Dear Jehovah’s Witness,
Although I am not one of you, I don’t doubt that there are good people among you.There are plenty of good people, Jehovah’s Witness or otherwise, who disagree with me on various things. I do not make your beliefs or your membership or lack thereof in any organization a litmus test for your worth as a person. One of the main things that distinguishes me from many of you is that I did not grow up as a Jehovah’s Witness. I did grow up as a Christian, but when I began to question my religious beliefs, there was no pressure on me to toe the line and not question things. I was free to research religion, philosophy, and science without restriction, and I eventually formed beliefs that made sense to me.
One of the first things I questioned as a Christian was the idea that God would send good people of other religions to Hell just for not believing in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I know you don’t believe in Hell. You believe the worst thing that awaits anyone after death is just the continuation of death. Instead of being tormented forever, they just won’t be around anymore. This is certainly more humane than the idea of eternal torment in Hell, and I expect you’re right that nothing worse happens after death than death itself. The main thing you believe differently from me is that you have a way to escape death, which involves being a Jehovah’s Witness and counting on Jehovah to give you everlasting life in paradise.
I totally get that you want to avoid death. If I honestly believed that I had a way of avoiding death, I would want to get on board with it. Being resurrected to paradise is certainly an attractive offer, and if I seriously thought that becoming a Jehovah’s Witness was my ticket to this, I would be happy to sign up. But I’m well aware that many religions around the world make similar offers but with different details. Many varieties of Christianity and Islam offer the opportunity to go to Heaven after I die. The catch is that many of them claim to offer the only real deal. You yourselves will tell me that I must become a Jehovah’s Witness to survive death, and that if I follow Islam or one of the many denominations of Christiandom, I will just die without knowing life in paradise. Since your offer is not the only one on the table, and since most offers, yours included, deny that the other offers work, I should be very careful in choosing between them. I really would like to go on living as long as I can, and in paradise too. Assuming one of these offers is actually good, it would be a huge risk to pick one at random and just go with it. If I became a Jehovah’s Witness, for example, but it turned out that Catholicism, Islam, or some form or Protestant Christianity was true, I could end up in Hell. So, whether I should become a Jehovah’s Witness or follow some other religion is something I need to decide carefully, not haphazardly. The July 2013 Watchtower makes the same point in an article called
Why Question Religion? It says,
it is wise to examine religion carefully. If you belong to a religious organization, you are, in effect, putting your spiritual life in its hands. This includes your prospects for salvation.
Besides this general point, your religion demands more of its members than many other denominations do. Besides coming together on Sunday morning, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend time studying Watchtower literature, going to meetings, and going door-to-door preaching to people. If your religion is not true, these activities do not serve any useful purpose. If you are expected to give up college, a career, or enjoyable leisure time to have more time for these activities, you are losing out unless you are getting something better down the line. On top of that, being a Jehovah’s Witness puts restrictions on who you can be friends with and on what activities you may engage in. If your religion is not true, then these restrictions may be doing more harm than good. So, apart from how your religion may affect your prospects for salvation, there is also the matter of how it affects your quality of life. Living a good life is something that is important in and of itself. You toil away at what the Watchtower expects of you, because you are expecting to eventually to enjoy life in paradise. But if paradise doesn’t await you, and you give up on enjoying the life you have now, you will have lost out. As long as you’re being expected to sacrifice happiness now, you owe it to yourself to investigate whether your sacrifice really will be rewarded.
Staying in the religion they were born into is what most people do by default. If someone was born a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Muslim, you would consider this the wrong thing to do. That’s one of the reasons you go door-to-door telling people why they should become Jehovah’s Witnesses. You believe that by sticking to the religions they were born into, they are making a huge mistake, one that will ultimately prove fatal if they do nothing to correct it. But how do you know you’re not making the same kind of mistake? If you were born into a Jehovah’s Witness family, that wasn’t any more your doing than someone being born into a Catholic family, a Protestant family, or a Muslim family. If you stay in the religion you were born into without examining it carefully, that has the same risk as picking a religion at random. It’s a gamble, and if some different religion is true, it will not pay off.
You might rely on the authority of your parents, the elders in your Kingdom Hall, or the Governing Body to tell you that being a Jehovah’s Witness is what God wants of you. But people born into other religions also have authority figures to tell them they are in the right place. Catholics have nuns, priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope. Protestants have ministers, pastors, or other clergy. Muslims have their imams. All of these include people who will speak as though they have authority, telling their parishioners, congregations, or whatever that they know what God wants of them. If it is wrong for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims to blindly follow their clergy, what could make it right for you to blindly follow your leaders? Ultimately, you cannot rely on the presumed authority of any religious leaders to tell you that your religion is the correct one. With so many different parties claiming to speak with authority, you cannot rely on anyone’s authority in choosing between them. That would just be picking an authority at random, and that has the same risk as picking a religion at random.
Even if you would like to follow an authority who knows better than you, you would do best to choose this authority carefully. Ask yourself on what basis this person or organization claims to have authority. The authority of the Governing Body is supposed to rest on prophecy and the Bible. When it comes to making predictions, the Watchtower Society has not had a successful track record. Back in 1876, Charles Taze Russell predicted that the rapture was already underway and would be finished in 1878. When that didn’t happen, he predicted in 1881 that it would be complete by autumn of that year. That prediction also failed, and not long after, Russell predicted the end of the world would come in 1914. When that prediction failed, he predicted it would end in 1918. If he hadn’t died in 1916, he might have predicted an even further date. He was succeeded by Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who predicted that the Biblical patriarchs would be resurrected in 1925, as a prelude to the general resurrection. 1925 came and went without any resurrections happening. Despite this, Rutherford continued to claim that the Biblical patriarchs would be resurrected shortly, and he had a mansion built for them called Beth Sarim, which he used as a winter home. Rutherford died in 1942, Beth Sarim was sold in 1948, and the Watchtower Society gave up the expectation of the Biblical patriarchs being resurrected in 1950. In 1966, the Watchtower Society predicted the second coming of Christ in 1975. That year came and went without Jesus appearing. In light of this and other matters, one Governing Body member, Raymond Franz, quit the Governing Body and dissociated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He later wrote some books describing what it was like for him to be in the Governing Body and the doubts he was having. Even after 1975, the Watchtower Society continued to claim that the world would end before the end of the 20th century. It didn’t. We’re still here. For over 100 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Russellite tradition it grew from have been predicting that Armageddon is right around the corner, and its predictions have always proved wrong so far.
Deuteronomy 18:22, as it appears in the New World Translation, tells us
When the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word is not fulfilled or does not come true, then Jehovah did not speak that word. The prophet spoke it presumptuously. You should not fear him.’ This is one Bible verse I completely agree with. This litany of false prophecies is a clear indication that the Watchtower Society has not been speaking for Jehovah, and you should not fear anything else they have to say.
A related matter is that the Governing Body regularly issues new light, which consists of modifications of former teachings. For example, the January 8, 1947 issue of Awake! has an article called
Are You Also Excommunicated?, which denounces the Catholic practice of excommunication as unbiblical and pagan in origin. Five years later, The Watchtower published an article in its March, 1952 issue that instituted disfellowshipping, which is the same kind of thing as excommunication. In fact, the Watchtower Online Library in its section on Expelling describes disfellowshipping as
judicial excommunication. In 1981, in light of Ray Franz’s disassociation, it was added that former members who have disassociated should be treated the same as disfellowshipped members. As a Jehovah’s Witness yourself, you probably already know of more examples of new light than I do.
New light might seem innocuous if you make an analogy to science. Scientists are regularly correcting what past scientists have said, and this isn’t a problem. However, there are some important differences between Jehovah’s Witnesses and scientists. Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to their teachings as the Truth with a capital T, and they are expected to agree with everything in current Watchtower publications. Disagreement with any of it is grounds for disfellowship. Yet the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses may make changes to their doctrines without this risk, and when they publish new changes, you are supposed to accept the new changes. If you hold onto your old beliefs and do not accept the new changes, then you may be labeled an apostate and disfellowshipped. The problem with this is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have held conflicting sets of beliefs over the years, and because they conflict, they can’t all be the truth. If what you believe now is correct, then at some time in the past, Jehovah’s Witnesses had false beliefs. Or, if at some time far enough into the past, everything the Jehovah’s Witnesses taught was the truth, then what they are teaching now is no longer the truth. What is true is what corresponds with reality. It does not change whenever people in authority change their minds.
One further problem with this is that it undermines the authority of the Governing Body. They have their authority on the basis of a line of succession from Charles Taze Russell. If what they teach now is correct, then Russell was teaching a false religion, and if he was, he had no true authority to pass on to successors. Yet if Russell was correct, the Watchtower Society has since veered from true religion, and it should be judged as no longer possessing the authority that Russell had. Either way, the Watchtower Society and the Governing Body are lacking in authority.
In fact, on page 26 of the February 2017 issue of The Watchtower, it says
The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction. Given this admission, what authority can the Governing Body have over how you should live your life or over what standing you have with Jehovah? The JW website Opposers Demythed tries to answer this question on a page titled If the Governing Body is “Neither Inspired nor Infallble[sic]”, Why Obey its Direction? It claims that we still obey government officials, police officers, college professors, scientists, company managers, teachers, and parents even though they are not inspired or infallible. But there are some important differences. In free societies like the United States, none of these claim the same authority and control over your life that the Governing Body claims over the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In general, none of these tell you what career to follow, whom you may date or marry, or what you should be spending your free time on. Of these, parents exercise the most direct authority, but this is mainly toward young children, because it is the parents’ responsibility to care for and look out for them. When children grow up, they normally live their own lives without their parents telling them what to do. The other people listed have limited authority in specific domains. Teachers and professors can assign homework and ask students to pay attention in class without being disruptive, but they cannot tell students how to live their lives or use their authority to demand special favors. Police may arrest or ticket people who break the law, but they cannot decide on their own what the law will be, and they cannot extort people or run protection rackets. When a policeman calls me on the phone to donate money to the police, I am completely free to decline without any repercussions. While it is wise to heed scientists who are speaking on their area of expertise, we are not bound by law or duty to obey scientists or even to believe them.
In some instances, the Jehovah’s Witnesses even advocate disobedience of some of these authorities. If a school teacher leads children in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, you believe that the child should refrain from saying the pledge. If government officials tell you that you have been drafted into the army, you believe that you should instead be a conscientious objector and not go into the army. And if children have been born into families that practice a different religion than your own, you believe they should convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses even if their parents forbid it. Disobedience is sometimes the right thing to do. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay a tax that supported a war he didn’t believe in, and in his book Civil Disobedience, he argued that breaking the law can be justified when the law is wrong. In the 20th century, Mahatma Ghandi used civil disobedience on a large scale to win India’s independence from Britain, and Martin Luther King Jr. used it to fight for civil rights in America. As long as an authority is neither inspired nor infallible, you do not owe that authority complete allegiance, and it is up to your own conscience how far you are willing to obey that authority.
Furthermore, the authority of each of these roles is grounded in human relations or agreement. In a republic like the United States, the government is elected by the people, and it is granted limited authority over people for the sake of keeping the peace and promoting the public good. Scientists, professors, and teachers gain their authority from their expertise, training and knowledge. Students willingly submit to the authority of their teachers for the sake of gaining an education. Managers have authority by being representatives of an employer. Employees follow their directions in exchange for a paycheck. Parents have authority over young children, because the children cannot fend for themselves yet, and the parents bear the responsibility of looking out for them.
In contrast, the authority of the Governing Body is grounded in the idea that they represent the will of Jehovah, and Jehovah is understood to have authority because the day will eventually come when he will reward his followers with life in paradise but kill everyone else. If the Governing Body is not inspired, it is not actually getting its marching orders from Jehovah. If it is not infallible, it is not accurately representing the will of Jehovah. If Jehovah really is going to reward his followers and kill everyone else, then getting the will of Jehovah wrong jeopardizes the fate of everyone who follows the Governing Body. Suppose, for example, that Jehovah wants you to love your enemies and play the good Samaritan, yet the Governing Body asks you to shun apostates and treat them as anathema. If you follow the Governing Body on this, you could, assuming the core details of your religion are correct, end up in opposition to Jehovah and be killed in Armageddon for being so unloving.
If the Governing Body ever effectively communicates the will of Jehovah, it gets this from either direct revelation or Biblical interpretation. Since they say they aren’t inspired, I presume this rules out direct revelation. This leaves us with Biblical interpretation. Vol 138, No. 1 2017 of The Watchtower has an article called
Is It Just a Small Misunderstanding? This article prescribes some guidelines for understanding the Bible correctly. The first one is
The Bible is designed to be understood by those who are humble and willing to learn (14). With respect to interpreting text, I expect humility would show itself as a willingness to consider other people’s interpretations and understand where they’re coming from. But in contrast to this, the Governing Body proclaims that its interpretation is the Truth, and if you question or defy its interpretation, you are at risk of being disfellowshipped and shunned. I would not call this humility. I would call it arrogance. By insisting that they have the truth and by being unwilling to consider rival interpretations, they also show an unwillingness to learn. The second one is
The Bible is directed at people who honestly want God’s help to understand it (15) If God was truly helping people understand the Bible, there would be a lot more agreement on what the Bible is saying. But there are plenty of Christian denominations with different interpretations of the Bible, and these surely include people who also asked God for help in understanding the Bible. This evidence shows that asking God for help in understanding the Bible doesn’t seem to work. It’s more likely that doing so just gives people more confidence in whatever interpretation they come up with, because they assume, erroneously, that God has guided them to this understanding. The third one is
Some Bible passages can be understood by people only at the proper time in history. This is clearly referring to prophecies. If a prophecy is about something that is still far in the future, people wouldn’t be able to understand it until close enough to the time when it is supposed to take place. I expect they’re using this principle to excuse their failed prophecies of the end of the world. Even though the world hasn’t ended yet, there is a long tradition of Christians applying Bible prophecy to current events and predicting the end of the world would come soon. When I was younger, I paid attention to the claims of Hal Lindsey and Herbert W. Armstrong about how Bible prophecy predicted current events and the imminent end of the world. The passage of time soon revealed that they were wrong. I have since become aware of others, both before and after them, who have failed at the same game. I know it’s tempting to use Bible prophecy as a roadmap to understanding the future, but it has never yet worked for anyone, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One of the key principles to correctly understanding the Bible is that it is not a harmonious work from a single perspective. It is in fact a collection of texts by multiple authors writing at different times and with different perspectives. One example of this that should be obvious is the four Gospels. When these Gospels tell about the same events, they often provide different, and sometimes conflicting, details. Some tell about different events in a different order than others. And some tell about events that are not mentioned in the others. Looking at each Gospel individually, each seems to be portraying a different understanding of Jesus. While Mark might be used in support of the idea that Jesus was a human being, John has been used in support of the idea that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. The Book of Genesis is another example. Scholarship has revealed that it has at least three sources, which have been identified as J for Jehovah, E for Elohim, and P for priestly. This book opens with the seven days creation story, which is then followed by a new creation story involving Adam and Eve. When people treat the Bible as a harmonious work with a single perspective, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other Christians do, they end up mistranslating or misunderstanding some passages that conflict with others. This is one of the reasons there are so many different Christian denominations. Some interpret the Bible one way, and some interpret it another way. Since each can find passages in the Bible supporting its interpretation, the Bible cannot be used to adjudicate between them. For example, you believe that Jesus was not God, and many other Christians believe he was. There are in fact Bible verses supporting each interpretation. For another example, you believe in bodily resurrection, and many other Christians believe the souls of the dead go directly to Heaven or Hell. In Luke 23:43, Jesus promises one of the thieves being crucified with him that he will be with him in Paradise that day. Contrary to most translations, the New World Translation changes this verse to have Jesus say “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Although this harmonizes it with JW doctrine, it is harder to harmonize the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which appears in Luke 16. Luke 16:23 describes them as going to Hades, hell. or the place of the dead. The NWT differs from other translations by saying the Grave. But even the NWT has the rich man say in Luke 16:24,
I am in anguish in this blazing fire. This parable portrays the belief that some people burn in Hell after they die, which is inconsistent with what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach.
Ultimately, the Bible contains so many contradictions, it cannot be the word of God. If a being as powerful and as well-informed as God is said to be has given people his written word to follow, it would be much more cohesive and harmonious than the Bible is. Normal human beings regularly write books that are clearer and more self-consistent than the Bible. So, I expect a real God could have done much better than the Bible. Given that the Bible is not actually the word of God, it is not a legitimate source of authority. No matter how well someone interprets the Bible, it doesn’t give that person any real authority over you. In the end, Jehovah’s Witnesses is a false religion, and the Governing Body has no true authority over you. All they really have over you is the ability to have your friends and family who are still Jehovah’s Witnesses shun you. Their hope is that the pain from this will lead you to come back to them. This is just a coercive tactic intended to manipulate you. They have no divine or moral authority to do this, and tactics like this work just as well for lies as they do for the truth. If you do choose to give in to this blackmail, understand it for what it is, and try to use reason and evidence to eventually steer your loved ones away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so that you may all leave together.
If you can’t rely on the Watchtower Society or on the Bible, what can you rely on? The convenient thing about truth is that it has reality behind it. Criticize the truth all you like, and it will stand up to it. With this in mind, don’t be afraid of criticizing ideas. Feel free to inform yourself about opposing opinions and what non-believers say in criticism of your beliefs. If your beliefs are true, they will withstand criticism. If they are not true, it is best to find that out. In his essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill advocated free speech, because it provides the opportunity for a free exchange of ideas, which is useful for separating truth from falsehood. When people who have different ideas can freely discuss them, they are better able to distinguish what is true from what is false.
There is more that could be said against what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. For the sake of not making this letter too long, I will not cover it all here. My main goal with this letter has been to get you to question the authority of Watchtower Society and the Governing Body and to encourage you to investigate further criticisms of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs on your own. If I have been able to do that much, I don’t have to deal with all that here, and I can just give you some pointers instead. Former JW Steve McRoberts has a very thorough book on Bible contradictions called The Cure for Fundamentalism. Lloyd Evans has written an excellent book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses called The Reluctant Apostate. This book describes his experiences with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, goes into detail on their history and beliefs, and covers other issues with them. If you get Kindle Unlimited, you can use it to read these and many other books critical of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs for free on your Kindle. I’ll also encourage you to read up on evolution. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in evolution, but it is well-supported by science. If you’re reading this on my blog, you may explore it for more leads. In case you’re reading this printed out, you will find it at the following URL: