Faith is such a personal subject for most people. I am no different. I grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses with a mother who was very balanced about it and a father who still considered himself Catholic but told me I needed to go to the Kingdom Hall with my mother. Figure that one out. He wanted to be a help to my mom and let’s admit, any kid is going to balk at going to church three times a week and going out in the ministry (door to door preaching work) every once in awhile as well. He did what he could with what he had, as did my mom. I’m forever grateful for the way I grew up.
But I’m thirty-five now. I’ve had a child. I’ve been part of two step families. I’ve been abandoned by those in my former religion and I’ve seen the good and the bad that can come from organized religion. Faith is something I have always had. I took a class in college about “The Truth Project” and one of my favorite quotes ever was from someone in my study group who said, “Being in church makes you a Christian about as much as being in a garage makes you a car.” It’s about what you DO, not where you ARE.
I have tried to live my life that way and I think a lot of people, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, try to as well. But what finally led me away from my religion? Bsides polyamory (which is discouraged in many organized religions). It was the need for freedom.
I had a lot of freedom growing up. My parents trusted me and I was worthy of that trust. I had friends who weren’t JWs and my mom was really fair about allowing kids over who were good influences, no matter their religion. I didn’t rebel (much). And I never drank or smoked until I was of age. But religious freedom…. That’s a complicated subject. What grants us religious freedom (at least here in the U.S.)? We all know that we are covered under the Bill of Rights. But what about in our hearts, in our families, and in our own lives and relationships? Depending on the religion you’re in, you may not have that much freedom. Such is the case with the religion I grew up in.
You can’t associate with people who aren’t of your religion. You can’t accept blood transfusions. If a family member is disfellowshipped (kicked out) you cannot speak to them. You must attend meetings and not question your faith or you will be looked at as an apostate.
Though I was granted freedom at home, I constantly felt out of place and like an outsider at the Kingdom Hall. I will never forget two Elders (ministers) coming to my parents’ house for a “shepherding call” where they checked in on each of the people in their smaller groups within the congregation. A great idea in theory and I in fact appreciated the help at times, but this one visit stood out to me as very negative. In fact, my father ended up asking the two men to finish their visit and leave. My father never speaks up like that. To this day I am grateful. One of the men showed me our coffee table and said, “This is Jehovah’s Organization. Where do you want to be on the table?” To me, a teenager at the time, I thought anywhere was okay as long as it was ON the table. I pointed somewhere to the edge and said, “Well, here I guess.” They proceeded to grill me about why I wanted to be on the “outskirts” of the religion and why I didn’t have enough faith in Jehovah.
I stayed in the JW organization for many years. I stayed through getting in trouble for marrying my husband, my son’s father, who was kicked out at the time. I stayed through getting in trouble for having a blood transfusion when I was a new mother and I was going to die otherwise. I felt dirty and guilty and apologetic. I stayed while friends left, while I lost relationships, while my extended family hoped the best for me.
Then I left. I became polyamorous. I left my abusive husband, whom no one in the congregation had helped me to escape from. I started to raise my son the way I thought was best and right and moral WITHOUT an established religion background. And I grew stronger. And I realized that other religions aren’t bad. That there are many ways to the Light and that JWs are possibly just one of the many ways.
I started researching Wiccan, Druid, Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, and other Christian and Pagan and religions. I LOVED it. And so did my son, only five years old at the time. He wanted to learn more and to see how different people think. I found it fascinating to watch him encourage me to attend a local church down the street that he wanted to check out. At only five!
I started reading any books about religions that I could get my hand on. I own a Koran, at least 6 versions of the Bible, Buddhist works, Christian works, Unitarian Universalist works, the writings of many Witches, and also Taoist writings. It’s all fascinating. It’s all surrounded in love, light, and beauty. And I wonder… how did I survive so long without this Light in my life?
*Footnote: Please feel free to share in the comments about your spiritual awakenings and what you associate yourself with now.