One of the most firmly established new religious movements which bases its mission on apocalyptic predictions is jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that we are living in a ”harvest period”, the end days of the present world, and should dramatically change our lives accordingly.
The movement can be traced to the 1830s, when a Baptist leader named William Miller announced that the Bible is full of secret numerical clues. According to his interpretation of scriptural passages, he wrote of his prediction that christ would return to earth some time between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. An estimated 100,000 people accepted his message and formed an informal network to anticipate the second coming, often leaving their mainstream christain churches in the process. When March 21, 1844 came and went without anything notable happening, Miller hopefully submitted that Jesus appear by October 22 of the same year. This predicted great event also failed to happen. From the ensuing confusion, two major new movements sprouted: seventh-day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both continued to anticipate the end time and the Witnesses continue to anticipate the end time.
Charles Taze Russel was the founder of the Jehovah Witnesses movement. He was a businessman who had become disillusioned with his mainstream Presbyterean protestant christain Church. When he encountered Miller’s ideas, he became convinced that the population of the world would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, except for Adventists. When that did not happen, Russel concluded that Christ had actually arrived but was invisibly present. Only the faithful who came to be known as jehovah’s Witnesses would recognize his presence. His people should thus be prepared for the end of the current world, which would happen in 1878, when believers would be lifted to meet up with christ . Russel began publishing his views in the journal entitled The Watchtower and the herald of Christ’s presence. He worked so hard and had such charisma that he eventually built up a movement of over three million believers with headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. When nothing happened in 1878, Russell changed the deadline for the harvest of believers to 1881, and hence to 1914, then 1925 and then 1975. Each time, followers of this belief lived in anticipation prediction, approximately one million disillusioned jehovah’s Witnesses left the fold. Nonetheless, the movement is still strong.
How do people keep the faith in the face of several failed predictions? Sociologists have observed that after the world does not end as it was expected to, believers are first dissapointed then confused. Then, partly because they year for salvation, they may find some way to rationalize the temporary failure and return to a state of waiting for the prophecy to come true in some fashion, perhaps soon. At the dawn of the twenty-first centruy. Jehovah’s Witnesses are again anticipating apocalypse.
The firm doctrines of the movement may also offer a sense of certainty amid contemporary social complexities. Jehovah’s Witnesses have an extensive set of beliefs, some of which are clearly divergent from mainstream christainity, the original source of their faith. They maintain that righteous people chosen by God will eventually inherit the earth forever, living in a state of physical immortality in an earthly paradise which humans and animals will peacefully share. Another 144,000 of the faithful will live in heaven, ruling the earth alongside God and Jesus. Membership in the Wathctower Society is the only means of salvation: all others will perish in the battle of the final days between god’s army led by Jesus and Satan’s army, People should have nothing to do with churches other than the jehovah’s Witnesses, for other churches are agents of satan. They should also dissasociate themselves as far as possible from the secular world since the final apocalypse is about to come.
For instance, they should not become involved in politics, military service, displays of patroitism, use or manufacture of weapons, sports, civic organizations, pornography, belief in evolution rather than divine creation, christmas or easter celebrations(because these are seen as adaptations of pagan festivals), or birthday celebrations because they are not mentioned in the bible). Higher education is not encouraged, for it fosters secular values. Rather, families are encouraged to study the bible and watchtower together, so that they may become strictly moral and convincing missionaries for the faith. With their strong patriarchial families, dedicated lay participation in the work of the movement, and conviction that theirs is the only way to salvation in the coming apocalypse, Jehovah’s Witnesses remain one of the most popular new religious movements in the world.
Their intensely committed missionaries go from door-to-door, attempting to engage people in conversations about the evil state of the world, the coming millennium, and their vision of salvation. The Watchtower is published in 110 languages and over 15 million sopies of each issues are distributed arround the world by these missionaries.