I’m very naive and uneducated. I left school at 16 in order to pioneer because of the teachings of the Watchtower organisation. I am aware that my explanations are not scholarly or deep, but they are very personal to me. In this blog I shall be dealing with three main related topics:
- How the Watchtower organisation has misled their readers concerning the phrase “mentally diseased”;
- Why it is dangerous to use mental illness as a label for people who happen to disagree with you; and,
- Mentally diseased apostates.
Whilst researching this post, I came across something very shocking. For others who have been awake for many years this won’t come as a surprise, but for me, who has only just woken up a couple of weeks ago, I’m still shaking. I have always been under the assumption that the writings by the Watchtower organisation (under the guidance of the Governing Body – the supposed “Faithful and Discreet Slave”), were sincere if misguided. I always thought that misquotes were possibly a result of shoddy research or a lack of education on behalf of the writer. What I’ve discovered today brings this belief in the sincerity of those writing seriously into question.
It seems that every time I attempt to blog about a subject my research takes me down a more convoluted rabbit hole than I ever intend. However, I’m always keen to be as thorough as possible in my discussions of various topics. I hate lies and deceit. I hate being mislead and always attempt to make sure that my writings are clear and truthful. With regard to the topic today, I am not the first to have discovered this and I will doubtless not be the last.
How the Watchtower organisation has misled their readers concerning the phrase “mentally diseased”
In this post, I’m not going to discuss what an “apostate” is, the origin of the term, how Jehovah’s Witnesses use it. I want to address one specific issue related to how they describe apostates that really makes me angry, and rightly so.
I shall be specifically discussing the term used by the Watchtower organisation, “mentally diseased” in connection with apostates. Not only is this highly misleading if you refer to the scripture from which they are apparently quoting, but with today’s modern understanding of mental illness it is further promoting the stigmatisation of mentally ill people.
This phrase first appeared in the May 1, 2000 issue of The Watchtower. In this article, Jehovah’s Witnesses are first instructed to be careful from where they get their information. The Watchtower warns against getting information from media and internet sources, in case they are inadvertently accessing “apostate” information. After this, the subject turns to discussion of times when possible arguments can arise between members of the congregation. This part of the discussion is clearly not referring to apostates. The Watchtower even goes on to explain the context of what Paul is saying.
“Consider yet another possible source of harmful ideas. While not intending to teach falsehoods, a dedicated Christian can develop the habit of speaking thoughtlessly. (Proverbs 12:18) Because of our imperfect nature, all of us will at times transgress with our tongue. (Proverbs 10:19; James 3:8) Evidently, in the apostle Paul’s day, there were some in the congregation who failed to control their tongue and got involved in quibbling debates about words. (1 Timothy 2:8) There were others who thought too much of their own opinions and even went so far as to challenge the authority of Paul. (2 Corinthians 10:10-12) Such a spirit resulted in needless conflicts.
“Sometimes these disagreements escalated into ‘violent disputes about trifles,’ disrupting the peace of the congregation. (1 Timothy 6:5; Galatians 5:15) Of those who caused these arguments, Paul wrote: ‘If any man teaches other doctrine and does not assent to healthful words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to the teaching that accords with godly devotion, he is puffed up with pride, not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words. From these things spring envy, strife, abusive speeches, wicked suspicions.'”—1 Timothy 6:3, 4. – The Watchtower – Study Edition, May 1, 2000 – Firmly Uphold Godly Teaching
Before I go onto discuss the second Watchtower quote, I need to address an issue that really irked me as at least misleading and at worst downright dishonest.
The above quote says “puffed up with pride, not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words.” I always check my sources. So I looked up the scripture, 1 Timothy 6:4. Here is what I found, and I encourage you to research this yourself too:
“he is puffed up with pride and does not understand anything. He is obsessed* with arguments and debates about words.” *footnote in the NWT states concerning the word “obsessed” – “Or ‘has an unhealthy fascination.’ Or ‘abusive speeches.'” –
1 Timothy 6:4 – New World Translation
Please see a link to other Bible translations for 1 Timothy 6:4 HERE.
The majority of the English translations do not use the words “mentally diseased”. The nearest translation is the Contemporary English Version which says “their minds are sick”. I’m beginning to realise that the language used here is obviously metaphorical. I hasten to add here that I don’t speak Greek, ancient or modern, so I have to rely on various translations. Concerning their translation of the Bible the Watchtower organisation said the following:
“Firstly, “According to the Watch Tower Society, the New World Translation attempts to convey the intended sense of original-language words according to the context… The translators state that, where possible in the target language, the New World Translation prefers literal renderings and does not paraphrase the original text.” – The Watchtower May 1, 2008 pp 18-22 – How Can You Choose a Good Bible Translation?
I’m not sure why the words supposedly spoken by Paul were put into quotation marks as they were obviously paraphrasing and referring to the literal meaning of the Greek word rather than quoting directly from the Bible verse. This is very misleading.
We will see that the Greek word “sickness” is being used in a metaphorical sense. This is even acknowledged by the Watchtower organisation in their translation into English. As we see above, the Watchtower organisation claim that “the New World Translation prefers literal renderings and does not paraphrase the original text.” So if they are using the literal translation why did they apparently change it from “mentally diseased” to “obsessed”. Possibly because in context that is what the metaphorical use of the Greek word for “sickness” indicates. They also say “the New World Translation attempts to convey the intended sense of the original language words according to the context“. Let’s face it, the word “obsessed” is a world away from “mentally diseased” which is emotive and problematic if not referring to actual mental illness. Very often terms have been used in years gone by to refer to something in a metaphorical sense and today have fallen out of favour due to them being either misleading or offensive in modern parlance.
My basic understanding is that the word which can literally be translated as “sickness” is used here to contrast the difference between having a healthy “sound” interest and having an unhealthy “obsessive” interest (as far as Paul was concerned). The use of the word “sickness” or “disease” was metaphorical, and, as plainly stated in the May 1, 2000 Watchtower, this was very specifically regarding members of the congregation themselves, not “apostates”, as the above quote from The Watchtower shows.
However, in the following article in The Watchtower this verse is taken out of context to state that it is referring to apostates.
“Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are “mentally diseased,” and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4) Jehovah, the Great Physician, tells us to avoid contact with them.” – The Watchtower – Study Edition – July 2011 – Will You Heed Jehovah’s Clear Warnings?
I always double-check sources. I never believe anything that is said to me or that I read in print without double checking. The only exception to this used to be the Watchtower organisation. I believed that they were trustworthy. Well no more.
It seems that I’m not the only one that noticed this. The other person that I’m aware of. so far (there may be others), is the indomitable Barbara Anderson. From her website:
Barbara Anderson was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses from 1954 through 1997. She worked at Watchtower’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, from 1982 to 1992 where during her last four years there, she researched the movement’s official history (published in 1993) and did research as well as wrote a number of articles for their Awake! magazine. – 
In all of my ramblings Barbara Anderson explains what I’m trying to say far more succinctly than I can. She even wrote an open letter entitled “I THOUGHT I KNEW YOU” to the Watch Tower’s Writing Department noting.
“First of all, that’s ridiculous. Paul didn’t sayanything about “apostates” — the Watchtower did. And he didn’t say in verse 4, “he” [any man that teaches other doctrines] is mentally diseased! The words “mental disease” describes a bodily condition. Paul said “he” … “but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words.” These men literally “doted,” “craved” questioning and disputes “over” Jesus words to such an extent that the craving for controversy was like a sickness. Since there was no reasoning with such “corrupt” men, Paul urged that Timothy not waste his time with them.” 
I’m also very upset about them singling out a metaphorical expression and using it in a very literal sense. It’s not because I’m no longer a Jehovah’s Witness that I feel this way, I have always disliked this turn of phrase intensely. It’s because it frames mentally ill people as having a contagious disease and being someone from whom any right-minded person should steer clear. Now, perhaps in biblical times this is what people thought because was no understanding of mental illness. In fact usually, people who were mentally ill were classed as being “possessed” by demons or evil spirits. And no matter how many articles the Watchtower organisation, has published in recent years purporting to help people understand mental illness, their rhetoric that mental illness is a disease that is highly contagious belies their performative concern.
Why using “mentally diseased” as a label is problematic
There is also a real danger when using the Bible as the source in order to label people as mentally ill just because they do something with which a particular group disagrees. I call attention to another time that the Bible was invoked to label a group of people as mentally ill because of their behaviour. You may not be aware of this, especially as if, like me you’re not from the USA. None of this was taught routinely as part of history in UK schools when I was growing up. Unfortunately, it was mainly World War II and the Industrial Revolution, with a bit of Henry VIII thrown in.
In order to give so-called scientific and moral justification for slavery, Bible verses, Bible “history”, and pseudoscience were brought into play. Firstly, some people at this time had the erroneous belief that black people originated from Canaan. It was also believed that Canaan meant “submissive knee-bender”. This has been debunked for some time but, to be quite honest even if it hadn’t, using anything as an excuse to justify slavery is disgusting and indefensible. However, please see the attached footnote HERE which has many references concerning the so-called “Curse of Ham (or his son Canaan)” referring to black people. The curse spoken by Noah was, “he said: “Cursed be Caʹnaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.” Genesis 9:25 New World Translation. Therefore, because they conveniently had made the assumption that this referred to all black people as the descendants of Canaan, it meant that all black people were to be the slaves for white people. The whole thing is so grotesque that human beings can think along these lines that it quite turns my stomach. The Bible has been used at various points in history to give moral justification for some of the most horrendous atrocities. Slavery is, unfortunately, no exception.
Once they had established to their own satisfaction that black people were a) the descendents of Canaan, and therefore, b) cursed to be slaves forever, the Bible, being the Bible, with lots of questionable content and, frankly quite horrible suggestions, had many verses that they could call upon to cement their disgusting views:
“Let slaves be in subjection to their owners in all things, trying to please them, not talking back” – Titus 2:9 – New World Translation
“Let servants be in subjection to their masters with all due fear, not only to the good and reasonable but also to those hard to please” – 1 Peter 2:18 New World Translation
“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your hearts, as to the Christ” – Ephesians 6:5 New World Translation
Of course, many slaves tried to escape. No human being should ever be owned by another human and no human should ever be abused by another human. However, a “scientific” justification as to why some slaves attempted to run away was posited by physician Samuel Adolphus Cartwright. Using methods espoused by scientific racism, in “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race” He invented a mental illness, a “disease” called drapetomania that was the consequence of masters who “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals”.
When all this is done, if any one of more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good require that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which it was intended for them to occupy in all after-time, when their progenitor received the name of Canaan or “submissive knee-bender.” They have only to be kept in that state and treated like children, with care, kindness, attention and humanity, to prevent and cure them from running away.
“Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” by Dr. Cartwright (in DeBow’s Review)
Cartwright even invented dysaesthesia aethiopica, which was the alleged “mental illness” that caused laziness amongst slaves. The “cure” for this alleged ailment was:
“The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint it all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.”
Scientific racism was one of the main lines of thinking behind Eugenics. Eugenics
was used as an excuse for “forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction. People deemed unfit to reproduce often included people with mental or physical disabilities, people who scored in the low ranges of different IQ tests, criminals and deviants, and members of disfavored minority groups.” In extreme cases, such as in Nazi Germany Eugenics extended even to the extermination of those deemed undesirable, including people from specific “races” and the mentally ill.
Mentally Diseased Apostates
According to The Watchtower organisation apostates are evil people who should be avoided at all costs because they will cause harm to any Jehovah’s Witness and their purpose in life is to destroy Jehovah’s Witnesses. Apostates are:
“evil rocks hidden below the water”. – Ken Flodin (Governing Body Helper) ;
“… part of the ‘antichrist.'” 
“Like a kidnapper who carries an unsuspecting victim away from his family, apostates prey upon trusting members of the congregation, seeking to carry them away from the flock.” 
This is how the Watchtower views anyone who leaves the organisation and is the slightest bit critical of them. In order to drive home how evil apostates are and just how much that loyal Jehovah’s Witnesses should avoid them, the Watchtower also labels apostates as “mentally diseased”. They use this phrase in such a way to give the impression that mentally ill people are bad and that associating with them is very undesirable. As a way to describe apostates, they are using the very type of twisted logic that slave owners used to excuse ownership and mistreatment of slaves. They label our “escape” from the organisation as a “mental disease”.
Of course, according to them, instead of criticising the Governing Body and the Watchtower organisation we should all be “the submissive knee-bender”, and like Cartwright described of slaves we should be “grateful and thankful to the white man whose compulsory power … has restored his sensation and dispelled the mist that clouded his intellect.” We must be slaves who obey everything that the Governing Body instruct. If we don’t then we must be mentally ill and that is such a hideous fate!
How does this make existing Jehovah’s Witnesses feel who have mental illness? I can address this question directly. I have Bipolar Disorder. When I was a Jehovah’s Witness it had been incorrectly diagnosed as clinical depression. Many years later, and with the gift of hindsight, more than one psychiatrist has been able to diagnose and confirm the diagnosis of Bipolar. When I was a Jehovah’s Witness, my mental illness (and physical illness) was treated as “spiritual weakness” on my part, something that I could have changed if I just had more faith in Jehovah. You know I honestly wish it was that easy. Ironically, due to my experiences as a child within this controlling organisation I also have another mental illness – Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, being a Jehovah’s Witness gave me a mental illness. How about that huh?
People treat you differently if you have a mental illness. There is enough stigma and misunderstanding about mentally ill people without a fundamentalist religious cult perpetuating the stigma. Mental illness is not and never has been contagious. Mentally ill people are not dangerous to the general public. On this point statistically speaking mentally ill people are four times more likely to be a victim of violence, according to an international study published in the Lancet. 
So once again, this ended up being far, far longer than I intended. Apologies if it seems that I rambled. I tried to keep my thoughts on this subject as on topic as possible, but I also like to be as thorough as possible when attempting to discuss anything. My kids will tell you that I talk far too much!
Thank you for reading my blog.