Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Learning from Jehovah's Witnesses...


Sunday last I chanced across some Jehovah’s Witnesses as they plied their proselytising ways in Harecroft, a little hamlet between Cullingworth and Wilsden. I didn’t stop to chat but the occasion popped into my mind when I read David Green’s latest piece on scientology.

And the thought wasn’t the usual, ‘good grief, what are these people on’ but a question. Simply put, is there anything we can learn from Jehovah’s Witnesses – or for that matter Mormons and Scientologists?

After all, these groups are the successful end of barking pseudo-christianity – there are over seven million JWs, around 13 million Mormons and Scientology claims several million (although the true figure is perhaps below 500,000).

Set against a world population of several billions these aren’t big numbers but that isn’t the point – these are organisations with extremely heterodox beliefs (I am being kind here) and that require adherents to make significant life changes to belong. You can’t simply toddle along with the same old sinful practices, you will have to tithe, you will have to separate yourself from the corrupt world and you will have to accept the disciplines of the church.

So what can we learn?

Around a dozen men and women were out on a September morning knocking on the doors of people in Harecroft. Knowing full well that the response would be varied – from a door slammed rudely in the face to polite engagement. Every now and then someone will get a bite – rather than the slammed door, real interest and a discussion about what Jehovah offers.

Every week these people go out seeking to spread their message. Not in a cynical, worldly-wise manner but from sheer conviction and duty. We can, in our snide, knowing way, mock what these people believe but we should learn from their commitment and sense of conviction. We do not do this, we have ‘better-things-to-do’, places to go, grand jobs to undertake and much else of importance and moment.

Gordon Dickson wrote Necromancer as a prequel to his Childe Cycle (the most famous part of which is the Dorsai Trilogy) in which he set the context for man’s splintering as he expands through space – and the search for ‘responsible man’, a drawing together of three core traits: faith, courage and intellectual curiosity. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witness are echoed in the “Friendlies” – planets populated by true believers.

The lesson we can draw from faith isn’t that it can ever take the place of enquiry – the problem with fanaticism is that is brooks no questioning, no doubt – but that we need faith to provide the motivation to go to Harecroft on a cold morning and knock on doors. Not just one morning but morning after morning – without the self-imposed discipline of duty, without true belief you will not do this, you will stay in bed and read or lounge on the sofa and watch the telly.

Without faith – however transient – we will not act to persuade others of what we believe. If there is only doubt, mere scepticism, then there can be no truth and no justice. This is the lesson I take from those dozen men and women in Harecroft that morning – a lesson to believe and to make sure others are told of that belief.

A reminder that knocking doors, making phone calls, writing letters – engaging with the world – cannot be substituted with slick PR, with shiny ads and with banks of computers. A prompt that two minutes of face-to-face conversation communicates more than the cleverest of advertisements or the most well-crafted of press releases.


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