In 1947 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists featured a clock on the cover of its magazine which came to be known as the “Doomsday Clock.” While World War II had ended, the threat of global nuclear warfare had just begun. Tension between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated in 1949 when the Soviets detonated a bomb in central Asia, causing international concern. The Bulletin Scientists moved the symbolic minute hand from seven minutes to midnight to 3 minutes before midnight, indicating just how close they felt the world was to a possible nuclear holocaust.
Throughout the years the minute hand has ticked back and forth with world events as scientists have monitored the arms buildup of the superpowers. In time, the “Doomsday Clock” became linked with the term “doomsday cult.”
By the year 1975, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to take notice of this clock, publishing its time on a regular basis in an effort to highlight the urgency of the “last days”. This timing was no coincidence, as Watchtower vice-president Frederick Franz had predicted back in 1966 that 1975 would mark the end of 6000 years of mankind’s existence, kicking off the 1000 year reign of Christ. This would mean that 1975 would also bring about God’s personal doomsday, Armageddon.
The Doomsday Clock seemed to add weight to these predictions.
The Awake! magazine of February 8, 1975 stated:
ON AUGUST 25, 1974, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its front-cover “doomsday clock” three minutes closer to midnight. These scientists thus signaled their fear that the threat of nuclear holocaust recently grew by that much, bringing the clock to nine minutes before midnight.
However, those who are aware of the clock’s history know that, since 1947 when the atomic scientists started it ticking, their clock has moved eight times, but in both directions.
Many people believe that the course of history is very similar to that “doomsday clock.” They say that crises come and crises go but somehow mankind always muddles through. Their outlook is just what a discerning prophet 1,900 years ago said it would be: “Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”—2 Pet. 3:4
On the one hand, Witnesses were frightened by the impending doom and ominous nature of the nuclear threat, while simultaneously being told that the vacillation of the clock’s hands proves that mankind is deceived into thinking that the end of the world was not imminent.
The year 1975 came and went without major incident, and this disappointment was devastating to many Jehovah’s Witnesses, causing a radical drop in membership and financial ruin for many who had pinned their hopes on this date.
Amazingly, the Watchtower’s Governing Body brushed aside this theocratic defeat and went right back to disseminating messages of doom for all of the word’s governments, all religions (except JWs), and any person not associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On June 8, 1981, the Awake! magazine excitedly announced that the Doomsday Clock had moved closer to the midnight hour:
BACK IN 1947, atomic scientists concerned about nuclear war invented a “doomsday clock” to dramatize their fears. The clock has since become the best known symbol of the publication “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” Should the hands of the clock reach midnight, it will mean that nuclear war has begun.
Recently the position of the hands was set ahead—from seven minutes before midnight to only four minutes to that hour. Quite a jump! The hands have been moved only 10 times in 33 years.
Why do the scientists think the world is now getting closer to nuclear war? Because of the failure of the SALT II arms treaty and because of each side’s stated willingness to fight a “limited” nuclear war.
By 1984, Jehovah’s Witnesses were inundated with articles and books which declared that Armageddon was imminent, citing its infamous “generations” teaching along with fear of global nuclear war. The March 22 1984 Awake! announced:
The “doomsday clock,” a feature of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was advanced another minute last January to three minutes before midnight… The “Bulletin Clock” has been advanced and set back through the years to indicate the intensity of “the threat of nuclear doomsday hovering over humanity.” The present move to three minutes before midnight is the closest in 30 years
The summer of 1984 saw the release of the book “Survival into a New Earth,” generating even more anticipation that the end was extremely close, and once again the clock was mentioned.
The final chapter was titled The Countdown Nears its Zero Hour! Note the recycled words from the 1981 Awake!:
If you were one of Jehovah’s Witnesses back in 1984, no doubt chills ran up and down your spine as you read those words. There was no misunderstanding – we were living in the very LAST part of the LAST days, and every Witness knew that the end was imminent. Fred Franz was the living embodiment of the 1914 Generation teaching, using the last few years of his life in a last-gasp attempt to convince millions of Witnesses that Armageddon would arrive before his contemporaries died.
By the end of 1984, the Watchtower organization had taken ownership of their own doomsday timepiece, capitalizing on this concept by featuring a countdown clock on the cover of the October 22nd Awake! Were they trading on the fear of an imminent nuclear conflict? Judge for yourself:
PROMINENT people in all parts of the world are, indeed, coming to the conclusion that time is running out. The forces that constantly push the nations toward the brink of nuclear war register in their minds like screaming alarm sirens. The danger of global economic collapse and the many forms of deadly environmental pollution add to their uneasiness. They sense that time is running out not just for a few nations but for the entire world. Why? Because none of them can come up with solutions that really work.
Their greatest concern is the threat of nuclear war. Earlier this year, in harmony with the advice of 47 scientists, including 18 Nobel prize winners, the monthly Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its “doomsday clock” forward one minute—to three minutes before midnight. The clock represents how close they believe the world is to a nuclear conflagration. “It is an expression of alarm,” they state. The “doomsday clock” is now the nearest it has been to midnight in 30 years!
Unfortunately for the Watchtower organization and loyal Jehovah’s Witnesses, the clock wound down, expiring in yet another embarrassing end-of-times failed prediction. Fred Franz finally passed away in 1992, leaving behind a mountain of Biblical interpretations which would take years for the organization to unravel. Just 3 years after his death, the 1995 Watchtower discarded the previous “Generation” teaching and replaced it with with what they called a more “precise” doctrine.
This 1995 Watchtower article reveals a key contradiction which has plagued the Witness organization since its origin. “Jehovah has revealed to us…” the things which “must shortly take place”, yet Jehovah’s Witnesses have somehow misinterpreted God’s personal revelations dozens of times. Is it really plausible that the Almighty would personally communicate sacred secrets to one religious organization, yet do so inaccurately every time?
Using language such as “terminal ruination”, “critical” and “urgency”, the Governing Body has continued to wield fear as a tool to steer the lives of millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Doomsday Clock is still mentioned repeatedly in Watchtower and Awake! articles.
Witnesses – Doomsday Prophets?
It is a fallacy and a deception to proclaim that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not doomsday prophets. By most definitions, “doomsday” represents destruction and death, which is EXACTLY what Witnesses preach. However, in an effort to draw individuals into the religion and minimize the damaging portions of the doctrine, the organization describes the very controversial topic of Armageddon and doomsday in a highly conflicting manner. In the May 1st 2015 Watchtower, the organization addressed this topic on page 7:
DOOMSDAY PROPHETS? Jehovah’s Witnesses are not doomsday prophets. They have been sharing a positive message about the future for over one hundred years. For example, their 1958 convention talk, “God’s Kingdom Rules—Is the World’s End Near?” explained that“God’s kingdom comes, not to destroy this earth, but to destroy Satan’s world. God’s kingdom comes, not to burn up this earth, but to bring to pass God’s will here on earth as well
as in heaven. For that reason the earth is worth preserving as God’s creation; and God will preserve it for all eternity.”
The clever strategy mentioned above has been used for decades to divert attention away from the massive decimation of human life by declaring that the Earth will be secure forever and will never face annihilation. Does the declaration of the Earth’s preservation absolve Jehovah’s Witnesses of the title “Doomsday Prophets”? Hardly.
In the very same 2015 Watchtower, it is later revealed that there WILL be significant loss of life:
The Bible informs us that the end will involve destruction:
“There will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now . . . In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved.” (Matthew 24:21,22) But God promises us that many humans will survive: “The world is passing away . . . , but the one who does the will of God remains forever.”…
The context shows that “all these things” that are to be dissolved include the ruling elements of this corrupt world and all those who choose such rulership rather than God’s.
Rather than following the majority today and ignoring the clear signals that we are living in such important times, we need to “keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.” Jehovah’s Witnesses can show you from the Bible how
you can be a survivor of this upcoming day
(bold added by editor)
The claim that “many” will survive Armageddon belies the actual JW teaching that MOST will be destroyed – billions of humans eliminated at God’s hand. The implication is clear – unless you are in close association with Jehovah’s Witnesses come judgment day, you will die.
Coming to grips with this conflict is a matter most Witnesses seldom discuss. When they do talk about Armageddon, the official Watchtower policy is often replaced with a more palatable line, something like “Well, Jehovah can read the heart of the individual, and HE makes the final judgment…”
As of January 2016, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists continues to place its clock at 3 minutes before midnight, right back where it was in 1984. Jehovah’s Witnesses will no doubt continue to exploit the rational fears of their members, and exchange this fear for an Apocalypse where they find themselves on the safe side of the fence.
On a personal level, the Watchtower’s emphasis on mankind’s impending doom deeply impacted my life. I was baptized in 1984 while attending high school, completely immersed in the belief that all of the collective “signs” pointed to the imminent day of God’s anger, Armageddon. Looking back on it, I didn’t know any better, just as the kids 10 years older than me were taken in by the 1975 prediction.
Perhaps the most important reason I was finally able to escape nearly 40 years later was my reflection on the repeating cycles I observed over my lifetime inside the organization. It went something like this:
PREDICT – FAIL – CHANGE DOCTRINE – REPEAT
Not only did I see these repeating patterns for more than 40 years, the real wake-up call was understanding how the latest doctrines were being injected into the minds of the next generation at younger and younger ages. I watched so many teens raise their hands at the Kingdom Hall and recite the current doctrine during the Watchtower Study, believing that they are devouring “spiritual meat”, when in fact so much of what they currently believe is likely to end up in the growing landfill with all of the discarded Watchtower publications.
Reflecting on the Watchtower’s use of the Doomsday Clock along with other end-of-the-world predictions might seem academic, but if you are still one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, understanding and escaping the undue influence of this organization might just give you back your life. Check the clock – you still have time.