Youve seen them on street corners or ringing doorbells in your neighborhood.
They travel in pairs, carrying copies of their magazines. Theyre Jehovahs Witnesses (JWs), members of a fast-growing, non-Christian
religion. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS)the name of the Jehovahs Witnesses publishing house and parent organizationis
headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, and publishes two magazines that appear twice each month: Awake!, which is a general
interest magazine with occasional religious content, and The Watchtower, which more formally presents the doctrines
and beliefs of the WTS and is usually intended for initiates or those who have at least expresssed an interest in knowing
more about the Jehovahs Witnesses. Sample copies are given away free, but it is not unusual for Witnesses to solicit a "donation"
for "placing" copies of either magazine.
It doesnt take long, after browsing through a few issues, to learn that the
Witnesses have a fixation with Catholicism. They devote an inordinate amount of space in their magazines to attacks on Catholic
beliefs. On the whole, the debunking
is done in a relatively inoffensive manner, but nonetheless its obvious which ecclesiastical
organization is seen as the great enemy. (In the 1920s and 1930sthe era of "Judge" Rutherford, the second president of the
WTSthe attacks on the Catholic Church were more virulent and direct, but the WTS has since toned down its approach.) Lets
look at representative issues, but first its necessary to understand the WTSs use of anonymity in its articles and publications.
Privacy at All Costs
The officials in Brooklyn value anonymity highly. The Jehovahs Witnesses publish
their own translation of the Biblethe so-called New World Translation (NWT)which was produced by committee, but the
names of the committee members have not been revealed by the WTS. This version is used routinelybut not exclusivelyin their
publications. It should be noted that JWs will use other Bible translations, but only when it suits their purposes to do so.
The NWT is universally rejected by non-Witnesses, including secular Greek
and Hebrew scholars. These scholars, and informed critics of the Watchtower, speculate that few of the members who served
on the committee were experienced as translators or even knew the rudiments of Hebrew or Greek; the NWT appears to be little
more than a modification of already-existing English versions. It was by means of two former Witnesses, Bill Cetnar (who worked
in the Brooklyn headquarters) and Raymond Franz (a former member of the WTSs Governing Body) that the identity of the committee
members became known and therefore that the scholars suspicions were confirmed. According to Cetnar and Franz, only one member
of the committee (Frederick Franz, fourth WTS president and Raymond Franzs uncle) studied biblical languages at all,
and he studied non-biblical Greek for only two years.
Also, with the exception of some personal testimony stories, readers of both
magazines will fail to find the names of people who authored the various articles contained in them. The WTS does this partly
because it supresses individuality within the organization and partly because it prevents the reader from examining an authors
requisite credentials to teach on the given subject matter. Witnesses are taught to submit to the WTS, not to question
its publications. Consequently, the anonymity is understandable.
The November 8, 1988, issue of Awake! features on its cover a painting
of the Virgin and the title, "Mary: The Answer to World Crisis?" Inside are seven short articles about Mary and Marian devotion.
All but one, a personal conversion story, are anonymous. The byline for the first, for instance, is this: "By Awake!
correspondent in Italy."
The first article in Awake! is about a recent Marian year. Like other
pieces Awake! has run about things Catholic, it takes swipes at the Church of Rome. The reader is told that "traditionalist
Catholics" were pleased with the televised proclamation of the Marian Year, but "for others, both Catholics and non-Catholics,
it was a useless waste of money, a cosmic show of doubtful taste."
Why did Pope John Paul II proclaim a Marian year in the first place? Because,
"for quite some time, in the more conservative Catholic spheres, there has been concern over the fact that Marian worship
seems to have been obscured." (Notice that Catholic doctrine has been subtly misrepresented. Catholics do not "worship" Mary,
but they do honor and venerate her. Such misrepresentation is not an uncommon occurrence in the pages of WTS publications.)
The writer says there were other motivesfor instance, it was hoped that increased pilgrimages to Marian shrines would result
in increased priestly vocations.
Not all Catholics were pleased that a Marian year had been proclaimed. "Catholic
priest Franco Barbero [otherwise unidentified] caused a stir when he publicly declared that he never prayed to Mary. In his
Letter to Mary, Barbero states that she has been crushed under a mountain of dogmas, relics, devotionalisms, legends, superstition.
The same priest has also stated that even speaking of a "year of Mary" could raise legitimate perplexities."
So far, these complaints sound as though they could come from any "Bible Christian"
or even any secularist. But the Witnesses have twists of their own. The Awake! author asks why so many Catholics have
become "Madonna worshipers." He answers, "There are many reasons. Some of them stem directly from doctrines taught by the
Catholic Church. For example, since the Church teaches that Jesus is equal to God, this leaves no independent intermediary
between man and God. God and Christ, surrounded by an aura of Trinitarian mystery, are no longer approachable, and for this
reason the role of intermediary between the Divinity and humankind has been delegated to the Madonna."
These lines might be confusing to those who dont realize that the Jehovahs
Witnesses dont believe in the Trinity. They believe that Jesus is not divine, is not the Second Person of the Trinityin fact,
that there is no Second Person, because there is no Trinity in their view. If Jesus is not divine, what is he? A creature,
though the best of creatures. He was the first thing created by God and had a prehuman existence, and it was through him,
as an agent, that God created everything else.
Jesus Only an Archangel
Still, hes only a creature. The miracles he performed attested not to his
own divinity, but to approval of him by God. In heaven, Jesus is now known as Michael. (This identification of Jesus and Michael
the Archangel relies on Jude 9, Daniel 10:13 and 12:1, and Revelation 12:7-8. Read them for yourself and see how far-fetched
What these beliefs of the Witnesses amount to is the ancient heresy of Arianism,
which is nothing new. Athanasius battled it a millennium and a half ago. The Witnesses, in condemning Marian doctrines, often
come up with reasons of their own, quite distinct from those given by Fundamentalists. Like Fundamentalists, they oppose giving
Mary the title Theotokos (Greek for "One who bore God" or, less literally, "Mother of God"). "It does not appear in
the Bible," writes the anonymous author. Worse, "she cannot be described as the Mother of God for the simple reason that Jesus
was not God the Son, but the Son of God. The Trinity doctrine was no part of ancient Hebrew belief and is not taught in the
No Fundamentalist would argue like this. He would agree that the notion of
Mary as Theotokos does not appear in the Bible (and hed be wrong), but hed never argue that Mary isnt the Mother of
God on the grounds that Jesus isnt God. The Fundamentalist fully accepts our Lords divinity.
Awake! is not adverse to misquoting and twisting the words of Catholic
writers when doing so can help them slam the Church. Referring to Mary, the anonymous writer says, "The [Catholic] Church
claims she was always virgin. While the Bible itself specifically states that Mary was a virgin before giving birth to Jesus,
virginity after childbirth is not indicated in the New Testament, writes Catholic theologian [René] Laurentin." This makes
it seem that Laurentin, an expert in Mariology, disbelieves in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Quite the opposite. What he
was saying is that the New Testament doesnt say, in so many words, that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus birthand it also
doesnt say she didnt. But this quote is a typical example of how the WTS will cite sources in a selective and slanted manner:
First, readers of WTS publications are never given the context of the sources cited. Second, the WTS will quote only a portion
of relevant passages, giving the appearance that the author holds a view directly opposite of what he or she actually believesand
this opposite view conveniently supports WTS beliefs. Third, the WTS rarely provides sufficient references for their sources,
leaving readers unable to check the sources for themselves.
Perfectly good arguments can be made that the New Testament does,
indeed, establish Marys perpetual virginity, but Laurentin was only acknowledging that we wont find in the text a line that
says, "And Mary never had any other children." We are left to infer that from other facts given to us in the text.
The Jehovahs Witnesses other magazine is The Watchtower. Twenty-two
million copies of each issue are printed in well over 100 languages, and about a third of those copies are in English. (Awake!
has a somewhat smaller circulation.)
The December 1, 1988, issue of The Watchtower features a photograph
of a cathedral on its cover. Superimposed is the question, "What Traditions Please God?" Apparently not something like All
Souls Day, which "seems strange or even bizarre to an outside observer." And well it might, since were told that it and many
other "religious traditions are plainly derived from, or at least [are] astonishingly similar to, non-Christian religious
rites. For example, All Souls Day virtually parallels the Buddhist festival of Ullambana, a day set aside for the expression
of filial piety to deceased ancestors and the release of spirits from bondage to this world." The New Encyclopedia Britannica
is cited as the source of the last quotation. The (again) anonymous author asks, "Are followers of such traditions really
worshipping in truth?" He refers the reader to John 4:23, "The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."
The next paragraph is a give-away. It throws a bright light on the authors
confusion. It says: "Some argue that the mere acceptance of traditions into the Church justifies them. Said the Second Vatican
Council in 1965: It is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been
revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion
The confusion here is equating mere traditionscustoms or ways of doing thingswith
Tradition, the oral teaching given by Jesus to the apostles and passed through their successors, the bishops. Vatican II,
in this passage, was talking about "upper-case" Tradition, not "lower-case" tradition. The writer for The Watchtower
was either grossly ignorant of the meaning of Catholic terms, or he tried to pull a fast one here, knowing that the word "Tradition"also
called "sacred Tradition"implies something other than mere "tradition"or "human tradition."
Such an approach is not unusual for the WTS, which often misrepresents or
confuses official Catholic doctrine, and then refutes the mistaken notion rather than the actual teaching. This approach is
called the "straw man" tactic. The misrepresented belief, which is essentially "made of nothing" and thus called a "straw
man," is set up and then easily refuted or "knocked down." To the unsuspecting person, this tactic makes the WTS appear
quite scholarly and biblically astute. The danger, however, lies in the fact that the WTS is refuting beliefs and teachings
which are not legitimate Catholic doctrine.
All Souls Day is a custom the Church developed centuries after the apostles,
not a doctrine. Yet when Vatican II speaks of Tradition, it refers only to those doctrines and practices which have been handed
down from the apostles, either implicitly or explicitly. It is only the latterthose which have come down to us from the apostlesthat
are automatically accepted. Those invented later can be changed, modified, or even abandoned as needed.
In any event, there is nothing wrong with All Souls Day. The Bible teaches
that we should pray for the dead (2 Macc. 12:44-45though Witnesses rely on the Protestant canon of Scripture, which cut this
book out of the Bible). And no serious historian would claim that All Souls Day is in any way derived from the Buddhist festival
Ullambanathough this is precisely the conclusion suggested from the way the WTS presents its sources.
These are but a few examples of how the WTS distorts Catholic beliefs and
presents "scholarship" in support of its views. These examples provide a "representative slice" of the thinking and modus
operandi of the WTS, and they should serve as a warning signal for those unsuspecting people who open their doors to JWs
and welcome their message. When dealing with WTS publications, be forewarned that the material exhibited there is distorted
in such a way so as to present what appears to be a rather compelling case for WTS theology. But all that glitters is not