By Mad Sweeney
At first blush, a casual reader may wonder how education, which, for the most part, is publicly provided in the western world, has anything to do with religious faith, which is usually a private matter. In high control religions the leadership strives to control the associations of their members and the information those members have access to. Since education is one of the primary ways we acquire information during our formative years, controlling religions consider it a great risk to allow its members to take advantage of educational opportunities that are outside the organizational leadership’s control. The leadership often feels they can’t allow members to explore knowledge and information outside their structured and controlled environment because in doing so members could:
Discover negative information about the religion’s practices:
- The leadership covers up and harbors pedophiles to protect its own reputation.
- They secretly hypocritically partner with organizations that they publicly condemn.
- They routinely lie to governments and courts of law about the way their organization runs.
Discover that the bases for the religious doctrines are not sound:
- The dates used to calculate prophecies that establish the leadership’s power and authority are fabricated.
- The Bible they use to support their doctrines was written by men who had no demonstrable fluency and little education in either Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.
- The doctrines have changed throughout the organization’s history, almost invariably for political or business reasons, not because their understanding of God’s will became clearer.
Discover that the things the religion’s leaders say about the outside world are simply not true:
- People on the outside do not care for one another or help each other.
- People who leave the organization are all bitter and unhappy.
- People outside the organization are greedy, hateful, and sinful.
As a high control religion desperate to control information, the leaders at Watchtower headquarters, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, fear that their members will discover these things, and so they deny their members educational opportunities that normal people take for granted.
What is interesting, though, is how the leadership sells the forfeiting of post secondary education to the members, the things that the Watchtower literature teaches the members about higher education, and how effective those teachings are as a means of thought, emotion, and behavior control with the end goal of controlling information that could be damaging to the religion’s control over its members.
This and many other web sites have documented how the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate information, thoughts, and emotions of their members to control their members’ behavior, so that members will continue to donate their time, energy, and money to the organization and continue aggressively recruiting new members.
In the case of higher education, the organization manipulates thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of the members to control the information the members receive. Studies show that behaviors, thoughts, and emotions need to stay in balance and accord for a person to feel right, to feel healthy both mentally and physically, to avoid the discomfort that psychologists call cognitive dissonance.
So if the Watchtower organization can convince a Jehovah’s Witness to think college is a dangerous waste of time, or it could damage their relationship with God, that things one learns there are not the truth, and Satan the Devil runs the entire higher-education system, then the member will also fear higher education and view it as a danger.
When the member’s thoughts and feelings become indoctrinated to de-value, distrust, and fear advanced education, the member’s behavior will need to fall into line with those thoughts and emotions to reduce cognitive dissonance; the person will need to avoid going to college or university to feel mentally and physically healthy and stay in balance.
When that occurs, the Watchtower leadership will have achieved its ends: the member will shun education and avoid learning key pieces of information that would incriminate the organization as a false religion, or a cult, or a lying bunch of hypocrites, whatever the case may be.
Next we explore some examples of how the Watchtower Society has manipulated and indoctrinated its members’ thoughts and emotions to prevent them from taking advantage of higher education like normal people do.
Let’s start in the year 1967, when most of us were much younger, some of us not yet born, with the February 1, Watchtower article: “Fruitful Christians Manifest Godly Contentment” – Theme scripture: 1 Tim. 6:8 – “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”
The overall point of the article is that a faithful Jehovah’s Witness should not be ambitious to get an education and a better job, but rather be satisfied with a job that is just good enough to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, but not take up too much time away from recruiting new members and attending organizational meetings.
Rather than quote the entire article, the subheadings give the general picture:
- Life does not result from material possessions
- Do spiritual interests come first in your life?
- Confidence in God as provider
- Reaching out for something better
And to get a feel for the tone of this article’s view on education, here’s what it says in paragraph 10:
“Some persons who have been bearing godly fruit, however, turn aside from that right course, and this is often because they are no longer “content with the present things.” Young people, for example, are easily influenced by the materialistic outlook of the world around them, and especially is this true if their parents are inclined to value highly the ability to command a big salary in the business world. As a result, they may set their hearts on the education that is offered by the world’s institutions of “higher learning.” Their desire is not simply to learn a trade so that they can work with their hands and not be a burden on others; no, they want to be in an upper-income bracket. (1 Thess. 4:10-12) But what is wrong with that? Jesus frankly said that it would be more difficult for a rich man to get into the Kingdom than for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle. (Luke 18:24, 25) Rather than being content with “sustenance and covering,” those who devote themselves to getting a “higher education” usually want to be able to enjoy “the rest of the things” that money can buy. (Mark 4:19) If they are going to succeed in the education they have set out to get, they have to work hard at it. Study of the Bible, association with the Christian congregation and participation in the Christian ministry are curtailed. Worldly associations predominate; worldly philosophy fills their minds. What happens? Perhaps not what they expected, though they would have known if they took seriously what the Bible says. (1 Cor. 15:33; Col. 2:8) It may even come as a shock to their parents. Why, just recently a man who wanted his boy to have a “good education” so that life would be easier for him found that, in just one year at college, the boy had lost his faith—something that no amount of money can buy.”
Obviously this plays on members’ emotions. By convincing them that higher education is a danger that will put them at odds with a judgmental and angry god, the Watchtower conditions their members to fear it. And with the thoughts and emotions about college and university being negative ones, behavior is highly likely to follow suit.
The final two paragraphs of that article summarize what the Watchtower Society wants their members to think and feel about education and careers:
“We today live in critical times. These are the “last days” of this wicked system of things. Already over fifty-two years have passed since the Kingdom’s establishment in heaven in 1914. The end of six thousand years of human history is very close. The physical facts that mark our time as the “conclusion of the system of things” are unmistakable. (Matt. 24:3) It is a time of great urgency. Do we believe it? The fact is that some who profess to believe it may lose out on the blessings of God’s new system of things because they are not keeping their minds and hearts fixed on the hope ahead. Instead of finding contentment with “sustenance and covering” along with godly devotion, they are being sucked down into the world’s materialistic whirlpool. Their pursuit of the pleasures of the world is more ardent than their service to God. That is why Jesus warns: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”—Luke 21:34-36.
“If our love for God abounds, and we have accurate knowledge of his Word, we will not allow ourselves to be drawn aside to worldly pursuits, but will keep our lives oriented around “the more important things.” In this way we will prove to be fruitful Christians, “filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.”—Phil. 1:9-11.”
The message is that higher education and pursuit of a good career show God that you are discontent with what he has provided; they are equivalent to of being “sucked down into the world’s materialistic whirlpool.” And if you don’t watch out, and keep your eye on “the more important things,” which are attending indoctrination meetings and busily recruiting new members for the Watchtower, then God will be angry, and you don’t get to survive the end of the system at Armageddon.
Choices facing young Jehovah’s Witnesses and their families…
You’ve heard the phrase “put the fear of God into [someone]”? That is exactly what this is designed to do. And even if someone was to overcome that irrational fear and attended college or university, because of the conditioning of these thoughts against higher education, the indoctrination causes another emotion to further pull the member away from that pursuit: guilt. Fear and guilt are powerful emotional tools used by all high control groups to manipulate their members. The Watchtower wields them with great skill when it comes to education.
A couple of years after that article was published, the Watchtower Society released the the May 22, 1969 Awake! magazine. The entire first half of the issue focused on the topic of youth and young people. After several articles ratcheted up the fear of hippies, street gangs, violence, and drugs, the article “What Future for the Young?” appeared on pages 14 and 15.
Below are the first several paragraphs. You’ll get an idea of what the organization wants the readers to think and feel:
“Young or old, you need to face up to the fact that this system is not going to change its direction. Under Satan’s influence, it will continue to deteriorate rapidly in its remaining years.
“The truth of this can be seen in crime statistics everywhere. In the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that in 1968 there was a fantastic 17-percent increase in crime over 1967. This came on top of many years of other large increases. The population, however, grew only one percent last year. So crime exploded seventeen times as fast as the population!
“If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the “last days” in 1914, Jesus foretold: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” – Matt. 24:34.
“Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way toward its finish, if not actually gone!”
This viewpoint, “face the fact that you will never grow old” and “you will never fulfill any career that this system offers” became the basis for tens, or more likely hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witness kids’ decision-making process about a college education and career.
The article goes on to discuss trade school for carpentry and plumbing as preferable to college and university ostensibly because they do not need such long periods of time, but the real motive of the religion’s leaders is because one isn’t likely to learn the psychology, history, and philosophy that overturn religious dogma while attending a plumbing course.
The article finishes up like this:
“True, those who do not understand where we are in the stream of time from God’s viewpoint will call this impractical. But which is really practical: preparing yourself for a position in this world that soon will pass away? or working toward surviving this system’s end and enjoying eternal life in God’s righteous new order? -1 John 2:17.
“In these urgent times, as this wicked system writhes in its death pangs, this counsel from God’s Word is most practical for all who want to keep living: “My son, my law do not forget, and my commandments may your heart observe, because length of days and years of life and peace will be added to you.” – Prov. 3:1,2.”
Think about this with nearly 45 years of retrospect. A young person contemplating college at the time this article was published would be in his 60s now. Imagine the many thousands of people whose thoughts and emotions were manipulated and indoctrinated by this propaganda,and then fearfully avoided education as something “dangerous and detrimental.” Where are they now?
Many probably never did fulfill any career this system offered, but not because the system ended and they never grew old. No, they grew old, as everyone born ever has and forever will. But without higher education, how many actually became skilled tradesmen like electricians, plumbers, and carpenters? How many thousands more became janitors, floor waxers, and window washers? How many of those thousands could have changed the world in beautiful, wonderful ways? How many of those thousands do you know personally? Are you one of them?
Notice, too, that this doesn’t take into account women at all. High control religions rarely do. In the Watchtower organization, a woman’s role is to attach herself to a man via marriage, let him make the important decisions and earn the money, while she engages in recruiting of new members as much as possible. So women aren’t really even addressed in these articles giving advice about careers.
During subsequent decades the Watchtower continued to hammer on higher education, putting it in quotation marks as if it was some sort of euphemistic misnomer, and telling its members and recruits that it really wasn’t for them. Throughout the late 1970s and 80s they focused more and more on the fear of the world and its Satanic traps and philosophies, as they found that after their 1975 prophecy failed people weren’t buying into the “end is imminent” scare-tactic quite like they used to. They kept on with the same anti-education stance until 1992, when the Watchtower printed the article: “Education With a Purpose” in its November 1 issue.
The article seemed a reaction to decades of born-in Jehovah’s Witnesses not getting enough of an education to support the Watchtower Society and its leaders in the way they had become accustomed to. With a majority of Jehovah’s Witness women not working at a job, and most men working in low-paying menial jobs, few families had extra income to donate to the Watchtower Society. This became especially important to the organization in the early 1990s when they stopped selling their literature to avoid paying sales tax. Without literature sales, the organization was understandably nervous about the prospects of depending on voluntary donations for a significant part of their income. So rank and file members needed to make more money.
After decades of demonizing education, could the organization completely flip-flop on the topic of college? Sure they could have. They flip-flop on doctrine all the time. Even so, to completely flip-flop on the higher-education doctrine would entail some risk, so they wrote an article that the members could interpret in pretty much whatever way they chose, leaving the organization and its leaders off the hook.
Notice the subheadings from the article “Education With a Purpose” and compare them with the subheadings from the 1967 article referenced earlier:
- Skills Needed to be Effective Ministers
- Advantages of Proper Schooling
- Adequate Education
- A Balanced View of Education
- Counting the Cost
- A United, Educated People
Does this seem a lot less harsh and dogmatic to you? It did to me and millions of other Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1992, as well. While the article still emphasized that serving the organization was of primary importance, there are several statements throughout the article that indicated a turnaround from the previous admonition to avoid post secondary education at almost all costs.
Statements in paragraphs 16 and 17 were latched on to by Jehovah’s Witness parents who were struggling to make ends meet and didn’t want their own children to face the same fate as they did, living in poverty for decades awaiting Armageddon, the godly genocide that just never comes:
“Who decides whether a young Christian should undertake further education or training? The Bible principle of headship comes into play here. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 6:1) On this basis parents will surely want to guide their children in the choice of a trade or occupation and consequently in the amount of education that will be needed. In many countries educational and occupational choices have to be made early on during secondary education. That is the time when Christian parents and youths need to seek Jehovah’s direction in making a wise choice, with Kingdom interests uppermost in mind. Young people have different propensities and aptitudes. Wise parents will take these into account. All honest work is honorable, be it blue-collar or white-collar. While the world may elevate office work and disparage working hard with one’s hands, the Bible certainly does not. (Acts 18:3) So when parents and young Christians today, after carefully and prayerfully weighing the pros and cons, decide for or against postsecondary studies, others in the congregation should not criticize them.
“If Christian parents responsibly decide to provide their children with further education after high school, that is their prerogative.”
As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witness parents and teens latched on to those statements for dear life and started allowing their kids to go to college and university. In my area, where the average Witness in his 50s is a window-washer or janitor, their kids in their 20s are often nurses or dental hygienists.
However, like all beneficial things, the education boom among Jehovah’s Witnesses was too good to last, and soon after the turn of the century came the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. After that it became clear that the “The end is imminent! Don’t waste time with higher education!” doctrine of the 1960s and 70s that the Watchtower organization had drifted away from was back in vogue. The tool of fear was again hefted and wielded by the Watchtower and education was repeatedly attacked in talks and demonstrations at circuit assemblies and district conventions.
Then in 2005 Jehovah’s Witnesses were hit with a drama at the “Godly Obedience” district convention that made the turn back to the 1960s complete. The drama was entitled “Pursue Goals that Honor God” and featured the Bible character Timothy, who the organization contrasted with his friend Jonathan. Below is a summary of that drama:
- Jonathan has educational and career goals in mind.
- Timothy’s father has educational and career goals in mind for Timothy, too.
- Never the less, the apostle Paul encourages Timothy, to forego education and a career and pursue a ministry.
- In the end, Timothy is swayed by the apostle Paul and chooses a life of ignorance and poverty as a Christian minister.
- Jonathan, however, learns the hard way. His benefactor and employer, also a Christian, disagrees with Paul and Timothy just a little too vocally a few too many times and is disfellowshipped from the congregation.
- Jonathan realizes he’s been wasting his life working for a living and supporting his family and decides to follow Timothy’s example and work a whole lot less.
Now, we can ignore for a moment the debate over whether the first-century Christians actually disfellowshipped people, let alone whether they did so for not buying into certain doctrines or for not following specific apostles.
The point of the drama was clear: Education and career – BAD. Serve the religion full-time – GOOD.
And from then on, the Watchtower organization has ramped up the fear and guilt over higher education to pre-1975 levels. The Watchtower’s leaders seize upon every economic crisis and military conflict to show their members that the end is imminent, that pursuing any secular goals is futile, and forty years from now, as the Jehovah’s Witness kids who are high school aged today approach their sixties and look back, how can it be with anything but regret over believing the false promises of an imminent end and not preparing themselves for retirement or their children for adulthood in this world?
It is important to note that there are many thousands of people who eschewed higher education when we had the opportunity out of loyalty and obedience to the Watchtower. I could have attended a university after high school, but I didn’t, and I’ve paid for that decision ever since by living on the financial edge, paycheck to paycheck, both when I was a Jehovah’s Witness and to this day. I am slowly catching up on my education, taking classes at the university almost every semester but at a rate of around six credits a year, I don’t anticipate having a degree sooner than I hope to retire. I am fortunate that my job is steady and stable and has a retirement plan. That’s far better than most Jehovah’s Witnesses have if they obey the Watchtower Society by getting a menial job right after high school and pioneering (Note: pioneering is a Jehovah’s Witness term for vowing to recruit new members for 70 hours per month or a total of 840 hours per year).
To all readers, young or old, if you have a chance at education beyond high school, please, take it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to better the lives of yourself and your family. Many of us in our 40s and 50s are just catching up on where we should have been in our early 20s, educationally. Don’t wait until you are our age if you can help it. Clear your mind and banish the fear and guilt that have been indoctrinated into you by the Watchtower. Live life free from those manipulative negative emotions and you’ll prosper both mentally and physically. Then, when you are older, you will have one less regret to look back upon plus a greater store of wisdom with which to face your life and impart to others.
The Watchtower’s Official View of Higher Education
“Mad Sweeney” is a frequent poster on Jehovahs-Witness.net and other websites. He is also host of Cult Free Radio, a bi-weekly podcast. Sweeney can always be counted for a well researched discussion on almost any subject relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is part two of a two part series of his articles discussing choices Jehovah’s Witness youths must face as they approach adulthood.