Quantcast

«

»

Sep 06 2012

Why I am an atheist – Brian

Truth.

That single word has defined my existence from birth until this moment, and will likely continue to dominate it for as long as it lasts. I was born into a devout Jehovah’s Witness household. My father was a church elder, I gave my first sermon when I was eight years old, and I became a full member of the church at fifteen when I got baptized (unlike other churches, baptism and confirmation are not two separate things). 

It wasn’t until school however when I realized I was different than the other kids. My first day of kindergarten, my parents warned me not to stand when it was time to salute the flag, even if the teacher or other students tried to force me to. That frightened me. Why were my parents sending me to a place where people would try to force me to do something I wasn’t supposed to do? Moreover, if saluting the flag was so wrong, why did everybody else do it? Someone did try to force me to stand that same day. I can’t remember who–I was five—but I remember it was the very first time I felt alienated from my peers. In preschool, we didn’t have the pledge or any other activity deemed taboo by the Witnesses, so of course I loved it. But in the years following I started hating everything not Witness-approved: holidays, birthdays, school spirit celebrations, even school elections were off-limits. I resented my religious beliefs a little, but only privately. Open criticism of the Witnesses’ beliefs is not allowed, of course. So I learned instead to resent the world around me, along with the people in it. Just when I thought people would forget my religious beliefs and I could maintain some sense of normalcy, somebody’s birthday would come up, or the holidays would roll around. And instead of participating, I had to go to the library and read.

That’s where I learned to love reading, which is great if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, because you have to do a LOT of it. Study is heavily emphasized in church. Members are admonished to spend as much time as possible reading and studying the Bible and the literature published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses parent organization. The subject of science and biology fascinated me, so when I got my hands on the book “Life–How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?” I couldn’t put it down. I am the kind of person that needs to be convinced of the logic of my beliefs, and that light blue hardcover book was the publication most responsible for keeping me in the faith.

Jehovah’s Witnesses like to use the word “truth” a lot. And they mean it completely in the empirical sense. They even refer to their religious beliefs as “the truth” in private company, and will often ask each other “how long have you been in the truth?” or “were you raised in the truth?” Reading the organization’s books on scientific subjects convinced me that God existed and could be proven by objective, empirical means. I was enamored with the anonymous authors who write their articles. I saw the Watchtower Society as the only truly unbiased source of information in the world. The rest, of course, was tainted by Satan. I put so much stock in creationist arguments that creationism literally became the linchpin of my faith.

It wasn’t until I was twenty-five or so that I hit a breakthrough. One night, I was studying with a small, organized group of Witnesses. We were studying a Watchtower book on the book of Daniel, specifically the prophecy of “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.” I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say the Watchtower Society has an unhealthy obsession with Daniel and constantly tie its symbolic language in with real events in the modern world. But that night, the logical leaps were just too much for me to ignore. It was the first time I ever even considered that my religion might be wrong.

I repressed the doubts, but after that I couldn’t take the religion as seriously as I had up to that point. In the following year, I witnessed numerous conversations between atheists and Christians online. One day in the spring of 2007, I flipped Book TV on and saw Richard Dawkins talking to a group of people at Randolph-Macon Women’s College about his new book The God Delusion. When he read that famous opening paragraph that inaugurated the second chapter, I was stunned. No one had ever, in my life, put the horrors of the Old Testament so squarely and bluntly in my face like that before. As a Christian my peers and I had always tiptoed around it, and whenever we encountered a difficult passage, we shrugged our shoulders and assumed there must be a reason God did it, and we’re not to question his purpose. But part of me never stopped questioning. I call this aspect of my personality “the real me.” It’s the personality that I am today. My entire life was a constant battle between Real Me and Jehovah’s WItness Me. But watching Richard Dawkins on Book TV that one afternoon distracted JW Me long enough for Real Me to give it a right hook it would never, ever recover from.

A few days after that, I was typing on some forum and I absent-mindedly typed the words “I’m an atheist” in the comment box. I stared at those words for a long time. In fact, I left them on the screen and went to bed. I asked myself if I was only staying a Jehovah’s Witness so I wouldn’t be shunned by everyone I had ever cared about. The answer, of course, was yes. I got back up, clicked the “Submit” button, and an incredible feeling of relief washed over me. I had just told the world that I was an atheist. I no longer had to hate gay people. I no longer had to keep everyone who wasn’t part of my tiny subculture at arm’s length for fear of corruption. I no longer had to feel guilty about reading a book or novel I wanted to read because I wasn’t “caught up” on Watchtower literature. I no longer felt anything stopping me from going to the nearest book store and purchasing a copy of The God Delusion, which is exactly what I did the next day (strangely enough, I found it in the Judaism section). 

I didn’t leave the faith straight-away. I knew I couldn’t take being alone. So I planned a slow fade. I spent the next few years building up friendships and support structures to replace what I would soon be losing. During that same period, I withdrew from Jehovah’s Witness life, participating less and less until when people finally found out I had committed one of their serious sins, I was so far gone their shunning really didn’t matter anymore.

There are far more details in this story, of course, but they could fill a novel if I’m not too careful. Suffice to say, I’m an atheist because being free to believe and live leads to a far happier life that one of remaining in a closed community to maintain family ties.

Brian

13 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    skmarshall

    Well written!

    I had a girlfriend many years ago who told me about being shunned by her mother and her JW congregation at about age 12… (for nothing more than normal 12 year-old girl stuff, as far as i could tell). Apparently being shunned at that age in her congregation meant being forced to go to all the meetings and activities while everyone around you PRETENDS YOU DON’T EXIST. Is anything that damaging to someone that age not child abuse?

    I’m glad you made it through.

    sk

  2. 2
    Danny Haszard

    *Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ‘perfect storm’ of deception*

    I too endured ritual cultic emotional,physical abuse from the Jehovah Witnesses. I was ‘born in’ 1957 to hard core ‘pioneer’ missionary parents who were reviled for getting ‘knocked up’ with yours truly.
    My family started out broken by the watchtower cult and stayed poor, we lived hand to mouth and the watchtower ruled us with an iron fist.
    Had a brutal time going to school during the ‘better dead than red’ super nationalism of the early 1960′s. I got beat up in the school yard while the Watchtower/Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders who ran my show and made my rules had personal bodyguards.

    They made us all dysfunctional with their 1975 end of the world coming fiasco (it’s all your fault for serving Jehovah for a date) I was deprived of medical care for my severe ulcerative colitis as a direct result of the 1975 prediction.–
    Watchtower Whistleblower, Danny Haszard Bangor Maine

    FMI http://www.dannyhaszard.com (cool stuff on JW)

  3. 3
    michaellatiolais

    Good job! It’s hard to leave that social network behind.

  4. 4
    ThorGoLucky

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Brian. “The truth” is indeed out there. :)

  5. 5
    darwinharmless

    Thanks for sharing. Your early life experience is so incredibly different from mine that I find it hard to believe people could live like that, with those social attitudes. Congratulations on escaping.

    By now you may have read “The Greatest Show on Earth”, another Dawkins. If not, it will give you the skinny on evolution in the most complete and detailed way. A great book. After all that Watchtower nonsense you will find it a breath of fresh air.

  6. 6
    Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل)

    bravo!

    isn’t it amazing that a simple confession of atheism is enough to land you in prison in some parts of the world?

  7. 7
    McC2lhu doesn't want to know what you did there.

    Oh. It fucking makes sense now. I didn’t know about this ‘shunning’ bullshit. My niece is treated like crap by the in-law’s (JW) side of the family. Fucking lot of good it did them. Now she despises them and wants to spend all her time with my direct rellies. Being so caught up in dogmatic wankery that you treat children like shit is twisted. The magic of religion continues to inspire me…to wish it was dead.

  8. 8
    pedantik

    Nicely stated, Brian. The truth shall, indeed, set you free. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

  9. 9
    allencdexter

    Thanks for this expose. Now, I see exactly where Herbert Armstrong pirated his exclusivism and ruthless ostracism practices from. I don’t think the opportunistic copy cat man had an original thought in his entire life. He stole all of it from you guys, the Adventists, Mormons, and even Catholics and he too labeled it “the truth” and that’s how we referred to ourselves as well.

    When I left, people shunned me also, but there were a number of us in the same boat at the time, so we supported each other, and as I struggled with founding my own business and surviving, I didn’t have time to worry about it. My wife divorced me and I sought out social contact in singles groups and square dancing. My life was soon full of meaningful social contact and it wasn’t long until I was married again — without all the religious trappings and overtones.

    It took a long time to completely abandon religion and see that there is in fact no god to worry about. Religious people can’t fathom how peaceful and rewarding such a life can be. No begging a sky fairy for anything. No slavish adherence to rituals and non-sensical pronouncements. No paralyzing fear.

    Yes, I have normal concerns common to any sentient being. I just do not waste time looking to supernatural intervention as a solution. In short, I pilot my ship and look to myself and those around me for the knowledge and wisdom to do it.

  10. 10
    ballookey

    Thank you for sharing. Your story of leaving the JW’s is SO similar to mine, there’s no point in covering the differences. It feels so great to be free from that garbage, doesn’t it? I am so glad you had that moment when the real you knocked out the JW you. :)

  11. 11
    robster

    We often get a little gathering of JW’s in our neighbourhood on Saturday mornings to sell their particular brand of religious nonsense. They do seem to be embarrassed by the “shunning” they’re so infamous for, to the point that they deny it happens. Every one of them I’ve tried to de-convert have said that shunning and disfellowshipping are no longer part of the JW world. They lie convincingly ’till it’s outlined that some rssearch has been done and both shunning and disfellowshippping are an apparent part of their doctrine. They all seem to hate the catholic church (they’re not desert island dwellers on that count)and have some really wierd ideas. It really is quite a giggle when I inform them that their god’s about as useful as a fart in spacesuit and that god/baby jesus is a dismal failure. That seems to upset them and they won’t look me in the eye after I’ve said it, it’s worth it though. They are very easy to argue with as their silliness is even sillier than the regular god/baby jesus silliness. Always a satisfying encounter.

  12. 12
    moralnihilist

    Hello,

    This is my story. Robster, any Jehovah’s Witness who tells you they don’t shun people anymore is lying. Plain and simple. In fact, one of the things that shocked me the most after leaving was seeing how much Jehovah’s Witnesses lie about their practices. The problem is a lot of people were raised “around” it as opposed to “in” it, and the former tend to have a lot of misconceptions about what JWism is really about.

  13. 13
    moralnihilist

    Also, Shameless blog plug: http://superfineapostate.blogspot.com

Comments have been disabled.