It is a simple question – but it illustrates the cruel simplicity of undue influence at work among Jehovah’s Witnesses: “HAVE you ever thought, ‘Am I the kind of person Jehovah will want to save during the great tribulation and bring into the new world?’”, asks JW.org in the introduction to the Study Article “Give us more faith”. This post will try to explain the scope of manipulation at play here and show the true nature of this seemingly – on the surface – harmless question.
Undue Influence “involves one person taking advantage of a position of power over another person.” explains Wikipedia. No member of a religious group would freely admit that they are subject to undue influence, or mind control, as it is also called. But this definition clarifies the implications of this kind of influence and shows the subtlety at work:
Cult mind control does not directly overcome a person’s free will, but rather it influences their belief system and worldview, which in turn influences how a person exercises their free will, and the choices they make. In simple terms, a cult promotes its cultish belief system, and then believers control their own minds, as they attempt to discipline their minds and reform their personalities, in accordance with the tenets of their cultish new belief system.
‘Mind control’ does not mean absolute control of a person’s mind. It is a shorthand term for a complex process of mental and psychological manipulation, which occurs within a cult. It is a way of changing a person’s thinking processes, through using a number of techniques, which include deception, the manipulation of trust, the use of psychological double binds, and other related techniques. [Emphasis by me]
Victims of undue influence often don’t want to concede they have been or are subject to manipulation because of the common misconception that it can only happen to ‘dumb people’. Which isn’t true, of course. Undue influence is not a question of intelligence but of emotional disposition. Anybody can fall prey to it. Jehovah’s Witnesses have doctors, lawyers, academics and engineers among them who all firmly believe what the Watchtower society says, down to the example in the latest Watchtower issue.
It is quite possible that you may not agree with my claim that the introductory question in The Watchtower is an example of undue influence, but please bear with me while I explain.
The above quote from the October Study Edition of The Watchtower, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ flagship magazine, is a great example of perfectly executed undue influence. Let me break it down.
How Undue Influence is at work in this question
It all starts with the Unique Selling Proposition of Jehovah’s Witnesses: A God called Jehovah has planned to destroy all wickedness in a worldwide mass-genocide called Armageddon, and the best way to survive is to become a baptized Jehovah’s Witness. This involves acknowledging the leadership of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, following the guidelines closely and without question, as well as full commitment. It has been implied repeatedly in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as in public talks that half-measures won’t save anyone at Armageddon. Every publication, every convention asks Jehovah’s Witnesses whether they are really doing everything they can for the organization. Hence, every Jehovah’s Witness is very much aware of the fact that they must not let up the slightest bit if they want to survive.
Enter the above question:
“HAVE you ever thought, ‘Am I the kind of person Jehovah will want to save during the great tribulation and bring into the new world?’”
Steven Hassan is an expert on Cults and Undue Influence (or Mind Control), who established the BITE model which stands for Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional Control. What we have here is textbook Emotional Control, as his model shows:
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
d. Losing one’s salvation
You see, of course every Jehovah’s Witnesses has thought about this. Naturally every Jehovah’s Witness at some point has asked themselves whether they will be saved.
This thought has passed their mind because the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been promoting feelings of unworthiness and instilling the fear of not being saved for decades.
The scenario this question is based on is undue influence par excellence and bears every hallmark of an abusive relationship. Instilling fear, guilt tripping and questioning achievements is what people do who take advantage of a position of power over another person.
The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been nurturing this position for years. It is every Jehovah’s Witness’ fear they may die at Armageddon, that they may not be worthy of God’s salvation. And by calling to mind this fear again and again, the Governing Body is implying that, yes, the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses may indeed not “the kind of person Jehovah will want to save” because we can never be sure it is enough. This is, in short, barbaric.
In fact, the whole article builds on this premise, insinuating that doubt and problems experienced by Jehovah’s Witnesses are down to a lack of faith on the part of the rank and file. The authors elaborate on this, claiming that faith is demonstrated through “works”, meaning: more proselytizing, more praying, more adherence to guidelines, more loyalty, less doubts. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it has never been enough to believe – it has always been a rat race.
And please don’t get me started on the Doomsday imagery of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a bunker-like cellar introducing the quoted article.