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Witnesses

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.

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