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Jehovah's Witnesses

Of my own accord I became intensely interested in religion in 1983 during my second-last year in high school. Two of my classmates happened to be Jehovah's Witnesses, and I soon realised they were the only Christian group that took study of  the Bible seriously. Being academically inclined, I was drawn to this scholarly approach.

I made rapid progress and before long I was out preaching to the public. I was baptised in 1985, appointed a ministerial servant in 1986 (aged only 20), refused military service on religious grounds in 1989 (served a 3-year Community Service sentence) and was appointed an elder in 1993 (aged only 26).

I was as happy as I knew how during my time with Jehovah's Witnesses, and made many positive changes in my life. One thing that remained unchanged though was my sense of curiosity. After all, it was my curiosity and desire to understand things deeply that had brought me to serious Christianity in the first place. I never stopped questioning things that didn't make sense to me.

And the things which didn't make sense to me as a Christian did not concern the Scriptures (which by their very nature are vague and open to a dozen interpretations), but had to do with science and the natural world. I noticed that many aspects of the real world (eg. fossils, animal characteristics, geology, etc) somehow did not match up with the Bible's version of the world. I therefore gradually accumulated many questions - and when dealing with hard evidence and fact, it is reasonable to expect straight answers.

So between 1992 and 1998 I engaged in correspondence with the Governing Body* of Jehovah's Witnesses (in Brooklyn, New York) over a few such matters. Being young, naive and enthusiastic about my religion, I sincerely believed they would take my carefully-researched letters seriously. Unfortunately (although now I would say 'fortunately') they did not, and if anything, their unconvincing and watery replies made me progressively more suspicious.

I have reproduced my five correspondences with them below. Note how my first two letters received a reply from Brooklyn directly, while the last three were re-routed to the local branch office in South Africa.

1. The extent of Noah's Flood
2. The diet of the Koala Bear
3. Query about encrypted words in the Scriptures
4. Serious errors in the Creation book - 1st letter (including an extensive critical analysis of the book)
5. Serious errors in the Creation book - 2nd letter

6. Conclusion

7. Appendix - Embarrassing indecision regarding Sodom and Gomorrah

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*I directed my questions straight to the top from the word go, as the 12 men that make up the Governing Body are the only 12 Jehovah's Witnesses on the planet allowed to think for themselves. All other Jehovah's Witnesses, including the committee members of the international branches, will refer any dilemma back to information published by these guys, as if no other knowledge exists.

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Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all

- Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)




Some general feedback and my responses:
 

E-mail exchange of Aug 04 (start at the bottom):

>>>1. How do you know in advance if sth can be proven (for e.g. do you believe
in extra-terrestrial life?

I think extra-terrestrial life is very possible, and so it's worth looking for it. It may exist, it may not. We will not know unless we search



>>>2. what is reasonable (is belief in extraterrestrial life reasonable)?
Of course. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Around 50% are likely to have planets. Of course the possibilities of alien life are high.



>>>I guess, you must have been pretty unhappy as a JW, to feel happier now
(since you do not have the hope of eternal life and everlasting happiness
in perfect conditions),

I was as happy as I knew how. Only in retrospect do I realise how much happier I am now.



>>>(which explains critique on misplaced koala at garden
of eden, which is pretty unimportant.

LIKE HELL IT ISN'T IMPORTANT! If they are too stupid/uninformed to get the smallest/simplest/most obvious details right, how the hell is anyone expected to take them seriously on far more important matters...??

It's all quite simple R. Life and the Universe are all quite simple. It's the 'faulty' and complex human brain that creates the mess of beliefs/ideologies/opinions we see around us.

Sounds to me like you miss the comforts and assurances of religion. Maybe you should go back. I believe if you're going to do something, do it properly. It's OK to believe in nonsense - our species has been doing it since the beginning. And this has had survival value, very strong survival value. So no need to feel ashamed. Just be honest enough to admit you're living in a fantasy world.

I on the other hand (and many others, see the loose association of similar-minded people here: www.the-brights.net ), choose to live in the real world :-)

Mark


 

Hello R

Science cannot prove anything (maybe there is a God; maybe dreams are part of reality; etc; etc) - but until the evidence comes along, I am no longer going to believe in fairy tales! I will ONLY believe what can be proven and what is reasonable - and that is surely the most honest way to live :-)

It's not only the most honest, but for me, the happiest way to live. I can sincerely say that now I am a MUCH (and I mean MUCH) happier person than I used to be. It has been over seven years now since I left, and I no longer get depressed, I smile and laugh so much more, am much more extravert and sociable and likable. I am a completely new person!

Religion and superstition was bad - very bad - for me... :-)

Thanks for your message and all of the best.

Mark
 

Dear Mark,

On your website, I learnt about your JW-background.

I myself was raised as a JW, baptized at age 13 (going on 14).

I went to university (Law school, Leuven, Belgium) and started to have great
doubts about my faith,age 18/19 (i didn't regard the bible as the word
of God anylonger) I stopped visiting congegrations at age 20.

I have never been excommunicated or anything and since my mother is still
an active witness, i still keep close to many JW's (so i have never suffered
the consequences of being shunned)

I'm now 25 (almost) and find myself without any religious beliefs (I think
i'm agnostic, perhaps even atheistic).

I'm wondering if our sceptisism is not a too radical reaction on ourformer
beliefs. I feel that i am far more reluctant than anyone to accept anything
for being true

I have great troubles believing in God (or in his goodness/omnipotence...),
but i also find it hard to believe that "nothing" caused this well organised
(allbeit with some flaws) universe.

I sometimes feel that we might be overrating rationalism by our personal
disappointment in religion/Society.

Does everything have to be explained logically, to be accepted as true?Recently
i realized e.g. that people sleep about 8 ours a day and therefor 1/3 of
their entire lives, in their sleep, they dream: these dreams are not very
logic (most of the time), but they are real (in a certain way, at least).
Emotions we experience in these dreams are real as well.

And another thing, i dont kwow if everything can be explained scientifically:
i heard once about a healthy student who collapsed. Later on, it appeared
that at the same moment the student collapsed, his father had died back
home ( thinking about his son as he was dieing). Are these cases (if true),
only coincidence, I wonder...

I sometimes feel we are disadvantaged: sure the WT Society was utterly wrong,
and the bible isn't correct scientifically and we don't really have any
evidence of the existence of God as being a Loving Omnipotent Father, but
who says we have all the answers. The universe is vast , so who knows???

Ps: i often wonder if the Society knows it's wrong or not
or are they (since they are all raised as JW themselves) not aware of all
the facts themselves?

I think they don't know any better (i once believed it was power they seeked
and they knew very well that they were wrong about almost everything, but
they didn't care). Now, i think that they are totally ignorant themselves...
(although not afraid of misrepresenting reality if necessary: their faith
comes first, truth follows only second)

For me, only a little outside information was enough to realise i was wrong
(despite enormous contra-information of Society and years of different teachings).

What do you make about all this? It's always nice to hear an expert's opinion...

Kindest regards,
rv


Subject: Bravo!
Mark,
    I was directed to your web site by a women's support board for ex-JW.  I am a "cradle JW", born and raised a Jehovah Witness.  I have found your writings, especially your letters to the Governing Body, to be the most logical and telling of how the mind can so boldly reject logic and realism.  I am 42 years old, married, with two wonderful sons.  I left the JW in 1986 when my mind could no longer blindly accept what was coming from the publications and from the platform.  I was encourage to quit high school in 1974 and pioneer as were most at that time because "the end" was to come in 1975.  I was to graduate in 1977.  I married in 1978 and had my first son one year later.  I worked as a house maid for a Jewish family four days a week and it was with this family I was able to test my ideas and feel for the first time freedom of expression.  Since the age of 9 I remember vividly thinking to myself how illogical, questionable and debatable many of the beliefs I was force to swallow without question.   With encouragement and much emotional support from this Jewish family I returned to high school.  My wishes for a higher education was not taken well by the brothers or my family, I also began to realize I did not want my son to suffer all that I did as a JW child in a secular school.  I DA myself in late 1986.   I suffered severe emotional problems from all the rejection that I am sure you are aware of and needs no describing here.  I obtained intense out patient psychological help while going to college which also was of great benefit.   I had my second son in 1992 when I graduated with my master's degree in social work, specializing in psychiatry.  I currently work at a major hospital near Detroit Michigan, William Beaumont Hospital, where I evaluate patients who suffer from mental disorders.  I also have a private practice in Troy Michigan.
       My youngest son, Westley at age 18 months became of great concern to me  as he was speaking in full sentences, and at age 2 enjoyed reading the comics in the newspapers.  I took him in for a basic IQ testing, the children's wechler's test and he scored at 160.  Normal is 90-100.   It was then that it dawned on me my vivid recollections at age 9 of what I felt to be utter nonsense in the organization's publications.  A college of mine, at my request, gave me the adult version of the Wechler's and the Standford-Binet where I scored between 138 and 142 respectively.  Now I am left wondering if what I experienced growing up as a JW had more to do with  stiffed intelligence that had no where to go than did the beliefs I was taught.  And furthermore,  I wonder, those who are comfortable in the  organization and don't really seem to mind the inaccurate information as you pointed out in your many letters and as was evident in the responses you received, if somehow it has to do with borderline intelligence.  If it does in anyway at all, it helps me to understand those who were so important to me in the past.  You being a teacher, I wonder what your thoughts are.  My son is now 9 years old, the same age when I recalled my own thinking.  He reads at a high school level, knew algebra at age 7.  From my interest in music, I play piano, he began violin when he was 5 and currently holds 2nd chair in a orchestra at a local university.  My eldest son will graduate from Michigan State University in June with his degree in chemical engeenering, he is also a accomplished pianist.  I feel very sadden and responsiable about my eldest son as he was nearly 6 when I left the JW, I know I missed a very large window of opportunity with him because of my own struggles.  Sometimes I wonder; if I had not DA myself, continued with my education and interests, raise my children in my own way, without religion, would it have still be possible for me to retain my family and friends?   A part of me says "maybe", but a larger part tells me that I would have driffed away from them anyways because of my intolerance of illogic and dogma.  I really would welcome your imput.  You are one of the very few I have come across that has not subsituted one religion for another. 
 
Most sincerely Roberta Joyce Taylor


Dear Roberta

Thank you for your kind words and for your comprehensive and most interesting e-mail. It is always good to receive positive feedback from people who have experienced what I've experienced - and to hear that, like me, they are now happier and doing far better than ever before! :-)

You raise a good question as to why otherwise decent and hard-working people can be so blind to logic and reason. I'm sure you'll agree with me that (as with most things in life) the answer is unlikely to be simple and straight-forward. I think borderline intelligence is indeed a factor with many zealously religious people - ie. they lack the intellectual strength to examine an issue comprehensively and settle rather for simplistic answers. Yet I'm sure you also know of numerous highly-intelligent people who are zealous JWs, Creationists, Muslims and even astrologers.

I don't consider myself to be anywhere near as intelligent as you or your sons seem to be, and personally attribute my success entirely to working harder than the next person. Perhaps an innate desire to know the REAL truth though, regardless of how harsh it may turn out to be, is part of the answer. I know I have always ferverently pursued that, and clearly that need made itself manifest in you at a very early age.

I believe that associated with that desire is all-important COURAGE. It takes courage to look at ourselves and at the Universe and see it all for what it is: a beautiful and magnificent existence, but as far as we can tell, entirely without purpose. It takes courage to hold in admiration our primitive ape-like ancestors, to cherish the struggle and the experience of hundreds of thousands of generations that have gone before us, leading to what we are, and to what we enjoy, today.

Such thoughts frighten people. To think that one's life is merely 'a crack of light between two eternities of darkness' is a terrifying concept to most.

What helps one to accept such harsh realities though, is I believe, a sound knowledge of how the world works - a sound KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE, and perhaps Biology in particular.

To know and be aware that 80% of all life that has ever lived on this planet is now extinct. To know that after endless scientific scrutiny we have yet to see any REAL evidence for the supernatural. To know that we all possess highly sophisticated but faulty brains that evolved for purposes of survival on the African plain as patter-seeking machines - and thus are regularly prone to wrong conclusions and wild imaginings. To know that the Sun will one day die, and the Earth along with it. To know that the Universe is immense and the Earth but a pale blue dot. To KNOW these things, and to be convinced of the evidence for them, is (for me) the most comforting and most satisfying experience imaginable. I feel a great sense of control, a confident assurance of who I am - nothing can surprise me ever again, because now I KNOW... :-)

Another factor to consider is AGE I think. For example, my ex-father-in-law is a kind and very intelligent person, who considers himself to be one of the anointed. I shared with him most of the issues you read about in my letters before actually writing to the Society. In his eyes I'm sure I saw the logic made sense to him.

Yet how could he possibly cast aside an entire lifetime of sacrifice, of dedication and hard work, and admit he had been wrong all along - and had imagined all of what he had inside his 'faulty' brain? I think that subconsciously there was just no way his brain would ever allow him to do that. We possess brains merely for purposes of survival remember - like stomachs and lungs. So our brains will ensure we believe what is to our long-term benefit, and what could possibly be better for us than eternal life in Paradise or heaven??

The reason humanity is all mixed up and we each have our moral dilemmas and struggles has all to do with the brain I believe - in particular the bits that are baggage from our savage and violent prehistoric past. The articles I have listed on: http://real.dimaggio.org make interesting background reading in this regard.

What I do find very strange is this though: I've given you reasons why I now believe that this wonderful life, on a grand scale, is purposeless and without meaning - and yet as an atheist (I know, scientifically-speaking I shouldn't go any further than agnostic :-), yet as an atheist I am a MUCH happier person today than I ever was in the past!

That's really weird :-)

Anyway nice speaking to you Roberta, as I enjoy mulling over this interesting period of my life from time to time :-)

All of the best for the future.

Regards

Mark