Please do not quote or reproduce this document without my permission.
This paper is very much work-in-progress, and I would love to hear your responses to this essay as I begin to revise it.
Send me email at joel_elliott AT unc.edu
A whole mythology is deposited in our language.
We must plough over the whole of language.
--Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough
For then I shall give to peoples the change to a pure language,
in order for them all to call upon the name of Jehovah,
in order to serve him shoulder to shoulder.
--Zephaniah 3:9, (New World Translation)
Witness discourse is heavily jargonized; it is filled with "buzz words" that immediately differentiate themselves from both the outside world and from other Christian groups. In some cases, common Christian words are appropriated and transformed. They call themselves "Witnesses," and speak of "Jehovah's Organization" or the "Theocracy." Local congregations are called "Kingdom Halls," not churches. Gary and Heather Botting argue that:
The 'theocratic language' includes the redefinition of standard English words, the emotional charging of words, the peculiar use of metaphor in argument, and the adoption of particular mannerisms of speech.In this arsenal of theocratic jargon, traditional words are subverted with special nuances, conventional ideas and concepts renamed, new terminology constructed. This theocratic language even permits Witnesses quickly to identify other Witnesses and evaluate levels of maturity.
Since their origins in late nineteenth-century America, the Jehovah's Witnesses have evolved into a distinct and mature American religious group. The movement has grown at an impressive rate. In addition to their active and successful mission work in North America, Witnesses have also pursued aggressive missionary work globally. The Watchtower Society has become an international movement of significant proportions.
Witness literature regularly invokes their impressive statistics as proof of divine approval. Those statistics are "major symbols of success and proof positive of Jehovah's continued blessing upon his organization." A recent issue of The Watchtower proclaims:
Recent statistics indicate there are over four million Watchtower members worldwide, with less than one-fourth now residing in the United States. The 1996 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses reports statistics from 232 countries (including 25 countries where Witnesses are banned), with the following totals:
. . . the global work of witnessing about God's Kingdom is strong evidence that we are near the end of this wicked system and that true freedom is at hand. The ones calling on people with the hope-filled message of God's new world are described at Acts 15:14 as "a people for [God's] name." Who bear Jehovah's name and give the global witness about Jehovah and his Kingdom? The historical record of the 20th century answers: only Jehovah's Witnesses. Today they number more than four million in more than 66,000 congregations all over the world.
|Worldwide Report: 1995 Totals|
|Number of Countries||232|
|Number of Branch Offices||101|
|Percentage Increase over 1994||5|
|1995 Number Baptized||338,491|
|Average Pioneer Publishers||663,521|
|Number of Congregations||78,620|
|Average Bible Studies||4,865,060|
Witness statistical criteria are rigorous and generally reliable. Individual Publishers are encouraged to spend 10 hours a month in field ministry -- but to be considered active, Publishers must submit at least one hour per month. Regular Pioneers average 90 hours per month, Auxiliary Pioneers 60 hours per month, and Special Pioneers 140 hours per month.
Witnesses argue that the divine name "Jehovah" identifies God in a way that generic titles like "Lord" and "God" do not. They are, after all, witnesses for Jehovah, and they claim as one of the identifying marks of the "true church" its invocation of God's personal name. A Watchtower publication declares that:
Witnesses abhor the systematic exclusion of the name "Jehovah" from the text of some modern Bible translations (e.g., the Revised Standard Version translates the Tetragrammaton consistently as "the lord"). In their New World Translation, Witness translators have not only restored the word "Jehovah" to the English text of the Hebrew Bible, but have also introduced it into their translation of the New Testament. The word is familiar enough to those of Christian and Jewish background, but for Witnesses "Jehovah" is the special name of God. For them the divine name possesses an almost mantric quality; frequent invocation of God's personal name is a regular feature of Witness discourse. One recent Watchtower publication even counsels pronouncing the divine name aloud as an effective strategy for warding off demons.
. . . God's people must treat his name as holy and make it known throughout the earth . . . There is only one people that is really following Jesus' example in this regard. Their main purpose in life is to serve God and bear witness to his name, just as Jesus did. So they have taken the scriptural name "Jehovah's Witnesses."
Montgomery argues that in its approach to language, the natural sciences manifest a monological discursive strategy. The so-called human sciences reflect a dialogical approach to language, since they necessarily converse with other discourses. But the natural sciences pursue a monological language game, vanquishing all other forms of discourse and establishing itself as the only legitimate means of excavating and representing genuine knowledge of the world. Witness discourse reflects a monological discursive strategy similar to Montgomery's presentation of contemporary scientific discourse. I have pursued this analysis of Witness discursive strategies under three headings: (1) The Rhetoric of Sheep and Goats, (2) Speaking the Truth in Formulas, and (3) The Watchtower's Cult of Anonymity. I argue that the heavily jargonized Theocratic discourse splits human society in two: the corrupt world system is dominated by Satanic forces, and the pure theocratic order is currently manifested in those faithful witnesses of Jehovah separated from the world, recognizable by their righteous lifestyle and pure theocratic speech.
I offer this essay as a perspectival rendering of some particularly
salient dynamics operative in Witness life and experience. I do not
claim that this analysis of Witness discursive strategies is total or comprehensive.
With Nietzsche I believe that there is no knowing or seeing in general,
only seeing in particular and embodied knowing that is perspectival and
provisional. Hopefully the questions raised and issues
explored by this heuristic adventure into the rhetorical cosmos of Jehovah's
Watchtower will facilitate further inquiries and generate new perspectives.
For Witnesses the world is essentially composed of sheep and goats, insiders and outsiders, "Babylon the Great" and the pure theocratic order. In principle Witnesses reject the "World" as both moot and evil. It is moot because this corrupt and corruptive world order is scheduled for immediate destruction. It is under the domain of Satan and will be obliterated in the imminent battle of Armageddon. Witnesses therefore refuse to participate in any substantive way in religion or politics in the present world order. Witnesses do not support political solutions to world problems like the United Nations, since only Jehovah can redeem the earth from sin and satanic corruption. The Watchtower proclaims:
Witnesses also refuse participation in interfaith or ecumenical endeavors, since they cannot commune with the corrupt religion of Babylon the Great. Watchtower ideology demands nothing less than immediate and complete separation from the world.
Today people talk a lot about living together in peace, and have even set up a "United Nations" organization. Yet people and nations are divided as never before. What is needed? The hearts of people need to change. But it is simply impossible for the governments of the world to perform such a miracle. The Bible's message about God's love, however, is doing it.
If their eschatology demands disengagement, it paradoxically compels Witnesses to confront the world in apocalyptic proclamation of Jehovah's kingdom. The urgency of the times constrains Jehovah's modern-day witnesses to adapt the privileged theocratic discourse to the apparently dialogical task of world-engagement. God's will for his witnesses today is that they engage in the momentous task of preaching, since "Bible prophecy reveals unmistakably that we are living now during 'the conclusion of the system of things.'" With their discourse securely rooted in Jehovah's monological cosmos, Witnesses engage in a separating work, proclaiming the message of the imminent kingdom and calling out those "sheeplike" ones who heed the voice of Jehovah. Those who listen and obey possess the hope of resurrection and life on the renovated "new heavens and new earth." They may even avoid death altogether if they are alive when God ushers in his millennial kingdom.
Witnesses are suspended in a kind of liminality; they are "in Satan's world, but still. . . no part of it." Witnesses exist "between the times," subsisting in their righteous communitas, living with the knowledge that Jehovah's kingdom has been inaugurated, and that the return of Jesus will occur before the generation alive in 1914 passes away. Despite the apparent delays and re-calculations of the End-time, Witnesses continue in their tenacious struggle to proclaim Jehovah's imminent kingdom on earth. Penton argues that in fact the Witnesses have "preached millenarianism longer and more consistently than any major sectarian movement in the world." The year 1914 is a pivotal date for Witnesses, as it signifies the time when Watchtower prophetic interpretation indicates that "Jesus Christ began to rule as king of God's heavenly government." One Watchtower publication summarizes that:
Their unyielding devotion to the imminence of the End commits Jehovah's latter-day witnesses to a kind of permanent liminal existence, in which their allegiances and connections to the social order are pared to a minimum. Their earnest hopes and longings are focused on the return of Jesus, on the renovated earth and an eternally blissful existence in that Edenic paradise. The evil world order will immediately disappear at the great and climactic battle of Armageddon when Jehovah will install his new order of things. Jesus and the Anointed 144,000 will then preside in the heavens over that "great multitude" of the righteous faithful resurrected on the newly renovated earth. Together Jehovah's faithful will gradually and thoroughly restore the earth to its original Edenic tranquility. This posture of world rejection entails the rhetorical exorcism of Witness discourse in which words and doctrines are purged of their "Babylonish" associations. This purge of all vestiges of corrupt Babylon demands more than simple lexical correctness. Jehovah's people must be theocratically correct in every way. This desire for theocratic correctness involves not only the eradication of the corrupt language of Babylon; it also requires the theological exorcism of ideological remnants of corrupt Babylon. Watchtower literature proclaims that:
Christ as King did not immediately proceed to destroy all who refused to acknowledge Jehovah's sovereignty and himself as Messiah. Instead, as he had foretold, a global preaching work was to be done . . . . As King he would direct a dividing of peoples of all nations, those proving to be righteous being granted the prospect of everlasting life, and the wicked being consigned to everlasting cutting off in death . . . . In the meantime, the very difficult conditions foretold for "the last days" would prevail . . . . Before the last members of the generation that was alive in 1914 will have passed off the scene, all the things foretold will occur, including the "great tribulation" in which the present wicked world will end.
Thus Witnesses reject the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity because it is neither rational nor scriptural, but also because the very notion of triune gods evidences pagan corruption. The traditional doctrines of the immortality of the soul and eternal torment in Hell are rejected by Witnesses because they too originated in pagan antiquity, not in the Bible. What appears as a particularly gratuitous claim is the Witness' insistence that Jesus was crucified on a single-beamed "torture stake," not on a tau-shaped cross. Witnesses argue that the tau- shaped cross has ancient pagan fertility associations, although the obvious phallic imagery of a single-beamed stake gives them no pause. The Watchtower declares that:
A religion may claim to advocate worship of the true God of the Bible and it may use the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, but of what value is this if it is contaminated with Babylonish doctrines and practices? . . . . [W]e need to make a clean break from any and all organizations of Babylon the Great. We need to quit sharing in their activities . . . .
. . . there are common threads going through the confused tapestry of the world's religions. Many religions have their roots in mythology. Nearly all are tied together by some form of belief in a supposed immortal human soul that survives death and goes to a hereafter or transmigrates to another creature. Many have the common denominator of belief in a dreadful place of torment and torture called hell. Others are connected by ancient pagan beliefs in triads, trinities, and mother goddesses. Therefore, it is only appropriate that they should all be grouped together under the one composite symbol of the harlot "Babylon the Great."Witnesses likewise reject the traditional celebration of festivals and holidays (including Christmas, New Year's Day, Easter, and personal birthdays) since--Witnesses argue--they actually originated in Babylon the Great. Witnesses believe that:
Witnesses actively and creatively cultivate their so-called sectarian identity in a process of symbolic differentiation. This is accomplished in part by the construction of demonic Others (e.g., "the World," "Babylon the Great") and the identification of their own community as a proleptic manifestation of the pure theocratic order in the midst of the corrupt world system. Jehovah's Witnesses operate within a moral cosmos in which there is a clear and unambiguous contrast between God and Satan, right and wrong, good and evil. Everything is in principle polarized between these two extremes. Witnesses claim a monopoly on divine Truth; one Watchtower publication proclaims that:
Those that make up the Christian organization of Jehovah's witnesses are persons who have separated themselves from the many religions of both pagandom and Christendom. By attending meetings at one of their Kingdom Halls, you can see for yourself the difference this has made.
Almost every dimension of Witness life manifests strategies of symbolic differentiation and calculated distinctiveness in which Witnesses actively cultivate their identity. Joseph F. Zygmunt observed that while there has been some weakening of the Watchtower's obstinate anti-worldly posture, "[the movement] has maintained its polarity vis-à-vis the world, actively striving, in fact, to cultivate new marks of distinctiveness, to put greater symbolic distance between itself and the world." Witnesses have produced their own translation of the Bible (the New World Translation, 1961, 1984), written their own hymns (their hymnals include only Watchtower-composed hymns, all ostensibly based on scripture passages); they spend enormous amounts of time faithfully reading and distributing the prolific literature generated by their profuse Watchtower presses. Competing tensions permeate Witness life. They are at once compelled to proclaim Jehovah's message to a doomed world, to salvage whom they can from the impending apocalyptic catastrophe. Their rejection of the World and corrupt Christendom requires disengagement from worldly activity. Yet their intense apocalyptic beliefs demand the imminent destruction of the corrupt world system and the eternal annihilation of everyone not protected by the redeeming love of Jehovah. The logic of their position appears to require communitarian withdrawal from the world into an enclave of theocratic righteousness and ideological homogeneity.
Do no conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God's new system. There is only one. There was just one ark that survived the Flood, not a number of boats. And there will be only one organization--God's visible organization--that will survive the fast-approaching "great tribulation." It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal . . . . You must be part of Jehovah's organization, doing God's will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life . . . .
Yet an urgent conviction demands that Witnesses announce Jehovah's message to whomever would listen and accept God's gracious redemption from the coming world destruction. Those centrifugal and centripetal dynamics of apocalyptic proclamation and world rejection are profoundly important for Witness life and identity. Witnesses are compelled to reject the world, yet must engage it in apocalyptic proclamation.
What fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? . . . "Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves," says Jehovah . . . [2 Cor. 6:14-18 NWT]
Having ideally rejected associations with the present evil world system, the Watchtower cultivates its own pure theocratic language supposedly exorcised of all vestiges of that corrupt system. The cultivation of the theocratic language facilitates the creation and maintenance of the homogeneous theocratic order in the midst of the Satanic world system. Those fluent in the theocratic dialect can bravely enter the discursive worlds of demonic Others. Beckford observed that:
But the integrity of the Watchtower's monological superstructure remains intact; the dangerous dialogical implications of evangelistic engagement are successfully mitigated by the deployment of theocratic discourse. The remarkable generation of consensus found among Witness communities worldwide is accomplished in part by the cultivation and deployment of this theocratic language.
the very obligation to engage in evangelism necessitates frequent interaction with people of widely differing outlooks and increases the risk that Jehovah's witnesses will either compromise the purity of their outlook or replace it with an entirely different one.
Local Kingdom Halls appear to function as "total communities" for members. The Watchtower encourages engagement with the outside world only for purposes of proselyting. Otherwise, the local Witness community ideally serves as the primary institution of reference for all dimensions of Witness life including recreation, friendship, marriage, and education. In this sense, most Witnesses become to a great degree "hermetically sealed" from the outside world. The Watchtower has long harbored a pervasive ambivalence toward higher education; members are generally discouraged from pursuing post-secondary education. A Watchtower publication explains that:
But the Watchtower has no opposition to theocratic education; their five weekly meetings and the steady torrent of Watchtower literature provides most members with their entire diet of educational materials. Under President Knorr's guidance, the Watchtower initiated (in 1943) theocratic ministry schools (held once a week at Kingdom Halls) to train all Witnesses (male and female) in rhetorical strategy and theocratic knowledge. Lee R. Cooper observes that: "the Society is noted for taking people who are ill at ease in public and training them to be accomplished public speakers who have confidence and ability to articulate their faith to total strangers." Witnesses are therefore intellectually and educationally self-sufficient. Official Watchtower literature embodies the wisdom and insight of those representatives of the "faithful and discreet slave" class--the Governing Body--who present their flock with a totalizing interpretive framework that addresses all dimensions of Witness life and experience. The Governing Body has ruled on proper sexual conduct between marriage partners; it provides wise counsel for proper grooming and dress; and it guides Witnesses in the proper use of gesture, analogy and the rhetorical arts.
Even though Witness youths are interested in a good education, they do not pursue schooling with the intention of obtaining prestige or prominence. Their main goal in life is to serve effectively as ministers of God, and they appreciate schooling as an aid to that end. So they generally choose courses that are useful for supporting themselves in the modern world. Thus, many may take vocational courses or attend a vocational school. When they leave school they desire to obtain work that will allow them to concentrate on their principle vocation, the Christian ministry.
The Watchtower magazine is more or less the official journal of the Society, and local Kingdom Halls regularly devote one hour per week studying its contents. The Watchtower publication entitled Awake! appears as a popular magazine in which Jehovah's message is found alongside stories of current human interest. The publication claims that it is:
At first glance Awake! appears as the Society's dialogical attempt at world-engagement. Yet its stories about Finnish ice bathing and hot saunas, the East African antelope called the Kudu, color blindness in humans, Alzheimer's disease, acid rain, icebergs and AIDS provide a broad range of human interest stories permeated with pervasive allusions to distinctive Witness teachings. The broader educational or intellectual designs of the magazine--and for that matter, of all Watchtower publications--are unambiguously subordinated to the pedagogical monologue of theocratic discourse.
for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today's problems, It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race above another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away
Witnesses appear as biblical rationalists, rejecting such traditional doctrines as the Trinity as neither rational nor biblical. They assert that they "believe that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, and instead of adhering to a creed based on human tradition, they hold to the Bible as the standard for all their beliefs." Watchtower literature insists that "Their beliefs and practices are not new but are a restoration of first-century Christianity." Witnesses contend that the cryptic apocalyptic material contained in biblical books like Daniel and Revelation are decipherable, since all scripture is inspired of God and is necessarily understandable and edifying. The Witnesses manifest a pervasive contempt for the mysterious and the inscrutable. Beckford explains that the Society:
Individual Witnesses manifest what I call "scripted" or rehearsed behavior. Their lives are gradually and thoroughly systematized to the point where their very discourse appears to outsiders as a memorized and rehearsed performance. Their lives ideally revolve around kingdom proclamation; members must literally publish or perish. Witness lives are constituted by submission to the Truth, by obedience to the revealed will of Jehovah. As members mature in their faith, their lives and morals are systematically brought under the control of Jehovah's will. They are consumed with Jehovah's work, devoting enormous amounts of time to reading their Bibles and Watchtower literature, constantly engaging in field ministry. Publishers are always persistent in conversation, and have a ready comeback for most any comment or question. They appear well-equipped for a type of pedagogical discourse frequently incompatible with the interrogative (or dialogical) strategies of ethnographic inquiry and historical investigation.
deprecates mystery and affect while explicitly lauding certainty and reason. . . . [Its] conception of Jehovah, . . . is an unemotional amalgam of all principles of truth, reason and goodness. Similarly, the idea of death holds no mystery for them: it means simply a period of total unconsciousness terminating in the process of resurrection.
The Watchtower Society is an extremely efficient bureaucracy, and this concern with rational efficiency can be observed even at the congregational level. All meetings are designed to last a specific amount of time, and meetings rarely, if ever, go overtime. At one Service Meeting I attended, the presiding elder actually spent about 10-15 minutes discussing why meetings should begin and end on time. Publishers are trained on how to make contact with the public and present Jehovah's message in clear and palatable terms. They are taught to anticipate potential "conversation stoppers" and respond to them appropriately. Publishers keep careful logs on the number of homes visited, the amount of literature distributed and the number of hours spent in Service Ministry. In the foyer of a local Kingdom Hall (Carrboro, NC), a large map of the local community and county appeared on the wall. Sections were marked off and territories assigned to different publishers in an attempt to ensure that Jehovah's message was efficiently proclaimed to everyone in their district. The Watchtower also employs advanced electronic equipment to control their PA system and pre-recorded music, and publishers distribute videotapes and cassettes along with other printed materials. The Society apparently utilizes state-of-the-art computer and printing equipment in their massive publishing efforts. Nothing is left to accident or chance in the business of Kingdom proclamation, and every attempt is made to ensure that one is indeed a faithful servant of Jehovah. Only then can one gain the certainty that they will survive the horrors of Armageddon and live forever on the renovated earth.
"Simple" questions posed to scrupulous Publishers often provoke long,
rehearsed responses and extensive Bible quotations. Witnesses are masters
of the rhetorical question, and learn to anticipate responses and counter
them with rehearsed answers. Attempts to coax Witnesses into speaking "off
the record" are usually unsuccessful. During public Bible studies at Kingdom
Halls (e.g., the Watchtower study hour on Sundays), members faithfully
look up references in their Bibles, although the entire text of
the passage is usually printed in their study guide. During meetings open
Bibles are everywhere on display, with pens in the hands of readers dutifully
marking passages under discussion. This scripted behavior, this constant
flipping of thin pages in search of the right biblical passage, manifests
with singular clarity the ritual seriousness of Jehovah's Witnesses.
All Witness discourse--whether that employed in their printed literature or in the conversations of the persistent Witnesses at your doorstep--is in principle anonymous. Since 1942 all official Watchtower literature is published anonymously. Although all correspondence from the Watchtower Society is also anonymous, the Society actually signs "Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc." on all official correspondence with local congregations. Even the names of the translators of the New World Translation have never been divulged publicly.
The organization of the Watchtower Society greatly facilitates this de-personalizing tendency. The centripetal power of the Watchtower Society jealously protects its organizational omnipotence. Beckford observes that:
This systematic centralization of theocratic power "has wielded [the Jehovah's Witnesses] into a more self-consciously unified and more determinedly united religious group than almost any other. . ." Jehovah's kingdom is, after all, a theocracy, not a democracy; therefore no single individual can lay claim to authorship or genuine creativity. Harrison argues that for the Watchtower: "creative work has one's personal signature; it is far better to labor anonymously, without credit . . . . Only God may have a name: Jehovah. For an individual to have a "name" is seen as a diminishment of God." The Governing Body as an apostolic institution possesses absolute authority within the movement. There is no professional clergy, although special pioneers, missionaries and circuit and district overseers may receive minimal remuneration. Local congregations are under the care of elders, but those men are chosen under the Governing Body's supervision and theoretically wield no autonomous power. Their major role consists of instructing local publishers, cultivating unquestioned loyalty to the Governing Body. There appears to be "a relatively weak affective attachment" of Witnesses to their local congregations. Communication in the Society is strictly vertical and one-way: the Governing Body communicates its will and individual members accept and implement it.
The fact that all editorial facilities are concentrated in Brooklyn, critical decisions are taken there and economic resources are distributed from there accentuates the complete dependence of all Branch organizations . . . on the international centre of the movement. It is from Brooklyn that the unitary ideological thread is produced that links all the diverse parts of this vast organization and that suppresses most opportunities for the production and circulation of deviationist views.
If the Bible is the central authoritative source for Witness life, its interpretation lies firmly in the hands of the Governing Body, God's apostolic institution and interpretive agency on earth. For Witnesses the Bible is an organizational book whose meaning is not for private interpretation. The Governing Body alone possesses the right to discern Jehovah's will as revealed in His scriptures; individual witnesses are not encouraged to engage in independent and creative biblical hermeneutics. The Governing Body claims exclusive rights to all exegetical creativity by which they discern Jehovah's "new light" on his scriptures. Consequently, the responsibility of individual members is to accept, digest and proclaim that authoritative interpretation that flows down from the apostolic Watchtower. Those representatives of the "faithful and discreet slave" class present Jehovah's organization with a totalizing exegetical vision that provides clear and unambiguous guidelines for all relevant moral and religious issues. There is no moral uncertainty or ambiguity in Jehovah's kingdom; there remains only Truth and certainty. Witness lives are thereby constituted by submission and obedience to the Truth revealed to them in scripture through the apostolic aegis of the Governing Body. All personal and subjective dimensions are removed from Witness discourse; only the pure truthful content remains. Penton remarks that "the Witness community [is made] to feel that it must be loyal to an organization, the Lord's organization, rather than to any man." Witnesses are thereby animated by an "organizational mindedness" that systematically devalues the role of individuals and individual prominence.
The Watchtower's model for an inter-cultural, inter-racial society is the theocracy. Currently Jehovah's theocratic kingdom appears on earth in the global network of congregations consisting of individuals representing almost every race and culture. A Watchtower publication declares that:
The theocratic model serves as a master narrative that subsumes all regional and ethnic identities. The theocratic vision of the Watchtower--this eschatological metanarrative to be finally and eternally realized at the conclusion of the battle of Armageddon--has no room for local stories and ethnic particularities. The theocratic discursive strategy reveals an aggressive and omnivorous ideology that obliterates and consumes all other narratives. Its intent is not merely to displace or de-center existing narratives and identities, but to subvert and re-place them. The theocratic narrative embodies a monological language game that excludes all others and denies them legitimacy. This monocultural vision of utopian social existence embodies a critique of the dominant social order--the corrupt world system--pervaded by racial/ethnic prejudice and inequality. The theocratic language facilitates the generation of consensus required by this global yet astonishingly homogeneous organization. Thus in a special article on the progress of the theocratic Kingdom in Africa, the 1992 Yearbook proclaims that "Over a hundred languages are spoken in Ethiopia alone, including a 'pure language' that will unite not only Eastern Africa but the whole world." Indeed, Witnesses worldwide routinely gather together in their circuit and district conventions to "rejoice in the sameness" that transcends their national, ethnic and cultural differences.
Right now people of all races and nationalities who will make up part of the "new earth" are being gathered into the Christian congregation. The unity and peace that exists among them is only a small preview of what will make living on the paradise earth after Armageddon such a pleasure. Truly, God's kingdom will bring to pass what no human government could even hope to do.
In practice the theocracy actually represents a hierarchical cosmos,
with Jehovah as its chairman and Jesus as executive vice- president.
On earth, the Governing Body consists of those Anointed ones (the 144,000,
the "faithful and discreet slave" class, the "little flock") who appear
as Jehovah's apostolic representatives to that "great multitude." That
multitude consists of all those who will survive the ravages of Armageddon
and participate in the Edenic paradise on the renovated earth.
Within its firm but loving embrace, the Watchtower harbors servants of Jehovah who congregate at the same time, speak the same theocratic language, hear the same Truth, and proclaim the same redemptive message to any and all who would listen and obey. The theocratic discursive strategy manifests a robust posture of rhetorical defiance and linguistic iconoclasm. It reflects a conviction that the management and manipulation of language is serious business for these devout messengers of Jehovah's apocalyptic kingdom. Truly Jehovah's Witnesses embody in a particularly cogent way Wittgenstein's observations that:
Drawn together by worship of the true God, by faith in Jesus Christ, and by love for one another, they will truly make up a united human family.
Compressed in the jargonized lexicons and discursive strategies of Jehovah's Witnesses is a militant ideology powerful enough to transcend national boundaries, subvert political allegiances and dismantle ethnic identities, reconstituting them in Jehovah's theocratic image.
A whole mythology is deposited in our language.
* * * * * * * *
We must plough over the whole of language.
 The term "theocratic" is used "to describe the organizational structure of the Witnesses," but it is also used "to modify any 'godly' or 'faithful' or 'good' behavior on the part of the Witnesses--behavior that sets them apart as Witnesses." Botting, Orwellian World, p. 84.
 In this essay I use the terms "Watchtower Society" and "Jehovah's Witnesses" synonymously. The movement officially adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. Prior to that they were known as Bible Students, International Bible Students, Millennial Dawnists, and Russellites. See Jehovah's Witnesses: Unitedly Doing God's Will Worldwide (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1986), pp. 10-11; M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of the Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), p. 62.
 See Michel Foucault, "The Discourse on Language," The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 225-6.
 Botting, Orwellian World, p. 84. See their "Glossary of Terms Used by Jehovah's Witnesses" contained on pp. 187-94.
 Charles H. Lippy's essay on "Millennialism and Adventism," in Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience: Studies of Traditions and Movements, eds. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985), II: 831-44, helpfully locates the Watchtower Movement within the larger context of American adventism.
 The most important historical work on Jehovah's Witnesses is Penton's Apocalypse Delayed. For recent important works on the Witnesses, see Botting, The Orwellian World (1984) [based in part on Heather Botting's "The Power and the Glory: The Symbolic Vision and Social Dynamic of Jehovah's Witnesses" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Alberta, 1982.)]; James A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1975); Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of the Jehovah's Witnesses (London: Constable & Co., Ltd., 1969); Timothy White, A People for His Name: A History of Jehovah's Witnesses and an Evaluation (New York: Vantage Press, 1967); Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978). See also the dissertations by Joseph F. Zygmunt, "Jehovah's Witnesses. A Study of Symbolic and Structural Elements in the Development and Institutionalization of a Sectarian Movement" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1968); Alberta Jeanne Brose, "Jehovah's Witnesses: Recruitment and Enculturation in a Millennial Sect" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Riverside, 1982); Melvin Dotson Curry, "Jehovah's Witnesses: The Effects of Millenarianism on the Maintenance of a Religious Sect" (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1980). Institutionally controlled or approved histories include: Marley Cole, Jehovah's Witnesses: The New World Society (New York: Vintage Press, 1955); idem., Triumphant Kingdom (New York: Criterion Books, 1957); [WBTS], Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS of New York, Inc., 1959); [WBTS], Jehovah's Witnesses: Unitedly Doing God's Will Worldwide (1986). For a comprehensive bibliography, see Jerry Bergman, Jehovah's Witnesses and Kindred Groups: A Historical Compendium and Bibliography (New York: Garland Press, 1984).
 Botting, Orwellian World, p. 52. Beckford also argues that the invocation of these impressive growth statistics has helped "to retain the commitment of Jehovah's Witnesses for several generations," and also serves "to obviate by anticipation the dangers of [prophetic] disruption in the future." See Beckford, Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 221.
 "Hailing God's New World of Freedom," [italics added] The Watchtower (April 1, 1992), p. 12.
 [WBTS], 1992 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS of New York, Inc., 1992), pp. 33-41. The annual service report is also included in the January 1 issue of The Watchtower magazine. See The Watchtower, January 1, 1992, pp. 10-13. For statistical information, see also Constant H. Jacquet, Jr. and Alice M. Jones, eds., Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1991 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), pp. 78-9, 262.
 On the other hand, there is no way to confirm Watchtower statistics since outsiders (and probably most Witnesses) do not have access to Watchtower records.
 Witnesses are aware that the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was not "Jehovah." Watchtower literature explains that while the original pronunciation is unknown, "Jehovah" should be retained since it is commonly used and readily recognized. See WBTS, Reasoning from the Scriptures (WBTS of Pennsylvania, Inc., 1985, 1989), pp. 195-6.
 The "marks of the true church" is a standard topos in Watchtower literature. See, e.g., [WBTS], The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS, 1968), pp. 122-30 (a chapter entitled "How to Identify the True Church"); Reasoning from the Scriptures, pp. 328-30 (in answer to the question, "How can a person know which religion is right?"); [WBTS], Mankind's Search for God (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS, 1990), p. 377; [WBTS], You Can Live Forever on Paradise on Earth (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS, 1982, 1990), pp. 184-90.
 You Can Live Forever, p. 185.
 See New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, 1984 ed. [orig. 1961]), p. 1640-1. The translators acknowledge that "we have been most cautious about rendering the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures . . .," yet the name "Jehovah" appears 237 times in their translation of the Greek Bible. One recent Witness publication even includes a photograph of a papyrus fragment of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) in which the tetragrammaton appears for the name of God. Mankind's Search for God, p. 259. Witnesses reason that Jesus and the early Christian community knew and used God's "unique name" (frequently represented in English as YHWH). "In spite of Jewish tradition at that time, Jesus would surely have used the name. He did not allow the traditions of men to overrule the law of God." See Mankind's Search for God, p. 258-9. That Watchtower publication explicitly cites for support George Howard's "The Tetragrammaton and the New Testament," Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977), pp. 63-8. For critical reviews of the translation, see Bergman, Jehovah's Witnesses (1984), pp. 168-70, and Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible/From KJV to NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), pp. 397-8 (bibliography), pp. 229-35 (analysis).
 See You Can Live Forever, p. 96.
 Scott L. Montgomery, "The Cult of Jargon: Reflections on Language in Science," Science as Culture 6 (1989), see esp. pp. 46-55.
 See Tzvetan Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, trans. Wlad Godzich, Theory and History of Literature, 13 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).
 See Nietzsche's comments in Genealogy of Morals, trans. F. Golfing (Doubelday, 1956), p. 253 [III.xii].
 You Can Live Forever, p. 163.
 Witnesses in principle reject all attempts at social reform of the present evil world order. But their efforts to secure legal protection for the free exercise of their religion have resulted in significant reforms in civil liberties. Similarly, their strong stand against blood transfusions in any form has provoked invaluable medical research now relevant in the prevention and treatment of AIDS. See William Kaplan, State and Salvation: The Jehovah's Witnesses and Their Fight for Civil Rights (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1989); David R. Manwaring, Render Unto Caesar: The Flag Salute Controversy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); M. James. Penton, Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976); Jerry Bergman, "Jehovah's Witnesses and Blood Transfusions," in Jehovah's Witnesses II: Controversial and Polemical Pamphlets, ed. Jerry Bergman, Sources for the Study of Nonconventional Religious Groups in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century America (New York: Garland Press, 1990), pp. 453-631.
 The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 185.
 You Can Live Forever, p. 212.
 Timothy P. Weber declared that "No group in modern times has been more successful at surviving their prophetic disconfirmations than have the Jehovah's Witnesses." Review of M. James Penton's Apocalypse Delayed (1985), The American Historical Review 91 (1986), p. 1279. Because of their tenacious millenarianism and resistance to disconfirmation, the Witnesses have drawn the attention of scholars interested in the long-term effects of apocalyptic expectation and its inevitable delays. The foundational work here is Leon Festinger et al., When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World (New York: Harper & Row, Pub., 1956) which explores the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance and failed millenarian expectation. See also Joseph F. Zygmunt "Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity: The Case of the Jehovah's Witnesses" American Journal of Sociology 75 (1970), pp. 926-48; Bryan R. Wilson, "When Prophecy Failed," New Society (January 26, 1978), pp. 183-4. Melvin Curry's dissertation argues that the Witnesses' "peculiar type of millenarian theology . . . has been a primary factor in maintaining their sectarian identity." Curry, "Jehovah's Witnesses: The Effects of Millenarianism on the Maintenance of a Religious Sect" (1980), p. 1. Penton (Apocalypse Delayed, p. 9) argues, in fact, that while the Witnesses' "millenarianism has long been the basis of their growth and success, it is also their greatest weakness."
 Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 7.
 You Can Live Forever, p. 141.
 Reasoning from the Scriptures [italics added], p. 97.
 See Jean Comaroff's discussion of the African Zionist churches and their existence in "permanent liminality." Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 231. See also Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 145-7.
 Witnesses believe that only the anointed 144,000 (the "little flock") will actually reside in heaven, where they will exist as co-rulers with Jesus over his Millennial Kingdom. This belief is based on Luke 12:32 (the "little flock"); Rev. 7:4, 14:1,3 (the 144,000). In 1935 President Rutherford disclosed that the "great multitude" (Rev. 7:9) and the "sheep" class (Matt. 25) were in fact one class who would receive eternal life on the renovated earth. For the historical development of this idea, see Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 72.
 The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, pp. 134-5.  See The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, pp. 134-5.  See Botting, Orwellian World, p. 26. They remark that "Most Witnesses have no knowledge of the world view of Freud; however, when it comes to concrete symbols, they are very Freudian in outlook, making a major issue of the decadent sexual symbology of Christendom."
 Mankind's Search for God, p. 369-70.
 The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 138.
 Roman Catholicism historically has functioned as the primary Other for the Watchtower. Ironically, ex-Catholics now make up the largest proportion of Jehovah's Witnesses. Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 254.
 You Can Live Forever, p. 255 [italics added].
 See "Jehovah's Witnesses in the U.S.A., 1942-1976" Social Compass 24 (1977), p. 54. Zygmunt argues that this trend is discernible in the group's translation of the Bible (the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, originally published in 1961), and in their opposition to blood transfusions (which the movement embraced in 1945).
 For example, The Watchtower magazine claims an average printing 15,570,00 (sic!) for each issue. It is translated into 111 languages, and 66 of those appear simultaneously with the English edition. "In other words, 95 percent of Jehovah's Witnesses receive the same spiritual food at the same time" [italics added]. Awake! claims an average printing of 13,110,000 issues in 66 languages; 30 appear simultaneously with the English edition. See the 1992 Yearbook of the Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 18. A major portion of a recently produced videotape focuses on the technological aspects of Brooklyn Bethel's publishing enterprise. See [WBTS], "Jehovah's Witnesses: The Organization Behind the Name" (Brooklyn, N.Y.: WBTS of Pennsylvania, 1990).  Beckford, Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 89.
 So Beckford speaks of the dangers of "ideological contamination." Beckford argues that the practice of witnessing door-to-door in pairs, and the pressing need to fulfill service- work quotas or objectives "help minimize the risks of ideological contamination from prospective converts." Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 89. Beckford does not contemplate the rhetorical potency of the theocratic language as a protective mechanism.
 The presence of dissent within the apparently monolithic unanimity of the Watchtower Society has been amply documented by Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 117-23. Penton himself was involved in a schism that occurred in Lethbridge, Alberta. For information on his role in the controversy and his subsequent excommunication, see Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 122-3; Bart Testa, "Bearing Witness to a Mass Exodus," Maclean's (March 16, 1981), pp. 47-9; and James A. Beverley, Crisis of Allegiance (Burlington, Ontario: Welch Pub. Co., Inc., 1986). For bibliographic data (with some narrative introduction) on dissenting groups, see Bergman, Jehovah's Witnesses and Dissenting Groups, pp. 242-352.
 So Harrison describes the Society as "an all- consuming religion." Visions of Glory, p. 39.
 Attributed to ex-Governing Body member Raymond V. Franz. See Richard N. Ostling, "Witness Under Prosecution," Time (February 22, 1982), p. 66.
 For Witness attitudes toward education, see Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 270-74. See also Barbara Harrison's comments in Visions of Glory, pp. 92-6.
 [WBTS], School and Jehovah's Witnesses (Brooklyn, NY: WBTS of New York, Inc., 1983), p. 5.
 Knorr was also responsible for the establishment of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead (1943), a missionary training school. For the Society's own account of the school's founding and purpose, see Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, pp. 202-5.
 Lee R. Cooper,"'Publish' or Perish: Negro Jehovah's Witness Adaptation to the Ghetto," in Religious Movements in Contemporary America, I. I. Zaretsky and M. P. Leone, eds. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 712.  Raymond V. Franz relates his involvement in the Governing Body's decision to forbid all forms of non-genital copulation in marriage. See his Crisis of Conscience: The Struggle between Loyalty to God and Loyalty to One's Religion (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983), pp. 42-50. While the policy was reversed in 1978, for five years it was used to disfellowship sexually disobedient members. On dress and grooming, see "Why Do I Have to Be Different?," Awake! (June 8, 1992), pp. 16-8.  Awake!, Feb. 22, 1991, p. 4 [italics added].  See The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 22. Beckford's article on "Accounting for Conversion," British Journal of Sociology 29 (1978), pp. 249-62, argues that Witness conversion experiences usually relate a gradual process of transformation in which the subject gradually learns and obeys "the Truth." Sudden and emotional conversions are necessarily suspect. For Witnesses, becoming a part of Jehovah's organization is a matter in which the cognitive facilities ("the head") are initially convinced by Jehovah's pure Truth, after which the emotions or passions ("the heart") are gradually transformed.
 Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 199.
 Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 203. Restorationist themes frequently appear in Watchtower literature. See, e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses: Unitedly Doing God's Will Worldwide (1986), p. 5: " . . .how can you identify the true Christian congregation? By examining the Scriptures about the first-century Christian congregation and then by seeing who today follow the same pattern." See also pp. 7, 12-3, 26.
 Harrison declares that this is "a religion that fears magic, mystery, poetry--a religion that treats ecstasy as an aberration and flees from passion with a passion that is thoroughly small and dry." Visions of Glory, p. 213.
 Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 202.
 See ex-Witness Harrison's unflattering description of the "lobotomized good behavior" of Witness children. Visions of Glory, p. 90; and Botting's assertion that such scripted action "obviates the necessity of thinking." Orwellian World, p. 88.
 The rational self-sufficiency of the Society is a major motif in the Watchtower-produced videotape, "Jehovah's Witnesses: The Organization Behind the Name" (1990). Witnesses are thoroughly modern, though they certainly reject the label or the ideology of modernism. See Bruce B. Lawrence, Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Pub., 1990), pp. 1-3. Penton, however, argues that "this vaunted efficiency . . . is more apparent than real." Apocalypse Delayed, p. 251. Quite probably most of their literature goes unread, and it is at least questionable whether their door-to-door proselyting efforts are really as effective as members (and outsiders) frequently believe. See Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 231.
 See Reasoning from the Scriptures, pp. 9-24.
 E.g., at a recent service meeting, an elder announced that the New World Translation is now available in computerized form. The videotape, "Jehovah's Witnesses: The Organization Behind the Name" (1990), frequently informs the viewer that the Society was integrally involved in the development of much of the advanced electronic and computer technology utilized in their enormous publishing enterprise.
 See Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 78.
 Although Raymond Franz's autobiography discloses the names of those Witness scholars actually involved in the translation process. See Crisis of Conscience, pp. 49-50.  Beckford, Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 81.
 Beckford, Trumpet of Prophecy, p. 96.
 See Harrison, Visions of Glory, p. 33.
 Harrison, Visions of Glory, p. 253.
 James A. Beckford, "Organization, Ideology and Recruitment: The Structure of the Watch Tower Movement," Sociological Review 23 (1975), p. 897.
 See Botting, Orwellian World, pp. 65-6. So Botting argues that the decision to publish all Watchtower literature anonymously was "a reflection of Knorr's insistence that all inspiration comes directly from God through the organization, led by the faceless 'Writing Committee' of the Governing Body." Orwellian World, p. 41.
 Apocalypse Delayed, p. 78.
 Penton observes that the Society takes a generally dim view of individual Witnesses who take it upon themselves to publish anything related to their religion. He argues that it is now virtually impossible to publish anything as a Jehovah's Witness scholar without risking the disciplinary wrath of the Society. See Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 105-6.
 Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, p. 286.
 Harrison's claim that in fact the Witnesses "were among the last of all religious groups to be integrated in the South" is problematic, since most southern churches remain segregated. Given their resistance to any direct form of social reform, it is no surprise that the Witnesses did not participate in civil rights reform in the American South (or anywhere for that matter). See Harrison, Visions of Glory, p. 261; also pp. 159 (anti-Semitism), 254-5. Other attempts to document racism within the Watchtower movement include Werner Cohn, "They Hope for Armageddon." [Review of Marley Cole, Jehovah's Witnesses: The New World Society] The New Leader, October 17, 1955, pp. 24-6; and Herbert Hewitt Stroup, The Jehovah's Witnesses (New York: Russell & Russell, 1945), p. 29.
 Cooper, "'Publish' or Perish: Negro Jehovah's Witness Adaptation to the Ghetto," in Religious Movements in Contemporary America, p. 705. Cooper argues that Witnesses present credible responses and alternatives to commonplace criticisms of religion expressed by ghetto residents (including greed, hypocrisy, emotionalism, and the existence of personality cults that frequently develop around ministers).
 Bryan R. Wilson, "Jehovah's Witnesses in Africa," New Society (12 July 1973), p. 75.
 Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 305. On the other hand, leadership of the movement--especially at the highest levels--is still primarily white, male and American.
 You Can Live Forever, p. 160.
 1992 Yearbook, p. 68.
 Harrison, Visions of Glory, p. 268.
 See the "organizational charts" of the theocratic Kingdom in Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 212-3. Penton (p. 211) notices that the term "hierarchy" has pejorative overtones for Witnesses, as it is traditionally associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Penton's work displays a polemical strategy apparent in his recurrent attempts to compare the society in different ways to Roman Catholicism (see pp. 13, 35, 40, 69, 160, 162, 164, 211-124!, 220-1, 234).
 Watchtower iconography consistently represents that "great multitude" as an ideal multi-racial or multi-ethnic community. For examples, see Botting, Orwellian World, pp. 101- 3.
 Reasoning From the Scriptures, 305.
 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, trans. A. C. Miles, ed. Rush Rhees (Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1979).
Last updated: May 12, 2000