Monday, August 03, 2015

Older Book Review of Daniel Cronn-Mills' Study About Jehovah's Witnesses

I now wish to present my review of Daniel Cronn-Mills' work A Qualitative Analysis of the Jehovah's Witnesses: The Rhetoric, Reality and Religion in the Watchtower Society (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999). This monograph is 198+ pp. including the bibliography and index. The copy that I reviewed cost approximately $109.00 retail. Some outlets, however, sell the book at a lower rate.

In reviewing Cronn-Mills' publication, I will first give an overview of the book, then I will examine the strengths and then deal with what I perceive to be weaknesses of the study.

I. An Overview of A Qualitative Analysis of the Jehovah's Witnesses

A Qualitative Analysis of the Jehovah's Witnesses contains 16 chapters devoted to examining the role that rhetoric supposedly plays in the religious society of Jehovah's Witnesses. By rhetoric, Cronn-Mills has in mind the social construction of reality through communicative or verbal methods that utilize persuasion as a tool. It is Cronn-Mills' contention that Jehovah's Witnesses, being one of the most persecuted groups on earth, respond to religious persecution by constructing a reality characterized by numerous dualities (Satan/God or dark/light or us/them). Furthermore, Witnesses purportedly erect figurative bridges by means of questions that lead "interested ones" from Satan's world to Jehovah's organization. That is, according to Cronn-Mills, Witnesses try appealing to non-Witnesses by portraying themselves as the ones with answers to questions raised by those in "Satan's world."

He avers that three WTBTS books, Questions Young People Ask, Reasoning from the Scriptures, and You Can Live Forever "are replete with questions and answers" (Cronn-Mills, 144) that function as a "gateway" to Jehovah's earthly organization. Cronn-Mills thus contends: "The social reality of Jehovah's Witnesses provides a bright light for those wishing to cross from Satan's world through Witness' World to Jehovah's World" (ibid., 144).

Note the threefold distinction that Cronn-Mills makes regarding the worlds supposedly constructed by Jehovah's Witnesses. We will address this point later in the review. For now, let's discuss the positive aspects of his work.

II. Strengths of A Qualitative Analysis

Cronn-Mills' study is commendable in many respects. He is a fomer Catholic, who no longer seems to have use for organized religion. Furthermore, his interest in Jehovah's Witnesses appears to be primarily scientific; he does not appear to have an axe to grind in this study at all. Cronn-Mills himself writes: "My purpose is to provide a description, analysis, and interpretation of the social construction of reality of Jehovah's Witnesses" (Cronn-Mills, 4).

So he decided to analyze and provide a descriptive social-scientific account of Jehovah's Witnesses because the Witnesses are devoted to preaching about God's Kingdom in a variety of ways. Whether they are going from door to
door, sending letters to those needing scriptural comfort or witnessing to those whom they encounter in medical offices or at the workplace, Jehovah's Witnesses seem determined to reach out to those whom they believe need comfort, solace, and guidance from God's Word in these troubled times.

Yet another reason that Cronn-Mills selected Jehovah's Witnesses for his study, however, is that "Jehovah's Witnesses have been identified by researchers as one of the most persecuted religious groups in history and the most persecuted Christian organization in the twentieth century" (ibid., 6). This persecution, Cronn-Mills theorizes, leads the Witnesses to construct a social reality that is characterized by dualities and manifested by means of discursive practices. The study found in _A Qualitative Analysis_ thereby purports to contribute to the author's understanding of the Witness response to religious persecution.

In order to discern how Witnesses respond to persecution, Cronn-Mills evidently approached the presiding overseer at a local congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and asked for his permission to interview certain members of the congregation. The overseer agreed and Cronn-Mills subsequently interviewed 43 Witnesses, finding them to be friendly,
honest and willing to share their beliefs with him (28-32). But the author did not stop at interviewing the Witnesses he later wrote about. In addition to interviewing 43 Witnesses of Jehovah, he also attended the weekly meetings at the local Kingdom Hall and went to the district convention with the Witnesses in his area. Finally, he attended the Memorial of Christ's death. In the end, Cronn-Mills seemed to be impressed at the trust that the Witnesses manifested toward a scholar, who was willing to actively participate in theocratic activities with them over a period of time.

I thus conclude that Cronn-Mill's approach to obtaining information from the Witnesses is a sign of his attempt to approach the subject somewhat objectively and it is a strong point of his book. His ability to delineate, in painstaking detail, the categories he is working with as well as his use of the scientific method is also impressive. Nevertheless, there are some weaknesses in Cronn-Mills' monograph that need to be discussed.

III. Weak Points of A Qualitative Analysis

While there are commendable aspects of A Qualitative Analysis, there are some surprising weaknesses contained in the book as well. While I can overlook Cronn-Mills' imprecise and not wholly accurate explanation of the Witnesses' pneumatology in the following terms, "The Spirit is merely Jehovah's power, force, or energy" (44), I find it much more
difficult to ignore other errors. For instance, he writes that the Witnesses believe that "Lucifer" was created by Jehovah through "Michael" to watch over the Garden of Eden until he began to nurture and eventually acted on a desire to have his own worshipers. Cronn-Mills continues: "So, while Jehovah slept on the seventh day, Lucifer found and capitalized on Adam and Eve's fatal flaw--free will" (44).

I think that most Witnesses of Jehovah reading the aforesaid comments would quickly and immediately discern errors in Cronn-Mills' presentation. There are other slips, but I will resist the urge to nit-pick. Yet, before closing, we must mention the threefold distinction discussed in A Qualitative Analysis that Witnesses putatively advocate or teach. That is, the threefold division of Satan's world, the Witness world, and Jehovah's world (i.e., the new world order). I think that many Witnesses (probably most) would take issue with this portrayal of our beliefs. We do not make a sharp distinction between a so-called "Witness world" and Jehovah's world. Cronn-Mills needs to reanalyze and rework this explanation of Witness belief.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that Cronn-Mills' work is worth reading, if one is interested in rhetorical and social-scientific issues as they appertain to religion. His attempt to be fair is noble--his scientific research is also sound in many respects. But some of the theological details are inadequately explained. Furthermore, there are a number of typos in the book and the writing style employed in the study is at times hard to decipher.

I am not talking about technical language as such but the writer's style of communication. Then again, he may
not be a native English speaker or writer. That would account for some textual idiosyncrasies in A Qualitative Analysis. Finally, the issues of social interactionism and groups constructing their own reality through discursive pratices or rhetoric are questions that could be treated in another essay or monograph. Suffice it to say that Cronn-Mills' "construction of reality" theory needs to be approached with a "hermeneutics of suspicion" by the Christian who endeavors to be faithful to Jehovah, His written Word, and the very reality of God.


Killa Jules said...

Interesting review.

One point that stood out to me is this:

"This persecution, Cronn-Mills theorizes, leads the Witnesses to construct a social reality that is characterized by dualities and manifested by means of discursive practices."

The author seems to think that persecution originally took us by surprise and that we "constructed" a "social reality" in response.

We didn't develop beliefs or attitudes in response to persecution, as if to explain why they happened. Instead, we *anticipated* persecution.
We don't respond to persecution, we *anticipate* it. He has got it backwards.

Edgar Foster said...

Good observation. We imitate Jesus and the Apostle Peter, who both anticipated persection (under the guidance of holy spirit), and warned brothers/sisters accordingly in the first century.