As I have reflected on the critical choices I have made in my lifetime, I often look back at the moment when I decided to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was just 16 years of age, my life far from perfect. I was living with my mother in a run-down house that I was too embarrassed to invite anyone to, all she could afford given the lack of support from my father. Aside from the living conditions, life had many wildly moving parts. My mother swung from one difficult relationship to the next, our home frequently filled with people in our home whom I didn’t know. As I was never in one school more than a year at a time, it was difficult to attract and retain friendships. I was often lonely, confused and unsure of where I was going. I used drugs and alcohol on a regular basis to numb the pain.
When I went out of state to spend a month with my father that summer, I knew that I would have to go back to the meetings, at least while I was there. There was no way he was going to leave me alone in their home, as he had many reasons to be suspicious of me. I readily agreed when the subject came up, finding myself in a Kingdom Hall again for the first time in at least three years. I had been searching for answers. I believed in a higher power, regularly calling on whomever was listening, askng for purpose and guidance. I wanted a sign–a sign from God perhaps–that would tell me which way to go. There, in my first Jehovah Witness meeting as a young man, I believed I had my answer.
Like so many that struggle with uncertainty, feeling like a ship lost at sea, the Jehovah’s Witnesses can seem like the right fit. As I came to understand it many years later, my own father was neglected by his father, seeing himself as lost for a time. My mother was nearly estranged from her own parents as well. I now better understand the strong attraction when the bible study was proposed at the time they were both in their early twenties. The young woman that came to the door literally had them at hello.
For me, coming to the Witnesses meant walking away from my drugs and my alcohol, and finding a new way to get high. The adulation provided to me by other Witnesses who saw how well I knew the subject matter during the many Watchtower and book studies was more than I had ever received anywhere else. For the first time in a long time, I had more friends than I could count on one hand. It was powerful. In this new world I was a star. I could go as far as I wanted, and would ultimately ride the fast train to pioneering and then Bethel, all within just over two years of my baptism. It was a short time after getting accepted to Bethel that I came to realize that the world which had accepted me and had brought me to an elevated status was not what I believed it to be. I was shattered, back out to sea, adrift and frightened. It took me a very long time for me to figure out that the light which guides ships to safe harbor was within me all along.
For many that come to the Witnesses, I suspect you will find similar stories of feeling lost and insecure prior to finding the organization. I met many Witnesses who were once drug abusers, came from broken families or just didn’t know where they were going. In a sea of discontent, they would gladly sail into any port, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses were there at the right time. I suppose you might question what is the error in that, especially if the individual left a life of addiction behind. The issue is that they never stopped having an addiction, they just moved it from one drug to another.
I have no issue with anyone choosing to join a church, a group, or movement that will allow him or her to fulfill spiritual desires. But a religion should not be a crutch for one’s inability to think for one’s self. Karl Marx said: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Religion can be misused if it is only sought to fill an emptiness inside or if one’s ability to be self-directed is malfunctioning. I do not believe it is our purpose in life to be weak, docile creatures, who need to be told what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
That’s not living. That’s slavery.