My Meeting Notes: Week of May 9, 2024
What Axiom to Start With—Unity or Disunity: A Starting Point for Theologians

Witnesses and Higher Education—Coming Up on the GB Update List?

Huh! Ocala invites me on a Bible study he is conducting for about a month. Turns out to be a ‘textbook’ study, exactly what HQ would enact if they wanted to demonstrate one.

Unprompted, the man said how, in a moment of spiritual desperation, he had got to his knees and prayed. ‘God, if you exist, please—I only seek to be happy.’ Within the hour, Ocala had knocked on his door and made his acquaintance.

So, I said to Ocala later, ‘Had you prayed for a Bible study?’ He told me he had. ‘I’ve read about these things happening, but it never happened to me,’ he added.

Ocala asks me at the study if I have anything to add. I put in some remark, something grounded to the theme that does not launch off into another direction, upon which he says, “Thank you for that personal expression.” If the student thinks that a little stilted (he may not), he attributes it to Ocala’s African background. He does not connect it to the mannerisms of the Witness broadcast channel.

Ocala appeared out of nowhere a year or two ago as a full-blown graduate student on scholarship at the local university. So unusual is this among the congregations that some did not quite know what to make of him. The brother I have dubbed ‘Barnabas,’ in answer to one of his public meeting comments, mentioned his publisher cards had arrived from the home congregation and elders in African. Congregations keep such minimal records. That way, no scam artist can just breeze in and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes (as they can most anywhere else). Since then, Ocala has established himself as solid in every way, now pioneering and a ministerial servant. Few have a more steadfast ministry. He doesn’t overcomplicate things.


They’re all rather trivial matters—all these GB updates of late—adjustments to the ministry, changing norms of dress and grooming. Still, they are changes to long-standing policy, so people make a big fuss over them. A brother at our hall, commenting on fast-moving changes we all must adjust to, mentioned “sisters wearing pants,” (did he also mention no ties?) as though aghast that someone had run the chariot into a ditch.

With several of such updates in a row, people start anticipating the next one. What other thing that we have not done will we start doing? Might it be a lightening up over ‘higher education?’ Not that such has ever been outlawed—how could it be?—but you can find yourself running a gauntlet of peer pressure should you choose to go there. Might there come an underlining that it is a decision of the family head, leave him be to make it, and don’t think everyone else has to put in their two cents on whatever that one decides.

Witness publications have not had a kind word for higher education. Just this past week, the Watchtower study included a paragraph of Marcia, who “was offered a four-year scholarship at a university. But I wanted to pursue spiritual goals.” She didn’t throw caution to the wind. She “chose to attend a technical training school to learn a trade that would support me in my ministry,” and counts it “one of the best decisions I have ever made.” (Feb 2024 Wt) It is an example of the article’s title: ‘Keep Following Jehovah’s Guidance.’ That’s not really trashing university, of course, but it certainly is not presenting it as the preferred goal.

They are not wrong to be leery of the place. Moreover, who else has the guts to discourage it? Most faiths think it an honor to have churches bristling with lettered people. Most faiths say, ‘Christians may have started ‘uneducated and ordinary,’ (Acts 4:13) but look at how they pulled themselves up! Most faiths replace Paul’s encouragement to be a ‘workman, with nothing to be ashamed of’ (2 Timothy 2:15) with ‘a professional—so you don’t have to be ashamed.’ Not many are like the Witnesses, who expect the passage of 1 Corinthians 1:26 to hold just as true today as it did then: “For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” They don’t care if people sneer at them for it. Train yourself for a skill that is both portable and scalable, they recommend. That way, you have time for the ministry.

Their caution is validated in the remarks of Great Courses lecturer James Hall, who covers the topic, ‘Philosophy of Religion.’ A university professor himself, he relates how, “I have parents who come to the university perplexed and amazed that young Susie or young Johnny, who has gone off to the university and has come home for that first holiday, isn't the same that they used to be. And all I can do is lower my glasses to the end of my nose and look over my glasses and say, Why did you send them to university in the first place?”

Got it? The purpose of university is not to accept a student’s childhood values as a given. The purpose is to overhaul them. It’s all agreeable to Hall, who says you send them there “to grow up . . . to be exposed, to expand their horizons, to increase the scale of their life,” with the implicit understanding that he, as faculty member, he, who “lowers his glasses to the end of his nose and looks over those glasses” at the plebian parents, is just the one to do it.

Now, no problem here with growing up. Who doesn’t want that? Go for it. But, is this the setting in which to do it? Here, Hall sits atop the repository of knowledge that has collectively made the world what is—and he should be the one to expand those horizons and increase those scales? Only the educated can look upon the trainwreck that is modern society and congratulate themselves on their understanding. Spit back what Hall tells you if you want a passing grade—not necessarily verbatim, but you’d better not stray too far from it. The ‘safest’ correlation to his remarks will be what was said of P.D.Q. Bach, that his music bore a relationship with that of a certain great composer, and the name of that relationship was ‘identity.’ He wasn’t one for plagiarizing, but he did believe in recycling.

Ocala doesn’t know anything about this. It is not something he has encountered, or if he has, he weathered it so effortlessly that he does not remember encountering it. In his homeland, he tells me, additional education after primary school is common, common enough that Witness youths encourage and stabilize one another. Some go “off the rails,” (his expression), to be sure, but some go off the rails in any setting. Jobs are scarce where he comes from, he tells me, and employers take full advantage of the fact, reminding their workers at every opportunity that they are easily replaceable. He doesn’t yet know if he will stay in the States or return home upon graduation. He has a quiet confidence about himself and does not appear to be one easy to shove around. But, he is hurt when people think he does what he does ‘because he wants the good life,’ and he tells me sometimes people do think that.

Hall and the Witness organization are in agreement on one thing, though for different reasons. That answer to Hall’s question as to why parents sent their youngsters to university? He continues, “I'm afraid sometimes the only answer is, ‘Well, because that's what you do,’ or, ‘Well, all of our neighbors were sending their children to university so we figured maybe we [had] better too.’” Going with the crowd, in other words. Hall doesn’t want children to go for this reason. He wants them to purposefully go so he can mess with their heads, expanding them beyond whatever parochial values they absorbed from back home, such as Bible training. The Witness organization doesn’t want them to go because ‘everyone else is doing it,’ either. They’d rather the parents not give Hall and his cohorts their shot; head youngsters off into the full-time ministry instead. For all the furor of ‘anti-cultists,’ it is the university, not the Witness world, in which newbies are cut off 24/7 from all that once stabilized them—a classic technique of ‘brainwashers.’

You can look like roadkill when you stand against the common stampede. Witness HQ will never stop cautioning about university, I don’t think. They will never recommend liberal arts degrees. They will never stop recommending technical training and trade schools. But they may yield more to the view that secular education is a family decision, not something to be second-guessed by others, much less micro-managed. There is just too much variety in people and circumstances. Maybe that will be on one of those future updates. It may be happening already. Another youngster in the congregation went off to college about the time Ocala arrived and nobody had anything to say about it at all; I checked with his mom. Will he evade Hall or even stand up to him? Maybe. Maybe not. But it turns out that Hall has cousins in all walks of life, trying to shoot down biblical values wherever you happen to be.


******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'


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