Jehovah's Witnesses to youths: "Stop learning stuff!"
Time for another bit of Jehovah's Witness nonsense:
A few weeks back, PZ Myers pointed out a scan from the sect's Watchtower magazine, warning young people of some of the temptations that might lead them into sin. It includes some "dangers" you'd expect from a religious bunch, including
- Someone dares you to smoke a cigarette
- You are invited to a party where alcohol and drugs will be freely available
- "Why don't you post your profile on the Internet?" someone suggests
- A friend invites you to watch a movie that features violence or immorality
No need to laugh that off just yet. Some of those do pose potentially real concern, not just of the scriptural infraction variety, to people sufficiently young or careless enough. Pretty mild dangers (with the exception of drugs and alcohol), but still things that, say, parents of young kids have to grapple with.
But then there's the one that provokes the ire of PZ and his readers:
- A well-intentioned teacher urges you to pursue higher education at a university
Yes, that's right: The Jehovah's Witnesses genuinely do discourage their followers from getting (non-JW) education.
I see from the recent Watchtower that not much has changed in JW-dom since my departure in the mid-80s. Personally, I went and did everything that this Watchtower bit warns against, and much more. (The exception is drug use, other than alcohol; I steered clear of drugs out of personal choice.) I haven't regretted any of the Watchtower's "dangers"; I wouldn't have had much of a life if I had kept following its sad advice.
I also got one of those dangerous secular educations, and I'm glad for that too. I'm not aware that the JWs have or ever had an official policy of active discouragement – I know it's not a disfellowshipping offense – but as a youth I was certainly on the target end of JW expectations to learn a trade or some such, and not go to a "worldly" university. Trades like masonry or carpentry seemed to carry a seal of approval, at least among the individuals I dealt with.
Why technical and similar vocational trades? It's easy to see many reasons. First there's an assumption that these won't carry the spiritual risks of a higher-education profession, what with the latter's liberal free thought and book-larnin' an' stuff. (Remember, too, that it was "Christ the Carpenter", not "Christ the Associate Professor of Zoology".) The JW honchos may prefer that congregation members have predictable, easily-understood professions that keep them rooted locally, as opposed to fuzzier vocations ("just what does an economist do, Brother Smith?") that may send them studying or working around the world, exposing them to Lord-knows-what kind of dangerous ideas. And, of course, a job that requires years of study in a university, or crazy irregular working hours, takes a Witness away from the all-important meetings and preaching work.
I believe there was an even wackier imperative behind the push toward trades. The JWs (or at least some) think that the coming "New Kingdom" of restored Paradise on Earth will still require bricklayers and carpenters and gardeners etc., but there'll be no need in Paradise for doctors and scientists. So, you see, they're really just "future-proofing" their careers.
I don't know how uniform such aspects of non-doctrinal JW "culture" are throughout the organization, but at least that was the tone in my neck of the woods. I'm so glad whenever I hear of JWs who broke out of that "keep 'em uneducated" mold and pursued whatever education, profession, or trade they desired.