Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Comments on "Cult and Occult"
Jerry Bergman, M.D.
Bowling Green, State University
Bowling Green, Ohio 43403
From: JASA 29
(September 1977): 138.
Relative to the article "Pseudo-science and Pseudo-theology: Cult and Occult" (Journal ASA 28, 22, 1977), having studied the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's) for a number of years I felt you presented some minor distortions. First of all, the belief of JW's is far removed from the writings of Charles T. Russell. Russell founded a legal corporation which the present board of directors through a series of legal maneuvers now control. There is a vast difference between the writings of Russell and modern day Witnesses, although in some ways JW's are returning to some of Russell's beliefs and attitudes. Most of those who strongly believed in Russell's have left the Witnesses and are affiliated with a large number of other groups who still adhere to most of the teachings of Russell. Further, although Witnesses do not accept the Trinity, they do teach the deity of Christ although Jesus is taught to be a God (both with a small "g" and a capital "G") of somewhat lesser stature than the Supreme God or the Father. Thus, JW's are polytheistic, actually teaching there are 3 basic gods - Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and Satan, as well as a number of other entities or beings which are loosely termed as "god."
The Witnesses not only do not follow the writings of Russell but strongly discourage their members from even reading his works which are considered, to some degree, "false religion." JW's stress a progressive revelation and thus their beliefs tend to be constantly in flux (this is also partially due to the theological problems they get into due to rather shallow scholarship, theological problems which necessitate a doctrinal change.)
The observation that "these 4 cults maintain fairly close communities and are not open to genuine scholarly interchange or debate with either the scientific community or the Christian community" is a very astute and correct observation for the 4 groups you delineated except possibly Mormonism. Mormons are increasingly becoming active in the scholarly community, producing 4 scholarly journals of their own which includes both discussion and criticism of Mormon doctrine, theology and history in a rather open fashion - there are quite a number of Mormons that are members of the ASA, CRS and contribute to the scholarly world. There are very few JW's, though, partially due to the general low level of education among them and their concentration on what they believe is at present the only important work - preaching.
Relative to TM, it is very hard for me to understand why the commotion has been made over this technique of meditation. The benefits of TM are clearly attributal to, as you discussed, a special technique of relaxing (sleeping is not necessarily relaxing) and the same benefits can be achieved from relaxation therapy as practiced by Dr. Fink. Often even while we are sleeping we are not relaxing (and thus wake up with headaches, backaches, neckaches, etc. etc.) The benefits accrued from relaxation therapy - which is essentially to help the person relax each muscle and learn to have more control - are clear and the benefits of TM are only because TM involves techniques which are conducive to relaxation therapy. The flowers, frills and prayers are nothing more than religion and do not have any benefit any more than the believer feels they will have or God forgivingly bestows upon each practicer. I feel here is another example of a group of people taking advantage of a religiously gullible public. It is like a person chanting, manipulating prayer beads, mumbling and going through other gyrations and then having a shot of adrenalin and concluding that the mumbling resulted in the spirit of God being imbued in one's psyche. The benefits of TM are clear and real but have nothing to do with the rigamarole associated with it but all to do with the training that results in a high degree of relaxation - a beneficial activity in our society.