This is in response to the Ezine article The Argument that Jehovah's Witnesses are not Cult Members:
This article is dangerously misinformed about (a) what constitutes a cult and (b) that the JWs do in fact fit this category. There is ample evidence of mind control, manipulation and cult tactics in this group, but you will not see it by casually chatting with a witness. For one thing, they are not aware of the ways in which they have been manipulated and the ways they manipulate others. Nor is any group that desires your membership going to show you upfront their seedy underbelly.
I invite anyone who is interested in determining whether a group is cult to examine the website of cult expert Steve Hassan.
The Watchtower group (WTBS) does fit the criteria for a mind control group. I and my family were members of this organization for 20 years and I will address some misinformation presented in Mr. Simon's article.
"When becoming a Jehovah's Witness, there are no secret stages - the path to membership is clearly stated from the beginning."
This statement is false. There is much about the doctrines and practices of the JWs that a prospective member is not made aware of (and sometimes deliberately misled about) until they have been hooked. Many long-time JWs are unaware of some of the beliefs their organization holds and will deny them until shown from their own literature.
"Jehovah's Witnesses remain to have freedom in the area of employment, where they want to live, and no restrictions when it comes to family who are not Jehovah's Witnesses."
This statement is misleading. JWs do indeed have restrictions when it comes to family members who used to be JWs but no longer are. They are forced to shun such family or risk being excommunicated from the congregation themselves. They are encouraged to limit time spent with "worldly" (loaded-language term for non-JWs) relatives and strongly discouraged from attending any family event (weddings, funerals) that take place in a church. This could, again, lead to being "disfellowshiped" (loaded-language term for excommunicated).
"The religion promotes balance."
Another false statement. JWs are encouraged to pursue religious obligation at the expense of other important life activities. Higher education is constantly demonized. Young people are urged to get only part-time work and spend most of their time voluntarily going door-to-door with the magazines. They are expected to attend five meetings weekly, report time monthly in the door-to-door magazine work and read every piece of literature the WTBS prints. Most forms of entertainment are considered either Satanic at worst or time-wasters at best. Members are constantly being hounded to do more.
"When it comes to a spouse who may not be part of the religion, there is no pressure to leave them."
This statement is misleading. JWs are taught that all nonbelievers, including an unbelieving spouse, will soon be killed by God at Armageddon. Many such spouses have difficulty maintaining positive feelings toward a mate they've been led to believe is "wicked" and worthy of God's annihilation. Try consulting one of these unbelieving mates to see what effect this religion has had on their marriage.
"There are no restrictions when it comes to medical, dental and / or psychological services."
The author seems to think that blood-transfusions are a minor exception to this statement. In former years, a member would be disfellowshipped for consenting to one. Since that left them open to legal difficulties, they changed it so that a member who consents to a blood transfusion has chosen through his actions to "disassociate" himself. This amounts to the same thing: complete shunning and revoking of all privileges.
The WTBS has loosened its stance on allowing members to receive pills for mental health issues but strongly discourages counseling services. Members must never bring reproach on the organization and so are not free to discuss problems with outsiders. The congregation leaders are not equipped to provide any sort of counseling and often use any such conversations as an opportunity to punish members for infractions large or small. Real therapies would be very beneficial for members because they are constantly harped on for being "sinful" and not doing enough for the organization.
"There is no controlling behavior when it comes to Jehovah's Witnesses and you are taught to train yourself to decide what is right and what is wrong."
This statement is laughably ignorant. Everything JWs do is controlled by the organization, whether from the top tier in Brooklyn, to their congregation elders (leaders). Not every congregation has the same set of rules but every local group has their particular rules on dress, entertainment, employment, education and so on. If you disobey your elders you are subject to any number of penalties from revocation of privileges, to informal shunning, to full disfellowshipping.
"Every Jehovah's Witness has a voice, and can suggest ideas to the main leaders."
This statement is not true. The leaders have no interest in suggestions from the rank and file members. In fact, making suggestions is considered lack of submission or "running ahead of Jehovah" and can lead to one being harassed and disfellowshipped. Women are particularly expected to keep their mouths shut and be obedient.
"There is no great leader, no modern day prophets, and no one person calling the shots."
There is not one leader; there is a group of about a dozen men that call all of the shots. These men vote on actions and doctrines and decisions are reached through a two-thirds majority. The leaders do not claim to be prophets; they do claim to be prophet-like (I wonder if that's anything like being pregnant-like). They speak out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. They claim not to be inspired but also claim that God reveals information directly to them.
"Everything relies on God and that he calls the shots."
Clarification: Everything relies on the members belief that God calls the shots. The men in Brooklyn are the sole deciders of doctrines and practices. They are often influenced by worldly trends (like in abolishing segregation) or legal issues (like in reporting pedophilia, but only in mandatory reporting states).
"There is no one telling Jehovah's Witnesses that they have to believe and accept everything that is being taught to them."
A complete and utter lie. Jehovah's Witnesses MUST accept all doctrines currently held by the religion (these are subject to change and the JWs must adapt) or be disfellowshipped for apostasy (this is considered the most heinous possible sin).
"In no way are Jehovah's Witnesses taught that they are higher than the laws that govern them, and are taught to obey the laws on a national, state, and local level."
This is not entirely true. JWs will disobey governments if the WTBS demands they do. For example, in some parts of the world, the JWs have not only refused military service but have refused to perform alternate non-military related service in its stead at the dictates of the WTBS. This has resulted in the imprisonment, torture and deaths of many members.
"Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged to think for themselves, and rational behavior / thinking are almost expected from members . . . Education and Knowledge that goes beyond the realm of Jehovah's Witness literature is never looked down upon."
I will disprove this with a quote from the Watchtower magazine: "Avoid independent thinking...questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization." (Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1983 pg. 22) JWs are strongly discouraged to think for themselves. They are discouraged from reading supplemental material unless it was published by the WTBS. And they could be disfellowshipped for apostasy if they speak to an ex-member or express a question or doubt about a Watchtower teaching.
"There is absolutely no thought reform methods or brainwashing of members."
Again, the author demonstrates lack of awareness of thought reform methods and what the witness teach. Please take a look at Mr. Hassan's website.
"There are no restrictions when it comes to Jehovahs Witness dating and the Jehovah's Witnesses are always adapting to society instead of condemning it."
Wrong. JW's are strongly encouraged to date only other members. To marry an outsider can result in loss of privileges or informal shunning. To have any sort of sexual relations prior to marriage results in disfellowshipping.
No one condemns society more than the JWs. All persons who are not among their members (and some who are) are evil and will be killed very soon by God in his war against Satan and wicked humanity. This includes children, the mentally disabled and any who didn't become Jehovah's Witnesses because they didn't realize that not accepting a magazine with a cute puppy on the cover constituted a rejection of God and His authority.
In conclusion, I would like to leave you with another Watchtower quote: "To hold to the headship of Christ, it is therefore necessary to obey the organization that he is personally directing. Doing what the organizations says is to do what he says!"- Watchtower 1959 5/1.
If you are interested in reading more about the JW's doctrines, I recommend jwfacts.com.
Tim Kilgore also has an excellent video series called Tough Questions for Jehovah's Witnesses.
If you would like the perspective of someone in the mental health field who has never been a JW, I recommend this site.