|Watch Tower Society|
Russell claimed that the Bible contained a secret code revealing the dates (1874 and 1914) for what he famously phrased “the end of the world as we know it.” Given the obvious lack of visible evidence, Russell came to believe that Christ had returned in only a spiritual sense in 1874 and that the final conflict between the forces of God and those of Satan was merely set in motion in 1914.
At the conclusion of these protracted events, sometime in the very near future, insisted Russell and his society, God would unleash a mass genocide on all unbelievers and reward the faithful with eternal life.
After Russell’s death and several schisms, the primary group, now calling themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the leadership of Joseph Rutherford, became focused on missionary activity, organizing what was rapidly becoming a world community. Successive leaders developed a publishing empire primarily to produce translations of the Bible and literature supportive of their controversial theology.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are often recognized today for their unconventional beliefs and anticultural behaviors, some of which have led to important legal cases and resulted in Supreme Court decisions that have substantially enhanced America’s religious freedoms.
Jehovah’s Witnesses forbid their members to engage in the celebration of Christian and civic holidays (except for the Memorial of Christ’s Death), which they believe originated in pagan rituals. They accept baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments, but the latter is reserved for the “Anointed Class” (144,000 elite believers), while the “Great Crowd,” or current general membership, may observe this oncea-year Passover-style meal.
But it is their unwillingness to join the armed forces, to salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, run for public office, vote in public elections, or accept blood transfusions, vaccinations, and organ transplants that have led to their legal problems and occasional persecutions, the most vicious of which were conducted by the Nazis in the 1940s, when thousands of Witnesses died in concentration camps.
Holding a strict monotheism, they deny the existence of the Trinity, believing Jehovah to be the Supreme Being. Christ is viewed as God’s first created spiritual being and is legitimately called God’s Son even though he is not divine. Christ was incarnated in Jesus as a sinless man and invisibly resurrected and enthroned by God as a king over heaven and Earth.
The Holy Ghost is simply a biblical term describing God’s method of work in the world and not a separate entity. Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the immortality of the soul and the existence of hell as a place of punishment. For them the death of unbelievers is merely the annihilation of human consciousness.