, “It’s not going to explode because, hey look!—it’s a pumpkin.” It’s never going to happen, and that’s the case with Watch Tower predictions. For years, they’ve frightened people into joining their cult with what is essentially an “Armageddon bomb”—join us, or you will die at Armageddon. Actually, Russell’s view on Armageddon was somewhat different to Rutherford’s. Russell saw Armageddon as more of a decline in human society, followed by a period of restitution. It was Rutherford who came up with the idea that Armageddon was a literal war of God against the wicked, and as time progressed that became the current view that only Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to survive the “day of God’s wrath”—but it’s a pumpkin bomb. It’s never going to happen. Sure, humanity may come to an end in some disastrous way—nuclear holocaust, an asteroid strike, climate change—but the idea that God is going to destroy humanity, in my opinion, is simply false. One may point to Revelation as “proof” that Armageddon is coming, but Revelation is so open to interpretation. Personally, I find it adds little or nothing to my spirituality. Sadly, those that buy into the Armageddon-pumpkin-bomb-story end up joining cults—doomsday cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses—which then control every single aspect of their life, and even ones that leave the cult, years afterwards, continue to worry about dying at Armageddon.
Jehovah’s Witnesses proudly claim that they don’t use hell to frighten people into serving God, but what they do do—graphic depictions of the ground opening up and fire from heaven destroying non-Witnesses at Armageddon, even in publications designed for children—is really no different. It’s scare-mongering.
Really, nothing has changed. A Jehovah’s Witness calling at your door will initially tell you about the “good news”—how God has promised a paradise where you can live forever with no sickness, a nice house, loads of fruit, pandas everywhere. They tell you that wickedness is coming to an end—it all sounds good—but it’s not long before they’re telling you that Armageddon is coming and that as a non-Jehovah’s Witness you are the wicked. If you don’t join their cult, you’re going to die.
Now, I was born-in, so I don’t really know whether it’s the promise of paradise, or the threat of Armageddon, that convinces people on the outside to join the cult. Maybe it’s the love-bombing, a feeling of belonging. What I do know, as a 3rd generation born-in when I reached 16 years of age, there was this kind of unspoken expectation that I should get baptised as a Witness. My mum explained it to me, that I could either get baptised, serve Jehovah, and live in paradise, or—by default—be a part of Satan’s world, serving the Devil, and die at Armageddon. It was very black and white thinking. That combination of “Ooh paradise, and not being killed” along with the feeling of wanting to belong—to be approved and accepted by my friends and family—that’s kind of what did it for me.
Did I believe in God? Yes, I think I did, and I wanted to do the “right thing”. I didn’t really take notice of the veiled threats at the time. Of course, I grew up with the expectation that the generation that saw the events of 1914 would still be alive to see Armageddon. That failed miserably. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and apologise to the people I preached to. They were right. I was wrong.
Returning to his pumpkin bomb illustration, Shadduck continues:
“Chronologically ended” and “legally ended”—it really doesn’t mean much, does it? I suppose you could argue that the nations, from 1914, no longer had any legal claim to rulership over the earth, because Jesus was, supposedly, now enthroned as king, but even that event shifted around. In the 1911 book, The Time Is At Hand p. 239 it was claimed that “The year AD 1878… clearly mark[ed] the time for the… assuming of [Jesus’] power as King of kings”. It was only changed to 1914 in 1920. So when did the world end? 1878 or 1914? And why, over 100 years later, is “the world” still here? Shadduck was right way back then—all the dates, all the expectations, were just dud bombs—not even bombs, pumpkins—that failed to go off, but Watch Tower has, over the years, continued to trot out new “ponies” to keep the show on the road. Surely, surely, at some point, this nonsence has to stop? People can’t really be this gullible, can they? Maybe they can, I don’t know.
Shadduck next draws attention to the book The Harp of God, written by Rutherford in 1921. He says:
I find that amazing. Rutherford, and Russell before him, drew so much attention to their dates, but when they failed to come true it was just a case of “Oh don’t worry, it wasn’t that big a deal”, but to the people joining the cult, giving their time—their entire lives—to Watch Tower, to say “Why should we quibble now about dates?”—that’s just deplorable. People bought into a promise. That promise didn’t come true, but there was never an apology. They never held their hands up and said “We got it wrong”. Instead, they phrased things in such a way that just downplayed the error. Even today, Watch Tower says “We were just eager to see the end” or they claim a “clarification” of beliefs. It’s not clarification—it’s substitution of one erroneous teaching for a completely different teaching, and so on and on it continues and people are still buying into it.
Shadduck concludes his introduction to The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn with this observation:
I propose that Watch Tower, as an organisation, has gone on to break Russell’s record. The continual promises of being “on the threshold of the new world” throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s all failed. As the 1960s progressed Watch Tower hyped up anticipation for 1975 to see the start of the 1000 year reign of Christ. That failed. Then in 1989, The Watchtower January 1 predicted that the preaching work “would be completed in our 20th century.” In later bound volumes the text of that article was amended to state that the preaching work “would be completed in our day”. Well, we are now 21 years into the 21st century, 32 more years after those predictions, and Watch Tower is still trying to make “ponies” jump through their hoops in what is really just a religious circus. As Shadduck asked way back in 1928, “Why does the show keep advertising [the dates]?” Because, it’s a cult, and that’s how cults work.
That’s all for part 1 of The “Seven Thunders” of Millenial Dawn. Thank you for listening. Join me again next time.