Two Jehovah Witnesses came to my door today. (Do they come in any other way?).
I thank them for stimulating some thought about an old issue.
Birds of a Feather?
September 26, 2015
It is Saturday morning in Birdsboro, PA. I am watching a television broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia while intermittently playing with Aria, our tri-color Farm Collie or English Shepherd who is tethered in the back yard. Aria begins to bark, noting someone coming to our front door. She is persistent, like she gets when the mailman shows up. The worn doorbell thuds rather than rings, so I go inside to answer the door. Oh my, I think, as I see a middle aged white gentleman in coat and tie sporting a yellow straw fedora on his head and a young man in dress slacks, tan shirt and tie. The young guy is neatly groomed with black curly hair and Mediterranean olive skin. They are carrying Watchtower and Awake pamphlets and a Bible.
I almost always beg off politely when religious people come proselytizing—almost. This time I did not.
“Hi. What are you selling? “I quipped with a smile.
The older gentleman immediately launched into the Jehovah Witness script after saying, “We are not here to sell you anything. We are here to talk about the problems families are having today in a difficult world…” For thirty seconds he avoided mentioning his sect.
“Okay, I agree. It is a difficult world, but what do you want to tell me about the Jehovah Witnesses? Hi, my name is Joe.”
We shook hands and they introduced themselves.
I stood there in the open doorway arms crossed in my black T-shirt, faded black Scion cap perched back above my forehead. I tried not to let my attack mode show, but I felt tense. I relish my weekend mornings and this is not what I look forward to on my days off work from the psych hospital. I wanted to be gracious and respectful, and I was, for the most part.
So, I listened as they began to select and read scriptures to me, now that we got past the small, let's get friendly approach. The scriptures were familiar ones. The older Witness quoted from the Gospel of John about knowing God through Jesus, but his ploy to use the apparent authority of a Bible to narrow a new recruit’s attention into the JW version of reality was what interested me more. He was following the common recruiter's technique to a T. After one minute or so of this scripture magic show, I asked my Witnesses when they were converted or baptized and whether they were born to JW parents.
When I am dealing with psych patients or with addicts who have an agenda, a manipulative agenda, it helps to know how to redirect the behavior, the fixed speech pattern. True believers like my Witnesses are obviously not in need of hospitalization; they are most likely average citizens but are nevertheless on a recruiting mission. They tend to focus on an agenda in order to draw you into a circle of influence. Similar to addicts not in recovery looking for their next fix, the true believer has an idee fixe--An idée fixe is a preoccupation of mind believed to be firmly resistant to any attempt to modify it, a fixation. (Wikipedia entry)
The older guy had Methodist and Presbyterian parents, but converted to JWism around age 19. The younger one had JW parents and was baptized at age 17. When they ferreted out that I was baptized Catholic as a baby, I could feel the polarization set in. The JWs have a particularly misleading rap about the Roman church, but I had no time or desire for long argument to correct their position had they even bothered to hear me out.
(Yes, historically, the Catholic Church has caused more harm than a thousand JW-like cults, but Catholicism in its finer aspects has helped carry us to the heights of education, law, exploration, science, and free enterprise. The JW new religion has done nothing of significance compared to mainline Christian denominations in furthering social good and solid scientific education, let alone expanding true knowledge of scripture meaning).
Somehow the Lord’s Prayer came up, and the older Witness started reading it to me, as if I had never heard it! The JW translation or spin is geared toward JWism. I stopped (redirected) him at “hallowed be Thy Name” and asked what they thought hallowed meant. They said to sanctify God and His name. I said God is already sanctified, we cannot sanctify God. Humans cannot mention or speak the Name as it is that hallowed is what Jesus meant. Jesus as a Jew did not speak the Tetragrammaton YHWH but called God Adonai or dad, I told them. This bothered them as JWs think Jehovah with a hard J is the way the Bible writers meant we should say the God name. As to being born-again, I mentioned that St Paul said, “I die daily.” Being born again is never a once and done deal in the Gospel, and that caused push back from my “baptized” Witness guests as it would from all fundamentalist Anabaptist believers. In other words, I told them I was unimpressed that they chose to be baptized.
Anyway, I stopped the conversation by asking them what they thought of Charles Taze Russell’s pyramidology. The JW trace origins of their sect to Russell (1852-1916), although Judge Rutherford, who broke with Russell in some ways by 1930, is the true father of the common JWism we see today. Now, there is an argument on several sides about Russell’s use of pyramid symbolism to prophecy, but my Witnesses drew a blank and had nothing to say about Russell’s pyramidology. I never brought up all the end times dates the compulsively millenarian Witnesses prophecied, end times that never came. I bid them to research it on their own and said good-bye.
Judge J. F. Rutherford, who succeeded Russell after the pastor (Russell) died in 1916, eventually discarded Pyramidology entirely.
I wanted to refresh my memory of JW origins and came across this pro-Russell site, but what grabbed my attention was the site’s defense against anyone that would call the JW a “cult” or harmful group (Note that they call an anti-JW ex-member support group a “peanut gallery”):
“We started with the anti-Watchtower peanut gallery regarding Pastor Russell, so let's finish with them.
“Apostasy (IPA: /əˈpɒstəsi/) is the formal religious disaffiliation or abandonment or renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one's former religion. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatizes. The word derives from Greek αποστασία (apostasia), meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "stand", "standing". Bryan R. Wilson, who was a professor of Sociology at Oxford University, writes that apostates of new religious movements are generally in need of self-justification, and seek to reconstruct their past and to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates. Wilson utilizes the term atrocity story, [a story] that is in his view rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion or deceit, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. Wilson also challenges the reliability of the apostate's testimony by saying that "the apostate [is] always seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation, to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim, but subsequently a redeemed crusader."
“Lonnie D. Kliever, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University writes “There is no denying that these dedicated and diehard opponents of the new religions present a distorted view of the new religions to the public, the academy, and the courts by virtue of their ready availability and eagerness to testify against their former religious associations and activities. Such apostates always act out of a scenario that vindicates themselves by shifting responsibility for their actions to the religious group. Indeed, the various brainwashing scenarios so often invoked against the new religious movements have been overwhelmingly repudiated by social scientists and religion scholars as nothing more than calculated efforts to discredit the beliefs and practices of unconventional religions in the eyes of governmental agencies and public opinion. Such apostates can hardly be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists. Even the accounts of voluntary defectors with no grudges to bear must be used with caution since they interpret their past religious experience in the light of present efforts to re-establish their own self-identity and self-esteem. In short, on the face of things, apostates from new religions do not meet the standards of personal objectivity, professional competence, and informed understanding required of expert witnesses.”
“Religious scholars have routinely found the testimony and public statements of apostates to be unreliable. In his book "The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movement", Professor David Bromley, Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Virginia Commonwealth University, explained how individuals who elect to leave a chosen faith must then become critical of their religion in order to justify their departure. This then opens the door to being recruited and used by organizations which seek to use their testimony as a weapon against a minority religion. "Others may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends, why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group."
“John Gordon Melton is an American religious scholar who was the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and is currently a research specialist in religion and New Religious Movements with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While testifying as an expert witness in a lawsuit, said that when investigating groups one should not rely solely upon the unverified testimony of ex-members, and that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Melton also follows the argumentation of Lewis Carter and David Bromley and claims that as a result of this study, the [psychological] treatment (coerced or voluntary) of former members largely ceased, and that a (perceived) lack of widespread need for psychological help by former members of new religions would in itself be the strongest evidence refuting early sweeping condemnations of new religions as causes of psychological trauma.”
Posted by email@example.com
I have no idea who firstname.lastname@example.org is, nor do I care at this time. (I generally despise opinionated people who post with fake IDs).
The argument above against all so-called brainwashing theory and the claim that
“a (perceived) lack of widespread need for psychological help by former members of new religions would in itself be the strongest evidence refuting early sweeping condemnations of new religions as causes of psychological trauma”
is JW bias and hogwash.
No one defects from a deep commitment to what they discover is a bull-shit religion or deceptive cult, whether that religion is bull-shit or not, without feeling somehow harmed by all they invested financially, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. That harm is loosely called brainwashing, but whatever you call it, the process of realizing what happened and who did what to whom is complex and often distressing if not outright painful.
No one (save perhaps a psychopath with no feelings) can just walk away from such a deep commitment without a psychological price to pay.
The article above by email@example.com could easily have been written by a Scientologist, a Raelian, or a Ramtha School of Enlightenment member, or a S. M. Moon Unificationist using the same unsound sociological authorities.