Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

By Andrew Holden | Go to book overview

debauchery is rife and where people have lost all sense of moral duty. It is a culture riddled with deceit, uncertainty, anxiety, sleaze, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases and a whole host of other evils caused by the inherent flaws in the human condition. It is only when people come to their senses and turn back to God, claim the millenarians (or, better still, when God exacts vengeance on those too crippled by their own depravity to see the error of their ways), that the world will really change. This time, they say, is looming. The world has reached the point not of human liberation but of moral meltdown. Original sin has indeed come home to roost.

People who espouse world-renouncing creeds seldom have trouble-free lives, particularly if they are successful in recruiting others to their cause. The mass media thrive on stories of vulnerable individuals unable to escape from dangerous cult leaders who force their docile followers to obey their every command. Not surprisingly, this kind of sensationalism has distorted public perception of religious conversion. Although there is no doubt that some movements have involved their members in life-threatening activities (including suicide), these incidents are rare. But conversion need not affect life and limb to cause a public stir. When people deviate from convention, conformist onlookers are always at the ready with a fixed repertoire of explanations. Over the years, tabloid newspapers (with the aid of anti-cult activists) have fuelled public contempt for heterodox religion with scare stories of brainwashing and psychological manipulation.

To suggest that individuals have been brainwashed is to strip them of their sanity. It is to infer that their actions are the result of some powerful external force over which they have no control. I am unwilling to accept the brainwashing thesis for several reasons. First, it is a metaphor that reduces the mental state of so-called victims to such an extent that it becomes difficult either to hold them accountable for their actions or to take what they believe seriously. The day we allow this to happen will be a sad day for the social sciences. My second objection concerns empirical measurement. Unless the term can be clearly defined, it is impossible to use any kind of research instrument to test its validity; hence, there is little hope either of exposing those who allegedly employ this process and even less of exonerating them from blame. By far my biggest concern, however, is that the brainwashing metaphor can be used to undermine any political or religious ideology that happens to be unpopular. Stories of brainwashing serve much the same purpose in our culture as accusations of witchcraft in remote African villages. They are an effective means of undermining wayward beliefs and denying a voice to those who hold them. They may even be used to expel religious dissidents from secular communities. It is, perhaps, little wonder that millenarians retreat to the margins of society. Whether we like it or not, most of the available social scientific evidence suggests that, though their behaviour may be anti-social, the majority of those who join millenarian movements are making an informed choice. If

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - The End is Nigh 1
  • 2 - The Jehovah's Witnesses in the Modern World 17
  • 3 - Finding a Home 42
  • 4 - Rational Means to Rational Ends 58
  • 5 - Returning to Eden 82
  • 6 - Inside, Outside 103
  • 7 - Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother 125
  • 8 - The Fear of Freedom 150
  • 9 - Conclusion 171
  • Notes 176
  • Glossary 185
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 202
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