Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Four Lies Jehovah's Witnesses Tell Themselves

Like it or not, a measure of dishonesty is necessary for maintaining the social system. We all know that young George Washington didn't cut down a cherry tree and that Lincoln's path to the Emancipation Proclamation had less to do with the ideal of racial equality than it did with the pragmatism of reuniting a fractured republic. Men hide their sexual indiscretions from their wives, who themselves would rather not know the truth about their husbands. Dishonesty is so deeply entrenched in the social contract that language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein downgraded it from a moral failure to a mere “language game.”

The Jehovah's Witnesses are no exception. Here are four lies all Witnesses tell themselves.

“I am loved.”
The Witness catechism brochure What Does God Require of Us says that “the most outstanding mark of true Christians is that they have real love among themselves.”

To be fair, Jehovah's Witnesses do a good job of promoting this value among their members. For instance, racism has been all but eliminated. Their literature points to the humanitarian work they perform in times of disaster and to the preaching work itself as an act of love. But in these areas, they are really no different from many other churches that also do good works. Good and helpful though their work may be, the love Witnesses have is not an “outstanding mark,” superior to that found in other religions. They are merely as good as many other religions.

On a personal level, however, many Witnesses complain of loneliness and isolation. Due to strict moral standards and the expectation to marry only within the religion, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses remain single and have lost hope that they will find someone just right for them. Others may feel left out because they aren't part of the Pioneers' or Elders' club. Hoping to conjure up feelings of amity by force of sheer will, some will testify at the meetings to the love they have been shown or to the love they feel for the “brotherhood.” But all too often it's a sham, a Hail Mary pass at getting the human affection they crave.

Many Watchtower articles have been published to address this problem, most of which assume that if congregation members don't feel loved, it's their own fault; the Watchtower Society has never acknowledged that its own congregations could be the source of their disappointment.

Thus, out of one side their mouth they praise the Organization for having superlative love, while out of the other side of their mouth, they complain—if only privately—that they feel unloved. While a measure of love can be found in Witness congregations, to claim this as an outstanding characteristic of their religion is to ignore the love that abounds outside their Kingdom Halls.

Then again, any religion that describes the ritualized brutality of disfellowshipping as a “loving arrangement” isn't exactly going for what you could call a platonic ideal.

“I am in the truth.”
Jehovah's Witnesses claim to possess “accurate knowledge” of the Bible—that they alone know the truth—and this belief emboldens them to take their unique beliefs from door to door. The single most important doctrine in their theology is their belief that Jesus Christ became the messianic King of God's Kingdom in 1914—and it provides the basis for all of their interpretation of Bible prophecy. That date is arrived at through a series of scriptures handpicked from the books of Daniel and Revelation and whipped together into a dizzyingly convoluted compote of Bible Math. While Watchtower publications occasionally go over this material, few Witnesses can actually explain this chronology without resorting to cheat sheets such as those found in their book Reasoning from the Scriptures. Convinced though they may be about the doctrine, few really understand it. That isn't knowledge. It's mere belief. Consequently, while Jehovah's Witnesses criticize other churches for inducing their members to credulously believe incomprehensible doctrines, like the Trinity, the fact is that they do the same thing themselves.

In 2010, in order to reconcile the urgency of its belief that 1914 would be a prelude to Armageddon with the fact that that year is quickly fading into history, the Watchtower magazine (once again) revised the meaning of the word “generation” used at Matthew 24:34, this time completely removing its definition from the realm of sound logic and doubling it to actually include two generations whose lives overlap.

It is no coincidence that, as its belief system has lost credibility, the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses has shown less and less tolerance for those who would ask difficult questions. If it were secure in the truth, it would encourage—not fear—questioning and dissent. Instead, they drown out cross-examination with the cry “I am in the truth!” for to stop doing so would result in a crisis of faith from which, they fear, they could not recover.

“I am living a fulfilled life as a Witness.”
For someone youthful and ambitious, there are a few opportunities for personal fulfillment in the Jehovah's Witness world. Their missionary and foreign service programs afford opportunities for world travel. Males can advance into leadership positions. Still, the emphasis is on one paramount work: the public ministry, and all members are expected to make it their top priority. If a member balks at this, or finds that it is not his or her “gift,” it is seen as a spiritual weakness. Thus, having a fulfilling role in the Witnesses is something only a few enjoy. The rest are encouraged to make the best of it and are dissuaded from seeking the challenges and rewards that go along with traditional avenues for personal enrichment, such as education, professional development, entrepreneurship or the arts.

For most people, college is an opportunity to explore their interests and get to know themselves. But Witnesses see it as a threat to their relationship with God. The April 15, 2008 Watchtower says, “What, though, of higher education, received in a college or a university? This is widely viewed as vital to success. Yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in Jehovah’s service.”

Pursuing fulfillment in any endeavor outside of service to the Watchtower Society is discouraged. In a chapter titled “What Career Should I choose?” the Watchtower publication Young People Ask stated:
‘WHAT shall I do with the rest of my life?’ Sooner or later you confront this challenging question. A confusing array of choices present themselves—medicine, business, art, education, computer science, engineering, the trades. And you may feel like the youth who said: “What I consider to be successful . . . is maintaining the comfort level that you grew up with.” Or like others, you may dream of improving your financial lot in life.

But is there more to success than material gain? Can any secular career bring you real fulfillment?
The chapter goes on to discourage such options, claiming that satisfaction “eludes those who build their lives solely around secular achievement.”

When it comes to relationships, Witnesses fare little better. If they are raised in the religion, they often get married too young, only to realize too late that they made an unwise choice. Fearing censure from the congregation if they divorce, they often remain trapped in a disappointing relationship.

Thus, for many Witnesses, finding real satisfaction in work and life is elusive. Yet, there is no room to say express those feelings openly, for to do so would only further isolate them from a community that would see their lack of fulfillment as spiritual weakness. So they maintain a facade that conceals a life of quiet desperation. They live a sad lie of thwarted dreams and aspirations.

“I think for myself”
Ask any Witness if she is in a cult and she will likely bristle defensively and insist that Witnesses think for themselves. As one Witness commenter said in an online forum: “WE ARE NOT A CULT! We are free willed people just like anyone else.” Methinks she doeth protest too much.

The test for someone's capacity for independent thought comes when he disagrees with established beliefs or deviates from expected norms. But when a member of Jehovah's Witnesses disagrees with something found in the Watchtower magazine, what is the expected course of action? Such questioning is seen, not as the functioning of a healthy, autonomous mind, but as the work of the Devil. Says The Watchtower of February 1, 1996:

Another sly tactic of the Devil is the sowing of doubts in the mind. He is ever alert to see some weakness in faith and exploit it. Any who experience doubts should remember that the one behind such doubts is the one who said to Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” Once the Tempter had planted doubt in her mind, the next step was to tell her a lie, which she believed. (Genesis 3:1, 4, 5) To avoid having our faith destroyed by doubt as Eve’s was, we need to be vigilant. If some tinge of doubt about Jehovah, his Word, or his organization has begun to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith....

Do not hesitate to ask for help from loving overseers in the congregation. (Acts 20:28; James 5:14, 15; Jude 22) They will help you trace the source of your doubts, which may be due to pride or some wrong thinking.

Has the reading or listening to apostate ideas or worldly philosophy introduced poisonous doubts? … It is of interest that many who have become victims of apostasy got started in the wrong direction by first complaining about how they felt they were being treated in Jehovah’s organization. (Jude 16) Finding fault with beliefs came later. Just as a surgeon acts quickly to cut out gangrene, act quickly to rout out of the mind any tendency to complain, to be dissatisfied with the way things are done in the Christian congregation. (Colossians 3:13, 14) Cut off anything that feeds such doubts.—Mark 9:43.

Stick closely to Jehovah and his organization. Loyally imitate Peter, who resolutely stated: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:52, 60, 66-68) Have a good program of study of Jehovah’s Word so as to keep your faith strong, like a large shield, able “to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles.” (Ephesians 6:16) Keep active in the Christian ministry, lovingly sharing the Kingdom message with others. Every day, meditate appreciatively on how Jehovah has blessed you. Be thankful that you have a knowledge of the truth. Doing all these things in a good Christian routine will help you to be happy, to endure, and to remain free of doubts.
In other words, Witnesses are told that if they don't agree with The Watchtower, they should do whatever it takes to start agreeing again.
[Independent] thinking is an evidence of pride. And the Bible says: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Proverbs 16:18) If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves: “Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of the truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization?” No, we cannot!—The Watchtower, January 15, 1983
Clearly, thinking for oneself is not highly valued in the Witness community. Nevertheless, Witnesses insist that they do, in fact think for themselves. Objective outsiders easily see it for what it is: Jehovah's Witnesses lie to themselves about their supposed freedom of thought.

Just admit it.
In 1843, Karl Marx described the fall of the French ancien rĂ©gime as tragic “as long as it believed and had to believe in its own justification.” He saw a parallel between the end of that age and the then-current crisis rippling through Germany, which “only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world imagine the same thing. If it believed in its own essence, would it seek refuge in hypocrisy and [the plausible but fallacious arguments of] sophism?” The very same question can be asked of the Jehovah's Witness belief system.

In Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) contended that “in the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration.” That statement doesn't go far enough. The entire world revolves around the polite rituals of mutual deception, and Jehovah's Witnesses are no exception. Unfortunately, their refusal to acknowledge that fact makes them a laughingstock among pharisees, the butt of a self-inflicted, cynical joke.

This isn't to say that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses will disappear any time soon, imploding under the weight of their falsehoods. Obsolete religions are like uranium: they can have an astonishingly long half-life. Sustained by delusion and falsehood, they are just as toxic.