Clarifying Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs

7 May 2012

Jehovah's Witnesses, the people of my ex-religion, need to do a better job of getting their dogma understood by the public. For all the sect's doorstep proselytizing, folks always get the JWs' beliefs wrong.

I have no intent to defend any JW beliefs – they're as goofy as the dogma of any other faith – but I don't mind making corrections so critics at least address actual beliefs. In that spirit, I offer two corrections:

1. Jehovah's Witnesses are not anti-medicine!

On the May 1 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon and guest David Barton discuss religion-related issues such as conflicts involving employers' beliefs. (Tangent: PZ Myers had much to say about the interview overall.) The discussion doesn't focus on any sect in particular, but JWs do pop up as an example of an employer objecting to the provision of employee health insurance on anti-medicine religious grounds.

Nope. Wrong sect.

Facts on Jehovah's Witnesses and medicine:

  • Jehovah's Witness doctrine prohibits blood transfusions (or other intake of blood, such as ingestion).
  • With the above exception, Jehovah's Witnesses are perfectly fine with modern medicine.

The blood transfusion proscription is a horribly harmful commandment. It's bad enough when adults choose to die in the name of religion, but JW children have died after being denied needed transfusions. The dogma is also founded on the most ridiculous of Biblical interpretations: the Watchtower Society insists that, somehow, maintaining the sacredness of a supposed symbol of life is more important than maintaining life itself!

But setting aside that rant (as well as the minutae of what is and isn't acceptable to JWs with regard to transfusions, and the history behind the dogma; start with the Wikipedia entry if interested), I only want to note here that there's no JW restriction against other standard medical practices. Pills, injections, X-rays, chemo, surgery (if transfusion-free!), therapies of all sorts, health insurance, whatever; it's all OK. (I should note that JWs will likely shun some woo alternative practices, like faith healing, on the grounds that it's associated with "spiritualism" or "the occult" – a rare case in which religious dogma works out for the better!)

Apparently, people confuse JWs with Christian Scientists or other faiths that do eschew medicine in favor of "the power of prayer". In actuality, a JW with pneumonia probably will pray a lot – but will also toss back the prescribed antibiotics without hesitation.

Delving a bit into tangent: Like a number of sects, JWs do prohibit illegal drugs and harmful substances like tobacco. But although you may hear otherwise, they have no prohibition against caffeine or even alcohol. Drunkenness is a no-no; alcohol itself is not. (Which is sensible enough, theologically; Jesus himself not only drank wine, he allegedly made and served it.)

2. Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in hell!

A recent episode of The Atheist Experience podcast also misrepresented a JW belief in passing. (Sorry, I was in transit and didn't note the episode number or the hosts.) During what I semi-recall was a discussion of how religious believers see other faiths, a host briefly mentioned that Jehovah's Witnesses would view the holders of other beliefs as bound for hell.

No big deal, as a minor error in passing, but it is incorrect.

Facts on Jehovah's Witnesses, hell, and the afterlife:

  • Jehovah's Witnesses reject the doctrine of literal hell.
  • Surprise: Jehovah's Witnesses reject the doctrine of an immortal soul!

A number of Christian sects, including Jehovah's Witnesses, equate Biblical suggestions of "hell" with simply "death". But for the JWs, the rejection of eternal torment is part of a broader belief that's definitely outside the Christian mainstream: lack of a belief in an immortal soul.

That's right: According to JW doctrine on the afterlife, when a person dies – you, me, devout JW, it doesn't matter – that person is just dead. (One minor exception: a scant 144,000 selected persons who go to heaven to serve with Jesus. We can set them aside for now.) After death, there's no wafting up to the Pearly Gates, no descent into fire and brimstone, no afterlife at all; the soul dies and ceases to exist. (Replace that religious word "soul" with "consciousness", and you'd have a downright atheistic-sounding claim!)

But wait – it's not quite all over for poor Grandma. The JWs believe that once Armageddon comes and goes, the deceased will be brought back to life during Christ's thousand-year reign. They'll have their dead bodies and dead souls recreated by Jehovah and his Godlike powers of super-memory, and will gain a final chance at judgment. Those that fail the test go back to being dead – this time, forever. (And again, that means dead dead; they don't go to heaven, and hell doesn't exist.) Those that pass judgment win the best reward package in the religion industry.

Don't take my and Wikipedia's word for it. Head to the JWs' own listing of beliefs; in the table at the bottom, you'll see links to their scriptural justifications for "The human soul ceases to exist at death", "Hell is mankind's common grave", and "Hope for [the] dead is resurrection". 

So there you have it. It's interesting: blood transfusions, door-knocking, and shying away from Christmas are what people most associate with Jehovah's Witnesses. Yet the sect's biggest theological eye-opener – no immortal soul! – seems widely unrecognized.

Did I get that right?

It's been a long time since I last set foot in a Kingdom Hall (and I'm not planning a return). In my attempt to correct others, I hope I'm not creating new errors. If a practicing JW (or anyone) sees a mistake in the above, let me know. 

(Via comment, that is. Please don't ring my doorbell on Saturday morning...)


Jehovah's Witnesses are unpopular for many reasons, none of which matched the early church except for non-political involvement, which is not exclusive to them at all. They are like carnival hucksters preaching the need to become a Jehovah's Witness or die at Armageddon.

They say they promote good family life? Only until you disagree with the leadership in Brooklyn on the slightest of points, and then they completely divide and destroy the family.--*tell the truth don't be afraid*-Danny Haszard-

defaithed's picture

You get no argument from me there! In retrospect, as with many faiths, I can attest that there are many nice, likeable people in the JW congregations. But there's no reason to think that those same people wouldn't be just as nice and likeable – and better off entirely – without the heavy baggage of an intrusive, dogmatic, and weird cult in their lives.

Thanks for posting and creating an awareness of the Jehovah's Witnesses *blood transfusion confusion*.

In 2012 God's will and scripture got nothing to do with the Jehovah's Witnesses position on use of blood products.

It is 100 percent what will play out in a secular court of law as to the parent Watchtower being held liable for deaths.
Most Jehovah's Witnesses rushed to the ER with massive blood loss will scream NO BLOOD right up to their last breath,The shocker is they can NOW have most of the blood components that will pull them through,but they are so indoctrinated that blood is forbidden that they can't comprehend the loopholes.

The Watchtower has drilled and grilled us that our STAND ON BLOOD IS NON NEGOTIABLE.
The loopholes that allow blood usage is to save the Watchtower corporation money from blood death liability suits.

This is a truly evil organization that would sacrifice tens of thousands of men,women,children for the almighty dollar.
The blood products ban has been in force since 1945 the buzz today about it being a *personal conscience matter* and the hope of new medical advances like artificial blood don't undo all those who have past perished.

The New York city based Watchtower sect is concerned foremost with liability lawsuits for wrongful death.They know that if they repeal the ban on *whole* blood transfusion,that it will open the door for legal examination of all the thousands who have died since 1945.
Danny Haszard

defaithed's picture

Maybe it's only because I've been away from the sect for so long, but I hadn't considered the possible legal ramifications of the Watchtower society having a "revelation" that repeals the ban on blood transfusions. It's an interesting complication in the question of why they can't just get rid of that deadly bit of dogma.

Thanks for the comment.

Tens of thousands?? Now THERE is propaganda!!

No this article is NOT claiming that witholding blood when massive loss has occurred is good for you. Please read the article.


Good 4U that you left the JW's, but it's unfortunate that you equate them with "Christians":  the most fundamental tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity.  JW's on the other hand think He's nothing more than the most exalted of the angels, something utterly refuted in Hebrews 1.  JW's are religious, but they're a cult, not "Christian."


(PS:  If it's mandatory to give our email for posting, then you should have the red asterisk there, too.)

defaithed's picture

Hi! My reply is a simple one: JWs are Christians, through and through. This "most fundamental tenet of the Christian faith, that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God" is a foundation of their religion. They believe that Jesus is God's son, with none of the Trinity-ish funny business about Jesus actually being God. That is, they would acknowledge that there is a "trinity" in the simple sense of three beings – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but these are separate beings, not some sort of capital-T "3-in-1" Trinity. (Can't tell you much about what exactly the Holy Spirit is supposed to be; I don't remember details of what I was taught about this, other than that it was always really fuzzy.)

If that doesn't seem right, I'd suggest that you ask a JW directly. (If the response is something other than a clear "Jesus is God's only-begotten Son", then they've changed their theology since my days!)

As for "cult": Yes, I'd happily call them a cult. Along with the Catholics, Baptists, Sunnis, Shiites, the whole bunch. They're all cults to me! But as for whether the JWs are a Christian cult: They certainly claim they're Christian. I know that some other faiths would claim the JWs are not Christian. Adding to the fun, JWs would actually avow that they're the only true Christians, and all the rest are not real Christians.

It's awesome. I'll be over here with my popcorn, enjoying the comedy show. : )


PS: Thanks for the note re commenting. Actually, you shouldn't be required to include an email address – it's set to be optional. But, there's an option for "Notify me of replies by email"; if you have that checked, then the commenting system will pester you to leave an email address. My apologies for the confusion; I checked into the workings but don't have a configurable option for having this option unchecked by default.


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