Flying Under the Radar, Part 5 (Conclusion)

On growing up JW

JW children are not allowed to:  participate in school holiday events; salute the flag; sing patriotic or holiday songs; participate in patriotic or holiday events; maintain friendships with classmates outside of school (except for the purpose of conversion).  Blushing near purple with embarrassment, I regularly brought notes to my teachers from my mother, which read:  “Please excuse my daughter from [fill in the event] because it’s against our religion.”   (Forget after school activities for the same reason:  My mother would not let me join the swim team because “bad associations spoil useful habits” and “good Christians aren’t competitive.”)

JW children view their classmates as part of the “World” and thus facing death at Armageddon.  That gives JW children a sort of self-righteousness (I can’t fault that – they need SOMETHING to help them feel good, outcasts that they are), because, unlike their classmates, JW children are secure in the knowledge that they both know and are part of the Truth.  There was no other JW child in my elementary school, one other in middle school and but a handful in high school.  It was an alienating existence.

Not surprisingly, going to college is heavily and actively discouraged.  Again, “bad associations spoil useful habits” was frequently quoted as a warning.  Also, JWs preach (and have been preaching for over 100 years now) that “this system of things” will soon be gone so why would you want to waste time in college?  Besides, you’d learn “bad things” that could put you in the position of questioning the Truth (apostasy and an automatic disfellowshipping offense!).

Having spent many years in the ivory tower – both as a student and a professor – I recognize that those “bad things” were critical thinking and reasoning skills, empirical research, history, ancient languages, philosophy and science.  (Oh, and maybe temptation with the Worldly opposite sex.)

The literacy rate required to read and comprehend JW literature reflects not just the lack of education of JWs from an institutional standpoint but, I suggest, also reflects the lack of education of those they most successfully convert.  I once read JW literature described as “Where’s Waldo” but with words.  That descriptive sentence was beautiful in its simplicity and accuracy.

If a JW child likes education in general and natural science in particular, s/he is in for a world of hurt.  Science is a difficult concept for JWs.  Scientific discoveries, facts or theories that go against JW doctrine are, simply, WRONG.  This makes formal education very problematic.  For example:

  • JWs believe that god created the heavens and earth in 7 days but that each of those days was 1,000 years.  Thus, per JW doctrine, no human (including early humans), can be older than 7,000 years.  Any scientific evidence to the contrary is wrong.  (Now try getting through school defending that belief!)
  • JWs don’t believe in the Ice Age.  They believe it was the flood of Noah’s day that made all sorts of geographic changes.
  • Ahh, you may ask, what was the origin of all that water that caused a world-wide flood?  JWs believe that after creation, leftover water remained surrounding the earth (somewhere up in space), sort of like a water-filled tubular balloon encircling the earth.  According to JWs, before the flood of Noah’s day, people could only dimly make out the stars.   JWs believe that god punctured that water balloon to release the water that caused the flood.

No surprise to any of us former JWs (or, for that matter, any person who ever tried to engage a JW in a rational, logical, empirically or philosophically sound discussion), that the Pew Research Center’s sociological comparative analysis of religions in the US found that JWs ranked highest in statistics for getting no farther than high school graduation and the lowest for having earned a graduate degree.

It is a lonely life for a child, especially one like me who defied her mother and secretly read non-JW literature voraciously, JW literature reluctantly and asked lots of questions.  If a JW doctrine made no sense, I would push for more clarity.  Then I would be warned that to question the Society was to “question God’s Holy Spirit” which was apostasy and I could be disfellowshipped.  (As you can see, intellectual inquiry is highly discouraged.)

But my questions at school were not just welcomed but encouraged!  I was one of those students teachers love to have in class.  When my high school advisor and teachers learned I was not taking the classes in the college track, they were stunned.  When they asked me about my college plans, I gave (eyes downcast, face flushed) my prepared answer:  “I’m going to be a missionary.”  One determined (and wonderful!) English teacher gently replied that missionaries would benefit by a college education.  Focused on the ground beneath my feet, my eyes filled with tears and she surely saw a tear splat onto the toe of my shoe as she changed the topic of conversation.  But, concerned educator that she was, she telephoned my mother to talk about my education.  (That did not work out well.)

Did you ever see Brian DiPalma’s Carrie or read the book of the same name by Stephen King?  I was Carrie (though without the ability to move things with my mind).   By high school I floated through the halls like a wraith, hoping not to get anyone’s attention; I tried not to ask too many questions in class as I didn’t want anyone noticing me.  As soon as I turned 16, my mother made me take an “intense” class schedule allowing me to finish high school a semester early and so I could start pioneering (see previous post) by hitting the pavement with the Watchtower and Awake as soon as my last class ended (around noon).  My  mother woke me at 4 a.m. or so to do my homework, my first class started at 7, my class ended by 1 p.m. – a hellish schedule that allowed me several hours of door-to-door time before I had to dash home and bolt down dinner before running to that evening’s meeting at the Kingdom Hall.

Leaving JWs Behind

While adults can geographically remove themselves from their JW upbringing, the scars and effects linger.  Some ex-JWs cannot bear the shunning they experience from their friends and families so return to being a JW.  Some ex-JWs find peace through other religions or spiritual paths.  (The closest I am to a spiritual path is yoga practice.)  To emotionally heal, most ex-JWs find the help and guidance of a professional therapist of critical importance.  (I was one of those.)   I started to find my peace when I went back to school.  I couldn’t do that until my daughter was older, so I was 30 when I finally started college.  I ultimately earned a PhD and became a professor.

Discussions in English on anything remotely religious discomfit me; in Norwegian I am fine.  (My mother pounded us with JW doctrine in English; in Norway my grandmother’s presence always weakened my mother’s ability to force JW doctrine on us.)  I can sit through a religious event only if the services are in Norwegian (or any other language).  I don’t celebrate Christmas; it has no meaning for me, both as an ex-JW and because I’m not Christian.  While I have never uttered (or written, for that matter), the words “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter,” I will say that in Norwegian.

But because the formative years of my life were spent in a weird and strictly dichotomized existence – the World vs. the Truth – I have never felt part of anything larger than my being part of my family and loved ones.  The one exception:  The world of fiber art!

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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43 Responses to Flying Under the Radar, Part 5 (Conclusion)

  1. I think most religions are a combination of spirituality and dogma – and some are much more onerous than others. In the US, religious zealots must care not to go too far and violate federal and state laws about religious discrimination or harassment in the work place.

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  2. This series of posts, revealing the JW portion of your life, has been very interesting to read. I once had a boss who was a JW. He was one of the more intense people I’ve ever met and always wanted to talk about Bible stuff with me, since I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Now looking back, your story helps me make sense of him. It’s never good when people use religion to control other people. I’m so glad to know your life is free from all their man-made rules! 🙂 ❤ ❤

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  3. jenyjenny says:

    Yes, I’ve bought fabric from Hawthorne, very fast service! But haven’t bought any of Lotta Jansdotter’s designs before. It looks luscious!

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  4. Thanks! I just checked the website for which you sent me the link. What fun fabric! Have you used any of their products? >

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  5. No, she’s not but she doesn’t attend meetings very often, she changed her mind about having a relationship with me a few years ago when she was dianosed with cancer and just ignores the rule about relationships with disfellowshipped family members – fine by me! It helps that she is no longer married to my Dad…

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  6. Oh yes indeed. My Norwegian grandmother (mormor), is in my thoughts every day. How could she not be as my house is filled with her fiber art work! 🙂

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  7. Yes, that’s something I believe to – that life is a journey. It is important to leave oneself open to new ideas and grow as you do so. (Is your mom now disfellowshipped to – is that how you can have a relationship with her now?)

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  8. You’re so sweet – and thank you for reading! Yes, I found a lot of happiness and content in my life. Working with fiber has always been an outlet – whether I needed to feel grounded, release anxiety, or just for the pure JOY of working with fiber arts!

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  9. Yes, I was a bit startled by the clarity of her observations … I had never thought of that, but her opinion was uncluttered by previously-held religious docrine.

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  10. Yes, and it was really not until I went back to school did I find a lot of peace, happiness, solace and fulfillment. I still remember the names and faces of teachers in K-12 who made a big difference for my groping my way through childhood. 🙂

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  11. As a teacher, everything about this post breaks my heart. I’m glad you’ve found peace.

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  12. I love that! “The correct fairy tale”.

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  13. tgonzales says:

    Karen,

    I have so enjoyed reading about the JW religion, although I am saddened by what you had to go through. It sounds like you have came through it the best that you could and have made a good life for yourself. Thanks again for sharing. I always enjoy your posts.

    Love and Big (((HUGS)))!
    Tamara

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  14. Thank you for this series of posts – as an disfellowshipped JW who was also brought up strictly from the age of 4 I can relate to all you have said. Fortunately I now have a relationship with my mother (although not my father – the more ardent parent…) There are a lot of things about them that still affect me after 23 years in ‘the world’ but it gets better with time. One of the things I regret most (apart from the destroyed family relationships) is the disinterest in education you mentioned here – it resulted in a very unfocused, drifting professional life for me when I felt I could have done much more! But as you have showed, it’s never too late… Good luck with your continued journey!

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  15. jenyjenny says:

    Thankful for your Norwegian grandmother! Blowing her memory a virtual kiss for providing a warm and wonderful role model, without which, we might not have become acquainted with you and your knitting blog! And thank you, too, your posts have been inspiring, but much more now that I realize what you’ve had to do to survive and thrive, given such a negative environment as a youth! ❤

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  16. I read, because I’m a total ham. I think maybe they thought if read in church it would somehow make me believe, but it just convinced me that the Church of England is pretty much the church of not giving a fuck

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  17. Wow, 6?! You must have been one strong-minded child! Kudos! “That’s nice dear” is so patronizing! (Did you read out loud or develop a sudden case of laryngitis?!)

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  18. Yes, I like the family I can pick. 🙂 (Though I adore my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren!)

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  19. Certainly ex-JWs have a wide range of experiences vis-à-vis their upbringing, but I am not sure it was considered all that extreme where (and when) I was raised. Every one new my mother as a die-hard JW, but I was a rising star in the JW world destined either for missionary work or marriage to an elder. My mother was praised for being a sterling example of a good JW mother because of me. No small wonder that she was so utterly devastated by my defection; I not only displayed my “Worldliness” but made her look like a bad mother. :/ That said, I remember hearing talks about how to be good JW parents, and one example shared was some JW woman who, concerned her children wouldn’t sit still through two hour-long meetings in one night, set up folding chairs in her garage and forced her children to sit still, without talking or fidgeting, for one hour blocks. The elder giving the talk praised her efforts because her children would pleasing Jehovah. I remember listening to that and feeling bile rise in my throat. 😦

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  20. A couple of fiber bloggers I met (electronically) are ex-JWs; one is 15 years younger than I and the other 30 years younger than I. I was amazed at how things haven’t changed for JW upbringings. (Sadly!) And I had to grin when I read about your ex-JW friend … no doubt his parents cringe (if they see him!). But good for him for following the adage “do what you love and love what you do”!

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  21. Tusen takk for gavet (og Kvikk-Lunsj!)!

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  22. Thank you, Lisa and Bear. I started healing soon after I turned my back on the JWs. Though with an upbringing like mine, healing is probably a life long journey. 🙂 But I am a very happy and content woman (nearing her 6th decade!).

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  23. When I see the little ones being dragged door-to-door, my heart feels sad. I wonder if they’re as unhappy as I was when I was their age. Yes, you have to be careful you don’t accidently create an opening that encourages the JWs to return to your doorstep. 🙂

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  24. I agree … and I have learned that a person’s spirituality may be quite different than a religion. I guess I’d put myself in the agnostic camp though Thor is an avowed atheist. I raised my daughter without any religion, so when she took a religious studies class in college, she said she discovered she was the only person in class who didn’t enter with a religious belief. In fact, she said that she always thought the arguments among students over religion rather funny because, and I quote, “it was like listening to people argue over who had the correct fairy tale.”

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  25. Thank you for reading. For years I wished some ex-JW would shed light on what really goes on inside that religious group. I’ve read a couple of good books and lots of blogs but I still thought something was missing from their expose … I hope I filled some blanks! 🙂

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  26. When I first discovered yoga, I wondered why children weren’t taught yoga in school instead of sports! It is such a relinking (thank you!) of the body/mind/spirit and has helped me in so many ways. In fact, I use a different yoga breathing techniques when I need to get focused, centered and calm. Marvelous!

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  27. Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences/thoughts. Yes, I have a happy and very happy life now, thank you! I am one of those folks who tries to treasure and find joy in every day. 🙂

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  28. Thanks for reading. Gork … 🙂 (Did you read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land? I really connected with the main character in that!)

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  29. Unusual for a Christian sect, JWs do not believe in hell. They believe in everlasting life (after the Battle of Armageddon where god destroys all the non-JWs) and everlasting death (everyone who does not get everlasting life). They believe in a limited version of heaven: only 144,000 chosen by god (starting with the death of Abel) will go to heaven after death. If there is a deity who closely watches over humans, I too have a hard time understanding a god who has allowed so much, well, pain and suffering (e.g., the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, burning of “witches,” etc.).

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  30. Glenda says:

    JW dogma sounds similar to the Catholic Church teachings in the Dark Ages. That’s how most religions work(ed). I can’t speak with any authority on current religious practices and teachings since I haven’t bothered in so long. It always seems as though you have to close your mind in order to fit in. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there’s a God…maybe…I just can’t envision a heavenly parent allowing his/her children to suffer so much with intention. And let’s not forget the afterlife. So much fun there. Hell forever because you made one mistake? Really? Hm.

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  31. jengolightly says:

    The religion of my parents was was the bar of the local working mans club. It makes you feel weird to grow up with nothing in common with those that raised you, and although obviously poles apart from my experience, your story of overcoming what was imposed on you resonates with me. Fascinating to hear!

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  32. ethgran says:

    I was raised in a very religious home which helped make me a happy self confident individual with faith in my Heavenly Father. Your comment that much of the evil in this world is caused through the name of religion, I totally agree with. So much of man’s inhumanity to man is caused by fanatics that try to gain power through forcing dominion over others through so called “Religion”. I believe that Satan’s best efforts to make man unhappy (like he is) is through the very thing that should bring us happiness. That is how he works. Thank you for sharing your upbringing with us – it has obviously brought you much unhappiness and turmoil – yet you have risen above it and are now living a productive and I hope happy life.

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  33. thetinfoilhatsociety says:

    Yoga is probably the most wholesome spiritual practice you could engage in – the word means ‘relinking’, as in relinking body with spirit. Relinking the body with the spirit is desperately needed in this world for emotionally (not to mention physically) healthy people. I used to be a dedicated practitioner but sadly with work and school it has fallen somewhat by the wayside. I’m so sorry you were such a lonely child. But I’m very glad you are a happier adult.

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  34. A fascinating insight, thank you for writing that.

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  35. I have throughly enjoyed your thoughts and experience about your upbringing. And so inspirational! Thank you for sharing. I still don’t understand where people have warped the whole god and religion thing. I am an atheist and gratefully was raised without any religious influence from my parents (my grandfather though was a different story). I think that if there is a deity, humans definitely have ruined whatever “The Truth”. I constantly think of the quote about religion causing more harm than good…

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  36. knitnkwilt says:

    I’ll join the “thank you”s. I appreciated the information and sympathize with the restrictive childhood. I remember thinking about JW children once when a mother and very young son knocked at my door. When the child offered me the pamphlet, I accepted.I couldn’t do my normal brush off to a child. That could well be part of the plan. But I didn’t realize till reading your posts that that had put me into the “teachable” category!

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  37. Lisa says:

    Wow thank you for opening your heart and sharing your experiences! That is so awesome you got your PhD!! I love all your craft projects, so beautiful! Hugz to you and many happy days of healing! Lisa and Bear

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  38. Thank you for sharing this! I´m sending you an imaginary Påskeegg filled with Kvikk-Lunsj. God Påske Karen Berthine!

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  39. bamcrafts979 says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and providing such a thought provoking insight into the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was fascinated to read each new instalment. In my experience JWs are often thought of and treated as nothing but a nuisance, on the level of cold callers and junk mail, so it was important to be confronted with the reality of what it would mean to have grown up in such a restrictive social environment. BTW one of the few people I know IRL who were raised as a JW is now tattooed head to foot and plays guitar in a heavy metal band! His background was never something I felt comfortable asking about but I’ve always had questions about JWs, so thank you for answering them for me!

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  40. kiwiyarns says:

    You had a very extreme upbringing I think, even for JW standards. I hope your mother regrets what she did to you.

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  41. Pia says:

    Well, I always said that true family has nothing to do with bloodlines. A family of yarnies sounds alright to me! 😉

    I’m glad I never had religion forced on me. Life is complicated enough as it is.

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  42. Luckily at c of e primary schools the declaration that you’re an atheist at age six ( I was horrified by the idea of burning witches) merely earns you a ” that’s nice dear but can you still read at the school service because you’re the loudest and everyone can hear you” but I’ve since come to believe that religion is the source of most of the evil in the world

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