© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2003
An old 1950's Watchtower publication points out that the Roman Catholic Church set out a "dreadful Inqisition" against those in its ranks who had independent thoughts:
"There was also the dreadful Inquisition. It was a system for spying out those who did not believe everything the Roman Catholic Church taught and yet were supposed to be Catholics." (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, 1958, p. 167).
Similarly, another Watchtower source argued that the Catholic Church has such a hold on the Irish people that they are fearful of thinking for themselves:
"Fear has a great hold on the people. People are afraid of what their neighbors, their friends, relatives and clergy might think if they were even so much as to read the Bible on their own. For centuries the clergy have dominated their lives, told them what they can read, what they should believe and do. To ask a sound religious question is a demonstration of lack of faith in God and the church, according to the clergy. As a result, the Irish people do very little independent thinking. They are victims of the clergy and fear; but freedom is in sight." (The Watchtower, August 1, 1958, p. 460).
But is there a similar situation going on within the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses?
The Watchtower's View of Independent Thinking Amongst Jehovah's Witnesses
Despite its criticisms of the Catholic Church there are clearly double standards in view as to the issue of independent thinking. The Watchtower Society condemns others for stifling free thought, when they themselves are guilty of doing the same to their members. The following quotes from Watchtower sources demonstrate this:
"[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 harbour 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." (Watchtower, August 1st, 2001, p. 14).
"In the world, there is a tendency to reject leadership. As one lecturer said: "The rising education level has improved the talent pool such that followers have become so critical that they are almost impossible to lead." But a spirit of independent thinking does not prevail in God's organization, and we have sound reasons for confidence in the men taking the lead among us." (The Watchtower, September 15, 1989, p. 23, 13).
"Avoid independent thinking...questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization." (Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1983 p. 22).
"And just as in the first century there was only one true Christian organization, so today Jehovah is using only one organization. (Ephesians 4:4, 5; Matthew 24:45-47) Yet there are some who point out that the organization has had to make 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? Such thinking is an evidence of pride. And the Bible says: 'Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.' (Proverbs 16:18) If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves: 'Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of the truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God's organization?' No, we cannot!.. Fight against independent thinking." (Watchtower, January 15, 1983 p. 27).
"The student must express himself as he understands the truth. (Gal. 6:6) He cannot have independent thinking."(The Watchtower, September 1, 1962, p. 524)
Obviousely, because the Watchtower discourages its members to think independently, any individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who begins to formulate their own views and interpretations of doctrine and faith, even in small areas, are greatly frowned upon. The writer of this present article personally knows of some Jehovah’s Witnesses who differ with the Watchtower organisation in some areas of belief, but would not dare make this known to others in the organisation for fear of reprisals.
Even so, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do hold some secret independent views may argue that even though the Watchtower does not permit them to have personal opinions in matters of belief, neither do many churches. There is some truth here but the parallel is a poor one. Even though a Christian Church may not tolerate someone who actively, and consciously, objected to major doctrines (for example, the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, or that salvation was in Christ alone, etc.), they would not have any problems with a person who disagreed on minor issues (such as whether a person should speak in tongues or not, whether the return of Christ is at the beginning of the tribulation, the middle, or the end, etc.). Such things often considered by the majority of churches to be secondary issues. However, in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the average Jehovah’s Witness is expected to conform to every doctrine, even those in which one would expect some sort of flexibility and individuality of conscience. Those who would even harbour private views at odds with the Watchtower’s teachings, let alone actively making their views made public, are simply not tolerated. So the key difference is this: In a Christian church there is some room for flexibility of difference of opinion in minor areas of doctrine. But among Jehovah’s Witnesses all members are expected to conform to every doctrine and teaching be it major or minor.
Why Won't Jehovah's Witnesses Read Critical Literature?
Anyone who attempts to give a Jehovah’s Witness religious literature at their door, soon finds that their offer is refused. Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed by the Watchtower Society not to receive the literature of other religions. Many people rightly see this as a double standard, especially when Jehovah’s Witnesses are keen to place their own literature with the public. As will be seen, it would appear that the primary reason why the Watchtower does not want its members from reading literature other than its own is to keep them from finding out facts about their organisation that could be damaging. Recently, with the increase of websites that are critical of the Watchtower Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses are also strongly discouraged from visiting such sites, and explicitly forbidden from corresponding with former members (See: The Watchtower's View of Active Jehovah's Witnesses in Dialogue with Former Jehovah's Witnesses on the Internet.).
Apostate Literature = Pornography!?
In 1986 the Watchtower organisation used the following reasoning to try and persuade its followers to keep away from any literature that would give an opposing view:
"If, out of curiosity, we were to read the literature of a known apostate, would that not be the same as inviting this enemy of true worship right into our home to sit down with us and relate his apostate ideas? Let us illustrate matters in this way: Suppose your teenage son received some pornographic material in the mail. What would you do? If he was inclined to read it out of curiosity, would you say: `Yes, son, go ahead and read it. It won't hurt you. From infancy we've taught you that immorality is bad. Besides, you need to know what's going on in the world in order to see that it's truly bad'? Absolutely not! Rather, you would surely point out the dangers of reading pornographic literature and would require that it be destroyed. Why? Because no matter how strong a person may be in the truth, if he feeds his mind on the perverted ideas found in such literature, his mind and heart will be effected...Well, if we would act so decisively to protect our children from exposure to pornography, should we not expect that our loving heavenly Father would similarly warn us from spiritual fornication, including apostasy? He says, Keep away from it! (The Watchtower, March 15, 1986, p. 13).
So, according to the Watchtower Society, if a Jehovah's Witness receives literature critical of the organisation, then it is similar to them receiving pornographic literature. Is this a reasonable comparison? No it is not. The reasons for this are obvious. Firstly, critical literature and pornographic literature differ in that pornographic material is designed to inflame the lusts whereas critical literature is designed to inform and educate. Secondly, pornographic literature is mostly consists of photographs, whereas critical material mostly consists of text. Obviously, the real reason why the Watchtower associates "apostate literature" with pornography is simply to keep its members from reading it.
Apostate Literature = Demons!?
What of the claim that some Jehovah's Witnesses make that if they were to receive literature critical of the Watchtower, then they would be opening themselves up to demonic influences? Certainly, demons are a reality in the world, but is it really reasonable to conclude that they are hiding in every book, or under every hedge and bush? Here are some quotes of how the Watchtower have viewed this issue:
"How could one become guilty of partaking of the table of demons in our day? By serving the interests of anything opposed to Jehovah. The table of demons includes all demonic propaganda, which is designed to mislead and to turn us away from Jehovah. Who would want to feed his heart and mind on such poison?" (The Watchtower; July 1, 1994, p. 9).
"We would not knowingly want to be partaking of the table of demons. To do that would cost us the favor of the only true and living God, Jehovah." (Ibid.).
By making Jehovah's Witnesses think that all literature critical of the Watchtower Society is demonic, poisonous, and makes one fall out of favour with Jehovah, the Organisation successfully phobia indoctrinates their members from reading anything which may have valid points. Fear of demons, therefore, is certainly a strong and controlling force used by the Watchtower. This effectively keeps most of its members from finding out the facts which they have the right to know about.
The Bible cannot be Understood by Thinking Independently from the Watchtower Organisation
Although Jehovah's Witnesses often pride themselves in being a group who look to the Bible as their authority, the truth of the matter is that it is not so much the Bible that acts as the sole authority but rather the Watchtower Society's interpretation of what they think the Bible says. Additionally, not only is one expected to accept the Watchtower's interpretation of what the Bible says, but independent reading of the Bible, apart from Watchtower literature, is often discouraged:
"All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the "greatly diversified wisdom of God" can become known only through Jehovah's channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave." (Watchtower; Oct. 1, 1994; p. 8).
"We have the opportunity to show love for our brothers who take the lead in the congregation or in connection with Jehovah's visible organization worldwide. This includes being loyal to "the faithful and discreet slave." (Matthew 24:45-47) Let us face the fact that no matter how much Bible reading we have done, we would never have learned the truth on our own." (Watchtower, December 1, 1990, p. 19).
"No matter where we may live on earth, God's Word continues to serve as a light to our path and a lamp to our roadway as to our conduct and beliefs. (Ps. 119:105) But Jehovah God has also provided his visible organization, his "faithful and discreet slave," made up of spirit anointed ones, to help Christians in all nations to understand and apply properly the Bible in their lives. Unless we are in touch with this channel of communication that God is using, we will not progress along the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do." (The Watchtower; December 1, 1981, p. 27).
"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 100 years ago,..." (Watchtower; Aug. 15, 1981; p. 29).
"We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the scriptural guidance we need outside the 'faithful and discreet slave' organization.'" (Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p.19).
"Thus the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible. For this reason the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah's visible organization in mind." (Watchtower Oct. 1, 1967, p. 587).
"He does not impart his holy spirit and understanding and appreciation of his Word apart from his visible organization." (Watchtower, July 1, 1965, pg. 391).
"Heavy research is not necessary, the watchtower has done it all for you. The most beneficial study you can make is to read the Watchtower and Awake magazines or any new book by the organisation" (Watchtower, June 1, 1967 p338).
"The world is full of Bibles, which Book contains the commandments of God. Why, then, do the people not know which way to go? Because they do not also have the teaching or law of the mother, which is light. Jehovah God has provided his holy written Word for all mankind and it contains all the information that is needed for men in taking a course leading to life. But God has not arranged for that Word to speak independently or to shine forth life-giving truths by itself. His Word says: "Light is sown for the righteous." (Ps. 97:11) It is through his organization that God provides this light that the proverb says is the teaching or law of the mother. If we are to walk in the light of truth we must recognize not only Jehovah God as our Father but his organization as our mother." (Watchtower, May 1, 1957, pg. 274).
"But if each of us were left to himself just because he has a copy of the Bible and were to direct his movements independently as he thought he understood the Word, what? It is likely, or possible, that there would be a great deal of confusion or working in competition among us. Hence, besides individually possessing God's Word, we need a theocratic organization. Yes, besides having God's spirit of illumination, a Christian needs Jehovah's theocratic organization in order to understand the Bible." (Watchtower; June 15, 1951; p. 375).
"Rather we should seek for dependent Bible study, rather than for independent Bible study." (Watchtower, Sept 15, 1911, pg. 4885)
"If the 6 volumes of 'Scripture Studies' are practically the Bible topically arranged, with Bible proof-texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes- 'The Bible' in an arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself...Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible itself, but we see also that if anyone lays the 'Scripture Studies' ... after he has read them for 10 years-if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone...out experience shows that within 2 years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he has merely read the 'S.S.' with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years." (Watchtower, Sept 15, 1910, p. 298).
We in the West live in a free and democratic society where much information is freely available. All people, Jehovah's Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike, should all have the freedom to read whatever religious material they want. If our religion is true then such an examination can only strengthen our faith not subtract from it.
Related articles on this site:
The Watchtower's View of Active Jehovah's Witnesses in Dialogue with Former Jehovah's Witnesses on the Internet. An official response from the WBTS in Britian.
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