Last week I started writing about being brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness for the first time. I thought it would just be a new challenge for my writing, maybe attract a few different readers, that’s all. I didn’t expect that when I started writing, I wouldn’t be able to stop. It’s been pretty therapeutic for me so far, and I hope it’s been enlightening for other people who are interested. So, today I’m going to start from the very beginning…
In the beginning (pun totally intended)
I went to a Christian school, not a Jehovah’s Witness school (those don’t exist). There was always a prayer in assembly which, as part of my religion, I was not allowed to be present for. So, every day I would be placed in a seating area, outside of the assembly hall, the rest of the children would march past me into the hall and I would wait until they were done. Yes, I was ‘that kid who had to sit out of everything’.
Eventually I moved to another school where there were at least three other JW children. This primary school was less religious, so it was less difficult to be seen as ‘normal’. Whenever there was something that I couldn’t do (a good 75% of anything fun) I had a few other JW kids to keep me company. It wasn’t so bad, it was a bit like being in a small club, except no one else wanted to join.
From the lips of children and infants…
As I got older, people started asking more questions about my beliefs. ‘Why don’t you celebrate birthdays?’ ‘Are you homophobic?’ ‘Why hasn’t Armageddon happened yet?’ The questions became discussions and the discussions often became arguments. I would get annoyed, not because they questioned my faith, but because I didn’t have an answer for so many things. I would relay questions to my family and was generally met with a very vague, wordy piece of text from the bible that could just about justify why we believed something. Alternatively, I would get something along the lines of; ‘God’s mind is much greater than ours, we mere humans can’t understand everything he does’.
When I went to high-school I became a bit more lenient with my religion. There were boys, and gossip, and rude words – I couldn’t miss out on all of those! I tested the waters with ‘sinning’ because I didn’t think most the things I was doing were actually wrong. However, I still felt all the standard worry and guilt, that seems to come as part of the package with religion. (‘Pray, pray, pray, that’ll make up for it, right!?’ I thought.)
The end is nigh…
As I got older I started to hate being a JW. I had to go to meetings twice a week, do a bible study once a week and knock on people’s doors once a week. Occasionally I would find myself knocking of the doors of people I knew from school, including my best friend which was pretty awkward… I also couldn’t read some of the books or watch some of the films that my friends could. Worst of all, I couldn’t go to my best friends’ birthday parties. In fact, even saying ‘happy birthday’ was frowned upon, but I was a sinner so I did it anyway! (Then felt guilty and prayed, again…)
When I was about twelve, my parents got divorced and my mum decided to stop being a JW. I lived with her most of the time so I had an excuse not to go to meetings, too. Eventually, I told my dad that I didn’t want to be religious either (when I say told, I mean I nervously wrote a letter) and although he was disappointed, he was very accepting.
Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget…
After that, I got to go out an be me! I still had the tag of ‘used to be a Jehovah’s Witness’ – in fact, I still do – but I was free. I dated, I partied, I studied, I took up hobbies, I travelled, I lived with friends, I tried new things, I moved abroad, I made lots of mistakes – I lived.
I celebrated my first birthday, the pressure of all the attention on me was overwhelming! I had my first Christmas; me and my mum were ecstatic with the one present we bought each other (a dressing gown each) and have got slightly better at present buying each. I stayed up until New Years eve for the first time, I felt like I was finally catching up with the rest of the world.
Now, most of the negative points that I’ve written about here sound pretty banal. They are really, there are so many worse ways to be brought up and treated, obviously. However, ten years ago I would have been scared even to think these thoughts, let alone write them down. (1984 thoughtcrime, much!?) So, I wanted to write today’s blog to show that I can think for myself, act freely and still be a good person. It’s so sad to think I wouldn’t have believed that a few years ago and that there are people who still think that today.
PS. Isn’t it funny how you can use bible quotes for whatever you want them to mean? ;)