The next topic I will tackle in regard to “Frequently Asked Questions” found on the Jehovah’s Witnesse website, is that of “Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Celebrate Birthdays?” The images you see below are taken directly from their website. Below that is my response.
First and foremost, it should be noted that the celebration of one’s birthday is a forbidden act amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a sin that is punishable by disfellowshipping (excommunication) and subsequent shunning by all in the congragation including the person’s immediate family. Yet, they themselves admit above that the bible does not explicitly forbid celebrating birthdays. If the bible doesn’t forbid it, why do they? Seems a little presumptuous, no? Perhaps in violation of the following scripture? “ Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” – 1 Corinthians 4:6 – NIV
They go on to reason that it is ok for them to forbid birthday celebrations because, although not specifically condemned, the bible does “help us to reason on key features and understand God’s view of them”. Ok….but….what if the reasoning being used is wrong? If the bible does not condemn the action then admittedly their stance on the matter is a guess. They may think they have ample supply of evidence to back up their stance…..but in the end……since the bible does not comment on it…..it is still an opinion or guess. Yet as mentioned above, a person can be disfellowshipped and shunned for the rest of his/her life for openly celebrating a birthday. Doesn’t that seem like a rather harsh penalty for commiting an act that the bible DOESN’T condemn? Shouldn’t they be trying to err on the side of caution….on the side of LOVE instead of dogmatic interpretation of scripture?
Worse yet is the fact that they said “understand God’s view”. Yet again, how presumptuous! This is basically saying that they (and not you) understand God’s view on the matter. Based on what? Where is the proof?
They go on to bring out that birthday celebrations have pagan roots. Gee. There’s a shocker. Guess what? Most everything involved in our culture has some sort of pagan root. And why? Because if you trace your lineage back far enough your ancestors likely were pagans. Christianity has only been around for 2,000 years. The hypocrisy of the next statement is comical at best. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not preoccupied with the roots of every custom”. Yet, for this one they are? Did you know that Jehovah’s Witnesses also aren’t allowed to clink glasses, give toasts, or say “bless you” when someone sneezes? And yet they claim that they aren’t preoccupied with the roots of every custom? As I mentioned, there are a TON of customs that have pagan roots. Wedding rings? Pagan. Honeymoons? Pagan. Feeding one another cake at your wedding? Pagan. Sending flowers to or leaving flowers at a grave site? Pagan. Yet Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t forbid these activities. So why? Why pick and choose which ones should be forbidden and which ones can slide by? Their God is ok with a little bit of paganism…..just not a lot? They make sure to mention that birthdays have a connection to spiritism because of what the ancient pagans believed. Well guess what? Many ancient pagans believed they should use weddings and other parties as a time to gather and express good wishes too! Oh the horror! Maybe people should stop getting married! Just a side note – They really harp on the idea that birthdays may have ancient spiritistic ties and that God hates that. Yet at no point do they mention the fact that the man that founded their religion in 1879, Charles Taze Russell, also dabbled in spiritism! Yes indeed. There are 7.5million JWs out there that have no idea that the man that started their religion used pyramidology (belief that the measurements of ancient Egyptian pyramids could help predict the future) to help make his predictions. I wonder why the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses is so concerned about other forms of “spiritism” yet they ignore the one their faith is founded upon?????
Below is a picture of the book “The Divine Plan of the Ages” ,with a pyramid on the cover, written by Russell himself as well as a picture of the giant pyramid monument that was constructed in honor of him next to his tombstone. Finally, below that is a direct quote taken from another one of Russell’s publications showing the importance of pyramidology to him.
“We find it to be 3457 inches, symbolizing 3457 years from the above date, B. C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1915 as making the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1915 years A.D. equals 3416 years. Thus the Pyramid witnesses that the close of 1914 will be the beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation-no, not ever shall be afterward. ” Studies In the Scriptures Series III – Thy Kingdom Come p.342
They argue next that the early Christians did not celebrate their birthdays. While this appears to be accurate, there is no proof of this. And if the bible does not condem a particular action, wouldn’t you think that a “Christian” faith might want to follow the advice of Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5-6 which tell us not to judge a person based on what they do or do not celebrate?
Next, they bring out that the only commandment that must be celebrated is the death of Jesus. If you read the gospels you’ll find that on the night that Jesus was arrested, after he and his apostles ate of the bread and drank of the wine, he said “keep doing this in remembrance of me.” OK. But…..was it a command or a suggestion? And who was Jesus talking to? Was it all Christians for milleniums to come or just those apostles in the room with him? And finally, how often should it be done? Yearly? Periodically? Whenever one feels the need to be thankful? Simply put, the bible doesn’t comment on any of this. Yet Jehovah’s Witnesses have instituted a legalistic and formal yearly ritual that is a mandatory attendence event to commemorate the death of Jesus. Interestingly, nowhere in the bible is a commemoration of this event recorded. If it was so important, wouldn’t there be records…..perhaps even in the scriptures……of 1st century Christians legalistically and ceremonially commemorating the death of Christ? It seems they have gone beyond what the bible says again.
Their final argument is that the bible never refers to a “servant of God” celebrating a birthday, but it DOES mention two birthdays by those who “don’t serve God” and both of them are “presented in a bad light”. Interestingly the bible actually DOES mention another birthday in the bible. To the best of my knowledge, all Christian faiths, including JWs, paint Job and his family in a good light. But if you read Job 1:4, you’ll see that it says “His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays.” – NIV. Yet not surprisingly the JW version of the bible known as the New World Translation (translated by a secret committe of theirs) says that the sons used to hold feasts “each one on his day” (no reference to birthdays). Is it any wonder they elected NOT to translate that particular Hebrew word as “birthday”? Doing so would give ample evidence that Job’s sons celebrated their birthdays and that no “bad light” was associated. To show even further proof that the Jehovah’s Witnesses translated their bible to match their pre-existing condemnation of birthdays, let’s look at the Hebrew word that was used in Job 1:4. It was “yowm”. Remember, the JW bible translates this word simply as “day” at Job 1:4. Yet strangely enough, this very word was used again in Job 3:1 when he curses the “day of his birth”. Suspiciously, their bible now renders “yowm” as “day of his birth”……not just “day”. Can you think of a reason they would translate it as birthday in one scripture while purposely NOT translating it the same way in another? This is known as an eisegesis approach to translation – coming up with a pre-determined doctrinal conclusion and then forcing the bible to fit that conclusion.
But that’s not it. Let’s talk about the two biblical examples that portray birthdays in a “bad light”. In the first (Genesis 40:20-22), the baker is murdered. In the second (Mark 6:21-29) John the Baptist is beheaded. Because of this, the Jehovah’s Witnesse argue that we are supposed to take away from the bible the idea that birthdays are bad. But, doesn’t such reasoning hold a bit of a guilt by association tone? Is it reasonable to read such texts and assume that the situation was the culprit? Or should we read the text and realize that the source of the evil (Pharoah and Herod) was the men who ordered the killings? Furthermore, if we are to assume that all birthdays are to be condemned because of this guilt by association method, then should we, in the 21st century, hate dogs too? Look up Deuteronomy 23:18….or 2Kings 8:13……or Psalm 22:16…..or Proverbs 26:11……or Phillipians 3:2……or Revelation 22:15…..etc. In all of these scriptures, dogs are described as vile creatures. They lick ulcers. They return to their vomit. The bible clearly and consistently uses dogs in a negative connotation. How many of “those who served God” in the bible had a dog as a pet? None. So applying this same line of reasoning…….is the bible saying that we should avoid dogs? Such guilt by association would be ridiculous. Yet to avoid birthdays because of those two bible citations would be akin to avoiding dogs because of the scriptures I just mentioned above. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unable to make this connection.
One other argument that Jehovah’s Witnesses like to make against birthday celebrations (but strangely isn’t brought up on the website) is that birthdays are “self-indulgent”. They argue that birthdays put too much importance on one person and that “all glory should go to God”. Seriously. This is an argument of theirs. It doesn’t take much to destory that argument which is perhaps why it isn’t on their website. Weddings and anniversaries are perfectly acceptable in JW land yet they are just as self-indulgent, are they not? So are graduation parties and retirement parties. So…..it is ok to be self indulgent every once in a while (for instance at a wedding or graduation party) but it isn’t ok to be self indulgent every year on the day of one’s birth? Furthermore, what about baby showers? To Jehovah’s Witnesses, baby showers are completely ok. Yet, what are you doing at a baby shower? Are you not celebrating the birth of a baby? Whether the baby has been born yet or not is irrelevant as the purpose of the event remains the same. Thus, evidently to JWs, celebrating the actual BIRTHDAY of a child is ok……just not the anniversary of that birth. Does that make any sense? Taking the bible back into consideration, if weddings and subsequent anniversaries are to be celebrated because God supposedly instituted the marriage arrangement, then what should be said of births? Aren’t they supposed to be gifts from God THROUGH the marriage arrangement? Remember, they believe in creation. Which means that God created people. People gave birth to other people…..and so on and so forth…..thus creating BILLIONS of birthdays that are somehow….someway supposed to be looked upon with disfavor? Again, does this make any sense?
They finish their argument by saying that JW children are not deprived because JW parents give gifts at other times of the year. (but not Christmas of course). They quote a couple of JW children…..which….I find to be laughable because they really think this makes them credible. Guess what? I could go out and find plenty of indoctrinated Amish children who will gladly give a quote on the wonders of not having electricity too. The fact of the matter is, JW children ARE deprived. They are deprived of an opportunity to be special……an opportunity to shine on his/her day……an opportunity to be normal and accepted…….and an opportunity to socialize.
I will end this section with an ironic quote straight from one of their publications:
“…we found that for many people in Mexico, the pinata has lost its religious significance and is considered by most to be just harmless fun. A main concern is, not what the practice meant hundreds of years ago, but how it is viewed today in your area.” – Awake September 22, 1993
So…..if this reasoning applies to Jehovah’s Witnesses in regard to the usage of pinatas which, yes, have pagan roots…….then why doesn’t it apply to other celebrations that no longer have religious or pagan ties? It would be a double standard to apply this kind of reasoning to one particular activity and not another but the Jehovah’s Witnesses have done just that.