If you’re an activist against the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or have family inside the religion, you may eventually face the question, “If I were to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses, where would I go?” Many people will typically add statements like, “There may be some problems, but they’re the closest to the bible of any religion out there. They have real love for each other. They are the only ones preaching,” and so on.
How do you respond to these statements when you hear them from Jehovah’s Witnesses? You might feel a bit stuck, as they may seem like good points on the outset. Note a few suggestions.
The Closest to the Bible
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they have the best, most accurate translation of the bible available today, but the New Catholic Encyclopedia criticized The New World Translation by saying, “The work is excellent except when scientific knowledge comes into conflict with the accepted doctrines of the movement.” The first edition was also criticized for its “religious bias.” (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 74, No. 4, (Dec. 1955), p. 283.)
Also significant is an associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University, who noted that inserting the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament some 237 times was “not accurate translation,” and also noting that this showed a “favor of denominationally preferred expressions for God.” (Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, 2004) Using the name “Jehovah” is one of the main things that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim as setting them apart from false religions, yet, according to this expert, and many others, Jehovah’s Witnesses insert the name into the bible; they didn’t “restore” it, as they may claim.
David Doherty, B.D., M.B.S., Th.M., D.B.S., Th.D., said at this website:
“All discussions of NWT accuracy will consider John 1:1 where “the Word” is presented as being “a god” (NWT). This is said to be necessary to distinguish the Almighty God from a created god, based on the use of “God” with the article and “God” without the article. The truth is, “God” with the article reveals Divine personality, whereas “God” without the article presents Divine essence, as standard Greek grammars clearly state. Greek grammar shows that when a predicate nominative occurs before the verb (as in the third clause of this verse) it doesn’t take an article. If the NWT translators were correct in assuming that “God” without the article should be rendered “a god,” then they violated their own fabricated “rule” in verses 6, 12, 13, and 18 of this same chapter – and 94% of the time in the New Testament.”
So, when Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to argue the trinity doctrine, and say that “the Word was a god,” as opposed to “the Word was god,” there in the scripture at John 1:1, they are, again, inserting this article, or the word “a,” into the text, to back up their teaching, rather than allowing their teaching to be formed by what the bible does actually say.
Criticisms of the doctrines and teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, no matter what bible you use, are also plentiful, and some don’t even need outside opinions. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses taught for decades that the generation who saw the year 1914 would not pass away until god steps in and starts Armageddon; this is based on scriptures such as Matthew 24:34, where Jesus said “this generation would not pass away” until all the signs he gave about his kingdom would occur. Since the generation of 1914 has all but passed away, Jehovah’s Witnesses have changed their teachings to say that the term “generation” means some type of overlapping group of people; as long as someone is alive who knew someone who knew someone that was alive in 1914, then the generation has not passed away. Yet, the bible says “this generation,” not “these generations.” How is this following the bible?
Scholars have also criticized their belief that Jesus died on an upright stake rather than a cross. (Penton, M. J. (1997), Apocalypse Delayed (2nd ed.), University of Toronto Press, pp. 174–176) Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been criticized for misconstruing the bible to support their ban on whole blood transfusions; many articles are contained in the National Institutes of Health Journal of Medical Ethics that picks apart their stand, for outdated religious and medical reasons. The site JWfacts.com also makes the good point that this belief and teaching of theirs is not based on accurate interpretation of the scriptures, that it’s inconsistent, and that it maintains a double standard that should render the entire belief invalid. See this page for more information.
It’s also worth noting that many teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses seem very arbitrary and not based on scripture, as well as hypocritical in some regards. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays, because this was a custom only observed by pagans during the early years of Christianity, and not something set out in scripture. (Insight on the Scripture, Volume 1, page 319) However, wearing a wedding veil and wedding rings both have pagan origins; note this website’s information about wearing a wedding ring in particular:
“Early Christian marriages had a ritual to wear the wedding ring in the third finger. As the priest recited during the binding ,”In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, he would take the ring and touch the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger; then, while uttering “Amen”, he would place the ring on the ring finger, which sealed the marriage.”
Despite these strong and direct pagan roots, Jehovah’s Witness brides wear a wedding veil if they so choose, and both spouses wear wedding rings if they want. Yet, birthdays, holidays, and many other customs with pagan origins are still a no-no.
According to all this information, Jehovah’s Witnesses have actually revised the bible, not accurately, but so that they could prove their own teaching, and their doctrines obviously don’t follow the bible as closely as they say. They pick and choose how to apply scriptures according to their own beliefs and teachings, and perhaps even according to the whims of their governing body. When one of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells me that they have the most accurate translation of the bible and follow it more closely than anyone else, I always then ask, “According to whom? The leaders of the religion? They’re not exactly a reliable source, and outside scholars have disproved this notion repeatedly.”
Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses preach, but so do many other churches. Mormons send out missionaries, and Catholics have done so for centuries. Other churches have their own missionary groups, and many of these groups do more than just preach and convert; they may set up clean water stations, hospitals, orphanages, schools, and the like. I would think that these actions follow Jesus’ example more closely, as Jesus didn’t just preach, but he also cured people, provided them food, and so on. (“Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” 1 Peter 2:21) While Jesus did this by way of miracles, isn’t it significant that these aspects of his preaching campaigns were included in the bible in the first place? Jehovah’s Witnesses preach, but they practice no charitable works, and offer no day-to-day support of those in poor areas of the world. Simply preaching in of itself doesn’t seem to be adhering to the example of Jesus by any means.
Note, too, the effectiveness of the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses; as I bring out in this post, they spent almost 2 billion hours preaching during their 2014-2015 service year, to make a mere 119,000 new converts. At Matthew 24:14, where Jesus gave them a command to preach, he also said to “make disciples,” not just toss magazines at people. Anyone can stand on a corner with a literature cart and watch people walk by and say that they’re “preaching.” However, if your preaching is more quantity than quality, if you’re just racking up hours while waiting for people to die at Armageddon, maybe you’re not really fulfilling the scriptures as much as you think.
John 13:35 says that people would know the true disciples of Jesus if they have love for one another, and Jehovah’s Witnesses often claim that they are loving to one another. However, this too is very dubious; how can they say they show love to their congregants when a victim of child sexual molestation needs to produce a second witness to their assault before a molester is removed from the congregation, and yet don’t demand two witnesses to say that an adult female rape victim actually committed fornication? (See this post.) If you read through the posts on this site about the Australian Royal Commission, you’ll see that Jehovah’s Witnesses are anything but loving to these victims, as they may still dismiss their claims even when other witnesses come forward. Elders harshly grill victims and ask obscene, intrusive questions; one even counseled the victim of molestation and physical abuse to not get angry at her father, her sexual abuser, but to show him respect (see this post). Where was the love for her?
Despite their claims to the contrary, Jehovah’s Witnesses also do not have a “loving” family arrangement, with women being told to be submissive to their husbands even when abusive. This isn’t loving to her in the least; I’ve written before about the rampant domestic violence I saw within the religion. There is also no love shown when family members shun each other for simply leaving the religion, especially if they leave because of suffering all forms of horrific abuse within the religion itself.
Note, too, that Jehovah’s Witnesses often want people to believe that, not only are they loving, but people outside the religion are always lacking in love. “Worldly” people, as they’re called, are often portrayed as being angry, selfish, and even downright violent.
As examples, note the April 1, 2003, Watchtower, “Confrontation is commonplace in today’s society. Debates, arguments, and wrangling are the norm among those who look at life in a fleshly way. Occasionally, such worldly traits creep into the Christian congregation and manifest themselves in contentions and fights with words.” Also, Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 273-279, “Another worldly thing is materialism, “love of money” (phi·lar·gy·riʹa, literally, “fondness of silver”; Int), which is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (Bold added for emphasis.)
This is something Jehovah’s Witnesses often claim about other religions and churches specifically, that they do not love or even socialize with one another, as said by governing body member Geoffrey Jackson during the Australian Royal Commission inquiry:
However, note the example above, of “worldly” missionaries. Why do you think they go to other countries and perform charitable works, for the fame and fortune? Exotic living conditions? Really, aren’t they showing love by doing this? While Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t think much of activists outside their religion, consider why people hid Jews from the Nazis or risk their own lives to speak up for equal rights or against oppression. Because they care about other people, right?
Acts of love can be found in the world outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses, no matter what they may claim otherwise. Remember the three men who died shielding their girlfriends during the “Dark Knight” shooting in Aurora, Colorado? Or what about this man, who sacrificed his life to push his disabled son out of the way of a speeding car? Four teachers sacrificed themselves to save their students during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The list could go on.
Love also doesn’t need to be so dramatic. People volunteer their time to work at soup kitchens, for disaster relief, and so on. I’ve known many people outside the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses who treat their families with love, some more so than those inside the religion. This argument, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are somehow special because they’re so “loving,” just doesn’t wash.
The Real Answer
One of the things I like to say when I talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses is that their religion is like an abusive relationship. The religion tells them what to think about higher education, their family roles, and people who are outside the religion. The religion controls how they dress for meetings, the type of sex that even married couples can have, what information they’re allowed to explore, and how they spend their free time. The religion threatens them with shunning if they “act up,” or dare question the religion’s authority, much less ignore that authority; they are also threatened with certain death at Armageddon if they don’t toe the line. Congregants need to give an accounting of their preaching work and answer to the elders when asked just about any question. They are constantly reminded of how they could be doing more to benefit the religion, at the expense of themselves. They are also isolated from the outside world by being told that they should limit and even cut off association with those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. How is this not like being with an abusive boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse?
Here is the point to remember; When someone notes that you’re in an abusive relationship, your question should not be, “Yes, but, if I left, whom would I be with?” That’s not the point at all; for your own protection, safety, and health, you need to get out of that abusive relationship. You then need to take time to heal and rebuild your self-esteem and potentially your shattered life, and then the answer of what to do next will typically come to you after that. Once you’re out of an abusive relationship and can see it clearly for what it was, and can heal the damage that was done to you, and once you’ve had time to move forward and think for yourself, you may then decide on how you want to build a new relationship, or if you want a new relationship at all. You can’t do that while you’re still in the relationship and are not allowed to explore your other options or even see how much you’re being controlled and abused.
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left have not given up their belief in Jesus or the bible; some turn to another Christian religion, while some simply believe on their own. Other former Jehovah’s Witnesses become agnostic, not certain of what they believe. Others find that they’re spiritual, believing in something in the universe beyond us, but not necessarily religious. Still others are outright atheist, believing that this life is all there is, and that there’s nothing after it.
This process of deciding what you believe can take years for former Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Why does anyone feel a need to rush into a set of beliefs or system of worship? If you’re 40 years old, do you really think a few measly decades on this planet is enough time to determine the truth about how life got here, what happens when we die, and if god actually exists? If you strongly believe in god, do you really think that he would kill you because you have sincere doubts about one religion, or religion in general? If god gave you a brain with the ability to reason and think critically, why would you be punished for using those, and especially if you’re thinking critically about a religion that has so many obvious shortcomings, and which is very well abusive?
Whatever someone’s beliefs when they step away from the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the point is that they’re at least thinking for themselves and doing what they feel is right, and what doesn’t hurt other people, and are following a path that doesn’t hurt themselves either. Where that path leads is up to them, but it shouldn’t go back to a religion that protects pedophiles above their victims, sweeps domestic violence under the rug, and shuns people for being victims of horrific acts and for making better choices for themselves.
All these other arguments for staying in the religion just don’t hold weight. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not as loving as they would like people to think, and they have no reason to dismiss the loving acts of others. Their preaching work is obviously deficient, and doesn’t actually follow the model left by Jesus, no matter how many countries they reach. They don’t adhere to the bible and are guilty of creating their own inaccurate translation in order to support their beliefs. While Jehovah’s Witnesses may stick to these arguments to defend the religion, remember that many people make excuses for abusive partners in the same way, picking and choosing their few positive traits to overlook their glaring, horrific shortcomings.
Like getting out of an abusive relationship, the key is to first get out. Where you go after that, well, the answer will usually come to you in time.
Thank you to the closed Facebook group “Resources for Exposing Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses” for assistance with research.
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