I am currently a baptized Jehovah's Witness in my mid-20's, although since I haven't proselytized in over 6 months, I am in “inactive” status with the church. Even though I would have denied it until last week, I stopped believing in the Watchtower Society and God over a year ago. I'm still wrestling out of my denial phase.
As a child, my beliefs set me apart from the other students in my class. I could not join them in holiday or birthday celebrations, and my religious beliefs differed drastically. The evolution issue came up in high school. However, being in the midwestern United States, our community was very religious. When we were to start the Evolution section, the teacher proclaimed that he was going to teach it, but he himself didn't believe it, and none of us had to either. Needless to say, the unit was in-a-sense “glazed-over.” He even had a few copies of the Witnesses' book “Life–How Did It Get Here? By Evolution Or By Creation?” These standard Creationist mantras–most of which are based on a gross misunderstanding of Evolutionary Theory–provided a strong creationist argument that I believed was infallible.
The true seeds of my doubt were planted ironically by a Watchtower publication: the book entitled “Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy.” Its teachings are littered with vast leaps in logic, making connections to modern events the same way a cold-reading charlatan like John Edward or Silvia Browne would. When I remembered the Watchtower magazine articles about the vague prophecies of false prophets, then compared this with the prophecies of the Bible itself, I saw absolutely no difference. So, I began to look further.
I had known about the atrocities committed by God in the Old Testament (or the “Hebrew Scriptures” as Witnesses refer to them). For a while, I reacted to this with a Gnostic viewpoint (the God of the OT is not the same God of the NT). I was taught that God is always perfect and just, and that if he kills someone, it is divine justice, and therefore inherently perfect and just. This reasoning stopped making sense. It was then I decided that I cannot worship a God who endorses murder, rape, slavery, and torture.
When I heard your famous quote ('The God of the Old Testament is….a malevolent bully'), I was ecstatic. Finally, someone else noticed the things I had. It so eloquently stated what has been in my heart for the past several years. As I begun to break free from Watchtower conditioning, I began to see how silly this whole God idea is.
Withdrawing from the Witnesses though is a completely different manner. Being a JW is not an aspect of your life, it IS your life. Being raised “in the truth,” I have shunned friendships outside the group for all of my life. The Watchtower doctrine controls everything: what you do, what you wear (not strictly, we're just encouraged to dress “modestly”), who your friends are, and believe it or not, even your facial hair! If I were to declare my atheism to anyone in the group, I would be disfellowshipped (i.e. excommunicated). This means that no JW, not my friends, and not even my own family, is allowed to say one word to me. Publicly admitting my Atheist beliefs will mean the loss of my friends and family, so needless to say, it is not something I'm going to do lightly.
To be fair, being a Jehovah's Witness aided my life quite a bit. I do not fear public speaking due to my minister training in the church since the age of 8. I know the meaning of formal dress, and can even tie Windsor and Pratt knots (most people my age have rarely worn formal attire). Years of dealing with the general public have enabled me to relate with people. There are many, many other benefits to my life this religion has blessed me with. All of this, however, does not prove it true.
When I wake up in the morning, I weep for the extreme loss than I am about to endure. Without people like you providing reinforcement, I would be lost. You, and others remind me that there is sanity, logic, and rationality in this world. There is something beyond dogma and mind control, and lastly, it's okay to say “I don't know.” Admitting ignorance is far better than spreading ignorance.
P.S. I am blogging my transition period for anyone who would be interested in reading it. I don't see a lot of stories about Jehovah's Witnesses leaving religion altogether (most join another church, or even remain believers in Witness doctrine when they are expelled).