Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

By Andrew Holden | Go to book overview

6

Inside, outside

Throughout this book, I have suggested that Watch Tower theology is a weapon used by the Witnesses to avert the risks posed by modernity. But what happens in practice? I now turn to the issue of how the Witnesses operate between two systems-their own closed system (or 'the truth') and the open system of the outside world. This raises a number of questions that need to be addressed if the Witnesses' status in so-called secular society is to be understood. For example, how easy is it for the Witnesses to remain within the parameters of the Watch Tower Society when in the company of non-members? How do they respond when outsiders with whom they are associating openly flout Watch Tower teachings? How do they distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in situations where official teachings are absent? And do they all share the same notion of acceptability? In this chapter, I argue that the Witnesses cannot be entirely private in their religious behaviour and that, although they are in certain respects compatible with modernity, they are also unsuited to it. Despite their worldrenouncing beliefs, the Witnesses do not separate themselves completely from the wider society. They live in neighbourhoods alongside non-members, send their children to state schools, hold jobs in secular environments and even occupy the same households as those who do not share their faith. Unlike separatist groups like the Hutterites, who primarily seek their own salvation, the Witnesses have never lived communally, although the organisation discourages unnecessary contact with the outside world. This is not to suggest that differences do not exist among devotees in the nature and amount of worldly contact, but what it does mean is that Witnesses everywhere are likely to spend part of their time with those who may have little sympathy with their worldview.

The chapter is in four sections. In the first section, I offer a brief summary of a phenomenon which has been of some concern to modernity theorists; namely, the privatisation of religion. This theme has important implications for how world-renouncing millenarians manage their identity in public places and thus helps to contextualise the subsequent discussion. In the second section, I examine how the Witnesses distinguish between permissible and non-permissible behaviour. Some of the people I interviewed

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - The End is Nigh 1
  • 2 - The Jehovah's Witnesses in the Modern World 17
  • 3 - Finding a Home 42
  • 4 - Rational Means to Rational Ends 58
  • 5 - Returning to Eden 82
  • 6 - Inside, Outside 103
  • 7 - Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother 125
  • 8 - The Fear of Freedom 150
  • 9 - Conclusion 171
  • Notes 176
  • Glossary 185
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 202
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