Hello everyone. Well this is it, my first post. Ive too have been lurking here for some time. My deconversion story is a bit unique in the sense of me turning atheist but still believing in my religion. My deconversion story was written for a podcast called A Matter of Doubt which hopes to have an episode on Jehovahs Witnesses in the future. This is one of the reasons for the explainations of theology and the footnotes. My apologies for the length of this first post but I hope this give an overview of my journey.
To start with I would just like to say thank you for letting me talk about my experiences. I have thought long and hard about doing something like this, realising that the potential consequences of openly talking about my experiences both good and bad my lead to me having allegations of apostasy levelled again me which could have consequences, not just for myself but for my family. These include the famous or infamous shunning policy used by Jehovah Witnesses and other high control groups like Morons and Scientology. I would loose contact with all family and friends associated with the Witnesses. Any who break this law and interact with me run the risk of being similarly marked, shunned or ostracised. (*1)
I have only highlighted some of the main areas that I feel have contributed to where I am now, both mentally and emotionally. One of the reasons for this is that it is difficult for me to point to a specific thing as the more it think about these things it is more a sequence of events, some small and others large.
To start I guess I need to begin with my father. It is strange how in some cases history repeats itself. Because of my father’s upbringing he felt the need to question his religious upbringing. My grandparents were Catholic and Protestant respectively. Speaking to him about the event he says that he invited several priests, vicars and other religious leaders from other religions and presented them with a set of questions (A good sceptical way of doing it only with one flaw, he never considered whether there was a god to start with). Most failed to answer them to his satisfaction apart from a Jehovah Witness. This person managed to answer his questions, expound aspect of scripture that he found hard to reconcile with mainstream Christian religions. He was convinced he had found something new, insightful and true. The date is 1978/79.
Jehovah Witnesses as a religion at this point was slowly rebuilding itself after the 1975 ‘End of the World’ debacles. Like the recent experience of Harold Camping the ‘End’ did not come about. Many life long witnesses had left the religion, others still were left destitute and penniless after selling all the material possessions and giving them to the religion or just giving their money away. Many witnesses now have no memory of this occurring, I certainly didn’t. There were rumours of things said, misunderstanding from witnesses, false expectations concerning times and dates. Most interest was hushed away along with the failed predications of 1925, 1919, 1915, 1914 and the late 1800’s (*2)
During the end of the 1970’s the religion was wracked with infighting and power grabs. The Governing Body came into existence and wrestled control away from the then President. There were mass disfellowshippings on grounds of gross apostasy. Governing Body members were removed and disfellowshipped and life long witnesses were removed from positions and sent packing. (*3) Again this period of recent history gets revised and whitewashed away.
In 1981 I was born into a loving household. Even though after a number of years my parents separated and my father retained custody of my younger brother and myself my life was full of love, knowledge about the world around me and a natural curiosity about things. With being in a single parent family life was still stressful. My father, now fulfilling two roles in the family brought my brother and myself up as good boys. We weren’t perfect and as typical brothers we had periods of wanting to kill each other and other times when we were inseparable. My father always instilled in us both a, what I now know to be, a consequentialist ethical perspective to my actions.
Religion was the focus of our lives. It was the nexus of my existence. Even as a young child you were imbued with a sense being special, Gods chosen ones. Even though we lived in the mixed cultural city of Manchester with different flavours of Christianity and Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, I was taught from infancy that these religions were wrong. We knew that the bible was right compare to the Koran and we were the ones who knew what the bible really said about things. However my father seemed to instil in me an intellectual instead of an emotional understanding and appreciation of God and religion. I was and still am surrounded by wonderful people who genuinely love people. They have a good knowledge of the Bible and try to live their lives according to it. Even when life gets difficult they have a support network of family and friends who will bend over backwards to help each other. You will find some of the finest human beings who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Another thing that was to play a large part in my upbringing and my humanist leanings early on was Star Trek. This taught me that humanity has the potential to unite and achieve so much for the betterment of our species and fellow species on the planet and maybe beyond. Funny how Star Trek comes back into this story later. I had a love of history and the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks, Romans made me aware of other Gods and Goddesses who were once worshipped with the same zeal and devotion as those today.
As I mentioned previously I happened to be born in a very diverse and multi cultural city, Manchester. This city had large communities of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs etc. So when going on the ministry (knocking on doors) having an understanding of other religions would help in trying to converse and possibly convert them.
So as the years pass I had different experiences both good and bad. My father remarried and we move across country. Now in the east of the country I enjoyed some of my happiest and saddest memories. Happy in that I had finished school and started technical college (studying paint and decorating) passing my driving test and getting my first car. Getting into trouble for silly things.
I also had the best experience, that of meeting my wife, on a building site of all places.
At this point my life was wonderful. Married and a father to a little girl my spirituality was at its strongest. I had a deep love for Jehovah and a passion for my religion. I was deepening my knowledge into the bible, though had never read it through at this point. I felt that I had a place in the congregation I was in. I regularly had talks (sermons) on the platform and enjoyed various roles and duties. I even contacted BBC Radio 5 live when an ex witness was on Victoria Derbyshire morning program, i was willing to go on national radio to stand up for my beliefs. Like I said my life was wonderful.
We decided to try for another child but sadly my pregnant wife had a miscarriage after 12 weeks and the first doubt crept in. It was the hardest time of my life and even harder for my wife. I was determined not to blames God for what had happened. Its was in the recovery that my wife and I happened across a YouTube series by Pro Robert Winston explaining the process of pregnancy that gave a natural explanation to how pregnancy and miscarriage occur. For the first time I realised that this natural explanation meant that I could not blame God and I could not blame Satan (in witness theology Satan is a real being). The series explained the process, in which eggs are fertilized, the chances of a pregnancy going to full term and the high probability of miscarriage throughout the 9 months
When my wife fell pregnant, this time with twins, this natural explanation carried on. If I couldn’t blame God for the miscarriage how could I thank him for now for my wife having twins?
Slowly the more I started to think about different things the more doubts and questions were raised in my mind. However like most religious people, any doubts, questions would be put to the back of my mind. You develop a mind set of not questioning. I had no knowledge of cognitive dissidence. At this point my relationship with God was strained. Looking back now it is almost as if I became an atheist but still believed in my religion.
The questions were small things at first, quirky things. You have to understand that I thoroughly believed the thing I had been taught. I believed that God would come and remove the wicked from the earth and that only those who do his will now would remain. However if that is the case and those remaining would have to rebuild the planet and society, why is higher education not encouraged? Why in most cases we are told not to seek higher education? Where are the builders, designers and engineers going to come from? For those resurrected, those billions from previous times who would come back, how would they be cared for if there were no trained professionals to help rehabilitate them into a new world? These questions rattled around my mind for along time and others like it.
We come back to Star Trek. I was at work listening to a podcast called Treks in Sci-Fi. A Star Trek podcast to satisfy my geeky self. After listening to this the next one on my clients Internet radio was a sceptical podcast, Sceptics Guide to the Universe. Over the weeks and months of going through the back catalogue I found that the process by which I thought was changing. As I looked at homeopathy, pseudo science and other claims I realised that these were not based on factual information and more importantly evidence. The need for rigorous search for a evidence first instead of having a conclusion first and ‘cherry picking’ the evidence to fit your own bias. I guess it was inevitable that this new sceptical mindset would turn to my faith.
I was sure that because I had the true faith that it could withstand even a cursory sceptical glance at the claims made by my religion. Truth should withstand scrutiny. I started to delve into the religion of my birth, the one true religion. I have always been a lover of history, whether biblical or secular history so I wanted to research something that would build my faith in my religion and maybe faith in God again.
In witness theology the date of the destruction of Jerusalem first temple period is of vital importance. The reason for this is a specific time prophecy pointing to the year 1914 is the beginning of Jesus invisible kingdom rule in heaven. From this point the prophecy in Revelation of the 2 witnesses point to the Bible Students (aka what JW were called before the 1930s) being chosen by Jesus Christ to be the chosen religion of Jehovah God. From this the religions leadership gains its authority over all Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of the strengths of the religion is the internal consistency of the teachings and how the theology fits together. I had no reason to doubt this corner stone of the religion based on internal evidence.
This is where my new skeptism came into play. For now I decided to look at the external evidence for the claim made that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607bce. Nothing! No external historical account, evidence in any way supports the claim. So because the start date for the ‘prophecy’ was incorrect, so would the 1914 date be wrong. I had within a short period knocked the foundation of the house of cards.
After all of this searching, after all the sleepless nights, I came to realise that the one true religion was predicated on lies and falsehoods. It was pretty devastating. I was funny though because through all of this I had still not read the Bible. After all this I was willing to give it all another chance. So I started reading the ‘Holy’ Bible. Maybe the quotes give it away what I think of the book. I didn’t want anyone to say to me that I had not tried to keep the embers of a faith going as long as possible.
As you might imagine the best thing to make someone having doubts become agnostic or an atheist is to get them to read their own holy book. I started off with the Hebrew bible first. I slowly made my way through the books of the bible honestly seeking something to base any remaining faith on. I tried my best to not dwell on the war crimes committed, the rapes, the abuse of women.
I could not do it. I could not in good conscience serve a god who behaves in that manner. If a god exists, and that god happens to be the god of the bible does not deserve recognition let alone worship.
I came, finally, to the realisation of my atheism but the removal of my religious belief did not cause an emotional collapse as it has with other ex witnesses and other religious people. For me a new humanism replaced religion. I personally found this helped me to come to terms with my past and to not make me bitter or resentful about my religious upbringing. I am who I am because of my religion and upbringing. I just feel that I have grown beyond the narrow confines of a religious mind. I have been reading Robert Ingersol recently, he likens the religious mind to being a bird in the cage of religion. Whereas a freethinking mind is like an eagle soaring through the clouds.
I have always had an inquiring mind. As a believer I had grown up with the idea that I had enough knowledge and that that was good enough. I was warned of looking too deep, inquiring too far and that disaster and danger lurked unseen for those who did. Being a believer makes you scared to learn anything new. Anything that has the potential to knock your faith in God is something to be left well alone. However the ones who give this admonition never specify what might affect you faith. You become so paranoid of the world we live in. Scared to look into the future and make plans of any kind.
Now I wish to live with the words of Christopher Hitchens in mind and to instil this to my children. I tried to cut it but it wouldn’t do it justice. The quote is from his debate with William Dembski. You can find it on YouTube here
Christopher Hitchens' closing statement: "...why don't you accept this wonderful offer (of eternal life in heaven) ? Why wouldn't you like to meet Shakespeare, for example? I don't know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It's not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairytale to me. The only reason I want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him any time because he is immortal in the works he's left behind. If you've read those then meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. But when Socrates was sentenced to death, for his philosophical investigations & for blasphemy for challenging the gods of the city, & he accepted his death he did say, "Well, if we are lucky perhaps I will be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers & philosophers & doubters, too." In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, & what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that's the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don't know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can't give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don't know anything like enough yet... that I haven't understood enough... that I can't know enough... that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge & wisdom. I wouldn't have it any other way. And I'd urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. ...& that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don't think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty & wisdom will come to you that way.
All the Best
*1 Link to the current elders book, which gives the definition of apostasy
Page 94 deals with the apostasy. Notice the point, ‘Persons who deliberately spread (stubbornly hold to and speak about) teachings contrary to the Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses are apostates”. What I have to think has to be inline with current teachings. According to this definition I am an apostate if I hold the fact that the Sumerian civilisation pre-dates the creation of Adam and Eve. A fact to which there are multiple lines of evidence leading archaeologist’s to this conclusion.
*2Hear is an example of the rhetoric and the ramping up of excitement for the 1975 date.
This is the 4 th Watchtower President Fred Franz giving a speech about 1975
*3PDF Of Raymond Franz book Crisis of Conscience
Raymond was the Governing Body member removed and subsequently disfellowshipped. He gives a pretty objective view of the history of the witness movement and the events leading up to his removal.