Jehovah’s Witnesses and Cult Life Were Not For Me

The complicated life of a faithless Jehovah’s Witness youth trying to find his place in the world

Jason Weiland
Jan 12 · 13 min read
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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When I was young, I had faith that my religion was the true one, that my God, Jehovah, was only going to save people who worshiped as I did and no one else, and “worldly people” were going to die a horrible and painful death at Armageddon.

I had no doubts it would happen exactly as my parents, along with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and all their literature, said would happen. My family was always holding their breath because we kept being promised by the Governing Body that this evil “system of things” couldn’t last much longer, and we needed to be ready because the end could happen at any time.

I’ve attended conventions where brothers and sisters were holding white-knuckled onto their chairs because they thought Jehovah was going to spirit them away before destroying the earth.

Life was different for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There was no need to plan for the future or worry about sending your kids to college. We didn’t need to save money, make friends outside of the group of Witnesses, vote, start a 401k, or try to find a better job because the world as we knew it was going to end at any moment.

Except it never did. It still hasn’t.

The Witnesses were good a predicting the end of days and getting everyone all worked up and then saying they received new “light” from God when the end never came to pass.

It was gaslighting and indoctrination at it’s finest.

Even as a kid, I could care less about things most people worried about because I knew none of it mattered.

I didn’t need to worry about my grades, SATs, or college, because what good were report cards and degrees on the paradise earth? The only thing that mattered was I preached and gave an excellent witness to the people at school.

I didn’t need to worry about my physical health because, after Armeggedon, I will get a perfect body when the paradise starts. And even if I did die from heart disease, obesity, or not being able to get a blood transfusion because Witnesses don’t take blood, I would get resurrected anyway during the thousand-year reign of Christ.

Why worry if I die?

I had no cares in the world because any day, this existence would all end, and I would grow to be perfect on a paradise earth, free of all the worldly people, and full of animals that would be friendly.

Who needs anything when very soon, I can pet a Cobra and not die?

I didn’t need the things I saw in the commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. I didn’t need to feel sad about not celebrating Christmas or my birthday or going trick-or-treating on Halloween. All these people who did these things were sinners and were going to die anyway.

But, I would live forever because I believed. I had faith.

But I had a dark secret I kept from everyone because as much as I loved my parents and the Witnesses, I knew they wouldn’t understand.

I didn’t feel the need to tell anyone that I heard voices in my head that spoke to me in times of stress. And I felt depressed and anxious all the time.

If I did tell someone, I would most likely get accused of commiserating with demons. Everything I watched, listened to, or read would have been analyzed to find out how I came under the influence of Satan.

But Jehovah knew what was going on in my head, and he knew I needed a fresh mind, which I would get in paradise. So I kept quiet and waited for Armageddon.

I believed everything.

But, as I grew older, the shine wore off. Cracks started showing, and the things they were teaching me didn’t add up anymore. Some things I had always taken for truth weren’t sitting right with me anymore and I wanted answers, but it was forbidden to ever question the Witness literature or organization.

People who questioned and looked for answers in places other than the organization found themselves branded as apostates and shunned — not just by the church, but by their families as well.

A few times, I expressed my doubts, but my parents and the elders quickly told me never to question Jehovah’s organization here on earth.

About the time I started getting hair under my arms, I started seeing things I couldn’t justify. At the Kingdom Hall, there were a lot of young people. I had my best friends, who I spent most of my time with, and there were the “popular” Witnesses, who were usually the children of the Elders, or at least their favorites.

These other Witness youth rarely graced us with their presence, but once in a while, they would come to the back of the hall, where I was setting the music up for the night, and tell the vilest and most disgusting jokes I had ever heard.

Now, I didn’t play with “worldly kids,” and the things I watched, read, and listened to were monitored carefully, so I had never heard anything like what they were talking about. Anything racist, sexist, shocking, and horrible was turned into a joke by these kids at almost every meeting and get-together.

The fact that this filth was coming from the very kids’ mouths that they told me I should emulate was confusing. They were the ones that were always out door-to-door preaching, answering questions during the Watchtower study, giving bible talks on advanced topics, and being the model of a perfect Christian Witness.

Yet the garbage they spewed at us was the worst combination of rape, hate, pedophilia, bestiality, and murder, and I only understood a small part of it.

But they were the model Christians — how could this be?

I didn’t know what to do, so I laughed when the other kids did.

Anything for a laugh, right?

It’s was a small community of people, and word got around about what was happening. Before I knew it, I had to go to a locked-door inquiry with the Elders and answer questions. I wasn’t scared because my parents taught me to always tell the truth, especially to the Elders, who were supposedly God’s representatives to the congregation.

When my turn came, I was nervous, but I answered every question, confessed my guilt for laughing at these jokes, and left that office feeling like a huge load was off my shoulders. I felt like Jehovah forgave me because the Elders prayed with me, and everything would be okay because I had faith.

But, when the Elders called me back in, my confidence turned to horror when I found out that the children of the Elders, who had been the ones telling these jokes, had all said that my brother and I were the ones to blame. No amount of denying from me would change the Elder’s minds. We were the guilty ones, and I was only hurting my relationship with Jehovah by lying to the elders.

I knew I was telling the truth, and the idea that they believed the lies about me because their kids had told them it was so was hard to stomach. I didn’t understand human nature back then, or bias, and I couldn’t understand how unfair these servants of God were being.

Eventually, I stopped pleading my innocence, but I wouldn’t admit to doing something I had not done, and the Elders were not happy with me. Neither was my father when they told him. Nobody wanted to hear my side because it sounded a lot better to everyone involved that the kids from the poor family were spreading filth all over the congregation, not the little angels of the Elders.

When I left the office that day, I stared straight at the popular Witnesses who had accused me, and I will never forget their satisfied smirks and the way the whole congregation fawned over them for the next few weeks.

I felt betrayed, not just by the Witnesses, but by the God who would let a thing like this happen.

I was never the same again.

I started questioning everything. I spent hours in libraries, reading encyclopedias and books I would never have thought of touching before. I learned about evolution and the human body — especially anything that had to do with sex.

I learned about religions that the Witnesses called “false,” and read every book I could find about paganism, which was fascinating. I learned about the Greek gods and immersed myself in as much literature as I could.

It was also about this time that I started listening to what my hallucinations were telling me. I usually dismissed anything the voices said when it had to do with my faith in Jehovah, but now everything they had been trying to tell me made sense.

The voices knew all the “facts” from the bible that the witnesses kept trying to brainwash me with and helped me understand why they were too difficult to believe and made me start questioning every aspect of my beliefs.

I know the voices were just my own mind trying to make sense of everything, but they were there in a time when I needed them, and it wasn’t until much later that they started spewing vitriol.

They also started damaging the image of the Elders in my congregation and the Governing Body in New York.

The voices asked me why no one said anything when one of the older Elders would call black people n*****s, because even I knew it was wrong.

They asked me why I never told anyone that one of the brothers had grabbed my friend’s penis one time when we were swimming, and the Elders knew about it, and why I was always so uncomfortable when I would catch that brother staring at me.

I started to see that the people I put on a pedestal were sinful, petty, jealous, and hateful, and not at all God-like as I thought. Some were even what I would call evil.

For the first time, I started to consider that maybe my faith was misplaced, and I hadn’t found “the truth” they promised it was.

And as I lost faith, I became more withdrawn, depressed, and anxious about doing any activities related to the Witnesses.

I knew if they found out what I was thinking, they would disfellowship me for apostasy, and I would never have a relationship with my family again, so I made it seem like I was the perfect Witness.

I preached and made it appear as if I studied the Bible to strengthen my faith. I went to conventions, even going so far as getting baptized, which is a massive step for any Witness.

It was easy enough to fool everyone because they thought I was indoctrinated and brainwashed like everyone else. The Witnesses figured I would never question a word they said, and for a while, I was the model of the perfect Jehovah’s Witness I tried to be.

I hated lying to my parents because I loved my family more than anyone else, but that was the reason I had to hide because the Witnesses would rip my family apart, and they would cast me out on my own, even at 16 years old.

My parents were ever faithful to “the truth” and to Jehovah. They still are, in fact. Part of the reason I love them so much is that they could be true to themselves and live a life of devotion.

My parents believed, and their faith was strong enough that if the Witnesses had told them to shun me, they would. But not because of brainwashing, but because they love me and thought it would have been the only way to save my eternal life.

And the more I spiraled down deeper into mental illness, the harder it became for me to keep up the façade. I was finding it hard to act like I still had faith.

I continued studying the books and encyclopedias and acting like nothing was wrong, but I was crumbling inside. Things would soon come to a head, but not in the way I expected.

One night, after working the late shift at Pizza Hut with my friend, who was also studying to be a Witness, we were riding our bikes home with the free pizzas left over that night.

I don’t know who got the idea, but we thought it was an excellent plan to bribe the guy at the gas station and see if he would trade us a bottle of hooch, a six-pack of beer, and a couple of packs of cigarettes for our pizzas.

Before, I would never have dared experiment with alcohol or cigarettes, but now I was ready to find out what the fuss was all about. My friend and I took our booty, found a secluded spot behind an empty building, and drank and smoked. The cigarettes were gross, but we still smoked them with the beer, and soon we were drunk.

There was still a little cheap Whiskey left, so I stuck the bottle in my duffel, got on my bike, and pedaled drunkenly home.

About halfway, my friend starting acting rowdy, and it was 3:00 am. Very soon, we got the attention of the cops, who lit us up with their lights and told us to put our hands up. I complied, but my friend got scared and took off through a residential area, with half the cops following.

I was worried because I was only 16 years old, was very drunk, and had a bottle of booze in my bag. But the cop only asked why my friend took off. I didn’t know and told him that we were just going home after work.

The combination of luck and having the privilege of being white saved me, and the cops let me go. They wanted my friend and not me.

Scared the cops would come back, I decided to take a detour through the residential area so they wouldn’t find me. I was drunk and confused and soon lost and riding through a neighborhood I didn’t know.

It took me two hours to find my way back to my house, and by then, my dad was waiting for me because my shitfaced friend had already shown up, minus his bike he had ditched somewhere.

My dad knew we were drunk, and even disappointed, he was relieved that I had made it back in one piece. The city was a dangerous place, and he worried when we didn’t return after work.

I felt terrible that my dad had to go through that, but I soon fell asleep anyway.

In the morning, we were both hungover, but my dad wanted to talk about what happened, so we told him the whole story. After we went to the police station and picked up my friend’s bike that the cops had taken, my dad convinced me that I needed to confess my sins to the Elders because I had sinned and needed redemption.

I figured they would disfellowship me and felt sad that I couldn’t talk to my parents anymore.

When I called my girlfriend and told her what happened, she flipped out because she was a Witness and knew what would happen to me. There was no way she would be with a disfellowshipped person or even someone reproved, or “marked” by the Witnesses if they decided to go easy on me.

She broke up with me and told me never to talk to her again. No, “I love you and will support you no matter what.” She just cut ties with me completely.

That was only the beginning of my troubles. I should have felt guilty that I had sinned against God, but I didn’t feel anything but sadness and betrayal. I spent the next few days going on long walks alone and finishing the pack of cigarettes I had bought.

Later that week, I spent a whole day talking to the Elders and confessing my sins. As embarrassing as it was to lay bare my soul for judgment in front of authority I didn’t respect, I did it to keep up appearances. I acted like the remorseful Christian they wanted me to be, even though I wasn’t, and enjoyed getting drunk and smoking cigarettes.

Sin is fun!

The Elders decided to “reprove” me. The congregation and my family wouldn’t shun me, but I would be on probation.

Later that week, as I sat in the second row of the Kingdom Hall, they announced my punishment to the congregation. It meant that I was considered a bad influence, and I couldn’t preach door-to-door or answer at the meetings.

I wouldn’t be playing the music anymore either.

I could feel the eyes on the congregation on me, and after the meeting was over, I could see them pointing and gossiping.

From then on, I still attended the meeting with my parents, but nothing was the same. No one talked to me and they all looked uncomfortable even acknowledging my presence. I wasn’t disfellowshipped, but I might as well have been because the people who used to smile and hug me now shunned me because I made a teenage mistake.

As my depression grew worse and anxiety filled my days, I spent more time reading and writing in my notebooks. I didn’t talk, and I started walking around with my shoulders hunched over, a posture that would follow me around for the rest of my life.

I gave in to the voices and became someone my parents couldn’t relate to anymore.

Eventually, we moved away from that area. I know it was a combination of my parents wanting to take me to a place where everything didn’t remind me of what I had lost and the shame they felt in front of the brothers and sisters for having a child who broke the rules.

I don’t blame my mom and dad for anything. I am responsible for everything that happened to me. My parents only wanted me to be able to live forever and be a servant of Jehovah. They wanted me to live a good life, and I ruined that for them.

Thirty-five years after these events, I know that my parents are sad that I didn’t give my life to Jehovah. Over the years, I tried to help them come to terms with me and my choices.

I even went back to the Witnesses for a short time because I wanted to make them proud of me again.

But I couldn’t have faith in what I couldn’t believe in, and I was just going through the motions to make my parents happy again.

I cut all ties with the Witnesses and started living based on my own morals and beliefs.

The damage is permanent with my parents. I love them with all my heart, but I know they are torn about what to do with me. On the one hand, I am happy and fulfilled now; on the other; my parents feel they should probably be shunning me because I have broken every rule and stepped on every belief they hold dear.

My parents are faithful, and I hope when judgment day rolls around, they find the paradise they have been waiting for their entire life. I hope their years of sacrifice and service were worth it, and they get everything they deserve.

I love you, mom and dad; I just couldn’t be the perfect Jehovah’s Witness you wanted me to be.

I tried hard, but it was not meant to be.

TMI: Too Much Information

This is a place for you if you are often accused of sharing too much.

Jason Weiland

Written by

Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

TMI: Too Much Information

This is a place for you if you are often accused of being too honest. If people tell you your writing is cringe-worthy. If you hesitate before hitting publish, because maybe, this time you went too far. This is your home.

Jason Weiland

Written by

Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

TMI: Too Much Information

This is a place for you if you are often accused of being too honest. If people tell you your writing is cringe-worthy. If you hesitate before hitting publish, because maybe, this time you went too far. This is your home.

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