Patricia Lyon. Carnival Mirrors. Bloomington: Westbow Press, 2012. See here to buy the book.
Carnival Mirrors is about Patricia Lyon’s interactions with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My impression in reading this book is that she was never actually a part of them, but that she interacted with them when they came to her door, or when she saw them at the supermarket or other places. She also attended at least one of their services, and she has extensively read Jehovah’s Witness literature. Lyon herself is from the Holiness tradition of Christianity, which strikes me as very conservative.
The book is about her problems with Jehovah’s Witnesses arguments, her attempts to fact-check things in Jehovah’s Witnesses publications, and her interactions with Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Her arguments against the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs were all right, I guess—-I especially appreciated her point that I Corinthians 1:2 affirms that believers are calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, which may imply that they were praying to him, thereby possibly contradicting the Jehovah’s Witness claim that the early Christians did not regard Jesus as God—-but there are other works out there that tackle the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs more effectively, with a more secure footing in Christian history and biblical languages. What made Lyon’s book especially interesting to me, though, was her presentation of how some Jehovah’s Witnesses are: that they decry Christmas as pagan, for example, yet they exchange gifts near Christmas Day, and they wear wedding rings, which themselves have a pagan background. I did not know this. While this book may give the reader some insight into Jehovah’s Witness sociology, one should remember that Lyon is presenting her own experiences, and that others’ experiences may differ. She narrates that she visited a Jehovah’s Witness service and found the people there to be very cold, for instance, whereas a couple of evangelical Protestants once told me that they visited a Jehovah’s Witness service and found the people to be really friendly.
Some of what Lyon said got on my nerves. She criticized a Jehovah’s Witness publication for quoting a statement by Will Durant that the concept of the Trinity had a pagan origin. Lyon did well to note that Durant was critical of other Christian beliefs as well, including beliefs that Jehovah’s Witnesses happen to hold. What I did not like, however, was her statement that Durant, as a pantheist, was not qualified to interpret the Bible, since he was not a Christian, and only those with God’s spirit can discern spiritual things (I Corinthians 2:14). In my opinion, Durant was making a statement about history, and that should be judged on its own merits, regardless of what his beliefs were. Lyon herself draws from encyclopedias in her book, as if what they say is valid, and we do not know if the authors of those encyclopedia articles were Christians. I would like to add, though, that there was one piece of Lyon’s discussion of Christianity’s similarity with pagan ideas that I actually liked: she acknowledged that Jesus believed in a realm of the dead called Hades, and that there were Greeks who believed in that, too. Her conclusion is that the Greeks were close to the truth. I believe that Jesus there was reflecting views that were a part of his historical context, but I do respect Lyon’s wrestling with this issue, from her religious perspective.
Lyon struck me as rather perfectionist in places, and, while that did annoy me, it also interested me and challenged me. She tells the story of a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses who told her that they would read something that she gave them, but they did not. Lyon goes on to quote Revelation 21:8, which says that liars will burn in the Lake of Fire. Really? They were just telling her they’d read it to be polite! Lyon also criticizes Jehovah’s Witnesses for listening to country music, which she believes reflects a morose despair that people with the spirit of God do not have. But what about the sad spirit that we see in some of the biblical Psalms? After discussing a Jehovah’s Witness who owned a restaurant where people brought alcohol, Lyon says that “she would not want to associate with people like this” (page 27), especially since she has seen the ill effects of alcoholism in some of her relatives’ lives. I can sympathize with Lyon here, but did not Jesus hang around with tax-collectors and sinners, and was he not called a wine-bibber (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34)? While Lyon did annoy me in these parts of the book, she also challenged me to look at my own ethical standards, and whether they are high enough. I should also note that, near the end of the book, Lyon does appear more compassionate and humane. She acknowledges that everyone is imperfect. While she is against divorce, she tries to understand the perspective of a man who may cheat on his wife because the wife pushes him over the edge. Against the Jehovah’s Witness prohibition on blood transfusions, she says that human life takes precedent over obeying God’s law, and she notes the time in II Chronicles 30 when King Hezekiah let impure Israelites partake of the Passover so that they would not be discouraged from worshiping God. She criticizes a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to talk to a man who lusted after women, saying that such an attitude does not reflect the love of God.
The book probably could have used some narrative early on in which Lyon talked about how and why she became interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses; as a reader, I somewhat felt as if I were jumping into the middle of the story.
I give this book four stars because I did find it to be an interesting account of how a Holiness woman interacts with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.