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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 an 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 watch 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 is a cruel and unusual punishment. Actually, it's emotional blackmail.

Everyone — even Jehovah’s Witnesses — has 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.

[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.

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