If you have ever tried to stump one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at your doorstep, you might have gotten that common line from them, ‘Let me do some research first then I will get back to you’. For me, I have been told that line by several different family and friends once I started to question the religion I was raised in. It may seem like an innocent tactic, one showing a bit of humility on their part to want to brush up on what you’re talking about instead of blurting something out without thinking about it. However, what do they mean by ‘research’, and how do they do it? The answer reveals how one can simultaneous be in a very high control group and still believe that you are the smartest person in the religious room, one that knows their Bible inside and out, not being controlled by anyone.
JWs like to brag about being ‘the best spiritually fed people in the world’. While it is true that they have an enourmous library of their past publications to use with new info being added each year to their online library (for now that is, with their emphasis more and more on their Broadcast studio productions), yet their ability to do objective research and thereby increase their knowledge falls far short of what would be reasonably expected of even a 6th-grader on a history essay.
For a Jw doing research on a subject, whether for a talk at the kingdom hall, a question posed at someone’s door, or an attempted rebuttal at a family member’s apostasy, the pattern is always the same. First, you open up your handy Watchtower Library program (either on your computer or your phone/tablet). Type in the subject matter at hand and see what the Watchtower society has commented on the subject over the last 70 years (1950 being the farthest back you can go for the WT magazine itself). If it has had something to say about it, you will look up the cited references to the WT publication it is in. After you have exhausted that angle, you might try another similar topic to see if it has any bearing on your current topic. After that…..well that’s it. You have your answer. Whatever the Watchtower has commented on that particular subject or Bible verse is now your belief and your stated response to any question asked about it. That is however if you found a reference at somewhere in the publication archives at all. If not, you just have to tell yourself that whatever it is, its not important or that you just need to ‘wait on Jehovah to provide an answer in the future’ (perhaps in a future issue of the WT).
‘But wait’, a normal person will say. ‘How could that be a satisfying or intectually honest answer for them’. For a JW though, they don’t think twice about it. To them, they took the subject matter seriously. They took time and poured over several different publications and articles about it. In those references they found cited scriptures to back up the claims therein. They might have even printed out the material or made marginal notes in there Bible at the relevant verses dealing with the subject. To them, they did what they were supposed to do. Something that they feel the average nominal Christian wouldn’t have done – seek out a Bible based answer to their questions, not just forming an opinion based on what they think.
Having lived that life before and really loved all that ‘studying’, I know how noble and scholorly you feel when engaging in this type of ‘research’. You took this seriously! How many so-called Christians out there just take their pastor’s word as to what the Bible says! You used you own mind and found convincing answer from the Bible!
Never mind the fact that you only do your research from ONE SOURCE. You have not been objective at all. You were not really looking for the truth, despite what you tell yourself, you were looking for what the Watchower tells you to think about a matter. Even if what they say makes logical sense to you and can be supported by proof-texts, you are still only getting one side of things – theirs. And that is exactly how the Watchtower wants it to be. You have it drilled into your brain since you can remember that ANY outside information is dangerous. Even Bible research done for innocent reasons is condemned if you are not using THEIR publications, and only their publications. This is shown by a 2007 ‘Question Box’:
The message is obvious. No ‘independent research‘. They ‘don’t endorse any literature, meetings, or websites that are not produced or organized under its oversight‘. And if you really want to do additional research they recommend their own publications where they have done the research for you. Nothing shady at all there! My favorite part is that while they commend you for wanting to use your mind, ‘no personal pursuit should detract from what Jesus Christ is accomplishing through his congregation on earth today‘, in other words, ‘Since we are God’s Organization, what we say and do is more important than anything else and shouldn’t be questioned’.
I want to put this as plainly as possible: Research done using just your own organization’s literature is biased and dishonest.
I was discussing a subject with a family member once (before being fully shunned), where the evidence that was used to support one Watchtower claim was another Watchtower source. (???)
I saw a joke on Twitter once that highlights the absurdity of if. It compared the situation to going into a car dealership and you ask the salesman about the quality of the vehicles there. He says that ‘We have the absolute best, safest, and most effiencint vehicles. Believe me. Just promise me that you will never read any other dealship’s information.’ If you would never buy a car that way, why would choose and trust a religous organization that acts like that?
Once you allow yourself to actually compare different viewpoints and answers from multiple sources, you quickly find that the ‘logical’ ‘biblically sound’ answers found in the Watchtower are not the rock solid perspectives you thougt they were. Viewpoints and opinions found that are presented as abolute fact and beyond all questioning are in fact interpreted differently by multiple sources, usually ones quite older than the WT. Does that make the WT automatically wrong about it? Not neccessarily. But it will teach you that there is ALWAYS more than one way to think about things, especially the Bible.So look up what the WT says about a subject. Thats all fine and good. Then actually research what other people and groups have to say on the matter, from other religious groups, to historians, and Bible scholars. Don’t just cherry-pick sources that happen to agree with the WT. I’ve seen that happen to many times, where 99% of the sources out there say one thing, but you find and latch on to the ONE source that happens to agree with the WT’s opinion. Search out contrary views, challenge what you think is correct. Then DECIDE FOR YOURSELF!
I will conclude with what Wiki-How says about research (I had to keep it simple, because for JWs everything is so dumbed down). And in part 2 of this series on research, I’m going to talk about another danger of relying solely on one source of information: the possibility of manipulation of facts.