New Beginnings

In this blog, I am documenting my life. I have come full circle, from trying to become a child of God to actually becoming one. It took me many years of self-deception and searching for something I could not describe to finally find Christ.

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I write research articles, have done so since 1994.  I married my best friend in 2012, and we are in it for the long haul.  I have four children and five grandchildren.  My expertise is in teaching Sunday School.  I love listening to them memorize verses, and telling them Bible stories.  You can see my current endeavors at nicenet.org, and on Facebook at Yucaipa Writer's Group.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Book Review Jehovah's Witnesses and the Problem of Mental Illness

©2004 by Claudia Kittel

Review of Jerry Bergman’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Problem of Mental Illness. Published in 1992 by Witness Inc.

Mr. Bergman begins with an overview of the practices and terminology of this particular group, along with the doctrine/theology of the belief structure. The author goes into depth regarding the causal relationships of this peculiar stance to the life of a human being, and the events which have been caused as a result of the devaluation of life, the disregard for individual welfare, family problems, etc., also their negative view on professional help in the area of physical/mental/emotional disorders of any kind.
An interesting term which means a lot when reasoning out in one’s mind what has happened is “labels”. Many of these are used, and many are changed as whim of Bethel, New York, passes on. One can be “disfellowshipped” only if one is baptized. Some congregations “mark” people—that means that whoever doesn’t like a person can shun them (Bergman calls this “silent reproof”.) Other “labels” are “dissociated”, which can mean two or more things, depending upon the time period in which it happens, and also they can be “disapproved”, or deemed to be an “unapproved associate”, depending upon whether they have been baptized or whether they have shown what they call “evidence of repentance”. Other terms used in descriptive reference to the org are “exclusivist”, “selectivist”, and “authoritarian”. All these terms and labels seem to enable the human spirit in order to mold this belief structure into an “orientation”, taking complete control of the whole personality, and doing its destructive damage.
The thing that keeps a JW socially hooked is the “Esprit de Corps” which binds them together as they stomp door to door, block after block. [How many knock on a door, hoping nobody is there, so they can leave?] But the “glue” has been defined by Bergman as “super pietism”. Their relationship to others, especially outsiders, is described as “discordance”, and “maladjustment” is the reason spoken of in the book which is behind many of their “situations”.
Bergman cites many cases in his book which back up his generalizations about the conditions contributing to mental problems within the org. He addresses crime, superstitions, suicides, but he seems to believe that these things are caused by parents being too strict or by single parents, or one parent not being a JW. He does address the lack of social programs, and the changing forecasting of the “end”, and the many circumstances this may cause. He also speaks of the socio-economic status into which JW’s are forced to live, however, he does not address the JW’s who are not in this status or how they get there to acquire their expensive homes, swimming pools, real-estate businesses, multi-level successes, etc.
Bergman was a Witness for 20+ years, and it was probably in his early life, since he speaks more extensively about being raised in the org, and that it doesn’t affect people the same when they join as adults. This statement seemed subjective. It is Bergman’s premise that the basic teachings of the org, caused by the Witness doctrinal/theological belief structure, cause behavior which tends to lead to mental illness. He does deal with things like the problems that cause people to join, but that is not his focus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have objects of reverence other than C.T. Russell’s New World Translation, which was written to “unify” the way they all preached. These objects consist of: the Watchtower Publications (which are the Witnesses’ “Bible), the “Society”, (which is supposed to be representing God), and the”Elder Arrangement”, which is somewhat like the previous two. Mental Problems are supposed to be a lack of trust of any of these objects of reverence. This can be a result of personal sin, or other shortcomings.
It has been very difficult for researchers to find anything out regarding the rate of mental illnesses in the org, for empirical research can only be done if there are in fact witnesses in the public sector. Many researchers appeared in the 1940s, having interviewed people who were incarcerated for refusing to go into the Military. They are cited by Bergman; however, many studies have been skewed by factors of argument or various reasonings.
The JW doctrine/theology, being so changeable, has people always thinking that the “end of the world” is going to occur at an imminent time; therefore they are always kept on their guard. Dates which are mentioned in the book are 1914, 1925,1975; however, since the inception of this book, it has been predicted for 1984, 1990, 2005, and 2034. Many members have, due to always believing this, have quit jobs, school, life in general, and when these dates didn’t manifest anything, some of them were able to bounce back and some were not.
Bergman speaks of Witnesses being forbidden to have outside interests, but the exception, which is not mentioned, is if one is the wife or child of an elder, in which case one can do all kinds of questionable things which nobody is allowed to question for fear of being put into one of the afore-mentioned shunning circumstances.
Marriage of Witnesses and the families thereof are largely required to devote their entire lives to the org, there are no youth groups, women’s groups, they all have to just go door to door, and other problems are largely ignored.
Bergman speaks of JW’s who are forbidden to go to college, however, he does not address JW’s who have taken classes, one at a time, until they have reached a point at which they can perform a profession and put other brothers to work, whether they are licensed or otherwise. Construction, plumbing, and electrical work are a high priced consumer service, and witnesses have become quite wealthy at them. Also they have businesses such as real estate, automotive, and multi level marketing, which are always quite successful.
Also not discussed are those witnesses in areas where unemployment is rampant and the only thing for a brother or sister to do to support their family is to get on financial aid and get paid to go to college until they reach a goal. Most of them leave due to unanswered questions once they find out a few things.
Bergman, toward the end of his book, discusses individuals whose problems are so unbearable that they become ripe fodder for a cult whose pictures are of perfect peace and love on a “paradise earth”. When what they portray is so differently focused, it is easy for these people to turn from reality to this picture. Not completely discussed were: reasons for leaving, dysfunctional relatives who are not JW’s, issues of hereditary personality problems, (although Bergman mentioned some of these). He could not have explained everything within the length of this book; he would have needed to write an encyclopedia.
I felt that from the perspective of a male who was raised in the org, he did a good and very thorough job.


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