Fade From the Truth:
A Tale of Learning then Unlearning the Beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses
by Alan Miller
This is the story of my lifelong spiritual journey so far without all the confusing religious doctrines included. My story is true, but some of the fine details have been changed to maintain my personal anonymity. My name is not Alan Miller; I did not grow up in the wonderful city of St. Louis necessarily. Some names and occupations have been changed for the same reason. It doesn’t affect the story whatsoever.Without trying to sound paranoid, allow me to explain my predicament. I started writing my autobiography for personal therapy. I said that I would never publish this as it would cause my mother to feel the need to permanently shun me. But as I developed my story, I thought that even if I helped one other person avoid some pitfalls, I wanted to share the story.
So what’s so terrible that my mother would never speak to me for the rest of her life? Absolutely nothing. But I and my mother belong to the religion known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once you become a member of that religion, you are never allowed to disagree with their doctrines ever again. If you do disagree with anything and you cannot keep it to yourself, then the men in power within the religion will kick you out. If you ever quit or are kicked out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, all the other Witnesses are commanded to never speak to you again. While I am not sure that my mother will obey that command, I am not prepared to take that chance.
Even though the fine details are changed, any of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that know me well would fully recognize this as my story after a chapter or two. But no faithful believing Jehovah’s Witnesses would be allowed to read this book. It would be another one of those commands they all have to obey. The penalty for disobedience is the same as the one for disagreement with the doctrines, being kicked out of the religion and facing total shunning from Witness family and friends.
I technically still belong to the religion, but just so my mother is allowed to speak to me. My wife is also a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. (Spouses are not commanded to shun a mate who leaves the religion- one small break.) There are perhaps millions of people in a similar situation as mine. They don’t want to lose contact with their parent or grandparent or adult child or grandchild. I am currently what they call an “inactive” Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t participate in their religion in any way. They call it inactive, but many former Jehovah’s Witnesses say that what I am is a “fader”. Instead of quitting the religion, I simply faded from activity.
This is not a “how-to-fade” book. I thought of writing that book, but the Watch Tower organization can easily change the rules if such a book were to find some success. This is not a book about doctrines. Some are mentioned here, but no scriptures are used to prove, disprove, or even suggest beliefs.
Some readers may know nothing about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have done my best to explain things so that they can follow along. If you become curious about Jehovah’s Witnesses after reading my story, you should know that all visitors are welcome at their Kingdom Hall for any of their meetings. No collections are taken; they just ask you to leave your brain at the door.
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A Foundation in “The Truth”
At the time of writing this, there were close to seven million of them in the world. There were about one million of them in the United States. Most everyone knows one of them. At the very least, most people are familiar with their work of disturbing people on a Saturday morning knocking on their front doors. They greet you with “Good morning, we were talking with our neighbors today about finding practical solutions to all the problems in the world until God brings about the destruction of virtually everyone unless they accept these WATCHTOWER magazines. Would you like a copy”? Many of you probably thought you would take their literature just to be polite and go back to bed and allow the pair of Bible-thumpers at your door to go away. Little did you know that you only made those Bible-thumpers put you on their “Return Visit” list so they could call on you again and again. They will be back, perhaps when you are opening Christmas gifts with the kids, or when you are starting to cut the turkey at Thanksgiving or most certainly on another Saturday morning when you are trying to get some sleep.
They are Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you do know any of them personally or your child has a classmate who belongs to this religion, you probably also know them as devoted believers in God that avoid Christmas and birthday celebrations. Don’t be fooled by their friendly “Bible discussions” and don’t envy them for skipping some hectic holidays. No matter how polite they are, they view you as bird food as soon as God gets around to destroying everyone except them. That’s quite literal, as they can tell you that the book of Revelation tells them that the birds will be feasting on the bodies of those that didn’t want to serve Jehovah. They want you to become just like them to avoid becoming bird food, dedicating your life and earnings and weekends to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
And who the heck is Jehovah? That’s God’s name – no, it’s not Jesus. Jehovah is the English version of the Hebrew name given to the God of the Old Testament, and Jesus is his son. Try to keep that straight because it really surprises them that they have been involved in this important work to save your everlasting life from the destiny of bird food, but you haven’t even learned who Jehovah and Jesus are, as defined by the magazines they’ve been peddling to you for all these years. How are you going to avoid destruction if you don’t read those WATCHTOWER magazines? God has been sending “His Witnesses” to you for years, they offer the only way you can live forever, and you don’t even know anything beyond a couple of bizarre facts about them. Now, God is not doing a good job, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t doing the job right, or you are just not paying attention to the job they are doing. It must be you, because Jehovah God is perfect, just, loving, and wise. So perfect, just, loving, and wise that He wouldn’t keep sending His Witnesses to you unless they were doing the job right. Perhaps you have been staying up too late on Friday nights and have cobwebs in your brain when they ring your bell.
I was one of them. I may have knocked on your door with the Watch Tower and Awake magazines and tried to save you from becoming bird food. The statement, “I hope that people learn from my story” is such a clique. It may be the best one I can use as I relate events from my life. “I hope to inspire some to action” could be another one, or “Maybe some will find hope.” While any of those thoughts would work, I will simply go with, “I hope you like my story. I needed to get this off my chest.” This will work too – “Here’s my story about getting on the road to Damascus then making a U-turn.”
In the mid-1960’s a new campaign was born to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It would eventually grow into a frenzy. I won’t bore you with the details, but the Witnesses started believing that Armageddon would arrive in 1975 and that everyone who rejected their teachings would be destroyed by God at that time. Some members ran up their debt figuring they would never have to pay it back. Many ignored medical or dental concerns because the end was coming. By 1974 many even sold their homes and figured they could live off the cash until the end arrived, and they spent their days doing an imitation of Chicken Little, telling people the sky was falling soon, very soon.
My mother, Veronica Miller, got caught up in all that. Her sister-in-law, my Aunt Lorna, was one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and convinced Veronica that this was not a drill – the equivalent of the sky really falling was on schedule for 1975. Aunt Lorna did this by “studying the Bible” with Mom. “Studying the Bible” really means studying Watch Tower books of doctrine, using scriptures out of context to make it seem that the Bible supports that doctrine. So five years before 1975, my mother joined up. My father, Dan Miller hated it, but he was always at work at one of two jobs. He was a firefighter and a bricklayer. If he wasn’t working, he was out drinking after work, so he didn’t stop Veronica from preaching that the sky was ready to fall soon.
One thing Dan wouldn’t tolerate was his children becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. Veronica was an adult, able to decide what nonsense to believe for herself, but children don’t know any better. He said that Mom could not study the Bible with the children. But just like so many other parents, he didn’t see any harm in Veronica taking us with her to the Kingdom Hall. (In their effort to be different from other religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to call their buildings churches. If you want to piss them off, keep calling their religion and their building a church. Their reaction is priceless, almost as if they expect a bolt of lightning to strike you for calling it a church.) Dan thought that the Watch Tower taught its members that it was never okay for a woman to disobey her husband, so he figured she would never teach us the doctrine. He didn’t know that the one exception to that rule was that it was good and even expected to obey God’s law before any man’s rules, even a husband’s rules. Watch Tower was more than happy to explain to Veronica that it was God’s law to teach the doctrine to your children, and that it wasn’t wrong to deceive the unbelieving mate about it, because he didn’t deserve the truth about such information, after all Satan was really controlling him when the unbeliever said not to indoctrinate your children. Witnesses were always blaming Satan for everything. Anyone opposed to any learning of the doctrines was “persecution from Satan’s world”, a foretold prophecy that proved Watch Tower was right about everything. It was also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course there would always be some concerned family and friends that didn’t want you learning that the sky was falling in 1975 and that anyone who doubted would become bird food.
So Veronica started teaching us the Watch Tower doctrine in secret and took us to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall and dragged us around with her as she knocked on strangers? doors and told them the sky was falling. I truly believe that children raised by only one Jehovah’s Witness parent will always find that parent trying to recruit them, regardless of what promises they have made to the unbelieving parent.
My story starts in the city of St. Louis in 1970. I was six years old, the youngest of three. Todd was seven, and Gloria was eight. Mom was so far sucked into “the truth” as the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are known, that it totally consumed her life. When she invited us into her newfound happiness, of course we took to it. After all, if we rejected it we would soon become bird food, but if we accepted “the truth” then we would be in paradise. Watch Tower books had loads of pictures of people dying at Armageddon in some horrible way and others living in a Garden of Eden. Now at six years old, would you choose to be part of the picture where the earth opens up and swallows you, or would you choose to part of the picture where children are petting lions and kicking beach balls against the side of an elephant? There was no real choice. But we had to keep it a secret. That made it even better. We were not only going to get to live forever, but we were playing secret agent in our training sessions. What six, seven, and eight-year-olds could resist that?
We “studied the Bible” by studying a book called FROM PARADISE LOST TO PARADISE REGAINED. We just called it the Paradise book. To give you an idea of the warped, yet convincing science taught by the Watch Tower, the Paradise book told us that the waters for the global flood of Noah’s day came from the “water canopy” that surrounded the earth. This same water canopy had prevented men from ever really seeing the sun in its full glory or the moon and stars in the night sky. Supposedly, after the water fell, man saw the glories that are God’s creations in the sky for the first time, same for the rainbow given by God as a promise never to flood the whole earth ever again. In other books, Watch Tower teaches that man’s carbon-dating methods are all out of whack because the water canopy blocked the sun and other things that carbon-dating uses to date things. To scare us into just accepting such stories if we still doubted, the Paradise book reminded us that Adam and Eve were sinners who were not worthy of everlasting life and they would not be resurrected, and we were welcome to be tricked by the devil and join them as forever dead. If that works on many adults, it works even better on little kids.
The secret mission didn’t last very long, though. Sooner or later, one of us was going to blow our cover. It was Todd. In some trivial matter, Dad was mad at him and lectured him. Todd fired back with “Oh yeah, we have a secret and I won’t ever tell you what it is.” All Dad had to do was turn to me, the youngest, and ask “What’s the big secret, Alan?” I probably cracked in less than one minute. After all, Dad had awfully big arms. Oh he never ever hit us, but we always wondered when he finally would do so. I wasn’t going to tempt fate and see if I could get him to break his nonviolent parenting. Dad didn’t turn violent then either, at least not toward us or any other people. He did throw out the Watch Tower books. So after several months of secretly studying Watch Tower doctrines, we stopped. But we still went to the Kingdom Hall for awhile. That would come to an end too.
All congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses had a two-hour meeting on the weekend and a one-hour meeting on a weeknight and a two-hour meeting on another weeknight. These meetings were more important than anything. They were more important than overtime at work. Witnesses were told not to miss these meetings. If work required missing them, they were expected to quit their job. Children were to be at those meetings, too. If you ever hear how children of Jehovah’s Witnesses excel at school because they learn to read early and learn to be public speakers, remember that they have a huge obstacle too – they are kept out late for those evening meetings. They are not supposed to be doing their homework at the meetings, but are to be paying attention to the information covered in the sessions. In reality, they are typical students who are really tired at school twice a week.
Kids are often severely punished at the meetings if they cry or act out enough to disturb the others around them. For some reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses figure that kids should be able to sit through two hours of indoctrination without fussing. If they can’t sit still, a parent is expected to take them to the back of the hall or outside and spank them. Supposedly, kids will be quiet in order to avoid the spanking. Some kids had to be whipped because this theory didn’t work out so well on them. A parent would have to totally break their spirit with beatings before they would be able to sit still for two hours, and then it only worked because they knew what was in store for them if their parent dragged them out of the auditorium. You could hear some screaming on the way back, “I’ll be good! I’ll be quiet! We don’t have to go outside!” Young and old alike would lock eyes with the child as he passed by their seat dragged by a parent and feel empathy as they saw his look of horror for the punishment he was about to receive. My brother, sister and I were pretty quiet and Dad didn’t allow spankings, so we were spared. Still, it was pretty scary to see it happen to others. As we were their age, we locked eyes with a child in tow just as much or even more than others did.
The meeting on Sunday lasted two hours. The public talk (a lecture) was given the first hour then the WATCHTOWER study took the last hour. The WATCHTOWER study was where all members, young and old, could totally shine and share in the meeting. This was the study of an article in the magazine about some aspect of the doctrines. The article is typically twenty to twenty-five paragraphs and written at no higher than a sixth grade level. Paragraphs are read out loud and questions from the bottom of the page are asked about each paragraph. The Witnesses were supposed to pre-study the article so they can answer the questions at the meeting. Typically, answers were just read from underlined portions of the paragraph and kids had a chance to show their agreement with the doctrine and get used to participation in the meetings by reading their answers. While the audience members were encouraged to put answers in their own words, they were not allowed to disagree with anything or ask additional questions. The meeting conductor would throw in a few additional questions that allowed younger ones to give one or two-word answers. You would hear the kids under eight years old start out with saying “Jehovah” or “Jesus” into the microphone quite often before they could get up the nerve to give longer answers, followed by thunderous applause if it was their first time answering. I don’t remember my siblings or myself participating, but it must have happened. Mom would have wanted to show the congregation that her children were making spiritual progress. It was expected.
There were two weekday evening meetings. The book study was just like the WATCHTOWER study, but a chapter of some Watch Tower book was studied. The book study was divided up in smaller groups so that everyone had a chance to comment more often, thereby reinforcing their mind’s agreement with whatever was said. It also allowed the elders to see who studied for the meetings beforehand. Book studies were usually held in someone’s home. It was supposed to be a real privilege to have a book study in your home. The hosts cleaned and cleaned so nobody would talk about the condition of their home, especially the bathroom. They would have folding chairs all lined up in the living room and some of the twenty or so folks would often arrive earlier than they should so they could get the spot on the couch instead of the folding chairs. Many hosts would have coffee and/or sweet treats for everyone after the meeting. That kind of hospitality would make it harder to ever consider removing this meeting from their house and switching to someone else’s house because they put out cake or crackers and beverages. Some hosts would try to gain a reputation for outdoing any other hosts in the congregation, and then people would want to change to the book study in their home. Book study typically started at 7:30 and was usually on Monday or Tuesday night. It ended after one hour, but was a great social club afterward, so the affair might last until 9:30. We were supposed to feel like a “spiritual” family group at the book study.
The other weekday evening meeting was the Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting, held at the Kingdom Hall for the entire congregation. It was typically on Thursday at 7:30, lasting two hours. After the men would give some short Bible lectures, a few of the members gave five-minute talks in the Theocratic Ministry School. Children and adults were mixed in, all expected to be able to do this. Males would stand at the podium and address the audience with a Bible reading or a short lecture on some subject assigned to them, but females would give their talk by sitting at a table facing another female on the stage and the two of them would pretend to be in some situation where one has a question or concern and the other answers it with her Bible. Females are not allowed to “teach” the congregation, so this was their way around such a (supposed) Biblical rule. They taught another female on the stage and everyone in the congregation was just listening in.
The weekly five hours of meetings were referred to as the five fingers on your hand. All five were important. Just as you wouldn’t want to have less than five fingers, a good Witness would not want to try to get away with just four or less hours of these meetings every week.
Anyway, at one of those Thursday night meetings, Veronica had her three kids with her, and we were either paying attention or falling asleep in our seats, when a very disruptive man came into the Kingdom Hall. It was our father. He was very drunk and very upset that his kids were being indoctrinated into this religion. He wanted his kids out of there. Just as parents are embarrassed by their crying babies, Mom was extremely embarrassed by her husband causing a disturbance. Of course we all left with Dad right away just to end this spectacle. That was, for now, the end of my going to the Kingdom Hall. I would love to end the story now, saying I never went back, but it’s just not the case.
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They Make the Best Educated People in the World
As already mentioned, Jehovah’s Witnesses often think their own children are better students. They feel that spending time indoctrinating their children into the religion through books causes them to be better readers and that participation in their door-to-door recruitment and enrollment in the Theocratic Ministry School makes them better public speakers and more confident. Virtually all Witness children can recite the stories in the book, MY BOOK OF BIBLE STORIES word-for-word. The book contains simple morality stories from the Bible that teach them the doctrine with loads of pictures. From that book, they moved on to LISTENING TO THE GREAT TEACHER, a book about Jesus heavily steeped in Witness doctrine.
What’s bizarre is that one of the biggest reasons that a parent will read these books with their children is that the parent gets to “count the time” spent studying Watch Tower doctrine as time spent recruiting. (They call going door-to-door selling Watch Towers “preaching” or “field service.”) All Witnesses are expected to report how many hours each month they are engaged in the recruiting work. (More on that in another chapter.) Studying with one’s own child is mandatory in the religion and parents are rewarded with up to four hours on their monthly field service report. Another reason is to help their children to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Parents cannot try to save strangers from being destroyed by Jehovah and forget about doing the same for their own children.
Statistics will show that reading with your children is vital to making them better readers. It’s not the Watch Tower literature itself that makes Witness kids into better readers; it’s just the reading of anything that does it. Let me relate my own example here. I was the youngest of three children. Many would suppose that by the time I got into kindergarten, I would already be able to read because I had older siblings. It didn’t happen. My brother and sister weren’t reading before entering school, so I was not really able to benefit from them. The television was my babysitter and best friend. But this was in the days before SESAME STREET. The programs I was watching were not the educational ones. There was I DREAM OF JEANNIE, BEWITCHED, ANDY GRIFFITH, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, etc. Some of the stuff out of the mid to late 60’s was legendary and quite fantastic to a child under five years old. So my sister, then my brother, then I went into kindergarten without any reading skills whatsoever. This whole “alphabet” thing was just a song I had heard, but it lacked substance. From day one in school, we started focusing on a letter everyday, starting with “A.” I remember the excitement when day eleven started. I said to another boy in the morning that I was thrilled that we were going to learn “elemeno” today. The other boy laughed saying, “You are so stupid.” If he were witty, he could have come up with some zinger like “You are so stupid that you probably think Sherlock Holmes is an apartment complex.” Anyway, he told me that “L, M, N, and O” were four separate letters (not one mega-letter known as “elemeno”), then pointed to them on the alphabet chart on the blackboard. It was as if he had put a rubber band around my head and snapped some sense into it. I was sharp enough to get it right away. I wasn’t stupid, just ignorant. How I wished someone had taught me that sooner.
My mother was a pregnant teen bride at age seventeen and I was the third child born before she even reached twenty-one. Dad was never home to do things with the kids, he was always working. Mom didn’t have time to read with the first two children, with more babies coming, and didn’t make time for the third one. She had barely grown up herself and was still getting the hang of being an adult. She wasn’t one of Jehovah’s Witnesses yet. But one year later, she was one. All of a sudden, she was reading with all three of the kids. She was getting us to answer questions from a book. Even though it was kept secret from Dad, it was great to be absorbing something instead of remaining a dry empty sponge. So in first grade, I was reading about Spot running and Dick seeing Jane, and at home I was reading about Jehovah, Jesus, and paradise. I can imagine Witness parents spending that effort on their preschool children. Sure, the Witness kids would know how to read before they got to kindergarten. But the average parents in Japan or in Amish country read with their children. It has little or nothing to do with the material being read. Comic books might even do it better than the Bible and religious books. Certainly, books designed to improve reading would be more helpful than anything from the Watch Tower.
As far as Witness children benefiting from their public speaking, there may be some validity there. Adults would be better off joining Toastmasters but talking to strangers at their front door or speaking at the Kingdom Hall in front of over a hundred people probably really does make children more able to participate, speak, or debate in class. That will pay off as they get into High School, but what is the price of such training?
As I said previously, Witness children are kept out late two weeknights every week. They are expected to pay attention at the Kingdom Hall and not work on their homework during meetings. Many child-advocates would be outraged at such a situation on a regular basis regardless of the fact that it is done in the name of religion. The longest weeknight meeting is typically on Thursdays. Most schools have tests on Friday to wrap up the week. Think of how much better the Witness child might perform on Friday if he had a good night of sleep.
Witnesses are raised to disbelieve the science taught in the schools. They are taught that Adam was the first man who lived just over six thousand years ago, and there were never primitive humans. They are taught that all animals were created separately by Jehovah and did not evolve from lower life forms. They are taught that there was a great worldwide flood just over four thousand years ago and that life on earth is not millions of years old, nor is carbon dating accurate. Evolution is lambasted by Jehovah’s Witnesses and all discoveries by archaeology are met with skepticism. Anytime science or history disagrees with what the Watch Tower claims as Biblical, the Witness will side with Watch Tower automatically. It is a requirement. Witnesses train their children to do their best to answer questions in school according to the curriculum but not to believe it. “Just tell them what they want to hear so you can pass the tests.”
Also, any benefit from the public speaking may be cancelled out by the isolation of being a Witness. Mocking is common for the younger child as he is not allowed to participate in any way with holiday celebrations. No Christmas or Halloween, no wearing of the green on St. Patrick’s Day. (I have seen Witness children actually feel depressed that they let Jehovah down because they accidentally wore green on St. Patrick’s Day.) If a child is celebrating his birthday, Witness children are not to have any cake or join in the party. They are also not to participate in patriotic things either, so every single day they are found refraining from saying the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the national anthem at school, reminding the others that they are different (“freaks” in most any child’s world). Imagine the daily pressures on a child in that situation. I was not fully a Witness as a child so I could participate, but I had a classmate who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Natalie. Natalie would leave the room during holiday or birthday celebrations and do some additional assignment in the hallway or the office of the school. Natalie was picked on a lot.
Witness children are discouraged from any extracurricular activities, especially anything that keeps them after school. They are to spend as little time as possible with “worldly” children. (Anyone who is not a Witness is “worldly.”) Many parents do not allow them to play outside of school with others who are not also children of Witnesses. They usually do not join in any sports and almost certainly do not join the chorus or learn to play a musical instrument. Chorus and orchestra typically violate a Witness worldview in many areas – they meet after school, they allow the child extended interaction with worldly ones, and they participate heavily in patriotic and holiday celebrations.
Many Jehovah’s Witness parents consider homeschooling either for the entire education of their children or at least instead of public High School. They feel that this will limit their children’s exposure to “the world.” While it might be possible to give your own child a fantastic education in homeschooling, your average Witness parent is not going to bother for several reasons. They say the end is coming soon, so there is no real need to have a fantastic education. The Watch Tower says that college is unnecessary and it is demonized because it’s just a place of drinking, drugging, fornicating, and independent thinking – all thought of as dangerous and evil. Many parents are “pioneers,” meaning they engage in the religious recruiting work for seventy or more hours per month, so if they have home-schooled children, they take them with them in that work figuring it’s the best possible training for them. That leaves little time for proper educating. But hey, if the end is so close, who really cared?
To make their literature more interesting, Watch Tower offers the AWAKE! magazine. In that magazine, many articles focused not on doctrine but on individual animals or on cultures and people. The articles were not really bad, but after teaching about the migration of the Monarch Butterfly or about how the people of some mountain village in Chile shear goats to make sweaters, they almost always ended with saying that in the near future, Jehovah will put an end to extinction or the destroying of the land and cultures. Actually, they always offered the same solution. “Jehovah will end homelessness, hunger, child abuse, unemployment, pollution, greed, etc. by destroying everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it’s going to happen very soon.” That brings the mock theme of the U.S. Marines to reality- Kill them all and let God sort it out.
Also, Watch Tower told parents that reading all their literature all the time was at least the equivalent of a college degree. Imagine that. It is sixth grade-level writings which commands viewing experts in the fields of science and history with distrust, but it’s just like going to a university because it regularly includes articles about animals and people.
Jehovah’s Witnesses typically do not read the newspaper or watch the news on television. They do not get the least bit involved or even concerned with politics because it’s all part of Satan’s world. They are told to focus on the permanent solution to mankind’s problems and learn how to improve their skills of making the WATCH TOWER and AWAKE! magazines sound more appealing as they attempt to sell them to people. That way, everyone will have a chance to gain everlasting life. They never decide how they feel about an issue if asked. Instead, they say they will research it, which means they will cross reference their Watch Tower literature to see how they should feel about an issue, and then simply agree with what they read. It would be extremely rare to see a Witness at a PTA meeting or a Town Hall meeting.
So much for them being the best educated people in the world. Even when it comes to the Bible, the subject I thought Witnesses were most educated about, I’ve discovered that I knew next to nothing about it until I read from sources outside of my Watch Tower library. Oh, I knew much about what Watch Tower said was in the Bible, but their use of snippets (scriptures out of context) could be compared to words cut from a newspaper to form a ransom note. Those snippets represent the Bible as much as that ransom note represents the newspaper. So I will conclude this chapter by saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses can read and often overcome any shyness to public speaking, but they remain woefully ignorant and isolated and distrustful.
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Death, Divorce, and the End of the World
At the end of Chapter one, I said that my brother, sister, and I ended going with Mom to the Kingdom Hall. We went for just over a year by then. I was seven when Dad didn’t want us going there anymore. But Mom still went, because it was now 1971 and the sky was going to fall in four years. Dad didn’t change his life to be at home for us when Mom went to her meeting, so our parents introduced us to staying home alone. So imagine that, my nine-year-old sister was responsible for an eight and a seven-year-old. We were told to never answer the phone or the door, to stay away from the window shades, and to try not to make much noise. “Watch television, but keep the volume low. That’s your babysitter.” Those might well have been the words we were told. I had two playmates right there with me, my brother and sister. We could have enjoyed board games or building something together, but we were told to be quiet. “Just watch television, but not too loud.” A horrible fear was instilled in us of making too much noise and letting anyone outside the home know that children were alone in the house.
Staying home alone remained in place for the rest of my childhood and teen years. “You are on your own for dinner” would often be part of it later as I grew older. Today, my wife cannot understand how I can be perfectly content to grab something out of the fridge and sit down to three or more hours of television. It’s been my training. It’s hard to complain, too. I was kept clean and well fed. I had a roof over my head. Nobody beat me. It was back in the day when a child sat still for long periods in class. Sitting still at home wasn’t that hard at all. There was no interactive television, such as video games. I just sat and paid attention to the show. In some ways, I like this aspect of my personality – sitting quietly and being entertained. I can do this in front of a television, the internet, and thankfully with a book or magazine.
Further complications in life happened while I was still seven. Todd was diagnosed with Leukemia. Mom was at the doctor’s office or the hospital for hours and hours, day after day. Leukemia was still a death sentence then. Doctors tried to offer hope that great strides in finding a cure were being made. Many victims do live through it nowadays, but not then.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions. This is not a book about doctrine and I am not going to cite even one scripture, but they say it’s Biblical. A Witness would rather die than accept whole blood. They would rather let their children die than have them accept whole blood. They don’t want to show disrespect to God, the creator of life, by accepting blood. Personally, it seems pretty disrespectful to God to just let a child die in an emergency where a simple blood donation would save their life. But that wasn’t the issue with Todd. He was given blood transfusions because Dad insisted on it. Pity the child with two Witness parents. Similar to the military slogan on many U.S. Marines tattoos, “Death Before Dishonor,” the Witnesses would say “Death Before Disobedience” when it comes to blood transfusions.
I learned to hate visiting hospitals while Todd was sick. He had been put into the hospital for several months early in his sickness. This included an entire summer when I was not in school. I went with my mother to the hospital. Gloria would go with our grandmother, but Grandma didn’t want to watch two of us. Somehow, Grandma bonded better with Gloria so I was relegated to the hospital waiting room virtually each and every time alone. Maybe I could behave better by myself where Gloria needed supervision. Mom would be “upstairs” doing whatever parents do and I would play with blocks or other toys available in the waiting room. Security would watch over any children in the waiting room, but it seemed that most parents weren’t cruel enough to make their children wait there for hours on end, so I was typically the only one there. It was just more learning to be content by myself.
I wasn’t ever allowed to go “upstairs” with my mother. The doctors were still not sure about the dangers of exposing healthy children to unhealthy children, so it was for my own good. So a hospital became a place to wait, a place to be by myself, a place that takes your brother and hides him and takes your mother away for half the day or more. I saw pictures of my parents and grandparents visiting my brother. Except for Todd, they all wore masks in the pictures. I didn’t know what that was all about, but it made me sure that I would die if they let me see Todd just once. I decided I would be glad to just wear a mask like everyone else and take that chance, but I was never allowed.
I even got hurt once in the fall when school was back in session while Todd was still in the hospital. I fell off a swing at the school playground and was rushed to the hospital because I banged my head. I was excited that they would have to let me see Todd now, maybe I could share a room with him. No such luck. I was taken to a completely different hospital. I didn’t have to wear a mask and nobody visiting me wore one either. The lack of masks made me figure that I wasn’t sick enough to get into the same hospital as Todd.
To this day, I use this swing injury as an excuse if anyone questions my way of thinking. “No I wasn’t dropped as a baby. As a child, I fell off a swing and landed headfirst onto concrete.” This was back in the day of personal responsibility, so there was no lawsuit that made my parents rich, but one thing came out of my injury. If you have ever seen those rubber mats that look like giant jigsaw pieces around playground equipment, then you will be thrilled to know that I was the actual person who caused them to be ordered for the city of St. Louis. I don’t think they invented them because of me, but all the public schools had them within a year of my accident.
Todd was finally released from the hospital. I didn’t know it then, but the doctors allowed him to go home to die. He had enough strength to stand and walk and attend school and they had exhausted all efforts to lengthen his life. All I knew was that I had my brother back. I walked with Todd about three blocks to school, he was in fourth grade and I was in third grade. Our local little school only went up to fourth grade, so Gloria was going to a different school. Todd and I had been so close and I was thrilled to have him back.
Being the youngest of three, I had struggled to keep up with my brother and sister physically. I actually learned to ride a bicycle at the same time as Todd. We learned to be competitive with each other, but in a healthy way. I was always small for my age, never had a growth spurt. My size never bothered me, thanks to Todd. He inspired me to keep up with him at play and in sports. A couple of unfortunate instances insured that I would never be self-conscious about being short. The leukemia treatments made Todd lose his hair. Boys bigger than him started picking on him and some started fights with him just because he was bald. Todd did not have the strength to fight, so I fearlessly defended him and beat up a few of those boys. They were amazed that the smallest boy in third grade could beat up the biggest boy in fourth grade. I always had confidence after that when it came to standing up to bullies or walking through a bad neighborhood. As small as I was, nobody ever took my lunch money. I might walk outside of a bad neighborhood nowadays, but that’s only because I am smart, not scared.
Mom woke me and Gloria up early one morning and told us that Dad had rushed Todd to the hospital but that he died on the way. She then reminded us about all that stuff she wasn’t allowed to teach us about Jehovah resurrecting good people. She said we could see Todd again in “the new system” after God destroys the bad people. I am certain she was convincing herself along with us.
I may not have had years and years of childhood exposure to Jehovah’s Witnesses but it was more than any other religious exposure. As a boy, I went with my grandmother to Catholic Mass one time. I asked her a bunch of questions like, “What are they saying?” She explained that the Mass was in Latin. I asked, “Do you speak Latin?” When she said no, I said, “Then why do you come here?” She never took me to Catholic Mass again. Christmas was when some older uncle would put on a Santa suit and come to the party at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Easter was about jelly beans and chocolate eggs. Jesus wasn’t in those holidays; he was the guy that those Watch Tower books told us about. He healed people, gave food to starving people and said that Jehovah was God. All I really knew about religion growing up was that Jehovah was angry about everything. I took my chocolate eggs and Christmas toys, but I always wondered if Jehovah was angry with me for doing so. I wondered if Jehovah would let me escape becoming bird food so I could see Todd again. I didn’t want to make Jehovah angry, but Dad and all my grandparents said toys and chocolate didn’t make God angry. Besides, I really wanted toys and chocolate. If Jehovah couldn’t understand that, there was just no pleasing him.
For Mom, the escape into the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses was much deeper. Dad found his escape in a familiar place. He went back to the bars. Gloria and I were more and more left home alone. We weren’t allowed to learn about Jehovah, but Mom gave us a new project. The Watch Tower organization decided that Jehovah was very angry about tobacco. Jehovah hated smokers. Armageddon was coming really soon and Jehovah was going to destroy murderers, thieves, and especially smokers. Mom was a smoker. Just on the heels of losing her son, she was expected to quit smoking and then she could survive Jehovah’s anger and see Todd again in just a couple of years in Paradise.
Mom and Aunt Lorna asked for help from me and Gloria to get Mom to stop smoking. We would keep telling her how cigarettes are evil Satan sticks that would get her destroyed by Jehovah unless the cigarettes killed her first. Well, it worked for a few years. I think Mom may have sneaked a few cigarettes, but she was not seen again with one in her mouth. At least she wasn’t seen with one in her mouth until Armageddon didn’t come, but that’s a story for the next chapter.
Mom and Dad were leading separate lives. She had religion and he had alcohol. Other than the anti-smoking campaign, Gloria and I had neither of them really in our lives. Dad made a great attempt to fix this mess. He bought a camper. We took a grand trip that summer around most of the Great Lakes through Canada. It was nice. We played Monopoly or Scrabble or card games every evening; and we fished, and hiked in the woods. It was the closest we ever were as a family. But a few weeks of being a real family, then going back to the regular routine did not cut it for us. The camper was stolen from right in front of our house one day. I thought maybe it was a sign from Jehovah that he was angry with Mom and Dad for giving up so quickly.
The marriage was over. Officially, Dad admitted to cheating on Mom. Unofficially, Mom left Dad for the end of the world to come. Dad agreed to pay a rather high child support and they would split the equity in the house when it was sold. With Dad out of the house, Gloria and I also started going back to the Kingdom Hall. 1975 was biting at our heels so there was no time to waste. Oddly enough, after Dad was out, Mom and Dad started dating each other. I suppose Mom wanted everyone to avoid Jehovah’s wrath, even her ex-husband.
I don’t know that they actually ever would have gotten back together, but they were both teenagers when Mom first got pregnant. They had a good nine years together and two years of not-so-good. They probably felt that they owed it to each other to try to work it out. But one thing finally ended it; 1975 ended. The year to end all years came and went without Armageddon.
Mom and Dad agreed to never talk bad about each other to Gloria and me. They kept that promise pretty well. Dad took the blame for the breakup of the marriage and they both said that the dating just didn’t work out. Years later, Dad admitted that he called Mom after midnight on the morning of January 1st, 1976. He called and said “I’m still here.” So that was one straw too many on the camel’s back.
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