For observers of JW’s on and off the internet, it’s no secret that certain JW doctrines are “in trouble.” By this I don’t mean to imply that these doctrines are subject to any imminent modification or reversal and I don’t necessarily even mean to imply that these doctrines are wrong, although in some instances, I believe both to be the case. What I mean by the phrase “in trouble” is that the information published by the JW parent organizations and currently available to JW’s today is inadequate even when it comes to responding to a polite level of inquiry from the average intelligent individual.
Blood and the "Neo-Apologists"
For observers of JW’s on and off the internet, it’s no secret that certain JW doctrines are "in trouble." By this I don’t mean to imply that these doctrines are subject to any imminent modification or reversal and I don’t necessarily even mean to imply that these doctrines are wrong, although in some instances, I believe both to be the case. What I mean by the phrase "in trouble" is that the information published by the JW parent organizations and currently available to JW’s today is completely inadequate even when it comes to responding to a polite level of inquiry from the average intelligent individual. It’s also no secret that loose knit groups of scholarly minded JW’s in recent years have attempted to rectify this situation and that their approach to various issues sometimes represents a noticeable departure from that of the JW organization itself. For example critics and observers of the JW transfusion medicine taboo were surprised when Rolf J. Furuli, an individual of some note both in and out of the JW organization took what was essentially a rabbinical approach in defense of this doctrine between March 2 and March 26 2001. This occurred in the Rapid Response section of the on-line British Medical Journal in the discussion which ensued over the article "Bioethical aspects of the recent changes in the policy of refusal of blood by Jehovah’s Witnesses" appearing in the January 6th issue. Since then, Furuli’s argument in various forms has appeared with some degree of regularity on various internet debate and discussion forums run by certain active JW’s that for lack of a better term, I’m going to call "Neo-Apologists." While I believe that Mr. Furuli thoroughly understood the origin and nature of his argument, I am not at all convinced that the Neo-Apologists have so much as a clue. My impression is that most of them have likely picked it up through some sort of private mailing list. They begin by pointing out that that the biblical prohibitions on blood are simply specific applications of principles and while social and scientific changes may create new situations not specifically addressed by these prohibitions, the principles themselves are timeless. Therefore based upon the idea that blood is sacred, that the only uses of blood officially sanctioned under the Law were ceremonial, that the Bible at no point ever specifically grants man permission to use blood for any other purpose and that the Jews did not and do not employ blood for any of the mundane uses known to the ancient world, they inductively hypothesize that blood has been specifically withheld from man’s prerogative as God’s special possession. All the prohibitions against blood in the Bible are thus believed to be subsumed under a principle general enough to apply to modern uses of blood. From this hypothesis, it is then deduced that transfusion is a use of blood not explicitly sanctioned by God either orally or by natural consequence and is therefore forbidden. This new approach the Neo-Apologists have "discovered" has been known to Judaism for thousands of years. It is in fact the only practical solution to living today by a law code originally given to a primitive Bronze Age culture. Judaism has long recognized that laws are simply specific applications of principles and that while laws may eventually become outdated or only marginally applicable due to social and scientific change and advancement, the principles themselves are timeless. With this in mind, Rabbis today decide medical halacha issues using the following process: Through inductive reasoning, a hypothesis is formulated that explains a specific collection of rulings by reference to a more general principle. Then through deductive reasoning, this principle can be utilized to apply to new situations that are not explicitly covered by the earlier rulings but can now be subsumed under the principle that is believed to explain those earlier rulings. Whether this approach will ever receive any measure of approval from the JW parent organization is doubtful in my opinion. For their legalism, JW’s are already soundly criticized as being a bizarre hybrid between Christianity and Judaism. The rabbinical approach of the Neo-Apologists comes at a time when the JW leadership has given certain indications of a desire to change this perception. However the Neo-Apologist’s argument would not only exacerbate this criticism, it will in some respects, validate it, as the idea that the Torah needs to be interpreted by the Rabbis of each generation in light of prevailing practices is not only uniquely Jewish, it is in point of fact, what made the oral tradition necessary in the first place. Like a snowball, with the Torah at its core the oral law grew larger and larger as each generation had to apply these core principles to new situations. Thus in time the Written Torah.could not be understood apart from the Oral Torah. Although this is fine for those who consider themselves to be under the Law, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Christianity. From an ethical standpoint, the Neo-Apologist’s approach also draws criticism from a Jewish perspective mainly because Judaism recognizes moral boundaries that the Neo-Apologists do not. First and foremost, Judaism recognizes that respect for life is the central theme of the Law and holds pikuach nefesh (preserving life) as the very highest of all mitzvoth. What this means is that in most cases where adherence to the Law may mean the difference between life and death, Judaism errs on the side of life, even on matters as serious as desecration of the Sabbath. This moral anchor lies at the heart of their medical decision making and its only exceptions are murder, idolatry and incest. Judaism recognizes that God is the final and highest authority. Commands from God are therefore only contravened by other commands from God. The rabbinical approach to the Law doesn’t just take this fact into account, this is its very reason for existence. Its sole purpose is to resolve conflicts between God’s commands created by unique situations. For example, if an occupied building collapses on the Sabbath, is God’s requirement to keep the Sabbath contravened by God’s requirement to preserve life? Which command should take precedence and why? Even once a general principle has been hypothesized from the Torah, Judaism recognizes that neither moral nor legal questions can be resolved by a purely mechanical application of this principle. Therefore although Rabbis may use a collection of specific rulings to reason backwards towards a more general principle, this does not obviate the need for a case by case analysis of each and every unique situation. Judaism also does not lose sight of the fact that when all is said and done, the end result of this process is still the product of a human mind and all that this implies. It is therefore recognized that these decisions may sometimes generate machlokat. (disagreement) and may sometimes even be in error. Within limits, pluralism and mutual respect are allowed for. In contrast, although the Neo-Apologists have co-opted the rabbinical approach to deciding medical issues, they have cast its moral anchor overboard. Their freedom from this restraint is manifest in various ways throughout all their subsequent argumentation but, the most obvious example probably lies in their departure from the traditional approach of the JW parent organization. The Bible continuously emphasizes the sanctity of the gift of life and the severe penalty associated with responsibility in depriving an innocent human being from this gift. Accordingly, both Christianity and Judaism alike recognize that allowing someone to die if it lies in our power to prevent it is a sin against God. Yet adherence to the transfusion medicine taboo can make JW parents of minor children directly responsible before God for the loss of innocent life. This can only be one of two things: Either it is an exception to this rule, or it is a violation of this rule. The JW parent organization, to its credit, has traditionally attempted to resolve this question by teaching the transfusion medicine taboo as a matter of direct adherence to Divine law. Back when JW’s viewed transfusion as essentially the same thing as intravenous feeding it was seen as a violation of explicit Biblical commands against eating blood. When it was later realized that this perception was not quite correct, it was seen as a direct violation of the Apostolic Decree’s second abstention - "abstain from blood." In both cases an explicit Biblical command was directly involved. Had either of these arguments been correct, the scales would have been made to balance inasmuch as God’s requirement to preserve life is contravened only by something of equal weight - another command from God. However when it comes to withholding a blood-based therapy when death is a likely alternative the Neo-Apologist’s approach does not balance the scales. In other words, the Neo-Apologists are not using the inductive/deductive approach to resolve a conflict, they use this process to create a conflict where none existed by hypothesizing into existence a principle contrary to one of God’s existing requirements. The resultant conflict asks in effect, "Which should take precedence, God’s requirement to preserve life or this hypothesis we have come up with?" There is a huge, huge difference at work here. In their resolution of this contrived dilemma, God’s requirement to preserve life is contravened not by another command God has given but by the hypothesis itself on nothing beyond its own merit alone. What is the moral justification for this? To date, the only answer proffered by the Neo-Apologists in response to this question is ‘Obedience to God’. Yet this is simply a circular prior assumption of the correctness of the hypothesis and does not answer the more basic question as to the moral justification for the ex cathedra authority inherent within it. Another manifestation lies in the willingness of the Neo-Apologists to simply assume that a life-saving medical procedure should be judged under the same rubric as the purely mundane uses of blood known to the ancient world. It this one respect, their reasoning differs but little from that of the JW parent organization itself. While ambiguous terms implying some vague sort of moral equivalency between the respective acts of consumption and transfusion such as ‘taking blood’, ‘taking in blood’, ‘taking blood into one’s system’ are often openly stated in official church literature, the Neo-Apologists have incorporated this equivocation into their argument as a core assumption. This is remarkable given the fact that the validity of this assumption is a crucial facet in the logical integrity of their inductive hypothesis. In and of itself, the Bible’s silence on uses of blood completely alien to its historical context is not particularly relevant or noteworthy enough to justify a conclusion. It is only through a practical demonstration that transfusion medicine is morally equivalent in some way to those uses of blood known to the ancient world that the Neo Apologists may legitimately correlate the two under a general principle. On the other hand, if transfusion medicine were both fundamentally different and morally distinguishable from those uses of blood known to the ancient world, then their hypothesis generalizes well beyond what the facts will support. Consequently, apart from serving as a good example of how the inductive fallacy of hasty generalization can be coupled with the deductive fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, their hypothesis would be worthless. The ancient Israelites would never have been faced with this distinction and if it were even possible to explain it to a people without an inkling of the true nature of blood, it would have served no purpose for God to do so. Their core assumption therefore requires a prior defense. While it could perhaps be argued that blood has been misused when it is either consumed as food or employed as an ink, dye, stain, paint, gelling agent, etc., on what basis should this be considered applicable to the basic set of functions for which God originally designed blood in the first place? Given that both life and blood are sacred, the organic function for which God designed blood cannot casually be relegated to the realm of the mundane as it is not only the tie which binds the two together, it is arguably the very reason why God chose blood as the symbol for life in the first place. Another side of basically the same coin lies in the reticence of the Neo-Apologists to actually explain God’s alleged objection to transfusion medicine in concrete terms. Specifically, how is blood profaned or desecrated by transfusion medicine? At what point in the process does this occur? What is it that makes pouring blood out on the ground more pleasing to God? How would this apply to autologous transfusion? Here again the Neo-Apologists typically respond with a prior assumption of the correctness of their hypothesis through a repetition of the formula "Blood is sacred, blood belongs to God, blood may not be used." However while it may freely be acknowledged as nominative statements of fact that blood is sacred and belongs to God, the significance the Neo-Apologists assign to these facts does a disservice both to man and to God and again exposes the moral shallowness of the hypothesis. The former reduces man to little more than a receptacle for this sacred fluid while the latter reduces God to the status of a petulant five year old who can provide no more substantive an explanation as to why a thing may not be used beyond a shrill, "It’s mine!" Even if the Neo-Apologists were able to address these gaps in their hypothesis, they would be far from being home free as they would still be faced with the task of justifying a deductive application so mechanical as to impute a moral commonality between acts as disparate as drinking blood as part of a satanic ritual and administering whole plasma to combat a factor V bleeding disorder. Denying the exception is the accident form of the deductive fallacy, dicto simpliciter. This fallacy is often committed by moralists and legalists who try to decide every moral and legal question by mechanically applying general rules. To take a simple example, let’s assume that a backpacker is stranded in a remote area by an unexpected blizzard. He breaks into an unoccupied cabin and waits for three days until the storm abates and he may safely leave. During this time, he consumes his unknown benefactor’s food, burns his wood to keep warm, and even sleeps in his bed. While we would recognize that this individual would be obligated to monetarily compensate the owner of the cabin, he would not automatically be adjudged as a thief. American law, through such rulings as Vincent v. Lake Erie Transportation Co. and Ploof v. Putnam has long recognized that laws whose purpose is to protect property are not intended to do so at the expense of life. A particularly extreme example of what may occur from a purely mechanical application of the law occurs in Les Miserables when Jean Valjeans, the principal protagonist takes a loaf of bread to save the life of a starving child and for this, receives a lengthy prison sentence and is stigmatized for life. To illustrate this point using a different law and a biblical perspective, the Israelites were explicitly forbidden from performing all manner of work on the Sabbath. A purely mechanical application of Sabbath law leads to the conclusion that this injunction would apply just as much to a Jewish midwife in the performance of her duties as it would to a Jewish tailor. However this conclusion would be incorrect and this further illustrates the important difference that sometimes exists between what the law says versus what the law means. In the case of Sabbatical law, Jesus summed it up when he said, "The Sabbath came into existence for the sake of man and not man for the sake of the Sabbath." In saying this, Jesus pointed out that even pikuach nefesh did not always adequately explain the spirit of the Law, as it allowed for exceptions only when life was directly in jeopardy. In Jesus’ disagreement with the Pharisees, a withered hand was not considered to be a life threatening condition and therefore did not make the Sabbath hutra. Saving the life of an animal, which was permitted on the Sabbath thereby became more important than healing the affliction of a man. This was unacceptable to Jesus, who succinctly pointed out that when Sabbatical prohibitions became detrimental to man’s welfare they become contrary to God’s very purpose in creating the Sabbath in the first place. Like the Sabbath, human blood was created for the sake of man, not man for the sake of blood and man is therefore not simply a receptacle for this sacred fluid. Mechanical applications of a hypothesized principle pertaining to blood that are detrimental to the welfare of man and contrary to God’s very purpose in creating blood in the first place should rightly be regarded with a great deal of skepticism. When the application of this hypothesis contravenes other requirements God has enjoined on mankind on nothing beyond its own merit alone, it should be rejected out of hand. There is something almost quixotic when fundamentalist Christians decide they know more about the content, interpretation and application of the Law than those who have lived and breathed it every waking moment of their lives. If Christianity has a valid claim to superiority when it comes to the Law, it lies in the fact that Christ showed us a better way. He showed us that God is much more interested in love for our fellow human beings and mercy towards them than a rigorous application of law. It speaks volumes that the Pharisee’s application of the Law would be too flexible for the Neo-Apologists, but was too rigid for Jesus. The reality is that God has not at any point stated that the use of blood is forbidden. At no place in the Bible are prohibitions regarding blood issued in the absence of a clear situational context. Consequently the use of blood is neither definitionally prohibited nor definitionally permissible in the eyes of scripture, but rather subject to a case by case analysis. Tom
---gotta love XP : (
Hi Tom, and welcome to the forum
Very interesting read. False premises always lead to flawed reasoning. The history of science is replete with examples. "The earth is the center of the universe," and as astronomers monitored the orbits of planets, they discovered more and more "non-complying" situations that required increasingly convoluted explanations. Step away from that false premise, and everything suddenly got very simple.
One thing I suggest plays into the picture here is motive. As the contradictions of false premise multiply, those that defend them by issuing "rules and regulations" garner for themselves a certain stature, and over those that follow the "canon of self-made law" they thereby gain control. Not an effort to free the human spirit by knowledge and growth, but done deliberately to enslave it by obfuscation and complication.
Why does "Watchtower Society" suddenly come to mind?