Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised against pursuing a higher education,1 with the Watchtower regularly providing warnings that attending university is an improper use of time in these last days. The outcome has been that Jehovah’s Witness members have amongst the lowest average education and income levels of any religion in the United States, as shown in independent studies, such as the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008 by the Pew Forum. Higher Education provides benefits at both a private and social level, as detailed in this article; hence religious groups that attempt to take this choice from their followers deserve public scrutiny.
Watchtower View of University
Watchtower classifies higher education as a temptation akin to smoking, using drugs, and watching violent and immoral movies. For instance, see the insert from the Watchtower 2008 Sep 1, entitled “What Will be The “End Afterward”?
The Kingdom Ministry warns:
Watchtower explains pursuing an advanced education is dangerous because it:
- Wastes precious time in these last days
- Promotes prestige and materialism
- Shows a lack of faith
- Involves bad association
- Promotes higher learning
There is no compelling validity to any of these reasons, as the following examination will show.
Time left is reduced
The primary reasoning against a higher education has been that the time left is reduced, so the final days of this system should be spent in full service for Jehovah and his organization.
This is not a reason to avoid a higher education and a satisfying career, after considering Watchtower originally expected the “new system” to arrive in 1914, and has been saying the end will be soon for over a century. Those that heeded the above 1969 quote are now at retirement age, many working their entire lives in low-paying jobs, often without retirement benefits.
Watchtower reasoning that higher education wastes valuable time is of dubious merit, when it recommends an apprenticeship for a trade instead.
See also Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.27
The additional time taken for a university education is of minor significance, since some degrees take only 1 or 2 years more than a trade.
Watchtower has never held back from making long-term commitments and plans for education and expansion. Whilst I was in the Australian Bethel branch in the early 1990’s, Watchtower paid for former Circuit Overseer Vincent Toole to obtain a university law degree, and he currently resides there as legal counsel. Watchtower’s billions of dollars worth of property globally are part of an ongoing building program. In 2013, a $10 million Assembly hall was completed at Orangeburg.2 On 29th July 2013, Watchtower commenced construction of a new global headquarters at Warwick, New York.3 This campus of buildings spans 45 acres, and includes 588 rooms with capacity for 1000 residents.4 It is hypocritical for the leaders to make long-term plans, but insist the followers keep a short-term focus.
Materialistic Seekers of Glory
Watchtower labels those that pursue a higher education as materialistic, and seeking glory.
Watchtower mixes cause and effect. Education does not cause materialism or pride; even if the resulting higher wages help satisfy such a person. Materialism is the attitude a person displays to worldly possessions, and is independent of education or wealth. People with lower education and lower wages can be equally materialistic. The paradox is that materialistic people with a lower education are generally required to work more hours to fulfill their desires, for even a basic standard of living, hence taking away time from their service to God.
Whilst recommending followers contend themselves with “sustenance and covering,” Watchtower maintains a high standard of living for its leaders, with the new global headquarters at Warwick, New York, being state of the art. Motor Vehicles provided to Circuit Overseers are brand new on 3-year leases, with circuitvehicles.com (28th Sep 2013) showing the current models provided being either Buick LaCrosse, advertised as a “mid sized luxury car,” or the Chevrolet Impala.
Concern for providing materially is considered evidence of a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.
This is simplistic reasoning. As per the common motto, “God helps those who help themselves” those that study hard, or work hard, will do well in life. Those that don’t will struggle; regardless of how much confidence they have in Jehovah’s ability to provide.
University is described as a place of debauchery, with this used as a reason to avoid higher education.
This reasoning contradicts prior Watchtower comments that there are the “same dangers in high schools and technical colleges and even in the workplace.” (w1992 Nov 1 p.20) Watchtower confuses correlation with causation. Immoral behavior is not limited to university students, and whilst such behavior may occur, it is not university but rather youthful experimentation that is the cause.
Watchtower’s rationale against higher education (actual convention talk)…
On the other hand, there are university students that adhere to high morals, such as those belonging to strict Christian groups. Exchange students regularly are from cultures with strong traditional values and work ethics. They are highly motivated to excel academically, rather than become distracted by entertainment.
Association outside of class and assignments is not a requirement. Whilst I was at university, I did not go to a single “worldly party,” nor go drinking with university friends. I spent time on campus only to attend classes and complete assignments.
The article continues that university is the cause of some leaving the faith.
Whilst “some [university graduates] have fallen away from the faith,” this result is little different than for Witness children in general. The 2008 PEW report identifies that two-thirds of people raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses leave the religion,5 the highest churn of any American religious group. This high turnover rate is supported by the Watchtower’s own publisher reports.6
The Highest Education is from God
The Watchtower advises to replace a higher education with a more valuable “divine education.”
This reasoning is comical and misplaced. It is a straw man fallacy, because regardless of how beneficial a divine education may be, it does not enable a person to enter many professional occupations.
The hypocrisy of these comments is that Watchtower requires and takes advantage of Jehovah’s Witnesses with university degrees and professional accreditation, particularly at Bethel, the religion’s headquarters. Watchtower uses active Witnesses who are qualified accountants and auditors, architects and engineers, doctors and dentists, and information technology specialists, without which the global preaching work would not be possible.
Watchtower is concerned about the propaganda that University teaches.
This may refer to the teachings of philosophy, theology, or evolution that contradict Watchtower belief. However, many degrees do not cover these areas, nor undermine a Christian belief in God. For instance, an accounting degree is regimented, covering accounting and economic issues that do not conflict with Watchtower theology. This can also be said of many disciplines, including engineering and information technology.
The Real Issue with Education
Watchtower reasoning against higher education contains little validity, being both illogical and at times contradictory. Education is not the cause of materialism, and bad associations can be avoided at university, as with every endeavor in life. The additional time involved to complete a degree is minor in comparison to the length of a person’s career, and history proves Watchtower predictions for the imminence of the world’s end to be ill founded.
It would appear that there is a more imperative reason the Governing Body fears followers attending university. Higher education teaches not only job skills, but also how to research and evaluate information. University education can improve critical thinking skills, which will assist students identify flawed Watchtower reasoning. As shown at “Misquotes, Deception, and Lies,” Watchtower publications rarely provide adequate reference for quotes, which regularly are inaccurately presented, something university teaches students to be sensitive to.
Therein lies the danger of education to the Governing Body. An organization that prides itself on unity cannot allow the doctrine of the leaders to be questioned. Learning to research and evaluate Watchtower doctrine is not just pointless; it is dangerous, as questioning Watchtower doctrine can result in apostasy, defined as “rejecting Jehovah’s organization.”7 Apostates are shown little leniency, but are quickly disfellowshipped and shunned as “mentally diseased” and like the Devil.8
Watchtower doctrine has been in a constant state of change, showing that it is not pure truth, yet a Witness is not to question doctrine, even when later changes show it was false. A person with a higher education is more likely to identify doctrinal arguments that are incorrect and poorly structured, and become a danger to the organization.
Steven Hassan, renowned for his research into cults, presents four key pillars to assist identify high control groups. His BITE model shows that totalitarian regimes can be identified through attempting to control:9
Hassan identifies control of information as critical in keeping control of followers. The concern Watchtower has over the information a university student will obtain is typical of high-control religious groups. This should be viewed negatively as a form of manipulation, as people have a right to make educated, information based decisions, not directed to believe something based on carefully screened material.
Go to Part 2 [Link]. Part 3 of this series is Coming Soon!
“Modern-day apostates display characteristics similar to those of the Devil.” Examining the Scriptures Daily 2011 Aug 18 p.83