Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The greatest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

When I first began my departure from the Jehovah's Witnesses five years ago, I felt a lot of anger towards all those complicit in feeding my mind lies and calling it truth.  I was five years old when my mother converted into the Jehovah's Witnesses from staunch Catholicism so it wasn't difficult to indoctrinate me.  I trusted that the people around me--my parents, the JW elders, the JW community--were telling me the truth about life and the world I lived in, as any child trusts the adults in their life to provide them with accurate information to navigate their existence.  And it would've all been much more acceptable and manageable if that information was taught as truth in a relative sense.  But that was not the case with the Jehovah's Witness training I received, nor is it the case with most children raised with religion.  No, the whole JW construct, is taught as the Truth with a capital T.

The Jehovah's Witnesses take this to the extreme extent even referring to their belief system as "The Truth", as in, "Is he in The Truth?", "When did you first learn The Truth?", "She left The Truth five years ago."  This is where indoctrination differs from education; whereas education is an open learning process where skepticism and re-evaluation is encouraged, indoctrination leaves no room for doubt or question.  Indoctrination is your oath to the religion's truth, their whole truth, and nothing but their truth, so help you, [insert your God of choice here].

It hurts to be lied to.  Even when it's done unknowingly it doesn't necessarily make it hurt less.  Sure, my parents are just as indoctrinated as I was and I would guess that most of the JW hierarchy really does believe the bullshit they peddle and is not knowingly feeding its flock untruths.  The difference though is that they are adults and I was a child.  I didn't have a choice.  Or did I?  I eventually became an adult, didn't I?  Why didn't I choose to leave once I became an adult?  I was 31 when I left the Jehovah's Witnesses. What took me so long to leave? Why did it take me so long as an adult to figure out it was all a bunch of crap?  Valid questions all.  And this is where indoctrination is so clever a process, because eventually the beliefs you were raised to believe as a child become so deeply ingrained that even as an adult you perpetuate them; the mind viruses of belief have so firmly taken root that you tell yourself the lies all on your own.  And that, that is one of the most difficult things to come to terms with once you leave the religion or cult you grew up in.

Some time after you leave, you wake up one day and you realize that you were a co-conspirator in the destruction of your own mind, your own life. Suddenly, you remember all of those moments of doubt that arose as you were growing up, those doubts that you quickly dismissed and replaced with the official religious dogma. You remember all of the lies you told yourself to keep from fully recognizing the reality of what was going on around you.  And you want to blame it all on the power of indoctrination, but you know, you know that those moments, so many moments of doubt, where something deep inside of you screamed, There's something not quite right going on here! came to you, not just as an indoctrinated child, but as an adult.  And you kick yourself for not listening to your gut, for not heeding the pangs of cognitive dissonance, for continuing to lie to yourself.  And you get angry with yourself.  And you cry.  A lot.  And you lament over and over and over, "Why, oh why, didn't I trust myself?  Why didn't I listen to my gut?  Why didn't I leave sooner?"

But it's not that simple.  It wasn't just a matter of snapping out of it and coming to your senses.  No, as the years pass and you get some distance from the whole religious experience, you learn that hindsight is 20/20, that it really wasn't so easy when you were in it to see the reality of what was going on and that the mind you thought was yours at the time really wasn't.  It belonged to a collective idea, a collective illusion.  And although, yes, you ignored your intuition for a very long time and lied to yourself over and over again, you were only working with the tools you had, and those tools were shoddy at best.  And so, you learn to be gentle with that co-conspirator in your head and you find a way to forgive it for its ignorance. And then, you find a way to educate your own mind and free it, piece by piece by piece, from the indoctrination of your youth.  But you never quite make friends with your mind; once you've seen it betray you, you will never trust it fully again.  And perhaps, that is as it should be.  The mind is prone to error and bias and deception.   As Desiderius Erasmus said, "Man's mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth."

And so, you live your life the best you can, knowing that the world is filled with more lies than truth, knowing that your mind must be constantly patrolled and knowing that it is inevitable that you will retain some illusions (quite possibly because it is impossible to live a full life without a few of them).  But now you choose your illusions with great care and awareness and hope that when those moments arise when your gut says, There's something not quite right here you will be able to listen and heed accordingly.

And that makes all the difference.

tall penguin


David Stenström said...

Great post, and great that you have come so far. ^_^

Randy said...

The important thing to remember is that blame's not only not fair, it's not even relevant. Things happened the way they did because the people and places in your life were what they are, and you were doing your best to survive with what you had available to you. Be proud that you survived the JWs intact, emerging as solidly as you have.

tall penguin said...

Indeed Randy. In the past five years, I've come also to realize how there are stories within stories. My parents made their choices from the tools they had at the time, as did their parents and their parents and so on and so forth. It's hard to stay angry with anyone once you realize that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have at that moment. When they know better, they do better.

Now, this does not preclude me from holding people responsible for their actions. I can empathize all I want with how a sexual abuser got to the point of abusing, but I will still hold him accountable for his actions. Empathy is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

And this is the balancing act of being human. As with all things, it's a hard line to walk.

Bill P said...

You are being hard on yourself in this post. I have always been fascinated by how the mass delusion known as the Holocost (don't even think about all the foolish dubs that would have lived if JFR had just changed his mind and not tried to stare down Hitler). How did all the Germans go to those camps and do such fiendish thing and then just go home and hug their kids and kiss their wives?

A book that helped me to learn about this was written by a leader of the French Resistance. "Propaganda" by Jacque Ellul. This is an obscure book that deals with how propaganda can control a person. There are points that just made me cringe as a faithful JDub. Now I realize how truly propagandized I was. It can happen to anyone. I would only say the only time you have to hold yourself accountable is when you perpetuate it whether in the field or in the home. You left as soon as you could. That is the best you could do.