Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

Synopsis

This is the first major study of the enigmatic religious society. By examining the Jehovah's Witnesses' dramatic recent expansion, Andrew Holden reveals the dependency of their quasi-totalitarian movement on the physical and cultural resources have brought about the privatization of religion, the erosion of community, and the separation of 'fact' from faith.

Excerpt

To the die-hard sceptic, holding millenarian beliefs at the beginning of the twenty-first century is like remaining on board a sinking ship. Opinion polls in recent years have shown a significant decline in religious participation in the West; so much so, that few would dispute that this point of the geographical compass is, in a very real sense, disenchanted. As the 1960s started to swing, so began the relentless attack on superstitious dogma, sexual morality and traditional authority-an attack most unlike anything that had preceded it. Time has passed, and the children of the 1960s have now grown up; only to have produced children of their own who are themselves, by and large, indifferent to matters religious-certainly to millenarianism. While the same polls reveal that people continue to hold some loose concept of a supernatural deity, if religious conviction is to be ascertained by frequency of attendance at a place of worship or the regular (or even irregular) engagement in sacred rituals, secularisation has undoubtedly taken root. We live in an adversarial culture in which it is fashionable to reject what those responsible for our moral and spiritual welfare preach. Even the people whose wisdom we would once have cherished (teachers, religious leaders and the like) appeal to us to interrogate their counsel for fear that they might somehow be charged with denying us our rights. So far as my own profession is concerned, this story is all too familiar. As a teacher of the social sciences, I am subject-bound to encourage my students to question all that they read and to treat much of what I tell them with caution (at least, that is, if I want them to do well in their examinations). Whatever the difficulties, this is something with which my colleagues and I have had to learn to live. For all this, I remain an optimist. For one thing, I have little desire to suppress either my own or my students' quest for knowledge, and, for another, I would not welcome a return to the widespread fear of authority that historians have spent so much time documenting. In the great scheme of things, I am happy with life in the twenty-first century; far happier, it would seem, than the devotees of some of the religious movements I have been studying for the last ten years.

For those who belong to ascetic millenarian communities, the freedom offered by secular culture is nothing to celebrate. This is a culture in which

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