Because-a poem

Borrowed from a friend–

                                                         BECAUSE

               (Open testimony to the Watchtower Organization)

Because I had a love for God you found me.

Because I needed hope in my life you said all the right things.

Because you said I would find “real love” I was joyous and believed you.

Because you presented a future utopia I wanted you.

Because you convinced me others would intervene I left them.

Because you said I must commit to you I conformed.

Because you persuaded me I dedicated myself and my child to your cause.

Because you convinced me God needed my time, money, and energy I gave it.

Because you continually announced that all of yours are happy I chased it.

Because I could not catch this elusive joy I was often depressed.

Because you indicated asking questions was disloyal I asked none.

Because I discovered hypocrisy emanating from you I was confused.

Because your shepherds were not tender I was hurt.

Because you allowed lies to prevail and damage the innocent I was discouraged.

Because you treated my loved ones with derision and contempt I became incensed.

Because I took in knowledge that uncovered your lies I was able to see clearly.

Because I was educated I was able to break free from your shackles.

Because I gained freedom I was empowered.

Because I have a love for God I walked away from you.

Because I am finally free I am happy.

–Anonymous

Thursday’s News & Reviews: Armageddon Preppers

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From infancy I was taught faithfulness above all else. As a dedicated member of the Watchtower Society, I was trained to accept counsel and direction without question. To question implied a weak faith and vulnerability to the Satanic trait of rebellion.

I remember the first time I chose to disagree with something published by Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s). It was 1999. A was laying in bed in a cute little house I rented on the west end of Bend, Oregon. The spring breezes were wafting in the window and stirring the drapes around me. I was reading an article in the latest Watchtower magazine, which discouraged permanent forms of birth control (i.e. vasectomies, tubal ligation, etc.). As a person who never wanted children I found this a veritable death sentence. I didn’t just not want kids. I hated the little buggers! To feel like I was being forced into motherhood was more than I could swallow. The foundation of my faith cracked that day–a profound, irrevocable fissure that would lead to more and more weakening of my faith until the structure finally crumbled.

Fast forward 10 years to 2009. I was attending a meeting at my local Kingdom Hall when I heard a talk on “Go-Bags.” These were handy little receptacles a “faithful” JW would keep packed with essentials in the likelihood of “natural disaster.” They should be kept handy in the trunk of the car in case of instant and life-threatening need. Water, flashlights, batteries, change of clothes, food, compass–whatever one might need in a natural disaster. This talk fell right on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, so it may sound logical to some. It wasn’t logical in Central Oregon. The only natural disaster that threatened that part of the country was volcanic, and it’s not like the Cascade mountains are known for blowing up without warning. (This article in no way discourages disaster preparedness. If you live in an area known for natural disasters, power outages, or extreme weather please make the necessary preparations to protect yourself and your family.)

My bullshit detector went off. I knew the JW “brothers” were intentionally avoiding the mention of Armageddon or the Great Tribulation by couching their warnings in terms like “natural disaster.” For the first time in history, JW’s were being encouraged to prepare for “the end of this system of things” by putting bottles of water and granola bars in backpacks. The brother on the stage even insinuated this was a matter of faith, and the faithful would obey without question.

My bullshit detector was screaming. I’m surprised no one else heard it. One brother did hear about it after the meeting.  I approached him and asked him why he thought we were in danger of hurricane in landlocked central Oregon. He told me any number of other disasters could happen: earthquake, flooding (in the desert?!), spontaneous volcanic explosion, etc.

Up until this point, we had always been trained to believe that Jehovah would protect his followers when Armageddon struck. I told this “brother” that I thought go-bags were showing a lack of faith in God and his ability to take care of his people. I was given a patronizing look that indicated I was a sister and needed to stop asking questions.

So I did the next logical thing: I went to my dad. He had always been my rock. He knew the bible backwards and forwards and had read every piece of literature published by the Watchtower society since the 1940s.

He agreed with me. It was a lack of faith and he felt it was a localized attempt on the part of some area brothers to force others to succumb to doomsday prepping ideals. The fact that dad was an ex-Mormon might have also contributed to his aversion to such an approach.

Dad died a year later, but I wonder if his faith would have survived the latest attempt by the JW’s to force people into fearful scenarios.

Recently, I saw a picture that was posted in the latest copy of the Watchtower. It can be seen above. It shows people hiding in a basement, and an unmistakable look of fear on a child’s face to indicate the gravity of the situation. Undoubtedly, they are hiding from the rampant anarchy taking place over their heads. I imagine sounds of helicopters, bombing air raids, the shrieks of the dying, and the pop of gunfire. I can imagine those sounds because they haunted my dreams as a child raised with images of Armageddon and torture.

I have recently been informed that JW’s are now required to select a safe place to flee to in time of “Natural disaster.” Once a family, or group, have selected their “place of refuge,” they are to report this to the local elders who make a written record and share it with the Circuit Overseer, who then passes it on to the headquarters. This isn’t just a whimsical fantasy to make easily impressionable people excited over the prospects of global annihilation. All JW’s are required to submit a written document of their chosen place of hiding. (Is anybody else seeing images of Jonestown right about now?)

I spent 38 years deeply entrenched in that religion. They’re not about to drink any Kool-Aid, in spite of what their actions may sometimes indicate. I see this as nothing more than another ploy to keep people unstable and afraid. A lot has happened in the last 100 years of that organization, except for the one thing millions of people have lived, and died, for: Armageddon. After more than 10 decades of promising that “Armageddon is just around the corner,” if the JW leaders didn’t find a new tactic for threat and rescue they would start losing credibility.

I have to say, it’s a pretty good scheme. Twenty years ago, I would have been eating this stuff up. It would be so exciting to imagine my flight to some wilderness as the world fell apart and billions died at the hand of God. But I know that religion, and I know those people. I would be willing to bet you money that many of them have already initiated their flight. Just as in 1975 when many of them quit school and sold their assets in hopes of the imminent arrival of Armageddon, I am sure many are repeating those same horrible mistakes. The Ebola outbreak; the riots; the extreme weather–some serious bridges are being burned right about now, all in the name of faith.

Keep your eyes open. You might see some houses go on the market in hopes of a quick sale. If you are in the janitorial field, you might be able to pick up some new accounts as JW’s flee the western world to live in caves and bomb shelters. The most positive aspect of all this? If they are in hiding, at least they’re not knocking on our doors.

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The Continuing Saga….

 

In my previous post “My Story” I marveled at the total absence of encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses. On retrospect, I feel the universe was giving me a gift–the gift of time. Though I may deny feeling any grief at being disfellowshipped, I have to admit there was some emotional backlash as I slowly came to grips with the loss of all I had ever known and valued.

In the last couple of months I have been working on meditation as a means of personal empowerment. My feelings of gratitude have gone through the proverbial roof and I am feeling happier and more content than I have ever felt in my life.

A few weeks back, I had a long day of massage at Exhale. After the third of five massages, I noticed a stabbing pain right under my rib cage, about where my diaphragm is. When I got home I put on some comfortable clothes, grabbed my foam roller and got on the floor to try to work out whatever was going on with my abdomen/diaphragm. After a few contortions, I found this tight line of tissue that extended from my pelvis, lateral to my rectus abdominus, and up to my rib cage. It felt like a line of fire, so I just slowly rolled the foam roller along this line until it pushed up against my diaphragm and I felt a flood of emotion wash over me.

It was a sensation I remembered having almost continuously as a child: shame, guilt, hopelessness, loss, fear, isolation, and the certainty that no matter what I did I would never fit in with Jehovah’s Witnesses. All those feelings were the result of that religion.

I was shocked to find that locked away in my diaphragm! I just laid there, with the foam roller pushing into that knot of pain and memory, and let the feelings wash over me. After a minute or two the pain, physical and emotional, faded.

Since then I have felt profound healing and no longer have panic attacks and severe feelings of sadness and loss. Some days I feel such happiness and serenity I wonder if I am glowing. I have been exercising and losing weight and my energy level is through the roof, which has no doubt helped with my mood (gotta love endorphins!).

So, apparently the universe has decided I can handle some JW exposure. Last week, I was at a local fruit/vegetable stand when I spotted a JW sister from a local congregation. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye and saw such a look of profound sadness on her face it surprised me! I gave her a dazzling smile, which she returned, and we both went about our business.

That look of sadness that flashed across her face gave me some insight into how people are feeling about me. They don’t hate me–or fear me and my witchy-ways–they appear to pity me as much as I do them. Which showed me all the more that they aren’t the ones to hate. Most of them are as duped as I was. It’s the Watchtower organization and its lies that is truly reprehensible.

A few days ago, I received a text from an old JW friend who is still very active. She said she just wanted me to know that she loves me and misses me. I thought about firing back a text that said something like, “I love you too, but I am not going to return.”

Today, I went to the local Starbucks for my customary “4 shots over ice, grande” when I spotted a sister I used to pioneer with (pioneer = full-time service). She smiled at me before she remembered my status. So I gave her a big smile and said, “Hey! How’s it going? You look good!” She hurriedly shuffled away. Then I ordered my coffee from another JW sister who actually treated me more warmly than she ever has. We talked massage and I told her I could help her husband’s thumb.

After that, I was talking with the acupuncturist I share an office with and he told me a JW brother (who admitted to some dissatisfaction with the religion a couple of years ago) had asked if I was still working there; then felt he should inform my business partner that “if I did anything weird, {he} needs to know I am no longer affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Wha?! What’s the point of that except to maybe slander my name and/or reputation?

So I go to the county fair and run into the JW-Starbucks worker and her husband. While I am working on his arm under the tattoo tent, he tells me he has left the religion and doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He said he was tired of the judgment and hypocrisy and the fact that the organization seemed to be pulling most of the doctrine out of their asses (my words).

After that, they go their way. While wandering through the quilt exhibit I run into the friend who texted me a few days ago. She smiles at me, but does not speak. She does speak to my husband (who is standing a foot behind me), however, and punches him in the arm (he isn’t df’d).

I admit to being a bit frayed by all the JW-exposure today. Growing up with the doctrine of disfellowshipping and always being on the other side of its application, I never realized how really stupid it was. Now that I am on this side, I see a doctrine that forces people to act counter to their instinct. We instinctively smile and greet people we know and are friends with, but JW’s are forced to stop acknowledging such ones. In fact they are told to treat former members worse than total strangers.

If  Jehovah’s Witnesses truly had the truth, why is its application so counter-intuitive? If God’s love transcends our own, why do those who represent him act so harmfully? Isn’t it possible that God (presuming he exists) is the God of life, light, and love that Jesus portrayed? The acts of judgment and excommunication and strict adherence reflect Paul’s Christianity, not that of Jesus.

Martin Luther, who ignited the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth-century, began as a Catholic Monk. He was filled with self-doubt and anxiety in his endless attempts to please a wrathful, demanding God. Then he would read passages in the Bible that spoke of how God loved and accepted the faithful regardless of how good (or bad) they were. Luther underwent a major experience of mystical insight when he came to grips with the realization that God was pure love–not the agent of anger, rage, and rigidity that his previous religious training had led him to believe.

The Protestant Reformation was begun by someone who believed God better than his strict representatives. The people in the organization that is Jehovah’s Witnesses are largely good people. But they are being used as a whipping post for those who cannot continue to worship the god of the Watchtower–a god that cannot be pleased. If it wasn’t for the doctrine of disfellowshipping, there would be far fewer Jehovah’s Witnesses than 7 million. That doctrine alone keeps people trapped in that religion. Some stay out of fear of alienation, while others stay because they know no better. They are never allowed to talk to anyone with a differing viewpoint, so doubts are never allowed to creep in.

So ask yourself: Do I truly worship a loving God? Does my belief make me a better person? Am I free to be whomever I want and speak to whomever I want? Or is my every action controlled? If you are trapped in a lifestyle that forces you to act against your better judgment, it is time for you to regain your autonomy and leave the collective. Speaking from experience, embracing the authentic-self is exhilarating!

 

Tree of Life

I just watched the Tree of Life with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It was very poignant and has left me rather melancholy. I felt like I was watching my life: authoritarian father, 3 siblings, loving mother. I remember how we would feel happier and more relaxed when dad was gone and how we would all toe-the-line when he was there. I even remember him telling one of my brothers to stop talking unless he could say something that actually improved upon the silence. To say something like that to a child only shuts down any enthusiasm or expression. As an adult, I could never figure out why talking to him was so difficult. But most everything that was said was criticized unless it bore directly upon religion. “Let’s talk about something a little more theocratic,” “Don’t say that. How do you think Jehovah feels when he hears you talk like that?” He wouldn’t just do it to us, either. I heard him tell other people, even adults, to talk about more ‘theocratic’ subjects.

In The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt, who plays the authoritarian father, talks about how he had wanted more out of life and was ashamed at how little his life really meant.  I know life wasn’t great for my father. He was extremely intelligent and excelled at school. He became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses when he was in pre-med. He dropped out because Armageddon was ‘just around the corner.’ He spent the rest of his life not using his intellect but working at dead-end jobs at the local saw-mill. His wife was an invalid and he had to raise three kids in a religion that kept kicking him in the nuts–metaphorically. Every time he would ask to be used in the congregation so he could exercise his intellect he was told he was too smart and he needed to stop being so arrogant. He never missed a meeting, assembly, or service. He read and studied all the endlessly redundant drivel the Society printed. Then he would obsessively try to fit into the mold of mediocrity the local elders required. He pounded this subservience into all our heads. It didn’t matter what personalities we might have, we needed to subject them to “God’s organization.” We needed to conform.

We learned this lesson so well, at 39 I am just now figuring out who I am–my older brothers haven’t been so lucky. I don’t know if they will ever be able to break the mold they have squeezed themselves into.  That’s what makes religion so reprehensible. It convinces people the prison is comfortable and necessary. It reminds me of a story I read while living in Northern California. Some years ago, a young girl was taken captive by some people who kept her in a box under their bed. They manipulated her so thoroughly she didn’t think she deserved any better. At some point, she was actually allowed to go get a job and every evening she would return to her box, handing her paycheck over to her captors. That is what some religions are like. They undermine a person’s sense of self to such a degree most people will endure unspeakable things in the name of God.

I don’t blame my father for teaching us to be doormats. He was doing what he thought he needed to. After all, it meant our everlasting lives. I remember reading an article in the Kingdom Ministry–which was a monthly bulletin only for JW’s–it was from the late 60’s and it instructed parents to not allow their children to go out socializing when they should be focused on serving Jehovah since ‘the end was so close.’ Parents everywhere did what they thought was right and raised a whole generation of kids in ascetic environments. Now, a great deal of that generation is waking up. They are middle-aged and their parents are dying. It has become clear that Armageddon has been “just around the corner” for almost 100 years. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no idea what they are talking about. My generation is slowly taking off the blinders. A lifetime under the strangle-hold of organized religion has created an interesting demographic. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and those who have survived the WTS are no exception. I have witnessed attitudes ranging from complacency to extreme courage. Some are angry, some are apologetic; some are born-again Christians, some are atheists; some carry the fear of eternal destruction with them, some have experienced a freedom from fear they never thought possible.

The Tree of Life never said what happened to one of the boys who died at nineteen, but it seems pretty clear he must have killed himself. The movie paints the picture of a boy with deep sensitivities. Sadly, some are affected in the same way when they leave the JW’s and cannot get past the damaging effects upon their minds. I don’t know if we will ever fully understand the magnitude of the damage caused by such mind control. I can only hope that the internet can help such ones realize they are not alone and they have nothing to fear.

My wish is that many more become like me and cast off the bindings of controlling, authoritarian religion. I want such ones to realize the joy of thinking for themselves and abandon the flawed course of their parents.

Lurkers Beware!

It has been a few weeks since my post, “Free At Last.” As far as I know, there has been no announcement–which is rather anti-climactic in my opinion. Somebody told me they only disfellowship someone they view as a danger to the congregation. Am I a danger? I sure as hell hope so!

Different ones from that religion may claim I am being disloyal; biting the hand that fed me; beating my fellow slave; even turning my back on the loving arrangement of Jehovah’s deluded sheep. I would ask them what that religion did for me that compensates for what I gave it. Thirty eight years of faithful service; thousands of hours in door-to-door humiliation; thousands of dollars in donations, vehicle upkeep, and gas; the best years of my life; a career; an education; my mental health—who puts a price on that? So who owes whom?

I remember in the Bible book of Exodus, when the Israelites were leaving Egyptian bondage they looted the Egyptians and took away a great deal of gold and jewelry. Was that stealing? No, the Egyptians had no right to enslave them so they owed the Israelites back pay. Well, the Watchtower Society owes me back pay and should be forced to pay for my psychological counseling in freeing myself from their mind-control. I want my youth back so I can make different decisions. I entered into a contract with the JW’s when I was 15. Such a contract is not binding. The steps I take now are in direct response to their continued need to try to control my life and thinking.

This blog was recently discovered by an old JW-friend. I hope he has enjoyed what he has read. One thing I find interesting is that the greatest sin he focused on was my celebrating of Christmas. I’m a practicing witch, and an apostate (by his reckoning) yet it was far worse that I would erect a Christmas tree in my house and exchange presents with my loved ones for the first time in my life. Does that sound like twisted reasoning? Does that sound like the Pharisaical tendency to ‘strain out the gnat and gulp down the camel’? (Matthew 23:24)But then, they are all Pharisees aren’t they? That is the whole idea of this blog:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you resemble white-washed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. In that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27,28)

Be careful who you judge. Make sure they don’t know too much about you and your penchant for apostate websites and pornography. And as to what my husband may or may not be ‘allowing to transpire in his home’—why don’t you join the 21st century. Women even have the right to vote now.

“Free at Last”

I have been thrust from obscurity into the glaring light of public censorship. Maybe this is a good time to point out that I wasn’t being as obscure as I hoped I was. I have a tendency to think most people don’t pay attention, or care, and this has proven to be grossly negligent on my part. When I began writing this blog it was specifically for the purpose of exploring my spiritual revolution. I kept it separate from my other blog and my Facebook account and even wrote it under a pseudonym. In recent weeks I have become less careful.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to an old friend who still subscribes to the tenets of my old belief. She asked if it was true that I was calling myself an apostate and Wiccan. She said everyone was asking her and rumors were rampant. This proved my earlier point–I had underestimated how many people actually were paying attention. So I admitted it to her. Last week I received a visit from an elder–only one–asking me if it is true I was posting things on Facebook regarding Wicca. Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that I thought I had insured my privacy settings were set too high for any probing eyes. Once again, I was wrong. So I decided to come out of the proverbial broom closet and admit my witchy-ways. He begged me not to be so reckless and warned me of ruining my relationship with Jehovah. This surprised me. It seemed common sense that if I was becoming a witch it should be obvious that the opinion of Jehovah, or any other Christian god for that matter, doesn’t matter to me. So he asked if a couple more elders could come for a visit and share some scriptures with me. I have read the bible so many times I know it inside and out–I told him I didn’t think there was anything he could tell me that I didn’t already know and hadn’t already discounted.

Then he saw the pentacle around my neck and almost gave himself a hernia trying to get out my front door, which has a tendency to stick in winter weather. I actually laughed at him. Once he was safely on the outside of my house where no goulies or demons could get him, he turned and asked if I was in fact denying any assistance from the congregation. I said I was. Then he asked if I was determined to continue my wayward course. I said I was.

For those of you who don’t know, this means I am disfellowshipped. A public announcement is made at the next meeting and all obedient Jehovah’s Witnesses will not only stop associating with me, they will pretend I don’t exist. It’s like what happened to Ayla in Clan of the Cave  Bear when she was banished from the clan. In their minds, I am as good as dead. Initially, I was upset because I had committed the unforgivable sin. Everyone I had ever known and cared about would be grieved by my rebellious choice. By the next day, I felt incredible gratitude! I would not have taken this step on my own and it needed to be taken. I was limiting myself far too much out of fear of this exact thing. Now I have nothing to fear and I can choose to do what I want. I feel the same basic freedom as I did in El Salvador when I had everything stolen from me and had nothing left to lose.

A year ago, when I left the JW’s, I felt like the world lay before me and my options were unlimited. In recent months, I have experienced a feeling of floating. I’m not sure what the next step is and it is frustrating. The day after the elder came for a visit, a door opened and now I know where my path lies. I have used the word ‘gratitude’ more in the last 10 days than I have in my entire life, and it was brought on by the very thing I was taught to fear above all else–alienation from Jehovah and his earthly organization. I had hoped the elders would call to tell me when the announcement was going to occur just so I could thank them for setting me free, but that hasn’t happened. I guess it’s possible it could happen this week, but I kind of think it was made last week.

I think my greatest regret in all this is that none of the people who I used to care for will understand why I did it. They won’t know how miserable and neurotic I was under the tyranny of the Watchtower Society. They won’t understand my study of Wicca is to regain my power as a woman after a lifetime of humiliation by men in leadership positions. They will be unaware of just how happy and empowered I feel and how they could experience the same thing if they just chose to.

I wrote a poem in recognition of this. It’s a Shakespearean sonnet and it isn’t great but it expresses my feelings:

Free At Last—a sonnet

Praying for apocalypse day and night

Calling the birds to feast upon the slain

This world and its character gone from sight

“The meek shall inherit the earth,” is their refrain.

These do not grasp the darkness of their dream

“We are God’s happy people,” they insist.

Tired, tortured eyes betray souls that scream

Rot and ruin corrupt their very midst.

“Do not question, do not doubt. Believe all!

Hide who you are out of fear of God’s wrath.”

God is not the judge—they heed their own call

Knocking all sinners who stray from the path.

Their threats are empty, their vengeance is scant

Away bondage! “Free at last,” I incant.

Cult Fear Tactics and Their Young Victims

December 2, 2011 marked the one year anniversary of my last visit to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was my father’s funeral and I knew when I crossed its threshold it would be the last time–unless someone else died. Over the last year I have had a lot of firsts: first cigar, first gamble, first birthday, first Halloween, and now I have my first Christmas tree up.

There is one first I didn’t count on however: first time fear has not ruled my life. I didn’t expect this collateral benefit. As a JW I was always told the world outside the Watchtower organization felt fear but those within the organization were free from fear. Supposedly, the world feared death, disease, Armageddon, God’s wrath, etc. Jehovah’s Witnesses knew what happens at death and that as long as they did what God–and the Watchtower–require they had no need to fear Armageddon or God’s wrath.

Yet, I remember having a dream when I was 5 years old that I was standing in a valley of skeletons–much like Ezekial’s vision of the Valley of Bones–and the names of each person was written on each skull’s forehead. I sorted through the piles looking for my best friends at the time: Jason and Eric. They lived next door and we would play Star Wars and Wizard of Oz. I finally found them, in my dream, two small skeletons with their names written on their skulls.

I remember having a dream when I was a teenager that I was standing at the threshold of Armageddon and an invisible entity was calling the names of those who would not cross-over, but die eternally. I remember the dread that I hadn’t been faithful enough and would die as a result, never to see my family and friends again. That dream spurred me on to be a more faithful Witness through all of my 20’s–until my soul withered away within myself.

I now find I do not fear flying. I don’t fear death, disease, or accident. I don’t fear violent crime or disaster. Life has become an adventure to take one day at a time without worrying about the future. I feel a measure of contentment I haven’t felt…well, ever. According to JW doctrine I should be living in morbid fear of my eventual destruction at Armageddon, but instead I feel happiness. The kind of happiness that comes with the knowledge that every choice is mine to make.

The children of JW’s have a lot to fear. They hear, from birth, how evil the world is. They hear how Satan and his demons are just waiting to devour them like a hungry lion. They see terrifying images of Armageddon, with people running screaming or dying in terror. Children are not protected from these images, but all the more exposed to them to scare them into submission. And it works, most of time, until the person realizes obedience is a worse kind of death than total obliteration at the hands of God.

In a recent book released by the Watchtower Society, “Learn from the Great Teacher”, is perhaps the scariest picture of Armageddon I have ever seen the Watchtower publish. This is a book for children. Why would they publish something like that unless they are trying to instill fear. The picture is the one you see above this article.

Am I an isolated case? No, many people have reported growing up with nightmares of Armageddon. Some deal with it differently, though. Please watch the video below to see the tragic effects of cult fear tactics.

 

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 10:11 p12  Comments (28)  
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“Combatting Cult Mind Control”

As the anniversary of my father’s death approaches (Nov. 24th) I am reminded that it has been one year since the death of my childhood faith. The last time I set foot inside a Kingdom Hall was for my father’s funeral–and I knew at the time it would be my last visit. As I greeted familiar faces I had known my whole life I felt sadness at the divergent path I was about to embark on. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to everyone who had ever mattered than as they were sharing the grieving process with me.

That is not why I am writing this blog, however. I am here to do a book review. You see, in the year since I decided I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I have made a concerted effort to educate myself–my own personal Exit Counseling. I worked through the anger and resentment by sharing my feelings with others who felt the same. I read ex-JW literature, attended ex-JW forums, and studied the development of religion from a sociological perspective. These are the things I needed to undo the indoctrination of a lifetime.

After about six months or so I started to get on with my life–or at least I tried to. A few months is not enough time to deprogram a mind injected with 37 years of programming. In recent months I have been ricocheting from feelings of severe depression to claustrophobia. I feel like my life is floating in limbo and I need to do something diametrically different from what I have been doing. I have lost my zeal for college and even the desire to maintain relationships. I want to cut them all loose and I keep having dreams that I am killing my passion or walking on the edge of disaster, or even trapped inside a Kingdom Hall with no exits. Then something happened a few days ago that made me realize I still had not recovered. After posting someone’s parody of a Watchtower victim awaiting Armageddon, a disfellowshipped ‘friend’ unfriended me–but not before telling me that my “blatant apostasy was pissing [him] off.” My heart started to pound so hard I could hear it reverberating in my ears. I started to shake and felt overwhelming fear. This had happened after awaking that same day from nightmares of being forced to go out in the door-to-door ministry–and only days after having two JW friends try to “talk some sense into me.” My life came crumbling down around me. What was I doing? Had I just made a huge mistake? Was I going to get disfellowshipped? What if I ever wanted to go back?

I panicked. I actually changed my name on Facebook and made my account as impermeable to curious outsiders as I could. Some new ex-JW friends on Facebook were able to calm me down, but I realized something: It didn’t take much for the old programming to begin playing its familiar tune. So today I decided to take the time to finish a book I started months ago–“Combatting Cult Mind Control” by Steve Hassan. This book recounts Steve’s own experience being indoctrinated by the Moonies and his eventual escape. He goes on to become an exit counselor for others in need of escape from cult control. The book contains his observations of why some cults are so successful as well as how to overcome their programming. On page 41 and 42 he says:

“They indoctrinate members to show only the best sides of the organization. Members are taught to suppress any negative feelings they have about the group and always show a continually smiling, ‘happy’ face…(pg 42)It was always amazing to me to realize how many people in this category told us they had just been praying to God to show them what He wanted them to do with their lives. Many believed they were ‘spiritually’ led to meet one of our members…members regard themselves as ‘fishers of men’…They reinvest a great part of their capital back into recruiting new members…The average person doesn’t stand much of a chance. ”

Was he talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses here? Nope. He was relating his experiences with the Moonies, but he could have been talking about the JW’s. I don’t remember Mr. Hassan mentioning Jehovah’s Witnesses at all in the book. He didn’t have to. Every description matched their techniques precisely.

Mr. Hassan goes on to relate successful and failed attempts at exit counseling from a plethora of different cults. On page 167 he sums up his own feelings as a recovered cult victim:

“I left when I realized that deception and mind control can never be part of any legitimate spiritual movement: that through their use, the group had created a virtual ‘Hell on Earth,’ a kingdom of slaves. Once I was able to realize that even though I wanted to believe it was true [paradise earth/resurrection] my belief didn’t make it true. I saw that even if I remained in the group for another fifty years, the fantasy I was sacrificing myself for would never come true.” (italics my application)

He goes on to relate how people actually change personality while under the influence of cults. A study was conducted in 1982 in which a respected psychologist used the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator to test cult members. He had them answer questions based upon who they were before the cult influence and again after. A marked difference was noted between their pre-cult personalities and their peri-cult personalities. Whatever they had been before, most shifted to sensor-judger dominant (Hassan, 191). I found this interesting since I had done my own informal poll regarding types of personalities that left the JW’s and when. I had found that intuitive judgers usually left in their late teens-early twenties. Whereas, intuitive perceivers held on longer and didn’t leave until well into adulthood. This isn’t to say that sensors don’t leave cults, but it may be harder for them and might stem from emotional trauma. (These are my observations based upon a limited pool of participants.)

Steve Hassan summarized his book with the observation that:

“If people come to believe that someone else knows better than they what is best to do, they can be in real danger…We have free will and should never abandon our personal responsibility for making good choices.” (Hassan, 195)

I found Hassan’s book to perfectly address my emotional issues. He described my feeling of “floating” as the mind trying to reevaluate the world without the lenses of mind control I had been wearing. In a carefully controlled environment, information and thought are carefully mastered to always be in line with the group-think. Imagine a lifetime of controlling every word,  and every thought, that didn’t agree with the prime directive. Once one leaves that tight control, they must learn to think again. I still ask myself when things go wrong if I have displeased God. My emotional issues of late could be attributed to separation from the “truth”–at least that is how believers would interpret it. Thankfully I have done enough personal research that I can dismiss such thoughts immediately, but many don’t do the research. They are either too lazy, or too afraid, or cannot think clearly due to years of reading the same literature. Some of these may actually go back because they never stopped believing.

I realize now that, just as one has good days and bad days while grieving, I will have bad days as I grieve the loss of my faith. The most important thing is that I recognize these unconscious messages and replace them with conscious discernment. As the poet William Blake wrote: “I must Create a system, or be enslav’d by another Man’s.” (Hassan, 196)

Hassan, Steve. “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” Park Street Press, Vermont, 1988.

Crisis of Conscience

I have just finished reading a book considered taboo to my old system of beliefs. The book enjoys such infamy simply owning a copy would bring down the judgment from church elders. I didn’t even know the book existed until the last year or so, and didn’t know of the events it depicted until the last few years. The organization I belonged to has done such a thorough job of sweeping it all under the carpet that it is probably safe to say only 10-15% of its seven million adherents know of its existence. The book is entitled Crisis of Conscience by Ray Franz.

Ray Franz was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) from 1971-1980. The Governing Body is a small group of men (9-15 members) who perform all administrative functions for the global congregation of JW’s. These men are among the few (144,00 total) JW’s feel are chosen for heavenly life. Ray was among their numbers until he started taking issue with certain organizational procedures. He and those associated with him were eliminated with extreme prejudice.

When I say “eliminated” I don’t mean a mafia-style hit. I mean excommunication, otherwise known as being disfellowshipped. (Exactly what will happen to me if anyone finds this blog;). Men and their wives who gave decades of faithful service and only took issue with an unbiblical rule. They wanted to remain servants of Jehovah but were kicked out of their homes at the headquarters, losing lifelong friends in the process, in a trial reminiscent of that endured by the Christ in the hours before his death.

Is this a book filled with lies and exaggerations, as many opponents claim? No. The honesty of the writer, and the deep-seated sadness, come through with every word. For those who prefer their evidence in black and white, he has documented evidence supporting his claims. He reveals a number of situations that happened while he was on the Governing Body–from dogmatic stances against oral sex to healthcare and political decisions that have resulted in the deaths of many. He concludes with the assumption that the religion will never experience any reform as its adherents are captives of the concept that God has only one organization–and that is the Watchtower organization. As long as followers subscribe to that belief wholeheartedly any inconsistencies will be ignored. And books such as this, will be avoided as if they carried the black plague.

In the concluding chapter of the book, he quotes a friend as saying, “The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever growing calm” (345). This made me think of the initial psychological shock I experienced upon realizing I had spent my life subscribing to beliefs that were inaccurate. Doctrines that had been such a part of my mentality that every word and action mirrored their apparent reality. It is hard to turn our backs on the only thing we have ever known and believed in. But once I did, and I allowed other truths to break the veil of obscurity my mind had hidden behind, I experienced a calmness and freedom from fear.

Did I know I was living my life in fear? No. I knew I was never good enough and would never be good enough, but I was told everyone else was living in fear–not JW’s. Yet, I had been taught to look at only the bad in the world as evidence of its coming destruction. To never befriend non-witnesses as they would die at Armageddon. To fear for my own salvation lest I do anything that may cause me to become disapproved. I no longer need to micro-manage my life and I have felt the shackles fall away and the heavy yoke that Jesus said was “kind” has finally become what he described.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt the need to answer the stabbings of their conscience in opposition to popular opinion. It takes courage to stand alone, as the analogy says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.”

Questionable Wager

On the last day of winter term I recollect the last few months and what I have learned. It was a busy term (19 credits) and I admit to a feeling of relief that it is over. I have one more final this afternoon–Philosophy. I have averaged A’s and B’s on the other ones so I am hoping for the same with philosophy.

I was really looking forward to philosophy as the final nail in the coffin of my Christian beliefs. But it didn’t do that really. I found the philosophers (Hume, Kant, Russell, Locke, etc.) rather hard to follow. Their ideas were so convoluted it really didn’t affect me very much, except to maybe annoy me as to why it matters whether we are all existing in a matrix of somebody else’s invention. If this is all a dream, how is that going to affect my day to day living? Can I change anything based upon that premise? No, so why does it matter? I think my one-on-one discussions with the professor were more fruitful than the actual class. We discussed faith, truth and God. He is an avowed atheist who thinks the people in my religion are “scary”. He told me the next time they came to his door he is going to answer it nude and see if that scares them off. I told him it has been done already, and no, it doesn’t scare them off.

The most interesting thing I take away from philosophy is Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal believed it was better to wager for the existence of God than not because if God exists and we choose to ignore him it means everlasting damnation. But if we wager to believe in him it means everlasting life. If God doesn’t exist? Nothing changes but at least we will have prepared for the worst. Belief in God requires more than just words, of course, there must be an outward manifestation–prayer, services, etc. This did not help me bury my beliefs, it made me worry I was making the wrong wager. But then, so is my philosophy professor. I am still having a hard time deciding if I will choose to believe in God or not. I am so fed up with religion in general I can’t quite separate God from Christianity. I am more inclined to believe in a God as an ancient deity that has been worshiped since time immemorial than a Christian Christ. I actually find myself tired of the name Jesus and rarely use it. So will I take Pascal’s wager? No, not yet. I still need to detect something concrete that I can believe in. I never felt anything with my old religion and I still don’t. I had a friend once tell me that he tried everything he could to summon the spirit realm (Ouija board, The Exorcist, seance, etc.)and never got anything, so he doesn’t believe anything is out there. He’s a total atheist although he was raised in the same faith as I. I am still reserving judgment, and still on the search.

My other classes were Sociology, Psychology, Math, and Writing composition. I think I enjoyed Psychology the most. I have always wanted to learn more about Freud and got a small dose in this class. I like what I learned. His definition of ID and superego were fascinating. ID being that part of our sub-conscious that is self-serving, irrational, and impulsive. Superego is the judge, the conscience. The ego is the practical conscious part of our minds that make the executive decisions and prevents our ID from taking over. I feel like my ID has actually killed my superego and is struggling for dominance with my ego. Up until now, my superego has ruled my life. I don’t want it around anymore. Jiminy Cricket is dead!

Freud also showed me that I have an oral fixation. Which means at some point in my first year of life I was overfed or frustrated. Adult oral expressions can include gum chewing, nail biting, smoking, kissing, overeating/overdrinking, gullibility, biting, and sarcasm. It was Freud’s response to the question of whether he was orally fixated–hence the always present cigar–that led him to say, “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.” He smoked up to twenty of them a day and died of throat cancer.

So the term ends and I await another. I have discovered an interesting new therapy I am trying out. More on that later…