When I was a Jehovah’s Witness, I didn’t like to talk about Armageddon.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved to talk about the paradise. Who wouldn’t? I’d cheerfully tell anyone who asked, be they householder, interested person at the meetings, or curious workmate, about the awesome future that awaited. I’d talk about a world free from war, free from crime, full of incredible adventures that a peaceful, united human race would enjoy forever.
But when people asked how God would achieve this, I found myself getting a little vague and fuzzy about the details.
I mean, how do you say: “Well, first God needs to kill you and everyone you love, unless of course you fancy converting?” without making yourself look like a bit of a extremist loon?
I remember sitting in District Conventions, when the speaker would be holding forth with sound and fury on the subject of how God’s wrath would soon consume all those who failed to serve him. I would glance guiltily across at any “worldly” people who happened to be in the stadium, like the security guys, or the people working the concession stands. I’d feel like walking over to them and saying; “Don’t worry, he’s not talking about you, or your family or friends,” but I couldn’t, because he was.
I knew very well that unless they became Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were dead men and women walking.
Armageddon: An act of justice?
Let’s take a second to actually analyse the Watchtower’s teachings on Armageddon. It is presented by Watchtower as the war that Jehovah God will soon use to remove all of the Earth’s governments, and most of the Earth’s population, and install his own brand of rulership on the planet. He will fight it with his spiritual armies of angels, with his son Jesus leading the charge. He will have no need of human help, so Jehovah’s Witnesses will not be involved in any actual combat. Their role will simply be to stand and watch.
Who will survive? Well it depends who you ask. Or more correctly, it depends on who you are when you ask.
If you are a member of the public asking this question, you’ll probably get the answer: “That’s for God to decide. Only Jehovah can read a person’s heart. We don’t know who will survive and who won’t.” Take for example the FAQ on this subject from Watchtower’s official website JW. org. (Bold is mine.)
Many millions who lived in centuries past and who weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses will have an opportunity for salvation. The Bible explains that in God’s promised new world, “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Additionally, many now living may yet begin to serve God, and they too will gain salvation. In any case, it’s not our job to judge who will or won’t be saved. That assignment rests squarely in Jesus’ hands.
Well, that sounds okay on the surface. Maybe I can just live a good life, treat my neighbour well, and Jesus will read my heart, see that I’m basically a loving, kind man and I’ll be spared?
No. Because this isn’t the answer Watchtower gives behind the scenes to an indoctrinated Jehovah’s Witness. Here are some examples of what Watchtower has said about Armageddon in other publications, with even more examples available at jwfacts.com (Bold has been added)
“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.” Watchtower 1989 Sep 1 p.19
“During the final period of the ancient world that perished in the Flood, Noah was a faithful preacher of righteousness. (2 Peter 2:5) In these last days of the present system of things, Jehovah’s people are making known Gods righteous standards and are declaring good news about the possibility of surviving into the new world. (2 Peter 3:9-13) Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah’s universal organization.” Watchtower 2006 May 15 p.22 “Are You Prepared for Survival?”
“Similarly, Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.” Watchtower 1983 Feb 15 p.12
So it’s pretty definitive. While Watchtower tries to spin the doctrine to the general public that “all sorts of people might in theory survive Armageddon” the actual message in-house is that unless you are a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, you are toast.
Contemplate that for a while. Watchtower’s doctrine is that everyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness will be killed, no matter how loving, how kind, how selfless they are in other areas of their life. They could have spent their life in Medicine Sans Frontiers, selflessly dedicating themselves to providing medical care to fellow human beings in some of the worst places on Earth, whereas a Jehovah’s Witness may have simply worked as an IT engineer in a comfortable office, and never really helped anyone much.
But come Armageddon, it would be the Jehovah’s Witness who would survive, and the selfless medic who would die screaming.
To summarise, the non-Witness population of the planet would undergo a systematic slaughter of every single man woman and child. There is a name for the systematic killing of a civilian population solely for the purpose of extermination.
The ethics of genocide
You don’t have to use your imagination to see what Armageddon would look like. Human history is replete with examples of genocide. To glimpse the future that a “loving” God will being, look to the concentration camps of World War II. Look to the mass graves and “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, or the hacking to death of vast scores of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by the Hutu majority in Rwanda.
Or look on the news reports right now at the work of ISIS in the Middle East, who are currently engaged in the wholesale slaughter of the Yazidi people.
Now, it goes without saying that 99% of Jehovah’s Witness are no doubt just as horrified as everyone else when they see the awful genocide that the so-called Islamic State are currently committing against the Yazidi population. The wholesale slaughter of men women and children, often in gruesome and sadistic ways, is an appalling crime that has brought universal condemnation from the international community and revulsion from anyone with even a halfway decent moral code.
Yet these men, women and children being slaughtered at the hands of ISIS, are the very same men, women and children who would be slaughtered at the hands of Jehovah if he brought Armageddon today, a slaughter the Jehovah’s Witnesses would be obligated to support and celebrate as a righteous act.
And it’s not like the slaughter would be any more humane; Watchtower does not teach that Jehovah will painlessly disintegrate his victims or cause them to simply fall asleep in quick, merciful death as would arguably be within his power to enact. No, Watchtower portrays this event as a violent holocaust, with people being crushed, burned and mutilated in a manner of which the sadists of ISIS would surely approve.
To prove this point, let’s take a look at some Watchower artwork depicting the event.
This is just a small sample of art produced by Watchtower to demonstrate what they believe Armageddon will look like. A whirlwind of terror and grisly violent death unleashed against a powerless and unsuspecting civilian population.
If you’re still in any doubt, listen to Governing Body Member Tony Morris, one of Watchtower’s seven leading men, hold forth on how those God kills will burn and split open like hotdogs.
Even worse, according to Watchtower theology, those who die before Armageddon will almost certainly be resurrected into God’s New World in order to have a second chance, whereas those who die at his hands at Armageddon are eternally destroyed. Remember that Watchtower FAQ quoted earlier in the article?
Many millions who lived in centuries past and who weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses will have an opportunity for salvation. The Bible explains that in God’s promised new world, “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Why do I say “even worse?” Because this teaching creates an horrific moral loophole. If Witnesses take their theology to its logical conclusion, they should be celebrating the deaths of “worldly” people at the hands of killers like ISIS, for those “worldly” people at least have a chance of resurrection in the new world, whereas if they escape the ISIS sadists but then die at Armageddon, they are doomed forever.
Again, to stress, 99% of Witnesses would be horrified if one of their number suggested this.
An elder who gave a talk from a Kingdom Hall platform stating that Christians should rejoice in the death of worldly people, and that groups like ISIS were doing the people they killed a favour by sending them en-mass to Paradise via the loophole of pre-armageddon death, would appall his audience, probably have his microphone muted, be hauled off the platform and into a back-room, be given a savage dressing down by the rest of the elders, and would probably not allowed to give another talk for a very long time.
Yet this theoretical Elder’s logic, whilst horrifying and unacceptable to most Witnesses, is a correct reading of the logical end consequence of Watchtower doctrine.
Genocide is always genocide
The more I came to realise what the Armageddon doctrine actually entailed, the more I came to fear there might be something horribly wrong with the Organisation I was supporting and the doctrine it promoted. Were such a violent act to be committed by a human organisation or movement, I would be revolted, and condemn it for the vile act of barbarism it was.
So how did it suddenly become acceptable if the very same people were slaughtered by a deity who claimed to be the very essence of love? Billions of defenceless men, women and children, all killed horribly because they were not convinced that a slightly obscure and insignificant religion that occasionally knocked on their door, or stood silently next to carts full of wafer-thin magazines, was actually the One True Faith?
Like many before me, I increasingly found my conscience could not support the teachings Watchtower promoted.
Like many before me, I came to properly research my beliefs, and thus realised that the teachings Watchtower promoted were often not even in harmony with the Bible.
And in time, like many before me, I left the Watchtower religion. In a way, Armageddon set me free.
Just not quite in the way Watchtower had intended.