Tue, 06 Feb 2024
[ Content warning: Rambly. ]
Two Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door yesterday and at first I did not want to talk to them but as they were leaving I remembered that I had a question. I asked them what they called the days of the week. They were very puzzled by this because it turns out that they call them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so on, just like everyone else in this country. They were so puzzled that they did not even take the opportunity to contine the conversation. They thanked me for coming to the door, and left.
I found this interesting. The reason I had asked is that the JW religion is very strict regarding paganism. For example, they do not observe Christmas or Easter, because these holidays, to them, have a suspicious pagan origin. A few months ago I had wondered: do they celebrate Thanksgiving? I thought it was possible. As far as I know it has no pagan connection at all, and an observance of giving thanks to Jehovah seemed consistent with their beliefs. No, it turns out that they don't, on the principle that to single out one special day might lead them to neglect to give proper thanks to Jehovah on the other days.
So, I wondered, if they object to Easter, how do they feel about the days of the week? To speak of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday is to honor the pagan Germanic gods Tyr, Odin, Thor, and Frigg, and I thought they might object to this also. The Quakers referred to the days of the week as First Day, Second Day, and so on for this reason, and I thought that the Witnesses might too. But the issue appears to have flown under the JWs' radar.
I didn't ask about the months, assuming that if they didn't cringe when speaking of Thor's Day, they wouldn't have a problem with the month of Janus (the two-faced god of boundaries) or with Maia (her fertility festival is in May) or with the month of the deified person of Roman Emperor Augustus.
I have a sense that Quakers are generally more sophisticated thinkers than Jehovah's Witnesses. They objected to the names of the months also, but decided it would be too confusing to change them. But they saw their opportunity in 1752, when the Kingdom of Great Britain finally brought its calendar in line with the rest of Europe. Along with the other calendrical changes, the Quakers agreed amongst themselves to start calling the months after numbers instead of the old-style names.
I had a conversation once with Larry Wall, who is himself a devout Christian. We were talking about Jehovah's Witnesses, because at that time there was a prominent member of the Perl community who was one. Larry, not at all a venomous person, said with some venom, that the JWs were “a cult”.
“A ‘cult’?” I asked. “What do you mean?” People often use the word cult as a pejorative for “sect” or religion: a cult is any religion that I don't like. But Larry, as usual, was wiser and more thoughtful than that. He said that he called them a cult because you are not allowed to leave. If you do, the other JWs, even your close friends and your family, are no longer allowed to associate with you, and if they do, they may be threatened with expulsion.
I thought that seemed like a principled definition, and it has served me since then. Sometimes, encountering other organizations from which it was difficult to extract onesself, I have heard Larry's voice in my mind, saying “that's a cult”. Thanks, Larry.
I have a draft article about how Larry Wall is my model for a rational, admirable Christian, but I'm not sure it is ever going to come together.