The Beroeans of old set an example regarding the attitude we should have when acquiring knowledge: When confronted with new information, “they were not gullible, but neither were they cynical. […] They did not immediately accept what Paul said as truth; still, they listened respectfully [and] they carefully examined the Scriptures, checking to see ‘whether the things Paul was saying were so.'”
Personally, I concur with Jehovah’s Witness’ founder Charles Taze Russell who said:
We should learn to love and value truth for its own sake; to respect and honor it by owning and acknowledging it wherever we find it and by whomsoever presented. A truth presented by Satan himself is just as true as a truth stated by God. Perhaps no class of people are more apt to overlook this fact than the Christian. How often do they in controversy overlook and ignore truth presented by their opponents. […] Accept truth wherever you find it, no matter what it contradicts, and rely for ability to afterwards harmonize it with others upon ‘The Spirit of truth, which shall guide you into all truth’, as Jesus promised. – Zion’s Watch Tower And “Herald of Christ’s Presence”, Juli 1, 1879
Whether you are a free-thinking Jehovah’s Witness, a JW unhappy with recent developments in the organization or a former member, you will want to find out for yourself what truth is. Maybe you are thinking of leaving the organization; maybe you are looking for ways to reform the congregation from the inside; and maybe you are an Ex-JW looking for answers you haven’t found yet. Whatever the case, we are lucky to live in the information age where everything we need to advance to maturity can be found at the tip of our fingers.
Sadly, the Watchtower Society admonishes Jehovah’s Witnesses to take a one-sided approach:
‘The faithful and discreet slave’ does not endorse any literature, meetings, or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight. – Kingdom Ministry, September 2007, p. 3
We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ organization. – The Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p. 19
To turn away from Jehovah and his organization, to spurn the direction of ‘the faithful and discreet slave,’ and to rely simply on personal Bible reading and interpretation is to become like a solitary tree in a parched land. The Watchtower, December 1, 1981, p. 27
In contrast, we would like to warmly encourage you to broaden your mind, comparing knowledge provided by the faithful and discreet slave with the vast amount of research available to nowadays. Thanks to this, personal research no longer turns us into a solitary tree in a parched land.
Here are seven recommendations (books and websites, in no particular order) that helped me personally
- find out whether the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ had been guiding us through God’s spirit
- discover and detox from techniques by which I was unduly influenced
- make an informed decision on what I believe in and what I want to do with our life
and I sure hope that they will help you, too. Let me know in the comments what you think of these recommendations and what I missed!
7 Knowledge Resources Free-Thinking And Former Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW.org) Should Use
“Fooled By Randomness”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
It was a close tie between this book and another by the same author called “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. I chose the former for this list as I found it a tad more insightful but if I were you, I’d read both. They’re a must-read and will kickstart your critical thinking. “Fooled by Randomness” ist about the fallibility of human knowledge and how we as humans overestimate causality. How did this book help me? Well, for example, it showed me how the Watchtower Society uses inductive reasoning to support their Armageddon prediction. Long story short: The world is not getting worse. In fact, as incredible as it may seem, we live in of the most peaceful and prosperous eras of human existence (Steven Pinker is another author you may want to refer to). The authors of Jehovah’s Witnesses use a logical fallacy called confirmation bias to make us believe we are living in the so-called “time of the end”. When you check the facts, though – and recommended book helped me do that –, you will reach the conclusion that it simply isn’t so.
Your logical fallacy is
As the website description explains, “a logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don’t be fooled! This website has been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head.” This website has often helped me to distinguish between genuine knowledge and redundant information while sifting through pages and pages of the literature of the Watchtower Society. Sadly, one encounters a lot of logical fallacies in Jehovah’s Witness’ publications. A very popular one is the Strawman Argument, which we encountered recently in the February 2015 issue of Awake, in which Watchtower asked: How did life begin? Through Evolution or Creation? The fallacy: Misleading their readers to believe Evolution attempts to explain the origin of life. But that simply isn’t true. Evolution provides an answer to the diversity of life, whereas Abiogenesis explains life’s origin. A perfect example for a Strawman Argument. A great knowledge base for the beginning skeptic.
“Thinking, fast and slow”, Daniel Kahneman
Simply one of the best books I ever read and a great follow-up if you started out with Taleb’s books. The basis of Kahnemann’s book are the two systems in our brain: “We now know that we apprehend the world in two radically opposed ways, employing two fundamentally different modes of thought: ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. System 1 is fast; it’s intuitive, associative, metaphorical, automatic, impressionistic, and it can’t be switched off. Its operations involve no sense of intentional control, but it’s the ‘secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make’ and it’s the hero of Daniel Kahneman’s alarming, intellectually aerobic book Thinking, Fast and Slow.” (Guardian Review) There is of course much more to the book. For example, it expands on the confirmation bias mentioned earlier. This book really helped me understand why I believe what I believed, how emotional mind-control works and what one can do about it. The book is huge and at some points a bit of a drag, but it’s full of profound wisdom. If you want to understand the mechanics of a cult or any system based on belief, buy this book. You won’t regret it. Let me conclude with one or two exemplary quotes from this brilliant book.
- “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
- “Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”
- “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”
- “The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.”
Do these books seem too overwhelming?
But are you still interested in learning about logical fallacies and the art of persuasion? Maybe you’d prefer to try this book first: The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli takes a popular scientific approach to the aforementioned topics and summarizes them in a very entertaining way. The book has had its fair share of criticism, the biggest being plagiarism, but it’s a good alternative if you just want to have a first peek.
Paul Grundy’s JW Facts
Where to begin. The website JW Facts is without the shadow of a doubt the best knowledge base about all things JW and Watchtower on the internet. It is the Encyclopedia Britannica of Watchtower lore and doctrine. It is the Insight on the Scriptures, Volume I, II and – hell yeah – III, IV, V and VI of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Paul Grundy is a hero and he deserves a medal. Not only is it fair and overwhelmingly unbiased, it is better researched than any original Watchtower literature. If you have questions regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses and or the Watchtower, look no further. JW Facts is the place to go. I know this from experience. JW Facts was my St. Bernard dog with a brandy barrel. Go visit it now. For starters, try out these articles:
- the 607 teaching
- the question whether Jesus died on a cross or a stake
- the biblical authenticity of the “Great Crowd” teaching
- the sad story of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico and Malawi
“Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs”, Steven Hassan
Steven Hassan is a renowned cult expert and founder of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center. The website is a great place to start, with articles like this one helping oneself to understand that one might need professional help in the wake of a disfellowshipping incident. He developed and posited the BITE-Model of mind control which helps define whether the religion you belong to is a cult. Steven Hassan also is the author of the book “Freedom of Mind”, an absolute must-read for former and present cult members, that for example illustrates how an unstable global environment fosters unethical control: You basically learn how Armageddon fear makes you believing something irrational. If you are looking for answers to questions like this you should consider reading this book.
Lloyd Evans’ JW Survey
It took me nearly eight years to come to terms with my JW past. Before 2010, I would have never dreamt of visiting an apostate website or reading books by former Jehovah’s Witnesses, although I was disfellowshipped in 2003. I had not freed myself of the mind-control instilled in me by Watchtower, basically putting a spell on everything that didn’t stem from and were critical of the “faithful and discreet slave”. I began psychotherapy in 2010 and that was the best decision I ever made. The process of counseling is the closest thing to being “born again” I have ever experienced. My therapist helped me to reason with myself which ultimately led to conquering long-held fears, getting rid of my anxiety attacks and finding the strength to confront my inner demons (oh, the irony). Thanks to the help of my therapists, I started looking into Watchtower doctrine and secondary literature by former JW and experts on cultism simultaneously. In addition to the aforementioned JW Facts, John Cedars’ JW Survey was the #1 website I turned to. His whole outlook impressed me. Although critical, he never was spiteful or gave the impression of being out for revenge. Instead, his posts were well-researched, insightful and always revealed something that turned out to be a missing piece in the puzzle I was trying to solve. Plus, back then he still was Witness which gave him some authenticity. To this day I appreciate the work Lloyd Evans (formerly know as John Cedars) and his team put into the website, which features news, reviews and in-depth analysis of all things JW. Together with Jehovah’s Witness Blog, a profound knowledge base packaged as satire, JW Facts and JW Survey are the triumvirate of Ex-JW activism that helped me initially the most leaving my past behind and served as a door opener for the numerous wonderful websites dedicated to post-watchtower enlightenment.
“Crisis of Conscience”, Raymond Franz
Last but not least, the holy grail of post-watchtower enlightenment, a book so powerful, the Governing Body even warned about it in letters to congregations in the 80s. Guess the GB never heard of the Streisand Effect (to be fair, the term was only coined in 2003). Raymond Franz was only talked about in a hushed voice in my congregation. He was the “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” of Watchtower Lore. Long story short: Raymond Franz, nephew of the Fred Franz, was a member of the Governing Body who disagreed with one or two decisions the Governing Body made. Frankly, he felt, they were abusing their power and he wanted no part in this – hence the title of the book. His adherence to God rather than men would result in his resignation, a purge that shook the organization to its core and many innocent Jehovah’s Witnesses falling prey to a witch hunt reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Ray Franz was disfellowshipped in absence but interestingly never lost his faith. He remained a worshiper of Jehovah till his death. “Crisis of Conscience” is his account of the incidents. If you are an active Jehovah’s Witness and therefore have reservations regarding his book, I understand you perfectly well, as I was there, too. But this is why you should read this book: It is practically one of the only inside reports of how the Governing Body works, how the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is led and goes about business and it shows impressively how core Watchtower doctrine is built on sand. Right from the word go you understand why the Watchtower wanted this book out of the public eye. This is not the story of a bitter man out for revenge. It is the story of a man who listened to his conscience and tried to do the right thing. “Crisis of Conscience” is a total must-read and if it doesn’t make you leave the “truth” it most certainly will change the way you view it. It is available for free download on the internet as well as on amazon.
These are but a few handpicked recommendations I chose to share with you. I am positive this reading list will help free-thinking and former Jehovah’s Witnesses reach their own conclusions.
Disclosure: As a direct result of my research and my rational exorcism, I wrote “Goodbye, Jehova!”, a book about my childhood and youth in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, in which I also try to give an in-depth look into the Watchtower Society. So far, it has only been published in Germany, but JW Survey was so kind to publish an english-language review. If you are german-speaking, you might care to have a look here.