What It Was Like When I Left the Religion of My Birth.
I sat there and just looked at my father while we ate what would probably be our last father-son meal. I felt sorrow, anguish and rage all at once, though I tried my best to mask my emotions. I was sorry for the pain I knew he was experiencing, sad about how much of his life this great man in front of me had wasted, and I was enraged at the organization that contributed to all these emotions.
I was raised one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as my father and mother also were. I was baptized into the religion at the ripe old age of eleven and for 34 years, I believed every bit of the doctrine.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to attend meetings two nights a week. Growing up, this requirement was actually three nights a week. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have the only form of pure worship. They believe that Jesus Christ began reigning God’s Kingdom invisibly, and they believe his reign started in the year 1914. They believe that 1914 was the start of the “last days” talked about in the Bible. For over 100 years, they have believed that Armageddon is imminent and that they are the only faith that will survive this apocalypse and make it to Paradise.
A renewed zeal
In the summer of 2014, I was at a point of spiritual stagnation in the religion. I attended services pretty regularly, however still missed about 60% of the meetings. I attended a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in August of that year. This was the first time that video presentations played a major part in the program. One video in particular had a profound effect on me. It was only later that I would recognize it for the emotional manipulation it actually was.
After watching that video and listening to the other parts in the program, I resolved when I got home to “do more in Jehovah’s service.” I stopped missing meetings. Started preaching door to door more often. I also started to do more Bible reading and personal study of the Jehovah’s Witness publications.
Doubt creeps in
In October of that year, I met a gentleman in the door to door work that was interested in having a regular home bible study. Jehovah’s Witness bible studies consist of going lesson by lesson, along with the bible, in a book called “What does the bible really teach?” Jehovah’s Witnesses colloquially refer to this book as the Bible Teach book.
I realized that I had this gentleman’s eternal salvation in my hands, and that I needed to do a good job as his teacher. So, since it had been quite a long time since I personally studied the book, I decided to take the Bible Teach book and rigorously study it on my own.
This was the first time I attempted to do serious research during the age of the internet. I decided to verify everything in the book with secular sources. After all, what Jehovah’s Witnesses taught is the TRUTH, so all I expected was to find all statements of fact to have secular evidence to back them up. And of course I wouldn’t even THINK about looking at apostate websites. After all, they were bitter opposers and liars who only wanted to draw me away from God. So, I stuck to Wikipedia and other academic sources.
One of the first things I started to question was the destruction of Jerusalem. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. Why is this date important to them? Well, this is the date they use as a beginning point to get to the year 1914 as the start of the “last days.” There is a detailed eschatology that involves a formula they have interpreted from the Bible book of Daniel.
Suffice it to say, when I googled “Destruction of Jerusalem,” I found that the secular consensus was that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. In fact, no one on the earth, except for Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E.
This confused me, so I looked up more information in their online library. The answers I found were lacking. Numerous logical fallacies throughout, and, the conclusion of their reasoning was basically, “We trust the Bible more than we trust the so-called evidence these people have found.”
I was very confused. I felt that our teachings were rock solid. So why did this feel wrong?
I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to ignore the doubts I was having. I decided that I shouldn’t keep studying on my own, because I would just start having more doubts.
The very next month, however, all that would change.
A turning point
In November of 2014, a special meeting was held throughout the United States Branch Territory of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a live stream of what was promised to be encouraging talks from the Governing Body (the ecclesiastical leaders of the organization).
One talk in particular was anything but encouraging. It was an hour long guilt trip about people not being spiritual enough.
The brother giving the talk, Anthony Morris III, talked about how if your family visited Disney before you visited the JW World Headquarters, you weren’t a spiritual family. He also said that if, as a brother, you didn’t hold a certain position of responsibility in the congregation by the age of 23, then you weren’t worthy of being considered a good marriage mate by girls in the congregation.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. At one point in the talk, he hinted that there was a homosexual conspiracy to get people to wear tight pants. And that wearing tight pants wasn’t spiritual.
It was at this moment, that the scales began to fall from my eyes, so to speak. I realized that this guy wasn’t some special representative of Almighty God. A loving God would NEVER treat the flock like that.
That very next week, I decided once and for all to prove the “truth” to myself. Every single Jehovah’s Witness doctrine that I held dear just kept falling and being proven wrong.
I’m not going to go into the details of my research. Every individual has to find out for themselves what they as an individual believe, and if they can back those beliefs up with evidence.
The aftermath of my crisis of faith
Over the next 6–8 weeks, I experienced emotional extremes of depression, anger, shock and relief. I nearly committed suicide at one point thinking that if I just pulled the trigger, I would be okay and just wake up in paradise and that all these feelings would be behind me. The only thing that held me back was the thought of my children being indoctrinated like I was. I resolved to get them and my wife out of the organization.
I am happy to say, though, that I succeeded in getting my wife and kids out. We now live an amazing life! There is no guilt about enjoying the little things in life like sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday, spending some money to buy the family something special, or just growing a goatee.
Being able to do something as simple as making your kids feel special on their birthday is amazing.
Many people characterize the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult. I encourage the reader to make their own determination on this. Steve Hassan, noted cult expert and former Moonie, has laid out an extensive list of identifying marks that “high-control groups” exhibit. It is called the B.I.T.E. model. Examine those identifying marks and see which ones, if any, apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So, as I sat there with my father, thinking about the emotions I was experiencing I realized that this was probably the last real conversation we would ever have. See, Jehovah’s Witnesses have this practice of ostracizing and limiting contact with people that either have left the religion or have thinking in conflict with the religion.
Though the subject of our conversation that day was serious and wasn’t something I really wanted to talk about, I still enjoyed that meal and know that my father was only doing something that he was taught is the right thing to do.
Six months later, my father hasn’t spoken to me since. My mother only speaks to me when she wants to talk to her grandchildren. I miss my mother and father’s company and conversations deeply.
My hope is that someday, they can look beyond their religious beliefs and realize that a relationship with their son and grandchildren are more important than whether or not they share the same beliefs.