I’ve been as occasional lurker here for a little while, trying to get oriented. My theocratic autobiography: my mother became a Jehovah’s Witness when I was approx. 10. My father opposed this, but they still live together to this day. I took the religion deeply to my heart, and never thought to question anything I heard. I went with mum to meetings, until I was about 14, when I discovered that kissing girls was a great deal of fun. I still continued to believe in the Jehovah’s Witness teachings, you call this being “stalled”, I think. I certainly felt like I had two brains, one that believed and one that didn’t.
Before I went to university (~18 yrs old) I started having a bible study again, because the Gulf War had just broken out and that scared the shit out of me. In my mind, I was having a bible study before it was too late, so I did not question what was being said to me. I already believed it all anyway, and I was just having the study quickly so I wasn’t slaughtered at Armageddon. History repeated itself when about 6 months later I “fell away”, but I continued to believe the teachings in my heart, although in my head I wanted not to believe. Writing this, I am wondering why I stopped attending if I believed? It was nothing I could put my finger on, there was just something about the people that really freaked me out. Also, I couldn’t see how people were getting a fair chance of making the most important decision in the universe on the basis of a few strange people knocking on their door. I could not reasonably equate someone saying to a Jehovah’s Witness who had knocked on their door “sorry, I’m not interested”, with someone who was volunteering for a tortured death at the imminent Armageddon, and who was deliberate worshiper of Satan. The people who I’d met at university seemed quite nice, I couldn’t imagine why they were candidates for imminent violent slaughter.
Skip forward 9.5 years. During this time I’d met my girlfriend, set up home, got a good job. However, I was still secretly stalled, and I would panic whenever I heard of any piece of news that might indicate that Armageddon was imminent (you know the thing, earthquake, famine, flood, pestilence etc etc). Any mention in the world of either war or peace would send my head into a spin. At this point I have to congratulate the Jehovah’s Witnesses for the sheer genius of teaching that two entirely contradictory concepts such as war and peace are simultaneously signs that the end is near. There was not a single news story about international politics that I did not instinctively interpret as either nations preparing for war or making peace, and all were signs of the end.
I also have to get of my chest another pair of teachings, that of “the love of the greater number will cool off” and “just as in Noah’s day, men will marry and etc etc……”. So everything I heard about violence or crime or people being mean was evidence of “the love of the greater number will cool off”, and it was a sign of the end. However, when I heard stories of people’s kindness, thoughtfulness, love, respect, dignity, honour, diligence and joy, I thought to myself “aha, people will say that things are going on just as they have done for centuries. This is just as it was in Noah’s day”. So, if someone was kind to me, it was a sign of the end. If someone was mean to me, it was a sign of the end. If someone raised money for a children’s charity, it was a sign of the end. If someone went mad with a gun in a school, it was a sign of the end. If two countries made war, it was a sign of the end. If they made peace, it was a sign of the end. If they made neither war or peace but just continued to coexist uneasily with each other, this was “men not open to any agreement” and was also a sign of the end. I expect, if John Major (or Bill Clinton for our American cousins) had farted on national television, I would have thought that was a sign of the end as well.
I thought all these things, and I had spent only the briefest of times associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and had never even come close to being baptised. Then came the events of September 11th 2001 (which ends the 9.5 years mentioned above). I’m ashamed to say that I thought very little of the immense human suffering surrounding those events, so wrapped up was I in my own panic about what was to happen to the earth. If anything was going to start the Great Tribulation, then this was surely it. However, I also realised that my feelings were simply history repeating itself. Different war, same reaction. I picked up my courage and started to investigate the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I got Crisis of Conscience and The Gentile Times Reconsidered (4 months after Sept. 11, I was still terrified of anything apostate!). Bloody hell! They don’t tell you that sort of stuff at meetings do they! I also looked at the (many many) websites opposed to Jehovah’s Witnesses, although these were generally not helpful to me.
So here I am, starting to put the teachings behind me with the assistance of these two books. I am a scientist by profession (I have a degree in mathematical physics), but I find religious argument very difficult to follow. I find I become convinced by the last person who spoke to me, and I find it difficult to reason for myself in these areas. I have tried to distil my reasons for not believing in the JW teachings into two points that I can remember in the heat of discussion (in particular, if my mother decides to raise the subject, which so far she has not done in 10 years).
1. 607 BCE - I am fully satisfied by the archaeological evidence that the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 587/6 BCE As far as I can see, since their very beginning, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have taught that the Temple was destroyed in 607 BCE It is a non-negotiable belief of theirs, and anyone who is found not to believe in it is disfellowshiped. Their whole chronology and claim to be the unique channel for God’s divine will on earth stems from this date. I know that sometimes some Witnesses try to downplay the importance of their chronology and stress instead the wholesomeness of the organisation as proof of divine guidance. However, even if each and every Jehovah’s Witness on planet earth was a paragon of virtue, even if each and every elder was the very model of the Good Shepherd, and even if every thought and action of the Governing Body was guided by deep prayer and study of the scriptures, the fact that their position on 607 BCE (and therefore 1914 CE) is wrong means that they cannot claim to be God’s unique channel at this time, they are therefore just another religion playing at biblical numerology and prophecy interpretation and I am therefore free to pursue my thoughts on God according to my own studies and prayers.
2. Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly those in authority in the organisation, mis-represent other religions, academic experts and their own past to give an appearance of justification for their own position. This is not consistent with being a divinely guided organisation, in my opinion. For example, they persecute other religions when they change their minds, but feel free to change their minds themselves under the guise of “new light” (I thought the scripture was “light getting brighter”, this is a totally different concept from “new light”, is it not?). Their arguments against 587 BCE as the date for Jerusalem’s destruction are manipulative and a disgrace, and they themselves know exactly what they are doing when they make their arguments. They persecute their own followers for the wrong beliefs they themselves taught them to believe. I was stunned when I read about the change in the “this generation” doctrine. It was not so much the change of policy, but the extraordinary manner of the change which I found so shocking. I read in Franz’s book that the November 1 1995 Watchtower used the phrase “Jehovah’s people have at times speculated about the time when the great tribulation would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914.” How dare they say this! How dare they imply, with clever, devious words, that the rank and file Witnesses went around speculating of their own accord. They were told, I was told, we were all told exactly what “this generation” meant by the Watchtower, and no-one else, time and time and time again until it was etched deeply into our brains. If a brother or sister before 1995 had said they belived in a figurative interpretation of “this generation” they would have been disfellowshipped, would they not? We speculated nothing, and were told everything on this matter. How dare they cynically and deliberately twist the truth, and still claim to be God’s sole agent on earth. They have acted soley to protect their own reputation and position, with no sign of christian love for their brothers.
The next time I meet a Witness, however, all this will fall out of my head and I will be back to being a scared 10 year old boy who just wants to agree with everyone so they will say what a good boy I am.
If you’ve read all this, I am deeply indebted to your patience! I feel better for it. Please feel free to pick apart my arguments above, I could do with the practice in case I meet one of “them” again. I hope you are all well.