Tell us about your early life as a JW:
I had a fairly normal childhood. Before school I had no idea I was different than anyone else. Being a Jehovah’s Witness was just another part of life that never really stood out from anything else. Shucking corn with my brothers, pushing my toy lawn mower next to my father as he pushed the real thing, going to the meetings, it was all the same to me. It wasn’t until kindergarten that I knew that being a Jehovah’s Witness meant you were something *else* to the outside world. I remember that first day, my parents warning me that they might try to force me salute the flag, but I was not to do so under *any* circumstances. I started public school immediately on the defensive. I’m the kind of person that wants people to like me, so when I was in public school, I made every effort to avoid the subject of religion altogether, and when it did come up, I was thoroughly embarrassed.
Just when things would seem normal, a holiday or a classmate’s birthday would come around. Just in time to reinforce the fact that I was different, weird. The classroom activities would start, and I’d go to the library to sequester myself. Every year, I would make a new set of “school only” friends, typically those outside of the “in” crowd since I related to them. But since our friendship could only happen at school, none of the really lasted after the summer.
It didn’t help, of course, to have these other kids talk about how they Witnessed to school mates during conventions. I wondered what kind of miracle school they went to where talking about your weird religion didn’t result in immediate ostracizing? None of the kids in my school ever responded favorably to hearing about my faith.
My congregation wasn’t a good fit for me, either. There were a lot of boys my age, which sounds incredible, but most of them were into outdoor activities, hunting and fishing, and I was more into computers and electronics. I did have one friend, whom I am still friends with today, but that’s about it. Things were very lonely to me until I got a little older, we moved to another congregation with other young people, and I was able to “start over.” My teenage years were a time I began to feel “normal” for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel “watched.” My old friends it seemed would be ever-vigilant and on the lookout for me to do something a little quirky or weird, and immediately pounce on me for it. My new friends didn’t do this. For the first time ever, I could relax.
Conversely, this was when I really became my most zealous in the faith. I had friends and connections in the congregation to live for. I actually began to believe it. It culminated in my baptism on May 10, 1997, when I was almost 15 years old.
How would you describe your family life while you were a JW?
My father proposed to my mother just a few days after meeting her. She accepted, because my father was raising a son (my older brother) alone, as she was, and also because he was an elder. Predictably, their marriage was not very peaceful. By the time I came into the picture, screaming matches and arguments were a daily occurrence. For many years, I feared my father, especially when he’d return home from work, because that would almost always trigger a fight. As someone who avoids conflict, I would hide in my room until it was over.
Other than dealing with my mother, my father was actually a calm, rational person for the most part. He was a good father. He told me stories and attempted to get me interested in the things he was interested in as a child: baseball, basketball, hunting, fishing, etc.
I was never abused other than the occasional spanking. Of course, that was typical parenting at the time. I usually would get spanked for acting out or sleeping during the meeting. In my defense, I was a child and they were keeping me in church past 9 pm, so I feel like I had a right to be tired.
How would you describe your level of devotion to the organization prior to waking?
My devotion was tied directly to how active my social life was. When I was most devout around my mid-teens, I had a lot of friends and was always going off with them for various activities, JW-related and not. By my late teens, however, a number of those friends had left the organization. I ended up moving far away, and I became an irregular Witness. I wouldn’t go in service or make the meetings for months. There would be periods of revival, but eventually laziness would keep me from going to one meeting, and guilt and shame would keep me from subsequent meetings.
To “jump start” my spirituality, I moved in with a friend, and started regularly attending meetings again. That, however, lasted only a little more than a year, and a few moves later, I was back in my home area again. But my devotion to the religion never fully recovered from the time I lived with my friend.
Eventually, I took solace online, having conversations with people. When the conversation turned toward religion, I would present and defend the JW viewpoint. Most peoples’ objection to religion were seated in doctrines that the Witnesses already reject: hellfire, the trinity, the immortal soul, and so on. I used that as my “in” when preaching to people online.
However, my conversations eventually brought up points that neither I nor the publications could adequately explain. For a long while, I still believed that the Witnesses had the truth, but some of their approaches were simply not effective. As I ran out of more and more approaches and lines of reasoning to use, I found I had no more leg to stand on, logically, when defending the Witness view. That was the death of my faith.
If baptized, why did you decide to take that step? If not, why not?
I was at a point in my life where everything was going good. I was in a new congregation, I had a lot of friends and a lot of support. I wanted to stay in that moment, and felt getting baptized would guarantee it.
If born-in, what kind of Jehovah’s Witnesses were / are your family?
My parents always believed it strongly. They would go through periods of low activity. We’d miss a Saturday morning service session here and there. My dad would stop going altogether for a few months. But all in all, we were pretty devout and strict. Absolutely no friendships and associations outside the organization. We couldn’t even have superhero action figures or squirt guns.
Are there any particular experiences or circumstances while you were a believer that come to mind now that you’re awake?
The first time I ever thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses might not have the truth, was during a book study covering the Daniel’s Prophecy book. The book listed several “Kings” of the north and south. The logic just wasn’t there. It was all made up out of wholecloth, and fairly obvious to everyone. People were raising their hands asking the CONDUCTORS questions, because the material was so confusing. I’d say that was the start of me waking up.
Was your waking up journey sudden or gradual? Describe it for us.
It was gradual. My aforementioned experience at the book study was the start, but it took a year after that to get to my final “a-ha!” moment. I spoke online with a lot of atheists, who had a lot of arguments against God that the Watchtower publications couldn’t answer to my satisfaction. Finally, one night I was engaged in an online discussion and typed “I’m an atheist.” I stopped typing and sat back. I realized what I had finally said “aloud” was the truth of the matter. I no longer believed in God, and I was in for a very rough, life-changing road because of it. After contemplating for a while, I hit “send” and began my journey.
Did you ever have so-called “doubts”? If so, what were they?
Doubts would creep in from time to time, but towards the end, when I really began looking into things, were they the strongest.
Did you share your so-called “doubts” with anyone, and if so, how did it turn out?
Are you currently being shunned / ostracized by any Jehovah’s Witnesses?
My father recently died, and I went to his funeral. Not being officially disfellowshipped makes things easier. I’d say about half the witnesses I knew that were at the funeral actively ignored me. The others were actually quite friendly and supportive. My relationship with my JW family is somewhat stable. I have one sibling who will not go out of his way to have dealings with me, but I respect his choice as painful as it is.
What has changed in your life since waking up?
I can make real friends, friends who don’t care how many hours I got in the ministry last month or how many Bible studies I’m conducting. I’ve also become very cautious of people. To credit the Witnesses, people in the Kingdom Hall are much less likely to be doing hard drugs, committing crimes, or out to scam you. Of course, that does exist to some extent in the Witnesses, but outside of it, you really have to be on guard and know how to choose friends. It’s a certain kind of “street smarts” you need that many JWs lack.
The other big thing is time. I have so much time. I can read any book I want without feeling guilty for not being caught up with the magazines. I have my weekends to do whatever I want with without having to go out in field service on Saturday and to the meeting on Sunday. Honestly, I’m amazed that JWs get anything done in their lives. I have no idea where I’d find the time for church now.
What does the future hold for you now that you’re awake?
I’m getting married for the second time soon. I hope to start a family. I’ll raise my children with open minds, and expose them to all kinds of ideas, all kinds of philosophies, even all kinds of religions. And yes, even Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m confident they won’t get brainwashed if they’re exposed to as much information as possible.
What would you like to say to doubting or questioning JWs who might be reading this?
Obviously, you’re here for a reason. Keep digging. Keep looking. Don’t give any material–“apostate” or otherwise–the benefit of the doubt. There’s a lot of bad information out there, and a number of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who are imbalanced and otherwise perfectly live up to the Watchtower’s depiction of an “apostate.” Remove yourself emotionally from all sources of information, and concern yourself solely with facts. Let whatever conclusion you come to–whether to go or stay in the organization–be based on facts and nothing else.