Monday, 3 September 2007

Crisis of Conscience

Crisis of Conscience: The struggle between loyalty to God and loyalty to one's religion (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983).

At long last I have got round to reading that book which is advertised on the pages of EN (in that small advert announcing that EN itself has copies available... who bought too many a decade ago, I wonder?!), and mentioned by those in the know about [The] Jehovah's Witnesses.

As it happens, my copy came off Amazon - it's a 4th edition from 2002 (2007 printing, so it looks and feels very good indeed considered as a reading object) in a sober paperback design that reflects the tone of the work but belies its explosive import.

Raymond Franz, formerly of the Governing Body, charts various organizational changes and doctrinal shifts in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, exposing the remarkable dangers of a top-down controlling sect in compelling understatement and relentless detail. I cannot recommend this book more strongly to anyone who, as I do, feels great pity for those whose consciences, vitality and lives are manipulated, blanketed and extinguished by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Every time they come to our door I regret my failure to persuade them of the falsity of their beliefs and the duplicity of their organisation - even though I know it's not my job to 'save' them, as if I could, and even though I am as irenic as I can be in conversation.

Chapters 5 and 6 are particularly telling. Franz exposes the whitewashing and distortion of organisational history and culture indulged in by the Watchtower Magazine and associated publications, and he also reveals the astounding double standards at work in policy.

Through the 1960s and 70s in Mexico, Witnesses were advised that bribery of government officials was permitted in order to gain de facto exemption of regular military service (even though this technically made the Witness a member of the reserves of the armed forces) while in Malawi [Nyasaland] Witnesses were told that they could not purchase a membership card of the one-party government - which led directly to mob violence, theft, vandalism, rape and murder of thousands of Witnesses. [One thing I have learned that has made a big impression is the incredible hardship that many JWs have undergone for the sake of their beliefs; they have been brutalised by governments and neighbours across the world and have accepted such treatment meekly with remarkable tenacity.] The explicit instructions of the Society are there for all to see. On the one hand moral compromise, on the other callous intransigence: above it all, a tiny group of men in New York dictating the consciences of millions, almost without accountability and certainly without justification even in their distorted translation of the Bible.

The sequel, A Call to Christian Freedom, awaits me in even sturdier hardback in a bookcase upstairs. It was bought from EN at a wonderfully reduced price!