Since I just signed up and posted a few times without doing this yet, here is my story.
I think that I became a Jehovah’s Witness because of my immaturity. I had some quirky personality traits, and I joined finding that I fit in because, as I said to myself: “These people get me. A lot of them are just like me.”
I was 18 at the time. My parents, who were home-staying-on-Sunday Christians, dabbled in Watchtower-ism for a bit. My father was the one who was more fascinated than my mother. In the summer of 1984 he passed on a Watchtower and Live Forever Book he got from the workmate who regularly witnessed to him. I had my own interest in the Bible and was one of those people who, upon reading Watchtower theology for the first time, claimed it “had a ring of truth to it.”
To speed things up, I got to studying, was baptized after only 6 months, and became a regular auxiliary pioneer as soon as I was able to qualify. I was soon handling the microphones and having parts on assembly and convention programs, and eventually became a ministerial servant and regular pioneer.
But one day I woke up to find I just wasn’t the boy who lapped up the idealistic dreams of yesterday. Being the very studious type, I actually studied myself through everything ever published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (there was no CD-ROM library yet). I moved on to reading the Church Fathers and learned critical methodology and, oddly, noticed how everything just left me feeling high and dry.
I had begun giving public talks at my hall, and soon, to my surprise, I had become one of the most requested ministerial servants among the congregations in our circuit to give visiting talks at other Halls around my state. As the requests kept coming in, a certain elder in my Hall grew more jealous. Eventually he couldn’t hold it in, I suppose, because he eventually devised a series of (shall we say) “complications” for me. Since that is another story entirely, let me shorten it to this: the lies and plots of the elder came to light, he had to step down, and the elder body had to formally apologize to me for what they had done (it was significant). Two days after the apologies came (some of them had apologized to me in addition to the formal apology), I left after giving my last public talk.
Yep, one day I was a Watchtower-brand Kool-Aid recommending orator and the next they were reading my disassociation notice. It shook many horribly, I came to learn, and some who were there to hear about my formal cutting of ties with the Organization found it in themselves to get up and leave themselves. About one-third of my circle of friends eventually left in the months and years after I did.
I caught up a bit on my education, got a great job, started a family, built a home, a new circle of friends, reconnected with non-JW family and am still living a great and fulfilling life. Nobody’s is perfect, but it is far better than what I had as a Witness.
But the point to all this is the lesson I learned about myself.
You see, after I left I had decided I had enough with religion. No more God, no more Bible, no more meetings. No, I don’t want to go to your church, don’t want to talk about your religion, I am fine as I am.
I still think that is a pretty healthy set of convictions to have. If they are yours, you can rest assured you will find me in your corner should you ever need support.
However, the lesson I still needed to learn came from my best friend Randall and his family. Randall was brought up an atheist. His parents are both doctors, his older sister is a scientist, and he himself crunches numbers as an accountant for a living. They are very straight-forward people, very loving, wonderful to be with, generally always happy and laughing, and they were a great support for me after I left the JWs.
Randall was my school-boy pal. We had grown up together since meeting on the first day of school in Kindergarten (it was snowing that day, and we used magnifying glasses to try to see if we could see the patterns of the snowflakes that landed in each other’s hair). Randall stuck around during my JW days, even agreed to study. I got to preach to his family on a few occasions, and they were more than happy to embrace me as one of them after I left that religion behind.
One day I was visiting them when they were having a barbecue in the backyard. The family always had wonderful in-depth conversations and even lively debates with friends about all types of subjects: politics, global warming, latest in medicine and science, even pop culture. It was great.
So when a friend among the invited group brought up the fact that they had joined a mega-church in the area and had undergone something they believed might have been a spiritual experience, I opened my mouth. Out came things like “lack of evidence,” “credulity is no substitute for critical thinking,” “belief in God is for the weak.” I used my best arguments, quoted this and that, and was on a roll until I noticed no one else was chiming in. I think I even stopped in mid-sentence when I realized I was just getting stares and silence, especially from Randall and his family.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Randall’s mom, Eileen, spoke up. “You’re Jehovah’s Witness is showing,” she said.
It hit me like a cartoon character getting bonked on the head with an iron anvil. I had left the JW religion, but it hadn’t left me. No, I wasn’t preaching religion anymore. But I was still acting and talking like I had found “The Truth” and treating others like their choices were so “obviously that of the blind and unthinking” populace that was definitely NOT as “enlightened” as me.
I sneaked out of the gathering once it got back to normal...like a dog with its tail between its legs. I eventually came around to apologizing to Randall and his family. They were forgiving as always. Randall’s mom said only one last thing about the situation, and never mention it again: “You’ve always been the type to think that you’ve found the right way for everyone to follow. When you were a boy it was fun to watch, and even interesting because you were discovering things like science and mathematics and just life in general. You loved to follow rules and were very bright. But when you grew up you exchanged the Watchtower for those things. You kept the childish attitude. We thought you would leave it behind once you got out of that religion. But now you preach atheism like it’s some fundamentalist Christian creed, and that’s not really what it’s all about. The problem is not your latest belief, it’s how you see yourself and your personal choices in comparison to that of others.”
She was right. I was talking to people about my newly-found atheist convictions as if atheism was the newly adopted hate-gospel of the Westboro Baptist Church. I immediately recalled that I found the Witness religion attractive because it fed my need to feel like I was right and others were wrong, that other people needed to be corrected, and to pat myself on the back for my cleverness of always finding the “right way” to do things.
Randall and his family never once said anything against my JW beliefs. I’ve never seen them criticize or argue with a person about religion. They decline invitations to go to other churches and things, but being from a Jewish background they have attended things like Bar-mitzvahs and stuff, even though they are not active believers. They got Jewish family and it's what they do. They just go with the flow.
Today, though my convictions have indeed changed somewhat, I have learned that I can’t blame the Jehovah’s Witnesses for everything in my past. Do I still think they are cult-ish and got it all wrong? Yeah. I am certainly glad I left. But I can see how my attitude needed some adjustment, and how I may have brought some of the problems I experienced in my Kingdom Hall upon myself (though definitely not all of it).
I woke up because my boyish self-centered idealism just didn’t fit anymore, and though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my need to grow up made me get up and leave. The “ring of truth” left me for a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I think something inside me knew I couldn’t become what I needed to be if I stayed there. Who can?
Face it, when you believe you’ve found the only source of truth and only right way to live, well you can’t say that is really a humiliating experience. Just listen to and watch people like Governing Body member, Stephen Lett. That’s not a very humble man. Declaring there is more evidence for “1914” than for wind or electricity is not the type of thing that comes out of the mouth of a modest and humble human being. I’ve never seen the attitude of Witnesses reflected in Randall or his family.
I think I was one of those people that naturally fit in the Watchtower, ready to call uniformity “unity” and compartmentalize everything in life into “This Is Good” and “This Is Evil” and accepted having nothing in between as a sign that all is done correctly since this made everything in the world make sense, so neatly…from MY point of view, that is.
So yes, I left the Watchtower, many, many years ago. And a few years later the Watchtower left me.