"Growing up, growing up,
Looking for a place to live...
The breathing stops, I don't know when
In transition once again
Such a struggle getting through these changes "
As a Jehovah's Witness, I spent most of my life in the saving business. It was my daily concern to take any and every opportunity to declare my faith to others in the hope that I could save them before God's final war of Armageddon came to destroy the unbelievers. In order to sustain this mindset, a JW must cling to the idea that their beliefs are right and the beliefs of others are wrong. And this, I'm finding, is not an easy thing to set aside.
Having shifted into a more skeptical, atheist, science-based view of the world, I find myself seeing the world quite differently than I ever have before. And yet, it seems you can take the girl out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the girl. I am still consistently battling with that savior model in my mind; rather than saving the godless, now I want to save the godful. There is still this drive in me to prove the rightness of what I believe and the wrongness of what others believe. And it might be okay if it just stayed as a battle in my head, but I find it spilling into my daily life to the point where I'm becoming confrontational in a way that I don't enjoy.
I don't like feeling defensive. I felt defensive my whole life. Everywhere I turned, I had to defend my beliefs to someone somewhere. Even if I weren't formally knocking on people's doors to bring them the "good news", I was answering questions from someone about my beliefs: Why don't you celebrate birthdays? Why don't you take blood transfusions? Why don't you vote? Even when I just wanted to relax, I still felt like I had to be on high alert for opportunities to defend my faith. It was exhausting.
And that anxiety persists. Although I've changed my worldview 180 degrees, I still feel this strong pull that I must now defend this worldview and work on converting others to my point of view. I am rationally aware that this is arrogant and foolish. And yet, sometimes it feels as though I can't quite help myself. Those defensive feelings, that drive to save others from their "wrong" beliefs is still so strong that it takes me great effort not to act it out.
The other belief system I'm currently working hard to overcome is again tied to others having different beliefs than mine. As JW's there is this sameness of belief, so much so that you can go anywhere in the world, step into a Kingdom Hall (JW equivalent of a church) and hear the same beliefs being expounded. There is no cultural or regional variance. This sameness created a very secure feeling, close-knit environment. And anyone who questions or challenges that sameness, through action against official JW dogma, is removed, excommunicated, kicked out and shunned from the rest of the group. You can get back in but only once you conform your thinking and behavior once more to the group's. There's very little room for individuality.
This desire for sameness of thought still pervades my psyche. I watch as my brain has changed itself. I see how my thinking is so very different from where I was five years ago. And I can see how my worldview and operating philosophy is different even from the friends I've acquired in these past few years. And my knee-jerk response, my patterned reaction, is to want to cut off those friendships and seek out those who see the world as I do.
It was a definite moment of grace recently when I was out with my friend G and we quite obviously disagreed on something and she must have noticed the complete look of terror on my face ("Oh my goodness, one of my best friends doesn't share my views on something that's really important to me, what do I do now?!") and she said something very simple and very profound, "Ya know, friends don't have to agree on everything."
Of course, she's right. And I knew this intellectually, but my behavior was still being driven by the JW mindset of sameness and uniformity of thought.
I watch these battles play out in my mind and in my life. I still feel very much like a child in so many ways, just trying to bash my way through a world I still don't quite understand. But honestly, I'm terribly exhausted. I don't want to defend myself anymore. I don't want to fight anymore. I don't want to convert anyone ever again. I'm out of the saving business. If I can save myself from myself I will have accomplished much in this life. And really, who else needs saving but me?
I am fortunate to have friends, like G, who put up with my growing pains and keep me around even when I behave foolishly. This is the kind of friendship I've longed for my whole life, friends who love me for who I am, not for what I believe or don't believe. Friends who won't kick me out of the group because I'm no longer "one of them". I hope I can continue to become that kind of friend to others. I'm learning. Pain by excruciating pain, I'm learning.