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The Jehovah Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses, also known as Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and International Bible Students is a fundamentalist sect that is so different theologically from the other Christian churches that it is normally branded a "cult" by the rest. The Witnesses are known for their active (and to outsiders irritating) door to door proselytization, their refusal to do military service, their apocalyptic fervor and their resistance to blood transfusion. We will be looking at the last two points about the Witnesses.

The End of the World!...Not!

The Witnesses, being an apocalyptic sect, feed on the teaching that the world as we know it would end very soon. The Society [a] had, throughout its a century and a quarter history, predicted at least a dozen different dates connected with this, all of which have proven wrong. [1] But the Witnesses have proven themselves masters of theological side stepping.

The most well known of the earliest predictions was that predicted by its founder Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), in a book he co-wrote with another fundamentalists N.H. Barbour, Three Worlds and the Harvest of this World (1877). In it Russell claimed, through a series of convoluted reasoning, that Christ had returned to the earth in 1874. The reason why he is not seen is because he had returned "invisibly." The saints will be harvested for a period of forty years from his return. The end of the harvest would signify the end of the "Gentile Times" and the beginning of the new kingdom of God on earth. The exact date for this to happen, according to Russell, was to be October 1st 1914. [2]

That this date was absolute and must be correct is emphatically asserted by Russell himself in the third volume of his Studies in Scripture (1905):

For it is distinctly noticed that if the chronology, or any of these time periods, be changed but one year, the beauty and the force of this parallelism [with the Jewish Jubilee cycles] are destroyed ... If the chronology is altered but one year, more or less - it would spoil the parallelism. [3]

That the Witnesses expected the happening to be a physical event on earth can be seen from the following statement made by a prominent member of the Society on September 30th 1914:

This is probably the last public address I shall deliver, because we shall be going home soon. [4]

When October 1st came - and went - the leaders began to shuffle, excuses began to be made. Many disillusioned Witnesses left the Society. Those who remained swallowed the rationalizations wholesale. The explanations included an admission that Russell had made a mistake; but it was a minor one. They explained that the time, 1914, was correct, the Kingdom of God has been established; but it was the place that was wrong. You see, they say, the Kingdom of God was not established on earth, but in heaven in 1914. Thus, World War I was a direct result of Satan anger on being thrown out of heaven once God's kingdom was established there. It mattered little to these desperate apologists that World War I started three months before the date predicted by Russell. [5] Russell's prophecy was too well publicized for it to be ignored after that. From then on his prophecy was twisted to mean that the end of the world would come during the lifetime of those alive in 1914. [6] That rationalization is now, again in need of rationalization, for we are already in the 21st century, and even those who were born in 1914 would be in living the ninth decade of their lives.

When Russell died his position as head of the Watchtower Society was taken over by Joseph "Judge" Rutherford (1869-1941). Judge Rutherford predicted that the world would end in 1925. He claimed that the old Jewish prophets, Abraham, Moses and the rest would be resurrected that year and would rule the world for God. [7] The statement below, made by Rutherford in 1921, showed what else he thought would occur in 1925:

The year of 1925 is the year clearly set in the Bible for judgement on the Satanic order that now rules the world. The offer to live forever is now made to you and you need not die unless you repudiate it. The perfect food will make you eternal. You men who are bald will be bald no longer. Your teeth will be restored to you. You will be as beautiful as you were in your youth. The whole world will be as beautiful as Prospect Park in spring. [8]

1925 came and went, but bald heads and toothless grins remained. It was a reminder to the society that, once again, their prediction had failed to materialize. Again disillusioned Witnesses left the Society, and membership dropped. The society was saved from the oblivion by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which plunged America into the Great Depression. A depressed society makes a good harvest for an apocalyptic sect which promises a swift end to the present world order. Membership began to rise again. [9]

In the forties another date was set by the Society as the end of the world: this time it was to be the early seventies. The exact year was given later as 1975. In a book published by the Watchtower and Tract Society in 1966 entitled Life Everlasting in Freedom and the Sons of God, the message was

Six thousand years from man's creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the Fall of 1975 CE ... It would not be by mere chance or accident ... for the reign of Jesus Christ to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man's existence. [10]

Again 1975 came and passed, and again nothing happened. The Society now, in the words of ex-Witness Barbara Harrison, "In the process of slithering away from 1975 as they have in the past slithered from the other dates." [11] Doubtless more dates for the end of the world will be predicted and more excuses will be given when they fail to come true.

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Blood Transfusions

That Jehovah's Witnesses can continue to hold believers and attract new converts goes to show that the rational instinct can be suppressed quite successfully in most people; many times to their own detriment. One such case with the witnesses is their refusal to have blood transfusion when the medical need arises. There is no new sanitary theory that prompt this behavior; it is purely based on some Biblical passages which forbid believers to "eat blood." These passage include:

Genesis 9:3-4
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you and as I give you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

Leviticus 7:26-27 (Also 17:10-14)
Moreover you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.

Acts 21:25
[The elders of Jerusalem to Paul] "As for the Gentile believer, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."

The admonition not to "eat blood" is interpreted by the Witnesses to include blood transfusion. Blood transfusion is a medical procedure by which blood is transferred from a donor to a patient. The procedure is important to replace lost blood during accidents or operations. In cases where pregnant women are carrying babies with incompatible blood types (the Rhesus factor) an exchange transfusion is done, which involves changing the babies blood to that similar to the mother's. In all the above cases the procedure may prove to be the most important factor in saving the live of the patient. [12] These humane considerations for blood transfusion carry no weight with the Witnesses, to them morality is not what seems to be good but what the Bible commands.

The practical result of this restriction only adds suffering to the already unhappy life of the Witnesses. Harrison tells of a young witness boy who was struck by a car. His mother held the dying boy in her arms, and argued with the doctors forbidding them to administer any blood transfusion. The boy died. [13]

There was a case in 1951 when the state of Illinois went to court to take temporary custody of a witness child. The child, six year old Cheryl Labrenz was suffering from a rare medical disorder that was destroying her red blood cells. The only way to save her was to administer blood transfusions. Her parents refused to let the doctors do so, which resulted in the state taking the court action. The parents knew the girl would die without the transfusions, but believed that their righteous action will enable her to be resurrected into the coming kingdom of God on earth. Luckily the court order enabled her to have the transfusions which saved her life. [14]

A similar occurrence happened to another American Witness couple, Paul and Patricia Blizzard when their six year old daughter Jenny Blizzard was ordered by the court to have blood transfusions. While she was in the hospital the Witnesses told Paul and Pat that they would be willing to help smuggle the girl out from the hospital; they will even hire a helicopter to do the job. The couple, who did not consent to the blood transfusion, refused to do so. As a result they were treated by the fellow Witnesses almost as though they had consented to the blood transfusion. One elder of their Kingdom Hall shrieked: "I hope your daughter gets hepatitis from the blood!" Jenny Blizzard unfortunately died. During a funeral not a single Witness came to console the grieving parents. [16] In the eyes of the Jehovah's Witnesses this couple has done wrong and in accordance with the biblical commands are to be "cut of from their people."

The fixation of the Witness with the issue of blood transfusion permeates their whole life. One ex-Witness recalled an episode when her sister, also a Witness, underwent a major operation. Many of her Witness friends called her, not to inquire how her sister was, but whether she had taken a blood transfusion during the operation! [17]

The displacement of personal moral decisions to that of a book is not just confined to the Jehovah's Witnesses alone. We have seen how the churches thought slavery to be moral because the Bible never condemned it. Skeptics are thus justified in saying that religious beliefs paralyses your moral faculties.

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a.Witnesses do not use the world church to describe their sect, so I have used the word "society", from the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society, instead.


1.Harrison, Visions of Glory: p226
2.Ibid: p47
3.Quoted in Harrison, Visions of Glory: p47
4.Quoted in Harrison, Visions of Glory: p164
5.Harrison, Visions of Glory: p164
6.Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults: p149
7.Ibid: p147
8.Quoted in Harrison, Visions of Glory: p178
9.Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults: p147
10.Quoted in Harrison, Visions of Glory: p37
11.Harrison, Visions of Glory: p37
12.Wingate, The Medical Encyclopedia: p379-380,450-451
13.Harrison, Visions of Glory: p100
14.Ibid: p97-98
15.Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults: p142
16.Harrison, Visions of Glory: p125

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