I was visited again this morning by a lovely Jehovah’s Witness. He seemed to be a very sweet person. I’m laughing like God(ess) was tickling me. In honor of that, this is a post about the benefits of no longer being a Jehovah’s Witness (beyond not having to go door-to-door on a blustery day like today).
I’d like to set the stage with a satirical treatment of the benefits of being a JW. An illuminating example is
- Jehovah’s Witnesses can count the time they share their faith with nonbelievers door-to-door or with young children, thus proving to God, in actual hard numbers, how worthy they are to have everlasting life.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged not to attend college, which promotes independent thinking and is controlled by demons. They are happy to get a good job as a janitor or a window washer.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses get to celebrate the birth of a child but not the anniversary of the birth. They also do not have to worry about birthdays, holidays and Christmas, all of which are pagan and controlled by demons.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses do not pass a collection plate at their meetings like the demonized churches do. Instead there are collections boxes in their Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls, and they are often reminded from the platform and in their literature not to forget to contribute. They are also urged to put in their wills that when they die, their house, CD’s, jewelery, life insurance, and cash go directly to the Watchtower Society. The end is fast approaching so their families really have no need for money that should rightfully go to them.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate holidays so they do not have to be with their families during these special times to enjoy each other’s company and eat the cookies, turkey, ham, pies, and other such food.
- Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true Christians on earth, we do not have the problems that other churches have with broken families, adultery, fornication, pedophiles, over drinking, and gossip.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have to worry about giving food, shelter and clothing to the poor and needy in our community because we give them the Truth which will enable them to live forever in a paradise earth.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are in close contact with God as he speaks to them through the Faithful and Discreet Slave and through the Watchtower.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses alone will live in Paradise where there will be no cars, TVs, computers, radios, theaters, washing machines, clothes dryers, refrigerators, stoves, airplanes, electric lights, or malls to buy or clothes. Just miles and miles of garden and lions to pet.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses go to a summer District Assembly vacation every year, at the same city every year and have a picnic at their seats during the sessions and then stay at the fine hotels that they are told to stay in.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses know the true meaning of the words soon, near, very soon, very near, so close, just around the corner, shortly, near future and rapidly approaching.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have to worry about getting old or having a retirement plan. See No. 11 above.
Hopefully, now you can understand the many benefits of being a Jehovah’s Witness.
Now, for the benefits of no longer being a Jehovah’s Witness, I would love it if former JWs would post on that topic and link it in the comments. My dear friend Richard Francis started this ball rolling, and I think it’s a good idea to revisit this from time to time – so as to keep remembering what has been gained, and to feel the sense of gratitude that such remembering can give.
The first link is Richard’s list. Reading it made me very happy. The second link includes a few of the lists made by others responding in kind. In the third link, the benefits of leaving are implicit rather than listed, but you can see some heartening trends across all of these.
- Ten Aspects of Freedom from Organization
- Freedom from Cult-psychology
- Narratives of Leaving the JWs
When I think of the benefits of being freed from “the organization,” it’s pretty overwhelming. Much of it is very difficult to describe to someone who has not been through that kind of experience. However, there are a few major categories into which the benefits tend to fall for me. I’m probably missing some, but here is the best I can do today:
- Freedom: As many of the posts suggest, this is the overarching category. All of the others assume this one, which has two movements – 1) Liberating freedom from the anti-loving beliefs and practices dictated by the Watchtower leadership – from totalitarian control and fear and arbitrary divisions of thinking and bad argument and small-minded judgments to the corrupting complicity with all of the above – and more. 2) Authentic freedom to grow and thrive and be a real adult in all ways: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, existential. That would encompass such things as thinking things through for one’s self, learning to discern who to respect and admire, being politically concerned and active, giving to charities of one’s choosing, fruitful experimentation with diverse spiritual ideas and practices, sharing authentic friendships with anyone of your choosing, paying attention to (and trusting) one’s own gifts and calling, and much, much, much, MUCH more.
- Love – as in a Deeper Capacity for, and Ability to: When you view other people only in terms of their possibly contaminating effect on you or their potential as a new convert or as points on your service report, when you view them as about to be murdered by God and as inferior to yourself, and when you are threatened by and suspicious of their ideas and feelings, it is pretty difficult to care and to be kind and to trust and to enter into dialogue and relationship with them. If agape love is reserved for the members of a small in-group, your capacity to love others is very restricted. And if there is no kindness even there, it’s a very stark and cold kind of existence. The love I used to know was always, always conditional – but the spirit is all about love, and the more there is love, the more love there can be. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). No-one is perfect in love because no-one is perfect, but when you can love others without restriction and prejudice, your capacity for love… increaseth (grin). Another benefit of this is that when you learn to love, you also learn that there is much that is lovable about yourself – and this helps to undo the habitual self-loathing that seemed to go along with the self-righteousness training.
- Spirituality: My spiritual life is much more authentic, more real, more attuned, more… spiritual. I could expand on this, but I’d rather take on that subject matter in terms of specific topics. Suffice to say that there are substantial qualitative differences in the questions I ask, the kinds of answers I consider, and a different perspective even on such things as the role of “I” on the path to God. My thoughts about who and what God might be are radically changed, and that has made a huge difference. I’ve also benefited from a range of spiritual practices that had been denied to me.
- Ethics: Yes, it’s related. There is a kind of immature ethics that can only define right and wrong in terms of what authority figures dictate or in terms of what results in rewards and punishments. Such an ethics keeps you in an infantile sort of relationship with others. A rule-based ethics can never account for the actual realities of people’s lives. Another kind of ethics is based on kinship networks and group loyalties, but is limited to those groups. As a post-JW, it becomes possible to develop meta-principles and relational thinking that try to take everyone’s interest into account, not just those of a few. When you do not fear to hear a wide range of thoughts and testimonies, you can ethically evolve beyond a reliance on projection, scapegoating and appeals to authority. It also allows you – if you choose – to consider the cultural and socio-political contexts of ethical claims.
- Laughter, Joy, Celebration: Enjoyment of all kinds, with only the restrictions of my own sense of ethics. I can laugh, be happy, and celebrate whatever I want to – large or small, in a manner conventional or eclectic. I love this.
- Creativity: I no longer have to feel that weird semi-ashamed veil that was thrown over everything to do with imagination and creativity. I can write, and dance, and sing, and paint, and imagine, and have reveries and insights and all the rest. I can be curious, and investigate, and think, and see new connections between unlike things, finding and constructing new meanings – those mysterious shimmery bits of radiance that I value so highly.
- Communities: Plural. It is an amazing thing to be able to participate at will in communities -groups of people that share something in common – anything! What an idea! Reading groups, political action groups, online groups, groups based on ideas or hobbies or anything! Wow! You can meet and form relationships with all kinds of interesting people you’d never have met otherwise. This one is a very special benefit, partially because when I realized that I could actually do this, it helped to counteract what was an initial skepticism toward all communities (once burned, twice shy). More than that, the sometimes-overlapping circles of my friends now mean so much to me that I can really compare it against how it once was and see what a difference my friends have made. I am thankful for true friends and for the occasional gift of a real spiritual brother or sister (in a sense that makes a caricature of the words as I used to use them).
Obviously, this post is written for former JWs (and the people who love them). I don’t really think there are a great many benefits associated with being a Jehovah’s Witness. If you are a current JW then you are also welcome to post real benefits that you feel as well, if you wish to do so, and link those in the comments. I have nothing against you, but only against the cruelties of the leadership. There are so many paths to God, and maybe – somehow – this is yours. God has a way of using everything, and I have no doubts about how the cosmos handles complexity.
One of the huge benefits of not being a JW is that I am no longer required to hate spiritual paths that are not identical to the one to which I am called. Nor do I have to fear you – or judge you to be worldly and/or evil – simply for the reason that you are not part of an organization to which I belong. That’s a really, really big benefit from my perspective – but of course there are many, many, many people from many religious traditions who do not agree (may they be blessed).