Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is This My Mind, or Yours?

I'm sort of mad at this certain book. Or maybe afraid of it's guts. I'd rather somebody beat me to a bloody pulp with a Bible than read the contents of one to me. Although there are some very beautiful passages, such as The Song of Solomon, it's chock full of some pretty disturbing things. And say what you will about Jehovah's Witnesses but they don't sugar-coat the messages of the Bible. They study every scrimp of it, find a lesson in it all. Even that Mosaic law snoozefest in Deuteronomy. We studied that shit. How that applies to a Christian religion is beyond me. I'm not even sure how Christian it really is, considering most of what I remember studying was the Old Testament. I think that's because after Jesus comes on the scene in the Gospel, "Jehovah" or "YHWH", whatever his god damn name is, loses his steam.

That was so blasphemous and I don't even care.

Well, maybe a little bit.

There's a lot less blanket condemnation and merciless killing in the New Testament. You can't scare people with the Gospel. Well, you can. You just have to work harder at it.

I want to emasculate God a little bit. Take Him down a notch. Because I'm tired of having weirdness and underlying fears about him killing me for not believing in him anymore. Or questioning his existence, anyway. His fairness. His right to rule over people while never lifting a finger to help them. Who the hell does he think he is? See, right now I'm having a mild panic attack. I think all this fear is behind me but it's really still alive and less dormant every day. Monsters under the bed. Brainwashing runs very, very deep. And it's a severe source of shame for me. Which is kind of ridiculous, I realize. It's not my fault that my mother converted to a cult when I was 5 years old. It's not my fault it took me nearly two decades to extract myself from it's tenacious grasp. How do you not get brainwashed when this is what you are told to believe from a tender age? How do you not fall for it all when you are terrified into believing all sorts of fantastical bullshit that has no basis in reality by way of threats of death at Armageddon, birds plucking out your eyeballs, fire from heaven? My personality was formed on a steady diet of doomsday philosophy.

So much is riding on your faith in the veracity of the doctrine. It's more than your life. It's your family, your friends, your dignity. It's your mind - but it's not yours anymore. It never belonged to you in the first place. Even when you're only 7 or 10 or 12 years old, you are carrying the weight of the world on your little back. You are supposed to save these people, kids at school, the cashier at the deli, your grandma, your dad. You are responsible for their deaths. And if you shut your mouth, then when they fall into some crack in the earth at Armageddon never to be seen again, it will be all your fault. This is bloodguilt. You are so young and unformed but you have the special knowledge of imminent destruction of all humanity on your mind at all times. Try to imagine what that would be like.

I wasn't brave. I didn't try to save anyone because I was too busy trying to save myself. I didn't want to talk about my religion, my difference. I wanted to pretend it wasn't there, the thing that made me the weird girl sitting during the pledge of allegiance, or leaving when the birthday cupcakes came out, not going to the slumber party with the girls at school on Friday night, or not having anything to say after Christmas vacation. Everybody was wearing new clothes and having new toys. What did you get, Gwen? I got uncomfortable and then so did she. "Oh yeah...I forgot" She brought up the thing and it was there, suspended in the air as foreign and strange to her as a UFO. "Santa doesn't come to your house." She looked down. And I thought, "She thinks I'm bad but I'm not. She is an idiot because Santa Claus is a stupid lie. Christmas is like the devil coming as an angel of light but full of all kinds of vile things. Jehovah hates Christmas and so do I." Lies I told myself.

Truthfully, I was so brainwashed that I didn't even know I was afraid. Fear was the natural state of being. Fear of God is the beginning of life, the scriptures say.

Fuck the scriptures. I'm beginning to think that Trouble is right when she says my problem just might be a nasty little case of PTSD. The gnawing anxiety, the panic attacks, the nauseating despair, the wanting to die. I don't know. I didn't get robbed or fight a war, but I lived my entire childhood under a blanket of fear and guilt. That can't be good for the psychological well being of anyone.

I realize now after finally researching the power of cults over the human psyche, that I am recovering from the effects of mind control. Lifton mind control tactics that I think apply to my childhood/early adulthood:

Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. (Yep. Any non-JW activity or person was deemed "worldly" and we were instructed to be careful about those things/people. Questioning the ideology, outside of initial "studying", was cause for expulsion from the group. I was never permitted to question the ideology. I would have been deemed unfaithful and possibly apostate, which in the religion is considered an unforgivable sin beyond any redemption).

Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members' "sins", "attitudes", and "faults" are discussed and exploited by the leaders. (Confession was only required for major sins like fornication, drug use, smoking, drunkenness, homosexual activity, etc. Typically the "judicial meetings" were between 3 elders, church leaders (always men), and the person confessing the sin. Sometimes there would be public announcement that someone had been "reproved", which is basically a reprimand with loss of privileges in the congregation. Sometimes reproof would be private. If repentance was not displayed for the act or if the act itself was deemed serious and willful, then the person would be disfellowshipped (excommunicated). No JW's would be permitted to talk with this person, not even his/her own family members, not even to just say, "Hi).

Sacred Science. The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism. (JW's refer to their religion as The Truth. They are not permitted to read literature that is anti-JW or any religious material other than what is published by the organization. The Governing Body, which is a group of 12 men, are the only ones allowed to make decisions regarding doctrine. Their word is akin to God's word. If you deny that they are God's mouthpiece, then you are said to be denying God).

Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking (Yes. Absolutely. They even had a name for it sort of, The Pure Language. "The Society says"...was a thought terminating cliche. Or if somebody had a good question that highlighted that the doctrine was incorrect, this: "That's apostate reasoning". That shut people up real quick. Also we used words like Pioneer, Bible Study, Governing Body, The Society, The Faithful and Discreet Slave, Publisher...the list goes on and on. These words all mean something to JWs but not what it means to the outside world).

Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also. (Yep, times a million. JW's who left were not associated with at all. If they officially "disassociate" from the organization then they are treated as excommunicated and not even spoken to. If any JW speaks against the organization or even just professes a disbelief in it's doctrines, he or she is considered an apostate. Many people in the religion consider me to be so. I guess I'm doomed. Unforgivable. Beyond all redemption. Non JW's are considered walking corpses. Yes, I heard them described as such during a sermon once. Mind you, they would never put that in their literature. They don't tell Non JWs that this is their belief because it would disgust people and stop people from converting. But that is the message that is beat into your head from the platform. Sneaky bastards talking out of both sides of their mouths. While we were very interested in converting the masses, finding the sheep, and this was supposedly motivated by a great love for people, we had absolutely no problem praying for Armageddon to come quickly to relieve of us of the burdens of this world. Mind you, Armageddon's arrival would mean the everlasting destruction of billions of men, women and children. I'm sick to my stomach just thinking about what I wished for. Horrible things. So much shame).

I have a foot in each world. I don't belong completely to either. I spent more time in the other world, the place where I didn't have the right to do my own thinking. I feel like I was born the day that I stopped believing. I was 24. So how old does that make me now? 10. It's been 10 years since I started to use my own brain, think my own thoughts. I'm still trying to answer the questions: Who am I, really? What do I want?

I'm afraid that there aren't any answers. That I am completely empty - a black hole of endless nothingness. I have no base. My brain is all fractured. I spent 20 years devoted to something that probably doesn't exist. I might as well have been dead.


  1. When I did research on cults, I was astounded. Even after I left the Jehovah's Witnesses, I still didn't completely believe they were a cult until I started doing research on them on the internet, something I was forbidden to do while still active. What cracks me up completely is that the JW's actually have Watchtower articles warning people of cults and the contents of the article pretty much describe the very definition of their religion.

    Another thing of many that categorizes the JW's as a cult: False doomsday predictions. That's a biggie.

  2. Fuck, I am so glad this shit isnt being shoved down my kids throat. And thats exactly what it is. SHIT.
    I stand by my statement that organized religion is fucked up! I Dont care which kind.

  3. and ps...I'm sorry it was shoved down your throat. You lost a lot of your childhood due to it.

  4. I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic, which is nowhere near as evangelical and scripture-literal as Jehovah's Witness, but is quite devout nonetheless. I too have struggled with what the Bible says and what we were taught as Christians, and come out the other side an agnostic. (The way I put it is I am open to the possibility that God exists, I just find it highly unlikely.)

  5. Think about it this way: You understand things about that world now that outsiders can never fathom, because you were fucking there. You understand what it's like to experience that brainwashing, and you are strong enough to see it for what it is, you know the distress it causes to people's lives, and you're in the process of overcoming the hold that community had over you.

    I think you are very, extremely brave for your honesty. It doesn't feel brave, probably, but bravery really isn't the absence of fear, it's conquering it.

  6. I so understand, Gwen. Deconverting was the most painful process, possible, because by losing faith in God, I was condemning myself to eternal torture. The panic attacks were TERRIBLE.

    Let's be honest here, shall we? Most people trapped in fundy religions do not have the independence of mind or courage of heart to make it out.

    We did. Tough as it was, we did. That's something remarkable, really. That's how I have to look at it.

    The only thing I'll say is this: It gets easier with time. The panic attacks fade. You realize that the bogeyman isn't there, waiting to get you.

  7. Also, I did a lot of reading. I love this site, for instance:

    I joined a listserv of former fundies to get moral support.

    And, I printed out poems like this to look at DAILY. It helped.

    I woke up to an empty room

    No more angels watching over me.
    No more demons to be held at bay
    by the invocation of
    an Anglicized version
    of a Hellenized version
    of a Hebrew name

    I woke up to an empty room:

    Just a room. Four walls, ceiling, floor.
    Just a room. Nothing more.

    I woke up to an empty room
    and embraced the solid air.

    I woke up to an empty room and knew myself


  8. Well, you've pretty much reaffirmed my intense aversion to organized religion in general. It's so disturbing how damaging the "good intentions" of people following a "loving god" can be.

    I think that if I get to sue George Lucas for my troubled younger love life, then you should get to sue God. 'Cuase his followers done fucked you over good, babe.

    Still love you, though.

  9. Damn, that stuff sounds scary. Is religion supposed to be scary? I guess so, that's how they get people to keep coming back for more. Fear and guilt.

    And I thought Catholics were bad!

  10. Oh Gwen.

    I'm new to your blog and felt like I'd be intruding horribly if I commented on your posts. But I have to say that reading this made me weep. Like a little child.

    Having been raised in a completely non-religious household (pretty much as close as you can get to 'atheist' without carrying a card), this has helped to bring me inside the lives of those who have had a childhood completely overshadowed and controlled by (fundamentalist?) religion. A very dear friend of mine in school was JW. She once admitted to me in a moment of rare candour that her father had left the JWs when she was very young, and that she'd not had contact with him in any way since that time. It broke her heart, and yet she's still in the church. I'll bet she always will be, because she's terrified of the total rejection she'll face if she tries to leave.

    Thank you so much for writing about your experiences. Words cannot express how much I admire your courage and strength, not only in taking control of your life and finally leaving the church all those years ago, but for writing with such raw honesty about your feelings.

    Sending you much love


  11. Gwen I'm sorry you had to go through this. Things like this experienced in childhood, write on the slate of who we are. I am spiritual though not religious, I consider myself an agnostic and "buddhist lite". My thought on a creator has always been that our brains probably anthromorphize it but that a creator wouldn't look like us or act like us, display human emotions, anger, jealousy, rage. It just seems silly to me that if there is a god/creator that we were not created exactly the way intended, perfectly imperfect as we are. One part of Buddhism that I have always been drawn to is the idea that Buddha(the fat little guy you see in statues) is not a god per se but a representaion of your highest self, the best you can be, the most free from wants and desires that cause us strife and pain, so when people meditate on Buddha, they are praying to their better selves, hoping to achieve some of that in life. When I consider spirituality, I know that I will never really know and just be grateful for my presense, for the opportunity to experience the range of human emotions and experiences. Ok, I stop yapping b/c this is just how I see it but I hope you can get to a place where you can marvel at the wonder of the universe and creation without feeling bad or dirt or damned.

  12. I know exactly what you feel. While not as extreme, my upbringing was simliar. Maybe I'll write about it.

    Other people that haven't experienced an all-encompassing religion don't understand the vast emptiness experienced without it, even though you don't believe in it anymore.

  13. I landed here from Blues. And Ufhh! I have no experience of this, precisely, but I can say from other experiences that nothing lived is dead time, and nothing thought about is a waste.
    Strength and breath.

  14. I understand the fear. Maybe not to the same depth, but that gnawing inside of "What if". It sucks.

  15. You are such a bad ass and I bet you don't even know it. This post is incredible, like most of your posts.

    I like the concept of being born again outside of the cult. Kind of takes that concept away from the Christians - why should they have license to it?

  16. You've highlighted, in a brilliant fashion, the social grip that many religions place on their followers. Many are all-consuming, using their language and rituals and traditions to keep the believers safely on the "sacred" side of the sacred/profane divide.

    This "unlearning" shit takes years, and you are on your way . . .