I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness by loving parents. My grandmothers, an aunty and uncle, and some cousins were Jehovah’s Witnesses. After I left home, my father spent twenty years as a Circuit Overseer and my sister and her husband spent time in Bethel prior to having children.
I grew up in a congregation where many older Witnesses expressed the strictly fundamental viewpoint that Jehovah personally directed the Organization and soon would destroy anyone who was not a Jehovah’s Witness. As promoted in the Watchtower, I thought I was never going to die; I did not even expect to finish school prior to Armageddon. However, Armageddon had not arrived by the time I matriculated – so, unusually for Witnesses in the 1980’s, my parents were open-minded enough to encourage me to obtain a university degree. I felt I could justify obtaining a higher education by studying part-time whilst regular pioneering. I did not end up doing a professional year, as after university, I went straight to Bethel.
Being gregarious, I came to know personally over a thousand Witnesses. What always bothered me is that many of these Witnesses were doing shocking things, and many “worldly” people I met were very nice. I could not reconcile why God will kill the “worldly” ones and save the Witnesses simply for a label. The “worldly” people generally knew nothing of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so they could hardly be judged evil rejecters of Jehovah.
It was my time at Bethel that convinced me that the Watchtower Society does not have Jehovah’s direction. In 1994, a Bethelite friend of mine became an elder, whilst he was committing adultery. It was later discovered that this had been going on for seven years. This proved to me that God’s holy spirit is not involved in Watchtower congregational appointments. Though weakening my faith, I did not know enough about Watchtower history or alternate doctrinal viewpoints to know whether the Watchtower at least taught the closest truth about the Bible. I was too afraid to find out, afraid if I read anything not from the Watchtower I would be influenced by apostates, afraid that if I left I might be wrong and would die at Armageddon, afraid of being shunned by my family and friends, and very afraid of entering the world knowing no one, believing the world is an evil and depressing place to live.
In 1994, I left Bethel feeling that the Watchtower may not contain truth. I started to wonder what would happen to the Organization in 20 years time when all the 1914 Generation died out without Armageddon coming. I could not imagine the Watchtower shutting up shop in 2014 saying, “Well the last one has died. We were wrong.” So I took this to indicate a new ” doctrine would be formulated. It was still quite a shock when this occurred in 1995, and I took this to indicate that the Governing Body are not confident that the end is really just about to happen.
However, out of fear of the loneliness of leaving, I still chose to attend meetings. The constant derogatory statements about the world and “worldly” people began to irritate me, and I started to miss more meetings. By 2004, I was almost inactive and could see no point in life either.
It was at that time that the elders started to pressure me to reactivate myself, wanting to know what my problem was. I told them that I had little faith so they told me to prove the truth to myself by studying more. It finally dawned on me that I already knew more about Watchtower doctrine and policy than most people did, and yet I had never properly studied the Bible outside the single point of view of the Watchtower.
I started to research from numerous sources. This all happened at the time of the Tsunami in December 2004, so one of the first subjects I looked at was earthquakes. I cannot express enough the shock I felt at the deception in the Watchtower in this regard, as the (so-called) “increase in earthquakes” was one of the foundation points of my faith.
The next few months I became consumed by research. My shock and disappointment with the Watchtower Society was well compensated for by the amazement I felt at finally being able to think and learn.
Most Witnesses question the validity of at least some Watchtower doctrine, but as they cannot openly question any Watchtower doctrine, cognitive dissonance arises. I had spent my entire life suppressing contrary thoughts and regurgitating prescribed Watchtower beliefs. To finally be able to evaluate information, rather than blindly input it, was quite literally mind-blowing. I now see freedom from mind control as vitally important.
I stopped attending meetings early in 2005 and attempted to slip out quietly. I found leaving to be exceptionally difficult. I went through post-traumatic shock, becoming very emotional, and finding it difficult to concentrate. I lost my job in the process and experienced two very difficult years financially.
I continued to devote myself to researching Watchtower doctrine, feeling the need to prove I had not been “blinded by Satan” or misled by my own sinful ulterior motives. The more research I did the angrier I became – determined to help my family see through the manipulation and falsehood. At the time, I did not understand the power of mind control, and rather than assist them, all that occurred was I created alienation and resentment.
I started to locate or find out about all my childhood Witness associates. I found that of 40 people over half were disfellowshipped. Some had barely been contacted by their parents for 20 years. Others were racked by fear of Armageddon. An examination of Watchtower publisher records identifies that Witnesses have one of the highest turnover rates of any religion, with hundreds of thousands adversely affected through shunning. Other statistics show that while Witness divorce rate is on par with the general population, they have the lowest level of education and income levels of any established religion in developed countries.
I created the website JWFACTS.COM, wanting to assist people find objective and factual information in an easy to follow format. My purpose was to help other Witnesses avoid the confusion I felt for the ten years prior to leaving. I have found many who leave need help to get over the ingrained guilts and fears that result from being raised a Witness. It is also important for “Bible Studies” [new converts] to have both sides of the Watchtower story prior to committing to baptism.
It was difficult teaching myself to present objective information. However, I believe that to be most effective, the information I have present must be accurate and honest. I always look forward to emails from people that help me rectify any of my errors.
Originally, my connection to JWFACTS.COM was anonymous. However, about six months after going to my last meeting and the site going live online, the Witness elders found out about it. They arrived one night at my doorstep, advising me that I was to attend a meeting for charges of “apostasy.”
I wrote a letter requesting that instead my baptism should be annulled. My argument was that as a minor I was not in a position to make such an important commitment to an organization – one with lifetime ramifications.
They refused to accept my reasoning and went ahead with forming the judicial committee. This meeting was traumatic and eye-opening. In my request for annulment were a number of points outlining why I could not accept what Jehovah’s Witnesses taught as truth. But throughout the meeting, they refused to discuss a single issue I’d raised. It was readily apparent that there was no concern about whether I still believed the Bible or God, but rather “did I accept the Watchtower Society to be Jehovah’s Organization?” It was announced shortly afterwards that I was “no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The next six months became even more emotionally traumatic for me. Overnight, I was cut off from my family and network of friends. Yet at the same time, I experienced an incredible high. I was 36, and for the first time finally felt real, alive – free!
I had not understood how depressed I had been for many years as a Jehovah’s Witness. Now I could see beauty in the world around and in “worldly” people. I felt connected, rather than as being only an observer. I was free from the perpetual negativity the Watchtower instills, the need to reconcile everything as being part of the “evil Last Days,” filled with “evil people God must destroy.”
However, I could not overcome the deep hurt of loosing family or stop my mind from constantly replaying what I could do to change things. The only way I was able to control my thinking was to spend time with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
I realized that another difficulty with leaving the Witnesses was that I couldn’t trust any of my beliefs. Virtually everything I believed had been dictated from birth. During my research, I had come to understand the way the Watchtower presents fallacious logic to manipulate the conclusion its readers draw. It became necessary to relearn how to evaluate information, and then over time re-evaluate every belief, moral and ideal.
I am strongly against any religion that manipulates its members. I look forward to a time when atrocities are no longer done in the name of religion, whether they are in the form of terrorist acts, religious wars, violence – or shunning family members and refusing medical treatment. It’s just the control of beliefs and emotions through the use of fear and guilt.
I am optimistic for the reduction of injustices in the name of religion through education. I see the Internet as the tool to increase availability of that education over the coming decades.
During the years that I was questioning things, I had no desire to bring children into this world. Since I’ve moved on, I see family as an important part of life. So after ten years of marriage, and at age 38, I had my first baby – Zac. Now I realize that looking after our baby, and watching him change daily, has become the greatest joy of my life.
Paul Grundy, editor and webmaster of JWFACTS.com, is a frequent contributor to other JW and discussion websites. He has a well-earned reputation for the accuracy of his documentation and as a moderate and reasoned critic of the Watchtower.