General Stories about Jehovah's Witnesses
The most recent submissions are posted at the top. When the file gets too large, the older stories will be added to "General Story Archives."
Out of general curiosity I did a search and found this site. Strange
memory bubbles. I was raised a JW along with my three siblings. My
father's participation was sporadic, I suppose he considered religion something
for the women and kids. Between the affects of physical, mental, and
sexual abuse, as well as the isolating doctrines of JW's, it is taking a lot
of personal effort and (occasional) therapy for me to have a decent
When I was in my middle twenties, I put myself in treatment for drugs and alcohol. I remember having a difficult time finding a reason to continue once I started looking at myself in the clear light of sobriety. It had been at least thirteen or fourteen years since I had been disfellowshipped (for the second time) and I remember thinking that it didn't matter if I got my life cleaned
up, I had lived a life that I knew was considered bad, and according to the doctrine of the JW's, I was unredeemable and unforgivable.
Fortunately, My general unwillingness to give up helped me to find a reason to continue. I think the one thing I can point to as a guiding light is my voracious appetite for books. They were my escape as a child, and as I got older they were my window to a
world of ideas that were hidden from me by my physical and social isolation.
I remember the elders emphasisizing the need for us to study and learn the bible (using the literature, of course). They said it was important to learn first hand, and not just take their word for everything. That one piece of advice has stayed with me. I have used that advice with regard to their doctrines as well as everything else in my life since then.
I'm now about to turn forty and have finished my first year of college. I'm studying science and math. I live alone and am grateful that I have been able to break some of the chains forged in my growing up years. There are a lot of books talked about
on this site and I would like to recommend one. The book was written by Mark Twain and is entitled "LETTERS FROM
Randy, thank you for the opportunity to talk about this to people who understand what I'm talking about, and good luck to anyone still enmeshed in someone else's idea of right and wrong.
During the past two months, I have been in WV because my mother is very ill in
the hospital. This has been the first time I have been away from the 5 weekly
meetings and field service in almost two years. My "spiritual mother" has
tried to check up on me and no doubt encourage me to attend meetings here. I
haven't returned her calls because I dread hurting her feelings. I was one
of her successes, a "recommendation to Jehovah," she told me.
When I go back to Colorado, I am going to officially disassociate myself. I
feel very angry at myself for being so gullible, for not doing a better job
checking them out ahead of time, for swallowing whole all the lame
explanations, for putting my husband through such a terrible time of worry and
This time I have had to think was very valuable. I was going to school when
they showed up at my door, having just quit my job to go back full time to
college. I was looking for "meaning" and they seemed to know what it was. So
friendly, so confident, such a "family". I feel betrayed. I told ____
(spiritual mother) that I didn't think people liked being fooled and that
might be why noone listened at the doors. They were suspicious of something
that seemed too good to be true. I never could understand why people could
listen to her marvelous presentation and not be as impressed as I was.
I feel angry with them for rushing me into getting baptized when I was
clinically depressed (off medication). For pressuring me to quit school, (the
time left is so short), for telling me that all my field service is voluntary
but that it is spiritually strengthening and that I should do as much as I
can, and it was up to me to decide if putting the kingdom first was important.
I didn't quit school but I did neglect my studies. I sneaked around in a
frenzy trying to do everything. Field service, preparing for meetings, daily
text (I dropped that first) homework, work, going to meetings, housework,
fixing meals (I dropped that second). I stopped being a vegetarian because it
takes too long to prepare. I ended up doing a terrible job of everything. Of
course I didn't have to go to birthday parties so that saved time.
Well, I finally know why people didn't listen. They knew something I didn't
know. The "truth" is a lie. _____ told me I would never be disappointed if I
would stay close to Jehovah's organization. She lied too, consciously and
unconsciously. The closer I got the more flawed it looked.
I started noticing the blank stares at the meetings. I started listening to
the "logic" of creation in a talk given by one of the younger brothers. I
noticed the unbrotherly, unspiritual backbiting going on. I listened to one
of the single women in the waiting 'til "After Armageddon Club" say that there
weren't any living single Jehovah's Witness men worth marrying and that some
of them were the reason women left the truth. One saying was, "It's better to
want what you don't have than to have what you don't want." They weren't
"loving them as their own bodies" and treating them as "weaker vessels".
I wondered if it really was "loving" of the elders to remove apostate flyers
from the windshields of our cars while we were in the meeting. I started
wishing I was one of those goats so my life wouldn't have to be such an
exercise wheel in a boring cage. I started spitting out my "spiritual food".
I started thinking maybe I don't want to live forever on paradise earth.
Especially if it is going to be more of the same "spiritual paradise" that we
have right now. I started wondering if maybe I should just trust that God
knows what he is doing and I should stop trying to understand all this
convoluted reasoning from his human channel and just wait for the conclusion
of the system to see what happens. Even if I am wrong at least my soul goes
back to God anyway. It isn't like I am stealing anything.
I wondered if maybe the "faithful and discrete slave" was indeed abusing us
domestics. God's commandments aren't supposed to be burdensome. Jesus said
his yoke was light. How come it takes so much time and why do you have to
alienate yourself from your fleshly family by avoiding the holidays and making
them angry over religion? It is ok to be alienating everyone except your
husband because Jesus said that we would be getting fields and brothers and
sisters and mothers and fathers but he didn't mention husbands or wives. Why
are we inundated with this avalanche of repetetive literature? Why do they ask
young people to have pioneering as their highest goal without considering
that they need an education to get a job that pays enough to support them? Why
do they always tell me that it is my personal decision but it is suggested ...
Anyway, I'm sure you've heard all this before. I probably wouldn't have had
all these doubts turn into another paradigm shift if it hadn't been for a
conversation with my brother. We were both here because of my mother's
I was recounting to him a conversation I had with _____. (I quit drinking
altogether about 9 years ago.) This was shortly before I was baptized in
October 1997 when I was not on medication and I was depressed I told her that
I was having doubts and that I didn't feel good about going door to door
trying to convince other people about something that I wasn't even sure about
myself. She was sort of irritated with me that day, I think. She told me
that if I ever left the truth that I would have to go back to drinking. That
hurt my feelings. I didn't stop drinking because of the truth why would I
start drinking because of it?
My brother said, "You know that kind of manipulation is something that cults
do". For some reason that made the lights come on for me. I went on the
internet and looked up cults and there it was, Jehovah's Witnesses.
I just wanted you to know that this internet thing is good and that I
appreciate all the information and I'm very grateful for your efforts and that
I'm so glad that I had this opportunity. Even more glad than when they showed
up at my door.
Thought I'd let you know how the 1980-1981 "Apostasy" played out in
MY congregation! I was brainwashed from knee-high to a gopher in WT dogma,
but didn't fully submit until mid-1981 (thus wiping out the rest of my college
some of the local elders were really caring kind of guys (for JW elders), and had us young people (most of us 15 to 25 years old) gathering at their homes in groups on Friday nights for a review of the upcoming Sunday Watchtower study, a prayer, then refreshments & volleyball & fun/fellowship out in the back yard, complete with Tiki lights, sodas, etc....Well, one Friday in late '81 the wife of this elder, in hushed tones, was talking about how word had come down from Bethel that Ray Franz had "really gone apostate" and then, of course, the whole spin started: Many of the "apostates" were caught practicing homosexuality with each other, and the implication was that Franz was somehow involved. Alternately, it was spread all over the place that Ray Franz was deliberately translating "apostate teachings" into the SPANISH issues of the Watchtower. Well, within a couple of months of this hootennanny of accusations, our Friday night young-folks Fellowship & WT study gathering was forcibly suspended. Word came FROM ON HIGH ((i.e. Brooklyn)) that "Apostates" were using these gatherings ((apparently they were becoming very popular)) to spread "apostasy" to those who attended. So, all of us young people were FORCED to find something ELSE "Theocratic" to do on a Friday night....Needless to say, we all started going to the movies, but prayer was kicked out the window. Have been away from that claptrap now for years, but I'll bet the Ray Franz "deliberate mistranslation of the articles" theory is still being bandied-about. I wouldn't be surprised.
Have a great evening, God bless, & Thanks for all those books you wrote
way back when! They helped me a lot. Dominus vobiscum.
4/30/98 Living in Caribbean
I'm apologize for my English, because I'm from a Spanish Country in Latin America.
I want to tell you about my story. I was rised like a JW, but I always had two different lives. One in the Kingdom Hall, and another in the school and after in my job. At the age of 12 I like girls a lot and I became to have girlfriends. Of course this girlfriends wasn't JW. I always had the new system in my mind, and for this fear in that time I never had sex with my girlfriends. My two brothers in law are elders, one of those is Bethelite, and I was working in the construction of the branch in my country.
I remember when was the year 1985 the WT send to my brother in law (who is Bethelite) some information about the year 1986 was called "The year of the peace" and in that information the Society recommend not to be involved more in aspects of this world. I was in 8th at the school in that time, and I was very afraid because I fell that I was not doing good to pass to the new system. But the year 1986 came, and 1987, 1988... I was graduated at the high school at 1990 and I was thinking that I'm not going to graduate at the University because the end was very close. I began to work I'm working since that time with computers.
In the year 1996 my friends from high school began to graduated at the University and I began to think about that. I spend a lot of time in Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday meetings and I don't have anything good from that and my friends are bachelors and I'm not. At the same time The WatchTower wrotes about the meaning of "This Generation." I began to have a lot of questions about the WT. First you can't change your mind about thinks like this. After I was looking in the issues of Awake! and The Watchtower how the society criticize the inquisition, it's alright, the Catholics did bad but in this time anybody can kill like in the Inquisition. But the JWs kill the people who WERE in the organisation, but now don't want to be a part of that. They don't kill real, but they never talk with you like you are dead. You lost all of your friends. The Society talks about the other religions are guilty of the blood of a lot of people, and they are not guilty to abuse from the people? A lot of women never get married because in the JW they never found a good man. A lot of people never get in the University because the end is so close. A lot of people never get a good job because need to work at the meeting times. A lot of people died because they need blood and can't get it.
Now I'm working with a international company in the Caribbean. I have my family in my country, they are JW yet. I have three months without meetings. I feel better, and now I have a wonderful girlfriend who isn't JW of course. She know everything about them and she don't like the way my sisters deal with her. She thinks that the real Christians always like her, don't care if she is not Christian. And the JW did NOT that. The first time I get in the net I spend a lot of time in www.freeminds.org and I really like this site. This was two years ago. Now I feel better to talk about my story. And I'm not afraid than someone read this. Because of course when someone read this and it is a JW he converts automatically in a apostate. I never get disfellowshiped but now I'm dissasociate. I wan't that my story helps you with the JW.
3/5/98 - Down and Out at the Canadian Bethel
Hi! I'm new to this electronic surfing thing and, so, surprised to find a web
site like yours this quickly. Reading several letters caused me to reminisce on
when I too was a JW publisher, pioneer, and Bethelite - twenty years in all.
Because visitors to your site customarily get to tell their stories, allow me
please to pass on a little autobiographical account I wrote in 1995 in the wake
of my excommunication for apostasy. It's hard to say exactly why I jotted it
down: a chronicle for the sake of posterity, a diary to feed nostalgia, or just
a compulsion to get it off my chest? Anyhow, I've cleaned up the grammar and
veiled most of the identities involved. Some portions sound petty in retrospect,
but there's still much of interest in it for those with time to read. Perhaps
you can relate to some of my experiences:
The Evaporation of Youthful Dreams
Recent upheavals in my life compel me to tell my story-not of the past year, but the past twenty. Few know much about me or seem to have ever cared. Soon, this long chapter of my life will be buried forever under revisionist thinking by my new enemies: such are the politics of vilification. It may even end up buried beneath my own apathy if true, as conventional wisdom would have it, that time heals all wounds. Averting tiresome detail and imaginative flourish, I hereby paint the following picture in broad strokes:
In the spring of 1974, I was baptized center stage at a Vancouver school in a giant polystyrene vat: Styrofoam, to be exact, but importantly, plastic... yes, the handwriting was already on the wall. From a photograph, I was later to recognize the two brothers who did the 'dunking,' both of whom worked side-by-side with me years later on the Georgetown Bethel construction, the latter now being a disfellowshipped apostate ... oh oh, more ominous signs to foreshadow my fate. But let me not relate the story from the bitterness of hindsight.
These were the last few months of my teen years, years that had been spent largely in the Hippie movement. I had left off my association with that subculture as a result of the slippery slope I observed from a commendable idealism to a self-absorbed drug scene. By the time Steve Smith started studying with me I had long before quit drugs, recently quit smoking and was living a celibate life. In short, the only changes I needed to make for purposes of conversion were in my religious education. These were made rapidly enough to warrant baptism several months later.
The local 'hero' was David, a pioneer who had moved to where "the need was greater" in Quebec (now a missionary in Senegal). Not long thereafter we met during one of his visits. I remember vividly his entrance into the Hall and my mustering up the nerve to introduce myself. When I stepped forward with hand extended, I crashed into a wall of garlic breath that nearly erased my consciousness. He had been chewing whole cloves of it to combat the onset of a cold! Still, due to his impassioned plea, French-speaking Quebec soon became my home, too.
The initial task at hand in our rural community of Nicolet was the construction of a new Kingdom Hall, a fulltime but unsalaried job while collecting Unemployment Insurance (UI). When the UI ran out and when the inauguration of the Hall ended my stay in Nicolet, the Montreal French Class notified me of acceptance into the next language immersion group. It was immediately following that class, while living with three pioneers in Montréal Nord that I was presented with the difficulty of choosing between regular pioneering or the newly announced auxiliary pioneering. Choosing regular, I was eligible for Bethel service several months later when David-who by now had joined the family-called me to offer a temporary position.
Temporary quickly led to permanent as I found myself assigned as a ministerial servant (second time now) to the Central Congregation in company with many prominent Bethel elders. It was my good fortune to be allotted to Ernie Funk as Book Study Assistant due to the fact he was away half the year on speaking assignments. On the other hand, I suffered the discomfiture of taking the lead over G Who, the Canadian branch's legendary lawyer who attended the group with his wife as a publisher. Despite this humbling period of G Why's life (removed as Elder), we became friends. It was he who introduced me to Fred Franz before the first of two Annual Meetings I attended.
They were heady days of seemingly endless blessings. Working in the Carpentry department, I once injured badly a big toe when a large cabinet fell face forward onto it. After hobbling around my room for a couple of days, it dawned on me that I should be wearing construction boots-at least while my toe healed. Whether my weighing the need against the cost was made in silent prayer or in an undertone, I do not recall. But the result was 'heaven-sent.' The following morning I overheard a brother laughing to a friend in the hallway about a pair of boots someone had just given to him. He himself didn't need them, nor did he know anyone who might. Amazed, I opened the door and asked if they were construction boots with steel toes. Why, yes! What size? Eleven. My size! Can I get them from you? Sure, take 'em.
Presto! A free pair of brand new construction boots, just the right size, walked itself right up to my door! The next day I was at work again, convinced that I had been miraculously provided for.
Unfortunately, scripts in real life don't always end like their Hollywood counterparts. I fell in love with a local pioneer sister who reciprocated with friendship only. Seeing her all too often at meetings and with friends led me to long for a different assignment. So I left Bethel to return to pioneering in Montreal. Conducting the Second School in French was my first challenge. The second, and greater of the two, proved to be my pioneer partner. What began as a generous offer on my part--doing all housework and cooking while Jed went to French Class for 7 weeks--turned into his idea of a divine right. As time went by, he demanded more privileges, without ever once thanking me. At one point he felt perfectly justified in taking to work from the freezer, not only my day's lunch, but the next day's as well-clearing out my personal reserve for his good pleasure.
"I was hungry," he blurted.
"And I'm on a fast, I suppose."
It's amusing and ironic to look back on now because the girl he married-the one I discreetly warned to no avail-lived to regret her selective blindness, her ill-timed deafness. The weary eyes that met mine at a future Assembly told the whole story.
Since I'm airing some personal beefs, allow me to digress with a few character sketches of pioneer partners with whom I've had the mixed pleasure of residing. Joe was just a pain in the butt. More interesting and representative of those darling pioneers were ones like BM and ET. We three and a Vietnamese brother named Hiep lived in a one bedroom basement suite, deep in French Montreal. Hiep curled up at night on a dimensionally challenged, homemade sofa while I somehow jackknifed my lean frame round the contours of an L-shaped couch. The bedroom played barracks to B and E while the spiders homesteading in and out of the fist-sized holes in the shower walls staked various claims to the bathroom.
Hiep, a special pioneer who spoke no English and a boat person accustomed to slopping fish gravy all over his meals while listening to Brahms, was the normal guy (with a wry sense of humour, too). BM, by contrast, spent nights lurking in the shadows of our apartment building startling passersby with honks on his bassoon. ET would awake at noon, wash down a steak with a Quebecois pint-size beer for breakfast and head out for field service. Sometimes he'd come back for chasers; sometimes we'd just hear him stagger in at midnight from his favorite Newfoundlander pub.
The only time he was around was when his week for dishes came up. And, believe me, it took a week to wash them according to his bizarre technique! Briefly, it started with periods of soaking and then progressed to alternating episodes of washing and rinsing in both the kitchen and bathroom sinks. The endless pacing back and forth, as visible from the front room, was marked by constant snickering, esoteric muttering, and frequent swigs on a pint bottle. Last but not least came the ceremonial arrangement of the dried utensils, a work of art. I found it immensely amusing to watch. Hiep thought it frightening.
Rover, who immediately followed Jed as my roommate, was frustrated by a stuttering problem. When his temper flared over parking, he would ram the car in front and the one behind until he was satisfied with the room. Once, on the way to a meeting, I ventured a barbed comment about his driving. Suddenly, he veered off through traffic, onto the boulevard, pushed me out and nearly drove over me in my suit! As a more universal form of revenge, he would intentionally stutter his way through School talks in order to stretch out two minutes worth of material. "Awfully crafty," I remarked.
The two of us were doing double duty as superintendents of a building occupied mainly by Hasidic Jews--the ones that sport black robes, curly sidelocks, fur caps and prayer strings. Whether intentional or not is hard to say, but one day Rover pocketed the front door key that they kept outside on the Sabbath (it's forbidden work to carry a key on holy days). Soon, a noisy gesticulating mob gathered outside as they tried to gain entry en route from the synagogue. Also, the boiler--essential for food preparation and bathing prior to the Sabbath--had a pilot light that kept going out mysteriously on Friday afternoons. Rover had the key.
An amusing incident once happened to me on the Sabbath. Seated in my favorite chair fervently underlining fine, uplifting comments in everyone's favorite magazine, I was distracted by a series of stern throat clearings outside my apartment. I swung the door open to the Rabbi.
"Greetings," he said with a stiff bow, "You know, you really
should learn something about Jewish customs." Pause.
"Yes," I answered, somewhat bewildered. Awkward pause.
"Of course I cannot ask (or knock, I thought), but if something were to
happen on the Sabbath, then maybe a Gentile could help his neighbour." He
turned and tugged at the last few words as if to reel me in like a fish. Another
"Oh, you want me to follow you!"
"Well. You might if you wish, yes."
Upstairs, I found the fridge door open and everything melting. Beside it was
a little girl with a finger to her mouth as if frozen in the midst of an
"Uh, oh." Apparently they had forgotten to unscrew the light bulb
prior to the Sabbath and the opening of the door had turned the light on--a
definite taboo, a forbidden work, that could only be made worse now by shutting
it off again. But, hey, what does a little girl know about such things. At the
sight of her father walking in with a Gentile, she slammed the door shut and ran
off to bed! Oy vey! At least I got a tour of the Rabbi's library out of
I eventually ended up again at Bethel, this time for the construction of a new Canadian branch. They lodged me in a motel outside a local town on a frigid Friday, January 8, with an arrangement to pick me up in the morning for breakfast. Guess what. No one came! I laugh now but the situation was desperate. I was the only person living in this newly built motel on a cold, windswept highway-no telephone, no food, no friends, and in the middle of a weekend snow blizzard! When it hit home that no one knew of my existence, I bundled up as warmly as possible with everything in my suitcase and tried walking to civilization. No such luck! Halfway to town, a fiercely cold wind, thick with snow, plus the looming threat of never making it alive turned me back! For the next few days I starved until someone finally wondered why the 'new guy' wasn't on the job yet and came poking around the motel. My consternation over this event lasted only as long as the trial and its first recounting. In the days ahead, trials became more numerous, however, as genuinely happy times traded off almost schizophrenically with deeply disturbing ones.
Only those who worked at the new construction site knew about the mutiny that nearly broke out. The food was crowd-pleasing enough at first with lots of cookies and coffee. But, by the end, amidst considerable grumbling, we were being fed twice daily with little more than boiled hamburger and field corn by a stern, thickly accented German brother stirring a huge vat like a Nazi warlock! This fanciful image sprang not from my mind alone; it conveyed the collective resentment that was building up. That the Branch representatives who inspected the project did nothing but counsel the workers on proper hygiene--slapping our wrists, as it were, for not washing before eating didn't help either. We were just thankful for the Johnny-on-the-spots, never mind any unprovided wash basins!
Feelings spilled over when my roommate took up the cause of Horton the mouse (the area around the dining room was being fumigated). He and his cohorts made placards that subliminally vented our rage. Although I personally didn't feel right about joining in, many did, parading around the head table before daily service demanding sympathy for poor Horton! If we didn't quite understand what it meant then, it sank in later. And it turned out to be a proving ground for different brothers. Most-like myself, my best friends Craig and Colin, and others-carried on (some with more lingering doubts than others) while a few, like one of the pair who baptized me, grew disillusioned, openly rebellious, and were eventually disfellowshipped.
My personal run-in at that time was over my motel accommodation. I was unique
among the construction workers in that I was already a full-time servant, in
addition to being a former Bethelite. I was also one of the first to arrive, a
claim to seniority which ultimately resulted in naught but the administrative
error described earlier. When assigned to my motel suite, no furnishings were to
be found other than a bed. When my roommate arrived-two beds. When supplies
finally did arrive on the scene, they were distributed only to whomever
thereafter moved in. Shortly, there were all kinds of 'yahoo' construction
workers / brothers living on both sides of me. More than you might imagine were
fringe members. One had just been reinstated after an episode of drugs and
adultery, another was incorrigibly gay (later disfellowshipped), while several
were marginally sane (I forget his name but one nutcase who stayed two weeks in
my suite actually believed he was part of the Bethel Family Committee, went to
the nation's capital, and conned the brothers into a special talk entitled 'Holy
Spirit Versus Halton Hills.' Ten minutes into the talk they were phoning Bethel
trying to figure out what the @$%& was going on!).
Everybody around me was partying after-hours. Guys were getting drunk, tripping out to Led Zeppelin, and pulling every kind of practical joke you can think of. One guy was handcuffed to an oven door, so he ripped it off and dragged it around for several hours while pounding on all the motel doors. I wanted to invite myself over to these nicely furnished suites, but not where such childish nonsense was going on. So, more than ever, I wanted a home I could invite 'regular' folk over to. Several times Overseer Hans was notified about my lack of furniture, but to no avail. On the occasion when I personally spoke to him at the Assembly Hall, he burst out laughing as if I were asking for the world! I was visibly insulted and angry. A friend held me back for fear of what might result. Happily, the room was soon furnished.
As time went by, the nonsense started making sense. A bunch of us (I was somehow coerced into being the road manager for the 'Hammer Brothers') crashed a local party and did 'caber tosses' of real hammers on a newly painted basement floor. We were politely asked to leave. The hammers then became Styrofoam ones, ten times the size, with aluminum foil wrapped round the head. These were so excellent that Rick Shaw and Sidekick snitched them and bombed down Main Street on Saturday afternoon in their convertible Camaros bashing each other over the head! After the usual night at the licensed pizzaria (lots of toppings and beer while savings lasted) they climbed on top of Bethel and attached one of the hammers to the top of the highest antenna. Greater Georgetown awoke the next day to the rising symbol of Watchtower Communism! Bethel brass got real hot under the collar over that one. But Rick and Sidekick (the same two that figured markedly in my near future) never got caught.
In 1982, the new facilities were finished enough to bring the family over from Toronto. I was accepted as a member again and resumed work in the Carpentry Shop. As Yogi Berra once said, "It was déjà vu all over again." Back when the Carpentry shop was a new thing in1976, an arrangement was made whereby custom furnishings for the rooms would be constructed. Eligibility was based on years of seniority in the fulltime ministry. Requisitions came typically from the wives who wanted kitchen units in their rooms for cooking--strictly illegal, by the way. For whatever reason, after the upper echelon (the brass couples) got their custom units for 1$ an hour's labour, the arrangement was suspended indefinitely. The announcement, along with its rationale, met with a dubious but compliant response. The skeptics among us claimed it would never be revived. Well, with the move to the new Bethel, naturally those dear couples were newly parted from their kitchen units, and, so, the arrangement was indeed revived. But it started at the top again! And guess what happened when the same couples got their units? Cancelled, of course.
Most of the construction workers weren't able to stay on, though many applied to join the family. I used my influence to recruit Rick Shaw during the push for custom units (Sidekick got in on his own). Rick and I forged a friendship that endured until I made the mistake of moving to Orangetree, the town where the two of them were assigned. Leaving Bethel for the second time (this time in 1984), I moved because of general disillusionment with Bethel itself (how the Canadian branch reflected an organization that was run in a slipshod rather than a divinely guided manner) and my lack of fulfillment there (personal stagnation).
The chief incident that caused disillusionment for me happened in my daily work. Girlie, wife of one of the Branch Committee servants, had purchased a cabinet to supplement the custom layout I had built for them earlier. Though the cabinet could easily be expanded with spacer boards to properly fill its destination, the undersized countertop with fitted backsplashes could not. Since the cabinet could not be returned, Girlie--who wasn't exactly the maturest gal in town--insisted I explain why it didn't fit. During a momentary lapse in my otherwise calm, diplomatic effort, I made the mistake of pointing out that it wasn't me who ordered it or built it too small--big mistake by way of implication. In a few days, I was removed from cabinet building and assigned thereafter to crating and such. Humbly I resigned myself to this demeaning work until 6 months of it took the edge off my desire to perform volunteer labour at Bethel. Strangely, even though I didn't install the unit (and my previous work for them, which they thoroughly enjoyed, went unrewarded), they sent me a card several weeks later with some money in it! Hush money?
During my final year there, the former Factory Overseer once drove me to the airport to visit Vancouver. I remember him prompting me with some vague questions about my future plans. I blubbered something obligatory about pioneering. No reaction. He just kept feeling me out. In those days, there was still a lingering emphasis, especially at Bethel, on remaining celibate until the new order. So when the subject of marriage slipped out, I was a bit surprised that he latched onto it and recommended that I settle down. Fulltime service didn't even seem near to his heart.
This added to the puzzlement I was feeling over him. In '80 or '81 his youngish wife had suddenly died with no prior illness. Meanwhile, he was removed as Factory Overseer and severely marginalized. Years later when I caught wind of what really happened in the New York Bethel shakeup of 1980, I speculated that the pair of them had suffered shipwreck of their faith in the organization: the wife had perhaps committed suicide while her distraught husband had rebelled to some degree. His carefully gauged comments to me that day about settling down began to make sense. In a way, I hope my speculations are wrong.
Well, by the time I walked out the door on April Fools day in 1984, pioneering and whatever else were the farthest things from my mind. At age 30 I wanted a job and to meet and marry someone. I registered a business name and found lots of custom cabinet work in the area where Rick and Sidekick were assigned. The pair had just been appointed as elders--a term one should find difficult to apply to 24 year old ex-yahoos (I know a lot of people who groaned when that announcement was made). Apparently, they were now replacing their childish, attention-grabbing antics with an ambitious campaign to establish their credentials as elders. Both had decided--likely while wrestling with the logic of their premature appointment--that their calling must be that of the Pied Piper on behalf of the congregation's children, to blaze their trail to the fulltime ministry. Well, who should arrive on the scene in the midst of this joint crusade? That degenerate, "backsliding," ex-fulltime servant by the name of Peter Sanderson.
Relations were amicable enough at first, so long as I dodged queries as to
how soon I would resume the ministry. However, after about six months they began
to turn on me. Despite having done nothing meriting even the mildest reprimand,
I was systematically excluded by them from social events. My comments and
actions were habitually interpreted in ways that would imput wrong motives to
me. The youth in the congregation were warned to avoid my company. I was hauled
before a committee so as to stop a party I was organizing (a harmless one),
despite the fact that the congregation had by now split in two and the pair
weren't even my elders anymore! One summer, I went to a popular provincial park
and was physically removed from my campsite because it adjoined one occupied by
a teenage sister. Where did they move me? Into a tent full of young, non-witness
guys who were friends of the family! Bear in mind that I had had a golden
reputation at Bethel and had never been in trouble with the congregation over
I tried making friends in Toronto to get away from them, but they found out where I was going and started poisoning the waters for me down there. With my personal life in a shambles, I had to finally walk away from a successful carpentry business making $50,000 a year. I loaded up my truck, chucked my bound volumes in a dumpster, and drove home to Vancouver in April of 1990.
By now I was getting messed up mentally. Chronic depression led to drinking. I stumbled onto a lounge installed with an electronic trivia game, a comfortable mental distraction from my spiritual vertigo. God knew I was innocent and undeserving of what happened. Human agencies make mistakes, I reasoned, and some like me end up with Uriah's lot: deprived and sent to die at the front lines of someone else's ambitions. God knows I'm justified in staying away, and what's the harm in playing Jeopardy for a spell.
My biological brother Ego and his wife didn't understand the neutral space I was seeking. To them it was a drunken revelry and the process of vilification started anew. For some reason--probably because I'm not married, hence unnatural--speculation as to what was wrong always led to me being tagged with some sort of sexual transgression. First I was gay; then I was cavorting with hookers downtown or hanging round peep shows. Hey, I've never even committed fornication. Before I started drinking, I could have been canonized as a saint!
A series of events in '91 precipitated an attempt at suicide. I could no longer meet payments on my new truck; so they repossessed it. My credit cards had maxed out; bankruptcy ensued. But it was failure at suicide that seemed to purge me of negative thoughts--that and subsequent survival on welfare. Like Lenny the poet, I'd been down for so long, everything started to look up. I was emerging from a fog with my memory cleansed of past injustices. I started a painting business, quit drinking, and joined a congregation where no one knew me.
Joining up was, in part, a quest for protection. For example, one day I was walking down Granville St. in the Vancouver theatre district when a guy in front of me spun around and whistled right in my ear. It was the loudest two-finger whistle I'd ever heard and it was coming from a big muscle bound guy. Whether because of his size or preoccupation with my pain, I restrained myself, continued walking, and glanced over my shoulder to figure out why he did it. Without indicating that he had even noticed my existence, he crossed the street. By now I was a block down the road testing my hearing while my ear throbbed. Meanwhile, a guy came out of a store and sauntered along a few feet in front of me. Assuring myself that I hadn't gone deaf, I now passed from the initial stages of shock, situation analysis and survival assessment to the anger response. With my mouth shut I fumed inside, wondering why the hell someone would spin around and whistle straight in my ear. At the precise moment I finished stating those words inside my head, the guy in front of me wheeled around, looked me in the eye, whistled right in my face ... and then smirked! Without missing a beat, he turned around again and carried on walking as if nothing had happened. I seriously doubt that he knew what had happened a block and a half earlier. I doubt he was even aware of what he himself did, because he never once looked over his shoulder to see if I was ready to pummel him or not! Gotta be Watchtower demons.
Sudden and loud noises were being produced repeatedly around me-especially from cars, things like inexplicable honking and cars squealing around me all the time. Noise pollution seemed to represent a new strategy of harassment by my tormenters. All of this stopped when I reestablished contact with the new congregation. Trying to make a fresh start of things, I eventually ended up in more of the same old judgmental tripe and intellectual quagmire.
The free thought I had achieved during my two-year hiatus from the organization gave birth to many disturbing questions, the more philosophical of which remain unanswered. While attending meetings, I decided to jot down in a book the questions that buzzed like bees round my head. My goal was to systematically answer them through the Society's literature. But the more I grappled with the divine, the more my hip seemed to be thrown out of joint. Through sheer frustration and despair, I determined one day to break the mental chains to which, for years, my dogged loyalty to the organization had forced me to submit: I began to research outside sources. Not 'apostate' literature, mind you. Just authoritative secular sources as found in public libraries. In view of the last decade's trials, I considered my faith to be invincible to deception, to death, to corruption. However, I was soon to learn that my faith was itself a Frankenstein of clever but incongruous lumps of dead material from another era. Outdated prophetic constructs that lived a brief life and died a necessary death in the 19th Century had somehow survived in the laboratories of Russell, Rutherford and Franz to be grafted onto a race of Promethean zombies. Is it any wonder that, in the end, I felt compelled to bring the roof down on the mad scientist who created me?
Of course, Shelley's Frankenstein features a tidy little cast; my real life situation bore a closer resemblance to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Savvy to the impending reaction my studies would evoke, I first approached my brother Ego with hard evidence on paper. Within a few days, he repaid the visit, but only to insult my intelligence, call into question my motives, and label me a loser who never got married (typically, it never occurred to him to ask if I were happily single). Then he went home and phoned my elders to rat on me behind my back. So much for flesh and blood. My other brother to whom I sent a copy actually "ran ahead of the organization" by becoming the first over the phone to personally excommunicate me--the one admirably rash act Superego has done in his fiercely servile life. Yes, "Awake!" is what the two of them had done back in 1980. There's a couple of empty pods somewhere to prove it. (Incidentally, my third brother Id never surfaced on the JW scene).
By now, the clock was ticking down to a personal Armageddon for me. After quickly compiling a more thorough paper entitled Things Every Jehovah's Witness Should Know, I mailed out copies to everyone I felt a certain kinship to and, for the sake of fairness, to my superiors, as well. Before the week was done, I was ambushed in a stairwell at work by a marauding band of elders. Refusing to let me unburden myself of some heavy tools for fear I might slip away like the 'devil,' they badgered me there and then into waiving a meeting about the contents of my paper. This turned out to be instant disfellowshiping which decision, when I found it out, I immediately appealed. My reasons: after twenty years of faithful service--ten of which were spent in fulltime service--I wasn't going to be railroaded quietly out of existence. I insisted on my day in court. And so the kangaroo court met.
At the Assembly Hall, I was ushered into a room presided over by the City Overseer Dr. K. To his left were seated two cronies I'd never met, elders from a distant congregation. Behind them, under a cone of silence, huddled the three who had waylaid me earlier. After a few awkward pleasantries were exchanged, one of my cover letters was read in part (the bad parts, of course), but none of the paper itself. I asked if the other two judging me had read the paper detailing the Society's bogus historical dates that serve as justification for 1914. To no surprise all round, they hadn't.
Turning to Dr. K, I declared, "so you are the one I'm dealing with today, then."
"Yes," he replied smugly with a broad grin. He was oozing with confidence.
The charge was apostasy to which there was no debate. A rapid-fire series of questions aimed at establishing my guilt was followed quickly at the heels by a compulsory dose of scriptural counsel: "Whoever it is that is declaring to you as good news something beyond what you accepted, let him be accursed" (Gal.1:9). They were trying to sound the death knell, but I was now on familiar turf. The ball was in my court.
"You haven't read the context," I interjected. "Before that, Paul says, '...even if we or an angel from heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed' (1:8). Does this sound rational? Does Paul really have the authority to defy a messenger from heaven? Is it logical to defy even himself as an authority? This would rule out all new truth from spiritual leaders since the time of Paul!"
I pressed my case by adding that even though Paul warned converts about
Satan's ability to transform himself into an angel of light, Paul himself was
converted miraculously by a shining angel on the road to Damascus. Could he be
so certain that he, an enemy of Christ, was not being deceived? Would not his
obvious fanaticism lend itself to hasty conclusions? This may sound heretical,
but his own statements are irrational and perhaps the product of dodging the
scrutiny of the more orthodox central congregation at Jerusalem. Just as he had
had sharp differences of opinion with Barnabas over Mark, Paul stubbornly
resisted the more orthodox mindset of Jerusalem as described in Acts 21--that of
"keeping the Law" (24).
The thrust of my argument was not to discredit Christianity but to call into question the radical notion that the writings of the biblical canon be deemed infallible. Is such a belief any more essential to the validation of one's faith than the Pope's alleged infallibility is to contemporary Catholic faith? The same principle is at work in each case: human spokesmen pronouncing the will of God. Surely, faith is about more than the quest for perfect knowledge (1Cor.8:1); it's about forgiveness, love, peace, good will among men.
My analysis caught them off guard until someone accused me of intellectualism, a facile rebuff. To this, I replied that it was not a question of intellectualism but merely intelligence. So long as one allows others to formulate the questions that serve as the engines of their thought processes, brothers cannot possibly cultivate intelligence.
"To forever respond in a knee-jerk fashion to questions typed at the foot of your daily literary diet is, at best, a rote form of promulgating the faith indulged in universally, routinely, and quite mindlessly: hence, a ritual. It's what you call 'preaching in the congregation.' But even at that, you must confess that preaching is not thinking. It's a declaration of one's faith according to the received will of God, that is to say, the received 'truth' as dictated by your chosen intermediary, the organization. Key to the process is the fact that it all happens without any welcome contribution from your own God-given share of brain cells. Now, why would you have 'true' Christians sheepishly assimilate themselves into a theocratic version of the Borg, just because it comes knocking at the door!"
To allay fears that I was condemning Paul as a perverter of the faith, I
added that Jesus, too, was an apostate. He rejected aspects of the faith in
which he was raised as part of his effort to recommend a higher level of
spirituality. For that, the Christian world is eternally grateful while the Jews
beg to differ. Are the latter correct in condemning Christ on the legitimate
basis of apostasy to Judaism? That's the sort of logic that never challenges the
sensibilities of a Jehovah's Witness because it springs from a cultivated taste
for free thought. They just love to hate 'apostates.' But if Christians are to
model themselves after Christ, ritualistic devotion to a received tradition
should rightly be resisted in favor of sincere attempts to effect religious
reform where needed. And remember, it was not Christ who abandoned the Jews;
they abandoned him.
"Similarly," I concluded, "you gather here to expel me because my awareness has expanded to a new level." They were looking a bit cowed at this point. I must admit that throughout my defense I had felt utterly empowered by virtue of my conviction, in total command of my faculties, and unperturbed by the odds of six to one. There was so much more I wanted to add but never got the chance, things about the dispute between Paul's Greek converts centered in Rome and James's Jewish converts centered in Jerusalem and how the conflict was never resolved in the New Testament ¼ how it took the vagaries of history to favor Rome over Jerusalem so that by the time the biblical canon was established, few of the Eastern books received inclusion ¼ and how I held this lack of ideal harmony to be fine since no uniform preparedness on the part of disparate peoples is reasonable to expect, anyway. Folks are not stamped out with a cookie cutter. For many, James was their man; for others, it was Paul. All in all, it probably boiled down to whether you were a Jew or a Gentile.
Well, I was a Jehovah's Witness with no options, and it was time for the appeal committee to deliberate on my fate. Within minutes I was called back to hear the obvious verdict--disfellowshipped for apostasy, the JW death penalty. Then a curious thing happened.
"Well, Peter," intoned the freshly smug Dr.K, "It's a shame you've chosen to reject the truth. The organization certainly could use an intelligent person like you with your insight and command of the scriptures."
"They have used me, " I thought to myself, "for twenty years now!" I might have blurted it out but I was busy watching the reaction of the two cronies. One in particular screwed his face up in puzzlement at Dr. K's statement. No need to voice them. His thoughts were clearly etched along the creased lines of his forehead: "What the hell is he complimenting his knowledge and insight for? Maybe I should be reading this paper." (That's okay, my friend. One day you may write your own!)
Well, it was over. I could have left feeling like a Don Quixote--tilting against the windmills of my mind, sounding alarms to no avail, foolishly imagining that others cared about the truth as much as I did. Fear, not love, was the true identifying mark of this group. But I chose not to feel foolish and I certainly would not succumb to fear. Call it a bit cocky if you like, but on the way out I japed, "See you all on Judgment Day." No hanging of the head. I left that room as much the victor as the victim. And events indicate that they, not I, were doing most of the soul-searching afterwards.
I say this because, on the following evening, I received a phone call from what sounded like a drunken old fool calling me a "goddamn smart aleck" and more. A wrong number? I was about to disconnect him when suddenly I recognized the voice. It was DR.K! Either he was tormented by the contents of my paper or he was fielding flack over his odd remark at the trial. After a few more slurred comments, he hung up. Ain't life funny.
Actually, life got a bit difficult for me for the next while. The Watchtower
'truth' may be partly lies, but lies have power, too. And there's no denying
that invisible powers influence our lives. During the same week when I did my
mailing, a witness brother in the valley for whom I was doing some painting
work, attacked me on his doorstep and bruised some ribs before I pinned him to
the ground. I was shocked. It was so out of the blue, so unforeseen. Accusations
about this and that were flying, but never a word about my clandestine research
which surely was unbeknownst to him. Innocent of his charges, I tried to square
finances with him. To this day, despite victory in a small claims court, he owes
me a few thousand dollars.
Meanwhile, the property management company that I subcontracted work from mysteriously stopped calling me at precisely the same time. They, the witness brother, and all my congregational contacts were as unrelated as Tom, Dick, and Harry. Yet, in perfect synchrony, they all turned their backs on me. Rent was due and money was short. In five days, an eviction notice was posted on my door from the very manager I was supposed to be receiving work from! To make matters worse, I had come down with a terrible flu.
I survived because this time I had no cause to be suicidal. I had been freed
from a mental prison, the definitive moment of which was when I walked out a
victor from my appeal trial. I survived because the reaction of the organization
to each stage of my departure was wholly uncharacteristic of a loving Christian
Church. This reaction convinced me beyond all lingering doubt that twenty years
worth of brainwashing could instill: never at any time had they my welfare in
I survived because I had the inner strength to turn these lemons into lemonade. With all my work contracts down the drain, I decided to do something about a desire that had long nagged at me, something my recent library research had whet my appetite further for--going to college. Through Social Services, I began building a new life from ground zero: pinching pennies, pulling the right strings, wading through bureaucratic red tape, studying for entrance exams. My status as a high school dropout was not permitted to impede my goals. Sure enough, six months later I was climbing the college steps to my first class, and a year later, the podium to receive my first scholarship.
To my brother Ego who thinks I'm a loser, I'll determined to prove him wrong on his own terms--worldly success. As for the rest, I'll show them in my own quiet way that I'm more than just another statistic in the Watchtower dustbin.
- Peter Sanderson , May of 1995 (updated '96)
There you have it, as updated in 1996. Before concluding, I would like to clarify a few points concerning the correlation of reform, apostasy and martyrdom. My reference to Jesus as an apostate is merely one way of acknowledging his martyrdom in the name of worldwide reform. The grand scale upon which his efforts met with success has resulted in perfect hindsight on the part of modern Christians. That Jews might prefer, however, to look upon the same events as apostasy demonstrates the subjective process at work. As one man's ceiling is often another man's floor in our shrinking global community, so, too, martyrdom in one person's mind is merely apostasy in another's.
Despite this subjectivity, the demographics of today's world do not realistically allow Jehovah's Witnesses to isolate themselves from the rest of the human family. To stamp their feet down hard on certain issues cannot help but impact upon others and evoke angry responses from neighbours.
To them I say, "Step up to the 20th century, old friends!" Rome is no longer the enemy, and Masada as a refuge was never a good idea anyhow. Look backward, if you must, but note that the human race has forever been but one family, and our planet, but one home. Religious reform designed to open the arms of Jewish adherents to first, the Samaritans, then, the Greeks, and so on down the line toward an embrace of all humanity is precisely what Jesus initiated. For that, he was martyred "a weak thing of God" but enthroned in heaven. As imitators of Christ, many of us in our own small ways have likewise been martyred: victims but also victors. In this, our martyrdoms may even have been foreshadowed as I believe mine was by an extraordinary event back in 1986.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we come into contact from time to time with
occupants of the spirit realm. The very rarity of these events contributes to
vivid recall. One that I related earlier, about the 'miraculous' provision of
construction boots, is of the sort I call the GOOD. The BAD, for example, was
when Watchtower demons haunted me during my two-year hiatus. For the sake of
thematic continuity, the following, another biographical ragtag of '95, may be
labeled the UGLY:
Working temporarily at a job down in Hamilton, I visited an old friend across town to gain some consolation. Things hadn't been going well in Orangetree due to some ill opinion of my lifestyle. The reasons for it escaped me. I had only cried maybe twice in my adult life, and once was during a heart-to-heart at the end of that visit. However, an entirely different kind of "crying" happened later that week. For those who don't know, stigmata are the mystical appearances of Christ's wounds on otherwise healthy persons. Heeding my friend's invitation, I returned several days later for a book study where activities of the resurrected Christ were being discussed. About halfway through, my friend Dennis glanced up at me innocently from his book. Suddenly his jaw dropped and he nearly fell off the chair. Just as I was to ask what was wrong, I felt a warm trickle down my cheek. A wipe of the hand led to shock as I realized it was blood! And more was streaming down!
"How embarrassing," I thought. "Bleeding in public. I must be erupting in zits or something!"
Because others were now staring incredulously at me, I sprang from the sofa to the washroom. My friend's wife followed with horror and curiosity vying for her features. What she had seen, I was now looking at in the mirror: tears of blood beading up and rolling down from my left eye! The surreal world of Catholic miracles had somehow dragged me onto its stage where I now stood like a sacred icon. For the next five minutes or so it continued until, finally, a tiny pinprick of a scab formed dead center at the skin's edge under my eye. I sighed with relief.
After all, things like this are not supposed to happen in the
"truth." How was I to explain this? What about the others? To my
knowledge, nothing like it had ever happened before. Was it a coincident? It was
clear that the blood was real, and not the product of a vision. Close
examination indicated that it came from a tiny burst capillary. But why had it
happened, why here, and why in the middle of a discussion on Christ's martyrdom
and glorification? Most of all, why did the drops of blood form and roll down
like perfect tears? I could only attribute it, though privately, to supernatural
In retrospect, I make a connection between the trials I was undergoing in Orangetree, the salty tears shed earlier, and one of the themes under consideration at the Book Study, specifically, martyrdom. If anyone doubts the veracity of this event, contact Dennis Bateman (elder) in Hamilton or any one of the dozen who were in attendance.
Like Ray Franz (and, surely, many others who visit your web site), I currently meditate on the scriptures and maintain a sense of the spiritual without attending a Church. As always, I grapple with the mystical.
Has anyone out there experienced something similar?
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