The Watchtower has a veritable list of practices Jehovah's Witnesses should not engage in and regularly invokes justification on the basis that these practices are of pagan origin. This reasoning is likewise extended to the rejection of doctrine. However, it does not follow that something is wrong because of pagan connections, as virtually every practice or belief can be traced back to a pagan religious counterpart. More relevant is what a practice means to current participants.
Because paganism is a poor line of reasoning, the Watchtower is contradictory in its application of this principle. For instance, some wedding practices are forbidden as pagan, yet others are not. Following are some practices where it the Watchtower says that being pagan is not important and yet others that are prohibited by invocation of the concept of being pagan.
Prohibited because Pagan
Watchtower 1969 Jan 15 p.58
"Since there are so many traditional practices, should a Christian try to avoid all the wedding customs of his area? Not necessarily. ... In many lands it is common to throw rice at the bride and groom. What is the point of the custom? Some peoples believe the rice is food to keep evil influences away from the bride and groom. Some say it assures the couple fertility."
Bible Questions Answered - jw.org
(as of 17 Feb 2016)
"What Does the Bible Say About Christmas?
... Instead, an examination of the history of Christmas exposes its roots in pagan religious rites."
Yearbook 1975 p.147
"What caused the Bible Students to stop celebrating Christmas? Richard H. Barber gave this answer: "I was asked to give an hour talk over a [radio] hookup on the subject of Christmas. It was given December 12, 1928, and published in The Golden Age #241 and again a year later in #268. That talk pointed out the pagan origin of Christmas. After that, the brothers at Bethel never celebrated Christmas again."
Bible Questions Answered - jw.org
(as of 17 Feb 2016)
"What Does the Bible Say About Easter?
... The American Book of Days well describes the origin of Easter: “There is no doubt that the Church in its early days adopted the old pagan customs and gave a Christian meaning to them.”"
"However, there is no indication in the Scriptures that faithful worshipers of Jehovah ever indulged in the pagan practice of annually celebrating birthdays."
"What about the birthday cake? It appears to be related to the Greek goddess Artemis, whose birthday was celebrated with moon-shaped honey cakes topped with candles."
Watchtower 1951 Oct 1 p.607
"Is it proper to have or attend celebrations of birthday anniversaries?-F. K., Nevada. Such celebrations have their roots in pagan religions, and not Scriptural grounds. Some Bible commentators suggest that birthday celebrations may have had their origin in the "notion of the immortality of the soul"."
“Keep Yourselves in God’s Love” (2008) chapter 13 Celebrations That Displease God
"A common practice at weddings and on other social occasions is toasting. The 1995 International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says: “Toasting . . . is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods . . . in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!’”
True, many people may not consciously view toasting as a religious or superstitious gesture. Still, the custom of lifting wine glasses heavenward might be viewed as a request to “heaven”—a superhuman force—for a blessing in a way that does not accord with that outlined in the Scriptures."
Watchtower 2007 Feb 15 p.30
The Bible does not mention toasting, so why do Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid sharing in toasts?
... What, though, is the background of the custom of toasting? The Watchtower of January 1, 1968, quoted The Encyclopædia Britannica (1910), Volume 13, page 121: “The custom of drinking ‘health’ to the living is most probably derived from the ancient religious rite of drinking to the gods and the dead. The Greeks and Romans at meals poured out libations to their gods, and at ceremonial banquets drank to them and to the dead.” The encyclopedia added: “Intimately associated with these quasi-sacrificial drinking customs must have ever been the drinking to the health of living men.”
Is that still valid? The 1995 International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says: “[Toasting] is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!’”
... Interestingly, worshippers of Jehovah at times raised their hands and asked for a good outcome. They lifted their hands to the true God.
... Many people today who share in toasts may not think that they are requesting response or blessing from some god, but neither can they explain why they lift their wine glasses heavenward. Nevertheless, the fact that they do not think the matter through is no reason for true Christians to feel obliged to imitate their gestures."
Watchtower 1968 Jan 1 p.31
"But is that all there is to toasting? Why do the toasters raise their glasses, or lift their mugs and clink them together? Is it in imitation of some custom? ... If a Christian is going to make a request for divine blessing on another, then an appropriate way to do that is through heartfelt prayer to God, not by following traditions based on pagan worship that Jehovah abhors."
In actual fact, the origin of clinking was not to scare away demons or salute pagan Gods, as it became a practice after the excessive fear of demons had largely passed. Rather, it adds to the communal enjoyment of a drink with other people, along with involving all five senses in the drink. See snopes.com/food/rituals/clink.asp
Doctrine and Customs
The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life tr p.140
"Interestingly, most of the popular customs that have survived till today are of a religious nature. Since we have already seen that worldly religion has turned aside from the Bibles standard of pure worship, it should not surprise us to find that many of their customs are based on pagan religious practices."
Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.198
"When Jehovah's Witnesses cast aside religious teachings that had pagan roots, they also quit sharing in many customs that were similarly tainted."
Mankind's Search for God p.263
"In spite of this clear admonition, apostate Christians of the second century took on the trappings of the pagan Roman religion. They moved away from their pure Biblical origins and instead clothed themselves with pagan Roman garb and titles and became imbued with Greek philosophy.
Awake 1983 Aug 22 p.19
"Thus the willingness to compromise that allowed the entry of pagan doctrines also allowed unchristian immorality, cruelty, oppression, and so forth. ... They also avoid the syncretism that occurred hundreds of years ago, which brought hellfire, the immortal soul, the Trinity, images, the cross and other pagan beliefs into Christendoms system of worship."
Being Pagan does not Matter
The Watchtower undermines its own rejection of matters on the basis of paganism when it makes comments that pagan roots are of lesser importance than current perception:
Awake! 2003 Sep 22 pp.23-24
"When considering whether to include a piata at a social gathering, Christians should be sensitive to the consciences of others. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) A main concern is, not what the practice meant hundreds of years ago, but how it is viewed today in your area. Understandably, opinions may vary from one place to another. Hence, it is wise to avoid turning such matters into big issues."
Watchtower 1981 Jun 1 p.31 Questions From Readers
"● Would it be wrong for a Christian to use wind chimes in his or her home?
Many persons have used wind chimes to give a pleasant musical aspect to the home. When the wind blows, the glass, metal or wooden pieces hit against one another to produce the sound. However, it is the custom in some countries to put up wind chimes with the thought that they will keep evil spirits from entering the home. Obviously, a Christian would not make use of wind chimes for such a purpose. So if there is such a superstitious belief in one’s country, or community, it would not be wise to have a wind chime in the home. Thus no one will be stumbled or given the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses make use of wind chimes for some unscriptural purpose.—1 Cor. 10:31-33.
However, if one’s motive in putting up a wind chime has nothing to do with false religion, superstition or demonism, and there is little possibility of others’ getting the wrong impression regarding its use in the home, it is a simple matter for personal decision."
Disfellowshipping (excommunication) and shunning was introduced in its current format in the 1940/50s. This is despite the 1947 Awake! explaining the pagan origins of this practice.
Awake 1947 Jan 8 p.27
"The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that papal excommunication is not without pagan influence, "and its variations cannot be adequately explained unless account be taken of several non-Christian analogues of excommunication." The superstitious Greeks believed that when an excommunicated person died the Devil entered the body, and therefore, "in order to prevent it, the relatives of the deceased cut his body in pieces and boil them in wine." Even the Druids had a method of expelling those who lost faith in their religious superstitions. It was therefore after Catholicism adopted its pagan practices, A.D. 325, that this new chapter in religious excommunication was written."
The calendar is pagan, with the days of the week and months named after mythological Gods.
Golden Age 1935 Mar 13 p.358
"The Devil, of course, was the one who induced the ancestors of the present generation to name all the days of the week after heathen gods and goddesses."
For this reason the Watchtower introduced the "Calendar of Jehovah God" (Golden Age 1935 Mar 13 p.380).
Proving impractical, this concept did not last long and Witnesses continue to use the pagan Gregorian calendar. Click here for the Golden Age 1935 Mar 13 - 7 Mb PDF.
Watchtower 2007 Feb 15 p.30
"Moreover, the wedding ring at one time had religious significance. Yet, most people today do not know that, considering a wedding ring a mere evidence that someone is married."
Watchtower 1952 June 15 pp.361-2 The Marriage Ceremony
In marriage services performed by and for Jehovah's witnesses, the exchange of rings between the bride and the bridegroom is left entirely optional with those being married. In the selection of the bride for Isaac it is recognized that Rebecca accepted a hand adornment. (Gen. 24:22, 30, 53, Mo; AT) Similarly in Luke 15:22, a ring was given to the prodigal by his father on his home-coming.
We, of course, recognize that rings are used extensively in many pagan rituals. This fact, however, in no wise prohibits their use in any Christian service, particularly when the Bible mentions their use with approval. It is certainly more reasonable to expect that Satan, the mimic god, copied their use from Jehovah, rather than to accept the untenable position that Jehovah copied their use from demonic heathen practices. However, if some prefer to dispense with them in their marriage service, it is their right to do so. On this point let each one feel quite free to do that which is proper and right in his own mind. A bridegroom does not wed his bride by putting a ring on her finger.
Watchtower 1969 Jan 15 p.59
"Christians do not attach any symbolic meaning to a wedding ring ..."
Watchtower 1956 September 15 p.571 Marriage Ceremony and Requirements
The marriage estate is not everywhere symbolized by a wedding ring. It is no essential part of a marriage ceremony. Failure to give a wedding ring is not to one's discredit. Even where the wedding ring is recognized as marking a married woman and serves notice upon anyone with passionate desires, some may conscientiously object to featuring a ring in the ceremony, having in mind the pagan origin of the customary wedding ring in Christendom. In some places the marriage estate of a woman is indicated by the style of dress that she wears or the new piece that she adds to her garments. Locally this is just as effective as a finger ring, in fact more noticeable. A wedding ring amounts to nothing if there is no real tie or if the marriage tie is not respected. A passionate woman will not let a ring keep her from committing adultery. The use of a ring in a marriage ceremony should therefore be left to each one's decision according to conscience and local custom.
Watchtower 1969 January 15 pp.58-9
Since there are so many traditional practices, should a Christian try to avoid all the wedding customs of his area? Not necessarily. He can be selective. Sometimes marriage customs have a practical basis, such as marrying on the day when most people are off from secular work, or in the cooler part of the day, after "siesta." Or a tradition may be a touch of local color; one would hardly expect that persons in their hometown in Korea would dress as do natives of Lebanon, Finland or Fiji.
Of course, some customs are unscriptural and so they are objectionable to Christians. In many lands odd customs are followed so that the bride and groom or their guests will have "good luck." Jehovah's witnesses do not worship the god of Good Luck. (Isa. 65:11) Nor do they follow traditions that would lead observers to think that they do. Other customs are plainly acts of false worship. So one planning a wedding does well to examine practices common in his area and analyze how people view them locally. If it is acknowledged that a custom is connected with false religion or "good luck," then the Christian will shun it.-2 Cor. 6:14-18.
Other traditions are unreasonable or unloving. In many lands it is common to throw rice at the bride and groom. What is the point of the custom? "Some peoples believe the rice is food to keep evil influences away from the bride and groom. Some say it assures the couple fertility." (Science News Letter, June 8, 1963, p. 357) This illustrates that there are often a number of opinions as to the origin of a certain custom. But whatever the background of this one, do Christians normally take food and throw it at their friends, dirtying up the street in the process? Also, consider the matter of loving your neighbor as yourself. Would Christian love move one to play "practical jokes" to the embarrassment of a bride and groom? Jesus said: "Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them."-Luke 6:31; 10:27.
Then there is the tradition of the wedding ring. A study of the subject would likely leave you confused as to the origin and meaning of the wedding ring; the claims are many, the facts muddled. Even if the Bible does not directly mention wedding rings, it is plain that Jehovah's servants could wear rings. (Job 42:11, 12; Luke 15:22) But what if people in one's land believe that a wedding ring symbolizes a couple's unbroken faith, love and devotion? Christians do not attach any symbolic meaning to a wedding ring, even though they cultivate these qualities in marriage, and even if many in the world are hypocritical in claiming to manifest such. A wedding ring ensures nothing. It merely serves public notice of married estate. It is not improper for a Christian to give evidence of his or her married status by wearing a wedding ring, be it on the right hand, as in Germany, or on the left. Yet this is not a necessity where it is not a legal requirement. So the couple can decide what to do in accord with their financial situation and personal preferences.
Hence, in regard to wedding customs one can be selective, asking oneself: What is the significance of the custom in this locality at present? Will it offend others? Is it loving? Is it reasonable?
Watchtower 1972 January 15 p.63 Questions from Readers
Is it proper for a Christian to wear a wedding ring?-Greece.
Many sincere Christians have asked this question out of a desire to avoid any custom of which God might disapprove. Some of the questioners know that Catholic prelate John H. Newman wrote: "The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, . . . sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church." (An Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine, 1878)* While the facts prove that many of the current religious practices Newman lists definitely were adopted from pagan worship, is that true of the wedding ring?
Actually there are conflicting ideas as to the origin of the wedding ring. Let us give a few examples: "Originally . . . the ring was a fetter, used to bind the captive bride." (For Richer, for Poorer) "The ring is a relatively modern substitute for the gold coin or other article of value with which a man literally purchased his wife from her father." (The Jewish Wedding Book) "The wedding ring is supposed to be of Roman origin, and to have sprung from the ancient custom of using rings in making agreements." (American Cyclopaedia) "Various explanations have been given of the connection of the ring with marriage. It would appear that wedding-rings were worn by the Jews prior to Christian times."-The International Cyclopaedia.
It is thus seen that the precise origin of the wedding ring is uncertain. Even if it were a fact that pagans first used wedding rings, would that rule such out for Christians? Not necessarily. Many of today's articles of clothing and aspects of life originated in pagan lands. The present time divisions of hours, minutes and seconds are based on an early Babylonian system. Yet, there is no objection to a Christian's using these time divisions, for one's doing so does not involve carrying on false religious practices.
Of course, our concern is greater as regards the use of wedding rings, since this relates, not to minor secular matters, but to the marriage relationship, which the Christian rightly views as sacred before God. Really, the question is not so much whether wedding rings were first used by pagans but whether they were originally used as part of false religious practices and still retain such religious significance. As has been shown, the historical evidence does not allow for any definite conclusion on this. What does the Bible say about the use of rings?
The Bible shows that some of God's servants in the past wore rings, even ones that had special meaning attached to them. Wearing a signet ring could indicate that one had received authority to act in behalf of the ruler who owned it. (Gen. 41:42; Num. 31:50; Esther 8:2, 8; Job 42:11, 12; Luke 15:22) So, while wedding rings are not mentioned, these true worshipers clearly did not scruple against using rings for more than mere adornment.
Some persons say that a wedding ring represents one's unending love and devotion in marriage. The increasing divorce rate in many lands where married persons usually wear a wedding ring proves that this meaning is more imagined than real. Nonetheless, for the majority of persons, including Christians, in lands where wedding rings are common, the ring is an outward indication that the wearer is a married person. In other localities the same point is shown in a different way, such as by a woman's wearing a certain style of clothing.
Of course, a wedding ring is by no means a Christian requirement. One Christian might decide not to wear a wedding ring, because of conscience, personal taste, cost, local custom, or some other reason. Yet another Christian might decide to indicate his married status by means of a wedding ring. Hence, in the final analysis the decision is a personal one, to be made in accord with the conscientious views one holds.