The blind spot of 'true religion' thinking

Background

"You will recognize them by their fruits," Jesus said according to Matthew. "You can not pick grapes from a thorn bush or figs from a thistle? That way every good tree bears good fruit, while every bad tree bears bad fruit "(Matth 7: 16,17). Thus Jehovah's Witnesses learn that the true religion is clearly recognizable by the beliefs and behavior of its followers. (That Jesus spoke here about recognizing "false prophets" and not about a "true religion" is left out of consideration.)

According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the doctrines of true religion are based on the Bible, which is read as the Word of God. Practitioners of the true religion only worship Jehovah, make his name known and tell what kind of person He is. They have real love for each other, because according to John 13: 35 Jesus disciples could be identified. They accept Jesus Christ as a means of salvation, which relates both to atonement through Jesus' death and his coming as future king. True worshipers are not part of the world, they remain neutral with respect to politics and they proclaim God's Kingdom as the only hope for mankind.

It is not difficult to conclude that the above-mentioned characteristics of 'the true religion' apparently apply to Jehovah's Witnesses themselves. The own convictions are seen as the only true. They do not see that their way of reading the Bible originates from a faith representation, it is seen as 'the Truth'. And with that all other religions are seen as 'false'. This separation is very important to Jehovah's Witnesses: followers of the true religion worship Jehovah, all others worship Satan (the devil). True religion leads to eternal life, false religion leads to destruction.

Good versus evil

The 'fruits' to which the true religion can be recognized can and may only be good. In 'God's organization' there is no place for evil. Evil is something that belongs to the outside world, to the world that lies in the power of "the wicked one" (devil). When then the evil is found in their own ranks, it is considered something that one should see as soon as possible to get rid of.

Borgman (2012) said something similar concerning the Catholic church where evil is seen as 'a strange element' that penetrates from the outside world. In this way the church can continue to regard itself as sacred. It is not for nothing that the spokesman of the Jehovah's Witnesses said in the Dutch newspaper Dagblad in December that the main goal is to 'keep the organization clean'. Purity or holiness belongs to the true religion, the image they have of themselves.

However, it is an illusion to think that it is possible to keep an organization pure or to believe that one can keep out 'evil'. In fact, because of this idea there is a good chance that evil will be repressed if this happens anyway. It can not be there. They do not want it to be there and there is a chance that people will not see it. This focus on the organization, on the purity of its own religion, leaves victims of sexual abuse in the cold. They are not recognized in their story.

"You can not save any organization, no institution, for evil," writes Bärbel de Groot - Kopetzky (2013). 'You can pay attention to minimizing opportunities, but there will always be people who succumb to temptation, to evil. If you make too heavy a moral appeal, you work in secrecy and opacity. You will have to confess that the church is also a human institution, with failing people. "

Cognitive dissonance

Could it be that Jehovah's Witnesses do not see the problem, that there is repression? A situation with sexual abuse within 'the true religion' most probably results in cognitive dissonance: it does not fit within the image they have of themselves, just as the act of sexual abuse does not suit a Jehovah's Witness who lives according to the guidelines.

The reality of sexual abuse - evil in one's own ranks - is therefore in contradiction with the religious ideal. To get rid of that tension one can do the following: either one must acknowledge that one's own religion is not better than others and that bad things also occur with them, or one sticks to the 'true and good religion' image and represses the reality.

Of the only-but-good and righteous God, the guidelines can only be good. God knows best how man must live and become happy. In this way God's organization can only be good in the experience of the believer Jehovah's Witness. If anything goes wrong, it is the imperfection of people. A sinner can be brought to justice, whoever shows no repentance can be excluded. This means that the organization - the 'true religion' - is clean again.

In the mind of a Jehovah's Witness, it is not possible that the organization has a policy that does not deal properly with sexual abuse and creates an environment where perpetrators can do their thing.

Existential unrest

The conviction to be part of God's true religion is fundamental here. It is what gives meaning to sacrifice and offers hope for the future. What if you have to admit that your religion is no different than everyone else? Have you visited all those years before? Did not you celebrate all those holidays before that? Did you keep separate from every political discussion? The social interaction with neighbors and colleagues limited? And where does the prospect of eternal life remain in the (earthly) paradise?

Then as an elder you still have that extra responsibility to the organization you represent. Faced with sexual abuse within their own ranks, there is a good chance that moral panic breaks out: how to ensure that the organization becomes clean again and that the ideal image can be retained for itself and the outside world? In order to solve the problem, one must adhere to the guidelines of 'God's organization'.

The believers see themselves placed before an impossible thought. Recognizing that the organization's policy is inadequate amounts to doubting God himself. Why did He not have clearer instructions written down in the Bible? Or, why does not he give a clearer explanation to those who are in charge of the organization? It is a dangerous idea to assume that it is God himself who fails in this. Frightening too, because who dares to call God to account?

Doubting the goodness of Jehovah God and the truth of one's own religion is like rattling to the foundations of one's own existence. Perhaps it feels safer to dismiss stories about sexual abuse as incidental or lies of apostates.

Deliberately?

In case of an allegation of sexual abuse, the elders must immediately contact the branch's legal department. At that branch, all reports of sexual abuse are received from the region that it supervises. So there are higher-ranking Jehovah's Witnesses who need to be aware of the extent of the problem.

The idea arises that conscious steps are being taken to protect the organization. Everywhere in the world Jehovah's Witnesses ensure that at least the laws of the country are met to prevent problems. Unless these laws are in conflict with "God's laws." Then one relies on religious freedom.

In their own publications and video messages it is suggested that negative reports in the media regarding sexual abuse of 'apostates' would come from, or attacks from Satan. True Christians would be persecuted and thus they confirm for themselves that they have the 'true religion' again.

Or is it still trying to deceive their own supporters and outsiders? Is this intentional or do these strategies form part of the reduction of cognitive dissonance? Could it be that they want to continue to believe so stubbornly in their 'true religion' that they are blind to reality?

Own reality

To solve a problem, one must first recognize that the problem is there. It requires awareness and a self-critical attitude to recognize that its own religious organization is not free from malpractice and even contributes to the problem in the case of sexual abuse.

It seems as if we are dealing with a blind spot - perhaps even a collective blind spot at organizational level - so that these people live in their own reality and do not see the problem. Possibly (unconsciously) do not want to see.

Blind obedience to an institution that claims to be God's organization, the true religion to which one can not doubt, keeps the followers in illusion. After all, doubting is dangerous for the faith and disobedience to the organization is disobedience to God.

Waiting for God ...

That sexual abuse of children on a large scale occurs in the world as such, does not surprise Jehovah's Witnesses. According to their faith, we live in the 'last days' that are 'difficult to endure'. That would be times when people love themselves and have no natural affection (2 Timothy 3: 1-5). The current situation can only mean that the end is near. Jehovah God will soon intervene now. Then He will put an end to all false religion. He will destroy all people who do not worship Him in Armageddon.

Jehovah's Witnesses only have to wait for Jehovah to save them from their opponents, those who point to problems of sexual abuse within their community. It leads to an attitude that makes them respond reactively to outside demands, only to avoid as many problems as possible. They slow down processes around investigations or lawsuits by working with as little as possible.

Just persevere, they keep telling themselves. Maybe Armageddon will arrive on time ....

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