Why exactly is it that people remain in a group like Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs)? Those of us who have been in that group and who have left can easily see how laughable their interpretation of scripture is; there are literally reams of evidence written by the Watchtower’s own hand that demonstrates that nothing predicted by them comes true. There are mounds of evidence that they use false historical dates as the basis for their most important calculation of 1914, and that they punish any Jehovah’s Witness who discovers their fraud. When you walk away from such a group, oftentimes you are surprised, perhaps even embarrassed, that you fell for such foolish beliefs, and you can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see just what exactly is going on.
As I look back on the decades I spent under the influence of the “borganization,” and as I have studied the effects of high control groups on their members, I have come to somewhat of an understanding. In my personal case, as I have told in a previous post, my awakening came via the fact that following all the rules put me squarely in a horrible life, from which the only escape was to wake up and leave. I can testify that the sway the Watchtower held over my thinking was considerable. How do they accomplish this?
People have been studying this question for several decades, and there is some pretty good reading out there that helps you understand exactly how groups like the Watchtower accomplish their mind-numbing control. I recommend looking at Steven Hassan’s books on the subject for a deeper understanding. Reading some of his material helped me to break the spell of control cast over me by the Watchtower. For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to impossible to understand exactly how the control works. To me, the effect is very similar to an abusive relationship, because when you come down to it, that is exactly what it is like to be in a high control group.
Understanding the mind of the Witness, or of the high control group member for that matter, requires understanding the indoctrination process. For individuals like me, that happened before I was 5, so their teachings became my reality and molded my personality to their desires. For an adult, it is slightly different, since they already have personalities formed.
Most often, high control groups, or cults prey upon people who are in an emotionally low state. Perhaps someone close to them has just died, and they are distraught. Perhaps they feel like an outcast for some reason. Perhaps their marriage is miserable and they don’t believe in divorce. Perhaps they were abused as a child, or are currently in an abusive relationship. Maybe they just think we live in a really evil world. Maybe they just don’t have a good social support system or family. None of those things in life are dependent upon how intelligent the person in the situation is, but any of them could subject a person to being vulnerable to cult recruitment.
Recruitment and Sales Pitch
Such a person, when in that emotionally low state, be it passing or long term, comes into contact with a cult recruiter. That recruiter uses deceptive practices from the start, usually not even realizing they are doing it. For example, when Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door, they don’t tell you that once you join, you will need to stop celebrating birthdays and holidays, that you will need to forsake all of your normal friends and just associate with other JWs, or that if you break one of their rules that they will all shun you. They don’t tell you that they base the most important date in their religion – the date of Jesus return, and then later of his selection of them as his people – on historical lies and fabrications. Withholding that information is part of deceptive recruiting.
Instead, they offer you the promise that soon God will step in and destroy all the wicked people, and that the earth will be restored to a paradise, and we will all return to perfection. Our problems will be eliminated in one fell swoop, and this is going to happen REALLY SOON! In all honesty, one of my friends forwarded me a video shown at a function for delegates to an international convention she attended (she is still in). It involved someone being recruited in the 1930s after their wife died, with the then already old promise that “Millions now living will never die,” and that he would see his resurrected wife again soon. Then, fast forward to today when that man had passed away, and his two young daughters were now very elderly. The JWs at that function all clapped, obviously missing the point that that man had thrown his life away for something that he never got, and so had his daughters. The promised paradise, which is always coming any second now, serves as a big motivation.
The governing body strives to constantly keep this in the mind of their dedicated followers. They are constantly reminded to focus on that elusive dream to strengthen their faith. JWs who are more involved in doing Watchtower activities are even regularly told to look like and act as if they are joyful even when they are not, specifically for the purpose of encouraging other JWs to engage in more Watchtower service. The reality is that the Watchtower system is set up on proven false hopes and an outward show of joy that is often not based in reality.
However, the hope for the never-coming paradise is not the only motivator. By far, the more powerful motivator is fear. Fear of destruction at Armageddon. Fear of losing all of your family and friends if you leave. This fear is heightened by the fact that the vast majority of JWs do not have any friends who are not JWs because they are following the teachings of the governing body. In addition, as I have explained in earlier posts, the Watchtower regularly paints an extremely derogatory picture of all non-JWs. Therefore, JWs actually fear having a friendship with non-JWs to some extent. Combine this with the fact that the Watchtower teaches JWs to regularly speak to each other about Watchtower dogma, and the result is that the average JW is both afraid of non-JWs, and doesn’t know how to interact with them.
That was me. I grew up around regular people, and interacted with them as necessary. I would have had friends that were not JWs had I not been taught by the Watchtower that regular people were bad people who would corrupt my morals. In reality, I always viewed regular people as being in a separate world that I visited, but didn’t live in. This is how strongly the Watchtower had me indoctrinated. This is why it required nothing short of my life becoming a train wreck for me to wake up.
This control is also why it is possible for people like Mr. Flodin to get on JW broadcasting, and accuse “apostates” – or whistle blowers, more accurately – of being devious, whilst himself being devious about the gist of the article from 1910 he is discussing, an article he well knows that most JWs can’t get, and will never see.
Yet, he is still so scared of what is in that article that in his cowardice he refuses to give either the date of the article, the page of the article, or the paragraph he is referring to, and he does not put the article on the screen for all to see and to fact check. Only “devious apostates” have the courage to divulge their sources to independent fact checking.
Sadly, the average JW believes what Mr. Flodin says, despite the fact they can’t check on a single thing he said. This is the perfect illustration of how the fear causes people to allow themselves to shut their minds off when necessary. If you have not already done so, I recommend reading George Orwell’s 1984. The description of that society could well apply to the JW society.
I often times wonder if the individuals perpetrating this ruse on their followers are delusional, misled, or just the liars they appear to be. I have at times thought all of the above. The one thing I am happy about is that it is not my job to personally judge them; but, what I can do is to educate people on what they are doing. I can shine the light on their devious practices, point out the myriad flaws and inconsistencies in their arguments, and highlight their rampant hypocrisy.
Then, after all that has been done, it still remains to you, the reader, to both research these things and decide them for yourself. Unlike the Watchtower, I refuse to tell people how to think or what to feel. Every individual is entitled the freedom to their own thoughts and feelings, and nobody is under obligation to agree with me.
Spike Raynor is the pen name of a former elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses. View his YouTube channel here.
Please share with others via social media below.