Indoctrination

in·doc·tri·na·tion, noun
  1. the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.

This is how I truly understood indoctrination: I was reading a book about counteracting Watchtower doctrine. I was falling asleep. As I read the words explaining why the Governmental Body isn’t the Faithful and Discreet Slave (if you are not a witness, this will not make sense to you), I found myself rebutting each bullet point with things I remembered; points the author wasn’t taking into account, various other reasons why the Watchtower feels the Governmental Body is the FD&S (real or not). Now that I’m awake, I can’t remember any of those reasons.

While I was half asleep, they all came to me easily without even thinking. One after the other. Now I can’t remember any of it. My indoctrination was successful, even if it was flawed: the teachings are in my subconscious, even through the awakening of my rational mind.

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They say the truth shall set you free.

Can one unlearn things? Forget and erase something that happened, something that was witness or learned? Can one change one’s views of the facts?

I pride myself in having an open and inquisitive mind. I want to know who is out there, what they do, and why. Why do certain things happen? What do other people believe? What is going on on the other side of the world?

The problem with reading and having an open mind is that you learn a lot. And you think a lot. And with that thinking comes a lot of worry, anger, and depression.

When you see the atrocities that are going on in other places outside of your bubble, you grow depressed. When you see the unfairness in society in your own country, you get angry. When you realize that we’re all headed for potential disaster, you worry.

(That’s why I think that those who are depressed and crazy are the deepest people among us.)

This is true even for one’s religion. People born into Jehovah’s Witness families have no clue of what’s going on around them. They live in a bubble because they are not allowed to become involved in politics, other religions, other religion’s causes, associate with people outside of their Witness community, marry outside their faith, have non-witnessing friends, read books on evolution or other religions, or read anything that could remotely contradict the things they have been taught. They only associate with other Witnesses and that’s all they know. They are aware that the world is in shambles, but they believe this is all part of God’s divine plan and he will fix it in due time. There is no need to worry or do anything about it.

There is bliss in that sort of ignorance.

When someone puts something in front of you that forces you to see the Watchtower for the brainwashing cult that it is, you are forced to open your eyes. And see. And learn. And understand how the world works. And you worry, and you get angry, and you get even more depressed.

I’ve always been contradictory- doing the opposite of what was expected of me. Except this has made my life harder. I am tired.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been shown the truth about the “Truth” (this is what Witnesses call their religion). I was no longer a witness at the time, but I had every intention of going back because it was all I knew. Since the blindfold came off, my mind expanded like an atomic bomb. But it also felt like a bomb, too. I have felt so much heartbreak over the last 9 years. Now, my life has been full of blessings, too. I do not want to minimize that fact. I have very little to complain about. The issues are all in my head. The worry/ anger/ depression. The rejection. The loneliness. And the problem is that, because now I know the REAL truth, I can’t ever go back to the fake Truth. Believe it or not… sometimes I wish I could, if only to try and repair broken familial bonds and pretend like soon God is going to fix everything that is wrong with the world.

Which loops me right back to the beginning… Can one unlearn things? Forget and erase something that happened, something that was witness or learned? Can one change one’s views of the facts? Sadly, people can’t unlearn or unsee what they know. The best we can try and do is change our perspective of a situation. Unfortunately, there is still a voice in the back of your head that tells you when something is just not right. It takes a lot of conditioning to turn off that voice. You have to learn not to think.

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?

Faith & Love

I wish I didn’t have to choose between faith and love, God and family, beliefs and blood ties. I still can’t believe I had the courage to tell my Dad that I no longer believe in what he taught me. I thought he would be shocked, but he wasn’t. All the same. he reiterated his belief that only his faith is right, and there is nothing outside of it. I asked him: “Your religion encourages people to leave their old religions and family traditions in favor of this one, but if anyone from within decides they want to believe something else… that simply isn’t tolerated. That is a double standard”. He had nothing to say to that.

More words were exchanged, none which I care to share at this moment, but it felt so good to not feel like a leper for once. Their doctrine must be changing from within, because a few years ago, a simple hello to a disfellowshipped person was forbidden. Such is the reality for an ex-Jehovah’s Witness.

Black Sheep

In a family ripe with Christians of the utmost morality, I, the eldest daughter, am most decidedly the Black Sheep of the family. I never thought it would be me to wear the label. Well….. did I? I always knew I was instinctively non-conforming.

I tried my best, I really did. I am just not made out to walk such a straight path. I am a sexual deviant. I am too open-minded. I don’t have anything against homosexuals; as a matter of fact, I *like* them. I like to wear miniskirts. I am not ashamed of my sexuality. I like to drink. But I don’t like to judge people. I am sincere. I believe in kindness and justice.

Still. That is not good enough to enter the Kingdom of God. Oh well. I accept that. Maybe it’s time I went ahead and got that tattoo, and seal the deal. I’m going to hell in a hand basket anyway.