Friday, March 13, 2009

Wikipedia Articles About Jehovah's Witnesses

I'm not sure what I think about Wikipedia, except that it is an important and bold experiment in digital communication. It tends to level the playing field, allowing amateurs the ability to compete with professionals in the evaluation and distribution of information. This can be good or bad. Sometimes, experts can benefit from having their complacency challenged. At other times, it gives undue power to troublemakers and idiots. I have heard too many stories of intelligent and knowledgeable researchers abandon the forum of Wikipedia in frustration.

My personal experience with Wikipedia has been generally favorable. Yet it is sometimes an uneasy experience for me. A Wikipedia article is kind of like a football game in slow motion. When I tune in, I don't know who has the ball, or which side is winning or even how many sides there are. In my research, I have found contradictions with more traditional websites, but further research has usually vindicated the information on Wikipedia. I like the way inaccurate information can be challenged and changed, even if it leads to a volatile and unstable situation. I guess my biggest complaint is that I occasionally hear about obscure articles being deleted on topics that are of great interest to me, but apparently of little consequence to the general population.

This situation becomes especially interesting when you deal with very controversial topics like Jehovah's Witnesses and other high control groups and cults. Difficulties arise in researching Jehovah's Witnesses that make Wikipedia a valuable resource. Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are the best source of information on their beliefs and practices. Alas, they are one of the worst. They are not allowed to question or research both sides of their beliefs. If they do, they can be disfellowshipped and shunned for apostasy. Their leadership also hides important information from their members. Their leaders receive confidential letters and guidebooks that contain scandalous policies that the average Witness has no knowledge of. It is also common to revise or suspend the publication of literature when it contains embarrassing information, like failed prophecies or former understandings.

Jehovah's Witnesses are also trained in how to present their beliefs. When studying with potential recruits, they will often avoid or delay difficult subjects until the student is already molded into their way of thinking. Sometimes, people get baptised without a proper understanding of the possible consequences if they commit an unapproved action or began to question official teachings. Jehovah's Witnesses also have a peculiar view of honesty. They employ a doctrine called theocratic warfare. They feel it is proper to withhold or distort the truth if they don't think someone is entitled to it.

This can make it difficult to research a controversial group like Jehovah's Witnesses. The official sites of Jehovah's Witnesses are primarily interested in making converts, so they have a strong incentive to hide or downplay negative information about themselves. I think information from former members is better, because they have seen both sides of the issue. However, many of them have suffered terribly at the hands of the Watchtower organisation, so they may sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate or not fact check everything properly. Many christian churches are critical of Jehovah's Witnesses and may publish some good information, but it often becomes obvious that they are primarily interested in advancing their own theological views.

I think Wikipedia articles can play a useful role in research about Jehovah's Witnesses. There is a process for removing incorrect information and it receives contributions from authors with multiple points of view. I am hopeful that current Jehovah's Witnesses may be more comfortable researching their own religion on Wikipedia than going to an "apostate" site. This would be a great improvement over the Jehovah's Witness habit of getting all their information about Jehovah's Witnesses from Jehovah's Witnesses. So here are some links to some of the more popular Wikipedia articles about Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society. This does not imply endorsement of the information in these articles and I always recommend reading multiple sources when doing research.

Jehovah's Witnesses
The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom
Controversies Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses
Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses
Supreme Court Cases Involving Jehovah's Witnesses
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany
Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Sex Abuse
Jehovah's Witnesses and the United Nations
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

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