I spent the first thirteen years of my life being brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, the next few years being parented by a Jehovah’s Witness and the last few trying to work out my feelings towards the religion. I still haven’t worked out those feelings but I’m starting to notice the ways that my religious upbringing has affected me. I haven’t found many blogs or first hand accounts of being a JW; the few that are out there are very factual lists that don’t really give an impression of life as a JW. So, I thought it would be good to capture a few candid experiences and feelings that I have about the religion before I become a bitter old woman!
Firstly, from what I hear, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses vary depending on where you live in the world. So, my experiences may differ from a JW in Africa or Australia. FYI, my experience as a Jehovah’s Witness was in Leeds, England.
Meet the Family
I come from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as in a entire, extended family of them. I believe my grandparents on both sides became JW’s when they were in their early twenties and it just took off from there.
I did have one auntie and two cousins that were not religious, who lived in Geneva. It was always implied that my aunt was rebellious and her being so far away from us was a kind of ‘banishment’. Though, in actual fact, she had moved there to live with her husband and was a pretty normal, nice lady. No devil worshipping or hidden crazy lifestyle to speak of! But, this was how ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses were viewed, whether they were family or not. I’d be quite interested to know how I am viewed now. Though, I can hazard a guess; the phrases ‘a person of the world’ springs to mind.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a relatively small sect of Christianity who follow the bible quite literally. If you were to visit one of the Kingdom Halls (the JW equivalent of a church) you would find things look pretty normal; a few prayers, songs and bible readings. However, there are some extreme elements of the religion, such as; they disagree with blood transfusions and they preach by knocking on doors at least once a week. You probably already know that though, those are pretty well-known facts. However, as a child, these were not the issues that I found hard to deal with…
No Harry Potter!?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the devil is a real, everyday threat, around to tempt religious people into sin. They believe in witchcraft, spirits and magic to some extent, or the illusion of these things, at least. As a result, anything to do with these things is strictly prohibited from the community. This often depends on the strictness of the congregation or the family, but in my case that meant; no reading Harry Potter (yes, the books and the films) or The Little Witch, and no watching The Witches, The Demon Headmaster or The Worst Witch. I watched The Queens Nose and Casper, but even those were a bit risqué.
They also don’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays, New Year’s Eve or Easter. Actually, they don’t celebrate pretty much anything. As a child this was obviously a huge deal. There was no talking about what I had asked for Christmas, no count down to the millennium and no birthday presents. You have no idea how many times I longingly looked at a chocolate Easter egg or had to force myself not to join in with singing ‘Happy Birthday’. (Yes, it was that strict.)
Don’t worry guys, I am no longer a muggle ;)
A Few Beliefs
Here are a few things that stuck with me…
– Jehovah’s witnesses do not believe in hell (‘Phew, what a relief!’ I thought as a child).
– They do believe in heaven but they also believe it is ‘full’ and no one else can go there (‘Oh, that’s a bit of a shame.’ I thought).
– They believe in Armageddon; it will wipe out the bad people, a new world – paradise – will be created and the good people who have died will be resurrected (‘Got to be good, got to be good!’ I thought).
– They do not believe in evolution, they believe God created the earth and everything on it.
– Sex before marriage, homosexuality and masturbation are sins. Even some sexual thoughts are considered sins (‘Just hit puberty and don’t think.’ I thought).
– Anal sex is the equivalent of bestiality. (‘What is anal sex and what is bestiality?’ I thought. Thank goodness google wasn’t around in my childhood.)
– And they believe all celebrations of birthdays are bad because one guy in the bible got a severed head for his birthday. (‘Thanks for ruining it for all of us, dude!’ I thought.)
– Santa isn’t real. (‘Gotta tell my friends at school, I’m sure their parents wil really appreciate me letting them know the truth.’ I thought. Oh, how wrong I was.)
These are all somewhat ‘basic’ interpretations of the belief system and I hope to share some more interesting, specific beliefs in part 2. However, as I’m working from the memories of a thirteen-year-old girl, these are pretty spot on as to what I understood.
Why I Want To Share
There’s just so much to say! My friends know the basics but there is so much more to it than that, it’s like an entire other world. Being brought up a JW comes with some strange ideas, some interesting views and some hilarious stories. So, firstly, I want to write about this because a good story shouldn’t go to waste! Secondly, I want to write about because it’s about time. I want to get it off my chest before its all twisted, vague stories that I’m not entirely sure whether they happened or not.
NB. If you have a story about being an ex-JW or an ex-anything, please go ahead and share it!
However, I am in NO WAY interested in arguing about whether religion is right or wrong, or whether being a Jehovah’s Witness is right or wrong. I’ve argued these matters many times before from both sides of the field.