For The Disfellowshipped, The Bad Associates, And The Disowned: You Really Do Have A Choice

Whether you’re a former Jehovah’s Witness who has been disfellowshipped1 or an atheist who has been disowned from a deeply religious family, take heart. This doesn’t have to be a soul tearing rejection from the only family you will ever get. Far from it.

Here’s what you need to know: no matter what you’ve been told, you can choose your family. Only your relatives are determined by genes and blood. Family is different. Because family is about relationships. If your relatives are bad news…or reject you because they think you’re bad news…you can choose another family based on any criteria you like. Realizing this can put you back in charge of your own life. Even if that means striking out on your own and leaving your old, dysfunctional family behind.

Some people think that family is something you’re born with and, ultimately, that family is all you have. Oddly enough, many people with this mindset were taught to think this way by their parents or other relatives. Isn’t that weird? Sure increases the power they have in the relationship, doesn’t it? Especially if they seem free to toss you aside just because they don’t like some of your life choices. That’s a useful attitude for those with all the power in a relationship, but for those without…not so much.

It should go without saying that not all families are bad. Some really do know how to pull together and how to support each other unconditionally. But if your family is bad for you or has given you the cold shoulder because they don’t approve of who you are, then it’s time to change this “family is all” mindset.

But Family Is Family. I Can’t Just Change That!

Still not convinced? Let’s look at this another way.

There are many definitions for the word family. Good old Wiktionary has a few that are of interest to us today:

  1. group of people related by bloodmarriage, law, or custom.
  2. kintribe; also called extended family.
  3. A group of people who live together, or one that is similar to one that is related by blood, marriage, law, or custom, or members of one’s intimate social group.

Notice that these definitions mention blood. But not all of them do. There are other things that can bind two or more people into a family.

When two people get married, they begin to see their spouse as part of their family don’t they? Many Witnesses who were converted to “the truth” begin to see the Witnesses at their Kingdom Hall as family, too. Many aspiring Witnesses actually choose their non-relatives over their relatives because the bond of faith is stronger than the bond of blood in their mind. Ever wonder how many of those Witnesses had families that were less disapproving or toxic than those who shun ex-believers?2

If other people can change their sense of family in these situations, you can too. Believe it or not, some exxers were relieved when they were disfellowshipped. It was a quick fix for all the poison their relatives had dumped on them for not being good Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or it brought an end to Witnesses harassing them about their lack of faith3. That’s one of the reasons people choose to disassociate themselves from their former Kingdom Halls and, in effect, their Witness friends and relatives.

Of course, it doesn’t feel good to be rejected. That’s how rejection is supposed to feel. Some of us were disowned by families we felt very close to. But the hard reality is that families who disown us only loved us under a narrow set of conditions. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, those conditions are determined by an organization of men that they probably haven’t even met.

Face it. You can do better than that. All you have to do is choose.

Why Do Relatives Do This?

Some truly believe it’s about love. As in, “I love you and this is the only way I can coerce you into doing what’s right. (According to my definition of ‘right,’ at least.)” I’m not so sure they’re right in calling this love. At the very least, it sounds…well…let’s just call it an emotionally unhealthy way to look at love and leave it at that for now.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, fear can be high on the list of motivators. The Society encourages a culture of genuine fear and even paranoia among its Witnesses.4 Many Witnesses are truly afraid that strong ties with so-called “worldly people” (like a non-believing mate or relative) will corrupt them and lead them astray, ultimately costing them everlasting life. Especially if the former Witness chooses another religion. The irony of this position is, of course, hard to ignore. Nevertheless, fear remains a common motive for families to shun.

Even if they know you aren’t interested in converting them out of the Society’s borders, your family may recall lines in the Bible about bad associations and see it as a command not to associate with you at all. Disobeying the Bible, or the Society, could earn Jesus’ disapproval of their actions. They think Jesus sees everything, after all. He might not let them live in a paradise Earth if they disobey the Bible’s council or the Society’s orders. So, once again, fear drives them to shun.

A less sympathetic motivator is a good old-fashioned need to control others. Hey, control freaks can have kids too, ya know. Shunning is the perfect way for a relative to express disapproval and gain leverage, especially if their religion encourages it. If this is motivating your family to shun you, then you might be better off letting them in the long run. Why would I say this? Because the harder you reach out to the them, the harder they get to slap you away. In fact, reaching out to a controlling relative will only encourage them to shun you. To them, that just means its working.

As I mentioned earlier, relatives who shun for either of these reasons may claim that they are really doing so out of love. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that shunning is a kind of tough love that can win back a relative or friend who has lost their faith. It is, for the Society at least, a cudgel that is being swung at the victim for the victim’s own good. They may even liken it to an intervention, where family threatens to cut off all ties to an addict unless they agree to get help. Of course, being a drug addict does do clear and measurable harm to the addict and all their associations. But this isn’t necessarily true for someone who has a simple change of heart about their religious beliefs. My wife and I have different religious views, yet we have been married for well over a decade. We’re not dead as far as I know. And no one can prove that we’re dead in any spiritual sense. They merely have an opinion about it.

For me at least, the problem with anyone who claims to shun us out of love or loyalty to their god is that no one truly knows if their faith is true. What they do know is their own opinion of what is true and that you aren’t playing by their rule book. So however you size up their motives, shunning you is still a way to force you to comply with their wishes and to placate their own fears. The only thing they know they’ll gain (if it works) is a change in your behavior. The rest is, at best, wishful thinking. For all they know, God is real but he wants us to treat each other with acceptance and respect no matter what. Thus, shunning loved ones might be the very thing that makes their god angry. No one, and I mean no one, truly knows what God wants (or if he’s even out there, but I digress). They can quote scripture all they like, but how do they even know those scriptures were divinely inspired? Again, they have an opinion, but there isn’t much in the way of proof.5

Bottom line for me: even if love is a true motivator here, that doesn’t mean the person shunning you is correct in their reasoning or doing so for completely selfless reasons. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be the victim. If you can’t repair the right with your relatives, then you have to move on and rebuild for your own good. Let them worry about their own motives.

So What Now?

Let’s go back to the beginning of this article. Relatives are about genes and blood. Families are about relationships. Does a family that shuns you sound like a good, healthy relationship for you? If not, you can choose to find new relationships.

To do this, you have to get out. Literally. Sure, you can start with ex-Witness groups like JWD or ex-Christian groups online. But these are baby steps. You need to take a leap and get outside. You need real world friends, some of whom will, in time, become your new family.

Just remember that picking a family is like finding the right mate. Some people will seem qualified at first, then disappoint later. On the flip side, you can’t be too controlling or fearful in your own relationships if they’re to mean anything. Balance is necessary. A lack of balance can cause you to become judgmental or even to shun others without realizing it. You have to be the kind of family member you would want. This can be harder than it sounds if a bad family is all you know. Like everything, it takes time.

Take the time and make it work. And remember: the family you were born with doesn’t have to be the only one you will ever have.

Another link on a related topic:Biological Family v. Logical Family | Freethoughtify

  1. Disfellowshipping is like being excommunicated with a huge dose of shunning iced on top. None of your Witness relatives or friends will even speak to you once you’ve been disfellowshipped. Of course, many ex-Witnesses are shunned just because they’re seen as a bad associate. But that’s another story.
  2. I leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing or not. Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely say this is a sign that their congregations are wonderful places filled with loving kindness. That has not been my experience. But that’s a debate for another time or article.
  3. I’ve been tempted to write a letter of disassociation many times for this very reason.
  4. Yeah, I said it. If everything outside of “the truth” is bad–including the people, the institutions, and even ideas that are not born of the Society–then I think we can say that is true. Jehovah’s Witnesses see these things as good sense and as a protection. I see it as paranoia and fear mongering. You say tomato, I say…
  5. Please don’t start citing apologist ideas of “proof” about the Bible. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah's Witness turned secular humanist. He's a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.
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9 Responses to For The Disfellowshipped, The Bad Associates, And The Disowned: You Really Do Have A Choice

  1. Cynthia says:

    Ex-jw here & an atheist for about 12yrs. I find it hard to fathom that I ever even “believed” there is or was a god. Hell, there’s books about the boogie man, santa clause…we’ve all been told about the tooth fairy growing up but were all know none of that is true. Why would I ever believe yet another book written by men about a god when clearly there is no proof that this book is true also? And you’re right, we make our own families. They don’t have to be blood. My (blood) brother still deeply entrenched into the so- called “truth” is only my brother because we have the same birth parents. He lives 15 miles away and I haven’t seen or heard from him for almost 2 yrs since our mother passed. He wasn’t there for her (she left the JW’s yrs ago), is not there for me or my son and as far as I’m concerned he’s just someone I used to know that’s caught up in the cult. And that is NOT family.

  2. Josephine says:

    Thank you once again!! 4 years away from “the truth” and still gun shy aboot being around people. We moved 1200 miles away from everyone we know, so that helped. What I find amusing is, my hubs was a born and bred JW and he is moving on just fine. While I, an non-organic JW, am having the trouble. Better still, it’s his family doing the shunning!!! I come from a “worldly” family. LOL

    Anyway, thank you again for what you do.

  3. Jan Reier says:

    I’m sorry to hear that your family has shunned you. I too have been shunned, as an ex JW, my wife divorced me when I discovered what lying false prophets the Watchtower really is. I know you hurt, its been 20 years since I left and my life is a wreck still, I find it incredibly hard to get over never talking to my daughter, mother, brothers and sisters. What I don’t get is, how can you be an athiest? If you see a birdhouse, you must know someone made it, do you think the birdhouse made itself? How much more complex is this universe, the stars, the earth, life, think about it, where did life come from? If evolution is true. then why aren’t there cavemen today? Shouldn’t everything still be in a state of evolution? There is no God, so shouts the fool! I know you were hurt, the Watchtower Society is just one of the false prophets Jesus warned us about in Matt. 7:15. Don’t give up on God, there is not another hope and in case you haven’t heard, hell is real, I don’t care what the false prophets teach, they are habitual liars. Please consider how simple a birdhouse is and yet, even you must agree it has a maker, can the universe that exists with awesome laws and design just happen? Don’t be a fool that says there is no God. Seek him while you still can. I will pray for you and my ex family.

    • Jan…oh boy. There’s a lot of foot-in-mouth kinda stuff going on with this post. I must warn you before you go any further that I question your motives. Please don’t expect me to be especially nice here because you have already earned a fair amount of disdain. The sad thing is that many evangelists are strangely oblivious to the effect their efforts…and their conduct…has on those they try to convert. I am going to try to explain some of the problems now. Some of what you’re about to read is simply my impatience with people like yourself. Perhaps my reasons will become clear as you read along.

      First, no, my family has not shunned me. I have no blood relatives who are JWs. I was never disfellowshipped. Perhaps, in your over-eagerness to proselytize, you didn’t actually bother to read my article or to note anything about my history. If you had, you would probably have noticed that I don’t appreciate being preached at to help others further their own personal goals. If you had bothered to get the details straight, it would have been easier to convince me that you had good intentions. But you blew it. Next time, please try harder to respect the people you are trying to convert instead of simply seeing them as targets.

      Secondly, I have an army of local JWs, Mormons, Pentecostals, and even Gideons where I live who are (frankly) just as bad at converting others as you are. Note that I try to respect the feelings of religious believers who post here, but as you are beginning to realize, my tolerance for condescending proselytizers is quite low. I hope my response will encourage you to think before you try to convert anyone else. Believe it or not, I am trying to help you as much as I am guilty of getting a few things off my chest with this response.

      Thirdly, your post was more offensive than it was encouraging. Mostly, this just made me sad. This is why I’m being so candid with you instead of trying to mellow what I say with weasel words and all that. You see, it was you who kicked open the door with comments like, “There is no God, so shouts the fool!” and “Don’t give up on God, there is not another hope and in case you haven’t heard, hell is real, I don’t care what the false prophets teach, they are habitual liars.” Either you are so clueless that you have no idea how offensive these comments are, or you simply don’t care because you want to put the beat down on somebody and you thought I was that somebody. Way to reach out, BTW. If you want to lord it over someone, I’m sure you have a neighbor you can torment with all the fear mongering and insults. And no, I don’t care if the Bible says nonbelievers are fools. I’m blaming you for your comments because you made them. Don’t try to hide behind excuses. It will only make it worse.

      Fourthly, I find it unlikely that you really are concerned about the hardships I’ve experienced due to being shunned by my family. Not that they have shunned me, but let’s pretend you got it right just for fun. Jan, like 98% of the evangelists I have met throughout my life, you seem more interested in the satisfaction that comes from putting others in their place, knowing that Jesus is watching and is very proud of you, and/or the general euphoria that most evangelists feel when they think they’ve done something that will earn them a place in paradise, than you actually are in making me a convert for my own good. Not that such an assumption isn’t condescending and annoying in and of itself, but I digress. It should be obvious that you have done more to push me away from your goal than to draw me in. And I seriously doubt I’m the last person who’s reacted this way to your attitude and assumptions. Please consider this: taking my comments to heart will not only help you become a better evangelist, a better servant of Jesus, and a better person, it will also make you more bearable to your neighbors and co-workers I’m sure. That is demonstrable, so my efforts can actually make the world a slightly better place. The idea that making me a Christian will improve anything is not demonstrable. Who is doing more good here?

      Finally, please learn something about atheism, atheists, and the arguments you put forth before going another round with any nonbeliever. Again, you come off like a bad stereotype for evangelists everywhere. You are so sure, but so clueless. Jan, you can’t pigeonhole an entire group of people into a convenient stereotype and just run with it instead of taking the time to learn anything about your intended victim. It’s easier and quicker, yes, but it’s also lazy and ineffective. It gets you into trouble, like it did with me today. It offends, even unintentionally. It makes you look like “the fool” instead of me, the atheist. And the arguments you pulled out…dude, I’m sorry, but they suck. They have been shot down a zillion times. You will have to actually take the time to look up what I mean, because I’m not going to tell you. And frankly, you should have taken the time to do this already. If you care about making converts, then you should feel motivated to actually look them up TODAY. There are blogs, videos, and podcasts that are available for free all over the web that explain why they don’t work. Of course, if all you really care about is telling people what they should do with their lives and getting that imaginary shoulder-pat from Jesus for your efforts, I’m sure you won’t bother.

      But Jesus is watching. Will he be impressed, or will he shake his head with disappointment at you?

      Jan, in summary, I realize that I’m not being terribly nice to you. But you weren’t nice to me. And this is not a place for you to score points with Jesus. This post was for XJWs who are having a bad time of it and you took that and turned it into a chance to push your agenda. I don’t appreciate that. The theme for today: please think before you convert.

      I have attempted to make you aware of why many people dislike evangelists so you can begin to improve and even improve other proselytizers you may know. That, at least, is a positive. And I spent a lot more time and effort on it than you did your comment. It wasn’t my only motive here, I admit. But I’m hoping you’ll take some of it to heart and, as a consequence, will be less clueless and offensive in the future. If you come back with a respectful attitude, I will return that attitude. Just remember: neither I nor my readers are here for you to earn your way into Heaven at our expense.

      Not everyone sees the world as you do. Try to be more open about that and you’ll be more compassionate. Right now–and I’m sorry for saying this–but I think it’s mostly about you and what you need. Again, that makes me sad. 🙁

      Have a better one, Jan. Peace.

  4. Gina Melton says:

    Believe as you wish, but all Christianity and thoroughly reading the Bible ever did for me was make me into a non Deist Buddhist. Namaste.

  5. Tommy Mac says:

    @ Jan:

    Have to back up AG here. Not that you will ever probably return to this page to read the follow up comments; I have the feeling you’re more than happy with your “Hit & Run” form of evangelism.

    1st: The bird house analogy: one of those tired and ever so weak comparisons that borders on brain dead.

    Look, science has proved that the Earth is millions of years old, the universe billions…and yet proponents of The Bible wish us to believe it was done in six literal days, or six figurative days of 1000 years each, depending on which denomination you subscribe to.

    The question then becomes: why would God give us the brains to discover a science that DISPROVES what He had written in His Holy Book?

    Consider the speed of light, and try and understand that there are stars we can see that are projecting light BILLIONS of years older than any religion claims the universe actually IS…think about that, and leave your birdhouse story for Sunday School kids, k?

    then there’s your “Hell is real” comment.

    I find it mind boggling in the extreme that anyone can simultaneously believe in a God Of Eternal Love and and the concept of Eternal Damnation. It’s frankly one of the FEW things I thought the JW’s got right ( yes I am a former Dub) in that they did not teach the belief in Hell, only death as “eternal sleep.”

    Examine your God…really LOOK at Him. Do you not find it hypocritical in any way that He would send His Son to supposedly DIE for the sins of all Mankind and yet still condemn us to HELL for an eternity of suffering if we either do not believe in Him or follow the wrong religion???

    and for the record: threatening an atheist with Hell is like threatening to hit a boxer with a wet spaghetti noodle…we’re not exactly gonna shake in our heathen booties, sorry.

    Do us all a favor: Turn off your computer, go crawl in a corner somewhere and spend your free time praying for our souls…and shut the f**k up.

  6. Pingback: Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses. | Michigan Skeptics Association

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