“Jehovah’s Witnesses live a life of fear. That much is true. They fear death. They fear not being good enough when Jehovah comes to exact judgement. Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most fearful group of Christians that I’m aware of.“Doug Shields, a former Jehovah’s Witness of The Watchtower Files blog: http://thewatchtowerfiles.com/jehovahs-witnesses-and-fear/
For millions of people who have been indoctrinated into a fundamentalist religion, the search for life after death is one of sacrifice, restriction and above all, fear. Afterlife beliefs are often strongly conditional and require constant vigilance, requiring believers to follow strict rules for behavior to ensure a favorable outcome after death. God is described as loving, and yet is capable of tremendous death and destruction. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not preach damnation and eternal torture in hell, but their doctrine is far darker and their salvation less assured. For a Jehovah’s Witnesses, a happy, fulfilling life is sacrificed waiting for God’s wrathful destruction and an ‘afterlife’ they may never see.
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only fundamentalist group with strong judgmental convictions about the afterlife, the combination of their eschatology and the highly-controlled nature of their religious organization has subjected members to formidable intimidation. The promise of immortality is continually held hostage, based on their strict adherence to the many rules, expectations and prohibitions of the religion. This emotional manipulation affects every aspect of a Witness’s life: their relationships, aspirations, and especially their sense of personal freedom and well-being.
“94% of disassociated/disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses would not recommend the religion to others. “-source
I would like to make it clear that the purpose of this post is not to denigrate the Christian faith overall. Most mainline Christians follow a doctrine of love, forgiveness, and inclusion, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I am focusing here on a group that is more properly called a cult; with extreme beliefs that are rejected by most other sects of Christianity. For their part, the Watchtower Society teaches that all other Christians (especially Catholics) are following a church run by Satan himself.
Certainly, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have the monopoly on religious fear-mongering. Plenty of fundamental religions teach a doctrine of judgement for sin. However, the Watchtower Society requires Jehovah’s Witnesses to constantly prove themselves worthy to both God, whom they call Jehovah, and to the organization’s overseers, the seven men who comprise the Governing Body of the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society. Bad Witnesses don’t go to heaven or hell; they are annihilated. Images such as the one below are studied by children. The indoctrination and trauma is introduced at an early age.
“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.” Watchtower 1989 Sep 1 p.19 (accessed from jwfacts.com on August 2, 2019)
Consider this excerpt from a comment left on the anti-JW website, JWsurvey.org from FallingAngel75, a practicing Jehovah’s Witness:
“…Periodically, I read comments on here where people say: how do intelligent, reasoning people fall for this and stay in? I speak for myself as a well-educated woman who is a business owner and entrepreneur in a family of people who are also college educated (most before finding ‘the truth’). It is exactly that. The fear. […] Once you latch on to a belief system that claims to have the one and only solution AND you come to believe that abandoning the beliefs or the organization will result in your everlasting death, it becomes almost impossible to leave. It becomes almost impossible to wrap your head around even thinking of leaving. […]”
The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses began as an offshoot of The Bible Student movement, founded by minister Charles Taze Russell in the 1870s. The teachings focused heavily on biblical prophecy and adventism (the return of Christ). Russell helped to spread the movement by publishing magazines beginning with Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. The Watchtower and Bible Tract Society was formed later by Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford who introduced many of the more fundamentalist concepts the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for today, as well as the name ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and the organizational structure of the religion. The Watchtower Society is still a large publishing agent, and continues to produce literature for study and preaching work. Today, the Watchtower also has a comprehensive website jw.org, and their own broadcasting station at tv.jw.org. The Watchtower society claims a worldwide membership of 8.5 million.
Most people have encountered Jehovah’s Witnesses as a group of friendly, well-dressed people knocking at their door on a Saturday, offering to share the ‘good news’. You may have also seen them standing near a literature cart at the train station, or near a popular tourist attraction. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus commanded them to preach or ‘witness’ to others in the bible scripture of Matthew 28:19, “Go make disciples of all the nations”. Currently. the Watchtower Society boasts congregations in 240 countries worldwide.
Witness theology is in some ways similar to other fundamental Christian sects, and in some ways quite unique. Witnesses are bible literalists who consider the creation story of Genesis, Noah’s flood and other biblical events as historical fact. Like other young earth creationists, they do not believe in evolution. Jehovah’s Witnesses are most well known for their prohibition against celebrating holidays or birthdays because of their association with pagan traditions and absence from the bible. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses place supreme importance on humility, therefore acts of self-aggrandizement, such as a birthday celebration, would be seen as taking the focus away from Jehovah.
Like other Christian faiths, Witnesses believe that Jesus was sacrificed for the sin of mankind incurred through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. This inherited sin can be cleansed through acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice through his death on the torture stake (Witnesses believe that Christ was executed on a single, vertical pole). While they do believe that Jesus is God’s son, they reject his divinity. Instead they teach that he was created initially as the incarnation of the Archangel Michael, only later to be born as Jesus, a sinless, but otherwise ordinary human. Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the triune nature of God as “Father, Son, Holy Spirit”, believing the concept of the trinity to be unscriptural.
While most Christian denominations are still waiting for ‘the second coming of Christ’ as foretold in the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the return of Christ has already occurred. According to the Watchtower Society, Christ returned invisibly in the year 1914 to inspect the world religions and establish the one true church, organized into what would become the Watchtower and Bible Tract society. This fulfillment of the second coming of Christ paves the way for the imminent arrival of Armageddon, based on their interpretation of the book of Revelations. Although the Watchtower Society is known for their failed end of the world predictions, Witnesses continue to strongly believe and teach that Satan’s “old system of things” will destroyed by Christ’s heavenly army at any moment, which includes razing the earth with fire and destruction and destroying earth’s entire population aside from Jehovah’s Witnesses. The compulsion to preach or ‘witness’ to as many people as possible before the start of the great tribulation is regarded as life-saving work.
Like a few other fundamental Christian sects, Witnesses do not believe that humans are composed of a physical body and a separate spiritual soul that is immediately consigned to heaven or hell at death (special exception explained below). Witnesses believe humans are physical beings, therefore death is the end of all conscious existence. Hope for eternal life, or life after death comes in the belief in the doctrine of physical resurrection, referred to by Witnesses as having ‘an earthly hope’.
According to the Watchtower’s interpretation of the bible, Christ will win ‘victory over death’ after defeating Satan in the battle of Armageddon. He will then resurrect the ‘righteous and unrighteous’ dead to deliver a final judgement. The righteous include many bible favorites, such as Abraham and Noah, and all Jehovah’s Witnesses who are in good standing. The ‘unrighteous’ comprise anyone who was otherwise good, but died without having the opportunity to “know Jehovah”. Once resurrected, they will be given the chance to learn ‘the truth’ and accept Christ’s rule.
The Watchtower teaches that even good, kind, compassionate people living today will not make the cut for the ‘unrighteous’ group as this is reserved for those living prior to Christ’s time on earth. For those considered ‘beyond redemption’, (including you, me, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, even Superman, if he were real) the punishment is remaining dead forever. Jehovah’s Witnesses who leave the religion or who are disfellowshipped unwillingly often face the incredible fear of not being resurrected after death with their friends and family. Some witnesses return to the religion because their fear of eternal destruction in Armageddon is insurmountable.
“Anyone who is judged as wicked and unwilling to change will not be resurrected” source: https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-study/there-will-be-a-resurrection/
A continuation of the comment from FallingAngel75, former Jehovah’s witness:
“It is a scary, scary thought that kept me awake more nights than I care to admit. People talk about ‘fear of missing out’ when it comes to email and social media. But the thought of all of my family and friends enjoying the paradise forever and me not being there was really horrible. It was enough to keep me in line and part of things for most of my life, in spite of a lifetime of doubts and misgivings. Again I say, we are all taught to ignore our doubts and focus on the rewards and trust that Jehovah will sort it all out in the new world. We’re taught that we must have a healthy fear of displeasing him. I have only recently recognized how unhealthy that fear is and how detrimental it has been to my life.“
All who are judged worthy for resurrection will be essentially recreated from “Jehovah’s memory”, complete with a reconstructed body free of disease, age and infirmity. The resurrected will then repopulate the post-apocalyptic earth, now cleansed of Satan’s influences and ruled by Jesus in his Heavenly Kingdom. The ‘new earth’ is referred to as ‘Paradise’ and it is akin to the renewed garden of Eden. This is to fulfill God’s original plan for mankind before the fall of Adam, which is eternal life on earth without sickness, aging or death.
Jesus won’t rule this new earth alone, though. As a special and exclusive exception to the no-heaven rule, Witnesses believe that Christ will select 144,000 ‘true Christians’ to join him in Heaven. This selection has been occurring since Jesus was resurrected, so Witnesses believe that only a ‘remnant’ are still alive who are ‘anointed’ by Christ.
According to jw.org:
Who goes to Heaven?
God selects a limited number of faithful Christians who, after their death, will be resurrected to life in heaven. (1 Peter 1:3, 4) Once they have been chosen, they must continue to maintain a Christian standard of faith and conduct in order not to be disqualified from receiving their heavenly inheritance.—Ephesians 5:5; Philippians 3:12-14. They will serve alongside Jesus as kings and priests for 1,000 years. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 20:6) They will form the “new heavens,” or heavenly government, that will rule over the “new earth,” or earthly society. Those heavenly rulers will help restore mankind to the righteous conditions that God originally intended.—Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13. The Bible indicates that 144,000 people will be resurrected to heavenly life. […]”https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/go-to-heaven/
Each year on the date of the Jewish Passover, Witnesses observe the Memorial, or the commemoration of Christ’s death. On that date, unleavened bread and wine is offered to the congregation. In most congregations, these emblems of the body and blood of Christ remain untouched. This may seem unusual to Christians who are used to the daily or weekly ritual of communion, but Jehovah’s Witnesses who partake of the bread and wine are boldly declaring themselves as part of the anointed class; Christ’s chosen few. To the dismay of the organization’s religious leaders, there were more than 18,000 Witnesses who declared themselves anointed at the Memorial in 2017, and the number has been steadily growing each year. This is contrary to the teaching that only a few anointed would be alive at the time of the Great Tribulation, which they insist is imminent. In response, the Governing Body has remarked that many of those who are partake are not truly anointed, but likely have “mental or emotional problems“.
In the video below, shown at the 2016 Jehovah’s Witness convention, Witnesses were shown the Watchtower’s conception of what their lives will be after the great tribulation has ended, and Witnesses are tasked with rebuilding the new earth:
Another video, from the channel ‘Jehovah Today’ produced this highly-emotional video about Paradise, this time with excerpts from the New World Translation Bible and featuring a snippet of a talk by one of the Governing Body Members.
TRIGGER WARNING: If you’ve lost someone recently, skip this one. This is designed to elicit an emotional response for those who are grieving and may be upsetting to some viewers.
To support their unique scriptural interpretations and unusual doctrines, the Watchtower has been accused of cherry-picking certain biblical passages out of context and inconstantly applying literal and symbolic interpretations wherever it best suits their beliefs. The Watchtower commissioned their own bible translation, The New World Translation, regarded as disingenuous by many bible scholars. In many instances, the accepted translations of the Greek and Hebrew scriptures were simply changed to better fit Watchtower’s doctrines.
Luke 23:43 describes the scene of Jesus dying on the cross on the hill of Golgotha along with two criminals. One of the criminals asks Jesus to remember him “when he comes into his kingdom.” The new American standard version of the Bible writes Jesus’s reply as, “And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe a person dies and goes directly to heaven or hell, they simply moved the comma. In the Watchtower’s New World Translation, the passage reads, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” [emphasis mine]
A quote from Dr. Ron Rhodes, who write Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses, says this about the New World Translation:
“The New World translation is an incredibly biased translation. Dr. Robert Countess, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on the Greek text of the New World translation, concluded the translation ‘has been sharply unsuccessful in keeping doctrinal considerations from influencing the actual translation…It must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work. At some points it is actually dishonest. At others it is neither modern nor scholarly.’ British scholar H.H. Rowley asserted, ‘from the beginning to end this volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.’ Indeed, Rowley said, this translation is ‘an insult to the Word of God.’”https://biblicalworldviewacademy.org/major-problems-with-the-new-world-translation/, Accessed August 9, 2019
The Watchtower society most egregiously proclaims that only they have ‘the truth’, and yet their evidence is not open to independent, critical examination by members of the religion. Witnesses are sometimes left with reasonable doubts about the circumstantial, contradictory evidence provided for Watchtower’s beliefs, but are taught that these doubts reveal a spiritual weakness that must be ‘fixed’ through more prayer.
81% don’t believe that you are free to express a difference of opinion within the Witness faith.–source
I’d like to take a moment to briefly discuss the disturbing organizational practices of The Watchtower Society organization. Jehovah’s Witnesses are highly-controlled and micromanaged. They are widely believed to be a cult, as they engage in many cult-like practices identified by the BITE model, such as information and behavior control, thought-policing, and the absolute prohibition on questioning one’s beliefs openly. Researching the organization online, doubting the ‘the truth’ provided by the Watchtower society, or rebuking the Governing Body is strictly forbidden. Witnesses are isolated from the rest of society. They are not permitted to vote or support any organization, cause or charity outside of the Watchtower and they are strongly discouraged from associating with non-Witnesses as much as possible. Other disturbing aspects of the Watchtower Society’s teaching are:
- Homosexuality is a grievous sin, punishable by disfellowshipping (ex-communication)
- Women are expected to be submissive to men, and are not permitted to hold any leadership positions in the congregation.
- Masturbation is considered ‘self-abuse’ and an affront to God.
- Divorce is absolutely not permitted except in cases of adultery, even when there is terrible physical or emotional abuse.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibit life-saving medical blood transfusions
- The Watchtower society is currently embroiled in a child abuse scandal, protecting thousands of child abusers while failing to report instances of child sexual abuse to the police
- Watchtower engages in a particularly deplorable practice of absolute shunning, where disfellowshipped members are no longer allowed contact with friends or family
46% personally know of (or were) a Jehovah’s Witness who is/was in their locality who was abused by another Witness as a child.source
The abhorrent and destructive practices of the Watchtower deserve to be treated correctly, and I don’t want to gloss over these important topics or treat them with less than the depth and detail that they deserve. I’ve purposely focused this post on their beliefs about life after death, but if you are interested in learning more about critical issues in the Watchtower Society, there is a thriving ex-Witness community online who have sacrificed much to come forward and share their experiences. I would highly recommend visiting their channels to hear their stories first-hand:
75% have known or heard of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses committing or attempting suicide.source
Its disturbing that a religion claiming to be the only belief system on earth with the absolute truth are so fearful and defensive about subjecting that truth to skeptical inquiry. This prohibition of doubt, even in the private thoughts of Witnesses, is the very antithesis of determining ‘truth’. Doubt, skepticism and open-minded inquiry are critically important to evaluating the evidence for life after death against the body of scientific knowledge and personal spiritual experience, as well as determining whether there is enough doubt about the materialistic presumption to leave room for an alternative explanation.
I highly commend anyone who develops the courage and endures the sacrifices to leave a high-control religious group behind, though I do find it a little disheartening that so many who do quickly adopt atheism. Most people conflate belief in life after death with other religious fiction and are not aware that evidence for life after death may exist outside of the context of religious scriptures. Most religions, as a rule, provide only a few written sources they consider inspired writings to guide their doctrines, and prohibit believers from looking outside of their religion or study spiritual experiences that may be considered ‘of Satan’. I believe this bias persists even after a person has recovered from their religious indoctrination.
In pursuit of ‘the truth’ we owe it to ourselves to be both open-minded yet skeptical in search for life after death, whether that evidence stems from religious beliefs or not. We may never see scientific proof for life after death in our lifetimes, but we can at least make a rational, informed choice based on rigorous scrutiny of the evidence available.
If you know a Jehovah’s Witness or meet one at your door, be kind to them. They are trained to expect non-witnesses to be aggressive, ignorant and combative to their ‘truth’. They are generally good people, trying to do what they think is right by God and their family. Due to the serious prohibition of researching their organization online or reading ‘apostate’ websites like those I linked up above, most Witnesses are unaware of the scandals and hypocrisies of the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society. If you know your bible well enough, you might be able to give them pause on scriptural grounds, but generally Witnesses cannot be deconverted by outsiders unless they already harbor serious doubts. Nevertheless, if you know someone who has agreed to study with a Witness through a ‘free home bible study’ program, by all means, share this information with them. Everyone deserves to make an informed choice about their spiritual beliefs and the freedom to change their beliefs at any time without repercussion.
Below is the full video series known as “the bunker videos”, shown at the 2016 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The videos show Watchtower’s Armageddon propaganda and persecution complex.
A video from the animated children’s program, “Caleb and Sophia”. Lesson Two: “Obey Jehovah”. Truly nightmare inducing.
Lesson 22: “One Man and One Women”. This is unspeakably offensive, just as a warning.