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I’ve been spending the last couple of days looking back on my years of association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There are several sites where ex-JW’s try to get over their PTSD.  I wasn’t even baptized and only one of my parents was a JW.  Unfortunately for me, the other parent was at sea for most of my childhood so in many respects, I got the full JDub treatment including the no holidays routine and all of the crazy forbidden activities at school.  I did sing in chorus and was in a few plays but being brought up a JW even if you aren’t one, is a pretty austere existence with superstrict rules on just about every topic.  For example, did you know that JW teenagers are discouraged from getting a higher education?  Yep, don’t waste your time on college.  The world is going to end soon!

Those of you who are interested in this kind of thing, and there might be people out there who  are voyeurs for religious experiences that are not their own, might want to download Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony Dushane to see what the full JDub experience was like.  Religion and horny adolescence has never been so funny.  Dushane describes a culture that will sound so bizarre to most “worldly” people that you would swear it was a cult.  Um, it is.  The most hillarious part of his story involves eavesdropping on the distress call of a  married couple to his elder father.  The couple had “accidentally” done something in bed that was on the forbidden list.  Ok, maybe hillarious isn’t the word for this.  Maybe creepy comes a bit closer.  What adult couple confesses the most intimate aspects of their lives because they are afraid that Jehovah will blink them out of existence over one transgression?  And how much detail are you entitled to if you’re an elder?

Dushane’s style feels like an open chord.  His narrative is spare.  There’s not a lot of descriptive detail and the plot jumps ahead years without warning.  I would have liked to have learned a bit more about some of the characters but there’s enough there for the reader to fill in the backstory with his or her imagination.  It’s a good thing Dushane can look back on his life as a JW and not see it as a total loss.  I guess therapy helps.  Or maybe it’s that so many JW children don’t know any other life and what they’ve been told about the lives of worldly children makes everyone outside the Kingdom Hall seem depraved.  What comes as a shock for so many who eventually leave is that they can no longer turn their consciences off to the depravity of what goes on within it.

There is a much darker aspect of the religion that they don’t tell converts at first.  The reason why so many people stay in it long after they’ve seen the light is because you can lose your entire family if you step out of line.  JW’s practice extreme shunning and they are particularly hard on apostates and those members of their community that make the organization look bad.  Such is the case of Barbara Anderson, who is a hero to many JW’s who survived childhood in the cult.  She was once one of the highly esteemed JW’s who worked at Bethel, the name of the American headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract society.  I didn’t realize this until last month but you can see their building from the Brooklyn Bridge, which means they saw the OWS batsignal because it was pointed right at them.  Oh, the symbolism is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Betcha there was a lot of praying about Armageddon that night.

Anyway, Barbara and her husband joyfully submitted themselves to 10+ years of slave labor for WBTS in Brooklyn when their JW 19 year old son decided to dedicate his life to Bethel.  Barbara’s husband was a plumber and he helped Bethel with their many building projects, for $114/month stipend.  Did you know that the WBTS owns a hefty chunk of tax exempt property in Brooklyn in the same way that Trinity Church owns much of the land in lower Manhattan?  Yep, the JW’s are as rich as Croesus.  Barbara worked at several jobs.  She was good at administration and accounting.  Then she got assigned to the writing deparment where she wrote some of the Awake! magazine articles.  That sometimes required her to go back to the stacks to do research and while her untapped gifted and talented mind was rummaging through the old documents, she stumbled upon a wealth of evidence of documented physical and sexual abuse of children from various Kingdom Halls.  The JW’s had a Catholic priest problem.  She tried going through normal channels to get the governing body to take action on these cases but they just wanted to settle out of court and make the problem go away.  Eventually, she went back to regular JW life outside of Bethel and her husband became an elder.  But she started to hear from other JWs that the congregation she was in had some well known pedophiles.  After years of being a submissive women and getting nowhere with the patriarchy of the WBTS, she decided enough was enough and gave an interview to NBC news.

She was promptly disfellowshipped.  That meant that no one in her congregation or her family was allowed to associate with her, including her son, daughter in law and grandson.  They cut themselves off from her.  Her husband tried to defend her at a judicial committee hearing within the congregation, pointing out that she couldn’t let the abuse go on any longer and they disfellowshipped him too.

In the meantime, Barbara has gotten hold of court documents of cases between abuse victims and the members of the WBTS and has published them online.  Now, Barbara gets emails every day from abused former JW children from around the world.  I’ve heard a couple of interviews with her. (Once you get over her somewhat floopy voice, you find that she’s an excellent storyteller.  Her recall, detail and narrative skills are riveting.)  In fact, it sounds like she’s heard and read more than anyone should read in a lifetime.  The details are really heartbreaking.  Unfortunately, the WBTS is still covering up for pedophiles and hasn’t required their elders to promptly report such cases to the police in every state.  Surprisingly, there are states that don’t require clergy to do this.

One other thing I’ve found out from the Jehovah’s Witness Recovery site is that the JW’s are really good at creating atheists.  When kids finally do leave after a whole lifetime of regimentation and the terror that accompanies the feeling of not being good enough to survive Armageddon and constant fear of public reprimands for the tiniest infractions, the LAST thing that they seem to want to do is worship a god.  They’ve done enough worship for a lifetime, thank you very much.  Many of them describe feeling free once they let go of god.   As in emancipated.  As in slavery to the thought of having to work your way into a paradise where you would have to spend eternity without sex and surrounded by other Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The JW’s don’t believe in Hell but that right there has always sounded pretty Hellish to me.  I made up my mind when I was about seven that there was no frickin’ way were they ever going to dunk me.

They also seem to be a lot savvier about how cult manipulation works.  Check them out if you’re ever feeling bad about your Catholic upbringing.  After a few threads, you’ll realize how lucky you were.

And you’ll never respect any politician who says you need religion in your life.

30 Responses


    Ahem. I somehow managed to hit the wrong key and erase my comment, so here I go again.

    Like RD, I left my church for a while (roughly ages 15-24). Unlike her, I went back. This post reinforces my hypothesis that I was able to return because I was raised in an ordinary, fuddy-duddy Protestant sect (the United Methodist Church), while RD was raised in a wacky fundy cult.

  2. It’s sad that her son followed the church and excommunicated his mother from his life. I suspect he’ll regret that someday.

    I don’t think I would have remained a JW either. They sound incredibly rigid. Not anything like how I picture my relationship with God.

    I didn’t mind Catholicism as a child. It wasn’t until I was fully grown that I realized how positively awful it is that a bunch of men arbitrarily determine the fate of people and seem to callously disregard that their positions have literally cost people lives. I know I would have a hard time threatening the family of a rape victim with excommunication for an abortion or telling someone that God doesn’t approve of condoms. The God I pray to is loving,tolerant and forgiving and he expects that from me; not judgement.

    Anyways sorry your experience was awful. Worship isn’t meant to be drudgery IMO.

    • It wasn’t as awful as some of the other JW kids but yeah, I don’t recommend it for anyone not old enough to understand what they’re getting into. Some religions should be for adults only. I do find it interesting that as fundamentalist as JWs are, they have no problem with contraception. Somewhere deep inside the dusty cobwebs of some Governing Body big wig there is a flicker of recognition that it’s not the healthiest environment for kids.

  3. Timely subject. I’m vacationing in Utah which has prompted me to read up on Mormonism. Seems a lot of the same things are going on in the Mormon world too. They are also rigid, hierarchical, patriarchal, legalistic and sex-obsessed, and ex-Mos have as difficult a journey out. I find particularly striking the resemblance their organizational entities bear to National Socialism’s (a young men’s organization, a young women’s, a so-called relief organization, etc.)

  4. I used to have a friend who was raised JW and went to seventh day adventist. We fell out over the fact that she was preaching to my very young children behind my back. It came out in front of other friends in my home. I threw her out when she said I couldn’t stop my kids from hearing the truth. I do not remember ever feeling quite that sense of rage before or since. My husband at the time rather than supporting me said “teece, that is not like you”.
    Yeah, thanks for the support Dave.
    I was an Anglican then. I am a Presbyterian now. I am turned off by anyone who thinks they alone know the truth and feel they should spread it by preaching at everyone else and that includes atheists or wiccans etc..who like to tell people of more traditional religions what is wrong or foolish about their beliefs. I just don’t get the point of it. To me it is the same as the JWs showing up on your door step with the watchtower or your SDadventist friend preaching crazy shit to your 3 and 6 year old kids when you leave them there for a few hours to play.

    You, poor little kid, were the victim of the same kind of single minded nonsense. I would be curious about what you think made it possible for you to go on and become a scientist. Did you have other adults, teachers who encouraged you?

    • First of all, I never once for a second believed any of this bullshit. Some of the images were scary as hell and gave me nightmares but my grandmother, who was Catholic, told me that god would never do any of those things to little kids. My mom was completely unsympathetic to what we had to endure in school, probably because she had a normal childhood in comparison and didn’t realize what it really meant to not be part of the world.

      I knew when I was in 4th grade that I wanted to be a scientist and became one sort of in spite of the lack of any kind of encouragement. We moved so often that my teachers barely knew me. I always managed to get into the honors classes in school.

      • well good for you. Determined children often rise in spite of adults. I too knew what I wanted to do as a very young child and I did it. I never became famous and do not expect I ever will, but I did it. It would be a better world where all children were able to fulfill their dreams.

  5. I could never figure out why people want to live for their life after death rather than just living their lives to experience what it truly means to be human. It just seems strange to me that in order to get into “paradise” we have to basically quit living. If I were God I would want people who lived full and rich lives. People who participated in their communities and people who worked tirelessly to help others.

    • You obviously have not developed a obsessive fear of death. In fact, I think that’s how they find their marks. For both Mormon missionaries and JWs, their introductory questions at the door focus on whether the homeowner wants to live forever. In the case of the Mormons, your entire family comes with you. For JWs, they’ll take what they can get. If your family doesn’t want to come, fuck’em. They’re in Satan’s corner if they resist.

    • Some of us have to focus on the hope of a next life because circumstances quite beyond our control prevent this one from being “full and rich”.

      Also, if life is “full and rich”, that just makes it worse that it must end some day.

      However, not being a wacky fundy type of believer, I don’t think we must quit living this life to achieve the next one. Also, most Christian sects maintain that helping others is important to the Deity. I assume that is true of other faiths as well, but I don’t know enough about them to say.

      I suspect the difference between believers and non-believers is partly genetic. Some people have innately weak appetites for immortality, and so can accept death as The End–No Ifs, Ands, or Buts with equanimity. Likewise, some people have innately weak appetites for food, and so will not overeat, even given a reliable abundance of food. Also, some healthy young adults have innately weak appetites for sexual activity, and so can be cheerfully chaste.

      • I’m confused.
        But as one atheist on youtube put it, you tend to appreciate more something which is scarce. So, if you believe that the number of days that you will have to be conscience and sentient are short, that tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully well. It makes you more careful about your life and the lives of others and makes you want others to live well. Your concerns about the conditions of their lives are not directed towards some future plane of existence. They are concentrated in the here and now.
        Now, there are atheists who are immoral and sociopathic and we will always be able to find examples of them. There are also religious people who are immoral and sociopathic and we will be able to find examples of them as well. But if I had to be on a desert island with either an atheist or a theist, I’d take the atheist. Their assessment of the situation is much more likely to be realistic and they wouldn’t be waiting for someone else to rescue us. Furthermore, the atheist is more likely to see our working together to be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. It pays to be kind and helpful because it ensures that you will get the same treatment in return. Can we say the same about the religious castaway? Probably. But when the rubber meets the road, I’d rather not be around someone wasting time praying for divine intervention instead of helping me make a raft or catch a fish or doing something really hard.
        Does that make any sense? I’m about as close to atheism as it is to go without going over and I have come to that mindset because of my experiences.
        As for life being full and rich, if you can’t appreciate a van Gogh blue sky or the smell of snow or a good life, then you aren’t trying hard enough.

        • Perhaps you’re basically a better talking ape than I am–I mean that literally, NOT sarcastically–but I think if I was absolutely convinced there was no afterlife, I would be less generous.

          It seems to me that IF this is the one and only life, then “Look out for #1” is the most sensible worldview–although of course, taking account of other people’s needs often does serve one’s own self-interest.

        • Oh, and “you’re not trying hard enough”?

          Careful there, that sounds like a cousin of the “If you’re not successful, it’s your own fault” worldview, which you have correctly denounced in other posts.

  6. In sixth grade, I had a friend from a JW family. Cary was the other really good artist in school, and everyone kept goading us into competition. But we got along. His parents forbade him from reading comic books — that is, or at least was, another JW stricture. This prohibition astounded me, since I could find no injunction against Batman or the Flash in any translation of the Bible.

    “The JW’s had a Catholic priest problem…”

    Again. I’ll probably be banned for saying this but: I can link to studies proving that pedophilia is no worse of a problem in Catholicism than in other religions. Even Buddhism. Even Wicca.

    (I’ve met at least one Wiccan who, I later learned, was busted on a kiddie porn rap. He introduced himself to me rather pompously as “A priest of Bes,” as though that was supposed to impress me. “You worship Truman’s wife?” I asked. He explained that he meant the Egyptian trickster god.)

    Ah, but there’s no point in mentioning those studies. Those emotionally wedded to their preconceptions either pretend that inconvenient data does not exist, or they perform Ye Olde Subject Switch. Whenever I encounter YOSS (on any topic), I know that someone doesn’t have an argument.

    I await your YOSS. It’ll probably hit in less than an hour.

    • I have wondered how much of that foul sin can be found in my own denomination. 😮

      I think the misconception of clerical pedophilia being especially widespread in the Catholic clergy comes from folk wisdom–namely, the idea that since Catholic priests are forbidden from normal sexual activity, their natural urges are more likely to take a warped form.

      • I once subscribed to that misconception. My folk-wise reasoning went that if you put your thumb on the tip of a garden hose that was turned on full blast, you didn’t stop the water–it just came out in every direction. So, I thought the enforced chastitiy of priests produced perversion. I no longer subscribe to that misconception.

        • I think that’s at the root of it. It’s a variant of what folks int he BDSM community call YKINOK — Your Kink Is Not Okay. The kink, in this instance, being chastity.

          To an extent, I can understand this. What I don’t understand is why we don’t apply the same standard, or prejudice, to Buddhist monks, who are also supposed to abstain from sex.

          And yet Americans view the Dalai Lama as Mr. Hip.

    • I only use the Catholic priest problem because it’s so well known and it relates to religion. I could very easily say that the JWs had a Penn State problem. Same thing.

      I counter your YOSS.

    • Did the Wiccans, Buddhists, etc. cover it up and protect the perps and move them around from church to church to church to get more mileage out of each perp the way the Catholic Church apparently did?

      If you move each perp around 10 times, you can get 10 times the mileage out of each perp than if you don’t. Do your studies address
      the amount of cover-upping and move-arounding among the Wiccans, Buddhists, etc.?

  7. *sigh* chastity.

    On the anime/manga forums I frequent, I can always edit my mistakes when I notice them. 🙄

  8. thanks for reading my novel. glad you liked the telephone confession scene. it’s very intriguing to find out what readers find funny and/or sad.

    again, thank you.

    your fellow ex-jw, here’s to daily surviving and thriving,


  9. if God had made anything better then sex.he would have kept it for himself.
    can’t understand why any religion denies people that pleasure. 🙂

    • In the case of early Christianity, its suspicion of sexuality was an understandable overreaction to the often brutally exploitive forms of sexuality found in the Roman Empire. Slaves and other social subordinates could be raped with impunity.

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