Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Reasoning" from the Scriptures

Into my possession has been delivered a item of great personal interest: an official Jehovah's Witness guide to doctrine and proselytization entitled Reasoning from the Scriptures. Already a fan of such underappreciated discards as The Watchtower and Awake! as found on any metro-Philly public transportation line, this was a welcome development. As with business and government publications, it is one thing to read what is written for general consumption and another to read what is written for people operating within a given institution.

I have always been impressed with the amount of research Witnesses bring to their publications. Not surprisingly, this is often scriptural in nature, but frequently extends to include the work of contemporary scholarship. General interest items such as those featured in Awake! regularly cite mainstream scientific and other expert sources, often with no obvious religious agenda.

Reasoning from the Scriptures
is persuasively written and generously supported from a wide range of external sources. The text is organized by subject, and there are many -- everything from birthdays to government to sex. A section on evolution quotes text from Darwin and draws on scientific findings relating to the fossil record. Another chapter devoted to the "cross" consults the original Greek word, stauros, which has traditionally meant a stake or "upright pole," and suggests that today's popular symbol is not accurate in relation to the crucifixion of Christ (or anyone else in that period). This was news to me and of particular historical interest.

To its credit, Reasoning often concerns itself with basic questions of accuracy like these, doubtless fitting for a publication designed to bolster engagement with skeptical audiences. It opens with an introduction on usage, including How To Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers, which includes sample dialogue. In all cases, the tone is respectful: for example, nowhere is it suggested that pressure or manipulation be employed to gain or keep an audience. Its motivating ethos seems to be that some people are more receptive to new information than others; what's important is communicating that information well when it is welcomed. This was an issue I was very curious about regarding Jehovah's Witnesses prior to reading this text, since their eccentricities are prone to confusion with the eccentricity of other not-well understood religious groups.

My only real grievance with the publication is the same one I maintain towards the religion as a whole, and this primarily relates to its distribution of concerns. For example, it is unconscionable to me in a Christian guidebook, apparently "comprehensive" in subject matter, that "poverty" somehow goes unmentioned. In this respect, Witnesses seem to place a heightened emphasis on some biblically-prescribed activities and concerns to the apparent exclusion of others. In itself, this is probably to be expected; for my part, I would tend to pay more attention to something like the Sermon on the Mount -- e.g., how my behavior affects others right now -- rather than worrying about the implications of Armageddon, which I don't think is very well understood by anyone, to put it mildly.

Witnesses seem centrally concerned with the role that preaching played in the life of Jesus, and to that end I think they do an admirable job. Unfortunately, until they start talking more about the responsibilities we have towards one another as articulated in the Gospel vs. the end of the world and getting some real estate in heaven, it will be hard for me to relate to their basic mission.

1 comment:

damselfly said...

The Lord Jesus Christ, the personification of his father tells mankind at Matthew 6:11 that there will never be an end to poverty during this system of things. ("For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.)

Despite the vast resources of mankind's many forms of government and social entities this statement shared with his disciples remains true today. There has in fact been no improvement in this human condition. These governmental and social entities have invested heroic amounts of time and staggering sums of money in pursuing behaviors that “affect others right now” and there is no doubt that the millions of people who have benefited from these acts are extremely grateful. However in the final tally the people who benefit from a warm meal and new clothes upon their back are not permanently removed from their poverty conditions. No, the conditions still remain and tomorrow’s meal or lack there of is the next day’s concern.

Your statement that “Witnesses seem centrally concerned with the role that preaching played in the life of Jesus” is right on target. It is their desire to follow the commission given to them in Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus assigned a task that Man could successfully accomplish and that task is making disciples on earth that can look forward to the end of poverty in the restored paradise ruled by the theocratic government prayed for in the Lord’s prayer, Thy kingdom come thy will be done “on earth” as in “heaven”. It is important that you realize that getting some “real estate” in heaven is not the goal of Witnesses.

The restoration of the earth to Paradisiacal conditions and the opportunity to dwell in that earthly Paradise is their hope. Jehovah’s original plan was that man would live forever in a paradise earth, free from the poverty, sickness and death plaguing mankind. This purpose never changed otherwise it would mean that the original plan was a mistake, therefore making the creator fallible. Man cannot change things, Witnesses cannot alter the poverty that man endures but by virtue of Jesus’ commission they can and do offer hope for a better life.