Nearly everyone has experienced a knock on the door from the Jehovah’s Witnesses early on a Saturday morning. Most often, we politely refuse to discuss Bible topics with them, but who are these people that call themselves Jehovah's Witnesses? What do they really believe? The Jehovah's Witness religion is based on the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, an organization that claims to be God's channel of communication to his people here on Earth. The Jehovah’s Witness religion was founded by Charles Taze Russell, who had a difficult time dealing with the traditional teachings of Heaven and Hell, as well as the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. In 1870, at the age of 18, he organized a Bible class in Pittsburgh, of which he was soon viewed as the pastor (Slick Short 1). Eight years later in 1879, Russell founded a magazine titled The Herald of the Morning (now named The Watchtower), which contained his own theories and interpretations of the Bible. In 1884, Russell founded Zion’s Watchtower Tract Society (now known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) and began publishing numerous books and magazines (Vandeburgt 2).
Russell spent much of his life thereafter speaking in Protestant churches, gathering followers and selling his magazines and books published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Russell also claimed that the Bible could only be understood properly according to his interpretations (Slick Jehovah 1). He even predicted many dates for the end of the world to occur, only to see his prophecies fail. Eventually, many of Russell’s teachings were so abstract that his followers broke away from their previous fellowships and began a new denomination (Reed Short 3). At meetings Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct Bible studies that focus exclusively on how to share their faith with the public and defend their doctrines against other religions. Witnessing to, or recruiting, the public is a high priority of the Watchtower Society. This creates a very strong recruiting force and accounts for the amazing growth of the religion (5). Interestingly, in 1918 the United States government seized many Watchtower publications and sentenced nine Watchtower officials to jail for alleged un-American activities (Vandeburgt 2). However, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society survived and continues to grow, because many people are unaware of the danger the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the Jehovah’s Witnesses present to modern society. The Watchtower Organization sustains the power of its teachings by the following doctrine taken from an article in The Watchtower magazine. “If we are to walk in the light of truth we must recognize not only Jehovah God as our Father but his organization [the Watchtower Organization] as our mother” (Slick Interesting 1). This lifting up of the Watchtower Organization and the doctrine that the Organization is equal to God is the primary danger of the religion. These doctrines set the Jehovah’s Witness religion apart as a cult. Steven Hasson, the author of the best-selling book Combating Cult Mind Control, defines a cult as a religion or society that seeks control of its members in three areas: thought control, behavior control, and emotional control. These three areas of control are especially used to disengage the desire of the member to leave the society. Additionally, a fourth area of cultic control is information control (‘C’-Word 2). Hasson comments on these forms of cultic control: Each form of control has great power and influence on the human mind. Together, they form a totalistic web, which can manipulate even the strongest-minded people. In fact, it is the strongest-minded individuals who make the most involved and enthusiastic cult member. After identifying certain cultic characteristics, the cultic behavior within the Jehovah’s Witness religion becomes clear and well defined. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society controls its members by first using thought control. Members are required to read approximately 3000 pages of book and magazine Bible studies and readings each year. Consequently, it is through the Bible studies and readings that the Watchtower Society gains thought control of its members. Notably, the Watchtower Organization has altered the correct translation of the Bible to support their own beliefs (Watchtower 2). The Watchtower Society also teaches Jehovah’s Witnesses to internalize their ideology as “the Truth” and that there is no other true religion. They even coerce followers to disbelieve criticism of the religion as lies from Satan. Finally, they instruct Jehovah’s Witnesses that the apocalypse is very near, predicting the exact dates in some cases (Watchtower 6). Behavior control is another form of cultic control exercised by the Watchtower Society. The Watchtower Organization teaches that members are not allowed to discuss criticism of the leader(s), the doctrine, or the Organization. Members are also taught that spying on one another and reporting improper activities or comments to leaders is a positive action. Also, while witnessing and promoting the Watchtower doctrines they are taught to suppress anything that might reflect negatively to outsiders about the religion ('C'-Word 7). The Watchtower Society advocates socializing only with other members in the Organization and they encourage dating and arranged marriages within the religion. This strategy often keeps young adults in the community congregation and discourages them from furthering their education. Parents are even discouraged to involve their children in extra-curricular clubs and social activities, including sports (8). The third characteristic of a cult is strict emotional control. The Watchtower Society instills a terror of being caught and punished by the leaders for wrong doings. In fact, each congregation has judicial boards made up of church elders that question and judge members who are caught breaking Watchtower rules, often threatening to kick the member out of the Society. This process of the Jehovah’s Witness religion is referred to as disfellowshipping and is the primary means by which the Watchtower Society locks its members into the religion. This creates a difficult situation emotionally for family members that are disfellowshipped or who simply want to leave the religion. If they choose to leave, they are shunned by their family and friends, even a neighborly greeting is not acceptable. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses are likewise told to avoid contact with ex-members or critics, even with their relatives (‘C’-Word 7). Ultimately, the Watchtower Organization plays on the fear of each member by continually telling him or her that Armageddon is around the corner and that if they leave the Organization they will not only be shunned by the congregation, but they will not be accepted into the after life (7). A research team of Jehovah’s Witness experts say, “This can have a devastating effect on a person whose entire religious, family and social life are grounded in the Society. It has occasionally resulted in suicide” (Watchtower 6). Information control further identifies cultic behavior within the Watchtower Organization. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses receive all of their information from one source, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, they are not allowed to read books or magazines published outside of the Organization. For instance, this research paper would be considered apostate literature and members would be punished for reading it (‘C’-Word 3). Cults are absolutely a dangerous phenomenon because the one all-powerful source of information may be misleading, teaching doctrines which could potentially cause tragedy in the lives of its followers. The Watchtower Organization has many examples of doctrines that lead to devastated followers and suicide victims due to disfellowshipping. Even worse, there are a few doctrines taught by the Watchtower Organization that have caused thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses to die (Watchtower 5). The first evidence of Watchtower doctrines threatening the followers’ lives was published in The Golden Age, a Watchtower book published in 1931. The book states, “Vaccination is a direct violation of the everlasting covenant that God made with Noah after the flood” (Rutherford 293). Therefore, many obedient followers may have died during the period of this teaching. Again in 1967, the Watchtower Organization banned organ transplants. “Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic” (Interesting 2). Fortunately, the Watchtower Organization reversed their decision in 1980 stating, “There is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue” (2). Sadly the reversal of the decision on organ transplants came too late for many people. “Some Jehovah's Witnesses. . . died between 1967 and 1980 because they refused available transplants” (Watchtower 5). The most tragic of all doctrines taught by the Watchtower Organization is their ban on blood transfusions. They interpret the Bible to teach that blood transfusions are morally wrong and members who receive a blood transfusion are believed to be committing a sin, which would forfeit his or her eternal life (4). Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe this doctrine. Twelve-year-old Lisa Kosack died (no date given) in Canada after holding off transfusion therapy by threatening that she "would fight and kick the IV pole down and rip out the IV no matter how much it would hurt, and poke holes in the blood" (Reed Why 1). Protective Services often intrude on parents' rights and take sick Jehovah’s Witness children into care, whose health or life is threatened by the lack of a blood transfusion. Many adults have also died. “One particularly sad case occurred in the UK when a woman bled to death after giving birth to her second child” (Watchtower 4). There is no record of the number of deaths that could be attributed to the Watchtower’s ban on blood transfusions (5). However, the Red Cross estimates that one in ten people in the United States require a transfusion annually. With approximately 4,700,000 members in the Watchtower Society, there is an estimate that 1,287 Jehovah’s Witnesses need a blood transfusion each day. Additionally, the Watchtower magazine stated that, “The Jehovah’s Witness patients’ decision to forego transfusions for major surgical procedures appears to add 0.5% to 1.5% mortality to the overall operative risk. . .” (MacGregor 4). Calculated out, 0.5% to 1.5% equals six to 19 Jehovah’s Witnesses that die daily. It is a grim reality that the Watchtower Organization is responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. As a whole, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are friendly people of upstanding moral character. They believe very strongly that they have the "True" religion and are willing to defend Watchtower doctrines at all costs. However, the danger of the Watchtower Society exceeds the behavior, emotional, thought, and information control of the cult. The real concern is that people blindly put their faith in a phony religion. The religion began because one man, Charles Russell, incorporated his own system of beliefs with Biblical teachings. In addition, the Organization has made false prophesies, rewrote parts of the Bible to fit their doctrines and made a false conclusion on vaccinations and organ transplants, later reversing their decision on both. The Watchtower Organization is also responsible for the death of thousands of its members due to their ban on blood transfusions. The Jehovah’s Witness religion and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society are dangerous. The Jehovah's Witness cult has the potential to devastate ones life and, in some cases, may lead to death.
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