Hi everyone. Some of you might already know me as the Atheist Geek or as Isaac J. Harris. I'm on JWD and JWR sometimes.
I was not raised in their truth. My parents were never very religious, though many of us skeptics would consider my mother to be superstitious. She believed in gods and especially ghosts, she just didn't go to church. My parents were divorced by the time I was 12.
At 17, I was worried about what I was going to do with myself. I was living with my father and stepmother and wanted to get far away from them. I had a few friends in school who were JWs, and I think the fact that their religion was different from most appealed to me. I think, like a lot of people who join small, insular religious groups, that I wanted to try something different from what I had tried before. I wanted a new outlook. A new life.
I went to my first meeting a week before my 18th birthday. I ran into an elder there who offered to study with me. He was a blow-hard and a control freak, as I would soon learn. But he had a good sense of humor, which he used to charm people into a false sense of safety. A girl from my class recognized me and walked up to us while we were talking. He asked why she was hanging around. He lost it when she said she knew me and demanded to know what was going on around here. Instantly, the assumption was that I was only there to get into her pants. It was an assumption that would stick for years to come.
Zippity doo da.
I didn't have any family in their truth. So I was completely at the mercy of the elders. Especially this guy who really just wanted to keep me away from that girl. All of them had their own set of expectations and demands. So my early experiences at the KH were a mix of elated surprise--"Wow, you're so young to come here against your parent's wishes. Good for you!"--to disgust and outrage because I didn't own a suit, had long hair, didn't mark my literature properly, and so on. But I felt like I was part of something. I think that played a big part in why I kept coming back. Until the indoctrination kicked in, at least.
All in all, I found the experience miserable and oppressive. I made some friends who tried to stand up for me when the elders got too crazy. They went to the CO about the elder who was studying with me. He had treated me like he did everyone: a bully. The CO sided with the elders and I was seen as a troublemaker after that. Two of the elders were actually sitting behind me at the next meeting and were talking about it openly. Well, at least I was finally allowed to study with someone else.
I finally became an unbaptized publisher a year or so after my first meeting, then baptized about 6 months after that. The elders who approved me for baptism warned me against a list of distant congregations which were too...you know...liberal. (Ick, right?) Yeah, they didn't even make brothers at the podium wear a matching jacket and pants! Shocking, no? Part of me longed to drive to those KHs, but they were an hour or so away. Later, I was forbidden from leaving our congregation because so many others had done it and the elders were tired of looking bad. So darn.
Of course, if I had, I might still be a JW to this day. Yeah. Ick.
I got married after 4 or 5 years. By this time, I was really having serious doubts about everything. Going to the KH didn't feel good anymore. Neither did field service. I used to get a charge out of these things. You know, the idea that you're doing what Jehovah wanted instead of something you wanted. The sacrifice made me feel like I was getting a spiritual pat on the back. Or something. But it had stopped working, and I kept trying to get it back, all while I had never been so miserable in all my life. Could there be a connection between "the truth" and my unhappiness? The literature told me that if I was dissatisfied with "the truth," it was my fault. So naaaaaah.
It wasn't until a year after I'd gotten married that I began to think this might be a line of crap. It was, after all, just their opinion. Anyone could say something like that, especially someone that didn't want to be questioned. Heck, anyone could say they had "the truth." What do they really know, when you think about it? I mean, they've never been to Heaven or gotten a fax from God. Heck, he doesn't even send them postcards. Maybe Armageddon isn't real. Or maybe it is, but it's not JWs who will survive it. Then I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't love a god who would support an organization that's consumed by its own hubris. Or maybe this isn't the religion Jehovah had really chosen. Maybe they're all wrong."
I remember going through all this in my head while driving home from one of my jobs that night. I decided then and there that I needed a break. I stopped going to the KH to clear my head and think. My feelings of oppression, my dedication to Jehovah, and my fear that I was just acting selfishly clashed in my skull. I wanted to sort it all out and I couldn't do that while the elders and magazines were telling me to "just obey or else." When I told my wife about this, she cried. But it was something I had to do.
For the first couple of weeks, things were pretty quiet. No elders, no JWs. Good times.
Then the dam burst. I was getting 50+ phone calls a day from JWs I barely knew! I finally tossed out my answering machine because I got sick of hearing them complain about my never calling them back. In-laws were dropping by to "straighten me out," too. Elders who never did anything but tell me to comb my hair suddenly took an interest. JWs were showing up at both my jobs to preach at me. I couldn't even get away from them at the grocery store!Every time I went into town, I ended up having a very public confrontation--with an audience of bystanders, no less. And I had nothing to throw back at my attackers because I didn't really know where I stood.
They kept this pace up for weeks. It didn't completely drop off for a couple of years. And all the while, I wanted--more and more--to have something to say back. The assumptions and accusations and obvious attempts to shame me were too much for me to just stand there and take it. So, thanks to their urging, I began doing research and considering the criticisms of others. By the time I began to formulate a cohesive view of the Society, JWs, and my experiences, their efforts had dropped off to merely popping by every once in a while to keep their service time going. I only lived a few miles from the KH, so I was a convenient way to keep their timepieces running. (Hurray for me. Or in the words of Ray Romano, "Thaaaaat's right.")
Still, there would be resurgences from time to time. Usually around the time of a traveling overseer visit or a convention. You know, when they're jazzed on holy spirit and self righteous condescension. These visits continued to egg me on in my research, which would stop and start. After about 10 years, I began doing a line by line investigation of the Creation Book. This finally snapped any faith I still had in their truth to bits. The book was garbage. But researching it made me realize that I didn't really believe in any of this religion stuff any more. I got sidetracked on learning more about atheism and realized that I was an atheist. Who knew? It felt good.
Here's the funny thing. If they had left me alone, I might have gone back to the KH. Instead, their constant harassment pushed me away. ALL THE WAY AWAY. For that, I must thank them. Maybe I'll send'em a card.
Oh, and that girl the elder was trying to protect...I married her. Which means we...you know...do it. So nice job keeping me out of her pants, genius. Thaaaat's right.
If you want to look me up, I run www.atheistgeeknews.com, have written XJW articles on Austin Cline's Agnosticism/Atheism site at About.com and whatnot. I'm also on Google+ as Isaac Harris and Facebook as Isaac J. Harris.