Bill Bishop looked at American migratory patterns for humans, not birds, and he found Americans like to live and speak and breathe with those who think just like themselves. For example, when George Bush squeaked out re-election in 2004.…the popular vote was almost even….almost half the vote came from “landslide counties,” where one candidate trounced the other by 20 percentage points or more. Back then, playwright Arthur Miller asked: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don’t know one Bush supporter?” He lived in a landslide area, that’s how, surrounded only by those who thought just like him. (the Economist, 6/21/08, p 41)
Bishop’s book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing us Apart found many other factors segregating citizens. Cable channels that feed viewers only the viewpoint they already agree with, for instance. Even more so with the internet, the author observed. Tell me about it……sometimes I think that nobody has ever changed their mind about anything on the internet, that it’s just one giant forum for preaching to the choir.
But since “education broadens minds,” can we not look to advanced education for hope? Nope. The better educated people are, the more they segregate themselves, found Mr. Bishop. Whether by choice or necessity, less educated persons tend to stay put.
Don’t you get tired of those who insist that education is the answer? Education will solve our problems, they say. Education will bring us all together, they say. Hogwash! Bishop’s book (though I’m sure this is not his point) shows how people use their education: they stake out opposing positions and hurl intellectual bombshells at each other. Nowhere is that more evident than on the internet. It ought to give us pause in the way we view higher education.
The world is screwed up not because people are stupid….for the most part those who run things are both clever and educated…..it is screwed up because they are greedy and selfish and arrogant. These are the glaring defects of human nature, not lack of intellect. Yet today’s world deems it top priority to feed the intellect. Colleges exist for just that purpose. The more important moral qualities are largely left to chance…catch as catch can, with no one especially concerned whether you catch them or not. Occasionally some scandal forces a temporary concern with teaching “ethics,” but what qualifications do colleges really have to teach it? In the wake of Enron, I took a college business course. There was the hastily inserted chapter on ethics. Look deep into yourself, readers were advised, before making this or that decision. Does this decision make you feel good about yourself? Can you live with yourself afterwards? Sheesh!…..the 911 terrorists felt real good about themselves, though, strictly speaking, they were not able to live with their decision!
Watchtower literature frequently observes that the best education available today is Bible education. To people who link education with landing a big career, this counsel seems ridiculous. But put aside that link for a moment and it makes sense. Surely it’s reasonable to conclude that today’s world…..political, economic and religious….run by the most educated of persons, is a practical demonstration of today’s aggragate wisdom. Seeing that said wisdom has produced such disastrous results, how wise can it be to immerse oneself in that atmosphere for four or six years through higher education? Doesn’t higher education typify today’s wisdom? For that reason, Watchtower publications are decidedly cool toward university careers.
Of course, one must make a living. Those same publications speak of training one’s children so that they can “support themselves decently.” For some, the economic benefits of college outweigh detriments in other areas. But on the bell curve, JWs lean toward vocational degrees, technical and certificate programs, or trades. Where youngsters go to college, it is recommended that they do so while living at home. Dormitory living, where the only adults present are those raining down condoms as confetti, does not agree with the moral training with which parents try to equip their children. Still, a member of the Ithacacongregation tells me there is usually a small stream of Witness college students at their meetings who attend either Cornell or SUNY Ithaca. Sometimes they do all right spiritually, sometimes not. Education is a family decision, and all are advised not to stick their noses in another family’s business. People being what they are, however….that counsel is not uncommonly breached.
Since their beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses have constructed their own houses of worship. Even Assembly Halls that seat one or two thousand are built by volunteers. Same with “Bethels” around the globe, organizational headquarters. Organization has been streamlined to the point that Kingdom Halls are built in one or two weekends of volunteer effort. A number of our youngsters thereby pick up the building trades….electrical, HVAC, plumbing, etc….and go on to make a living in that way. Often they go abroad as Western aid jumpstarts Kingdom Hall building in lands where people don’t have much.
With such a restrained view of education, might the really high-flying careers elude our people? Yeah….they do, at least for those who adhere to the advice. But that’s by design. The apostle Paul recommended that those using the world, “not use it to the full” since “the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Cor 7:31) Jehovah’s Witnesses view this world’s system of things as passing away, soon to be replaced by government of God’s design. Generally speaking, they don’t shoot for lofty careers in such a world. They prefer to focus on a ministry which tells of the coming changes and trains people in godly ways. Many of our youngsters school for “portable” skills allowing them to pick up and move and work part time as desired, so that they can more readily put their ministry first.
Your religion is fine, just keep it in its place is the advice people sometimes offer us. Last place is usually what they have in mind. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t feel that way. Meantime, Bible education has produced a people who long ago overcame nationalism, and racism, who enjoy overwhelming unity, and who can cooperate towards a common end as no one limited by this world’s wisdom can.