A Response to Jehovah's Witness Propaganda contained in "AWAKE!" Magazine, Dated October 22, 1999 and its Articles Including: "Superstitions: Why So Dangerous?" by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
In "Superstitions: How Widespread Today?" the Watchtower (abbreviated 'Watchtower' in this response). compares "superstitions" with "common courtesies rooted in social etiquette", presenting a definition derived from "Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary" ("a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation") as an ambiguous support for considering as 'superstitions' the consultation of psychics and soothsayers, the observance of omens and signs, the adoption of lucky charms and talismans, social and folk customs, bibliomancy, Christian rites of self-protection and (even Christian) folk magic.
At no point in this introductory article is it clear how the reader is to discern superstition from reliable knowledge (such as that received from gods, books, or other students). We are told that "superstition is widespread" and "well entrenched" as if it is a category whose borders have already been determined.
The second article in the same publication, entitled "Superstitions: Why So Persistent?" explains that superstitions are "irrational", "without sound evidence", may be the re-interpretation of old customs, often have a close connection with religious beliefs, and are used by believers to calm their fear and uncertainty.
Not only are divination, magic, oracles, omens, and sorcery described as forms of superstition (without evidence), but we are provided with no description of why, if all of this is based on "rationality", these practices should be considered superstitious while other metaphysical beliefs are somehow exempt. There is no mention, for example, what the sources being used for reference (e.g. "Lest Ill Luck Befall Thee" by Hyman, "A Dictionary of Superstitions", "The Encyclopedia Americana", "The New Encyclopaedia Britannica", among many others) have to say about where superstition stops and religion begins.
"Superstitions: Why So Dangerous?", the third and showcased article in the publication, archly warns that superstitions can be dangerous if they lead one to spend large sums of money on them or if they help one to maintain problem gambling. While this may very well be true, why superstitions only include the mentioned "psychics, fortunetellers [sic], numerologists, or Tarot-card readers" and not some religious cult is not explained or supported.
Also not addressed are reasons why we should accept these notions of superstition and exclude a variety of religious beliefs which are touted as worthy causes for the donation of money or labor. Most religious 'scriptures' "serve to allay fears about the future" (as the Watchtower describes the application of superstitions) as well or better than any of the "psychics" or others mentioned above. How we can, as the Watchtower says, "distinguish... between superstition and reliable knowledge about what lies ahead of us" is the main issue, however, and a discussion of methods (beyond the ambiguous 'rationality') is not included in this publication.
The Watchtower reveals on page 9 its major premise: "the Grand Creator...is...the source of [reliable knowledge]" and "the predictions of fortune-tellers, psychics, crystal-ball gazers, and tarot-card readers are from a different source, one that is in opposition to Almighty God." We are not asked to rationally consider the activities in question and decide for ourselves the relevance and accuracy of the information they each make available, including an exploration of the sources involved. Instead we're asked to accept what could quite easily be a "belief resulting from ignorance" (one of Webster's criteria for superstition): that the Bible (no doubt the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" that the Watchtower Committee in 1961 rendered into English from their all too human perspective) is a valuable authority on this, being a book of historical fiction that portrays superstition as knowledge and antiquated cosmology and metaphysics as truth. As it attributes to an unseen "God" these Witnesses call 'Jehovah' the responsibility for a fabled Creation, we are neither offered any justification for this claim, nor support for why we should accept any particular book which is labelled 'Bible' as an authority on any subject.
Instead the Watchtower places its complete trust in the accuracy of its Bible (apparently remaining ignorant of the bulk of scholarly research which demonstrates the blatant self-contradictions of scriptural text), and resorts to superstition itself in claiming that our future is determined by a deity for which no convincing evidence has been gathered.
There is no consideration of where reliable knowledge should be obtained, whose standards should be used, and when certainty becomes liability. "How We Can Know the Future" (page 10) may, by the standards expressed, relate a superstition about a Creator god whose followers have crafted post-correlating "predictions" about historical fiction. We ought to apply a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than are applied to the various "superstitions" described in the "Awake!" articles, and the text by Jehovah's Witnesses should present to us a complete picture, inclusive of the bias and limitation of the sources for the information which the Watchtower presents. As is usual for tracts and pamphlets from the Watchtower, however, this is not done and instead the article merely smacks of religious bigotry.
The series of articles ends with a fantastic prediction:
Statements such as this are so incredible that we must wonder if some Witnesses are sure where their 'rationality' ends and their fantasies begin. We must ask them to show us these demons and Satan, and we might wonder whether, if belief in them is "rational", why we haven't put them on trial for all the mischief they've caused, why scientists aren't attempting to discover weapons to use against such formidable foes. We have to wonder whether these supernatural entities are in league with this "God", since we can't get any of them to appear anywhere that scientists congregate.
It's as if there was no such beings and the religious cosmology associated with them results from ignorance, a fear of the unknown, a trust in the magic power of some supernatural entity, or a false concept of causation (that is, this religion may be based upon superstition as Webster has defined it). Being a Witness for Jehovah, given this, may be a dangerous enterprise according to the values promoted in "Awake!", because any religious activity may itself be based on irrational beliefs in fictional, supernatural agents. We might explain all this easily as the propaganda of a group of humans rather than magical or supernatural forces.
Much of what the Watchtower's "Awake!" magazine maintains about superstition is very important. Superstitious minds do believe in fictions (whether about divination, magic, the origin of all things in some mythological "Creation", or some cosmic future Judgement after which all things will be magically reconstructed). They dismiss data that competes with their premises and/or the authority underlying their superstitious notions. Quite often religious ideas are the focus of superstition, and this is why it is so difficult to decide where to draw the line between supernatural truths upon which to base one's life and fantastic, deceptive fictions.
Superstitions can be quite dangerous. They can (especially as part of religious instruction) delude one into thinking that one holds the only truth. If one hasn't researched the material about which one is reading, superstitious literature may inspire rumor, miscommunication, and prejudice .
Superstitious writings and practices should be respected as such, with all the tolerance that goes along with freedom of religion in civilized societies. What one does not wish, personally, to read or to undertake is one's own business, and is sometimes the business of one's religious peers. Beyond this we ought to make allowances for those whose preferences include the practice and reading of superstitions, helpfully providing what data we have acquired about them when they ask for it.
For example, I consider the interpretation of Judeochristian religious text (as in the body of translations called 'The Bible') by orthodox Jehovah's Witnesses to be ill-founded and fraught with errors. Rather than understand its beauty as a myth of important and relevant symbolic value (indicating a type of experience which is available only to true millennarians), they make of it a superstition relating to historical and prophetic fantasy based on little more than their desire to construct a dramatic context for their activities.
What's worse is that many Jehovah's Witnesses are completely ignorant of the history of lies and deceptions delivered unto the faithful by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, whose leaders remain obscured in a semblance of humility. For those who are actually interested in some valuable information about this dangerous and deceptive cult, I recommend the wonderful and revealing book by Brother Raymond Franz (one of the admirable liberated Witnesses for Jehovah who are making themselves known): "Crisis of Conscience". My review of it indicates that it is a reliable, respectful and rational disclosure of the problems of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and would be of great assistance to anyone who has an interest in becoming affiliated with or aware of this organization, its history, and politics.
Reviewing this text, JoRiz@aol.com wrote to the Amazon Books web site on August 15, 1999, giving it 5 out of 5 stars and claiming that it "does not glorify [Franz or make] excuses for him" and that
A Canadian source writes to the same web site, also giving it 5 out of 5 stars, stating that it is "sadly 'The Truth'":
"Crisis of Conscience", published in 1992, is available from Amazon Books for the reasonable price of about $11 and has earned an Average Customer Review of 4.5 out of 5 stars. By rationally considering the experience of one who has been integral to the development of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, it provides a very valuable avenue for overcoming superstitions to which many faithful Jehovah's Witnesses have been subjected. Another possible remedy for such superstition available to sincere Jehovah's Witnesses might be: "Index of Watchtower Errors : 1879 to 1989", by David A. Reed (Editor), et al. (also sold at amazon.com).
It is important that, as the Witnesses for Jehovah, we base our statements and faith on rational expression and scrupulously-examined data rather than relying on the research, judgements, and contentions of those who have a proven record of falsity, duplicity, and extortion, twisting the meaning and context of scripture for their own uses, and promoting a level of rumor and prejudice unbecoming of Christians.
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