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Truth Be Told – in Atlanta Oct 29th

Truth Be Told – in Atlanta Oct 29th

Gregorio Smith has announced the Atlanta premiere of his controversial documentary film about growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, TRUTH BE TOLD. Due to the recent publicity of several child sex abuse cases against the religion, this film exploring the oppressive hold the Watchtower Society has on its members is particularly timely. TRUTH BE TOLD will be screened exclusively on Tuesday October 29, 2013 at AMC Phipps Plaza 14. Get your tickets now!

TRUTH BE TOLD – a new feature-length documentary – lifts the veil on the seemingly benign Jehovah’s Witnesses religion to expose a profit-driven, isolationist culture characterized by fear, totalitarian corporate leadership, intellectual & spiritual intimidation, suspension of critical thinking, failed prophecies, doctrinal inconsistency and improper handling of physical and sexual abuse allegations within the church.

See former Jehovah’s Witnesses candidly discuss growing up inside the religion. They reveal experiences including the effects of proselytizing door-to-door, shunning non-observant family and friends, suffering the discouragement of pursuing dreams like gaining a higher education, missing other societal holidays and customs. Ultimately the film reveals why Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion with only 37% of those raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continuing their affiliation with the religion.

This exposé – the title of which refers to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ perception that their beliefs are ‘the truth’ – is the first feature-film directed by Gregorio Smith.

Trailers, excerpts, production stills and other content are available on the official TRUTH BE TOLD website: www.hereliesthetruth.com
Direct link to trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4nqYtzDaGE
TRUTH BE TOLD on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hereliesthetruth
On Twitter: @TRUTHBETOLDDOC
About the Filmmaker
Gregorio Smith is an independent filmmaker and writer. His work has been featured in the Staten Island Film Festival, Anthology Film Archive, Dallas Video and Film Festival, Denver Underground Film Festival, Bowery Poetry Club and other forums. His work has also been covered by The New York Times, Boston Globe and other media outlets. He is a graduate of Baruch College and a member of the International Documentary Association.
Mr. Smith was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness. He describes TRUTH BE TOLD as ‘immersive, informational, expository and controversial …an honest glimpse into the culture of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.” TRUTH BE TOLD is the director’s sixth film and first feature.

See details and trailer here (http://www.tugg.com/events/5867).

Truth Be Told

Watchtower Society/Jehovah’s Witnesses GUILTY – Must Pay Millions in Punitive Damages in Child Sex Abuse Case

Watchtower Society/Jehovah’s Witnesses GUILTY – Must Pay Millions in Punitive Damages in Child Sex Abuse Case

I am overjoyed to see some traction on this issue at last.

The jury found that the elders who managed the Fremont congregation in the 1990s and who were under the supervision of Watchtower knew that Kendrick, a member, had recently been convicted of the sexual abuse of another child, but they kept his past record secret from the congregation, said Simons. Kendrick went on to molest the plaintiff, who was a Jehovah’s Witness member in Fremont, over a two-year period beginning when she was 9 years old, the lawsuit contended. Kendrick was eventually convicted in 2004 of the sexual abuse of another girl, and is now a registered sex offender in California, Simons said. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the plaintiff, but Simons said the case is under investigation by law enforcement.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entity, is responsible for the entire punitive damages amount and 40 percent of the compensatory damages, said Rick Simons, attorney for the plaintiff. Sixty percent of the compensatory damages was assessed against Jonathan Kendrick, the man accused of abusing her.

Yes, the Watchtower Society (along with their other “arms,” aka the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,”) have a policy of secrecy, as has been proven through the elder’s manual, “judicial” correspondence, the database of abusers that a Bethelite discovered, and numerous court cases that show that they neither notify the congregation nor even attempt to protect children when they are aware of sexual predators and violent abusers in their midst.

The key issue in the case, according to the victim’s attorney Rick Simons of Hayward, was the written policy of Watchtower New York, Inc., which instructed all Elders in Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations in the United States to keep reports of child sex abusers within Jehovah’s Witnesses secret to avoid lawsuits. The case is believed to be the first in the nation to directly address the policy of secrecy, adopted in 1989, and still in force today.

Yes, they have a policy of requiring two witnesses to any act of abuse (any attempt by a victim of any kind of abuse to get help from the elders, even with support from someone else, is considered “slanderous.”) They have to twist a rather obscure bible verse out of context to support this doctrine. And – of course – they encourage spying and reporting for all kinds of other things, some of them rather trivial.

Yes, they have a history of discouraging members from seeking help from any “worldly authorities” such as police or therapists. Such “worldly authorities” are believed to be ruled by Satan and therefore cannot be trusted. This effectively cuts off all possibility of help for those who wish to remain “in good standing.”

Yes, they have a policy of lying in court, which they call “theocratic strategy.” They comply with the law only just as far as they have to, but prefer to be the only authority in their member’s lives. They hide their totalitarianism with “servant” language, but some people might have a better historical idea of what a “circuit overseer” or “district overseer” might really be.

They need to change these policies, and others (such as the demonizing and shunning – even by their families – of those who eventually choose a different path in the freedom of conscience that they freely claim when trying to convert others).

In 2007, 17 victims shared a $13 million dollar settlement from church officials. It involved victims in three states California , Texas and Oregon and six Jehovah Witnesses perpetrators.

To those who have been making unfounded accusations about Candace Conti’s motives, please note that she requested 144,000 cents in punitive damages, and the jury instead granted 21 million (plus one!) dollars. I hope that his case – and the financial costs to Watchtower Society, including those of the many others who were silenced with settlements including gag orders – will force whatever section of the legal organization currently responsible for “new light” (changes in doctrine) to be less paranoid, misogynistic, and uncaring when they exercise their “guidance” as “God’s only channel.”


144000 cents requested, 21 million +1 awarded in punitive damages
Punitive Damages: 144,000 (!) cents Requested – 21 million plus 1 (!) dollars Awarded. Thanks to Steven Unthank at JWNews.net for the graphic.

“Until now, a jury has virtually never held the JW national headquarters responsible for repeated heinous child sex crimes and cover ups by church members or officials,” said William H. Bowen of Nashville, TN, who founded and heads a support group for those molested by Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This is a ground-breaking case and a watershed award against an especially callous group of church bureaucrats.”

The Watchtower legal troops haven’t given up yet:

“We’ve got a long ways to go yet before this one is resolved,” he said of the planned appeal. Simons said Jehovah’s Witnesses has sufficient resources, including valuable real estate, to cover the judgment but an appeal could drag out for years.

Whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are correct in their humble claim that they alone possess “the TRUTH” or not (and personally speaking, I don’t believe theirs is a very spiritually mature view of the divinity), they have a responsibility under the law to be less destructive.

“Nothing can bring back my childhood,” Conti told the Oakland Tribune. “But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it.”

More! Added 6/17/2012:

In Response to Struggling ExJWs

In Response to Struggling ExJWs

Why call upon the anecdotes of men, living or dead, as appeals to authority on the status of God? Why continue arguing these dogmas?

There are sacred texts all around the world and across time and languages and cultures. To think that you can dictate to others what their relationship is to God is fairly arrogant. One might even call it hubris, the downfall of that most famous angel of light (Lucifer) in the biblical narrative.

Each person interprets their own experience, and one person’s interpretation of the unknown has no more weight than your own. Even if the majority disagree, there is no assurance that anyone is right or wrong. Direct apprehension of the divine is a mystical stance – one that I myself have felt – but each person’s path is their own, and the emotional feelings of dependence or awe or fascination or repulsion or indifference have absolutely nothing to do with truth value. Nor can you argue the extra-human with human logic. The fact is that all these are very mysterious, possibly mythological, possibly compensating for psychological desires.

You can’t, and I believe shouldn’t, push your interpretation on others. It is their own life task to ask their own questions and to find their own center of authenticity. No matter how good-hearted in intent, you can only move others astray from their own path when you argue about it. I prefer to plant a seed of compassion and kindness – the heart of all spiritual truths – and then really try to step aside.

The whole point of recovery is not hatred; it is the freedom to follow your own heart and mind (and your own calling) and not be so screwed up by the agendas of others in doing so.

Interesting Developments in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness Community

Interesting Developments in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness Community

I’m in regular contact with a number of other former Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. Now that an entire community has built up, there is a lot of support at peer level. If you’re looking for feedback and stories from others there are a lot more resources now than the ones on my original list. Facebook has some good, smart, creative people who moderate discussions in the various groups – do a search. A good place to start is Jehovah’s Witness Recovery. At the very least, it’s extremely comforting to know that you are not alone.

One danger of just talking with other former JWs is that we are *all* still navigating – sometimes that’s really helpful, but sometimes you might find it frustrating. A therapist or therapist-guided group is very important for your psychological thriving, especially since JWs are trained to use a particular kind of logic and often have some significant blind spots with regard to self-awareness.

There are also some faintly predatory (to me, they seem that way) “cult-deprogrammers” out there. I’m not going to name names on this, but I will say that your spiritual path is your own. It’s one of the primary benefits of getting out of a controlling group – don’t give it up! You are much better off exploring your own questions across a variety of communities than submitting to another authority.

With that warning in mind, there are some wonderful things that you can accomplish with a therapist who understands religious trauma, and there are support groups – formal and informal – with whom you will discover issues and solutions and a sense of camaraderie. I can recommend the group associated with JourneyFree.org, and if you’re in the San Francisco area you might be interested in a recovery retreat coming up July 29th to August 1st. I very much like what I see in Dr. Marlene Winell’s Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. There is also an ongoing online support/therapy group with regular conference calls, as well as other support services. Check it out.

If you’re looking for a therapist in your own area, some good signs are a focus on religious trauma, some methodology that includes both cognitive and emotional therapy – and that “click” you might feel around a smart and compassionate person. You should be able to get quite a lot out of therapy right away, and you should collect any exercises that help you for when you might need to be reminded again of your choices.

I am also a big fan of reading other people’s stories. I think we learn best from stories. In addition to developing empathy and compassion, it allows you to set certain kinds of thoughts at one remove, and to start recognizing that certain patterns of thinking and writing are very familiar. The same sorts of issues emerge time and time again – family issues, self-esteem issues, doctrinal issues, and what I would call basic themes of unfairness, injustice, and lack of kindness.

I recently read companion pieces that touched me very deeply. The first is published letter of disassociation, written in response to a news article in 2008. It’s long, but worth the read.

The second was an essay meant as a response to the *response* that the published letter received. This was someone who examined his own beliefs, trusted in his own observations, and communicated them in a way that is often very difficult to do. While much of his concern had to do with doctrinal matters, you can see the way that his heart and mind opened up to what he had already always known about the basics of human caring, even as the essay itself will ring a familiar tone and pattern to the knowledgeable. Thank you, Vinny (Hawaiian Photos) for giving me permission to publish this on the blog. It illustrates the effects of being in the organization – any former JW knows exactly why you would write in this style and structure. It also illuminates some of the pivot-points at which one might find the deep courage to leave (even at great loss), rather than continue to participate. You’re not done! Keep going on your path, dear! <3

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses The True Religion? Are they Truly Directed By God?

I was continuously taught at meeting after meeting, and fully believed — as has every Jehovah’s Witness that I have ever met and known — that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (also known as the Faithful and Discreet slave and Watchtower Society) are God’s Specifically Chosen Channel on the earth today, and that he uses them exclusively to direct his will on the earth and to direct his specially chosen people, the Jehovah’s Witness Religious Institution and its members.

The Watchtower Magazine and other Witness literature is believed by Jehovah’s Witnesses to be just how God communicates his will on earth today through that Governing Body, God’s supposed Instrument of communication. This harmonizes with what the Watchtower Magazine itself has said throughout the years about itself.

1919 “Is not the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period?” {WT Apr 1 1919 6414}

1933 “To feed or teach his people the Lord has used the Watch Tower publications.. No man is given any credit for the wonderful truths which the Lord has revealed to his people through the Watch Tower publications.” {WT Dec 1 1933 263}

1939 “It should be expected that the Lord would have a means of communicating to his people on the earth, and he has clearly shown that the magazine called The Watchtower is used for that purpose.” {YEAR 1939 85}

1942 “The Watchtower does not consist of men’s opinions” {WT Jan 1 1942 5}

1957 “Jehovah has established a very definite channel of communication through which he deals with his people .. It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the ‘slave’ as we would to the voice of God.” {WT Jun 15 1957 370}

1969 “Jehovah’s organization as directed by his ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class should influence our every decision also. {WT March 15, 1969 172}

1973 “Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book.” (Watchtower; July 1, 1973, pp. 402.)

1979 [Of those living at the time of Armageddon, only Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved] {WT Feb 15 1979 30}

1993 “But if we were to draw away from Jehovah’s organization, there would be NO PLACE ELSE TO GO FOR SALVATION”… Watchtower 9/15/93 page 22 :

SEPTEMBER 1996 Kingdom Ministry (Page 1 paragraph 3) Article titled, Walk by Faith: “We must also be firmly persuaded that Jehovah is leading us by means of his visible organization under the direction of ‘the faithful and discreet slave.”

SEPTEMBER 2002 Kingdom Ministry (Page 8 paragraph 5)
Article Titled, Avoid the Pursuit of Valueless Things: “Bear in mind that our heavenly Father has an appointed channel of communication,’the faithful and discreet slave.’ That “slave’ has the responsibility to determine what information is made available to the household of faith, as well as ‘the proper time’ for it to be dispensed. This spiritual food is available only through the theocratic organization. We should always look to God’s appointed channel for reliable information’ Matt. 24:45.”

Clearly then, anybody can see that Jehovah’s Witnesses teach the belief that God has chosen only the Watchtower leaders as his “Channel of Communication”, and that Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves are admonished to follow all of these specific teachings that are published in their literature as if it was coming from God Himself. And as already mentioned, as a 15 year member and elder, this is exactly what I believed as do all Jehovah’s Witnesses that I have ever known.

So then, the question remains, are these claim TRUE? Has God chosen The Watchtower as his specific and only religion on the earth?

For me, after a thorough examination of the full range of facts as they truly and honestly are, the answer has become a very clear and resounding NO. If I had known back then in 1990, when I was baptized as a Witness, what I know now today in Nov 2010, I would have never been baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness. But back then, when I was studying the bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses there was no internet to use to gain valuable information and to examine the Witness faith as well as its history like there is today. I basically took their word for it when it came to information they presented to me, as well as what they present to all potential Jehovah’s Witness Bible studies, namely –their version and their side–.

So then what caused this change in my position and belief that God chose the Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses as his channel and people?

For me it was a combination of learning about Mistake after mistake having been made (throughout the entire 100-plus year existence of the Watchtower Society); A back and forth Flip-flopping again and again on numerous doctrinal positions; Several well publicized end of the world predictions that Never Came True; Terrible Watchtower Society positions against often LIFE-SAVING medical procedures such as vaccinations, organ transplants and blood transfusions that have literally caused thousands of people to die unnecessarily; the arrogant belief that only Jehovah’s Witnesses are true Christians while all others religions and people of those religions will be destroyed unless becoming a Jehovah’s Witness;… all this along with a host other strange, inconsistent and even embarrassing teachings and beliefs for over a century now. I have concluded that God would never be behind an organization (that claims he has chosen only them), that has gotten so many things wrong for so long and made so many mistakes, all in verifiable writing, throughout its entire existence on this earth.

This is a link showing just how many mistakes there have been over the years: http://home.tiscali.nl/t661020/wtcitaten/part1.htm

If God were to literally choose just one faith on the earth to represent him and his interests, along with using this same one group to publish his own thoughts, on a variety of subjects and issues, wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that God would do better than what the Watchtower has done with all of these mistakes posted above?

And while some of these policies have been dropped, reversed, adjusted, never came true etc etc; while they were in effect, Jehovah’s Witnesses simply had no choice but to adhere to them, had no choice but to teach them to other people even if they themselves disagreed with them or if they were later proven to be wrong or bad policies. If any Jehovah’s Witness did not support whatever policy was in place at that time they would have to face organizational counsel and discipline, which if not properly accepted, would then lead to being disfellowshipped (ex-communicated) followed by extreme shunning and the losing everybody you know including your very own family members. One cannot disagree with any JW current teachings without facing the severest of punishment in times past as well as today.

Which is exactly what happened to me. One simply cannot disagree with any current WT policies without facing the severest of penalties through extreme shunning by all Jehovah’s Witnesses. For any Jehovah’s Witness that does not comply with these shunning policies, they in turn will face discipline and if not accepting the counsel, they too will then be disfellowshipped and shunned.

I have lost my step son and our first grandchild (now four years old), my brother in law, several business partners, my good name and reputation, I am judged and labeled as some wicked apostate godless man and am shunned by all Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

Why so much severe punishment as this? What is my crime to face such consequences? I simply disagreed with the JW blood policy. I did not take blood. I did not tell others to take blood. I simply DISAGREED with this JW policy and now I am shunned, labeled and judged for the rest of my life along with losing some of the very family I raised. Is this loving, fair or Christian? I have done nothing wrong. After concluding, through enormous efforts, that the Watchtower Blood policy is wrong (just like their no vaccinations and no organ transplants policies were wrong before, I simply could no longer with a clear conscience make other people in my territory accept this policy, which is a mandatory requirement if one wishes to become a Jehovah’s Witness. And because of this I was going to be disfellowshipped. So instead I disassociated at that very same time.

JW’s would like for people to chalk up all those numerous mistakes from the Watchtower Society throughout their entire existence to mere human imperfection. They then often try to compare such Watchtower failures to the mistakes of biblical figures such as King David and the Apostles of the first century. What JWs fails to recognize is that people, as individuals, have always and will always make personal mistakes throughout their lives as imperfect humans. David, Moses, Peter, Paul and many others made mistakes. All Christians today do as well. Even the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves make mistakes as imperfect men.

But as clearly posted above, the Watchtower’s Governing Body is said to be “anointed and directed by God Himself.” It’s in clear print for anybody to read.

But here is the problem: These men of the Governing Body get together as a collective group, they pray for holy spirit to guide them as a collective group, they then make decisions based on being directed by God’s spirit as a collective group, they then publish those decisions in their Watchtower magazines made as a collective group and then force those decisions on all Jehovah’s Witnesses and expect them to live by those decisions at risk of losing God’s favor and threat of disfellowshipping and extreme shunning.

But then when we find out that those decisions had to be dropped altogether, reversed, adjusted, changed and even apologized for, we can clearly see that God was never behind them to begin with. They were wrong the first minute they came off of the presses. God was definitely never behind these many erroneous Watchtower policies despite claims to the contrary.

What JWs fail to differentiate is that Human beings, individually, are allowed to and do make mistakes on a daily basis; including Moses and Jesus own hand-picked apostles. The very Writings (which are claimed to be from God –2Tim 3:16,17 and 2Peter 1:20,21 and Acts 3:21), of these same bible writers however are without mistakes anywhere. When the apostles mistakenly thought the Kingdom was being established at that time, they asked Jesus for clarification. (Matthew 24:1-3). They did not PUBLISH those erroneous thoughts. That’s why the bible is what it is today. Many truly believe it is inspired. Otherwise, if the bible writers had the same kind of track record of mistakes as does the Watchtower Society, the bible would be considered as nothing more than some “good book” and that is it. But to most people it is viewed as the infallible word of God. To most people it gets everything correct.

On the other hand, the very writings of the Watchtower Society (which also claims to be “food from God”, his “mouthpiece” today, “God’s Channel” etc), are filled with mistake after mistake and numerous inconsistencies and eventual embarrasments. Yet JW’s usually want to conveniently just chalk it up to “human imperfection”.

That simply does not work for most thinking people. The Watchtower cannot get a free pass here on all those past and current mistakes and bad policies while claiming God has anointed them and is directing them and them only. Many JW’s try to minimize the mistakes made by the Watchtower Society, as did I for many years. At least the ones I did know about. But you just can’t get away with this that easy. How many people DIED solely due to those bad medical policies which eventually had to be dropped altogether? That’s how bad they were, most had to be dropped, discarded, dumped because they were just that bad. Was God behind them?

Did Jehovah say No Vaccinations for 23 years and then change his mind and say vaccinations are now okay to have? All the while vaccinations were stomping out polio, smallpox and so much more. Did (((GOD))) get it wrong?

Did Jehovah say Organ Transplants are the same as “Cannibalism” and forbid them for 13 years, only to then change his mind and eventually say Organ Transplants are now okay to have? Did God Himself direct those bad policies only to have to drop them later on? And what about the Jehovah’s Witnesses that died by following these policies? Only to have them reversed later. I have read some of these accounts. It breaks your heart to read them.

How many people listened to all of the false end of the world specific dates, published in writing, missed predictions? 1914, 1925, 1975, before the end of the 20th century, before the generation of 1914 dies out and several more than this. Predictions which proved what? Every single one proved False. No hyperbole, all of them. Lives were ruined following the WT leadership with those as well. People gave up families, plans to have children, enjoyable careers… all for what ? For a message that proved untrue over and over again. How “faithful and discreet” is this? What does this say about the WT Society Organization to most people then? What does that say about ANY an organization? And wouldn’t it be reasonable for thinking persons to expect more from a religion that makes the claims of God’s Only True Channel Today?

Is it a lack of faith on the part of intelligent people that reject the Watchtower Society based on so many bad policies and mistakes over the years along with numerous current bad policies? Or would it be irresponsible to just look the other way? Truth can stand up to any challenge. It can hold up to vigorous cross-examination. Yet the average JW knows very little of this past, and just goes along with whatever they are told. So did I. Do people such as myself and many others leave the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses because we have now been blinded and have a wicked heart? Or did we leave because they WERE blinded and NOW have all of the important information to make a better, more educated and complete decision?

How does anybody just go from all these mistakes for the past 100 years made by the Watchtower Society, to the Watchtower Society is the “One True Faith”? The reason is simple; most Witnesses have no idea about these many things I have posted here, just like I never knew about them for 15 years as an active Witness.

And when mistakes are eventually realized by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and new information or a new direction has to replace the old mistaken information or direction by the Watchtower Society, then the Watchtower likes to conveniently call it, “New Light”. As if God has somehow revealed something miraculous again. This works and even gets people excited for most Witnesses readily accept this information since they already believe God has chosen them alone to begin with. But one clear look at the reality would show most thinking people that “new light” has not been revealed at all; but rather, more bad information, mistaken policies, false predictions and wrong beliefs simply need to be replaced due to the realization that these old policies and beliefs are simply proven to not be true.

The generation of 1914 never dying off for example. They had no choice BUT to drop that and find something to replace it with. And then changed it again. The recent change that the 144,000 has not been sealed but is still open. (After all the number of those partaking has only been going up.) Organ Transplants not ever being the same as cannibalism and allowing tens of thousands of people today the added opportunity to live life. On and on we could go filling pages worth of examples that prove new light never happened.

The fact is that new light could more accurately be called blinking light. New light is usually the realization that the Governing Body was simply wrong to begin with.

There are good people from all religions today. This is truly a fact. All religious organizations do make mistakes as well. The WT Society is actually worse than most however. So how can people say this is the one true religion today? How can anybody back such lofty claims as those up, with such a poor track record? I have yet to see that happen anywhere.

If the bible is true Moses parted the Red Sea, manna fell from the sky, prophecies came true. Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, fed thousands, raised the dead and so much more. But the Watchtower Society has an entire history of mistaken policies that have been and still are forced on all Witnesses at the very real threat of disfellowshipping and being shunned for non-compliance. They also boastfully claim “one true faith’, while condemning all other religions and people of those religions to destruction if not becoming JW’s.

For me today and most people that see all the facts there is nothing there to support such lofty and inflated claims as the Watchtower being chosen by God for anything at all. The WT Society certainly is not dispensing food from God from what the record clearly shows. Because it is quite obvious that God would never be behind all those mistakes again and again along with numerous current unscriptural policies.

Otherwise I would have never left the religion and have to suffer such steep consequences.

All the best,
Vinny

Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’m not yet ready to write about the loss of my old friend Lee, but I will soon. Learning that he died from complications of a hospital staph infection has brought back thoughts about the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in which we both grew up – or… er… started to grow up. As much as I’ve ranted about the Witnesses on this blog, those experiences have given me so many reference points in my own experience that I can’t bring myself to regret them. Maybe – if the idea of reincarnation has any truth to it – I might even have chosen it, to learn some deep difficult lessons. I’ve been revising this post for four days, and it has turned into one long honker of an essay, but I hope it’s worth the read. It might be easier for you to print it.

The first wash of memory was tied to experiences with specific people. Good, bad, ugly, sweet – they won’t mean anything to a reader unless they were narrated at greater depth than I can do here, or perhaps fictionalized (that’s not out of the question). There were some kind and wonderful people – real people, despite everything. They weren’t always the most obvious candidates. Sometimes it even seemed like there was an inverse relationship between “service” in their sense and the character of the person.

Service never, never means caring for the poor, donating to charity, volunteering, following a calling, or anything that would otherwise be considered an act of service. Service only means “spreading the good news of God’s kingdom,” “placing” magazines and books, turning people into bible or book “studies,” or building a Kingdom Hall (don’t call it a church) for the organization. Sometimes the “friends” will help each other out, sometimes not – but they do not accept any obligation in the public sphere to any human as human.

I remembered the words and music of the “Kingdom Songs.” Oh, don’t call them “hymns”! “Dear Shulamite maiden, so lovely and fair/ your spiritual virtues are many and rare” – and the song we sang at night “we sing this tuneful melody and sing the notes in harmony / for no one else but you could be so worthy of our praise.” “Firm and determined in this time of the end / prepared are God’s servants the good news to defend…” What was it about those songs? Little bits of them still come to me at the oddest times. I’m glad there is a new collection with which I’m unfamiliar.

OH, then the language! The strange contagious weapons of language! Everything “worldly” (non-JW) was of “Satan the devil.” Never just Satan, always “Satan the devil” as though there were a million other satans. All that power discourse of slavery and domination – the district and circuit “overseers.” “Ministerial servants” – literally “serving servants,” used just to avoid words from other communities, like deacon. All the ranks of pioneers and publishers (how odd is that)!

Not “grace” – never, ever “grace” but only “undeserved kindness.” This so diminishes the idea of God, not to mention taking all the meaning from the “good news.” They’ve missed the whole point, I think.

Not “the second coming,” but instead “the presence.” What does that even mean? Is Jesus hovering in the ozone layer?

And here is the “Kingdom,” stripped of any sense that it could be within. What’s left is only a cold “theocratic” rule on earth, God’s “system of things” to be ushered in after the destruction of governments and the wicked (almost everyone, except of course baptised Witnesses in good standing).

By definition, anyone who rejects the JWs rejects God. All other religions are part of “Babylon the Great.” Babylon the Great… the Harlot.. the great evil of world religions, or the U.N., or the Catholic church, or the soon to be here one-world government, or the soon to be here one-world single religion, or… Rome (as many scholars would say).

We were persecuted! Not really, but any criticism was taken as persecution to prove we must be right.

We were special! Kind of special, not as special as the remnant, the 144,000 (who were not of the 12 tribes of Israel, that’s only symbolic), who could “partake” of communion the “emblems” of the Last Supper memorial dinner and rule as kings (that’s literal) with Jesus (in a heavenly democracy? unlikely, maybe a court?) over the “cleansed” earth.

Still, we’re certainly WAY better than those “worldly” people (every insecure group needs a scapegoat, don’t they?).

We’re the Great Crowd! We’re Grrrrreat (cue in Tony the Tiger)! Compared to the world population the “great crowd” is rather small, but there’s a lot more than 144,000! Who wants to be in heaven anyway? We get to live forever on Paradise Earth! Um, well, not counting the still-another final judgment after the thousand-year… reich?

In the “new system of things,” also called “the new world order” (no, not kidding), “things” will be different! After we pick up those pesky bones, we’ll live in an agrarian society full of baskets of fruit, and wild animals walking around harming no-one, and blind ones who can see again, and everyone will have a vapid smile on their face.

There will be no crying, and no sex or children, and no technology – not even the Watchtower and Awake magazines! And by the way, which mansion are you going to pick? I’ve got my eye on that one – truly the worldy people there don’t deserve it.

Watch out for the demonic smurfs! Don’t buy things at yard sales – they could be possessed! Don’t eat Milky Way bars – they have BLOOD in them!

Pray not to need a blood transfusion, unless you want to prove your faithfulness, perhaps unto death. For those about to die, we salute you! But over the years, “new light,” and a little science, and a lot of court cases have revealed some blood “products” might be acceptable now. Which ones? Better not risk it. Just be proud of those brave JWs who resisted the world and its courts in God’s name to ensure lots and lots and lots of death.

Watchtower Building at the Brooklyn Bridge The Watchtower, the Society, the Truth, the Organization, the Governing Body, the “wise and faithful servant” or the “faithful and discreet slave,” Bethel, the publishing house – in other words, the (various) headquarters for the company – was presented as, and believed to be, God’s channel – the only one on the planet. I guess Jesus had an underground station. Best not to investigate since apostates might infect you.

The Society (this was internal shorthand, and I think it’s dated now) was a shadowy group. Questions about its history were discouraged, and most people never questioned it at all. We just accepted that an ever-changing group of men in New York had “new light” (delivered…how? some say by angel!) about the unchanging and eternal Truth. It could really cause a lot of suffering if you happened to believe the “right” thing at the “wrong” time, or the “wrong” thing at the “right” time. Ask them about it in Malawi. Or ask the people that thought the end would come in 1975.

We thought we were following God’s plan, but there was always a tickling cognitive dissonance about being a slave to the organization. Does God really care about service timesheets? Really? Can you “earn” God’s love by spreading the good news? What is the content of this good news, really? Is there anything “good” about it, in their interpretation? Is there any authentic spiritual development or truth involved in the simple obligation to preach to every last person so that they have a last chance to know, and to choose God’s organization, lest they be destroyed and miss out on this Paradise Earth scenario?

A very paradoxical representation of “Jehovah” (YHWH) was really the anchor of the belief system. There is a sense in which it’s correct to call Jehovah’s Witnesses “Jehovists” rather than “Christians.” When they were called “International Bible Students,” the bible might have been fetishized, but at least a mission of learning was inherent.

There is no theology of a trinity. Any JW can give you the entire lecture about how a trinity isn’t scriptural – it’s one of the top ten! Here’s my take on it:

Jesus was only a man, a very special man. Jesus was the ransom sacrifice mysteriously required of the only-begotten son of God. Jesus was the temporary holder of the holy spirit “active force of God’s will.” Jesus was also – and this is fun – Michael the Archangel. Archangel Michael/Jesus became a man, and then stopped being a man and became an angel again, and his “presence” is right back here NOW (since 1914? or has that date changed, too?). Michael is strangely at the same basic level as Lucifer and Gabriel and other archangels, so how is he God’s son? Why aren’t the other archangels considered to be sons? Hey, wait! When did angels get gender? Where then are the female angels?

Don’t think about it. The Society says that God had to be talking to someone at creation when he said “let us.” “Elohim” is only plural in a grammatical, not real, way. Right? How was God’s son Jesus “begotten” if he was already begotten before incarnating being born on earth? Reproducing gods are so pagan, and there is obviously no divine feminine. Right?

In practice, Jesus was just the “mediator” for prayers to get routed to the right God mailbox, a name invoked in a unconsciously-magical chant. I don’t remember anyone ever calling on Jesus, or expressing love for Jesus – only praying “in the name of your son Christ Jesus Amen.”

Jesus was a kind of space alien, the Lord’s overseer for this garden experiment “territory” called the earth. I always wondered about the overseers of other planets. After all, God actually lived in a specific star system, on a giant throne – the Society said so!

How easily we just absorbed the language and the ideas, no matter how strange! The mind-numbing repetition helped a lot – that’s why going to multiple, tediously long and boring weekly meetings was necessary. Not much fellowship there, just rote learning. And of course, everyone talked like that, so you couldn’t help but pick it up, like any other in-group rhetoric, dude. Re-framing the language was not allowed, and deviations from the accepted vocabulary would mark you.

Is it any wonder that I became fascinated with the effects of language?

Speaking of effects, that reminds me that I also remember watching children being dragged outside or into the basement of the Kingdom Hall for discipline. Spare the rod (literal), spoil the child. Without grace, you were always trying to measure up to an impossible standard of perfection, and frustrated adults would often raise the bar (figurative, except for a couple of extreme cases) for children, not understanding much about child development.

My very favorite memory is about how a way opened that allowed me to know who I could trust and respect in my congregation. This was a major event for me – the appearance of spiritual ok-ness that has continued to inform me even now. It was during an ending prayer on a Sunday. We would sometimes go out after the two-hour meeting for lunch; this was a big treat. My baby brother (he *was* just a baby, maybe two or three years old) shouted out “WHEN are we going to get some KUCKY F*CKY CHICKen?!?” Obviously, he was talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken – but the volume, the uncontrollable nature of it, the unintended profanity!

I put my hand up over my mouth and tried so hard not to make a sound. I peeked up and looked around the room – and I suddenly understood that the congregation was divided in kind. Some were furious, frowning, clenching their fists – which is what I expected. Others simply ignored it, which was at least mature. But there was a third group – and I took note and remembered for *ever* the ones who had a hand over their mouth, or who were shaking with repressed laughter or who had heads bowed, but were grinning. Three people were openly looking at my brother with smiles, and one even caught MY eye – during a prayer! – shaking his head and smiling. The scary ones, the ones I knew to be bad people and hypocrites, no matter what anyone said, were all of the first group. Ever since, I have deeply valued a sense of humor, and the perspective of kindness that it sometimes allows, as a touchstone for ethics.

Meanwhile, pedophiles and other abusers were often known, and usually protected. Statistically, there are more abusers and predators among Jehovah’s Witnesses than in any other religion that isn’t generally considered a cult. There are reasons for that. But why would they be protected? “To protect God’s name.” Their reputation as a religious group is more important than the well-being of their members, who are only bits of a largely-disposable free sales force (ask what happens to their workers when they get old).

There were so few responsible men, you see. It was pitifully easy for men to “rise in the organization.” They didn’t receive or need any real theological or pastoral training. The sermons lectures talks were pretty much outlined in communications from HQ. Anyone (male) could do it. Since college was *heavily* discouraged, power positions in the organization also functioned as a compensation for the lack of a meaningful career. It was amazing sometimes how they would get drunk on their “service” and “responsibilities,” especially where it entered into women’s lives. It was a dangerous but required game to “submit yourself” to the elders, just as it was a dangerous but required game for wives to “submit” to their husbands. In theory, a man should love his wife as himself, and an elder love the congregation. But this was a very high standard, especially for such (generally) non-insightful and legalistic men.

Women are not protected as much as male predators and abusers are. The daughters of Eve are of course inherently more inclined to evil, although they outnumber the men in the congregation. This made it even more difficult for women or children to go to the elders to report abuse of any kind. The “two-witness or call it slander” rule meant that going to the elders for help might mean that you would be disfellowshipped yourself for reporting it. Normally, reporting on each other was pretty much a matter of course – a built-in panopticon, the secret police of your friends and family. But “friends” were discouraged from going to any satanic worldly authorities, like therapists or police or women’s shelters. By the time I was raped, I already knew enough not to go to the elders for “guidance.”

The “theocratic strategy” (lying to “worldly” authorities) was and is an active principle – courts take note – and JWs have an impressive team of lawyers, who presumably were allowed to go to college. They will even intervene in divorce cases, especially when child custody is at stake.

That irony always bothered me very much: that every little rule could destroy your world, and yet gigantic issues couldn’t be dealt with or even questioned – especially from a female perspective. Dating was only allowed with an eye to marriage, and you didn’t want to risk being “unevenly yoked” with a worldly person. You’d lose all status in the congregation that way. The “gray areas” or “matters of conscience” were heavily surrounded with “guidance” from the Watchtower Society. I remember a time when they were obsessed with oral sex, and spouses were reporting on each other for “asking”! Homosexuality… well, don’t even go there. But somehow physical spiritual emotional and sexual abuse – even toward children – was treated differently.

My own experiences were minor, really. I was reprimanded for being in a high school play of Fiddler on the Roof because it had a dream sequence with a “depiction of the supernatural,” not to mention the general exhibitionism. This was the same year that JW Michael Jackson released the “Thriller” video. I started asking some questions and instead of answers, I got labelled “rebellious youth.”

Rumors flew – JWS are great gossipers! – and I got hauled up before the elders again. This time I was accused of sexual misconduct. Supposedly I had been all over the state sleeping with “brothers” in every possible congregation (on my bicycle?). The truth was, I was a virgin – but not for nearly long enough after that, since I stopped caring about it after what happened. Looking back, that was the most damaging part, that loss of self-dignity and self-value. I wasn’t allowed to confront my accusers, although I found out later that it relied completely on malicious gossip, with not one confession or witness involved – yet pedophiles and abusers required two witnesses to the act before there would be any investigation, much less any “disciplinary action.”

I asked myself why they thought it was acceptable and right for grown men to surround a young girl, intimidating her and accusing her of lies. I didn’t think their actions were even in alignment with their own rules. It felt – and I think it was somehow – personal. Events after that, mostly concerning how other people were treated, finally convinced me that the fruits of the spirit were only to be found as exceptions to the rule among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s not completely their fault. Their priorities are seriously disordered, and intentionally so. It gives special meaning to Leonard Cohen’s song “The Future“: When the prophets said “repent,” I too wonder what they really, truly meant. Surely not this.

The self-righteousness training backfired on them in my case. I could not in good conscience commit to being baptised (the symbol of my dedicated vow to serve Jehovah and his organization). Sure, I enjoyed explaining exactly why I didn’t salute the flag. I loved feeling that God was on my side. I loved being a possessor of “the Truth” and being “in the Truth.” I even believed that this evil satanic system of things could end at any moment. But…

I was also a bookworm, and I loved to dance and to sing. And – I so valued kindness. I so valued caring and love and understanding. Eventually, the very training that they gave me in having the courage and integrity to stand up for what I truly believe made it possible (with curiosity, knowledge, imagination, creativity and humor) for me to leave. I took the easy road, and left town to go to college on scholarship.

What a flashback it was in graduate school to face a faculty that had already decided to dismantle the program of Literature and Religion when my advisor had a stroke. They called a meeting to “get feedback” from the students. It was amazing how fast colleagues had abandoned ship. When I tried to argue for the merits of the program, the faces of the faculty members held the same expressions as those elders so long ago. For a while, it seemed like I was back in that same helpless, unfairly-judged space again. I thought I was getting “the intellectual life,” but these dynamics can appear anywhere, anywhere at all – even in my adopted community of academe, toward which I was so idealistic.

You have to deal with ignorance and injustice and resentment and hate and insecurity and all of the rest directly and at the time. That’s the way in which teaching and ethics and politics are all local. I would have handled things differently knowing what I know now. I understand their perspectives (in both cases) better now, and wouldn’t have set myself up by being defensive and letting my fears be so visible and easily-read.

It’s not always wise to stand up to a bully, but smarts often beats thugness. Among people who seem to lack empathy, stories and humor are the only methods that have any chance of getting through. Sometimes it’s not really worth the effort – or the effects – even to try, but one thing is certain: the argument “but it’s not fair” is not one that ever works. You can’t assume – ever – that anyone will understand why it’s not fair. Just skip that part. Try logic if you like, but logic does not engender empathy. Let logic be implicit.

Obvious sectors of the American political landscape remind me so much of what was so unkind (and so self-righteous, misinformed and manipulated) about the (enforced/reinforced) mentality that so affected my life and those of others. I am heartened when I see healers and thinkers and storytellers, but there are not nearly enough of them, not nearly. Their voices are shut down whenever possible. Sometimes our future looks very dark. I cannot read The Handmaid’s Tale again in this atmosphere; just remembering it makes me cry.

How could I ever have thought that “theocracy” was a good thing? The mentality is global now – almost every religion has an active fanatical wing. Christians, Muslims, Jews, even Buddhists? Say it isn’t so. What happened to the virtue of humility? What happened – in America the Beautiful – to the wise separation of church and state that has been one of the foundations for both to thrive? Power-mongers, corruption, mass manipulation. It’s sad… and shameful.

Lingering effects… I still don’t salute the flag. I know the history, and I just feel that it’s a creepy way to show love for your country. I do vote now, though, and I’m kind of relieved that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t.

I still have a kind of hyper-conscience about community memberships. I don’t feel comfortable participating in communities if I’m not in agreement with every little thing that a particular group believes. I’ve become aware that this is actually a holdover effect, but this has meant that I’m basically a non-joiner (my natural mode is critical). I’m getting better about allowing myself some leeway that since I’ve seen – and experienced – the value of accepting people and situations as they are, unless they are destructive. I am not so distrustful as I used to be, nor as insecure or defensive, and that helps enormously.

I’ve made peace with that me-girl who so desperately needed someone to tell her that it was going to be ok and that she was loved and that the cosmos only asked for her authenticity and her ethic of caring. Her God was a such a cruel, heartless God.

“Independent thinking” was against her religion, but everything inside told her that it would be wrong not to think and ask questions. She didn’t run toward, but away, from the Kingdom Hall to find spiritual dwelling places. Being a JW kept her – for a while – from heading toward the path that was always at the core of her being. Isolation, paranoia, the insecurity/superiority flip – all of these were stumbling blocks. And friends? Sisters and brothers? There *were* friends and sisters and brothers among the members of the Watchtower Society, but many more false friends and Pharisees. Not trying to sound like Job or anything – just sayin’.

That girl found somewhere to be, somewhere to find connection, always – in the woods, the song, the dance, the book. She was always going to be nurtured somehow; it was intuitive, and for that gift I am ever-more grateful. Because of that private set of communion-paths, I wasn’t damaged in some of the ways that I’ve seen among some of the other ex-JWs I’ve known. It took many more years to find authentic connection in relationship, but the starting place was observation, watching people as characters instead of threats, listening to a range of perspectives and voices – especially to the ones that weren’t just nightmarish variations on familiar themes.

Because of the new communication and information resources of the internet, I’ve also discovered that I was never alone in this. There were, and are, others. Some of these went on to higher education, some became singers or musicians or artists or writers or comedians (yes!), some became caregivers in real service to all kinds of people, some started a business or found a soul-mate or travelled the world. Some developed compassion and their own ethical sense (often a much better one). Some kept the evangelism, or even the fundamentalism, but became involved with another religious community that was more rewarding to them. Others became freethinkers and atheists, or goddess-women, pagans, wiccans. Some – sadly – have not yet found another way to be, or are so hurt and isolated and scapegoated and abandoned that their road will be a very difficult one. Some – realistically – never were very interesting people, and still aren’t. There is no one thing that describes former JWs, certainly not the attribute of being “demonic.” Sigh.

The path that brought me to value openness and attunement has been admittedly eclectic (even mystical), but it is imbued with a sensitivity to kindness and justice that I feel all the prophets tried to convey. I lean towards more compassion than I naturally possess – as though it were the sun. I dream with more freedom than I’ll ever have – just like the moon.

There are wisps of fondness for some members of that community still. There are people that I could love better now than I did then, and I am so sad about the loss of the people they might have become were it not for the stranglehold of the JWs. I will always cherish each one’s essential person in my heart, their ‘ness. Sometimes, I pray for them. Still I wonder (yes I wonder) if anyone is listening.

I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival. ~ Leonard Cohen, “The Future”


Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

For a number of reasons, I haven’t posted anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while. There have been some horrible events in the news, and all sorts of doctrinal and organizational changes, but I find myself more interested these days in some of the larger questions. I’ve been trying to write something about that, but nothing I wrote was satisfactory to me. It turns out that I needed a real question for my thoughts on this to spill out. In trying to help ease someone else’s suffering, the words ring true again. Thank you for being the messenger for this lesson! I preserve the questioner’s privacy, but you know who you are. Big hugs.

I seem to be struggling with my relationship with God. I find myself so confused about what to believe. I used to be absolutely convinced that the Bible was Truth. Is this normal for a person in my situation. Any input that you might have would be appreciated.

It is totally normal for you to feel as you do. I do have some thoughts on this in terms of biblical scholarship and the history of the religions of the book(s), but that’s not what will help you most right now because you need first to find your bearings, your balance, and the (for lack of a better phrase) direction of your attunement to God.

Start with what you solidly know and experience for yourself. Be observant and pay attention and even “hold fast to what is fine.” That place where your mind and spirit and soul all connect in gratitude and admiration is where you start. Think of the qualities of the spirit – where do you see caring and forgiveness and love and thoughtfulness and creativity and all those things that you can just feel are *good* things? Let yourself be drawn into that world. Learn from and enjoy the presence of that “energy” in any moment where it happens. Even just noticing it changes you.

Then – and I resisted this one for a long time – think about service. Not big, cosmic service – just little bits of service. Be a little kinder, think of someone else’s feelings, do something nice for someone else, be a listening ear to a friend. Anything that puts your own needs to the side – even for a moment – changes you.

Think of things that you *truly* admire about people you know or have known or have read about or seen. Everyone is complicated, a mix of darkness and light, so you have to think of specific things, how someone made a good decision, how someone manifested an incredible skill, how someone calmed a situation. Those are things that speak to your inner self, to your inner directionality, and they are worth hearing.

For a while, move away from the questions of belief in this or that. That question will always be there for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to address it and be tormented by it right now. Come back to it when you are in a place of spiritual groundedness.

Your body can help you too, and in ways that you might not expect. Sit quietly and relax, listen to yourself breathe. When you are upset, take a few breaths and consciously let it go. Imagine blowing the seeds of an old dandelion into the wind. Self-torment seems to be part of the deal – but you can choose not to do it. Look again at these things when it isn’t self-punishment. Torturing yourself does nothing for you right now except prevent you from insight and focus your energy on everything that would overwhelm you. Love doesn’t want that, and you need to focus on that central thing. Open your heart and listen. Listen.

Try different body positions. Bow your head, raise your arms up to the sky, imagine your feet taking root in the ground, pretend to be blessed by the stars. Your body-imagination is always trying to help you. If you feel comfortable, reach out to the God *above* the God that is caricatured by the witnesses and ask for guidance in love.

Be authentic, be truthful, see beauty, learn when to trust and admire. Start there. In time, the beliefs will sort themselves out. The list of “I believe in this” and “I don’t believe in that” is really not the primary aspect of spiritual understanding. Assume, for a little while, that all the cosmos needs of you is that you pay attention and appreciate whatever you really, truly can. Go a little on that footpath, and see if you get reoriented.

I feel very strongly that each person’s spiritual path is their own, and cannot be regulated or mandated. This is about your own spirit and soul and heart and mind, and nobody else’s. And in that spirit, take what you find useful for you here – and disregard the rest. These are things I’ve learned for myself and from the experiences of others, so they may be very very helpful for you right now. Or not. You are the only you.

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