As part of the 2015 program of conventions for Jehovah’s Witnesses, a video was released that portrays a young girl holding a coin in her hands while in a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, imagining buying an ice cream cone after their meeting. She then sees her mother putting money in a contribution box at the Kingdom Hall, and rethinks her plans for her coin. She envisions new Kingdom Halls being built along with JW literature being produced, and then happily puts her own money in the contribution box as well.
Many people have commented on this video online, pointing out how ludicrous it is for the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be panhandling toward children, expecting them to give up their tiny allowances to a religion. This certainly is a very good point, but I saw something entirely different when I watched the video.
Don’t They Have Enough Money Already?
Let’s first talk about the money angle when it comes to this latest video from Jehovah’s Witnesses. The governing body of this religion is currently selling off properties they own in Brooklyn, New York, and are building a new headquarters elsewhere. Their Brooklyn properties are estimated to be worth up to $1 billion, while they’re spending just $11 million on one new building. This is in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars if not more that they bring in every year through conventions, property flipping, and the like. Please see this post for a detailed explanation.
Now, after making all these hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from their business schemes, they need the pocket change of children? For what, exactly? As I bring out in that post cited above, Jehovah’s Witnesses perform no official charitable works save for some sporadic disaster relief rebuilding that is performed by unpaid volunteers and which typically helps only a small handful of fellow Witnesses, not the general public. For what, exactly, do they now need the small coins of children?
More to the Story
Most people who have written about this story have focused on this angle, of a big, rich religion holding their hands out for the coins of children so they can line their own pockets. This video touched me for a different reason, however, and I hope readers understand what I’m about to say.
Growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be a tough road for most little kids; as many people know, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays, Christmas or Hanukkah, Easter, Halloween, or any holidays (see this post). This means no gift giving, no decorations, and no parties. They rarely even use the word “party” when talking about any type of group activity, and often refer to gatherings as “get-togethers,” since a party may imply too many festivities. (True story) Even their own literature portrays these gatherings as somber, almost serious occasions where people don’t do much more than play board games or just stand around and talk:
Not only do JW kids go without typical holidays, parties, and festivities, but Witness families often take their children to tour the printing factories of their religion as a “vacation,” and governing body member Anthony Morris even chastised parents for taking their children to an amusement park versus such a factory tour. (Hear his discourse at this site; these comments are at around the 16:00 mark.)
Add to this lack of fun and festivities the constant requirements for going out in their preaching work, attending meetings and assemblies, and never-ending study of the bible and JW literature, and you have a clearer picture of life as a JW child. This constant drudgery, to which I can personally attest, means that the smallest of treats were often all you had to make your life more enjoyable. That one Saturday when your mom was sick so you actually got to stay home and watch cartoons rather than dress up and go preach, or that Sunday when your family decided to get ice cream rather than doing more preaching after the morning meeting, were rare for most children I knew and very, very special.
Maybe that’s why I personally found it so unbelievably obscene to see this video, encouraging children to actually donate their own money to the religion rather than buy a simple ice cream cone for themselves. Everything about this religion, even when it’s directed at the children, is about what you can do for them, and not about what the religion does for you. As I bring out in this post, the message JWs often give to their children is that Jehovah is a browbeating, demanding, tightfisted god who is always disappointed in them. Now he wants your ice cream money as well.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses often claim that theirs is a religion of love that builds strong families, I see things very differently. If they really loved their children, they would want them to be happy and would be encouraging them to actually enjoy a few simple things in life, like an ice cream cone. This doesn’t mean teaching children to be selfish, but it means teaching them that life is to be enjoyed, not just consistently sacrificed for a religion. When you love someone, you want them to enjoy their life, not have it slowly drained from them through drudgery and constant demands, and you want to provide things for them that will add to that enjoyment.
I don’t have children but I do have a baby sister and when she was little, because I didn’t have much money, I would often take her to the dollar store and tell her that she could pick out five things. I can’t remember a happier time for either of us, watching her carefully choose her five small toys or coloring books, and then taking them back to my apartment where we would play or sit and color together. Not only were they happy times together, but they were really all that my sister and I had; she never got birthday presents or Christmas presents, never got an Easter basket or had fun hunting for Easter eggs, never dressed up for Halloween or got any Halloween candy, never got a Valentine’s Day card or candy, and really never got presents or candy or anything from anyone, at all, ever, save for the things I would buy her. I was never able to give her those things either, and it hurt me as much as it hurt her. I wanted her to work hard and learn to be a responsible adult, yes, but I also wanted her to have a fun, happy childhood, not a tedious and demanding one.
I can’t imagine the idea of telling my sister that we were going to donate that five dollars to our mega-rich religion instead, or make her feel obligated at that young age to donate her small allowance to an organization that already had hundreds of millions of dollars while she had so little. Loving parents provide for their children and their happiness; they don’t hold out their hands and guilt-trip their children into providing for them. Even Jesus said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving,” (Acts 20:35), but for the leaders of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they seem to do nothing but hold out their hands and take and take and take, and now right from the piggy banks of little children. That’s not providing for anyone’s happiness but their own, and that’s not love.
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