With the exception of sunglasses, polarization is a bad thing. It divides us, often leading to hatred, violence, even war.
It all starts when we stop seeing people as fellow human beings and start seeing them as labels. The labels can be ones they’ve chosen to wear, or ones we have assigned to them. When we deal with labels, rather than humans, we focus on our differences and ignore the many more things that make us the same.
In the U.S. one of the major pairs of labels is: Republican or Democrat. When someone starts a conversation by asking you if you are a Republican or a Democrat it’s a safe bet that they have firmly labeled themselves as one or the other, and are ready to verbally assail anyone wearing the opposite label.
In the field of religion, the labels are many, and are often more adamantly held than political labels. In our little corner of the world the labels we deal with are “active loyal Jehovah’s Witness” and “apostate” (or, seemingly even more at odds: “apostate atheist.”)
Now, don’t get me wrong; labels aren’t all bad. They are convenient: saving time in establishing where we are “coming from.” But, at the same time they can be counter-productive to reaching an understanding. They often carry negative connotations which may be false or misleading, and are almost always obstacles to seeing the real person underneath.
The Watchtower holds a diametrically opposed viewpoint on this subject. They delight in dividing the world into “us vs. them”: those “in the truth” (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses) as opposed to those “in the world.” But in the end we are all just people trying to do what’s right to the best of our understanding.
I have neighbors and business associates who are Witnesses, and we get along just fine, because we leave our labels at home and relate to each other as people. But, if they knew I was an “apostate” then their Watchtower training might kick in and they would view me no longer as part of “us” but as part of “them“: the enemy, and that would be the end of that.
I want to talk to the person underneath the Jehovah’s Witness label, and I want to talk to them as a fellow human rather than as an “apostate.”
As one human to another I want to say that while I respect their right to believe what they will, I do not respect the substance of those beliefs that are unloving. In particular I would warn them that trusting an organization to tell them what is right, wrong, and truthful is extremely dangerous, and in fact immoral.
“Immoral“? Did you read that right? Yes, you did. It is immoral to pass off your responsibilities to another. You are responsible for your beliefs and actions. Surrendering that responsibility to another person or organization is shirking your duties as a human being on this planet, no matter what label you have loyally pasted on your forehead.
Finally, I need to convey to them that there can never be a valid excuse for any of the following actions (all of which are unloving and stem from the trust they place in the organization):
- Withholding life-saving medical care from your children.
- Shunning family members or friends.
- Allowing child abuse to go unreported.
When the Watchtower tells you that you must obey the organization even when their instructions run counter to your own sense of what is right, then the organization is acting in an immoral manner, and so are you if you follow their command and surrender your responsibilities to them along with your reason.
Now, some people love to be told what to do and what to think. They want to be absolved of all responsibility. One candid Witness wrote to me and said that if the organization should prove wrong, he would not be to blame for having faithfully followed “God’s organization.” (or at least what he was led to believe was “God’s organization.”) Clinging to that thought, he was prepared to listen to any and all criticisms of the organization with impunity without it ever crossing his mind that he should cease to place his trust in an organization that was clearly lying to him.
Don’t let that happen to you.