Jehovah's Witnesses & Higher Education - University
Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised against pursuing a higher education, with Watchtower providing regular warnings that attending university is an improper use of time in these last days. The outcome of these warnings is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have amongst the lowest average education and income levels of any religion in the United States, as shown in independent studies, such as the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008 by the Pew Forum.
Higher education,1 such as obtained at a college or university, provides benefits at both a private and social level, hence religious groups that attempt to take this choice from their followers deserve public scrutiny.
How Do Jehovah's Witnesses View Education? (as of 1st May 2021) states that "Spiritual education has greater value than secular education." Whilst Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged to value education and attend "primary and secondary schooling", higher education is recommended against because, "Higher education can lead to moral and spiritual dangers by way of the following concepts."
Misconception: Money brings happiness and security ...
Misconception: A person should seek the prestige or status that can result from higher education ...
Misconception: Each person should set his own standards of right and wrong...
Misconception: Higher education is the best way to improve the world"
Watchtower View of University
Higher education is liked to a temptation akin to smoking, using drugs, and watching violent and immoral movies.
The Kingdom Ministry warns:
“Your children will no doubt experience new challenges and pressures. … Are they prepared for the pressure they will receive to pursue higher education, date, and use alcohol or drugs?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Jul p.2
Pursuing an advanced education is explained as dangerous because it:
- Wastes precious time in these last days
- Promotes prestige and materialism
- Shows a lack of faith
- Involves bad association
- Promotes higher learning
There is no compelling validity to any of these reasons, as the following examination will show.
Time left is reduced
The primary reasoning against a higher education has been that the time left is reduced, so the final days of this system should be spent in full service for Jehovah and his organization.
“Many schools now have student counselors who encourage one to pursue higher education after high school, to pursue a career with a future in this system of things. Do not be influenced by them. Do not let them “brainwash” you with the Devil's propaganda to get ahead, to make something of yourself in this world. This world has very little time left! Any “future” this world offers is no future! Wisely, then, let God's Word influence you in selecting a course that will result in your protection and blessing. Make pioneer service, the full-time ministry, with the possibility of Bethel or missionary service your goal.” Watchtower 1969 Mar 15 p.171
“No doubt, school counselors sincerely believe that it is in your best interests to pursue higher education and to plan for a secular career. Yet, their confidence lies in a social and financial system that has no lasting future.” Watchtower 2012 Jun 15 p.23
This is not a reason to avoid a higher education and a satisfying career, after considering Watchtower originally expected the “new system” to arrive in 1914, and has been saying the end will be soon for over a century. Those that heeded the above 1969 quote are now at retirement age, many working their entire lives in low-paying jobs, often without retirement benefits.
Watchtower reasoning that higher education wastes valuable time is of dubious merit, when it recommends an apprenticeship for a trade instead.
“That is why parents who base their lives on God's prophetic Word find it much more practical to direct their young ones into trades that do not require such long periods of additional schooling.” Awake! 1969 May 22 p.15
“A university degree does not guarantee success in the job market. As an alternative, many have acquired marketable job skills by means of apprenticeship programs, some vocational or technical school education, or short-term college courses that require a minimum of time and involvement.” Kingdom Ministry 1999 Apr p.8
See also Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.27
The additional time taken for a university education is of minor significance, since some degrees take only 1 or 2 years more than a trade.
Watchtower has never held back from making long-term commitments and plans for education and expansion. Whilst I was in the Australian Bethel branch in the early 1990’s, Watchtower paid for former Circuit Overseer Vincent Toole to obtain a university law degree, so he could act as their legal counsel. Watchtower’s billions of dollars worth of property globally are part of an ongoing building program. In 2013, a $10 million Assembly hall was completed at Orangeburg.2 On 29th July 2013, Watchtower commenced construction of a new global headquarters at Warwick, New York.3 This campus of buildings spans 45 acres, and includes 588 rooms with capacity for 1000 residents.4 It is hypocritical for the leaders to make long-term plans, but insist the followers keep a short-term focus.
No Time for Jehovah
University is described as so intensive that students have little to no time for their relationship with Jehovah.
"She admits: “Studying for my courses took so much time and effort that I was too busy to linger in prayer to Jehovah the way I used to, too exhausted to enjoy Bible discussions with others, and too tired to prepare well for the meetings. Thankfully, once I realized that being immersed in higher education was damaging my relationship with Jehovah, I knew I had to stop. And I did." Watchtower 2019 Jun p.7
This is simply untrue. University does not take up more time than school or a career. For students that do struggle with the study load, there is the option of taking a degree part-time. When I attended university, I did a 3/4 load, worked 20 hours and was a Regular Pioneer. It did not damage my relationship with Jehovah, in fact the opposite. as I had little time left for frivolous entertainment, with my free time spent in the ministry and at meetings. After university I went straight to Bethel.
Materialistic Seekers of Glory
Watchtower labels those that pursue a higher education as materialistic, and seeking glory.
“What effect did higher education have on this sister’s thinking? She answers: “I am ashamed to admit that the education I pursued taught me to be critical of others, especially my brothers and sisters, to expect too much of them, and to isolate myself from them. It took me a long time to unlearn these lessons. That time in my life showed me just how dangerous it is to ignore the warnings given by our heavenly Father through his organization. Jehovah knew me better than I knew myself. If only I had listened!”” Watchtower 2019 Jun p.7
“Rather than being content with “sustenance and covering,” those who devote themselves to getting a “higher education” usually want to be able to enjoy “the rest of the things” that money can buy.” Watchtower 1967 Feb 1 p.76
“Higher education: Jesus warned against ‘seeking your own glory.’” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.32
Watchtower mixes cause and effect. Education does not cause materialism or pride; even if the resulting higher wages help satisfy such a person. Materialism is the attitude a person displays to worldly possessions, and is independent of education or wealth. People with lower education and lower wages can be equally materialistic. The paradox is that materialistic people with a lower education are generally required to work more hours to fulfil their desires, for even a basic standard of living, hence taking away time from their service to God.
Whilst recommending followers contend themselves with “sustenance and covering,” Watchtower maintains a high standard of living for its leaders, with the new global headquarters at Warwick, New York, being state of the art. Motor Vehicles provided to Circuit Overseers are brand new on 3-year leases, with circuitvehicles.com (28th Sep 2013) showing the current models provided being either Buick LaCrosse, advertised as a “mid sized luxury car,” or the Chevrolet Impala.
Concern for providing materially is considered evidence of a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.
“Rather than looking to the advanced educational systems of this world for security, a Christian trusts in Jehovah.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4
“HIGHER EDUCATION … Do you need to strengthen your confidence in Jehovah’s ability to provide for you?” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.31
This is simplistic reasoning. As per the common motto, “God helps those who help themselves,” those that study hard, or work hard, will do well in life. Those that don’t will struggle; regardless of how much confidence they have in Jehovah’s ability to provide.
University is described as a place of debauchery, with this used as a reason to avoid higher education.
“University and college campuses are notorious for bad behavior—drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, cheating, hazing, and the list goes on.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.28
This reasoning contradicts prior Watchtower comments that there are the “same dangers in high schools and technical colleges and even in the workplace.” (w1992 Nov 1 p.20) Watchtower confuses correlation with causation. Immoral behaviour is not limited to university students, and whilst such behaviour may occur, it is not university but rather youthful experimentation that is the cause.
On the other hand, there are university students that adhere to high morals, such as those belonging to strict Christian groups. Exchange students regularly are from cultures with strong traditional values and work ethics. They are highly motivated to excel academically, rather than become distracted by entertainment.
Association outside of class and assignments is not a requirement. Whilst I was at university, I did not go to a single “worldly party,” nor go drinking with university friends. I spent time on campus only to attend classes and complete assignments.
The article continues that university is the cause of some leaving the faith.
“How sad that some have fallen away from the faith as a result of succumbing to the demands on their time and energy or of getting entangled in unscriptural conduct at college!” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.29
Whilst “some [university graduates] have fallen away from the faith,” this result is little different than for Witness children in general. The 2008 PEW report identifies that two-thirds of people raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses leave the religion,5 the highest churn of any American religious group. This high turnover rate is supported by the Watchtower’s own publisher reports.6
The Highest Education is from God
The Watchtower advises to replace a higher education with a more valuable “divine education.”
"By contrast, Jehovah’s organization provides the highest form of education in the peaceful setting of the Christian congregation." Watchtower 2013 Oct Study Ed.
“All of Jehovah’s Witnesses, regardless of their educational status, have something in common. They recognize that the most important education available today has its source in God’s Word, the Bible.” Awake! 1994 Aug 22 p.8
“Are we encouraging young ones, who are often steered by schoolteachers and others to pursue the world’s higher education, to set spiritual goals instead and pursue the highest education—divine education?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Oct p.3
This reasoning is comical and misplaced. It is a straw man fallacy, because regardless of how beneficial a divine education may be, it does not enable a person to enter many professional occupations.
Watchtower is concerned about the propaganda University teaches.
“Satan appeals to natural desires. We have a natural desire to learn skills that can help us provide for ourselves and our families. (1 Tim. 5:8) Often, we can gain those skills by attending school and being diligent students. But we must be cautious. The educational system in many countries teaches students not only practical skills but also human philosophy. Students are encouraged to question the existence of God and to disregard the Bible. They are told that the theory of evolution is the only intelligent explanation for the origin of life. (Rom. 1:21-23) Such teachings are opposed to “the wisdom of God.”—1 Cor. 1:19-21; 3:18-20.
Human philosophy ignores or contradicts Jehovah’s righteous standards. It does not nurture the fruitage of God’s spirit but, rather, “the works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-23) It generates pride and arrogance, and the result is that people become “lovers of themselves.” (2 Tim. 3:2-4) These qualities are the opposite of the meek, humble spirit that God’s servants are encouraged to have. (2 Sam. 22:28) Some Christians who have pursued university education have had their minds molded by human thinking rather than by God’s thinking.” Watchtower 2019 Jun pp.6-7
“What, though, of higher education, received in a college or a university? This is widely viewed as vital to success. Yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in Jehovah’s service. (Eccl. 12:1) Perhaps it is not surprising that in lands where many have received such an education, belief in God is at an all-time low.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4
It is a rhetorical fallacy to apply this black-and-white label on higher education as promoting evolution and human philosophy across the board. Degrees specific to philosophy, theology, and certain sciences contradict Watchtower belief, but many degrees do not cover these areas, nor undermine a Christian belief in God. For instance, an accounting degree is regimented, covering accounting and economic issues that do not conflict with Watchtower theology. This can also be said of many disciplines, including engineering, law and information technology.
The Real Issue with Education
Watchtower reasoning against higher education contains little validity, being both illogical and at times contradictory. Education is not the cause of materialism, and bad associations can be avoided at university, as with every endeavor in life. The additional time involved to complete a degree is minor in comparison to the length of a person’s career, and history proves Watchtower predictions for the imminence of the world’s end to be ill founded.
It would appear that there is a more imperative reason the Governing Body fears followers attending university. Higher education teaches not only job skills, but also how to research and evaluate information. University education can improve critical thinking skills, which will assist students identify flawed Watchtower reasoning. As shown at Misquotes, Deception, Lies, Watchtower publications rarely provide adequate reference for quotes, which regularly are inaccurately presented, something university teaches students to be sensitive to.
Therein lies the danger of education to the Governing Body. An organization that prides itself on unity cannot allow the doctrine of the leaders to be questioned. Learning to research and evaluate Watchtower doctrine is not just pointless; it is dangerous, as questioning Watchtower doctrine can result in apostasy, defined as “rejecting Jehovah’s organization.”7 Apostates are shown little leniency, but are quickly disfellowshipped and shunned as “mentally diseased” and like the Devil.8
Watchtower doctrine has been in a constant state of change, showing that it is not pure truth, yet a Witness is not to question doctrine, even when later changes show it was false. A person with a higher education is more likely to identify doctrinal arguments that are incorrect and poorly structured, and become a danger to the organization.
Steven Hassan, renowned for his research into cults, presents four key pillars to assist identify high control groups. His BITE model shows that totalitarian regimes can be identified through attempting to control:9
Hassan identifies control of information as critical in keeping control of followers. The concern Watchtower has over the information a university student will obtain is typical of high-control religious groups. This should be viewed negatively as a form of manipulation, as people have a right to make educated, information based decisions, not directed to believe something based on carefully screened material.
From inception, Watchtower leaders took issue with the education system, bemoaning teachings that contradict a literal interpretation of the Bible.
The foreword of the 1911 editions of the six Studies in the Scriptures decried colleges as undermining faith in the Bible.
In 1910, Russell responded as follows to a question about university:
“Q57:1:: QUESTION (1910)--1--Should the saints go right on and educate their children in this day for earthly positions, knowing they will not get into those positions in this age? Will such an education (college or university) be of value in the Millennium?
ANSWER -- I advise all Christians not to send their children to colleges or universities; for if they do, they will risk a great deal through infidelity and unbelief, and they will be doing their children a positive injury. ... I think of a dear Christian brother who inquired of me about five years ago in regard to sending his daughter to a female college. I advised to the contrary, stating that she would probably lose her faith in the Bible. ... My advice is, then, give your children an education up to the public school limit, not even attempting to take them through high school, for they get plenty of Higher Criticism in the high schools, and it will not be long before they have it in the common schools also.” What Pastor Russell Said (Leslie W. Jones Chicago 1917) pp.Q57-Q58
Russell's answer contained the same reasoning as today. The end will be so soon that Watchtower followers will not get to use their education in this system, and that educated people are likely to stop following the Bible. This mentality has continued for over a century.
Half a century ago, young followers were told that a college education was pointless, as the system of things will likely be finished before they graduate.
“If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the “last days” in 1914, Jesus foretold: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”-Matt. 24:34. Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way toward its finish, if not actually gone!” Awake! 1969 May 22 p.15
Jehovah’s Witnesses that followed this advice in the 1960s, and relinquished opportunities to pursue an education and successful careers, are now at retirement age. Comments on Internet forums identify many from that era as financially unprepared for retirement, having worked in low pay jobs, or spending years in voluntary service to grow the Watchtower organization. A short-term view of the future is of no benefit, and has proven to be detrimental to many Witness families over the last century.
Twenty years later the same misguided advice was given.
“A university degree may or may not improve your employment prospects. But one fact is indisputable: “The time left is reduced”! (1 Corinthians 7:29) For all its presumed benefits, would four years or more in a university be the best use of that remaining time?” Awake! 1989 May 8 p.13
I came under criticism for commencing a Bachelor of Commerce in 1987. I was told that accountants were not going to be required after Armageddon, and should learn a trade. This is in line with Watchtower comments, such as the Awake! 1969 May 22 p.15, which had stated, “trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and others, will be useful not only now, but perhaps even more so in the reconstruction work that will take place in God’s new order.” Witnesses in my district complained to local Elders and the Circuit Overseer. Since I was a regular pioneer and assisted with quick-build kingdom halls whilst at university, the elders found it difficult to be overly critical of me, when I was so obviously putting the Organization first, more so than most of those levelling the criticism. The result is that I now have a fulfilling career and comfortably provide for my family.
1992 saw a brief respite to the Watchtower’s criticism of Jehovah’s Witnesses attending university. It was acknowledged that in many countries a higher education was needed for jobs that could support their families. Better-paid jobs meant less overtime, and more available time for meeting attendance and preaching. Watchtower also required educated brothers to fulfil roles at Bethel. Attending university was considered acceptable, provided motives were pure and courses selected with care.
“It has been reported that in some countries many well-intentioned youngsters have left school after completing the minimum required schooling in order to become pioneers. They have had no trade or secular qualifications. If they were not helped by their parents, they had to find part-time work. Some have had to accept jobs that required them to work very long hours to make ends meet. Becoming physically exhausted, they gave up the pioneer ministry. What can such ones do to support themselves and get back into the pioneer service?’ Watchtower 1992 Nov 1 p.18
‘...when parents and young Christians today, after carefully and prayerfully weighing the pros and cons, decide for or against post secondary studies, others in the congregation should not criticize them.’ Ibid pp.19-20
“If Christian parents responsibly decide to provide their children with further education after high school, that is their prerogative. The period of these studies would vary according to the type of trade or occupation selected. For financial reasons and in order to enable their children to get into the full-time service as quickly as possible, many Christian parents have chosen for them short-term study programs in vocational or technical schools. In some cases youths have needed to be apprenticed to some trade but always with a full life of service to Jehovah as the goal. If additional courses are taken, certainly the motive should not be to shine scholastically or to carve out a prestigious worldly career. Courses should be chosen with care. This magazine has placed emphasis on the dangers of higher learning, and justifiably so, for much higher education opposes the “healthful teaching” of the Bible. (Titus 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:20, 21) Further, since the 1960's, many schools of advanced learning have become hotbeds of lawlessness and immorality. “The faithful and discreet slave” has strongly discouraged entering that kind of environment. (Matthew 24:12, 45) It must be admitted, however, that nowadays youngsters meet up with these same dangers in high schools and technical colleges and even in the workplace.” Ibid pp.20
Barbara Anderson worked in the writing department at the global headquarters, Brooklyn Bethel, during the 1990s. Anderson recalls that Governing Body member Lloyd Barry, who himself had a university degree, was behind this new stance on education.
“Lloyd Barry was empathetic towards the low-paying job plight of Witnesses as expressed in personal letters received at headquarters, and from Jehovah’s Witnesses branch office communiqués from around the world. … Due to difficult economic changes in a world that Witnesses could not escape from, Lloyd Barry, along with the rest of the Governing Body, authorized the November 1, 1992 Watchtower article that changed the view of Witnesses towards higher education.”10
Anderson provides a second reason for the change.
“Interestingly, another Governing Body member, Dan Sydlik, shared with a friend that the Watchtower Society was finding itself in a difficult position because this mammoth publishing company needed skilled technical people but couldn't find them in the Witness community.”11
During this period, advice was still given about the dangers of university, such as that if “a Christian is considering pursuing additional schooling, he would do well to examine his own motives to make sure that selfish, materialistic interests are not the driving force.” (Awake! 1998 Mar 8 p.21) However, the articles were more balanced, concluding, “such decisions are of a personal nature. Christians ought not to criticize or judge one another on this matter.” (Awake! 1998 Mar 8 p.21)
Likewise, Watchtower 1999 Sep 1 p.17 provided warnings about bad associations on campus and that “the time left is reduced”, but vetoed that:
“... parents may arrange for their children to receive some supplementary education after high school. Planning ahead in this way so as to care for adult responsibilities and especially so as to be able to share in the pioneer service over the long term is not incompatible with putting God’s Kingdom first.”
It was not until October 2005 that pursing “Higher Education” was again specifically discussed in the Watchtower. Once more, criticism against higher education started to be released regarding the cost, immoral environment, time pressures, and lack of spiritual focus.
“In most places, however, higher education is expensive and is getting more so.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.28
“In addition to the bad environment, there is the pressure of schoolwork and examinations. Naturally, students need to study and do their homework to pass the exams. Some may also need to hold at least a part-time job while going to school. All of this takes a great deal of their time and energy. What, then, will be left for spiritual activities?” Ibid p.29
“And most important, what are the young ones learning about things that should come first in their life? ” Ibid p.30
Anderson provides an explanation for this back flip.
“A decade later, it was observed that “upon graduation, they were not working part-time and pursuing full-time service goals anymore.”12
Another possible explanation are falling growth rates since 1995. (See jwfacts.com/watchtower/statistics.php) The Governing Body possibly attributed this to higher numbers of Witness children graduating university. Whilst university attendance may have affected growth, other factors have also been at play, such as freedom of information available on the Internet, and the growing irrelevance of the generation13 and 1914 doctrines.
Since 2005, there have been regular articles against advanced education.
“Do you not agree that to continue enjoying divine blessings, we must resist seeking things for ourselves at the expense of Jehovah's worship? That is so whether the activity or interest diverting our attention is the pursuit of wealth, get-rich-quick schemes, ambitious plans for advanced education to have a desirable career in this system, or programs of personal fulfilment.” Watchtower 2006 Apr 15 p.27
“If you have a means of supporting yourself, do you really need to spend time, money, and effort on further education just to realize personal aspirations or those of your parents or other relatives?” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.30
A Watchtower Outline for Meetings of Circuit Overseers with Congregational Elders and Ministerial Servants for the period March through August 2008 explained that promoting higher education could result in demotion.
“When an appointed servant promotes higher education for the purpose of economic gain or prestige, this places in doubt his qualifications to serve in the congregation, and may affect his freeness of expression and that of his fellow elders.” p.2
This was reiterated in a Letter to Elders, 2012, Mar 6, which made the following comments:
"However, Satan, the master of deception, has made the pursuit of higher education dangerous for a Christian. ... Besides involving bad associations, higher education often erodes faith in Jehovah God and in the Bible. ...
On the other hand, if an elder or a ministerial servant is promoting higher education to others for the material advantages or the status it may bring, he is calling into question his qualifications to serve the congregation because of the effect on his and his fellow appointed brothers' freeness of speech. (1 Tim 3:13; Titus 1:9) The body of elders may therefore determine that the brother no longer qualifies to serve. In most cases, however, such a determination should be made in conjunction with the visit of the circuit overseer. ...
If a person is serving as a regular pioneer only and the body of elders determines that he no longer qualifies to serve because of decisions he has made with regard to higher education, the person, the congregation, and the branch office should be informed of the deletion in the usual manner."
The 2020 Edition of the Elder's manual, "Shepherd the Flock of God" addresses higher education in chapter 8 - Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants - as potentially leading to deletion of an Elder or Ministerial Servant.
Benefits of Higher Education
Higher Education provides a range of benefits at both a personal level and to society in general.
Personal benefits extend beyond just earnings potential, and include job security and contentment, along with higher quality of life.
“Future benefits include higher lifetime earnings, more fulfilling work environment, better health, longer life, more informed purchases, and lower probability of unemployment…. A gain in lifetime earnings is the most easily observed benefit that accrues to individuals who invest in higher education. Mortenson (2000) reports that, in 1999, lifetime earnings were $1.163 million higher for men who received a bachelor’s degree rather than a high school diploma.” The Private Benefits of higher Education: An Examination of the Earnings Premium (Laura W. Perna, Research in Higher Education, Vol 44, No. 4, August 2003) pp.451-452
“The demand for college graduates is rising faster than supply. High school graduates earn 43% of what college graduates earn.” The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education (Walter W. McMahon 2009 The John Hopkins University Press) p.75
It comes as little surprise that the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008 by the Pew Forum identified Jehovah’s Witnesses as having the second lowest level of Post Graduate degree educated members, and lowest level of families earning over $100,000.
|% with Post-graduate degree : % with over $100,000 family income per year|
|% with post-grad degree |||% with family income $100k+|
Source economix.blogs.nytimes.com May 13 2011, based on 2008 USA Pew report.
An educated population also provides a range of social benefits. Higher levels of education lead to a more productive and progressive workforce. People that obtain a higher education are also more conscious of looking after their health, other people and the environment, as quantified in the following table by McMahon.
Figure 5. The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education: The Evidence, Their Value, and Policy Implications , Walter W. McMahon tiaa-cref.org 28th Sep 2013
Education is vital to improving world conditions. The scientific revolution has led to a dramatic increase in living standards and human rights. Over the last 200 years, life expectancy has doubled in developed countries, from around 40 to 80 years.14 Philosophical enlightenment is behind the abolishment of slavery and improvements in women’s rights. Progress remains to be made, and education is the driving force behind further improvement. Regardless of a person’s religious outlook, everyone should appreciate the enhanced living standards that education provides.
In a more immediate sense, a higher education provides a better base from which to start a financially rewarding career and live a happy and successful life. Whilst a common cliché is that money does not bring happiness, a search on whether income is the key to happiness reveals that studies consistently show freedom from financial insecurity is critical to happiness, and up to a reasonable level, money is one of the primary keys to happiness. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses that could have excelled at university have not been given the chance, and suffer with limited career options as a result. Whilst it is possible to be successful without a university degree, the odds are stacked against you. Income statistics for the year 2005 from the US Census Bureau, 2006 reveal “roughly half of all those with graduate degrees were among the nation's top 15% of income earners.”15 The 2009 Canadian Survey of Financial Capability reveals, “men with less than Grade 9 education earned $40,400, about 44% of the $91,800 earned by men with a university degree.”16
It is not difficult to identify the double standard behind this stance on higher education. Jehovah's Witnesses make full use of educated professionals, and would not think of undergoing surgery or boarding an aircraft if the surgeon or pilot did not have the relevant degrees and accreditations.
The hypocrisy is greater when considering that Watchtower beseeches volunteers with professional degrees. Watchtower headquarters requires Jehovah’s Witnesses with university degrees and professional accreditation. This includes qualified accountants and auditors, architects and engineers, doctors and dentists, lawyers, and information technology specialists, without which the global preaching work would not be possible.
The following request for "expert-level" developers across a vast range of skills is from an Oct 2020 Announcement addressed to Elders and Circuit Overseers in the United States.
Mexico Branch sent an Elder's letter 4th Sep 2018 to congregations requesting spiritually fit brothers that are legal professionals to identify themselves, and make themselves available as volunteers for when the need arises.
A similar letter was sent from the Australian Branch to Congregation Service Committees, dated 18th November 2015. It asked, "We confidentially seek your assistance in identifying spiritually mature baptised individuals in the local congregation who are also qualified as solicitors, barristers, certified practicing accountants or chartered accountants. We request you not to speak directly to any publisher in the congregation who you feel fit this criteria ..." The Service Committee was expected to send a list of intricate details on any individuals that fit the criteria.
In 2004, a letter was read out to congregations in the US requesting educated professionals to volunteer their services to Bethel.
The incredible increase of living standards and lifespan over the last century show the success of education, and we put our trust every day in it's results each time we step into a building, car, plane or doctor's surgery. If it is correct that those with a university education have a higher chance of questioning Watchtower teachings, and are more likely to leave, this should raise flags regarding the validity of Watchtower doctrine. Having educated members that have been taught how to research and examine the accuracy of information should only concern Watchtower leaders if the information they promote is flawed.
Whilst not directly prohibited, Watchtower’s ongoing negative comments against higher education place psychological pressure on teenagers when considering their future education and careers. It is hoped that articles such as this alert young Jehovah’s Witnesses that Watchtower is not a reliable guide regarding the future, and to plan wisely for their careers.
There is no intention here to indicate higher education is essential, or diminish the value of any career choice. Many successful entrepreneurs did not complete university. But if your interest, talents and career choice require a degree, it would be tragic if you were prevented from considering university as an option due to social religious pressure. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness student contemplating your career, carefully consider the wisdom in planning for your future. It is highly likely that you will at some point settle with a family, and you do well to take steps now with that in mind.
Teachers, career advisors and others assisting young Jehovah’s Witnesses in deciding the best course after high school can point them to the more balanced information contained in the Watchtower during the 1990’s, particularly the Watchtower 1992 November 1. That way Jehovah's Witness students may feel more at ease with pursuing Advanced Education, if that is going to be an appropriate option.
For the purpose of this article, higher education refers to a University education, as defined by Watchtower.
“The educational system varies from country to country. In the United States, for example, public schools offer 12 years of basic education. Thereafter, students may choose to attend university or college for four or more years, leading to a bachelor’s degree or to postgraduate studies for careers in medicine, law, engineering, and so forth. Such university education is what is meant when the term “higher education” is used in this article. On the other hand, there are technical and vocational schools, offering short-term courses that result in a certificate or diploma in some trade or service.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.27
“An even more extreme example of what might be called “masked churn” is the relatively tiny Jehovah's Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah's Witnesses no longer are - yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts.” America's Unfaithful Faithful, David Van Biema (news.yahoo.com/s/time/20080225/us_time/americasunfaithfulfaithful 25th Feb 2008)
“Some apostates profess to know and serve God but reject teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the Bible but reject Jehovah’s organization.” Reasoning from the Scriptures p.34
“The Bible says that apostates are mentally diseased and that they use their teachings to make others think like them.” Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.11
“Modern-day apostates display characteristics similar to those of the Devil.” Examining the Scriptures Daily 2011 Aug 18 p.83
freeminds.org/doctrine/education_anderson.htm 28th Sep 2013
“The average length of human life has roughly doubled over the last 200 years. Most of this increase took place over the last 100 years. In Australia, life expectancy at birth was 57 years in 1901-1910 and increased to 80 years in 2000.” Beyond three score years and ten: Prospects for longevity in Australia, Heather Booth & Leonie Tickle
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States 28th Sep 2013
statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11388-eng.htm 28th Sep 2013
Written 2013. Latest update May 2021.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2021