30 YEARS A WATCHTOWER SLAVE: Confessions of a Converted Jehovah’s Witness, by W.J.Schnell, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971/1994.
On holidays I read books I would otherwise probably ignore. This one was interesting and scary…
Most of us have been door-knocked by earnest people trying to sell us books and tracts, and telling us that ‘Millions now living will never die.’ The Jehovah’s Witnesses – like many sects – have a preoccupation with the end of the world. A famous Saturday Evening Post article in 1940 by Stanley High about the JW’s was titled ‘Armageddon, Inc’.
This is probably the best-known book by an ex-JW (‘More than 300,000 sold’). It’s a quite amazing story, by a man with incredible energy and some intelligence, who gave the best years of his life to ‘the most totalitarian organization which was ever spawned in liberty-loving America and upon our freedom-loving soil’ (p.79). He was, he says, ‘imprisoned in the tightest organization on earth’ (p.113) whose motive ‘for going out into all the world is not to baptize [people] into Jesus Christ but to initiate them into the Theocracy’ (p.162) – the name given to the JW system in 1938.
Some interesting snippets:
* ‘When we were arrested we pleaded that we were preaching and not making money… when in this case we full well knew we were getting 200 percent profit!’ (p.60).
** ‘[JW members] report to the Watchtower Society every hour they spend doing their work, the actual number of books they place, the number of back calls they make, and the book studies they hold in people’s houses.’ (p.75). They ‘carefully record the names and addresses of those who continue to buy books’ (p.80). And Schnell says he ‘religiously attended three to five meetings a week’ (p.114).
*** JW’s are ‘engaging in a money making scheme – which in reality is the basic purpose of the book selling devised in 1922’ (p.119). Only 6 1/2 percent of Watchtower books contain the Scriptures; ‘even this 6 1/2 percent [is] weighed down with 93 1/2 percent Watchtower verbiage’ (p.124).
**** They brand ‘the saluting of the flag of a country as idol worship… the removal of the hat in common politeness in the presence of a lady as creature worship… and a thousand and one things we accept as common usage today [they brand as] unscriptural’ (p.92).
Jehovah’s Witness theology, writes Snell, is based on the premise that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is Christendom, with Protestantism as the daughter of the beast.
The book is a bit simplistic, not-well-written in places (‘proselyting’ [sic] is a favorite word). There
is almost nothing about this sect’s theological beliefs, though given the fluid nature of their theology-making that is understandable perhaps. (Also, note that I’m reviewing the abridged edition). He was married to the system – his family isn’t mentioned until p.181.
His advice to his erstwhile JW friends: ‘Set your mind on the Lord and let him take the place of the Watchtower. Set your mind to reading God’s word of truth and eliminate all Watchtower published books, booklets and magazines from your reading. Do not even for temptation’s sake, have them in your house.’ (p.183).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses is a classic ‘Christian deviation.’ As with all sects, they are totalitarian (Schnell has graphic descriptions of their internal spying systems), exclusive, with a strong belief that they alone have a monopoly on all truth. They alone are ‘God’s Organization’ – all other forms of Christianity are ‘the Devil’s Organization’. ‘Religion,’ says one of their books, is the instrument of the Devil employed to oppose, to defy, to mock and to reproach the Almighty God, whose name is Jehovah’ (p.166). Their non-allegiance to the State is well-known: ‘Saluting or honoring the emblems of the State is “bowing down to Satan’s image and is prohibited” ‘(p.58). They tend to appeal to the ecclesiastically and societally marginalized – people who haven’t had a tertiary education or been taught to think critically, but are searching for certainty and somewhere to belong. You wonder how people stay with them when their predictions about the end of the world (1914,1925 etc.) prove to be wrong.
The gist of Schnell’s complaint: while JW’s claim to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, they are really an organization committed to increasing their power. Indeed, they have built up their organization on the same principles they condemn in the Roman Catholic Church (p.168).
So what do we do when a Watchtower evangelist comes to our door?. Two things, suggests Schnell: ‘Throw the solid truths of the Bible at them’ and ‘refuse to buy the first book from them [otherwise you’re likely to be caught up in the] chain reaction of: back call, book study, area study, Watchtower study, publishing and service meeting, and Watchtower baptism!… Let my life of slavery be your warning! It took me thirty years to get free!’ (p.189).