Jehovah’s Witnesses and Higher Education
8 Min Read Time

Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised against pursuing a higher education, with Watchtower providing regular warnings that attending university is an improper use of time in these last days. This topic deserves careful consideration, as higher education is important for many fulfilling careers.

Watchtower sensationally groups encouragement to pursue Higher Education with being pressured into drug use. 

“Your children will no doubt experience new challenges and pressures … Are they prepared for the pressure they will receive to pursue higher education, date, and use alcohol or drugs?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Jul p.2

Watchtower leaders have always taken issue with higher education. In 1910, Russell said:

“I advise all Christians not to send their children to colleges or universities; for if they do, they will risk a great deal through infidelity and unbelief, and they will be doing their children a positive injury.” [1]

For a short period of time in the 1990’s, Watchtower softened the stance against university, due to the financial situation many Jehovah’s Witnesses face. 

“It has been reported that in some countries many well-intentioned youngsters have left school after completing the minimum required schooling in order to become pioneers. … Some have had to accept jobs that required them to work very long hours to make ends meet. Becoming physically exhausted, they gave up the pioneer ministry. … If Christian parents responsibly decide to provide their children with further education after high school, that is their prerogative.” Watchtower 1992 Nov 1 pp.18-20

This relaxed stance did not last long, with Higher Education again the subject of criticism from 2005 onwards.

“In most places, however, higher education is expensive and is getting more so. …  All of this takes a great deal of their time and energy. What, then, will be left for spiritual activities?” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 pp.28,29

“If you have a means of supporting yourself, do you really need to spend time, money, and effort on further education just to realize personal aspirations or those of your parents or other relatives?” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.30

A Watchtower Outline for Meetings of Circuit Overseers with Congregational Elders and Ministerial Servants for the period March through August 2008 explained that promoting higher education could result in losing congregation privileges.

“When an appointed servant promotes higher education for the purpose of economic gain or prestige, this places in doubt his qualifications to serve in the congregation….”

Watchtower Reasoning Against Higher Education

Watchtower provides a number of reasons for why Higher Education should be avoided. These include that pursuing advanced education is materialistic, a waste of precious time in these last days, involves bad association and is damaging to faith. Let’s consider the logic of each of these. 

Time left is reduced

The primary reasoning against a higher education is that this system is about to end.

“No doubt, school counselors sincerely believe that it is in your best interests to pursue higher education and to plan for a secular career. Yet, their confidence lies in a social and financial system that has no lasting future.” Watchtower 2012 Jun 15 p.23

Watchtower originally said the world would end in 1914.[2] Then 1925.[3] It has been described as coming shortly ever since. Several generations of Jehovah’s Witnesses that chose not to pursue higher education on the basis of such false teachings have since died of old age, often struggling in retirement with a lack of savings.  

If Watchtower is convinced the end is about to occur, why has it continued to build bigger headquarters and kingdom halls around the world.  Why does it put members through university, such as Vincent Toole, whose legal degree was paid for by Watchtower whilst he was living in the Australian Bethel branch? It is hypocritical for the leaders to make long-term plans, but insist the followers must not.

Time consuming

University is described as so intensive that students have little to no time for their relationship with Jehovah.

“Studying for my courses took so much time and effort that I was too busy to linger in prayer to Jehovah the way I used to, too exhausted to enjoy Bible discussions with others, and too tired to prepare well for the meetings. Thankfully, once I realized that being immersed in higher education was damaging my relationship with Jehovah, I knew I had to stop. And I did.” Watchtower 2019 Jun p.7

This is simply untrue. University does not take up more time than school or a career, and for students that struggle with the study load, there is the option of taking a degree part-time.  

Materialistic Glory Seeking 

Watchtower labels those that pursue higher education as critical, materialistic, glory seekers.

““I am ashamed to admit that the education I pursued taught me to be critical of others, especially my brothers and sisters, to expect too much of them, and to isolate myself from them.”” Watchtower 2019 Jun p.7

“Higher education: Jesus warned against ‘seeking your own glory.’” Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.32

“Clearly, a balanced education should take into account that more than material prosperity is needed to make us truly happy.” Jehovah’s Witnesses and Education

Education does not cause materialism, materialism is an attitude a person displays to worldly possessions independent of education or wealth. People with lower education and lower wages can be equally materialistic, and paradoxically a lower education and wages mean they are generally required to work more hours to fulfil their desires, taking away time from their service to God.

Bad Association

University is discouraged as a place of debauchery that could corrupt Jehovah’s Witness youth.

“University and college campuses are notorious for bad behavior—drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, cheating, hazing, and the list goes on.” Watchtower 2005 Oct 1 p.28

However, Watchtower admits there are the “same dangers in high schools and technical colleges and even in the workplace.” (w1992 Nov 1 p.20). Jehovah’s Witness students are able to attend university and not become involved with other students in the same way they are expected to not become involved with work colleagues. 

Higher Learning

Watchtower shows concern about the information taught at University and its effect on follower’s faith.

“Satan appeals to natural desires. We have a natural desire to learn skills that can help us provide for ourselves and our families. (1 Tim. 5:8) Often, we can gain those skills by attending school and being diligent students. But we must be cautious. The educational system in many countries teaches students not only practical skills but also human philosophy. Students are encouraged to question the existence of God and to disregard the Bible. They are told that the theory of evolution is the only intelligent explanation for the origin of life. (Rom. 1:21-23) Such teachings are opposed to “the wisdom of God.” … Some Christians who have pursued university education have had their minds molded by human thinking rather than by God’s thinking.” Watchtower 2019 Jun pp.6-7

“Yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in Jehovah’s service.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4

Whilst certain degrees in the sciences may challenge a Christian belief in God, many do not cover or conflict with areas related to Watchtower theology, such as accounting, engineering, law and information technology.

If it is correct that those with a university education have a higher chance of questioning Watchtower teachings and leave, this should raise questions regarding the validity of Watchtower doctrine.

Recommendations

Watchtower advises replacing higher education with more valuable “divine education.”

“Are we encouraging young ones, who are often steered by schoolteachers and others to pursue the world’s higher education, to set spiritual goals instead and pursue the highest education—divine education?” Kingdom Ministry 2011 Oct p.3

This is a comical straw man fallacy, because regardless of how beneficial a divine education may be, it does not enable a person to enter many professional occupations. The incredible increase of living standards and lifespan over the last century show the success of education, and we put our trust every day in it’s results each time we step into a building, car, plane or doctor’s surgery. 

It comes as little surprise that the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008 by the Pew Forum identified Jehovah’s Witnesses as having the second lowest level of Post Graduate degree educated members, and lowest level of families earning over $100,000.

Source: economix.blogs.nytimes.com May 13 2011, based on 2008 USA Pew report.

Watchtower reasoning against higher education is illogical and at times contradictory. Education is not the cause of materialism, and bad associations can be avoided at university, as with every endeavor in life. The additional time involved to complete a degree is minor in comparison to the length of a person’s career, and history proves Watchtower predictions for the imminence of the world’s end to be ill founded.

It is also hypocritical, as Watchtower needs educated brothers to help run the organization, and sends out requests for such, as in a letter from the Australian Branch dated 18th November 2015 – “We confidentially seek your assistance in identifying spiritually mature baptised individuals in the local congregation who are also qualified as solicitors, barristers, certified practicing accountants or chartered accountants.” 

Whilst not directly prohibited, Watchtower’s comments against higher education place psychological pressure on teenagers considering their education and careers. Watchtower has proven not to be a reliable guide regarding the future, and you owe it to yourself to plan your career wisely. If you are a student, it is highly likely you will eventually settle with a family, and you do well to take steps now with that in mind.

Footnotes

[1] What Pastor Russell Said (Leslie W. Jones Chicago 1917) pp.Q57-Q58

[2] See https://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/failed-1914-predictions.php for a long list of quotes that Armageddon would end in 1914 and Jesus rulership would commence on earth.

[3] The 1918 booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die! Predicted the earthly resurrection would commence in 1925, saying on page 88, “The chief thing to be restored is the human race to life; and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old, and that these will have the first favour, we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death , being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth.” For further quotes on Watchtower’s predictions for 1925 see https://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/1925.php