Sunday, February 14, 2010

Okay, I’ve left. Now what?

Posted by Joel Gunz

Now that I’ve left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’m frequently asked about what I believe now. Do I go to another church? (Not at this time.) Do I hate The Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses? (No, I’m just very disappointed.) Do I celebrate Christmas? (Hell yes!) How do I feel about the Bible? (Inspired, at least in parts — as were the writings of the Buddha, Adyashanti and Bill W.)

Watchtower publications provide an answer for almost every question a person might have about religious doctrine, morals and conduct. For people who need that kind of direction (and there are many who do), they provide a valuable service. Yet, almost everyone I know who has left Jehovah’s Witnessism did so because they no longer needed that kind of religious micromanagement. They found that their (God-given) thinking abilities and common sense were adequate for guiding them as they went on to lead a successful post-Witness life.

They found that it was possible — actually, an improvement — to trade in the flawed certainty of religious fundamentalism for the exhilarating uncertainties that go along with creating from the ground up a life of their own choosing.

Jehovah’s Witnessism teaches that when you “turn your back on God’s organization,” it’s only a matter of time before you’ll become hooked on drugs, adopt a morally profligate lifestyle and contract H.I.V. or have some other disaster befall you. Here’s what, in most cases, actually happens. With apologies to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, let’s call it the Four Stages of Life After Witnessing:

1) You’ll leave of your own accord, or you might be disfellowshipped. Sometimes it’s a clean getaway and you can walk away from The Organization with your head held high. Many times, though, it’s a messy affair, accompanied by anger, resentment and confusion. Our religion can seem to have us in a choke-hold, and it’s understandable that our escape may take nothing less than manic energy.

2) Once free, it’s quite possible that you will want to catch up on the things you’ve been missing, which might include experimenting with sex or drugs. It can be a really topsy-turvy time — and not all that pleasant to watch. I was a virtual train wreck when I made my break. You don’t have to do those things, but that’s often how it goes.

3) Once you’ve gotten all those pent-up desires and curiosities out of your system, you’ll likely return to an equilibrium that works for you. If you were a decent, honest person when you were a Witness, you’ll probably be that way after you leave and get back on your feet again.

4) You’ll find a path that works for you. It might involve Christianity in some way or it might look at other traditions, such as Eastern philosophy. Or, having had your fill of religion, you might decide to take a break from all that. When I asked my cousin, Sean Delaney, why he joined the Catholic monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon after being disfellowshipped, he said that he needed a place where he could enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet.

The point is, leaving the Witnesses is like having the rug pulled out from under you. When that happens you then have the opportunity to get yourself up, brush yourself off and start over.

The ex-Witnesses I know were often among the most sincere members of the congregation. Now they are productive members of the community and living decent lives while they follow fascinating life-paths that are as unique as they are.

Have you left or do you need help finding the path out of The Organization? Get in touch with ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in Portland, Oregon. Join our local Meetup group, or contact me at theadguy123@yahoo.com.

2 comments:

  1. I deleted my post on a prior page out of momentary fear. The religion does have a strong hold, for multiple reasons.

    I agree with your take on Kubler-Ross's stages of grief and loss. It's what I experienced and witnessed in those around me who also left. One addition I'd make is that the catching up phase is often done with an awkwardness we're not used to depending on our age. We often don't know the basic ways things work (e.g. don't mix your alcohols, and endless issues with how dating works in the real world versus in the JW world). Those mistakes typically happen at much younger ages, and it can feel a little embarrassing to realize we're tumbling through adolescence 10 or 20 years late.

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  2. Ha! There's a book in there, I think! "Life After JWs: A Manual."

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