Jehovah’s Witnesses can find a segue way for anything. One minute we are talking about politics and then the next minute we are talking about birthdays. The connection? The daily text from September 21st discusses the Watchtower’s twisted interpretation of John 15:19– “Because you are no part of the world, . . . on this account the world hates you.”
Earlier in the conversation, I had mentioned that my birthday was the day before our meeting. I wondered if he would bite and if he did, what he would say about it. I’ve talked with Jehovah’s Witnesses before about birthdays, but this would be different because I have a closer relationship with my Witness elder friend that I did with any of the other Witnesses who have spoken with me about this topic. He transitioned from the part of the daily text which mentions abstention from pagan festivals to my birthday.
JW1: Early Christians stayed away from pagan festivals. Today that would include Christmas and birthdays.
KW: Birthdays and Christmas? That’s another subject.
JW: Oh, yes.
KW: (Laughing) Is it wrong that I had birthday presents yesterday? Actually, I have t tell you something funny. We celebrated my birthday last Sunday because that was when the rest of the family could get together. We had cake and ice cream and stuff like that. My nephew was also there. Well, he came over to the house on my actual birthday and asked, “Uncle Keith. Where is your birthday cake?” I told him that we had it on Sunday. He answered, “But your birthday is today.” I replied, “Yes, but we ate it on Sunday.” He said, “No that was just practice.”
All three of us laughed. Then my friend how many candles were on the cake. We didn’t have the full number, but it represented 46 candles.
JW1: You know that blowing out candles is a pagan custom, right?
In all of my years as a missionary to Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have never heard that argument. I have heard the verses they use out of the Bible, but I have never heard anything about blowing out candles.
KW: That doesn’t mean I was celebrating it. If I have never heard that blowing candles off of a birthday cake is a pagan custom, then how could I possibly be participating in a pagan custom?
JW1: Say that again?
KW: If I have never heard that blowing out candles on a cake is a pagan custom, then there is absolutely no way I could be celebrating and participating in some pagan custom. It cannot mean to me what it meant to them if I don’t know anything about it.
There was that look again. My friend knew I made a good point so he jokingly said;
JW1: Well, that’s another subject.
JW2: (Laughing) Well, now you can look it up.
Both Witnesses starting telling me that holidays can be researched online in order to find the original meaning of them.
KW: That doesn’t mean that I celebrate these things for the same reason. If I don’t even know about it, it can’t possibly be my meaning.
JW1: Jews didn’t celebrate their birthdays. Early Christians didn’t celebrate their birthdays. Jesus didn’t celebrate His birthday.
KW: Jesus didn’t wear a tie. You mentioned being against war last week. Did you know that the original ties were part of military uniforms?
I began to tell him about the French army using them in the 1600’s, however in preparation for this blog post, I have found a much richer history for ties. Feel free to pass along this article, The Origins of the Neck Tie, to your Jehovah’s Witness friends.
KW: If the only people who wore ties in the 1600’swere associated with the French military, does that mean that because both of you are wearing ties that you somehow celebrate, participate and encourage the French military?
My friend completely ignored the question and starting complaining about some military style jacket he wanted to wear as a teen ager, but his mother wouldn’t let him because it looked too much like the jackets they wear in the army.
JW1: Maybe you should have talked to my mother and I would have been able to get one of those jackets.
KW: Maybe you should talk to your mother and tell her you don’t want to wear a tie.
We all laughed at that. Neither of them had an idea that I was using a double entendre. The Watchtower teaches that the organization is their “mother,” so if they understood my second meaning, they would have understood that I was referring to telling the organization that you refuse to wear a tie because it was part of a French military uniform. Let that sink in. There is a lot of irony there.
JW1: I’ll admit, it is difficult to talk about birthdays and the Bible because there isn’t a verse that commands us not to celebrate birthdays. You won’t find that in the Bible, but the Bible does mention two birthdays.
At that point my Witness friend gave the same old Watchtower argument about the Pharaoh in Joseph’s time (Genesis 40:1-23) and Herod in the New Testament (Matthew 14:6-12). Neither of them worshiped God and both of them had someone killed on their birthday.
KW: There is another birthday that you are missing.
JW1: What am I missing?
KW: Shepherds in the field… angles appearing to them and singing… praising God…
JW1: Oh, yes, Jesus was born, but we do not have a record of Jesus celebrating His own birthday.
KW: That doesn’t mean I can’t.
JW1: The Jews didn’t celebrate birthdays. The only two birthday parties were of people who didn’t worship God and on both days, someone was killed by the person celebrating the birthday.
KW: I promise you, I didn’t have anyone killed at my party.
JW2 laughed and JW1 laughed and said, “I saw that one coming.”
KW: I really don’t see what this has to do with anything.
JW1: Even the date they celebrate isn’t the correct date for the birth of Christ.
KW: We didn’t celebrate on my actual date either, but that really isn’t the point. What is important is honoring the person, not on what date you do it. That’s what my family did. They came over. I BLEW OUT CANDLES…
JW1: Did they honor your parents too for bringing you into this world?
KW: (Laughing) No, it wasn’t their birthday.
JW1: What did you do that is so important? Why should people celebrate your birthday?
KW: (Jokingly) I give everybody peace and good will.
My Witness friend laughed at that and recognized that this line of reasoning wasn’t working. There is no reason why it should, but he tried anyway by reiterating that Christians in the first century didn’t celebrate birthdays.
KW: (Pointing to his wedding ring) Do you guys celebrate wedding anniversaries?
KW: Then I didn’t celebrate my birthday. I just celebrated the anniversary of my birth.
KW: Did you know wedding rings have a pagan origin?
JW1: Yes, I’ve done some reading about that.
KW: Then why are we wearing wedding rings?
As soon as JW1 admitted to the pagan origins of wedding rings, JW2’s head just about spun around. He was looking at me and then turned his head towards JW1 so quickly that I thought he would tweak a nerve.
KW: I don’t care what the origin was. If it isn’t what it means to me, then I am not celebrating whatever it meant to the pagan originators. If we are going to use this argument, then I can’t wear ties, I can’t wear wedding rings and I can’t even use the names of the days of the week because they all come from pagan origins and were named after the names of their gods. How far are we going to take this? We can’t meet next week on Wednesday, so what are we going to call it?
JW1: (Jokingly) The fourth day of the week.
JW2: Hump day.
Folks in the restaurant looked our direction because we were laughing pretty good at that one. As we were simmering down, JW2 mentioned that they don’t celebrate Mother’s or Father’s day either. I stopped laughing.
KW: Really? Those too? Those aren’t even mentioned in the bible. How can you say those aren’t good?
JW2: They are “worldly” celebrations.
KW: What does “worldly” mean? Is there a problem with celebrating Mother’s or Father’s day? What is wrong with honoring my Mother and Father when that is exactly what scripture commands?
JW1: You are suppose to do that every day, not just on one day.
KW: I’m not saying I don’t, but why not one special day out of the year like with your anniversary? You are supposed to love your wife every day, not just on your anniversary. It is the same argument.
JW1: Yeah, I see where you are coming from, but why would I celebrate some day just because everyone else does?
KW: Tell your wife that on your next anniversary. Just tell her, “Honey, I love you every day. Why do we have to spend this one special day together?” Tell me how she would respond to that.
My Witness friend completely understood my point and laughed because he knew he would be in trouble if he tried that with his wife.
JW1: Mother’s day has something to do with the idea that Mary was the mother of God.
KW: It doesn’t for me. I’m not Catholic.
JW1: Well, that is where it comes from.
KW: Again, don’t wear your tie.
JW1: I’ll have to look into that.
KW: If you find out that I am right, are you going to stop wearing a tie?
JW1: (They both laughed as JW1 said,) “I’m in Texas. I’ll just wear a Bolo tie.”
KW: (In a mock, accusatory tone) YOU ARE PART OF THIS WORLD!
This was a marathon meeting lasting almost two and a half hours. This last half of our conversation was much lighter than the first part. I guess it is more fun to talk about birthdays than politics. The guys are definitely seeing my point of view, and frankly, they should be. After all, the Watchtower itself says of wedding rings, “Even if it were a fact that pagans first used wedding rings, would that rule such out for Christians? Not necessarily. Many of today’s articles of clothing and aspects of life originated in pagan lands. The present time divisions of hours, minutes and seconds are based on an early Babylonian system. Yet, there is no objection to a Christian’s using these time divisions, for one’s doing so does not involve carrying on false religious practices.
Of course, our concern is greater as regards the use of wedding rings, since this relates, not to minor secular matters, but to the marriage relationship, which the Christian rightly views as sacred before God. Really, the question is not so much whether wedding rings were first used by pagans but whether they were originally used as part of false religious practices and still retain such religious significance.” (Watchtower 1/15/72, p.63)
On my way out the door, my elder friend patted me on the shoulder and said, “See you next WEDNESDAY!”
Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness friends.