The condensed history set, to the music of the William Tell Overture...
Some guy in the mid to late 19th century named C T Russell felt spiritually disenchanted. Didn't believe in hell and other traditional Christian beliefs that he grew up around. So he read a lot, and got exposed to a lot of ideas. Of all the idea's he read, the Adventism of his day made the biggest impression.
Luckily for him, he didn't have to join a church. He was rich and started another business, a publishing one, and called it a church. (of sorts) He started a magazine in 1879 that is known today as "The Watchtower". He had this crazy idea that the bible gave clues as to the advent of Jesus Christ. And he got a bunch of fellow disenchanted people along as buddies, and they started a club.
The years they picked that Jesus was supposed to come back went by. 1799. 1874. 1878. 1881. Well, that was too close together, so, 1914. They based this on the bible of course, which directly mentions those years. (not)
In between 1881 and 1914, JW's (who were then just referred to as bible students, thus later insulting real bible students everywhere) grew. C T Russell gathered to him during this time trusted men to whom lead this group after he died.
Oh yeah, 1914. Well, nothing happened, except that WWI broke out. The Great War as it was then known. This wasn't exactly what was advertised. This was just the latest in a series of embarrassing attempts at prophecies that this group got wrong.
Still waiting for the first one they got right here in 2011, but I digress....
Russell died in 1916. Jesus didn't come at all. And in his death, he left a business, a corporation called the WTBTS of PA, that held property and a rather large cash flow. Fortunately, Russell left this in the control of a bunch of Christians who in no way would seek to exploit this for power, money, and personal gratification.
Except for a rather cagey lawyer named J F Rutherford.
Now don't get me wrong. Russell WAS sincere, and he was also bat shit crazy. Just read what he believed and wrote and compare that with what is taught by JW's today. Almost nothing is the same.
Rutherford didn't care about anything except himself. Viewing himself as Christs man, he totally went against Russells will thanks to his knowledge of the law (damn lawyers) and got control in 1918. Over time, he was able to consolidate power from the editorial board Russell wanted into the position of the President of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
In short order, he realized that to grow the business, he had to marginalize Russell and explain 1914. Taking advantage of the coincidence of WWI starting in 1914, he merely changed and tweaked the claims of 1914 and said that they GOT IT RIGHT! It's just that Jesus came INVISIBLY! Trust us. You need eyes of faith, but trust us. (you already invested this much in us, so we are betting you still want to be right)
Rutherford as history now shows was a total dick. A lying, philandering, alcoholic lawyer who was also a hypocrite. But what he was good at was running a business. He also made two very important hires, who would become close buddies.
One was named Fred Franz, a native of Covington Kentucky. He went to college, by all accounts was pretty smart, and pretty weird. He got to Bethel in the 1920's where his talent as a Rhodes scholar dropout went into full effect. He would one day be able to take his knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew, (which was acquired through Rosetta Stone) and translate the most important book in the world, "God's Word", the Bible into a translation that lied and thus supported the lying doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses, many of which he would personally invent straight out of thin air.
Because Rutherford could barely speak English due to his many hangovers, he trusted Freddie Franz. A lot.
The other new hire who came to Bethel was a man named Nathan Knorr. He came from a Puritan background, which taught him among many things that sex was gross! However, he was there to work, and had a lot of natural talents in organizing and business. Knorr and Franz spent a lot of time together, particularly in the 1930's, watching Rutherford act like a drunken bafoon.
Rutherford wrote against prohibition and smuggled liquor into Bethel throughout that time. He bought a mansion in San Diego and WROTE IN THE WATCHTOWER that this was for the time when David, Abraham, Noah, and other men of old would stay when they were resurrected. (never realizing that if they DID come back in the 20th century, a nice little apartment would blow them away). No, it couldn't have been that he just wanted to live in a mansion in Southern California, could it?
He also insisted on having his followers drive through quiet neighborhoods with sound cars full of his speeches, where he got to bellow that "RELIGION IS A SNARE AND A RACKET!" thus showing that irony was really lost on all JW's back then.
Oh, and he renamed the group Jehovah's Witnesses. His lasting legacy.
In time, he died, and Knorr was elected the next President. His focus was on growing a grass roots religion. He organized it (very well I might add) and depended on Freddie Franz to write most of the doctrinal articles. He had veto power of course, but little about the exegesis of JW's comes from Knorr, except the mysoginistic hatred of sex that is.
Thus, from the mid 40's through the mid 70's, a tag team was created. Knorr ran and grew the business, and Franz created the doctrine, with Knorr having veto power on what Freddie wrote.
Freddie Franz got to write a ton of stuff, like his very own bible (called the New World Translation) which is full of shit, esp the 237 occurrences of "Jehovah" in the New Testament. But hey, when you are the company oracle, you can pretty much do and write what you want.
Franz became a "typologist", which is a form of bible interpretation that views bible characters as types, or prophetic models of what was going on during "modern times". He tried to sell the idea that the bible was a book that was written for just 144,000 who would rule from heaven. The rest of the rank and file were along for the ride (and a shot at living forever in paradise on earth) would get really cool benefits, such as surviving the destruction of billions, if they would just do everything that Knorr and he said.... also, they had to offer the WT and other JW literature with the fervor of a life insurance salesman. He claimed that Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, King Saul, David, Elijah, Elisha, and others are in the Bible first and foremost to prophetically point to the existence of JW's in the 20th century. Throughout the 1960's a series of mind numbingly boring WT studies in the Kingdom Halls were dedicated to indoctrinating this un-understandable bullshit into the nodding audiences that filled those buildings.
After a while, most shrugged, gave up, believed it, but gave up trying to understand it, because it was "too deep" for them. Which is what the leadership was sort of hoping for anyway.
Franz's biggest claim/faux pas that he started was in the book "Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God" (1966) It was here that he started the idea that 1975 would, well.... could be the time when Armageddon would come. So many JW's believed it that when nothing happened in 1975, they did what came naturally and blamed the people who believed them, then told them to continue believing them. While most were discouraged, most stayed around.
The other "shoot myself in the leg" moment of Franz came when he (correctly for once) read in the bible that there were groups of men, elders, who ran each local congregation. This started a movement that culminated in the creation of the Governing Body in 1972. Franz didn't want that. He wanted only local bodies of elders in local congregations, not one primary ruling body over the whole enchillada.
The GB started to realize that they liked power too, and by 1976 divied up the power that once lay totally in the President's hand into seperate committees of the GB. (notably, the Service and Writing depts, which have fought all the time throughout their existence internally). A lot of issues came as a result. Disenchanted by the naked politics and agenda's being displayed, Freddies nephew and fellow GB member Ray Franz, started to study the bible independently with others. When the GB heard about this, they got rid of him and all others who would dare go against the Governing Body, which of course, was 8 years old in 1980.
Franz wrote a book that was destined to explode 15 years later via the internet, Crisis of Conscience, which details what went on behind the scenes. When it was first written in 1983, apostates were never a real problem for JW's because the GB got to control the message, and there was no way to have easy access to information that showed them to be liars.
Thus, JW's enjoyed one more golden period in their existence, the 1980's. They grew, they bought, they built, they made $$$. All because they believed taught that the generation that saw 1914 would live to see the Great Tribulation/Armageddon.
When they had to revise that in 1995 and say that the generation that saw 1914 would very likely die without seeing the Great Trib, the GB severely underestimated the role that the internet would play in halting the momentum of the 1980's. For the first time, former JW's who had seen this same shit before were able to point it out, put out articles, blogs, and form internet communities to discuss the fact that the leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses were cynical lyers. Suddenly, Crisis of Conscience needed 2nd and 3rd printings. Books like "Apocalypse Delayed" "Gentile Times Reconsidered" and other books that detailed the real history of JW's and their incorrect attempts at prophecy were in hot demand. All via the click of a mouse buttom on your computer.
Suddenly, anyone who used to be a JW could talk about their experiences. No longer censored, they could report that the culture of JW's promoted spiritual abuse, frequent mental and emotional abuse, and most horribly of all, child sexual abuse. Pedophillia. Since the 1990's, JW's typically claim new baptisms that number into the hundreds of thousands each year, while in some years, posting net gains in membership
The shine came off. It is now 2011. JW's are trying to hold on to a past that they claim shows they are the one true religion. In reality, that history shows a group of clumsy power mongers, having major delusions of grandeur, who have always run nothing more then a religious business.
Their history decidedly proves one thing if anything: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ARE NOT THE ONE TRUE RELIGION. NEVER HAVE BEEN. NEVER WILL BE. THEY SIMPLY GOT IT ALL WRONG.
They have run out of dates, run out of prophecies, and are running out of time. Attempts by some groups or people to "take them down" haven't and won't work. Like other groups, they will either change (the one talent they really have) or just go away as the bullshit they carry around becomes to heavy to move.
Here's what we know about Jehovah's Witnesses; they have depended on one thing more then anything else, more then Jehovah, Jesus, 1914, or the Governing Body. They believe in their ability to change whenever they have to, counting on their flock's blind loyalty to follow.
Do they care if that makes them liars? You be the judge. As a group, they have morphed into their 132nd year of existence. That they have been around that long of course doesn't prove anything, except that sadly, there will always be a ready supply of fools and naive people who will listen, be swayed, and allow a group to tell them what and how to think.