Greeting to all the readership:
I am a newcomer to this board, and as I have enjoyed reading the self-introductions of others, I'd thought I'd post one of my own.
In 1966 I was a nine year old boy and my parents where going through a messy divorce. I wound up spending some time with an aunt and uncle who had been JWs for all of their adult lives, and they gave me a copy of the WTBTS book _From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained_. Do you remember it? It had an orange cover with a relief design and was about a hundred pages long with a large typeface, a simplified vocabulary, plenty of drawings, and packed with nightmares that troubled me for the next six or seven years. At that age I had no understanding of critical analysis and was under the delusion that anything that appeared in hardcover must be true. They told my mother that it was a Christian book and would do me good, so she didn't check it out any further. In addition to the book, my aunt and uncle made it clear to me that there were only a few years left and that anyone who wasn't a JW would get blasted by lighting or dropped into a pit when the Big A arrived "real soon". I vividly recall the discussions of how the wild carrion eating birds would have a most fabulous feast day come 1975.
I got involved in a JW bible study around 1969 but various family disruptions, poverty living, and having to move several times interrupted my progress. But the pictures and stories remained in my head and where further enhanced by the slew of different books and magazines sold by the WTBTS at the time. How could all of them been wrong? Who was I to challenge them? Besides, they told me that if I joined up than I would be treated as an equal in spite of being poor.
In mid 1972 I started to get a bit anxious about the rapidly approaching 1975. So I started another study and was rushed into a baptism early in 1973. But then several things happened:
1) Once I had been successfully inducted on the WTBTS statistics sheet, it became clear that the others' interest in me waned to a minimum and that there was never a real personal concern in the first place. The established members of the congregation seemed to lose interest in those brothers and sisters who were dependent on them for transportation to meetings and for the field service. Plus it was a lot less fun at the coffee and doughnut shops if the more established publishers had to cough up money for food for the poorer ones.
2) The gossiping and cliques were fairly well hidden from the yet-to-be-dipped, but once the capture was made there was no need to be coy about things. It became clear that the "unconditional, agape love" was in fact quite conditional and formed by self interest. The second class members were always marked with an unwritten yet clear catagorization: those who were poor, those who had to miss some meetings because of work or family, those who had family who had been reproved or disfellowshipped, etc. A further annoyance was the obvious brown nosing done by most of the congregation towards the elders. Even at that young age I had but little respect for bum kissers and even less today.
3) I had always been interested in the the WTBTS books but had never had much chance to see the older literature. And then the first crack appeared: I was in the Kingdom hall library and got my hands on a copy of Russell's _Studies in the Scriptures_, complete with a fold out chart of how the Great Pyramid revealed all of God's Plan of the Ages. Well, revealed it to Russell, at least. What was revealed to me was that Russell and his theology had serious problems. The doubt began there that Sunday afternoon.
4) As the little town I lived it hadn't many decent places for teenagers to hang out (at least for free), I found myself spending a lot of time at the modest public library. And one day I just happened to look up the WTBTS in the card catalog (these were the pre-computer days) and managed to find a couple of books that opened my eyes. One of the was titled _Four Major Cults_ (I forget the author), and the second was by a British ex-JW by the name of Stevenson (I forget the title). Now I started to have real doubts.
5) But it was not the "opposer" (now it's called "apostate") literature that was the final straw. Instead it was from the newer WTBTS publications with their arrogant exegesis and totally off the wall comments on science and technology issues. I recall the exact moment I realized it was all a crock: during the Tuesday evening book study when the text was describing (inventing, really) all of these fanciful and totally unjustified details about some flying scroll of judgement. (From Zephiniah, perhaps?) Anyway, I finally saw then what I should have seen so much earlier: that the Brooklyn bozos were just spewing inventions that had nothing to do with God or Christianity.
I withdrew from field service at that point. It was not much of a loss to the WTBTS as there were few publishers who would willingly cart around broke and car-less teenagers. I also dropped out of most of the meetings, although I would still go to some of the Sunday ones to keep family peace. But even then I sat in the back and snuck in other reading material to keep the boredom away. I probably made a mistake by not telling them exactly what I thought of them, right then and there.
A further friction began when I noticed that most of the students at the high school I attended started talking about college plans. No one in my family had ever gone to college, and quite a few of them didn't make it though high school (although both my parents did). So with the encouragement of my "worldly" friends, I signed up for some of the college aptitude tests. When the school guidance staff got news of my somewhat decent results, they helped me with picking college prep courses and also assisted me with the selection and admissions process.
Well, for those of you around at the time, in the early 1970s it was a most definite no-no to even think about going to college. Word of my interest got into the gossip mill and one day I found myself in a discussion with the Circuit Overseer about it. For perhaps the first time I was unafraid to say precisely what I was thinking. I remember exactly what happened; I shook his hand in greeting and said, "I'm planning on going to college and some people in the congregation told me it was an un-Christian thing to do. Please tell me exactly where in the bible that a college education is forbidden." He was flustered, to say the least, and had no good reply. Perhaps because there was no possible good reply. That was the last meeting I attended and I don't think anyone was sad to see me go.
A year or so later it was 1975 and I graduated from high school with the nightmares and delusions gone for good. When October first of that year came and the 6,000 years had run out, I had some correspondence with my aunt and uncle who gave me the Paradise book nine years earlier. They tried to get me to return, but I let them know that the WTBTS was just another sect and it's views on college and on "worldly" people in general were nothing more than self serving imagination. When I returned home ffrom college during Christmas vacation, the local congregation sent over a pair of elders who gave me the boot for failing to toe the WTBTS line. It was great to see the expressions on their faces when they were expecting fear and remorse from me but got laughter and a rebuke instead.
Have I forgiven my JW relatives? Have I forgiven the WTBTS? There was a whole lot of hurt caused by them: uncounted night terrors, anxiety, depression, social restrictions during my formative teenage years, and an attempt to sabotage my education. While it is true that perhaps none of them intended to do evil, the evil was done. And it was done not to just to me, but to millions of WTBTS victims. I was just a kid and was foolishly trusting. They were adults and should have known better.
A few years later in the early 1980s I happened across a religious discussion show on television and there were a few ex-JWs as guests. I didn't catch the entire show, but I did get the contact information at the end, and the next day I sent out an order for a copy of _Crisis of Conscience_. When it came in the mail a couple of weeks later, I sat down at a local coffee shop (I could afford it on my own by then) and started to read. Of all the books I have ever read (there are 18 bookcases in my home), there were only a handful that I went through cover to cover without stopping, and Ray Franz' little liberating text was one of them. If only I had seen something like that fifteen years earlier!
A postscript: my interaction with the WTBTS turned me off towards all religion, and Christianity in particular, for many years. But in the early 1990s I came across another can't-put-down book: _Mere Christianity_ by C. S. Lewis. For those who haven't read it, I'll warn you now that it's exceedingly dangerous. It managed to re-form my entire thoughts and got me on a two year investigative trail with the result that I became an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. This is where I am today and I am very satisfied with it. Surprisingly, the religion that the WTBTS loves to bash is the very one that convinced me to forgive the WTBTS for the evil they propagated.
That's my story. Have you posted yours?