Under founder Charles Taze Russell, “International Bible Students” were somewhat anti-organizational, centered on personal study of the Bible.
Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1895, p. 216.
Beware of ‘organization.’ It is wholly unnecessary. The Bible rules will be the only rules you will need. Do not seek to bind others’ consciences, and do not permit others to bind yours. Believe and obey so far as you can understand God’s Word today.
A couple of years after Russell’s death, that view was already in transition to its opposite:
Watchtower, April 1, 1920, pp. 100-101.
We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord’s channel. If others see it in a different way, that is their priviledge. There should be full liberty of conscience.
Russell’s successor Judge Joseph Rutherford was well-known for his exclamation that “religion is a snare and a racket.” Nonetheless, his first move was to claim the Society as the Lord’s “channel,” while still holding onto liberty of conscience and brotherly, agapic love.
The “Judge” changed the name of the group to “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in 1931, and it was only after this that they stopped celebrating holidays and using the cross as a symbol. While they did move away from following any particular human leader (as some had followed Pastor Russell), the organization did something much worse: they claimed to be God’s only voice and actual visible presence in the world. Since then, they have been focused on advertising work. Evangelical marketing. Viral spread.
Instead of being submissive to God alone, JWs are submissive to the Governing Body of the Watch Tower (or Watchtower) Society. Criticism and debate are prohibited and classified as apostate, demonic, pornographic. They equate questioning of the organization with Satan’s rebellion against God, while actually accusing the questioner of hubris! Amazing. There is no discussion of how this Governing Body actually gets its direction from God, but to question them is to question God; it’s unthinkable for the average JW to do so.
For all their “anti-worldly” talk, the Watchtower Society has built a lucrative publishing empire with a dedicated salesforce of unpaid associates – an unquestioning set of followers to spread the memes.
In answer to a reader’s question (thank you, Kathy S!), JWs are no longer forbidden to use the Internet. Their work has always gone hand-in-hand with “wordly” technological advances – they really aren’t Luddites. For obvious reasons, JWs were very resistent to the Internet at first, but after some time they gave up and simply gave the same kind of warnings that they would issue with regard to any other kind of publication or interaction: Stay away from worldly influences, don’t look at porn, don’t read information that opposes the Society, and so on. They have a great legal team. They have been able to strongarm a couple of opposing sites off the net with copyright issues, but they really can’t control the information that is out there. The Society set up their own official website, and the PR site, and advised their people not to attempt to represent the Society or its teachings in any way. They are doing damage control at assemblies and through their publications, casting any critical voices in the usual terms.
They are not opposed to using outside sources of information, just so long as they are selectively filtered and approved by the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society – but their outside source selections and interpretations of them are as cherry-picked as the evidence to go to war in Iraq.
The perceptions and insights of others, even of their own people, don’t count at all. Human life is subordinated to the controlling doctrines – which are loaded with special terminology, cliches, and code phrases that trigger reactions even in people who have left the group.
Attempts at authentic personal study and discovery are squelched, and dismissed as Satanic. Higher education is discouraged, and research is conducted only by authorized persons of the corporation. Rank and file JWs will not even supplement the materials of the publications with studies in languages, archeology, textual analysis, sociology, or pastoral counselling. They are not “bible students” or “ministers” – they are slaves of a corporation.
The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or any set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man’s opinion is expressed in The Watchtower. – Watchtower, November 1, 1937, p.327.
God uses The Watchtower to communicate to his people: it does not consist of men’s opinions. – Watchtower, January 1, 1942, p. 5.
Theocratic ones will appreciate the Lord’s visible organization and not be so foolish as to pit against Jehovah’s channel their own human reasoning and sentiment and personal feelings.” – Watchtower, February 1, 1952, p. 80
Newcomers must learn to fall in line with the principles and policies of the New World society and act in harmony with them. Sometimes it becomes rather difficult for some of our new associates to make the change. They are prone to be a little rebellious or unruly. But to become genuinely a part of the New World society it is Imperative that proper respect for theocratic arrangement and order be shown. A humble, obedient mental attitude is required. – Watchtower, June 1, 1956, p. 345.
Who controls the organization, who directs it? Who is at the head? A man? A group of men? A clergy class? A pope? A hierarchy? A council? No, none of these. How is that possible? In any organization is it not necessary that there be a directing head or policy-making part that controls or guides the organization? Yes. Is the living God, Jehovah, the Director of the theocratic Christian organization? Yes! – Watchtower, November 1, 1956, p. 666.
Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book. – Watchtower, July 1, 1973, p. 402.
Avoid Independent Thinking
From the very outset of his rebellion Satan called into question God’s way of doing things. He promoted independent thinking. ‘You can decide for yourself what is good and bad,’ Satan told Eve. ‘You don’t have to listen to God. He is not really telling you the truth.’ (Genesis 3:1-5) To this day, it has been Satan’s subtle design to infect God’s people with this type of thinking.—2 Timothy 3:1, 13.
How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization. For example, God’s organization has from time to time given warnings about listening to certain types of immoral and suggestive music, and about frequenting discos and other types of worldly dance halls where such music is played and people are known to engage in immoral conduct. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Yet certain ones have professed to know better. They have rebelled against such counsel and have done what is right in their own eyes. With what result? Very often they have become involved in sexual immorality and have suffered severe spiritual harm. But even if they have not been so affected, are they not reprehensible if others follow their example and suffer bad consequences?—Matthew 18:6.
This fact cannot be overemphasized: We are in a war with superhuman foes, and we constantly need to be aware of this. Satan and his demons are real; they are not mere figments of the imagination. They are “the world rulers of this darkness,” and we have a spiritual fight against them. (Ephesians 6:12) It is absolutely vital that we recognize their subtle designs and not allow ourselves to be overreached by them. Very appropriately, then, we will next consider how we can arm ourselves to fight against these wicked spirits. – Watchtower, January 15, 1983, pp. 18-22, “Exposing the Devil’s Subtle Designs”
They rigorously promote the idea that any questioning or “independent thinking” is evil by definition. I hope a few ex-JWS (and current JWS too) have been watching the Frontline series “From Jesus to Christ” to get an idea of the range of some of the information they’ve been missing.
Actually, as I observe the sad collection of fanaticisms that pass for Christianity in America today, I hope much of the country was able to catch at least part of the series.
For such a prideful organization, an organization that has taken the place of God for so many, to equate discussion and debate and inquiry with Satanic rebellion, shows just how far from authentic spirituality they have strayed. JWs have lost the critical capacity even to see this contradiction, which negates their own historical aims. They have become much of what they had opposed. Now one could argue that in some ways they worship the organization, the governing body of the Watchtower Society, as much or more than they worship God. It’s a form of idolatry based on very very shaky biblical interpretation.