By now, you may have already seen what have become known as the “Bunker” videos shown during the 2016 Regional convention. The films are centred around a small group of Witnesses huddled in a basement converted into a makeshift bunker, during the period of worldwide turmoil that Watchtower teaches will take place just before the battle of Armageddon, known as the Great Tribulation.
The narrative moves between the characters as they each flashback to a moment that occurred before the Great Tribulation broke out.
The videos are intended as teaching aids to help Jehovah’s Witnesses take to heart the lessons that the Governing Body wants them to learn.
But what are these lessons? Follow me into the Bunker and lets take a detailed tour though events that Watchtower teaches will happen in the very near future, and the actions and attitudes it believes Witnesses will need to show in order to survive them.
Bunker Video 1 – Pride
Bunker 1 claims to be a video about the dangers of pride, and features an Elder recounting an example of when the sin of pride almost got the better of him. He explains how another elder at his hall, presumably the School Overseer, gave him some feedback on mistakes he made whilst giving a public talk.
How does his wife react to this? Does she say; “do you think what he said was valid?” or “Did he have a point?” No. She says;
Please tell me you didn’t argue with him.
The wife is not concerned about whether the feedback is valid or not. Her only concern is that he might not have unquestioningly accepted it. The husband replies;
No of course not.
It is as if the very idea would be absurd.
What becomes clear is that the “right” attitude the elder is expected to display here is to unquestioningly accept whatever direction is given to him. No evaluation. No pushback.
It’s healthy to accept constructive criticism, yes, but one should always be ready to push back and challenge criticism or instructions if one does not believe them to be valid after careful consideration. To be a well rounded individual, it is vital to strike this balance between open mindedness and self confidence.
The kind of behaviour being presented here is not that of a well rounded individual capable of evaluating and accepting constructive criticism, rather it is that of an intellectual doormat, who will blindly accept any command from authority and say “thank you” at the end of it. Indeed the dangerous sin as presented here is not even that he argued the point, it’s that he felt resentment even though he blindly accepted it.
Essentially, what had been presented at the outset as a discussion of the dangers of “pride” morphs into a lesson about unquestioningly accepting orders from Watchtower authority with a smile.
Keep that in mind. It won’t be the last time we see this theme of blind unquestioning loyalty sneaking around in the shadows during the Bunker series.
Bunker Video 2 – Improper entertainment
It’s actually quite hard to work out what he is supposed to have done. He specifically states that he is NOT watching pornography, but states that the material he is watching is giving him immoral thoughts. Thus it’s hard to work out exactly what the material was supposed to have been. Steamy movies? Artwork featuring attractive people? Catalogue photographs? In any case, the man gives us the comment that:
Anything that stirs up unclean thoughts is worthless, and I should turn my eyes away.
That’s quite a broad and vague command. One cannot simply drop out of sensory experience, closing one’s eyes every time an attractive person passes you on the street.
Much of how you feel about this video might depend on your view of sexual morality as presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses or by faiths with similar teachings on sex. If you share this viewpoint, you may find little to criticise here, and feel the advice well captures a spiritually clean view of sex. Others may consider this view of sex to be repressive and unhealthy. Much will depend on your subjective view.
However, one might also suggest that Watchtower is trying to make Witnesses a little bit afraid of their internet phones, because there is something on that phone even more dangerous to a Witness than pornography.
That thing is: Google.
On the privacy of their smartphone, all a Witness has to do is type a few words into a search engine, say “Jehovah’s Witnesses child abuse,” or “Jehovah’s Witnesses shunning” or even just “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and of the many sites that will spring up in response, only one will be jw.org. I remember sitting in a meeting, reading JW Survey articles during one of the more boring talks on my trusty smartphone. A free flow of information is not something Watchtower is in favour of for its followers, and today’s smartphones are portals to all the information in the world…
Bunker Video 3 – Bad associations
Bunker 3 deals with the wife of the elder we met in the first video, relating an experience of how she almost fell into “bad association” at work when her workmates invited her to grab a coffee with them in the break area.
The people in the office appear to be offering genuine friendship, but the friendship the Witness is offering in return comes with an ulterior motive. She apparently has no interest in them as people, just as potential recruits for her religion. As she states;
I still thought I could give a witness and actually teach them something about Jehovah.
At one point we see her try to share a scripture, only to be horrified when the people she is talking to offer an opinion different to hers, as if they had no right to interrupt her attempts at preaching. She closes her bible in shock. One of the co-workers smiles knowingly and states…
Too much information, right?
While most intellectually healthy people would consider the sharing of viewpoints and information to be a good thing, here it is presented as something that is damaging to the faithful. Additionally, the video seems to infer that her friends talking about families and husbands, a perfectly normal topic for most people, was somehow a bad thing. The Witness laments…
In reality, I was the one being taught, and I was a quick learner
This video casts the sister as if she is some weak creature with no agency, blown hither and thither by the opinions of those around her. No thought is given to the fact that a mature, rational person should be able to evaluate new viewpoints, decide if they are valid, and reject or adopt them accordingly.
No, she is presented being as doe eyed and impressionable as a small child. I can imagine that many Witnesses might feel uncomfortable and even a little insulted by the assumption from the Governing Body that they are all this impressionable and intellectually feeble.
Bunker Video 4 – Fear of Man
Kevin is a witness who isn’t in the bunker. The narrative implies that he was always a bit of a spiritually weak Christian, but apparently the final straw for poor Kevin was, according to one of the Bunker folk:
When our message changed form good news to judgement, he was telling everyone that it would make problems for us, and that he was done.
It is inferred that one of the reasons that the Witnesses might be in hiding is that their “message of judgement” helped trigger the Great Tribulation and caused the population and the governments of the world to rise up against them and hunt them down.
Let’s set aside the acknowledged cases of repressive regimes (such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia) persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses, because often those regimes persecute other religious groups just as badly, and instead focus on the idea that all democratic, liberal governments will turn specifically on Watchtower because Watchtower will begin to proclaim “judgement.”
The problem with this delusion of grandeur is that the Governing Body have clearly never heard of the Westboro baptist church.
For those who don’t know, Westboro is an infamous fundamentalist church known for antagonising the population of United States with its own messages of “judgement”, picketing the funerals of US Servicemen with signs saying “Thank God for dead solders,” and turning up at Gay Pride events with “God hates fags” banners.
The Church sets out to be as antagonistic and fractious as possible with its “judgement messages” going far beyond the limits of any message that Watchtower would ever contemplate carrying. Yet as of 2016, the church members of Westboro have not been hunted down into bunkers by Government goons. Most citizens just dismiss them as unpleasant idiots.
I humbly propose that the Witnesses can, in most free countries, make their message as judgemental as they like, and the very worst that will happen is that people will simply consider them to be a bunch of jerks.
If Governments in liberal democracies DO ever come for Watchtower, it will be because of things like failure to report child abuse, or the enforcement of cruel and abusive practices like shunning, and not because Witnesses started walking around with signs saying “Jehovah will trample you in the wine-press of his anger.”
Bunker Video 5 – Appreciation
Bunker 5 is very interesting, especially if one is aware of the recent problems Watchtower has experienced worldwide with news coverage of its child abuse scandal, and with difficulties concerning its “New Light” teaching of the “Overlapping Generations.”
The video begins with the bunker crew reading Psalm 116:12:
“With what will I repay Jehovah, for all the good he has done for me?”
When asked for suggested applications of the scripture, one of the Bunker dwellers says:
What really makes a difference is how we respond to that goodness. For some in the congregation, those good things became a test of their loyalty.
Hmm. Where are they going with this? What are the “good things?” Are they talking about the ransom sacrifice? The hope for the paradise earth? The Bible?
We soon see that this video is yet another example of bait and switch.
The “good things” in the context of this film are basically whatever the Organisation decides to do or say. We see a montage of announcements being made from the platform and of “new light” being given as teachings are changed. We see a couple of brothers looking unhappy about it in the audience. A stern voiceover warns us that these brothers…
…found fault with what the organisation was doing, or not doing
I find that specific wording very interesting.
One thing that the organisation is not doing right now is reporting child abusers to the police, and I know from my own experiences that more and more witnesses are being exposed to this fact. Many Witness often deny this practice exists out of genuine ignorance, and you can sometimes tell it has upset them when they see proof of the claims.
It’s impossible that they are not talking to the elders about it, and it’s impossible that reports of this disquiet won’t have reached the Governing Body. Given the context of the video, it seems clear Watchtower is saying that any criticism of what it “isn’t doing” is disloyal, and fails to show appreciation to God.
I can’t see a loving God appreciating anyone who helps a child molester evade justice. I can’t see how anyone can possibly class this as a “good thing”
Additionally, it is implied that the frowning brothers do not like the “New Light” being taught. Now, there is only really one major “new light teaching in recent years that could ruffle the feathers (although the 2016 shunning clampdown might give it a close run for its money), and that is the teaching of the Overlapping Generations.
As explained here in a previous JW Survey article by the site’s founder Lloyd Evans:
For decades Watchtower publications insisted that Armageddon was imminent because, they argued, the generation of anointed Witnesses (who believed they were going to heaven) who witnessed and understood the events of 1914 would not die out before Armageddon arrived.
This claim was based on Matthew 24:34, where Jesus told his followers that the generation that witnessed various apocalyptic signs would not die out until all his words, including the “great tribulation” (the prelude to Armageddon), came true.
Sounds great. Until you realise that this generation of people are now basically all dead. Lloyd continues:
The most recent solution, as proposed by Watchtower in 2010… is to essentially embellish Jesus’ words by suggesting that “this generation” doesn’t have to be just one generation, but can be two.
The first “group” of “this generation” would witness and understand the events of 1914, and the second group would be those who were born before the last individuals in the first group died (hence an “overlapping” generation).
If you don’t understand this, it is not due to any failure on your part. It is because it doesn’t make sense. The teaching rides roughshod over the English language, redefining what “generation” means, and relying on the audience to willfully bypass their logical thinking skills by asserting the incomprehensible as indisputable truth.
After all, if you can arbitrarily insist that a generation can be composed of two groups, why not have three, four, five – on into infinity? The word “generation” quickly loses all meaning.
This teaching came into force shortly before I left, but even at the time I knew from my own discussions with Witnesses that no-one could really explain it, no-one liked discussing it, and on my way out of the faith I pointedly asked one elder if he really believed it and could prove it to me just using the Bible.
He looked a little awkward and suggested the teaching would be “further refined.”
My experience clearly isn’t an isolated one. The problem is apparently so bad that JW Broadcasting had to devote an entire episode to trying to explain it, as seen below, again with analysis from Lloyd Evans.
So, in summary, we see yet another video that claims to be about one thing, appreciation, but actually ends up being about something else, namely: “Stop asking embarrassing questions, stop pointing out flaws in our policies and doctrines, just do what we tell you to do and think what we tell you to think.”
Bunker Video 6 – Self Control
What does she mean by negative thinking?
It’s never expressly stated exactly what this means. Feeling of unworthiness? Low self esteem? I can’t be 100% certain, but listen to the way she describes her emotions:
I would pray, but at times the feelings were so strong, I didn’t know what to do.
Will I ever stop feeling like this?
To me, that sounds like she’s describing depression. I should know: I’ve struggled with depression, as have people close to me. What is the response of the older sister that this apparently seriously depressed person turns to?
The scriptures tell us as Christens we pray for self control in our actions, but we need the same self control for our thoughts.
This sister is essentially told that her depression is her fault. She lacks self control, and needs to read more scriptures and pray harder to control her depression. No mention is made of seeking professional medical help. The sister is simply expected to study the bible, pray about it, and overcome her sinful lack of self control. It’s implied that if she cannot do this, she is disloyal to God. 1 Corinthians 9:25 is invoked to back this up.
Now everyone competing in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Of course, they do it to receive a crown that can perish, but we, one that does not perish.
I will be honest, this video made my blood boil.
As I have said, I have direct experience with how serious an issue depression can be. In the worst case scenario, people can take their own lives. Serious cases of depression often require professional help and sometimes medication, and with such assistance a real improvement in the life of the depressed person can indeed be possible.
But the idea that you should tell a person with depression that they simply need to develop “self control” to cope with the issue is insulting and downright dangerous. You can’t “fix” depression by reading scriptures and implying to the person that their feelings are “their fault” for not having self control.
I don’t really know what else to say here. This video will be like a slap in the face to any Witness genuinely suffering from depression and will only make them feel worse for their “sin” of being depressed.
It could make their fellow witnesses even less understanding, might cause them to view the depressed one as someone lacking self control and loyalty, and thus “bad association,” causing them to withdraw from the depressed Witness. Add into the mix the fact that the need for skilled professional help is totally ignored in the video, and I shudder to think what impact this video may have on vulnerable Witnesses.
Bunker Video 7 – Love
It features a pioneer couple, in flashback, describing how they apparently once had a comfortable life, despite both being pioneers. It’s made clear that having a comfortable life is a bad thing. They couple sell up, move to a much smaller home, and get rid of most of their possessions.
Granted, it would nice if Watchtower didn’t try shaming those who work hard and choose to live comfortably within their means, but some people do find that slimming down their life gives them the chance to focus on other life-goals that matter to them. Each to their own.
The problem is, this pioneer couple then decide to attend the School for Kingdom Evangelisers and move to serve where the “need is greater.” I’m sure they feel that Jehovah and his Organisation will care for them….
…the same organisation that is currently slimming down its Bethel staff, getting rid of the older travelling overseers, and generally tossing full time servants out on their ear due to budget cuts. But we’re coming to the end of the video series because in Bunker 8, the police break down the door.
Bunker Video 8 – Faith
There is actually not that much that I found noteworthy about Bunker 8. The Bunker Buddies basically review the previous videos, read a bunch of scriptures to strengthen their faith, the police finally work out that maybe the Witnesses are hiding behind the big white door (what are these, the Keystone Cops?) and the scene fades to black as the armoured thugs close in on our Bunker Brotherhood.
It has to be said though, the overall theme of the series is indeed fascinating. The videos return time and again to the same themes. Stop asking awkward questions. Stop being depressed. Stop questioning New Light. Stop listening to people who have different opinions. Do whatever we tell you and smile when when you say yes sir.
Watchtower convention programs are not written at random. The talks are often a response to issues and trends currently concerning Watchtower’s leaderships. So what can we learn about current trends in the worldwide congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses from this video?
Witnesses are asking awkward questions. Witnesses are depressed. Witnesses are questioning “new light.” Witnesses are listening to other opinions. Not enough Witnesses are doing what they are told – or if they are, they are grumbling.
I don’t think all is well in the land of Watchtower.
I think the Governing Body has a problem. It might not just be the rank and file Witnesses for whom this ends up being the #worstconventionever.
For further analysis of this video, including many points not covered here, please check out the video from JW Survey’s Lloyd Evans below. Believe it or not, this article has not even scratched the surface of how disturbing this video is. Click, if you dare, and Lloyd will take you even further into this crazy bunker shaped rabbit hole.