Tell me that you were raised as a Jehovah’s Witness without telling me you were raised a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ll go first:
As a kid, you were not allowed to read or you had to sneak and read:
· The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
· Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and the sequels).
· A Christmas Carol.
All of them had demonic and/or pagan themes, right? They were completely unsuitable. But, the stories that you were allowed/encouraged/ordered to read before age 10 featured:
· A well-manicured woman who was tossed from a window of a castle only to have her body eaten by dogs.
· A “wise” king who threatened to slice a baby in two to settle a custody dispute between prostitutes, and
· A couple of kings who ordered the systematic murder of all newborn males.
Were you a Gen X or Gen Z teen intrigued by Dear God, It’s Me Margaret or the Twilight series or Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series? For shame! The graphic sexual themes made the books taboo. Now, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts no one objected to your reading about:
· A prince who raped his sister to assuage his incestuous obsession. 2 Samuel 13:1-22
· A sex slave of a Levite who died after being gang-raped by Benjamites. Her pimp then dismembered her body. Who was assigned Judges 19 in the weekly Bible reading?
· And did you ever really believe that Jael only lured Sisera to sleep in her tent with warm milk before driving a tent pin into his skull? Ladies, we all know why he slept so soundly, right? That tale of seduction and destruction can be found at Judges 4.
As a nerdy Black kid in a racially segregated small town in Georgia, battling the restraints of white supremacy and the restrictive tenets of the faith that I had been born into felt a lot like wearing a turtleneck two sizes too small. Reading was my escape. Books were the keys that unlocked the world for me. There is poetic symmetry in the fact that later, when I had conquered my cognitive dissonance sufficiently to begin my faith deconstruction journey, books also helped me to realize that I was not the first Witness to toss her field service bag into the trash and utter, “Bye, Felicia!”
Here are some books that helped me to realize that I am not alone. Others were hoodwinked and bamboozled before I was. Yet, they made the bold choice to lead an authentic life.
· Let’s start with the O.G. of apostate memoirs, Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz. My first recollection of Raymond Franz when I was a kid in the 1980s was that he was the Witness version of Candyman and Freddie Kruger all rolled into one. There was no Google for me to do my own research so everything that I knew about him I learned from the whispered conversations of adults or from the veiled references from the platform to He-Who-Could-Not-Be-Named. Franz was the evil slave nemesis of the faithful and discreet slave, the Darth Vader that disturbed the balance of the Force. Imagine my surprise to learn years later that he had neither cloven hooves nor horns. Franz was an old guy who had been born into a family that was prominent at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In the way of nepotism everywhere, Franz attended Gilead, spent a few years as a missionary, and then returned to take his seat at the Watchtower leadership table.
Gradually he began to realize that the Governing Body was power mad and the Watchtower doctrines were wacko and arbitrary. Franz documented how the Governing Body initially took a hard line stance on groundbreaking issue such as should married people have oral sex. And he explained how the group of white men in power decided to make martyrs out of Malawian Witnesses, giving them inflexible edicts that led to their torture at the hands of a dominant political party while giving more relaxed guidelines to Witnesses in other countries. It was almost as it was a bad idea to let men with little education and a limited worldview make blanket rules that impacted millions of people all over the world. Franz resigned from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1980, leaving his cushy Brooklyn pad and moving into an old friend’s mobile home in Alabama. Later, Franz was disfellowshipped, and he was cut off by most of his friends. Even worse, he had to churn out his 400+ page expose without a MAC or even a PC way back in 1983. Then, like Maximus Decimus Meridius, loyal servant to the true emperor who rose from slavery and defeat to strike a mighty blow (and yes, I am mixing my cinematic analogies here, cause it’s my damn blog) Franz wrote a bestseller and later, a sequel. His first book, Crisis of Conscience, is a must read for those who left “the truth” to find the truth.
· I was a Barbara Anderson fan before I ever knew that she existed. In July of 1992,when I was still a devout regular pioneer in my early 20s, I read “Women Deserving of Respect” in the Awake magazine. I distinctly remember feeling that these were some of the most empowering articles that I had ever read in Witness literature. It would be decades later before I found out that the research for those articles was done by Barbara, one of the only women ever to work in the Watchtower Writing Dept. I was not alone in noting the difference in the substance and tone of the 1992 articles. Many Witness women mailed in letters of appreciation. Even more telling was the fact that 75% of those women’s letters were unsigned as they feared reprisals simply for acknowledging their gratification at seeing in print that they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. Alas, that centering of women’s perspective in an environment steeped in patriarchal hegemony could only lead to ruin. Barbara’s ongoing research uncovered numerous inconsistencies between the facts and the propaganda promulgated about the history of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society leadership. Even more shocking were the many, many cases of molestation of Witness kids that she discovered, reported instances that had been ignored and/or Witness abusers that Witnesses were actively protecting. Barbara left the organization and became a whistleblower. Her advocacy is detailed in her 2018 book, Eyewitness to Deceit.
· Did you ever think, wow, surviving excommunication /shunning while also battling cognitive dissonance to develop an entirely new belief system is really difficult? If only I had a manual to guide me through this tricky process. May I suggest Bonnie Zieman's, Exiting the JW Cult: A Healing Handbook: For Current & Former Jehovah's Witnesses. Born into a Witness family, Bonnie left the religion after 30 years. She became a licensed psychotherapist, and she uses her experience and training to help others who are similarly situated. Her healing handbook has many gems including The Value of Telling Your Story, Who Are You Now, Outside of the Cult, and Ruptured Families - Some Context.
· Amber Scorah’s, Leaving The Witness: Exiting A Religion and Finding A Life is a faith deconstruction memoir for Millennials and Gen Z. Amber Scorah is a Canadian American who emigrated to China with her husband in the early aughts to become an undercover Witness missionary. There, while proselytizing to Chinese people who seemed to think they had made a new western friend, Amber began to note the inconsistencies in her own religion. After a great deal of introspection, she chose to leave the faith. Imagine having to navigate the dissolution of your marriage, your disfellowshipping and the subsequent rejection of your entire Witness community, all without education or money while living in a foreign country. Amber’s story is unflinchingly raw and honest, and it is a lodestar for former fundamentalists stepping out bravely into the unknown. Check out either her book or her audiobook that she narrates herself.
· My last recommendation is a movie, not a book. If you haven’t already, check out Daniel Kokotajlo’s 2017 film, Apostasy. In it a family collapses under the weight of Witness restrictions and requirements. Ivanna is a single Witness mom raising two daughters, Alex who has severe anemia, and Luisa who experiences a surprise pregnancy with her worldly boyfriend. Writer- director, Kokotajlo, is a former Witness and his depiction of meetings, field service, and the daily lives of Witnesses is spot on.
I am still adding to my must-read book list for apostates and aspiring badasses. If you have a book, movie, or podcast that helped you to navigate your faith deconstruction, subscribe to Call Me Vasti and share.