Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult?—Part 4


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 017

HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 17 OF ONIONUNLMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. In this final part of Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? I will be looking at the “E” in the BITE model—E for emotional control. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses employ emotional control on their members? I believe so, and not just on their members, but also on outsiders they would like to try and convert to their cult.

I must just mention it’s November 5th—not the best time to record a podcast! There are a lot of fireworks going off outside. So if you hear a few explosions in the background, that’ll be why, and if you hear me scream it’ll be a really big one. Oh, and I’ve also been told by a couple of listeners, that my outro music is just too darn long. So I’ll be shortening that in this episode. I just like the music, but yeah, I can imagine if you’re listening to my episodes back-to-back, that could become very annoying very quickly.

Okay, so looking at the BITE model again, item E6 states that cults use a technique known as love-bombing, the feigning of friendship and interest in a person to accomplish an agenda. Now, this is very evident if you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness and if you attend one of their meetings for the first time, maybe the annual memorial of Jesus’ death, or one of their bigger assemblies. Witnesses are trained to make outsiders feel welcome, which is nice, but remember the purpose is to get you to join their cult. They have no other reason to like you. The initial love-bombing you experience as a first-time visitor, as a non-JW, doesn’t last forever. Once you are a Jehovah Witnesses it’s not impossible to be able to go to a meeting and have literally no one speak to you—unless you go out of your way to speak to them—I know, because I’ve tried it. It’s not uncommon, even, to hear Witnesses say that they feel lonely or unloved in their congregation, that no one takes any notice of them—once you’ve become part of the furniture so to speak, especially if you don’t have a “position”—elder, ministerial servant, pioneer—it’s very easy to go unnoticed in the crowd. That, for many, has been the reason they’ve left. The organisation boasts that its members show true love to each other, and there may appear to be, at least on the surface, a whole lotta love, but, it’s conditional.

The book On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left notes that love-bombing is a type of psychological manipulation that can be employed to create a feeling of unity within a group against a society perceived as hostile. This is very observable at large conventions where everyone appears to be happy and smiling—lots of hugs and warm welcomes. Again, it’s nice, but when you step back from the situation it becomes apparent that much of the “love” is fake. Certainly, love within Jehovah’s Witnesses is conditional on being a member of the group. If you show signs of leaving the group, let’s say you begin missing meetings, there may be an initial attempt to try to keep you there. You may receive some visits from the elders to “encourage” you, but after a while, that will stop. If you show no signs of returning to the religious side of things you will be viewed as spiritually weak, even “bad association”, and in time the elders will just give up—as will ones you thought were your friends. Love and friendship are completely conditional on being an active member. This is even more noticeable if you disassociate or get disfellowshipped. In these cases, friendship ceases immediately, and you go from friend to, possibly even, enemy—no contact, no phone calls, no emails, not even a “hello” in the street for fear that you will take them away from “the truth” too. If you are disfellowshipped and a Jehovah’s Witness sees you when they’re out, they will even cross the road to the other side to avoid making eye contact with you. It’s the complete opposite of love-bombing, and there really is no elegant way to leave and retain your relationships. If you disassociate, that’s not viewed the same as simply resigning from a church. You are viewed the same as a disfellowshipped person, even if you have committed no sin. You may be the exact same person you were the day before, but the day you say you don’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witnesses, that’s it—all association stops. Of course, you can “fade”, which is what many do—just stop going to the meetings—but over time, you will be forgotten. Now that may be exactly what you want, which is great if so, but most people that leave the religion still want contact with their families. Unfortunately, if you disassociate, contact will stop.

The BITE model talks about extremes of emotional highs and lows—praise one moment and then declaring you are a horrible sinner deserving to be “cut off” if you don’t conform. This was very apparent to me when I was a Jehovah’s Witness. I used to call it the “pendulum effect”—I noticed that the publications and the talks at meetings would often build you up, make you feel good about yourself—one of those chosen and loved by God, special people, only to swing the other way and knock you down later—reminders that you are imperfect, that you deserve to die if you don’t do more in Jehovah’s service, but also that there is nothing you can do to earn God’s love and so on.

There’s often a feeling that you aren’t doing enough—that you need to do more field ministry, more meetings, answer up more, do more more more. It’s no wonder that there is a lot of depression within Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can go along to an assembly and be love-bombed by “the friends” only to then find yourself feeling really guilty as you listen to a talk that makes you feel rubbish. I’ve noticed a lot of extremes of mood among the brothers and sisters—lots of depression, and also mood disorders such as Bipolar disorder. I myself was diagnosed with Bipolar when I was a Witness, but after leaving it was suggested by my doctor that my mood swings may have simply been the result of “situational stressors”—basically, the rollercoaster ride of living in a cult.

E5 next—sorry, I’m doing these out of order—this one addresses the reason why you would stay once you know it’s not “the truth”. The BITE model says that cults instil fear, such as fear of the outside world, enemies, losing one’s salvation, or being shunned by the group. Every single one of those is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The world”, that is anyone or anything outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is said to be “under Satan’s control”. If you make “friends with the world”, or become “worldly” then you will die at Armageddon and miss out on the paradise earth to come very very soon now. What’s more, in the meantime you will be avoided or even shunned by your former friends, especially if you disassociate or are disfellowshipped, and even your closest family members will cut you off completely if you don’t live in the same household as them.

As a Jehovah’s Witness, you are expected to avoid unnecessary contact with anyone who is not a Witnesses. The Watchtower February 15, 1960 p. 112 reads: “There are those who think that they can allow themselves to seek association with worldly friends or relatives for entertainment. But how can a Christian ‘put away the old personality which conforms to his former course of conduct’ and ‘put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness’ by continuing to associate with those who still have deceptive desires?” Note how that negative statement is applied to all “worldly friends or relative”. The term “worldly”, to a Jehovah’s Witness, means anyone who isn’t one of them. You might be the nicest, kindest, gentlest, most generous person on the planet, but if you are not a Jehovah’s Witnesses you—what did the article say?—”still have deceptive desires”, and you are destined for death at Armageddon.

The article goes on to apply Ephesians 5:7-11 to these “worldly ones”: “Do not become partners with them; for you were once darkness, but you are now light in connection with the Lord. Go on walking as children of light . . . Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord; and quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works which belong to the darkness.” Obviously, that scripture was written to Christians. The ironic thing is, if you leave Jehovah’s Witnesses and become a Christian of another denomination, your Witness friend or relative will apply this to you—you now “belong to the darkness”—because only they are the true religion. All others, including the most devout Christians, are part of “false religion”, “Satan’s world”. Their thinking is very black and white, and it’s like that because that’s how cults work.

Item E8 notes that there is never a legitimate reason to leave. Those who do leave are viewed as weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, seduced by money or sex, or even brainwashed by worldly friends, even therapists who may be helping a person with their depression. I can think of a number of legitimate reasons to leave. First of all, it’s not “the truth”, and it doesn’t teach “the truth”. Sure, not all of their doctrines are false, but there are enough false ones for the overall thing not to be “the truth”. Secondly, it’s abusive. Watch Tower is manipulative. It controls, as we have seen in previous podcasts, your behaviour, the information you have access to, your thoughts, and, as we are now seeing, even your emotions.

The governing body knows that some Witnesses will question things—Is it really the truth? How do I know it’s the truth?—and so on. When that happens, item E2 of the BITE model notes that cults teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of doubt, and so it is with Watch Tower. There is a constant emphasis on reading and studying Watch Tower publications and attending meetings, in order to keep the cult message flowing into your brain. If, heaven forbid, you were to “unplug” for a while, maybe you go on holiday and don’t attend the meetings, or you start to miss a few meetings, your brain will naturally start to adapt to what is normal life, and then you will start noticing just how crazy being a Jehovah’s Witness really is. Watch Tower, obviously, doesn’t want that, so they will constantly push the idea of study—not reading the Bible necessarily—they need you to read their publications, and of course attending meetings, even when on vacation.

Our Kingdom Ministry June, 1987 p. 4 tells Witnesses: “Vacation time gives us an opportunity to be away from our secular activity and enjoy a few days of relaxation. However, we do not want to take time off from serving Jehovah.” Then, The Watchtower December, 2019 p. 7 directs: “Even when we are on vacation, we keep to our regular spiritual routine of attending meetings wherever we are, and we look for opportunities to have conversations with those whom we meet.​” Watch Tower does not want its members to unplug and have downtime. That’s why I’ve said in a previous podcast that if you really want to be free from the cult, you have to unplug. You have to disconnect from the continual input of cult material—publications, meetings, JW broadcasting—and just allow your mind to adjust to reality.

This quotation from The Watchtower December 1, 1989 p. 13 really highlights how Watch Tower promotes emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of doubt when they arise. It reads: “Once we have gained accurate knowledge of the truth, we need constantly to renew the spiritual circuits of the mind so as not to fall away.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? They are talking about actually having an effect on the person’s mind. How to do that?—it continues: “Our spiritual resources may become weak if we neglect personal and family study, Christian meetings, and the ministry. Then what may happen? A once strong Christian may drift away from the faith, perhaps even falling into wrong conduct, such as immorality, or slipping down the slithery slide of doubt and misinformation into apostasy.”

So there we have it again—a warning that if you don’t keep up with the cult indoctrination you will “drift away”, and you will become a bad person. Notice how doubt—doubt that the organisation is “the truth”—is lumped in with apostasy, and of course, Watch Tower has a whole vocabulary to describe apostates: “wicked”, “presumptuous”, “Satanic”, “gangrenous”, “mentally diseased”, “antichrist” and so on.

Their entire religion is built on separating you from outside sources—even your non-JW family—plugging you into this kind of “cult-matrix”, and then filling your mind over and over and over again with information that affirms you are “in the truth”.

Finally, item E3 states that cults make the person feel that problems are always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault, and this is why, when a person leaves Jehovah’s Witnesses, they can spend years second-guessing themselves, wondering if Watch Tower really was “the truth”, feeling scared that they are going to die at Armageddon and so forth. The leaders, the governing body, or the organisation, can never be wrong—except they are! When you finally realise that, so many things make sense. No longer are you walking on eggshells watching your every action, thought, or feeling. You are finally free to explore spirituality, if you choose, without a man-made religion—a cult—inserting itself into the mix.

Of course, leaving a cult can be scary. You may at first feel alone. You may miss the association of former friends or family. You may even miss the feeling of surety that you had—that you were among the 0.1% of earth’s 8 billion people to have found “the truth”. Many Witnesses stay in the cult for these reasons and some who leave eventually return because the cult has made them so dependent that they’re unable to function in “the world”, but leave or stay, it doesn’t change the fact that Jehovah’s Witness are a cult. They employ behavioural control, information control, thought control, and emotional control.

Charles Manson, Cult Leader and Psychopath once said: “Making people do what I want is the easiest thing in the world. All it takes is making them think we have something special and everyone else is deluded. If that doesn’t work, make them think they’re not doing enough, or threaten to take their family away. Easiest thing in the world.”

That’s all from me this time. I hope this four-part series has been useful in helping you to identify Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult. Thank you for listening. Join me again next time.