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Category Archives: JW doctrine

Waking Up, Part 2 – The Final Straw

Years slipped by, but every time I thought about the Watchtower Society’s pedophilia issue I felt a pang of conscience.  Nothing was being done!  Nothing was changing.  Children were being abused and the perpetrators were not being disciplined nor was law enforcement being involved in the majority of cases.  How could this be happening in God’s Only True Organization?

I was disgusted.  My meeting attendance, already slipping, dwindled.  In 2001 my father passed away after a very short illness.  He had been the Presiding Overseer in our congregation for some 14 years but had moved away about a year before his death.   The elders are supposed to make a “condolence call” on a congregation member who has lost a relative.  Nobody came.  One elder called, but all he wanted was some demographic information on my father to insert into his memorial talk.  None of the other elders called.  I was already more or less “marked.”   Very few congregation members came to the memorial service for my father.  I was furious.

My friend and her husband had written to the Society regarding the pedophilia issue to no avail, and my husband was deep into his “wait on Jehovah” mode.  I felt disgust.  By late 2003 I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not God’s chosen people.  Maybe they had been at one time, but not anymore.

At the Congregation Book Study we were studying the book, “Revelation – Its Grand Climax at Hand” for the third time.  With my newly unleashed skepticism I noticed that one whole section of the Revelation prophecy (regarding the seven trumpet blasts) was applied to the Watchtower Society without any scriptures cited for support.

Each trumpet blast was linked to a convention of the International Bible Students Association (later renamed Jehovah’s Witnesses) which at that period of time were usually held in Cedar Point, Ohio, and in particular a resolution passed at each of seven conventions in the late teens and early 1920s.  These resolutions were printed and distributed as widely as a small group of people could manage, which was pretty limited, as you might imagine.

Supposedly the trumpet blasts were to be heard worldwide and result in devastating consequences for whatever sector of society was being condemned.  It suddenly hit me that these resolutions could not be the trumpet blasts because they received limited distribution (certainly not worldwide) and accomplished nothing but possibly insulting a few people.  Big whoop.  It kind of reminded me of the proverbial ant railing against a freight train.

My father-in-law (a JW from 1953 until his death in 2013) used to be fond of saying, “It’s amazing how a bunch of old ladies sitting under the trees in Cedar Point fulfilled bible prophecy.”  He said it as a joke, but now it hit home.   What a load of crap!  Why should this puny group of people think they’re God’s chosen messengers?  Honestly, a lot of Revelation sounds like the ravings of a man on a bad trip from ingesting psychedelic mushrooms.

So, now the dam was breached.  If that piece of what the Watchtower Society taught was a nothing but hooey then what about the rest of it?  I remembered my lessons from geometry class that if one part of a statement was untrue, the whole statement was untrue.  I was very disillusioned and angry.  My husband tried to “help” me by instituting a family study, something he had neglected for some time.  I had to go along with him because he was my spiritual “head.”

However, the process had begun.  Little by little, the cracks in the “dam” widened.

At about the same time, I joined an online message board for fans of a particular singer.  I had never been anybody’s fan before (fandom is strongly discouraged as a form of idolatry), but I was captivated.  This was 2003, and the Watchtower Society had not yet realized the danger posed by the Internet, so nothing but the vaguest counsel had been given about joining online communities.

The forum allowed me an outlet for writing, and I was receiving praise from my fellow board members who enjoyed my posts.  All of a sudden, I felt powerful for the first time in my life.  I had a gift!  Strength flowed through my veins and energized my torpid mind.

I couldn’t read The Watchtower magazine any longer; it contained too much “Hurray for us and the rest of you are nothing but dead meat” rhetoric.  The meetings were becoming intolerable.  The kingdom hall was awash in hypocrisy.  The whole thrust of the blathering from the platform was numbers, numbers, numbers.  How many hours did you get in field service?  How many books or magazines did you place?  How many meetings have you missed?  How many years have you been faithful?   Whatever happened to the emphasis on Christian qualities and becoming more Christ-like?

Many times, partway through the meeting I would feel a pressure in my head like it was going to explode.  I’d gather my books and head for the door.  Luckily, we lived close enough that I could walk home.

I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the ministry, trying to convince people that JWs were God’s people and that they should join up.  It was all lies.

I bucked my husband’s headship and decided independently to take a trip to meet some of my message board friends and attend a concert with them.  I didn’t ask; I told him I was going.

I had the best time of my life meeting my friends and attending the concert (we’re all still friends 10 years later and get together frequently).  It dawned on me that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hold a corner on the market of being “nice” and “good” people.   These ladies were kinder and more loving than most of the JWs I knew.  That realization really caused my head to explode.

When I came home, I was a changed woman.  My husband saw it, and it angered him.  He was one who kept his anger bottled up, and it showed in passive-aggressive ways.  Now I could see that he was very deeply angry.  One night he had an issue with the computer and asked me for help.  I came to his aid, but he was already furious.  At one point, I looked into his eyes and saw that he wanted to kill me.  I’d lived with the man for nearly 27 years.  I had never been afraid of him (despite his frequent flirtations with homicidal rage – long story) but now I was terrified.  I was going to become the subject of one of those tragic headlines: “Puzzled neighbors say man who murdered his wife was a ‘nice guy.’”

I contacted my friends on the message board and my BFF, and we devised a plan to get me out of there.  I left in the middle of the day less than a week later and never looked back.  A few days later I delivered my letter of disassociation to the kingdom hall.   That was nine years ago this month.

In the aftermath, of course, I have no contact with my mother and brother who live 5000 miles away.  I divorced my husband and he remarried a few years later.  I’ve recently reconnected with my paternal extended family (after 40 years), so I don’t feel so much like a speck floating in the universe.   I’ve discovered the world is not a dark forest of terrors as the JWs would have their members believe.  Demons do not lurk behind every tree and parked car.  People are just plain folks, not slavering minions of Satan.  There is beauty to be found in each precious day of life which is especially enhanced because I’m enjoying it with a free mind.

Waking Up

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One of the oddest things about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what happens when a JW “wakes up” and discovers TTATT (the truth about The Truth).

This awakening is a long process.  It starts with a niggling doubt, some teaching that just doesn’t quite sit right.  Maybe it’s a change in a teaching, what the Society calls “New Light.”  For me, it was a change in a core teaching about when The End would come.

The Watchtower Society has taught for well over 100 years that Jesus gave his followers a clue as to when the end would come.   In Matthew 24 his disciples asked him for a sign that the end was near.  Jesus described a whole laundry list of not-so-remarkable events (wars, earthquakes, etc.) to watch for.  Then he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things occur.”

Mix together a vague prophecy, some devil-may-care chronology, a belief that God is communicating only with you, and a whole heap of hubris, stir well.  Yield:  An adjustable end-time teaching.  Serve relentlessly.   Without getting into nitty-gritty detail, the Watchtower Society had taught that the “time of the end” began in 1914 (with a whole lot of emphasis on WWI), and since Jesus had said that the end would come within the lifetime of a generation, it is logical to conclude that the system would end in the 20th century.  Many times in their literature they stated outright that the end would come before the new millennium.

Fun fact:  The Watchtower Society holds that God’s truth is revealed gradually, only when Jesus’ followers are ready for it.  They cite a handy scripture in Proverbs 4:18 that says that the light gets brighter and brighter, even though that scripture is not talking about doctrine, and is probably mistranslated in their Bible.  In any case, all JWs get really excited whenever there is “new light” in the Watchtower magazine.

Around about 1995, the Society could hear their chronological clock ticking and came out with some “new light” about the meaning of the word “generation.”  It was so murky and illogical that I can’t even remember exactly what their argument was.  It had something to do with the definition of the word “generation” that made it possible for any group of contemporaries to be part of a “generation.”   The moment I heard it I said, “We’re going to see the year 2000 in this system.”  I recognized it as a maneuver.  An organization that claims to be the sole conduit of God’s Truth shouldn’t need to maneuver,  shouldn’t find it necessary to overturn a doctrine that had stood for nearly a century just to save face (and they’ve changed the understanding of “generation” twice more since then).   That realization started the ball rolling for me.  It took another nine years for the ball to strike the pins.

During those nine years I started noticing cracks in the Christian personalities of those around me.  I saw politics and cliques at work, elders who hardly ever used their Bible when giving talks, and just general hypocrisy.  I was irritated.  Luckily, I was not alone.  I had a friend who shared my irritation.  Once she and I discovered our mutual growing antipathy we started to get together regularly for what we called “natter” sessions where we would express our feelings about the organization freely without worrying that the other one would turn us in to the elders.

I had known for several years that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a big problem with pedophilia.  Of course, in any microcosm you’re going to see a cross-section of the human condition, but there was a much bigger problem with JWs, and it still exists.  Their procedure for dealing with accusations of pedophilia does not involve law enforcement, nor is it likely the perpetrator will ever be disciplined for his actions.  Here’s why:  Even as recently as October 1, 2012 the Watchtower’s stated procedure when an accusation of child abuse is brought to the elders’ attention is for the elders to contact their local branch office of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  The branch will give them instructions.  Under no circumstances are the elders or the accusers to contact the police.   In other words, keep it hushed up.

Within the congregation, the elders can convene a judicial committee only if there are two witnesses to the offense.  When does that ever happen in a case of child molestation?  I’ll tell you – never.  The perpetrator is considered innocent of the charge, and it is quite possible that the accuser will be the one in hot water for making an unsubstantiated accusation.

I knew of a situation in a neighboring congregation where this very situation existed.  There was more than one report of a young man in the congregation, an elder’s son, molesting younger boys, sometimes even in the kingdom hall.  Because nothing could be done to discipline the young man, he was free to prowl the congregation and snatch more victims.  Outraged parents took their children and started attending my congregation, even though it was a long drive for them.  Some of them actually packed up their households and moved to my town because their home congregation had become a dangerous place.

When I found out what was happening I was completely outraged.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse myself (although it happened before I became a JW) I couldn’t understand how God’s organization could permit such a situation to continue.  Maybe the boys in Brooklyn didn’t know about it.  Shouldn’t we tell them?  Of course, being a woman, any letter I sent to headquarters would be sent back to the elders in my congregation.  I asked my husband at the time to write, but he decided he would “leave it in Jehovah’s hands.”   My faith was strong then, so I went along with his decision, but the idea that there were children suffering shattering emotional trauma was impossible to ignore.

If you are outraged that a mind-control cult is harboring pedophiles, please view this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcIC4g5tulw and visit this Facebook page:  The Association of Anti-Watchtower Activists

Next week:  The Final Straw

You Can Go Back – But It’ll Cost You

 

Continuing from last week’s post, “Here Come Da Judge.”

 

So, basically, your entire world has just crashed into shards at your feet.  None of your friends at the kingdom hall can talk to you, not even your family members.  You are considered to be a wicked person, a danger to the faithful.  How you wish you could run into your mom’s arms and be comforted, but your mom is a woman of strong faith in the organization.  She believes that by isolating you she is performing a great act of love.  She hopes that you will feel enough pain that you will do whatever is necessary to be reinstated.  Well, it’s working.

Sitting at home that weekend you realize you have a long haul ahead of you.  Even the most repentant sinners can expect at least six months of cold shoulders before they can apply for reinstatement.   You decide you’ll just pull up your big girl panties and deal with it.

Still, it niggles in the back of your mind.  How can three men sit in judgment on you and then separate you from your own mother and your best friend?  You’re not a wicked person, just an idiot who had too much to drink one night and made a mistake.

In order to be reinstated, you will have to acknowledge the gravity of your sin, display works befitting repentance (read: grovel), show up at all of the meetings (however, be the last one there and the first to leave) and sit quietly in the back of the hall.  And the elders will assign a “spiritually mature” sister to study with one or two of the Watchtower Society’s publications.  Ultimately, you will have to meet with the same three elders who kicked you out in the first place to ask for forgiveness.

This will be difficult.  Brother Rigid has always had it out for you.  He doesn’t like any display of individuality, like the time you tried a temporary hair color.  It was just auburn, for pity’s sake – well, maybe a tad redder than the usual auburn.  He threatened your father with the loss of his congregation privileges if he allowed it to continue.  Even Dad thought that Brother Rigid was being overbearing.   You spent a long afternoon washing your hair over and over to remove the color and spent the next year boring angry holes into the back of his head during the meetings.  Every time that man looked at you he frowned.  Your clothes were immodest.  Your pocketbook was too trendy.  You caught hell for buying a tiny two-door car that is not suitable for field service.  Groveling to that [expletive deleted] is going to be painful.

Every meeting is painful because you see your family sitting there but you can’t approach them.  So, you plug away for six months, keeping your head down at the meetings, wearing only the most modest clothes, playing the part of a repentant sinner, and enduring weekly study sessions with Sister Smug.  She insists you come to her house, so there’s that weekly encounter with Brother Smug and the Smugettes, who whisper and titter before scuttling away like you’re the Devil himself.

At the meetings, anyone who has to get up to use the rest room walks past you.  All of them avert their eyes, but there are a few spiteful sisters who make a show of it, snapping their heads around.  Then there are the inevitable encounters at the grocery store.  Sister Wasp and her two young children round the end of an aisle, nearly crashing into you.  The children cower behind their mother’s coat and she looks annoyed by the encounter.  How dare you bring your sinful self to the same store she patronizes?  Oh, and the excruciating gas station encounter with Brother Bombast!  You were filling up your tank, and he pulled up to the pump directly across from you.  The man’s face turned bright red.  You stopped short of a full tank and drove off as quickly as you could.

Finally, after six months of torture you approach the elders and request reinstatement.   A date is set for them to meet with you and discuss it.  At the meeting they interrogate you about your lifestyle.  Have you been frequenting bars?  Do you have a boyfriend?  A sexual partner?  You answer every prying little question in a respectful voice with a little weeping thrown in for effect.  They tell you that Sister Smug reports that you have done well on your study.  They see that you haven’t missed a meeting, even coming when you had the flu.  They dismiss you so that they can talk it over.

Again you wait alone in the cavernous kingdom hall while three men decide your fate.  You can’t take another six months of this.  Please, please, let them vote for reinstatement.

Finally, they call you back in.  They tell you they have decided that you qualify for reinstatement, and it will be announced at the Thursday meeting.

Thursday evening rolls around.  As usual, you take your seat of shame in the back.  About halfway through the meeting Brother Elder #2 gets up on the platform and reads a brief announcement saying that you have been reinstated.  Ten heads turn to look at you, a couple of them smiling.

The meeting ends and you’re swamped.  First, you mother weeps all over you, then your little sister.  Dad gives you a hug and his loving smile.  Then it’s your BFF’s turn.  After that, Sister Smug squeezes out a few decorous tears and hugs you.  Then, Sister Wasp gushes, “Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

Eh?   You decide you’ll wait until you get home to roll your eyes.

Meanwhile, there are handshakes and hugs and a few more tears.  You’re back.

 

 

We Now Return to Our Regular Program

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Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to live a modest life and be content with simple things.  This is so that they can throw themselves into their service to Jehovah.  They are discouraged from pursuing wealth, fame, or even a career because these things will tend to draw them away from God.  It’s called a “theocentric” life and is the source of true happiness.  In return, God will make sure they have everything they need.

There are a gajillion stories in the Bible about how Jehovah provided for this prophet or that widow.  One prophet had fled to the barren desert to escape the wrath of an evil queen, and Jehovah sent ravens to him to provide him with food.  God provides for the sparrows – why would He not provide for you?  During a famine one faithful servant of God found herself with an inexhaustible supply of cooking oil and flour.

Jesus himself said, at the conclusion of a parable on the folly of pursuing wealth, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.”

My ex-husband and I were very sincere in our beliefs.  We were always looking for ways to improve ourselves and boost our spirituality and usefulness to Jehovah.  In return, we believed that we would be cared for by the god we worshiped.

Hubby’s parents raised him as a JW.  They envisioned him rising quickly through the organization to become a circuit overseer or district overseer – maybe even becoming a bigwig at Bethel.  Consequently, he would not need to learn a trade.  In any case, the end was so near that he wouldn’t have to worry about it.  In fact, his parents were told that he wouldn’t graduate high school before the end came.

I should add that he’s 61 years old now.  Whoa, talk about your failed prophecy.

My parents were more practical, pushing me to take typing and business classes in school so I was always able to find work.  However, it was never enough to support the two of us because I was determined to follow the counsel from Brooklyn – it’s not a career, it’s just a job.  I worked in a number of different industries – insurance, banking, oil, medicine, and always got terrific performance reviews, but I never got much farther than entry level in any one of them.  Just when I was getting somewhere we ended up moving because hubby couldn’t hold a job, partly because he had no skills and partly because of his daddy issues (couldn’t deal with male authority).  To be fair, I should add that he did eventually settle into a decent job, and as far as I know he’s still working there.

We focused on doing the divine will by faithfully serving Big J and being good Christians according to WTS teachings (hubby was working toward becoming an elder), but we were always barely scraping by.

In the midst of one particularly lean period of time I was sitting in my seat between sessions at a district convention chatting with two sisters from my congregation.  They were discussing the new ring one of them had just been given by her husband and the Disney vacation the other was going to take after the convention.

Now, wait a ding-dong minute here.

Hubby and I were working our tails off being good servants of Jehovah, but we were driving a 20-year-old clunker, living in a two-room apartment where water froze on the floor in the winter, and sometimes eating only rice.  And here were two less-than-average publishers (oops, got a tad judgmental there) who were enjoying luxuries.

Being a well-programmed JW my first thought was that we must be doing something right if Satan were testing us so savagely.  My second thought was, “What are we – chopped liver?”  Why are we clawing our way through the mud while these two chicks are gliding in style down Easy Street?

What I wanted to do at that moment was throw myself onto a fainting couch a la Scarlett O’Hara and weep bitter tears, but what I did was smile and nod and reprove myself for my momentary lapse into selfish thinking.

I had to remind myself that serving Jehovah is its own reward.  I mean, maybe my material circumstances were threadbare, but I was living the best way of life, right?  I had the spiritual paradise at the kingdom hall, I had a clean conscience, I had Jehovah’s approval, I had a good marri…well, I didn’t know any better back then.  That’s it – focus on the positive.  Focus on hubby’s good qualities, focus on the fact that you indeed have food to eat and a roof over your head, focus on the important disciple-making work, focus on the glorious future you have before you – the New System where everything will be perfect.

There, that’s better.  Hubby returned to his seat next to me and the afternoon program started, completely diverting all of my troubled thoughts.

I was back to my regular program.

 

 

Getting Baptized

Sorry I’m late with this post!

 

Baptism is a huge, ginormous deal to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Without that ritual dunking you won’t survive Armageddon, and you won’t get the title “Brother” or “Sister.”  In fact, at one congregation I visited the Watchtower Study conductor made a point of calling on children and unbaptized people as “Mr.” or “Miss” rather than simply using their first names as most other congregations do.

In my case, Dad dragged us into the cult in the early 1970s at a time when JWs were trumpeting from the housetops that Armageddon would come in 1975 (or possibly earlier than that – we don’t know Jehovah’s timetable after all).   My brother and I were 10 and 12 respectively when Dad started studying, and a year older when he and Mom got baptized.  That’s when the pressure started.

There was an understanding that a child who had reached the “age of reason” no longer fell under the parental umbrella of safety from Jehovah’s judgment.  Since little brother and I were fairly sharp kids Dad felt that we had reached that age and needed to be baptized post-haste.  The trouble with that idea was that our “Bible study” had not kept pace with the folks, so we were not knowledgeable enough to correctly answer the pre-baptism questions.

We kids still had to finish studying our first book, “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life” and then study the second book, “True Peace and Security – From What Source?”  Dad undertook the job of teaching us ( at our weekly family study) what he and Mom had only just learned themselves.  He also started quizzing us on the questions for baptism and reviewing the answers at the dinner table.  These questions and their answers were printed in a book that only baptized JWs and those preparing for baptism could own.  At the time there were 80 questions, and you had to know the scriptures that supported the answers.

Over the next year we received the parental indoctrination and even studied together at other times so that by the end of 1973 we could parrot the answers.  Then the two of us had to individually approach one of the elders and request baptism.  I was completely terrified of most men, and especially of the elders, but I managed to gather my courage and squeak out my request.

The elders arranged to divide up the ordeal into three sessions, one conducted by each of the three elders, and little brother and I were allowed to do the questions together instead of separately.  The elder I feared the most happened to come on a week when I had a nasty case of laryngitis and took every opportunity to poke fun at my croaking answers.  I was a shy, sensitive kid who took herself extremely seriously.  It was all I could do to choke down the tears.

We passed, thank goodness.  The reviews of those questions ranks right up there with my driver’s test as one of the most terrifying events of my life.  There was a circuit assembly coming up in January, so that’s when we’d get dunked.

The day arrived.  It happened that the circuit assembly was taking place at my high school, so it was a little bit surreal to see the place crowded with JWs instead of my classmates.  Usually, at a circuit assembly there are around 5 to 10 people baptized, tops.  That year, however, was 1974.  At that assembly there were 119 people baptized, most of them teenaged children of parents frantic to get their kids protected from the wrath of God by a quick splash in a pool.

We sat through the baptism talk, and at the end we had to stand up as a group and answer two questions:

Have you recognized yourself before Jehovah God as a sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him the Father through his Son Jesus Christ? 

On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightenment of the holy spirit?”

In unison we shouted, “Yes!” to each question.  Interestingly, I hadn’t actually dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer.  For some reason nobody had told me I needed to do that.

After a prayer a song was sung as the baptismal candidates marched out of the auditorium.  The song wasn’t long enough for all of us to make it out of the auditorium, so they had to punt and announce a second song.  That never happened again at any assembly I attended.

Since the high school did not have a pool, we had to go to the local Boys’ Club for our dunking.  We went down to the locker rooms which for some reason were flooded with a half inch of ice cold water.  It was a challenge to get my pantyhose and undies off without getting them wet.  I changed into my “modest” bathing suit, grabbed a towel, and got into line with everyone else.  The males managed to change more quickly and were being dunked first.   The pool had been squeezed into a small space, so there was just a narrow ledge around the edge for us to walk on.  I was afraid I’d slip in, so I hugged the wall.

As I got closer and closer I could see that there was no ladder leading into the pool, so a couple of burly brothers were grabbing each candidate by the arms and lowering them into the pool.  A couple more were on the other side hauling everyone out.

Once in the water and therefore center stage (an uncomfortable place for me) I made my way toward one of the three brothers in the pool.  I was so flustered that I didn’t even notice that my father was one of the baptizers that day until he called my name.

I went over to him and followed his directions for how to hold my arms and my nose at the same time.  Then he tipped me backwards and under I went.  He wanted a hug, but all I could think of was getting the heck out of that pool and out of the spotlight.  He pulled me in anyway and then I made my way over to the burly brothers who hoisted my chubby body out quite easily.  The ledge on that side of the pool was even narrower, and with water pouring into my eyes from my wet hair I barely made it back to the locker room without incident.

Putting the pantyhose back on while standing in the water was my next challenge.  I spent the afternoon with wet feet as well as wet hair.

Once I got back to the lobby of the Boys’ Club I was surrounded by a group of elderly sisters from our congregation who were all crying and exclaiming, “By your own father!”  Honestly, I didn’t think it was such a big deal.  It was just a ritual I’d had to get through and now it was over.  Come to think of it, I experienced the same detachment on my wedding day.  Hmmm.

Little brother had been dunked by Dad as well, and met the same weeping contingent upon his arrival at the lobby.  Then Dad and Mom showed up, along with the newly dunked single guy we’d driven over to the baptism site.  He sat in the front seat and sobbed quietly all the way back to the high school.  I didn’t understand why everyone was so emotional.

It’s common nowadays for JWs to throw a party to celebrate baptism, but back then nobody did that.  We went back to the high school and ate the institutional food being served.  At home that evening there wasn’t even a congratulatory pat on the back from the parents, cake, or even a special meal.  Just a normal day.

That night I got down on my knees and dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer, but I always felt funny about the fact that I wasn’t actually dedicated when I got baptized.

 

 

Unfriending Your Family

When you start studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses at first it’s all paradise in a New World, resurrection of dead loved ones, perfect health, and end of wickedness.  You’re pumped.  Wow, why hasn’t the rest of the world found out about this?  I have to share this with my family members!

So, positively vibrating with excitement, you pounce on any relative unfortunate enough to be living near you and perform a data dump of all your new beliefs.  While the poor relative is still spluttering in horror you tell them how wonderful all of the love bombing is and what nice people JWs are.

Finally pausing to take a breath, you wonder why your grandma isn’t jumping up and down clapping her hands at the joyous news.  In fact, her eyebrows are doing that thing where a deep  vertical crease forms over the bridge of her nose.  This reaction does not compute.  Instead of the program happily running, you’re getting the equivalent of the blue screen of death.

Recovering her grandma composure she says, “Well, dear, that’s wonderful for you.  Would you like a cookie?” and shuffles out to the kitchen.

Okay, well, that’s grandma.  Maybe she missed her meds this morning.  You try the same tactic with your brother who asks if you’re going to be moving into a compound somewhere in Montana with all the other loonies in your group and warns against accepting any Kool-Aid.

It’s the same all around the family circle.  Nobody believes any of the hoo-hah you’re preaching at them, and some even warn you against joining because they heard that JWs break up families.  You cheerfully brush that comment off by saying that JWs are very family oriented and actually strengthen familial bonds.

Even your best friend isn’t having any of it, especially since you turn every single conversation into a witnessing session.  She longs for the days when you could talk about muffin recipes, cellulite, and what in the world was Betty Jo thinking when she wore that low-cut blouse to your son’s birthday party?  Pretty soon you find that your BFF is hanging around with Betty Jo instead of you.

But it’s worse in your own household.  Not only does your spouse not want to listen to your constant babbling, but he also complains that you’re out at meetings and field service all the time and are neglecting him and the kids.  Then he lays the big one on you – he doesn’t want his children going to those damned meetings.  One of them is on a school night and he has to employ high explosives to separate the kids from their beds the next morning.

You run to the JW who is studying with you (we’ll call her Mary) and tell the dismal tale of family opposition.   Mary pats you on the arm and reassures you that this happens all the time and is a test of your loyalty to Jehovah.  Satan is using your relatives to discourage you from pursuing true worship.  Whom will you choose in the war for universal sovereignty – Satan or Jehovah?  Well, duh.

Your newly minted faith is strong, and your new support system, the love bombers, offer hugs and stories of others who have survived similar storms of opposition.  They pepper you with scriptures showing that Jesus himself warned his followers that they would encounter opposition from family members.  The good news is that even if your family members pull away you will find substitute mothers and fathers and children among Jehovah’s people.

You steel yourself to stand firmly on Jehovah’s side.  The issue of universal sovereignty is bigger than family or so-called “friends.”  And, really – Betty Jo?  Hrmph.

None of your former associates can stand to spend 5 minutes in your presence, no matter how much they love you.  It’s like you bathed in Eau de Skunk bubble bath.  So, you throw yourself into the congregation and theocratic activities with the love bombers who think you smell like a rose.

Then comes the first family holiday.  You can’t go because you no longer celebrate it.  Grandma’s 90th birthday – no can do.  Your niece’s wedding, which will be held in a church with the reception in the basement.  That’s interfaith, so you can’t attend.   After an angry phone call from your highly offended sister you are now the pariah of the family.

And that’s how it happens.  You’ve lost your family and friends.  Your formerly happy marriage is on the rocks, and you have no one to turn to but the JWs in the congregation.  Welcome to your new life.

Armageddon

Armageddon – From a book for children

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fearful people.  They fear the demons.  They fear what will happen to them if they ever leave the cult.  They fear displeasing Jehovah or, more importantly, the elders.  They fear disfellowshipping.  And they fear Armageddon.

Armageddon, as defined by JW theology, is God’s day of wrath when he sends his son, Jesus Christ, to destroy the present system of things and all of the wicked people in it.  As seen in the above illustration taken from Learn From the Great Teacher, page 243, this day will be filled with violence and death, but those who please Jehovah will be kept safe – maybe.

When I was a JW I used to wince at these lurid pictures and wonder how a loving God could inflict such terror and pain on his human children.  JWs don’t believe in hellfire; they say a God of love would not torment humans for eternity.  I preferred to picture it as more of an instant death for everyone, all at the same time.  No need to terrorize them (really, that’s more serial killer-ish, don’t you think?).

However, in Watchtower publications every illustration of Armageddon involves huge fireballs falling from the sky, crumbling skyscrapers, people screaming in terror and running for their lives.  Some of the drawings depict smiling JWs walking away from the burning piles of flesh and concrete, faces raised and arms extended in praise to their God.  What a wonderful…..

Wait a ding-danged minute here!  These smiling people have just witnessed their God killing millions of children, along with adults (including some of their own relatives), because they were deemed to be wicked.  What was the criterion on which this verdict was reached?  Whether they had accepted or rejected the message of JWs. How can you smile about that?

Actually, JWs are keenly anticipating the day that you die a horrible death at the hands of a wrathful God. That is the teaching of Armageddon in a nutshell.

Oh, but wait, there’s more.  After Armageddon there will be billions of dead bodies lying around which will be eaten by vultures and their ilk.  Lovely thought, that.  As times goes on, squads will be dispatched to bury the bones. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the survivors will have to clean up the mess that God made.  Mind you, those fireballs have probably damaged the infrastructure, and the highways will be clogged with abandoned cars, and are there working toilets?  And think about this – since all industry has come to an abrupt halt, how will the survivors power the necessary tools, like bulldozers and jackhammers?  Is there any chocolate?  Really, the issues they will face are very serious.

Ask an active JW about this and they will tell you, “Jehovah will see to it that we have everything we need.”  In fact, their focus is on the paradise to come, not practical matters. 

To add insult to injury, they may even have picked your house as one they want to own after you’re dead.

Just a Spoonful of Sugar…

 

 

One of your first experiences upon attending a meeting at a kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what cult experts call “love bombing.”  Usually, a new recruit will be introduced around by the publisher who is studying with them and much solicitous clucking will ensue accompanied by a warm smile, widened eyes, and an “it’s so nice to see you here.”  That’s phase one.

Phase two will commence once the new recruit has started attending regularly.  Suddenly, their social life explodes with invitations to dinner, get-togethers, ice cream after the meeting, and so forth.  Everyone at the hall is their friend.   At this point it will be nearly impossible to extricate the new recruit from the grasp of “The Truth” (this is what JWs call their religion).

Prior to studying with JWs my family had virtually no social life outside of the extended family.  My mother certainly didn’t have friends, and my father’s friends were all workmates.   Mom hated to entertain with a nearly thermonuclear passion, so there were no dinner parties at home except for the occasional family Thanksgiving dinner (which I think happened only once in those 12 years).  Dad, on the other hand, loved to entertain a crowd and he was the soul of hospitality.

Things changed dramatically once we started attending meetings.  We were nearly suffocated in the enthusiastic embrace of the congregation.  Suddenly, we had 60 friends, all of whom lighted up when they saw us.  That’s heady stuff.  Sometimes we’d be invited to come over after a meeting for popcorn and some fellowship.  During these visits our new friends would tell their experiences about finding The Truth or fill our heads with JW urban legends.

The effect of all of this was to make us feel like we had a place in the congregation.  We had found something rare and wonderful.  The love bombing was the chocolate coating that made the weird doctrine go down easier.

Our entry into the cult was swift; altogether it took only about 6 months before we were sufficiently drunk on love to become fully committed.  The local elders desperately needed more help with their duties and figured out pretty quickly that my father was a sucker for flattery and prominence.  They arranged for my folks to get baptized at a circuit assembly 200 miles away so that he’d be qualified to be recommended as a ministerial servant during the next circuit overseer’s visit in three months.  One of the qualifications is to be “not a newly converted man.”   I think they fudged that one, because three months is a pretty short time for a new JW to marinate properly.  Less than two years later, dear old Dad was promoted to elder and we were well and truly entrenched.

As you might expect, once a “new one” has become one of the regulars, the love bombing tapers off.   In our case, however, since Dad was in a position of prominence, we didn’t go through the post-love-bomb letdown experienced by most of those who join JWs.

By the time the letdown comes along you’re convinced that Armageddon is tomorrow and that if you leave The Truth you’ll be miserable and die.   It has also been pounded into your head that if you are unhappy it’s your own fault because you obviously haven’t been studying enough, praying enough, preaching enough, and attending every single meeting.  And that’s when you pull up your spiritual maturity panties and deal with it.

Up the Creek Without an iPad

In their literature Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize spirituality.  “Spirituality” is loosely defined as a constant awareness of one’s standing with Jehovah – fear of God.  If you are spiritually mature your life will reflect it.  However, as the prophet Madonna sagaciously pointed out, we live in a material world.  We have to make a living in order to put a roof over our heads and food on the table.  How can we balance the material and the spiritual?  How should your life look if you are pursuing the spiritual over the material?

First of all, let’s consider your means of living – your job.   As JWs are told repeatedly, your vocation is the ministry; your secular job is your avocation.  Notice that I did not use the word “career.”  As the Governing Body frequently reminds us, pursuing a career in this dying old system of things is like booking a first class cabin on the Titanic.  Therefore, the purpose of a job is to support you in the ministry.  The unhappier you are in it the better.

Your home should be modest, which is pretty much guaranteed if you follow the above advice.  Your clothing should likewise be modest, presentable business attire.  Now, here’s where we run into one of those prickly little contradictions.  The Bible mentions that when the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus’ clothing from him they noticed that he had a very expensive robe, “without a seam, woven whole from the top down.” (John 19:23, 24)  In today’s parlance, Jesus wore a designer robe.  The lesson we can draw from this, brothers and sisters, is that it’s not wrong to have nice things, but since you have a crappy job you’ll have to find them in a second-hand shop.

Now, there are those who become JWs later in life and already have a well-paying job and all the trappings of an upscale life, and there are others who have good business sense and managed to build up their window washing or janitorial service into a thriving concern.  Should the other members of the congregation judge such ones as being materialistic?  Heavens, no.  You can be a spiritual giant and still have all the material goodies, but don’t make that your goal.

The Bible is loaded with advice like, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) And then there’s this oft-misquoted gem, “for the love of money is the root of all [evil] (the JW Bible says “all sorts of injurious things”), and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”  JWs interpret all of this to mean that if they put the ministry first, along with the meetings, Bible study, etc., Jehovah will see to it that they have the necessities of life.

My ex-husband’s parents were good JWs and believed it when they were told that Armageddon would come in 1975, and even if that didn’t happen their son would work his way up in the Watchtower organization to become a Circuit Overseer (CO).  COs are full-time ministers and receive a small stipend from the Watchtower Society.  When they visit a congregation for a week, the congregation covers their expenses.  They are even provided with a very nice car.  So, no job necessary.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen.  Consequently, we were always just barely eking out a living.  In fact, by 1983, having passed through several very bad years, the only furniture we had was a table and chairs.  We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

In the 1980s the Watchtower Society began producing cassette tape recordings of Bible readings, Bible dramas, and even the Watchtower and Awake magazines.  We did not possess a cassette recorder, but we found ourselves under increasing pressure to buy one since we were missing out on valuable spiritual food, and we wanted to keep up with the organization.  I remember feeling very irritated that the Watchtower Society had compelled us to scrape up the money to buy something that, at the time, was a new-fangled gadget, a luxury item, when we didn’t have the means to purchase a bed.

However, now the Society’s literature is available electronically at their web site, requiring everyone to purchase a computer and pay for an Internet connection.  Some brothers and sisters bring iPads to the meeting instead of actual books.  There was even an article in “The Kingdom Ministry” encouraging the use of tablet computers in the door-to-door ministry.  Once again, after years of discouraging the flock from pursuing the latest gadgets and encouraging them to be content with “sustenance and covering,” (1 Timothy 6:8) the Society is putting subtle pressure on them to purchase very expensive luxury items.  So which is it – seek first the kingdom and live in poverty, or pursue a career so you can afford to buy an iPad?  If I were still a JW I’d be heading for the door right about now.

Merry Christmas

As mentioned in a previous post, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas.  So, while most of their neighbors are ho-ho-ho-ing it up, what are JWs doing?  It depends.

Most JWs will treat the day like any other day in the year.   Some might work that day, giving a coworker the day off.  I used to do that all the time when I worked at a hospital.   We’d get a big shift differential on a holiday, so it paid off nicely.

Those who don’t have the option of working on that day might participate in the field ministry.  Just before every holiday, and Christmas in particular, the Watchtower Society sends everyone on a guilt trip, reminding them that they should be spending every spare moment in the field ministry, especially on days when the public’s mindset might be more religious.

My father always yielded to the pressure and dragged us out in the ministry on Christmas day. Since we lived in a very cold climate, we’d be tromping around, freezing our patooties off, knocking on doors just when people were enjoying a special breakfast or opening presents around the tree.  These poor souls opened the door, sending an arctic blast into the living room, and we could see pajama-clad family members inside, wrapping paper all over the floor.  I would groan inwardly but give my best JW smile to the understandably irritated householder whose reaction usually cut the visit short.  Then, on to bother the next family, and all the time I’m wondering why are we torturing ourselves and these people?  As an adult I avoided holiday witnessing as often as possible, praying for a blizzard.

There was one Christmas when some friends of ours invited my ex-husband and me to accompany them on a visit to Disney World in Florida.  We jumped at the chance, even though it meant camping for a few nights.  Would you believe it, one member of our party was such a zealot that she guilted us into not only a meeting at the local congregation, but also field service?  I remember thinking, “Dadblast it all! I’m on vacation!”  Oh, wait, JWs never take a vacation from serving Jehovah.  Silly me.  We gamely traipsed around a central Florida neighborhood for a couple of hours one afternoon before resuming our tryst with Mickey Mouse and the gang.

Some JWs suffer acutely from another type of guilt at Christmastime.  They feel that their children are being deprived of the fun that other children are having, so they kind of fudge it a bit.  They’ll have a “special day” celebration, which is essentially Christmas without the tree or decorations.  In order to fool themselves into believing that they’re not being unfaithful to God by their actions, they might hold the “special day” on December 26.   Way to find a loophole, people!

Since my family didn’t join the cult until I was 12 I had plenty of memories of Christmas; the family closeness, the aroma of balsam fir, singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve, and brightly wrapped presents clustered under the tree.  So, when we gave up Christmas I understood the reason, but I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic on Christmas Eve, especially if attending a meeting to attend took us out that night, seeing the twinkling lights on other people’s houses, perhaps catching a glimpse of a decorated tree through a living room window as we made our way home.  I would try to content myself with the knowledge that by eschewing Christmas I was pleasing Jehovah, but in my heart I couldn’t really accept that the holiday was evil.

Even now that I am no longer a Witness I still feel nostalgic for those long-ago Christmases when my brother and I would crank our parents out of bed at some ungodly hour and race downstairs to attack the tree.  Mom always made her special Hungarian nut bread, so we had a yummy breakfast.  Later, we would journey to Grandma’s or another relative’s house to enjoy Christmas dinner with the family.  The whole ritual made me feel safe and loved.  Now, what’s wrong with that?

I hope all of my readers have a wonderful holiday with their family and friends.  Merry Christmas!

julegran

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