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Home arrow Psychological Issues arrow Why Some Can't Leave the Watchtower

Why Some Can't Leave the Watchtower

(and why others that do leave may not fare well)

by Randy Watters

"You can take a man's belongings away from him and he will recover, but if you take away his faith, you have surely killed him."

That phrase expresses a truth of which all who work with victims of cults should be aware.

There are many reasons why people join cults: loneliness, power, an escape from reality, etc. Sometimes people are just curious and quickly end up under the control of others, like victims of hypnosis. Most of these victims can be taught to find what they are looking for through other, more constructive outlets. They can learn how to find real friends and how to keep them, how to channel their energies in new directions, and how to face reality.

There is, however, another type of person who becomes involved in cults: Those driven by the hunger for a higher cause, for giving their all to someone or something much higher than their own selves. These are the ones who will sacrifice all to find the Creator of the universe, who will spend their whole lives seeking the secrets of life. Often they are driven, so it seems, by Destiny, perhaps even prodded along by physical or emotional pain which has acted as the proverbial "grain of sand" that the oyster eventually turns into a pearl.

But what if the oyster aborts the half-formed pearl? What if the person who has dedicated their life to a cause, and who found great satisfaction in that cause, and friends (as well as a clean conscience), suddenly discovers the whole thing is a farce? What happens to a man or woman who is a true believer in a cult leader or organization that discovers it is not of God after all, and they are living a lie? Few discoveries in life can be so devastating.

Hope for the sojourner

Victims of cults do not readily look to the Christian church for answers when they become disillusioned with their cause. Why is that? In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, there is a two-fold reason. The first and most obvious is that they have been taught a great deal of prejudice about the churches: they supposedly teach false doctrines, worship idols, are full of immorality and power struggles, and they worship a false, trinitarian god. As if that wasn't reason enough, they may perceive something lacking in terms of idealism, and this time they may not be wrong. Yet, what could a cult like Jehovah's Witnesses offer that many Christian churches do not?

The answer is evident when you discover why many cults get started in the first place. Their motives are not altogether bad. Often, as in the case of Jim Jones and the People's Temple, there is a moral cause that drives the movement. In the case of the People's Temple and Jonestown, it was a reaction against racial bigotry and prejudice. Many idealistic young people were drawn in by a refreshing atmosphere of brotherhood and freedom. What they didn't suspect was that Jones was unstable and became corrupt, creating far more evil than any good he fought for. His followers, who had given themselves completely over to (what they thought was) a good cause, were unable and unwilling to see his true character. They were like some Jehovah's Witnesses who David Reed describes as being "Like a lovestruck teenage girl who hangs on her boyfriend's every word, the Witness who has found such emotional fulfillment in the organization is happy to applaud whatever the sect says." How To Rescue Your Loved One from the Watchtower, p. 137.

Jehovah's Witnesses, once known as the International Bible Students, began at a time when many were expecting the return of Christ and to more fully understand Bible prophecy. Unlike many of the churches around them, the Bible Students were humble folk who claimed to love Christ, and they saw a higher cause in the movement. In contrast, many of the churches were lukewarm and involved to some degree in the world and its politics. The ecstasy of being involved in such a higher cause blinded the Bible Students to Russell's dabbling in numerology and pyramidology, as he constantly sought to determine God's secret timetable. Russell was a charismatic leader, and his followers, like those of Jim Jones, practically worshipped him.

Today Jehovah's Witnesses similarly serve the collective "faithful and discreet slave" organization, rather than doctrine. This can be demonstrated by the ever-changing doctrines of the Witnesses, who are willing to teach whatever new truths coming from Brooklyn. They claim to serve Jehovah, but Jehovah is only known through the organization--much as Christ was only known through Jim Jones (at least according to the People's Temple).

Most of these Witnesses are sincere and quite a number really are seeking God. When and if they come to their senses, what can we offer them?

Contact with Fellow Survivors

One of the most important factors in the recovery of those who are leaving the Watchtower (or thinking about it) is to talk to others who have gone through the same thing. If they are afraid of talking to ex-Witnesses at first (as if they were "apostates"), they should watch our video, "Coming Out of the Watchtower: Why Is It So Difficult?" (available on order form). This is probably the single most helpful tool in dissipating the fear of leaving (next to actually fellowshiping with other ex-Witnesses), since it is a series of mini-interviews with others who have gone through the same thing. Thereby they can meet those who have a renewed faith in God, and an even greater zeal for life and the future.

Why Disfellowshiped Persons Often Defend the Watchtower

What a surprise it is for many who encounter a person who defends the Jehovah's Witnesses both in belief and practice, only to find out that they were disfellowshiped and no longer associate with the Witnesses!

One would think that being away from the Watchtower for a time would allow them to investigate the teachings of the WT, and discover its errors. But this is often not the case. Why? Here are a few mind-controlling factors:

Guilt

Many who leave the Watchtower were "practicing sin," either sin as defined by the Bible or perhaps just by the Watchtower (such as smoking or celebrating holidays). The victim's conscience is pained, constantly reminding him of his wrongdoing, and also preventing any objective examination of the organization itself (as to teachings and history). Any effort to examine "apostate literature" or even to go back and read out-of-date WT literature would be thought of as an attempt to justify their own sins, leading to further guilt.

Fear

Fear now takes control, as the disfellowshiped Witness is convinced that the devil is out to stumble and confuse him even further, especially by allowing doubts about the organization (which is "doubting Jehovah himself"). Fear of punishment from God continues to "protect" the victim long after leaving the WT. Any attempt to critically investigate the WT is squelched by this very effective thought-stopping process.

The Love Affair

This refers to a JW's love affair with the organization. Though it would seem to be over if he has been disfellowshiped, the victim still longs for the sense of camaraderie, the unity and the predictability of the WT organization. Since he had become so dependent on the organization for everything, he will now play the role of the jilted lover, hoping to get his "loved one" back. Since "absence makes the heart grow fonder," every little pain and struggle will remind him of the "mother" organization. 

What You Can Do

Any attempt to correct a victim who struggles with the above may be met with instant rejection. They are driven by powerful impulses planted by the organization when they joined. Rather than to attempt to reason with these ones using the Bible, it might prove much more effective to arrange for them to hear the testimony of someone who is an ex-member of another cult, and how they struggled through the same kind of fear, guilt, and perhaps even a "love affair" with their organization. Parallel struggles in the lives of others may be just what is needed to open up their minds.

 

 
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