Marianne, you have an admirer

Marianne, you have an admirer

Marianne Meed Ward of the Toronto Sun has my admiration. She has written an opinion piece – in the Lifestyle Section, yet – that connects some of the dots in the conflict between the Jehovah’s Witness belief in the total abstention from blood and the welfare of children in cases where life-saving blood transfusions may be needed.

There are big themes here – civil liberties, freedom of (and from) religion, freedom of (and from) speech, child welfare, biblical scholarship, and the line between religion and the state.

Are such deadly biblical interpretations and movements a matter of natural/cultural selection? Or are they, as believed by followers, a mark of God’s true people?

What if you wanted to sacrifice, say, geese – at the town square every Sunday morning?
What if people decided, as Jehovah’s Witnesses used to, that vaccinations were also to be banned by God’s people?
Or – public education?
Or that we should pluck out what offends us – such as the eyes of the youngest, or oldest, of our nuclear family as a “body”?

Shall I become more ridiculous, or are you following me here? This debate could go anywhere. I hope some talented people get involved – Jehovah’s Witnesses have been a good place to practice such debate before.

In my reading of the various holy books, life always trumps law.

Thank you, Marianne. That is a great place to start! It’s a good place to start for a lot of the debates we should be having. Go read the article, people.

(Thank you again, Danny, for keeping me up to date)

The case really is one that should be debated. It probably needs some general unearthing even for some JWs – they don’t actually keep to kosher laws about meat and blood, and the leadership has gotten a bit technical on the “parts” of the blood that are not covered by the ban on blood transfusions. Presumably some bits of the blood are excluded as being without that elusive “soul” element that cannot be shared. Incidentally, the “soul” element is also completely distinct from the “spirit” of/in breath, which is not considered sacred and it therefore ok to share in life-saving circumstances. Imagine if we were arguing about resuscitation or oxygen therapy!

This would be a fascinating debate on many levels – in and out of the courtroom. In larger terms, it would be good for the planet (I hope) to confront some of the conflicts between some religious behavior and the general welfare. At this point, I have to say, however regretfully, that I believe that any debate of that sort could be better argued in Canada, far from the neo-legalististic pseudo-theocrats of America* – or those of the Middle East.

The issue of blood transfusions is not likely to create sources of destructive violence. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t fight in wars. Nor do they vote. That seems pretty safe. They are, for the most part, good people who are trying to do what they believe is right.

Let’s start talking again about what is right. Let’s have more of a meta-discussion.

I define “religious” very broadly. I can’t actually say that I have met very many people whose ultimate concern really seemed to be God, but perhaps I am not as perceptive on that as I would like to be. One thing, though, the ones I trust tend to have little need to trumpet pronouncements.

In any case, the peoples of the book have got to talk, and this is a good place to start. It can be a practice run to learn terms of reasonable, spiritually responsible, terms of (and for) debate.

Think of the possibilities for discussion! Jehovah’s Witnesses are a minority group, who believe that “persecution” proves their righteousness in the end times. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Corporations (and their governing body of a dozen men in New York at the Watchtower building/block next to the Brooklyn Bridge) hold great sway over many aspects of their followers’ lives. For the most part, the stated aims have good effect, although there are some harmful aspects too (destructiveness to families, abuse, psychological problems, and other issues discussed here and elsewhere). Still, they are no worse than many other groups in terms of their somewhat totalitarian hold.

Cognitive dissonance can be a problem for JWs, and against that the leadership limits information and damps down possibilities for debate (unlike the Jews and early Christians they say they admire). The scholarship is questionable, the learning is by rote repetition of selected, highly interpreted biblical passages.

Despite the leadership’s changing policies on the blood issue, most Jehovah’s Witnesses consider this life-or-death decision as an important way to choose to stand for God. By doing so, they believe that they may be chosen to live forever on a Paradise Earth (after the oft-rescheduled impending Armageddon). It’s a blind faith fundamentalist fixation, reinforced.

Yet I believe that this debate – the debate itself – may save lives. Once people are used to debate and critical thinking, I believe that they can love it. There will be some for whom the cognitive dissonance will finally become irrepressible. They may be thrown into crisis and may start to think things through for themselves. This could have a larger impact on the population at large.

On the negative side, Jehovah’s Witnesses may be told that the debate is being brought – as persecution – from the worldly reality of Satan’s control. Some of these will hunker down and refuse to think at all. Independent thinking (outside the guidance of the “organizaton”) is against their religion. It may be that the leadership simply gets “new light” from God. One possibility is that they could say that each person is responsible for themselves. Who decides for children? Parents? Doctors? A corporation in New York? Can they decide for themselves? It’s a very messy issue, and a fruitful one.

I also have a personal interest in observing what religion scholars have to say. I’ve read a lot on this issue, and it would be extremely fun for me. I wrote a chapter in my dissertation comparing communion and vampirism along viral questions of framing, and it is also a theme in my novel (the writing of which still doesn’t get enough of my time). I have always wanted to see the issue of blood debated by the very best of minds. What is this quasi-spiritual, quasi-physical substance of soul, and sacrifice? Where and when does spiritual communion turn into literalism, into cannibalism? What is this that promises immortality, and what is the cost of such beliefs?

*P.S. The intrusive side trains of thought. These should really be separate blog entries, but to me they are related.

Most Americans can’t get their heads around why it might be a tad bit idolatrous to take a pledge of allegiance to the nation’s flag. Indivisible? Oh, please. Don’t get me started on liberty and justice…for all. I don’t think most people even think about what they are saying. It’s a ritual, like “Heil.” The reds. The blues. Yet our world is fractal, complex – not dualist. We need a new synthesis of thought – a breakthrough to a better path.

If there is a God, whatever that God might be, we all would have to be (by definition?) “under God,” all the time. And not only “America,” not only people of one particular religious path or discipline. What do we mean by “under God” anyway? Under God’s rule? Under God’s banner? Under God’s protection? Under God’s blessing? Can anyone truly claim God as their property? Or it is meant to be a statement of humility? Nah. Don’t think so.

A lot of people look for the Kingdom in the world. But didn’t God warn against the desire for human kings? The kingdom (the corporation? the tribe? the nation?), the relationship to the cosmos, the eternal, is within you.


3 thoughts on “Marianne, you have an admirer

  1. My goodness. You must be an apostate Witness. You can’t possibly be that misinformed. At the very least you are ignorant of the actual stand of Jehovah’s Witnesses on blood (finding it from news articles) while purporting to know it.
    “Cognitive dissonance can be a problem for JWs . . .” What kind of broad-stroke, narrow-minded nonsense is that? LOL
    Also, please note the the “scholer” from St. Mary’s fails to put forth any premise, theory, or argument. nothing. nada.

  2. How could I be both an apostate Witness and at the same time completely ignorant on the blood issue? Wouldn’t that be kind of difficult?

    In fact, I am neither. But feel free to read any of my other Jehovah’s Witness related posts, or advice, or news tracking.

    Cognitive dissonance is an important way to stimulate someone’s conscience. When things don’t add up, people either repress the issue or start thinking about it for themselves. Real faith is not destroyed by questions and discussions.

    So, tell me where Jehovah’s Witnesses question and discuss and debate? Would that be at the meetings? When they question the pronouncements of the Watchtower Society? Or perhaps it happens in their educational training – where they learn Hebrew or Greek, or biblical interpretation? No? Neither the average Kingdom Hall “minister” or the elders have such training. They are encouraged to read only Watchtower publications.

    I would be interested in a debate on the topic of blood. There are a wide range of biblical scholars that could responsibly comment on this issue. I am encouraging them to do so.

  3. Duggan said the blood passages in the Hebrew Bible – Old Testament – often cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses as their reasons to refuse blood transfusions are safe cooking instructions that date back to the 5th Century.

    “That needs to be said,” Duggan said. “The way the Jehovah’s Witnesses read the biblical text is simply wrong.”

    The texts in the Hebrew Bible are mainly taken from Genesis 9:4-6 and from the book of Leviticus 17, he said.

    “They speak about the life being in the blood, but the blood they are talking about is the blood of animals,” Duggan said.

    This is only a start of a discussion that should be taking place.

    Some background reading on the JWs in particular:

    New Light on Blood and especially Why some Jehovah’s Witnesses accept blood and conscientiously reject official Watchtower Society blood policy from The Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood

    Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions page on Wikipedia

    Blood and Life, Law and Love by Raymond Franz, former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses

    Google book search on “abstain from blood”

    To me, personally, “abstain from blood” refers to approved early sacrificial practices, dietary restrictions and laws, and possibly a prohibition against murder. The idea of “bloodguilt” is not unrelated to this debate, and it would be interesting to revisit the meaning of Jesus’ statement to his followers to “eat his body and drink his blood.”

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