I had the opportunity to experience my first Jehovah’s Witnesses funeral this past Saturday. I promised a blog post on this, so I am attempting to be somewhat faithful to that promise. I say, “somewhat” because there is a lot to say about the differences in my theology than the those of the JW’s, but my point (I hope) is not to poke fun or be condescending to their beliefs per se.
In my worst self… there is pride that needs to be “checked at the door” of judging another person’s beliefs (this happens with people who even hold the same orthodoxy as myself). We all do it. We long to be right. We long to be part of the TRUTH tribe. We want the “A” at the end of life and the cheese at the end of the maze. We all want to do it for various reasons. I believe one of the reasons we judge other people’s beliefs is out of fear and out of our own sinfulness. I am no different so I guess I will apologize on the front end (when saying “judge” I am meaning being judgemental with harsh perspective, not “judge” as it should be used as to mean to judge rightly or think critically).
James Sire talks about how we believe things for mainly four reasons: 1. Sociologically (My parents, friends, society told me it was True, 2. Psychologically (a supposed Truth makes me feel good), 3. Religious (The priest, rabbi, church, guru told me that it was true), 4. Philosophical Consistency (I have surveyed the data and looked for the most logical and consistent explanation). I think I first read this in a book “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”.
These four categories are interwoven in all of our belief systems that we carry (knowingly or unknowingly). I love the language of Rob Bell’s oft quoted “What we caught and were taught” by all the influences growing up. Some of us explore our beliefs and try to make sense of the inputs we received. Other people sometimes do not care that much, and others lose faith along the faith journey or even get angry (a lot of times all of these happen along the exploration of beliefs/faith). Facing questions concerning the things we have held dear can be a very disturbing and lonely journey. Most faith traditions have an ostracizing, excommunicating, shunning-kick-you-out-of-the-family-and-never-talk-again-kind-of-policy (spoken and unspoken) about them. Some even use violence to enforce the group think and ensure compliance with the faith tribe.
This is probably my biggest hang up with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not allow any outside feedback loops to question themselves. They are unwilling to seek truth (unless it is from their own tribe/Bible translation). They practice information control. They are exclusionary. Many Protestant Christians do this too to be fair, but they do so not because they get that instruction from the Bible or Church History (Church History must be qualified but obviously not here). Christianity is a “faith that seeks understanding”. In my opinion, the Bible welcomes the scrutiny of the curious and the skeptic (even if a particular denomination or group of persons don’t).
Reflecting on some of my experiences with information control: (I have had acquaintance relationships with probably six to seven individuals from this faith background). A girl that I worked with at Starbucks in Colorado was instructed by her father not to talk to me anymore once I had some basic non-coercive conversations with her concerning God and gave her some books to read on the subject of reflecting on biblical theology and interpretation. She even explained that she was afraid that her family would disown her for even having taken the books…
Another example is of a couple that are super great people that I know who claim Jehovah as their God. They are some of the most outgoing and kind people I have met (from the JW faith community) who often probably ask themselves WWJ(ehovah)D? Many Saturday mornings they would bring me their pamphlets and Watchtower magazines in the most professional way. They would offer to share a Biblical passage with me (from the New World Translation of course). I would oblige and sincerely listen to their offerings and their gentle sincerity. I would read their materials and ponder the data (which is often pretty general and doesn’t go into any major theological positions but rather encourages good moral behavior inspired by Jehovah). A couple of years later I went to this couple’s house to bring them a copy of Max Lucado’s “The Story” as a gift (Our Church was giving them away to help spread biblical literacy). The guy (who I do respect) refused to take my gift. There are many reasons that he rejected it, however, the main reason was that he was trained to do so. He expected people to take what he was pushing, but was unwilling to receive anything from anyone else.
PLEASE STAY TUNED ON THIS BLOG FOR PART 2.