A second indication that the Witnesses are not unduly hobbled by the mindset of ‘knowing things by revelation’ is that they don’t do ‘personal revelation.’ Many religions do. Witnesses rely upon a received text. The trouble with receiving your truth through personal revelation, and then attempting to read it into a text where it is not explicitly stated, is that you eventually run into someone who has also received their truth through personal revelation, only the two revelations don’t match. How in the world are you ever going to reconcile them? Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid that problem. Early on they developed a method of letting the Bible interpret itself. On a given question, look up all scriptures with any bearing on the subject, then seek to reconcile them. It works, whereas myriad personal revelation tends to produce a hodgepodge of confusion.
The third qualifier is that knowing things by revelation is exactly what you want when it comes to the big picture. It doesn’t hobble you at all. It liberates you and it is why people become Witnesses in the first place. “Here is a curious thing.” Vermont Royster writes after reviewing the material progress of his 1960s day. “In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.” Not all will care about those questions, contenting themselves with technology instead. But those who do know it will come from revelation. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that revelation is the Bible.
The problem arises when you rely on ‘knowledge by revelation’ not just for the big picture but also the small one. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses do that? If so, it is not so debilitating as it might first appear. The greater world, shunning knowledge through revelation for knowledge through observations and experimentation, Bacon’s kind of knowledge, comes to little resolution with the knowledge it collects. In 2018, the survey organization Pew Research reported that not only do most Americans not agree on answers to policy questions, but they also don’t agree on what the questions are. The majority of grown people are like sports fans. They cheer when their side scores and press their advantage. They wince when the other side scores and spin into damage control. But on no account do they examine the merits of the other side. They congeal at opposite poles and from those positions hurl abuse at each other on the internet —be it regarding human politics, public policy, health concerns, philosophical leanings, or whatever else is contemporary controversy. One advantage to the Witness who closely follows current events is to see this trait of people and thereby not become unduly concerned should the tide of criticism turn against them. It’s just the way people are. Read social media, see them hurling barbs at each other, and you can better endure when they do it at you.
If ‘knowledge through revelation’ has applied to the small picture has a downside, one can conclude from the foregoing paragraph that it also has an upside. When critics leaned on one Witness, that his people ought to involve themselves more in public controversies, he said, “Why should we? We have solved most of the problems that you are yet grappling with. Why should we trade the superior for the inferior?” Instead, Witnesses proclaim what works for them to a world that accepts or rejects it. Most do the latter. In which case, why weigh in? Jehovah’s Witnesses have no idea how to fix the problems of a world that discards the instruction manual. If there is a downside to knowledge by revelation, it is outweighed by the upside.
To be continued…
****** The bookstore