Isaac J. Harris is an atheist and skeptic blogger. He is an ex Jehovah’s Witness and has graciously agreed to write us a series guest posts about them. You can read more of Issac’s work at his site, The Atheist Geek News. If you would like to become a guest blogger, let us what you would like to say at our Contact Us page.
10 Things You Don’t Know About Jehovah’s Witnesses
by Isaac J. Harris, The Atheist Geek
In the aftermath of several recent stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the Candace Conti pedophilia court case and the DVD that launched the Sparlock Meme, I have been invited to do a series of articles about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was a Witness myself for about six years and have been married to one for more than sixteen years. I am now a skeptical atheist with Witness in-laws (Everybody say it with me in their best Everybody Loves Raymond voice, “Thaaaat’s right!”) and very active in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community.
Fair warning: so long as the Michigan Skeptics Association has articles about Jehovah’s Witnesses on its website, it’s very likely that Witnesses will come here and try to debunk any unflattering claims I make. It happens on ex-Witness sites across the web, and I doubt this site will escape their notice forever. Which brings me to the reason there are so many links on the page. By posting links to their own web site (and a few others) to support my claims, you will be able to see for yourselves that everything you read here is true.
And now, here are ten things you don’t know about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
10: Jehovah’s Witnesses Don’t Believe In The Trinity.
Jehovah’s Witnesses can be described as Arian, or at least Semi-Arian, in their view of God, Jesus, and holy spirit. But don’t panic: being Arian or Semi-Arian doesn’t have anything to do with the Nazis. That’s an entirely different sort of Arian.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the holy spirit is actually God’s “active force,” or energy, not a person as Trinitarians might see it. It’s also something that doesn’t get capitalized in their literature, which is why I’m not capitalizing it here.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is also a separate person from God, though he could be called a god in his own right. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, God only made one thing on his own: Michael the Archangel! You thought I was going to say Jesus, didn’t you? Note that there is only one archangel in their pantheon of angels and his name is Mike. Michael the Archangel made everything else in creation, from heaven to Earth, in accordance with God’s plan. Even the angels were made by Michael. Later, Michael was sent to Earth and became Jesus. (Tada!) So while Jesus is awesome and everything (duh) his father is even more awesome in the eyes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah God, as you may have guessed, is still the same big man he is to all other denominations of Christianity.
9: Jehovah’s Witnesses Don’t Believe In A Literal Hell
This may surprise some of you. I mean, how do they whip everybody into compliance with their rules if they don’t believe in a literal Hell? I’ll answer that one later. (Hint: it rhymes with Armageddon.) For now, just understand that whenever your Bible talks about Hell, Jehovah’s Witnesses say it’s really talking about something else, like the grave. Note that their Bible, the New World Translation, doesn’t use the word hell. It simply uses the original words in the biblical manuscripts, like Sheol or Gehenna, without bothering to translate them into English. So, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, when most of us die, we simply…well…die. At least until we’re resurrected. That means that red heads aren’t so different from the rest of us in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To them, none of us has a soul. Not even blonds, so stop asking me.
8: Only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses Go To Heaven
In case you’re wondering, there are actually about seven million baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide right now. You may have noticed that this is a lot more than a 144,000 people. This may sound like a problem, but they’re not sweating it. Most Witnesses aren’t looking forward to any sort of heavenly afterlife at all.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only the anointed Witnesses (who are also called the “Hundred-and-Forty-Four Thousand,” or “the Faithful and Discrete Slave class”) will go to Heaven to rule at Jesus’ side. They will become “spirit creatures” in heaven, similar to the angels. In theory, it’s the still-living anointed “slave class” that has been delegated authority to run God’s earthly organization, The Watchtower Society. By the way, whenever you hear Witnesses or ex-Witnesses talking about “the Society,” they’re really talking about the Watchtower Society I just mentioned.
So how do you know if you’re one of the anointed? Well, you just know is all! There is no litmus test per se. Note that there have been way more than a 144,000 Witnesses claiming to be anointed already and Armageddon isn’t even here yet! Apparently more than a few anointed were mistaken about being part of the Faithful and Discrete Slave. Of course, faking it could get you kicked out of any sort of paradise, so it’s not a smart move.
7: For Most Witnesses, Paradise Means An Eternity Spent On Earth
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Earth will be restored to a paradise after Armageddon and that the human race will be “perfected.” All of this will take place over a thousand year period because we, as human beings, are just plain awful. The task of perfecting us will be overseen by Jesus and the anointed. Once that’s complete, Jesus will hand the Earth and its inhabitants back over to Jehovah God’s ruler-ship.
So what does it mean to be perfect? They say we’ll be made young and healthy forever. But what happens if you slip on a banana and get sucked into a wood chipper? No one really knows. I always assumed that perfect human beings would have regenerative powers like Wolverine from the X-Men. Honestly, your guess is as good as anybody’s.
6: Armageddon’s Coming, Mister! Or Maam
As stated earlier, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe that bad people go to Hell when they die. Witnesses believe that the dead are unconscious, so threatening one of them with eternal hellfire isn’t really going to motivate him much. But many Witnesses will cringe at the mention of Armageddon.
Witnesses believe that Armageddon could strike at any second. Maybe now. Or even now!!! Oh, so close. When it does, only good Jehovah’s Witnesses will survive. Unless you’re one of them, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a good person or not. Jesus will smite ye! Yet being a Witness doesn’t guarantee that you’ll survive Armageddon either. You have to be an upstanding member of the religion. Remember, Jesus sees all and knows all. Even what’s in your mind. That’s why I try to keep my thoughts as dirty as possible; he can only take so much depravity. That keeps my thoughts nice and private.
If you are killed during Armageddon, that’s it for you. You’re dead and gone for good. Like the people of Noah’s day, it’s assumed that the world will be a raving cesspool of wickedness by that point and that every non-Witness alive will be deserving of death. If you died before Armageddon, however, then you will probably be resurrected and reeducated by Armageddon survivors during Christ’s Millennial Reign (the thousand year period I mentioned earlier). In other words, Witnesses who survive into the Millennial Reign will teach the truth (their religion) to those who are resurrected. If resurrected ones reject these teachings, then they die all over again and that will be it for them too. Hey, that’s how free will works people! Take it or else.
5: Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That Other Religions Are Demonically Inspired
Jehovah’s Witnesses generally see other religions as an affront to God. Many (or all) other religions are thought to have demonic origins. Some Witnesses even believe that pagan deities, like Thor and Zeus, were actually invented by fallen angels. The point is that other religions are generally out there to mislead people and to draw them away from God’s one, true religion. Note that the word “Christendom” is often defined as “the Christian world,” but Witness literature uses it to refer to “false Christianity” instead. Any religion other than their own which calls itself Christian is a part of Christedom.
As you might have guessed by now, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do interfaith very well. Or at all, really. In fact, even stepping inside a religious building like a church or a Mosque can get you in trouble if you’re a Witness. So can a lot of other things, but we’ll talk about that another time.
4: World Governments Are Under Demonic Control
Satan is the ruler of the world and it’s governments, so Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to directly participate in politics or to serve in the military. Doing so would be like joining Satan himself. That means Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t vote, will always find you innocent if they’re forced to serve in a jury (good to know), and view world governments as nothing more than a necessary evil until the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign. All armies and human governments will be destroyed during Armageddon, so you don’t want to be a part of them when the big A hits…unless you’re a worldly person. In which case, you’re toast anyway.
3: All Non-Witnesses Are Part Of Satan’s World
I suppose I could have narrowed these last three into a single heading called, “Trust No One!” But these points each deserve their own explanation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly discouraged from forming strong ties to non-Witnesses, who are also referred to as nonbelievers or as “worldly people.” This is because we worldly types are all part of Satan’s world, or “This System of Things.” That’s right my friends. Whether you know it or not, you are Satan’s unwitting pawn. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, letting a worldly person into their lives represents a threat to their spirituality. Satan could use us to corrupt them, so all worldly people (or all non-Witnesses) are generally assumed to be “bad associates.”
Don’t get me wrong. Witnesses are more than happy to convert us. But if a Witness invites you over to his house, it probably isn’t for the company. Expect to leave with a few magazines or at least a tract before you go.
3: Jehovah’s Witnesses Practice Disfellowshipping (Shunning)
You can think of disfellowshipping as a severe dose of excommunication with a dose of the cold shoulder treatment thrown on top. If a Witness is disfellowshipped, he not only sacrifices any hope of living forever in a paradise Earth, he is also cut off from any form of communication with anyone who is still one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even if they are members of his own family. Any Witness who violates this rule by talking or eating with a disfellowshipped person runs the risk of being disfellowshipped himself.
Of course, some families do break this rule from time to time. But it’s rarely a good thing for an ex-Witness when they do. Many Witnesses only do it so they can tell their disfellowshipped relatives how disappointed they are in them. When a Witness breaks protocol to communicate with a loved one who has been disfellowshipped, it usually happens in the form of a letter or an email. Note that some congregations are more liberal than others and will allow some face time if the Witness gets permission from his elders. But make no mistake, disfellowshipping is a very powerful way of keeping Witnesses who lose faith in the Society’s teachings in check.
I want to stress that disfellowshipping is a huge issue, one that people sometimes underestimate. Many ex-Witnesses have been emotionally devastated by it. In fact, many ex-Witnesses pretend that they still believe in “the truth” (what Jehovah’s Witnesses call their religion and their community) just to avoid being disfellowshipped. That alone should tell you something about the power it holds over them.
2: Women Who Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Always In Subjugation To Men
Like everyone else at your closest Kingdom Hall, women are in subjugation to congregation elders (who are always male) and to their own fathers until the day they move our or get married. (I mean when the women get married, not the fathers.) Even then, they are forever in subjugation to their husbands and are to obey him out of respect for Jehovah’s arrangements and their husband’s “headship” over the family. If a woman is required to take on a responsibility that only a male is normally allowed to carry out, she must wear a head covering. Any head covering, even a book held on top of her head, will do.
Women are not allowed to directly teach, or instruct, from the podium at any Kingdom Hall unless no suitable males can be found. They are allowed to instruct by example, however. Congregation sisters will perform a hypothetical scenario in front of the congregation, sort of like a play. For instance, one sister might pretend to be a householder while another pretends to be a Witness trying to place a magazine with the householder; this serves as an example so others can see how it’s done. It reminds me of my days as a salesman, where management would force us to act out different scenarios at sales meetings. We hated it, but it’s generally regarded as a privilege to perform in front of an audience at a Kingdom Hall if you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
1: The Light Gets Brighter As The End Draws Near
In theory, Jehovah’s Witnesses are led by Jesus Christ, who has been delegated authority to lead them by Jehovah God. In practice, they’re really led by a bunch of old guys from a place called Bethel, which is currently in New York. These old guys are called the governing body, and their authority was delegated to them by Jesus. Well, allegedly delegated. Your mileage may vary.
Jesus, it is believed, is guiding the leaders toward the absolute truth in a very subtle, vague sort of way. So subtle that the leaders make mistakes just like everybody else, including people who are not divinely inspired by Jesus. This might lead you to assume that it’s hard to tell someone who’s divinely inspired from someone who merely claims to be. But that you would be a very wrong and obvious thing to say.
The point is that “the truth,” as they understand it, is ever-changing, even though Jehovah and Jesus are not forever changing their minds. These changes are often described as “new light” by the Society’s leaders and are not to be taken as a sign that their leaders are misguided. Instead, it just means they get stuff wrong and Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t let it bug them. The light (or the truth) gets brighter as Armageddon draws near, my friends. So stop relying on your own understanding and trust Jehovah to make it clear in his own good time. (These are things that real Jehovah’s Witnesses say, by the way. No, I’m not kidding.)
Openly flaunting any difference of opinion with the Society’s governing body can get you disfellowshipped for apostasy, especially if you try to convince others that your opinions are right and the leader’s teachings are not. That’s a major no-no in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’ll get your bus pass into paradise revoked in a heartbeat, buddy. So don’t even go there.
That’s it for today class. Stay tuned for more articles about Jehovah’s Witnesses in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to check out my website at Atheist Geek News