Saturday, October 18, 2014

Obedience or Free Will

After walking away from an antiquated patriarchal belief system, "Phoenix of Faith" author has to admit that some days are better than others. Being "born into" the family religion means that Esther knew no other way of living, other than being frightened into submission.

Let me explain. In 2000, I didn’t know how to stay in “The Truth™”[1] any longer, and I didn’t know how to leave, either. But, at some point the discomfort of staying “in” became too great and I felt compelled to leave, whether or not I knew how I would accomplish such a formidable task. Something inside me just “knew” I had to leave. Like my own soul was “persecuting” me, torturing me, until I could bear it no longer. Apparently, I set myself up to leave.

Ever since the Jehovah’s Witness religion gained legal recognition, they have been lobbying for more “religious freedom” and they use the laws of the land to gain footholds. However, freedoms gained do not seem to apply to the rank and file members. Such freedoms seem to impose yet more rules on members, in the name of God, with scriptures quoted to indicate necessity on the part of God. Members are conditioned to be accepting and compliant to any new rules imposed. They are told such freedom comes in the name of progress. The sea of heads bob up and down in agreement. If a vote is taken, no one dares to oppose.

Freedom seems to be a buzz word for religion only, but not necessarily for members. I say that because when a member decides to leave the faith, pressure is brought to bear on the “erring” member from within the organization. In the Jehovah’s Witness religion, anyone who stops the head-bobbing and starts to the head-shake instead, well, that member is “disciplined.”

What does it mean to be “disciplined” in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion? Formal discipline is administered by a group of elders known as a “Judicial Committee.” When an allegation of "serious sin" is made concerning a baptized member, a judicial committee is formed to determine guilt and possibly discipline. Such “lawless” deeds may be smoking, adultery, homosexuality, or even dating an “unbeliever” also known as a “worldly” person. Disfellowshipping, or shunning of a member, is the strongest form of discipline administered. Contact with disfellowshipped individuals is limited to direct family members living in the same home only. Even then, members in good standing are not allowed to talk about religious matters if their immediate family member is disfellowshipped.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that avoiding social and religious interaction with disfellowshipped individuals keeps the congregation free from “immoral” influences. The cruel practice of shunning, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, will in effect blackmail “erring” members to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their wrong, and take steps to return to the blessed fold. These “corrective” steps are determined by the Judicial Committee.

Yes, I did say “blackmail” and it’s the emotional kind. The practice of shunning is a major deterring factor that frightens other members from dissident behavior. Members who formally resign ("disassociate") are also shunned. Disfellowshipped and disassociated individuals are considered to "unrepentantly practice lawlessness.” The disfellowshipped/disassociated rebel loses privileges, such as going door-to-door (not a hard one to give up). The hardest punishment is to have your children shun you. I am not allowed to see or speak with my children any more, all because I began taking dance lessons and began dating a "worldly" man (a non-believer). Being shunned feels like cruel and unusual punishment.

Everyone, even Jehovah’s Witnesses have a choice to be healthy or to be sick. I believe that the religion is “sick” in that it has a “punishing” belief system. I believe that adults have a right to choose their own life path without being religiously punished.

Most people do not believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses “shun” because the religion publicly denies this practice.  Listen to this audio as a case in point. In actuality, if family members don’t shun the “disfellowshipped” one, the elders will use threats of disfellowshipping against the members in good standing, for their “disobedience” to the directives of the elders. Of course, no members wish to discuss this publicly, lest they be punished in the same abusive way as their loved one who left the fold.

So, the Jehovah’s Witnesses break up many families by disfellowshipping, especially relevant since nearly 2/3 of all members leave  according to this pew report. Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses. Unfortunately, the religious leaders refuse to accept responsibility for family breakups due to disfellowshipping.
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[1] Jehovah’s Witness doctrines are known to its members as "The Truth." According to them, they are the only true religion; all others lead to destruction—eventual death at the hands of Jehovah God the Almighty at the Biblical Armageddon.
 

Visit "Phoenix of Faith" to learn more about the author's memoir. Copyright © 2014.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Initiation into a Cult

Malidoma Patrice Somé, who authored “Of Water and the Spirit” says his village elders believed that it is utterly impossible to survive being caught between two conflicting belief systems.

I believe that clear statement to be a deep truth. I know that upon leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I had to purge their old beliefs with which I was raised or else I would self-destruct. I was compelled to replace those toxic ideas with something more conducive to life and freedom from religious bondage, if I wanted any measure of sanity.

If only secular people knew how sick and twisted religions can be. People need to be free, not enslaved by dogma, abuse, and outright lies.

We have all heard horrific stories about children of the first peoples being ripped away from the security and love of their family and village, and unceremoniously deposited into residential schools. It happened in North America, and now Malidoma Patrice Somé relates his experience in Upper Volta, Africa at the hands of the Jesuit priests. Perhaps child kidnapping at the mercy of religious fanatics is a world-wide phenomenon. It's like this: a child has its secure foundation nicely set in place, then along comes someone who thinks they are superior, takes the child, then transplants him/her into an extremely harsh alternate setting. There, the so-called “advanced” or “civilized” white people attempt to destroy his/her early foundational bonds and replace them with something utterly loathsome.

Well, there is another way the human child gets born and ruthlessly conditioned on this planet, and that is “from birth” without a normal foundation or sense of belonging — ever.

And that is my story.

I never had a village and I never had loving parents. I was born, arms flailing, and deposited directly into a dysfunctional “white colonialist family” who figured they were modern, civilized, and advanced. Yes, I learned to read and write. And yes, I learned about a terrifying deity called Jehovah who was a cruel, jealous, exacting, violent, and punishing God.

Along with my religious parents, my six brothers and I lived on a farm in the Interlake area of Manitoba, Canada, where we were virtually isolated, because we lived a half-mile away from the nearest neighbors who wanted nothing to do with us — all because of our weird religion. Our father was a violent man, and an alcoholic. My mother did nothing to protect us from his rages because she, too, was terrorized by him. His religion — mixed with his homebrew — made him a madman. He attempted to kill my brothers and make it appear like a “farm accident.” Thankfully, he failed. However, he did successfully murder my maternal grandfather, as described in my autobiography, “Phoenix of Faith.” Also, it is quite probable that he killed his own father, except I was too young to remember more of the details. But looking back, it certainly was possible.

When he prophesied my death at the age of sixteen, I fled forever from the family home.

I endeavored to transplant myself without knowing what “normal” was. I ran away to Winnipeg and hoped I might fit into my friend, Linda’s family. But, her family didn’t want me. After all, why would anyone want to take on our family problems?

It took Somé eleven days to find his way back home from the Jesuit school. Upon arriving home, he discovered he could no longer communicate with his family or the village because he had “lost” the language — which was literally beaten out of him — by Jesuit priests, no less. After fifteen years in the white religionists' hell hole, a future in his village appeared bleak.

Now, I fully relate to the challenges of the aforementioned author, albeit my circumstances were different. Not that I would diminish someone else’s misfortunes because validation is always appropriate. The author may have very well felt that upon his return he didn’t fit into either world. Now he was a man caught between two worlds — a less than comfortable realization. Here he was, now with two conflicting foundational belief systems — and here he was standing with unplanted feet. Was survival possible?

Fortunately, the tribal elders in Somé’s village decided over a period of a few months that he was worth ‘salvaging’ and decided by small majority that an initiation back into his community was in order.

Nice community, wouldn’t you agree? They decided he was worth scavenging?

Unlike the religious elders of my white family's religion, who quite figuratively “killed” me by use of a disfellowship order.[1] I am now considered “dead” in my children’s eyes. Dead and gone.

Now I dare to pose the question: White man's colonialist religion is "civilized"?
So I moved three provinces away from the religious community’s prying eyes, where no one seems to care about my past.
With the family’s death wish hanging over my head — and a belief system in which it was impossible to exist independently of the cult — well now you, dear reader, might know why it was imperative that I purge the family belief system.

That’s my journey to safely — a long, circuitous, confusing, and complex route. And I’m only part way there. I have my ups and downs. Some days go really well — and other days — well, I slide into a dark hole. Yet at a soul level, I have not given up on my right to live. Instead, I crawl out of my despair and seek the root source of the split belief within myself, in order to bring myself into balance.

I, too, believe as do the elders of the Dagara community that it is utterly impossible to co-exist caught between two conflicting belief systems.

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[1] “Of Water and the Spirit” by Malidoma Patrice Somé is available on Amazon.

[2] Members of Jehovah's Witnesses who leave are treated as dead via the execution of a shunning order. Their reason? “Satan's influence…will be to cause the other…members of the family to…join…his course…To do this would be disastrous, and so the faithful family member must recognize and conform to the disfellowship order.”—Watchtower 1952 Nov. 15, p. 703.
 

Visit "Phoenix of Faith" to learn more about the author's memoir. Copyright © 2014.