I had been wanting to read this book for a fews, and finally sat down and devoured it in every spair moment last week. I had heard that this book has helped a lot of people break away from Jehovah’s Witness brainwashing, so having been raised in the JW cult, I was very interested. I already didn’t believe in any of their teaching, or even in any kind of deity, but was interested to see what Ray Franz had to say about the organisation. Here is my review (also posted on Goodreads):
TRIGGER WARNINGS: sexual abuse and rape, brainwashing, violence, theft, ableism, sexual harassment, cults, forced marriage, cheating/adultery, homophobia, fascism/totalitarianism, racism, religious abuse, religious intolerance, antisemitism, child sexual abuse, paranoia, victim blaming, sociopathy, psychological abuse, sexism and misogyny
Ray Franz lived and worked in every level of the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) power structure, and was a member of their organisation for 43 years. This book is a very honest and illuminating account of his experiences and observations during that time, especially of the nine years he spent on the organisation’s governing body (the small group of men that dictate the doctrines and policies of the entire organisation).
Throughout the book, Ray shows a surprising level of compassion towards everyone involved in this power structure, even those on the governing body. Every detail of changes in doctrine or policy, cover-up, failed prophecy, and piece of misinformation, includes quotes sources, and photocopies of Watchtower Magazines and other JW publications, as well as copies of written correspondence between members of the organisation. Those who consider it relevant can also look up any of the bible passages that Ray sites to back up any of his beliefs and show problems and inconsistencies in JW doctrine. For anyone wanting to discount the book as being by someone who just wishes to create devision, or who is “spiritually weak”, Ray gives an account of his many years of service to the organisation, and the lengths he went to in dedicating his whole life and all his energy to the god he believed in.
Most of the book deals with Ray’s nine years of service on the governing body, (which from here on I will just refer to as the GB), starting in 1971. The GB had previously only been made up of the board of directors of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We get a good look inside the workings of this highly secretive power structure, including how they make decisions on policies, doctrines, and restructuring of their power structure, how they respond to questions that arise from JWs outside of their headquarters, their reactions to their failed prophecies, and decisions about disciplinary action. We get to see just how much control the organisation has over very intimate details in the lives of JWs all over the world. These are the people that every JW must view as “God’s sole channel of communication and guideance on Earth”. Most JWs seem to view the Gb as a group of highly spiritual men, that every decision they make must be directed by some sort of “holy spirit”, and that they know and understand every verse in the bible. I have got the impression that the general impression is that GB sessions would involve sitting around praying together about every matter that needs discussing and that they would then turn to their bibles to find answers. Anyone who has this picture in their minds will likely find the reality in this book quite shocking.
Over time, the JWs have attached a lot of significance to certain dates, connecting them to interpretations of bible prophecies. The lengths they go to in attempts to cling to these, even when members of the GB are unsure whether to keep believing them, might be surprising to some readers. Their own publications try to gloss over any past teachings that they may find uncomfortable or embarrassing. They have worked to discredit archeological and historical evidence, to prop up members’ belief in prophecies that relate to certain dates. Several times while reading this book, I was reminded of 1984 by George Orwell.
Towards the end, Ray describes his being told to resign from the GB and from the organisation’s headquarters, and then the events that lead to his finally being completely outcast (disfellowshipped). He also tells of similar processes suffered by some of his closest friends. Some readers less familiar with the JW cult may be quite surprised by the incident that was used as the reason for the organisation’s final decision against Ray. I think it says a lot about what they are really like.
Unsurprisingly, I have heard “Crisis of Conscience” refered to as the final nail in the coffin of the watchtower. For the JW organisation, I think this book could definitely be considered the kind of “defining moment” mentioned in the following paragraph, taken from the foreword of Crisis of Conscience.
“IN THE HISTORY of a religious organization there can be defining moments, particular times and circumstances that allow for seeing beyond external appearance and recognizing the true character and essential spirit of the organization. The organization’s own self-image, its dominant cast of mind and outlook, its motivating force and its pattern of response to disagreement or challenge, can then be seen more clearly. The factors that come to light may have actually been there all along, at the inner core of the organization, but were beneath the surface, even at odds with external appearances and professed principles. The defining moment may produce a portrait that is disturbingly different from the image the organization holds in the minds of its membership, and that defining period may even escape their notice if those at the organization’s center can effectively suppress awareness of it.”
Any JW who is found to have read this book, or to express any similar oppinions or concerns that are mentioned in it, will suffer a lot of psychological abuse, including being “disfellowshipped”, resulting in being shunned by every person they know who is a JW, even their family. Anyone who has been a JW, who does not agree completely with every teaching of the organisation is viewed as an “apostate” and must be completely avoided at all costs. I think this quote is a perfect example of the level of mind control that is used: “The District Overseer, Bart Thompson, held up a Society publication that had a green cover. He then said to the assembly of elders, “If the Society told me that this book is black instead of green, I would say, ‘Y’know I could have sworn that it was green, but if the Society says it’s black, then it’s black!’””