Monday, July 1, 2013

Update on progress

Work on the last chapter of volume one continues. We face several challenges, the most important of which is making obscure theological arguments understandable to modern readers. Many of the "arguments" used by Russell, Barbour and others are irrelevant to modern readers. Yet, the story is not complete without considering them. Decisions were made based on convoluted, half-reasoned articles. The decisions were the basis for further developments. We have to consider the arguments and balance that against not boring our readers silly.

We introduce H. B. Rice in this chapter. We have a good quality photo and tones of never-published material. His story is more interesting than the theological arguments and just as important. Almost everything published about him is wrong. But that’s not unusual.

Some one sent me a link to a short essay by a man posting as Terry. He says Russell was an Adventist with roots in the Millerite movement and that all of Russell’s doctrine came from Barbour. This is obnoxiously wrong. Sending me links to this man’s post is a waste of time. He never gets it right.

But, we still welcome assistance. We turn up interesting things sometimes, even from material that is otherwise wrong.

New to us today is a photo of Calista Downing. We have a good portrait photo sent by a Downing family member. The one we received today is not so clear, but it shows her with her Chinese students.

C. B. Downing and her students in 1900. Downing is in the back row, left.

We hope our book attracts general-interest readers. We’ve written with an academic audience in mind, but we will have failed if only academics read it. Mr. Schulz, who started this project and remains its guiding light, frequently says, "the story is in the details." I agree with that. We tell a very detailed story, talking you places no one else has. To do this we introduce you not just to new "facts" but we explain theological arguments, conclusions and trends. We take you to their real backgrounds.

Someone who read our biography of N. H. Barbour regretted that there was no "scandal" in it. I’m not certain what kind of personality dotes on scandal. We take up some supposed scandal, but on close examination it goes away or attaches to others than the ones you might expect. There is more of "scandal" in volume two. A. D. Jones and his second wife became notorious. Fornication, fraud, bigamy, a hint of murder. Tisk. Conley and his faith cure home run by a Missionary Alliance clergyman who liked the young women too much and who ran off and started his own cult. Double tisk. L. A. Allen who lost her virginity to a Barbourite evangelist. Much of this is in volume two, a small amount in volume one. If you like scandal, that’s about the limit in this era (1870-1887).

The falling out between Russell and Barbour, the subject of our last chapter in volume 1, exposes the raw feelings that doctrinal difference caused. Barbour is such an interesting (though nasty) character. Here’s a snippet from this chapter:

"Revisionists more contemporary to ourselves have said that Russell never claimed to be the Faithful Servant.1 This is what our grandmother (Great Grandmother for one of us) would have called "hooie." Russell believed that he was "chosen for his great work from before birth," telling his associates that.2 While most of this argument is best played out in Book Three of this series, we should note that Russell never corrected claims that he was "that servant." Examples of "uncorrected" claims are found in various convention reports where he is frequently referred to as "that Servant." Russell saw himself in this era as a divinely appointed teacher. Starting in 1895, he described himself as "God’s mouthpiece first as a reference to the Millennial Dawn series which, of course he wrote; then as a direct reference to himself.3 The only other way he used this phrase was to refer to God’s prophets of old.

"A feeling of divine appointment was not unique to Russell, Barbour, et. al, but is found in the writings of many clergymen. This would probably have remained a non-issue for Russell and Paton if it hadn’t been set against Barbour’s more extreme view of self. Three God-chosen ministers, each with a different message could not long endure in the same association."

We confess to a bit of pleasure, though perhaps shaded with unkindness on occasion. There is so much that is wrong, often purposely distorted, that we pick apart, sometimes snappishly. We expect people who pretend to be experts in the field of Watch Tower history or belief to be as competent as we are. We’re often disappointed. We start this chapter with this:

"Little of this story has been told. As with much else in this era of Watch Tower history, we find significant purposeful nonsense and just plain bad research. For example, Graig Burns asserts that "the Bible Students had split off from a group of Second Adventists under N. H. Barbour, which later became the 7th-Day Adventist Church."4 We’re fairly certain Seventh-day Adventists would be surprised to know this. We certainly were."

We’ve encountered worse than this and in friendlier guise than Mr. Burns’ book. A Watch Tower writer claimed that W. T. Ellis was a Watch Tower evangelist. This is, of course, wrong. We enjoy setting matters in order. We expect the same "stuff" will continue to be written because there is no real interest in changing what is a mythology – really a dual mythology one part of which presents Russell as saint and the other as demon. We present the story as accurately as possible. What others do with it is not within our control.

This touches on the roots of belief, on why people choose to believe what they choose to believe. I’ve spent some time reading about the roots of belief and doubt, coming away from it all very dissatisfied. We leave those issues largely unaddressed because we simply do not know why some of these characters chose the paths they followed. We can only tell you what they said and did, unless they give us the reasons behind their acts.

So … we’re down to this last chapter, an introductory essay, and an afterward. There are a few months of work left. We’re waiting on a microfilm. I expected it by now, but it hasn’t arrived.

There are remaining issues we’ll probably have to leave as is. We need someone in New York City to view and copy material at Columbia University. That is the prime issue with volume one. We need some photos, but can live without them. We spent some time trying to trace H. B. Rice’s family papers, but emails went unanswered or those who did answer couldn’t help. We were unable to consult some of the Pittsburgh newspapers, though we found some significant material. We will publish with or without access to this material.

We need for volume 2 a microfilm from the Library of Congress. It costs about $350.00. We operate on a shoe-string budget. We can’t afford this at all. If someone lives in the District of Columbia area, they could help by viewing the material for us and copying the significant parts.

We will need help marketing this book. If you buy it and like it, tell others, post about it, spread the word.

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