Jehovah’s Witnesses and Higher Education

Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised against pursuing a higher education,[foot]For the purpose of this article, higher education refers to a University education, as defined by the Watchtower:

“The educational system varies from country to country. In the United States, for example, public schools offer 12 years of basic education. Thereafter, students may choose to attend university or college for four or more years, leading to a bachelor’s degree or to postgraduate studies for careers in medicine, law, engineering, and so forth. Such university education is what is meant when the term ‘higher education’ is used in this article. On the other hand, there are technical and vocational schools, offering short-term courses that result in a certificate or diploma in some trade or service.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.27

[/foot] 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.

This is Part One of a three-part series on Jehovah’s Witnesses and their views on higher education by AAWA Advisory Board member Paul Grundy.

Watchtower View of University

WTinsertWatchtower 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:

“Your children will no doubt experience new challenges and pressures. … Are they prepared for the pressure they will receive to pursue higher education, date, and use alcohol or drugs?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Jul p.2

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.

“Many schools now have student counselors who encourage one to pursue higher education after high school, to pursue a career with a future in this system of things. Do not be influenced by them. Do not let them “brainwash” you with the Devil’s propaganda to get ahead, to make something of yourself in this world. This world has very little time left! Any “future” this world offers is no future! Wisely, then, let God’s Word influence you in selecting a course that will result in your protection and blessing. Make pioneer service, the full-time ministry, with the possibility of Bethel or missionary service your goal.” Watchtower 1969 Mar 15 p.171
“No doubt, school counselors sincerely believe that it is in your best interests to pursue higher education and to plan for a secular career. Yet, their confidence lies in a social and financial system that has no lasting future.” Watchtower 2012 Jun 15 p.23

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.

“That is why parents who base their lives on God’s prophetic Word find it much more practical to direct their young ones into trades that do not require such long periods of additional schooling.” Awake! 1969 May 22 p.15
“A university degree does not guarantee success in the job market. As an alternative, many have acquired marketable job skills by means of apprenticeship programs, some vocational or technical school education, or short-term college courses that require a minimum of time and involvement.” Kingdom Ministry 1999 Apr p.8

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.[foot][/foot] On 29th July 2013, Watchtower commenced construction of a new global headquarters at Warwick, New York.[foot][/foot] This campus of buildings spans 45 acres, and includes 588 rooms with capacity for 1000 residents.[foot][/foot] 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.

“Rather than being content with “sustenance and covering,” those who devote themselves to getting a “higher education” usually want to be able to enjoy “the rest of the things” that money can buy.” Watchtower 1967 Feb 1 p.76
“Higher education: Jesus warned against ‘seeking your own glory.’” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.32

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 (28th Sep 2013) showing the current models provided being either Buick LaCrosse, advertised as a “mid sized luxury car,” or the Chevrolet Impala.

Lacking Faith

Concern for providing materially is considered evidence of a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.

“Rather than looking to the advanced educational systems of this world for security, a Christian trusts in Jehovah.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15p.4
“HIGHER EDUCATION … Do you need to strengthen your confidence in Jehovah’s ability to provide for you?” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.31

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.

Bad Association

University is described as a place of debauchery, with this used as a reason to avoid higher education.

“University and college campuses are notorious for bad behavior—drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, cheating, hazing, and the list goes on.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.28

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.

“How sad that some have fallen away from the faith as a result of succumbing to the demands on their time and energy or of getting entangled in unscriptural conduct at college!” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.29

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,[foot]“An even more extreme example of what might be called “masked churn” is the relatively tiny Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer are – yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts.” America’s Unfaithful Faithful David Van Biema ( 25th Feb 2008)[/foot] the highest churn of any American religious group. This high turnover rate is supported by the Watchtower’s own publisher reports.[foot][/foot]

The Highest Education is from God

The Watchtower advises to replace a higher education with a more valuable “divine education.”

“All of Jehovah’s Witnesses, regardless of their educational status, have something in common. They recognize that the most important education available today has its source in God’s Word, the Bible.” Awake! 1994 Aug 22 p.8
“Are we encouraging young ones, who are often steered by schoolteachers and others to pursue the world’s higher education, to set spiritual goals instead and pursue the highest education—divine education?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Oct p.3

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.

Higher Learning

Watchtower is concerned about the propaganda that University teaches.

“What, though, of higher education, received in a college or a university? This is widely viewed as vital to success. Yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in Jehovah’s service. (Eccl. 12:1) Perhaps it is not surprising that in lands where many have received such an education, belief in God is at an all-time low.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4

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.”[foot]“Some apostates profess to know and serve God but reject teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the Bible but reject Jehovah’s organization.” Reasoning from the Scriptures p.34 [/foot] Apostates are shown little leniency, but are quickly disfellowshipped and shunned as “mentally diseased” and like the Devil.[foot]“The Bible says that apostates are mentally diseased and that they use their teachings to make others think like them.” Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.11,
“Modern-day apostates display characteristics similar to those of the Devil.” Examining the Scriptures Daily 2011 Aug 18 p.83 [/foot]

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:[foot][/foot]

  • Behavior
  • Information
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions

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!


Jehovah’s Witnesses and Higher Education — 5 Comments

  1. We should not be distracted by foolish ideas of the Watchtower. You can read “a considerable number of judicial actions and disfellowshippings that take place each year [among JWs] are the result of sexual misconduct (Reference:

    Again, you can read from w86 1/1 p. 13 par. 12 “Shocking as it is, even some who have been prominent in Jehovah’s organization have succumbed to immoral practices, including homosexuality, wife swapping, and child molesting. It is to be noted, also, that during the past year, 36,638 individuals had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation, the greater number of them for practicing immorality. Jehovah’s organization must be kept clean!”

    IS UNIVERSITY TO BLAME? WHAT ABOUT (Jeremiah 5:8) . . .Horses seized with sexual heat, having [strong] testicles, they have become. They neigh each one to the wife of his companion.

    we need to develop critical thinking skills to make others be aware of the watchtower abuses!

  2. They say that a problem identified is a problem half-solved. Well, Paul Grundy has done just that in this first post of a three-part series if we are going to convince the non-JW world community that the Watchtower uses “unethical social influence” on its members, especially the children of members, when it comes to its disturbing policy on “higher education.” Good job, Paul.

  3. Meanwhile the JWs want to fleece their flocks with their new mandatory donation arrangement including those who are poor because they have put off higher education in order to seek the kingdom first. Yet in the congregation I used to attend a rich family sent their daughter to Law School. The double standards are just ridiculous!

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