Through the Looking-Glass: On the Road to Your Ex-Witness Afterlife

 Photography by Elena Kalis. See more of her stunning work.

When Lewis Carroll’s Alice passed through the looking-glass, she found herself in a world of opposites, where reverse-written poems and unseasonal weather were a new normal. For me, leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses was also a trip into an antipodal world where terms like “freedom” “morality” and “critical thinking” took on values opposite to what I held before. (And where words like "bondage," “submission” and “discipline” took on a whole 'nother meaning.) (Does that make me “worldly?”)

I sometimes joke that the entire Bible can be flipped and retrofitted to accommodate my new perspective. As in:

Will I ever try to get reinstated? 
No, that would be like “a dog returning to its vomit.” Besides, why would I turn “back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again?”

Being a Witness served its purpose for a while, but then I moved on: 
“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child.”

Fun, isn’t it? Here’s another:

Why do I write this blog? I consider it my duty to help others escape the cult: 
“Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues [including a sexless, uneducated, ignorant, hypocritical life.] For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.”

Okay, one more:

Is it possible to find true friends outside the Organization? 
“Even if my own father and mother abandon me, Jehovah himself will take me in.” “There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not in any way get many times more.” I’ve found this to be true—and I’m an atheist!

Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

Elena Kalis

I can’t think of a more fitting corollary to the Jewish Sanhedrin than the Governing Body. If the elders aren’t modern-day scribes and Pharisees, they aren’t doing their job. And that guy who was thrown out of the synagogue after Jesus restored his sight? He’s you, me and anybody else labeled “apostate.”

If you want, you can go a lot further into this looking-glass. 

After getting away from Watchtower indoctrination, other scriptures speak to me in a new (cough, cough) light. Jesus, if the Bible is to be believed, often spoke about the Kingdom in an abstract sense. And many Bible commentators agree that the one he talked about had a spiritual meaning: it’s a state of grace—a metaphor for the realm of Truth—akin to what other traditions call ultimate reality or Nirvana. The idea of a literal theocracy makes me queasy (thanks, ISIS), but seeing the Kingdom as a metaphor for truth and authenticity? Yes, please.

Riffing on the saying "do what you love and the money will follow," Jesus said, "Seek continually the kingdom, and all these other things will be added to you."

The pursuit of truth and reality is a huge undertaking, and it often runs against our most ingrained instincts. I spent years avoiding the fact that Jehovah's Witnessism isn't for me, and that my marriage was stillborn. I couldn't tolerate those realities, so I rejected them—hurting myself and others around me. It's like Alfred Hitchcock once said: "Reality is something none of us can stand at any time." That's why it's so much easier to check out with drugs, drinking, TV, games, whatever. Truth-seeking is a real commitment. Many are called, but few are chosen.

When Jesus compared the Kingdom to a seed-sower in Matthew 13, the parable resonates with me as metaphor for the difficulty of pursuing truth, whatever the cost. It's a universal, religion-agnostic lesson. Reflecting on it reminds me that my impulses to seek spiritual truth as a Witness were part of my better nature, and that I need to continue to cultivate those habits now. It's a bit more challenging, because I don't have a pre-baked curriculum laid out for me. I have to go it on my own. I'm a truth hacker. 

Thus, when I left the Witnesses, I didn’t stray from any "path of righteousness," but continued on it: I pursued Truth then, and I still do. I’m still on the road to life. And I hope to keep doing that until I die.

At least, that's one way of looking at it. Seeing things this way helps me to integrate my Witness life into my current one—and it prepares me for whatever new experiences are next. It keeps me from beating myself up too much for not knowing better, or for not leaving sooner. Witness life was a mirage. As the final lines of Looking-Glass ask: “Life, what is it but a dream?”

Elena Kalis