Religion has always been an important part of my life. When I look back at my religious upbringing, though, and ponder about the way it was, I often think about the way it could have been. Not because I was brought up in a religious home, but because I was brought up in a certain religion. I was taught by my religion to do what was right by being, in short, scared to death. Threats that I would "not survive Armageddon," fear, and an endless stream of "thou shalt nots" were my steady diet. I was taught even as a child that I was evil by nature, born in sin, and surrounded by an evil world whose only purpose was to corrupt me (and my major purpose in life was to resist that corruption).
Aside from the normal childhood fears, Jehovah's Witnesses have several unusual fears. For example, we feared that someone would try to instill patriotism in us by forcing us to salute the flag, or would try to cause us to lose our everlasting life by giving us a blood transfusion when we were ill, or tempt us with a birthday or Christmas present. The acceptance of these was a dastardly sin tantamount to fornication with the harlot, and we were taught Babylon the Great was where Christmas, birthdays, and medical use of blood came from. The world, we believed, was just waiting to persecute "us" for no other reason than "we" (and only we) were "God's chosen people."
Then there was the fear that someone of the "world" would try to be our friend. Do not the Scriptures say "Bad associations spoil useful habits?" As all non-Witnesses were "of the world," I stayed as far away as I could from worldly people, which included most all persons around me. I was warned: "Those worldly people may seem like nice people, but their hearts are evil because they don't love Jehovah." We were also taught that Witnesses too were far from perfect and that "wolves in sheep's clothing were among us." As a result, I feared both the faithful on the inside and all of those on the outside.
I learned very early to conform, even to minor aspects of Watchtower teaching, such as dress, because I knew I would be shunned, avoided, gossiped about, or even disfellowshipped if I did not. And the threat of formal disfellowshipping constantly loomed before every faithful Witness. This pronouncement meant that one was spiritually dead, doomed to the Second Death, a fate so horrible that the very speech of the disfellowshipped was poison. Those who were pure were to even avoid talking with a disfellowshipped person and were never to discuss spiritual things with outcasts--including outcasts in one's own family. One could talk to ministers of religion (who were the worst of humankind, we were taught), before one could talk to a disfellowshipped person!
These fears, on top of the normal fears every child has--that germs would make me sick, that a dog could bite me, that my friends may reject me, and my parents may spank me, were all small compared to what we felt was the worst fear--the horror of the any day now Armageddon. And even though I was a member of God's organization and, therefore, had a passport through this horrendous battle, I would survive only if I remained faithful to our bible, the Watchtower Talmud. Vivid thoughts of the slaughter of the mass of humanity were a horror that once kept me awake many a night. Seeing the enemy--which was most of humankind--ravaged with diseases or torn from limb to limb, caused scores of vivid nightmares. Even if it was only the "evil" worldly persons that were to be destroyed, this idea was something a small boy had difficulty understanding. An enemy--any enemy--is a concept a child who hasn't yet learned to hate has difficulty comprehending.
Assured that membership in, and faithfulness to, the true organization would save me, I trudged from door-to-door selling Watchtower literature and calling myself a minister at age 8. The hate I was often told that the world had of "us" was driven home one day in my door-to-door work when a man with a shotgun ran out of the house screaming at me, a skinny 9-year-old, for being unpatriotic. I didn't know what unpatriotic meant, but I knew that I should run, and run I did. To be persecuted for God's name, the brothers told me later, was an honor. It felt good to be persecuted for God, but it still scared me to death, and I never got used to this nasty habit of worldly persons.
I was also constantly in fear of the fact that if I did not do a lot of things I didn't seem able to do very well (nor did I find many other Witnesses doing them), and if I did certain other things everybody else seemed to be doing, I would suffer that merciless destruction along with almost everybody else at the very real end of the world which was forever "just around the corner." I was taught that God is a deity of wrath and vengeance is His. The Watchtower quoted verse after verse from the Bible convincing me that anything less than full and complete conformity to their rules meant an awful untimely death. The Watchtower gleefully reminded us of the many Bible examples that proved God meant business. He smote 20,000 Amalakites here, 40,000 Israelites there and another 30,000 Canaanites a page later. God was good at smiting, and would smite us too if we didn't conform to the Watchtower's every rule.
Aside from fearing a few unusual things like birthday cakes, missing meetings, and letting our mind wander during a Watchtower lesson, we worried about the snare of materialism and the tentacles of toying with immorality, which included holding hands and all the horrendous woe it brings. This woe included things like syphilis, brain damage, paralysis and other maladies that didn't seem so fearful compared to God's judgment. We even feared failing to keep up with the ever changing theocratic terminology, and avoiding such dastardly sinful words as "luck," "bulletin board," and "gesundheit." I was also afraid of the more normal things including snakes, thunderstorms, botulism and, it seemed, almost everything else in the universe. On top of all that, I was bombarded daily with the evil machinations of Satan, a spirit creature who was even more powerful than the angels, and whose sole purpose, I was told, was to mislead us. Did we stand a chance?
Consequently, I spent the first twenty years or so of my life solemnly thinking, "What's the use? If this dreadful thing doesn't get me some other dreadful thing will." Although the intentions of those indulging in this scary chatter were of the finest gold, mostly accomplished scaring me half to death, lowering even further my already low opinion of myself as a Witness.
One becomes aware of more things when growing older, and one thing I learned was that, except for many of the nominal, less committed Witnesses, many were extremely unhappy people. With iron-tight logic the Witnesses had what they felt was a perfect answer for this obvious reality: Satan's goal is to mislead everyone. And as he has mislead everyone except Jehovah's Witnesses (remember, all non-Witnesses are of Satan), Satan must make all non-Witnesses very happy--after all, they are on his side and are in his organization!
Conversely, it is also Satan's goal to make all of Jehovah's Witnesses miserable: since Satan is the ruler of this system of things and is going to try his damnedest to mislead everyone he can, he will try to make Jehovah's Witnesses miserable to get them out of God's organization. The greatest proof of all that we are God's true organization, the brothers told us, was that we are all miserable (because we were persecuted, many claimed) and most everybody else was happy! How could I argue with this logic?
When I look at my inability to see much bad, either in myself or in others, and think about my extreme shyness, I vividly see what this religion has done to me. I really believe that if I had been given a happy, peaceful, courageous childhood, and had been told that God loved me and would protect me, I would have been much further along. If the loving quality of God was emphasized instead of the vengeful side, if the kind words of Jesus, the extreme patience of God, and the sacrifice of my fellow humans for me were all emphasized, I could have had years of genuine happiness instead of what seemed like centuries of anxiety. But the past is gone and cannot be changed. Hence, for the rest of my life, I shall probably wear the war bonnet and carry a poisoned spear ready in a moment to fight imagined enemies. This is the residual left over from the Watchtower teaching of hate still left in me for my fellow humans and myself. This is the life of one raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I became a Witness because much of my immediate family--my mother, two aunts as well as many of my cousins--converted. My mother started studying in the mid 1950s and I was, at first, somewhat unwillingly taken along to Witness meetings. I remember how enormously bored I was sitting for two hours trying to listen to long monotone lectures that I could not follow, not unexpected for a nine year old. The Witnesses then met above a window sash store and sat on folding chairs. The Kingdom Hall was in Berkeley, Michigan and we lived in Royal Oak, about a mile away. My mother, brother, and myself attended regularly there until the congregation moved into a first story store front building.
In the first Kingdom Hall I went to we usually sat on the north side by the windows. There I could look outside and read the marquee on a movie theater across the street--typically I read it over and over. I somehow picked up the Watchtower doctrine anyway, although mostly because of my own voracious reading (I typically found it very difficult to listen at Watchtower meetings, even twenty years later). I also used to sit in my mother's "home Bible study" with a Witness--typically only towards the end of the study when I arrived home from school. Finding these sessions much more interesting, I often asked the person who studied with my mother many questions. I was at this time still close to a normal young lad interested in giving puppet shows, watching television, collecting things, and involving myself in other activities common to youth. All of this was soon to change.
Always a religious person, I remember when I was sitting in a Catholic church at around age six and my mind kept wondering. I still can vividly picture the basement full of people in chairs and the drain pipes with the thick white, probably asbestos, insulation around them. I can no longer remember what the meeting was about except that I kept thinking that my mind should not wonder because this is God's house and I should listen. Later, when I began to research the Watchtower doctrines (what I now realize was a superficial investigation, mostly in high school), I became convinced that their doctrines were valid.
The Watchtower claimed that Christmas was full of pagan elements and that Christ was not born on December 25. I queried the people around me, mostly my age peers, many of whom assumed that Christ was born on December 25 and concluded that other aspects of my beliefs were wrong. I looked this topic up in several encyclopedias and found that the Watchtower Society was evidently correct on these points (many people do not realize that Christ was likely not born on December 25 and that Christmas does involve many pagan elements). Since my research confirmed scores of things that the Watchtower taught, I concluded that they were correct in all other matters. Of course, young people hold many common assumptions which I learned from the Watchtower were not quite true. I recognize today that I then had only a little knowledge and only a small part of the story.
As far back as I can remember, I had a difficult time accepting the horrible violence in the world. The Watchtower's teaching in this area strongly supported my own perceptions. In college I read several books on early Christianity, including one by Roland H. Bainton, and learned that the early church's teachings in some areas, such as on war, seemed to be closer to the Watchtower than what I assumed that the churches taught. By this time I was faithfully reading the Watchtower publications, endeavoring to becoming more knowledgeable about Watchtower theology. The reaction of non-Witnesses to my Watchtower idiosyncrasies was not always very kind and sometimes down right cruel. In my mind this only reinforced the Watchtower theology, proving that we were persecuted and, thus, must have the truth. Sociologists have found that persecution often reinforces the beliefs of those persecuted, as it often does with Witnesses today.
The earliest incident of persecution that I can remember was in third grade. We were all required to salute the flag and I steadfastly refused to stand and recite "Satan's words." Almost immediately I was forced into a confrontation with the teacher. After being thrown against the wall, I was called a communist and other things that I then had no knowledge about. From that point on, school was for me largely hell. Throughout most of my school career I was a gung-ho Witness and witnessed to everyone every chance I got. Further, I did not think much of drinking, profanity, smoking, telling dirty stories, promiscuity, cheating, involvement in petty theft, and numerous other activities common to my peers, all which reinforced the religious label. In time I became known in school as "Bible Bergman." This was not all bad: whenever one of my peers had a question about religion, they looked me up. Both respect and derision coexisted: some kids used to taunt me because I was "religious" for the reason that they felt I must, consequently, be a prude, not fun-loving (and the numerous other labels that went along with the stereotype).
By junior high school, I had become more used to the persecution and, besides, I knew that I was not permitted to have worldly friends and remain in Jehovah's organization in good standing (something I wanted to do very much, especially in my junior high to college years). One Witness high school friend who was raised around the Witnesses was less committed than I. He eventually left, but I remember he was continually trying to get around the long list of rules that his parents and the Watchtower established. They were somewhat wealthy, at least compared to congregational standards: his father was an engineer for a firm owned by Witnesses, also somewhat unusual. Mostly because of this firm, the congregation I went to was known as an elite Kingdom Hall.
The question, "Was I happy as a Witness?" can be answered both yes and no. I felt tremendously positive about my beliefs and being part of a growing, advancing organization that held all of the answers to all of the world's problems. I truly believed that if everyone was a committed Jehovah's Witness, there would be few problems anywhere in the world. They had the only answer to all the strife and evil that I saw around me. The fact that Jehovah's Witness in America did not war against Germany, nor those in Germany against America, was tremendously reassuring to me that the Watchtower was correct. Over and over I was told that there would have been no World War II if there had been enough Jehovah's Witnesses in each country. The fact that I was a second generation German Finnish American (my father's parents were both born in Finland) may have played a part in this--but then I felt the same way about Japan as well. I saw war then, and still see it today, as horribly irrational and could not understand how any civilized society--especially Germany, one of the most advanced, educated, and civilized societies in the world--could advocate such barbaric behavior. The fact that Catholic and Lutheran Christians in America and Germany fought valiantly against each other was most disquieting. Of course, I was then not fully aware of the many peace churches or all of the enormous efforts that other denominations put forth in order to reduce the war problem.
In the Watchtower, I felt a very strong purpose in life serving God. To be able to defend the Watchtower--one of my chief goals was to become an apologist for them--I desired to learn as much as I could. I was very happy to serve only as a local apologist as long as I could have a part, however small. Thus, in high school I developed a voracious appetite for Watchtower publications, religiously reading each issue and involving myself enthusiastically in the door-to-door work, endeavoring to defend their doctrines to all I met. I was constantly witnessing to my fellow students, teachers, and workmates and all that would hear me (and a few that would not). I eventually developed much skill, and could argue almost any point to help spread what I firmly believed was the answer to the world's problems. Unfortunately, as I now realize, winning arguments is not the same as winning souls.
It soon became blatantly obvious that much of what the Watchtower did was self-defeating--their discouraging education and Witness involvement in research and publication did an enormous amount to hurt them. I knew critics pointed out that we were a lower class religion with the lowest level of education of most all American sects (see Kosmin and Lackman, 1993). Since very few Jehovah's Witnesses were well educated, few had positions of responsibility (and even fewer could adequately defend their doctrines and beliefs against someone who had a good Bible knowledge). I concluded if the Watchtower was truly concerned about the brothers "falling away from the truth" by going to college, they would establish their own colleges and stress education much more, not less. They should also produce far more scholarly articles with much more in depth information, especially about their history, so that we could better defend ourselves against the barrage of attacks by our many critics. They were not very impressed with my logic.
Many Watchtower opposers spent much time discussing the sins of Russell and Rutherford as well as the many skeletons in the Watchtower's history. I felt that the Society should endeavor to educate the brothers about this history so they could adequately respond to the criticisms and prove themselves without spot before Jehovah. Furthermore, my studies helped me to become increasingly aware of the Society's past skeletons and I also found it increasingly difficult to defend them. I felt, though, that we had the truth and the society therefore could respond if they wanted to--and I was totally at a loss as to explain why they did not seem to want to. My bringing these questions to the attention of the brothers was not always very well received--something that baffled me. I relished discussing both the Scriptures and how privileged we were to be part of the Watchtower, but soon discerned that many did not share my enthusiasm. I later realized that the Society could not respond to many of these concerns.
Many Witnesses went along with the Society somewhat perfunctorily and did not share either the commitment or the enthusiasm that I did--fact I could not understand then. When I picked up the friends to go out in service, often out of a whole extended household, only a couple of persons would go with me. I felt very negative towards those who did not enthusiastically participate in spreading the good news of God's kingdom. It was clear to me, as the Society taught thirty years ago, that this was the best way one could spend time in "these last few months before Armageddon." Nominal Witnesses also baffled me and I could not understand why everyone was not on fire for the truth as I was. I now realize it was often the committed people like me, not nominal Witnesses, that more often became disillusioned.
Off To College
Feeling strongly that I could be of far more service to the Watchtower as an educated brother, I was very positive about college. Furthermore, it was allowed for me since my father was not a Witness and felt adamant about my going (my older brother also completed his degree, but my younger brother, who was raised totally in the Watchtower, did not). The Watchtower ruled that if one's father insisted on college, one should obey him while trying to convince him that one strongly preferred to pioneer. If this fails, they taught that you should obey your father as long as you live under his roof. Of course, the Society infers here that we should leave home and pioneer. I tried this for a while, but, ironically, found this life rather depressing. Somehow, I felt that this was not the way to serve Jehovah, and even the brothers said I looked haggard. Although I enjoyed talking about my faith, I soon realized knocking on doors to intrude on the space of strangers was actually usually productive.
After a few months of basically wasting my time, I moved on. Although I enjoyed the missionary work, as a full-time pioneer I rarely got into many in-depth conversations, and was expected to have at least a couple of Bible studies, a goal that I rarely achieved. I soon realized that there was not exactly a large number of middle-aged housewives--the most common householder--that wanted a young, precocious, eighteen year old single male to come to their house every week to study Watchtower publications with them. I was oriented far more to college students, or at least well read persons, and the few studies I had were with college students or highly educated individuals. The average householder did not relate well with either my scholarly orientation or my Watchtower message.
My first goal in college was to become a research scientist like my father. My enormous interest in science motivated me to study biology, chemistry and physics at college. This, though, I felt would be somewhat selfish--and since I already felt guilty about attending college, I concluded that I should at least take courses that would help me become a better Witness. Thus, I studied history, Greek, psychology and other areas that would facilitate my serving the Watchtower better. I was also at this time becoming more and more aware of the psychological problems among the Witnesses and, consequently, decided to pursue psychology rather than my first love, the hard sciences.
The congregation I attended was probably one of the best educated in the state (actually only a few brothers there had been to college, but this was unusual in the Witnesses) and thus were fairly supportive. Conversely, most other Witnesses were not very happy with my "choice" of college. I was at this time interested in marriage and, although we could not date, I did visit some sisters' parents--and many made it very clear that they wanted me to have nothing to do with their daughter because I was a college student, and not a pioneer. Every "good" Witness family wanted their daughter to marry a pioneer. They did not seem to worry about such things as how a pioneer would support their daughter. Why should they? We were sure that Armageddon would arrive any day.
I have always strongly felt that the Society--if they were right--should confront their critics, and decisively prove them wrong with irrefutable evidence. This is the role of an apologist, and this is the role I felt that I could serve. There were few people that I encountered that could effectively show me I was wrong--I could defend the Society from almost any charge, and I thought my defense was effective. In the end, it was not Watchtower critics that caused me to leave, but the Watchtower's often self-defeating behavior.
The Watchtower's policy is that Witnesses should "destroy apostate material" (March 15, 1986, Watchtower, p. 12). My belief was that we should study and refute it. What if these arguments came up in the field service (and sooner or later they likely would)? Is it wrong to refute them then? If so, why is it wrong to refute them when the arguments are in print and one can get a handle on the specific allegations? Should we not be aware of all of the arguments against the truth--all which I was sure were spurious--and effectively be able to refute them? If we had the truth, should not the truth easily refute all challenges? Is this not what the Watchtower does in many of their articles? For example, in their booklet The Word, Who Is He According to John? they bring up scores of the arguments that critics use against the Watchtower--and they then try to refute each one. Of course, the governing body and writing staff can read all the apostate literature they want (I was shocked to discover the apostate book Thirty Years A Watchtower Slave in the Bethel library--although it was not assessable without special permission).
Witnesses were not even to "expose themselves to possible spiritual contamination by tuning in to religious radio and television broadcasts" (Watchtower, March 15, 1986:19). Listening to all non-Witness religious information--which the Society collectively labels as false--"should be avoided like poison" (p. 20). The Society concludes that we can get all of the religious information we will ever need from the Watchtower publications and we have no reason to "look anywhere else." The control of all information by the Society was so complete that Jehovah's Witnesses are not even to circulate "private material on matters such as medical or counseling services" (Sept. 1987, Our Kingdom Ministry, p. 4). Conversely, Witnesses were to be docile--teachable is the word they use--and staidly accept Watchtower words verbatim.
When I looked into other religious sects--some quite intently--I found even those as strict as the Moonies could go to college or even read anti-Moon literature with impunity. On the bulletin board in their seminary I noted numerous articles critical of them which they felt confident that they could refute, and were not overtly bothered by the propaganda against their church. Likewise, the Mormons publish numerous journals in which Mormons could not only discuss religious matters, but critique the church. Indeed, I was able to find no other organization that exercised such an incredibly complete totalitarian autocratic thought control on their members. In reading articles about the Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany, I noted a number of commentators concluded that the reason the Witnesses had so many problems with the Nazis was because they were so much like them--except that the Nazis allowed more freedom than the Watchtower. The Nazis allowed most literature not printed by the Nazi government, although if one was an open Nazi agitator, obviously problems often ensued. Nonetheless, more rigidity exists in the Watchtower today than in the Nazi totalitarianism of the 1930s.
Ironically, the very people that the Watchtower alienated by these self-defeating tactics were the very ones they needed as capable apologists. And they often alienated their most capable apologists and thinkers such as Greg Stafford, Richard Rawe, and Chris Christenson. In my experience, those who deliberately left were often the more devout, more committed and loyal Witnesses who lived more fully all of the Watchtower's dictates and lifestyle requirements. Those who stayed were often the less committed or more narrow minded--those who had the attitude "if the Watchtower says it, that settles it." A well known conversation that occurred at Bethel among the writing staff was that "they could argue all they wanted about doctrine, but when it came out of Knorr's office, it was fact and they must accept it."
Another common saying is that "if the Watchtower asked me to commit suicide today, I would unhesitatingly ask them what means I should use." This cravat is always followed by "of course, the Society would never ask us to do this, but if they did, I would be willing, just as Isaac was willing to sacrifice his son at a moment's notice when Jehovah commanded it." The fact is, the Watchtower does ask their followers to commit suicide--and hundreds of thousands have obeyed their irrational bans on blood, organ-transplants, and vaccines--and have died because of conflicts with the governments in Malawi, Nazi Germany, Argentina, Canada, China and elsewhere due to the Watchtower's unreasonable intransigence and inhumanity.
When I married on June 20, 1970 I was teaching high school science, then elementary school. I later obtained a position doing psychological research for the circuit court for several years. After the grant I worked under expired, I completed my doctorate in the area of research, although most of my course work was in psychology. In 1973 I obtained a position as a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. After I moved down to Bowling Green with my wife and young child, Aeron (who graduated with honors from Michigan State University in 1994) the congregation there discovered that I was teaching in the psychology area--and I was soon swamped with requests for help. For the first time, I vividly realized both the high level and seriousness of the emotional problems in the Jehovah's Witnesses. I was soon dealing with serious mental problems of every type (many of the cases I worked with then are documented in my book on Witnesses and mental health). It also became apparent that the Watchtower Society and their official representatives were horribly incompetent in dealing with these problems, and when they asked for help, the local elders often did more harm than good.
In the congregations that I served, I became aware that as many as twenty percent of Witnesses had mental problems including depression, abnormal fears and general unhappiness. When I talked to others to determine if my experience was atypical, I found out that it was not. It thus became apparent that the mental illness rate was clearly high--as much as five to ten times above the average middle class church going population. When I first became aware of this fact, I tried to tactfully present the information to the Watchtower. The Society's response was cold, stern, and unequivocal--"it is our organization, and we are going to run it the way we want to and, further, we resent you pointing out what you think is a concern: if Jehovah wanted his organization to be different, He would make it different." I was told that I was both presumptuous and showed a lack of submission to Jehovah's loving mother organization in daring to point out that there was room for improvement. God's organization was perfect, they believed, although most admitted that those who ran it were not.
Expectedly, this response pushed me further outside of "God's organization"--which made many Witnesses happy. God's organization has no place, they told me, for one who is filled with worldly wisdom and thinks that some of the answers are in the "foolish wisdom" of psychology. All of the answers to mental health concerns, I was told over and over, were found only in God's organization. The universal solution to every problem was to pray, study, and go out in service more--not to listen to worldly advise from some psychologist or even medical doctor. When I finally published some of the preliminary results of my research on Witnesses and mental health in 1977, I used a pseudonym--and was eventually found out and in time was forced to leave, even though the purpose of my article was simply to point out that the Watchtower had a flat tire that needed fixing. I experienced the classic case of the messenger being condemned because of bringing an unwelcomed message.
I was not as accepted at my new congregation as in my hometown of Royal Oak where I served the congregation as an assistant overseer, ministry school overseer, and book study conductor. I was never appointed to a position in Bowling Green, partly because the elders simply could not accept someone who was a college professor, especially someone with a background in psychology. I often wonder, if I still lived in the Detroit area, would I still be involved in the Watchtower? The enormously negative reaction that I experienced at the Bowling Green Congregation rapidly drove me away from the Watchtower even more. I soon began an in-depth study on questions such as the Witness mental health problems. I decided to spend some time with an old "friend," lawyer Hayden Covington, a former Vice-President of the Watchtower Society, to learn more about their history.
What I learned more than just upset me, it revolted me. My whole ship of salvation was now rapidly sinking, causing me enormous depression. Every door of knowledge about them that I opened now revealed a gapping hole in the Watchtower Ark, eventually forcing me to bail out. Although I did not formally resign until 1980 (it took me that long before I could formally sever my ties with the organization) by 1974 I was totally disillusioned with the Watchtower.
I was a committed Witness for over twenty years, although I was not baptized until 1960 when I was about fifteen. My involvement was from the middle 1950s until the middle 1970s, and in 1975 I experienced the final straw that broke the camels back. My knowledge of the Watchtower's past prophesy failures led me to conclude that they should not stick their neck out again with 1975. Consequently, I openly stated that Armageddon may not come in 1975, and we may end up in trouble again if we put our faith in a date. I was openly criticized for this view, and some roundly condemned me as lacking faith in Jehovah's organization.
Many Witnesses felt very strongly that 1975 was the last possible date for Armageddon--and it will likely occur before this long looked forward to year. Most Witnesses simply went along with the Society inspired flow, seemingly oblivious to all of the concerns date setting involved. When the 1975 kingdom deadline came and went, it became clear to me (and about a million other Witnesses) that the Society was simply wrong again. I also felt disappointed in their blatant dishonesty when the Watchtower tried to put the blame on the brothers--claiming it was they that were too enthusiastic about a date, not the Watchtower. In fact, the Watchtower never once before 1975 that I was aware of cautioned us about this so-called "speculation by the brothers" (or over enthusiasm, as some described it) which the Watchtower later condemned.
Many realized that the problem was fully in the lap of the Watchtower, but many also felt frustrated trying to interact rationally with them. Realizing the ark of salvation I was in had gaping holes was not only depressing, but caused enormous guilt over the lives wasted and people misled. The Watchtower not only did not live up to what they claimed they were--many not only failed to receive help from within the congregation, but also typically experienced much discouragement over the Watchtower behavior that was counter productive.
Many Witnesses felt extremely ambivalent about the organization, but very few openly questioned most major beliefs as the trinity, hellfire, or many other doctrines. Actually, their doctrine is what kept many in the Watchtower. It was almost always the organization that caused problems, especially the inhumanity exhibited by the elders and their behavior (which many Witnesses saw as ego trips). Many (although not all) were simply trying to satisfy their own selfish needs for status, and were not truly concerned about the congregation or the needs of the brothers and sisters. Many loyal Witnesses spoke well of the organization, but poorly (or at least had many doubts) about the local brothers. They often believed that the Watchtower was perfect, only its members and leaders were not. This created enormous approach-avoidance conflicts--many Witnesses simultaneously both loved and hated the Watchtower.
In my case, the higher the level Watchtower official that I associated with, the more thoroughly disillusioned I became with the entire Watchtower Society. Several Watchtower magazine writing assignments allowed me to have contact with the area of the Society that was closest to God: the writing staff, which many of us presumed had a hotline to Heaven. We knew the line had static at times, and a revelation did not always come through crystal clear, but they had the right extension and we did not even have access to the phone. As time went on, when I realized that they did not have the right extension either (and no one was even on the other end) it became apparent that the Watchtower was a sham.
If the Watchtower simply claimed to be a group of sincere Christians who were endeavoring to understand the Scriptures, I could accept the imperfections I found. But, they claimed to be nothing less than God's only organization of such perfection that no group in history has lived up to the Watchtower's claims for themselves. The Israelites--everyone from their leaders on down--repeatedly sinned and fell short of God's perfect standards. The Watchtower Society, or so they claim today, has not sinned and rejected God, but maintained loyalty throughout their entire history. If they would condemn their past and their leaders--as the Scriptures and especially Christ's words condemned Israelite's past and leaders--I could accept the parallel better. This parallel, though, was never made. They claimed to be an organization of such perfection and intimacy with God that no organization or human in history, even Moses or the Apostles, could compare with it.
When I was active as a Witness, I experienced many Witnesses manifest what I then considered agape love. Indeed, I often bragged that Witnesses proved themselves God's people by the love they displayed among themselves. In 1978, a century record-breaking snowstorm hit parts of the Midwestern United States and traffic was stopped for miles. Thousands of people were stranded without food, water or warmth, and some even died. The Witnesses traveling then knew, if they called the local Kingdom Hall, that they would be given food and shelter until the storm was over. I was living in Bowling Green when several brethren got stranded. They called our Kingdom Hall and the brothers went out with their four-wheel drive Jeeps to pick them up, and drop them off at the various homes of the brothers in our area. We had two families stay with us, a Black couple from Detroit and a white family from Findlay. They were our guests, and we were proud to have them, even though they were strangers from elsewhere. As a Jehovah's Witness, though, our house was theirs.
Another similar incident occurred when I traveled to Europe with the university in 1968. The about three month journey took us to two dozen European cities. At each one, I would look up the local Kingdom Hall, call the brothers--many were polyglot--and within a short time had a first class chauffeured personal tour of the city. Most of my colleagues spent their time traipsing around as obvious tourists while I spent mine living among the natives, gaining friends, some whom I am still in contact with today.
Unfortunately, this love turns to hate once one begins to question the Witness's god, the Watchtower Society. When I left them, I could no longer talk to many relatives, most of my friends, and even my own mother (although some of my relatives violated this rule--and it changed back and forth so much that whether I could talk to somebody depended upon the date). The Society teaches that one should hate, detest and loath those who leave the Society. Anyone who leaves for almost any reason, aside from adultery or a criminal offense, and has difficulty with some doctrinal point no matter how minor is called an apostate.
In the most recent article on how and who to hate, the October 1, 1993 Watchtower (p. 19), states that "true Christians ... are not curious about apostate ideas. On the contrary, they 'feel a loathing' towards those who have" left or are critical of some aspect of Watchtower policy. One is not to criticize the Watchtower or one is liable to be labeled an apostate. The Watchtower concludes their cacophony of hate and fear by cautioning Witnesses to "leave it to Jehovah to execute vengeance" a comment likely motivated by the hatred expressed by Witnesses against those who have left. The Watchtower realizes that if their members are caught maiming, or burning the houses or destroying the property of ex-Witnesses, this may reflect poorly upon the Watchtower Society. One would not be surprised that this happens, though, in that the Society teaches "a Christian must hate" those who are critical of the Watchtower.
Having been involved in about 100 litigation cases typically involving a Witness and a non-Witness where custody or alimony was at issue, I came to realize the enormous amount of harm that the Witness teaching of hate produces. Conflicts are normally acerbated in a divorce, but the pure hate that came from the Watchtower followers was blatant and vicious. The Scriptures teach that one should love one's enemies--and these people were not even enemies, many were not even Witnesses. They just could not stomach the Watchtower and thus would be considered Watchtower enemies. Those who claim to follow the Bible are to love them, but they anything but loved them--and commonly openly lied in court according to the court's definition requiring "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" -if they felt it may be helpful to gain an advantage in court.
In my family, the Watchtower caused the divorce of my own parents, many cousins, my own divorce, and the divorces of many of those that I grew up with. Indeed, it has become more and more apparent that the Watchtower leaders are actually "apostles of hate." No small number of Watchtower articles have pushed the need to hate all those that are critical of the Watchtower or do not accept every edict that the Watchtower hands down. Often people drift away from the Society and end up disfellowshipped for such "sins" as being married in a church, celebrating birthdays or similar--and once disfellowshipped, after they experience the venom of Watchtower followers they realize the organization's true nature.
They then often change from a mild critic to an active opposer and become involved in the many groups that are now actively working against the Watchtower's sins. The focus of these groups is often a concern for others that comes from an awareness of the harm that the Watchtower Society has caused in their own lives and in the lives of many persons around them. The harm is sometimes so severe that suicide, homicide, or even mass murder can result. The horror stories and mental anguish of people involved in the Watchtower because of this hate abounds, as I have documented in my book Jehovah's Witness and the Problem of Mental Health (Clayton, CA: Witnesses, Inc., 1990).
As disciples of hate, the Watchtower does not use New Testament Scriptures to support this teaching, but relies upon scriptures such as Psalms 139:21, 22, which states "Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, Oh Jehovah, and do I not feel a loathing for those revolting against you? With a complete hatred I do hate them. They have become to me real enemies." Of course this Scripture was referring in this case to those who "intensely hated God" not the Watchtower (Watchtower, October 1, 1993:19). The Watchtower, though, teaches that anyone who disagrees with them, even on minor points, is included among those "who show their hatred of Jehovah by revolting against him." An apostate in the Watchtower's eyes even includes someone who feels it is appropriate to accept a Christmas present from one's parents, or deviates in other minor ways from the rigid Watchtower dogma. Since to Witnesses the Watchtower organization is close to synonymous with Jehovah, those who do not completely obey it are labeled by the Watchtower as haters of God. They thus are to be hated by all of Jehovah's Witnesses on pain of disfellowshipping.
An interesting experience is that of David Reed, an ex-Witness who for years published a paper titled Comments From the Friends. His early writing "did not make any radical departure from Watchtower teaching on doctrinal matters" (Comments From the Friends, Winter 1988, p. 3). As he and his wife returned home from a Bible study, two elders "accosted" them on the sidewalk in front of their home, demanding to know if they "planned to publish another issue." Reed then asked specifically what they printed that was inappropriate or objectionable. The elders answered that they could not discuss content, but were dispatched only to find out if Reed planned to publish again. He replied in the affirmative and, a few days later, a judicial committee tried (and found guilty) both Reed and his wife in absentia.
Presumably, in the New World all printing presses, fax machines, newspapers and books will be totally controlled, and only that officially approved by the Watchtower Society will be allowed. A George Orwellian 1984 will be established by them that far exceeds even the Orwellian nightmare. Admittedly, I am not aware of Witnesses who got into trouble publishing books on computers or in technical areas, but I know of none who have produced works in this area either--the Watchtower's main area of concern seems to be religion, psychology, sociology, and especially the areas that directly impinge on the Watchtower's teaching (which is most of history, science, literature and the humanities in general).
When I became acquainted with other prominent Witnesses, including Raymond Franz, Hayden Covington, and several writing staff members who are now still involved in the organization (thus it would be prudent not to reveal their names) I was appalled by their lack of knowledge of the Society's history. Even Hayden Covington, although he had an intimate knowledge of the court cases he was involved in, possessed little knowledge of the momentous events of Russell's day and the development of Watchtower doctrine. His knowledge of doctrine was only average, a tragedy considering that he was at one time vice president of the Watchtower and would be expected to be an oracle of the truth and a fountain of scriptural knowledge.
A major concern that got me into much trouble with the Watchtower was my research on the mental health problems of the Witnesses. After it was quite clear that this was a serious problem, I discussed it with the Watchtower officials. I was told not to discuss it openly, for if it was true (which they acknowledged it probably was) it would not reflect positively on "God's organization." Furthermore, they argued that much of the blame for this problem was due to the pressure of being a Witness in a hostile world and the pressures to keep the Watchtower standards relative to immorality, dishonesty, crime and related in a world all around us that is filled with such behavior.
This was no doubt part of the problem, but much of it was due to the Watchtower themselves. They acknowledged that mental health was probably a major issue, but that Armageddon was so close that it did not matter. If the Watchtower policy caused someone to suffer mentally, it must be put in perspective: the Watchtower would give them everlasting life and, thus, the suffering now would not be a long term consequence.
This argument was not totally unreasonable if Armageddon would have come before 1975. The fact is that it did not, and there are now possibly a million dissidents, many of them very bitter at the Watchtower. Furthermore, experiences such as with the Watchtower effect one profoundly throughout life. Unless God were to wipe away this experience, or somehow negate it, it would effect life forever on Earth and in Heaven. In my experience, only a commitment to Christ has been able to cause the total mental conversion necessary in order to leave the past behind and focus on the future. The past is still there, of course, and still has a profound effect on the future, but with conversion the past is far more controllable, far more settled, and much less detrimental to the future.
My disenchantment with the Society actually developed very slowly. Even several years after I left, I still felt very positive about the Watchtower and their ideals. Probably one of my most devastating experiences involved testifying in American courts. It was this, probably more than any other single experience, that caused me to shift my position from neutrality in social areas at least to recognizing the absolute harm that this organization causes in the lives of people. Part of my disillusionment also resulted from experiencing the American Judicial system. When reading the judge's decision, I often saw my testimony twisted beyond recognition. Sometimes he or she claimed I stated the opposite of what I really testified. Why this is the case is difficult to determine--quite possibly the Watchtower attorney's claims relative to my testimony were accepted by the court and repeated verbatim, but one would think that judges would be constrained to check the original court transcript when writing their decision.
On the other hand, the Watchtower's own tactics are grossly unethical. A good example is, to try to impinge my credibility, the Watchtower has presented in court a copy of a summary of my professional background that they alleged I prepared. On it is listed a book entitled Helping Students Through Feedback; A Humanistic Approach to Testing in the Schools Today and the publisher given is Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. They then produced a letter from Morrey Raskin dated January 6, 1989 that states that "H.B.J.'s copyright department cannot find evidence of publication of a book entitled Helping Students Through Feedback; A Humanistic Approach to Testing in the Schools Today by Dr. Jerry Bergman, by H.B.J. or any affiliated company." Thus it certainly appears--and this is obviously their intent--that I claimed credit for a book that I did not write. As an extension from this, they infer, "can one who is dishonest in presenting his or her credentials be trusted in court?" Obviously my testimony is worthless, or at least highly suspect, for have they not proven that I am a liar?
In fact, it is the Watchtower Society attorneys that are openly prevaricating because they know the story behind this situation. The book in fact exists, but was published by Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston in 1981 and I have a contract with the company proving that I wrote the book. The Watchtower is aware of this, yet they continually presented their lies as evidence to attack my credibility. The most they can claim is that the publisher name was incorrect. They cannot argue that this incorrect information would benefit me because the publisher that actually published the book is more prestigious than the publisher listed.
Furthermore, I have repeatedly testified and have documents noting that this information on this vita is incorrect. The source of this mistake is difficult for me to prove, except that I clearly did not type the document, and the mistake could either be because of a secretarial error, or the information that was supplied to them was incorrect. To determine which would be difficult at this point, and even if I took responsibility for the error, the most that could be said is that a mistake was made--something quite different than my falsely claiming to have published a book that does not exist. Many other examples of the same ploy have been presented in court by the Watchtower.
When on the stand, the person testifying often does not know what specific tactics such as this will be used, thus often has little or no empirical defense on hand. One can hardly achieve the truth by utilizing such tactics, which is partially the fault of the American court system. Lawyers often try to win cases by "pulling something over" on opposing witnesses that they cannot respond to on the stand, thus cannot defend themselves. Of course, a deposition is one way that this information can be revealed, but as it is to the person's advantage not to give away these ploys in a deposition. Deposed persons typically try to reveal as little information as possible. The Watchtower's distortions are easy to document if someone was willing to evaluate all of the evidence. Unfortunately, though, courts often simply do not have the time or inclination to delve into detail on each concern, especially if it is not the direct focus of the case.
When I present information, such as a review of the studies that indicate the mental illness rate among the Witnesses is much higher than average, the Watchtower attorney simply tries to negate this by claiming the opposite. Since most judges are not inclined to review the original literature for themselves, this ploy may nullify my testimony, which is their goal. Often if a claim is made on one side and the opposite on the other side, the judge does not know who to believe, so simply disregards both sides. Of course, this is why the Watchtower makes claims they know are false. For example, I may state that the Watchtower practices disfellowshipping and then discuss the policy, giving appropriate Watchtower sources. The Watchtower attorney may endeavor to negate this by stating, for example, that the quotes do not mean what they appear to mean. This is "religious talk," they may try to argue, and whether a Witness follows a rule is "up to the individual" and disfellowshipping is only for serious wrongdoing--such as murder or bank robbery. Most judges do not know much about the Witness teachings, and the Watchtower, realizing that these issues are not going to be resolved in the courtroom, know that judges are inclined to simply dismiss the whole concern.
My Feelings about the Watchtower and their Doctrine Today
My feelings about the Watchtower are quite in contrast to what they were only a few years ago: partly because of my court experience I now believe they are a harmful, hateful organization and do an enormous amount of damage in society. Except for the ignorant, fearful, trapped uneducated, and bigoted, Witnesses invariably discover the Watchtower's paradoxes and that they are not what they claim to be. This disappointment forces them out, or at least causes them to become nominal Witnesses, hanging on due to family, friends, and relatives.
The Future of the Watchtower
The Watchtower tries to convey the falsehood that they appeared more or less out of no where in the middle 1870s. God caused a Pauline conversion in a man named Charles Taze Russell and gave him new truths by divine revelation that were in many ways radically different from all of the churches then. The Watchtower, though, is actually very much a product of its true father, the Baptist William Miller, who repeatedly predicted the end of the world. He used many of the same elaborate convoluted numerological calculations based on Daniel and Revelation that the Watchtower still uses today. Miller's first date was midnight on March 21 1843 and his absolute final date was 1844, after which he finally realized that his chronological scheme was full of holes and totally abandoned it.
Russell altered some of his interpretations, but kept Miller's basic failed chronological system. For example, Russell taught that the second coming of Christ was in 1874 (Zion's Watchtower, pp. 115, 275, 289) and 1875 was the beginning of restitution (Watchtower, p. 123). After the Watchtower was first published in July of 1879, new revelations from God steadily flowed from Russell's pen, all which proved false. The year 1914 was to be the full end of the gentile times, meaning the collapse of Babylon was to occur and the destruction of Christendom was to begin (Vol. 2, p. 76-78, Zion's Watchtower, p. 3620, 2553, 3851).
Miller's other stepchildren included Herbert W. Armstrong, who predicted the end on January 7, 1972. The Armstrong group today, fortunately, has repudiated all date predicting and seems to have learned their lesson. Only the Watchtower continues merrily along, hinting at even more new dates and insisting on the validity of many of the old one's that are obviously blatant failures.
The Watchtower will eventually be forced to face stark reality and change--they are already accepting more and more "worldly" technology, and have even altered their stand on attending college and using the services of psychologists. They used to meet in rented, run-down, even squalid, storefront churches, but many Kingdom Halls, in America at least, are stylish edifices worth $250,000 or more. The Society has become extremely wealthy, and recruits more and more middle and even some upper middle class members.
The higher echelon must also realize that many of their teachings, such as against blood transfusion, are blatantly wrong (they are already compromising here, allowing use of more and more blood fractions, such as use of factor VIII for hemophilia). Doctrine too is facing serious problems--their 1914, and, indeed, their entire chronology, has failed and was recently changed. Yet, when I look at their past, I find that many of their most objectionable doctrines are recent innovations. These include disfellowshipping, prohibition of blood transfusion (which began only in 1961) and a lot of their heinous doctrines such as the holiday prohibitions which has caused an enormous number of family divisions. Indeed, going back to Russell's beliefs in these (and many other areas) would be a step forward.
The modern Watchtower has produced an enormous amount of suffering, far more than under Russell. It has directly caused the loss of tens of thousands of lives because of condemning organ transplants, vaccines, blood transfusions and their inhumane policies such as telling the Witnesses in Malawi they would lose their eternal life if they bought a twenty-five cent party card regardless of the consequences (see Reed, Worse Than Waco). While I do not condone the Malawi government for killing hundreds of Witnesses, the Watchtower's unfeeling, actually grotesque policies for their own people, have caused many of their problems. The Watchtower seems to create situations to cause persecution because they feel that this benefits them in the long run.
For one who makes a living in science and medicine such as myself, it is especially disconcerting to read articles in Watchtower publications advocating medical fraud or quackery. For example, the Watchtower quotes a quack organization that states Lewis
Pasteur's teachings have caused untold millions in health and they have destroyed unnumbered lives in the world. Pasteur was primarily interested in wealth and glory. He did sensational things to achieve this end. He was in the habit of making pronouncements before he had proved that he was right. Then he stuck to his dogmas despite all findings to the contrary (1935 Golden Age, p. 814).
The Golden Age also during this period continually ridiculed vaccinations, or implied from statements such as "vaccination is not required in the rural districts of New York, in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, in certain schools in Massachusetts or at all in Maine or Vermont. Yet in the year 1934 there was not a case of smallpox anywhere in any of these states" that vaccinations do not protect and often kill. The Society has now reversed 180° their stand on vaccinations--and has even published articles lauding the many lives that such treatment is blessed with saving. They also must reverse their policy in other areas.
Having seen the Society change drastically in the almost half century since the 1950s, I would expect at least as much change in the future. In what direction they will go is difficult to say. I once felt that they would become less hostile towards the world, more loving and willing to take a constructive place in the community, which is part of what Christianity is all about. The trend I have seen, though, is more and more isolationism. On the area of education, I expected that they would eventually realize the value of having well educated members who have respect and even influential positions in the community. This would go a long way toward making their religion not only credible, but desirable. Although they have recently changed their policy so that at least a technical education is now seen as appropriate, the vast majority of Witnesses still have a high school education or less, and any change in their education level will take years before it has any effect on the Society. Only 4.7 percent have been to college compared to over 49.5 percent for Unitarians 46.7 for Jews and 39.3 percent for Episcopalians (Kosmin and Lackman, 1993).
Much of their existence was due to their extensive prophesies--and the fact is, not one of their major prophesies have proved successful--and most all of their scores of minor prophesies have likewise failed. As more awareness of this fact permeates the Watchtower membership, pressures from within to make more changes will result. Because their entire chronology, from 607 BCE to 1799 to 1914 to their "6000 years of man's existence ended in 1975" teaching is wrong, major changes are required here as well. As we enter the year 2004, the fact that virtually none of the so-called remnant will soon be alive will also force a drastic change in their teaching. Furthermore, as the governing body members die off--many are now around 80--younger people who are unaware of the Society's history will take control. These persons will no doubt, at least occasionally, be exposed to the early Society's history, and some will come to realize that the Watchtower has changed so drastically that in the past it was not the organization that they claim today.
A strong trend exists for people who have power to abuse it--and the more power they have, the more they tend to abuse the power. The truism "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" has been vividly played out by the Watchtower. They have gained an exorbitant level of power, and, according to their Dunn's credit report, a 1992 American income of $1,250,000,000 plus other income from stocks, land, and other sources, makes them an extremely wealthy organization. Along with this, they have grown more corrupt and callus. The Watchtower is among the most totalitarian organizations in existence, controlling virtually every aspect of their adherent's lives. Will they become more totalitarian, more vicious against heir own members and opposers as they grow even larger and more powerful? I shudder to think of the scandals in this area that appear to be inevitable (although I hope I am wrong).
I strongly believe that the government should investigate the Watchtower, as I am aware of much corruption and many violations of state laws (such as on taxes and obeying ordinances). Only with continued public attention and press on their problems, as well as continual dissent from within, will they become more humane and rational. Some feel that this will never happen since they do not operate with God's blessing.
Most of us can look back on our lives and wish that many things were different. As is often said, hindsight provides 20/20 vision. I could, as many former Jehovah's Witnesses do, spend my life in bitterness, disappointment, and anger, looking doleful daily due to my cacophony of experiences and all that I lost and suffered because of being involved in the Watchtower. This, of course, does not hurt the Watchtower but only the person who is bitter. I could also try to focus on how they have helped me grow, obviously difficult to do in that it is next to impossible for me to predict how I would have felt about most things that matter had I not been raised a Witness.
A benign look at the Watchtower may argue that their praiseworthy teachings on sexual morality, marriage faithfulness, the need to work hard, to conscientiously give one's employer a full day's work, to do one's best in all things, to value the association of people of a wide variety of ages and have an abiding faith in one's religion, are all gifts that I would like to think the Watchtower helped me to develop. I learned from them a love for the Scriptures and an intellectual approach to religion--both factors that eventually insured my leaving. Although Witness meetings stress learning, this knowledge is controlled by the Watchtower and much is endless verbiage that forever repeats the same simple, naive ideas. It is, nonetheless, a mental approach that contrasts to the mindless ritual in which many churches indulge.
The least I can say is that I was raised differently and had an opportunity to learn from my experiences. I avoided drugs, alcohol, wasting time, involvement in frivolous activities and, indeed, focused on hard work, diligent study, and a conscientious orientation to prove those ideas that I encountered. Many other ex-Witnesses likewise recognize that they should value their Watchtower experience for it, at the least, helped them to appreciate and value the things that were denied as a Witness--attending college, being able to listen to Christian music, to attend the church of their choice, to choose their friends based on their personal qualities and not membership in an organization, to interact freely with persons of other religions without feeling driven to convert them--and always having a hidden agenda as if the whole purpose of any social relationship was to resuscitate that person into the Watchtower by whatever means possible.
Yet I cannot help thinking "if I only was raised in a normal environment ... what could I have become." I would have not developed the enormous distrust of all non-Witnesses that I had for so long, nor would I have experienced endless problems with the draft, flag salute, and society in general because of my religion. A panoramic view concludes I probably would have been far more easy going, less uptight and, as a whole, a far happier person.