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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My Story

It has been a little less than four months since the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses announced my disfellowshipping* (April 4, 1012). Apart from the rumor spreading rapidly across the state once convention season began, I have had little backlash. Living in an area where the per capita population of JW’s is quite high, I worried about bumping into ‘old friends’ and being snubbed. That hasn’t happened. In fact, I haven’t seen anybody—which is out of the ordinary. This tells me they are possibly seeing me first and fleeing.

I remember doing that as a JW (Jehovah’s Witness). I would catch sight of a Df’d (disfellowshipped) person and flee in the other direction to avoid a full-frontal snubbing. This was okay with me at the time because I felt more pious and righteous before God since I was doing his will. If that is what is happening in my case, I am thankful because I made the decision I was not going to act ashamed around them. They put their label on me. I am not defined by it, nor do I accept it. I don’t feel like I have changed—I am still me—except, I am a more authentic version of myself.

Which brings me to the reason for this blog—I was discussing with a friend recently my frustration at not being able to share my feelings with those who have labeled me. People who claim to love me, but will no longer speak with me, have no clue what is really going on with me. They must theorize and in so doing use a mountain of logical fallacies to validate their beliefs and prove I am “fornicating with the devil.”

I know this because I did the same thing many times. Whenever someone is disfellowshipped everyone wonders what the reason was and usually the first thing people think of is sex. This is because in puritanical Christian circles everything leads back to sex. What really helps, however, is if the local congregation has the practice of giving a local needs right after a disfellowshipping.  This is a well-meaning talk given to a congregation to warn of the dangers of falling prey to the exact same thing that got so-and-so “disciplined by Jehovah”. This serves the dual purpose of scaring the congregation into submission and putting to rest any speculation.

I’m only assuming this is what happened in my case, because an old roommate who was disfellowshipped 18 years ago (and lives three hours away across a range of mountains) sent me a friend request on Facebook and said she had heard I was worshipping Satan. I was surprised at the relative accuracy of the rumor as it spread. (I would have been flattered if the rumor had been sexual, but apparently the same people who never tried to hook me up with anyone while I was single would never have considered sexual liberty a part of my personality. *sigh*)

I remember the frustration and helplessness of hearing someone’s name announced from the stage, knowing they are beyond help. Average JW’s are prohibited from reaching out to Df’d ones. I remember when my roommate was Df’d; I cried like she had died, because it was a sort of death. I had to pretend she was dead so I would not be tempted to talk to her.  Now we have to make up for all the time that was robbed from us by the doctrine of a self-centered religion.

But I digress…Whenever I heard of someone who was disfellowshipped; I would ask some discreet questions and somehow come to my own logical explanation to explain things in a way that validated my beliefs.  This is called confirmation bias, and I am positive it is being used to explain my own defection.

Three days before my father died, two local elders paid me a visit to warn me of the dangers of Harry Potter. The second to last movie had just been released in theaters the night before. I had taken one of those fun quizzes on Facebook and was told I had the personality of a Dementor. I thought it was pretty funny, so I posted the results. The wife of one of the elders that stood in my living room that day had “Liked” my status and I thought, “Cool! Sharon likes Harry Potter.” Apparently she narced on me to her husband and they felt it important to come and counsel me as my father lay dying in the next room. (I promptly unfriended Sharon [I can’t tolerate tattle-tales] just like I unfriended my husband’s aunt when I found out she shared my anti-JW status updates with my parents-in-law.)

The two elders told me the success Harry Potter was enjoying in the box office was a clear indication of its demonic origins and that Jehovah hates all who love what he hates. “You don’t want Jehovah to hate you, do you?”

A year and half later I was disfellowshipped for witchcraft. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume they have linked the two events. It warms the cockles of my heart to imagine my story has passed into JW legend as a scare tactic to stay away from Harry Potter. Perhaps, my ‘experience’ has even been shared at an assembly or convention. How cool would that be!

So, for anyone who wants to know the truth, it was not Harry Potter…it was Twilight. Haha! Just kidding!

By the time I read the series of Harry Potter I was already out. I knew the warnings against it and choosing to read the books was a beginning of my rebellion. You see, I had been an uber-obedient JW for the better part of two decades. I avoided rated-R movies, never swore, only read literature published by the Watchtower Society, read my Bible every day, learned a foreign language, prepared for every meeting, participated in the field ministry and theocratic school, etc. etc, etc.

I ignored, or suppressed, the anxiety and depression and guilt that rode around on my shoulders year after year. I knew there would come a reckoning. I knew I couldn’t maintain the level of intensity the Watchtower society required indefinitely. Thankfully, I figured I wouldn’t have to. Armageddon was just around the corner.

By the time I got into my thirties I was full on neurotic. I would punish myself for everything I did or said that I perceived as imperfect. I would leave the Kingdom Hall sobbing because I was so flawed.

Marriage and life managed to distract me enough to slow down in my intensity of religious service. Then I went a few months without going to meetings and began to heal. I started seeing a therapist to deal with my extreme anger and resentment that I had carried with me all my life. I began to heal, until I would go back to the Kingdom Hall, then all the neuroses would begin to rear their ugly heads.

I finally realized that mental health existed away from the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses—at least for me.

For anyone still reading this, I am happier than I have ever been. I will never return to that religion, so don’t bother telling yourselves I will come to my senses. I already have. My life finally makes sense to me. I stepped away from that religion and felt like I could take a full breath for the first time in my life. I thought it would be better for me to just fade away and somehow maintain my membership, so friends and family could continue to talk to me. But thanks to another Facebook traitor, I was outed as a practicer of Wicca (not because Harry Potter sold me on witchcraft but because I desire to investigate the sacred feminine and heal through empowerment and meditation). I have only felt profound gratitude since the local congregation decided to disfellowship me. I needed to be cut off from that deep abyss of negativity and have only felt happiness ever since. Thank you, elders of the Terrebonne, Oregon congregation!

I now feel profound pity for anyone remaining under the heavy yoke of the Watchtower Society. I wish that all could become just like me: liberated and grateful for life, optimistic about the future of mankind and non-judgmental.

That is my story.

*For further explanation of the practice of disfellowshipping please visit this website: http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/disfellowship-shunning.php

Rebirth

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…and so it is done–finally. The announcement was made last night that I am no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. No truer words have been said from that stage. I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear it. But I was informed that was when the announcement would be made, so I am acting upon that assumption. I have been feeling kind of depressed for the last week or so. Yesterday afternoon I felt like I was having a panic attack. But a pitcher of McMenamin’s IPA took the edge of.

Last weekend I had cleaned out the closet and pulled out the last of our Watchtower Society books, magazines, and brochures. I decided a nice little ritual burning was in order. So, last night, during the time I estimated the announcement would be made, I had a ritual. Roy piled all the books and magazines in our outdoor fire pit, I cast a witches circle, and we lit them on fire. I said a few choice words–whatever I felt ‘moved by the spirit’ to utter.

I kept out a copy of a 1980 Watchtower I had possessed as a child. It had my name written on the outside cover, and my scribbles all over it. I remember the endless hours of meetings where I would scribble and draw. I could survive the boredom as long as I had a writing instrument and something to write on. Fortunately, my father wasn’t one of those parents who banned their kids from writing in any of the literature. I burned that old Watchtower separately as representative of my childhood enslaved by the organization.

After the fire burned down, and I officially ended the ritual, Roy and Trevor went indoors and I stayed outside burning sage and circling the fire pit. I spoke from the heart, and even cried a little, then I looked up at the full moon and reflected on the blessings I have now–Freedom from fear and judgment; Freedom to live my life without always checking in to make sure my choices were permissible; A life filled with love for my fellow humans and optimism rather than negativity; A future I look forward to and can work towards rather than putting my life on hold for a nebulous promise that keeps fading into the distance. Life is a blessing. Humankind is worthy of life. I no longer look at people as potential bird-bait, but as fellow sharers in this remarkable planet.

I don’t know if I would have been able to do it without the internet and social networking. I wonder how people managed before these wonderful tools. I understand why the internet is such a danger to high control groups such as the Watchtower Society. The reason they disfellowship is so members will return out of desperation due to excessive loneliness. In a recent Watchtower (April 2012) Paragraph 17 on page 12 explains the significance behind this practice:

17 “Consider just one example of the
good that can come when a family loyally
upholds Jehovah’s decree not to associate
with disfellowshipped relatives. A
young man had been disfellowshipped
for over ten years, during which time his
father, mother, and four brothers “quit
mixing in company” with him. At times,
he tried to involve himself in their activities,
but to their credit, each member
of the family was steadfast in not
having any contact with him. After he
was reinstated, he said that he always
missed the association with his family,
especially at night when he was alone.
But, he admitted, had the family associated
with him even a little, that small
dose would have satisfied him. However,
because he did not receive even
the slightest communication from any
of his family, the burning desire to be
with them became one motivating factor
in his restoring his relationship with
Jehovah. Think of that if you are ever
tempted to violate God’s command not
to associate with your disfellowshipped
relatives.” (Watchtower)

Social media has removed such isolation and such ones can easily find others just like them, sometimes in their area. And whenever doubts and fears arise due to years of indoctrination, these are the ones who can strengthen us. So let me use this opportunity to thank all of you for your support on my journey and offer my assistance to anyone who needs it. Cheers fellow free-thinkers!

Re-Dedication

It is mid-way through summer term and I should be studying for a midterm in poetry class for tomorrow. Instead, I am wasting an exorbitant amount of time surfing the internet and meeting new people on Facebook. I have recently joined an ex-Jehovah Witness FB page where conversations are constant and engaging. I have friended quite a few people on there. I am always hoping to find someone I know or at least someone who lives nearby, but, alas, no luck so far. It is interesting to meet people whose upbringing was remarkably similar to mine, or possibly even more restricted. Like one family who would never by anything from Proctor & Gamble because of an assumed satanic symbol on all their products.  Another would buy Lucky Charms but dump out all the cereal and throw away the box because she couldn’t keep around something that was “magically delicious”. Others couldn’t eat hotdogs, or watch Disney movies, or have Smurf dolls or trolls. If anyone ever tells you JW’s are not superstitious, don’t believe them! As we all know, superstitions come from ignorance and we really shouldn’t expect anything different from a group of people who aren’t permitted to educate themselves beyond what is printed by the Watchtower society. I am glad, however, that my father wasn’t of the superstitious breed. We never went beyond the things written–it’s not our fault that the religious leaders did. Other than the usual prohibitions for all JW”s (i.e. holidays, birthdays, dances, pledge of allegiance, etc.) my father was very strict about holiday cartoons, spiritistic movies/books, and language–Crap, poo, fart, gosh were all no-no’s. The reaction would have been the same if I had used the other four-letter versions. Music was also something that my father couldn’t tolerate. I’m talking pretty much any kind of music. I went through a 50’s phase when I was about 17 and was told I couldn’t listen to Elvis because some of his songs had the word “rock” in them. I learned to keep my radio under my pillow. “You had a radio?” you might ask. Yeah, believe it or not. My parents bought it for me when I was six years old and it still worked well into my 20’s. I got more use out of that gift than anything else I ever received during childhood. I doubt my dad spent more than $12 for it. Since JW’s don’t have Christmas or birthdays, some have “family days” (oftentimes on parents anniversaries) where gifts are exchanged. I only remember our family doing this once, but the memory has always been golden to me. It was when I got the radio. My mother was still in relatively good health and she prepared a nice dinner for us, and dad bought the board game Sorry! which we spent the evening playing–and everyone let me win. My mother became bed-ridden soon after that and life became less joyous and more to be endured. We never had another day like that, which makes that one all the more poignant.

I am rambling, sorry. The real reason I started writing this blog was to inform you of my recent initiation to a local coven. Last Friday, on the full moon, I was initiated and am now considered a first degree witch. It was an interesting event and not as easy as it may sound. My hands were bound behind my back for 45 minutes which became extremely uncomfortable. I had to repeat certain vows while my hands and feet were bound and I wore a blindfold. I also had to answer in the affirmative to a series of questions which reminded me of the questions asked when I was baptized as one of JW’s when I was fifteen. So I am rededicated to another faith–a faith very different from the first. I have been doing a lot of reading in The Witches Bible by Stewart and Janet Farrar and finding it very interesting. I am in a small coven and am looking forward to attending some larger festivals. I have a lot of learning to do, though, and find the prospects exciting! Any other New Age, or Wiccan believers out there?