Helping Someone Leave
It is frustrating to have family and friends belong to a high control religion and I am regularly asked how to help a Jehovah’s Witness realise that what they believe is not the truth. It is very difficult to change a person’s belief. No matter how obviously wrong it may seem to you now, cognitive dissonance prevents a person giving up what they are comfortable with. It will not be easy, or necessarily even possible. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do have an unusually high turnover rate, so there is hope.
People leave for a variety of reasons, and what is important to one person is not necessarily of consequence to someone else. Some leave over doctrinal issues, some for emotional reasons, and some for perceived deception on the part of the leadership.
It is critical to know what is important to the person you are trying to reach, in order to understand how to help them. To determine what is going to be effective, start by asking, "Why do you believe it to be the truth?" This can vary greatly, but the key reasons are usually one or more of the following:
Once you know what the important areas are for the person you are talking to, you will be able to research and then respond to those areas. At the same time, attempt to determine what doubts or disappointments they have with the Organisation, as these are topics to build upon.
Directed by Holy Spirit
In order to help a person realise the Watchtower is not directed by Holy Spirit, ask if they know the history of the religion. Most do not know all the failed dates. You can discuss how Pastor Russell started the religion in the 1800's, and how different it was back then, teaching about pyramids and the world ending in 1914. That may come as quite a surprise. Direct them to look for themselves in the Watchtower's own Studies in the Scriptures, which can be downloaded for free at jehovah.net.au.
The purpose of these discussions is to help the Witness accept that these changes are proof that the Holy Spirit does not direct the Faithful and Discreet Slave. Some of the areas that have undergone significant change over the years are:
You will encounter the excuse that “light gets brighter”. What you are showing is that it isn’t brighter but changed and even reversed. Furthermore, increased knowledge does not equate with falsehoods; Holy Spirit would not direct the Governing Body to preach untruths.
A Witness needs assistance to understand that the Watchtower Society is by no means unique. Over the centuries, countless “end of the world” sects have come and gone. Many religions exist today that are similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses in many ways.
The Watchtower is classified as a high control religion and the following premises are common amongst thousands of high control religious groups:
Generally, arguing doctrine is not a good tactic, particularly at first. All that happens is that you will end up in a doctrinal tennis match, lobbing different Scriptures at each other. The Bible is not a book that clearly outlines doctrine. Each Christian religion has different doctrinal interpretations, because each chooses which Scriptures to take literally and which to dismiss as figurative. Even if you do back a Witness into a corner, they will blame their lack of knowledge rather than admitting the Organisation is wrong.
To get through to a Witness you need to use the Socratic method of asking questions. If you directly attack the organisation or its teachings a Jehovah’s Witness will get very defensive. You will see their eyes glaze over and then they will start reciting Watchtower justifications by rote. At that point you are not helping them but just letting them reinforce their indoctrination.
Likewise, knowing when to introduce scandalous topics, such as the Watchtower's involvement with the United Nations or Pedophile crisis, is difficult. Whilst awareness of these topics has resulted in tens of thousands leaving, if they are introduced too early you will be accused of being a gullible, bitter apostate. These topics require the person to be ready to read and accept information written outside the pages of the Watchtower, which only comes after they have learnt to question the "Faithful and Discreet Slave".
JW: They never said the end would be in 1914, just the end of the Gentile Times.
You: How would you feel if they wrongfully predicted the end for 1914? Don’t you think that is a good indication Jehovah does not direct the Slave?
JW: Well … (they may say yes or no)
If they agree it is good indication of not being directed, then ask them how they would feel if you were able to find some quotes? On the other hand, they may claim they don’t care, as the light gets brighter. That is a good topic for another time, but stick to this topic and continue that not only did they make these wrong predictions but also what really offended you is that they have often lied about what they said. Witnesses are often more affected finding out the dishonesty of the Watchtower than about the errors. (For the quotes to use see Failed- 1914 Predictions.)
The Risk You Take
Be aware that you are not trying to win a religious doctrinal debate, you are attempting to assist a person that is constantly being subjected to standard mind control techniques. Appealing to logic is not going to be effective to a person that fears any criticism of the Organisation is an affront from Satan, and that to leave the religion would be to enter the evils of the world and certain death at Armageddon.
A Jehovah's Witness is inoculated against criticism of their religion. They are constantly warned against apostates, (members that leave the religion and attempt to subvert them), and are always on guard. As soon as you make known your doubts, or mention anything negative about the Watchtower, their defences will immediately spring to action.
Before choosing to confront loved ones that are part of the religion, it is vitally important to be aware that you run the risk being labeled as an apostate and destroying any relationship that you have left with them. Be very subtle in your initial approach in order to test the waters. If the discussions become very heated and unreasonable you are unlikely to be successful and it may be more important in the long term to try and retain some form of relationship instead of proving the religion to be wrong.
I have read a number of experiences where a spouse has been able to speak to their partner and both end up leaving. Sadly, experiences like the following are equally common.
“I was considering how long I can live the lie, but unfortunately I am not very good at acting, nor at lying. This weekend my wife confronted me about my changed attitude about ‘the truth’ and then it happened. I became a talking jwfacts. I did this in a calm manner and tried reasoning and use of questions, as taught in the school. It is here that I appreciated Steve Hassan’s work the most, as her responses such as, “to where will we go”, “but this is God’s organization”, and the usual dribble about apostates all made sense to me.
Even if you are able to help a Witness accept that the Watchtower is not the true religion, you will still encounter the roadblock of Where Else Would I Go?. It is important to understand the fear that a person has at losing, not only their belief, but also their entire group of friends and family. Whether or not the person ends up needing some religion to tell them what to believe, they will need friends and activities to replace the void left by a religion that is good at providing a close knit social circle and is very demanding on time. For the highest likelihood of success, you will need to be prepared to offer alternatives. These alternatives need not be other religions, but rather sources of interest and friendships. Forums for former Jehovah's Witnesses, such as jehovahs-witness.net and jehovahswitnessrecovery.com, are useful at this point to assist the person through the stage of learning their real identity and interests.
As leaving is extremely traumatic, it is also important to be there to support to person at this time. Ex-Witnesses can feel like aliens for quite a lengthy period, looking in but unable to fit in with normal society. Meeting with some former Witnesses can make a great difference in understanding that what they are experiencing is normal. Professional help may also need to be recommended. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, covered by Medicare in countries like Australia, can make a great difference in as few as 8 weeks.
I do not think that it is always recommended to confront a Witness with the truth about the Organisation. Age and circumstances need to be considered. Despite its short-comings, some people benefit from the support group it offers, and leaving the religion and losing family can result in terrible consequences. Recognise that there is no rush. Plant the seeds and be there to offer support, so that when the time is right, you will be the one they turn to.
For further advice it is worth reading Releasing the Bonds (Freedom of Mind Press 2000) by Steven Hassan. This discusses high control religion in general and approaches to help a person that belongs to one.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2014
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15 Minute Guide to Truth