When one of Jehovah’s Witnesses decides to “come out” as a nonbeliever to members of his family, he knows that they will cut him off for good. Yet many ex-Witnesses come out anyway because they can’t stand living a lie. (For the record, I really do think that coming out is almost always better than fading in the long run.) Some ex-Witnesses make serious mistakes when revealing their lack of faith in the Society to their families, mistakes that create needless complications for everyone involved. I have some tips on how these can be avoided below.
Note, in this case, I’m referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses who are “nonbelievers” because they don’t believe in the Society’s truth anymore. Nonbelieving ex-Witnesses may still believe in God or favor another religion, so they aren’t necessarily atheists as I’m using the word here.
So what’s the best way to come out as a nonbeliever to your relatives? And why should you consider coming out instead of fading?
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.
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. ↩
Religions have spent eons honing defenses that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.