It’s very unlikely that the Watchtower Society would want you to read any of the following five books. In many Kingdom Halls, if the elders discovered that you’ve read or purchased one of these books, you’d likely be facing a very uncomfortable meeting with a Judicial Committee.
Why would the Governing Body want to stop you from getting your hands on any of these books? Are they are afraid of the facts that you will discover and the secrets that might be revealed to you?
Never “fear the facts.” The adage “the truth will out” is as valid now in the 21st century as any other time in our entire recorded history. Honest-hearted persons will search for the truth – no matter what its source might be. “Seekers of truth” reject the notion that anyone can choose or censor the books and media for them – whether by a totalitarian government or an authoritarian organization.
Some of the books described below are critical of the policies and teachings of the Watchtower Society. Others don’t mention the Watchtower or Jehovah’s Witnesses at all, but point to techniques or traits that the Society shares with religious cults and other controlling groups. If you want true mental, personal, and religious freedom, you have to open up your mind and expose it to the truth.
Then decide for yourself.
The Christian scriptures make it clear in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “Make sure of all things, hold fast to what is fine,” (NWT) or “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (NIV) In other words, personally check the facts and details of everything you hear or read and then stick with what you decide is clearly the truth.
Let us suggest that you begin “making sure of all things” and “testing everything” by checking out the following books. Then exercise your brain and use your own critical thinking to decide for yourself what is true or false.
Steven Hassan describes how cults, religious or otherwise, manage to control their followers by effectively damaging their ability to use critical thinking to guide their own lives. Ask yourself: “Do I have the ability to make my own choices? Or must I be part of a group that maps out what I do and then filters what I can be exposed to?”
Hassan’s excellent book will help you reassess the choices you are making and shows why you need to avoid letting others control your thoughts and make your decisions. That’s what makes this a classic of this genre. Unfortunately most people who belong to a cult don’t recognize that fact. Most of us think that we can immediately recognize a particular religion or fringe group as a cult. We may see a group of people pushing some wild or unusual religious practices and assume that they are part of a cult.
Unfortunately, members of a cult never can look at their own situation and realize that they are themselves part of a cult. But the little church down the street or the home business opportunity might also be “cults.” Most cults try to exert their control over you by restricting what you can read or access to anything that is critical of their beliefs or practices. Cults try to limit their members’ access to outside influences, advanced education, secular books and entertainment. They also forbid contact with former members or anyone resisting the cult.
In this book Hassan doesn’t mention Jehovah’s Witnesses directly, but you will soon recognize that many teachings and practices of the Watchtower Society fit precisely within Hassan’s clear description of cult manipulation.
Crisis of Conscience – Raymond Franz (1983, 1992, 2002)
In 1979 Raymond Franz was a member of the first reconstituted and re-purposed Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After nearly a lifetime of service to the Watchtower Society as a missionary, foreign branch manager, and Bethelite, he found himself in the middle of a cultural upheaval in Brooklyn. His problems really began when he pointed out historical factual errors in some of the Watchtower’s teachings that he and others discovered while doing research for a new book.
Franz details the facts of what happened inside the Watchtower organization and the Governing Body during a major purge of dozens of high-ranking members within the Brooklyn Bethel and surrounding congregations. Despite his problems with the Watchtower, in this book he encourages his readers to continue to put faith in Bible and to recognize Jesus Christ as more important thanany organization.
Franz documented all his facts and provided direct quotes from the Watchtower’s own literature of the time. Those who call him a “liar” or accuse him of just trying to make himself look good are completely uninformed about his real motivations and what actually happened. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe that Raymond Franz was trying to “take over the Society,” or split the organization and take followers after himself – totally untrue assertions.
As he explains the secret inner workings and politics of the Governing Body and Bethel headquarters, he uses words are well-chosen and descriptive. Read this book to find out what actually happened in the early 1980s – but understand that those events are the key to understanding why the Watchtower and its Governing Body are undergoing so many changes nearly thirty years later.
If you only have time or energy to read one book, make it Crisis of Conscience. Mr. Franz also wrote a followup book, In Search of Christian Freedom (updated in 2007), an interesting, but somewhat less successful effort.
Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses – M. James Penton (1985, 1997)
James Penton was a fourth generation Jehovah’s Witness. In this classic among Jehovah’s Witness themed books, he describes how each generation of Watchtower readers looked forward to Armageddon to come in their time. Since 1876 they have consistently believed that they are living in the last days of the present world system. The founder of the Watchtower Society, Charles Taze Russell, predicted that his followers would be raptured in 1878, and by 1914 Christ would have destroyed the existing world governments and then established his kingdom on earth. Neither prophecy was fulfilled. Even though the first World War did begin in 1914, mankind’s governments continued to exist.
When follow-up prophecies involving 1918, 1919, 1920 and 1925 did not happen, thousands of Bible Students (the earlier name of Jehovah’s Witnesses) left the organization. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Watchtower again began to preach that Armageddon was just months away.
During the late 1960s, Watchtower leaders began pointing to 1975 as the probable beginning of the “apocalypse.” Penton carefully documents and describes each of these failed predictions and the effect they had on rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses of the time. Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to predict that the world will end soon, but have not tied a specific year to that event.
In the second edition of the book, Penton updated the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide and the changes that occurred within the organization since the 1980s. However, his book has become a bit dated because of organizational and doctrinal changes that have taken place within the past fifteen years. The book is divided into sections that break down and tell the broader Watchtower organizational story in more detail.
Penton is an educator, so his book is less personal than some of the other selections in this article. However, this is still a book you want to read because of the detail and massive amount of documentation he provides. Like Crisis of Conscience, this book should be considered a masterpiece of the genre.
Captives of a Concept (Anatomy of an Illusion) –
Don Cameron (2005, 2007)
The secret behind the success of the Watchtower Society is clearly explained in Don Cameron’s book. It’s actually a very simple concept and it’s been working well for them since 1920. The Watchtower Society’s leadership has convinced their members, Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they (now the Governing Body), a select group of middle-aged men in New York, have been appointed by Jehovah and Jesus Christ as the “faithful and discreet slave” of Matthew 24:45-47. Therefore, only the Watchtower (led by them) can be God’s only true organization. They claim to represent God and are authorized to speak for Him. As a result, most Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that to question their authority is to question Jehovah God himself.
That’s all you need to know. That’s all that matters if you are a Jehovah’s Witness.
Cameron points out and proves that the Watchtower’s claims are totally bogus. The claim that Jesus chose them as his representatives because of what they were teaching in 1919 is absurd. Why? Because they no longer teach most of what they printed in the Watchtower in those early days. All of it was replaced by revisions that they described as “new light.” Not only that, but nearly everything they teach is somehow connected to the years 607 B.C.E. and 1914 C.E. And yet neither year is supported by historical facts or any reputable Bible scholars.
Their claim that the Watchtower was the only religion on earth that was “teaching the truth” and “announcing the arrival of Jesus’ Kingdom” falls flat when you look at historical facts. If Jesus had appointed them as his messengers and infused them with “holy spirit” to spread the truth – then the “holy spirit” must have been on vacation. Hardly anything printed in the Watchtower, the Golden Age or the Consolation magazines of that era, or anything in the books published under J. F. Rutherford’s name from 1920 to 1942, are taught as “doctrinal truth” by today’s version of “faithful slave.” In fact, a Jehovah’s Witness (including the long deceased Russell and Rutherford) would be considered an “apostate” if he or she promoted any of those teachings today.
Don Cameron points out that even the leaders of today’s version of the Watchtower are also “captive to this concept.” While he is very critical of the way the Watchtower has misled its followers and then trapped them into making choices no one should ever have to face, he admits that most Witnesses are sincere and truly believe they are serving Jehovah by “remaining faithful to the organization.” The bottom line is that most Witnesses stay in the religion because any other choices they might have are just too painful.
Much of the book discusses the false teachings and prophecies that the Society has promoted since its inception. While eventually admitting that they made errors in their earlier days, the Watchtower never refers to them as being “false,” but rather as “errors” or the “misunderstandings of imperfect men.” Cameron provides many specific examples where the Watchtower has been less than honest to cover up these past “mistakes.”
Some readers have criticized Cameron’s book for some sloppy editing, but do not let that keep you from reading this valuable resource.
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True – Richard Dawkins (2012)
“Richard Dawkins, bestselling author and the world’s most celebrated evolutionary biologist, has spent his career elucidating the many wonders of science. Here, he takes a broader approach and uses his unrivaled explanatory powers to illuminate the ways in which the world really works.
“Filled with clever thought experiments and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena: How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a jigsaw puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? Starting with the magical, mythical explanations for the wonders of nature, Dawkins reveals the exhilarating scientific truths behind these occurrences. This is a page-turning detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.” [Adapted from Amazon.com book description]
Exactly! This book is so well written and illustrated, that everyone in your family will enjoy reading it. This book never mentions Jehovah’s Witnesses, but provides an excellent counter-point to the Watchtower’s juvenile presentations of Biblical myths of creation and the mysteries of the universe. Richard Dawkins never talks down to his readers, but simply presents the facts about how the universe began, and how the earth was formed. He explains how humans achieved their current level of intelligence, mechanical abilities, and curiosity about science. This book can be read and understood by both adults and children, carefully building upon our history on this planet. Not only that, but it is actually fun to read and truly interesting.
I urge you to read The Magic of Reality. Then go back and compare it to the Watchtower’s books Was Life Created? and My Book of Bible Stories. This could be the book that changes your life and expands your understanding of how the universe really works. It will give you an entirely new perspective on the meaning of life and our place in history.