My Experience of Dogma Vs Critical Thinking

The Value of Learning “How to Think”

“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.”

Albert Einstein

Learning to think critically was one of the best things I have ever done.

Going to a university as a mature age student was where I first learned how to do that.

Being able to critically think and analyze was something I did not know how to do before this time.

Raised in the Dogma of Jehovah’s Witness

I had been taught from a very young age to accept one hundred percent, without question the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) religion.

I did this up until I was in my early 30s.

I was taught, that even to have doubt in my heart, about the teachings, was an act of rebellion, seen by God, and would lead to disapproval and punishment.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines dogma as “a fixed, especially religious, belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts.”

What The JW Literature States About “Doubt”

The Watchtower is one publication produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As shown in this article called Fight the Tendency to Doubt in The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom — 1996

Why is vigilance necessary to prevent doubts from taking root in the heart?

Another sly tactic of the Devil is the sowing of doubts in the mind. He is ever alert to see some weakness in faith and exploit it.

Any who experience doubts should remember that the one behind such doubts (Satan) is the one who said to Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?

If some tinge of doubt about Jehovah, his Word, or his organization has begun to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith.

Just as a surgeon acts quickly to cut out gangrene, act quickly to rout out of the mind any tendency to complain, to be dissatisfied with the way things are done in the Christian congregation. (Colossians 3:13, 14)

Cut off anything that feeds such doubts. — Mark 9:43.”

Why was this condemnation of having doubts in regards to whether or not I was in the true faith so important?

Discouraged From Higher Education as “Worldly Knowledge”

I was taught NOT to trust any “worldly” knowledge or any knowledge that came from anywhere that was not the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In the article “Facts About Jehovah’s Witnesses” quotes taken from The Watchtower magazine show what their view of higher education is:

The Watchtower classifies higher education as a temptation akin to smoking, using drugs, and watching violent and immoral movies.

For instance, see the insert from the Watchtower2008 Sep 1, entitled “What Will be The “End Afterward”?

The Kingdom Ministry warns:

Your children will no doubt experience new challenges and pressures. … Are they prepared for the pressure they will receive to pursue higher education, date, and use alcohol or drugs?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Jul p.2

Watchtower explains pursuing an advanced education is dangerous because it:

Wastes precious time in these last days

Promotes prestige and materialism

Shows a lack of faith

Involves bad association

Promotes higher learning

Only 12 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses get undergraduate degrees, according to Pew Research which is well below the national average of 30.4 percent and the lowest of any faith group. This is likely due to their official warnings against higher education.

Finding a Way to Trust What I Was Learning

So, although I had summoned the courage to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses after 35 years of association, I was left with:

  • a distrust of myself,
  • a distrust of my own thinking,
  • a distrust of other people’s thinking

I had to find a way to learn to trust again. I also had to learn what information I could trust.

Enrolling in university was a major factor for me in learning how to think (I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Psychology).

What do I mean by that?

What is Critical Thinking?

One explanation of critical thinking is that:

“it requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information”.

How I Studied as a Jehovah’s Witness (Passive Recipient)

When I was a Jehovah’s Witnesses we engaged extensively in pre-study (reviewing the literature prior to attending meetings) and bible study so you would think I would be an expert at “study.”

Bible study was always conducted ONLY using a publication published by The Watchtower Society (the organization JW’s use to publish all their literature)and NEVER using other literature.

All other literature was condemned as “worldly thinking”.

“All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the “greatly diversified wisdom of God” can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.” (The Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1994, p. 8.)

How We “Studied”

  • Each chapter in a book or an article in a magazine had paragraphs, and questions related to that paragraph were at the bottom of each page.
  • In pre-study at home, you read the paragraph, then read the question, then underlined the answer to the question contained in the paragraph.
  • When you went to the meeting, someone would be assigned to read the paragraph, someone else would read the question, then people in the audience would put up their hands, and someone would be chosen to read out the underlined answer (word for word) as found in the paragraph.

This is how we systematically “studied” the literature.

It was basically learning by rote, using predetermined questions and predetermined answers.

  • There was NO room for independent thinking.
  • It was rare that anyone ever asked questions that were not written in the text, or raised comments, not already touched on in the text. It was discouraged. Everyone followed the script.
  • Nobody ever checked out references quoting other literature in The Watchtower publications to see if they had been accurately quoted.

A recent example of a blatant misquote by Jehovah’s Witnesses in an Awake magazine was reported in the article “Controversial Quotation Quietly Removed from Jehovah’s Witnesses Publication (Without Apology or Retraction)” by Hemant Mehta. It makes an informative read.

So, in all these ways, we were passive recipients absorbing information designed to indoctrinate us in one way of thinking.

How to Critically Think

Up-to-date Research

At university, in our research, we were required to source previously written articles to use as references for the subject we wrote.

One of the things we were encouraged to do was try and use research conducted in the last five years (preferably as close as possible to the year we were currently living in).

This was because research in any given subject is always evolving over time, and so the most up to date research would be reflective of that.

We had to quote all our sources of references at the end of our article (using a universally accepted formula for that discipline) so the references could be easily located if anyone wished to look them up.

Source of Material

I was taught to look closely at the ‘source’ I was researching material from on any given subject. If I “googled” information, then I was taught to ask questions such as:

Who owns this website?

Are they affiliated with anyone or getting paid to promote this point of view?

Have they referenced their article or is it personal opinion?

Are they a satire site?

How credible is the site?

Have other people criticized their site, viewpoint and how valid are these critiques?

How up to date is the site?

Is the information dated?

Has the author named themselves? If not, why not?

Google Scholar, Peer Reviewed Articles and Scientific Method

We were encouraged to use “Google Scholar” and “peer-reviewed” articles if at all possible in our research of any given subject, as well as the university database containing hundreds of thousands of publications and magazines that have been published around the world.

The reason for this is that the authors of these articles would most likely have used the “scientific method” in their research.

What do these three things actually mean?

Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature.

From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.

Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.

Peer Reviewed

Essentially, peer review is an academic term for quality control.

Each article published in a peer-reviewed journal was closely examined by a panel of reviewers who are experts on the article’s topic (that is, the author’s professional peers…hence the term peer review).

The reviewers look for proper use of research methods, significance of the paper’s contribution to the existing literature, and integration of previous authors’ work on the topic in any discussion (including citations).

Papers published in these journals are expert-approved…and the most authoritative sources of information for college-level research papers.

Scientific Method

The scientific method is a process for experimentation that is used to explore observations and answer questions.

Does this mean all scientists follow exactly this process? No. Some areas of science can be more easily tested than others.

For example, scientists studying how stars change as they age or how dinosaurs digested their food cannot fast-forward a star’s life by a million years or run medical exams on feeding dinosaurs to test their hypotheses.

When direct experimentation is not possible, scientists modify the scientific method.

In fact, there are probably as many versions of the scientific method as there are scientists!

But even when modified, the goal remains the same: to discover cause and effect relationships by asking questions, carefully gathering and examining the evidence, and seeing if all the available information can be combined in to a logical answer.

Compare and Contrast

We often were asked to compare and contrast an idea, a thought or subject matter.

To compare means to look for similarities and to contrast means to look for differences between two or more elements.

Critical Analysis

To be able to critically analyze a subject requires more than just knowledge, understanding and application.

  1. In school, most students are taught “knowledge” in the sense that they learn the names of a plant or the chemical elements.
  2. They are required to show “understanding” in the sense that they must reflect an understanding of how something works, or react with each other.
  3. Students are often taught to conduct experiments to show an understanding of “application” of that knowledge.

To critically analyze a subject involves a deeper level of learning and thinking.

Critical thinking also involves analysis, evaluation and creating as shown in this illustration.

“The most important attribute that education can bring to anyone is the ability to think critically. In an era where information and knowledge is universally available, it is the power to comprehend, assess and analyse which makes the difference — those are the critical thinking skills.”

Charles Clarke, former UK Secretary of State for Education

Skills Needed for Critical Thinking

The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.

According to the article called “Critical Thinking” we specifically need to be able to:

  • Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.
  • Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.
  • Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.
  • Recognize any weaknesses or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.
  • Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.
  • Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

Conclusion (Forming my Own Opinions)

Learning to think critically was a breakthrough in me gaining an understanding and awareness of other points of view, and why people may think the way they do.

It helped me learn to analyze the validity, accuracy, and authenticity of information I came across. In this way, I could determine how trustworthy the information was.

It also helped me gain and build trust in analyzing material and information, and build trust in my own judgment in doing this.

I find in some areas of knowledge I like to pull bits of information from numerous sides of an argument and in that way I form my own ideas.

At other times I have fully embraced others research, thoughts, and conclusions after reading extensively on a subject in which I am interested.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it ~ Aristotle

Deborah Christensen

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Seeker of Understanding/Meaning, Explorer of Spirit, Writer, Artist, Believer/Doubter, Dreamer, Introverted Communicator, Questioning it All

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