In short reply to your free will and cult question, free will is not giving someone something and then telling them, “you better use it this way or else I’m going to kill you.” I honestly don’t believe anyone has absolute free will but that’s a bigger topic you’re not ready to talk about if you’re only familiarity with the topic is from the bible.
Do you know the warning signs of a cult? JWs aren’t the only group who qualify as a cult right now. I’ll use examples from other cults too.
Warning signs of a cult:
Behavior control— Controlling who members can associate with, what they can wear, what they can spend their time doing, even what members can eat. Members must report major actions to superiors. Individualism is suppressed so group-think can dominate.
Mormons- magic underwear, can not consume caffeine alcohol or tea, mandatory 10% tithe, “serious” sins confessed to leaders, etc…
Scientologists- TR and auditing sessions, controlling what members can wear, forced sleep deprivation
JWs- no “worldly” friends, can not mimic “worldly” styles, must preach, go to meetings and everyday read literature, can not consume blood, can not watch R rated movies, can not listen to music with curse words, can only marry other JWs, must confess “serious” sins to elders, be ware of “independent spirit” be one in the lord, and as you know many many more “can nots” and “musts”
Information control- deliberately holding back information from outsiders, members not allowed to seek out dissenting info, extensive use of cult generated propaganda
Mormons- concept of “milk before meat”–only tell new members what they need to know in their current stage of spiritual development, distortion of history, clear push to spin everything in the church’s favor in it’s magazines, closed-off temple rituals, religion must be accepted as truth despite changed doctrines
Scientology- reading information disagreeing with the church is strictly forbidden, ex-members who talk about negative experiences are harassed, new Scientologists are told about secret levels that are so powerful, that if a person sees them who is “not ready” to, they will get sick, go insane, or even die. They are also told that these levels contain the secrets of the universe and will make them into an all-powerful “operating thetan” with god-like abilities. New members told Scientology compatible with all religions but once inside, all literature says “all religion will bring about enslavement of man.” Downplaying of legal controversies. Only Scientology approved literature allowed when searching for life meanings.
JWs- inaccessible elders books, pioneer books, “Public” and “JW only” editions of Watchtower, not allowed to read “apostate” literature or talk to ex-JWs, “to the reading of many books there is no end and it’s wearisome to the soul” not allowed to read too much other outside of the JW literature, collage is strongly discouraged, cover-up of legal controversies, changed doctrines do not diminish leadership’s status as “lead by god”, only JWs have keys to life.
Thought control- must internalize groups doctrines as “truth”, loaded language that stops dissenting ideas, only “good” and “proper” thoughts are allowed, all critical questions about leaders, doctrines or policies are seen as illegitimate and bad , alternative belief systems are viewed as completely bad and useless,
Mormons- all church’s teachings are “the truth”, rejection of critical analysis of religion and constructive criticism, members are encouraged to openly/publicly share only positive testimonies with outsiders and fellow members, Us vs. Them mentality, Black & White thinking- very little to no middle ground
Scientology- Us vs. Them mentality- “attack the attacker”, anyone who questions teachings is labeled an “SP” suppressive person, “disconnection” is a step Scientologist take where they cut off all contact with anyone who’s not a member, all religion will bring about enslavement of man.
JWs- “make the truth your own”, all people who speak critically of religion are “apostates” “being misled by Satan”, “Babylon the Great” all religions will be destroyed by Jehovah, association with non-JW family must be minimized, Us vs. Them “the world loves it’s own” “must not be a part of the world”, Black & white thinking- you’re either going to live or die at Armageddon
Emotional control- any problems experienced are the individual members’ fault not the group’s, heavy use of guilt and fear, narrow range of acceptable feelings
Mormons- if you are righteous then you must feel the spirit, members aren’t perfect but the gospel and church are, pride is felt in being a tiny minority who’ve found their way to the true church, guilt in striving for perfection but not getting there- perfection being only godly thoughts and actions, any family member who does not live up to Mormon standards forever breaks the “sealed” family- this meant to create guilt towards loved ones for not adhering to teachings, fear of the future without the group- if you leave then you’ll go to hell, you’ll be possessed, you’ll go insane, you’re life will be wrought by accidents. Ex-Mormons are shunned. People who leave are viewed as “weak”, “undisciplined”, “seduced by money, sex, and ungodliness”.
Scientology- fear of becoming an “SP”, shunning, guilt of negative “thetans” and not unlocking hidden human abilities, anyone who disagrees with teachings “misunderstood” and must reread material over and over until they “understand”, guilt and shame for not “understanding”
JWs- JWs are not perfect but the Organization as a whole is perfect, fear of disfellowshipping, fear of being labeled “spiritually weak”, fear of being led by own heart- distrust of even self, group uses guilt and shame to force members into line- “must not stumble” other members. Public announcement of disfellowshipped and “reproved” members. Jehovah is a happy god, must be happy when associating with other JWs, when preaching. Special feelings for finding the cramped and narrow path- being a part of the special few. Stories told on stage of people who leave and fair badly as a way to scare JWs from leaving. Fear of demons attached to music, shows, and items. Doing more in the work of the Lord is the only way to happiness. Guilt for not worshipping “whole-souled”. Fear of not being strong enough when Great Tribulation hits. Fear of death at Armageddon.