Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? (Part 1)

What JW.ORG Says

“No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. Rather, we are Christians who do our best to follow the example set by Jesus Christ and to live by his teachings.”

The Truth

Yes. Despite being a Bible-based, Christian religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses nonetheless fit the criteria for what constitutes a cult. Jehovah’s Witnesses even meet their own definition of a cult.

What is a cult?

“A cult is a group or movement exhibiting excessive devotion to a person or idea and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control to advance the goals of its leaders.” W94 2/15 pp. 3-4 (referencing a joint resolution of the 100th congress of the State of Maryland)

When sociologists, psychologists or other experts seek to determine whether a group is a cult, they must consider a wide variety of factors. They cannot simply rely on a dictionary definition. Cults are complex, and vary in their belief systems, goals, and techniques to recruit and maintain control over their members.

The model most accepted by experts is the BITE model. (Behavioral Control, Information Control, Thought Control and Emotion Control).

Here we will examine how Watchtower employs each part of the BITE model to exercise control over its  members:

Behavioral Control

  • Promote dependence and obedience
    • “So whether you are an adult or a child, learn obedience by accepting discipline so that “it may go well with you” and that “you may endure a long time on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) Who wants to jeopardize his prospect of living forever by failing to learn obedience by not accepting discipline?”​—John 11:26.” w92 10/1 pp. 26-29

  • Modify behavior with rewards and punishments
    • “Have you ever doubted whether you will enter the new world? It is certainly good not to be overconfident, since our receiving the prize of life is dependent on our remaining faithful to the end.” Watchtower, April 1st 2004
      • Reward: Everlasting life on a paradise earth.
      • Punishment: Destruction at Armageddon if you are not “faithful to the end.”

  • Restrict or control sexuality
    • “You may have to be strict with yourself when improper thoughts about the opposite sex seem to invade your mind. If the thoughts persist, try some physical exercise. The Bible says: ‘Bodily training is beneficial for a little.’ (1 Timothy 4:8) A brisk walk or a few minutes of physical exercise may be all that you need to help you fight off the distracting thoughts.

      “Above all, don’t overlook the help that is available from your heavenly Father. ‘When I feel sexual urges coming on,’ says one Christian, ‘I really make myself pray.’ No, God won’t take away your interest in the opposite sex. But with his help, you can discover that there are many other things to think about.” yp2 chap. 29 pp. 237-242
From the JW.ORG article “I’m Attracted To the Same Sex–Does That Mean I’m Gay?”
  • Control clothing and hairstyle
    • “The Bible makes it clear that Jehovah, the Sovereign of the universe, has standards for the way he wants his servants to dress. So, what we choose to wear should please not only us but, more important, our Sovereign Lord, Jehovah.” ws16 September pp. 14-19
    • “What message is conveyed by a Christian woman’s hairstyle and hair color (if dyed) or her use of jewelry and cosmetics? Is it: This is a clean, modest, and balanced servant of God?” w91 6/1 pp. 30-31
    • “We also show that we are no part of the world by our dress and grooming. Many people in the world dress to get attention, to stir up immoral thoughts in others, to show rebellion against society, or to show off how much money they have. Other people don’t care what they look like. They may choose to be messy or dirty. We cannot allow any of these attitudes to influence our choice of dress and grooming.” Keep Yourself in God’s Love, Chapter 5

  • Exploit you financially
    • “Jehovah’s Witnesses consider it a privilege to use their money and other resources to advance the preaching work.” od chap. 12 pp. 123-129

    • “Our brothers, even those who are in poor economic situations, are like the Macedonians who were in “deep poverty” and yet begged for the privilege to give and did so generously.​—2 Cor. 8:1-4.” w18 January pp. 17-21

  • Restrict leisure time and activities
    • “Too much time spent on leisure, entertainment, and socializing can lull a person into spending less and less time in spiritual pursuits. We must keep leisure in its proper place.” km 8/01 p. 8

    • “For recreation to benefit us and be pleasing in Jehovah’s eyes, it needs to meet specific standards set out in God’s Word.” w11 10/15 pp. 8-12

  • Require you to seek permission for major decisions
    •  “What will help us to make wise decisions that will contribute to our stability as God’s servants? One longtime Christian said: “I ask for Jehovah’s help when making decisions. I believe it is important to accept and apply counsel given in the Bible, at Christian meetings, by the elders, and in Bible-based publications.” w03 5/15 pp. 21-24

Information Control

From the May 2015 Study Edition of the Watchtower. The caption reads: “Satan rejoices when one of Jehovah’s servants commits a sin
  • Deliberately withhold and distort information.
  • Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics
    • “Like a kidnapper who carries an unsuspecting victim away from his family, apostates prey upon trusting members of the congregation, seeking to carry them away from the flock… We “avoid them” by steering clear of their reasonings​—whether in person, in printed form, or on the Internet. Why do we take such a stand? First, because God’s Word directs us to do so, and we trust that Jehovah always has our best interests at heart.” w04 2/15 pp. 15-20
    • “Food on the table of demons is poisonous. Consider, for example, the food dispensed by the evil slave class and the apostates. It does not nourish or build up; it is not wholesome. It cannot be, for the apostates have stopped feeding at Jehovah’s table. As a result, whatever they had developed of the new personality is gone. What motivates them is, not holy spirit, but vitriolic bitterness. They are obsessed with only one aim​—beating their former fellow slaves, as Jesus foretold.” w94 7/1 pp. 8-13

From the April 1st 1983 Watchtower, page 20-25
  • Discourage access to non-cult sources of information
    • “Satan tries to influence the way people think by using false information and propaganda. (Read 1 John 5:19.) Newspapers, books, magazines, radio, TV, and the Internet spread information over the whole earth. These sources offer some useful information, but they often promote conduct that goes against Jehovah’s standards. (Jeremiah 2:13) For example, they may say that there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage.” Watchtower August 2014 Study Edition

    • Our Bible students also need to learn how to study. When they are new, we are happy to see them simply underline the answers in preparation for their Bible study or for congregation meetings. But we do need to teach our Bible students how to do research and how to do meaningful study on their own. In that way, when problems arise, instead of immediately turning to others in the congregation for help, they will know how to get practical advice for themselves by doing research in our publications.”  w19 May pp. 26-31
    • The most thorough article published by the Witnesses on “How to Do Research” mentions only to use Watchtower-published resources, with one stray mention on using a public library “if necessary.”  be p. 33-p. 38 par. 4

  • Divide information into Insider vs. Outsider doctrine
    • “…no one can really be happy unless he is a friend of Jehovah, ‘the happy God…’ Worldly thinking is based on human ideas and values rather than on Jehovah’s thinking. It can make us stop trusting in Jehovah, so we need to reject it. We must learn to view matters as Jehovah does.” Watchtower–Simplified Study Edition, November 15th 2017
      • Insiders: Jehovah’s Witnesses
      • Outsiders: “Worldly People”
From the August 2014 Study Edition of the Watchtower. The caption reads: “How can regular worship protect you from being tricked by Satan?
  • Generate and use propaganda extensively
  • Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors
    • “If we are struggling with wrong sexual desires…Christian elders are especially qualified to help us.” …“Seeking assistance [from the elders] is essential if the source of any immoral desires is the unclean habit of viewing pornography. The longer the delay in seeking help, the greater the risk that unclean desires will ‘become fertile and give birth to sin’ that will hurt others and bring reproach on Jehovah’s name” w15 6/15 pp. 13-17
    • “Today, to regain a good relationship with Jehovah, a Christian who has committed a serious sin needs to go to the elders so that they can help him. Why is this so important? First, it is Jehovah who arranged for the elders to judge cases of serious sin.” (James 5:14-16) ws17 November pp. 9-14
    • “If we let selfish, unclean thoughts and feelings take over, we are in danger of being ensnared by the Devil for the doing of his will. (2 Timothy 2:26) To stand firm against him, we must exercise firm control of our thoughts and emotions as well as of our words and actions. We must discipline our minds to think on things virtuous, righteous, chaste and lovable” w84 10/15 pp. 15-20
    • To be considered an active Jehovah’s Witness, members need to fill out monthly field service reports, documenting their hours and number of placements of Watchtower publications.
  • Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct”
    • “What if we become aware that someone is involved in a secret sin, perhaps abusing alcohol, viewing pornography, or living an immoral life? (Eph. 5:11, 12) Our turning a blind eye to gross wrongdoing can hinder the free flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit and threaten the peace of the entire congregation. (Gal. 5:19-23) Just as the early Christians in Corinth had to clear out badness, so today any corrupting influence must be kept out of the congregation in order to preserve its healthy, positive spirit. …those Scripturally obligated to handle the matter​—the elders in the congregation—​should be informed” w12 2/15 pp. 18-22

Thought Control

  • Instill Black vs. White, Us vs. Them, & Good vs. Evil thinking
    • “Like the air we breathe, the spirit of the world is all around us. If we do not work hard to resist that spirit, it will affect us. (Read Proverbs 4:23.) This can begin in ways that seem innocent, such as allowing ourselves to be influenced by the thinking and attitudes of people who do not worship Jehovah. (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33) Or we could be affected by such things as pornography, apostasy, or highly competitive sports.​—See Endnote 18.” lvs chap. 5 pp. 60-74
    • “What about you? Do you want to be part of Satan’s world? Or are you for God’s new system? If you are for God’s new system, you will be separate from the world…” pe chap. 25 pp. 208-216
  • Change your identity, possibly even your name
    • Although Watchtower does not ask their members to literally change their name, there is a constant emphasis on adopting “The New Personality” of their religion.
      • “Each of us should ask himself, ‘What more can I do to strip off and keep off the old personality?’ We need to pray fervently for God’s help and work hard to overcome any attitude or practice that will prevent us from inheriting God’s Kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21)” w17 August pp. 22-26
  • Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought
    • “There are just two sides: God’s and the Devil’s” –Awake 1970, August 22 p. 5
    • “Wait on Jehovah”
    • “Where else would you go?”
    • “No other organization ___”
    • “That’s worldly thinking.”
  • Teach thought-stopping techniques to prevent critical thoughts
    • “Doubt can be a powerful, destructive force. If we yield to it, it can eat away at our faith and cause us to sink spiritually. We need to fight back vigorously! How? By keeping the right focus. If we dwell on what scares us, what discourages us, what distracts us from Jehovah and his Son, we will find our doubts growing. If we focus on Jehovah and his Son, on what they have done, are doing, and will do for those who love them, we will keep corrosive doubts at bay.” ia chap. 21 pp. 180-187
  • Allow only positive thoughts
    • “We need to learn to control our thinking and feelings and imitate the way Jehovah thinks, feels, and acts.” ws13 9/15 pp. 21-26
    • “Isn’t it logical that Jehovah expects us to be happy in his service?…Jehovah took such good care of the Israelites, and yet they were not happy. This is something that Jehovah did not like at all. So we can see that serving Jehovah joyfully is very important… Our thoughts are critical and have a bearing on our whole being…we control what we think. We avoid occupying our mind with thoughts that weaken our faith, or thoughts that undermine our determination to serve Jehovah. Happiness does not depend on our circumstances. Happiness depends on doing things Jehovah’s way.” Gajus Glockentin, February 2020 JW Broadcast
From the No. 3 2019 Awake: Can the Bible Improve Your Life?
  • Use excessive meditation, singing, prayer, & chanting to block thoughts
    • “Young Malika says: “I’ve learned to pray, pray, and pray. Knowing Jehovah cares helps me to feel calm and more in control of my emotions.” With God’s help, you too can learn to control your emotions. Awake! February 22, 2005
  • Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt
    •  “Fight doubts vigorously. To ignore what appears to be a trivial infection, to do nothing about nagging doubts, may have disastrous consequences. (2 Corinthians 11:3) ‘Are we really living in the last days? Can you believe everything the Bible says? Is this truly Jehovah’s organization?’ Satan would love to plant doubts like these in your mind. Do not let a negligent attitude toward spiritual feeding leave you easy prey to his deceptive teachings. (Colossians 2:4-7)” Watchtower, July 1st 2001
    • “Satan continues to ask the same question he asked Eve in the garden of Eden: ‘Did God really say that . . . ?’ (Gen. 3:1) In the world under Satan’s control, we often hear challenging questions, such as these: ‘Does God really not approve of same-sex marriage? Does God really not want you to celebrate Christmas and birthdays? Does your God really expect you to refuse a blood transfusion? Does a loving God really expect you to avoid association with disfellowshipped loved ones?’ w19 June pp. 8-13

Emotional Control

  • Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group
    • “Any weakening of the truth faith by deliberately compromising with error or by carrying on practices out of line with the high standards of Christian conduct would please the Devil. Such a course would put one on the Devil’s side.” –Awake 1970, August 22nd, p. 5
    • “Satan has the same goal—to worry us, to weaken our zeal, and to cause us to quit. Make no mistake, God’s people are involved in spiritual warfare!” Watchtower September 2014 Study Edition
  • Promote feelings of guilt, shame, & unworthiness
    • “One purpose of marking is to move a disorderly Christian to feel ashamed and stop his unscriptural course” w85 4/15 pp. 30-31
    • “Feeling guilty, then, can be good, even necessary…A guilty conscience can and should move us to confession and other positive action.” g02 3/8 pp. 26-27
    • “Many have a conscience that is, in effect, dead​—so scarred and insensitive that it no longer sends out warnings, protests, or pangs of shame or guilt over wrongdoing. ‘Good riddance,’ many today seem to say to such feelings as guilt.” lv chap. 2 pp. 14-24
  • Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”)
    • “As soon as possible, invite fellow members of the congregation to accompany you to the study so that the student starts to make new friends as quickly as possible. It is important that he realizes soon that whatever he loses in the way of friendship in the old system of things will be more than made up for in new acquaintances in ‘the entire association of brothers in the world” w84 11/1 pp. 14-18
    • “All can take the initiative to greet these persons when they come to the Kingdom Hall and engage in upbuilding conversation with them. Show that we are happy to have them with us and that we hope they will continue progressing. This loving interest should continue to be shown as they make spiritual progress. Positive results have been obtained by such united efforts.”
      “…help the inactive ones to see that because of their lack of association with the congregation, their spirituality and happiness have diminished. (Matt. 5:3; Heb. 10:24, 25)” w08 11/15 pp. 12-16
From the brochure “Return to Jehovah”
  • Threaten your friends and family
    • “Despite our pain of heart, we must avoid normal contact with a disfellowshipped family member by telephone, text messages, letters, e-mails, or social media.” w17 October pp. 12-16
    • Should a Witness not shun their family member—even if it is their child or parent—they are to be disciplined.
      • “Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action” Shepherd the Flock of God (Elder’s Handbook) Chapter 12, Paragraph 17.
  • Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve
    • Those who are not deemed sufficiently “repentant” for what Watchtower considers a sin will be mandatorily shunned, even by family and friends:  
      • “The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, page 25, stated: “A simple ‘Hello’ to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshiped person?” Is strict avoidance really necessary? Yes…Losing precious fellowship with loved ones may help him to come “to his senses,” see the seriousness of his wrong, and take steps to return to Jehovah.””  –Keep Yourself in God’s Love, Appendix
    • Earnestly questioning the direction of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses will get the member labeled as an apostate:
      • “Apostates may claim to worship Jehovah and to believe the Bible, but they reject the visible part of his organization [Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses]. …We “avoid them” by steering clear of their reasonings​—whether in person, in printed form, or on the Internet.” Watchtower February 15th, 2004
  • Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group
    • “Satan’s world has made humans suffer for some 6,000 years. Now, in the last days of this system, the earth is full of people who focus on themselves, money, and pleasures. They think of what they can get and make their own desires the main thing in life. But people like that cannot be truly happy!” Watchtower January 2018–Simplified Edition
    • “To be separate from Satan’s world means that we do not let “the spirit of the world” control us. That spirit is the way of thinking and behaving that comes from Satan, and it controls those who do not serve Jehovah…The spirit of the world makes people selfish, proud, and rebellious. It makes them think that they do not have to obey God. Satan wants people to do whatever they want without thinking of the consequences. He would like people to believe that “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes”  are the most important things in life. (1 John 2:16; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10) The Devil is trying especially hard to mislead Jehovah’s servants and to trick us into thinking the way he does.​”
A typical Watchtower portrayal of a “worldly person,” from the No.2 Awake! 2020

1 thought on “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? (Part 1)”

  1. I think one of the biggest examples of loaded language is that most JWs do not call the organization Watchtower Bible and Tract Society or Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They merely call it “The Truth.”


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