By “Mister B”
I went to my first Kingdom Hall meeting last week and I want to write some of my thoughts about how a meeting is for an “outsider” like me.
My first impression was that everything at the Hall was very well-kept and tidy. There was even a small garden made up of flowering bushes and decorative rocks. I doubt that I could have found a single stain on anything inside the Hall.
The people there seemed like a cross-section of the population, although better dressed than I would ever hope my own family to be attired at a wedding.
I made one fun observation: The guys were divided into two groups: There were the fringe guys dressed in black or gray suits, and then the “in” guys who had gone to great lengths in their grooming and clothes to appear special and “intellectual.” It was obvious to me who was “in” based on how others treated them after the meeting.
The Public Talk
The meeting consisted of two presentations, both on Bible-heavy subjects. The first was about the trinity and seemed to have been prepared by the speaker. I think his presentation was simple and effective, and he delivered it flawlessly. Undoubtedly the audience had seen many of the same arguments before, but he was able to use that to his advantage by playing to the audience’s expectations as he presented various points.
However, I should point out one weak point that I noticed: I wondered why Catholics believe in the trinity in the first place, and how they understand the scriptures that he cited. I also felt that his pacing of the presentation was too slow. I (an unscholared noob) had no problems following the presentation and even read a couple of chapters of Ezekiel while listening to him speak. I felt sorry for people who had studied it for years and still could not fully understand what he was trying to say.
The Watchtower Study
The second part, when we studied the Watchtower magazine, was a lot stranger and nothing like I’d expected. When the conductor first said, “And now Brother Beard will do the reading,” I thought he meant the Bible. What he really meant was that Brother Beard would read the ENTIRE article OUT LOUD one paragraph at a time! And if that didn’t kill the pacing enough, the questions at the bottom of the page (that before this meeting I truly thought were for repetition) were asked as part of the actual study. People in the audience volunteered to answer them after Beard had already read every word of the relevant paragraph. [YAWN . . .]
The conductor never strayed from that formula throughout the meeting. I learned later that this is how these meetings are run. On the other hand, he did manage to sneak in a joke or two. However, his management of the subject article was done with a greater focus than I’d ever seen in a class at college.
What struck me half way through was how far back during my time in school I’d have to go to find a similar class conducted this way, e.g. the reading each paragraph out loud and the teacher asking questions that could literally be answered by simply reading a sentence directly from the article.
The typical answers seemed to fall in four categories:
- Some would read directly from the magazine.
- A few would offer insightful answers that drew from other sources.
- Some were impossible to understand (at least for me, since this was still new to me.)
- Strange and incomprehensible. For example, when a woman said, “Our system is like a broken cellphone. You’ve got to send it to the repairman so he can fix it!” I could imagine the cartoon character Dogbert hearing that and screaming: “Get out, you demons of stupidity!”
After that remark, I realized that no matter what anyone said, the study conductor would always agree and say it was “a good answer,” even though it was clearly nonsense. I also realized something else: The audience said things that the Watchtower Society would never actually write, and yet they were treated as having authority.
What I found most strange was how effective it all was. You’re sitting there reading the text as written in the magazine in your hand – while it’s being repeated word for word with authority by the person standing on the stage (who claims to have studied the matter intensively). Meanwhile, all your friends and family answer questions in a way that make it seem that they both understand and agree.
More than once I had to remind myself what a shaky foundation all of this rested on.
It didn’t surprise me that nobody disagreed with the study conductor. What did surprise me was that nobody asked questions or for the elder to explain anything. Not once did the elder ask the audience if they understood everything or ask them a difficult question to try to provoke some thought. I’ve never been to a class in high school or college where that wasn’t the case. I actually felt like a little kid in elementary school again.
Finally, it’s over!
After the study, several people came over and greeted me. For me, that was really the best part about being there. I have heard about “love bombing” of new visitors, but in my case I really felt they were being sincere. I’d hoped to discuss the presentations with some of them, but it was too early on a Sunday for me to come up with something intelligent – and they didn’t bring the topic up – so I let the opportunity pass. Someday I would like to hear how they really feel about the format of the meetings.
One thing I do regret is that right at the beginning I walked into the wrong auditorium. During the two minutes I sat there the speaker managed to say at least twice that “Evolutionists do not have a theory that explains how love developed.” I would have loved to bitch-slap him right in the middle of that class with Proverbs 18:13, “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.”
It never occurred to me that the talks were recycled. I thought they were rewritten each time – like the Watchtower articles. And yes, I will go again even though it might be a waste of my time. I feel the more I understand, and the more actions I put behind my words, the better it will be for me in the longterm.
I doubt that I will go on my own and definitely not on a regular basis. While I think there are many good reasons for selecting one religion over another, and that subject might make for an interesting discussion someday, what I want to show my friends is that the Watchtower Society has a nasty habit of saying things that are simply not true.
While it might be true there is, or is not, a trinity (or even God), that fellow’s quote about evolution is clearly 100% false, as anyone with a computer can verify in less than a minute. (Yes, the theory of evolution could be wrong, and I can respect that point of view, but that is not the point.)
Maybe I’m wrong, but based on attending these meetings, I’m getting a very nasty feeling that things said at some of these presentations that are even more “out there” than what the Watchtower prints in its literature.
After some reflection, what really bugs me is how easy it is to create such a controlling atmosphere – and how innocent it can seem to outsiders. Right now I feel that is not the rules that are controlling these people. The Watchtower’s rules simply work to set up social conventions and skewed ideas about what constitutes “teaching, studying, rewards and enlightenment.” The people eventually learn to control themselves and their peers. I really feel there was something going on in that room at the last study that was neither ethical or healthy, and perhaps might even be considered as “mind control.”
I don’t mean to imply anything about the intelligence of the average Witness. But it has to be painful to have a well-prepared, thought-out response ready for a study question, and then have someone else answer using a totally broken analogy.
Watching friends “help” their “brothers” by backstabbing and shunning them is a continuous source of pain for me and does more to drive me away the Witnesses than anything false that they have written. I know about the official encouragement on how to deal with strangers, but my problem is not really that someone might reach out a tad more than he or she would on his own. My problem is about how the Watchtower Society teaches them NOT TO REACH OUT in certain circumstances.
I forgot to mention that in this particular Kingdom Hall the problem of screaming kids has been addressed by boxing in of a part of the hall with large glass panes. No matter how hard they scream, whether in joy or pain, children can keep on participating during Jehovah’s “happy meals.”
I have friends that are Jehovah’s Witnesses – some baptized. I’ve read Crisis of Conscience, Apocalypse Delayed, Combating Cult Mind Control and a lot of other stuff on the Internet. I know the worst attitude is “it can’t affect me,” but from where I am now, and seeing friends I love getting hurt again and again, I think it will be very difficult to persuade me about how great everything is. On the more “fact” oriented side, I know that before I will seriously consider joining any religion, I’ll need to harmonize it with natural sciences. So far I haven’t seen the Watchtower Society even attempt to do that.
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from a forum post by “Mister B” dating back several months. He asked that some identifying information be removed from his original draft and that nothing about his identity should be published. He admits that he is in a precarious situation, with loved ones in and out of the Witness organization. He wrote that he is trying to sort things out for himself and also trying to find ways to use logic and facts to appeal to his friends to reassess their own connections to the Watchtower. Good luck…