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Judgment Day Must Wait: Jehovah's Witnesses- A Sect Between Idealism and Deceit Paperback – July 16, 2013
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Poul’s treatment of the movement’s history, member’s experiences and disquieting statistics are eye-opening, to say the least. The 600-page book is “sometimes academic, often documentary and an endlessly human examination of a wholly manmade theocracy and its apocalyptic crimes of ideology and religious folly.”
I was impressed with how Poul shares important events in perspective to the time periods they occurred and his delightful sense of humor peppered in through out the journey.
Poul alerts us early on to Watchtower’s culture by reporting, “Psychologically speaking, the movement’s own self-understanding is enormously exaggerated. From a world point of view, it is largely inconsequential. As a phenomenon, the JWs are hugely well known—far beyond what the movement’s size warrants! But, their history is at the same time extremely interesting, fascinating and frightening.
“JWs find themselves in a conceptual world characterized by delusions, making it impossible for them to grasp the gravity of their situation
The systematic subversive and detrimental influence, to which they are constantly exposed, causes their real “I” to be overlaid with the weight of organizational matter, absurd doctrines, and unreasonable rules, all of which are done to keep them detached from anything considered normal by the rest of society.”
American Adventist William Miller gave birth to the idea that the second coming of Christ would occur around 1843 and it found a home with Charles Taze Russell, Watchtower’s founder. Russell built his church group on this concept. But with no formal theological training, he needed significant help from several colorful characters such as George Storrs, Nelson Barbour and Maria Frances Ackley.
The golden thread holding his movement together was the imminence of Judgment Day and the Second Coming of Christ. While predicted dates would come and go, each failure of Christ to reappear would be carefully evaluated to foretell yet another apocalypse still to come, that it would probably “still take a few years.”
“Brethren, those of us who are in the right attitude toward God are not,” Russell said, “disappointed at any of His arrangements. We did not wish our own will to be done; so when we found out that we were expecting the wrong thing in October 1914, then we were glad that the Lord did not change His plan to suit us.”
Russell’s church group would never have been called Jehovah’s Witnesses had a succession plan been in place. For sure, Pastor Russell would not have suggested Rutherford as his successor. In fact, prior to Russell’s death in 1916, Russell did everything he could to separate Rutherford from the Society he had created.
But with help from hand-picked cronies and missing legal documents, Rutherford’s manipulative nature earned him the presidency. It also meant a new movement was created, which would become more cult-like. Rutherford’s ideal member would be a conformed individual with no personal opinion, who would allow the leaders of the organization to decide what he should think and believe about everything.
During Rutherford’s watch, new marketing campaign launches were always linked to apocalyptic events predicted for specific years. But, no one orchestrated these campaigns better than Rutherford’s successor, Nathan Knorr.
Knorr’s regime was also characterized with a more business-like mentality. He initiated a much stricter, almost puritan structure. This change not only put greater demands on member’s activities, but it also strained member’s personal lives.
For all that Watchtower has done to champion freedom of religion, it does not practice what it preaches. Poul does a masterful job of showing readers just how difficult Watchtower makes it for members today if they want to leave.
The organization has become a “giant” without heart or sense. Members stay with the group because of family and social ties, the threat of severe shunning if they leave and a phobia-induced fear of Armageddon.
Poul’s book clearly illustrates how foolish people can be when they too strongly and uncritically engage in a utopian idea. And, he concludes his story with, “We now find ourselves in 2016, more than 100 years after the Day of Judgment failed to materialize. But in spite of it all, and once again, according to the Witnesses, we are nearing the end of the road; Armageddon is just around the corner.”
PS - I thought I knew all that there was to know about Watchtower’s 138-year history. So when a friend suggested I read Poul’s 2016 book, I was skeptical of learning anything new, especially since I had just read Lloyd Evans book, The Reluctant Apostate. But, was I ever wrong. Judgment Day Must Wait is a must-read for all curious ex-JWs and for anyone interested in reading a well-written and expertly-researched book about the JW movement.
Poul Bregninge, Judgment Day Must Wait. Jehovah’s Witnesses, A Sect Between Idealism and Deceit. YBK. New York. 2013. 587 pgs. Index. Bibliography. Appendices. ISBN: 978-1-936411-23-8. $39.95.
Poul Bregninge believes the hierarchy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and its prophecy doctrines deserve to be held up for intense scrutiny by a global audience, and he has done just that. He begins with a thorough look at Charles Taze Russell, the movement’s 19th century founder. Using a myriad of historical sources including archival material from the Church of God General Conference, he examines Russell as a power-hungry theologian of questionable morals who established a religious organization with a hierarchy complicit in brainwashing to control its members around the world.
As a consequence, this book does not paint the movement or its leaders in a fond light.
This is the third book by the author on some aspect of the failings of the Bible Student Movement. Their chief failing is in the continual need to set dates for judgment day, known as Armageddon. Failure by members who question the actions of the leaders, results in their ruthless expulsion and shunning by local church congregations. To question church authority is viewed by the hierarchy as heresy.
The author contends that the threat of judgment in Armageddon has been a kind of control over members. The fear of judgment has provoked members into compliance, and conversely has sparked continued growth of the organization world-wide. At the same time, the disillusionment by members has caused falling away, questioning, and expulsion so that millions of ex-Witnesses hide as it were around the world, some who never find their way back to faith.
The author is prolific in his excellent writing style to offer speculative theories about past motives of leaders, and to analyze some actions of the sect in a manner that some historians might consider to be outside the scope of valid historicity. Yet a case can be made that the author has every right and authority to speculate and to analyze. He and his family were themselves ejected from their congregation and shunned by their families. He writes from deep-felt hurt that in a lifetime he has not completely forgotten.
Readers who have been expelled from the Witnesses (or for that matter, any religious group on grounds of heresy) will recognize the pain of loss, the grief of death—the death of a lifestyle. In fact, Bregninge has contacted and has been contacted by many such former members, each with interesting testimonies that corroborate his own experience giving this book a broad base of credibility.
The author’s writing style is personable and readable. You might not want to read this much about the Witnesses, but if you’re searching for answers or for comfort, you will find yourself being led deeper and deeper into the center of the book until you have the whole story, and you won’t mind it a bit. When you’ve finished reading, you might find yourself returning to it time and again as a reference for names, dates and facts. For example, the author’s chapter on an exposition of Matthew 24 from the historical-critical method of interpretation explains the the Witnesses’ Armageddon theology comparing the Revised Standard Version with the New World Translation.
Dates which have been set for judgment day that failed to materialize include 1870, 1914, 1925, 1954, and 1974. The author makes a strong case that the hierarchy is presently preparing to set the date and publish all the instructional materials for supporting the year 2034. Will this be the magical date? Only time will tell.
Bregninge translated the American edition of his new book from his Danish book Dommedag ma Vente, (Gyldendal). and during the process added a great deal more information. Strangely, he mentions his first Danish book in the bibliography, but not his second. His next project is to translate Judgment Day Must Wait into Danish for readers at home. Bregninge resides in Copenhagen with his dear wife Birgit, a talented artist and homemaker.
This book is recommended for any student of American church history and for ex- members of the Jehovah Witnesses who are looking for answers or comfort. It may be purchased from Amazon.com.