Part 6: Later Effects of the Society’s False Predictions

Alan Feuerbacher

Part of a series: The WTS and the End of the World



The 1930 book Light I well described the effects of the failed predictions. Compare what it said with the way the Society now describes exactly the same events:

All of the Lord’s people looked forward to 1914 with joyful expectation. When that time came and passed there was much disappointment, chagrin and mourning, and the Lord’s people were greatly in reproach. They were ridiculed by the clergy and their allies in particular, and pointed to with scorn, because they had said so much about 1914, and what would come to pass, and their ‘prophecies’ had not been fulfilled. [Light I, p. 194]

From 1876 onward, Jehovah’s people served notice upon the world, and particularly upon Christendom, that the Gentile Times would end in the fall of 1914…. The clergy could not ignore this preliminary work of almost 40 years…. Those clergymen waited eagerly to pounce upon this journal’s editor should 1914 pass without any outstanding events to correspond with those about which he warned. But oh how they were silenced when on July 28, 1914, peace was shattered by the outbreak of World War I! [September 1, 1985 Watchtower, p. 24]

About 1918 J. F. Rutherford began the process of replacing Russell’s unfulfilled predictions with a series of invisible and spiritual events associated with the years 1914 and 1918. By the early 1930s the process was complete.

An interesting comment on this transformation is made by Carl Sagan in Broca’s Brain, pages 332-333:

Doctrines that make no predictions are less compelling than those which make correct predictions; they are in turn more successful than doctrines that make false predictions.

But not always. One prominent American religion confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914. Well, 1914 has come and gone, and — while the events of that year were certainly of some importance — the world does not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended. There are at least three responses that an organized religion can make in the face of such a failed and fundamental prophecy. They could have said, “Oh, did we say ‘1914’? So sorry, we meant ‘2014.’ A slight error in calculation. Hope you weren’t inconvenienced in any way.” But they did not. They could have said, “Well, the world would have ended, except we prayed very hard and interceded with God so He spared the Earth.” But they did not. Instead, they did something much more ingenious. They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn’t noticed, that was our lookout. It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all. But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough-mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration were needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry. [Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain, Ballantine Books, New York, 1982, p. 332]

At this point it should be clear why Awake!’s statement on page 8, that “the good news of Christ’s Kingdom ruling from heaven… has been preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1914” is a blatant misrepresentation. It should also be clear from the contents of this essay that Jehovah’s Witnesses either “make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof.”

Watchtower Tradition Will Be Maintained

Returning to the Awake! article, we now comment on what the accompanying side box said on page 11:

1914 — A Turning Point in History Even after a second world war, many refer to 1914 as the great turning point in modern history:

The year 1914 was only one of many important turning points of modern history:

Like the French Revolution, the First World War was one of the great convulsions of history. [Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August — August 1914, the Four Square Edition, 1964 & 1965, under “Sources” at the end of the book]

The French Revolution is the most important event in the life of modern Europe. It deserves to be ranked with the Reformation and rise of Christianity because, like them, it destroyed the landmarks of the world in which generations of men had passed their lives. [Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge University Press, 1904, Vol. 8]

Even today in the middle of the twentieth century, despite all that has happened in the lifetime of men not yet old, and even here in America or in any other part of a world in which the countries of Europe no longer enjoy their former commanding position, it is still possible to say that the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century was the great turning point of modern civilization. [The noted historian R. R. Palmer in the preface to George Lefebvre’s The Coming of the French Revolution, Vintage, New York, 1947, page v]

Awake! continues:

“It is indeed the year 1914 rather than that of Hiroshima which marks the turning point in our time.” — Rene Albrecht-Carrie, The Scientific Monthly, July 1951.

From the vantage point of two more decades into the atomic age (the Soviets had not developed atomic weapons in 1951), two military historians wrote:

A new era in warfare and a new era in history dawned in the closing days of this period: the nuclear age, ushered in by the first atomic bomb drop, on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. [R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, New York, 1970, page 1024]

Awake! continues:

“Ever since 1914, everybody conscious of trends in the world has been deeply troubled by what has seemed like a fated and predetermined march toward ever greater disaster. Many serious people have come to feel that nothing can be done to avert the plunge towards ruin.” — Bertrand Russell, The New York Times Magazine, September 27, 1953. “The modern era … began in 1914, and no one knows when or how it will end…. It could end in mass annihilation.” — The Seattle Times, January 1, 1959. “The whole world really blew up about World War I and we still don’t know why…. Utopia was in sight. There was peace and prosperity. Then everything blew up. We’ve been in a state of suspended animation ever since.” — Dr. Walker Percy, American Medical News, November 21, 1977. “In 1914 the world lost a coherence which it has not managed to recapture since…. This has been a time of extraordinary disorder and violence, both across national frontiers and within them.” — The Economist, London, August 4, 1979.

The same article in The Economist compared the period after 1914 with the period from 1789 to 1848, which was as unstable, filled with wars, disorder and violence, as our own time, and suggested that history follows a rhythmic pattern — “Two generations of upheaval and violence, followed by two generations of consolidation and calm, followed by two more generations of upheaval, followed by …?” So all the article really said was that the period since 1914 seems to follow the general cyclical pattern of history.

Awake! continues:

“Everything would get better and better. This was the world I was born in…. Suddenly, unexpectedly, one morning in 1914 the whole thing came to an end.” — British statesman Harold Macmillan, The New York Times, November 23, 1980.

The year 1914 was surely a turning point in history, but it was not the greatest nor did it usher in the most horrendous epoch in human history. Although the Society does not do so in this article, it has often painted a picture of worldwide tranquillity before 1914, with the War taking everyone by surprise. Actually, no one who knew anything of world affairs at that time was surprised, as the above quotations from 19th century Watchtower literature prove. Some people who were young at the time might remember it as ‘the good old days’, as elderly people are prone to do when idealizing their youth, but this means little by comparison to the statements of historians. The Society knows very well that conditions were ripe for a major conflagration. The 1959 book Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose said on page 53:

An explosive atmosphere of national rivalry was developed all over the world, and the feverish campaign of the political and commercial rulers in their mad armaments race was being fully supported by the clergy of all lands. France and Germany were piling up an enormous war potential, while Britain and the United States were fortifying themselves also…. Truly mankind’s masses were being herded into camps of war. Satan, as ruler of this world, was gathering his forces for the end he knew must come in 1914.

It is noteworthy that Awake!’s quotations contain no statements by professional historians. Rather, many of the quotations are from the popular news media, which is always looking for ways to blow ordinary events out of proportion for the sake of a spicy story. Even the quotation from Harold Macmillan counts for little, as he was a young man at the time and was never a historian.

What does the history of the time actually show? In Europe there was relative peace, but only on the surface because the various countries were heavily arming themselves. Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, in A History of Warfare, Collins, London, 1968, page 443, states: “The years between 1870 and 1914 were years of armed peace in Europe and of frequent small wars throughout the rest of the world.” So Europe experienced a long period of peace but in the rest of the world there was much turmoil, similar to the situation since 1945. One historian wrote:

If, however, someone would start to talk about the good old days, about the long peace period from c. 1871 to 1914, he should just open the closed pages of the history book: the Boer War in South Africa, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Russo-Japanese War, the Illinder Rebellion in Macedonia, the Balkan Wars and the occupation of Bosnia, the war between Italy and Abyssinia, the Mahdi Rebellion, the Herero Rebellion in German South-west Africa, the wars between the Berbers and the French in Algeria, wars in Indo-China, revolutions in South America — and this is just a selection from among the war events during this long ‘peace period.’ [Otto Koenig, Das Paradies vor unserer Tur (Wien, Munchen, Zurich, 1971), page 391. (Translated from German)]

To which may be added the Spanish-American War. Historian Barbara Tuchman offered a good explanation of why many think the period before 1914 was one of peace:

It is not the book I intended to write when I began. Preconceptions dropped off one by one as I investigated. The period was not a Golden Age or Belle Epoque except to a thin crust of the privileged class…. We have been misled by the people of the time themselves who, in looking back across the gulf of the War, see that earlier half of their lives misted over by a lovely sunset haze of peace and security. It did not seem so golden when they were in the midst of it. Their memories and their nostalgia have conditioned our view of the pre- war era but I can offer the reader a rule based on adequate research: all statements of how lovely it was in that era made by persons contemporary with it will be found to have been made after 1914. [Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower. A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (New York, 1962, 1966), pages xiii, xiv.]

In reality almost everyone expected a great war, since many nations had been preparing for it for decades. Had they not been expecting it they would not have been preparing for it. As noted above, even the Watchtower Society’s founder, C. T. Russell, expected it, although precisely what he expected changed over the years. In 1887 he wrote:

This all looks as though next Summer would see a war on foot which might engage every nation in Europe. [Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1887, p. 2]

By 1892 Russell had changed his mind about what the future would bring. While many expected a great war, he thought it would be minor compared to the worldwide anarchy that was to culminate with the end of the “Gentile times” in 1914:

…. the daily papers and the weeklies and monthlies, religious and secular, are continually discussing the prospects of war in Europe. They note the grievances and ambitions of the various nations and predict that war is inevitable at no distant day, that it may begin at any moment between some of the great powers, and that the prospects are that it will eventually involve them all…. We do not think that the prospects of a general European war are so marked as is commonly supposed. True, all Europe is like a great powder magazine which a single stray match might set off at any moment with a tremendous explosion. The various nations are armed to the teeth with the most destructive weapons that skill and ingenuity can invent, and there are national grievances and bickerings and hatred that must find a vent some time; and in consideration of these things the war cloud is always impending and ever darkening: but things may continue just so for many years, and we think they will…. Even should a war or revolution break out in Europe sooner than 1905, we could not consider it any portion of the severe trouble predicted. At most it could be a forerunner of it, a mere ‘skirmish’ as compared with what is to come.

The date of the close of that “battle” is definitely marked in Scripture as October, 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874. Thus far it has been chiefly a battle of words and a time of organizing forces…. Never was there such a general time of banding together as at present. Not only are nations allying with each other for protection against other nations, but the various factions in every nation are organizing to protect their several interests. [Zion’s Watch Tower, January 15, 1892, pp. 19-23]

Awake!’s main article continues:

Another event that Jesus gave is found at Matthew 24:21, 22: “Then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”

Jesus also indicated that this composite sign would be completed during the life of the generation that saw it begin in 1914. At Matthew 24:32-34, he said: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”

From time to time, as the world moves further from 1914, the Society updates its understanding of what “this generation” means. The time span allotted to a generation has gradually lengthened, under the Society’s watchful eye. Today the Society makes no statements about the length. Psalm 90:10 states:

In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things.

It would appear that 1994 will be a make-it-or-break-it year for this teaching.

Still Crying Wolf

Awake! continues on page 11:

To see this old world — with all its wars, famines, diseases, and deaths — over and done with will be a cause for rejoicing. To see it replaced by Jehovah God’s new world of righteousness — bringing an end to mourning, tears, sickness, and death — will give cause for endless celebration and joy and everlasting praises to Jehovah God, the Grand Creator and Universal Sovereign.

With this prospect ahead, no wonder many have such eagerness for Jehovah’s new world of righteousness to hurry up and replace this old one filled with sorrow, crime, sickness, and death! No wonder their eagerness is so great that they are prone to set early dates for its arrival! Now, however, there are not just bits and pieces of the sign of its incoming to tempt us into sounding false alarms. Now we can see the complete composite sign unfolding to give solid foundation for our eager expectation of this wicked world’s end and Jehovah’s new world to supplant it.

These paragraphs are so misleading as to be almost beyond belief. They excuse the Society from past or future responsibility for misleading people about “the end of the world.” They cast off responsibility for “pronouncing the righteous one wicked” who points out that these unfounded speculations are just that. They ignore all the historical and biblical evidence that proves the “composite sign” a pipe-dream. They voice “expectations based on” the Society’s “own interpretation” of scripture texts and physical events. They show the Society is “undeterred by previous failures” and will continue to make “further predictions of the end of the world.” It glories in crying Wolf!

The Watchtower Society reminds one of those described in 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”

The Society takes pains of late to avoid making any specific predictions of a date for the world’s end, but as pointed out earlier, its true beliefs were accidentally revealed in the January 1, 1989 Watchtower, page 12:

The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century. [published edition]

Speak To Us With Smooth Words

This essay has made clear that the Watchtower Society does not hesitate to cover over its mistakes, even to the extent of misleading those of “the flock of God” in its care. The last two paragraphs of the Awake!series show why, and show why the Society’s writers are not ashamed of misleading people as long as they point them in the general direction of God. In view of its history and commitment to continue making false predictions, can it be said of those Watchtower Society leaders claiming membership in the “anointed class” that “no falsehood was found in their mouths?” (Rev. 14:5) Can it not be said of those of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are only too willing to accept this misdirection, that they want the Society to “speak to us smooth things; envision deceptive things?” (Isaiah 30:10) Can it not be said of such ones that, in the words of 2 Tim. 4:3, 4,

In accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories.

In Part 2 of this essay George Orwell’s concept of “doublethink” was described. Compare the intellectual dance Orwell described with the rationalization in the article “The Path of the Righteous Does Keep Getting Brighter” from the December 1, 1981 Watchtower, page 27, apparently written by Governing Body member Karl Klein. It is a marvelous example of intellectual sleight of hand:

At times explanations given by Jehovah’s visible organization have shown adjustments, seemingly to previous points of view. But this has not actually been the case. This might be compared to what is known in navigational circles as “tacking.” By maneuvering the sails the sailors can cause a ship to go from right to left, back and forth, but all the time making progress toward their destination in spite of contrary winds.

Has not the Watchtower ship often been sailing in circles? Such as the complete circle made with regard to understanding the “superior authorities”? And the understanding of who should be called an ordained minister? And whether the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah would be resurrected? How can it be said these doctrinal changes have not been to a “previous point of view”? Easy — doublethink.

In the illustration the sailors make the ship tack. Who makes the Society’s “ship” tack? Is this illustration not an exercise in cynical sophistry? As such, do not the purveyors of it fit the description of Proverbs 3:32: “For the devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones”? And is one not reminded of the Apostle Paul’s description at Ephesians 4:14: “We should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error”?

The May 15, 1976 Watchtower, although referring to other religions, well described such tacking in circles, on page 298:

It is a serious matter to represent God and Christ in one way, then find that our understanding of the major teachings and fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures was in error, and then after that, to go back to the very doctrines that, by years of study, we had thoroughly determined to be in error. Christians cannot be vacillating — ‘wishy washy’ — about such fundamental teachings. What confidence can one put in the sincerity or judgment of such persons?


“To be mistaken is a misfortune to be pitied; but to know the truth and not to conform one’s actions to it is a crime which Heaven and Earth condemn.” — Giuseppe Mazzini, The Duties of Man and Other Essays

“What ever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth.” — Emerson

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” — Machiavelli

The March 22, 1993 Awake! is a textbook example of doublethink. The rationalization process the Society and its followers use to sweep under the rug the false predictions and about-faces of doctrine are clearly evident. Already the false predictions for 1975 have nearly disappeared from the collective consciousness of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The failed prophecies of preceding decades are all but forgotten.

George Orwell perfectly described this process:

The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth. [Part 1, Ch. VII; p. 75 hardcover; p. 64 paperback]

Since the Party is in full control of all recorded, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it. [Part 2, Ch. IX; p. 215 hardcover; p. 176 paperback]

The Bible says that Jehovah is a God of truth. A passage from James Moffatt’s translation of Job 13:7-11 summarizes it best:

Will you bring unfair arguments for God? Will you tell lies on his behalf? Will you be sycophants of the Almighty? Will you be special pleaders for God? Will it be well when he probes you? Can you deceive him like a man? No, he will punish you, if you are sycophants of his in secret. Should not his majesty cause you to shudder? Should not the dread of him seize you?

(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Sign of the Last Days — When? by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst.)

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