Putting it All in Context

“Apostates often bring out points that may be true, but are taken way out of context.”

–From the speech “Feed Your Mind at Jehovah’s Table”  delivered by Watchtower spokesmen at the “Safeguard Your Heart” Circuit Assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Autumn, 2012

I listen to constructive criticism and try to take it to heart. I agree that context is very important.

When I was a Witness non-Witnesses were always accusing me of “taking things out of context.” I always thought that the people making the accusation didn’t really know what they were talking about. It seemed a convenient catch-all defense for them: broad and vague enough to refute any argument that I’d put forth without them having to provide details of exactly where something was out of context. It turns out in hindsight that they were mostly right, but I don’t think they understood what it was that was lifted from its context, what that context was, or why it mattered.

So it’s rather ironic, now that I am no longer a Witness, that the Watchtower is accusing me of “taking things out of context.” {sigh} But if the Watchtower thinks my points are taken out of context, then I will happily put them solidly within context for them.

The Context

According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smallpox is an acute, contagious, and sometimes fatal disease caused by the variola virus. Symptoms of smallpox begin with high fever, head and body aches, and sometimes vomiting. A rash follows that spreads and progresses to raised bumps and pus-filled blisters that crust, scab, and fall off after about three weeks, leaving a pitted scar.

A person exposed to smallpox virus will initially have no symptoms and is not contagious. Sometime between 7 and 17 days later, symptoms will begin. The person becomes most contagious once the rash begins, and remains contagious until the last smallpox scab falls off.

The disease is spread through the air when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, or coughs. It can also be spread by infected clothing or bed linens. An individual who contracts smallpox has a 20-35% chance of dying from the disease. People who survive are left with ugly scars on their bodies or face, and some become blind and/or impotent.

The origin of smallpox appears to have been from an African rodent-borne variola-like virus at least 16,000 years ago.

The first case in history that we know of was that of Pharaoh Ramses V somewhere around 1157 BCE. But there were almost certainly countless cases before this — we just don’t have their pockmarked mummified remains, as we do for Ramses.

Smallpox was spread throughout the Old World during the fourth through fifteenth centuries centuries CE by international trade. In the early sixteenth century, Europeans brought the disease to the Americas, sometimes purposely infecting the indigenous people. [In 1623 “Mather the Elder” delivered a sermon in Plymouth in which he gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox which had wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag (who had been their benefactors). In 1763, Lord Jeffery Amherst ordered that smallpox-infected blankets be distributed to the indigenous people in Pennsylvania.]

According to Wikipedia:

Smallpox directly and profoundly influenced the course of human history. Its tremendous morbidity and mortality led to indiscriminate killing of kings and warlords and tipped the balance of power with regularity in Europe and elsewhere. As a result of smallpox infection, whole civilizations, including the Incas and the Aztecs, were destroyed in a single generation.

Smallpox has killed about half a billion people in the world’s history (300 million in the 20th century alone). To put this number in some sort of perspective, it is more lives claimed than in all the wars in human history put together. Other plagues pale in comparison: the Black Death, for instance, which ravaged Europe for over 400 years (1340-1771) killed 75 million people.


There is no cure for smallpox. There is only prevention.

Inoculation against the disease began in India before 1000 CE. The practice spread slowly around the world, reaching Europe in the 18th century. Those inoculated had a mortality rate of approximately one tenth that of individuals with naturally occurring disease.

In 1796 Edward Jenner developed a smallpox vaccine from the cowpox virus, closely related to smallpox. Although the immunity was not lifelong, this approach was significantly safer than vaccine containing smallpox. The method quickly spread throughout the world. In subsequent decades, the strain of virus used was sustained by means of arm-to-arm inoculation or maintained as dried material on threads.

Over time, the vaccine virus changed from cowpox to the strain of vaccinia used in current vaccines. In the latter half of the 19th century, the practice of growing virus for vaccines on the flank of calves was adopted to lessen the risk of transmitting other human diseases (e.g. syphilis) during vaccination.

“True Points” within this Context

Within this historical context there emerged a new American religion which eventually came to be known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (though claiming antecedents back to first century Christianity.) Their official pronouncements issued forth from the Watchtower publications, initially written primarily by Joseph Franklin “Judge” Rutherford.

The Watchtower also published The Golden Age magazine (a precursor to today’s Awake! magazine). Within the pages of that periodical medical advice was sometimes given, such as the following [my additional “worldly” counter-point is shown in green]:

Even years ago it was known by some people that the use of pacifiers by babies is one of the chief causes of diseased and enlarged tonsils and adenoid growths, which results from the suction.
The Golden Age, Nov. 26, 1919, p. 153

Pacifiers have been shown to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They can be a very beneficial tool in soothing a fussy infant and toddler, so with avoidance of the few pitfalls, I do recommend their use. — Dr. DANA JOHNSON, pediatrician
Enlarged tonsils are not caused by sucking: they are caused by germs when tonsils become infected or overwhelmed by the very microbes that they help to fight.

there is no such thing as rabies!
The Golden Age, Jan. 1, 1923, p. 214

(Information from the Center for Disease Control)

It has never been proven that a single disease is due to germs.
The Golden Age, Jan. 16, 1924, p. 250

Germs can be classified into four major groups: Virus, Bacteria, Fungi, and Parasites.
Infection occurs when bacteria, viruses or other microbes enter your body and begin to multiply. Disease occurs when the cells in your body are damaged — as a result of the infection — and signs and symptoms of an illness appear. — Mayo Clinic

Quack medical devices were also extolled and advertised in the pages of The Golden Age. Today, people researching early twentieth-century quackery often use The Golden Age as a source book, since almost every quack device of the period was eventually advertised there. One such device was the Electronic Radio Biola which claimed to diagnose and treat every disease with 100% accuracy by means of radio-waves: all for only $35! The Golden Age ran more than one article praising the efficacy of this device despite the fact that it had previously been thoroughly debunked by the medical community. [Two major scientific investigations had determined that the ideas behind the Biola were “the height of absurdity” and useless in detecting and curing disease. (Scientific American, “Our Abrams Investigation”, March 1923 to September 1924: The Lancet, January 24 1925, pp. 177-181, British Medical Journal, January 24, 1925, pp. 179-185.)]

Due to complaints from readers about the ineffectiveness of these recommended sham medical devices,  such advertisements had ceased after 1925. The Watchtower even offered a rare apology for the ads (albeit in a joking manner), though at the same time they reaffirmed their conviction in the healing powers of the Radio Biola.

The ads may have disappeared from The Golden Age, but the medical advice continued:

“If any overzealous doctor condemns your tonsils go and commit suicide with a case-knife. It’s cheaper and less painful.”
— The Golden Age 1926 Apr 7 p.438

“Sleep on the right side or flat on your back, with the head toward the north so as to get benefit of the earth’s magnetic currents. Avoid serum inoculations as they pollute the blood stream with their filthy pus…. Stop chewing gum, as you need the saliva for your food.”
The Golden Age 1929 Nov 13 p.107

“Medicine originated in demonology and spent its time until the last century and a half trying to exorcise demons. During the past half century it has tried to exorcise germs.”
— The Golden Age 1931 Aug 5 p.728

“The earlier in the forenoon you take the sun bath, the greater will be the beneficial effect, because you get more of the ultra-violet rays, which are healing”
–The Golden Age 1933 Sep 13 p.777

In humans, prolonged exposure to solar UV radiation may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye, and immune system.  Annually, around 1.5 million DALYs (Disability-adjusted life years) are lost through excessive UV exposure. — World Health Organization

More “True Points” within this Context

From 1921 to 1952 the Watchtower organization banned the use of vaccinations.

“Vaccination never prevented anything and never will, and is the most barbarous practice…We are in the last days; and the devil is slowly losing his hold, making a strenuous effort meanwhile to do all the damage he can, and to his credit can such evils be placed…Use your rights as American citizens to forever abolish the devilish practice of vaccinations.”
The Golden Age 1921 Oct 12 p.17

“Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccination, because the latter sows the seed of syphilis, cancers, escema, erysipelas, scrofula, consumption, even leprosy and many other loathsome affections. Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion.”
The Golden Age, May 1, 1929, p. 502

“Vaccination is a direct violation of the everlasting covenant God made with Noah after the flood… Vaccination has never saved a human life. It does not prevent smallpox.”
The Golden Age, February 4, 1931, pp. 293-294 

Unvaccinated people were 40 times more likely to die if infected with smallpox. This statistic was well known long before 1921. Any organization claiming to be “God’s mouthpiece” should’ve known the facts before issuing a denunciation of a life-saving medical procedure.

The diseases mentioned by the Watchtower Society such as syphilis, leprosy, etc., cannot be contracted from the smallpox vaccine. Such things were caused in the early days when arm-to-arm vaccinations were done from one patient to the next: contaminating the recipient with all of the donor’s diseases. It was also common knowledge in 1929 that the practice had ceased half a century earlier.

Presumably the Watchtower Society’s objection to the vaccine may have been on the grounds that it was blood: cow’s blood (although the prohibition against blood transfusions was not given until 1945). However, this never was true. Even back in the 18th century when the vaccine was made using the poxvirus that infects cows, the virus was isolated and then given to the patient. An ironic footnote to this issue is that the Watchtower today condones the use of cow’s blood (“Hemopure”) for Witnesses who are in need of a blood transfusion! (See our course on blood.) So, there never should have been an objection to the smallpox vaccine even if it had involved cow’s blood.

Refusal of vaccinations was a very controversial stance which cost individual Witnesses dearly. No one knows how many lives were lost to smallpox because of it. In the United States unvaccinated children were officially forbidden to attend school (though exceptions were made for “religious beliefs” which resulted in placing all of the other school children at risk). This mistake of the Watchtower Society caused a great deal of turmoil in the lives of many of its trusting followers in addition to putting their health and their very lives in danger.

In the late 1940s, large-scale production of freeze-dried vaccine enabled mass vaccination campaigns. And in 1949 the last case of smallpox was recorded in the United States, three years before the Watchtower lifted its ban:

The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself … our Society cannot afford to be drawn into the affair legally or take the responsibility for the way the case turns out … all objection to vaccination on scriptural grounds seems to be lacking.
Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1952 p. 764

In the 1960s the World Health Assembly intensified its efforts to eradicate the disease by using highly potent and stable vaccine, by rapidly identifying outbreaks, and by performing “ring vaccination” on all the contacts of a person who was infected.

Unable to deny the evidence any longer, even the Watchtower was forced to admit:

There can be little doubt that vaccinations appear to have caused a marked decrease in contagious diseases, including “smallpox” and “polio”.
Awake!, August 22, 1965, p. 20

They didn’t bother to mention that this contradicted their previous confident statements that: “Vaccination has never saved a human life. It does not prevent smallpox.

Routine vaccination of the American public against smallpox stopped in 1972 after the disease had been eradicated in the United States.

The last case of endemic smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977.

In 1980 the disease was declared eradicated following worldwide vaccination programs.

Vaccination, together with an aggressive process of surveillance-containment, eliminated the disease from the face of the earth! That’s right: the smallpox disease is gone. The mortality rate is now zero! Breathe a sigh of relief, and rejoice that you’ve probably never known a single victim, and now you never will.

The smallpox vaccine represents one of the greatest success stories of medicine in all human history. It is possibly the greatest triumph of humankind, period. Using our intelligence and working together in global cooperation we conquered our most deadly disease!

Except there was at least one group that, through arrogant ignorance, stubbornly refused to cooperate in this global effort. Please go back and re-read the above quotes from the Watchtower’s Golden Age 1921-1931. Remember: the Watchtower claims to be God’s prophet on Earth, faithfully and discreetly dispensing spiritual food at the proper time! It pats itself on the back for being “dependable” since 1879. And while “the world” was busily engaged in ridding this deadly disease from the face of the Earth, the Watchtower’s followers were lugging around their gramophones house-to-house playing Rutherford’s recorded speeches denouncing vaccination as a trick of the Devil!

Using Deception to Cover Up Fatal Stupidity

“Previous articles in this journal and its companion, The Watchtower, have presented a consistent position: It would be up to the Bible-trained conscience of the individual Christian as to whether he would accept [vaccinations] for himself and his family.”
Awake! 1993 Aug 8 p.25

The above quote is outrageously misleading! The Golden Age clearly stated that vaccination was against God’s Law, and hence not a matter up to one’s individual conscience. Awake! (the source of the above quote) was just a new name for The Golden Age, as acknowledged in the following Watchtower published quote:

Since its first issue back in 1919, the magazine successively known as The Golden Age, Consolation, and now Awake! has played a major role in the preaching work.”
–Kingdom Ministry (WBTS) 2005 Mar p.1.

Do you get what they’re doing here in the Awake! quote? They are claiming consistency by disowning what was said under a different name! This tactic is about as honest and mature as a kid trying to get out of going to school by telling his mom “I don’t feel well” while secretly pinching himself. They changed the name of the magazine and now think they bear no responsibility for what was written under its former name. Today they’re probably using a similar strategy by not posting Awake! issues prior to the year 1970 on their website (or the Watchtower prior to 1950). When your history is so incriminating I guess you do everything you can to distance yourself from it, and hope that everyone just eventually forgets how stupid you were.

The Watchtower has played this same game with other issues as well. Based on the pattern, we see that the rules of their game appear to be:

  1. Say something outrageously stupid.
  2. Stubbornly and arrogantly maintain what was said in #1 for years, despite all evidence to the contrary, and disfellowship anyone who disagrees.
  3. Change your mind.
  4. Pretend you never said #1.

No wonder they don’t want anyone going back and reading the older publications! Their lies become so apparent when you do.

This raises a few questions in my mind. I’m hoping that some Jehovah’s Witness reading this will kindly leave a comment with the answers to the following:

  • How is it that “God’s prophet” was behind the times, and didn’t know the facts?
  • How could medical science know more than God’s prophet?
  • Why would God use his “visible organization” to cause potential harm to “his people” by withholding this valuable, life-saving preventative medicine, and causing them undue persecution?
  • How could vaccination be a “direct violation of the everlasting covenant God made” when “all objection to vaccination on scriptural grounds seems to be lacking“?
  • How could a group claiming to be “discreet” call vaccination a violation of God’s everlasting covenant, watch people suffer and die in consequence of that statement, and 31 years later retract it without so much as an apology?
  • Now knowing all of the above, could you honestly call it anything other than just plain stupidity if you were to continue to trust them with medical advice?
  • If they can be so diametrically opposed to the facts that are right in front of their eyes, how could you possibly trust them on invisible “spiritual” matters?

More Context and Still More “True Points”

The Watchtower continued to make deadly rules following the vaccination debacle. In 1945 they banned blood transfusions. In 1967 they declared organ transplantation unlawful. This latter law was revoked in 1980. In the intervening 13 year period Witnesses died who needed transplants.

Today the Watchtower continues its fatal policy against whole blood transfusions and platelets. Though it has progressed to the point of allowing human blood fractions as well as cow’s blood(!)

Whole blood and platelets save lives. Period. That should be the end of the discussion. It should be obvious, given the above, that the Watchtower doesn’t have a clue when it comes to medical advice or what God’s laws are regarding the same. If you need more convincing about how dead wrong they are in their current stance on blood, then please see the following links.

3 thoughts on “Putting it All in Context

  1. Great article, Steve. I never realized how deadly smallpox was! I wonder how the JW’s governing body at the time ever came up with the ideas that vaccinations, innoculations, and blood transfusions were evil? Maybe they didn’t want people following the medical scientists; they wanted everyone to rely on them for advice. Yes, the GB seems to be trying to cover up their original positions with a flimsy nightie. OOPS, we can see right through it!

  2. Perfectly summarised and reasoned on…would be interesting to see you do this with other things that JW’s preach…

  3. Update: I see that a lot of people have read this blog article. Some of them have surely been Witnesses. Yet, evidently none of them have been able to answer the questions I’ve posted.
    What does that tell you? The Watchtower religion claims to invite questions. But when you know the right questions to ask, it seems they clam up. It would be safe to assume from this that they have no good answers to such questions. All of which means that it would be stupid for us to look to the Watchtower for truth and guidance in our lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *