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 (NWT) by saying, “The work is excellent except when scientific knowledge comes into conflict with the accepted doctrines of the movement.”
The first edition of the NWT was also criticized for its “religious bias.” (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 74, No. 4, (Dec. 1955), p. 283.)
Inserting Jehovah and Other Words
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; they will also often claim that they have “restored” god’s name in the bible by using that name and adding it to the New Testament. Yet, according to the professor quoted above, and many other experts, Jehovah’s Witnesses have inserted the name into the bible; they didn’t “restore” it, as you certainly can’t “restore” something that was never there (imagine saying that you’re going to “restore” your home’s wall color to their original red, when they’ve never been painted red).
Also, note what David Doherty, B.D., M.B.S., Th.M., D.B.S., Th.D., said at this website about their translation of the bible:
“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.”
By way of explanation, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the trinity doctrine, or that Jesus is the same as Jehovah. When they attempt to argue against this doctrine, they will claim that the scripture at John 1:1 should read, “the Word [meaning Jesus] was a god,” as opposed to “the Word was god.” According to them, Jesus is a god, or a divine being, but he is not god Jehovah himself.
However, again, Jehovah’s Witnesses are 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.
Changing the Meaning of “This Generation”
Criticisms of the doctrines and teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, no matter what bible you use, are also plentiful, and some of those criticisms don’t even need outside opinions by credible, credentialed sources. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses taught for decades that the generation of persons who were around in 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 his kingdom began.
See also: Changes to the Generation Teaching
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 in that scripture listed above in Matthew “this generation,” not “these generations.” Note, too, that the first verses of the book of Matthew trace the genealogy of Jesus through fourteen of his descendants, starting with Abraham and ending with Joseph. It then says:
“All the generations, then, from Abraham until David were 14 generations; from David until the deportation to Babylon, 14 generations; from the deportation to Babylon until the Christ, 14 generations.” (Matthew 1:17)
Three times in that one verse, the bible defined each father as a generation. His son was considered an entirely new generation. Fourteen fathers, fourteen generations.
In other words, there was no such thing as “overlapping” descendants or groups of people; a generation was each individual, and his son or offspring became the next generation. Matthew 24:34, mentioned above, refers to “this generation,” meaning a singular generation, and Matthew 1:17 defines a generation as one age group; yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses contradict the bible and say that a generation could be any number of overlapping descendants, heirs, and so on.
Scholars have also criticized the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses 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.
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 are allowed to wear a wedding veil and both spouses are allowed to wear wedding rings. Yet, birthdays, holidays, and many other customs that are seemingly harmless but which might have somewhat 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. Their doctrines obviously don’t follow the bible as closely as they say.
Jehovah’s Witnesses 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 point out the above information, and also note that the bible itself says:
“18: I am bearing witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; 19: and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things that are written about in this scroll.” (Revelation 22:18,19)
Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses preach, but so do many other churches. Mormons send out missionaries, and Catholics have done so for centuries, even long before the Watchtower organization came into existence. For Jehovah’s Witnesses to say that they’re the “only” religion fulfilling the bible’s command to preach is very shortsighted.
Other churches also have their own missionary groups, and many of these groups do more than just preach and convert; missionaries may set up clean water stations, hospitals, orphanages, schools, and the like. Such groups might plant crops and help locals grow food, or they might set up the equivalent of foods banks and soup kitchens in certain areas.
Note that Jehovah’s Witnesses do none of these things. Their missionaries might provide occasional language or reading classes for locals, but this is typically only done as a means of preaching to them, not to teach them the skills they need for everyday employment. The religion also has no organized charities for anything other than preaching; there are no soup kitchens, shelters, and the like, in any country.
I would think that these charitable actions actually 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 do virtually little else to help others, and offer no day-to-day support of people in poor areas of the world. Simply preaching in of itself doesn’t seem to be adhering to the entire example left by Jesus, not by any means.
Note, too, that the hours reported by Jehovah’s Witnesses as “preaching” is outright fraudulent, as those who work to construct their buildings are given an “hour credit” that they can report as preaching.
While it might be argued that construction work is needed to keep a religion operational, there is a difference between preaching and construction! It’s very dishonest to include this work in their reports of how much time the religion spends “preaching,” especially when people in the religion use those reports as part of their claim of being the only true religion.
See also: Conventions, Kingdom Halls, Relief Funds, and Other Financial Scams and Schemes of Jehovah’s Witnesses
One last thought about this topic; for Jehovah’s Witnesses to say that they are the “only” ones preaching is not only misleading, but it’s an insulting lie about other religions and churches. Whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with the doctrines being preached by another church or missionary group is one thing; to outright dismiss the preaching work done by others, and especially as a means of bolstering your own credentials, is deceitful, dishonest, and even outright slanderous.
Love for One Another?
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 love one another.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses demand a victim of child sexual molestation produce a second witness to their assault before a molester is removed from the congregation. At the same time, they don’t demand two witnesses to determine that an adult female rape victim actually committed fornication. How is this love for either a child sex abuse victim or a woman who has been raped?
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 child sex abuse victims, as they might 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 instead (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 or the children 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 want people to believe that 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 in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example:
“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.”
– April 1, 2003 Watchtower
Also note this quote about these “worldly” people, or those outside the religion:
“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.”
– Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 273-279
However, consider 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?
Consider, too, 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, and it certainly could include those who risked their own lives during wars and genocides throughout history:
Love also doesn’t need to be so dramatic so as to give up your life for someone else. People volunteer to work at soup kitchens, for disaster relief, and so on. People donate blood and become organ donors, out of regard for someone else’s physical well-being. I’ve also known many people outside the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses who treat their families with love, some more so than many congregants I’ve known 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 and what they’re allowed to do when it comes to higher education and their family roles, and how they can or cannot interact with people 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 congregants 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 what you need to remember:
When someone notes that you’re in an abusive relationship, your response should not be, “Yes, but if I left that person, whom would I date or marry?”
That’s not an important consideration at that point; for your own protection, safety, and health, you need to get out of that abusive relationship, rather than asking the equivalent of, “But where would I go?”
You then need to take time to heal and rebuild your self-esteem and potentially your shattered life, and 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 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 former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left the religion 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 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 doing what doesn’t hurt other people.
They are now 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 also just don’t hold weight. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not as loving as they would like people to think, their preaching work is obviously deficient and doesn’t actually follow the model left by Jesus. They don’t adhere to the bible and are guilty of creating their own inaccurate translation in order to support their doctrine.
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, who comes into your life or what type of life you will build on your own or with other people; well, the answer will probably come to you in time.
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