The doorbell chimes as you stumble around in your underwear grasping around for some pants on a lazy Saturday morning. “Who is that?” you think to yourself, “it’s not NHK again, is it?”
You make your way quietly to the door so as not to be heard as your dog barks enthusiastically in the background. You press your face against the cold, metal door and spy through the peephole two nicely dressed people, a middle-aged woman and her younger companion standing slightly behind. Both holding tablets in one hand and bags in the other. Census people?
You open the door to warm smiles and slightly surprised looks.
“Good morning!” the older lady begins, “do you speak English?”
After a minute of self-introductions, they get to the point. “We are discussing with your neighbors the topic of world conditions. With wars, earthquakes, and famine occurring worldwide, many people ask the question, ‘Is this life all there is?’ What are your thoughts on this topic?”
Did I unwittingly sign up for a theology class? World conditions? You begin wondering what the hell these strangers are doing at your door on such a blustery day.
“Uh, sir?” the younger one interjects as you space out and try to navigate past the images of your booze-filled shenanigans the night before, “did we catch you at a bad time?”
“Sorry, yeah. I’m not feeling too well,” you groan.
“We’re sorry for disturbing you. We can come back at a more convenient time and leave you with this.” She reaches into her bag and holds out a pamphlet with colorful images of a paradisaic scene filled with clean cut-people picnicking in the mountains and children frolicking with animals.
“Yeah, sure,” you muster as you take the paper and slowly close the door.
Introduction to “The Truth”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Bible-literalist Christian group numbering 8,000,000 with members in every part of the globe. They pride themselves on being god’s one true religion amongst the 4,000 recognized religions worldwide. They meet twice a week for indoctrination and educational tips on proselytizing inside their churches aptly named Kingdom Halls. Baptized members are required to preach to and recruit new members on a monthly if not weekly basis. They mostly stick to door-knocking as that’s supposedly what Jesus and the early Christians did, but you’ll also find them in your workplace offering you literature, standing outside of metro areas and train stations offering literature, in your mailbox via letter form offering literature, and occasionally phone calls on your landline offering literature.
The JWs affectionately call their theology “the truth,” since in their minds it is the one and only truth. Any other sources of information, whether scientific, archeological or otherwise aren’t to be trusted 100%. This especially goes for anything that contradicts their beliefs. Teachers, professors, government officials, all of them are treated with the same skepticism – they’re controlled by Satan who, in turn, controls the earth.
JWs in Japan
The founder of the religion, Pastor Russell – a term they’ve strayed away from – was the first JW to set foot in Japan in September of 1911, giving sermons all over the country. By 1938, there were 110 missionaries and converts meeting together to further their work of saving the “right-hearted” individuals, aka, those who responded favorably. Then came nationalism along with the war, and Christians of all sorts were dispersed or persecuted. After WWII, the religion spread like wildfire in Japan. Today, there are over 214,000 members scattered from the subarctic of Hokkaido to the subtropical islands of Okinawa.
During the pandemic, the witnesses stuck to letter-writing campaigns and phone preaching while attending their meetings on Zoom. With the pandemic slowly fading away though, the preachers are out once again in full force knocking on doors and standing outside offering their literature.
Second Generation Displeasure
Hot on the heels of the recent assassination of Shinzo Abe and the awareness of the effects of high-control groups, many younger Jehovah’s Witnesses have also had enough. According to JW statistics printed online each year, after factoring in the death rate, over 1 million witnesses have left the religion worldwide over a ten-year period, including many in Japan and myself. I was a fourth-generation JW who left just a couple of years ago. Many who left were sick of the authoritarianism in the religion: overly restrictive and controlling rules on dress and grooming, entertainment, education, relationships, etc. Many endured physical abuse from parents who followed the direction of church leaders to shut their kids up during the two two-hour meetings held each week. Others discovered the child sex abuse issues and lack of reporting to authorities despite keeping a record of every serious sin committed by all members.
Leaving the religion as a baptized witness is a terrifying ordeal for those who cherish relationships with family and life-long friends. Shunning is a real issue that is encouraged in the form of video and printed material. Speaking out against the religion, as I’m doing for the first time, is basically a death sentence for any remaining relationships still held in the organization.
So the next time you’re offered a pamphlet or hear knocking on your door from two JWs, keep in mind that they’re doing what they feel is right – hoping to save you from Armageddon, which is just around the corner, as it always has been since their inception. Berating them only strengthens their determination to remain in the faith and proves to them that the outside world, or “worldly people,” are truly controlled by Satan. Thoughtful and kindly worded questions and statements go a long way if done sincerely. It worked on me!