Monday, August 23, 2010

Five Years Out and Counting...

Five years ago this week, I wrote a formal letter of disassociation to my local body of Jehovah's Witness elders to inform them that I no longer wanted to be part of their religion.   I also wrote a final email to a number of my JW friends before I left.  It's been a while since I looked at these and it makes me sick to my stomach to revisit this time of my life but, for the sake of the narrative I'm sharing with all of you here, I feel compelled to share this rather crucial bit of my journey.  I will give you my reflections after. 

This is the email I sent out to my closest friends, which includes the formal letter of disassociation I submitted to my congregation elders.

August 17, 2005.

Dear Friend,

I am writing the following because I hold you dear to my heart and want you to know the truth about the decision I've made.  This decision has not been made lightly.  Rather it comes from my years of experience in the organization and the many questions and concerns I've had over those years that can no longer be ignored.  This decision also comes from diligent Bible study and prayerful consideration.  I have no desire to interfere with the way you choose to worship Jehovah, as I do not appreciate those who would interfere with my personal dedication to Him. 

If you choose to shun me, that is your choice and I will respect that.  If you choose to continue your association with me on any level, I welcome that.  Whatever you decide, be assured of my love for you.

What follows is the actual letter I submitted to the body of elders dated August 17, 2005 and which will be announced I assume next Tuesday, August 23.  I wanted you to have the same information, information that is not usually at the disposal of the individual congregation member to be informed of why a person might make the choice that I now make. I believe it is your right to have this information so you may know the truth. 

Dear Brothers,

I hereby disassociate myself from the WatchTower organization. I have, and will continue to, diligently aspire to the Christian principles of truth, honesty, love and justice. And as this is my goal in my dedication to Jehovah God, I can no longer in good conscience be affiliated with an organization that consistently violates these principles as well as my desire to follow them.

Thank you for the learning experience.  I hold no ill will towards you or the organization of which you're a part.  I leave you in peace.  May the "Father of tender mercies" be with you.


[tall penguin]

Although I feel great grief in the possible loss of some relationships, I'm incredibly happy with my decision, having made it from a place of strength and good conscience, and a heartfelt desire to worship Jehovah with "spirit and truth" and to fulfill my dedication to Jehovah, the "Most High over all the earth."

I hope that you will be able to retain your memories of me and remember the person you know that I am and have shown myself to you to be over the years of our friendship.  I realize though, with great sadness, that not unlike myself when I was part of the organization, you may choose to "rewrite" your view of me and the times we shared in order to stay part of something that you may not fully understand yet cannot disagree with for fear. 

I ask now that you please forgive me for anything I've ever done or said that may have hurt or offended you.  I am truly sorry.  I love you and will keep you in my heart.  May Jehovah strengthen you and may your relationship with him, through the most gracious ransom of His son, Christ Jesus, grow in love.  And may the Holy Spirit provide you with "the peace that excels all thought."  I leave you in peace.

Much Love,
[tall penguin]

Blech.  It pains me to read this now. 

Why?  For a few reasons.  First of all, when I wrote it, I was obviously still of a religious mindset.  The grand irony is that at the time I wrote that letter, I felt I was leaving a false Christianity for a true one, not that different than my mother felt when she'd converted from Catholicism to the Jehovah's Witnesses when I was 5.  My thought process at the time went something like this: Ahhh, that wasn't true Christianity after all.  Now I know what true Christianity is.  Of course, it didn't take me long to figure out I was still just blowing smoke up my own ass, that the whole concept of a True Christian was as ridiculous post-JW as it was as a JW.  

The other thing that strikes me as sickening about that letter is how calm and cordial it was, and nauseatingly apologetic.  It was how I felt when I wrote it, but it didn't take long for that to shift.  Within months of writing that letter, about the time that I realized that religion in general, and god concepts overall, had no real backing to them, I was writhing in rage and grief.  If I'd written those letters at that point I'm sure they would have included a few choice expletives.  Fuck a few.  Many choice expletives.  And a point by point analysis of all of the bullshit teachings Jehovah's Witnesses believe, how they've changed and flip-flopped over the course of their history and how the organization they trusted was horribly misguided.

Of course, in hindsight, perhaps it would've been better to say nothing at all.  To just leave quietly and move on.  (I received few replies to my letter, by the way.  One of my friends who I'd known for 25 years was irate...How dare you question The Organization?!...Only two people genuinely wished me well.)  I really had hoped that my letters would have prompted some to question their beliefs.  Silly, naive me.  Silly, naive me, still.  I'm still that girl who thinks that I can make a difference in the way people live their lives or the beliefs they hold.  It's why I keep writing here.  But belief is such a funny thing really.  It's rarely motivated by logic and reason.  Beliefs are mostly based on emotion and intuition, which, divorced from reason, leads us astray again and again.  If it was emotion that got you into a belief system, it's rare that logic will get you out.  If I've learned anything in the past five years, it is the proneness of the human mind to deception. 

Even in my own case, it was emotion that was the initial catalyst for my leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses.  I had fallen in love with a friend in my congregation who had, unbeknownst to me, been doing research on the JW movement and had come across some very damning evidence that things weren't quite as they appeared.  Sure, it was eventually logic and critical thinking that got me to where I am today, but make no mistake, it was love that got me thinking to begin with.

And this is a common story amongst some who leave the Jehovah's Witnesses.  A member falls in love with someone, often an outsider, "a worldy person", and that throws their life into upheaval; it is difficult to reconcile one's love for God with love for someone you've been taught is the enemy.  And unless that person can throw some logic into the mix and question the foundation of their beliefs, or has someone to help them do so, inevitably they return to the JW's at some point or another, still believing that the Jehovah's Witnesses have "The Truth" and that the sacrifice of this "unevenly yoked" (read evil) relationship is what their God wants (Been there, lived that.  But that is another story).  When you're trapped in a mindset, love is often not enough.  The emotional pull of that mindset (whether it's religion or culture or anything else you unquestioningly operate your life by) is stronger than logic and cannot be persuaded easily. 

How strong is this emotional pull?  Let me tell you.  To this day, as much as I've read, and as much as I'm convinced that it's unlikely that there's a god (although I'm still open to any sound evidence to the contrary), there is this strong emotional pull that I must constantly monitor in my head that really wants to believe otherwise.  It is easier to believe than to understand the science and reason that proves those beliefs unlikely.  It is easier to accept something we seemingly understand and have known for a while than to question our premises, investigate and learn new things and adjust our beliefs accordingly.  Faith is easy; reason is hard.  I don't know that I will ever overcome the hard-wiring that many years of indoctrination have left on my thinking processes; it has left its scars, no doubt.

But I digress.

On this, my five year anniversary of being out of the Jehovah's Witnesses, let me pause and give thanks for the following:

1.  My parents don't shun me.  To their credit, even though still devout JW's, they socialize with me, and are still an integral part of my life.  Go Mom and Dad!!!

2.  I have an awesome brother.  If you know him, there's no explanation needed.  If you don't, take my word for it.  He's pretty great.

3.  I have great friends, an awesome social network and a supportive work environment.  I have friends that know I'm in transition and still learning how to live and be, and are forgiving, patient and kind.  I have an online social network that challenges me daily to think about what I think.  And I work with people who appreciate me, laugh with me (and at me, which I love) and who are there to pick up the slack when I have my occasional meltdowns of mind and/or body.

4.  My life is my own.  Well, as much as can reasonably be with this mind and this body.  But, for the most part, I feel free to live as I see fit.

5.  Life is good.  I'm not a fan of the word happiness (it's been co-opted and has become a religion in and of itself), but I do feel quietly content most of the time.  Sure, I have my bouts with melancholy (it's a deep part of my personality which I doubt will disappear anytime soon), but overall, life is good.

And so, here I am, five years out of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I wonder, what's next for the tall penguin?  And the truth is, I don't know.

And that's okay. 

tall penguin


Eric said...

Lady, I'm glad I found your blog.

Tracy said...

You never stand to gain anything without risking a whole lot in the process. I remain in awe of your strength.

It's hard to believe that at my age, you still had so, so many years to go in the religion. Still, you've come so far and must be excited about the ways still left to go :)

tall penguin said...

Thanks Eric! I'm glad you did too!

Tracy, thank you.

"You never stand to gain anything without risking a whole lot in the process."

So very true.

To quote Canadian great Bruce Cockburn: "But nothing worth having comes without some kinda fight/Gotta kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."

"It's hard to believe that at my age, you still had so, so many years to go in the religion."

Yes, it is hard to believe. It's amazing to me how much suffering I endured before realizing the reality of what was going on around me. I wish I could've seen through it sooner but I learned a lot along the way.

"Still, you've come so far and must be excited about the ways still left to go :)"

Yes, I am excited. Can't help but be reminded of Robert Frost's words here:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

falterer said...

When someone's thrown out the congregation or voluntarily leaves, it's announced from the platform: "Tall Penguin is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." That's it. If you hadn't sent a letter explaining how conscience compelled you to cut your ties, that curt announcement by an elder might've been all your friends had to go by. They wouldn't have had this letter that says quite succinctly and explicitly that the organization violates some fundamental human principles. And their response, their silence, screams their acknowledgment that what you said is true: the organization behind the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" violates the love they would otherwise have embraced you with in this time of agony. Cordial? Yes! You were _mercilessly_ cordial; you left them absolutely no excuse to push you away; forced them to confront the fact that it's only because they've been told not to talk to people who leave.

Maybe there were better choices, but I think it was a good one, and I think it was a good letter.

tall penguin said...

My Dear falterer,it's been a while. Lovely to see your smiling face round here. I'm reminded today of all the blogs that I need catching up on! :)

"If you hadn't sent a letter explaining how conscience compelled you to cut your ties, that curt announcement by an elder might've been all your friends had to go by."

And that's one of the main reasons I did send them a letter. I didn't want them assuming that I'd committed some heinous sexual sin or that I was an angry, frothing apostate. I wanted them to know what was really motivating me to leave.

"Maybe there were better choices, but I think it was a good one, and I think it was a good letter."

Thank you for this. It means more than you know. I can sometimes view my past actions with such disdain that I forget that perhaps those actions weren't so bad after all. I really did the best I could with what I had at the time.

Ya know, I just remembered something. In my last congregation, the one I was in before I left, two of my favorite elders always used to say to me: "You're too hard on yourself."

Perhaps I should remember those words more often.

Anonymous said...

Your blogs are so insightful. I have known you for a long time and I'm glad that you were able to leave but still keep a connection with your lovely family. This just proves that love is stronger than religion, as it should be. It's unfortunet that religion seperates us instead as bringing us all together.

tall penguin said...

Well Anon, whoever you are, seeing as you've known me for quite a while and seem to know my family, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for reading. :)

Stacey said...

Just stumbled on your blog, and wanted to say something about this statement:

" Silly, naive me. Silly, naive me, still. I'm still that girl who thinks that I can make a difference in the way people live their lives or the beliefs they hold."

Once, several years ago, I pointed out some things about the JWs, and why I left them, on a news story puff piece that was extolling their (dubious) virtues in the community.

A year later I was on one of the ex-jw forums, where a new poster was talking about his exit, and what his influence were. He quoted my comment from this news article. He said that my comments made him so mad, he went off to do research so he could come back and call me a liar. Look how well that ended. Ha!

Anyways, I was lucky and pleased to find out about this, and he was tickled to meet me online, now that he and his entire family had decamped from the JWs.

So, you never know. Also, I found great comfort in the idea that I was inoculating a whole lot of unsuspecting "householders," every time I told a piece of my story.

Five years. That's wonderful. We have been out since 2002, and every day is just a little bit freer.

Monique said...

Hey! I found your blog accidentally.

I left a few years after you, and I am only now remembering when the announcement was read that you were no long a JW, and the rumblings in the cong. that you had chosen to leave, how it was probably the first rumble to weaken my super solid fake belief system. Then the doubts started yelling louder and louder until I couldn't shut them out any longer.

What you did was brave.