[An opinion piece]
I recently had a friend break off a decades-long friendship. This drastic choice didn’t result because I attacked some unscriptural JW teaching like 1914 or the “overlapping generations”. In fact, we engaged in no doctrinal discussion at all. The reason he broke it off was because I showed him, using extensive references from our publications as well as Bible references, that I had the right to evaluate the teachings of the Governing Body to see if they fit with Scripture. His counterarguments contained not a single scripture nor, for that matter, a single reference to our publications. They were entirely based on emotion. He didn’t like the way my reasoning made him feel and so after decades of friendship and meaningful Scriptural discussions, he no longer wants to associate with me.
While this is the most extreme reaction I’ve experienced to date, its underlying cause is hardly rare. The brothers and sisters are now strongly conditioned to think that questioning any teaching of the Governing Body is tantamount to questioning Jehovah God. (To be sure, questioning God is ridiculous, even though Abraham got away with it without being called presumptuous. Were he alive today, questioning the Governing Body the way he addressed Almighty God, I am certain he’d be disfellowshipped. At the very least, we’d have a file on him in the Service Desk archives. – Genesis 18:22-33)
From reading the comments on this forum and the posts on DiscussTheTruth.com I’ve come to see that my former friend’s reaction is now commonplace. While there have always been incidents of extreme zealotry in our Organization, they were isolated. No longer. Things have changed. Brothers are afraid to voice anything that might hint at discord or doubt. There is more of the atmosphere of a police state than that of a loving and understanding brotherhood. For those who feel I am being melodramatic, I suggest a little experiment: In this week’s Watchtower study, when the question for paragraph 12 is asked, think about raising your hand and saying that the article has it wrong, that the Bible at Judges 4:4,5 clearly says Deborah, not Barak, was the one judging Israel in those days. If you were to take such a step (I’m not encouraging it, only suggesting you think about it and get the feel of your own reaction to the idea), do you think you’d leave the meeting without being approached be one of the elders?
I believe something happened in 2010. A tipping point was reached. That’s the year our new understanding of “this generation” was released. [i] (Mt 24:34)
During the last half of the Twentieth Century, we had a new understanding of “this generation” about once per decade, ending in the mid-Nineties with the declaration that Mt. 24:34 could not be used as a means to determine just how long the last days would be.[ii] None of these reinterpretations (or “adjustments” as we euphemistically like to call them) had a major effect on the mental attitude of the brothers and sisters. There were no district convention and circuit assembly parts encouraging us to accept the latest understanding as there have been for the new “overlapping generations” doctrine. I think in part this was because, while eventually proven wrong, each “adjustment” seemed at the time to make Scriptural sense.
This is no longer the case. Our current teaching has no scriptural foundation at all. Even from a secular viewpoint, it makes no sense. Nowhere in English nor Greek literature is the idea of a single generation corresponding to two disparate but overlapping generations to be found. It is nonsense and any reasonable mind will see that right away. In fact, a great many of us did and therein lies the problem. While the previous teaching could be put down to human error—men just trying their best to make sense of something—this latest teaching is clearly a fabrication; a contrivance, and not a particularly artful one either. (2 Pe 1:16)
Back in 2010, many of us came to see that the Governing Body was capable of making stuff up. The ramifications of that realization were nothing short of earthshattering. What else had they made up? What else were we wrong about?
Things only got worse after the October, 2012 Annual Meeting. We were told that the Governing Body was the Faithful and Discreet Slave of Mt. 24:45-47. Many began to see a pattern that explained the rash interpretation of Matthew 24:34, for it was again being used to instill the idea that the end was very near indeed. We are taught that if we’re not in the Organization when the end comes, we’ll die. To stay in the Organization, we have to believe, support and obey the Governing Body. This point was driven home with the release of the July 15, 2013 Watchtower, which further explained the newly exalted status of the Governing Body. Jesus chose them in 1919 as his one Faithful and Discrete Slave. Complete and unconditional obedience to men is now being demanded in God’s name. “Listen, Obey and Be Blessed” is the clarion cry.
The Present Scenario
Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to each other as being “in the truth”. We alone have the truth. To learn that some of our most cherished truths are the product of human invention pulls the rug out from under our self-assured feet. All our lives, we’ve imagined ourselves sailing on this divinely constructed life-saving Organization Ark amid the turbulent seas of humanity. Suddenly, our eyes are opened to the realization we are on an old leaky fishing trawler; one of many of varying sizes, but equally decrepit and unseaworthy. Do we stay on board? Jump ship and take our chances in the open sea? Board another vessel? It is noteworthy that the first question everyone asks at this point is, Where else can I go?
It seems at first that we are faced with only four options:
- Jump in the ocean by rejecting our beliefs and way of life.[iii]
- Hop another boat by joining another church.
- Pretend the leaks aren’t that bad by ignoring everything and biding-our-time.
- Pretend it still is the solid ark we always believed it was by doubling down on our faith and blindly accepting everything.
There is a fifth option, but that isn’t evident to most at first, so we’ll come back to it later.
The first option means throwing the baby out with the bath water. We want to draw closer to Christ and our Father, Jehovah; not abandon them.
I know of a missionary who chose the second option and now travels the world performing faith healings and preaching about the Godhead.
For the truth-loving Christian, options 1 and 2 are off the table.
Option 3 may seem appealing, but it is simply not sustainable. Cognitive dissonance will kick in, steal joy and tranquility, and eventually drive us to choose another option. Nevertheless, most of us start out on option 3 before moving elsewhere.
Option 4 – Aggressive Ignorance
And so we come to Option 4, which it seems is the go-to choice for a significant number of our brothers and sisters. We might term this option, “Aggressive Ignorance”, for it is not a rational choice. In fact, it is not really a conscious choice at all, since it cannot survive honest introspection based on love of truth. It is a choice based on emotion, made out of fear, and therefore cowardly.
“But as for the cowards…and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake . . .” (Re 21:8)
“Outside are the dogs…and everyone liking and carrying on a lie.’” (Re 22:15)
By means of this aggressive ignorance,[iv] these believers seek to resolve the internal conflict inherent in option 3 by doubling down on their faith and accepting anything and everything the Governing Body has to say as if it were coming from God’s own mouth. In doing so they surrender their conscience to man. This same mentality is what allows the soldier on the battlefield to kill his fellow man. It is the same mentality that allowed the crowd to stone Stephen. The same mentality that made the Jews guilty of killing the Christ. (Acts 7:58, 59; 2:36-38)
One of the things a human cherishes above all else is his or her own self-image. Not the way he truly is, but the way he sees himself and imagines the world sees him. (To some degree we all engage in this self-deception as a means of preserving our sanity.[v]) As Jehovah’s Witnesses, our self-image is tied to our entire doctrinal framework. We are the ones who will survive when the world is destroyed. We are better than everyone else, because we have the truth and God is blessing us. It doesn’t matter how the world views us, because their opinion doesn’t matter. Jehovah loves us because we have the truth and that’s all that matters.
All that comes crashing down if we don’t have the truth.
Doubling Down on Faith
“Doubling down” is a gambling term, and gambling has very much to do with the state of mind these brothers and sisters adopt. In Blackjack, a player may choose to “double down” by doubling his bet with the proviso that he can only accept one more card. Essentially, he stands to win twice as much or lose twice as much, all based on a one-card draw.
Fear of realizing that everything we have believed in and hoped for and dreamed of all our lives is in jeopardy causes many to shut down their thinking process. By accepting everything the Governing Body teaches as gospel these ones seek to resolve the conflict and save their dreams, hopes, even their self-worth. This is a very fragile mental state. It is not made of silver or gold, but of thin glass. (1 Cor. 3:12) It will not countenance any doubt; so anyone raising a doubt, even an insignificant one, has to be put down immediately. Rational thought based on sound Scriptural reasoning is to be avoided at all costs.
You cannot be affected by an argument you do not hear. You cannot be persuaded by a fact you do not know. To protect themselves from truths that might shatter their worldview, these ones create and enforce a climate that disallows any reasonable dialog. This is what we face nowadays in the Organization.
A Lesson from the First Century
None of this is new. When the apostles first began to preach, there was an incident in which they cured a 40-year-old man lame from birth and well known to all the people. The Sanhedrin leaders recognized this was “a noteworthy sign”—one they could not deny. Still, the ramification was unacceptable. This sign meant the Apostles had God’s backing. That meant the priests had to give up their cherished leadership role and follow the Apostles. This was clearly not an option for them, so they ignored the evidence and used threats and violence to try to silence the apostles.
These same tactics are now being used to silence a growing number of sincere Christians amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Fifth Option
Some of us, after struggling through option 3, have come to the realization that faith isn’t about belonging to some organization. We have come to realize that a relationship with Jesus and Jehovah does not require submission to a human authority structure. In fact, quite the opposite, for such a structure hinders our worship. As we grow in understanding of how to have a personal familial relationship with God, we naturally want to share our newfound enlightenment with others. That is when we start to run into the kind of oppression that the apostles encountered from the Jewish leaders of their day.
How can we deal with this? While the elders don’t have the power to flog and imprison those who speak the truth, they can still intimidate, threaten and even expel such ones. Expulsion means that the disciple of Jesus is cut off from all family and friends, leaving him alone. He may even be forced out of his home and suffer economically—as has been the case with many.
How can we protect ourselves while still seeking out those “sighing and groaning” so as to share with them the wonderful hope that has opened up to us, the opportunity to be called children of God? (Ezekiel 9:4; John 1:12)
We will explore that in our next article.
[i] Actually, the first hint of our new understanding came in the Feb. 15, 2008 Watchtower. While the study article introduced the idea that the generation didn’t refer to the wicked generation of people living during the last days, but rather to Jesus’ anointed followers, the really controversial element was consigned to a sidebar statement. Thus it went largely unnoticed. It appears that the Governing Body was testing the waters with the box on page 24 which read, “The time period during which “this generation” lives seems to correspond to the period covered by the first vision in the book of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10-3:22) This feature of the Lord’s day extends from 1914 until the last of the faithful anointed ones dies and is resurrected.”
[ii] w95 11/1 p. 17 par. 6 A Time to Keep Awake
[iii] We ask people to do this all the time, abandon their false religious beliefs for “the truth”. However, when the shoe is on the other foot, we find that it pinches our toes.
[iv] ‘Constructive Blindness’ is another way of describing this mentality
[v] One is reminded of a stanza from Robbie Burns famous poem “To a Louse”:
And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!