11: Jehovah’s Witnesses
So at this point I was still, though researching furiously in my free time, faithfully attending Sunday Services at the Methodist Church. I was getting more confused with each passing week, and the “development” of the church was making me most uncomfortable. There were hardly any old hymns sung anymore, all the songs were either sent up from Hillsong, or musical numbers performed by the teenagers or even the younger children. It became like a weekly concert put on for the people. It was about entertaining and amusing… not worship. There were less and less men in the whole church, and it began to feel like a mother’s club meeting – at one point, the elderly lady sitting next to me one Sunday whispered that to me, just as I was thinking the exact same thing! The services were stumbled over, around and through, and no one seemed to have any idea of what they were, or should have been, doing. But worse than that – they did not care.
After one such service I was sitting at home feeling hopeless and wondering where I could go to find the answers I was so desperately seeking. I wished someone would just turn up at my door with everything written down and say “here, read this, its will tell you what you need to know!” And wouldn’t you know it – at that moment the door bell rang.
The neatly dressed gentleman on the other side of the door was doing exactly what I had been wishing someone would do. And the book he thrust into my hands had the words “The Watchtower” printed across the front.
Now, I am Australian, I would have to have been living in a pretty secluded place to have never met with one of his kind before. I had read several of these Watchtower magazines in my life as well, and back in my days with the Baptist Church, I could confidently argue down any Jehovah’s Witness that made the mistake of coming to my door. But those heady days of confidence and well-rehearsed answers to every possible question were well behind me now, and I open-mindedly took the text he offered, promised to read it, and quietly nodded when he told me he would come back in a while to see what I thought of it.
I approached the magazine with the eyes of one who had learned, unlearned and relearned more religious dogma than I had ever thought possible. The idea occurred to me that, just like when I was sitting in Paul Church all the way over in Cornwall, and I allowed myself the possibility that God might exist, perhaps I should allow myself the possibility that Jehovah’s Witnesses, for all the warnings I had received from the age of five when I had first met the girl next door, may, after all, be the real keepers of the Truth.
The concepts raised in the Watchtower magazine cleared up for me (perhaps by nothing more magical than agreeing with my, though weakened, still held preconceived notions). It reinforced the importance of structure in worship and organisation in religion. It emphasised the roles played by order, respect and reverence in society. And of course who can resist those cheerfully-painted colour illustrations!
John, as I came to know him as, came back several times to my house, and we discussed religion in a conspicuously thorough manner. Conspicuous because, as it took me a few meetings to realise, he always came to me with a pre-written speech in his head, anticipating my objections and ready to fire off his answers to questions I had not even asked. Some of the time he was spot on – some times completely off the mark, but it did not take him long to have me pegged – he could tell from my modest dress, and the particular things I complained about from my Methodist Church, that I was looking for something more organised, traditional and regulated.
He confirmed my beliefs that women should not be ministers. He confirmed by beliefs that a women’s most blessed role was in the home. He confirmed my beliefs that mainstream fashion was infecting the church and distorting its vision and focus.
And then he started to tickle thoughts that had been planted in my mind without my being aware of them. The Trinity – I knew that word never appeared in the Bible, but in the denominations I had been a part of it did not come up very often. Had I ever considered that the whole concept was skewed and, in plain English, wrong?
Well now that you mention it…
He invited me to their next “meeting”, and out of curiosity, I attended. I was well prepared for all the “love and affection” that I would be showered with upon entering the Kingdom Hall – I had read enough testimonies for that. The smiling faces and enthusiastic greetings therefore did little to sway my cautious curiosity. The lady that sat on one side of me gushed about her experience of “coming to the Truth with the Jehovah’s Witnesses” – she had first been pulled in when she discovered that God’s real name was Jehovah. Amazing! No one in her old Catholic Church had told her that! Did I know that was His name? Well yes, I did. I also knew that it was not spelled nor pronounced as “Jehovah” until the middle ages in England when Tyndale was looking for an appropriate English transliteration for the difficult Hebrew Tetragramaton known most accurately today as YHWH. But no, I did not expound on these facts to her.
I sat down and listened attentively to everything that was said from the pulpit. I had my New King James Bible open on my lap, and looked up every verse they mentioned, even though it was simultaneously displayed on the overhead projector. I also knew, from detractors, that Jehovah’s Witnesses preferred their own translation of Scripture, which was of questionable origin.
I compared everything and found only one small and seemingly insignificant variation in the two translations. At the end of the “meeting”, John offered to give me my own copy of the New World Translation of Holy Scriptures. I felt guilty accepting, because even though I was burning with curiosity and desperate to get my hands on that text, I knew it was not going to achieve the end he desired – my study of the New World Translation was to pull it apart, not to let it influence me toward joining this happy, well-dressed group of people.
Upon arriving home I referred to my faithful Online Interlinear Bible. I did not have to study long to find the deal breaker – probably because, even though I considered myself to be looking at this religion with an open mind, I knew where to look: John 1:1-2.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
I had loved those verses since I had first read them as an enthusiastic 19 year old in the Baptist Church. It was definitive proof to me that Jesus was, and IS, God – and so everything that followed, the entire Gospel, was right, true, and to be trusted. I was dying to know how the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpreted THAT.
And there I found the crack in their foundations. Their bible inserted a tiny word into that text, which extensive searching of Hebrew and interlinear translations proved was regarded by no other group: a.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god. Extra a, little g. That tiny insertion changed the entire message of the New Testament. Jesus was A god? How many gods were there?
And what a minute – so Jesus was not actually THE God?
Of course, if you build your house on foundations like that, it can wobble into any particular shape you desire it to. And if you arrange and lead your organisation with the eagle-sharp eyes and stealthy efficiency of The Watchtower, then you can train your armies to cheerfully believe, and preach, whatever you wish. Waco here we come.
I knew in that instant that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have the Truth of God. It was a shame, they were lovely people, and in that room I really did see some whole-hearted love toward what they believed was God. But they did not have the Truth. And what I wanted, more than anything else in my life, was the Truth.
Part 12 will be published tomorrow.