Where Did It All Go Wrong?
By Paul M.
[Republished from Freeminds.org with author’s permission.]
Hi, my name is Paul M_______ and I’m an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. By the end of this sorry tale I hope to be an ex-ex-Jehovah’s Witness. But not yet. I’m 40 years old later this year and happily married for 11 years now to Samantha. We have two boys – aged 4 and 2. We’re from the UK but currently find ourselves at the edge of the world and all of Western civilization about 50 yards from the Pacific Ocean in Hermosa Beach, California.
My story begins in Glasgow, Scotland – naturally my parents figured in this so let’s start with them.
My father Hugh was born in 1934 in Glasgow – the industrial heartbeat of the British Empire – the third and last child with two older sisters. Both his parents were to some degree alcoholic. His military father was a disciplinarian who brooked no argument and was one of the first British prisoners of war, captured in 1939. I don’t think he argued with his captors!
So between the ages of 5 and 11 my Dad was brought up in a single parent household during wartime, enduring regular bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe. At the age of 8 he suffered a near fatal motor vehicle knockdown which left him unconscious for 2 weeks, and as later discovered, medically observable brain injury.
Dad was a talented soccer player and a dedicated supporter of his team, Glasgow Celtic. He was born into a Roman Catholic household and so went to a Catholic school where he was subject to some humiliation by the priests but nothing too serious, given more recent revelations. Religion, education and soccer were all linked together and giving up Chapel also meant giving up playing for the school soccer team. Tough choice.
Leaving school with a basic education meant finding work, which was in plentiful supply in those days but ultimately Dad ended up doing 2 years conscripted National Service – he qualified with 100% pass mark for the RAF but his poor eyesight let him down so he had a decent desk job with the British Army. Shortly after leaving the Army and returning to Glasgow in 1956 he met a lovely island girl – Ann.
My mother Ann was born in 1938 in the Outer Hebrides, an island chain 20 miles of the northwest coast of Scotland. The 3rd child of eight and the oldest girl she was born into a Protestant family with a high regard for the work ethic, the Bible and the frugal lifestyle required in a wartime island existence. Although her father was a frequent binge drinker he provided well and had plenty status in the local community. Her mother was much loved and well respected by all, mainly for putting up with her sometimes physically abusive husband. Leaving home at aged 11 for a high school education Mum maintained her love of the Bible and the outdoor lifestyle. She ended up in Glasgow – the big city – doing domestic work – where she had a chance encounter with a handsome young soldier just back from overseas.
Protestant Mum and Catholic Dad were married in a simple Protestant service attended by a best man and a bridesmaid. Dad was 22 and Mum was celebrating her 18th birthday – it was September 11th 1956. My Dad’s father said he wouldn’t attend any wedding involving a Protestant girl and Mum’s parents were simply too far away. Shortly after the wedding they emigrated to New York to seek a better life together. Fatefully, they ended up in Brooklyn, where they found their feet and where a new religion knocked their door.
The reasons why my parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses has interested me recently. I never gave that particular question any thought until a year or so ago. Now it seems crystal clear to me they were ripe for recruitment into a high control group – it could have been Moonies, Mormons or Church of God.
But it just so happens it was a friendly lady who worked at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn that answered their questions and left them hungry for more. I’m convinced that they decided to join on that first visit as the following six reasons make it inevitable they would join something.
I – they had abusive or otherwise difficult childhoods
II – they were young, naïve, unworldly and impressionable
III – they had unsatisfactory religious experiences up to that point
IV – they had a spiritual side to their character which hadn’t found an outlet
V – they were vulnerable – 3000 miles from home and no family infrastructure nearby
VI – they were intelligent but under-educated for their capacity to learn
Now given all that, when someone knocks your door and answers the big perplexing questions in a cohesive and competent manner who wouldn’t be attracted? You have no frame of reference or worldview, no alternative paradigm. Oh – and you will live forever in a paradise earth before the 1914 generation dies off. The prospect of being part of a worldwide movement for change (that your parents don’t know about and wouldn’t approve of if they did) is highly enticing to intelligent young people, and so I was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness – but could equally have been a Moonie or similar. Just chance – that’s all.
And sure enough fast forward to 1969 I was born into a little family of faithful Witnesses in Glasgow– the 2nd son with one older brother Andrew. Mum and Dad had returned to Scotland from Brooklyn in 1958 and continued their Bible Study with local JWs.
On getting baptised they did some regular pioneer work in Glasgow, Dundee and Oban. They then returned to the US – California this time – where they worked domestically for a part of the Hershey family. I believe they lived in Pasadena and went to the Altadena Kingdom Hall between 1965 and 1967. Andrew was born in UCLA Hospital about 6 months before they returned to Glasgow in late 1967.
My early memories are back in the Hebridean Islands – we moved there in 1972 ostensibly to serve where the need was greater. But I’m sure Mum and Dad had one eye on 1975 and a remote island offered a safer place to bring in the end of the world with two young sons to think about.
Those were happy days with unlimited space to run about and explore the countryside – an ever-present danger was drowning – salt and freshwater hazards abounded – so we were well-warned not to drown!
We had a great start to our education with high quality schooling and a stay at home Mum who drilled us in our lessons when we got home. Time well spent though as both Andrew and I would go on to successful careers in spite of the Watchtower injunction to become fulltime paid salesmen for their books and their promise of the end of the world.
Being a Jehovah’s Witness did figure heavily in our young lives. Being on a lightly populated remote island there was no Kingdom Hall – in fact I don’t think London Bethel treated us as a proper congregation – we were classified as an ‘isolated group’. That didn’t temper Dad’s ambition to do things properly. We had 5 meetings a week in our humble home, replete with podium, songs and prayers. I think we had tape recorded public talks from wherever Mum and Dad could get hold of them. I seem to recall my Dad did most of the items and we answered up – a lot.
Later on I would meet members of the Britain Branch Committee who could recall visiting our home (and staying with us) as CO or sometimes DO and our 4 man meeting deal. Getting off the island for the Circuit Assembly and District Convention was a huge adventure for us. Getting up at 4 in the morning for the 8 mile walk to the ferry – 8 hours on the ferry then a 4 hour bus trip to get to Glasgow or Edinburgh. Such excitement that we couldn’t sleep for days beforehand.
There was another family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are on the island to this day. They moved up from England in 1975 and had ideas of self-sufficiency with regard to livestock, garden produce etc. They didn’t choose the best of climates or soil types to facilitate growing stuff – even the goat struggled to get enough to eat – but hey – it was 1975. So as often as possible we would combine forces with the other family to have a joint meeting – maybe a dozen all in when a few hangers-on would turn up. The only problem was they lived about 15 miles away and we didn’t have a car, so we would set off to walk to their house – no kidding. Age 5 and a 15 mile walk to the meeting. Could I be making this up?
We would usually get picked up by someone so I don’t recall ever completing the entire trip on foot, but it’s the thought that counts. The real treat was getting a cup of coffee after the meeting – we never had coffee in our house.
Talking of houses my Mum and Dad between them conspired to live in a lot of different houses. At the tender age of seven I can recall at least 4 houses and 2 different schools. When I say ‘house’ that’s a flexible term – it could be a trailer with a tarp on the roof or a house without electricity or without indoor plumbing – I’d ticked those boxes by that point. I don’t mean to demean what Mum and Dad provided for us – we were the proverbial church mice, but happy for all that – in my case I had freedom and fresh air – what more does a seven-year-old want?
What a seven-year-old boy doesn’t want is to be the new boy in a new school in a new town. And that’s where I found myself in Perth in 1977.
Growing Into My Very Own Constellation
I don’t recall discussing the great disappointment of 1975 as a family. I was only 5 and my “older and wiser” brother was 8. What I can remember was the muted sense of excitement we both felt in 1977.
Shortly after Elvis died, my Dad announced we were moving off the island back to the Scottish mainland. I didn’t connect the death of Elvis with our big move, and rightly so. Mum and Dad were true believers and had moved the family in 1972 to the most remote part of a small country. They must have had some expectation around 1975, and yet the reality of bringing up two boys on a small island kicked in some years later.
It can take a few years for a major reverse to be internalized – think how long it is before a person accepts their home is worth less than it was after a house price crash.
And so Dad set off on a job and house finding mission in advance of the whole family moving. He settled on Perth, a small market town in the middle of Scotland. They had some old friends – Wille and Helen Stewart and their daughter Fiona – who were in a position to help Dad find work. The job he found was caretaker in a block of flats owned by the local authority. And there was a 2 bed apartment assigned with the job! The idea of moving to a town with traffic lights, road markings, more than 2 shops in a row and newspapers available the same day as publication seemed indivisible from pure magic. Throw in a house with a bathroom, a telephone and maybe…just maybe a small black and white TV and we were in heaven already.
So we moved off the island lock, stock, and barrel. All our possessions – plus us – in a small van for the 16 hour journey. The only fly in the ointment was the job and apartment weren’t ready yet when we arrived. So we ended up in a hostel for homeless people. I think we had 4 big iron beds in a room with a number on the door. And I remember rows of cookers with numbers on the front. Each cooker had a correspondingly numbered fridge opposite. And many tables, with numbers on each. It was a white goods showroom nightmare.
Of course starting at the new school as the new boy in the class presented its own challenges. Different accent, smallest in the class and rapidly ‘outed’ as living in the homeless hostel led to a bit of grief. Some unlucky kid pushed me too far and…let’s just say there was no more teasing after that. On the upside I was fast in the playground and well in front academically, so made friends quite quickly.
The homeless situation was over in 4 weeks and we were in our new apartment on the ground floor of an 8 storey block. Luxury. Of course the temptations of the big city soon arrived. How humiliating for me to hear my Dad tell the little boys who knocked our door that Paul wasn’t coming out to play with them – worldlings.
The new congregation was a revelation. At that time Perth had one congregation with over 100 publishers. It was well established with a lot of old school elders – even one of the genuine anointed – perhaps 14 elders and as many servants. Dad was in heaven. He was always a gregarious person – full of chat and always ready to meet new people, make instant friends and invite them over for dinner like long-lost family.
In those days Mum was quieter, more reserved and a listener – a quality I admired in her. She could make anybody talk and no doubt feel good about themselves and her. Dad was knocking himself out meeting new people and I was predictably ‘badly behaved’ after the 2 hour periods of motionless boredom. We still didn’t have a car and the Kingdom Hall was a 45 minute stride away – 2.75 miles to be precise. Sunday morning leave at 9.15am and Thursday evening leave at 6pm. Like clockwork. Also, field service Saturday morning and Sunday after the meeting – no exceptions. We knew the territory like the back of our little hands. We were much admired by the people in the apartment block for being a family that did things together. And of course the winter offered its own challenges with rain, wind and sometimes snow. No matter – we always set off and always made the meeting. Always.
Now here was the thing with my Dad. He loved getting on the platform. And he loved the idea of being an Elder. But – his mental condition as yet undiagnosed – made him eminently unsuitable for a leadership position. And I think the elders in the congregation correctly appraised the situation. Having said that, what he lacked in slickness he more than made up for in effort, genuine affection for people and a love of what he perceived to be the right thing to do. And he was on a religious conveyor belt that constantly stressed the importance of moving forward, reaching out, making your progress manifest, doing more, striving for responsibility, taking care of your duties, etc.
Throw together a brain-damaged man who knows he needs to do more to be worthy and a high control group and of course you will create mental discomfiture. And some of his aspirational peers were not much better than he in teaching ability, leadership skills or shepherding. But he never made the cut. He was an MS who was constantly reaching out to do more all his life. When that entire body of elders was removed by the Circuit Overseer for infighting and the congregation disbanded over a relatively trivial matter, I knew I would never strive for an appointment in the Watchtower Society.
Going back to the early 1980’s after the epic sagas of making the meetings in the islands this was like the New Order had come early, just for us. We had great fun hosting the Circuit Assembly in Perth – marathon vegetable preparation sessions starting at 5am for the hot meals, multiple congregations coming to visit, more people my own age than I could imagine – it was all very heady. The years passed and soon the District Convention relocated from Edinburgh to Perth. Perth truly felt like the centre of the universe. We had even had a quick-build Kingdom Hall – what more evidence did one need of Jehovah’s blessing? Except none of this was that inspiring to me. I felt like where I lived and who I was and who I knew was somehow significant, and yet I wasn’t personally moved.
My teenage years focused on a love of soccer – like I never felt alive if I wasn’t playing. I lived and died for playing. Not that I was that good – well I was usually among the first picked and played for a few school teams – but being small for my age was a disadvantage. And I always knew it was going nowhere no matter if I had been Pele. The congregation boys (and men) played every Sunday night. From about age 10 I was allowed to walk down to the park on my own and play with them, weather permitting. Such freedom. Also Mum signed Andrew and I up for the local tennis club. I was pretty good at that too – I entered and progressed in a few tournaments and was offered coaching. Nope. Nada. Not happening. Saturday morning was field service. But I loved playing and enjoyed it for what it was. A problem I ran into was the lack of JW friends my age and gender within a reasonable distance of our house. No car for Daddy to run me from A to B. Most of the JWs lived in another part of town, so although we had moved from extreme isolation my teenage years now had a different sort of isolation – 80% fact – 20% teenage angst.
Now I recognize the dull ache of a paradigm-less life when I see it and that was me – for whatever reason I just didn’t want to pioneer, I wasn’t enthusiastic about getting baptized and yet I knew Jehovah’s Witnesses had the truth. Where else could I go? And so I was yet another minor gently coerced into a baptism made of family and peer pressure, not of faith or even conviction. I’m sure a future society will come to view this as a criminal act, particularly given the immense ramifications a high control group imposes on recalcitrant defectors such as I was to become.
My brother Andrew and I had an interesting relationship from as long as I can remember. He and Dad had a major personality clash. Andrew was dominant and aggressive and argumentative. Dad didn’t respond well to that – it was an alpha male clash each and every frightening day for me. So Andrew played the big brother role to an embarrassing degree – even his friends would frequently tell him to let up on me – it was like he was my parent. Dad fell into the trap of comparing us in public – Andrew was intelligent and I was handsome – it’s all in the eye of the beholder but those were our roles. And by God Andrew was intelligent and ‘spiritual’ and most bizarrely he enjoyed the company of older people. What’s up with that?
Anyways, Andrew and I became reasonably well-known on the Circuit and even District – we had a lot of high-profile friends and became part of the ‘in crowd’ – as much as people from such a humble background in a rural town could hope to be. Andrew left high school to pioneer. Educationally, he massively under-achieved at this point. I think the school sent a letter home with him saying “What? – Why is one of our best pupils leaving school at 16 to do what exactly?” But nevertheless, he took a variety of ‘nothing’ jobs to pioneer, and stuck at it for 12 years all in.
As for me, I reached the end of high school and knew that unlike my school friends I would not be going to university. So what to do. I had been enthused with “quickbuild fever” so I enrolled in the local technical college to gain a diploma in constructions studies. Really it was a gateway qualification to architecture, civil engineering or quantity surveying for those who hadn’t stayed at school a bit longer and gone straight to university. And I knew I wasn’t going to university. This was becoming like a mantra. I could be a perpetual student and never get to university. And I couldn’t envisage myself doing a semi-white collar job on a building site. It didn’t work for me. And I was never going to be a pioneer. Jesus – give me a friggin’ clue here. I’m only 18 years old and I was already out of ideas.
To make a bit more money whilst at college I’d picked up a part-time job in a menswear store. Quite a cool one at the time. With a generous staff discount I could dress like the models in the catalog – even if I couldn’t be one of them. One of my best customers was going to change my life – he just visited me here in LA over 20 years later – a good friend indeed. I plucked up the courage to ask him what he did for a living and decided I would try to do whatever he was doing….
Leaving Home and Losing My Religion
Sometime in early 1986 my Dad asked me the hitherto unspoken question I had been in patient dread of.
“How do you feel about getting baptized, Paul?”
The problem was that I wasn’t that keen on feeling anything about getting baptized. However it was a fait accompli and I knew there was no hiding place. By this time Andrew was a regular pioneer of some tenure, my peer group was baptized or talking about it, and there was no obvious alternative.
“How does the summer convention sound?” was my tentative reply.
If my Dad had said that I was maybe being hasty and should reconsider, or even if he had simply restated his question more forcibly it would have given pause for thought. The fact is my Dad had an outcome in mind. Firstly he wanted me to be sure of everlasting life and secondly he wanted a model family that would help him get the appointment he craved. He craved and I caved. I was timid, lacking in assertion and yet full of the confidence of youth. And it was the truth, wasn’t it?
Peer pressure bore heavily on me and I wanted to do the right thing. And so at 16 years of age I dedicated my life to Jehovah, Jesus and the Watchtower Society. I felt relieved afterwards, part of the club, accepted. But I never had the coveted and much touted ‘personal relationship with Jehovah’. I was just a foot soldier crawling towards enlightenment – I had paid the entrance fee which granted me life membership to a club of friends. I had no idea that better and true friends were available without these conditions – I didn’t even know there were conditions.
I did well at high school. More than well enough to get accepted to university. Despite my parents being supportive of further education (retrospective regret on their part?) the overwhelming mood in the camp was negative towards it. One extra-zealous pioneer even felt compelled to take me aside and counsel me as to the benefits of immediate pioneering. Dad straightened him out. It was impossible for me to reconcile. Mum particularly wanted me to do well academically and yet five meetings per week were stressing how valueless and inappropriate further education was.
Sorry Mum – you tried hard but the endless brainwashing had more credibility than you and won me over. And so as a compromise I ended up studying construction in a local technical college. How quickly I tired of that. I had already settled in the top 1% of my student peers and Mensa invited me to join their sad club of fools – but that’s another story.
When Douglas came into the menswear store where I worked I was drawn to his self-assurance and ready wit. He was happy to spend the time of day with me and generally be a nice guy. After all I was just a store assistant and he was an important customer. Through time I got to know that his Mum, his sister and his then girlfriend were all buying stuff for him. Who was this occasionally appearing Douglas? I was having a lot more fun working in the store than I was at college, or with other ‘approved associates’. I briefly considered a career in clothing retail, but soon figured that I’d rather be Douglas than be the store assistant or the store manager. Basic logic, but it seemed the best option at the time. So when I had the chance to ask Douglas how he earned his corn I took it. Turns out he was a successful car salesman and with a 30 second prep from him I sallied forth to find an employer who could cope with my precocious failings. It was July 1989 and I was 19.
I feel that my parents and brother sensed that I was slipping away from their control around this time. I had work contacts (aka friends) they didn’t know and couldn’t criticize me for having. But I felt the heat of their disapproving glare nonetheless. I quickly found work selling cars. I was working on a used car lot but it was part of a bigger business. This gained me instant credibility amongst my JW peers. Especially the pioneers liked the occasional Saturday afternoon trip in whatever piece of flash I was driving that weekend. I remember one Thursday night outside the Kingdom Hall – I had procured for myself a recent model Mercedes Benz – quite a large one – one young lad breathlessly urging his buddies to come outside and see Paul’s ‘Rolls Royce’! Quite the change from the poor island boy who walked many miles to the meetings – now I was wearing $1000 handmade suits and driving cars that nobody we knew could feasibly afford.
Now here was the thing. I was still living at home with Mum and Dad. Andrew had left home to continue pioneering down in Chipping Norton, England. So I had a degree of autonomy that was unprecedented – the big brother shadow had moved 400 miles south and I was happy, and happy for him too. And I had the bedroom to myself.
For the last few years I had made a close friend from the Kingdom Hall. Let’s call him Andy, as that’s his name. Andy had a lot of things going for him that captured my teen spirit. He was part of a bigger family than my three “dysfunctionates.” Tick. He had his own sports car. Tick. He had his own apartment. Tick. He was good at sports. Tick. He liked beer. Tick. Despite him being a pioneer and older than Andrew, my parents disapproved of our friendship. Definite tick. And he had a cute little sister. Tick tick tick tick – you get the point.
So Andy and I made a great double-act. He had the PO Elder father and pioneer credibility and I had… em…well I was the junior partner. But boy did we laugh hard and long – and this friendship lasted many decades until I decided the boys in Brooklyn weren’t master of my life. So now Andy shuns me rigorously. Wake up Andy – I’m still here for you.
After a few years Andrew returned from England and retook his half of the bedroom. Though now he had to settle for the bed facing the door. That was major bragging rights and I had them. He had to take second place to me. I never properly understood why he would move back into a small apartment with us, having had a bigger apartment all on his own. Perhaps a lack of confidence.
Anyway shortly after I was offered a job selling cars in Falkirk, about 45 miles from home. It wasn’t practical to commute and I announced my intention to leave home. I was 23. At about the same time I got my first proper girlfriend. Girls and me were complicated. I was quite the Narcissus and had not met my match yet.
I had my eye on a willowy blonde girl from Glasgow for a few District Conventions and thought she was probably out of reach for me. Glamorous, moved in beautiful people circles I didn’t know and otherwise unobtainable. There was no option for me – I had to ask her out on a date or Narcissus would not have been happy, and she agreed. Boom. Take someone with an unburstable ego and add a tall blonde girlfriend and it’s asking for trouble. Except trouble never came. We were a happy duo, and quite beautiful together. We had plenty in common except at my young age I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so we called it quits after a year or so. We are still friends. Thank you Facebook.
I digress, because the real shock to me was Andrew announcing his intention to move to Falkirk with me! This was not part of the plan. He had left home once already and now it was my turn. But apparently Falkirk was a congregation that the Circuit Overseer had on his list as one needing help, and oh boy was our Andrew Help with a capital H.
So I rented a house and then bought an apartment for us to live in. I was the main earner and it felt like being married with none of the benefits. Notwithstanding, I was working with Douglas again, going out with my Glasgow Blonde and generally painting several towns as red as I could get away with.
By the time my nascent relationship with The Blonde hit the skids my best buddy Andy had moved to London. I was a sometime weekend party goer in London. I remember flying down to London on a Saturday evening and caning it with Andy for a night before catching the first flight back to Scotland in time for the Sunday morning meeting. Occasionally I was chairman for the public talk or some such – I was a Ministerial Servant for three or four years – but that’s not the point of my story.
I then fell in with some other vagabonds in Falkirk who introduced me to the delights and benefits of all-week drinking. Idling in the bar with friends is a hard habit to shake even now, and I’m not minded to try too hard. By this time Douglas had to find alternative employment and disappeared offshore in the oil industry. Although Andrew and I shared an apartment, my lifestyle and lack of ‘spirituality’ was upsetting to him. And he wasn’t out on the p*ss often enough for my taste, although we had most Thursday nights after the meeting as a communal drinking session.
So when I was laid off by my employer in 1997 and Andy called the same day offering a job, the scene was set for the next installment of the two amigos. A minor issue was the job Andy had in mind was in IT and I was a car salesman – no matter – I was finally moving to London and the details would take care of themselves…
How To Meet A Wife In Six Weeks
I mentioned a while back my Dad had a pretty bad accident when he was a kid. He was lucky to live. In those days with his injuries they laid you flat-out on a hospital bed and let God decide whether you made it or not. There was simply nothing they could do for serious head injury, bleeding on the brain etc. In Dad’s case he was unconscious 2 weeks and then woke up. He had a severe stammer, but was otherwise good to go. Nobody woke him up – he wasn’t cured – he just woke up. But he was unstable and unprepared for the rigours of life. He could not hold down a job for more than a few years maximum. He was able to fall out with employers in a heartbeat.
Andrew and I used to gently tease him as we got older by asking him to describe a job he had that we knew nothing about. He would always grin sheepishly and ask if he had told us about the time he was an “X.” We counted them one time. Well over 70 jobs – a new one every 6 months. He also had a persistent desire to move house, which my Mum indulged – the location, location, locations came to 35 – give or take. And, of course, congregations – a round dozen or so of those.
So that adds up to a lot of stress for a normally adjusted person – for someone carrying a brain injury it’s vicious. Thankfully they settled down after they moved to Perth in 1977 – we only had 2 homes there until I left home myself in 1993. So Dad basically struggled to function with the day-to-day dramas of life. So joining a cult high control group fundamentalist sect Restorationist Millennial American Adventist off-shoot religion was not the worst thing that could have happened to him. It definitely provided stability, purpose and a positive framework for him to find his place in.
A shame it was and is all lies, but there was significant upside for my Dad. However the real shame was he could have probably found the inner peace and fulfillment and credibility and status he was seeking in any number of communities – maybe it was imperative for him to back a horse, any horse, than not be in the race. Hugh Morrison 1934 – 2006 R.I.P.
It’s January 31st 1997 and I’m hauling two bags through Heathrow Airport. Melinda Messenger had great things in front of her and the tiny country of Albania was breaking in two. I can’t remember if Andy had agreed to come and meet me, or if I had said I would see him at his apartment where I would have exclusive use of his sofa to sleep on. Arrangements with Andy could be open to review at any time – most things were prefaced with ‘maybe’ so there was deniability when it went upside down later on.
Anyways, everything I needed for my new life in London was in the bags. My apartment in Scotland was under the command and control of Andrew so I knew it was in safe hands. A few weeks earlier I had travelled to London for a job interview at the company Andy worked for. They had an Apple Mac Reseller business and my job was to be the same as Andy’s – answering the phone and trying to sell computers, printers, etc. to the callers. I knew I had the job before the interview so the poor HR girl ended up a bit flustered – she wasn’t used to a car sales veteran from Scotland interviewing her.
So I had to get up to speed with IT equipment specifications pretty quick – it was a competitive ‘fastest finger first’ boiler room to get the incoming calls and you didn’t want to waste any time or calls by not being ready with the answers. All good fun. After 18 months I had more than doubled my starting salary and introduced a new credit payment scheme which significantly grew the business for all the sales guys. But there was nowhere for me to go careerwise there, so I decided to take a new job with American giant 3M.
But that was all in the future. And in the present Andy and I were partying hard most nights. And going to all the meetings, where I would invariably fall asleep. I was sleeping on Andy’s sofa so a Kingdom Hall chair was about as comfortable and I had to get zzz’s where I could. Life was busy.
One Friday night we all went out after work – this was central London and I was enjoying the bright lights. Anyway I got into a drinking competition with a few colleagues. Had to show them how the Scots can drink. There was no clear winner and I ended up being escorted out by a few colleagues who were pacing themselves more responsibly. I didn’t know this at the time but they had taken me back to their apartment where for reasons I won’t go into they had to shower me down, and then threw me into a spare bed to sleep it off.
So I woke up in a strange bed – rephrase that – any bed was strange as I normally woke up on Andy’s sofa – and as I came to I realized I wasn’t alone in the bed. There was a large hairy black arm attached to a huge black body in there with me. I was a bit nonplussed as to what exactly may have transpired the evening before to find me naked in bed with a strange black man in a house I didn’t recognise. Hey – welcome to my life. I called Andy for tech support. He figured out where I was and came to collect me. (The black guy was a colleague I hadn’t met before and had similarly succumbed to the falling down juice, so we were an odd couple, but for one night only). I didn’t realize on that Saturday morning that I was going to meet my wife-to-be later that day.
Andy and Phil, the other guy who lived in the apartment, had arranged to meet some JW friends in a salsa club in central London that night. After a bit of persuasion from them I agreed to go along. So we were downstairs in the club and I was recovering from the previous night with the help of a four pint pitcher of lager.
Andy was strutting his funky stuff on the dance floor and Phil was invading the personal space of any girl he could back into a corner. So we offered a variety of options for the ladies. I became conscious of a couple of girls coming down the stairs, and I recognized one of them. We had met in London a few years back and she had also stayed with us for a long weekend in Falkirk – we had a friend in common. I saw her there so unaware of me staring up at her. I was staring at her because I had made an instant decision to marry her. If she had stared back she would have seen a vacant looking guy standing on his own (with a 4-pinter) and I may have had a harder time selling my vision to her. Eventually we got talking and comparing notes and arranged to keep in touch – us 3 lads and Sam and her friend.
After meeting up a few more times ‘in a group’ I decided it was time for the big speech. I rehearsed it a few times on Andy and he agreed it was quite compelling. So I gave it a shot. Initially Sam was not keen on the idea – she had just broken up with another guy and had decided to live the life of a nun for a few months at least. Just as well she wasn’t a mind reader to see the end game I had envisioned, although later I would find out this was a skill she expected of me. But I persisted as I had decided the outcome – eventually I got the sympathy vote and she agreed we could become an item. Perfect – Stage 1 complete. And I had only been in London 6 weeks.
I would go down and stay at Sam’s house most weekends. She lived in a very big house on a beautiful street with her Mum and Dad. I was still sleeping on Andy’s sofa so was glad to get my own bed (and a huge room) at the weekends. I was still sleeping at the meetings, much to Sam’s embarrassment. I toyed with the idea of claiming a sleep disorder but as she knew I was in the pub most nights it seemed a bit unnecessary to gild the lily.
After about 6 months of this I proposed. We were at an all day rock concert at Crystal Palace and I’d had a few beers. One of our favorites Paul Weller had just come on stage – I casually asked Sam to marry me. She went off to sit down and cry – it was too much excitement in one day. Anyway she said yes, so we were all set. A few years later I bumped into Mr. Weller on the street and we got chatting – I mentioned I had proposed at one of his gigs and he seemed quite pleased that he had been somehow involved in my life.
By this time Andy and I had moved from an apartment in North London to West London. Because I was seeing Sam most weekends Andy I had started to drift apart as friends. My fault. I was doing my thing being deeply in love with Sam and her large spare bedroom and Andy had to be left to his own devices. He was seeing a few girls from the local congregations and I knew them vaguely but wasn’t really interested in making new friends. I wish I had paid more attention to one of his new friends – Sarah.
Sam and I were busy making wedding plans and looking for our own place so there wasn’t much time left over. And Sam had all her friends so I pretty much slotted into her social scene. Six months later we were married by an old family friend in a KH white wedding – me and 6 lads from Scotland in kilts. I think it was the first wedding at that KH deep in south London where both bride and groom were in skirts.
Mum, Dad and Andrew came down for the wedding naturally, along with some other good friends of mine. Because Andy had hired a kilt for the occasion he had decided to go out in Richmond the night before to show it off. Needless to say it turned into a late night and he woke up the next day with no idea where or when my wedding was taking place – I got a frantic phone call from him asking the details – he was late and missed the service – DUH.
To save money we had the reception at Sam’s Mum and Dads house. They had enough space for a marquee and there was an ornate Italian orangery attached to the main house so we had a beautiful location for our special day.
After 18 months of splitting my time between two congregations I would now have to settle down and do the 5 meetings a week proper routine – and heaven forbid maybe some field service. Sam and I hadn’t gone out in service together before getting married – I wasn’t interested in going out and she didn’t push it. But things had changed – I was now a proper member of her congregation and I was not keen on the idea of ‘privileges’. I can’t recall exactly what we agreed about having children or not – all I can remember now is that I felt the burden of having to grow up. About a year later I got a sharp reminder from Scotland that you can run but you can’t hide. ‘Reaching out’ was apparently going to be a disease that would be passed father to son, like it or not.
9 Years, 2 Shepherding Calls And 2 Kids
Sam and I quickly settled into happily married life. Neither of us are particularly volatile and we had five or six years advantage on a lot of JW kids who get married at a very young age. So we never had the elders round to ‘help’ us in our marriage. The London property market was just catching fire after a quiet spell in the mid 90’s and we were keen to get on the ladder. We ended up buying a place about 3 miles out of the territory but we decided to keep going to that Kingdom Hall anyway. Nobody said anything to dissuade us, although a friendly elder whose territory we had moved into did make a pitch for our business.
By now I was working for a division of the giant American corporation 3M. I was responsible for taking care of one of their biggest customers in the UK. The job involved some European travel – and also I made my first trip to the US – Minneapolis in February made a Scottish winter seem sub-tropical. Sam was also working fulltime so expectations were I guess quite low for us from the congregation. I always felt we didn’t quite fit there. Strike one – I didn’t want to fit there. Strike 2 – we were both working fulltime. Strike 3 – we were white, middle class and lived out of the territory, which was mainly working class and more than 1/3 Afro-Caribbean. (Racially the congregation was split 50/50 white black and whilst nominally everyone got along fine, it was clear that socializing and friendships tended to be along racial lines.)
But I am reasonably articulate and a Scottish accent in London does not go unnoticed, so it was no surprise to have a few different elders approach me and ask if I thought about Doing More™. My response was terse. No. I had basically settled into a rut where I could miss 25% of meetings, never go out in Field Service, answer up occasionally and give moral support to Sam in her attempt to do the best she could. I had also taken to never wearing a jacket to meetings. A silent protest and an effective mechanism for enabling Doing Less™. Plus the fact it’s never cold enough in London to actually merit anything more substantial than a shirt.
Out of the blue the PO asked if he and another elder could come round for a shepherding call. We hadn’t been expecting this and of course we wondered if there was another agenda. There was.
My Dad had taken it upon himself to write to my congregation elders asking if they could Do More™ to help me Do More™. So although we hadn’t had a shepherding call for 3 or 4 years now there was something in writing that had to be replied to, so we got the call. It was a cringe worthy 45 minutes. They didn’t want to be there, we didn’t want them there and to top it off I was over 30 years old and my Dad had written from 400 miles away without telling me what he was doing or why. It was not the last time I would be on the sharp end of a surprise attack from Scotland. But in the meantime I agreed that I had plenty room for improvement and I would try to find a jacket for the meetings. God knows what they wrote back to my Dad – Paul is looking for a suit jacket?
Before getting married, we had discussed the subject of having children. Good advice to do so, although inevitably things change. For a quiet life flexibility is more important than a list of previous decisions. And we had decided that it wasn’t for us. Neither of us really wanted to bring children up as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We both had happy childhoods, but the tormenting and embarrassment you suffer as a Witness child leaves a gouge in your psyche. Out of our 4 parents only 1 had been brought up a JW and in a ‘divided household’ at that.
And we were busy – work, nights out, assemblies, holidays – the years ticked by and were soon in our early and mid 30’s. Sam raised the question again. It had been the best part of 6 years since we had discussed it. The hints were getting stronger and by now many of our previously child-free friends had kids in tow. It was like looking down the barrel of a gun. Don’t misunderstand – I loved kids but because we had ‘decided’, I had never given the idea of having my own children any mental bandwidth. I hadn’t considered the reality of having kids or the consequences of not having them. I was severely disabled in my thought process.
Sam’s biological clock was on time to save the day, however. Time for one last rearguard action. We lived in a 2nd floor apartment and I said – yes – let’s try for kids once we sell the apartment and move into a house. Six months later we were in the new house. Sam was motivated.
Earlier I had switched jobs to ‘the Internet’ in the year 2000 when fortunes were still being made. I took a sales job with an Internet Service Provider and lost a lot of corporate perks compared to 3M but quickly doubled my salary again. Fortunately the company I was with focused on infrastructure and services, not the infamous dot.bombers – we were selling shovels in a gold rush.
I was now earning six or seven times as much as I had been when I moved to London. We lived in one of the nicest houses in the territory and were driving a flash new German car – you get the picture – life was good and we weren’t hurting for the nice things. The house was too big for just the two of us though. It needed the patter of tiny feet and they soon arrived in April 2005 when we had a lovely son born to us.
Sam was a high risk mother – slightly older for first time, the baby was breech. There was the normal blood issue and a complicating Rhesus issue. For all those reasons Sam had a planned C-Section carried out by the most experienced surgeon in the area and in our brief conversation with the anesthetist beforehand we confirmed our ‘no blood’ stand. It would have been an interesting test of resolve for me if it had all started to go wrong. In any event it didn’t and we had our first son to play with.
Going back a few months prior, just when Sam found out she was pregnant, apparently it was also time for our 2nd shepherding call. The average was steady at one call every 3 years. I’m not sure what the target is for elders but as far as I was concerned the lads were being over-zealous on our account.
Like the first call we had, this one was also prompted by an external trigger. Sam had cooked up the idea of us hosting the Book Study Group. The sister who had been hosting ours for many years needed a break and Sam stepped into the breach. I don’t recall my opinion being sought but it was above my pay grade in any case. And neither Sam nor the sister sought the approval of the elders so we were getting a call, ostensibly about the Group coming to our house, but in actuality a thinly disguised effort to recruit me to the Do More™ campaign.
The PO and a different sidekick turned up again. Before long there were several of the larger publications on our dining room table – Reference Bibles, Insight books etc – it was like a visit from the Big Book Inquisition to find out why I was still using Small Books.
Anyway having been proactively inactive for several years at this point I felt emboldened to reveal to them my true reasons for being a fully paid up member of the Do Less™ brigade. And they didn’t like it. My basic reason was the futility I had observed in my Dad’s quest for organizational progression. I didn’t feel like it was God’s purpose for people to try to move up a religious hierarchy. So no thanks. I will continue Doing Less™.
Their reaction was shocking – to Sam at least – that I didn’t give a rat’s ass. They said my attitude could well mean that the Holy Spirity wasn’t operative on our house and so may prevent us hosting the Group. Sam – newly pregnant and still a true believer – could not believe what she was hearing, burst into tears and fled the room. They were clearly embarrassed – they assured me they were going to check if what they had said was in fact the case and they would come back and let me know. Whatever lads. I showed them out and went to check on Sam. To this day I don’t how you verify whether Holy Spirity is active on a particular house – maybe Google Maps knows.
Now here was the rub – they never came back to us. Soon after we got a sympathy card from the other sister commiserating ‘at this difficult time for us.’ Unbelievable – as well as not coming back to me as promised they had clearly given the other sister a version of events that was nowhere near reality. Sam was devastated and embarrassed in equal measure. I had moved from Do Less™ to Do I Even Want To Be Here. But karma had one last card to play. Within 6 months the PO had been removed as an elder AND, more ignominiously, the Book Study Group was taken out of his house at the same time. Evidently, the capricious Holy Spirity had moved house.
From about this time onwards, through the birth of Archie and a few years following, I was having increasingly radical conversations with safe people. Sam was not yet privy to the full extent of my growing disbelief. Just before the birth of Archie, I secretly joined JWD [Jehovah’s Witness Discussion board].
I remember reading other websites at this time – WatchtowerObserver, Freeminds and JWFacts. It quickly became obvious to me that doctrinally the Watchtower Society had major flaws. I had never considered this before. But more importantly to me I realized there were other people out there who felt the same as I did. From born again Christians to atheists and scientists – there was a whole spectrum of color exploding into my consciousness brushing out the black and white in huge bold strokes of riotous color and anarchistic confusion. Perfect. I couldn’t get enough. But we had a 2nd baby on the way and my mission was to deliver both Sam and the two babies from the clutches of what I now understood to be a high control group.
The Great Apostasy Sets In
“If you ever leave the truth or get disfellowshipped that’ll be that – we’ll be finished.” I clearly recall my Mum laying it on the line. I was 14. As well as making her position clear it also had a powerful impact on me – impressionable children are particularly vulnerable to this sort of emotional manipulation, especially when parental authority is a factor.
So I knew where I stood with regard to my family relationships 23 years later when I decided I would be exiting the Jehovah’s Witness religion. No matter – the die was cast and I was leaving. The Watchtower Society had lied to me about blood, about their history, about the date for the destruction of Jerusalem, about their relationship with the United Nations and about the fact that I would be living forever in paradise with a pet lion and as many oversized vegetables as I could eat.
Oh yes – and did I mention I never really wanted to be a JW in the first place? I think I did alright putting up with the nonsense for the first half of my life. It was the halftime interval and I was changing sides for the second half.
By this time I had read the cautionary tales on the Internet about how some brothers had revealed their desire to leave the JW’s to their true believer wife who promptly collects up the children and moves back home to the safe embrace of her JW parents. I never really believed Sam would react like this but I had to be sure of giving us the best odds of making it out together. What to do, what to do? I had been making Sam aware of my increasing lack of appetite for all things JW – if she hadn’t figured that out by this stage then God help her. She knew I was struggling to show any enthusiasm for the meetings (zero field service for a long time) and that was a drag on our relationship as I was miserable anytime a meeting was in prospect.
Twenty-two-month-old Archie was getting to be a real handful at meetings and our second boy, Bertie, had just arrived. So we were in the middle of a stressful time. Nothing like a Circuit Assembly to recharge your batteries stress you out even more.
We worked hard to get all set to go, but still ended up getting to the Assembly Hall an hour late. I was physically fighting with Archie to keep him restrained in his seat for just one talk in the main auditorium whilst Sam was out in one of the dining rooms feeding Bertie.
I knew then that this punishment would have to stop – I mean what exactly is a grown man doing dressed in a suit, shirt and tie on a Saturday morning anyway? Sam was tearful that day – the stress of a newborn baby that was facing a hernia op, the stress of an excitable 22-month-old toddler, and the stress of being the perfect JW mum was adding up. So when we got home I executed Part One of what I expected to be a long-term strategy.
I had raised the issue of Jesus not being the Mediator for 99% of Jehovah’s Witnesses with Sam’s Mum. I had found the Watchtower Society’s literature with the offending quotes and asked for her opinion. She hadn’t got back to me yet and so I casually mentioned this to Sam after we got home from the Assembly. Sam was curious to know more about the Mediator issue – this is a basic Christian belief that Jesus is your Mediator.
I wager that a large percentage of JW’s have not grasped that according to their own doctrine Jesus is not their Mediator. Sam didn’t believe me that the Watchtower taught this and asked where the quote was. I replied that as we didn’t have that particular piece of literature in our library I would have to show it to her online. She agreed to read the relevant page at jwfacts.com and I nervously hovered as she did so. Amazingly and to my immense relief she instantly grasped the logic of what the website was telling her. The Watchtower says Jesus is not your Mediator. The Bible says he is. It ended for Sam right there.
A lifetime of indoctrination evaporated in less time than its taken me to describe what happened. And so she read a few more pages and understood the whole construct was built on sand. Sam joined JWN the following Tuesday and put our WTS library in the recycling. That Circuit Assembly had transpired to be our last ever meeting with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Just under a year previously, my Dad had passed away after a short battle with terminal cancer. He bravely elected not to have treatment after being given the options and died with much dignity. I respected him immensely for the way he handled himself in the lead up to his death at age 72.
I have often asked myself if I would have left the JW’s if my Dad was still around – I don’t know the answer to that yet. I wish I could have had a closer relationship with both my parents, particularly my Dad, but the way the chips fell it hasn’t been possible. The challenge I accept with relish is to break the cycle with my boys – be the man I want them to become. Oh dear – poor sods, God bless them. (That last part is a quaint figure of speech – God probably doesn’t exist.)
I was starting to travel to the US on business more frequently at this point. Our company had been acquired by a much larger outfit and it seemed a good plan to expand from being European to being global. Another trip to Las Vegas for a 96 hour drinking bender trade show was looming for me and given that the news that we were stopping going to meetings was also bound to travel. I felt obliged to call Scotland to tell my Mum that we weren’t going back. This was received very poorly indeed.
I can’t recall all the details of that first call, but Mum ended up in tears and Andrew, who happened to be there, came on the phone. Amongst other niceties he enquired if I knew that my marriage was going to break up, as that’s what happens when you leave Jehovah. Thanks Andrew – that was a lovely thing to say to someone who had a 6 week old baby. All that ‘training’ you have had as shepherd certainly paid off.
Last time I checked I was still happily married. No doubt in your mind the collapse of our marriage is like Armageddon – widely predicted as coming ‘soon’. On this and a few subsequent calls my mother and brother both let me know exactly what they thought of me – weak, spineless, proud, arrogant, stubborn, lazy, had dragged Sam down to my level – their compliments were effusive.
One particularly astounding comment was from my Mum. Apparently me telling her I wasn’t going back to the meetings was worse news than hearing her beloved husband of 50 years had terminal cancer. Anyone would think I was leaving a cult.
That particular trip to Vegas was ill-timed for several reasons. One – we were leaving a high control group and Sam needed all my support. I had a long time to think things through, whereas Sam was in an emotional mess. She had the toddler, the new baby, and now she was coming to terms with losing some of her lifetime best friends. Secondly, wee Bertie needed a minor operation. So whilst Sam was relieved at the blood issue being taken out of that equation, she still needed me there.
Lastly, with a cooler head she probably wouldn’t have gone round to see a couple, who were among our closest friends, on the day they moved into their new house to tell them we were never going back to the meetings. Inevitably word got back to our elders from several sources that we were not going back. Let the games commence.
Shortly after I returned to the UK, Mum, Andrew and his wife came down to London for my cousin Jill’s wedding. It was like nothing had happened – nobody mentioned anything and it was all sweetness and light. Sam and I had agreed we would not discuss anything controversial with them knowing it would lead to trouble.
But, because our guard was down as they hadn’t raised the subject, we fell into our own trap. I launched into a lengthy description of all that was wrong in the wacky Watchtower wonderland. In hindsight I did myself an enormous favor as this conversation would ultimately prove sufficient to get me disfellowshipped.
The Watchtower Society is a legalistic organization. That means they never saw a rule they didn’t like. A bit like the Pharisees, except with more of an eye for detail. So when our elders heard we weren’t coming back they instigated a well-worn procedure – after all you can’t just up and leave a high control group.
In the first instance they attempted to conduct what is known as an “initial inquiry.” This is carried out when they suspect you may be guilty of something but don’t have all the evidence to prove it. In our case we were suspected of apostasy – defined as “disagreeing with the Watchtower Society leadership.”
And so they sent two goons round to our house – we had agreed to see one of them and he brought a buddy – to ask some loyalty questions. Such as, “Are you attending another church? Do you believe god is using the Watchtower Society? When you read the bible do you use our translation?” etc. Most tedious. But the wrong answer will see you disfellowshipped, and we didn’t want to be disfellowshipped.
Despite the mean spirit shown to me by my family, for the sake of the two grandchildren I wanted to retain a civil relationship, even though the elephant in the room would be a permanent addition to the group photos. And so we bobbed and weaved and obfuscated our way successfully past the loyalty test. The goons left and we cracked a bottle of red.
I say “successfully” as it all went quiet for a few months. I did receive a lengthy rebuttal of the points I’d raised to Andrew. He naïvely reiterated the all too familiar Watchtower beliefs as if somehow that would help me see the error of my ways. I’m not sure why he thought that was a clever strategy – if in doubt repeat Watchtower dogma, maybe. I replied back thanking him for taking the time and that as far as I was concerned the matter was closed. (I could have logically destroyed the content of his rebuttal email line by line but that was not a viable tactic towards the goal of keeping the communication open.)
Just before we went to bed one night, Sam’s mobile rang. It was the former PO (Presiding Overseer) who had been removed as an elder but was now reappointed and leading the charge for information on us. He called at 10:30pm that first time, wondering if we would be willing to meet with them as they wanted our side of the story. What story?
We had been gone for several months and the informal shunning had commenced. Former friends who regularly would stop by the house or call just disappeared off the face of the earth. Complete radio silence. I called him back and fobbed him off. He called again and again and again, usually late at night and always with someone on the line with him. It felt like harassment.
I should have known something was up when I asked my Mum if she was shunning us too. Andrew had already made it clear he was having nothing to do with us. She replied “I will know what to do when your congregation makes an announcement.”
This surprised me – the “announcement” she referred to could only be the “disfellowship announcement,” but as far as I was aware no judicial action was in progress. Wrong – it was in progress. And she knew it.
But still – my mother would keep a nominal relationship active with me until a stranger 400 miles away would announce that I “was no longer a Jehovah’s Witness,” meaning she could not speak to me for the rest of my natural life, without feeling guilty about doing so.
Medieval – but I felt her pain – she was losing her son, her daughter-in-law and her only two grandchildren. It was her decision though – or was it? Difficult to say with cultic groups who is making what decisions.
If the boys in Brooklyn ever decide that shunning is a cruel and unusual barbarism in breach of several parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that splits up families and makes them look like a cult – would my Mum start speaking to me again? And if so, where is her conscience today? Hmmmm…
In any case the urgency and frequency of the calls from this elder were increasing and eventually he invited us to any or all of three dates for a Judicial Committee hearing. We declined to attend as it held no meaning for us.
But curiosity got the better of me – I wanted to know what “evidence” they had on me and who the witnesses to my sin were. Imagine my surprise when I was told one of the witnesses was my brother Andrew, and that he had made a special trip to London to accuse me face to face at one of the previous JC evenings at which I was not present. He had made a 1000 mile round trip to accuse me face to face of disagreeing with the boys in Brooklyn. And yet he didn’t have the decency to travel an extra half mile to knock our door and say hello to me and his two only nephews – who were really just babies. At this point if you believe in Jesus ask yourself what would he have done? Would Jesus be shunning babies, Andrew?
And so we were disfellowshipped within a few weeks. No big deal. Anyone who mattered to us had already decided we were dangerous and were shunning us. We knew the rules and how it would play out. That was over two years ago now and a lot has happened since then. But I’ll save that for the final part of my story.
The End Of The Beginning
As mentioned previously I was starting to travel more frequently to the US on business, specifically Los Angeles. The CEO and I had casually discussed my relocating from London to somewhere ‘interesting’. I mentioned Shanghai as we had just opened an office there, and I always liked Chinese food. So it seemed the perfect choice.
Sam was not enthusiastic about the idea of living in a tower block in Shanghai, and my boss was not convinced I had the required diplomatic skills for the Chinese, but he did ask whether Los Angeles might work for us. Yes….I had seen the bikini-clad beach volleyball enthusiasts hard at work in November. I was sure I could adapt to LA.
The only problem was timing. We were desperate to leave London, as at that point we were still un-disfellowshipped and felt that a move to LA could help us disappear of the JW radar, while still maintaining a civil relationship with my family.
However, the wheels turned slowly and it took about a year to finally get there. By this time we had been disfellowshipped and any hope of fading into the ether had been extinguished. It was sad to leave London – I had spent ten happy years there – and Sam and I had some great friends (non-JW) who we wanted to put in our suitcases. But the chance to live and work on another continent does not come around every day.
In 1977 I was a young boy leaving the Outer Hebridean islands of Scotland for a new life, whilst 5000 miles away The Eagles released their song, “Hotel California.” Over 30 years later I was once again setting off for a new life, this time to California, and would discover the truth of their lyric: I had “checked out, but could never leave.” Unlike Don Henley, we hadn’t yet experienced the madness of LA, but we had the madness of Jehovah’s Witnesses etched deep in our scar tissue.
A cult will try and classify all people as either ‘us’ or ‘them’. Separating the “followers” from the “doomed” in this manner is essential to maintaining control. If you can make people believe they are somehow superior to their misguided and lost brethren, then all manner of unconscionable behavior becomes palatable.
For example: “doomed” relatives can be semi-shunned, safe in the knowledge they are ultimately destined for massive and everlasting justice. I believe this to be at the root of the toxic relationship between Jehovah’s Witnesses and their ‘worldly relatives’. How can you hope to form a close family bond with people that you truly believe to be at least “misguided” or possibly “wicked” and that are earmarked for destruction by Jesus ‘soon’? This is part of the psychological and social separation that differentiates high control groups from mainstream religion.
Of course, the core believers that work for free at Bethel homes around the world are also physically separated from society in a monastery-like environment.
As it stands, my relationship with my mother and brother is non-existent. I know my mother is heartbroken by my decision to leave the group, but she has made her dedication to Jehovah/WTS and will stick to it.
This is where Steve Hassan’s book – Combating Cult Mind Control – proved to be a tremendous help to me. Understanding that cult members have a ‘real’ personality and a ‘cult’ personality and the role of cognitive dissonance makes her dilemma understandable for me.
However, it doesn’t lessen the pain of rejection by your own family. And the knowledge that if I didn’t have children it is unlikely she would be in touch at all. So right now – I’m still conflicted as to whether to keep in contact with Mum or not. It feels like I should be the better person and do the right thing, but also I have limited interest in an ultimately toxic relationship with someone who sincerely believes I’m “murdering my children” by not bringing them up as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps you can see my dilemma.
The reason I mention all this is that after being disfellowshipped, I discovered a lost family I never knew I had. Of course I knew my aunts, uncles and cousins. But I never knew them as people. Real people that had their own hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations. People that would die of natural causes (later rather than sooner I sincerely hope), people who were not going to be assassinated en masse by a vengeful man from the sky.
And for the sympathy, kindness and encouragement given to me by my aunts in the UK and my large extended family in New Zealand I am truly grateful. Over the decades they have had an extended look into the Jehovah’s Witness world and they know the price paid to exit is not insignificant.
We took advantage of being a mere 5000 miles from New Zealand to spend a few weeks with my family there in December last year. Of course Christmas was part of that, and it was a privilege to be part of the family for what is ultimately an enjoyable way to spend time together as “family and friends.” Over the two weeks I got to know my cousins, their partners and children a whole lot better. Hopefully the love and respect is mutual. Ahhhh – I got all soppy for a moment there.
We had a free hand to decide where in LA we wanted to live. I only knew one person there – a business contact – and we had become good friends. I had taken care of him a little bit in London and he had looked after me in LA. Because he and his wife lived in Hermosa Beach they persuaded us to look in that area for a house. It really didn’t take much persuasion.
We ended up in nearby Manhattan Beach. The series of beach towns that make the South Bay are perfect for families – great climate, very safe, near the ocean, high quality schools and housing – what more could we ask for? Nothing really – we felt like we had arrived in heaven without the usual intermediary journey.
Except our one friend left town for a bigger house about 40 miles away just before we moved over. Now we were going to be all alone in LA. This is where a vivacious wife with young children really comes into their own. Sam was soon making new friends left right and center. And so we have a rag-tag eclectic bunch of friends whom we love dearly – and they are all characters with plenty to say and stories to tell. Socializing here is very informal and there are no airs and graces, no grand dinner parties or stuck-up staff to deal with – perfect. There is a big ex-pat community – so no problem finding English friends. But we have also managed to add a few Americans onto our iPhones.
Particularly our American friends that we found via JWN [Jehovahs-Witness.net]. (Thank you to our fellow Brit adventurers Simon and Angharad!)
On a trip over here to look for a house we had a little party night with three people – Dogpatch, Dagney and Aude Sapere – and we have stayed friends with all of them – and also met new people through them. That’s how it works.
We had a great time at the Tahoe meetup last summer – flipper, kudra, pec, barbie doll, eliveleth and many more – it was great to meet you all. Also via JWN Sam spotted a new poster by the name of whoknows and sent them a message wondering if they would like to meet up with us.
We did meet up with and became great friends with Frank and Barbara Kavelin. They have recently been disfellowshipped and so have been able to tell just a little part of their amazing story. Frank was not the first, but the second ex-PO who I have shared a cigar with. Barbara is rediscovering her amazing artistic ability and a long lost love affair with Xmas.(If anyone can tastefully incorporate a naked man into a Xmas card scene it will be Barbara.)
Dogpatch – who you may know better as Randy Watters – lives very close to us, just five or ten minutes away, and we have become buddies really. Randy is a complex character with a huge story and a heart of gold. I have been privileged recently to be helping him with his website – please keep visiting the site and contribute to his work if you can. He has spent 28 years helping people that are looking to leave high-control groups such as the Watchtower Society. Randy is due to our place for margaritas (the door is open my friend – well if you can press harder on the bell this time as I know you didn’t get an answer last time you were here.) Dagney and Tinker – you know you are – come round and smoke a fat Cuban any time – and bring some more of that bourbon – you drank the last lot before you left.
And so I’d like to indulge myself with a few more words about me:
My name is Paul M______ and I’m an “apostate ex-Jehovah’s Witness,” but current member of the human race. I’m happily married to Sam and have two beautiful boys, Archie and Bertie. I enjoy laughing and the company of my fellows, including smoking cigars, drinking liquor and occasionally coarse language. I’m interested in and excited by the future and believe technology, not God, will save us from ourselves. I believe in the fundamental goodness of human nature. Those two beliefs are amongst the few I permit myself. I have straight, gay and one bi-lonely friend – you know who you are, you crazy chick. I hold certain political opinions. I am neither spiritual nor religious, neither consecrated nor devout, you might say. I understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses may be individually moral and good, but collectively are part of a destructive high control group that has cost many thousands of innocent children’s lives – and destroyed the innocence of thousands more.
Thanks for reading my story – it has been a pleasure to write it. I hope it made you laugh and made you think. I encourage all ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses to write their story – not anonymously, if possible.
The Watchtower wants their Star Chamber kangaroo courts kept behind closed doors. Lets bring our stories into the light of day and let the public decide. The Bible said trials should be in public.
Individually, if we can remove the power of the Watchtower Society from our own lives – together we may just achieve a lot more.
We live 50 yards from the ocean…It’s time to go for a beer and watch the sun set in its final destination.
Happy days – please leave me a wee comment below – I would appreciate that.