As a Lawyer, I Wanted Logic
IN 1964 I graduated in law at the university of Madrid. I was convinced that there were opening up before me great possibilities of serving justice and my fellow citizens from the vantage point of a well-paid, influential, and respectable position. For that reason I had started examinations to obtain a post in Spain’s body of State Attorneys.
However, the years that followed caused me deep disappointment and disillusion and led me into a state of political and religious skepticism. I had periods of depression and began to toy with the idea of suicide. Everything seemed so futile. I was at the limits of a process that had started years before.
But what events in my life had driven me to this drastic alternative of possible suicide? What was the slow process that brought me to this low ebb?
I was born shortly after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in what was then the Spanish protectorate of Morocco. My father, an army officer, was stationed there. I was the second of three children and the only boy. I had the typical middle-class upbringing for that period of Spain’s history, in which military and Catholic values were exalted to incredible limits.
At that time almost every Spaniard was made to believe that he should be “half monk and half soldier”—and was educated in that mold. This mentality was present in every phase of life, which was strictly controlled by the Catholic state. The fatherland, religion (Catholic, of course), tradition, nationalist spirit, and values of the Hispanic race were the basic concepts that were inculcated by government order in the mind of every child. Since there was no other option in those days, I was educated in Catholic Marist and Jesuit schools. It was assumed that in time I would also become an army officer.
Questions and Doubts
At 12 years of age something vital took place in my life. My father had attended some Catholic courses of religious instruction. He came back with a copy of the Bover-Cantera Bible. I still have it, heavily underlined and riddled with questions and notes that I wrote in the margin on matters I did not understand.
In about three months I had read the whole Bible. As I grew older I came to realize that I had done something very unusual for a Spanish Catholic child at that time. Nobody had encouraged me to read the Bible. To the contrary, my teachers tried to dissuade me, especially when I began to ask questions that they could not answer or when I contradicted Catholic teachings. “That is not for you. You are too young. You should wait until you are older before reading the Bible,” were the remarks I most often got. The same happened with my school companions. I could never make the Bible a theme of conversation. They looked at me with distrust, almost as if I were a heretic.
I was perturbed by questions that came to my mind in the course of my Bible reading. I, a disciplined Catholic, even reproved myself for having such doubts. I was terrified at finding myself believing things that were different from those taught by the “Holy Mother Church.”
I will never forget the deep anxiety that I felt when, during a lesson on Spanish history, I learned of the terrible wars that were fought between Catholics and anti-Trinitarian Arians to bring unity into the church. I suddenly realized that the dogma of the Trinity had not always been believed in Spain. It had been imposed officially in the sixth century because the king of the Goths, Reccared, renounced Arianism and accepted the Catholic religion with its Nicean symbol, the Trinity. And all of this was clearly for political reasons—the need to fuse the Visigoths with the Hispanic Romans, the two principal population groups of Iberia at that time.
From my personal study of the Bible, I was inclined to believe the Arian point of view that Christ was not God but, rather, the Son of God and the first of his creative works. This is the logic I was discovering at 12 years of age in my own Bible. But I was worried. How was I able to discern something that the specialists of the church could have discerned earlier and with more certainty? So I let the matter rest there, hidden in my heart.
At 14 years of age my eyesight was so bad that I had to give up the idea of a military career. So I decided to study the arts, which led me to studying the classics of literature and ancient philosophy. I came to realize that other nations and cultures had lived and survived with beliefs very different from those with which I had been raised. It dawned on me that I could have been born into any one of those cultures and then, logically, have been raised with an entirely different set of ideas and beliefs. As a result, I would have had a different religion, personality, and outlook on life. That made me think how arbitrary life is. We are all victims of chance, which determines which religion we are born into or whether into none at all. It seemed unjust to me that God should abandon us to the vagaries of chance.
Reasons for Antagonism
At that time we were living in the ancient city of Toledo. Its old, winding, narrow streets, its long history, and its historic buildings associated with the Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic faiths invited me to meditate on the three cultures, their beliefs and way of life. From the beginning it puzzled me that the two religions most closely related to Christianity, the Jewish and the Muslim, should so firmly teach only one God and not the Trinity. This led me to understand the longstanding enmity between Catholics and Jews and between Christendom and Islam.
At 17 years of age I entered Madrid University. At first the great variety of people there was attractive. Later I became interested in politics and maintained contacts with leftist and Marxist groups as well as with others that were more moderate. However, I did not find in them the real sincerity and intellectual honesty that I had hoped for. Thus I came to the conclusion that the only way I could serve others was at a personal, rather than an organizational, level. I still thought that man alone was qualified to bring about a better and more just world.
As I mentioned earlier, I successfully completed my studies in law in 1964. But the more I read, the greater was my disorientation. I could not see a way open to a better world for mankind. That is when everything seemed so futile. Then a change came in my life.
A Visit That Changed My Life
I continued to read the Bible with increased interest. My lawyer’s mind made me appreciate the infinite wisdom reflected in the Mosaic Law—the amazing equity with which the interests, the rights, and the obligations of the individual and the community were balanced. I was impressed by the deep love that motivated such laws and that was necessary for them to be fulfilled. I dreamed about the world as it would be if these laws were completely applied.
One day I had the Bible open on my desk when my father invited two of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fernando and Guillermo, to enter the house. “My son will be very interested to talk to you people. Look what he is studying,” he said, as he pointed to the Bible. Then I started with my questions. “Why did God ask Abraham to do what He condemned in others in their false worship—sacrifice his son?” “Why are we on earth if his purpose is to have us in heaven?” “Why has he made everything so beautiful on earth to the point that we do not really want to die?”
To each question Fernando and Guillermo gave me an explanation from the Bible. I was impressed. After about two hours of conversation, I asked, “Do you have any books that you publish?” “Oh, yes, we have many! But at this moment we only have this one with us,” said Fernando as he showed me the 256-page book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained.
That afternoon I read the book in its entirety. Alone in my room I cried with joy. Suddenly the Bible was understandable. Now it was more than just a mixed-up pile of unstrung pearls. The picture, complete in all its main points, was logical and full of meaning.
I compared myself to that overjoyed blind person, who under Jesus’ curing hand began to discern the shape of things around him. (Mark 8:22-25) I had sought and at last found the truth. Christ was truly alive. Jehovah, his Father, the one and only loving God of the universe, was using him to carry out his happy purpose for mankind—the restoration of all things through His Kingdom in the hands of his beloved Son.—Acts 3:21.
However, practicing what I had learned was not easy for me. (Matthew 7:24) The path from my mind to my heart was obstructed by obstacles that, with Jehovah’s help, I was able to set aside as “a lot of refuse.” More important was “the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ.”—Philippians 3:8.
After a period of testing by ‘birds, heat, and strangling weeds,’ I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by baptism in 1971. (Matthew 13:4-7, 19-22) My wife, Lucía, was baptized four months later. My mother followed in 1973, as well as two of my brothers-in-law who now serve as elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Defending the Truth by Radio and TV
At the end of 1974 a Madrid radio station invited the Witnesses to participate in a program about their position on blood transfusions. Although we had been legalized since 1970, the press and the clergy still tended to treat us as if we were a sect under a shadow of proscription. So imagine our excitement on being invited by a well-known surgeon, General Franco’s son-in-law, to participate in his radio program.
When I, a Witness nurse, and others entered the studio, we felt somewhat like Daniel entering the lions’ den. Around a large table sat five doctors and a Catholic priest. A great witness was given since the program was heard all over the country. And it nailed the priestly lie that we were still under ban. Isolated Witness ministers in small towns especially appreciated that help.
In 1984 I had the opportunity to defend the truth in a regular program on Spanish television called La Clave (The Key). The discussion involved representatives of the Hare Krishna movement as well as the Director of Religious Affairs for the government, a professor of religious history, and a doctor of psychology. In spite of being under attack, I was able to give a strong witness in favor of the truth.
I have also had the privilege of representing the Witnesses before Spain’s Supreme Court. On another occasion I presented the Bible’s message to an audience at the Madrid Autonomous University. I will not forget the expression on the faces of those present when another Witness speaker asked the question, “Would you punish your child by keeping its hand over burning embers for even a minute? A horrifying prospect, isn’t that so? Well, Christendom would have you believe that God is capable of doing much more than that in a terrible hell of everlasting fire!”
“Papa, Will It Be Long Before the New Order Comes?”
It is already 15 years ago that Fernando and Guillermo knocked at my door. (Matthew 10:40) Since then I have acquired a happy family—Lucía, my wife and inseparable support, and my four children, Rebecca, Jacobo, Abigaíl, and Abel. We are happy to belong to the marvelous brotherhood under Jehovah here on earth. As a family, we feel that we are under the protection of his eaglelike wings.—Exodus 19:3, 4.
The two eldest children join us in preaching the good news. Sometimes they ask me, “Papa, will it be long before the New Order comes?” I answer, “Very soon. Just a little more time.” I know that Jehovah’s Word will not fail and that the indications that the end of this system is near are clearer than ever. These troubled times announce the glorious transition to the rule of God’s Kingdom over the earth, in answer to the earnest prayer, “Let your kingdom come.”—Matthew 6:9, 10; Habakkuk 2:3.—As told by Julio Ricote Garrido.
[Blurb on page 15]
“I suddenly realized that the dogma of the Trinity had not always been believed in Spain”
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
‘Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish buildings in Toledo caused me to meditate on the three cultures’
Photos: National Tourist Office of Spain
[Picture on page 18]
Julio Ricote Garrido with his wife and children