When I joined the JWs in the 1980s, it definitely was not because I felt they would make life more satisfying and happy now or because they brought benefits to the community at large.
I come from a family of Jews and Catholics with some agnostic and atheist minds included for a sprinkling of balance. Interestingly there have not been any real quarrels regarding personal convictions. Not that there have not been disagreements and family feuds (some of enormous proportion), but they were about what our family saw as more important things: one aunt marrying a man who abused her constantly while dating, an uncle who wouldn't set aside anything for the college funds of his children, who really made the best and worst turkey for Thanksgiving, and whether or not we should all go to the pride parade in June because we have one lesbian and gay man in the family (my cousins).
But differences or debates on religion? The only time it happened was when one family, my own starting studying and attending meetings, not at a synagogue or church or lodge, but at that cultish place: something called a "Kingdom Hall."
There was no doubt in my mind that becoming a Jehovah's Witness meant being hated, causing division, losing family and friends, being persecuted, not participating in the world community--even to do some practical good...
In fact, the JWs studying with me insisted that all this negativity was the sign that I was doing something good, that we truly had Jehovah's favor. The more problems, the more difficulty, the more struggle, the more you had to sacrifice and the more you hated it and were hated, yes that's what the True Religion was "supposed" to feel like. Those were its earmarks, I was taught.
My first Kingdom Hall was clean but shabby compared to the great cathedrals and temples my family worshipped in. In fact the Hall (and the people in it) looked depressingly plain, like a 1975 Sears store had an affair with a 1972 K-mart and their illegitimate love child threw up over everything and everyone, leaving this Watchtower Study in its place. Yep, this too was a "proof" that it was the True Religion.
I guess in my era of entrance the JWs sold the fact that they were shabby, had little, were hated by (and themselves hated) non-JWs. It was rough, tough, we ate dirt, and we thanked Jehovah for it because, as one of the first JWs told me (since we were at height of the Cold War era too): "We know that we are the only ones who will survive Armageddon, even if it involves nuclear bombs, so we endure all this so Jehovah will save us, even miraculously even!"
Stupid me. I believed it! And I even sold it to others, for a while.
And what did my non-JW family have during the 1980s at their places of worship? Pretty churches and modern synagogues and youth programs and family outings and scholarship programs (which my uncle was taking advantage of for his kids, it turns out) and modern Bible translations like the NJPS and the NRSV and ecumenical meetings and no persecution or knocking on doors on hot Saturday mornings to talk to a bunch of pissed-off neighbors who never converted to my stupid religion after preaching to them for a decade.
A lot of good it did me, and a "lot of good" I accomplished over that wasted decade...Not!
It wasn't a cool religion to join, that's for sure. If it was for any other reason except fearing a nuclear holocaust (yep, that's the real reason I joined), I would have never joined. They had no amenities or tradition or even real Bible education, just a self-denial complex to offer.
What I learned from the JW religion? I learned this one, very significant, and life-saving truth: I was a stupid ass in the 1980s and needed to get my act together lest I wasted the rest of my life.
You can only truly learn that lesson when you find yourself surrounded by other stupid asses in a club for stupid asses that only lets members in if they promise to be stupid asses. For this awakening, I shall be eternally grateful to the Watchtower Bible & Stupid Ass Society.
Muchas gracias. Shalom. Mike drop.