chapter  1
The end is nigh
Pages 16

There could be no period more appropriate than the beginning of a new millennium in which to consider the activities of those who hold beliefs about the end of the world. In 1872, a Pittsburgh draper named Charles Taze Russell founded what later became known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society – the official name for the organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell had a fascination for biblical eschatology – a fascination which would play a huge part in the expansion of what is now a huge international corporation with over six million members. The Witnesses are members of a world-renouncing puritanical movement that claims to monopolise truth, and for this reason they refuse all ecumenical relations with other religious denominations. In a modern age in which people are free to construct their own aesthetic identities, the Witnesses stand out as authoritarian, calculating and aloof, and this makes their organisation distinctive from other social movements. The Witnesses are now active all over the world. Their worldwide membership increased from a mere 44,080 in 1928 to an extraordinary 6,035,564 in 2000, making a total international net growth of more than 5 per cent a year. Although these are the movement’s own figures, there is no reason to doubt them. For one thing, they are consistent with government estimates as well as those of independent scholars and, for another, the Society publishes losses as well as gains.1