Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

By Andrew Holden | Go to book overview

1

The end is nigh

There could be no period more appropriate than the beginning of a new millennium in which to consider the activities of those who hold beliefs about the end of the world. In 1872, a Pittsburgh draper named Charles Taze Russell founded what later became known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society-the official name for the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell had a fascination for biblical eschatology-a fascination which would play a huge part in the expansion of what is now a huge international corporation with over six million members. The Witnesses are members of a world-renouncing puritanical movement that claims to monopolise truth, and for this reason they refuse all ecumenical relations with other religious denominations. In a modern age in which people are free to construct their own aesthetic identities, the Witnesses stand out as authoritarian, calculating and aloof, and this makes their organisation distinctive from other social movements. The Witnesses are now active all over the world. Their worldwide membership increased from a mere 44,080 in 1928 to an extraordinary 6,035,564 in 2000, making a total international net growth of more than 5 per cent a year. Although these are the movement's own figures, there is no reason to doubt them. For one thing, they are consistent with government estimates as well as those of independent scholars and, for another, the Society publishes losses as well as gains. 1 Indeed, the Witnesses are loath to include anyone other than active evangelists over the age of sixteen in their annual statistics. Even the most conservative estimates indicate that, by the year 2020, there will be 12,475,115 members worldwide (Stark and Iannaccone 1997:153-4). 2

The Watch Tower Society has had a chequered evolution. Almost from the moment of its foundation, devotees have lived in anticipation of a new Messianic Kingdom in which all earthly wickedness would be destroyed and paradise be inaugurated. The years of 1874, 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975 were all earmarked, to a greater or lesser extent, as times for the Second Coming of Christ, yet all brought bitter disappointment. Despite this persistent prophecy failure, the Witnesses have managed to recruit and expand with remarkable success and have now (paradoxically) been on the scene for almost 130 years. This book is about their continued appeal and

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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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