|The passion for freedom of the mind is strong and everlasting, which is fortunate, because so is the passion to squelch it. – AM Rosenthal, New York Times|
Religion has the power to manipulate humans to believe unrealistic doctrine and engage in destructive behaviour. Examples are:
- Members of suicide cults and suicide bombers that sacrifice their own life and kill innocent members of the public
- Parents that allow their child to die refusing medical treatments
- Mothers and fathers that are instructed to shun their own children, or children that shun their parents and siblings for life, due to a difference of opinion over religion or morals
This section condenses a vast volume of research into political and religious control techniques in an effort to explain such behaviour. These techniques are then compared with Watchtower practices. Finally the emotional affects on members are examined, particular for those that try to leave such an organization.
A critically important concept for a Jehovah’s Witness to realise is that that are not unique; neither in doctrinal beliefs, displays of love or techniques of control.
The main indicators of mind control is any group that maintains;
- leadership deserves strict, unquestioning obedience
- they alone are unique in teaching truth
- salvation is only possible through association with the group
- dissenters must be strictly shunned
Sites dedicated to cult awareness suggest that there are over 3,000 organizations in America alone that fit such descriptions and 10,000 globally. These range from groups with a handful of followers, to those with millions. The Watchtower Society perfectly aligns with this description and as such is classified as a “high control group” appearing on most cult awareness lists.
Coercive persuasion is the academic term for mind control or brainwashing. The first major study showing how to identify organizations using mind control was done by Robert Lifton in the 1950’s. He specifically researched Chinese communist techniques.
In the 1950’s Robert J Lifton conducted a ground breaking study of techniques used to successfully brainwash captured American pilots to convert to the Communist ideology. This is presented in the 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China. This has been the basis for research into religions that use similar techniques to persuade members that they alone teach truth. Lifton identified eight points used that indicate a group is using coercive techniques or thought reform, techniques commonly used by cults.
Another leader in the field is Dr. Margaret Singer. Dr Singer summarises Lifton’s eight points as follows.1 All eight points align closely with practices and teachings of the Watchtower Society, and I have added examples of common Watchtower reasoning to show how closely these coincide:
1. Environment Control. Limitation of many/all forms of communication with those outside the group. Books, magazines, letters and visits with friends and family are taboo. “Come out and be separate!”
“False religious propaganda from any source should be avoided like poison! Really, since our Lord has used “the faithful and discreet slave” to convey to us “sayings of everlasting life,” why should we ever want to look anywhere else?” Watchtower 1987 Nov 1 p.20
“We must also be on guard against extended association with worldly people. Perhaps it is a neighbor, a school friend, a workmate, or a business associate. We may reason, ‘He respects the Witnesses, he leads a clean life, and we do talk about the truth occasionally.’ Yet, the experience of others proves that in time we may even find ourselves preferring such worldly company to that of a spiritual brother or sister. What are some of the dangers of such a friendship?” Watchtower 1994 Feb 15 p.24
2. Mystical Manipulation. The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the higher purpose and special calling of the group through a profound encounter / experience, for example, through an alleged miracle or prophetic word of those in the group.
“Then I knew why the Lord had led me to it so slowly and cautiously. I needed a special preparation of heart for the full appreciation of all it contained, and I was all the more assured that it was not of my own wisdom; for if of my own why would it not have come at once?” Zion’s Watch Tower 1906 Jul 15 p.234
“Enlightenment proceeds from Jehovah… and is given to the faithful anointed…. the remnant are instructed by the angels of the Lord. The remnant do not hear audible sounds, because such is not necessary. Jehovah has provided his own good way to convey thoughts to the minds of his anointed ones.” Preparation p.64
Current Governing Body
“The point is that Christians have implicit trust in their heavenly Father; they do not question what he tells them through his written Word and organization.” Watchtower 1974 Jul 15 p.441
“Today, Jehovah provides instruction by means of “the faithful steward.” (Luke 12:42)” Pay Attention to Yourself and to All The Flock p.13
3. Demand for Purity. An explicit goal of the group is to bring about some kind of change, whether it be on a global, social, or personal level. “Perfection is possible if one stays with the group and is committed.”
“The resulting peaceableness of Jehovah’s people makes them a refreshing oasis in a violent world.” Watchtower 2002 Jul 1 p.17
“DO YOU attend meetings at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovahs Witnesses? There you see a people far different from any other! Who are these people, and why are they different? We are Gods own people, and we are different because we bear the grandest of all namesthat of the glorious Creator of all the marvels of the universe around us.” Watchtower 1988 Jan 15 p.10
4. Cult of Confession. The unhealthy practice of self disclosure to members in the group. Often in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.
“So, if doubts, complaints, or apostasy threaten to contaminate you spiritually, cut them away quickly! (Compare Matthew 5:29, 30.) Get help from the congregation elders.” Watchtower 1989 Oct 1 p.18
“It is certainly not easy to confess to others deeds that one feels ashamed of and to seek forgiveness. It takes inner strength.” Watchtower 2001 Jun 1 p.31
“If he does not do this within a reasonable period of time, concern for the cleanness of the congregation should move you to report the matter to the elders” Watchtower 1989 Oct 15 pp.14-15
“Employers have a right to expect that their Christian employees will ‘exhibit good fidelity to the full,’ including observing rules on confidentiality. There may be occasions when a faithful servant of God is motivated by his personal convictions, based on his knowledge of God’s Word, to strain or even breach the requirements of confidentiality because of the superior demands of divine law. Courage and discretion would be needed. The objective would not be to spy on another’s freedom but to help erring ones and to keep the Christian congregation clean.” Watchtower 1987 Sep 1 p.15
5. Sacred Science. The group’s perspective is absolutely true and completely adequate to explain EVERYTHING. The doctrine is not subject to amendments or question. ABSOLUTE conformity to the doctrine is required.
“First, since “oneness” is to be observed, a mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding.” Watchtower 2001 Aug 1 p.14
6. Loaded Language. A new vocabulary emerges within the context of the group. Group members “think” within the very abstract and narrow parameters of the group’s doctrine. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a “black and white” mentality. Loaded terms and clichés prejudice thinking.
‘the truth’, ‘new system’, ‘publisher’, ‘worldly people’, ‘disfellowship’ ‘Jehovah’s Organization’, ‘RV’s’, ‘door to door’ and ‘theocratic’.
7. Doctrine over Person. Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly and decisively interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine.
“The world is filled with unhappiness, and people generally have a gloomy outlook on the future. However, we have a bright outlook, knowing that one day all sadness will be a thing of the past.” Kingdom Ministry Feb 2002 p.1
8. Dispensing of Existence. Salvation is possible only in the group. Those who leave the group are doomed.
“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
“From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah’s people those, who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude…They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching …” Watchtower 1981 Aug 15 p.29
“To turn away from Jehovah and his organization, to spurn the direction of “the faithful and discreet slave,” and to rely simply on personal Bible reading and interpretation is to become like a solitary tree in a parched land.” Watchtower 1985 Jun 1 p.20
Lifton identified a common theme amongst mind control groups. To summarise; the leaders claim a mystical source of guidance, claim to be the sole channel of truth and salvation, must not be questioned, demand members separate themselves from others, and punish leavers with shunning. This is the very core to Watchtower doctrine!
|No one joins a cult. No one joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political organization, and you join with people you really like. – Jonestown survivor|
Steven Hassan2 became involved with the Moonies and upon being ‘deprogrammed’ went on to become a world’s renowned cult specialist. The rising number of manipulative groups makes his books Combating Cult Mind Control (Park Street Press 1990) and Releasing the Bonds (Freedom of Mind Press 2000) important reading.
Hassan presents the BITE method as a simple way to test if a group is engaged in persuasive coercion;3
- Behaviour Control
- Information Control
- Thought Control
- Emotional Control
In chapter 2 of Releasing the Bonds Hassan lists examples of control techniques. Following are those that relate to the Watchtower Society:
- Regulation of individual’s physical reality, for example, what clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
- Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
- Individualism discouraged; “group think” prevails
- Rigid rules and regulations
- Need for obedience and dependency
- Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
- Black and White thinking – Good vs. Evil, us vs. them, inside vs. outside
- Use of “loaded” language (for example, “thought-terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding, and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words.”
- Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
- No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
- No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
- Use of deception
- Deliberately holding back information
- Distorting information to make it more “acceptable”
- Outright lying
- Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
- Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
- Critical information
- Former members
- Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think and check things out.
- Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
- Information is not freely accessible
- Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
- Leadership decides who “needs to know” what and when
- Spying and reporting on other members
- Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
- Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, and other media
- Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s
- Excessive use of guilt
- Excessive use of fear
- Fear of thinking independently
- Fear of the “outside” world
- Fear of enemies
- Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
- Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
- Fear of disapproval
Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
- No happiness or fulfilment outside of the group
- Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
- Shunning of leave takers; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
- Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are “weak,” “undisciplined,” “unspiritual,” “worldly,” “brainwashed by family or counselor,” or “seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.”
Hassan clarifies that although a cult will display all four aspects, not every cult displays all aspects of each criteria to the same degree. Some may require their members to live in communes, but this is rarely the case.
“It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind controlled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.”
It is also important to gauge the 4 aspects against the regulation of core members, not fringe dwellers.
“…fringe members will usually experience much less control than someone at the core. I look at the core membership of organization, not its fringe members, in my evaluation.”
This would include active publishers, pioneers, elders and bethelites.
In Chapter 4, Hassan goes on to explain the type of people susceptible to joining cults.
“Most people would like to believe that they are in complete control of their mind at all times. But it is precisely this belief in our own invulnerability that allows cults to entrap unsuspecting recruits. There are three primary reasons why intelligent, educated people with stable backgrounds can be drawn into cults. First, there is a pervasive lack of awareness about cults and mind control.
Second, many situations make people more vulnerable to recruitment. For example, person whose parents have recently separated or divorced will be more likely to listen to a recruiter who describes his group as “one big happy family”. Someone whose romantic relationship or marriage has just ended will be more susceptible to come-ons by an attractive person. Other common variables include: death of a loved one, illness, loss of a job, graduation (from high school or college), and moving to a new location (city, state, country). Situational vulnerabilities occur in everyone’s life. It is easy to see how people tend to be more vulnerable to an attractive recruiter offering community, love and meaning during such episodes. ”
Finally, some individuals have psychological profiles that make recruitment easier for cults. In general, people who have difficulty thinking critically will be easier targets.
People-pleasers, who seek the approval of their peer group out of insecurity, and anyone with low self esteem, will be more vulnerable to the peer pressure exerted by cult recruiters.
Individuals with learning disorders, drug or alcohol problems, unresolved sexual issues, pre-existing phobias, and other unresolved traumatic issues will also be easier targets. Cults seek out such vulnerabilities and use them against recruit, often making grandiose claims that their group will solve all of the person’s problems.” – pp.86, 87
Churches That Abuse
Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse 4 identifies five categories to identify abusive religion:
“1. Authority and Power – abusive churches misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a church or group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.
2. Manipulation and Control – abusive churches are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader’s decisions control and usurp the disciple’s right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.
3. Elitism and Persecution – abusive churches depict themselves as unique in God’s plans and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other church bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart God’s plans.
4. Life-style and Experience – abusive churches foster rigidity in behaviour and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group’s ideals and social mores.
5. Dissent and Discipline – abusive churches tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.”
The book Brainwashing – The Science of Thought Control by Kathleen Taylor (Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2004) presents an excellent summary of current research into the biology and psychology of the brain and identifies how organizations use this for the purposes of control. The mind is described very much like a river. As water flows down a river it erodes; the more water that flows down the river, the deeper it becomes. Likewise, the more a thought is repeated the stronger the brains synapses supporting that thought become. Furthermore, just as a river gets larger the more tributaries feed it, a belief will become stronger and harder to give up the more other beliefs connect to it. For these reasons the key to brainwashing is repetition.
The reason a Witness has such strongly entrenched beliefs is directly related to:
- the regularity and repetitive nature of the Watchtower schedule
- the broad nature of this information, infiltrating all areas of a Witness belief, regarding topics are diverse as cosmology, morality, palaeontology, theology, the historic past, evaluation of current events and hope for the prophetic future.
The “PASS” into paradise emphasises the need for repetition of Watchtower teachings.
- Prayer – Regular prayer to Jehovah
- Association – Regular meeting attendance
- Service – Regular Preaching
- Study – Regular study of Bible publications; that is, Watchtower publications
The Watchtower routine assists in understanding the conviction of a Jehovah’s Witness.
A Witness is told to do the following:
- Monday – Book Study preparation from a Watchtower publication
- Tuesday – Attend the Book Study (until 2009)
- Wednesday – Service Meeting preparation from Watchtower publications
- Thursday – Attend the Ministry school and Service Meeting
- Friday – Watchtower study preparation
- Saturday – Preaching and placing Watchtower publications
- Sunday – Public talk and Watchtower Study
Added to this is daily reading of the Bible and the Watchtower Daily Text book, monthly 30 page Watchtower and Awake! magazines, new release books from the convention along with the Yearbook. It was calculated that in 1981 the above schedule required reading over 3,000 pages of Watchtower literature, whilst the scheduled Bible Reading for the years was only 197 pages.6
Every day is spent being educated by Watchtower publications. Even an average Witness that does not do all the preparation will spend 4 days a week doing Watchtower based activity. Bible study always involves the Watchtower publications for an interpretation of the Bible and is usually done with the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), translated by the Watchtower Society. All Bible translations contain a bias towards the way the translators understand certain teachings, and the NWT is no exception.
Applicable is a statement by Philip G Zimbardo, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University in the article “What messages are behind today’s cults?” published in the American Psychological Association APA Monitor as it shows that the structure of Watchtower doctrine and behavior is no different to many other organizations:
“Cult methods of recruiting, indoctrinating and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only more intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence practiced daily by all compliance professionals and societal agents of influence. … cult leaders offer simple solutions to the increasingly complex world problems we all face daily. They offer the simple path to happiness, to success, to salvation by following their simple rules, simple group regimentation and simple total lifestyle. Ultimately, each new member contributes to the power of the leader by trading his or her freedom for the illusion of security and reflected glory that group membership holds out.”
The Watchtower acknowledges that it is possible to persuade people to act in a certain way and shows it is well aware of methods that can be used to influence people to act en masse.
“The person most easily brainwashed is the “normal,” average individual. Such a one is already conditioned to accept opinions of others rather than to form strong convictions of his own. ” Awake! 1980 Jan 8 pp.13-14 Has Mass Persuasion Affected You?
The following quotes on propaganda are excerpts from the Awake! 2000 June 22 in the articles “The Manipulation of Information” and “Do Not Be a Victim of Propaganda!”
“The cunning propagandist loves such shortcuts-especially those that short-circuit rational thought. Propaganda encourages this by agitating the emotions, by exploiting insecurities, by capitalizing on the ambiguity of language, and by bending rules of logic. Certainly, the handiest trick of the propagandist is the use of outright lies.
Another very successful tactic of propaganda is generalization. Generalizations tend to obscure important facts about the real issues in question, and they are frequently used to demean entire groups of people.
Some people insult those who disagree with them by questioning character or motives instead of focusing on the facts. The sly art of propaganda can paralyse thought, prevent clear thinking and discernment and condition individuals to act en masse.
Emotional appeals are fabricated by practiced publicists, who play on feelings as skillfully as a virtuoso plays the piano. For example, fear is an emotion that can becloud judgment.
THERE is a difference-a big difference-between education and propaganda. Education shows you how to think. Propaganda tells you what to think. Good educators present all sides of an issue and encourage discussion. Propagandists relentlessly force you to hear their view and discourage discussion. Often their real motives are not apparent. They sift the facts, exploiting the useful ones and concealing the others. They also distort and twist facts, specializing in lies and half-truths. Your emotions, not your logical thinking abilities, are their target.
The propagandist makes sure that his message appears to be the right and moral one and that it gives you a sense of importance and belonging if you follow it. You are one of the smart ones, you are not alone, you are comfortable and secure-so they say. So we need to be selective. We need to scrutinize whatever is presented to us, deciding what to accept and what to reject. Also, if possible, try to check the track record of those speaking. Are they known to speak the truth?”
The above statements are remarkable when compared with information supplied within the very pages of the Watchtower. Consider the following examples.
Religion in general has made effective use of fear as a form of coercion.
“The churches tend to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that fear-rather than love-conquers all.” Watchtower 1980 Dec 1 p.32
The Watchtower likewise draws on phobia indoctrination. Rather than trusting the members to serve out of love of God, fear is used to keep people doing as required. A look at Watchtower publications reveals a strong reliance on fear to keep its members within the confines of its boundaries. Though emphasis is placed on love and the joy of the New System, the flip side is an equally strong emphasis on fear of worldly people, fear of the present system of things, fear of being disfellowshipped and fear of being destroyed at Armageddon.
Fear of Armageddon
Despite not having a doctrine of a burning hell-fire the teaching of Armageddon is an equally powerful tool in control by fear. I know many former Witnesses that do not even think the religion is the Truth, yet still hold an incredible fear of being killed by God at Armageddon.
The reason this teaching is so effective is that many people fear dying more than death. Most people have a fear of dying a violent and painful death, as well as non-existence. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 states “Even time indefinite he has put in their heart. . .” There is an inherent will to live. To be threatened with extinction can make this life seem meaningless. The Society is well aware of the power of this fear of death;
“It is this fear of death that has held the human race in mental slavery to all manner of superstitions and omens. The Bible speaks of “all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.”” Victory Over Death – Is It Possible for You? p.7
Just how graphic and real the Witness teaching of death is can be seen in the Watchtower illustrations. I can still recall vividly the pictures in the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, the handbook for Witness Children until the Bible Stories Book was released in 1978. The Enjoy Life brochure is another publication aimed at children. The pictures are a terrifying and controlling concept for children and adults alike. One Witness mother and child I know had to be spoken to by the principal of her primary school for terrifying her class mates by telling them that they would be destroyed at Armageddon.
Unfortunately this fear can stay with members long after ceasing association with the Organization. In “Coming out of the Cults” in Psychology Today, January 1979 Margaret Singer makes the following comment that is regularly applicable to Jehovah’s Witnesses;
“Most of the groups work hard to prevent defections: some ex-members cite warnings of heavenly damnation for themselves, their ancestors, and their children. Since many cult veterans retain some residual belief in the cult doctrines, this alone can be a horrifying burden.”
The Watchtower teaches that regardless of how good a person has been it is only their behaviour at Armageddon that counts.
“Yes, as Christians all of us must endure to the end of this system of things or to the end of our lives. There is no other way to receive Jehovah’s approval for salvation. We are in a race for life, and we must “run with endurance” until we cross the finish line.” Watchtower 1993 Sep 15 p. 9 Endurance-Vital for Christians
Fear of Disfellowshipping
Separation from the Organization is feared; to be disfellowshipping5 is to be condemned to everlasting destruction. There are many reasons that the Watchtower suggests a person should fear being expelled or leaving. A disfellowshipped person can not speak with any of their friends, can rarely talk to family, loose their relationship with Jehovah, are said to be siding with Satan and the demons, will be destroyed at Armageddon and are told to be hated by active Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“For one thing, some of the apostate literature presents falsehoods by means of “smooth talk” and “counterfeit words.” … Those who have continued to feed at Satan’s spiritual table, the table of demons, will be forced to attend a literal meal, no, not as partakers, but as the main course-to their destruction!” Watchtower 1994 Jul 1 p.12
“To turn away from Jehovah and his organization is to become like a solitary tree in a parched land.” Watchtower 1985 Jun 1 p.20
“Disfellowshipping serves as a powerful warning example to those in the congregation, since they will be able to see the disastrous consequences of ignoring Jehovah’s laws. [Do] not converse with such one or show him recognition in any way … Walk away from him. In this way he will feel the full import of his sin.” Watchtower 1963 Jul 1 pp.411,413
“We must hate [the disfellowshipped person] in the truest sense, which is to regard with extreme active aversion, to consider [them] as loathsome, odious, filthy, to detest.” Watchtower 1952 Oct 1 p.599
Fear of Worldly people
The world is constantly said to be a bad place to be feared. Worldly people display bad qualities, and can not find the happiness that exists within the Organization. The world is controlled by Satan, non Witnesses display the attitude of Satan. Anyone who leaves the Organization has to fear the great unknown of the world.
“While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable – at work, at school, and otherwise-we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world. Let the world go along in its way, reaping its bad fruitage in the form of broken homes, illegitimate births, sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS, and countless other emotional and physical woes.” Watchtower 1987 Sep 15 pp.12-14
There is constant recitation of experiences of the terrible lives of members before they joined the Organization or members that stopped being Witnesses suffering all manner of tragedy and heartache.
This is particularly effective for those raised as Witnesses who do not know what the world is like. Normal life in the world may or may not be as the Watchtower describes, but it takes great courage to find out. Those that left the world and became Witnesses would often agree that being a Witness is a better choice as they made the choice to become Witnesses generally because their lives were lacking in some regard.
|“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will come to believe it.” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda.|
It is interesting to compare the information within the Watchtower with source quotes, encyclopaedias and what has been written by the Organization in previous journals. The Watchtower can be identified as using false rhetoric in an attempt to prove their doctrine.
For instance the Watchtower publications clearly stated prior to 1914 that this year marked the end of this system.
“True, it is expecting great things to claim, as we do, that within the coming twenty-six years all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved. In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of A. D. 1914.” The Time Is At Hand 1889 1908 ed. p.99
The Watchtower usually covers over what the 1914 teaching originally was when referring to it in current publications and at times even resorts to lies, such as when stating:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently shown from the Scriptures that the year 1914 marked the beginning of this world’s time of the end and that “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men” has drawn near.” Watchtower 1993 Sep 15 p.9
The booklet Should you Believe the Trinity (1989) contains consistent misrepresentation of historical facts and quotes out of context when discussing the Trinity and the beliefs of the Ante Nicene Fathers.
The lack of integrity of the Watchtower can also be seen in the article on Earthquakes.
The Watchtower makes good use of this method when discussing anyone disagreeing with their understanding of the Bible.
In the following article there is not the slightest effort to discuss the issues; rather in every situation the person’s motives are insulted. In fact some important issues raised – such as why a Jehovah’s Witness can accept a haemoglobin transfusion but not give blood – have never even been attempted to be answered by the Watchtower.
“What is often the motive of those who criticize the Society or those taking the lead? Is it not often that some application of Scripture affects them personally? Rather than conform to sound doctrine and direction, they want the organization to change. Let us illustrate this with a few examples:
A brother insists on some extreme clothing or grooming style. The elders feel that he is not a good example and do not extend to him certain privileges, such as appearing on the platform to give instruction. He becomes resentful, claiming that others are trying to take away his Christian freedom. But what is behind such reasoning? Is it not usually pride, an independent attitude, or a rather childish desire to have one’s own way?”
Occasionally you may hear someone question whether the Scriptural prohibition against eating blood really applies to transfusions. But what is behind that reasoning? Is it fear-fear of possibly losing one’s present life or the life of a loved one? Is hope in the resurrection fading? …
Finally, we might consider what the Society has published in the past on chronology. Some opposers claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses are false prophets. These opponents say that dates have been set, but nothing has happened. Again we ask, What is the motive of these critics? Are they encouraging wakefulness on the part of God’s people, or are they, rather, trying to justify themselves for falling back into sleepy inactivity?” Watchtower 1986 Mar 15 p.18 Allow No Place for the Devil!
Generalizations are used to discuss the difference between those within the Organization with Worldly People.
“Who in our time demonstrate such obedience to Gods commandments on love? … only Jehovahs Witnesses.” Watchtower 1989 May 1 p.28
“If you are one of those rare persons that wants to serve the Creator today, that wants to give him exclusive devotion, that wants to do work that is pleasing in his eyes, that wants to receive his approval and his gift of life, then let Jehovah, by means of his spirit, cultivate in you the good condition of heart that is a mark of his people.” Watchtower 1966 Jun 1 p.341
“Some even leave negotiations to worldly relatives, who then demand an exorbitant price. While this bargaining goes on, the situation could push the young people into fornication. This is what takes place among worldly people.” Watchtower 1989 Jan 15 p.22
“The world is filled with unhappiness, and people generally have a gloomy outlook on the future. However, we have a bright outlook, knowing that one day all sadness will be a thing of the past.” Kingdom Ministry Feb 2002 p.1 The Happiest People on Earth
Discouragement of Discussion
There is strong discouragement against discussion that does not agree with everything the Watchtower publishes. In each Witness meeting any question and answer discussion revolves around reading from a Watchtower publication, asking questions and then answering exactly what is written in the publication, or referring to an answer from other Watchtower publications. Never is a discussion permitted that deviates from exactly what is written by the Watchtower Society. To raise questions for such discussion is considered apostasy, the worst of all sins.
Although the Watchtower teachings have changed substantially they are still not to be questioned. To condemn the members for questioning changes is a confusing means of mental manipulation, because members know things are wrong but are told it is wrong to admit that to themselves. By forbid questioning and discourage research is a powerful form of mind control. Franz makes a interesting point in this regard:
“To this day, in all countries, any persons among Jehovah’s Witnesses who find they cannot conscientiously support fully the organization’s teachings or practices live in a climate of fear, feeling they must constantly be on guard as to what they say, what they do, what they read, with whom they associate, from whom they receive letters, not feeling any sense of freedom even when among personal friends or close relatives if these are also Witnesses. As stated, in my personal experience I have had people phone who were afraid to give their name or who felt it necessary to use a fictitious name, some who even felt it necessary to take out a special post office box to be able to correspond without danger of their correspondence with me or other former Witnesses being discovered. They face a form of “hostage” situation, produced by the organization’s authority. The only way to avoid this is to meet the terms the organization lays down.” IN SEARCH OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM, Ray Franz, pp.383,384
How does one raised as a Witness know they have truth if they must follow absolutely what this single Organization teaches? Anyone who questions is said to be questioning not just the Organization, they are said to be questioning Jehovah himself! The following quotes are quite shocking.
“First, since “oneness” is to be observed, a mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and “the faithful and discreet slave.” By regularly taking in the spiritual food provided “at the proper time”-through Christian publications, meetings, assemblies, and conventions-we can be sure that we maintain “oneness” with fellow Christians in faith and knowledge.-Matthew 24:45. Watchtower 2001 Aug 1 p.14
“We also remember that one feature of ‘the wisdom from above’ is being ‘ready to obey.’ Due to background and upbringing, some may be more given to independent thinking and self-will than others. Perhaps this is an area where we need to discipline ourselves and ‘make our mind over’ so that we can perceive more clearly what the ‘will of God’ is.” Watchtower 1987 Feb 1 p.19
“Beware of those who try to put forward their own contrary opinions.” Watchtower 1986 Mar 15 p.17
“Avoid questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization. some who point out that the organization has had to make some adjustments before, and so they argue: “This shows that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe.” This is independent thinking. Why is it so dangerous?” Watchtower 1983 Jan 15 p.22
“The point is that Christians have implicit trust in their heavenly Father; they do not question what he tells them through his written Word and organization.” Watchtower 1974 Jul 15 p.441
“If we have love for Jehovah and for the organization of his people we shall not be suspicious, but shall, as the Bible says, ‘Believe all things,’ all the things that the Watchtower brings out” Qualified to be Ministers (1955) p.156
When it does not have solid reasons for doctrine the Society sidesteps issues by crushing reasonable discussion. These types of statements effectively keep a person trapped within a religion. The Watchtower Society expects unquestioning obedience yet is harsh in their statements about other religions that arrogantly have said the same things to their members.
Controlled access to information
Throughout history authoritarian religion and politics have restricted members from viewing and discussing information critical or expressing a differing opinion from the group. Information must paint the organization in a good light to escape censorship. An organization has a hidden agenda if it lies about its history or threats are made to prevent a person reading critical literature about the organization. It also has a hidden agenda if the average member is unable to access information about how the organization is run.
Information from both within and external to the Watchtower Society is censored. Research into publications not provided by the Slave is discouraged and anything written by ex members is regularly and strongly forbidden.
“In Jehovah’s organization it is not necessary to spend a lot of time and energy in research, for there are brothers in the organization who are assigned to that very thing” Watchtower 1967 Jun 1 p.338
“False religious propaganda from any source should be avoided like poison! Really, since our Lord has used “the faithful and discreet slave” to convey to us “sayings of everlasting life,” why should we ever want to look anywhere else?” Watchtower 1987 Nov 1 p.20
“As loyal servants of Jehovah, why would we want to peek at the propaganda put out by rejecters of Jehovah’s table…” Watchtower 1994 Jul 1 pp.12-13
“It would be a mistake to think that you need to listen to apostates or to read their writings to refute their arguments. Their twisted, poisonous reasoning can cause spiritual harm and can contaminate your faith like rapidly spreading gangrene.” Watchtower 2004 Feb 15 p.28
The Watchtower Society attempts to convince its members that the only reason they know God is through their guidance.
“Thus, the one who doubts to the point of becoming an apostate sets himself up as a judge. He thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the ‘faithful and discreet slave,’ through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes.” Watchtower 1980 Aug 1 p.19
Even access to information provided by the organization is controlled. Firstly a newly interested one only has access to general information, the Watchtower, Awake! and certain books. As they become involved they generally are able to have the Kingdom Ministry and books concerned with deeper things of the Organization. Then there is the information the average Witness will never see such as guidelines to elders and more detailed guidelines to the branches. For instance, no female Witnesses and few male Witnesses ever get to see Pay Attention to Yourself and to All The Flock, the guidebook for Elders. Yet this contains many reasons for being disfellowshipped not contained in Watchtowers, something a person should know before getting baptised.
The Watchtower Society no longer prints the Studies in the Scriptures, the series of books that are at the foundation of the Organization or any other writings of the first two leaders. It is unusual for an Organization not to have its founding publications available for general distribution. If they were available members could see the dramatic contradictions with today’s teachings, something unacceptable for a religion claiming to have always been providers of truth. On its CD library there are no publications available prior to 1950, even though all publications every written by the Watchtower Society could fit on just a couple of CD’s.
The following Question Box from the Kingdom Ministry Sep 2007 (US Edition) is a flagrant example of information control, stating:
“Thus, “the faithful and discreet slave” does not endorse any literature meetings, or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight… For those who wish to do extra Bible study and research, we recommend that they explore Insight on the Scriptures, “All Scripture is Inspired and Beneficial” and our other publications.”
Globally governments and industry bodies have put in place laws and guidelines in an attempt to guarantee freedom to information. It is considered unethical to persuade individual behaviour based on false information. Companies operate under legal requirements for transparency so that shareholders have access to all relevant information before committing money to the organization. A person wishing to serve God has even more right to freedom of information on any Organization claiming to represent God?
It is not only religious information that is restricted, advanced education is also discouraged.
“What though of higher education received in a college or university? This is widely viewed as vital to success, yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in Jehovah’s service. Perhaps it is not surprising that in lands where many have received such an education, belief in god is at an all time low. Rather than looking to the advanced educational systems of this world for security, a Christian trusts in Jehovah.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4
A common form of thought control amongst high control groups is to have a ‘loaded language’, a set of terms that are unique to that organization. For the Watchtower Society the loaded language includes terms such as ‘the truth’, ‘new system’, ‘worldly people’, ‘disfellowship’ ‘Jehovah’s Organization’, ‘RV’s’, ‘door to door’ and ‘theocratic’. These words trigger a predefined understanding in followers minds. For instance, every time the word ‘world’ is used a Witness automatically thinks of everyone but themselves, people that do not follow Jehovah. Therefore a scripture such as ‘the world is passing away’ reinforces the idea that ‘all worldly people, all non-Witnesses are about to be destroyed’.
Emotional Guilt Trips
|“Still, if anyone hopes to be concealed in “the day of Jehovah’s anger,” he will need help to do more than be a regular reader of our publications.” Kingdom Ministry Mar 2005 p.1|
A Witness can suffer guilt for multiple reasons. Several scriptures are drawn on to make a Witness always question if they are doing enough.
Luke 13:24 “Exert yourselves vigorously”
James 2:17 “Thus, too, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.”
Zephaniah 2:3 “Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”
1 Corinthians 1:3 “May YOU have undeserved kindness (other translations use the word ‘grace’) and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”
Of the 7602 times the word ‘kindness’ appears on the Watchtower Library 2003 CD it is preceded by the word ‘undeserved’ 2296 times; that is 30% of the time.
The Watchtower strongly disagrees with the concept of ‘once saved always saved’ and even being baptised as a Witness is no guarantee of salvation. Prior accomplishments stand for nothing; it is what you are doing at the time of Armageddon that determines whether God will save you. Throughout ones life as a Witness it is always said that you must be ‘reaching out’, either to be a pioneer or a servant or elder. When 1 Corinthians 15:33 talks of ‘bad association’ the Society explains that this refers to other Witnesses within the congregation. A Witness must always be evaluating if even their friends are good association or should be avoided and ‘marked’.
Reporting and Confessing
The Watchtower Society enforces confession and members must report on others found to be engaged in wrongdoing. If a member is reported to have done wrongdoing rather than confesses they are far more likely to be considered unrepentant and hence disfellowshipped.
“A person who becomes a witness to a serious sin should encourage the wrongdoer to report the matter to the elders. He may encourage the wrongdoer to seek help from the elders and confess; and if the wrongdoer does not do so, the witness will then inform the elders.” Pay Attention to Yourselves and all the Flock p.118
“Jehovah will oppose any who sin grievously and who then try to remain in his clean organization without confessing their error to the visible authorities in the Christian congregation. The person who falls into sin, but who wants to do what is right, should go to the overseer of the congregation and make an honest confession of his transgression.” Watchtower 1963 Aug 1 pp.473-474
“Therefore, after we have given the erring individual a reasonable amount of time to approach the elders about his wrongdoing, it is our responsibility before Jehovah not to be a sharer in his sin. We need to inform the responsible overseers that the person has revealed serious wrongdoing that merits their investigation. This would be in harmony with Leviticus 5:1, which says: “Now in case a soul sins in that he has heard public cursing and he is a witness or he has seen it or has come to know of it, if he does not report it, then he must answer for his error.” Watchtower 1985 Nov 15 pp. 20-21
The Watchtower Society has an intricate set of standards, much of which is not specified in the Bible. Hair, beards, clothing, tattoos, movies, music, dancing, gambling, smoking, political involvement, physical and sexual intimacies, holidays and entertainment are all dictated. How many meetings to attend each week, how many hours witnessing are considered acceptable and how to report it. If a brother wants to be a “servant” he will generally have to report that he preaches at least the publisher average, generally about 10 hours a month.
The list goes on; to be a pioneer, elder or Bethelite is a privilege that requires a different set of behavioural standards than a publisher. This creates a community, a Witness feels special, but for reasons not stated in the Bible.
This prevents a person developing their own boundaries, as these are set for them.
On leaving the Watchtower Society a person raised as a Jehovah’s Witnesses may struggle determining what their own boundaries are. For example Gary Busselman writes;7
“Perhaps among the hardest things to accept about myself was my lack of personal boundaries, my lack of self esteem, and my almost compulsive attraction to people who reject and abuse me. My lack of boundaries caused me to do things to other people that were inappropriate. Since I didn’t have my own boundaries I could not see and respect other people’s boundaries either.”
In an article titled Persuasion and Brainwashing Techniques Being Used On The Public Today8 Dick Sutphen discusses the speech techniques of politicians, salesmen and lawyers, techniques closely aligned with the structure of a typical public talk at the Kingdom hall and the outline of Watchtower articles.
First, a politician generates a “YES SET” – statements that will cause listeners to agree; they might even unknowingly nod their heads in agreement. Next come the TRUISMS. These are usually facts that could be debated but, once the politician has his audience agreeing, the odds are in the politician’s favor that the audience won’t stop to think for themselves, thus continuing to agree. Last comes the SUGGESTION. This is what the politician wants you to do and, since you have been agreeing all along, you could be persuaded to accept the suggestion. In the following political speech, you’ll find that the first three are the “yes set,” the next three are truisms and the last is the suggestion.
“Ladies and gentlemen: are you angry about high food prices? Are you tired of astronomical gas prices? Are you sick of out-of-control inflation? Well, you know the Other Party allowed 18 percent inflation last year; you know crime has increased 50 percent nationwide in the last 12 months, and you know your pay cheque hardly covers your expenses any more. Well, the answer to resolving these problems is to elect me, John Jones, to the U.S. Senate.”
A talk at the Kingdom hall is virtually the same. YES SET “Are you tired of the problems in the world? Do you long for an end to crime, violence and death? TRUISMS These are all a product of Satan’s system. Aren’t we grateful that soon Jehovah will do away with all this suffering? SUGGESTION We must stick close to Jehovah’s Organization to enjoy these benefits.”
In The True Believer,9 a book on mass movements, Eric Hoffer suggests at least a third of the population are “true believers.” They are joiners and followers, people who want to give away their power, looking for answers, meaning, and enlightenment outside themselves. This type of person is “not intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but are those craving to be rid of unwanted self.” This type of person is “eternally incomplete and eternally insecure!” and can easily be transformed into fanatics who will gladly work and die for their holy cause whether politics, churches, businesses or social cause groups. Mass movements generally have a charismatic ruler, and a devil. This type of person is unlikely to be reading this site, they don’t want to know. Neither am I convinced that this type of person should stop being a Jehovah’s Witness. If they do they most likely will become involved in a similar organization that also uses manipulation to force its members into a prescribed way of life.
An important study is into the phenomena of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger.10 It can be difficult to understand how you could once have believed in a theology that is now so obviously false. Many believing Witnesses are aware of the failed time prophecies, major changes in teachings and even techniques used within the pages of the Watchtower. The reason a person can remain an active believer is explained by Cognitive Dissonance. Festinger coined this term after researching members of Mrs. Marian Keech’s alien cult.
Keech claimed aliens from the planet Clarion had told her they would destroy the world by flood on December 21st 1954. Keech and her eleven followers would alone be survivors into a new world. The failure of this prediction did not stop the followers believing in these alien messages; all but two members became more active promoters of their belief after the prophecies went unfulfilled.
Cognitive dissonance (literally meaning to retain perceptions that conflict) explains that people will believe something obviously wrong because it is too mentally difficult to accept that they had based their life on something entirely false. It is easier for such people to find ways to justify what went wrong in order to retain their overall beliefs. It is often followed by renewed zeal in preaching, as making converts is seen as proof that ones beliefs are correct after all. This phenomenon is common in high control religions due to the large amount of time and emotion invested.
On page 3 Festinger made the following observation that explains why it can be futile for a former Witness to attempt to change the belief of their family and friends (though Hassan shows never to give up hope over time things will change):
“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.
We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defences with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.
But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.”
When Armageddon did not arrive on October 2nd 1914 one would assume that Russell’s followers would have realized that Russell’s teachings were not from God. One would also imagine a Witness today would leave the Watchtower Society on finding that the Watchtower often misrepresents what it said prior to 1914. The reason they remain Witnesses can be understood after reading Festinger’s comments on pages 27-28:
“Alternatively, the dissonance would be reduced or eliminated if the members of a movement effectively blind themselves to the fact that the prediction has not been fulfilled. But most people, including members of such movements, are in touch with reality and cannot simply blot out of their cognition such an unequivocal and undeniable fact. They can try to ignore it, however, and they usually do try.
They may convince themselves that the date was wrong but that the prediction will, after all, be shortly confirmed; or they may even set another date as the Millerites did….
Rationalization can reduce dissonance somewhat. For rationalization to be fully effective, support from others is needed to make the explanation or the revision seem correct. Fortunately, the disappointed believer can usually turn to the others in the same movement, who have the same dissonance and the same pressures to reduce it. Support for the new explanation is, hence, forthcoming and the members of the movement can recover somewhat from the shock of the disconfirmation.
But whatever explanation is made it is still by itself not sufficient. The dissonance is too important and though they may try to hide it, even from themselves, the believers still know that the prediction was false and all their preparations were in vain. The dissonance cannot be eliminated completely by denying or rationalizing the disconfirmation.
But there is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something there would be no question at all as to the validity of this belief.
It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselytizing following disconfirmation. If the proselytizing proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it.”
Effect on Personality
The reliance on rules and perfection as defined by High Control groups have been shown by Myer Briggs researcher Flavil Yeakley to result in followers changing psychological types towards a group norm.
Yeakley tested hundreds of members of the Boston Church of Christ, Church of Scientology, Hare Krishnas, Maranatha Ministries, the Children of God, the Unification Church (Moon organization) and The Way against the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).
Yeakley asked subjects to rated him/herself on the MBTI according to:
- 1) Prior to membership or five years before if they were long term members;
- 2) How they viewed themselves at the present time;
- 3) How they thought they would be in the future.
The results showed that all participants had a normal range of personality variations prior to joining the group. However, on the second and third taking of this test, they dramatically shifted temperaments. He found that “the observed changes in psychological type scores were not random since there was a clear convergence in a single type”(p.35).
Yeakley concludes that it is dangerous to attempt to force a change in psychological types.
“They are producing conformity in psychological type. That is unnatural, unhealthy, and dangerous. But the Boston Church of Christ is not trying to produce changes in psychological type scores. They have no interest in psychological type theory. What they want is for their members to grow spiritually, to become more like Jesus Christ, and to be more evangelistic. They want to help their members overcome temptation and abstain from various sins. The way they go about doing this, however, is producing an unintended byproduct that is not healthy. They are changing personalities by making their members over after the group norm. That extreme must be avoided.”(p.47)
In Christianity, this phenomenon is most prevalent in fundamentalist churches, very conservative evangelicalism and some Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Yeakley conducted the same tests on five mainline denominations – Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian, showing no significant changes in psychological type.
Most commonly members of high control groups are forced to become more extroverted, due to their emphasis on growing the group through preaching. Though I am unaware of any similar research on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the forcing of members to preach and public speaking shows the group norm to be pushed towards extroversion.
Impact of Leaving
Upon learning that their group is a destructive cult some people are unable to muster the strength to leave. Others leave but soon
return. The impact of leaving a high control group is dramatic, regularly leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
http://www.caic.org.au/leaving/postcult.htm (June 2 2006) provides the following outline of the process a person generally goes through when leaving a cult.
- “The period of exiting from a cult is usually a traumatic experience and, like any great change in a person’s life, involves passing through stages of accommodation to the change:
- Disbelief/denial: “This can’t be happening. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
- Anger/hostility: “How could they/I be so wrong?” (hate feelings)
- Self-pity/depression: “Why me? I can’t do this.”
- Fear/bargaining: “I don’t know if I can live without my group. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis, if I do what they want.”
- Reassessment: “Maybe I was wrong about the group’s being so wonderful.”
- Accommodation/acceptance: “I can move beyond this experience and choose new directions for my life” or…
- Reinvolvement: “I think I will rejoin the group.”
For those that do leave Michael Langone, Ph.D., of the American Family Foundation (AFF), lists symptoms suffered by up to 80% of former members of high control groups.11
- Anxiety, fear, and worry
- Feelings of anger toward the group leaders
- Mental confusion
- Vivid flashbacks to the group experience
- Low self-confidence
- Difficulty concentrating
- Compulsive need to talk about the group
- Despair, hopelessness, and helplessness
- Difficulty thinking critically
- Guilt about things done while in the group
- Troubled by thoughts that can’t be gotten rid of
- “Floating” among very different states of mind
- Conflicts with loved ones & family
- A longing to restore certain aspects of group
- Difficulty finding suitable employment
- Fear of physical harm by the group
- Medical ills
Upon leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses may display animosity towards the religion whilst experiencing such an array of emotions, as is understandable. It is sad to see how the Watchtower describes these ‘apostates’.
“Yes, they were driven by envy. The same harmful emotion has turned apostates into vicious haters of their former brothers. (1 Timothy 6:3-5) No wonder that envious men are debarred from entry into God’s Kingdom! Jehovah God has decreed that all who continue to be “full of envy” are “deserving of death.” Watchtower 1995 Sep 15 p.7
Due to the profound issues raised when leaving a high control group it is advisable to have a strong support group during this period of time. Of the countless former Jehovah’s Witnesses I have spoken to and received messages from, the majority have suffered some if not most of the above symptoms (myself included), particularly in the first few months of leaving.
Children raised in Cults
The affect on children raised in high control groups is particularly pronounced and more consuming than for a person with a pre-cult identity. The affect on the person raised in a cult can depend on how unusual the group was; hence children raised in communes have greater difficulty integrating into society than those raised in more mainstream groups. The experience of those raised as Witnesses on leaving varies as Jehovah’s Witness parents differ widely on how they view and enforce Watchtower doctrine, and how strictly they enforce on the child separateness from the world. Leaving can be more difficult for a child that was home schooled or who was made to strictly avoid “worldly people” than for those that had a social network at school.
At http://neirr.org/psychissues/Children_Raised_In_Cults.htm (Jan. 12 2007) there is an excellent discussion on the reasons for the negative affect of leaving a cult. In summary are the following points.
- 1. Identity Issues. The child’s identity is “imposed” by the group resulting in being developmentally delayed emotionally. Young adults who leave destructive groups frequently attempt to regain their childhood.
- 2. Ethical Issues. There was no real opportunity to determine a personal belief system so often the person has no moral compass or internal boundaries. Typically, the ethical framework was built on a religious worldview that has been abandoned. Thus, the person often gets involved in circumstances not healthy for them.
- 3. Social Identity/Isolation Issues. It is often very difficult to identify with peers and to trust which can result in loneliness and isolation.
- 4. Emotional/ Psychological Issues. The person frequently feels intense guilt and fear. The group has told them that to leave is to invite God’s wrath and that the world is a scary place. T intense anger at the group for “ruining” their life and family, or they may be angry at God for “allowing” this to happen to them.
- 5. Social /Cultural Issues. Destructive groups create their own culture ( practices, rituals, music, dietary “laws”, ways of worship, etc.) and worldview.
- 6. Education Issues. Education is usually woefully deficient. (To be fair, Witness children receive a good base education but are advised against free thinking and advanced education)
- 7. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Issues.
In some instances it will be impossible to have a relationship with any family member still in the group. The child/young person needs to be very realistic at this point. This may be because he/she does not want to have any relationship, or because the group will not allow it.
The majority of people do not believe Jehovah’s Witnesses have the truth and few that know the history of the Watchtower Society prior to baptism go on to become Jehovah’s Witnesses, finding its history conclusive proof that the Watchtower Society is not Spirit directed. So why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses recognise this? This question can be asked of any similar religion. Why do people remain Mormons or Scientologists? How can existing members believe these unusual religions so wholeheartedly?
Cognitive Dissonance is manifest in many religions, with Mormons a fine example. In 2006 DNA testing showed that native Americans originated from Asian, disproving the claim from the Book of Mormon that Native Americans came from the Middle East. From an external perspective this identifies the Book of Mormon as inaccurate and uninspired. However, this has not caused any significant exodus of Mormons, who internalise various excuses to dismiss this are irrelevant. Shippes shows why this can happen:13
“This may look like the crushing blow to Mormonism from the outside,” said Jan Shipps, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has studied the church for 40 years. “But religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth.”
It is easier to understand that the Watchtower Society is a high control group upon realising it is very similar to numerous unusual religions. It is a common technique of high control groups to convince their members that;
- Only they have the truth
- Only they are truly happy
- Life outside ‘the group’ or ‘the organization’ is an undesirable place
This is an important aspect of the control that is similar amongst many groups. Reading through quotes from other religious followers shows this similarity of emotions and thought patterns. 14
Worldwide Church of God
The Worldwide Church of God had a belief structure remarkably similar to the Watchtower. Comments from former member Ed Mentell, Sr. show similarity in control, as appeared on a website called The Painful Truth.
“Before an individual becomes a member of the Worldwide Church of God, he is encouraged “to prove all things, hold fast that which is true.” The ministry tells him, “Don’t believe what we say — check it out.” “If we teach contrary to God’s Word, do not follow us.” Etc. Unfortunately, the opposite process begins once one is in the Worldwide Church of God. The member is told that “Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong is closer to God and has more of His Holy Spirit than anyone else, which is the reason he is the leader of the Church.”… I had not consulted with or read any literature from any of the “dissidents.” I felt this would be disloyal to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and God’s True Church. If the Worldwide Church of God was the only true church, where else was there to go? Why go elsewhere anyway? And since God was totally in charge of the Worldwide Church of God, wouldn’t He take care of everything in time and in His own way? … But whenever someone who used to be a loyal supporter and member of the Worldwide Church of God begins to believe and teach something different, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong declares them to be “in the bonds of Satan.”
“After exhausting the library there and at Loma Linda where [my son Gary] studied the following year, he became convinced our doctrines were not Bible based and that Ellen White was not a true prophet of God. When I heard of this you can imagine my consternation. I was convinced that Gary had become a disciple of the devil. [After being asked to] read his evidence I still can remember my answer and Robin says she does too. I said, “Why should I have to drink from the sewer in order to prove to anyone that its not safe to drink.”” ex-sda.com/experience_jack
“After reading those Bile Conference minutes, I was convinced that something was rotten in the White Estate. But how could I tell [my wife] Carole? She had been hostile when those “apostates,” Larry his family, had shown up at our place. … Meanwhile Carole and I studied Adventism’s doctrines in the light of the Bible for the first time in our lives. We found that all of Adventism’s unique doctrines are emphatically contradicted by Scripture. This too came as an enormous blow; because we had been taught from the cradle that SDA doctrines are biblically invincible. … Adventism controls its adherents through fear and guilt.” ex-sda.com/experience_slattery
The following comments from ex Mormons (Latter Day Saints – LDS) are similar to comments from ex Jehovah’s witnesses.
“Mormons have a lot of fear when thinking about leaving the church. All authoritarian organizations put fear into its members teaching that terrible things will happen to you if you ever leave.” ex-sda.com/experience_lds1
“Where would we go spiritually from here” ex-sda.com/experience_lds3
“Mormons will tell you that Mormonism is a wonderful way of life, bringing happiness in this mortal existence. My Mormon childhood was very happy, with loving and nurturing parents and family. We were “special” because we had the “Gospel,” meaning Mormonism. We felt sorry for those not so fortunate, for whatever reason, that they were not blessed with the gospel.” ex-sda.com/experience_lds4
Likewise the response to “apostate” Mormon sites by believing Mormons closely emulates the standard response that a Jehovah’s Witnesses would give to a Witness “apostate”. The following letters from Mormons, as appearing at ex-sda.com/letters-mormon, are very similiar to the ones Jehovah’s Witnesses send to my site.
“I’ve read all the anti-Mormon arguments there are. They are all irrelevant.”
“I hope you humble yourself and discover that you are fighting against the truth… Don’t believe the lies you heard from others or create for yourself.”
“I have a testimony that I KNOW that the LDS church is true.”
“I hope some day you will understand how wrong you are…. You have fallen away from the ONLY TRUE CHURCH on EARTH.”
“If you have left the Church, you have been deceived and someday I PROMISE you, you will have to explain to GOD HIMSELF…”
“Reading your information gives me an even stronger testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There is only one true church on the earth — the one that all others fight against. Thanks for helping the honest in heart find the truth.”
“I know several people who are like you, and in each case they have committed serious sin, and this is their (and maybe your) only way to deal with it.”
“You attack irregularities and personal human flaws, nobody is perfect not even Mormons. Religious history, regardless of denomination, is always plagued by “human” misjudgments and mistakes. Give me any religion and I can give you a story three times as long as you gave about Mormons. Your story proves nothing. The doctrine is the heart of Mormonism not the people or its leaders. The doctrine is true and I hope one day you will the ability to overlook these small oversights and discrepancies.”
“As for your ax to grind? I can only speculate. It is more than likely that you weren’t able to live the standards of the church and because of that you have determined the standards are wrong and bad.”
“You’re not led by God. You’re led by the vain imaginations of your own heart, and Satan has had his way with you. You know it, and so does God.”
On finally breaking totally free from a high control group the feeling of relief is similar amongst these groups. A former Mormon made the following observation;
Many followers find the effect of being Witness has a positive affect in a range of areas of their life. As Hassan identifies:
“Not all cult behaviour is negative. … For example, it is common for most religious cult groups to discourage the use of alcohol or drugs. If the person stopped smoking cigarettes because of their membership, this should be acknowledged as a positive life change.” (Releading the Bonds p.101)
There is no conspiracy motivating the Watchtower Society and the leaders appear to genuinely believe they are helping the members to follow the Bible and do God’s will.
In fact, the current Governing Body members have all been subject to decades of the same techniques that they in turn enforce.
Not withstanding, the structure and control the Organization exerts over its members are standard, easily definable mind control techniques. Peer pressure, constant and selective study of Watchtower publications and discouragement from investigating alternatives strongly influences the actions and opinions of a Witness.
Fear of leaving and fear of Armageddon hold significant influence. The most destructive aspect is the shunning being practiced within tens of thousands of religiously divided Witness families. This practice alone is a strong indicator that the Watchtower Society is controlling its members by destructive techniques.
Leaving a high control group can be traumatic for many reasons and Margaret Thaler Singer explains one is the loss of the feeling of elitism.
“”They get you to believing that they alone know how to save the world,” recalled one member. “You think you are in the vanguard of history . . . . You have been called out of the anonymous masses to assist the messiah . . . . As the chosen, you are above the law . . . . They have arrived at the humbling and exalting conclusion that they are more valuable to God, to history, and to the future than other people are.” Clearly one of the more poignant comedowns of postgroup life is the end of feeling a chosen person, a member of an elite.”
One can take encouragement from noting that most damaging, high control groups have high turnover. Due to active proselytising, Witnesses recruit large numbers of new members, but this is negated by the number leaving. Over one million publishers left the Watchtower Society between 1996 and 2005; one third of the number baptised.15
When a person becomes aware of the methods that are used by the Watchtower Society it becomes easier to understand ones own behaviour and beliefs. It also means that reading Watchtower articles can start to be done with an open minded, questioning manner. It is very surprising to see the new perspective that you will have on things. This is the first step to being able to honestly evaluate whether the Organization teaches truth, whether it is the only route to salvation and the only way to have a relationship with God.
The difference between a closed and an open mind is that an open mind welcomes facts and information that replace previously held misconceptions. Fundamentalism tends to foster closed minds. The closed mind of the fundamentalist is trained to believe that they know truth and will strongly work to dismiss any information that contradicts preconceived notions.
That a person would join a fundamentalist religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place can indicate the core personality is open minded. Unfortunately use of the eight tactics of mind control observed by Lifton closes the mind, particularly “Sacred Science”; that the group’s perspective is absolutely true, explains everything, must not be questioned and requires absolute conformity. However, reach the core personality, the original open mindedness, and there is hope the person can once again learn to evaluate information realistically.
|“When our own thoughts are forbidden, when our questions are not allowed and our doubts are punished, when contacts and friendships outside the organization are censored, we are being abused for an end that never justifies its means. When our heart aches knowing we have made friendships and secret attachments that will be forever forbidden if we leave, we are in danger. When we consider staying in a group because we cannot bear the loss, disappointment, and sorrow our leaving will cause for ourselves and those we have come to love, we are in a cult.”Deborah Layton – Former Jim Jones disciple|
1 As appearing at http://www.factnet.org/rancho1.htm (May 4 2005)
2 Quotes from http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/faq/#2 (17 Feb 2007)
Hassan Mind Control
3 The BITE method appears in Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, (Freedom of Mind Press, 2000.) It also appears at http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/books/rtb2.htm (6 June 2006)
4 Churches that Abuse (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992.) As quoted from http://www.search.com/reference/Spiritual_abuse (9 Jan 2007)
5 See disfellowshipping to understand that the Watchtower practice can not be justified Scripturally and is almost universally practised amongst cults.
6 David Reed, Comments from Friends February 1982 p.4
7 http://www.caic.org.au/leaving/disorder.htm (22 April 2006)
8 http://www.dicksutphen.com/html/battlemind.html (11 March 2007)
9 New York: Harper and Row, 1951
10 Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter When Prophecy Fails (New York: Harper and Row, 1956)
11 http://www.meadowhaven.org/Adobe/LangoneStudy.pdf (2 Jun 2006)
12 30 Years a Watchtower Slave: The Confessions of a Converted Jehovah’s Witness William Schnell, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971
13 http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-mormon16feb16,0,5561316.story?coll=la-home-headlines (February 16 2006)
14 The quotes were taken from the respective sites on 22 Apr 2006.
15 Between 1996 and 2006 there were 2,968,732 baptisms but an increase of only 1.529,060 publishers. Even after taking into account a death rate of 0.878% there were 1,017,062 publishers unaccounted for.
16 Leadership “Currents Shaping Our World: Switched after Birth” http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2003/summer/19.7.html July 1 2003