Interview with an Apostate: Syme

by Syme 4 Replies latest jw experiences

  • Syme

    Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

    I was born in a South European country 35 years ago; stopped being a JW a few years ago, and now pursuit an academic career. My parents are still in. I was never married, but am now in a loving relationship.

    Were you a born in or a convert?

    Born-in, at least from my mother’s side.

    Are your parents / family JWs?

    My mother became a witness at age 15, but my father was worldly when they married (civil marriage). My father converted when I was six. I have no siblings. No one from my father's family are JW, while most of my mother’s family (her parents and siblings) are/were JWs.

    How many generations have been JWs?

    My mother and father were converts.

    Did you hold any position in the WTS? (MS, Elder etc...)

    Yeah. I was MS at age 20, elder at 25, went to MTS at 25 (I don't know how they call it these days). Regular pioneer from ages 20 to 27 roughly, with disruptions. Lost privileges of elder and pioneer at 27.

    Did you *really* believe in the bible, in spirits (angels, demons)?

    Yes. The lot. Although I thought my self as non-superstitious and rational. [laughs]

    Did you get baptised? When and why?

    I got baptized at age 13. I was sure (=brainwashed) that that was the truth and the best and smartest way of life possible, so I thought why postpone it.

    What was the initial trigger that made you start questioning things?

    A little after I had lost my privileges, my non-JW grandfather who was proud of my university studies died before I was able to get my degree, which was something that he longed to see me do. The reason I didn’t manage to finish in time was that I had thought it better to go to MTS and accept an assignment, leaving my studies 90% completed. He died without seeing the one and only simple wish he had being fulfilled, all because of my fanaticism. That was the first fracture point. When I came across the evidence for evolution a few days later, I was receptive to reason and started searching it. Then the floodgates opened.

    Where did you find information? Internet sites? Books?

    Regarding evolution, I read on Internet and books. Regarding the Org, I watched the Danish film Worlds Apart, I then read Crisis of Conscience and some other stuff on the Internet regarding jws and evolution. Only after all these, I visited jwfacts and then this forum.

    How difficult or painful was the process of leaving?

    I struggled with doubts for about 3 years. Cognitive dissonance was at high peak. I tried to find reasons to remain, at first. I tried to have my faith revived. Then I would go to a meeting and listen to a dude giving a talk about Noah’s flood, and there goes again. In the end, you can deny reality for so long. It was also literally painful: I went through a kind of dermatitis that was stress-induced, and some severe pains in the stomach that were also triggered by stress. After I took my decisions and some treatment, the physical issues faded. The fact that I lived with my parents and worked at my father’s business didn’t make it easier. It became easier when I moved and worked in another city. Interestingly, the period between my announcement to my parents that I wasn’t a JW anymore and me moving out, was easier than the period of doubt when I was still attending meetings. Kicking against the pricks is more painful than leaving.

    Was it a big dramatic exit or a careful quiet fade?

    During the doubts period, I was in, albeit with diminishing participation; I continued meetings but practically stopped preaching. When the doubts settled firmly to unbelief, I stopped all meeting attendance and started living as a non-JW. I didn’t DA although I wanted it, and still contemplate on it. I wasn’t DF’d either -although I talked for a period a lot about my doubts with family and friends and had started living worldly- because I set my boundaries to the elders and COs. After I moved to another city where no one knew me, I didn’t have any problem with that.

    Did you convince anyone else to leave with you?

    In a way. The first person that learned of my decision was my Bible student who was also a brilliant university student. He wasn’t a publisher yet, but had I continued to mentor him, he could have been. I was very glad he got away at the same time as I. I didn’t manage to help anyone else leave, although I believe I planted some seeds.

    How were your family relations affected by your decision?

    I was preparing my parents for some time, since I regularly discussed my doubts with them. But when I announced that I was no longer going on as a JW, they had a hard time, but not something extreme. Now they’ve come to terms somewhat. As long as they accept my decision respect my boundaries, I feel less inclined to DA. But that could change in the future.

    Were you or are you still being shunned by those who didn't leave?

    Since I’m not officially out, I’m not officially shunned, but I stopped contact with most JW acquaintances, and others stopped contact with me. Some avoid me, others think I’m just inactive or something. My parents and I talk; I don’t know what will happen if I DA or DF, which is always a possibility. An old elder and old mentor from my home town calls me once a month for a minute or so, just to ask how I am -he never mentions anything JW-related, so I don't shun him.

    How long have you now been out?

    Four years.

    Was there anything you looked forward to doing when you left?

    After I stopped believing, yes, lots: sex, voting, smoking (just a few times as a reaction, it’s a harmful habit in any case and I didn't take it up), dancing, going to a psychologist, being unshaven, learning a martial art, watching supernatural and ‘demonic’ films and mostly, continuing with my education and life goals.

    What are you most proud of achieving since you left?

    I finished my undergrad studies (although that was in my doubts period), I got a Master’s, and I’m now finishing my PhD. I also learned to tango, which I enjoy a lot. I was 32 when I enrolled on a PhD, so don’t feel like you’ve wasted your life or your youth or it's too late. Just pursue vigorously your goals and whatever you couldn’t but wanted always to pursue.

    Is there anything you miss about life in the congregation?

    No. Nothing.

    Red pill or blue pill? Do you regret waking up to reality at all?

    Red pill, absolutely. I will always vote for reality.

    Did you become an atheist or transfer your faith elsewhere?

    I’m between agnostic and atheist.

    How do you now feel about religion in general?

    It’s false, for starters. It’s fairy tales. That’s enough for me. Apart from that, it is potentially dangerous, regarding on the specific sect or trend. I respect other people’s religions, as long as they are not harmful and don’t want to impose their faith (like WTS and Salafi Islam). At first, I hated mainstream Christianity as much as the former two, but now am a little bit more lenient towards it. The dogmas are all fairy tales in any case, but in the 21st century I believe there are some religions that are dangerous and other that are not so dangerous, and that one has to acknowledge that such a distinction exists.

    Do you feel any guilt celebrating xmas or birthdays or doing any other JW "no-no"s?

    Not guilt, but those holidays still feel a bit strange to me. Xmas I don’t really like it, I don’t feel any urge to celebrate it; but it's more for aesthetic reasons; birthdays I am more cool with that; I also like new years’ eve. As for the other no-no’s: I had a bit problem adjusting to a normal sex life, having been a virgin until 31, but that just needed practice [laughs].

    Have you attended any face-to-face meetups of ex-JWs?


    Describe your circle of friends - mostly other ex-JWs or regular people?

    Regular people. I find it hard to make new, real friendships, though, as I had almost no experience in worldly acquaintances as a witness.

    Do you tell people about your JW past?

    I have told my (serious) relationship and very few friends. So, not generally.

    Do you feel animosity or pity toward current JWs?

    Both. I don’t believe the rank and file are all free of blame, at least the adults. But on the other hand they’re not adults, in a sense. But that’s a long discussion.Surely elders bear a lot of responsibility. They may live in a fantasy, but that's no excuse for playing inquisitor and devastating real lives of real people.

    How do you respond to witnesses when they call at your door?

    I haven’t had the pleasure. Maybe they’re not much into door-to-door these days. An elder only once sent me an envelope with a memorial invitation and a short note containing his phone number; he probably got my address from my home congregation; since he was discreet, I didn’t react, I just ignored it.

    Storm the barricades or tend to the wounded? (do you favor activism or support)

    I think support. Storming the barricades is not really something I would condone to. Attacks would just give them “proof” that they have the Truth and that apostates are Satan’s agents.

    What do you think is the most effective approach to reaching people still in?

    I have tried plain talking, but rational discussion usually doesn’t change them. I think the best approach is just to live a happy and successful life, and let them chew on that.

    Do you think the WTS can or should be destroyed, will continue on as-is or grow / change?

    I’d like to see it dismantled, to be honest. I felt a guilty pleasure when the Russian branch was banned. Some think WTS will not fall in the near future because it’s a religion and religions last long even though they are false; but WTS is not a usual religion; it’s a totalitarian sect. And totalitarian systems fall suddenly (see communist states). Especially when they decide to bring liberties in order to become mainstream and humane, that’s when they collapse. A totalitarian system survives only by force. So, I think if they try to change into mainstream they will collapse, so they will probably continue being even more controlling and centralized. But they will not grow anymore; I think that last is settled. It’s too difficult for them to grow anymore besides the born-ins. It’s not only the Internet. Their potential recruiting pool is very small to begin with: non-Muslim Africa, Central and South America, and non-Muslim migrants. And even this pool is shrinking, as poverty is diminishing worldwide and education and standard of living is rising. WTS recruitment relies on misery. So, stagnation is the best they can wish for.

    How has your life been impacted by your JW past?

    Yes, naturally. What we have been has shaped us. I’ve tried really hard to adjust and navigate in the real world, but I think I've made it.

    Are there things in your life you blame the WTS for?

    Unfortunately, yes. I say “unfortunately” because there’s the danger of falling into the trap of blaming everything on the WTS and putting aside your responsibility to make the best out of yourself.

    JW upbringing - a protection or a curse?

    It is definitely a negative thing. No such thing as “protection”. Where’s the protection in teaching a boy/girl a totally distorted and crazy view of sex, and when that person leaves and tries to have a normal functional life… how easy it is for them to make serious mistakes, like a toddler that you send to a minefield… That’s the opposite of protection. That’s incapacitation. Deliberate incapacitation, deliberate at least from the Borg’s side, so that one will feel unable to live in the real world and cling forever to the Mother Borg.

    How do you fill your time now it's not filled with meetings and field service?

    Enjoying my time exactly at the same hour I would be in meetings or field service once upon a time, that’s one of the best feelings. I enjoy Sunday and Saturday mornings with coffee and a nice book; I like to read a lot, I especially like history. I watch movies and series, I tango a lot and like to go out for a beer and/or to a nice restaurant.

    Do you still have an interest in JW beliefs and doctrines?

    From time to time. The only site I visit regarding JWs is this forum. I’ve stopped following the organizational changes; they’re so many it’s pointless to keep track. I think they constantly change little things in order to deepen their grip; it’s all laid down in Orwell’s 1984.

    How much of your time is still spent on JW related matters?

    Only when I visit this forum from time to time; I also like to talk about my past and the JW history and dogma with my relationship.

    What do you think of the ex-JW community?

    I haven’t really thought about it. This forum is good. I am always impressed by the unstoppable inside leaks. I live in a small country, so there aren’t so many ex JWs here to meet. Apart from that, I wouldn’t exactly burn to meet with ex-JWs who just hop to another religion with the same zeal. We've been so mentally programmed to being zealots, that stopping being a zealot (for any new cause) is more difficult than stopping being a JW.

    Do you see yourself still being associated with the ex-JW community in 5 or 10 years time?

    Just in the same sense as now: visiting the forum and posting or commenting from time to time.

    Do you fear the future?

    I fear death; the eventual physical death. I really haven’t been able to come to terms with that, having brought up believing that I would never die. Apart from that, I don’t fear the future; humanity is really much better now than 50 or even 20 years ago. Poverty has shrunk, medicine and science has raised the length and quality of our lives. I’m actually curious to live long enough to see more advances in science and technology (and maybe have a little part in that), in medical treatment, in biology, everything. Of course, nothing is impossible, things could go south, but the fact that we live in a better world than the past makes it more difficult for totalitarianism to be prevail.

    What advice would you give to anyone starting the journey of leaving the WTS?

    Don’t fear anyone, choose want you want to do, then set boundaries and people will have no choice but to accept them. If you can DA, that’s probably the best. But if not, don’t be dragged into a judicial committee, ever. Don’t ever accept to talk with more than 1 JW in the same room, not even for a second. Live your life, don’t dwell in the past, do new things (that’s a must), and again: set boundaries. Protect yourself, protect your life, protect your well-being, take care of your body, protect your peace of mind, protect your psyche.

    What would you change in your life if you could go back and talk to yourself?

    Hm, I’m not sure if my JW self would hear me. He was as stubborn as they come, from what I remember. Fun aside, I wish I’d stopped being a JW long before, or not be one at all, but I don’t see how this could have happened. Even if I had read about evolution earlier, for instance, I would have dismissed it. It’s not enough to read or hear something eye-opening; you have to be in a receptive mental state when you read it. "The path chooses you".

    Do you have any regrets about life since you left?

    Not really.

    Can we read your life-story anywhere? (links to online or books)

    No, just here :)

    Want to share your own story? Please use the Interview with an Apostate: Template and post it in the Personal Experiences & Reunions section with the title "Interview with an Apostate: [your name or alias]"

  • Magnum

    Just read it all. Thanks for posting. Congratulations on the PhD.

    I agree with you about the future of JWdom, and I feel the same as you do about death. It's hard for me to accept.

  • LoveUniHateExams

    Great read, Syme.

    Well done for going back to education and edumacating yourself!

  • dubstepped

    Great stuff there! The wisdom regarding boundaries is something we all have to learn, especially if we want to keep JWs in our lives.

    I too struggle with the death thing. I disassociated 3 years ago and coming to terms with death has been hard. I accept it intellectually, but not emotionally. A finite end is hard to imagine once you've bought the infinite narrative for your entire life.

  • Half banana
    Half banana

    Great stuff Syme! and well done for sticking to education, it really is the ticket to get out of the Watchtower swamp.

    Thanks for taking the time to tell us your story.

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