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.