Saturday, March 21, 2009

Are Jehovah's Witnesses Really Preaching the Good News Throughout the Earth?

Matthew 24:14 is an important scripture for Jehovah's Witnesses. Here is what it says in their own New World Translation. "And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come."

This is the Jehovah's Witness mission. They believe they are fulfilling this scripture. (Some say they have already fulfilled it.) They even point to this as proof that they are the one true religion.

What about the Mormons? Aren't they also doing a worldwide preaching work? How about more mainstream Christianity? Haven't they had far greater success spreading the good news throughout the Earth? These would be good questions to ask a Jehovah's Witness. When I was a Jehovah's Witness, my response would have been something like this. The other religions don't really count. They aren't really declaring the good news that Jesus taught and their methods aren't really the same as what Jesus and his disciples used.

So the question arises. Are Jehovah's Witnesses really declaring the good news in a way that resembles the methods of first century Christianity?

First, is their message good news at all? If you ask a Jehovah's Witness enough probing questions, you will discover that their good news includes the idea that Jehovah will soon destroy everyone on Earth who isn't a Jehovah's Witness. Their publications often downplay this teaching by saying things like it is up to Jehovah to decide who will survive and that he will only destroy the irreformably wicked, but at other places it says that only Jehovah's Witnesses have a hope of surviving Armageddon. (Even then there is no certainty. Who knows how many works you have to perform to ensure your survival?)

Imagine two Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on your door and saying with a smile, "We have some good news for you. Soon Jehovah is going to kill you unless you convert to our religion. If you do everything our religion asks of you, you have a pretty good chance of surviving. Most of your wicked family and friends will be killed, including babies who would probably only grow up to be wicked anyways. Wouldn't you like to live in a world cleansed of such wickedness?"

This is their basic message in distilled form. It would normally take months of study with them to finally learn this message. By then, it would be easy to become distracted by numerous other details and justifications of why God would do this. There is nothing good about their "good news".

Also, their good news keeps changing. It's only logical that the good news described in the Bible would have to be true. Otherwise, Jehovah's Witnesses have no business criticizing the "good news" that is declared by other religions that they disagree with.

This is important because it ties in with another belief that Jehovah's Witnesses have about their preaching work. They believe that people are being judged on the basis of how people respond to their message.

Let's consider an example. Suppose a Jehovah's Witness talks to someone in 1994 about Jehovah's "promise" that the literal generation that was alive in 1914 would not pass away until the events prophesied in Matthew chapter 24, including Armageddon, took place. (They might even reference a statement at the beginning of each Awake magazine at the time that says, "Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.")

Suppose this individual generally agrees with what the Witnesses are saying, but just can't accept their statement about the generation of 1914, for whatever reason. Should he be judged negatively for rejecting the good news? No, because the next year the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses admitted that generation teaching was wrong and came up with a whole new teaching about the generation, equating it with the wicked people now on earth. It would be a gross injustice for God to judge someone unrighteous for rejecting a lie.

If the Witnesses come back and explained that their message changed, he might still reject the new teaching. (Now, he might even regard them as false prophets, because they assured him that their former predication about the generation was God's promise.) Well, they changed their teaching about the generation again in 2008, so he couldn't be criticised for rejecting another false teaching.

If we assume that Jehovah's Witnesses now have the right good news, then it implies that they are only just beginning the process of preaching it "in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations". It would take many decades, at least, for them to succeed before the end could come. Of course, that is a silly assumption. I feel confident in predicting that the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses will undergo many more changes in the future. (Their 1914 teaching is especially problematic. I invite you to do a simple Google search. I might address this issue in a future post.)

Are Jehovah's Witnesses at least using the right methods in declaring the "good new"?

This is debatable. It can be argued that Jehovah's Witnesses are working contrary to the recommendations of the Bible. They primarily spread their message by going house to house. Yet, Luke 10:7 says, "Do not be transferring from house to house." It's true that the Bible speaks of teaching in homes, but this wasn't a case of knocking on door after door. They would often stay for an extended time in someone's home, teaching them and then visit someone else in a different town. See this article at Facts About Jehovah's Witnesses for a more detailed discussion.

Door to door preaching is a pretty inefficient way to make converts, especially in areas where few people are home during the day. It is suggested by some that the ministry of Jehovah's Witnesses is designed primarily to keep them too busy to question doctrines and to provide a solidarity of purpose. Jehovah's Witness membership has an alarming attrition rate. It will be interesting to see how long they can keep replacing members with outdated recruitment techniques.

Witness methods seem totally incapable of even giving an appearance of fulfilling Matthew 24:14. They are very poorly represented in many countries with an enormous population, such as China and many Islamic countries. Even in countries where they are better represented, most people don't take door knocking religious zealots seriously, so they don't often take the time to listen to them. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that these people will soon die if they don't respond positively to their message, so they have little excuse for not coming up with better methods.

The Bible does provide numerous examples of Jesus and his disciples preaching where there are actually people, including marketplaces.

The Internet is the greatest marketplace that ever existed. It's the one technology that could play a crucial role in giving a religious message a virtually worldwide distribution, especially when more third world residents get online. Why aren't Jehovah's Witnesses trying to take full advantage of this technology?

They're scared.

They're scared of apostates like me. They're scared that they may run across information that will weaken their faith. Their leaders are scared that their members will learn about their long history of ridiculous and life threatening policies, failed prophecies, and doctrinal flip flops. They're scared that their members will read these things in official Watchtower literature that is no longer published, but is available online. They have actually made online association with former members a disfellowshipping offense.

I don't recall reading that Jesus and his disciples had this kind of trepidation about sharing their faith in public. Jehovah's Witnesses have a comfort zone where they go two to a door and catch individuals unprepared. They have reference books that tells them what to say in certain circumstances. If they are asked tough questions, they will often just terminate the discussion and knock on another door. It appears that the first century Christians were far more fearless. I expect that they were often outnumbered and had to defend their faith in front of an audience. They couldn't just retreat from tough questions without a serious loss of credibility.

I know that the Watchtower Society does have some Websites, but the average member is heavily discouraged from engaging in any kind of Internet proselytism. Some Jehovah's Witnesses disobey this. You can often see them making comments on critical videos or blog posts. Sometimes they will even set up websites. I applaud these individuals, even if I disagree with most of what they believe. They are publicly indicating that the authority of their Governing Body is not absolute, that they should consider the dictates of their own conscience. They may risk expulsion and shunning for this, but this doesn't stop them. I say keep it up. It will expose them to differing viewpoints. This might change their views or it might not. In either case, they aren't limiting themselves to getting information from only one source. As an apostate, I can't ask for anything more than that.

To the other Jehovah's Witnesses who will only knock on doors to mostly empty houses, I say, "If you are not willing to take your supposed scriptural responsibility seriously, I don't see why any of us should take it seriously either."

See also Door to Door; is that what really counts? at The Watchtower Teachings Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will the Watchtower Society Stagnate or Collapse?

Jehovah's Witnesses have enjoyed impressive growth during much of their history. They are still one of the fastest growing religions in many areas. However, their rate of growth is slowing down and they are facing a growing trend of people leaving, reducing their Witness activities, or being kicked out (either for committing some sin on the long list of Jehovah's Witness prohibitions or for apostasy, which basically involves disagreeing with the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, even if they don't actively promote their doubts). It is getting progressively harder for them to replace the members lost through attrition.

They are facing other new challenges. The Internet has advertised their comical history of false prophecies and doctrinal flip flops. The quotes from their own literature can be easily found by anyone with an Internet connection. (See this quotes site as an example.) Most of their remaining growth is now coming from immigrants. This means that the people coming in are often less able to contribute financially, while still using up publications and other resources. Many experienced witnesses are now moving into foreign language congregations to help serve their needs. This is making it harder for the more established congregations to find people to serve as elders or otherwise take care of the congregation responsibilities. It doesn't seem that the younger ones are nearly as eager to do this as they were in the past.

It used to be that the Jehovah's Witness strict expulsion and shunning policies helped to enforce unity. Now, a growing number of members have learned the truth about the organisation and are only staying in to avoid losing contact with family and friends. These are some very disgruntled people who desperately want to leave, and probably will if they can convince enough of their friends and family to come with them. In the meantime many of them are trying to use subtle means to undermine the organisation's authority. This is a tremendous source of potential instability among Jehovah's Witnesses.

It is my opinion that the Jehovah's Witnesses rate of growth will soon drop below the growth of population increase and may even stagnate at zero or become negative. I don't believe that the Jehovah's Witness mindset can long tolerate stagnation. Their worship is based on converting people before the end. I think some sort of catastrophic collapse is a plausible outcome of what is now taking place.

That's just my opinion and I'm sure others disagree. I admit that my perspective may be biased by my concern for friends and family that are still stuck in the cult. I recommend this discussion at Jehovah' It discusses a British Sociologist's prediction that there may be a collapse in Jehovah's Witness membership and has responses from people who both agree and disagree with that assessment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wikipedia Articles About Jehovah's Witnesses

I'm not sure what I think about Wikipedia, except that it is an important and bold experiment in digital communication. It tends to level the playing field, allowing amateurs the ability to compete with professionals in the evaluation and distribution of information. This can be good or bad. Sometimes, experts can benefit from having their complacency challenged. At other times, it gives undue power to troublemakers and idiots. I have heard too many stories of intelligent and knowledgeable researchers abandon the forum of Wikipedia in frustration.

My personal experience with Wikipedia has been generally favorable. Yet it is sometimes an uneasy experience for me. A Wikipedia article is kind of like a football game in slow motion. When I tune in, I don't know who has the ball, or which side is winning or even how many sides there are. In my research, I have found contradictions with more traditional websites, but further research has usually vindicated the information on Wikipedia. I like the way inaccurate information can be challenged and changed, even if it leads to a volatile and unstable situation. I guess my biggest complaint is that I occasionally hear about obscure articles being deleted on topics that are of great interest to me, but apparently of little consequence to the general population.

This situation becomes especially interesting when you deal with very controversial topics like Jehovah's Witnesses and other high control groups and cults. Difficulties arise in researching Jehovah's Witnesses that make Wikipedia a valuable resource. Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are the best source of information on their beliefs and practices. Alas, they are one of the worst. They are not allowed to question or research both sides of their beliefs. If they do, they can be disfellowshipped and shunned for apostasy. Their leadership also hides important information from their members. Their leaders receive confidential letters and guidebooks that contain scandalous policies that the average Witness has no knowledge of. It is also common to revise or suspend the publication of literature when it contains embarrassing information, like failed prophecies or former understandings.

Jehovah's Witnesses are also trained in how to present their beliefs. When studying with potential recruits, they will often avoid or delay difficult subjects until the student is already molded into their way of thinking. Sometimes, people get baptised without a proper understanding of the possible consequences if they commit an unapproved action or began to question official teachings. Jehovah's Witnesses also have a peculiar view of honesty. They employ a doctrine called theocratic warfare. They feel it is proper to withhold or distort the truth if they don't think someone is entitled to it.

This can make it difficult to research a controversial group like Jehovah's Witnesses. The official sites of Jehovah's Witnesses are primarily interested in making converts, so they have a strong incentive to hide or downplay negative information about themselves. I think information from former members is better, because they have seen both sides of the issue. However, many of them have suffered terribly at the hands of the Watchtower organisation, so they may sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate or not fact check everything properly. Many christian churches are critical of Jehovah's Witnesses and may publish some good information, but it often becomes obvious that they are primarily interested in advancing their own theological views.

I think Wikipedia articles can play a useful role in research about Jehovah's Witnesses. There is a process for removing incorrect information and it receives contributions from authors with multiple points of view. I am hopeful that current Jehovah's Witnesses may be more comfortable researching their own religion on Wikipedia than going to an "apostate" site. This would be a great improvement over the Jehovah's Witness habit of getting all their information about Jehovah's Witnesses from Jehovah's Witnesses. So here are some links to some of the more popular Wikipedia articles about Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society. This does not imply endorsement of the information in these articles and I always recommend reading multiple sources when doing research.

Jehovah's Witnesses
The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom
Controversies Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses
Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses
Supreme Court Cases Involving Jehovah's Witnesses
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany
Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Sex Abuse
Jehovah's Witnesses and the United Nations
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

Monday, March 9, 2009

Check Out the New Free Site

The people at Free have been busy. It was one of the best sites about Jehovah's Witnesses. Now it's even better, with an updated look and additional content. My favorite parts of the site are its vast archive of informative articles and its collection of Watchtower Comments videos. It seems a fitting response to the misinformation on the websites that are run by the Watchtower society.