In this article, I will be examining the following processes:
How people are encouraged to study with Jehovah's Witnesses
How people are encouraged to join, gel baptised, and participate
How people are discouraged from leaving the VVilnesses
I will say very little about the validity of the doctrine of the Watchtower Society. This has been discussed in
great detail elsewhere (particularly on other web sites about the Witnesses which scrutinize the specifics of
AUDIENCE: This article was written for people who have been approached by the Witnesses and want to
know what to expect. It may also interest people who are already Witnesses and are starting to wonder why
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I wish to thank the following people for helping me with this article: Marie
Black, K.C.C., Ella Chapman, Regina Kolesa, Jeffery M. Schwelm.
At the Door and Into the Home
It's a quiet Saturday afternoon. You're sitting in your favorite chair, reading the newspaper. The doorbell
rings. You answer it and encounter two bright-faced people. They're well dressed, and each carries a
briefcase. For a moment you think they're going to sell you life insurance, but they seem too cheerful for
You guess that they must be Jehovah's Witnesses, and sure enough they start talking about a wondrous hope
for the future. They don't actually say they're Witnesses, but when one of them whisks out a Bible you can
see some copies of the Watchtower magazine in his briefcase.
They ask you for your opinion of world events, and what you think is going to happen if things continue to
get worse. You reflect that there are a lot of problems, and you do sometimes wonder where it's leading.
You invite them in to talk.
Now, normally you don't invite strangers into your home, but these people seem harmless enough. You've
heard about the legendary honesty of Jehovah's Witnesses. You decide not to worry about your possessions
or your money.
There's something else you should worry about.
A Single Road to the Promised Land
Jehovah's Witnesses are trained to get people talking about "the state of the world" and lead the discussion
in such a way that their religion will appear to be your only hope. If you are not prepared for their
indoctrination procedure, you may conclude that only Jehovah's Witnesses can fill your life with meaning
and protect you from the trials and tribulations of life.
The first thing they do is cultivate your fear.
All of us are afraid of the unknown. What will happen tomorrow? Will I be fired? What if there's a nuclear
war? What if I get sick? These 'what if questions are the sparks that the Witnesses will fan into a flame.
The Witnesses at your door have a purpose in mind: to convert you to their religion. If you ask them point-
blank if that is their purpose, they will usually deny it. They will say that they are there to discuss "the state
of the world" or "the Bible" or "a hope for the future". This evasiveness is understandable; if they blatantly
told people they were there to convert them, they wouldn't get anybody to listen!
In building up your fear, Witnesses can cite countless statistics to 'prove' that the world is in a dire state.
Some of their statements are true, some are out of date, and some are wrong.
Anybody can inadvertently deliver incorrect data. The Witnesses, however, deliver selective information
designed to paint a woeful picture. While there are many things wrong with the world, there are many good
things, too. Most of the people who read this article live in better health ~ and longer — than the richest king
of ancient times.
Alongside their bleak picture of the future, the Witnesses present an image of a glorious future, where you
will live forever in a paradise. This is very appealing, and it is hard not to be tempted. We all yearn for a
'Garden of Eden', and many people take regular vacations in exotic locales such as Hawaii or Tahiti to
sample a bit of the good life.
At a Disadvantage
How can you throw them out when they're offering you such a splendid future? Why should you get angry?
Wouldn't that be rude? The Witnesses make the most headway with people who are polite. Their entire
ministry would fail if people were less friendly to uninvited people knocking at their door.
I am not suggesting that you be nasty to people who visit you unannounced. However, if you are planning to
debate with Witnesses, bear in mind that they are well trained. They have a weekly meeting (the Theocratic
Ministry School) which is designed to help them express ideas convincingly. The average person is not as
well qualified to argue such matters.
Even if you are well educated1 and articulate, you are probably not well versed in religious matters.
Witnesses 'live, eat and breathe their religion and can devastate most people in a debate. They know their
doctrine very well, because they study it continuously. They've been taught answers to virtually every
objection, which brings to mind the salesman's credo: "If you can answer every objection, you'll make the
If you can answer every objection, it does not mean that you are tight (or that the product you are selling is
better than the rest). It means that you are better at debates than the other person. Confidence tricksters ply
their trade by convincing people that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible. (I am not equating
Witnesses with criminals, by the way, but demonstrating the principle that "Cogency is not validity". What
seems too good to be true is usually not true.)
For all their skill, Witnesses are not invincible debaters. It is possible to poke a hole in their rhetoric ~
especially if you are familiar with their doctrine, or have a good background in the Bible, science, or history.
In such cases, Witnesses will subtly sidestep the issue. (This debating tactic, and others, are described in the
article "Debating with Jehovah's Witnesses".)
The Witnesses at your door are not 'selling snake oil'. Most of them are genuinely happy to be Witnesses,
and are not troubled by the history of their religion. Nor are they bothered that their religion is at odds with
science, or that it has made numerous predictions that have failed to come true.
As with most religions, Witnesses derive great benefit from the intangible spirit of the group, rather than
specific doctrines. As Witnesses, they regularly associate with good people who share the same ideas and
Moreover, all Witnesses look forward to the same thing: a world where pain and suffering have been erased.
Who can not be moved by a dream of eternal joy?
You may have doubts that the Witnesses have 'the true religion' (whatever that means), but you should not
doubt their sincerity. At the same time, do not confuse sincerity with truth. There are countless religions that
believe just as strongly that they have the truth.
If you ask a Witness at the door if you must become a Witness in order to be 'saved' from the Day of
Judgment (known to Witnesses as Armageddon), they will in most cases give you a vague answer. Witnesses
learn that it is bad form to say that only Witnesses will be rescued, so they will say something like, "Only
God can judge the human heart".
Some Witnesses do actually believe in a non-exclusive salvation, as they are never explicitly told otherwise. In
practice, however, Witnesses are constantly told that their religion is the true religion, and that God
de^spises^ILtheresi/rhe implication is obvious enough
So Very Reasonable
While Witnesses pay lip service to the idea that God may possibly approve of some non-Witnesses, their
attitude suggests that God favors them alone. This will not be immediately evident
In general. Witnesses at your door will tell you what you want lo hear. They want to avoid (to use their
terminology) "stumbling" you. While their intentions seem good, this can lead them to misrepresentation.
Witnesses are careful when asked about controversial aspects of their religion, such as blood transfusions,
disfellowshipping, or failed predictions Most questions about these matters will be dismissed with a laugh
and a wave "Oh, no. you've heard wrong! It's not like that at all!"
This can happen even if you've got it precisely right. Witnesses are so careful about 'stumbling' people that
they are willing to white-wash their beliefs (even in the presence of another Witness).
You might call such evasion "lying" or "false pretenses". To a Witness, though, you're simply not ready for
the whole truth. They give you the simple version first, in order to save you from the clutches of Satan
Let us not be too critical of this behavior. Who amongst us has not done something similar, bending the truth
to get our point across?
More Woe and Worry
While talking about how bad the world is, the Witnesses may ask you if you've had any
problems of your own. If you have one, they have the cure. Has a relative passed away
recently? You 'II get to see them after the Resurrection. Have you been divorced? You
can find solace and company with good people — such as the Witnesses.
Even good things can be used as a basis for fear Have you just been blessed with a
baby? Aren't you worried about your child growing up with the world in the state it is in?
Incidentally, Witnesses do not express their invitation so bluntly as to say, "You should
join the Witnesses". The invitation is implied (rather than stated) by offering their way as
the ideal solution to any real, imagined or exaggerated problems.
Irwmtarto create a need for a 'solution', the Witnesses are experts at depressing people.
Thet bemoan i perceived growth in evil and ths general falling-apart of everything. They
also highlight the flaws^if "the governments of the world" (although they tend not to
criticize specific governments, aslhey are theoretically non-political).
No matter how optimistic you are, they will try to get you to admit that things are worse
than they ever were. You can speak enthusiastically about marvelous advances in
science, medicine, tolerance and human rights, but they will rebuff you every time with a
counter-example of rampant horror. At this stage in their presentation, they do not want
you to be cheerful.
Another common target is other religions and their clergy. Some Witnesses can talk for
hours about scandals involving men of the cloth. For example, they will take one story
of a priest who molests a child and use that as evidence of how bad his entire religion
must be. This kind of generalization is, of course, a cheap debating ploy, but many
people don't instantly recognize it as such.
The Witnesses want you to see that all other religions are corrupt, and will cite various
Bible verses to show that they - and only they - are living up to God's
Once again, you should be careful not to take their statements at face value. For
example, Witnesses are fond of reminding us that they do not go to war, and some of
them say (and believe) that there are no other religions with the same policy. (Besides
the Witnesses, the Quakers are also well known as conscientious objectors.)
The Intermediate Goal
The Witnesses do not really expect you to 'see the light' on the basis of a single visit. If you show
interest in their message, they will arrange to make a return visit.
If you continue to express interest, they will suggest that your questions could be answered
more effectively through a more formal arrangement ~ a free Bible study given on a weekly basis.
Since these seem like pleasant people, you may agree to these regular visits. It's nice to have
company over, and just about everybody is interested in knowing more about the Bible.
The "Bible study" is in fact a book study. You will be introduced to a beginners' text. A Bible will
be sitting on the table during the study, but most of the time will be spent on the study book.
They will explain that the Bible is, after all, long and complex, so this is a more organized way to
learn what the Bible really says.
Here are some of the things to look for when Jehovah's Witnesses come to your home...
Enhancement of natural fears
Evasiveness about actual purpose of visit (discussion versus conversion)
Selective, unsupported statements about the state of the world
An attractive promise of paradise
Advantage taken of your politeness and relative tack of training
Skill in overcoming or derailing objections
Genuine belief in what they preach
Implication that their way is the only way
Misrepresentation and white-washing of sensitive doctrinal issues
Citing bad experiences as reasons to join them
Turning good experiences into reasons to join them
Pessimism about humanity's future (unless God intervenes)
Criticism of government and clergy
Arrangement of return visits and (eventually) a Bible study
Once you have agreed to participate in a free Bible study, you will be involved in a process that is
designed to encourage you to go to Witness meetings and eventually get baptised. However, this
long-range goal is not yet mentioned. The emphasis is on learning "what the Bible says".
Indeed, if you ask your teacher about her motivation (we'll assume here that your study
conductor is female), she will say something like, "I'm just here to help you understand the
Bible". If you ask, "Are you trying to get me to join your religion?" she will probably have a
diplomatic answer, such as, "That's your decision, not mine".
Incidentally, the free Bible study is the only place where a woman can formally teach you about
Witness doctrine. Witnesses do not permit women to speak from the podium at their Kingdom
Hall (meeting place), although women are allowed to put on short plays to demonstrate some
point of doctrine.
The study conductor will usually ask you to pre-read the material in the study book for the next
lesson. In such case, you will probably be asked to underline the answers to the canned
questions that appear at the bottom of each page. She will explain that this is for quick reference
during the study, or in case a family member wants to know what you have learned. This pre-
reading and underlining is an effective study technique, but it is also a subtle and powerful
indoctrination method. This will be discussed in more detail later, in the section "Repetition and
The New World Translation
Unless you specifically request otherwise, your teacher will use the New World Translation of the
Bible, which is the official version of the scriptures used by the Witnesses. It is a reasonably
accurate translation of the Bible (as far as 1 am qualified to judge), but certain verses that seem
to contradict Witness doctrine have been translated with their teachings in mind. If there are two
possible translations, the New World Translation will always choose the one closest to Witness
doctrine, even if the reasoning behind the rendering is somewhat shaky.
Your study conductor may explain that she likes to use the New World Translation because it is
written in plain English. This is a fair statement, the NWT is quite readable. However, if you use
the NWT as your only reference, you will never know when an alternative translation is at odds
with what the Witnesses believe.
For an example of this problem, compare the wording of John 1:1 in the NWT with the wording in
almost any other Bible. The Witnesses are non-trinitarian - they do not believe that God is 'three
in one'. Their Bible has been produced with this in mind. There are arguments for and against the
NWT's rendering of John 1:1, but few translators agree with the choice made by the Witnesses.
The Witnesses believe they are the only "true" religion, and your study conductor will bring up several
points of contention to demonstrate that only the Witnesses have God's guidance ·--*-
For example, the Witnesses will attempt to prove to you that they are the only ones who are literally
preaching "in God's name". They say that no other religion uses God's name so frequently, or with such
passion. This seems like a compelling argument, though one must wonder what God would think of having
his name mispronounced. (See Appendix I — God's Name)
The "use of God's name" is very important to Witnesses, and your study conductor will make it into a major
issue. Indeed, as your study progresses, you will find that your study conductor 'proves' the validity of her
religion by focusing on issues that seem insignificant to most people.
I For example, Witnesses are concerned about proving that Christ was executed on a wooden stake,
rather than a cross. This is "important", they say. You will also be told that it is an offense to God to
celebrate Christmas or birthdays. (See Appendix 2 — Celebrations)
The effect of receiving this 'information' can be profound. If you agree with the study conductor that these
matters are of great significance, you will inevitably notice that only the Witnesses care about such things.
By such means do the Witnesses convince you that they are the only religion that is doing what God wants.
Almost any book written about the Bible will support its assertions with a list of Bible verses that you are
supposed to look up. While it is hard to imagine an alternative to this approach, it does mean that each verse
is plucked from the stream of writing, so its relationship to the surrounding scripture is lost.
Witness books are no exception. In many cases, the verse is clear enough; "Thou shall not kill" can hardly
be read two ways, and people already know that it comes from the Ten Commandments. However, in some
cases the associated text can alter the meaning of a verse drastically.
For example, the Witnesses have a doctrine regarding "The Faithful and Discreet Slave" parable told by
Jesus. By selecting certain verses, they can back up their idiosyncratic interpretation (which is that Jesus was
pointing to the existence of special men of wisdom, particularly the Watchtower Society) However, if you
read the parable (which on closer inspection turns out to be two parables), you will spot details that have not
been fitted into the Witness doctrine. (To see for yourself, read Matthew 24:45 through Matthew 25:30.)
By taking verses here and there, it is possible to make the Bible say anything. The Witnesses accuse other
religions of doing this, and the other religions point their fingers right back at the Witnesses.
The study book you are using in the free Bible study will sometimes quote the actual verse it is talking about.
This makes it impossible to see the scripture that accompanies it. Once again, this is a problem that affects
all writings about the Bible -- not just the books of the Witnesses — but it does lead one to ask if something
called a "Bible study" should, in fact, use the Bible as its primary source material.
If you ask your teacher why you are using a book and not the Bible itself, she will probably repeat the
argument that it is faster and easier to use a study book. Thus, the Bible does not get to speak for itself. It
does not stand or fall on its own merits. Rather, it will be used to 'prove' the assertions made by the book.
Of course, one may ask a touchy question: is the Bible a perfect book, with the final say on all matters 9 The
Witnesses believe that the Bible is to be read literally, except when it explicitly states that it is speaking
figuratively, or when they think it is speaking in symbols — which is rather often
If you do not share this belief, it is unlikely that the Witnesses will offer to study with you. Their
unquestioned (and non-negotiable) belief is that the Bible contains no errors, legends, oral tradition or
purely human opinions.
The Watchtower study books and magazines are powerful tools for indoctrination. They concentrate the
mind on the teachings of the Governing Body (the men who set the doctrine for the Watchtower Bible and
Tract Society). You are not encouraged to infer conclusions using only the Bible.
While these books and tracts (known by Witnesses as "the literature") frequently refer to the Bible, a typical
Witness will read hundreds of words of "literature" for every word of Bible text. So even though they
become well acquainted with the Bible, they become even more familiar with the interpretations of the
This is neither obvious nor evident to most Witnesses, because the literature can cover the same subjects
repeatedly, using different words. The Bible's comments, on the other hand, are 'cast in stone'. So when
Witnesses think about a particular issue, they will remember a few relevant Bible verses, and subconsciously
recall reams of interpretation espoused by the Governing Body.
Repetition and Emphasis
Repetition is a potent method used to drive home the interpretations of the Governing Body. Few people
notice that the same questions and concepts are repeated over and over. Yet thus constant emphasis on
certain ideas serves as a kind of'Witness Catechism', Let us see how this works during the free Bible study.
A day or two before the study, each article or chapter being studied is first read through privately by the
student. Questions appear at the bottom of each page, corresponding to each paragraph in the text. The
student then underlines the answers Almost invariably, each question has a one-sentence answer in the
paragraph Finding the answer means scanning the paragraph a second time. Underlining the sentence
means reading it a third time
During the study, your study conductor will read the paragraph out loud (or ask you to do it). This makes
the fourth time you've heard each of the underlined sentences. She will then ask you for the answer, which
you will read from the book.
Thus, you will have read the answer five times before you are done with it
I If you're an average reader, you will have memorized the sentence by the second or third read. Your
attention will wander slightly during the fourth or fifth read. v- Herein lies the danger: you will not be paying
attention to what is being said.
This is rote learning, such as you use to memorize the multiplication tables. By repeating the same
answers over and over, you place them deeply into your memory. You actually become bored with the
answer and wish to move on to something else. As a result, you do not question the answer.
Most ex-JW's (ex-Jehovah's Witnesses) identify "boredom" as one of the worst features of that religion. The
constant repetition is uninspiring, and it never lets up. A topic you have studied one month may pop up in
slightly different form the next, and once again you are repeating the same canned answers (perhaps with
slightly different wording).
The effect is almost hypnotic. When you are in a trance-like state, (brought on by boredom or repetition),
your mind goes into 'automatic mode', and reactions are instinctive rather than critical.
For example, if you drive a car along a long, undifferentiated highway, your mind will wander. Eventually
you will arrive at your destination and not remember how you got there. One way of looking at it is that you
had no decisions to make along the way. You were, as the saying goes, "a million miles away" — in the car in
body but not in spirit.
Actually, the Watchtower literature is quite well written, given its purpose of informing a wide range of
people at various levels of education. It uses simple language -- you will seldom need to consult a dictionary.
But even this lack of challenge can put one to sleep. For most people, the sheer simplicity of the writing
removes the thrill and challenge of reading.
Jehovah's Witnesses have been accused of preying upon ignorant, uneducated people. It is probably more
accurate (and less cynical) to say that their literature can be easily understood by anybody.
This is an admirable accomplishment, except that once you have mastered the basic material, there is
nothing deep for you to study. The heavy thinking takes place at
Watchtower headquarters, and the rank-and-file members are strongly discouraged from exploring
alternative interpretations. Indeed, they may be cast out of the
congregation for doing so ~ this will be discussed in more detail in the section "To Whom Shall We Go?".
Asked and Answered
One could analyse Watchtower literature in many ways to show how it bends one's mind to accepting what is
written without question, but that is outside the scope of this article I will limit myself to describing one more
Watchtower literature has a peculiar tendency to ask a question and then answer it immediately afterwards.
It does this relentlessly, and the question/answer I combination does not give you time to think about the
answer you've been offered, since by the time you've read the answer, you're well into the next sentence.
Here is an example, taken at random by flipping open a copy of the September 1 1996 issue of The
Watchtower. On page 14 it says:
What is the purpose of this covenant? It is to produce a nation of kings and priests to bless all mankind.
(Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10) The Mosaic Law covenant never produced this nation in the
Ignore the actual text for a moment and notice how the question is asked, then answered, then followed by a
string of verses to look up in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. If you decide to look these up, you will be
looking for proof that the statement just made was correct. More likely, you will do what most people do:
"blip" over the verses, thinking, "Ijnjess they apply or they wouldn't have listed them", and move on to the
In neither case will you stop and say, "Wait a minute, was that assertion correct?" This is especially true if
you encounter the statement during a bible study or meeting, nobody is going to wait for you to weigh the
pros and cons.
Of course, all commentaries must make assertions and then back them up. But why does Watchtower
literature use this particular question/answer style so frequently?
One possibility is that the Governing Body deliberately invented the question/answer techniques (i.e.
"underlining" and "immediate answers") to hypnotize people and bend them to their will. 1 do not believe
the Governing Body is that cynical.
A more credible reason is that these techniques reflect an element of Witness culture. Witnesses acquire the
belief that for every question there is one "true" answer. If the Governing Body (speaking through the
literature) poses a question, they are expected to provide an answer. Witnesses do not like "gray areas". One
of the chief benefits of being a Witness is that you have answers for everything.
Many of the answers may not be true, but they are answers. In a life full of doubt and uncertainty, a
Witness, gains enormous peace of mind simply by believing that there are men who "know". They may
occasionally have to live contrary to their nature, or ignore a nagging doubt, but the reward is a feeling of
In other words, the Governing Body is giving the Witnesses precisely what they want to have.
Moving Away from the Old Life
After a few months of free Bible study, your teacher will start to exert some pressureonyon_to "progress" to
a "greater level of participation"
You may be invited to join her in the door-to-door preaching work, as an observer ^It's not as hard as you
think," she may say (and indeed, it is much less stressful ^than most people imagine). Nevertheless, your first
door-to-door escapade is a sort of initiation rite. Although you may hang back and not do any talking, you
are out in the street with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Your mere presence is a statement to the world, and to
' Moreover, as you encounter some nasty people at the door, you will inevitably form a bond of shared
suffering (or persecution, to use the Witness term). This is the beginning of the "us and them" mentality,
which is carefully cultivated by the Witnesses.
You may not feel ready to observe the door-to-door preaching work. There are other ways that your study
conductor can influence your attitudes, bringing them into closer accord with those of the Witnesses.
If it is the right time of year, your teacher will almost certainly jnvjte you to attend the "Memorial"
(described in Appendix 2). This is an inoffensive, rather dry ritual which takes place once a year in the
Witness's Kingdom Hall (meeting place). Your teacher will offer the invitation in the hope that you will be
inspired by the Christian spirit of the people at the Kingdom Hall. (See Appendix 3 - Christian Spirif)
A Peek Behind the Mask
Once your study conductor feels you arc ready, she will slowly introduce you to the restrictions placed upon
Witnesses. She will approach this matter gently, though. She may explain that "These are the principles that
a good Christian follows while cultivating a clean conscience". (See Appendix 4 - Witness-Speak)
For example, you will be discouraged (or "warned") against reading material that was not produced by the
Watchtower Society. "These people do not have Jehovah's guidance," you will be told. At this point in the
indoctrination process, you will probably take this advice to heart Your study conductor may even assist you
in throwing out books that are "unwholesome" (a code word meaning "Not from the Watchtower") rather
You will be given further advice about what television programs are "appropriate" (another code word,
meaning "Acceptable to the Watchtower Society"). You may even receive advice on your attire, in which
case your wardrobe may take a sharp turn towards the conservative. You don't want to give a bad
witness to people by the way you dress, do you?
These seemingly well-intentioned tidbits of advice are the first steps in wresting away control of your life. It
may not seem like much of a sacrifice at the time, but it is your introduction to a new mode of behavior, in
which the Watchtower Society expresses its opinions on the smallest detail of your existence: what you read,
what you wear, what you watch, what you eat, who you listen to, how you conduct your sex life, even how
you should think.
A Shift in Perspective
Your friends and family will certainly notice these changes in your lifestyle and demeanor. They may
applaud the positive changes (including your happier attitude, if you feel you have finally discovered the true
religion). However, people resist change in themselves and their friends Even the positive improvements may
be criticized (not to mention the restrictions on your freedom and self-determination).
Your study conductor will warn you that this opposition comes directly from Satan, who does not want you
to learn "the truth". This revelation may give you a certain sense of pride, as you suddenly seem to be
embroiled in the ultimate struggle between good and evil. You may also be impressed by your teacher's
apparent knowledge — and ability to predict — Satan's tricks.
At another level, though, something sinister is going on. You are being taught to see your friends and family
as a means through which the Devil can "get you". If
your dearest friends suggest that you think twice before joining the Witnesses, you may question their
motives: are they really concerned about my welfare, or is this
just another of Satan's tricks? """"
Once you start thinking this way, the world begins to separate into two sides: the good people (i.e. the
Witnesses) and the bad people (i.e. non-Witnesses). This change in attitude is barely noticeable at first, but
its very subtlety is what makes it so dangerous.
This, alas, is precisely what the Witnesses want. They need to drive a wedgejjetween the "old" you and the
"new" you. Once you have become immersed in their phantasmal view of the universe, you will see hidden
motives and veile^yierils^ everywhere. Satan is waiting just around the next corner! He's lurking in the
You may find it hard to imagine that you could ever change so much. However, once the Witnesses have
caused you to doubt the good intentions of your friends and family, you gradually move into an empty place.
The only ones who can fill that emptiness are Jehovah's Witnesses.
When you progress from the free Bible study to attending regular meetings at the Kingdom Hall, it naturally
makes everybody in the congregation happy. You will be accorded effusive special attention — it's almost
like a honeymoon!
This can be a moving experience. If you were previously in another church or organization, you may have
found yourself in the background -- just one of many members. Now, though, helpful, smiling people
surround you. You're on center stage!
You're also at somewhat of a disadvantage. This initial outpouring of affection may be genuine and heartfelt,
but it can also be confusing and misleading.
The care you are shown when you first arrive at a Kingdom Hall may lead you to believe that you have — at
last! - found a place where there is "true love for everybody". However, it is easy to confuse a sudden
outburst of infatuation for "the real thing". While the Witnesses are genuinely glad to see a potential
convert, they have a mission to carry out: they must help "save" you by getting you to keep coming back to
Witnesses will chat amiably with you, seeking commorxgxgund^ smile, extend compliments, listen
attentively, smile some more, and say virtually anything to keep you in a good mood. This is what is known
as "giving a good witness" They want to impress you with sheer wonderfulness so that surely you will see
that you have entered a House of God.
Just about every religion does the same thing
During this honeymoon, congregational elders will pat you on the back (literally or figuratively) about your
"excellent progress" You may receive dinner invitations. Somebody may happen to remember they have a
suit they'd outgrown that would be just perfect for you.
Who could help but be overwhelmed?
Alas, as the saying goes, "no honeymoon lasts forever". As with all relationships, you can not expect the
original passion to continue unabated^
In anti-cult literature, this outpouring of tenderness is called "Love-Bombing". I do not believe it is fair to
use that term here because I do not consider the Witnesses to be a cult (See Appendix 5 — Cults).
Nevertheless, no matter what you call this storm of self-esteem-building approval, it does break through
your defenses. You want the love to keep on coming, and you will find yourself ready to sacrifice almost
anything to hold on to the feeling. If this is not a glimpse of paradise, what is 1
In Witness parlance, "uplifting" means "making somebody joyful" "Encouragement" means "Exhorting
someone to grow as a Christian".
Ex-Witnesses have a slightly jaundiced view of these definitions. I have heard ex-Witnesses define
"uplifting" as "Something nice to say about material that is boring you to death". In a similar vein,
"Encouragement" is redefined to mean "Getting somebody to work harder for the Watchtower Society".
A matter of perspective, perhaps?
When you start attending the Kingdom Hall meetings, you will receive plenty of "uplifting encouragement".
It is only natural that the Witnesses want you to see the good side of their religion, while playing down the
less appealing parts (such as restrictions and judgments). ,
At first, the Witnesses will agree (albeit provisionally) with just about anything you say. Yes, I can see how
you 7/ see it that way. This apparent tolerance for new ideas is, unfortunately, not going to last; it is just
another example of the feigned reasonableness described earlier (see "So Very Reasonable"). As you will
later discover, the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses does not accept critical input from the rank-and-
file — and certainly not from visitors!
All the Answers
At this point in your visit to the Kingdom Hall, the Witnesses might start asking you subtle questions about
the Bible. Unless you are a Biblical scholar, you will not be able to answer these questions, but the Witnesses
will. Whatever one might say about the Witnesses' interpretations about the Bible, their raw knowledge of
the Bible is not in dispute.
By demonstrating their skill at Bible-wrangling, the Witnesses build up the impression that they can answer
any question you could possibly ask. This is a critical part of the indoctrination, though it is poignantly
ironic because the Witnesses do not know they are caught up in the same game
This "game" is well expressed on page 120 of the book "The Trumpet of Prophecy" (italics added):
What is sociologically interesting about Jehovah's Witnesses is that they derive psychological satisfaction
from perceiving a coherent pattern in their beliefs regardless of possible inner inconsistencies, and that, even
if they do notice inconsistencies, they can then abrogate personal responsibility for their own beliefs in the
safe conviction that someone, somewhere in the Waichtower Society must be able to solve the problem.
It makes sense: every Witness who joined as an adult was given the impression that the answers are always
out there somewhere. If they can't find an answer (they reason), they must not be looking hard enough. In
any case, they can always fall back on the last-ditch solution mentioned in "The Trumpet of Prophecy"
An implicit premise in the argument is usually that, if the perceived inconsistencies were real, then the
beliefs would not have gained widespread popularity.
This is the point at which the indoctrination moves away from assertions and proofs and enters into the
realm of faith. The answers you sought are theoretically out there, but you may not be able to find them.
Difficult questions may be dismissed as "pointless speculation". If some doctrinal point is really troubling
you, you will usually be advised by your study conductor to "Wait upon Jehovah" ~ a code phrase which
means either that:
She has also wondered, but never received an answer, or ...
The Watchtower Society simply hasn't formulated an answer yet.
With this almost imperceptible change in emphasis, your allegiance is transferred from the Bible to the
Watchtower Society This will become the new theme for your conversion: the Watchtower Society is the
source of all answers, and even if the answers are sometimes inconsistent or just plain wrong, they will be
corrected "in due time". (See "The Ncnv Light Doctrine")
As you move closer to becoming a full member of Jehovah's Witnesses, you will rely less on the Bible and
more on the statements made by the Governing Body of
the Watchtower Society. The aura of infallibility that surrounds the Bible starts to cast some of its glow upon
the dozen men in Brooklyn who decide what the
Witnesses will consider "The Truth".
These men do not explicitly claim to be infallible, of course. Their track record makes this claim impossible
Rather, they tone down their claim to authority by claiming to be God's spirit-directed representatives on
The longer you are a Witness, the more you will see these men as virtual prophets (although they avoid using
the term "prophet"). You will tend to shrug off their errors as "human imperfection", while nevertheless
granting them full authority over your life. This is a gradual process, picked up mostly by interactions with
other Witnesses. As mentioned earlier, (see "Asked and Answered"), Witnesses crave certainty, and will
cling to the illusion that they have found it, even if today's version of "The Truth" is slightly different from
As a regular visitor to the Kingdom Hall, you will be gently encouraged to participate in Witness activities,
such as door-to-door preaching. If you go along, your path will be smooth, and you will be accepted as
someone who is "progressing well". If you hold back, though, the gentleness will start to take on a bit of an
edge. Don't yon know that we are living in the Last Days? Don't you know that this is something
Jesus prophesized that we would do?
With further resistance comes increased pressure. When you stand before God in judgment, would you
want to be found lacking?
Your tender visions of paradise may start to fade a little, as you see that there's a "performance issue" at
stake. You have not been "forgiven and reborn" (as many Christian religions believe), but will have to work
every day for your salvation. You will never know if you are "saved" until Jehovah tells you.
You are now in a darker situation than before. You apparently have to do what the Watchtower Society
says, or you will be destroyed.
Some people "bail out" of the indoctrination process at this point, but are left with a nagging feeling that
they have turned their back on God. You may choose to follow the lead of the Watchtower Society. After all
(you may reason), have they ever lied to you before?
At this point, your study conductor will - one that will improve your chances of being preserved
mention "the logical next step" that it's time from destruction. She will suggest
for you to get baptised.
Baptism is a water-immersion ceremony that also involves making several vows — including one to accept the guidance
of the Watchtower Society. These baptisms are often conducted in large groups ("mass baptisms"). This delights the
Witnesses by demonstrating the growth of their religion. A side-effect (if you harbor any remaining doubts) is that it is
very difficult to change your mind at the last minute when you are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of Witnesses.
Once baptised, you are a Jehovah's Witness, and will be expected to follow all the rules and attend the numerous
meetings. At the same time, the "love-fest" that greeted you when you first arrived will be substantially muted. Indeed,
you will now be expected to show the same enthusiasm for newcomers that you found so thrilling. If you feel a bit
hypocritical about doing so, you can always blame your bad feeling on Satan.
Here is a summary of what happens as Jehovah's Witnesses groom you to become baptised..
Avoidance of talk about "joining" the religion
Pre-reading and underlining the study text
Use of the New World Translation of the Bible
More time spent on the study book than the Bible
No encouragement to study the context of a quoted scripture
Elevation of arcane issues to matters of great importance
Insistence upon the inerrancy of the Bible
Giving "the" answer immediately after posing a question
Discouraging or postponing debate indefinitely
Intolerance of gray areas; things are thus and so
Holding out the lure of "certainty" — answers for everything
Encouragement to participate in certain Witness activities
Gradual introduction of restrictions placed upon Witnesses
Enthusiastic support when you attend a Kingdom Hall
Reinforcing the impression that they have all the answers
Gradual transfer of allegiance to the Watchtower Society
Door-to-door preaching, and regular attendance of meetings
To Whom Shall We Go?
Watchtower indoctrination process never ends. There are several weekly meetings to attend, magazines and books to study,
and you are also expected to do a minimum of 10 hours of door-to-door preaching each month
As you move away from "worldly contacts" (i.e. your old friends and family) and get closer to the Witnesses, you will find that
you are spending more and more time being exposed to their world-view. Since we_are social animals, it is inevitable that our
own views will slowly come into accord with Ihe group.
All this leaves you with very little time to think critically about what you are being taught -- even assuming you want to think
critically about such things.
You see, at this point you have made new friends and have changed your life. You have places to go, people to see, and there's
always that "wondrous hope for the future". You'll hesitate to consider that some things about your new religion aren't quite
If you do ask if there might be another religion that is just as good or (heaven forbid) even better, you'll be asked, "Who taught
you all the things you know now?" This is known by ex-Witnesses as the "To Whom Shall We Go?" argument, in reference to
In that particular scripture, Jesus asked his apostles if they would leave him because his preaching had become controversial
Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of eternal life And we have believed and know that thou
art the Holy One of God."
A Blurred Distinction
New Witnesses eventually end up thinking that way about the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. It is the one
with "words of eternal life", and they "have believed" Moreover, they "know" that the Watchtower Society is
This belief becomes so strong that Witnesses sometimes blur the distinction between the Society and God. In their
world-view, their religion is a "theocracy" (government by God), with the Watchtower Society as the earthly
representative. Just as an ambassador speaks authoritatively for his government, so too does the
Watchtower Society speak for theirs.
It's hard to pay homage (in action or in attitude) to something or someone that you can not see. The Watchtower
Society, on the other hand, is a worldwide bureaucracy with a clear structure and a known geographic center
(Brooklyn, New York). The Brooklyn headquarters are a kind of "Mecca" to Witnesses. While I don't want to push
that analogy too far, I believe that visiting the headquarters is like a Muslim liujj for Witnesses. Some Witnesses
plan their vacations around visiting "Bethel" (a term used for branch offices in general, and Brooklyn in particular).
Some have likened this to "bowing down before men". It's certainly human nature to want to have a tangible
representation of something ineffable. Significantly, the Watchtower Society is often referred to as "God's visible
organization". Consider this quote from page 22 of the January 15, 1983 issue of the Watchtower magazine:
How is such independent thinking manifested'' A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by
God's visible organization.
In just two sentences, the article describes what Witnesses perceive to be a danger to "right-thinking" Christians.
Independent thinking may lead one to doubt the authority of the Watchtower Society.
In the long term, resistance against the Society is seen to be resistance against God. With such a loftyjnission, the
Society believes it is empowered to exert enormous control over the minds and hearts of its followers.
When the Toe Crosses the Line
You might think that "contact with God hv prpvy" would upset the rank-and-file, but it rarely does. They have
accented the Society as God's channel of wisdom, just as devout Catholics see the Pope as their channel to GoAJhe
Witnesses certainly did not invent the idea of deferring-to men, leaving tne ' neavy spiritual stuft" to hose who are
expected lo be better qualified
Nevertheless, some Witnesses do eventually rebel against this arrangement. The Watchtower Society has a way to
prevent this kind of thinking from becoming a trend. The Elders' Guide ("Pay Attention to Yourselves and All the
Flock") has this to say:
Apostasy includes action taken against true worship of Jehovah or his established order among his dedicated
people. Persons who deliberately spread (stubbornly hold to and speak about) teachings contrary to Bible truth as
taught by Jehovah's Witnesses are apostates.
You'll notice how Biblical truth is very nearly equated with that which is "taught by Jehovah's Witnesses".
People who persist in independent thinking are taken through several steps. First:
those with sincere doubts should be helped, dealt with mercifully.
This is a reasoned attempt to gently divert someone from forming their own opinions about Biblical matters. If this
does not work, a variety of options are available to the Elders, such as judicial committees, public reproof,
figuratively "marking" the person, unilaterally disassociating someone (i.e. saying they've left), or
disfellowshipping (i.e. excommunication).
Disfellowshipping - essentially, throwing the person out of the worldwide Jehovah's Witnesses fellowship ~ is the
most devastating personal blow of the methods listed so far. Yet all of these techniques serve as object lessons to
others who may harbor some doubts They quickly leam to keep quiet. They do not wish to return to the outside
world, which by now they perceive to be an evil, loveless place
. These tactics enforce consensus. One reason that Witnesses believe they have God's blessing is that everybody
seems to agree on the same things. How could it be ( otherwise if those who raise objections get pushed away?
Even the fear of disfellowshipping pales in comparison to the prospect of being destroyed at Armageddon, and
being deprived of eternal life in a paradise earth.
The Tallest Barrier
There's a final, deeper motivation to remain a Witness. Once you have identified the Watchtower Society as God's
chosen channel to humanity, turning your back on them is tantamount to rejecting God
This type of fear is so deeply rooted in our psyches that it is impossible to express in words. If you do leave the
Witnesses, you will find yourself alone in the most profound sense imaginable. This can be made even worse if (as
is often the case) you have family members in the Witnesses who completely cut you off, to avoid catching the
plague that has apparently invaded you. They may even accuse you of being under demonic influence.
Here are some of the means by which you arc compelled to remain a Jehovah's Witness..
Continual meetings and study leave you little
time for anything else
You make new friends
You gradually acquire thought-patterns from your new friends
You acquire a deep sense of pride in your new religion
You come to see the world as an "us and them" situation
You can't think of any alternatives to the Witnesses
You are actively discouraged from investigating such alternatives
You become convinced the Watchtower Society is God's channel
You begin to pay close attention to following the rules
You may begin to worry about official discipline
You see consensus of opinion (a side-effect of discipline)
You worry about being shunned by friends and (Witness) family
You worry about being cut off or destroyed by God
You genuinely want what the Witnesses have promised
Witnesses are presented with an elite social milieu, a feeling of certainty, and a hope for better things. These are things
that most people dearly want to find. It takes great bravery to give it all up.
It is exceedingly difficult to face this challenge alone If you have decided to leave the Witnesses, your first priority
should be to find whatever support you can get, through books, articles, web sites -- and people. As you move away
from your "new" life into a newer one, you will find that the world is not as shadowy as the Witnesses have led you to
believe. Love is everywhere, in many forms.
Be careful, though, that you don't leave the Witnesses and jump into yet another controlling group (religious or
otherwise). Take your time, and always remember the
dictum: Tout ce qui Mile n'estpas or — not everything that shines is gold.
Think for yourself, and keep asking questions.
Appendix 1 -- God's Name
In one sense, the New World Translation of the Bible is superior to most other translations, but at the same time its
strength becomes its worst affliction. This issue involves the use of the name "Jehovah".
Most translations replace God's name by "Lord" (usually in uppercase, i.e. "LORD"). This tradition derives from the
Jewish rule against speaking God's name. (This no doubt relates to concerns about "taking God's name in vain" — one
of the Ten Commandments).
"Better safe than sorry" seems to be the attitude of most translators So deeply ingrained is this avoidance of the Divine
Name that one can not find any original texts that have the name spelled out in its entirety. As a result, the original
pronunciation of God's name is not known for sure.
The original Hebrew did not use vowels, so God's name was rendered as YHVH. Eventually, the Masoretic translation
of the Bible inserted special vowel symbols. However, when it came to the name YHVH, the translators used the vowels
from "Adonai" (meaning "Lord") as a warning to the reader to say "Lord" instead of the Divine Name. Thus, YHVH
Some scholars argue that the name should be pronounced Yahveh, while others prefer Yahweh. The matter is probably
impossible to prove one way or the other.
Return to text
Appendix 2 - Celebrations
Jehovah's Witnesses do not have "celebrations" — at least not in the sense that most people
would understand that word. Celebrations with even tenuous connections with pagan holidays
are considered tainted^ even if the tainted portions are removed.
For example, a Witness would never have a Christmas tree, because such "Tanenbaums" were once used by the
Druids. The Witnesses can not see it as "just a tree". Christmas is also tied to the wild Roman celebration of Saturnalia
according to the following logic: early Christians instituted Christmas around the same time of year to give Christians
something more wholesome to do. (The Witnesses do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25th, and Biblical
scholars agree with them on this point.)
Birthdays are condemned because they are never presented in a positive light in the Bible. John the Baptist was
beheaded at a birthday - see Matthew 14:6-11. Witnesses also claim that birthdays glorify a person, when all glory
should go to God.
Easter is not celebrated because it is not mentioned in the Bible. However, at that time of year the Witnesses do conduct
a ritual known as "The Lord's Evening Meal", which bears a faint resemblance to Catholic Communion. The ritual is
also known as "The Memorial" because it is based upon a request by Jesus that his followers partake of wine and
unleavened bread in remembrance of him
The only celebration honored by Witnesses is the wedding anniversary. While the "giving honor to humans" argument
applied to birthdays might also be used against anniversaries, Witnesses have not considered it necessary to do so.
A Witness might observejliat^very day should be a relehrnfiniwrrjjxtlinl wr dn nnt need n ipfrrrMny to worship and
be happy: They may have a-poinLthere!
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Appendix 3 - Christian Spirit
Jehovah's Witnesses have a rather constricted view of what happens in other churches, because they are "discouraged"
(i.e. effectively forbidden) from attending other places of worship.
Many Witnesses - and I was one of them — have the impression that a Kingdom Hall is a place where God's Love and
Glory virtually bounces off the walls, while other churches have a faint odor of Satanic influence.
Some churches, it is true, are dreary places. Many churches, however, are brimming with enthusiasm and good feeling.
This positive feeling is directed at everybody -- not just the newcomers. People bubble over with happiness.
Most people, upon visiting a Kingdom Hall for the first time, remark that it is clean, and that the children are
marvelously well behaved. Their perceptions might go deeper than that, but newcomers are easily spotted and are
whisked away in a whirlwind of encouragement before they have the chance to look more closely.
A more detached observer would notice that the Witnesses exhibit a kind of "fatalistic joy". They're happy to be
Witnesses, but there is a kind of .sorrow about them, possibly due to the Witnesses'^tern doctrines regarding salvation.
This glum outlook is usually masked quite well with smiles and joviality, but it becomes especially evident when they
sing their songs.
I have tried to avoid editorializing too much in this article, but I will state that (in my opinion) one thing missing from
the Kingdom Hall is pure unbridled joy Although Witnesses are pleasant people, their outlook is affected by their belief
that billions of people will be slaughtered soon, in God's Great Day of Judgment
While most Witnesses apparently look forward to the massacre, it is hard to see how they can be joyful with such a
disaster lurking in the backs of their minds. If you visit a Kingdom Hall, listen to them singing. Then listen to the
singers at some other churches. Can you hear the difference?
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Appendix 4 - Witness-Speak
Witness speech features round-about statements, "code" words, idiomatic phrases, and a few neologisms. It would be
impossible to pose as a Witness without learning their argot - your ruse would be detected moments after you opened
This is not particularly remarkable. Linguists recognize what they call a "speech community", which encompasses a
variety of people who express themselves in a similar manner. The community does not have to inhabit a single
The stability of the Witness' speech community is strengthened by the literature. Certain expressions "come into
vogue", while others are relegated to the dustbin. During the 1960's, for example, Witnesses would not refer to their
group as a "religion" but preferred the term "nation". The term "church" was also considered improper. Several
decades later, these terms have been restored to respectability.
Only somebody who is actively involved with the Witnesses can keep up to date with the latest trends in Witness-Speak.
By regularly reading the literature and attending their meetings, one can infer which expressions are "in" and which
Much could be written about Witness-Speak, explaining their idiosyncratic usage of such terms as:
Approprate Christendom Compaon Conduct Encouraging
Imperfection Independent Inspiration Persecution Uplifting
Stumbling The World Theocratic Truth
Unfortunately, deeper analysis of Witness-Speak is outside the scope of this article.
Witness-Speak and other forms of argot are not nefarious plots designed to control people. They are natural
developments in groups or societies that have established boundaries between themselves and others.
Return to text
Appendix 5 -- Cults
NOTE: Certain words used below, such as "Cult" and "Brainwashing" have been adopted by various groups
to represent various opinions. As a result, the precise meanings of the words tend to depend upon the person
to whom you're talking. I will attempt to make my own usage clear, but 1 acknowledge that my definitions
may not match yours This is a semantic problem, which 1 hope will not cloud the issue.
While Jehovah's Witnesses meet many of the requirements to be considered a "cult", I believe the term is too
harsh to describe their religion. I prefer the term "High Control Group" (HCG) since the main problem with
the Witnesses (as I see it) is this:
flic pronouncements and missives from their leaders (the Governing Body) end up
dominating every facet of a person's life and mind. In my opinion, the Witnesses do not
deserve the "cult" label because:
They do not brainwash people
They do not physically restrain people
They do not physically threaten people
They do not weaken people through physical deprivation
The techniques used by the Witnesses are not as heavy-handed as the ones described above.
However, they have evolved effective substitutes. Personality Modification
Let us take a look at one accusation leveled against the Witnesses: that they "brainwash" people...
"Brainwashing" (according to one definition) means the forced alteration of someone's personality through
deprivation, restriction of mobility, and physical threats. The theory goes that when people are reduced to a
subhuman (or "regressed" or "infantile") state, new thoughts can be "poured" into them, and will take hold.
Whether or not there is any validity to this method, it is certainly not what is done to adults who join
The Witnesses use a milder form of personality modification, in which the "physical" means are replaced by
psychological manipulations. I call this "Indoctrination" Some people may feel that this word is not strong
enough, but at least you now know what I mean by the term.
Instead of physical restraints, the Witnesses use sociological and ideological restraints. Instead of physical
threats, they use nightmarish tales of future destruction.
While these techniques may seem distasteful to you, there is one major difference between the Brainwashing
and Indoctrination scenarios: somebody who is being
indoctrinated has a far greater possibility of escape. - -----------------------------------------~~
The Challenge of Change
Having said that, I must acknowledge that the Witnesses have honed their tools to a fine point.
This article is attempting to demonstrate how people can be gradually drawn in to the world-
view of the Witnesses. Once inside, they find that it is an insular, circular prison from which
escape is difficult.
Though it is not easy to get out of the "mind trap", it can be done if the person is genuinely
honest, at the deepest level, and is willing to pursue the cause of truth no matter where it
leads. This often means choosing between what is true and what is comforting
A Serious Matter
Alas, it is not always that straightforward.
Some people, with the best intentions, may leave the Witnesses to find no light at the end of
the tunnel — no solace whatsoever. Their thinking (or their "faith", if you prefer) has been
so deeply altered that they will be forever forbidden to "enter the Promised Land" -- any
promised land. This would be a bitter, Pyhrric victory: truth would win, but life would lose.
In terms of personal welfare, such people might be better off remaining Witnesses.
I hope this illustrates what is at stake when somebody tries to undo the indoctrination. The
longer a person remains in the Witnesses (forming social contacts, raising a family), the more
profound this dilemma becomes.
Surprised by Liberation
In my experience as a (self-appointed) exit counselor, I have found that most ex-Witnesses do
not immediately understand how they have escaped. They may be "standing outside the
Watchtower walls" and still think they are inside. The indoctrination takes deep roots through
constant repetition. In such cases, the "escape plan" must be formulated at a subconscious
level, because the conscious mind is tied up with Witness doctrine and the various
psychological barriers that have been erected.
As an added complication, Witnesses are gradually trained to ignore their subconscious
urgings — even to the point of seeing them as evil ideas implanted by Satan, This self-
censoring process has been described with startling clarity in the book "The Orwellian Word
of Jehovah's Witnesses", by Heather and Gary Botting.