Book Review - Captives of a Concept

Cultic Studies Review, 5,(3), 2006, 445-446.

Captives of a Concept: Understanding the Illusionary Concept that Holds Jehovah’s Witnesses Captive

Don Cameron

Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press, 2004 (Third Edition, 2006), 152 pages, ISBN 1411622103. 

Reviewed by Marcia R. Rudin

Don Cameron, a former member of a Body of Elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has written a clear and tightly argued book based on the premise that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are kept captive by dint of a false assumption that is constantly reinforced by its leaders.

The concept that keeps members bound to the group and unable to question its teachings is “the belief that the Watchtower Society is God’s organization,” chosen by God and Jesus as the only vessel of Truth. This false concept (Cameron provides much evidence debunking it) provides the rationale for accepting its doctrine and even its self-admitted errors. As Cameron puts it:

Belief in this concept has given the men of the Governing Body tremendous control over the thinking of the rest of Jehovah's Witnesses. To question them, to doubt them, to disagree with them becomes the same as questioning, doubting and disagreeing with God himself! (p. 14)

Cameron continues in his summary at the end of the book:

They believe that all of God's direction to mankind comes only through this one “channel.” This organizational concept is the dominant controlling force in their lives without them realizing it. (p. 140)

Cameron exhibits vast, detailed knowledge of the group’s history and theology, based on his experience as a 20-year, high-ranking member. In his final year in the Watchtower Society, he began to doubt the group’s teachings and authority. He was surprised to find that none of the other Elders were willing to listen to his arguments. He has spent the past 22 years trying to help others out of the group.

Cameron’s book has an easy-to-follow “workbook”-type layout. He provides helpful, concise summaries of his points in the margins and in boxes. A first chapter that defines important terms, a helpful summary that reviews his major points, and an interesting closing appendix that contains historical Watchtower documents also help the reader.

I would have liked more discussion of the abuses common in this group. Captives of a Concept is perhaps too highly detailed for the general reader, but it will be helpful to those trying to convince others to abandon the group. Because I come from the perspective that defines groups as harmful based on their actions and abuses, not their faulty ideas or theologies, I objected to Cameron basing his criticism of the Watchtower Society on logically faulty and theologically mistaken premises. Sometimes he even states that Jesus (or God) would reject certain of the group’s arguments, and at the end he argues that members need God’s help to free themselves.

However, since committed members of this particular group are bonded to it by its theological arguments, perhaps Cameron’s approach is the best one for getting through to present members. And his premise that they are bound to the group’s “mistaken” teachings because of the supposedly God-given authority is in line with the thinking of many in the community of cultic studies researchers. It’s really only another way of saying that cult members are kept in line by not being given relevant facts, not being able to question the group leaders’ authority, and by being made to feel they are doomed if they question or leave the group.