Are The Jehovah’s Witnesses A Cult?

Zions Watchtower

Many people would describe the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult due to their strict rules, shunning of ‘apostates’ and peculiar beliefs. The term cult is a controversial one, in that it doesn’t have a universally agreed definition. Some would say a group has to be of limited size to be a cult while others that the definition involves the social deviancy, mind control and/or novel beliefs of the group. There are strong arguments to be made on both fronts that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult.

Why do people call the Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult?

There are over 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world, which while a large number pales in comparison to 1.2 billion Catholics. More interesting perhaps is the fact that the witnesses believe only 144,000 people can ever go to their heaven, and most of those are already there. The fate of everyone else is believed to be resurrection on earth for the ‘righteous’ who will be given the opportunity to live on earth with those ‘unrighteous’ not destroyed at armageddon, comprised of other christians who accept Jehovah at the last minute. This numbers game goes some way to explaining the unusual practices of the organisation which lead many to feel the organisation is authoritarian and controlling. There is a competitive nature to being a Jehovah’s Witness, believing that even the majority of your peers are lesser in the eyes of god than the most faithful.

Some of the most compelling arguments that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult stem from it’s institutional behaviours. Many of these appear designed to isolate members from the outside world and prevent them from becoming educated enough to question the witnesses. An example of this is the practice of shunning those who leave the church. Those who leave the organisation are seen as ‘willingly’ entering the world of Satan, becoming part of the antichrist and are therefore more dangerous than anyone else in the wider world who have never been a part of the organisation. A more rational view would be that these former members who know the beliefs and practices of the witnesses would be the most capable of convincing other members that their organisation is not all that it seems, so isolating members from their knowledge is the best way to keep control of them.

Further, higher education is discouraged in a world believed to be imminently destroyed. The witnesses claim education leads to ‘worldly thinking’ and prevents members from devoting enough time to ‘serving god’ — going door to door. If your religion preaches against education, it seems likely that it can’t stand up to logical scrutiny. This informational control is continued by the behavioural control involved in pressuring witnesses to give up much of their time to proselytising their beliefs. Members who go door knocking are required to keep logs of their activity in order to show their commitment. Failure to live up to the standards of your superior often results in threats of shunning. This is one of the most effective methods of controlling members who have friends and family in the organisation. Being shunned means losing contact with your loved ones. This causes many witnesses to live in fear of the governing body of the organisation.

This is only an outline of a few controlling techniques Jehovah’s Witnesses use within their ranks, but given the extent of that authoritarian style of management it’s easy to see why they are often labelled a cult. But more important than the label has to be the oppressive and controlling behaviours of the organisation, especially when compared to the majority of other religions. The mere label may play in to the good vs. evil language used by the witnesses which overlooks finer points of rational argument, which could allow members to make an informed decision as to whether they wish to continue playing a part in a group which has caused harm to so many.

If you have personal experience as a Jehovah's Witness, please share it in the comments below or consider contributing your experience as an article.

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