Christian Peper has made a good start in thinking about suicide and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it’s worth a read. I’m just using his post as a starting point to bounce some ideas around.
Suicide isn’t really any kind of sure way for JWs to hedge their bets. The position on suicide was one of their rare agreements with the Catholic Church. JWs don’t believe in hell, but they used to say that suicides could not be resurrected because it was an ultimate rejection of the gift of life. It’s not one of the main points that gets repeated and repeated, so many JWs might not even be aware of that position. Commenter Stacey1970 points out that the Watchtower Society actually took a step back from judgment in the 1990 Awake! – I wonder why?
This 1990 Awake! article (it’s so sad they hid this doctrinal change in the Awake!, since the Watchtower is their doctrinal magazine, it seems they would have printed it there too…) from Sept 8th, states:
“Love strengthens our recognition that suicide—though evading one’s own burdens—only heaps more problems on loved ones left behind. As far as the one who rashly took his own life is concerned, we humans cannot judge as to whether he will get a resurrection or not. How reprehensible was he? God alone searches ‘all hearts and every inclination of the thoughts.’ (1 Chronicles 28:9) But we may be confident that ‘the Judge of all the earth is going to do what is loving, just, and right!’—Genesis 18:25.”
Is there a similar Watchtower article? I’m sure there must be an article on suicide somewhere (will look up later) for comparison.
When I think of my own transition through depressive, melancholy times, and of people I have known or talked with later on, I feel that that it may not matter so much what the position on resurrection is for someone who feels suicidal. Someone who wants to kill herself or himself feels done. They want escape, or just an end to feelings of despair. It is painful and horrible to be desperate or tired enough to consider killing yourself. Would a person in such a state necessarily care whether or not he or she were resurrected? I don’t know, but I somehow don’t think so.
Yes, there is a focus on death and destruction, but the energy isn’t so much about anger. JWs have usually been pacifists (except for that weird 3rd cousin Waco offshoot). JWs don’t vote, or fight. If some of them got a little angry once in a while, there might be more real discussions. It is short-circuited at the start. I think that might change, though, judging by the comments of some current JWs. Now, they direct their anger at people who criticize the Watchtower Society – but that anger is new – where will it go? (Note: The comments on JW-related posts are often troubling, in many ways. There is a lot of anger to go around.)
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses try not to think about what they are actually saying about Armageddon, and they fear it, and they bury their fear. They expect the God of Love – Jehovah-God, through the Archangel and Mediator Michael (Jesus) to do the actual killing. JWs are just preparing the way… or something like that.
Some JWs simply want to think that if they obey every rule, they will be favored. They are the ones who could most benefit from the idea of grace (that is never discussed).
They think that if they follow the leadership of the “governing body”, then they will get a reward. I grew up with a completely different idea about keeping “your eyes on the prize.” It was a song, and it wasn’t about civil rights.
It’s deferred gratification, but hey – who wouldn’t like to live on a paradise earth forever, or for even the thousand years before the second judgment? It looks like fun, with the lions lying down with the lamb and all. No pain. No work. Everybody just gets along. No ethereal ambiguous heavenly existence for the “great crowd” – that’s only for the 144,000. No, the great crowd gets paradise – with all the inconvenient other people gone, like in that song “Political Science” by Randy Newman.
For many, for most (not for all, but for most), the best thing seems to be to simply put up with everything, and do what you’re told to do, think what you’re told to think, and feel that you’re doing the right thing – even if that means you don’t talk to your son or your daughter or your mother or father or sister or brother or friend anymore. They think that they might save a life by cutting them off from love. They believe that the only good work is to make more Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They miss so much.
There are no celebrations, few occasions to break into the hours of service and talks and
indoc…um…training. JWs don’t celebrate holidays, even their own birthdays. It’s not so much that the specific holidays are so important as that there is no cause for celebration – there is no little light and warmth in winter which to make days to remember, touchstones of repetition in one’s life. No Halloween frolic, no day of carnivale, little dancing, not nearly so much laughter as there should be. Simple kindness is undervalued somewhat, or twisted somehow.
Yet, as a JW, you feel that this is what God wants for you, and you go out and try to convince others that you want to save their lives by introducing them to the “Truth” – the only real religion (the others are demonic). Saving lives – it seems like such a good motivation to sell ideas and books for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, doesn’t it? And many of the JWs are good people.
Social pressure is intense. The loss of self-determination and the slow ebb from freedom (even the freedom to seek God), are compensated with intense self-righteousness. Hey, I loved explaining to everyone in homeroom why I didn’t salute the flag! I felt special, even if the differences were also difficult (I wanted to sing the Christmas songs and make Valentines).
I felt right. That’s the hard part. Oh, that’s so hard to give up, once you’re accustomed to that feeling. I struggle with it. I still love to be right.
Suppose you have to admit you are wrong. Tough, isn’t it? Suppose you didn’t have a friend, or any family that would speak to you if you did admit you were wrong. Makes it harder still. Sometimes people set themselves up, or lash out, or identify with what they have been told former Witnesses are. It takes a lot of windup to go.
It helps if you just leave the area, but you’ve got to develop new skills.
I had it easy, really – I was leaving for a while, for lots of reasons. I still had my family, and I had “worldly” friends that were strangely kind and understanding and supportive. I read a lot, too, which also helps more than I ever knew at the time. I left.
Some are kicked. Everyone participates in shunning the “unrepentant ones,” and among some congregations, there are internal urban myths – such as that the belief that once away from the “Truth”, you will be spiritually attacked by by by…demons. These demons are depicted as even more frightening and evil than this “wordly satanic system of things” which, to them, is our common reality.
Some of them even feared Smurfs. Smurfs with mystique. I remember the story of the wallpaper with demonic Smurfs that came to life. I wonder if that JW urban myth led directly to the animation at the beginning of “Dragon Tales”? Hmmm.
Depression, glumness. Glum. Like Puritans.
So then, if a JW is dealing with a real issue or problem, and isn’t necessarily ready to leave, who does the JW turn to? The elders? Elders don’t really have the training or even (usually) the inclination to shepard someone (in the good sense) through a moment of crisis. They’ll be using selected bible verses to support a thinly-veiled argument dictated by someone else – in New York. Asking questions could get you labeled – “gray area” “rebellious” “independent thinker” “worldly” “Memorial members.”
There are problems with power – the JWs are happy to think of themselves as submissive sheep – but righteous, very righteous and preferred by God. These shepards don’t coax, not even with friendly dogs. They are the kind with the whip hidden behind their back. To admit difference is to invite punishment – some of it is subtle, but it is effective. “Only” Jehovah’s Witnesses follow God’s Word – at least in that translation. If you have questions or problems – well, they have to keep the congregation clean.
I would like to see more documentation on the suicide rate among Jehovah’s Witnesses. I would also like to see the same kinds of figures on former Jehovah’s Witnesses (especially those who have been cut off from contact with their families under conditions of disfellowshipping or other ostracizing behaviors). Is anyone tracking this to know the statistics? Has there been a recent study? (I’m already aware of information and news tracking, and the work of such groups as Silent Lambs). Please comment with any information.
Sorry for the rambling quality of the post. I’m working out some things in my mind, trying to think how it might help a former JW who contacted me. Sometimes writing helps – and sometimes the thought process itself might help someone. You never know.