Walking Away from Religion

After walking away from an antiquated patriarchal belief system, “Phoenix of Faith” author has to admit that some days are better than others.Being “born into” the family religion means that I knew no other way of living, other than being frightened into submission. Walking away from religion took a paradoxical leap of faith. How do I respect myself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves me, grows me, or makes me happy?

respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happySoul in Struggle

Let me explain. In 2000, I didn’t know how to stay in “The Truth™”[1] any longer, and I didn’t know how to leave, either. But, at some point the discomfort of staying “in” became too great and I felt compelled to walk away from religion, whether or not I knew how I would accomplish such a formidable task. Something inside me just “knew” I had to leave. Like my own soul was “persecuting” me — torturing me — until I could bear it no longer. Apparently, I set myself up to leave — and it was time to start walking away from the family religion.

Ever since the Jehovah’s Witness religion gained legal recognition, they have been lobbying for more “religious freedom” and they use the laws of the land to gain footholds. However, freedoms gained do not seem to apply to the rank and file members. Such freedoms seem to impose yet more rules on members “in the name of God” with scriptures quoted to indicate necessity on the part of God. Members are conditioned to be accepting and compliant to any new rules imposed. They are told such freedom comes progressively. Like bobble-heads, the sea of heads bob up and down in agreement, just like in the movie “Life of Brian“. If a vote is taken, no one dares to oppose.

Freedom seems to be a buzz word for religious organization only, but not necessarily for individual members. I say that because when a member decides to leave the faith, pressure is brought to bear on the “erring” member from within the organization. In the Jehovah’s Witness religion, anyone who stops the head-bobbing and starts to the head-shake instead, well, that member is “disciplined.” I knew all that before I could find the courage to walk away from the family religion. Even though, it was still imperative that I leave.

“Disciplined” for Walking Away from Religion

What does it mean to be “disciplined” in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion? Or, how can they “discipline” me for walking away from their religion? Formal discipline is administered by a group of elders known as a “Judicial Committee.” When an allegation of “serious sin” is made concerning a baptized member, a judicial committee is formed to determine guilt and possible discipline. Such “lawless” deeds may be smoking, adultery, homosexuality, or even dating an “unbeliever” also known as a “worldly” person. Disfellowshipping, or shunning of a member, is the strongest form of discipline administered. Contact with disfellowshipped individuals used to be limited to direct family members living in the same home only. However, lately the religion has new rules about family members. There are several videos now produced by JWorg showing children being forced out of the family home because they no longer believe the religion. Yes. Even children! It seems, the religion expects parents to take such drastic measures, as some kind of loyalty test.

“Disfellowshipping” Helped me Walk Away

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that avoiding social and religious interaction with disfellowshipped individuals keeps the congregation free from “immoral” influences. The cruel practice of shunning, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, will in effect emotionally blackmail “erring” members to come to their senses. To their way of thinking, shunning would theoretically help me see the seriousness of my “wrongdoing”, and I’d then take steps to return to the blessed fold. The religious discipline, however, was unbelievably cruel, and that actually made it easier to keep walking away from religion, without a possible return.

Yes, I did say “blackmail” and it is indeed the emotional kind. The practice of shunning is a major deterring factor that frightens other members from dissident behavior. Members who formally resign (“disassociate”) are also shunned. Disfellowshipped and disassociated individuals are considered to “unrepentantly practice lawlessness.” The disfellowshipped/disassociated rebel loses privileges, such as going door-to-door (not a hard one to give up). The hardest punishment is to watch my children shun me. I am not allowed to see or speak with my children any more, all because I began taking dance lessons and began dating a “worldly” man (a non-believer). Being shunned is a cruel and unusual punishment. Yes, for anyone being punished in this way — it’s definitely emotional blackmail.

Punishing Belief System

Everyone — even Jehovah’s Witnesses — has a choice to be healthy or to be sick. I believe that the religion is “sick” in that it has a “punishing” belief system. I believe that adults have a right to choose their own life path without being religiously punished.

Most people do not understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses indeed do “shun” because the religion publicly denies this practice. Listen to this audio as a case in point. In actuality, if family members don’t shun the “disfellowshipped” one, the elders will use threats of disfellowshipping against the members in good standing, for their “disobedience” to the directives of the elders. Of course, no members wish to discuss this publicly, lest they be punished in the same abusive way as their loved one who left the fold. In other words, members must obey the “Disfellowship Order” and they aren’t allowed to discuss it with anyone outside the religion.

So, the Jehovah’s Witnesses break up many families by disfellowshipping, especially relevant since nearly 2/3 of all members leave according to this pew report. Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unfortunately, the religious leaders refuse to accept responsibility for family breakups due to disfellowshipping.

[1] Jehovah’s Witness doctrines are known to its members as “The Truth.” According to them, they are the one and only true religion; all others lead to destruction — eventual death at the hands of god at the Biblical Armageddon.

Related Reading

Shunning Mom I was ordered to shun my beloved mother in 1985.
Getting Disfellowshipped My own disfellowshipping story.

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