Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An extract #2

New material for my introductory essay. Comments please.



            I promised earlier a more detailed commentary on Alan Rogerson’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It saw print in 1969 and is another book written by someone with academic credentials. He is still seen as authoritative enough to quote. Constable, his publisher, described his book as a “fascinating and unbiased study [that] presents a full account of the history and beliefs of the movement. He has consulted the original records dating back to its founding in 1871, and brought to light numerous intriguing and previously unknown facts.”[1] However, Rogerson, a former adherent, was anything but unbiased. Much of his material was derived from secondary sources, often factually incorrect and sometimes pure fable. If he carefully read the early issues of Zion’s Watch Tower and the volumes of Studies in the Scriptures his work shows severe reading comprehension problems, or at least inattention to detail. Anyone even moderately familiar with the material he was supposed to have consulted would note this book’s fatal flaws.
            Before we dissect Rogerson’s work in some detail, we should note that there are insightful, well thought out observations in it. Quoting them and maintaining one’s intellectual honesty is perilous. A sociologist or historian may find something in Rogerson that represents their beliefs. Quoting him without a qualifying warning is the same as an endorsement. And, because the book is seriously flawed, even dishonest, using any of Rogerson’s claims without first independently researching the material is poor work. Would you accept that from a student you’re advising? Why should your readers accept it from you?
            Defects permeate his book, but I will focus only on those touching the Russell era. The material Rogerson claimed to have consulted was easily available to him; he had a treasure of early material at his disposal. But we find him relying on secondary, and often enough on opposition sources. Contemporary opposition material is a valid resource, but not if contrary evidence is ignored. Rogerson ignored contrary evidence because it invalidated his anti-Witness stance. His approach is spotty, and we find him occasionally rebuking anti-cult nonsense. Echoing his publisher’s claims, Rogerson wrote:

I have consulted all the original records available – especially the books and Watchtowers printed since 1874 onwards ... and when possible I have cited and quoted my sources of information. I have tried to make my viewpoint unbiased as I have no strong personal feelings for or against the Witness movement. My aim throughout has been to present a complete account of the Witnesses incorporating all the significant incidents and facts; where I have discussed certain events or ideas the factual basis for the discussion is also presented so that readers are free to draw their own conclusions.[2]

            It is impolite, I suppose, to call Rogerson a liar, but bluntness is sometimes called for, and this is one of those times. Let’s start with his claim to have read in their entirety the Watchtower adherent books published from 1874 onward. He obviously did not. The implication is that he read Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return, which was generally supposed to have been printed that year. It was not impossible to find in 1969. Several researchers including myself obtained a photocopy from an American university. If he read it, he failed to note the 1877 printing date. If he read Studies in the Scriptures as he claimed, then he would have found Russell noting the 1877 printing date. If he read The Watch Tower as carefully as he suggests, he would have found that date verified there as well. He didn’t read it. He lied. Never lie to your readers. Eventually someone will follow your trail, only to find it a false one. His claim to neutrality is also false. His anti-Witness feelings shine through. They are as easily detectable as his misrepresentation of his research skill and thoroughness. More on that shortly.
            We can forgive inexperienced students for accepting Rogerson’s work. He is supposed to know his subject matter. An experienced historian, unless her intellect is clouded by prejudice or by a quest for a preferred result, would look at the unfootnoted assertions found within his book with an adult skepticism. Accepting something because ‘everyone knows it’s true,’ is a major logic flaw. A writer with depth of research into Watch Tower history behind her should be able to recognize typical research flaws. If one has coached students through thesis and dissertation writing, one knows the shortcuts some students take. An example in Rogerson’s case is presenting a lengthy quotation from Zion’s Watch Tower and footnoting it to the original issue. This quotation is found on page eleven:

Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see also that if anyone lays the 'Scripture Studies' aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years – if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the 'Scripture Studies' and had not read n page of the Bible as such, he would be in the light at the end of two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.

            Rogerson did not consult the Watch Tower article where one finds the original. He lifted this entire and without alteration from opposition literature. Judging by his bibliography he found this in Martin and Kahn’s Jehovah of the Watch Tower. He leads us through his footnote not to the secondary source from which he drew this but to a specific page in Zion’s Watch Tower. Even his footnote is uncharacteristic, citing a specific page when he otherwise cited a date of publication without noting a page number. Even his footnote is ‘borrowed.’
            Ethically, he should have consulted the original article. Instead, he chose to pretend that he had. In context, the original says something different. Russell’s full message was that to have confidence in Studies of the Scriptures on must test it against scripture:

The six volumes of Scripture Studies are not intended to supplant the Bible. There are various methods to be pursued in the study of the Bible and these aids to Bible study are in such form that they, of themselves, contain the important elements of the Bible as well as the comments or elucidations of those that our Lord and the Apostles quoted from the Old Testament ... .

Our thought, therefore, is that these Scripture Studies are a great assistance, a very valuable help, in the understanding of God’s Word. If these books are to be of any value to us it must be because we see in them loyalty to the Word of God, and as far as our judgment goes, see them to be in full harmony with the Word and not antagonistic to it. Therefore, in reading them the first time, and perhaps the second time, and before we would accept anything as being our own personal faith and conviction, we should say, “I will not take it because these studies say so; I wish to see what the Bible says.” And so we would  ... prove every point or disprove it, as the case may be. We would be satisfied with nothing less than a thorough investigation of the Bible from this standpoint.

            Rogerson despite his claim to have done so did not read the original article, and if he did he misrepresented its content. He accused the modern Watchtower Society of conscious misrepresentation of Russell and his claims using this out of context quotation to do so.
            This is not the only bit of faked research found in Rogerson’s book. When writing about the J. J. Ross’ ‘trial,’ Rogerson is fairly accurate, the sole misrepresentation resting in the claim that Russell was “forced to admit” that he did not know Greek. Russell never claimed competence in Biblical languages. But the exchange between Lynch-Staunton, Ross’ attorney, and Russell is largely accurate. It’s the accompanying footnote that is questionable. There Rogerson wrote: “In Jehovah’s Witnesses – The New World Society Marley Cole misinterprets the facts by quoting only part of the court record and manages to conclude that Russell came well out of the trial.” [p. 195, ft nt 47] This suggests that Rogerson had seen the transcript. The only original copy is in the hands of the Watchtower Society, which periodically misfiles it and then launches a usually frustrated search to recapture it. Rogerson never saw it. He had no proof, other than wishful thinking, that Cole misrepresented anything. The intellectual dishonesty behind this footnote is astounding. Any researcher using Rogerson who had even moderate knowledge of Russell era Watch Tower history would see this for the fakery it is.
            There are less egregious issues in Rogerson’s work, but they mark him as a very amateurish scholar, one willing to foist on his readers unverified and un-footnoted claims. He was heavily dependent on Stroup, borrowing from him without fact checking. [Fact checking is the life blood of well written history.] He repeated Stroup’s Time Clock fable, without making a meaningful attempt to trace it to its original source. We dispensed with that earlier. He repeated the fable that Russell was drawn into Wendell’s Quincy Hall meeting by hearing hymn singing. Familiarity with the most basic of Russell material would have told him otherwise. Russell went in response to a report about the meetings.
            In a footnote [Ch 1; note 3] he wrote: “The title ‘Pastor’ was purely honorary as far as Russell was concerned, he never graduated from any theological school.” [Comma fault is his.] This is a commonly made claim, and indeed Russell was not educated in any theological school. In the United States it was common for ordination to be by congregation election. Many ‘Pastors’ especially among Methodists and Baptists were marginally educated, called to preach by licensure and election rather than by graduation from a religious college, some of which met no real academic standard. While this was changing, especially among Methodists, this practice persisted into the 20th Century. Distinguishing between Russell’s election as pastor by Bible Student congregations and a country Baptist’s ordination by the same means is stupid.
            Rogerson characterized Russell’s spiritual quest prior to 1876 as a “spiritual hobby.” He enclosed the phrase in quotation marks, apparently to shift responsibility for the phrase onto someone else. Who that might have been he does not say. It’s very much like a dog owner telling an irate home owner, “My dog didn’t do that.”
            There is no indication that Rogerson knew anything about what Russell and his associates did, what subjects they studied or how they proceeded. He had no basis for calling their work a hobby. Yet, and immense amount can be known from material available to Rogerson, and we considered it at length in volume one. When you read that chapter, did either the subject matter or depth of research impress you as being hobby-like?
            Rogerson misrepresents the degree of Russell’s contacts with Adventist, discounting easily available contrary evidence to do so. There is too much of misrepresentation, faked scholarship, bad, misleading or no footnoting to discuss it all, even if we limit it to the Russell era. His book is so badly flawed as to make it worthless. The exceptions are found in a few paragraphs; but why would you wish to quote a book so seriously flawed that even new students moderately aware of basic resources can spot the flaws? Apparently some find it convenient to do so, even though it makes readers, me for instance, squint at what ever author’s work I’m perusing and view it with skepticism.


[1]               Found on the front fold down of the original dust jacket.
[2]               Rogerson, pages 2-3.

11 comments:

jerome said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the material. Are you going to include a further swipe at his follow-up thesis that I know you have now? Obviously seen by far fewer people other than the academics it was pitched for.

One suggestion: in the seventh paragraph I think it is, you criticise those who quote Rogerson as an authority and specifically say "her" twice. You obviously have someone in mind - I assume Zoe Knox. When this material is all integrated into one whole, maybe this will make sense, but as it reads in isolation, I would suggest that "her" (gender specific) is changed into the unspecific "they" "their" etc. That way it will fit any modern writer who quotes writers like Rogerson, Stroup, Gruss, as if they were primary sources.

B. W. Schulz said...

In American usage they and their are seen as mixing a plural subject with a singular verb form. "he or she" is correct but 'funny sounding.' Either "he" or "she" is acceptable.

Andrew said...

Thank you and your team, once again, for your unapologetically honest and accurate research. For many of us who have been intrigued and fascinated by Russell and his contemporaries, both inside and outside the Bible Student movement, we anxiously await more of your research. Russell has been either presented as a villain or a saint, and to learn more about him, faults and all, is a dream come true for me in particular, who have always wondered what could be learned about him from an honest observer and researcher.

I have always thought that Russell was underestimated as a writer. I hope the second volume speaks to this a bit. Thank you again for your hard work and your refusal to produce anything but the best.

Andrew Grzadzielewski

B. W. Schulz said...

Jerome,
Rachael has passed on a suggested edit that address your observation, at least I think so:

We can forgive inexperienced students for accepting Rogerson’s work. He is supposed to know his subject matter. An experienced historian, unless his intellect is clouded by prejudice or by a quest for a preferred result, would look at the un-footnoted assertions found within his book with an adult skepticism. Accepting something because ‘everyone knows it’s true,’ is a major logic flaw – Argumentum ad populum. A writer with some depth of research into Watch Tower history should be able to recognize typical research flaws. If one has coached students through thesis and dissertation writing, one knows the shortcuts some students take. An example in Rogerson’s case is presenting a lengthy quotation from Zion’s Watch Tower and footnoting it to the original issue.

jerome said...

That all reads fine. I think the UK way of using plural pronouns to cover over the gender is gaining in some American writing, although until you raised the point I didn't realize it was such a minefield. Over here (UK) we also use "he, him, his" to refer to both genders, but rarely "she, her" - unless referring to an object like say, a battleship. "Two nations divided by a single language..."

Semer said...

Thank you for this post. I enjoyed a lot.

Stéphane said...

I immensely appreciated your diatribe against the bad historians, and had at times a good laugh : not only do you pinpoint rightfully their carelessness due to laziness or incompetence, but also their tendenciousness manifesting a profound contempt for their readers judged incapable of making an opinion by themselves ; and your avoiding of the pseudo-scientific neutrality that dares not call a spade a spade (I prefer the way it is said in French : “ appeler un chat un chat ”) is utterly refreshing.

But above all I have seen in this moderate philippic of yours a vibrant plea or defence in favour of an authentic historical research and its methods, as well as a masterly lesson, a one you yourself did brilliantly and painstakingly illustrate in all your work. Hopefully will it someday serve as a guidance for those apologists from Warwick and incite them to renounce at last to their liking for the disinformation.

Incidentally I came across some minor and sparse misspellings in the extracts of your introduction and of Mrs. de Vienne’s preface, but I hesitate to incommodate her by sending an email in view of her terrible fight against her implacable disease. And I am very grateful to Rachael for her suggested edit in answer to Jerome’s observation, by which the text is far more understandable for someone who is not of American English mother tongue.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sorry! I got it wrong. That Anonymous was me - German Girl.

roberto said...

From Simon (Italy)

O My God, this is a hatchet job, since the beginning without mercy.

"If he carefully read the early issues of Zion’s Watch Tower and the volumes of Studies in the Scriptures his work shows severe reading comprehension problems, or at least inattention to detail. Anyone even moderately familiar with the material he was supposed to have consulted would note this book’s fatal flaws."

Later the author (Rogerson) is called "a liar".

With a similar judgment it would be better for Rogerson to disappear from the academic scene

Simon

jerome said...

Rogerson has been very active on the academic scene, but in a totally different field. His writings on Watchtower matters petered out in the 1970s and I suspect along with his interest. I wonder if he will see this?