This week marks ten years since Jennifer and I left the Jehovah Witness religion. Of course, they would insist that their religion be called “Jehovah‘s Witnesses” and they wouldn’t like my use of the word “birthday,” claiming that “anniversary” is a better term in this case anyway. But fuck them.
Part of me thinks it’s hard to believe 10 years have gone by, but I suppose in looking at the changes since then, ten years seems right. At that time – back in 2006 – we owned a home in Big Lake and we had one child. Now we own a home in St. Paul, and we have three kids. And though I still work for the same company, I now work in a different department and have been promoted to a different job.
In the interim, I’m so glad to have had so much more time for things that really matter – leaving the religion has easily freed up an average of ten hours a week, which is sort of like getting an extra day every week! It’s meant more time to be with each other, and our kids, and to work on our house or at our jobs, and more time to just have fun.
Witnesses frequently pride themselves in how busy they are. They somehow make a connection that being busy equates to pleasing God. At the same time, they also point out how wonderful it is that they are “free” from all the stresses of non-Witnesses. They note that non-Witnesses are often busy with work, school, holidays, and other pursuits – and isn’t it great that we, as Witnesses, have “freedom” from those vain time-consumers? Several talks I heard while I was a Witness made mention of Witnesses’ freedom…
* from health-damaging habits (notably tattoos, smoking, and overdrinking – but also homosexuality and premarital sex, which can lead to AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, respectively)
*from money- and time-wasting ventures (notably gambling, but also over-indulgence in entertainment and holidays)
*from faith-weakening texts (notably books by former Witnesses and movies steeped in the supernatural)
*from mind-muddying studies (notably philosophy and biology)
Of course, what Witnesses are leaving out, and what I noticed even back when I was a teenager and a devout Witness, is that people don’t automatically do those things just because they are not Witnesses. And even if they do participate in one or more of these activities, they’re not necessarily indulging to the point of hazard. Really, then, what Witnesses term “freedom” is just forced obedience. Most rational people can see the health benefits in not smoking, for example, but for Witnesses, the choice is already made for them.
So, in the decade since leaving Witness-dom, I’ve noticed that they are right: many of the activities Witnesses forcibly avoid are unappealing or do cause stress. I’ve tried a few cigarettes and I’ve gambled at casinos…and they’re not for me.
Meanwhile, I really don’t care about most holidays. New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, and Independence Day can all just come and go for all I care. In fact, the only participation I do engage in with those holidays is due to my children – when Isla brought home construction paper cut-outs of hearts for Valentine’s Day, I thanked her and decorated with them. Birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, meanwhile, are more to my liking. But they are stressful, and I do spend a lot of time and energy preparing for and worrying about them.
With all the pros and cons of participating in all the activities that Witnesses won’t touch with a 144,000-foot pole, here’s the key difference: They’re not allowed. Doing any of the above things without remorse is enough to get a member evicted from the congregation. So, yeah, even though I don’t care for tattoos, cigarettes, or Valentine’s Day, I’m way happier living in a world where I can make those decisions myself. It’s also wonderful to not have to look down on others because they have chosen something different.
A few months after we left the Witnesses, Jennifer and I thought about which of our friends would be most likely to leave the religion. Of course, we wanted nearly all the Witnesses we knew to leave the religion. But we knew many of them never would. We also knew that many of them, even if they did leave, wouldn’t make much of a difference in our lives. Instead, we thought about who was most likely to leave, who would benefit the most from leaving, and whose exit from the Watchtower would cause us the most happiness.
We made a Top Ten list.
After ten years, I’m happy to report we were half right – 50% of the people on our list have subsequently left the religion.
Here’s to another ten years in the world and the hope that those other five friends leave!*