What is bullying? Note a few technical definitions of this form of behavior, first from Psychology Today:
“Bullying is a distinctive pattern of deliberately harming and humiliating others. It’s a very durable behavioral style, largely because bullies get what they want—at least at first. Bullies are made, not born … Grown-up bullies wreak havoc in their relationships … It is in playing with peers, without adult monitoring, that children develop the skills that make them well-liked by agemates and learn how to solve social problems.”
From the American Psychological Association:
“Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions. The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.”
“Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
While reading the above information for another matter, I couldn’t help but to think of how Jehovah’s Witnesses fit these descriptions to a tee. I won’t rehash too much of the same information that I’ve covered repeatedly on this site, but note a few tidbits:
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t outright threaten their neighbors but they do have a consistent “threat” of a fiery death at Armageddon which they believe awaits anyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This threat is consistently repeated in their literature, through words and illustrations. This includes literature that is used with children, who grow up with this constant threat of death looming over their heads.
The leaders of the religion have also encouraged parents to take a hard-line stance with their children when it comes to getting baptized, saying that they “don’t force it” but that it’s not necessarily wise to let children balk at this step. This is very important, and being baptized into the religion opens you up to being shunned completely if you should ever later decide to leave. How is this not bullying your own children into your chosen religion?
Jehovah’s Witnesses do more than just spread rumors; many people are aware of the fact that they referred to those who leave the religion as “mentally diseased” (July 15, 2011, Watchtower). The April 15, 2013, Watchtower said that apostates have “gangrenous, empty” speeches, and the December 1, 2005, Watchtower justified the destruction of everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses by likening them to “pests” who need exterminating.
Beyond rumors, this type of talk is outright slander. It bullies people who are considering leaving the religion by making them think that they must be “mentally diseased” to question its leaders, and bullies those who have already left by trying to embarrass and humiliate them into returning. It’s also tied into the next part of bullying, excluding people from a group.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim on their website that they don’t shun those who have faded from the religion but instead, try to reach out and help these ones. To which I say, hogwash. My mother had nothing to do with me each time I faded away (not that I miss her anyway, but that’s for another column). As you can see from the material above, those who outright leave are called “apostates” and “mentally diseased.” You can also read this post, where a family is applauded for shunning their own daughter after she left the religion. Note too this recent Watchtower quote:
A conflict of loyalties may arise when a close relative is disfellowshipped. For example, a sister named Anne received a telephone call from her disfellowshipped mother. The mother wanted to visit Anne because she felt pained by her isolation from the family. Anne was deeply distressed by the plea and promised to reply by letter. Before writing, she reviewed Bible principles. (1 Cor. 5:11; 2 John 9-11) Anne wrote and kindly reminded her mother that she had cut herself off from the family by her wrongdoing and unrepentant attitude. “The only way you can relieve your pain is by returning to Jehovah,” Anne wrote.
February, 2016, Watchtower
Read more about the quote above in this post.
“Excluding someone from a group on purpose” is a classic example of bullying and I’m sure many people remember children who were “picked on” in school by being excluded from teams, clubs, and even lunch tables. Adult and even younger Jehovah’s Witnesses are similarly excluded from their own families and circle of friends if they leave the religion. They are excluded simply for choosing another religion or set of beliefs than their families, and bullied into coming back into someone else’s chosen religion because of this exclusion.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses may not come right out in their literature and tell parents to physically beat their children, you can read this post to see the many personal examples of how often this occurred. Disciplining a child is one thing, but this type of physical violence was and is often practiced at their meetings as a way of keeping children quiet, punishing them for even nodding off or daring to squirm in their chair. Discipline that crosses the line into physical abuse is a form of bullying, and as you can see from that post above, it’s far too common in homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Not only is physical violence all too common when it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses who are parents, it was common in marriages when I was “in” the religion (this post). As I bring out in this post, women are told to be “submissive” and “silent” before their husbands and the husbands, like parents, are given free rein to behave as they wish in the home. I don’t remember one man or parent ever facing any type of disciplinary action for being abusive in his home, and stories abound of such violence from JWs. This too is a bullying tactic and the teaching of “submission” itself easily creates bullies, as I bring out in the above post. When a husband or a parent knows that there are few if any consequences to their behavior, they quickly turn to physical aggression and other such tactics if they feel so inclined.
A religion or any group that uses bullying to force people to do what they want or to simply feel powerful and strong over others is not a good group, no matter their actions. I can see putting a criminal in prison if they’re a danger to others, but that’s not what we’re talking about. As the definitions above shows, bullies do what they do because it’s how they get what they want, much like how Jehovah’s Witnesses want everyone to fall in line and join their religion.
A bully shouldn’t need to bully others in order to interact with them. A person should be able to make friends and socialize and form relationships based on their own merits. In other words, if you need to bully someone to feel good about yourself or have interaction with others, you’re a failure. You’re a failure as a person and what’s worse, no one wants to be around you all the more once you start your bullying tactics. Bullying is an ugly thing to do and it makes people ugly inside and out.
The same might be said for a religion. If you need to bully your members with threats of a fiery death and exclusion from their own families, if you need to spread rumors and outright lies about people to get others to avoid them, then you’re a failure as a religion. Your religion should be able to attract people and keep them in by its own merits. If you need to bully members and ex-members, ask yourself why that is. Take a look in the mirror and see how ugly you are, or at the very least, look at how easily your religion and your members fit the actual, technical definition of bullying and consider if that’s not a compliment, and not a good way to be.
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