If you read Part 1 of this to-be series, you’ll know that I’m not entirely sure how to write about this. But, I suppose the best place to start is the beginning.
Caveat: My intent is not to disparage anyone;s faith or beliefs, not even JWs. If that’s what makes sense to you and that’s what you believe, all the power to you. One of my personal issues with religion is the lack of tolerance for differences in beliefs. I do not want to be one of those people. Due to my experiences though, it’s taken a long time for me to be able to say that. I’m simply going to tell my story and share my personal thoughts.
Most people are aware of some of the well-known idiosyncracies of the religion:
- They have Kingdom Halls, not churches. Actually, church is only used to describe “false religion,” if used at all, but more likely, one will hear the term Christendom to describe all religions outside of the organization.
- They do not celebrate holidays. There’s a reason for everyone, some of which actually make quite logical sense. I will certainly not get into them all here, but I’m happy to tell you if you ask in the comments. Yes, birthday’s are included. I had my first birthday party when I was 25.
- They perform door-to-door ministry. They aren’t the ones on the bikes. Those are the Mormons. I spent many a Saturday of my life walking through the local territory, knocking on doors. Most people who know me can’t believe it.
- They refuse blood transfusions. If you do the research, which I have, there are actually sensible reasons for this. But, to each their own based on their conscience.
Here are some of the lesser known idiosyncracies:
- They are anti-politics. This comes from the Scriptural reference that all God’s things go to God and Caesar’s to Caesar. It is also based on Jesus saying we should be no part of the world. So, JWs do not participate in politics beyond having knowledge of them to recognize the signs of the times. They are law-abiding citizens, except in the case where they have to compromise their religion. They do not vote. They do not participate in the military. I’ll come back to that last one.
- In keeping with being no part of the world, they do not associate outside of the organization beyond what is necessary.
- They refer to the religion as “the truth” and to themselves as God’s one true organization on earth.
There are many, many other things I could get into, but that would take FOREVER. So, let’s start here. As I said, I’m happy to answer any questions.
Growing up, you couldn’t tell me anything about this religion was wrong. My father was raised in it from birth and my mother converted when she was 16. It was all I knew and all I had been taught to believe. In retrospect, I recognized that when I questioned certain things outside of simple child-like curiosity (“Do we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday?”), I was often met with somewhat harsh rebukes or incredulity (usually from Dad). Regardless, I always felt not like myself, though I didn’t know much about who that person was. I was very shy (shocking to most people), very quiet. People have told me I often looked sad. I attribute this, in part, to early signs of depression that didn’t get addressed for many years. Culturally and religiously, seeking outside psychiatric help is a no-no, so my behavior was usually attributed to a bad attitude.
Around the age of 13, though, things stopped making sense to me. I couldn’t articulate what that was. I couldn’t even tell you that the religion was wrong simply because it never occurred to me to consider that it wasn’t. I just knew it wasn’t for me. My parents slowly figured that out, the culmination of which came when Dad read my diary entry in which I complained about my f**ked up life. The answer to this relinquishing all outside activities and the continual shoving down the throat of doctrine and dogma. At 13, I didn’t really have a choice, but to go with the flow.
At 16 is when I decided to recognize the signs of depression and distress, something I wasn’t able to convince my parents of for four more years (I lived at home until 3 weeks shy of 21). I was a near-model elder’s daughter. So sweet. Such a good girl. Dying inside. I realize that back then, I never felt like a person, like an individual. I was always something I had to be. Model student, decent and ladylike. Inside I was screaming (remember when Rose said that in Titanic after saying she was everything a well-brought up girl should be?). None of this made any sense to me and I hated every minute of it. My brother had gotten baptized at the age of 12. Let me pause here for a moment to explain JW baptism. There are no baby/child baptisms. Baptisms are (supposed to be) done when a person has decided that they want to fully dedicate their life to God and become an active member of the congregation. They are performed by elders of the organization in front of the congregations as a physical symbol of this spiritual dedication. Well, I was getting just a little too old to not have done this yet. Sixteen and raised in “the truth?” What was stopping me. And getting further along in school, I needed that protection. So, I was feeling the pressure, hearing the lectures and whispers, seeing the questions in people’s eyes. So, finally, I made a conscious decision to just do it so that I wouldn’t be asked about it anymore. And I felt like I was lying to God. I was wracked with guilt over it. I knew I was lying to everyone else, but no one was listening to me and what I wanted to do. I got baptized and it was the most pride I’d ever seen some people have in me.
I didn’t lead a double life. I didn’t know how to. I just went through the motions and became increasingly depressed, repressed, and introverted. Of course, I had moments when I had friends and was momentarily happy, but those were fleeting.
Then, I met my first boyfriend at 18. Enter dipping a toe into the double life. We never did anything particularly crazy, just some making out here and there. My total lack of experience told me this was great. But, I still felt guilty. Even though I seemed to have this total lack of faith, I still felt like I was lying to God and everyone else. Again, it was all I had known. I wanted to confess, but the boyfriend (ex by this time) didn’t. Well, not until a year later when he decided to confess without telling me first. Let me pause here again. Confessions are not done in a little box where one person hears it and it’s never heard of again. They are done in front of an elder and then again in front of several elders, called a judicial committee. This means I had to explain what and how much I did with my boyfriend in front of three middle-aged or older men and my mother. The elders then determined the extent of my transgressions and my punishment. There are three options here.
- Private reproval – Loss of congregation privileges, private admonishment from the body of elders
- Public reproval – Same loss of privileges, but a public announcement to the congregation that I had been reproved. This is the case if I’m repentant, but others potentially already know what I’ve done. They might need their personal retribution, if you will.
- Disfellowshipping – This is kind of like excommunication. No one is allowed to speak to or associate with you. If you show repentance over time, you might be allowed back in the congregation.
I was given the second. Public shaming for making out with my boyfriend a couple of times. And all efforts I had made over the last year since being with him meant nothing. It was also about this time that my brother left home. I was given three months of no privileges, as they are called – commenting at meetings, other duties, though there aren’t many that women can participate in. Three months later, when I was to be given them back, I tried to tell my elders that I didn’t feel like I was in a good place. One said, “Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll be alright.”
This is the moment in life, at 19 years old, that I completely shutdown. I stopped talking. I stopped caring about school (I was in my second year of college and I was also tired of the flak I was getting for that since JWs do not pursue secondary education unless absolutely necessary to support family and ministry, so my engineering pursuits did not go over well). I woke up everyday for the next year trying to decide how to kill myself. It had to be better than not feeling like a person.
That’s enough for now.