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The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World
May 18, 2010 10:21 AM   Subscribe

The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World: The New York Review of Magazines on The Watchtower
posted by brundlefly (68 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
read /= distributed

Just because the JWs print and distribute more Watchtowers than any other magazine does not mean they don't get shoved in the trash the second the door is closed on them.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:26 AM on May 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Article is good. But what is going on in the comments?
posted by randomination at 10:28 AM on May 18, 2010


The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World: The New York Review of Magazines

Sweet!

on The Watchtower

ohhhh... right.
posted by gwint at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Weird how those religious people are so into Hendrix.
posted by GuyZero at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


i thought you were going to say reader's digest & i was prepared to be horrified at that ...
posted by msconduct at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2010


Weird how those religious people are so into Hendrix.

You have to read the text in the orignal Dylan to understand.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:40 AM on May 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


The title was previously held by Cat Fancy, and then YouTube came along.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd love to have a coffee table book of art from the Watchtower. I have no idea all this Jesus crap happened in the 1970's, and the Bee Gees were somehow involved in it all?? Who knew.
posted by fire&wings at 10:43 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


A few years ago I went to Paris by myself after spending some time working in Germany. Sunday morning I got up early and went out to get some coffee. I was walking down a fairly lonely sidewalk when two older French men approached. I was enjoying talking to them as they were pretty much the only people in Paris who would let me continue speaking French after they heard my American accent and I wanted to practice my French. Then I realized what was up - they each had a stack of "Le Watchtower" in their arms.
posted by sanko at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2010


You should have said "FIAMO! FIAMO!" and run off.
posted by cashman at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2010


Weird how those religious people are so into Hendrix.

That's because it's a message from God. It all makes sense if you watch the finale of Battlestar Galactica.

Just kidding. It doesn't make any fucking sense there, either.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


You have to read the text in the orignal Dylan to understand.

I've just started assuming all Witnesses are Cylons.
posted by stevis23 at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2010


After Abrahams told him she’d be happy to accept a small donation, he looked at her disdainfully and said, “I bet you would,” before handing her some change. “He saw right through me,” says Abrahams, who was 14 at the time. “I was totally aware that I was just this really annoying, weird person at the door, and I didn’t even know what I was talking about.”

Today, she sometimes sees The Watchtower in the back of a cab or in a doctor’s office. “I will pick it up and look at it for nostalgia,” she says. “It’s still the same as it was when I was a kid — nothing shocking, nothing weird. I would think that I’m going to get a big laugh out of it, but I just end up being sad and put it away.” No Witnesses have knocked on her door since she left her religion, husband and family behind.


I just shivered reading that because it was like flashing back on my adolescent years and all the JW conventions I dutifully attended at Dodger Stadium. That's exactly the same feeling I get when I stumble across a discarded Watchtower or Awake! on a bus bench too.

Interesting article, but like most MSM treatments, much too haughtily "hurf durf those looney-tunes JWs" for my taste.
posted by blucevalo at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


One morning I found a Watchtower on my welcome mat. The cover had a picture of Jesus raising a glass of wine. This representation of Jesus had very short brown hair and a short, neatly trimmed beard and mustache. He happened to look exactly like my brother. As in, holy shit, show the whole family so we can all marvel at it.

It was particularly funny to me because we are half Norwegian and half German. You know, like Jesus.
posted by peep at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


One decent thing about the JWs is that we in the US have them to thank for a surprising number of our civil liberties. For example, not being forced to salute the flag or recite the national anthem and the expansion of conscientious objector status as well as numerous free speech cases. For me they are very much the embodiment of "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Which, I have just learned, was not actually said by Voltaire.
posted by jedicus at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


Interesting article, but like most MSM treatments, much too haughtily "hurf durf those looney-tunes JWs" for my taste.

Huh, I actually thought the article did a decent job of avoiding that tone. It seemed pretty neutral to me.
posted by twirlip at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Um, when I was 15 or so, it was a big thing among my friends to run up to them and yell "NO THANKS I PREFER PORN". Yup. Exactly what a 15 year old would think as wickedly funny.
posted by yoHighness at 11:32 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]



twirlip: Interesting article, but like most MSM treatments, much too haughtily "hurf durf those looney-tunes JWs" for my taste.

Huh, I actually thought the article did a decent job of avoiding that tone. It seemed pretty neutral to me.



I did too -- but I think this difference is further example of my grandfather's wise saying:

"The only place where everybody agrees on 'neutral' is a gear stick."

(I just made that up.)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:36 AM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh, I actually thought the article did a decent job of avoiding that tone. It seemed pretty neutral to me.

Yeah, you may be right. I just reread it and on second thought it did seem fairly judgment-neutral as far as these types of articles go. Retraction tendered.
posted by blucevalo at 11:36 AM on May 18, 2010


Also, holy shit is the comment section a clusterfuck.

An incredibly entertaining one, but still...
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2010


"The new brand, familiar to many today from television exposés and house calls, taught that Christ would return to Earth in 1914 to govern the world, destroy nonbelievers and leave Witnesses to transform the planet into Paradise. It was revised in the 1930s, when the religion adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, to teach that Christ did return in 1914 — he was just invisible — and that within a generation Armageddon would finally arrive. Witnesses now take a less specific approach to the end of the world."

I'm fine with faith and I'm happy for people who feel it enriches their life. But when your faith turns out to be bunk three times in a row it's not faith anymore, it's just dumb.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most boring religion ever. Every big assembly time there'd be an am-dram production of a weighty moral issue, an hour of pure Watchtower article by people bad enough at acting to make the public baptisms later on look almost interesting. If you want to be bored to death by a religion then one with no christmas, no easter eggs, no birthdays, no non-JW friends and no acting talent at the one event a quarter meant to make up for all of it could well be for you.

The only interesting thing about them were the slightly damp looking apostates we were all supposed to ignore but who had all the cool placards.

The egregious boredom factor was a big deal for me, if it had to be a US religion why couldn't it be one with cool gospel music instead of dirges.

A quick look at Silent Lambs says it that covering up child abuse might still be an issue for them.
posted by shinybaum at 11:44 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm baffled by some of the illustrations in The Watchtower. The rolling grassy hills, the smiling, diverse people wearing business casual... I guess I understand the bushel basket of fruits and vegetables, but what's the lion going to eat?
posted by longsleeves at 11:49 AM on May 18, 2010


what's the lion going to eat?

Fluffy apostate unicorns.
posted by blucevalo at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess I understand the bushel basket of fruits and vegetables, but what's the lion going to eat?

“‘The wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull; and as for the serpent, his food will be dust. They will do no harm nor cause any ruin in all my holy mountain,’ Jehovah has said.” (Isaiah 65:25)
posted by shinybaum at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite JW doctrine is The Faithful and Discreet Slave (actual name, and there are only 144,000 of them ever! Also they essentially choose themselves, so only egomaniacs and delusionals need apply).
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:00 PM on May 18, 2010


The Jehovah's Witnesses in my S.F. neighborhood are seriously badass. The little old Filipino ladies knock and knock and knock at the door on Saturday mornings for up to five minutes, then leave copies of Awake! and The Watchtower in English and Tagalog on the doorstep. Meanwhile, the little old African-American ladies stand in a line outside the local Baptist church, as if they're picketing it.

When I lived in England, my best friend at school was a Jehovah's Witness. She got teased relentlessly for a)not celebrating birthdays and b)having to go door to door to witness three times a week instead of hanging out at McDonald's eating fries and making cups of coffee last three hours.
posted by vickyverky at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get the impression that the monotony is part of the appeal of this religion.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:31 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was about 16 or so and at home with some friends while my parents were out, the JWs came calling. We thought it would be hilarious to answer, take their pamphlet, then say crazy things about Satan. I believe I mentioned I was 16.

Anyway, after they left, we thought, hey, it'd be totally awesome if we burned this pamphlet. (Still 16.) So we went out back and set fire to it on my patio. I don't know what kind of paper it was made from, but it burned really cleanly. The ash was incredibly wispy and sort of melted away, leaving very little residue. I'd never seen anything like it, and I'd burned a lot of stuff.

For some reason, I started thinking, wow, it's almost like they make this pamphlet really friendly to set fire to. Huh. It's like they expect people to take it and burn it and laugh. Maybe they do, and they keep coming back anyway, because maybe one time I won't think setting fire to things is better than hearing what they have to say. Maybe burning their shit isn't all that original or cool after all.

Well, they never came back, I assume because of the crazy things we said about Satan, but it was one of the first times it occurred to me that other people are worth respecting even if you disagree with them. So, thanks for that, JWs. Your literature is incredibly fun to burn, but I don't do that anymore.
posted by Errant at 12:32 PM on May 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


JW's from the Glendale congregation canvass my neighborhood during the summer, and they're quite aggressive in their proselytizing. It's always struck me as odd that a religious sect with such a passion for making sure that their own religious freedoms were politically protected would be so disrespectful of the beliefs of others.
posted by zarq at 12:36 PM on May 18, 2010


and as for the serpent, his food will be dust.

Wow, that's not such a good deal for him then.
posted by longsleeves at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's always struck me as odd that a religious sect with such a passion for making sure that their own religious freedoms were politically protected would be so disrespectful of the beliefs of others.

Given the history of religion generally, it strikes me as odd that that would strike you as odd.
posted by blucevalo at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the heavy handed proselytising stems from their literal take on stuff - that you will literally become bird food after armageddon if you don't convert. Often I'd find my sister sniffelling away because my non-religious father was totally doomed. Unlike a lot of the bigger religions the ordinary members take that stuff seriously, five times a week at least. I kind of understand the logic although they're annoying.

Seriously, if you want to get rid of them tell them you're a Seventh Day Adventist. Mormon works quite well also.
posted by shinybaum at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2010


Wow, that's not such a good deal for him then.

Did you just quote Fargo? I think you just quoted Fargo.

I think I love you.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So one time when I was a student, I woke up late in the morning to hear my housemate Steve talking to some guy. The voice was unfamiliar and anyway, Steve was doing most of the talking. I wasn't able to follow the conversation but from the snatches I heard, it was pretty science-fiction-y. Time travel, parallel universes, hive minds and the like all came up. Steve enjoyed science fiction quite a lot, not unlike myself and he was speaking pretty enthusiastically. I figured he'd invited a friend over.

This went on for a while. I'm pretty sure I rolled over and dozed for a couple of hours or so, hearing more snatches of conversation whenever I woke. Eventually, I got up, showered, dressed and generally prepared to face the day. As I went downstairs to make
breakfast, I saw Steve shake hands with the unknown guy and walk him to the door.

After he'd left, I asked Steve, "Who was that?"

He said, "A Jehovah's Witness. He asked me what I thought about God, so I told him."

I believe he left a copy of the Watchtower, but I don't think I read it.
posted by suetanvil at 1:32 PM on May 18, 2010 [5 favorites]



Seriously, if you want to get rid of them tell them you're a Seventh Day Adventist. Mormon works quite well also.


Seriously, no. They don't care what religion you are. There are specific talking points that Witnesses are taught for all of the religions, but the main strategy is really to just ignore any objections and continue with your presentation. "Well then, surely you agree that we need scriptural guidance blah blah blah". Honestly, they're not interested in what you have to say at all.

If you really don't want to talk to them, just say, "No thanks. I'm not interested." Be prepared to insist. You really can't keep them from coming back, though. You're all in a territory. All of you. Your territories are worked on a somewhat regular basis. Probably quarterly. So, they'll knock on your door with that frequency at a minimum. If you're not home, they'll come back at least twice, and leave literature at the door if you're still not there the third time.

If you accept literature, you'll probably become somebody's "return visit", which means they'll show up every two weeks or so.

I was a Witness until I was about 18. I haven't read the article yet. I'm looking forward to it when I have a bit more time. It's definitely a weird scene. I think a lot of people underestimate how culty the group is. It's its own closed little community where relationships outside of the congregation are discouraged and breaking the rules can get you kicked out -- such that all of your old friends and family are forbidden to talk to you. As shinybaum alludes, Witnesses believe that theirs is the one true religion and non-believers and followers of other religions are doomed to die in an imminent apocalypse. That certainty and the "us vs. them" insiderism is, it seems to me, the essential appeal of the religion.

Kyria Abraham's excellent memoir I'm Perfect, You're Doomed is a great read and nicely illustrates what the Witnesses are about.
posted by chrchr at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You really can't keep them from coming back, though. You're all in a territory.

Sure you can. Just ask them to mark you on their map as someone fundamentally annoyed by JWs. The guidelines mean you don't knock on no-knock doors, if it happens after that make a formal complaint to the elders of the congregation that keeps sending them.

Also I'm not sure if the UK is just different but JWs where I was have a visceral dislike of any other Millennialist religion (at the least). Although it isn't by any means a guideline, telling them you're a weird religion is more likely to generate a polite okay and swift disappearance on an individual (not organisational) level. Never underestimate a weird religious person's ability to ironically dislike a religion close in weirdness to them.
posted by shinybaum at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2010


Just ask them to mark you on their map as someone fundamentally annoyed by JWs.

I'm pleased this works for someone, but I've even told them that my religion is "Fuck the Fuck Off" and they still come back, I guess to save me from The Fuckedness.
posted by sageleaf at 2:15 PM on May 18, 2010


if it happens after that make a formal complaint to the elders of the congregation that keeps sending them.

I may need to do that. Because they don't seem to be taking "No" for an answer.
posted by zarq at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2010


Next time I meet a witness I hope to explain to them that God, like all beings, is trapped in the endless cycle of Samsara, bound in a loop of desire and suffering. He keeps desiring that we humans not be sinful stooges, and will, by necessity, continue to be disappointed. Until it comes time to send another flood or equivalent, anyways, and then it's on to a new project and new suffering when things don't turn out the way they should.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:21 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


shinybaum's right. There's the "do not call" list. Thing is, if you're on the do not call list, the elders are supposed to check on you once a year to make sure you really mean it.
posted by chrchr at 2:23 PM on May 18, 2010


My experience with the JWs (granted this was over 25 years ago) was that they would eventually leave you alone if you insisted firmly that you were not interested or that you were, indeed, a card-carrying (or better yet baptized) member of another religion/sect/cult, especially a millennialist one.

I suppose it's possible that they've become more aggressive in the internet age because it's much harder to get through to potential converts in an age of multitasking and multifarious distractions.
posted by blucevalo at 2:31 PM on May 18, 2010


I have a number (2 is a number, right?) of JW friends. I used to, before I read the bible, credit them for being able to point out scriptural failings in other religions. Then I read the bible myself and the certainty with which they mete out judgement on other denominations of the Christian faith is their own worst enemy. The absolute worst thing you can do as a Christian is to claim to be certain of a doctrine cause scripture X tells you so. Do that and watch me come back with five that say the first was wrong, the first was wrong if you aren't a Jew, or it's ok, so long as you stand on one leg, keep a number of slaves that leaves no remainder when divided by your number of sons and you aren't wearing more than one type of garment. On Tuesdays.

Like I say to all Christians I meet, of any faith: If you believe in God, you clearly haven't read your bible.
posted by Biru at 2:41 PM on May 18, 2010


Correction: In my first sentence, the last word should read "denominations", and in retrospect I'd say "because scripture X" as opposed to "cause scripture X".
posted by Biru at 2:45 PM on May 18, 2010


Sigh. Second sentence! Evils of drink, you understand.
posted by Biru at 2:46 PM on May 18, 2010


Wow, finally, FINALLY, a MeFi thread for me. And it's not about racism or sexism or anything nearly that unpleasant, just religion....Am I Mefi's only current, lifelong Jehovah's Witness? Maybe so, maybe so. I'd get hundreds of favorites if only I had a pleasant, funny anecdote.

this is also the first time I've commented in a thread without reading the article first okay I'll go read it now
posted by Danila at 3:23 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Millions Now Living Will Never Die prophesied The WatchTower organisation back in the day.
7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

- Matthew 7:15-20, KJV
Beware false prophets is what Jesus teaches. Do any JWs have an answer to that? My mates refuse to be drawn on it.
posted by Biru at 3:38 PM on May 18, 2010


I'm fine with faith and I'm happy for people who feel it enriches their life. But when your faith turns out to be bunk three times in a row it's not faith anymore, it's just dumb.

Think about this, though. So the founder says that Jesus is a-coming and the world is going to end as you know it in 1914. Remember anything else that happened in 1914? Anything that, I don't know, could seem kind of end-of-the-world-ish?

So they revise the theology a bit to account for that, and then they say in the 1930s that it is going to end within the generation. Remember anything else that might have happened within the generation following the 1930s? Maybe that involved intense persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses (including in the US)?

I'm usually all aboard the ha ha religion bandwagon, but this is not a situation where religious predictions were laughably untrue. They were providentially true enough to arguably form the backbone of their religious credibility.

All this being said, count me among the people that liked to invite in JWs for discussion. I was a big fan of the 144,000 theology, myself, and never did get a straight answer to what college-aged norm thought was the knockout question: "aren't you recruiting me to compete against you for one of those coveted spots?"
posted by norm at 3:41 PM on May 18, 2010


"Jehovah's Witnessing"..? Wow I've never heard that one before and I think I'm going to use it.

I should say I don't think the article is offensive and I think a lot of Witnesses will get a kick out of reading it. Yeah the writer is a little jokey but I wasn't exactly expecting reverent tones. Seems accurate enough to me.

All members of the governing body claim to come from the “little flock,” an anointed class of 144,000 Witnesses who will ascend to heaven upon Armageddon; other Witnesses will have to be satisfied with paradise on Earth.

Look, Earth is fantastic. And it's eternal life in paradise on Earth.

Everywhere, everyone asks you to stay for lunch.

This is because Bethel lunch really must be experienced. All of the food is farm-raised by Witnesses in upstate New York and brought in fresh on the regular. Everyone involved in meal-preparation does it full time and takes it very seriously. They come up with really hearty, exquisite fare.

A writer is chosen as a “Compiler,” functioning like a magazine editor, and an assignment editor distributes briefs to writers — there are about 20 on staff. Copy is fact-checked, copy-edited and rewritten as it moves through the 70-person Writing Department.

For many years I have looked for grammatical errors in the Watchtower and I have never seen one, not one. It's my naturally editorial mind, I'm always looking for errors and in most literature I find plenty but not in Witness publications. As far as I know they don't even use contractions. Do not even use contractions, whatever.

How come the dividers in this article are hyperlinked?

Hmm, all in all I thought it was a good article. I learned some things from it, assuming its accurate about organizational structure and I've no reason to think it isn't.
posted by Danila at 3:46 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


To norm... sure the first and second world wars occurred at fortuitous times as far as prophecy was concerned, but one would have thought an infinite creator God would be capable of discerning between an Armed Conflict and the end of the world, which, by the definition of scripture he supposedly wrote, would have required his intervention.
posted by Biru at 3:47 PM on May 18, 2010


To norm... sure the first and second world wars occurred at fortuitous times as far as prophecy was concerned, but one would have thought an infinite creator God would be capable of discerning between an Armed Conflict and the end of the world, which, by the definition of scripture he supposedly wrote, would have required his intervention.

I can't speak for Jehovah's Witnesses, (although perhaps Danila would be willing to weigh in on this?) but many religions hold that human interpretation of scripture is fallible -- whether they believe the text to be the literal word of G-d or not.
posted by zarq at 3:54 PM on May 18, 2010


one would have thought an infinite creator God would be capable of discerning between an Armed Conflict and the end of the world, which, by the definition of scripture he supposedly wrote, would have required his intervention.

God didn't get anything wrong, we did. None of us are infallible. We are all involved in what can be described as an intense, lifelong effort to interpret the Bible and educate ourselves and others about it. We don't believe the leaders in our organization are infallible, nor are they prophets.

For as much as this article focused on Witnessing, we spend more time studying the Bible for ourselves and with our family, friends, and congregation. It hinted to as much when it mentioned "the special “study” editions of The Watchtower produced specifically for Witnesses already in the flock to study at Kingdom Halls every week", although anyone can get a copy of that by coming to the Watchtower study held in every congregation once a week and requesting a copy to study along.
posted by Danila at 3:56 PM on May 18, 2010


For as much as this article focused on Witnessing, we spend more time studying the Bible for ourselves and with our family, friends, and congregation.

OK, now that you've outed yourself, I have a question. :)

I only have a superficially understanding of Jehovah's Witness beliefs, but I am aware that as a group, you are supposed to keep yourselves socially separate from secular society. Some Orthodox Jewish sects have similar behavioral guidelines for their members. For those Orthodox Jews, internet use is restricted, and they don't generally mingle with non-Jews.

For Witnesses, how stringent is that separation supposed to be? Are there any rules that limit the amount of social interaction you may have with non-Witnesses on the internet?
posted by zarq at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2010


Charles Taze Russell was influenced by the Millerites, who had their own Great Disappointment in 1844. CTR had a weird thing about numerology/egyptian pyramidology on his own account also.

I'm surprised the article didn't mention JWs 1970s miscalculation.

Zarq is right that human fallibility is the reason given.

For Witnesses, how stringent is that separation supposed to be? Are there any rules that limit the amount of social interaction you may have with non-Witnesses on the internet?

Same as any other religion - depends on how strict you are.
posted by shinybaum at 4:17 PM on May 18, 2010


God didn't get anything wrong

Except the distribution of species in terms of walking distance from Noah's house and the negative effects of the subsequent rampant inbreeding necessary to repopulate the Earth. Those two minor problems aside, yep... everything's cool.


(I'm being sarcastic.)
posted by Biru at 4:19 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, Biru, can we sort of not make this thread into a pointed interrogation of a particular MeFite's religious views?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:43 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


For Witnesses, how stringent is that separation supposed to be? Are there any rules that limit the amount of social interaction you may have with non-Witnesses on the internet?

Well there are "rules" and then there are principles. In recent years we've had a number of counsel about interactions on the internet, primarily in light of the principles we follow regarding "bad association spoils useful habits", not mixing light with dark, being no part of the world, and so on and so forth (I'm not very articulate today). But no one is going to get into any trouble over it, the most trouble really would be what you bring on yourself. That's how I view it anyway.

An example would be marrying a non-Witness (something a bit more extreme than engaging with people on the internet, as I am doing right now). Simply put, don't do it. But, is this a rule? You won't be disfellowshipped or punished for it at all. If you marry a non-Witness you can in most ways carry on just as before. But then there's all the trouble you bring on yourself. When you have kids, how will they be raised? What do you do when your idea of a good marriage and your spouse's idea don't align? What if your spouse becomes actively opposed to your religion (as my grandfather is)? Or maybe they never actively oppose you, they may even encourage you, but they can't support you in this area of your life that is extremely important. So no it's not a rule, as in there will be discipline from the congregation if you "break" it. But the consequences are pretty drastic, and the Bible is clear that you should avoid it.

Similarly with non-Witnesses on the internet. If we didn't interact with non-Witnesses at all, we'd be failing rather spectacularly at Witnessing. It's not just something done formally. It's certainly not how Jesus behaved. In addition, you have to let your conscience be your guide. I've been on computers since I was 12 years old, and I've been using the internet nearly that long. I am very comfortable with the net and I am probably more comfortable than some other Witnesses may be. In my time on the internet I have been a member of many many communities. When I was younger I loved to debate religion and would do so for many hours at a time (but not anymore, sorry Biru, I'll explain what I believe but not debate on the internet anymore).

Over time I have experienced consequences that convinced me to limit my internet association in a number of ways. Just as one example, Witnesses don't use foul language and I hate to hear it (I find it very coarse and unpleasant). As you may have noticed, Metafilter is full of it, as is most of the internet. The more time I spend on forums, the more it gets in my head, and then I find myself wanting to do it. Other issues have been pressing, such as the widespread sexual imagery which is rough for an unmarried virgin such as myself. Not to mention I personally find much of it degrading yet in the past also tempting, which is the way these things go. Then there's online dating, which I used to do and other Witnesses used to do but we pretty much don't anymore (at least, we don't set up formal websites to do it). Because you never really know who you're dealing with and I've been personally burned by that too. Oh, and then there's all the politics. Witnesses are politically neutral but I was sidetracked by politics for a long time. Then I realized the futility of it, and it was crushing, but if I'd stayed away from the start maybe I wouldn't have had to go through that.

I've also had really good experiences on the internet, made real friends, and Witnessed to people, but it's dangerous territory as is most of anything created in this world.

I hope that answered your question.

I just want to say that I'm not proscribing behavior for anyone else or proselytizing at this moment, just describing my own perspective/
posted by Danila at 5:11 PM on May 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


That was very well put, Danila. Better than this community deserves, perhaps.
posted by norm at 6:55 PM on May 18, 2010


I'm an atheist, but I'll always have a bit of fondness in my heart for The Watchtower magazine, and for Jehovah's Witnesses in general.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a village in Africa. I am also a complete, giant nerd. After having been in my village for about 5 months, and thus gotten acclimated and over the worst of the culture shock, two realizations began to dawn on me: (a) I was dying for lack of intellectual conversations; and (b) I was dying for lack of reading material. I have a very hard time communicating how dire both of these needs were. Back in the US, I had been somebody who read probably five books a week, whose friendships had revolved around intellectual exchange, and who in my spare time did things like code up neural networks from scratch. Even though my village in Africa was full of lovely people, they were for the most part people who spent most of their time worrying about more important things than intellectual debate: feeding their families, watching the chickens, etc. I began to go stir-crazy, literally. I felt increasingly isolated and depressed. I began to fill journals in my hut with all of my random ramblings that I had nobody to share them with -- attempts to mathematize philosophy, essays going nowhere, etc. Most of them were crap, but they were the workings of a mind desperate for intellectual stimulation and contact of some sort, any sort.

Enter Jehovah's Witnesses. One of my best friends in the community was a devout Jehovah's Witness. His attempts to convert me led to long discussions about the nature of God, good and evil, etc -- things that fed my desperate need for engaging with another mind about interesting ideas. We soon met weekly, him bringing along his copy of The Watchtower, going over the ideas and reading bible passages. I told him from the beginning that I had no intention of converting, but loved discussing this stuff, and he was quite happy to keep up the discussions anyway. I think he liked them for much the same reason I did; he was a bit of a nerd himself. Before long I had underlined and commented large passages of the bible (since he couldn't read English, he didn't realize that a lot of the time my comments were along the lines of "WTF is God doing here? what an ass!", and of course I never told him that part). And, honestly, even though I didn't get any closer to believing any of it, my understanding of the theology grew a lot richer, and I also understood a lot better why other people would believe.

The best part, though, was The Watchtower, because it was new reading material every week. I had literally no other source of new reading material, and I'd read all the books I had brought with me a thousand times over already. And since it wasn't written in English, it was good language practice too. I treasured each new additional magazine that came along. And to this day, when I see a Watchtower discarded on the street or in a rubbish bin, I think about what it meant to me back then, and the friend I made through it.
posted by forza at 7:13 PM on May 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Each article is littered with scriptural references, which function like hyperlinks, directing readers to Bible pages for further reading.
That's a pretty dysfunctional use of the word 'function'
posted by Sparx at 7:44 PM on May 18, 2010


One of my housemates is a Jehovah's Witness. He's generally pretty quiet and pretty withdrawn, but every week or so he gets a bunch of his JW friends around for a big movie night in the big converted-from-a-garage AV room out the back. That's fine and all, but it's an endless source of hillarity to me and our other housemate that all these young JWs swear like they're in the merchant marine, and it's all in this consistent 1:1 substitution of patois and edited-for-airline-screening English that somehow makes it okay. They'll still be offended if they hear any swearing in real life or on TV, though. Not just the heavy seven, either.

Less funny is the casual homophobia - oh dear god, the staggering levels of hate-speech - which peppers their discussions so heavily that even from my ivory tower of left-wing white male heteronormative privilege it makes me uncomfortable. I'm concerned that the insular nature of his community leads to a certain... intellectual immaturity amongst the younger members. But I'd much rather think that I'm being overly cynical - it is, of course, far more probable that these folks would still be jerks no matter what faith they subscribed to.
posted by MarchHare at 7:47 PM on May 18, 2010


Some nice things that set the Witnesses apart from a lot of Christian groups:

1) Witnesses are apolitical. There's no organozational lobbying arm. There's no support of the religious right. Witnesses are forbidden to vote or to voice support of political candidates. For those of us who dislike the kind of theocracy a lot of Christians are pushing, this is refreshing.

2) I never, ever got the sense that it's a big moneymaking operation where the guys on the top are padding their own nests. The financial figures quoted in the article are nothing big when you consider the size of the organization or in comparison to the LDS. There are no paid clergy at the congregational level. These people are not in it for the dough.

Danila's comment is very well put. She draws a sharp distinction between things that will get you disfellowshipped and things that are a matter of conscience. In practice, stepping across one of these gray lines can land you in trouble anyway. At the very least, it opens you up to "encouragement" from others in the congregation, or counsel from the elders. Yes, you can make up your own mind about, say, marrying a non-Witness (a "worldly person" in the parlance) but there's only one right answer. Why would you risk your relationship with Jehovah for temporary enjoyment? "He who is faithful in what is least is also faithful in much."
posted by chrchr at 9:47 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually look forward to the day when Witnesses (and Mormons) return to my front door. I'd love to engage them in a real discussion on belief.

Of course, I'm an atheist with an debate jones.
posted by grubi at 6:58 AM on May 19, 2010


Less funny is the casual homophobia - oh dear god, the staggering levels of hate-speech - which peppers their discussions so heavily that even from my ivory tower of left-wing white male heteronormative privilege it makes me uncomfortable.

There's nothing casual about the JWs' homophobia, although I agree with you that they have no discomfort about expressing themselves emphatically against it in casual ways. It's very clearly laid out in their doctrine that homosexuality is a sin against God (as are fornication and masturbation, etc.), and they interpret Leviticus 18 in the same way that many other Christians do. There's nothing in official literature that singles out homosexuality for extra-icky-horrific status in the way that some fundamentalists do, but speaking as someone who was at the time figuring out what my own sexuality was, the informal experience I had among the JWs was that being gay was at the very minimum a source of tremendous ridicule, humiliation, and shame.
posted by blucevalo at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2010


The JWs I knew did that same self-bleep swearing thing. I asked them, wasn't it the meaning of the swear, not the specific word, and thus bleeping didn't change anything really?

They said nope, it's the words.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:23 AM on May 19, 2010


I don't think the "h-e-double-toothpicks" phenomenon is limited to JWs, though. Ned Flanders when he's pissed off is a perfect example.
posted by blucevalo at 11:38 AM on May 19, 2010


One decent thing about the JWs is that we in the US have them to thank for a surprising number of our civil liberties.

You know who we have to thank for FOIA? Scientology. I shit you not.
posted by scalefree at 8:29 PM on May 20, 2010


Seriously, if you want to get rid of them tell them you're a Seventh Day Adventist. Mormon works quite well also.

I understand the feeling is mutual. I've been told that Mormons call the JW Bible the "green dragon".
posted by scalefree at 8:41 PM on May 20, 2010


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