The journey picks up where we left off, on my becoming an apostate. The first part of the journey – studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and leaving can be read here.
Above: My companions while taught at home
Even now twenty years on I can trace the route of my father’s tears of joy as I told him the news we had left the study of Jehovah’s Witnesses, on one of his weekly visits to see me. For years he had not let on his true feelings: regarding my being taught at home or being so close to baptism, and demanding a blood transfusion if needed. He feared not being allowed to see me or my brother had his displeasure been realised. His amateur dramatics in local Gilbert and Sullivan productions had paid off in his once a week performance as Dad. Shows like Princess Ida which no one could stop me seeing now. It was roughly a year or so after the divorce that mum had accepted the bible study. Timing is, as they say, everything as to what happens in your life. It felt like six years of mine had been wasted.
The biggest loss was a religious community, even though it had enforced every facet of belief on my child self. Our lodger was tolerated by the elders of the congregation because he did not “practise” his homosexuality at our home and used the back door to enter his part of the house. Word play is something he taught me, together with an appreciation for Douglas Adams, which I shall always be grateful for. There was no one else, besides him and my father outside the faith because “bad associations spoil useful habits.” Satan and his minions were considered able to use people outside the faith to get you to leave. Apostates are willing agents of the evil one by this reckoning.
There was no one to talk too about losing my religion. My mother had been concerned I would be the one still committed. However we reacted very differently on leaving. She still believed Jehovah existed, but the Society had failed to represent him. My own view was initially a deist but I had my work cut out learning about other faiths and whether science had answers that scripture did not know, before I could be sure of anything. Our views drifted further in time and my future atheism would distress her. She still read the Society publications, whilst I did not even want them on the book shelf. I had realised how easy it was to believe passionately in something that was not worthy of such devotion.
The congregation did shun, literally not talking or meeting with us, save for contact three months later by a ministerial servant (one down from an elder) seeing how we all were. With glee I happened to be playing the strategy god war game Mega-lo-mania on my newly acquired Mega Drive and thought – here is one game you are not burning. Note that playing card games or chess were not allowed because of the tarot origins of cards and the military aspect of chess. Naturally I bought books to learn card games and taught myself to play chess to fill in the spare time I now had by not attending or preparing for eight hours worth of meetings each week.
Being taught at home meant I had no other children to talk too accept at the Kingdom Hall and study meetings. What was now available to openly explore in the world had exponentially increased while the known population had dramatically declined. This was made harsher because I had no childhood friends to call on having existed mainly in a world of suited men and well dressed women old enough to adopt me. Those people from my childhood no longer existed.
Like the elder who led our local weekly study group who I called Uncle (his idea not mine) who grilled me on my bible knowledge; a challenge I revelled in showing off on. The other elder old enough to be my grandfather who used to take me weekly for swimming and diving – his dives from the top board were legendary in the swimming baths. My mother as a single parent with a younger disabled son could not provide such social outlets. To avoid being lonely I read books – but I was now alone.
My private study on evolution reading Richard Dawkins, and desire to go back to school to obtain qualifications, destroyed the relationship with my mother. With the TV aerial back on the roof (absent for two years because of “evil TV”) she shouted at David Attenborough whenever he said “evolution” on his wildlife documentaries. I was no longer turning to her for advice or counsel, nor able to help with the care of my brother when at secondary school as I had when taught at home. I was hitting the library as somewhere to do homework without the distractions of family life. Plus I finally discovered why Ford Prefect liked parties as I socialised. There was resentment too on my part that she had been so gullible to believe what the Jehovah’s Witnesses said. I mourned a childhood of no celebration and no friends to speak of. My adolescent self was being reborn in a brave new world.
Going back to secondary school seven months after leaving the faith helped in so many ways beyond obtaining qualifications. There was bullying to start with as the new kid (though I had been there for two terms four years previous). Being in the school play changed everything – there was a camaraderie and sense of belonging with my own peer group. Plus it helped me to understand why my father had the acting bug. I also became the chess captain when chess had a brief resurgence as Britain’s Nigel Short took on the Russian Thinking Machine that is Gary Kasparov.
Without that lifeline provided by teachers who really did look out for my education and gaining life experiences – I honestly do not know what story I would be writing now. My mind was made up that I would achieve something that nobody in my family had done before – attend university. Something which is a low priority when you think the end of the world is soon to be upon you.
It took me five years to get over instincts that constant mind training at meetings had installed on an impressionable young mind. In adult life I have twice on the off chance met people like myself who grew up in the faith only to leave. They had not met someone else like themselves, and the ability to talk about these things with someone who knew first hand was one I wish my adolescent self had access to.
Social media via the Internet makes talking to such people possible now. I hope people take advantage of it. That is why the apostasy project is so important. However, when you are brought up to consider apostates as capable of being a shining light while working for the dark evil one, none of us should take for granted how difficult it is for someone with doubts to reach out.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog