Tuesday, April 1, 2014

So ... Mr. Schulz sent me this ...

He's working on the last chapter of volume 2. (Don't get too excited. We have a huge amount of writing left.) This is very rough draft and will change, but I like it. He didn't say I couldn't post it, and I didn't ask if I could. ... Comments welcome

An extract:

Understanding the Movement


            Sociologists tend to interpret millennial movements as expressions of alienation and disenfranchisement. Following H. R. Niebur, they suggest that Millenarian sects attracted the “socially disinherited.” Primarily focusing on Adventist sects, Clark describes Millenarians as a “pessimistic” sect:


Adventism is the typical cult of the disinherited and suffering poor. Its peculiar world view reflects the psychology of a distressed class in despair of obtaining the benefits it seeks through the present social order and seeking escape through divine intervention and a cosmic cataclysm, which will destroy the world and the “worldly” class and elevate “the saints” to the position they could not attain through social process.[1]


            While acknowledging that the Watch Tower movement did not arise from Millerite Adventism, Clark includes it among the pessimistic sects. So did S. Jackson Case. He considered the “Millennial Hope” as a phase of “war-time” or crisis era thinking. He saw Millennialism as an “especially pernicious” “pessimistic view of the world.” Including Russell and his fellows in the analysis, Case wrote:


In the presence of dire calamities many persons lose faith in the permanence of the present world. Horrible outbreaks of distress are taken to be symptomatic of an incurable malady which has fastened its deadly grip upon the whole cosmic order. Since the disease seems too deep-seated to e eradicated by remedial measure, its progress can be stayed only by destroying the object upon which it preys. The only hope for a final triumph over evil is thought to lie in the complete dissolution of the present world and the re-establishment of a new world free from all those calamitous possibilities inherent in the present order of things.[2]


            Those who follow Niebur and others with similar theories suggest poverty as a factor in the development of Watch Tower and other Millennialist theology. While social alienation is an undeniable factor, poverty and social status were not important factors in the development of the One Faith and Watch Tower movements. Sociologists present us with evidence divorced from its historic and religious context or simply faked or misstated. Many of them, while well educated otherwise, are Scripturally and religiously illiterate. They know about the Bible and about religion, but they don’t know either in the same way and in the same context that Watch Tower adherents did. Rather than social context driving Russellite belief, an attempt to sustain a Bible-centric view molded adherent’s social views.

            Edward H. Abrahamson typifies the “social science” approach to Watch Tower organizational structure. Abrahams identified Russell era congregations with modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, so he framed his premise this way: “Early Jehovah’s Witnesses founded a millennial movement in order to satisfy their political, social and emotional needs.”[3] He claimed that early Watch Tower adherents came primarily from the “rural poor,” citing seven letters published in Zion’s Watch Tower between May 1882 and August 1889 as proof.[4] The letters do not sustain his claims. One is from a prisoner and has no bearing on wealth. One is from a former Methodist Episcopal minister who lost his income when he abandoned his Methodism for Watch Tower belief. His poverty was the result of adherence, not its cause. The remaining five letters mention poverty, but they do not suggest that poverty drove the writers into the Watch Tower belief system.

            Abrahams and others like him seem to be selectively blind to evidence. The decades after the Civil War saw reoccurring depressions. These were most pronounced in the early 1870s, the mid to late 1880s and the early 1890s. People were starving. Poverty and starvation while they led to acts of desperation did not lead to a mass adoption of Millennialist belief. With American industrialization came an increasing social disparity. American industrialists were often oppressive and greedy. This wasn’t newly found greed but an extension of shop-keeper greed which underpaid its helpers so that simply to pay the rent many shop girls were whores too. Racial inequality was startling. (Two of the letters Abrahams cited came from non-Whites, one a Native American and the other a black clergyman.)

Sociologists have it backwards. The impelling force behind Millennialist belief was a desire for divine blessing and an attempt to adhere closely to the Divine Word. This led to the rejection of much of the social order. Rejection of and criticism of the social order was the founding sentiment of American religion. It is not a phenomenon unique to Millenarianism. It was the mindset of the Puritans and Separatists who founded America. They brought to America Calvinist anxiety concerning personal salvation and righteousness. They interpreted life through a scriptural lens. Russell’s agony over salvation and punishment had been repeated thousands of times by his Calvinist antecedents.

[insert quotation here]

The Puritan and Separatist ideal – the purified, faithful church – was shared by many, not just Millenarians. This was especially so in the post Civil War era. Arthur Tappan Pierson, a Presbyterian, was in this heritage. Addressing an evangelical conference on “The Actual State of the Church,” he observed:


The whole Bible puts the most weighty emphasis on an unworldly life. Yet in the church we find but few decided lovers of God, while there are thousands of decided lovers of the world. … The bulk of professing Christians are not thoroughly consecrated; they belong to the worldly holy, or the ‘wholly worldly.’ Out of the sixty millions of so called protestants, what vast numbers are mere ritualists or formalists coming into the Church as they would go into the army at a given age! Out of all nominal Christians on earth to-day, there may be ten millions who give clear evidence of actual regeneration.[5]


This is not appreciably different from the statements of other clergymen, or from that of Russell. If this is disaffection, it is a rejection of a social order, or social defects, based on a desire to please god. It’s not the sociologist’s picture.

The letters found in Zion’s Watch Tower, instead of revealing a class of disenfranchised poor turning to religion, show already religious people most of them from the Puritan and Separatist heritage. Our Puritan ancestors sought unadulterated Christianity, purified from the forms of Papal worship. They saw the Roman church as “the Whore of Babylon.” American Protestantism reflected these views. “Worldly entertainments,” and practices were rejected. The Church was corrupt, desperately needing reform. Before the Civil War the worldly habits of nominal believers, the approval of slavery, the neglect of key doctrines including that of Christ’s return and sexuality were condemned. Revivals, meant to stimulate spirituality, stimulated sexual misconduct. Some blamed that on the presence of women or a growing predominance of women in congregations, an extension of the teaching that blamed “original sin” on Eve though Paul said the sin was Adam’s.  There was, some said, a preponderance of emotion and little intellectual devotion in the revivalist movement.[6]

Sociologists who’ve written about Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Bible Students of Russell’s day speak of social alienation as if the discredited idea of social progress were valid. This is true of Abrahamson, and it is true of others. Change is not progress. The social changes of the late 19th Century, especially those attendant on the industrialization of America, were partially undone by the populist and socialist leaning politicians who framed fair labor practice laws, the Pure Food and Drug Act, anti-trust legislation and similar legislation. But some sociologists would have Watch Tower adherents disaffected and doctrinally unique because of it, but the disaffected progressives be part of a forward movement. You can’t have it both ways.

Ignored by these “social scientists” is that impelling religious belief led some to change their occupations to those of lower status for the sake of acts of faith. This is true of the clergyman whose letter Abrahamson quoted. It was true of Russell, of J. B. Adamson, and of others. Russell noted [quotation here]

The claims of sociologists (and some historians) are not supported by the evidence. In the Russell era adherents were usually middle class, often well educated for the day. Many were businessmen. Some were inventors. Some were published writers. There were a number of clergy. If there was poverty, it is accounted for in the cyclical depressions of the late 19th Century. Poverty wasn’t a driving force; a desire for holiness was.

Beckford’s analysis of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United Kingdom focused on the tendency to low-status occupations.[7] Again, the idea that one would choose a low-status occupation to further acts of faith eludes these writers. Yet, Watchtower literature is full of examples where professionals surrendered occupations for low-status employment to further their evangelism, a practice that continues from the Russell era. Real understand of the character of Watch Tower congregations in the Russell era depends on seeing members as seeking holiness and obedience.

[1]               E. T. Clark: The Small Sects in America¸ Abingdon Press, New York, Revised Edition, 1949, page  21.
[2]               S. J. Case: The Millennial Hope, University of Chicago Press, 1918, pages v, 1-2.
[3]               E. H. Abrahams: The Pain of the Millennium: Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1879-1916, American Studies, Spring 1977, page 59.
[4]               Abrahams, pages 66-67.
[5]               As quoted in A. P. Adams, Bible Theology, Salem, Massachusetts, 1882, page 4.
[6]               F. M. Davenport: Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, Macmillan Co. New York, 1905, page 282ff.
[7]               J. A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1975.


roberto said...

I like it very much. I'll read it more carefully. I have some questions for you.

roberto said...

Well. I've read several times the article (4 or 5 times). The truth is that I don't know what to enquire. I like the article.

I like when sociologists examine my religion. They are fun.