A Threat To The Social Family Fabric
by Victor Escalante
Untold thousands of individuals have suffered from emotional and psychological pain inflicted by Jehovah’s Witnesses due to the breakup of families. Most people are only familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) to the extent of being awakened on a weekend by zealous proselytizing recruits. But there is a great deal more to know; the Watchtower is a twentieth-century American religious movement that has adversely affected families worldwide, eroding family cohesiveness and unity once a family member starts the indoctrination phase of the recruitment process.
The recruitment phase is a systematic study of the church’s subjective theological truths that in time becomes the only acceptable truth. In the early stages of this indoctrination phase, the new recruit is told to expect family opposition. A number of scriptures are used to support their argument. What the unsuspecting person doesn’t realize is that the family ties have started to be severed. This subtle programming is done through the creation of beliefs that act as mental filters, which leads to myopic (nearsighted) perception. This is done through the use of hypnotic language wherein only a skilled linguist could detect the subtle programming done through nomializations (developing names or clichés for certain things) and over-generalizations that are fed to the unsuspecting individual. This "word diet" leads to fuzzy extremist thinking that is very generalized and often out of context. Once the filters are in place, the indoctrinated person looks at himself, the family, and others through an extremist point of view. By this stage everything is viewed as black or white, right or wrong, "us versus them," God or Satan. At this point any family disapproval of the Watchtower is viewed as a Satanic ploy to undermine their faith.
Eventually the new recruit loses his ability to be objective. No longer can he look at his actions and comments in the larger context of the family’s social structure and fabric. He becomes fully invested in the agenda of the organization. What happens now is that the non-JW family is labeled as "worldly relatives." With this label, the family is dehumanized into "people fit for destruction" unless they accept the JW doctrines and way of life. The new JW is led to believe that he is now part of a worldwide family that will be the only ones to survive a cataclysmic destruction of humanity. The new JW is now kept in a regimented way of life that leaves no time nor motivation for family visits or gatherings, and when they do visit he is taught to use this occasion for proselytizing purposes. Of course, this often is irritating and offensive to the non-JW relatives, and this serves to validate to the JW that his family is blinded by Satan. Many former JWs have suffered emotional pain and remorse from the guilt of realizing that they have cut off all family ties to the point of not even attending funerals or special family events that they would have participated in prior to becoming a JW.
Years and decades can pass while the recruited JW lives insulated in a fictitious "purposeful, healthy" subculture. These years take a toll on the individual due to the isolation from family members and the community at large. The consequences of this is that the only people JWs relate to is other JWs, and sometimes they don’t even have the social skills to do this well, due to the quagmire of conflicts in the congregations.
The real problem begins when something happens, causing the JW to want to leave the movement, or he is expelled. It is then that the person finds himself cut off from his former friends and biological JW family members. This is due to the extremist shunning practices common in the JW church. There is no honorable way of leaving the movement. In the indoctrination phase the new recruit is not told this is a one-way ticket to a regimented way of life. Many former JWs report difficulty reintegrating with family, friends and community. It is like they have been in a time warp, held hostage by this high control religious group. In recent years, many have started to intuitively sense that what they have been told by their governing body is skewed and false, and that they have been following the unrealistic authoritarian commands of a nebulous leadership often referred to as "the Society."
Many baby boomers are faced with middle-age underemployment due to a technical world that has passed them up. JWs have had their lives regulated to the point that they often have to read about the proper printed procedure for handling family conflicts. I know firsthand of one elder that called the New York Bethel headquarters to ask if his parental responsibility was absolved if his rebellious adolescent daughter was not submissive to his decisions. One former friend who is now a circuit overseer told me that his life is regulated to the point of being told by the Society that he must floss his teeth after every meal. This shows a serious problem of total dependence on a distant authority structure that rules individuals lives.
Due to recent doctrinal changes within the church, some have started to have doubts about the legalistic, regimented way of life, yet there is a fear of openly discussing this as it can lead to investigation and then expulsion as an "apostate." Some have chosen to quietly leave by moving and never giving their forwarding address. Recently I spoke with a former JW, previously an elder, who estimates that in the 12 years that he was a presiding overseer, some 40% of the congregation members just disappeared with no forwarding addresses to be traced.
After being in the movement for decades, individuals may find themselves in a no win situation: They have been cut off for many years from their former family and friends that never accepted their often-extremist JW perception of things. They may have the desire to reestablish family ties, but they may lack the ability to do so. They may want to pursue different work or career goals than when they were JWs, but they find that they now are in a highly technological world that has passed them by. The dichotomy is that the non-JW family never cuts them off in quite the same way that the JWs cut themselves off from family and friends (thinking this was going to be in their best spiritual interests).
Many develop high profile social lives within this subculture and they become heavily invested in their status in the JW community. Some climb the authority ladder leading to special status in the JW community that many would rather hold onto than disagree with any dictum of the Society. Many have adult children and grandchildren with whom they would lose contact if they left the movement.
If a person is expelled or decides to leave due to a conflict of conscience, they will suddenly lose everything that they once invested and committed their whole life to. They lose friends, their JW family, their reputation and financial dealings or employment from JWs. I was in the movement for some twenty years and in less than five minutes my whole record of faithfulness and dedication was decided as being of no consequence by a group of individuals that were following the orders of organizational men in the upper echelons. My only infraction was to disagree on a secular matter related to my choice of a career in the field of psycholinguistics. The Society follows a systematic purging of individuals who are free thinkers and intellectuals, even though they are some of the most devout and dedicated individuals, many of them having spent the majority of their lives in behalf of the Society. The story of the expulsion of Ray Franz, a former governing body member, is the norm rather than the exception, illustrating the arrogance, intolerance, and belligerence of the organizational men who are paranoid of any questioning or criticism of the teachings of the Society. This atmosphere that currently exists in the JWs is similar to the McCarthy era in the U.S. where fear of communism was used to control the thinking and behavior of the population. Many will remember how professional lives were wrongfully and negligently ruined and destroyed by the abuse of governmental authority. In like fashion, this type of inquisition is carried out against anyone disagreeing with anything from the Society (i.e., the governing body). In this high-control environment, no one is immune from prosecution for disagreeing with any teaching coming down from the Society. Some individuals have disagreed on doctrinal matters (even leading to expulsion) which the Society later adopted as current truth! A case in point is the end-times 1914 doctrine of the "separation of sheep and goats" through their door-to-door preaching. Many will also remember all the marriages that suffered and were destroyed when the Society decided to regulate the intimate sexual lives of their members. The shunning that is practiced by the JWs once a member of the congregation leaves is no less than cruel. Some have been lead to commit suicide, others have tried to sue, but the courts in America have decided to stay out of this controversial church/state issue.
The JWs have fought hard to establish the right in the American Judicial System for the freedom to worship. The irony is that many of theses same freedoms are denied to their own members within their own closed society.
When an expulsion happens to a married couple, the likelihood of the marriage surviving is little to none. In my own experience, my wife was strongly advised by the church to divorce me. This extreme intolerant perception is justified by JWs by branding the former JW as a threat to the spiritual life of the JW mate, which could ultimately lead to the JW member leaving the movement also. While this may be the case in some marriages, most people want to keep peace and retain the family unit. Yet this becomes impossible, since the JW is taught to view the former JW as a serious threat. It is likened to being married to your "spiritual enemy." The average rank and file member is not skilled enough to sort out issues that lead to conflicts and then effectively deal with them in a spirit of understanding and love. Former JWs find that the Watchtower's version of "love" is something that evaporates instantly when they are expelled. Where is this headed and where will it end?
The Society, through their primary journal The Watchtower, has recently softened their stance to members excommunicated for sins other than "apostasy." In reality, however, the deep structure of the psyche of the JW mindset is one of intolerance. It is like rearranging the furniture in the house, the structure still being the same. All of the thousands of untold persons that have been painfully affected by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and their representatives are left with no one to hold responsible for the damage done to them. If this was an organization that was other than religious, I am certain many lawsuits of wrongful negligence would be awarded to the victims. The caveat for those thinking of joining is, you are signing away your rights when you dedicate yourself to the Society.
I have herein made some generalizations and naturally there will always be exceptions. Yet I ask you to evaluate my comments and give them the right context for yourself.
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