Do Jehovah’s Witnesses really protect their members in times of natural disaster? What is their priority before, during, and after such times?
In November of 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. To answer the question of how Jehovah’s Witnesses treat their congregants during such difficult times, consider a video posted on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, JW.org, which can be found here. This video is a shameful example of how those in the religion “prepare” for such disasters and “help” their congregants.
In that video above, the men of the organization look very busy, supposedly preparing for the oncoming disaster. However, the video later reveals that many of their followers were attending their weekly meeting at the Kingdom Hall when the police had ordered everyone to evacuate. Another group had run to another Kingdom Hall for shelter, perhaps thinking it would be more secure, but 22 of them died that night, including the entire family of one young woman, except for her younger brother. One might rightly wonder, if those men were so busy preparing beforehand, why didn’t they have a better plan in place for protecting and evacuating their own people? What’s with all the maps and pushpins on the board in front of them, and worried looks? I can’t help but wonder if this was all for show.
A Gross Lack of Priorities
While many aspects of the JW video were disturbing, one part of it is particularly noteworthy. During the video, a young woman, in a home that can be politely described as made of dirt and sticks, opened the door to the family’s freezer to reveal stacks and stacks of Watchtower literature stowed inside. She relates how her father instructed them, with the typhoon on the way, to remove the food in order to preserve the literature.
No, really. Toss out the food and make room for the literature.
Let’s think this over for a moment; a typhoon is coming, in a country where many people already struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, and a father’s instructions to the family are to toss out what little food they have, and use the storage space for their religious pamphlets and books. It may be weeks before the family is near a ready food supply after a typhoon moves through, and also keep in mind, religious books and pamphlets can be easily and readily replaced.
While an argument might be made that it does no good to save yourself physically if you aren’t worried about your spirituality, and that “spiritual food” is more important than physical food (from a religious person’s standpoint), I might respond to that argument by noting that you don’t need to read stacks and stacks of Watchtower literature every day to survive spiritually, but you do need to eat every day to survive physically. I might also mention that I did not see a bible in their stack of literature, but only Watchtower related books and magazines. As a matter of fact, the most prominently displayed item was the infamous “Listen, Obey and Be Blessed” video created for children; if you’re not familiar with the video, you can view a commentary on it here.
If you’re a religious person that believes in the bible, you might see the immediate problem. Set aside the idea that this family thought religious material was more important than food during a time of emergency, and ask yourself why Watchtower literature suddenly became more important than the supposed word of god himself. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses really think that the Watchtower, and its related pamphlets and magazines, are of greater value than a book written by god’s own hand? The words of imperfect men are somehow superior or more crucial than an actual letter from god?
Are the writers of the Watchtower and related literature so arrogant so as to think that anything they put to paper is going to be more comforting, more reassuring, and more needed in a time of disaster than the words god himself provided to Job, David, and others that lived through trials and tribulations in bible times? A video chastising a child for bringing home a supposedly magic toy is more necessary in a time of crisis than the words of the Psalmist or the story of Jesus himself?
Consider, too, that if their priorities impelled them to keep a bible rather than Watchtower literature, they would have had room for food, medicine, and emergency supplies! A bible can be put in the corner of the freezer with plenty of space left over for other items, but the family instead used what little space they had for piece after piece of literature from the Watchtower Society.
To really drive home the obscenity of this family’s example, let’s put it in another framework. Suppose the family were all Republicans, and a typhoon was headed their way, so the father ordered the children to toss out the food from the freezer and replace it with Republican literature. Or, suppose the father worked at a car dealership, and replaced the food with brochures and literature for the cars he was selling. Would anyone look at that decision and think positively of the family? Not only would they be derided and chastised, but some might even call for the removal of the children from the home, as it’s obvious the parents do not have their priorities straight when it comes to their family’s health and safety.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the religion’s leaders in particular, often wedge themselves between their followers and god in many ways, saying that a person needs to be aligned with them in order to gain salvation, stating outright that anyone and everyone else in the world will die at Armageddon, and bragging that they are the channel by which Jesus leads his followers. This video is a prime example of how well they’ve accomplished the feat of making themselves and their writing and their teaching of prime importance, more so than food and emergency provisions, and even the bible itself.
Teaching a doctrine that puts you between a group of people and the god they worship is one matter, but when you do so to the point of endangering their lives during a natural disaster, and when those at risk include children, this is inexcusable. A family head that would choose political or business material over lifesaving food and other supplies would no doubt need to answer for this decision, so I must ask why a man who would put religious literature over the same for his family should be any less culpable. The entire situation is shameful all around.
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