Is it blind faith, or tradition?

There is a long story to get to the point of this story.

My parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. But not just any Jehovah’s Witnesses. My parents, as teenagers, were selected for parts in the biblical “dramas”, or plays, in the annual JW mega-convention. In fact, that is how they met. My dad went on to become an elder in 1985, and has been one ever since. My mom has been a full-time Bible teacher, called a “regular pioneer”, for as long as I can remember. They are hardcore.

And I had a very happy childhood! My parents were very loving and doting. We went to the five JW metings three times a week, we went preaching on Saturdays and most Sundays (which I never really liked but there’s no way around it), and when we weren’t doing religious things, I went to school, made things like drawings and shit, and played a lot with my sister. We also always had people from the congregation over for dinner, lunch, whatever. The JW community is very close.

Everything changed the day before my 30th birthday, when I got officially kicked out of the JW faith. It’s a long story about how that whole process goes, but the point of it is that when you get kicked out, or disfellowshipped, for being deemed “unrepentant” by a set of elders, you get cast away from the congregation and the JW community as a whole. Friends and family alike are required to shun you forever more, or until you go through a long process and get “reinstated”, and it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do in between.

Getting reinstated has been a tremendous challenge for me because, during the course of the 9 years I’ve been disfellowshipped, I actually opened my eyes to the world outside the JW bubble. I learned things that changed my beliefs. My entire belief system, in fact, is quite the opposite from what I was taught to believe most of my life. It has a been crazy 9 years, with ups and downs like everything else, but during which I’ve done a lot of growing up. Or at least I hope.

I still miss my parents terribly. We’re only 20 minutes apart- but we never see each other. They won’t come visit, have dinner with me or my husband, invite us over, nothing. They simply refuse to associate with me until I “come back to the truth”. The problem is… I have tried to go back, sit through their meetings, understand their doctrine and see if I can live that life again. I am just too far removed from all of that. I think it’s all a bunch of baloney. I have burning questions about their faith that simply cannot be asked (ps. JWs claim that you can ask them anything. This is somewhat true, but not entirely. You can ask a lot of things. You just can’t challenge their answers or you’ll be labeled as haughty and not worthy of “The Truth”).

Not too long ago, I decided to say “fuck it” and ask some of those burning questions anyway. I sent Dad an email outlining some of the things that just didn’t make sense to me. His answers weren’t horrible- in fact, some of them made sense- but by the third question, he shut down and told me to be humble (because at this point apparently, I was being haughty) and to look for the answers myself. Thanks, Dad.

Does he want me to have blind faith? Just believe because, in his mind, that is just the only way there is?

I began to think about people who are born into other extreme religions, like Catholics back in the day when heretics were burned at the stake. There are many others around the world who just have to keep the family tradition, in this day and age, no matter how they feel about it. How about me? Could I do that? Could I just shut up and go along with it, for the sake of tradition? After all, it is my family’s religion. Is it worth it?

Is it… worth it… to sit through all these meetings and conform my life to a set of more than 100 spoken and unspoken rules about how to dress, speak, think, who to associate with or not, etc etc etc, complete with a host of “brothers and sisters” who are only too eager to tell the elders about any transgression they see…. Is it… worth it though… to spend time with my parents before they are too old and die. They’ve already missed out on most of my son’s life. He’s already 13. He’ll be a man before we know it. And.. I just miss them. A lot.

One thing is perfectly clear to me: they are never going to change their minds. Dad shunned his own father for decades until he died. Will he shun me, too, until we both die?

Do I close my eyes, stop thinking, and have blind faith? Should I shut up and follow the tradition even with the pangs of cognitive dissonance? Or should I continue in my path of resistance, suffering through it until they’re gone, and then live with the guilt of knowing that all I had to was swallow my pride?

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Logical vs Philosophical

I used to think I wasn’t very smart because I don’t understand math, and I used to think that people who do get math were smarter and better than me.

It dawned on me the other day, however, how wrong I was in thinking that all these years. I really think now that both types of brains – mathematical and philosophical- have incredible potential for intelligence; they are simply focused a different way.

Let me explain…. Mathematicians love math because it is always the same. Is it based on a collection of standard formulas that always mean and say the same thing. There is no gray area; it is either the right answer or it is the wrong answer. Scientists love science because a theory can be proven with a degree of certainty.

However, to understand and discover how to connect the dots in very advanced mathematics, or to be able to decipher the answer to a very difficult scientific question, a person has to be able to think in abstracts. And you see, philosophical brains are (generally) able to grasp abstract thoughts much easier than processing confining mathematical formulas. Things like psychology – why do people act this way??, economics – what are the true underlying causes for the shifts in lifestyle?, philosophy in general – why are we here and how do we make this place better??- don’t have hard and fast rules, or formulas. There is no straight line to follow for an answer. You have to think of a million possibilities, follow various thought patterns, ask lots of questions to come up with solutions, not necessarily answers.

Personally, I’ve come to accept my mathematical shortcomings, and I’ve finally stopped beating myself up for it. In fact, I celebrate my alternative brain. Just ’cause I can’t add or subtract without using my fingers doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out how to be successful. It’s that simple.

On human kindness

I will never forget the kindness of an elderly couple standing behind me at the Aldi checkout sometime last year. I believe I had cut them off somewhat, in a hurry to get in line. I had my arms full of groceries and I didn’t want to lose that spot that was just *that much* closer to the cashier. The fact is, the line was so long that it wouldn’t have made a difference, and I had to stand in line with my armful of groceries anyway.

What happened next is what I won’t forget. The old man nudged me, moved the groceries over in his cart, and gently said “Here, put your things down”. Fairly shocked, I politely refused. But then he insisted, and with the sweetest tone of a loving grandfather he said to me: “They will get heavy (the groceries), and you’ll get tired. Go ahead and put them down.” His wife was now standing next to him, smiling gently, and their kindness touched my heart. I put my groceries in their cart until it was my turn to put them on the conveyor belt.

I was so grateful for their kindness that I wanted to do something nice for them. The only thing I could think of was to pay for their groceries, which I did. I did it so that they did not know that I was paying until after I had left the line. I paid for their an my groceries and left to bag them. They found me afterward and were very grateful and appreciative of the fact I had paid for their groceries… I don’t think they realize how grateful I was to them- am, still, to this day. Not because they let me put my heavy groceries down in their cart (though I am grateful for that), but because they reminded me that kindness still exists. They made me feel loved, even though we had never met. They warmed my heart. They don’t know they renewed my faith in humanity.

I wish I could have followed them home and helped them bring up their groceries, maybe bake them some cookies, help them with housework, things like that, but I thought they might think I was creepy. I guess I’d want to be part of their lives and make sure they are cared for. I don’t know if I will ever see them again. Wherever they are, I hope they are happy and have someone to care for them. If I ever do get to see them again, I’d like to be that person.

Kindness is important. Pay it forward.