Not necessarily the dictionary definition of the word apostate, which simply means a person who leaves their religion–for by that definition everyone who leaves any religion to become a JW is an apostate–but the JW conception of the APOSTATE, both as an individual and as a ‘group’ is imaginary.
For starters, the Watchtower goes beyond the definition of merely leaving the religion. According to the September 1, 1980 letter to all circuit and district overseers, if a person “persist in believing other doctrine” than what the Organization currently teaches, they are “apostatizing”. The Watchtower meaning of Apostasy therefore includes heresy, dissension of any kind, and is designed in such a way to prevent schism and grassroots reformation.
Taking a page straight from the book 1984, they hold that any dissenting thought is a “thoughtcrime” and paired with the informing system where deviant thoughts are reported to the elders, it makes millions of JWs “thought police”.
The Watchtower does much to paint a horrific picture of those they label Apostate. Of course, Apostates are viewed as deceitful and cunning, if they aren’t speaking lies, they are speaking half-truths and facts that are misrepresented, out of context, and mischaracterized. They are viewed as wanting to draw a following after themselves. “Apostates” are viewed as Persecutors who foment hate against JWs (therein lies a low threshold for Persecution—disagreement, even protests are not Persecution). Of course, they are considered hateful, angry, and bitter.
Since in Watchtower theology, leaving the Organization means “leaving Jehovah”, no matter how Christian a person who leaves is, how much they adhere to their conscientious understanding of the Bible, they have “left Jehovah”. Since when a person learns TTATT, they realize that concepts such as door-to-door, 1914, a single unified Organization being “the Truth”, the Faithful Slave, the Governing Body, and so forth are unbiblical, they are often characterized by things they no longer believe. On the other hand, the average person on the street does not believe these things either–does that make them guilty of the vilest of crimes?
When a person leaves their former religion and becomes a JW, they are viewed as humble and open-minded. When they criticize other religions or religion leaders, including their former one, it is viewed as zeal and boldness. However, no matter how conscientious a person is, if a JW does this toward Watchtower theology or leadership, or a former JW speaks of legitimate concerns, it is viewed as Persecution.
The Watchtower does much to enflame hatred. Of course, in the publications many decades ago they did outright say that those they label “Apostates” must be hated with a “real hatred”. A quick perusal of the online library finds all manner of hate speech:
- “characteristics similar to those of the Devil”
- “poisoned by a critical attitude”
- “Like their father, Satan, apostates target people of integrity”
- “Their methods reveal a cunning spirit”
- “corruptive ideas”
- “counterfeit words”
- “false arguments”
- “deceptive teachings”
- “twisting the Scriptures”
- “do not have our best interests at heart”
- “mentally diseased”
- “real aim of intruders is to steal and slay and destroy”
- “beat their former associates”
- “ravenous wolves”
- “real enemies”
- “prophesy falsehood in the name of Jehovah”
With these derogatory statements in mind–is it no wonder this Boogeyman exists in the JW mind? I don’t think the Westboro Baptists could do any better in fomenting hatred!
Because those labeled Apostates must be shunned and there is no venue to express dissenting views or to air legitimate questions and concerns publicly—is it no wonder a so-called “apostate” has to be careful in how they express themselves? If they legitimately believe the Watchtower is not teaching the truth and want help their family understand this, what recourse do they have?
Of course, by the time the rank-and-file drinks this hate speech, they are drunk with paranoia, and see the Apostate Boogeyman in every shadow. The clichés and urban legends just exaggerate the one-size-fits-all stereotype of the angry, bitter Apostate who has nothing better to offer, and whose sole goal in life is to make them Doubt.
The word “apostate” becomes a thought-stopping technique. By labeling something “apostate”, they can file an argument away, and just walk away. The label “apostate” does not need to be proven…it is a substitute for proof.
Most times we are only trying to show a JW nothing but what the Watchtower Society has stated. But there are many instances where a JW will not look at an older publication because the Apostate Boogeyman could have potentially doctored it. (Never mind it’s the Society that has amended their own publications at times, as well as revising and spinning their history). Can they present proof of this ever happening? No! They don’t need to find proof. The rank-and-file is even more superstitious in regard to Apostates than they are in regard demons.
I remember a discussion of why wireless mikes were being reconsidered in my congregation. One person mentioned that perhaps it could transmit outside the Kingdom Hall and apostates could be listening in. So what if they did? I found it a strange thought at the time.
Those few who actually live up to the perpetually Angry and Bitter Stereotypes, the kind that protest outside the Memorial and conventions, it is the Watchtower’s hate speech and shunning policy that has created them. When a person is robbed of their friends and family, when they discover the Watchtower has lied to them for years, decades even, anger is only natural! A minority might never work through the pain and may act out in ways that are unbecoming. I cannot help but think that the Organization’s hivemind rejoices in the few that actually live up to the Stereotype. Perceived persecution fuels the us/them delineation that only strengthens the Organization.
Of course, even when an “apostate” is quiet and unassuming, then they are accused of being sly or “subtle”. No matter how gentle the tone, nor how sound the reasoning, the Persecution Card is easily played.
And this is reinforced mindset the Society has created:
- Pride/Arrogance = Disagreement with the Watchtower
- Humility/Meekness = Conformity to the Watchtower
Of course, this hatred and paranoia toward those who leave is one of the universal hallmarks of a high control group. Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor, who is an expert on high control groups says there is “never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: “weak” “undisciplined” “unspiritual” “worldly”. Banning adherents from reading information from former members or any critical information is an important component of Information Control. “Shunning of leave takers” is part and parcel of how such groups maintain power.
Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who has studied mind control, listed eight criteria of thought reform. His 8th point is this:
Dispensing of existence: The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.
Without the work of Steven Hassan and Robert Jay Lifton, the actions of the Watchtower and their adherents would not make a lick of sense. Well, sometimes, on a certain level, these actions never do. Not really. But then psychological conditions such as thought reform do not lend themselves toward people making rational decisions, much less, humane ones.
Many JWs treat those labeled “Apostates” like a character from the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The person they’ve known all their life has been replaced by this look-alike “alien” who seeks to infect them and switch them with a doppelganger. Just listen to the Boogeyman’s “lies, half-truths and misrepresentations” for a little bit and you will be “turn away serving Jehovah”. It is often said that once a person becomes an “apostate”, they never “come back to Jehovah” and they doom themselves eternally. Scary stuff!
Of course, deception does not stand up to the test of time. The more a lie is examined, the more it will fall apart. We, who are viewed as “apostate”, have examined and continue to examine what we believe. We would not risk losing our beloved friends and family for a mere lie. However, once a person is shown the Earth is round, you can never go back to viewing it as flat.
But for the JW, nothing is scarier than a member or former member who disagrees with the Organization, even on a single point. Extreme measures are taken. Often comments are made by JWs that, “Nowadays, we can’t literally kill apostates like in Bible times. But we can certainly kill our association with them!” Witch hunts can easily ensue toward those suspected of apostasy—and ironically, these witch hunts often serve to wake the accused up to TTATT.
Hitler made the Jews the Boogeyman, pouring all sorts of hate and venom, attributing to them the ills of society. The Watchtower does the same thing toward former JWs and causes their adherents to be the Persecutors.
This reminds me of the speech from the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice, just replace Jew with former-JW, and Christian with JW: “Hath not a [former-JW] eyes? Hath not a [former-JW] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as a [JW] is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
Are we therefore Apostates? If by that term it means the Boogeyman stereotype that lurks in the JW imagination, NO!