The Jehovah's Witnesses are an international movement, sometimes classified as restorationist and millenial, in the classification of Christian organizations.
Restoration refers to "restoring" the Christian beliefs to an earlier historic time. Millenial refers to a particular doctrinal emphasis on a period of one thousands years to come soon, which is important to the core views of the members.
The following serves to explain factual points, and make some discussion, on the group and its practicalities. Important to iterate though is that this document in itself is not the final statement on the total true reality of Jehovah's Witnesses, which in fairness, can only be gleaned by actually being trained as one.
It was founded in 1876 by Mister Charles Taze Russel, although only started using its current name in 1931 (before that time being called the Bible Students). Unitarian, they believe that the holy spirit is only god's active force, an energy. Similarly, Jesus is not equal to god, but the firstborn creation of God. Nobody is higher than Jehovah, who is the only God that really exists, and the only one being to whom we can give worship and respect as being the ultimate source of life and universe. While on earth, Jesus was merely a man, albeit perfect (and he who would be savior for all). Before earthly incarnation and since that time, Jesus' nature is that of a spirit creature, along with the angels and god himself. Jesus in fact, as firstborn of all God's creation, was the main "worker" who created the universe, earth, animals, and in culmination, Humanity.
God's original intention was for the whole world to be made into a giant garden paradise, with perfect immortal people, starting with Adam and Eve. With time, the gift of reproduction would have been lifted as no longer necessary. No comment is made as to whether other star systems could have been eventually colonized as part of any divine plan, for in fact, God's plans were inextricably interrupted as will be elucidated here.
God's name is revealed to be Jehovah, taken from the tetragrammaton YHWH (or JHVH).
Satan is the fallen angel, who with his demons, rules the earth and general universe. He challenged the true god, Jehovah, in the time of Adam and Eve (the first human couple, made by God). This occurred about six thousand years ago with Eve's temptation by the Satan-controlled snake offering the apple to her, from the forbidden tree of knowledge. At the time of Adam and Eve's disobeying god's simple commands regarding the tree, imperfection was laid on them and all future offspring.
Worth noting is that the Earth itself is much older, but this six thousand years refers to when HUMANS first took pride of place and began man's history.
The question of universal sovereignty is the dualistic battle between Satan, and Jehovah. To settle the matter, Jehovah God granted Satan the chance to challenge humankind to see if they would fall to his evil ways. Jehovah has given all humans the choice of their moral actions--that is to say, they could seek goodness and a path to God, or else fall to wickedness, criminality, greed, hurt.
Countless generations have been born and it has been proven that mankind alone could not be trusted to rule itself justly.
Some other concepts and problems of the world are explained in the teachings, such as the problem of many languages and divisions in mankind (eg the Tower of Babel).
To answer many a person's every day question, the reason for evil and suffering in the world is Satan. Jehovah had to permit Satan to control the world currently, in order to answer the question of who is rightful ruler of all life and cosmos, once & for all.
Moving to today, Jehovah's witnesses have looked to the time after Jesus. Hebrew prophets foretold of a messiah to come and teach the world. This teacher was Jesus. After Jesus, further Christian commentators added to the message. The message is the bible, and the Jehovah's Witnesses have used their own scholarly research and resources to formulate their own bible translation.
The believers state that the core message of the bible is understanding the truth of Jesus' message, and the other prophets, and submitting to God's greater plan. God wants everyone to be saved, through the belief in Jesus, who came to earth and sacrificed his own blood to repent for all of humanity's sins past, present and future. Jesus's death was an axis time for the world. After this time God would no longer seek to directly assist any nation (not even the original favored people, the "chosen race" of Israelites). The post-Jesus writings of Paul in particular opened up the Christian faith as a universal hope, where both Hebrews and Gentiles would no longer be classed as different. Instead, all humans would now be open to the promise of a better world if they lived in accord with Godliness. In the pre-Jesus ancient world, the Israelites were granted much favor and yet could not adhere to God's various laws, failing many times. Some non-Israelites did have god's favor, but mainly in isolated cases.
Jehovah's witnesses accept the notion of sin and redemption. The early Jews (Israelites) could not rule themselves nor keep all the commandments, and mankind at large was bad and selfish. The only solution was a triumph of good over evil, beginning with a blood sacrifice and a new man (Jesus) to show the path forward to righteousness. For God had in the past regretted making mankind (consider the Noah flood) but saw that at least a few humans were upright and good. All these observations set in motion the idea of a greater salvation, and a fulfilled solution to all of the world's woes, through to eventually ending the taunts and controls of Satan.
A fundamental belief is also that Jesus died on a simple upright stake, like a tree. It was not a cross with raised horizontal forebeam. It is said that paganism crept into the early Catholic church, with the symbol of the cross ultimately tracing itself back to ancient Egyptian times (and also notably being like the Nazi-hindu Swastika, or "hakencruz"). If one were to rationalize in favor of the Jehovah's Witness teaching, It may also be inferred that the idea of a horizontal beam was a mistake due to the IUDAEUS REX plaque which was nailed above Jesus' head, on the wooden stake. When Jesus died on the stake, he was dead for three days and this is taken to literally mean he ceased to exist in the universe, during this time. Only Jehovah God's memory was able to bring him back from death.
Also key is the notion that all this is being done, and indeed even an observation of increased world problems like war/famine/lawlessness, so that we can all be helped to see prophecy being fulfilled.
God, in his own unknowable time, plans to end the suffering of mankind. Important to reaching this point is that all Jehovah's Witness members must help in preaching the word, the message, to all parts of the Earth, so that even those in war-torn or distant corners of the globe may have a chance to comply with godly wishes (and the beliefs).
Wars, earthquakes, crimes...are all occurring more frequently, as is said, and this denotes a culmination in a time of God's Armageddon, which will end the wickedness and institute a New Millenium of rebuilding, where Christ and his followers shall reign over the Earth. The resurrected will unite with any who have survived the Armageddon tribulation, and all will have a chance to make the world a garden-like paradise and accept a life of godly righteousness. After this millenium, will come a time of permanency where Satan the Devil is finally dispelled and all those evil humans that refuse to submit to God's loving ways and peace.
This new physical paradise world will be good and God-ruled (theocratic). Nobody will again be allowed to challenge God's authority, for the test of Satan, will be proof enough for all eternity. Those humans that live in accordance with God in the new world of Paradise on Earth will be able to live without suffering and in eternity--for even death is a curse of Satan that will be removed as a problem. The world will be one of green beauty, free of pollution, fear, calamity. Even wild animals will be tamed and live in harmony with god and humans. Only a limited number of people will be elevated as angels in heaven (the 144,000)--this is an example of special "number" considerations from the bible that the Witnesses give their own opinions on. An important historical year is 1914, the time of World War One.
Back to point, the majority of mankind won't see heaven but be resurrected into physical bodies.
Explicit in their teaching today, is that the bible requires adherents to do certain things, and believe in particular doctrines, such as:
*To Abstain from consuming blood and any blood transfusions (instead use saline blood expanders)
*To Refrain from gossip, homosexuality, excessive alcohol, gambling, extra-marital sex, practical jokes, bullying, unfair profits, prostitution, racism.
In fact, sex of any kind, outside of a heterosexual marriage conjugation context, is condemned (including masturbation, voyeurism, group sex, bestiality, bisexuality).
*Celebrations such as Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Halloween and other religious or special days are not observed. Where a state declares a public holiday, Jehovah's Witnesses will treat it as just a home day to help the family. Gifts are not exchanged, unless they are very small and represent meeting the true need of the receiver. The core reasoning behind this policy of non-celebration is that they say pagan beliefs from thousands of years ago are the true origin and homage for adhering to any calendar date or event as "special." Paganism is shunned as worship of demons. The members also note that the very first Christians did not celebrate these 'pagan' events, nor believe in things like the Trinity.
*Fortune telling, the arcane, consulting the dead, hypnotism and secret societies are banned as evil. The idea is that we only owe allegiance to God and that he alone is our final source of appeal, as well as the only being that can see into our heart-intentions and the future (although free will and choice is still true).
*Psychiatry is not banned, but members are encouraged to talk to the organization first.
*being under the influence of demons is considered possible, though all medical avenues should be sought first and the use of shamans/exorcists is utterly forbidden--all the faithful can do is pray for someone considered to be possessed by a demon.
*the organization does its own printing and distributing of its belief materials and documents. In the past these were done on a charge-at-cost basis, though nowadays all the production of materials is paid for via donations. Distribution is done without any charge or cost to the receiver (though they may make a money donation if they wish).
*Before eating any meal of food, members must pray and give thanks to Jehovah God, through the name of his son Jesus.
Wherever possible, members must eat with their family.
*family life is encouraged. Parents and children must maintain a close bond and support each other for the glory of God.
*computer video games, movies and sports that promote irreligion, violence, sexuality, profane language or addiction are to be avoided. Television, internet, cellular phones and newspapers are all permissible, but members are reminded of how addictive they can be as well as how unholy the content often is.
*music is permitted as long as it does not promote unholy, disrespectful, or criminal ideas. Heavy Metal is typically cited as automatically incompatible with belief in Christianity
*pornography and explicit or strange forms of art are condemned.
*narcotic drugs are never permitted, although pharmaceuticals to treat illness are acceptable provided they don't lead to addiction
*anyone who refuses to do an adult-age occupation is considered slovely and lazy, which is condemnable, unless they are actually unable to find a job despite continual efforts.
*owning many possessions in the world is permitted, but variously discouraged.
*sport must only be considered a pastime for social fun and exercise. It must not be done for competitive reasons, nor can one derive an income from it.
*smoking is not permitted for members.
*other bans exist on things like: using slaves, excessive jewellery, profane language, inciting violence, playing tricks on people, knowingly lying to anyone, the charging of excessive financial interest (usury is banned but refers to the stricter-sense notion of a rate of interest that is so high as to cripple the debtor's ability to live and repay).
*alcohol is permitted because in fact Jesus partook of it.
*in general, "the body is a temple" to god and so anything harmful, poisonous, risky, toxic, narcotic is not allowed.
*prostitution is forbidden.
*swearing against god's name, against the holy spirit, or holy ones from the bible in general is considered abominable.
*doctrinally, only Jesus can forgive, via offered prayers, although members are encouraged to talk to elders or other Jehovah's Witnesses to seek practical help and guidance.
*there is a specific prohibition on tattoos. Anyone already with a tattoo must keep it covered up at all times, and better still, have laser removal surgeries.
*risky activities in life, such a death-defying sports, stock market bets, dangerous driving...are all condemned.
*attendance at scripture classes is forbidden.
*Historical evolution of species is not considered to be true. It is to be avoided. Any student of biology is encouraged to speak out against it and promote creationism.
*In general though, scientific beliefs and practices are considered useful, practical and permissible.
*speaking in tongues, faith healing and casting out evil spirits, dispelling poisons/cancers are things no longer possible. According to the teaching, these were gifts only provided to the first christians (generation directly after Jesus' death).
*The lord's evening meal is the only time on the calendar observed, but it is not on a fixed day, for it depends on Jewish moon calendar practices that were relevant in Jesus' lifetime.
*gluttony, stealing,...the general ten commandments are a guideline to forbidden activities such as those two--however, Jesus left two more simple sub-commandments, regarding the loving of one's neighbors as oneself as well as also to love god with one's whole heart, mind and strength
*a member can only marry inside the truth--that is to say, marrying another Jehovah's Witness. If a person enters the faith already married, that is permitted, though they are encouraged to convert their partner, if/where possible.
*older-age members are to be respected and honored with a good courtesy. This also applies in the attitude of children to their parents.
*some members, with time commitment and more matured understanding, can volunteer to even serve in other under-privileged countries, to help spread the message of the faith.
*marriages and deaths are observed internally, through simple commemorating services.
*marriage is honored as a union of man and woman, wherein the spouses "own" each other and must faithfully help and give of themselves to each other. However, remaining single is also honored (in reference to teachings of apostle Paul).
*the pursuit of money above other things is considered an evil sin, although the use of currency itself is morally neutral and relevant to being able to live and work today.
*Fellow Jehovah's Witness members are termed Brothers/Sisters. Anyone can, after some years of regular attendance at weekly meetings, aim to be a senior, such as an elder, or "ministerial servant". These two senior types are permitted to lead the weekly meetings where bible instruction is given to the congregation.
*Congregations are organized in local areas on the basis of population and an available meeting place. The meeting places are called Kingdom Halls (NOT churches).
*The Kingdom halls are very plain, basically appearing as office-style buildings with rows of modern movable seats and a front lectern, with audio equipment to allow the carriage of voice through the whole room. The "meetings" (they aren't called sermons) are held either one day a week or spread across various days, with at least five different segments of teaching.
*Where a member is unable to proceed in their life, they can seek counsel or even financial aid (limited) from the organization.
*Further to matters of money, members are not compelled to give to the organization, but rather, free to donate whatever they wish, into "contribution boxes" located in the meeting place Kingdom Halls.
*A hierarchy of (usually) older men tend to write the periodical publications used by the organization, such as The Watchtower and Awake! but also including many other bible-topic and ethical-teaching books.
*Education and work are highly encouraged for members, but must not absorb a person's whole life such that they lose faith or earn a living by illicit or unfair means.
*Men are considered to be family protectors and higher than women. Only men can preach to a group of the faithful, although women are honored for their specific capacities as partners in marriage, child bearers, complementary to the husband, or indeed as paid-employment workers.
*Having friends outside the Jehovah's Witness movement is not altogether banned, but discouraged.
*It is possible to be disfellowshipped, which basically means being excommunicated from the organization, for disobedience or setting a consistently bad example, in reference to bible standards of behavior.
*To Refuse military service of any kind and refuse to salute flags or support any one nation over another. They do no bear arms at all, considering it to be against the Mosaic commandment to not kill other humans, and also that weapons are a praise only to Satan the devil.
*They also do not believe in voting for political candidates or governments.
*special condemnation is made of organizations like Freemasonry, Jesuits, and also the United Nations (seen as part of the Wild Beast, spoken of in the book of Revelation.
*That all adherents must be baptized to show they dedicate their lives to following Jehovah God's teachings and believing in the salvation provided by the sacrifice of God's son, Jesus.
*Jesus is always referred to as "God's Son" and never as anything higher. Prayer is given to Jehovah God, but must be worded so as to go through the blessing of Jesus.
*Infants must not be baptized, with the logic being that they do not understand what they are being inducted into, and that God automatically "covers" them on the basis of their parent's faith, until they reach a coming-of-age in the late teenage years.
*To Spread the message of god's hope for mankind by various forms of witnessing (preaching). This is incumbent upon every adult or later-teen member, to be done as often as possible. This originally just meant knocking door to door but now also includes new media like internet, cd-roms and also traditional publishing leaflets handed out in precints, etc. "Informal witnessing" is another form of this preaching wherein a Jehovah's Witness believer can use any opportunity (work/home/other) to talk to an interested person about the truth of their convictions.
*To Obey regular authorities, laws and pay taxes in nearly all other situations unless a bible command says otherwise, in explicit form. Included in this is the rule that one cannot join political parties nor join in protests nor revolutions.
*Matters such as abortion and genetic engineering are inherently wrong as these attempt to interfere with natural processes of life that were intended by God.
*Divorce is permitted but mostly on grounds of repeat domestic violence and adultery (unfaithfulness).
*Modesty of appearance and not flaunting one's material possessions is very important to the core teachings. (However, women do not have to wear veils, sandals or skirts in general life--excepting as a female decorum when formally preaching (called witnessing).
*That the other christian churches are misguided and only furthering the causes of Satan the devil in that humans are led astray from a more pure truth.
*The use of saints is a waste of time, for the dead are considered conscious of nothing and completely non-existent.
*The pope, and other archbishop heads or high clergy, are a lie and a falsehood. All humans are considered fundamentally equal before God. Nobody is infallible or superior in thinking towards God. Whilst the organization does have its own hierarchy ironically, it re-asserts that these can make mistakes and that in fact, any male Jehovah's witness can aspire to be elevated--whilst remembering such higher positions are not professionally paid, are only honorary, may be temporary and do not constitute a power base.
*Again on the matter of women, where a group are meeting and no adult male is present, in such occasion a woman can lead the group, providing she drapes a cloth over the main part of her head/hair.
*The soul is considered to die when the human body dies. The soul is the mind, brain, our thoughts, memories, emotions. The only hope for the person/soul is that God remembers all of us, right across time, and he alone can resurrect us to a better future world.
*The reading of material from other religions, philosophies, and even political writings, is very strongly discouraged. To this point, interfaith is not acceptable to them.
*The keeping of pets is permitted, in as much as they are god's creatures, though local laws must be followed and animals kept in such way must be treated respectfully. As a sidepoint though, animals are not part of God's plan to eradicate death, as they are considered to be a lower form of creation.
*Worship of idols, images is strictly forbidden. The members will not even permit stained glass windows or hymns of praise from other churches.
*praises of worship are sung in the kingdom hall meetings, using song books that the organization has itself written (and musically composed)
The above gives somewhat a run down of the ideas, background and practices. From a historical perspective the Jehovah's Witnesses have made mistakes and over a period of more than 100 years, have had to adjust their beliefs with some modifications.
It has been at times observed that the closest group to compare with is the Seventh Day Adventists; although this is an imperfect comparison in regards to matters like Sabbath observance and vegetarianism. However the two groups may be similar in both having a rather conservative stance, compared to other Christian groups.
According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the Jewish Sabbath no longer applies, for in fact every day we're alive should be dedicated to God, not just one day a week. As an extension to this, Sunday is no more special as a congregational meeting day than any other time deemed collectively available.
It IS worth noting that during Nazi times, and in many countries and times otherwise, the group has been highly persecuted and raised a lot of suspicion. It would seem unfair, given that they raise taxes and are a pacifist group, not believing in protests or revolutionary challenge to government. They are scorned for preaching, and yet other groups like Mormons and Born-Again Christians do the very same thing, as do some Islamic people. In an increasingly multicultural world, it seems they are very unfairly targeted. They may raise some attention by not participating in some widespread practices such as celebrating days or accepting blood, but this seems to be a gross prejudice in a world containing over 4200 different religions, over six thousand different languages, and hundreds upon hundreds of different cultures.
Especially since the organization is non-aggressive, it seems even the more extraordinary, how much they are scorned, ostracized, accused and this leads many members to keep a low profile, not easily open to declaring their faith.
Often at school, students who happen to be Jehovah's Witness have an awful time. If they declare their faith, they are targeted for bullying and exclusion without relent.
To the witnesses themselves, this is evidence that their beliefs are correct, for certain passages from Jesus state that the truth believers would be hated and that the road to "life" would be narrow.
Practicalities of life as a Jehovah's Witness
Becoming a Jehovah's Witness is not quick and simple. The Biblical instruction is deep and profound, going far beyond that of simple "sunday school" topics as done by some larger Christian denominations. Understanding the rules, as well as the whole story of the bible and how the future will unfold, is akin to going to university to obtain a specialist degree--it is quite a mental commitment, to understand and gradually accept it all. Brochures and various aiding books are used, as well as one-to-one instruction from an experienced practicing member (can be ordinary, does not have to be an elder, senior, or otherwise, though can't be a child and should not be a woman instructing a man--for reasons of security).
Often times, outsiders will make the mistake of considering that they "know" what it is to be a member, when in reality they have only seen or heard a little, gleaned from brochures or anecdotal stories from friends.
In the workplace, it is often a "kiss of death" to one's career to reveal membership in the organization, or indeed, one's desire to not attend parties or accept gifts, Christmas cards, etc. Some members will accept items and simply throw them away in private rather than offend their co-workers. As the Jehovah's witnesses themselves say, ultimately "it comes down to personal conscience," although if another member observes something that is "unscriptural" (meaning disallowed), they can report the errant person to the elders in the local congregation hierarchy. This can lead to verbal discipline.
Membership in the organization is voluntary, although children often don't have a direct say until they are of legal age (usually around 16 to 18, depending on country). Whilst anyone can leave the organization at any time, congregation members who notice the absence of a former brother/sister will usually be sent to do shepherding. This implies going to the person's home, the person who has fallen into non-practice and non-attendance, and encourage them to rediscover the truth and fellowship of the organization.
Attending the weekly kingdom hall meetings is highly encouraged, which in practice means that those who don't, will be informally questioned as to why they don't, or at least considered to be "lesser in the truth," which in essence means the person will be less included in the congregation's community life. Where a person's job might limit their ability to attend all the meetings/occasions of the congregation, this becomes an encumbrance. It is emphatically stressed on such a person to try and change their job so as to overcome this barrier.
So, what is the community life? Besides marriages, it can mean being invited to the homes of other Jehovah's Witnesses, or to barbecues, forest park gatherings, sporting get-togethers. These are all designed to augment the otherwise serious focus of witnessing and attending the weekly Christian meetings.
Members tend to lose any former friends outside the organization. This is not due to deliberate exclusion, but more to do with the air of suspicion held by those outside the organization who vehemently can't relate to the teachings and practices.
It can be difficult to leave the organization for the reason that it becomes quite an embedded way of life, with much of a vacuum of social activities. It becomes habitual to not do things like christmas, easter, so on. Also, the prohibitions, all backed up by the opinions of a lot of researchers and scholarly reports, can be quite powerful in arguing for compliance. Unknown to many outsiders, the Jehovah's Witness hierarchy, who write the various books, articles, magazines, do a large amount of continual research. This enables the garnering of a wealth of opinion and evidence to support their viewpoints.
It is an interesting testament that despite many years of being held in suspicion, being persecuted, demoted, denigrated or even just ignored, the people of this faith are collectively very resilient. Even at threat of death in the Nazi regime, they would largely refuse to compromise on their God-focused beliefs.
As with other religious groups, they have had to confront cases of alleged sexual (especially child related) abuse. The top-level policy for the organization is that it must be reported to state authorities, and, that the accused must be stripped of any privileges, including a threat of disfellowship (excommunication).
As a whole, being a Jehovah's Witness is a strong commitment, leading to a life in a smaller, closed "community," due to the frequency of activities such as witnessing(preaching) and various weekly meetings. This is though argued to be essential to keep Jehovah as a center and focus in one's life. Married males in particular are warned of their need to provide for the care of their family.
Various signs of the wickedness of the world are said to be more and more frequent as years go by. So to this end, marrying and begetting children is not particularly encouraged (though nor is it condemned). Indeed, there is a sense of urgency implored upon all people who become Jehovah's Witnesses, that in fact, the current Satan-run world may come to a close very soon.
The organization fails the test of being a cult, despite some assertions that it is (usually in reference to its close-knit community behaviors, frequent meetings and bans on many "worldly" social activities and cultural customs). Firstly, it does not force people to remain in the faith and does not remove people from their secular families or jobs. It is also a large multi-country institution and has been numerous times vindicated after law-court challenges.
Regardless of its evidentiary non-cult nature, there are some support groups online and offline, to help people who want to adjust to life if they quit believing and participating in the organization (although this is true for other religious orders too, that have support for those who leave)
It may be accounted, as for various religious people, that Jehovah's Witnesses have a serious demeanor to life, although in fact humor is acceptable to them provided that no person is harmed physically, emotionally or in mind.
When new developments or technologies come into the world, members usually rely on at least some sense of guidance from elders and from the publications of the organization, which are continually printed, updated, distributed.
Whenever a Jehovah's Witness attends a person's door to preach, the easiest way to dissuade them is to say "I'm not interested" and if not wanting to ever receive another door-knock, to request to be put on their do-not-call list.