It is difficult to fully assess just how many ex-members there are of the controlling and authoritarian religions of the world. When it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the group I am most familiar with, I’ve heard numbers like “a million” or perhaps even more. When I left 30 years ago there were no web sites, no online support groups, no outreach for former members that I was aware of. I exited on my own, with my few non-Witness family members a good 500 miles away from me. I was birthed into the world, alone, afraid and despondent. I didn’t know how long it would take me to recover from the years I spent allowing others to tell me what to think, in the time that my mind did not belong to me. Once I was free of it I was set adrift, wandering in the midst of an often confusing and perplexing world.
Today, there are numerous sites, blogs and discussion boards that are supported and maintained by the many ex-Witnesses who feel compelled to help others. Whether motivated by compassion for fellow former believers, or full of wanton hatred for the Witnesses, these individuals are collectively working to bring the organization down. When I reflect on what is happening I am in awe. If you had asked me 20 years ago if I thought there would be a day when the Jehovah’s Witnesses would cease to exist I would have been skeptical. But I doubt no longer. In an interesting twist, the Witnesses, who early on blanketed streets and neighborhoods with a message of intolerance and hate for all those who didn’t believe as they did, are now being punished online for their current and former deeds. Yes, the chickens have come home to roost.
It is not easy to convert someone to Jehovah’s Witnesses today. No sooner that a loathsome video about how a child should “Witness” to a child with gay parents is released, it is shared with thousands who cannot believe what they are seeing. Surely thousands more have seen the video released at the summer conventions this past year which show a young lady being effectively “shunned” by her parents (they won’t even answer the phone when she calls). It would be tough for someone to be caught off guard by the Witness message today. The JWs, once themselves experts at disseminating their shifting propaganda, are now at the mercy of a counter-attack of proportions like nothing they could have ever mounted themselves with their small web presence.
This is why I write. This is why I won’t remain silent. I have a voice and I must use it. If one less child is abused, if one less person dies as a result of not receiving a life-saving blood transfusion, if one less mind is turned inside-out by the controlling Watchtower message, then I have done my job. For the million or so ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses in this world I presume there are as many individual stories, some similar but no two exactly alike. Speak up! Do not be ashamed of the fact that you once believed in the words of insecure old men. Know that by sharing your story you may also be helping someone else rewrite theirs.
When I was a small boy I had a recurring dream, perhaps bordering on a nightmare, where I would wake up to an extremely dimly lit room, frightened of not being able to see the room clearly. There were many shadows all around me, and I knew not what evils they hid from me. I’d pull the covers up over my head, and allow one trembling hand to reach slowly for the lamp switch. To my horror, the light would not get any brighter, despite all my effort in turning the switch over and over again. Terrified, I would recoil fully into my bedding, at which point I would wake up breathless, drenched in sweat. The feeling from the dream stayed with me so strongly during my waking hours that to this day I approach dark rooms all too cautiously, unsure if the light will come on when I flip the switch.
A common theme over the many years that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been around has been the change in doctrine. Many today are unaware that Jehovah’s Witnesses once smoked cigarettes, received blood transfusions, or celebrated Holidays and birthdays, all of which are now condemned. I was around when their publications were insistent that men and women who were old enough to witness and understand the world events of 1914 would also remain alive to see the end of the present “system of things,” and see the “wicked” be destroyed at the hand of God, so as to make room for a paradise earth for loyal Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, hardly anyone is alive today who was of a mature enough age in 1914 to understand what was happening then. How do the current Witnesses explain the new understandings? By basically misappropriating a biblical scripture found in Proverbs 4:18 which states that “the path of the righteous ones is like the light that is getting lighter and lighter…” I’ve never been able to make a connection to what is supposedly the teachings of the One True God and the receiving of new and improved information over and over again, in the form of “new light.” l look back on my dream and I wonder, did I know something about this religion long before I committed to it?
Two thousand years ago, during the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ told the crowd gathered before him that they were “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). He didn’t say “I am the light of the world.” No, he clearly said “YOU are the light of the world.” Yes! I believe we all have a light within us. We have the power to control its intensity, and no one can take our light away from us unless we let them. We don’t need artificial lights in the form of man-made religious organizations that claim divine inspiration but are really directed by nothing more than humans with big egos. By arming ourselves with knowledge, information and wisdom, we can light our own way. Once we learn to rely on our own light, we can then help others find their light as well. I will close by saying this: “Namaste,” which essentially means, “The light within me honors the light within you.” Let your light shine as bright as possible. Be the light of the world.