***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***
Encountering a Jehovah's Witness can be very confusing if you aren't familiar with their beliefs. As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I didn't know much when Peggy initially visited me. Flipping through any given month's literature will likely give you some inkling as to how their beliefs differ from your own, but I found it more instructive to read about all of their beliefs at once, instead of being slowly introduced to them. In fairness, I should point out that unlike some religions that refuse to share certain doctrines until potential converts have already invested a considerable amount of time (and allowed themselves to be sufficiently indoctrinated -- Scientology comes to mind), JW's are forthcoming about their beliefs.
In my experience, Jehovah's Witnesses are quick to point out that their beliefs and yours "have so much in common." They love God, as you do; they accept the Bible as God's Word, as you do; they even call Jesus "the Son of God" with a capital S. So what makes their beliefs incompatible with Christianity? Here is a sampling of the major doctrines that are inconsistent with mainstream Christian teachings:
1. They deny the Trinity. They believe that Jesus is a created being, not God, and they believe that the Holy Spirit is merely God's active force in the world. Although it probably won't be the opening line of the pioneer standing on your doorstep, they actually consider Jesus to be the same as Archangel Michael.
2. They believe only a "little flock" of 144,000 will go to Heaven. They believe that only 144,000 "anointed" Witnesses will go to Heaven; the best anyone else can hope for is unending life on a paradise earth. Chances are that any JW you encounter believes his or her eternity will be spent right here.
3. They deny the immortality of the soul. They believe that when humans die, they cease to exist. The afterlife is something that only happens for (1) people who number among the 144,000 who have been or will be immediately resurrected to Heaven upon death, which has occurred only since Christ's invisible reign began in 1914; (2) people now living who will survive the imminent Armageddon and eventually qualify for an eternal reward; and (3) people who will be resurrected from complete corporal and spiritual death and then given the opportunity to qualify for an eternal reward.
4. They deny the existence of Hell. If you're not one of the 144,000 with the heavenly hope or one of the people who get to live in the eternal paradise earth, you're annihilated and just gone forever.
5. They believe Christ died on a torture stake, not a cross. As I wrote in my post on JW history, this was not always part of their beliefs, but they now insist that Jesus died on a straight pole with no crossbar, and that "true Christians do not use the cross in worship."
6. They deny the bodily Resurrection of Christ. They believe that Jesus was resurrected not as a human, but as a "mighty spirit person."
Of course, there are others, some of which are actually better-known among the general populace, such as their refusal to accept blood transfusions and their insistence that holidays such as Christmas and Easter and birthdays are pagan. I think some folks may be more inclined to bring up these points first when visited by JW's; in my opinion, although they range from unnecessarily socially awkward to potentially deadly, prohibitions such as these are just symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is that most of their theological doctrines are based on a woefully misguided and false interpretation of Holy Scripture.
Jehovah's Witnesses insist that all of their beliefs are completely based on the teachings of the Bible, and they have a verses ready for every claim. So when you're in the middle of baking cookies and attempting to maintain order in your home while still donning your jammies and they show up on your front porch ready to "spread God's message," it's hard not to feel like you're at a disadvantage. But remember: even though these are mostly good-hearted people who genuinely love God and want to live good lives, their belief system is whack. It is wrong. It is entirely unworthy of a single adherent, let alone millions. They deserve better, and you know it. (Deep down, I think many of them know it, too.)
It's taken a while to get this series off the ground (have I even done that yet?). My time has been consumed with travel, entertaining out-of-town guests, enjoying the gorgeous May weather, taking care of my daughter (who almost entirely eschews naps at this point), spending time with my husband, and reading material that is actually edifying. I don't enjoy writing these posts. Researching Watchtower Society history and doctrines is exhausting and, frankly, irritating.
But let's soldier on.