By now, most ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses (or Exxers) have noticed the Watchtower Society’s talent for hyperbole. The Society often depicts “worldly people” as bad associates who choose to dwell in a Satanic world of robbery, lies, and murder. While Jehovah’s Witnesses are portrayed as good, steadfast, and honest to a fault, always struggling to save an unappreciative world from itself. Rarely does the Society show us the middle ground where both sides actually dwell. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses really do take this point of view seriously. They may even start to wonder about the sort of person who would leave the Watchtower Society’s perfect world for the one that’s just outside their Kingdom Halls. In my experience, their conclusions about Exxers aren’t very pretty. To many Jehovah’s Witnesses, we’re all just a bunch of miserable apostates out to ruin their chance for eternal life in a paradise Earth. Are the Witnesses right about us? Even more importantly, are we doing more to prove them right than prove them wrong?
How To Be A Good Ex-Jehovah’s Witness
By “good” ex-Jehovah’s Witness, I’m talking about an Exxer who’s happy and who disproves the Society’s stereotypes about those who’ve left their Kingdom Halls. Basically, Jehovah’s Witnesses want to see an Exxer who’s sad, lonely, and miserable. They want to see someone who reaffirms their own belief that life outside the Society isn’t worth living and that the sacrifices Witnesses are making for the organization are worthwhile. So a good Exxer is happy, well adjusted, and makes Witnesses work overtime to find that higher ground they were hoping for.
Here are five ways that ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses can prove that life outside the Watchtower Society can be better than it ever was inside.
1. Good Exxers aren’t angry or bitter
Many Exxers are angry when they first leave the organization. Some are especially angry because they were booted out (disfellowshipped) and now their family won’t speak to them. This is completely understandable and they have a right to be angry. It’s also a waste of time and energy.
The sooner you work through being angry, the sooner you can start to move on. The Society took a lot of your time and energy when you were a card carrying member. If you’re angry and looking for a way to strike back, then you’re still wasting a lot of time and energy on the Society! Why not put it to good use by investing it in a better life for yourself instead of wasting it on the organization? That bitterness will weigh you down. Just let it go, man.
2. Good Exxers don’t lash out blindly at the Society or Jehovah’s Witnesses
You can find a lot of videos on YouTube of people harassing Bethelites or other Witnesses at conventions. You can also find web sites that publish every available conspiracy theory or tidbit of bad press involving Jehovah’s Witnesses to smear their reputation. This sort of Society-bashing does two things. First, it gets devoured by angry Exxers (see item #1 above) looking for more to be angry about. That’s not good. Second, it actually helps the very organization these people are trying to hurt.
Protesters, rumor mongers, and attack hounds who go after the Society only make it seem sympathetic. They also encourage curiosity where none existed, leading people to wonder what all the fuss is about. This earns the Society a little free press and makes Exxers look bad generally. By acting crazy, we’re showing Jehovah’s Witnesses that we really are as dangerous and unpredictable as the Society claims. What’s the good in that?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the Society (I do it all the time) but we should do so based on facts and reason and avoid rumors or exaggeration. Non-Witnesses won’t listen to us if we seem crazier than the Society’s representatives, and neither will any Witness friends or family. This sort of behavior will only drive them deeper into the organization’s embrace and further away from us.
3. Good Exxers stand up to Jehovah’s Witnesses who bully them (and they do it well)
You don’t have to beat
the crap out of them…
though it sure would feel
I’ve written a lot about how Exxers can defend themselves from Witnesses who aggressively try to convert or bully us. This can be especially hard to deal with when it’s an overbearing mother or father figure we respect. Even worse, the Witness’s bad behavior can cause us to behave just as badly in return. As I’ve said many times before, the trick to these confrontations is simple: it isn’t about convincing them you’re right. You cannot and will never convince them of that. So when Mom or Elder Scowls-A-Lot bangs on your front door, don’t bother with this approach because you’ll lose. Whether they know they’re doing it or not, they really love to shame us when we lose. Don’t do that to yourself.
Instead, just stand up for your point of view and don’t let them tell you what you’re thinking. You’re the authority on that. Don’t lose your cool. Let them get upset if they want–and they might. It’s frustrating when we refuse to cower before them like the Society’s script says we should. But if you’re patient and always take the high road, then you’ll come out of these interventions just fine. That’s really all you have to do.
Ultimately, you will only get one positive thing from these confrontations: the opportunity to assert your right to make up your own damn mind in the face of their opposition. An hour or so of field service should be the only positive you allow them to have in return. Never let them shame you, stomp on you, or use you to feel better about themselves. Otherwise, you’re only encouraging their bad behavior at your expense. Remember, you’re never wrong just because they or the Watchtower Society say you are. Make sure they know it too.
4. Good Exxers help and support other Exxers
The flip side of #2 (Don’t lash out blindly at the Society) is good old #4. If you want to do something proactive and positive with your experiences as a former Jehovah’s Witnesses, then help other Exxers get on with their lives. Or, depending on where you are in your recovery, maybe they can help you get on with yours. It sure beats fanning the flames of anger in others. You can do this from the chair you’re sitting in. Just go to any one of the many Ex-Witness forums online. I highly recommend Moxie’s new site. There’s also good old JWD. There are plenty of others. I’ve even tossed around the idea of creating a forum here at Atheist Geek News … some day.
5. Good Exxers aren’t in a rush to fill the void
I can’t tell you how many former Jehovah’s Witnesses I’ve met who’ve left the Society only to wind up in another, similar group. Seriously … why jump from one authoritarian sect only to land in another? Please, at the very least, look before you leap. Don’t scramble to find another hard core religion three months after your last meeting at the Kingdom Hall. Take time to process it all. In my view, you shouldn’t seriously consider another religion until you’ve broken down your experiences with the Society and figured out the all important question: how exactly did it go wrong?
Could you explain your motives and reasoning for leaving the Society to another person so they could fully understand it? If not, then you probably don’t understand it as well as you think. Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t just following a belief system, it’s a way of life and a world view wrapped up in single package. One that you’ve just lost. You need time to build your own way of life and to figure out who you are without the organization leading you by nose. This will take time to figure out. Probably years.
Patience is a virtue, so take your time. Heck, many of us never chose another religion (I am the Atheist Geek, after all) and we’re quite happy about it. I know I am. But that one’s up to you.