Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the non-believers

Jehovah’s Witnesses from throughout the Hudson Valley will begin meeting this morning up in Newburgh.

It’s the start of one of several district conventions being held across the country.

Like so many other faiths, the JWs are focused on the great many non-believers out there.

The theme of this year’s convention is “Stay Close to Jehovah.”

A press release begins with: “In a world where some powerful and influential voices in academia and the media dismiss or disparage belief in God, Jehovah’s Witnesses are proclaiming the importance of such belief, actually promoting the strengthening of one’s personal attachment to God.”

The weekend program will examine “different attitudes nonbelievers have toward God and misconceptions that hinder many from developing an intimate friendship with God.”

One session will look at “why faith in God must be built on fact and reason…”

The convention, open to the public, is at the Newburgh Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

And, if you’re curious, the JW website addresses the question of why JWs go door to door.

Michael Jackson as pop theologian (and celebrity god)

Wondering this morning if there was a religious dimension to the life — or death — of Michael Jackson, I came across reports that he had converted to Islam.

Somehow I had missed it.

Reading several reports from last year about his conversion, it’s not clear to me that he really did become a Muslim. The guy was pretty reclusive, after all. And he could have changed his mind by now. But it’s possible.

We know that he spent most of his life as a Jehovah’s Witness. And that he was, well, Michael Jackson, with everything that being Michael Jackson entails.

Anthea Butler, an historian of American religion who is in residence at Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program, writes on ReligionDispatches today that MJ was something of a tabloid god.

If you think about it, it makes some sense.

It’s been over the last 25 years or so — the age of Jackson — that America has become a celebrity-worshiping nation. I know we’ve always loved Marilyn and Bogart and Bing and all those guys, but things have been different since the ’80s.

Celebrities now dominate the news, the royalty of our culture. And Michael Jackson was the king — or a god.

Butler also notes the spiritual, if humanistic, component of MJ’s songs. And I guess you can find it, if you can put aside some of the ugliness and weirdness that surrounded the last third of his life.

She writes:

*****

Yet, for all of the crass tabloid fodder, Michael was his best when singing these hopeful songs that called listeners to become a better human being. He most certainly reached more people than the average religious figure, and his songs had an affect on an entire generation weaned on MTV. His own religious journey, from his childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness, to a foray in the Nation of Islam, to finally professing Shahada to become a Muslim, shows an interior struggle, despite all of the fame, to find the peace he so often sang about. In all of the accolades and obituaries to come, Jackson will never be called a theologian, though he was one. A Pop theologian, to be sure, but a theologian nonetheless. Struggling with his humanity, half man, half child, he danced as much to entertain I suspect, as to take away his pain. In the dance, he became transcendent, divine. And in the end, it was the very body that he used to beguile millions that failed him.

*****

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

ADD: Deepak Chopra, who was a friend of MJ’s and had contact with him in the last few days, shares his thoughts about the Mysterious One on Beliefnet.

Witness Village

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, long based in Brooklyn, are planning to move many of their operations to Ramapo.

My colleague James Walsh reports that the Witnesses want to build an administrative and residential complex for about 850 people.

That’s a mini city.

The Witnesses bought a 248-acre site in February for $11.5 million.

Not surprisingly, residents are concerned about the property leaving the tax rolls.