Could anyone put "Awakened at Gilead" exit story up here, I want to show it to a friend, please do not send link from freeminds.org, the site is messed up, it has technical issues. Just paste it here on this thread.
From Missionary to Atheist - how is that possible? Part 1
Written by Awakened at Gilead
Saturday, 27 November 2010
One of the most frequent questions that I get from Jehovah's Witnesses who watch my videos is the invariable "What do you believe now?" This is in fact, very similar to the question "Where else will you go?" that active Witnesses will ask of those who may be contemplating leaving the organization. In my case, I am pleased to respond that I am no longer a believer in any religion or holy book. This article will explain what are some of the reasons that I have become a non-believer, a freethinker, a humanist, and an atheist.
(A tongue-in-cheek explanation of my beliefs can be seen here) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJs9YblGUPQ
"An atheist?", gasp some Jehovah's Witnesses or even Ex-JW's who I have revealed this to. "Haven't you thrown out the baby with the bathwater?" they may protest using the worn-out cliché. Or "You must have rejected God so you can do whatever you want with your life. Well actually, no, neither of these statements adequately describes my journey. Permit me to explain. I would like to clarify what I mean by atheist. I do not deny that a god may exist. What I have concluded, after reviewing the evidence, is that neither the Bible-god nor any other god that humans have believed in throughout history has any basis in hard evidence. If there is a god, and he or she decides to break silence and demonstrate his or her existence, I would be happy to believe and even worship, if that is what the deity requires. At any rate, I hope that both believers and non-believers alike will find my experience to be interesting.
When I left the Witnesses in March of 2008, I was still a believer. I still believed in Jehovah and in fact prayed to him quite intensely in the weeks following my realization that the religion of my childhood and of my adult life until then was in fact a farce. I wanted God - Jehovah or not - to guide me. However, once I had recognized that my beliefs were wrong, I was determined not to be fooled again. Once I had taken the step of allowing myself to question cherished beliefs that stemmed from the ever-changing yet seemingly infallible Watchtower Society, I decided to step back a bit. Why did I believe in the Bible itself? Why did I believe in a particular god? The truth is that humanity does not agree on which god is the true god, and which holy books have been inspired by a particular deity. The religion that a person defaults to is generally an accident of geography, rather than a conscious decision on the part of the believer. So, part of the research I conducted after leaving the Witnesses was to determine whether I should continue believing in any holy book, or in any god.
I decided to examine the evidence with an open mind. And, even the Bible recommends that we should consider the evidence. Acts 17:11 extols the Bereans who critically analyzed Pauls words to see whether they were indeed factual. 1 Peter 2:15 mentions that non-believers would be entitled to demand a reason for the faith that Christians possessed. Even Paul at Hebrews 11:1 did not advocate for blind faith, but rather said that faith should be based on evidence, albeit invisible evidence. One area that I have considered evidence is the natural world, in the spirit of Psalms 19:1, Psalms 8:3, and Romans 1:20. What led me to atheism?
1. The age of the universe:
Scientists concur that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old. The earth is considered to be about 4.4 billion years old. Thinking about these huge spans of time can make your head swim. But then compare these spans of time with what the Bible or other holy boks describe as the time frame for the deity to communicate with humans. For example, after taking about 8 billion years to create our solar system, and then a billion years to create life on the earth, it took the supposed creator another 3.4 billion years to create humans. After creating humans, the deity did not communicate with them until the time of Noah, and then after murdering most people on the planet, the deity then began communicating with people in an organized way in the time of Moses. After communicating with the Israelites for about 1000 years, he takes a 450 year break until he finally decides to talk to Mary. After chatting with Mary, and Jesus enters the scene, God communicates in various ways with humans up until about 98 CE, after which God has been incommunicado.
Thinking about this time frame rationally contributed to my disbelief in god. Does it make any sense that an all-powerful deity would take so long to create everything? Also, why would the deity communicate after so many billions of years, and then disappear and then not communicate again? It would appear to me that the most rational explanation is that the deity held to be sacred by Christians only communicated with people when there were people who convinced others that a god was communicating with them. Interestingly, anyone today who claim that God is speaking with them is generally considered to be slightly less than sane. Why not apply this same standard to the people of old who claimed that god was speaking to them thousands of years ago?
2. Size of universe in relation to earth
The next point in my scientific analysis deals with the size of the universe and the comparative size of the earth. When you consider the vastness of the universe, the innumerable number of galaxies and stars, it does not seem logical to me that we on earth should think that we are special in any way. We are quite insignificant, and that is an understatement! To think that our planet and our species is somehow special, out of all the cosmic bodies, seems somewhat arrogant and contrived. So, considering that the universe is so large and follows natural processes contributed to the idea that there is no god who is paying particular attention to earth and the people on it. As Don Draper on Madmen said, "There is no system, the Universe is indifferent".
At the American Museum of Natural History, I was able to watch a documentary in the planetarium called "Cosmic Collisions". This film described how stars, planets and other cosmic bodies have collided in natural processes to form what we consider to be orderly systems. For example, constant collisions may have caused some bodies to aggregate mass and become planets or moons. The energy absorbed by these collisions is what may have placed these bodies in orbit and caused them to move at great speed. Some bodies, such as the earth, developed atmospheres of gases around them that protect the planet from collisions with small objects that burn up in the atmosphere. The scars on the moon, which has no protective atmosphere, show how common these collisions can be. Some of the results of the collisions that occurred at the development of our solar system can be seen in the asteroid belt, where millions of small pieces of rock orbit the sun yet never became part of planets. Some of these asteroids have collided with the earth, and some are in danger of colliding with the earth in the future.
This illustrates the "Universe is indifferent" concept. All of these cosmic collisions occur from natural processes. There does not seem to be a guiding hand of god that prevents objects from colliding with the earth or moon. And if there is no guiding hand, once agin, the evidence for god, looking at the universe, is not there.
3. Mass extinctions
In 2008, just a few months after leaving the Witnesses, I had the opportunity to visit the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. I decided to take a walk through the exhibit about evolution. At that time, I was having trouble dealing with the concept of evolution, having been subjected to anti-evolution logic as a Witness, although I was seriously questioning the existence of god, as I've noted above. This display was a history of life on the earth, from the time that the earth's existence began about 4.4 billion years ago, up to the present. I'll write about my thoughts about the veracity of evolution in a bit, but I'd like to discuss an interesting lesson that I learned from the exhibit: the existence of mass extinctions, not once, but at least 6 times in the planets history.
The exhibit chronicled 6 times that mass extinctions have occurred, that have changed the development of life on the earth. Some of these mass extinctions have been caused by asteroid collisions, others by massive volcanic eruptions, and others from as yet undetermined causes. Each time that one of these catastrophic events have occurred, they have wiped out 80-90% of the species that existed on the earth at that time. Taking the sum total of all of these mass extinctions, we can see that about 99% of all of the species that have ever existed on the earth are now extinct. When you compare this concept to the supposed "creator" concept, it makes no sense that a creator would create species and then hurl asteroids or make volcanoes explode, and then kill off most of his handiwork. That would sound more like a frustrated artist, who prone to temper over a bad stroke, tears up his canvas repeatedly and throws it in the fire. If that were true of the creator, he would be guilty of "ruining the earth" (Revelation 11:18). The more logical explanation is that such a creator does not exist, but rather these events are part of the indifferent universe that proceeds according to natural processes.
4. Natural formations, i.e. hurricanes
One of the objections that persons who believe question about my logic is that they see order in the universe and they feel that they must attribute the order to someone - which most frequently also happens to be the deity they happen to believe in, whether Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, or someone else. Order, they say, cannot come from disorder, without the intervening hand of a designer.
The logic seems unassailable - except that design does occur in nature, from random events that do not seem to have a designer's hand. And if they do, the designer is quite a nasty individual, if you take, for example, the existence of hurricanes. Hurricanes, besides being deadly and destructive, are works of incredible design. Random flows of air work together, inexplicably, to form highly organized masses of air that can travel hundreds of miles and wreak havoc. Their organization is such that we even assign names to them. Do these hurricanes form naturally or is there a designer that is controlling them? If you are a believer, this is not an easy question. You must either admit that there are indifferent natural processes that contribute to the design of such complex highly organized objects such as hurricanes, and if that is unpalatable, you must then admit that the designer of the hurricane must be quite malevolent.
An easier conclusion is that there is no designer of either hurricanes, planets, stars, or other natural objects. At least that is the conclusion that I have come to. You may of course, beg to differ, but then that is part of the beauty of no longer being part of the Watchtower cult, where such topics are taboo, and diverging opinions are not tolerated. I merely wish to explain what my position is, and why I believe that it is reasonable.
In my next post, I intend to discuss why I accept evolution as a fact, and why you should as well. You may already accept some tenets of evolution without even realizing it!
From Missionary to Atheist - how is that possible? Part 2 - All About Evolution
Written by Awakened at Gilead
Saturday, 11 December 2010
When I left the Witnesses in 2008, I still accepted their viewpoint on evolution. I had always accepted the JW arguments on evolution, and the whole idea that everything would come from blind chance without a designer seemed preposterous. Since leaving, as I mentioned in my previous post, I questioned the concept of a creator due to the lack of evidence. Evolution, however, seemed to be an insurmountable mental barrier. However, with an open mind, I did extensive research on the subject, and thereafter I accepted evolution as a fact. To clarify, evolution is not the result of blind chance, which I will attempt to describe with a few examples. I'm not a scientist, but I'd like to share the fruits of my search. And even if you don't believe in evolution, here are some products of evolution that you probably already accept as fact. Think about the following examples:
1. Flu shot: Every year there is a new version of the flu shot. This year's version includes that standard flu shot plus immunity against the H1N1 virus. Why is a new flu shot needed each year?
After we get vaccinated we become immune to the current year's incarnation of the flu virus. The virus, some of which will survive in susceptible individuals or in other species, will mutate and share genetic material from its hosts constantly as it is composed of genetic material housed in a shell. Therefore, the next year's flu season we will face a flu virus that is different from the previous year's flu virus. Some viruses, such as H1N1 may even adapt from being hosted in one species to being hosted in another, with dangerous consequences for the new victim species. This process of genetic change through the processes of mutation, genetic recombination, and natural selection (determined by those that survive), is also known as evolution.
So if you get a flu shot, it's not that your body has somehow lost immunity against the flu virus. You still have immunity against the last year's flu virus. The problem is that the virus has evolved, and you need protection from the new version of the virus.
2. Anti-biotic resistance: This is similar to the example of the flu shot. Have you ever been prescribed a round of antibiotics and been instructed by the doctor and pharmacist to take all the pills in the series? Antibiotics represent a classic case of natural selection.
Antibiotics will kill almost all of the bacteria that are susceptible to the particular antibiotic. I say "almost" since there are some bacteria that due to some random mutation will have developed some sort of immunity against the effects of the medicine. After most of the bacteria are destroyed, the patient will begin to feel better. If the patient continues to take the medicine, the body's immune system is likely strong enough to destroy the few resistant bacteriae. But, if at this point, the patient neglects to continue taking the medicine, the bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic will be in a much greater concentration than before and the infection will then return. However, if the patient resumes taking the pills, these will have little effect since the majority of the bacteria are at this point resistant. This is how infections such as MRSA develop. It is a process of random natural selection, a key tenet of evolution.
So if you take all of a course of antibiotics, you should recognize that this will prevent evolution from taking place in your own body!
3. Let's switch gears for this next point. Perhaps you have heard of "invasive species" and "native species".
If evolution were true, you would expect species to adapt to their local environments. As species develop, niches are formed and a food chain or food web develops as well. Generally, food webs consist of primary producers, then primary consumers that eat the producers, other organisms that feed on the primary consumers, and then others, generally larger, that eat the secondary consumers. For example, in the ocean, algae and plankton are the primary producers. Some organisms, perhaps small fish, will eat the algae or plankton, and then these small fish will be eaten by larger organisms. As there are always leftovers in the form of detritus, there are some organisms that eat these remains, such as bottom feeders, catfish being one example.
My point is that as a food web develops, organisms will seek to find a niche, a source of energy and food. Over millions of years in constant conditions, the food web becomes stable and in balance. When something occurs that changes the conditions, a new food web will develop that reflects the new circumstances and species may undergo changes to take advantage of the new opportunities in the food web. For example, let's say that a natural disaster changes the conditions in an area and most of the larger species get wiped out. This means that some of the intermediate consumers will now have no predators, and will begin to grow in population. This can then cause other effects. If the population grows to such an extent that it can no longer find enough food, it may eat other organisms into extinction, or may go extinct itself. On the other hand, it may indeed find enough food and may regulate its reproduction to control its population. Additionally, since its numbers are now unchecked, other organisms may decide that they want to prey on this new population and change their eating habits. This unbalance may go on for some time, but eventually will lead to a new balance, with new winners and new losers, and a redesigned food web. No designer is behind this new food web, but it leads to balance - stasis - nonetheless. Yet in the process, species may have changed in both size and habits, and new species may have developed. The fossil record bears this process out.
This process therefore explains the issue of non-native or invasive species. Since these species, such as stink bugs in North America, have come to an ecosystem that they did not develop in, they may find much food for the taking and a lack of natural predators. Evolution explains this process perfectly. Creation doesn't, unless you insist that the creator invented different kinds of organisms in different localities and didn't want them to commute. Additionally, if you subscribe to the flood story (I'm being nice and not saying flood myth), you must explain how all of the world's varied ecosystems came into place in about 4000 years from the small number of animals, insects, and birds, that were on the ark, where none of them would be invasive species.
4. Playing the "race" card: Yes, let's talk about race. Why are humans different in appearance and skin color? Evolutionists and creationists alike can agree that humans originated in Africa or the Middle East (close enough, for this argument). As human society began to develop and some humans began to migrate to different areas, some changes in their genetic structure would occur over time. Humans that would move to colder areas would need to develop increased sensitivity to absorption of the suns rays, as well as change their skin color in order to blend into the local terrain during cold winters. This would involve the process of natural selection. Humans in warm parts of Africa would need a heavy concentration of melatonin to avoid getting burned by the sun. However, in colder climates, dark skin would be dangerous as darker persons would have trouble blending into the environment. As humans gradually moved northward, the humans that would be lighter skinned among them would have a greater chance of surviving than darker skinned ones. Over thousands of years that this migration occurred, humans underwent the process of natural selection and those with whiter skin were selected. Such white skin would have no benefit in northern Africa. But in the cold winters of Scandinavia, white skin that would absorb more sunlight was essential for survival.
Eventually, humans crossed through Asia and through the Bering Strait into the Americas. As they migrated, certain traits gave certain humans distinct survival advantages, and these survived better than those who did not possess these traits, such as the distinctive eyes common to many Asians. The humans who crossed the Bering Straight and who then moved to warmer climates also underwent changes through successive generations. Their skin had to become darker once again to resist the sun. But since this group of humans is much more recent than the Africans, their skin did not get as dark as their African ancestors.
This same process occurred with other species, which is why you will see white haired polar bears in the artic regions, as well as other species that blend in with their environments, wherever these may be. Whatever body characteristics provide superior survival rates in a species in a specific geographic area, whether the species is human, animal, plant, or bacteria, these are the characteristics that will then begin to become dominant in the population.
One additional factor also comes into play, beside natural selection, and that is sexual selection. Certain traits will become desirable in a given culture or population, whether human or animal, and then these traits will increase in frequency and may become the norm. Peacocks are a prime example of this, as they have large feathers that attract females. Peahens are likely to mate with the peacock with the largest feathers, as this is sexually attractive to them. Peacocks that develop feathers that are so long they interfere with escaping from predators will not survive, so this serves as a natural check on peacock feather size. Once again, natural forces are in play in determining peacock feather size.
Sexual selection undoubtedly occurs in humans as well. Do a majority of women prefer certain attributes in a man? Do they prefer men with large penises or large brains? The same could be said for men - do they prefer women with large or small breasts or buttocks? Do they prefer women with beards or not? (This is just another example - a woman with a beard may have a harder time finding a sexual partner than a beardless one). If a the majority of the members of a human community begin to share certain preferences, then those who exhibit those attributes will have a greater chance of reproducing, and these attributes will then become more common in the population, and the appearance of the population may change over time. This again, is called evolution.
So the differences in the so-called races can easily be explained as the natural result of human migration over thousands of years, as humans adapted to their environment and communities of humans changed their view over time of what is sexy. Personally, I am grateful for the variety of the human form that now exists.
I could go on and talk about more points, but I think my readers have tasted the idea and can do further research on evolution if they choose. There is much more that evolution explains, such as the existence of marsupials on islands and not on mainland, the development of primitive to advanced organisms as seen in the fossil record, bird plumage, dwarfism and gigantism in certain isolated species, and much more.
Accepting evolution as a fact does not make us less human. It actually makes us more human. And that's a fact.
For more info, please check out the books (listed in my order of preference):
Thanks Nathan, but the meat is not there, could you get this portion for me
My system is not openning the link, but the real thing is there. Thanks
I had to make a special appeal to Sherman and Dr. Peabody, but I think I got it this time:
Written by Awakened At Gilead
Monday, 06 April 2009 19:09
Sunday, March 29, 2009 marked an important anniversary in my life. On March 29th, a year ago, I was sitting at the famous Jersey City Assembly Hall, watching the talks as they were presented in American Sign Language. I was feeling out of place during the assembly day for the first time in my life, having been raised as a JW.
During the lunch intermission, I felt as if I no longer had anything in common with the people around me anymore. I was in college at the time, in my last semester getting my bachelors, and what I learned fascinated me. Yet no one around seemed a bit interested in my schooling, as it had no bearing on "spiritual things". Finally, during the last talk, I paid close attention to what the speaker, a Bethel Representative, signed. I remember 2 key points from his talk, summing up the lessons of the day:
1. Regardless of your personal circumstances, you must spend as much time in the all-important preaching work.
As I listened to that, something clicked inside of me. What about people who can't spend that much time in this "all-important" work? And why does this "all-important" work seem so futile, with such meager results.
In our ASL congregation, we had 36 pioneers. Yet in the year since our congregation was formed, meeting attendance was level, hardly any interested people came to the meetings, and definitely no-one got baptized. I thought to myself, "all this work for nothing!", yet we must continue "as much time as possible"??? For the first time in my life, it seemed like a mindless statement.
My thoughts returned to the brother giving the talk. He was mentioning a second important point, which I cannot forget, as it made me have a "Matrix" moment:
2. 'Brothers, we know the organization is criticized by Satan's system of things. We are not surprised by this. But, we know that this organization has Jehovah's backing. So, regardless of what anybody says about Jehovah's organization, WE MUST SUPPORT IT!'
At this point, my college trained critical thinking mind kicked in.
"What if", I thought, almost out loud, "the organization is wrong after all? What if those who criticize it have valid criticism? Why does the organization mention the criticism so much if they have the truth?" At that, it felt as if scales fell from my eyes. A few months later when I saw the movie "The Matrix", I felt exactly as Neo felt when he opened his eyes and he was in a matrix, full of dulled, hypnotized, drone humans. I looked around at everyone that was in attendance, and it seemed as if they were all enjoying the program. But I was not. I resolved at that moment never step foot in a Kingdom Hall ever again. I felt bewildered, confused, even terrified. The religion that I had been raised with, spent 16 years of my life in full time service with, including at Bethel, as a Special Pioneer, and even at Gilead and in Missionary service. Yet this was not the beginning of my doubts about Jehovah's Witnesses, rather it was a culmination of years of wondering about the "truth".
As a child, somewhat persecuted, bullied, or ridiculed at school for my faith, I needed confirmation that what I believed was really true. I was a frequent visitor to the library, so I sought out books about Jehovah's Witnesses. I was perhaps 10 years old and I found Marley Cole's 2 books documenting the history and success of Jehovah's Witnesses. Here was the confirmation I needed! Jehovah's Witnesses were a normal religion after all, since an independent author such as Cole lavished praise on the Witnesses and their stand. (It wasn't until I left the Jehovah's Witnesses that I learned that Cole was a Jehovah's Witness himself, so this was a publicity stunt by the WT to establish credibility. Well, with me, the ruse worked.)
I grew up with a keen appreciation for Bible prophecy. As a teen, I remember getting out the old books explaining Revelation (Then is Finished the Mystery of God and Babylon the Great has Fallen) and reading the books in my spare time. I swallowed every word and believed it wholeheartedly. However, when I began to study Daniel, I felt twinges of doubt for the first time. Daniel mentions an enigmatic period of 2300 days. The Society claimed that this period was fulfilled from 1938 to 1944, with the publication of certain Watchtower magazines. While I accepted everything that the Society said as truth, I drew the line here. It made no sense, even to my childish mind, that the 2300 days that Daniel was prophesying, were fulfilled in 2 obscure issues of the Watchtower magazine in the late 1930s. This seemed completely arbitrary, yet I knew that Jehovah was providing new light to his organization, so I figured that maybe this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled, and perhaps Jehovah will clear this up eventually. At the age of 14 I was baptized, fully believing that I was serving God Jehovah.
I began to aux pioneer shortly thereafter, and loved the truth. Shortly before beginning my senior year at high school, at the age of 17, I became a regular pioneer. A year later I attended pioneer school where I really enjoyed the in depth Bible study and the training in the ministry. One point stuck in my mind, though. We were discussing the concept of context and Bible interpretation. Psalms 37:29 was mentioned as a scripture that we used frequently, yet it had a different contextual application. The instructor pointed out that, according to the context, the verse merely indicates the psalmist's belief that righteous people will always live on the promised land, not that a particular group of people would live on the earth forever. The latter, he explained, was the extended application, which we could use. But we should remember the contextual application when we explain the extended application. I filed that thought away along with my feelings about the 2300 days and kept on pursuing "spiritual goals".
These goals eventually took me to Bethel, where I spent almost 3 years.
Later, I served in Ecuador as a need greater, and was appointed as a Special Pioneer, and served in congregations where I was the only MS or elder. During the mid-90's, when all the new understandings about the generation, sheep and goats, and celestial phenomena were coming out, I was conducting the Watchtower study in my little congregation of 16 publishers. While I felt that some of these changes were a bit odd, I felt that God was behind it all, thus he was revealing these truths to the congregation in his due time. One assignment I had to do on the service meeting was to explain 1914 and the 7 times. I found that I could explain it easily, as I knew all the proof texts and could do the calculations, but as I would do the mental leaps necessary to defend this teaching, I found myself uneasy. "Why isn't this prophecy clear in Daniel?", I wondered. "Why do we need to infer that Nebuchadnezzar reflects something greater?" "Are we making the right inference?" "Why do we go from 360 day lunisolar years to make the 2520 year calculation, and then switch to 365 day solar years to arrive at a conclusion?" Of course, I put these doubts out of my mind and filed them along with my other misapprehensions, confident that Jehovah would clear things up in time. After all, this is what the WT said to do if we had doubts: 'keep busy and wait on Jehovah'. I followed the instructions exactly.
I also had some questions about the governing body and the FDS. From my earlier service in Bethel, and having been raised by someone claiming to be of the anointed, I knew that the idea that the entire body of anointed Christians around the globe did not prepare the spiritual food. I knew that the GB did not know who my step-father was, and probably did not know who other anointed were outside of Bethel. Once, while I was in Bethel, it was announced that there were only 35 anointed persons in the whole Bethel family including brothers and sisters (around 1991). The end must be close, I was sure, since there were so few anointed ones at Bethel, and the GB was so old, once they would die, they had hardly anyone at Bethel who could replace them. Would they contact my step-dad one day, since he was anointed and much younger? I couldn't imagine him being a spiritual leader of the organization, especially with his hot temper that seemed so unchristlike. At any rate, I knew that the GB was running the show. It was definitely not the whole "anointed remnant".
Yet each time I would conduct a Bible study and get to the chapter about the GB and the FDS, I had to teach something I knew to be wrong: that the FDS refers to the entire body of anointed Christians on the earth and that they are dispensing spiritual food to us. I knew that was not true, yet, obediently, I continued to teach it, confident that Jehovah would clear things up in due time.
However, my biggest doubt to date happened in the year 2000. The Society published an article indicating 6 lines of evidence that we were in the end. I really did not find the lines of evidence convincing, and that itself bothered me. But the last piece of evidence was easily tested: the end is near because the number of anointed ones is decreasing. I pulled out the yearbooks from the past few years. The most recent one showed an increase, not a decrease. I was shocked! I had caught the society in a lie, yet no one seemed to notice. Again, I placed this thought in the back of my mind and kept busy in Jehovah's service.
As time wore on, perhaps because of our theocratic history, when my wife and I applied to Gilead, we were accepted rather quickly. Gilead seemed to give preference to those who had experience serving in a foreign land, so we made it! I thought that this was the opportunity to clear up all my doubts and see Jehovah's guiding hand. The society assigned us to read the whole Bible before we arrived at Gilead only 3 months away, which meant reading about 17 chapters a day and little time to read anything else, including Watchtower publications. While this was a lot, for the first time in my life I was just reading the Bible without any WT interpretation. I got a different feel for the Bible, although I couldn't put my finger on anything particular, though, until I got to the book of Revelation, the week I arrived at Gilead. Reading Revelation I realized that there could be many interpretations of the book, and perhaps the Society's interpretation of some key texts (such as Rev 1:10) was flawed. Shudder the thought! Here I was in Gilead, wondering if the Society was correct in its interpretations!
As Gilead began, the doubts in that corner of my mind that I had suppressed all those years started to assert themselves. I had supposed that Gilead would be a huge relief, since the more in-depth study of the Bible would bolster my faith. However, I found that Gilead had the opposite effect, since the in-depth study showed that some beliefs did not really stand up to scrutiny at all.
As we went through theocratic history, I began to question whether Russell was really guided by God after all. The old literature - which we had free access to in the Gilead library - seemed so alien and unlike the modern JW literature, so that it seemed a stretch of the truth to call it "the truth" since "current truth" did not resemble Russell's truth at all.
Much of Gilead is spent discussing the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter - but in an unusual way. I would have expected that in Gilead we would read through the Bible and extract the practical lessons that would assist us in missionary life. There were, of course, a few lessons which used this method. However, the majority of the classes focused on prophetic parallels.
It turned out that every event in the Hebrew Scriptures was just a foreshadowing of the modern day history of the Watchtower organization. Job's comforters? False religionists attacking the anointed. The 10 plagues? This occurred to show how the work that Jehovah's people did since 1914 caused plagues to occur ion modern day Egypt (the world) in a spiritual sense. Noah and his unnamed wife? Jesus and the anointed remnant. Samson? The anointed remnant. Elijah? The anointed in the time of Russell / Rutherford. Elisha? The anointed in the time of Knorr since 1942. Isaiah? The anointed. Jeremiah? The anointed. Daniel? The anointed. Behemoth? God's organization. Leviathan? Satan's evil organization. Israelites leaving Egypt? The anointed. Vast mixed company? The great crowd. Get the picture?
Everything positive in the Bible was said to be a picture of the anointed since 1919. Everything negative was a picture of some aspect of Satan's organization, especially false religion.
Gilead transformed the way I looked at the Bible - nothing that was written could be understood unless it was representing something in the WT organization. It seemed too much to be true, it was so much overkill that every single event in the Bible had its fulfillment since 1919, that it ceased to be believable.
I realized that I could cite by rote all the scriptures necessary to prove any of these points. I could cite the chain of scriptures needed to prove 1914, paradise earth, the idea of 2 hopes, the great crowd, but each of these beliefs became less believable as I progressed in Gilead, and even the Bible itself seemed to have been devalued by their over-analysis.
Some further topics in Gilead caused me to have further doubts. Brother Carey Barber of the GB gave a talk called "The 1900 Year Old FDS". I looked forward to this talk with keen anticipation, as I imagined that it would clear up my apprehensions about the distinction between the GB (which is the de facto FDS) and the claimed FDS (all the anointed). Yet this talk left me grasping for air. Barber made the bold assertion that Jehovah has always had his true anointed worshippers since the 1st century in an unbroken line (hence the 1900 yr old slave), yet when Russell arrived on the religious scene, we had already learned that he had made an independent study of the Bible. This made no sense to me. Why would the GB assert that the FDS was running the organization when that was not true in reality? My doubts were growing, yet I resolved to continue waiting on Jehovah.
Another key teaching that caused me to feel doubt occurred when we were studying the Greek scriptures. As we covered the book of John Ch 10, we read the whole chapter in context. As we reviewed the interpretation that the WT had taught since the 1960s, I compared it to the whole chapter, and it ceased to make sense to me. I checked out some other Bibles and their commentaries (in the Gilead library), and discovered that other religions claimed that the other sheep merely referred to the Gentile Christians. This made sense to me in the context that Jesus was speaking: to Jews in the 1st century, who, if they became followers of Jesus, would eventually have to accept Gentile Christians (other sheep) into their fold. The phrase "other sheep" comes without much clarification, so it seemed that the Society had read too much into this scripture to advance their 2 class theology (a heavenly and an earthly class, hence, the "other [non-heavenly] sheep"). The Society wrote a QFR about this subject which I reviewed in Gilead, yet their arguments seemed unconvincing.
When Gerrit Loesch came to give a lecture, he mentioned that there were some doctrines that he considered to be wrong in the publications, yet it was not the time to change them yet.
At first, this statement was reassuring. Perhaps some of my misgivings were valid - all I needed to do was wait on Jehovah, and he would make sure that the light would get brighter. So again, I tucked my increasing doubts into the back of my mind, concluded my Gilead studies, and proceeded to joyfully go to my missionary assignment in Honduras.
We were assigned to a large congregation (120 pubs) in a semi-rural area. The religious climate in Honduras was unlike what I was used to in Ecuador, which was mainly Catholic, and the people did not know Their Bibles well. In Honduras, I was surprised to see the name Jehovah plastered on Billboards everywhere, and most of the people were evangelical Christians who were constantly reading the Bible. The evangelicals could be seen reading the Bible on their patios, in their houses, at their shops, as we would go preaching to them, in stark contrast to the Jehovah's Witnesses who could be seen reading the WT, Awake, latest book study publication, or yearbook, but rarely the Bible. Conversations with these people frequently led to Bible ping pong, and most of the friends in the congregation felt that it was useless to spend time discussing the Bible with these people as the conversations went nowhere. For every proof text that a JW had, the evangelicals had an equally powerful text that proved the opposite. It seemed the height of irony to me that the people who knew the Bible so well would be viewed by Jehovah's Witnesses as useless, and as Jehovah's Witnesses we preferred to witness to people who were ignorant about the Bible. This seemed contrary to reason. If Jehovah's Witnesses based their entire belief system on the Bible, and nothing else, then wouldn't it be easier to preach to those who had an intimate knowledge of the Bible? Would they be more attracted to the "truth"? Unless, the thought came to me again, that perhaps we didn't have the truth after all.
This hit me hard again one day as I was conducting a Bible Study with someone in the Require brochure. We were on lesson 6, discussing God's hope for the earth. As we read the paragraph on the paradise earth, I realized that there was no specific scriptural backing for the concept.
I also realized that I was merely parroting off what was in the paragraph, although I was doubting it myself ("paradise earth" does not appear in the Bible at all).
Shortly thereafter, we returned to the USA. I no longer felt comfortable as a missionary, so I resigned my position and moved to New York. Yet I still believed that Jehovah's Witnesses had the truth, mostly because of the love that they showed and their worldwide unity. While I recognized that some of the doctrine was wrong, I figured that Jehovah would clear it up in due time, as the WT and specifically Gerrit Loesch had indicated.
One day, around the time I turned 35, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I might die in this system of things. I had always believed that I would never die, since the society had made bold claims as I was growing up: "Millions now living will never die!" Never mind that they made the same promise in the 1920s, and just about everyone who believed it is now dead, but I was taught that the time was right in the 80s, since the 1914 generation was dying out. Well, that teaching went the way of the dodo in 1995, yet I still believed that I would be part of the great crowd that would survive Armageddon and would never die. All that changed when I began to face my own mortality. I began having nightmares every night, dreaming that I was going to die, and feeling that I would never wake up. After several months of this, I realized that I had little faith in the resurrection. I began grieving my own death, knowing that when I would die, it would be the end of it all. How sad! I had believed all my life that it would never end, yet now I felt as if it were so short! After several months of emotional turmoil, I finally told my wife that I was doubting the resurrection. She became upset, and told me that I was going apostate. She called one of her friends from Bethel who worked at Gilead, and reported to him what I had said. She insisted that I call him. What he told me shocked me. He said that when he was in his 30s, he had his own doubts about Jehovah's Witnesses and was seriously questioning his faith. But he came to grips with his doubts, and decided that it was the truth after all, and left his doubts in Jehovah's hands and encouraged me to do the same. I thanked him for his frankness, yet my doubts were now becoming stronger and stronger, and could no longer be relegated to the some confine of my brain and silenced.
Around this time I was facing some challenges in my job due to my lack of education. My employer wished to give me more responsibility and a promotion, but without a college degree they could not promote me. They opted to just increase my responsibilities with a very modest increase in pay, without giving me a promotion. So I was now doing much more work, yet at essentially the same pay level and title as before.
Recognizing my conundrum, my boss offered to help me get tuition assistance if I wanted to go to college and get my Bachelors degree. I readily accepted! I decided to do an accelerated course online, especially in view of the Society's criticism of college that take lengthy periods of time. My wife objected to my studying at college, but since she had no biblical grounds to oppose me, she relented and stopped her opposition.
I chose my courses carefully to avoid any that would conflict with my belief system. While a philosophy course was mandatory, I chose one that focused on Computer ethics, although we still had to review great thinkers such as Immanuel Kant and ethical systems such as ism. While I felt that the bible was sufficient as a moral guide for me, in this class we had to incorporate about 8 different ethical systems and apply those principles to ethical questions related to computers. I was forced to contemplate non-biblical ways of ethical thinking, which helped to open my mind.
In my final semester of undergraduate studies, there was an atheist who was in four of my classes. In two of my classes there was also a JW sister. The atheist classmate would be vocal about his ideas on occasion, and sometimes I or the sister would defend our beliefs, generally using the Bible. She sent me an email describing the atheist classmate as a "poor misguided soul". Yet while I was defending my views along with her, I failed to see him as misguided. He seemed to be happy in his disbelief, and continued to post ideas that made me think.
At this time it was March of 2008. I was missing many meetings since my heart wasn't in it due to the increasing tide of doubts that would not be silenced. I had not been out in service in a few months either (which was a first for me, as I was always a 30, 40, or 50 hour publisher). I even began to describe the Jehovah's Witnesses in the 3rd person when talking with my wife ("You Jehovah's Witnesses, not including myself). One day my wife came home and told me that Bro Loesch was giving a talk in a neighboring hall, and she wanted me to go. I accepted, and listened to the talk "Are you Marked for Survival?", which coincidentally, I used to give so I knew the outline well. One section in that talk describes the prophecies that Jehovah's Witnesses expect to be fulfilled soon. As Loesch began to describe the attack of the UN on Babylon the Great, the attack of Gog and Magog, the cry of "peace and security", etc., I realized that I didn't believe in any of that anymore... it was no longer believable. I realized that I was taking huge steps in my life if I no longer trusted the GB.
The following week was the 2008 memorial. For the first time in my life, I saw the memorial as a mindless ritual, always the same outline (I had delivered the memorial talk about 4 or 5 times), always the same message: "don't partake of the emblems, only the anointed can, and they are not here". It made no sense to me anymore. The next week I found myself at that fateful assembly day, when I realized that I no longer considered myself one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I would no longer go to meetings or go out in mindless service.
Within hours, I was on the internet, seeking out like minded people, wondering if anyone else felt like I did. To my amazement I was not alone. Thousands of people have been disenfranchised and scarred by their experience as Jehovah's Witnesses, who are not the most loving people on the earth, especially if you dare to disagree with them.
If any doubting JW is reading this story, take heart. There are thousands, yes millions of people outside the JW organization, who will respect you and love you, not because you robotically share the same enforced beliefs, but because of a shared sense of humanity. While I spent my first 37 years of life as a JW I am not bitter. I am resolved to spend the rest of my life in ways that help my fellowman, not by insisting that people adopt my beliefs, but by genuinely caring for others, and doing what I can to help people.
Thanks Nathan, I appreciate your all-out supports, It was just what I needed. You warm my heart.