Sunday, September 6, 2009

How A Book Changed My Life...

As you know, I work in a major bookstore in my city. Before I went on my LOA (Leave of Absence) I submitted an idea for a feature table in my store: Books That Changed Our Lives.  I went around to all of the staff and asked for the titles of books that changed their lives in one way or another.  Perhaps it was a book that gave them a new perspective on an issue or introduced them to a new genre of writing or just made them fall in love with reading.  Well, my table got ordered and apparently it's a major hit with the customers.  I may not be working right now but I'm still makin' the store money.  Hey, it's what I do. That's why they pay me the big bucks.  And yes, that is my tongue in my cheek. But I digress.

Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's WitnessesIf you look closely at the table, you'll see in the first row a blue-covered book. That book is "Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses"  by M. James Penton.  

M. James Penton is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada.  He was also a Jehovah's Witness until, during his research for this book, he realized that the history the movement fed its followers did not reflect an accurate view.  He was eventually excommunicated from the JW's for apostasy.

Now, let me tell you a little something about the JW view of apostasy.  If you "turn on the faith", meaning you no longer believe that the JW's hold "The Truth", (that's what they call their religion by the way...as in, "Do you have The Truth?", "When did you come into The Truth?", "How can we help others learn The Truth?") you are worse than the most sinful of sinners.  Worse than prostitutes.  Worse than pedophiles.  Worse than murderers even.  An apostate is one who sides with the Devil himself in opposition to God.  And anything said or written by someone the JW's deem an apostate is to be shunned at all cost. There is such fear created around the idea of apostasy.  Let me explain with my own experience.

Four years ago, J, my then-JW friend, asked me the fateful question "Is there anything you could find out about The Truth that would make you believe it's not The Truth?"   Unbeknownst to me at the time, J had spent parts of the previous three years doing research online about the Jehovah's Witnesses and had recently purchased a copy of Penton's book Apocalypse Delayed.  So his question was coming out of the doubts he'd already been having about this religion that we were still very deeply a part of.  

When I replied yes to his question, although I had no idea what that yes would mean, J began sharing little bits of info he'd gleaned about the true history of the JW's.  And my first response?  Fear. 

"J, I can't believe you've been reading apostate materials!  What if someone finds out?  You're going to get disfellowshipped (excommunicated)!" I would say to him, completely terrified. Not only was I afraid for his salvation, but I knew that I could get into heaps of trouble for even listening to him telling me about this stuff secondhand.  

Fortunately, J was patient with me.  He kept introducing more questions from his reading. And then, one day, I was visiting him at his home and there was the blue-covered apostate book of all apostate books sitting on his coffee table. I was mortified.  It was bad enough to be perusing apostate websites and doing your own research but to actually purchase and bring an apostate book into your home?!  Whoa.  

At this point, I didn't know what to do.  Here was this book.  This book I was never supposed to read.  A book, the likes of which I had been warned my whole life would bring me eternal damnation.  And here it was sitting in my friend's home.

Now, at this point, J and I were already on the edge of our religion.  We had stopped attending the JW meetings some months before so we could sort out what was really true without being dragged back into the folds.  We were also hiding out from the JW elders who were calling and digging for information to see where our minds were at.  When someone stops attending meetings, the elders usually assume they've fallen into some deep and secret sin or they've "gone apostate".  I managed to avert the elders by using the word "harassment" with a rather threatening, don't-make-me-file-a-restraining-order kind of tone. That was enough to get the phone calls to stop.  

So, here I am sitting in J's living room.  Apocalypse Delayed staring at me from the table.  I yelled at J,  "I can't believe it.  You're an apostate!"  I was filled with emotion.  

J had had the book for days now.  And it was one of the main sources for the information he'd been sharing with me.  As I slept that night, I had a lot to think about.  If J had been reading this book for some time now, and he hadn't yet flew off into some demonic rage (which I was pretty sure was the standard response to reading apostate books), then maybe, just maybe, it was just a book.  

The next day, J went off to work and I was left in his apartment with the copy of Apocalypse Delayed staring at me from the coffee table.  The fear returned. I can't read this book, I would tell myself over and over.  I tried to keep myself occupied with other things. I did dishes.  I watched TV.  I paced in circles.  And the book just sat there.  It didn't shoot off sparks.  It wasn't emitting odd voices telling me to kill my family.  It just seemed to be...a book.  A book about the history of Jehovah's Witnesses.  So, curiosity eventually eclipsed my fears and I dove in. And...wow.  I couldn't put it down.  I read it all day until J came home from work.  He came in the door.  I looked at him and said, "There's no going back now, is there?"

He looked at me with my nose in the book, "No, I'm afraid there isn't."

I read that book from cover to cover over the next few days.  I cried.  A lot. Geez, I'm crying now just typing this.  Imagine what it's like to have your whole life come crashing down in the course of a few pages.  Of course, if you've read my blog, you know the mindfuck of a journey the next four years would be in sorting out the aftermath of it all.  But it all started here, with this blue-covered book.  

And so it was that a book changed my life. 

I don't expect that this book will sell at my bookstore.  That's not why I chose to include it on the table.  Many current Jehovah's Witnesses shop at my store. People I used to call dear friends.  I know they're still JW's because they shun me every time they come in.  I'm an "apostate", and that's how apostates are treated.  And I know it's highly unlikely they (or anyone else...I mean, who really cares about a small-time cult?) will buy Apocalypse Delayed. But I hope that maybe, just maybe, even the title will be enough to spark a little seed of doubt in one of those JW's and make them wonder about the belief system they call The Truth. And maybe, just maybe, one day, they'll find the courage to look further.  

tall penguin

11 comments:

Jon said...

would like to borrow some of those books from you...

hope all is well in your world and that your time is fulfilling and also full of wonder...

jp

p.s.
word verification asks for "podilly"... gotta love it... what's a podilly anyways...

Jilly said...

I feel that experience having gone through a similar thing with a work colleague who pointed me in the direction of crisis of conscience, I read it secretly and guiltily and didn't want to believe it but knew it to be true. People who haven't experienced it would find it hard to understand the mind control. So good to be free.

tall penguin said...

Hey there Jon, I'm having a most beautiful time on LOA. Full of wonder and fulfillingness. I actually don't have any of those books in my possession any longer. But I can probably hook you up. I'll email ya.

Jilly, yes, you know this experience well. I still shake my head at the level of fear I experienced during that time of my life. It is indeed great to be free!

secretlifeofgayle said...

You had a lot of courage and intelligence to pick up that book and read it. I can only imagine how it felt to read it and have the curtain pulled away. I'm proud of you.

G

tall penguin said...

Thank you G.

Jose said...

Thanks for sharing. Many years ago I was a devout catholic seminarian nearing priesthood. While our prior beliefs differ in philosophies, the basic concept of a higher power hold similarities....I too am sometimes shun by some of those I used to call dear friends. Those who have not turned their backs on me constantly pray for me, and continue to try and push it on me. I have been quite clear that I respect them and wish to be shown the same respect from them by not engaging in debates unless they are prepared to be rational, respectful and open-minded. Everyday I am thankful for my ability to reason, question, and grow in my thought process as a rational human being. I accept responsibility for all that have done, do, and will do in the future. At times...yes I did wish that I had someone to beg forgiveness from....because it would make my life easier to deal with. I am now past that, feel a freedom that many times over is worth more than having some make-believe almighty whom i believed would guide me. Enjoying my freedom for may years now. My name is Luie....I can be reached at luiehipolito@aol.com. I would love to hear more and discuss details about this with you....if you accept. Hope to hear from you.

tall penguin said...

Thanks Luie for your comments. I have sent you an email.

Trent said...

Let me get this straight. You stopped going to meetings. You avoided fellowship. You implied threats to your brethren. You slept over at your male friend's house, and stayed there when he went to work. And you think the book, even in its unread form, had no effect?

tall penguin said...

Trent, I'm confused. It seems you don't quite have your facts straight. Can you be more clear about what you're stating and what precisely you're asking me?

Trent said...

I thought that was what your story here admitted.

tall penguin said...

Trent, I'm still not clear on what you're implying. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt but your original comment strikes me as trolling. Be clear or move on.