After connivers brought down Enron in 2001, tanking pensions and lives, business education courses slapped a quick coat of ethics onto their lesson plans. That this was no more than a quick coat became apparent seven years later, when connivers nearly brought down the entire worldwide economic system, causing its greatest reversal since the Great Depression.
As chance would have it, I took a business course during that year of rediscovered ethics. Our text had a newly inserted ethics chapter stuffed full with banalities about looking deep within oneself, listening to your inner voice, and so forth. The subject was distilled into four main points. Points three and four were ridiculous enough to sear permanently into my memory:
3 - does this or that prospective move make you feel good about yourself, and
4) can you live with your decision.
Sheesh! That's it?! Those 911 terrorists, en route to incinerate the World Trade Center felt real good about themselves. Strictly speaking, though, they were not able to live with their decision.
Is it all internal? - that is, are qualities of ethics and morality to be found by looking "deep within ourselves?" Or, put another way, is man "naturally" good (as opposed to naturally bad)? This question has long occupied philosophers, but in recent decades it has become axiomatic that "naturally good" is how we are to view matters. Thus, look deep within oneself is the cure-all for any ill. Also, "poor communication" time and again spoils our good intentions, so we can't have any of that. Oh...and if we're naturally good, there certainly is no need for restrictions, hence the contemporary loathing for any agency that would even suggest them, much less attempt to impose them.
All this is not to say that Jehovah's Witnesses take the opposite view - that humans are "naturally" bad. We are created in God's image, after all, and those good qualities of ethics resonate deep within us. But we are also flawed, victims of inherited sin, inclined to do wrong despite our best intentions otherwise. We benefit, therefore, from counsel from a higher source, and who is higher, better qualified, than our Maker? Or, as the familiar illustration goes, who better to direct you in care for your new Ford than Ford?
All this helps to explain the JW attitude toward higher education, and why we don't push our kids to pursue it. Believe me, we take a lot of heat for it. For all practical purposes, our view is heresy to a world that worships higher education and presents it as the surefire cure for almost anything. But that "naturally good" philosophy (JWs might call it "worldly thinking") permeates higher education today. Does higher education deliver the goods? With few exceptions, national and world leaders are highly educated. Yet we all know how world conditions are, and we know in which direction they are heading. The educated world would have more to show for itself if their "brand" of education worked.
Yes, well....maybe the world is screwed up not because so many leaders have a secular education, someone says. Maybe it's because so many of them are religious or greedy or some other factor. Exactly. So why should not education address suchlike factors, which would also include belligerence, lack of love, pride, selfishness, and so forth? Instead, the focus is exclusively on intelligence, with the apparent assumption that these other items will take care of themselves. But as history shows, they don't. Frankly, if people are hateful, selfish, greedy, etc, you're almost better off not educating them. They're in position to do less damage that way. If plumbers and janitors had run the worldwide financial system, they might have found a way to beat the taxpayers out of a day's wage. But it was MBAs who ran the worldwide financial system, and they found a way to bring financial ruin upon us all.
Or maybe they didn't find a way. They tell me a highlight of Michael Moore's I Love Capitalism is his interviews with various economic "experts," who trip over their tongues trying in vain to analyze what went wrong. So maybe the analogy that fits better is that of your kids playing with nitroglycerin. "What's the problem, Pop?" they say. "Chill. We know what we're doing. Besides, we're doing very well for ourselves."
Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be very specific when it comes to education. Watchtower literature frequently speaks of a person's need to "support oneself decently." For some youngsters, as a family decision, that may include college courses, for others technical training of some sort, certificate, or vocational. We don't accept the inevitability of higher education, as might be recommended by education officials simply on the basis of grades, or these days, merely on the basis of easy money in loans or grants. We're pragmatic. We use "the world's" education to acquire skills to make a living. But as to acquiring wisdom from that source, we're not keen on it. Within our congregations, we defer to training which addresses the more important moral concerns. For us, that goal is achieved in the context of Bible training.
"Yeah, you just don't want your religious views subjected to critical analysis", I can hear the sneering now. Well....yeah...I suppose....I mean, nobody wants their heartfelt beliefs automatically trashed. But the reason they are trashed is largely one of philosophy, not "critical analysis." Our beliefs run contrary to the "man is naturally good" mantra of modern times. They run contrary to other firmly entrenched mantras as well - that humans have the answers, for example, and that this system of things will endure forever, and that religion is no more than a product of human evolution.
"Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ," says Paul. We take his words seriously. Col 2:8
Repeat anything often enough, with enough vehemence, and it eventually sinks in. Alas, it would be nice if we were not built that way, but we are. Thus, some god-awful hideous style emerges and within a few years we're all wearing it, thinking how cool we are, and wondering how we ever could have imagined the dorky-looking styles of the 80's did anything for us. Even I am almost at the beginning of perhaps tolerating, within sharply drawn narrow limits, certain forms of rap - a prospect I find frightening indeed. If only our "follow the herd" instinct applied only to trivial matters like style. It's tempting....it's intellectually flattering (and is there anything we like more than to be flattered intellectually?) to think it does. We love to think that styles and fads are one thing, but when it comes to important matters, our razor-sharp intellect cuts allows us to assess matters according to their true worth. Sigh...it's so flattering, but it's such nonsense. We run with the herd in matters great and small. And these days the herd, with higher education in the driver's seat, is running in a way Christians don't want to go. JWs aren't in a hurry to throw inexperienced kids into it's path.
Look, we're ministers. Not ministers in the modern sense, in which you pay your money, go to theological college, pocket your degree, and pound the pavements till you are hired by some church to teach their congregation. No, we are ministers in the first-century biblical sense, in which every Christian is a minister and has a ministry. It's not a job, and you don't get paid - none of Jehovah's Witnesses at any level do - so it's generally necessary to find work to "support oneself decently." But when we do that, it's our goal to streamline. We don't seek out work so engrossing, so demanding, that we can't do some justice to our ministry. Or, as goes the old joke about job flexibility at Microsoft: "You can work any 18-hour shift you want."
No, you don't go building a career in this system, a not-so-subtle goal of higher education. This system's transitory. Through the vicissitudes of this system of things, our people end up everywhere. No doubt there's plenty at Microsoft. But we don't from the get-go "aim for the stars." Or, I guess we do, but we value different stars. We look for work that allows our ministry maximum freedom.
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