Hey guys sorry for delaying for so long, but I wanted to make sure I said everything I wanted to say in this last post. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Before I continue where I left off last time, let me take you back to the time around my 20th birthday to give you a little more background on perspective.
I had spent a little bit of time living out on my own for about 8 months when I was 19, and I worked as a sportswriter covering high school sports, while at the same time working as an assistant coach at the high school. The company I worked for was a small startup, and not always managed very well, so when cashflow became a problem, they decided to let the young guy go, leaving me with a lot of debt (Mostly because of being young and stupid. I was 19 with four credit cards, and I bought a car that I couldn’t really afford.), and forcing me to move back with my mother and grandparents. If there was ever a perfect example of your ego getting kicked in the balls, this was it.
For most of the past year, I had been out on my own, making my own decisions, being an adult, and just like that, I was back home, being treated like a child again. While I was out of the house, I continued to go to JW meetings, at a different congregation than my mother. I wouldn’t say I was the best JW I could be. I listened to a lot of music that is forbidden by the organization. I listen to just about everything, and this had always been a problem for me because I didn’t agree that rap music is evil. I went to see many rated-R movies, which is also a very big deal for the Witnesses. And of course I continued my work with football, which goes against the “bad association” doctrine of the organization.
This new, but temporary living arrangement gave me a new perspective on how scary freedom can be. I remember the first night in my new apartment when I realized that I was fully and truly on my own, and for a few minutes I was frightened. I was by myself, I couldn’t call my parents to help me if I needed something. This is obvious, but you never really understand what it means until you’re actually out there on your own, and those thoughts go through your head. Once I really thought about this, I had to ask myself whether I would prefer to always feel safe and secure in exchange for giving up certain freedoms, or whether I was comfortable enough with taking chances, but being in control of my own choices. The answer was obvious, but I started to apply that same thinking to my own time in the organization. The outside world was an evil place, full of rapists, murderers, drug dealers, thieves, and uncaring people. I was better off staying where I was fully cared for, in the organization, where everyone cared about me.
Unless I admitted to myself that all that information was coming from the Watchtower, and that I hadn’t actually given it a chance. What if I was being lied to? What if everything I knew was wrong, my entire perspective on life and morality and social relationships and everything else was misinformed? Was it possible? With a small part of myself I had to admit it was true. In the back of my mind, I continued to wonder whether it was possible to live a good and happy life away from the Witnesses. I knew people outside of the organization who were good people, who had happy family lives, and who did not live paycheck to paycheck like my family had always done. However I was not yet detached enough to cut the cord.
The Frightening Watchtower Mindset
A good example of the Witness mindset is best summed up by a contrasting of secular and JW perspectives. I began to appreciate that some things are all about how you look at them, and it really hit home the Sunday when during the meeting, a paragraph in the magazine being read used an illustration of a bird in a cage. The bird represented us, the people in the congregation. The magazine told us that sometimes we may be tempted to try and leave the cage, that we may become frustrated because we feel restricted. Not to worry though! We simply needed to correct our thinking! The cage was there for our own protection, because outside of the cage was a cat ready to pounce on us if we ever tried to leave! The cat of course, represented Satan, and the cage represented the ‘Governing Body’ as they are called, a group of men who claim to be appointed by God to lead the organization.
The moment I read this passage, my mind raced back to high school english class, and the passage from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sympathy.
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.
I was horrified once I realized the implications of this passage in the magazine. The writer admitted that, yes, we as JWs were locked up so to speak, but that we should be glad of our chains. I often heard people that had not grown up in the organization speak about the outside world, and the process that made them find the organization. There was always a common theme of hitting something like rock bottom. Something terrible happened in their lives, or maybe they were feeling unsatisfied, or they weren’t loved enough at home, or they had trouble finding friends in the world. I never once heard anyone say that they had a happy marriage, grew up well adjusted, made a decent living, felt satisfied, and then decided on their own that the Witnesses had the truth. This troubled me as well, because it was almost like a lot of these people simply couldn’t deal with the real world and found a place where they could go into a cocoon and block out the outside world. This was reinforced when I was having a conversation with an elder after a congregation meeting. I enjoyed talking to him, because he always had something interesting or funny to talk about, was good natured, and was overall very easy to talk to. We were talking about what kind of work I had planned to go into now that I was out of high school.
We had countless discussions about things like these for the couple of years that I knew him, and to his credit he had encouraged me to go into a field of work that I enjoyed, like broadcasting or writing, while working to keep my service in the door to door ministry first in my life at the same time. Anyway, we were having one of our many talks like these, and he said something that hit a nerve the moment it came out of his mouth. “Well, your situation is unique, because you could actually do quite well for yourself in the world. You have all the tools to be successful, work ethic, intelligence, personality, so it will be a struggle for you to keep the ministry first in your life.” I just nodded my head and agreed, and the conversation continued. This raised the obvious question however, what about the other people in the congregation? Were they only there because of their inability to make it on the outside world? Why was being hardworking and ambitious considered a liability in this organization? There are a few people in the congregations that I went to who owned their own business or were otherwise self employed, but for the most part, it was a group of people who were not motivated to improve their lot in life, because it would be all for naught anyway. The end was soon to come, so why spend time reorganizing the deck chairs on the Titanic?
Going to School
Moving forward a couple years, it was a few months before my 22nd birthday, and I had made the decision to go to college, contrary to what most people I knew in the congregation wanted me to do. It was a small school in my hometown, the University of Indianapolis, and I had made the decision that I was definitely going to leave once I moved out of the house onto campus. I can’t remember the exact last meeting I ever went to, because it wasn’t really a conscious decision to stop going at that time. I had just lost interest, and I knew in my mind that I wasn’t going back. I used excuses to start, like I had to work late, or I wasn’t feeling well, etc. Often I would tell them I was working late, and then go downtown to one of my favorite bars to play in their free poker tournament. I was still making preparations to set up my schedule for school, etc when it all finally came to a head.
I was paid a visit by two of the elders in the congregation, including the one with whom I had the conversation written above. They were concerned, they said, because I hadn’t been to a meeting in several weeks. They knew about my plans to attend school. They asked me what I wanted to get out of it, what I was looking for in the long term. I responded that I wanted a better life than the one I had now. I wanted security, freedom, to be able to spend $20 at a restaurant without worrying about whether or not it would break the bank. There is no security in this world they said, look around. The economy is on the verge of collapse, we’re at war, etc, all that ‘End of Days’ rhetoric. They also had a problem with the fact that I went to bars. “Your mother says you’re always at the bars, several times a week.” (This was a lie, I couldn’t have afforded that if I wanted to. I went once a week, maybe two times in the same week occasionally, and I never really drank all that much anyway, I just enjoyed the general pub atmosphere.) “Yeah, if you lived here, you’d drink too.” I said.
The discussion went back and forth, covering a wide variety of topics, all centered around how dangerous it was for me to follow my heart and ambition and go after a life in the world. Finally, the elder said, “If you go to college, you can’t be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” At this point I nodded in agreement with him, and admitted he was right. I told him I would think about what he had said, and after that they left. I had already made up my mind.
I want to emphasize that at this point, I still believed at this point that JWs had the truth, and that the world was soon to come to an end within the next 10-20 years. I had made up my mind that I was going to die in Armageddon, destroyed by God with the rest of the so-called wicked. I had resigned myself to death. I believed that there was a God, but I had told him in prayer that I thought he was evil, and I would die before I was forced to live a life of poverty and the immolation of the mind. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in an immortal soul, nor the eternal torments of hell, so I took a very atheistic belief of death when I left the organization, I was going to die, and that would be the end of it.
I was finally kicked out of the house when my mother presented me with an ultimatum the following week, either go back to the meetings or leave. I chose option number two, and moved in the next day with my father and my two younger brothers, who had left long before because at least my mother would have made them go to school, which my father did not. It turned out that I could not afford to stay on the campus of the University of Indianapolis, so I stayed with my father and brothers. Both of them eventually moved out to live with friends, and my father and I eventually moved into a small house/ shack where the rent was a lot cheaper than our last apartment.
My father had recently been fired from his job at a gas station for stealing lottery tickets. The place we were living in wasn’t fit to be a manger in a Nativity scene. It was a small wooden thing we were renting from the parents of one of my father’s friends. It was infested with every kind of creeping, crawling thing you could imagine. Mice, spiders, and even bedbugs. I couldn’t invite anyone over to hang out because I was scared to death of someone from school finding out how I lived. I was broke and going to class and trying to do my best to not let anyone know how depressed I was. My father and I fought constantly over his mismanagement of his money, and other awful decisions he would make almost as if he had a quota to fill.
I was wasting some of the best years of my life, broke, with few friends, and living in a wretched and filthy hovel. I had never felt so low in my life. Worst of all, I still felt like the JWs had the truth, and that even if I got through school with a teaching degree, this world could end in an instant. JWs are taught that Christ will come “like a thief in the night” to bring on Armageddon. I was so fearful at this point that I remember watching live coverage of the Japan earthquakes that resulted in the Fukushima Nuclear Plant incident and wondering whether this was the beginning of the end.
Good News- There is no God!
Now you’re wondering of course how I became an atheist. The process was slow, but it accelerated once I began taking history classes in college. We learned about early civilizations, the agricultural revolution, and other major turning points in human history. JWs believe that while the Earth itself is 4.6 Billion or so years old, they still believe that mankind has only been around for about 6,000 years. In retrospect that seems very hard to reconcile, almost like they are trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to scientific literacy and the accuracy of the Bible. Anyway, the more I listened to our professor explain everything and back it up with evidence, the more I started to feel the cracks in the Biblical account of history break open.
To me that was the foundation of it all. If the Bible can be proved to be untrue when it comes to history, then it is obviously not the inspired word of God. It also helped that there was a fundamentalist Christian in my class who challenged the professor every step of the way with ludicrous arguments about carbon dating, etc. I started to see how ridiculous I looked. But I still in the back of my mind, it was very tough to shake all the programming that had been forced on me for over 20 years.
Then finally, by chance, I caught a segment on 60 Minutes that turned out to be the most influential thirteen minutes of my entire life. It was an interview with a man I had never heard of before, by the name of Christopher Hitchens. I liked him immediately for his sense of outrageous and shocking humor, but this is the quote that finally shattered the foundation of the house of cards in my mind that was my belief in God.
Click here for the segment.
“It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority, who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep... A celestial North Korea.”
To that point, it was the greatest summation of exactly how I had felt about the Watchtower organization and the idea of a god in general. I wanted desperately for this to be true, that there be no god holding my life in his hands, but I also did not want to be guilty of self deception. For the next month, I poured over arguments from both sides. I bought Hitchens’ book ‘God Is Not Great’ and took notes, watched countless debates on YouTube, read ‘The God Delusion’, etc. The final kicker for me was listening to Bart Ehrman go through the various contradictions in the New Testament, the differing accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That was it, there was no god, no Jehovah, no one above waiting to end this world. I was free. I felt like there was a weight lifted off my shoulders at that moment, I wanted to shout for all the world to hear that it was all over. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore, the world was not going to end by the hand of a vengeful god from the ancient world. Even better, I was finally free to live my life and pursue everything I wanted, and no one was there to stop me.
Two weeks later, I returned to my grandparents’ house, where my mother was still living. I told her that I no longer believed in god, and wanted no part of the Watchtower. She did not yell and scream, she just took it all in stride. I’m convinced she thought it was about her, that I was just trying to make her feel bad, and that it was something I would come out of.
I gathered my stuff that I had left in boxes at the house. I grabbed my old briefcase full of Watchtower literature, and my Bible. My mother was confused. Why would I need a Bible if I was now an atheist? “I never read the Bible when I was going to the meetings” I told her. “I read the Bible everyday now. That’s why I don’t believe it.” That statement took her by surprise.
I left the house with a new sense of calm, finally feeling a little bit of peace that I had never experienced before.
There was one step left however, I still had not officially submitted my letter to let the elders in the congregation that I wanted to leave. I called one of the elders at home, a man I had known for as long as I could remember. I told him I no longer believed in God, and that I could not live the life I wanted in the organization and be happy. All he said was that I needed to submit it in writing with my reasons for doing so.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
This letter is to inform the Body of Elders that I, (My Name), no longer wish to be associated with the Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I have many reasons for this, but to keep things short, I'll go through a couple here on this paper:
1. I don't believe the Bible is divinely inspired.
2. There is no historical evidence to back up the majority of the Bible's claims.
3. I don't believe that anyone has the right to tell me how to live my life with respect to that which affects myself and myself alone. I'm speaking mostly about the conversation I had over a year ago in which I was told that I could not go to college and remain one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
4. I no longer believe in God or organized religion.
5. The final straw was listening to my mother quit her job while living with her parents at the age of 40, with the reasoning that 'God would take care of her.' This was one of the most idiotic things I have ever heard. My family has never lived above the paycheck to paycheck level of income, and to say that I am sinning against God because I am attempting to improve my station in life is equally idiotic. I will not have anyone tell me what I can or cannot do based on an obscure collection of forged middle eastern religious texts that contain contradictions left and right.
I should mention before I end this letter, that even when I still believed this, I wanted very desperately for it not to be true. I had resigned myself to living a short while, and giving up on eternal life to live in the way I chose. Thankfully I know better now. When I finally discarded my religious faith, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and freedom that I have never felt before. I do not believe that this is the easiest way of living, but living with freedom is not supposed to be easy. However, I would gladly trade the 'comfort' of knowing exactly what to do say and think all the time for the ability to do what I want and live my life in such a way as makes me happy.
Finally, I was not sure whether I should send over a bottle of wine or make a large donation after learning that my family would no longer be allowed to speak to me. I have never gotten along with the vast majority of them, and it brings me much joy to know that they will no longer be interrupting any of my Thanksgiving Day football games. If you could do me a favor and find a way to convert my father, so that I would no longer have to deal with him either, I would be forever in your debt.
I leave you with this:
“It is a wonderful thing in my submission, that we now have enough information, enough intelligence, and I hope enough intellectual and moral courage to say that this ghastly proposition is founded on a lie, and to celebrate that fact. And I invite you to join me in doing so.” - Christopher Hitchens
I can be reached at the email address and phone number below
To wrap up, I have since transferred out of town to a different school, where I am working with the football team, and am on the path to exactly where I want to be. To finally have complete control over my own destiny after being guided and prodded for so long is a welcome change. I can say that I am truly happy right now for the first time in my life.
Thanks for listening, guys, I hope you enjoyed the story.