In this post, I note the view Jehovah’s Witnesses have when it comes to masturbation; to them, it’s not only a sexual uncleanness, but it also ruins marriages and makes you gay. (No, really.)
While I would never presume to tell any religious group what their moral standards should be, the two issues I have with how Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about masturbation is not only the ridiculous claims made above, but also the near-suicidal guilt they create in members over this practice.
The Extent of Guilty Feelings
Young Witnesses who have succumbed to this habit have (supposedly) confessed over the years their feelings of guilt, as brought out in experiences shared in the religion’s magazines, but it’s noteworthy the depths of this guilt. Consider some of the comments quoted in JW literature (bold added for emphasis):
“Feelings of guilt plagued me for many years, and it seriously affected my relationships with others and, above all, with Jehovah.” (Young People Ask, Volume 2, pp. 237-242)
“I began masturbating when I was eight years old. Later I learned God’s view of the matter. I felt terrible every time I gave in. ‘How could God love someone like me?’ I asked myself. I felt sure that I would not make it into God’s new world.”—Luiz. … That is precisely how young Pedro viewed himself. “I thought that I could never atone for what I had done. I found it hard to pray.” A young man named André had similar thoughts. “I felt like such a hypocrite,” he says. “It was a struggle to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I found it difficult to sit through Christian meetings or to participate in the ministry.” (Awake, November 6, 2006)
Think for a moment about the extent of guilt these ones are feelings, and remember that they are probably teens, as they are quoted in the “Young People Ask” book and in articles aimed at teenagers. Their guilt affected their relationships, made it a struggle to get out of bed, and made them question if god could love them. “Pedro” even wondered how he could “atone” for what he had done, as if he had killed someone!
As I brought out in the post above, the bible doesn’t talk about masturbation at all, which begs the question, what or who is creating this near-suicidal guilt in the minds of these teens? The god of Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t talking about how horrible this practice is, so where might they get this guilt?
Consider some comments JWs have made about the practice over the years (bold added for emphasis):
… masturbation is unnatural …
The habitual practice cripples his social and emotional development, hinders his attaining a healthful outlook and attitude toward the other sex and toward people in general. …
The facts show that it is not uncommon for the practice to persist after marriage to the point where the masturbator feels obliged to seek psychiatric help. …
That masturbation is abnormal and unnatural is also indicated by the fact that abnormal, mentally deranged people are notorious masturbators. Somewhat similarly, The Bremerton Sun (Washington) states that many mentally disturbed priests and nuns are chronic masturbators.
… masturbation is indeed a “hurtful desire.” It is also “uncleanness,” for it is an immoral practice, and this explains why the masturbator generally is ashamed of himself and hides his repugnant act from the sight of others. … This practice then could border on idolatry … persons suffering from boredom, unemployed persons and prisoners, especially if they have been on drugs, often masturbate. … the habitual practicer of masturbation, lacking self-control, is in danger of succumbing to still more serious wrongs. He is hardly in position to serve as ‘an example to the flock.’
– The Watchtower, September 15, 1973
Although the term “masturbation” does not occur in the Bible, can there be any doubt that it is a mentally and emotionally defiling practice? Would not continued defilement of this sort seriously damage one’s personal relationship with Jehovah and make one unclean in God’s sight?
– The Watchtower, May 15, 2008
Masturbation is mentioned in other articles in much the same way; it’s not a simple habit, but it is “defiling,” and it can “seriously damage” a person’s relationship with Jehovah, according to their statements.
1) What is really creating all this guilt in the minds of teens when it comes to masturbation; is it their own conscience, or this constant barrage of information from the Watchtower calling it “repugnant”, “idolatry”, “crippling” and “hurtful”?
Wouldn’t it be possible that calling people who masturbate “mentally deranged,” and “mentally disturbed,” and saying they need “psychiatric help” might be what’s creating guilt feelings, feelings that a teen wouldn’t have otherwise?
2) If Jehovah thought this practice was so repugnant and would cause so much “serious damage” to a person’s relationship with him, don’t you think he would have mentioned it in the bible? Worshiping idols, eating pork, not circumcising the males, and failing to make sacrifices would “seriously damage” a person’s relationship with him, so Jehovah made sure those things were all listed in his law given to Moses. Why not this practice, if it were so “defiling”? Pork and shellfish he mentioned, but masturbation he somehow overlooked?
Creating Scriptural Interpretation
Jehovah’s Witnesses apply the scripture Colossians 3:5 to masturbation, which says: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are on the earth as respects sexual immorality, uncleanness, uncontrolled sexual passion, hurtful desire, and greediness, which is idolatry.”
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taking their own liberties in assuming that this scripture and these phrases are discussing masturbation. In the bible, when Jehovah gave Israel his law through Moses, he called homosexuality and bestiality “unclean,” but again, he never mentioned masturbation.
It’s also a stretch to apply the phrase “uncontrolled sexual passion” to masturbation itself. This might be true for someone who masturbates at work or at other inappropriate times, but not to someone who simply indulges in the habit. There is a difference between someone who occasionally snacks between meals, and someone with an “uncontrolled” appetite.
Note, too, that the terms “greedy” and “hurtful” can typically only be used when talking about something that involves other persons. How can I be “greedy” by eating the last slice of pizza, if I’m eating alone? How can I be “hurtful” in splurging on a fun purchase for myself, if I don’t support anyone else with my salary? These phrases almost always specifically include practices and actions affecting and involving someone else, but masturbation does not.
The point is, the bible doesn’t say that masturbation is unclean and makes you greedy, and damages your relationship with Jehovah, but Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones making those claims. This lack of scriptural support, and their own interpretation of scripture, are problematic enough, but the real issue is the depth of guilt they’re creating in their members, especially teens, for rules they’re making up themselves.
Religious Leaders Creating Guilt … Good or Bad?
What do Jehovah’s Witnesses say about religious leaders who make up their own rules, and create excessive guilt for members? Note what Jehovah’s Witnesses have said about the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel during the time of Jesus (bold added for emphasis):
“The Pharisees’ rules and traditions made the application of the Law burdensome for the common people. … The Mosaic Law furnished the overall structure for Israel’s worship of Jehovah. However, minute details were not provided. For instance, the Law forbade work on the Sabbath, but it did not explicitly define what constituted work and what did not. (Ex. 20:10) The Pharisees sought to fill in such supposed gaps by means of their laws, definitions, and traditions.”
– The Watchtower, May 15, 2012
Note how they talk about, not just laws, but also definitions made up by the Pharisees; in the same way, JWs have made up definitions for the phrases “uncleanness,” and “uncontrolled sexual passion,” used in the scripture above. They then use these made-up, assumed definitions to create burdensome laws against the practice as a whole. They (Jehovah’s Witnesses) decided that “uncleanness” and “uncontrolled sexual passion” mean masturbation, and they create rules against this habit based on nothing more than their own definition, disparaging it to the point where teens are feeling paralyzing guilt.
What was the response of Jesus to the Pharisees in his day? The above article goes on to say:
“… Jesus ignored the arbitrary rules of the Pharisees …”
As I mention in the post linked above, Jehovah’s Witnesses making unfounded statements in one area of teaching calls into question the validity of all their teaching. Most importantly though, why would I follow a religion that makes up its own definitions for what’s in the bible without any supporting evidence?
How really are Jehovah’s Witnesses any different than the power-hungry Pharisees who made the law “burdensome,” not because of sincerely wanting to do what was right, but because of their love of position and authority and their disdain for the common people?
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