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Becoming Apostate

Updated: Jun 20

As a Witness, was there any worse epithet that could be hurled at you than, “Apostate?”

“Brother or Sister Informed have turned apostate!” Such a proclamation was usually made in hushed tones. And with good reason because Witnesses are taught to treat a dissenter as if s/he is Lucifer himself:

Treat them as the poison they are! Never read them, reply to them, or repeat them. Be quick to detect information that is designed to raise doubts about Jehovah and his organization​—and reject it! Life and Ministry Meeting Workbook  |  May–June 2023

Know what I was never taught as a Witness? What exactly makes someone an apostate? Do you automatically become a heretic the moment that you think about the pesky questions that are never answered in any of the “approved” literature, questions such as:

·     What’s with the new Governing Body members?

·     Who nominated/voted for them?

·     Was the job posted internally, and if so, did the posting indicate that only male, white Americans need apply?

Perhaps there is a 10-point apostasy scale. Maybe an Apostasy rating of 1 goes to the member that points out a typo in a Watchtower, while a member who reads the pleadings from the latest JW courtroom loss for protecting a child sex abuser gets an Apostasy 5 or 6. 

Merriam Webster defines an apostate as one who defects from or abandons a previous loyalty or religion. That’s a bit ironic. Think about it: Witnesses devote countless hours to proselytizing to active members of other faiths. If those individuals leave their traditional Protestant, Catholic, or other religions to convert to Jehovah’s Witnesses, aren’t the new recruits, by definition, apostates? Wouldn’t that make the majority of converted Witnesses apostates?

However, Witnesses rarely recognize the irony or inconsistencies in their organization’s positions. The BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional Control) Model of Authoritarian Control is so deep-rooted that is difficult to reach a PIMI with commonsense. Therefore, when our family members choose to speak to us at all, the conversation typically follows a predictable loop:

 “Why won’t you return to the Hall/Jehovah/the Truth?”

“Because my research has convinced me that JWs do not teach the truth. You can read this for yourself in the attached article/ study/ video that describes the Witnesses’ history of protecting sexual predators, the misogyny in their dogma, the inconsistencies in their ever-shifting doctrine, and the utter lack of transparency about how/why doctrine is modified.”

“Why would you give that to me? We taught you (JW doctrine) from infancy; you dedicated your life to Jehovah and got baptized – how could you become (shocked pause) an apostate?”

It’s difficult to reason with people who have been indoctrinated to eschew independent thought and who would not recognize peer-reviewed sources if said sources were imprinted on their foreheads. Perhaps the reasoning most likely to penetrate the Witness’ superstition about apostasy is the rhetoric employed in the old Reasoning from the Scriptures publication. Since the book bag staple has probably been discarded as “old light” by now, the Reasoning book was a little brown book of scripts that we were taught to use whenever someone asked us a difficult question in field service. There were hundreds of questions or analogies that we were trained to read or recite to convince annoyed householders that our unsolicited appearance on their doorstep should be the first step in their conversion. Could we flip a Reasoning book script to defuse a Witness’ fear of investigating her own religion?

“Mom, what if you were witnessing to a Catholic about recognizing false religion, and she told you that she could not read a Watchtower because she was only allowed to read the Catholic Bible and Catholic literature -wouldn’t you try to help her to understand that the Catholic priests who controlled her access to information had something to hide?

Isn’t it just as unusual that Witnesses are discouraged from examining any info about their religion that has not been written or vetted by Witness leaders? In fact, weren’t the ancient Bereans commended for thoroughly investigating their beliefs and proving that what they were being taught was true?” (Obligatory Biblical cite: Acts 17:11)

There is also the question of whether folks that were born to devout Witness parents can ever be apostates? Hear me out: We born-ins were indoctrinated from infancy to accept our parents’ belief system. The only choice that we had was Hobson’s at best: Either we could accept that our parents’ controlling, restrictive religion was right and good and true; Or, we could dissent and face ostracization from family and the only associates that we were allowed to cultivate. Dedication and baptism or reproach and friendlessness (if not actual homelessness). Is there any wonder that so many of us were baptized before we could sign a lease or apply for a marriage certificate?

And that raises the question: Can you reject a belief system that you only adopted under duress?

Fortunately, kids raised in Witness families today have more opportunities to deprogram earlier than we 20th century kids did. Unfiltered information is just a Wi-Fi connection and a few keystrokes away. That makes it more difficult to trap modern kids in the type of religious echo chamber that entrapped us.

And once one reads Crisis of Conscience or listens to testimony given at the Australian Royal Commission, or learns about the misrepresentations and outright lies about the JW organizational structure that Witness leaders assert in child sexual abuse cases, it’s impossible to Unsee, Unknow, or Unhear it.

And just like that, another apostate is born.

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Jun 18

I really love what you write about the JW’s, I’m kind of born in as I was about 3 when they leached onto my mother who was lonely and gullible, it’s heartbreaking that I can’t have a phone conversation without her trying to preach, and I’m now 54 years old. She also has my dad brainwashed, I’m the apostate daughter! Yup ok 👌 xx


Jun 18

This article was so insightful! I too was born into the religion and have been inactive (hallelujah) 30 years. I was recently labeled apostate by a friend I’ve known since childhood for not answering the question “do you belue it’s the truth”? SMDH! I look forward to more articles from you!


St. Lewis
St. Lewis
Jun 18

Miriam, this is an accurate depiction of what we born-ins went through. It’s almost amusing how, no matter where you live, conversations with family members follow the exact pattern you described. Over my years of being disfellowshipped, I’ve realized that trying to reason with someone deeply entrenched in the JW organization is entirely futile. I had never considered that field service essentially aimed to create as many apostates as possible, making the majority of the organization apostates today. Once again, great work—I thoroughly enjoyed your read and the perspectives you offered.


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