I was brought up by my Mother as a Jehovah's Witness.
I have not been a Jehovah's Witness for nearly 20 years now, but yesterday met up with a number of other ex Jehovah's Witnesses. This was organized by http://www.exjw-reunited.co.uk/ which is a great site and one that would recommend to any ex Jehovah's Witness and more importantly anyone still a member of that religion. At that meeting I realised just how abused and screwed up we all were. This is not just a religion it is an immoral cult. One of the attendees raised the point that he would love to publish his story with his real name but is worried about any backlash, I'm not so hear goes.
I have long realised that I was an abused child, and have occasionally been accused of overreacting, so was glad to see in one of your books where you agreed that childhood indoctrination is indeed abuse. Growing up we (Mother, 1 Brother and 1 Sister) spent 4 hours a week @ kingdom hall (their church), and 1 further hour in bible study at someone's home. On top of that we aslo had to walk the streets knocking on doors to preach gods message. All this from the age of 3 upwards.
We were taught that we were different to everyone else. That everyone else in the world was wrong, whether their world view was a scientific one or a religious one, if they weren't a jehovah's witness then they were wrong. That it was our job as being one of the few who truly understood god's will to go out and preach this drivel and bring more people into the fold (hence all the door knocking and watchtower selling). We were taught that we had to remain separate from 'The World' (everyone not jw) because they were under the influence of the devil. This isolation policy meant that we were encouraged not to socialise with worldly children because they were bad associations. Furthermore we had to sit in the corner of the school hall during assembly because they used to start with something we werent supposed to join in with (I cant remember now wether that was a prayer, hymn or national anthem, but it would have been one of those). We all know that kids can be cruel, having to publicly declare your differences to 1000 schoolkids every day is almost certain to result in a certain amount of bullying. We were also taught that we were in the 'Last Days', that jesus had returned invisibly to rule the earth in 1914 and was now preparing for Armageddon, God's final war against the satan. During Armageddon almost everyone would be killed. It was drummed into us daily that if you're not good if you dont follow the teachings of the Watchtower bible and tract society then you would die at Armageddon, and Armageddon is close, it could be tommorow. I'm sure you can imagine just how scary this is, most faiths require you to die and then receive judgement, not so here it just might be tommorow.
I was always interested in Science from being quite young. The one good thing Jehovah's witnesses always do, although for all the wrong reasons, is make sure their kids can read. As a child I read a lot and this is where I first started having doubts. How can you reconcile Dinosaurs, or Andromeda being 2 Million Light years away with young earth creationism. They told us Dinosaur fossils were planted by satan to confuse us. Their biggest mistake was claiming that Ice Ages never happened and that our landscape was formed by the flood. That was clearly nonsense there was just too much evidence for glaciation. Interestly they had the same theory about the water canopy above the earth (which is where all the water came from) that hovind and the rest of the ID crowd are still pushing today.
So for years I had to carry around 2 world views and try and ignore the rational one. This is not an easy thing to do. If I did ask questions the reply would typically be “I'm not scientifically minded so I dont understand what you are asking, but the bible says this….”. Other times it would be, “go and speak to one of the elders and they will answer your question”, of course I never did, how can you as a young teenager who had this upbringing be expected to explain to an authority figure that you dont believe [insert nonsense here] and would like an explanation.
When I was 14 or 15 I became very Ill with Chrohn's Disease and was eventually hospitalised. They wanted to operate to remove the affected section of bowel. A colectomy is a major operation and would typically require a couple of pints of blood. I refused a blood transfusion, my mother backed them up and I think one of the elders had a word with the doctors as well, but I refused anyway, the indoctrination was so deep that even though I was having doubts, I still refused even though If I went ahead and had the operation without blood I could die. Fortunately the doctors were not willing to do the operation without permission for a blood transfusion, and I never had the operation. I was held up in front of the congregation as a fine example of a Young Jehovah's Witness who stood up for what he beleived in. I got caught up in all of this and was baptized aged 16.
This was a difficult time for me and I wont go into the depression and loneliness that I felt. I eventually told my mother that I was leaving the religion, this resulted us having a fight and her kicking me out of the house. My parents had split up when I was 13 and my mum rang my dad and told him to come and get me. 6 months or so later I was disfellowshipped. This is where they formally boot you out of the cult, inform the congregation of your 'sins' and ask everyone to never speak to you again. Remember I said that we were encouraged not to have friends outside of the religion. I was suddenly cut off from everyone I knew, friends (supposedly), family, everyone. The fear of this happening is another tool that they use to keep people in the religion, in fact many of the people I met yesterday stayed in the organisation for many years after they had decided it was nonsense simply because of this hideous threat.
It took me quite a long time to become an atheist, at least 5 years. I actually came to it from a different angle to most people. I ignored evolution for a long time because over the years as a Jehovah's witness we had studied a number of books using made up science, these included wild estimates relating to the improbability of the biogenesis event(s). I read a lot of physics, Richard Feynman, Roger Penrose, Gribbin, Einstein, Hawking, Kaku etc. This brought to the conclusion that if a Universe could come into existence on its own without any external help then I am certainly not going to invoke god just to create a few critters on earth. I was now an atheist, and it felt good! Once you take the plunge you begin to realise that the universe we live in is a beautiful, wonderful place. 90% of the atoms in my body was made in a now dead star. Everything that exists in our universe, all the processes that go on and how it all came about is explainable by science (yeah, I know we have some of the details to work out but that's the fun part). At the end of The Genius of Charles Darwin richard states the obvious truth that everyone of our ancestors going back 100s of millions of years was a winner, they survived into adulthood and then got laid, I love that idea.
I had been an atheist for 10 years when I read 'The God Delusion', and am now having great fun reading as much as I can about evolution. If anyone hasnt read 'The Ancestors Tale' then go get it now its a fantastic book.
I want to return to the subject of abuse for a while. Yesterday a number of the ex Jehovah's witnesses said things like
* “I wouldnt go as far as calling it abuse, I had a happy childhood”
* “I dont blame my parents they were just as ensnared as I was”
* “They are good people really”
* “I dont want to challenge them on their beliefs, it will upset them”
What JW's do to their kids is abuse, some were sexually abused some were beaten but we were all, without exception, mentally abused. They were letting their families or the organisation off too easily. Nobody would ever think of excusing child rape by a father because his father did it to him. These Jehovah's Witnesses, family or friends, should be challenged, they wont do it for themselves they are taught not to think, not to question, we have to raise the questions for them.
You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned my father much in this. The reason is he did nothing. He allowed me, my brother and sister to be abused, to have our brains filled with rubbish, to be terrified of the consequences sin. He was never a Jehovah's Witness, he didnt beleive it, he never beleived it. Yet, he failed to do anything about it, he never stopped her. I'm not sure which one of them I am most pissed off with. If Jehovah's witnesses are part of your family then you have a duty to break the cycle of abuse.
I wanted to write this for a number of reasons but mostly for other Jehovah's Witnesses so they can see that you can get out and lead a full and happy life afterwards.
Richard, keep up the good work. I hope this gets posted in converts corner, if you do choose to post it then please leave my details on the bottom as posted.
David Steele – Atheist
Former Jehovah's Witness