Following is the magazine's article roughly translated by Google. I tried cleaning up the translation a bit so if I misinterpreted something TJ Curioso please correct me. Hope it helps shed light on happenings around the world:
"Antonio Madaleno was a religious leader in the Jehovah's Witnesses. On the eve of a show of strength from the organization, which over the next three days promises to fill the Stadium of Light at an International Assembly, this former leader characterizes it as a high-control group and tells us his personal fight to get rid of it."
Author: J. Placido Junior
Photography: Luis Barra
A brief introduction is good right now. Antonio Madaleno was ten years old (individual of “immaculate journey” who plays the role of religious leader) in the Lisbon-South congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses (TJ), with the Kingdom Hall in Penha de Franca. The JW's have an inflexible structure: all decisions and oversight come from the Governing Body, an eight-man group that is at the organization's world headquarters in Warwick, just outside New York. These orders come from Bethel (“House of God” in Hebrew), designated as the headquarters of branches around the world (the Portuguese location is located in Alcabideche, Cascais), which in turn transmits them to the elders, who are on the ground so they can teach them to followers. This without any room of autonomy.
Now 45 years old and an art finalist by profession, Antonio Madaleno says that since he was a kid, he had an “exemplary behavior” in the organization, never celebrating the birthdays or celebrating Christmas, as dictated by internal bans. He always believed that he would live in the "earthly paradise" restored by the JW's after the Holocaust of Armageddon, when Jesus Christ sends his heavenly hosts to destroy all "rebel" humanity, saving only all those who do the bidding and the directions of Jehovah (God).
Until one day ... Antonio eventually drifted away from the organization. So we have a "David" facing a "Goliath" present in 240 countries and with more than eight million practitioners (in Portugal around 50 thousand in 647 congregations), and which in the next three days (June 28, 29 and 30) promises to fill Estadio da Luz in Lisbon at the 2019 International Assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses (“free admission” and “no collection”, as announced). But this Portuguese "David" is far from throwing the towel on the floor, as seen in the following interview.
When did you first enter a Kingdom Hall of JW?
I was still very young. I was taken by my mother. At the time, she was just a sympathizer, studying the Bible with the JW's. As the opportunities presented themselves - my father was not a JW nor -, I accompanied her. On a regular basis, I started attending meetings from the age of ten.
What drove your mother to approach the JW's?
It was a complicated time in our life. Emotionally we were not well. Our family life was problematic and later I learned that she had even contemplated suicide.
Did you find solace and what were you missing?
Of course yes. A person who comes to a congregation is very well received, cherished. Such a recollection makes this person believe that JW's are indeed different from everything else. It is presented as very beautiful, loving, very friendly and an ideal attractive group, which considers itself a family. Experts on destructive sects and high groups controls call it "love bombing," or the excessive use of love, which is a bait technique often used to entrap new members. But once a person comes in, and is very involved with the group, things “calm down”.
Did you say “destructive sect”?
Undoubtedly! I had already researched a lot about this subject and the JW's fill most of the features of a destructive sect. That is, leaders decide everything that is right or wrong in the lives of members. And impose a lot of "rules." They and their "brothers" make sure members limit socializing with people outside the group. Everything a JW does or fails to do so in accordance with the doctrine, the ideals of the organization revolves around religion. And those who disagree, or fail to believe and follow the organization, are expelled and treated as “apostates,” or “sons of the Devil”, or “mentally ill” ...
In concrete, this translates into what, in your opinion?
It's not my opinion, it's facts! In the JW's, if someone says anything in public or even in private, something that goes against the teachings of the organization, this person is marked automatically which in turn complicates the member's standing in the congregation. Then, that person is humiliated and an argument is made in order to minimize "damage to the organization" and/or that person is labeled a "rebel" and then is expelled from the congregation/organization. You can never do well with the JW's. As a high-control group a person has to accept 100% what the organization says.
This picture is a little vague ...
Only being on the inside can one appreciate the real inherent dangers when involving oneself with this type of religious organization. There are parents who kick their children out of the house. And the following is given as an example; Two years ago, a JW assembly held in Portugal, similar to the one that will take place now at Estadio da Luz, a video was played that dramatized the story of a girl who, when she got involved romantically with a co-worker, eventually she was expelled from religion. She was then ostracized by her friends and family who not only kicked her out of the house but also stopped answering her phone calls. But more than 15 years later, now a mother of two children, she decided that "true happiness" was found only in the congregation and she returned. The parents, however, only accepted her back after her readmission was publicly announced to the congregation. This was pure emotional blackmail ...
What is the responsibility of the organization in cases where the family must sever all ties?
The family, which is within the religion, is encouraged to cut ties with this relative. There are parents who stop talking to their children, children who stop talking to their parents, and this extends to all family members. You just have to search an ex-JW forum to see very, very sad reports, even from people who later became suicidal. In an insular community that is closed off to outsiders, such as the JW's, where the person is encouraged to live for the group, inside which he/she makes all his friendships and works intensively for the organization, suddenly being without nobody... The ostracism and the "social death" happen in an instant. Just be announced on the podium: “So-and-so is no longer a JW.” The separation is immediate. They can pass right next to this person on the street and they won't even dare look at you in the face. Or if they look, it will likely be a look of disdain and sadness. They consider members lost, and as if they died in the eyes of Jehovah. And there are people who can't stand this radical change - and fall into depression.
As a child were you shown what Armageddon would be like?
In my time as a child and adolescent there were only books, no videos yet. But these books had very descriptive illustrations of Armageddon, a horrible thing, a holocaust. I remember, for example, pictures of the earth opening and balls of fire falling from the sky, with people - men, women, and children, even domestic animals - crashing down in the holes and being hit by these burning objects ... This kind of illustration still exists today in children's publications. This scars and, consciously or unconsciously, depends on one's personality, yet makes members even more afraid of disobeying the rules of the organization. Members are constantly thinking: “If I fail, make mistakes, commit a sin that goes against God, I lose my life. And receive eternal death. And if I'm alive when Armageddon comes it will be really horrible."
How is Armageddon explained?
They believe that in Armageddon Jesus Christ will arrive with his heavenly hosts and that he will destroy all “rebellious” mankind. And that he will only preserve alive those who are faithful, it is understood that means only the JW's. After this destruction, which according to the organization, based on some biblical texts, will leave dead corpses on almost every corner of the earth, the JW's will have the job of burying them, aided by scavenger birds that come from the sky, to eat the corpses. Then the JW's will begin the restoration work of the earth, where all JW's have the task of cleaning, cultivating, building houses in a perfect life in the "earthly paradise." The Kingdom of God is in heaven alone, where Jesus and the 144,000 — a small number of JWs who are chosen to go to heaven to reign with Christ — will rule the entire earth for a thousand years.
Did you meet people who got rid of everything in 1975 waiting on Armageddon which was the latest date it was supposed to have happened?
I read testimonials from people who quit their jobs and became “pioneers” - because Armageddon was only months away and they wanted to do their best to save lives. I personally met people who lived these days and told me that the feeling was euphoric, towards the imminent end of this "world of Satan," and the arrival of "our liberation" and "paradise." Now, this euphoria was provoked by speeches and printed material from the organization, which later they alleged was a misunderstanding on the part of the “brothers” ...
Were you a dedicated Elder?
I firmly believed in what I was doing. Everything I did, I did from the heart.
Did you have autonomy?
There is no autonomy because the Governing Body's dictates everything. Congregations, by comparison, function as religious franchises. Imagine someone who wants to open a McDonald's: that person has to comply with everything the franchiser decides about marketing, pricing, product making, and so on. In JW's, the model is the same. All directions come from world headquarters, and the Bethel of each country sends these to their country's congregations. There are also circuit overseers who come to visit the congregations every year to ensure everyone is following these directions from headquarters.
Are there punishments for not obeying?
If there are Elders who fail to fall “in line,” they may be stripped of their duties. They have no autonomy to do anything that is not in the organization's book of rules. They cannot decide for themselves to act this way or that way in most cases. They have directions and, if there's ever any doubt, they were to call Bethel to receive further instructions. This was the case for example, with child sexual abuse issues. The rules of the organization require that there be at least two witnesses - which, of course, seldom if ever exist. And so these cases would typically be left "in the hands of Jehovah."
And today you think you should apologize to someone who was ostracized in your congregation?
Unfortunately, I participated once in a judicial committee and later in the readmission committee of this same person. These were emotionally painful situations for everyone involved. At the time, I had acted in good faith. What I started doing at the early stages of my defection was to secret work as an activist, exposing other doctrines, exposing what I disagreed with online. Deep down it was and is my way of "undoing" any evil that I may have possibly committed as an Elder.
Were you a dissident when you were still an Elder?
Yes. I had a blog about JW's and the use of blood, which I wrote using a pseudonym.
Were you ever "caught"?
No. I always had an exemplary behavior, they would have never suspected me. I married a virgin at the age of 25 who was a JW ... And I only celebrated for the first time my birthday when I was 40 although I was already in the process of leaving. My wife arranged a surprise dinner of friends. It was unforgettable and at the same time strange.
Were your first doubts regarding the blood transfusions doctrine?
In the beginning, that was the issue that worried me the most. One may live or die because of a wrong doctrinal interpretation, which to me became shocking when I went into the subject in depth.
Can you elaborate a bit more?
The organization began by banning all use of blood in the late 1940s, both primary fractions - plasma, platelets, white and red blood cells - and secondary - derivatives such as immunoglobulin for autoimmune patients, or Factors VIII and IX, which hemophiliacs need. It said all the use of blood was wrong. It used biblical texts of the Mosaic Law that determine that the blood - symbol of life - when it leaves the animal's body, must be rendered useless. When an Israelite killed an animal to eat, it was bled and symbolically returned to God that life that had been taken. From the year 2000 and onward, the organization began to print information saying that “according to the conscience of some” using secondary fractions is not the same as using blood. So a distinction begins between the use of “good blood” and “bad blood,” as it were.
A dangerous division ...
I have heard of people who died from refusing a blood transfusion, and others who, because they accepted it, were expelled. And suddenly the organization begins to say that some may accept the use of so-called “secondary” blood fractions. I was confused and for the first time, started with my doubts. I thought: if the use of the blood is condemned by God in their totality, either whole or in fractions - then the JW's have the wrong notion of whole blood transfusion when it comes to a transfusion of separate blood components. So there was a doctrinal inconsistency there regarding the biblical teachings and those received in the past by the organization.
A Jehovah's Witness is used to hearing that any doubts come from Satan, so he immediately discards these from his mind. “Jehovah will have to provide new insights and clarifications on the subject” —this is the thinking. But I did a lot of research and realized the doctrinal mess that was there. Not even the Jews, who follow the "law of blood" much more strictly, as stated in the Old Testament, accept the doctrine of blood transfusion refusal. JW's, however, are self-righteous to the point of putting lives into question.
But the final decision is in their hands. . . .
Not quite. I have found that there is a lot of misinformation, where the organization overstates the shortcomings, hides the benefits, and demolishes the subject in such a way that the person is terrified. They say that if a person accepts a transfusion, he is condemned by God, he will not go to "paradise." Moreover, they risk being expelled from the organization, which brings with it another burden - the terrifying decision between accepting the transfusion, which can result in the expulsion and loss of family and friends, or not accepting and running a seriously life-threatening situation.
How did you get away from the organization?
Gradually my wife and I stopped attending the meetings. In 2018, I had the judicial commission, in which I dissociated myself, and in which I delivered a letter explaining in detail the my disagreements.
What was your mother's reaction when you left?
My mother and my in-laws are also JW's. The family bonds with them were not broken because we took the option to discreetly move away - otherwise it would have been a “scandal”. Of course they were sad, but they respected our position. It should be that way in every case.
How is your religion today?
I would not say my "religion," but my "spirituality." I stopped believing in organized religion. Most religions end up playing a controlling, manipulative role in people's lives - their fears and anxieties. And, as in the case of JW's, people often become oblivious, as if a blinder is put over their eyes and worse yet they lose all critical thinking.