The Unexpected Kindness of the World
avatar

Random acts of kindness by "worldly" people are not as rare as most Witnesses might expect

Random acts of kindness by “worldly” people are not as rare as most Witnesses might expect

As a Jehovah’s Witness child, our religious community was seen as a spiritual paradise in contrast to all other organizations on earth. This mindset was routinely emphasized in Watchtower publications.

One Watchtower assures us that “[God] has made it possible for honest hearted ones to move out of the wicked world, figuratively speaking, and into the spiritual paradise that he has created.” (“Dwell on What Jehovah Has Done for You,” Watchtower, 15 January 2011)

Our worldwide brotherhood did seem rather impressive to my young mind. Wherever we were, it was no rare thing to find ourselves staying over and sharing dinner with new Witness “friends.” Over a home cooked meal we’d swap “How did you come into the truth?” stories, make small-talk over the latest Watchtower publications, and after us kids were hushed away to listen to taped Bible dramas, the adults might engage in gossip over those that had recently succumbed to the world.

“The world” was JW jargon to encapsulate everyone that didn’t happen to also be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Faithful members were encouraged to be vigilant, because any number of demonic lures could snatch a loyal Witness from Jehovah’s organization into the clutches of the wicked world.  A hushed mention of the term was enough to carry my mind to Live Forever book illustrations; I mentally transposed the faces of the disfellowshipped over those of opium addicts, disco harlots, and gay cowboys.

1982_Live_Forever_Pg_131

Live Forever book, page 131

 

1982_Live_Forever_Pg_182

Live Forever book, page 182

 

This condemnation was not exclusively reserved for the unreligious. Other Christian faiths were considered to be part of the wicked world. And our religious publications seldom wasted an opportunity to contrast the JW version of Christianity with our competitors.

For example, the 2014 Yearbook contains the account of a Somali woman who accepted an invitation to visit a Kingdom Hall. There she grew angry when no one welcomed her and stormed out of the door. Later when she told her experience to the Witness that had invited her, they all realized that she had mistakenly visited another church building. The anecdote ends by sharing that the Somali woman eventually found the Kingdom Hall, was warmly welcomed, and became a regular attender.

Accounts like this are used to infer that even among the religions of “the world” there is no kindness like that of the Witnesses. There is another undercurrent that runs through this and similar JW anecdotes. A warm welcome is merely the first step in the conversion process.

As an adult, I began to see that the JW version of kindness didn’t always match the Watchtower picture. The initial love bombing was soon replaced by a sort of caste system that celebrated those that held position and disregarded those that didn’t live up to the heavy load imposed by the Governing Body. And those that ran afoul of any number of the religion’s rules might be expelled.

Witnesses that once rushed to embrace someone entering through the front door would as quickly turn away from someone shoved out the back. I experienced this myself when I was disfellowshipped for the crime of not agreeing.

After separating from the Witnesses, I accepted invitations to visit other churches. In attending some of these religious rivals, I couldn’t help but notice similarities. As I entered old churches, converted theaters, and the occasional dank basement, I was bombarded by smiling, Holy book-holding people. Questions such as “Who are you?” and “Are you visiting?” were quickly followed by invitations for Bible study and baptism. The jargon was different but the experiences weren’t far off from my JW background.

It also wasn’t rare for those groups to claim exclusivity due to the love they showed one another. An acquaintance that was raised in a high control group, commonly called the 2×2’s, talked about how his own childhood was marked by religious-vacations to stay at the houses of various “friends.” His mother was proud that they could count on anyone of their faith to take them in off the road. It sounded like my own family.

After I separated from the JW religion, it was sometimes a challenge to integrate into the world. A discomfort or awkwardness lingered when associating with people of different backgrounds. The stigma was all on me due to my upbringing. But over time I widened out and met people of different backgrounds – some of whom became real friends.

Recently I took a trip to western North Carolina, a scenic area on the east coast of the United States. My girlfriend and I were hosted by a couple who lived half-way up a tall mountain with gorgeous views of the scenery. We were complete strangers, just introduced online. We made shrimp and steak tacos for our hosts as a small thanks for the paradise-like accommodations that would have rivaled the most exclusive resort. As we drank frosty bottles of Negra Modelo with our new friends, we learned about their incredible lives.

mountain_home

The North Carolina mountain retreat where we stayed

 

He was 60’s student who enlisted in the military to serve in the Vietnam war before getting out as an objector after a crisis of conscience. Back home he became a street flower vendor before opening his own shop. She was an ethnobotanist that toured the world conducting research for National Geographic. He told us about the local foliage. She told us that cannibals loved SPAM, because it allegedly tastes like human flesh.

For example, many use tobacco, chew betel nut, or take drugs for recreational purposes. – “A Godly View of Life”, What Does the Bible Teach?

And she told us about betel nut. As a JW, betel nut was considered another of Satan’s machinations that could catapult an unsuspecting Witness straight into the world. It was up there with marijuana and tobacco, though no one seemed to know exactly what it was. Our host told us that betel nut was chewed by islanders from the age of nine onward. It resulted in addiction and the loss of teeth. Thanks to the Watchtower I dodged the bullet on that one. I could have had dentures at eleven!

The couple enthusiastically explained that they had made hospitality their way of life since touring Europe as young adults. Although decades had past, they vividly gave accounts of being approached to share a tent, roof or meal. When they returned to the States, they wanted to do the same and have continued to open their home to others passing through.

As we toured the local downtown an Eastern-European girl approached asking for directions. She was working as a counselor at a rural summer camp and was planning to walk back. The couple insisted they drive her. As we dropped her off and waved goodbye, we exchanged smiles and waves that transcended language. And there were no religious tracts exchanged.

We only stayed two nights, though our hosts implored us to stay more. Instead we set out to explore the local area, camping high in the middle of an expansive forest. By day we ventured down into the valley towns and city. One night we ended up staying too late enjoying cocktails and local music. A greeting to another couple led to another invitation to stay over.

The next afternoon another set of new acquaintances took care of our lunch bill. Beyond hospitality and food, we received housing advice, job leads, personal tours, conversation, and more. All came without an expectation of anything in return, not even a visit to a church building.

In religions like JW’s, kindness is not free or without conditions. When directed toward outsiders it is with the anticipation that it will lead to a conversion. But as easily as it is given, it quickly goes away whenever someone runs afoul of the religion. It’s true that in many places in the world kindness may be rare, but to insinuate that it can only come within one tiny Christian sect is simply false. It’s a lie told to enforce us-versus-them style thought control.

The more I’m exposed to the world, the more I’m exposed to genuinely kind people that give from the heart rather than religious obligation. And like my hosts, it motivates me to want to show similar kindness to others. Have you ever experienced unexpected kindness from “the world?” Please share it in the comments.

 

 

anthony-signature2

Anthony Mathenia is the author of a new JW fiction novel Happiness, Next Exit, to be released August 24th. Follow him on Twitter at @armathenia.

Bookmark the permalink.

79 Responses to The Unexpected Kindness of the World

  1. Wanderer says:

    Is the Watchtower Society the only religion that does no charity work?
    How do they receive charitable tax exemptions if they do no charity work?
    Why are they begging for money when they do no charity work? Similar sized religious organisations have their own charities and don’t overtly beg for money, I don’t understand how they have mismanaged their funds so much.

    • anonymous says:

      I think they can get charity status because Witnesses don’t ask for a certain amount of money they leave with the householders and the elders aren’t paid a salary.

      There is a lot of unpaid labor (charity) but it isn’t exactly voluntary, since if Witnesses don’t go in service, spending their money on the gas and cars etc. , they think they will be killed at Armageddon. The reason it isn’t exactly “voluntary” is because they are guilted into doing it or die at Armageddon.

      The Witnesses are guilted into putting money into the contribution boxes to pay more for the upkeep of the Bethels and the Bethelites and the Kingdom Halls because they are told that everything belongs to Jehovah anyway and so whatever they have doesn’t belong to them anyway and belongs to Jehovah and they equate giving to the Organization as giving Jehovah back what He owns anyway.

      All those Bethels and Bethelites and new digs at Warwick and the Kingdom Halls cost a whole lot more than it does for those cheap little magazines that people “place” with individuals.

      One hundred years ago the Watchtower printed out that literature and sent it to people through the post office and the Society was still able to make money on it. You know they made money because of all the Bethels and branches they built with that money in those olden days. They accomplished a whole lot more in those days with less Witnesses in Bethels compared to what they do today with thousands of Bethelites and hundreds of branches. The magazines were 32 pages and the writing was packed into those pages. Now there’s more pictures and very little writing and hardly any true “meat”. Today, the money is going for all the Bethels and Bethelites and branches and all the trucks and heavy equipment and upkeep of the Kingdom Halls etc. The amount of money for the upkeep of all the Society owns and supplies food for those people running all those places, has to be staggering.

      In the old days, Witnesses didn’t own their Kingdom Halls. They rented small buildings and they rented school gyms for assemblies. They paid for their own Kingdom Halls and they paid for the upkeep. They paid for the literature at the back of the Kingdom Hall as there was a set price for everything and then when they “place” the literature, they “sold” it for that price and the money was to be put in the contribution box so the Society was getting paid two times for that literature. That is how they made money.

      When they couldn’t charge the Witnesses anymore (charity status being taken away then), the Witnesses were still told to put that money in the contribution boxes for the literature anyway but it was done in a subtle way, not overtly. The Society is still making money on the literature but it’s not enough to support all the building work and the Bethelites and the branches and all the upkeep etc. so they had to come up with more and more ways to “trick” money out of the Witnesses without passing the “plate” like they had always promised they would never do.

      The money to make the literature pales in comparison to all that that has to be paid for but the placing of the literature is supposed to be the reason for the season but really, it’s just an ends to a means. The means is acquiring more property. As long as they take that money and put it into more “religious” property, they can still keep calling themselves a charity.

      That is the way I see it.

      • Wanderer says:

        I still don’t know how they can’t do any charity work at all, do they not read the bible or seek to follow the example of Jesus?
        I overheard some family saying how fantastic it is the Society direct debits from their bank accounts, now they will never forget to contribute. Hearing that made me feel uneasy that they are giving their hard earned money to help pay for the child abuse settlements.

  2. Svete says:

    Great article and yes I can confer that only after leaving did I notice the genuine selfless generosity of every day individuals, doing good deeds with no expectation of anything in return. Not doing it because it was the expected thing to do – but rather was because they wanted to and the right thing to do.

    One of the things that I noticed is that as a JW you don’t oftern receive kindness from “worldly” people, and that re-enforces the “them and us” view of everyone in the world essentially following satan.

    The reality is that JW’s appear so unfriendly, aloof and superior to others that other people don’t feel inclined to other kindness to them. Imagine a group of JW parents in the school ground picking up their kids. They don’t talk to anyone besides the other JW’s they dont volunteer, or invite other kids back to their home. Their kids don’t go to other kids homes etc etc. This unfriendly view they unwittingly create for themselves is the reason people often don’t offer kindness out to them – why would they?
    It has nothing to do with them being in the “world”

    The reality is that as soon as I stopped going those same people were honest with us, and then offered the same kindness they showed to everyone else – and it was truly genuine.

    Add to that how many of them are genuinely happy and satisfied in their lives, their not gossipers and materialistic – compared to the JW’s who don’t realize how unhappy they are following an empty ideology, materialistic and forever gossiping about everyone, you see how genuine and normal these so say “worldly” people are.

  3. Cherie says:

    This post really resonated with me. My parents were inactive for many years. One of the reasons was they way they were treated in the congregation. I remember my mother saying, “Sometimes you find the people of the world are pretty nice.” She was right. That’s been my experience, too.

  4. Pedal'r says:

    Like many, I, too, appreciated this article very much.
    I left in ’07 after purposefully committing fornication. I was warned that life would be so much worse once I walked out those doors. Jehovah would remove His protection of me. I looked incredulously at the elder who made that chilling prophecy. Really? It can be worse than having my world turned upside down by a believing husband who sexually abused my daughter? Really?
    In the 8 years I have been out, I have found the true meaning of unconditional love among worldly people. They have shown me great acts of love, kindness, generosity without expectations of return. I have found acceptance into families based upon who I am as a person, not my position or lack thereof, in the congregation.
    This mystifies me because of the years of indoctrination from the jw’s. Their portrayal of worldly people being uncivilized beasts warranting death. I had people I loved dearly within the organization. My hope is they’ll some day wake and escape.

  5. Bret says:

    The guy in the picture from page 182 of the live forever book is a Circuit Overseer by the name of Daniel Cukar.. Once you get to know him he is true to the picture on the right hand side.. Or at least his personality fits that picture of the looser.. He finds all the Elders who love to kiss up and pad his pockets otherwise he will have little to do with you..

  6. Melka says:

    I loved this article. It’s such a good reminder to always be on the lookout for ways to help people.

    Before I left, I would have helped people that I saw in need, and I even gave money to the homeless, but if I was ever in the presence of another witness, I would usually end up feeling guilty. Not being able to donate or volunteer for groups who actually help people is something I never understood, nobody ever actually could ever tell me a clear answer why we couldn’t, and that never sat well with me. So I did it on the sly and thought I would die at Armageddon. Talk about ridiculous.

    I find people everywhere who do simple things to help people around, or little gifts to show they think of you. People aren’t very wealthy in my community, but the friends I have now and my neighbors, would do anything for me, because they tell me that! “If you need anything, just let me know.” And they know the same goes for me. No witness besides my mom and dad ever uttered those words to me in my life.

    When people give us things, like for instance this summer already, one of our neighbors gave us a nice tomato plant, some extra amusement park tickets, another neighbor brought us a bunch of sweet corn on the cob, and another neighbor comes to tell us to help ourselves to her garden and fruit trees and bushes, and someone leaves baskets of veggies, I’m sure it’s our neighbor with the large garden, but it’s not when I’m home, and she denies it. I am surrounded by loving, wonderful non-JW’s. It’s hard to repay people, but if I ever think of something nice I can do for them, it’s always met with “You didn’t have to do that!!!”, because people like to do things for other people. And from my personal experience since coming out of the org., the most fulfilling and joyful part of life is finding ways to help others, just to help, and not to get anything in return. That’s the kind of attitude I am finding on the outside. And to me, these people around me are making the world a better place by being here, and they make the people that they know better people. I could never say that about any JW besides my mom, but including my own family. I know they’re out there, but while they’re stuck in the org, they don’t have the freedom to actually reach their full potential, that’s very sad and tragic. And how can anybody claim to be a Christian when they’re not helping the needy or less fortunate? I just don’t understand.

  7. Bad Penny says:

    When my husband and I went into the ‘truth’ it became first in our lives. My husband lost his job because he refused to work Saturdays – field service came first!
    As you can imagine, we struggled financially at this time.
    One Friday evening we heard a rustle at the front door. On opening the door we found a large sack of potatoes! What a blessing from Jehovah, we thought! Some kind brother has seen our dilemma and tried to help.
    Ten minutes later a knock came on the door. ‘Can I have the potatoes back, I’ve delivered them to the wrong address’!
    Unexpected kindness was indeed a rarity throughout our 30 years of service.
    So glad we are out in the real world where we can choose our own real friends!

  8. JJ says:

    All through my years in ‘The Truth’ I heard the advice, “Don’t do business with other Jehovah’s Witnesses!!!”
    That was good advice!
    Not all of the JW’s are dishonest swindlers but there are quite a few who are. Beware.

    • al etheredge says:

      You are exactly right. While a Witness I worked at a used car lot ran by an elder. It was shocking what he would say to sell a car, and Witnesses bought it hook, line, and sinker. After all, he was an elder and wouldn’t lie to them.

  9. RC8man says:

    I don’t understand how any religion can be granted a charity status. I served for almost 1/2 a century, 25 years as an elder. When out of work I never got a penny. But the local Bavarian Catholics surprised us with a basket of food to my family on xmas because they checked the register for local unemployed! No tracts involved. All my myriad friends are just local people who like me! The JWs called once to ‘see how I was’ and offered to study with me! Because the CO had a campaign going in England to ‘save’ fallen members. Made me sick. Hypocritical actions.

  10. newcarrion says:

    Have an adult child fighting a second battle against a deadly disease. Elders in at least 3 congregations are aware of this struggle. Our child is still waiting for a call, or card of encouragement.

    The only concern expressed by these elders was an inquiry; whether or not, the child was in good standing so the medical liason commitee could offer advice on blood. Not even so much as a “How are ya feelin ?”

    In contrast “worldly acquaintances” have gifted thousands of dollars, and expressions of love and kindness, prayers, and wishes for successful treatment.

    Go figure ??????????????

  11. Grace says:

    Newcarrion,

    That’s so disgusting yet I have read so many times of similar stories like yours. I’m sorry that the WT has spiritually abused your family too. I hope that you have success in keeping the love in your family.

    This religion is getting more & more ridiculous to me every day as I wake up from the indoctrination.

    I have lost a daughter too so I want you to pass my love on. Please don’t let them beat you.

    Much love.
    Grace

    • newcarrion says:

      Thank you, my wife and I are amazed that the expressions on this site so often mirror our own feelings, pain, and hope.

      God bless you.

  12. Anthony Mathenia says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Check out my new novel a young JW woman who must choose between true religion and true love. On Kindle now, with print and others to come.

    Peace.

    Happiness, Next Exit

  13. Steven Stone says:

    funny but i had the Xact OPPOSITE experience of the world. when i went into the world i was SHOCKED at just how cold and PHONY worldly people were !

  14. Joseph Dyer says:

    I loved serving God’s flock. So many in the two congregations were fighting depression and medical illnesses. My love was reaching out to assist them and those that would fall into sin. I was babtized in 1983 and served as an elder for 12 years. I loved encouraging. But struggled with shunning. I never wanted to be on commitees. because, I myself was aware of my own imperfections and felt it was a weighty matter to be on a judicial committee. But loved visiting disfellowshipped ones, inviting them back to the fold.I always hurt me when others would put our brothers and sisters down because they had mental problems. I worked very hard to help individuals get reinstated. Then, i made a terrible mistake. I can’t blame my PTSD or the heavy stress on my sin. But I was unfaithful to my beloved wife. I confessed to Jehovah, my wife and the elders right away. My wife could not forgive me. 8 years, I am still disfellowshipped. I have panic attacts at night. I am alone, depressed, and fell so unworthy of any form of forgiveness. I am trully a lost sheep. don’t think i will ever get a visit from the elders. to be honest, I feel it would of been more loving for the brothers that i once serve with. If they would of took me in behind the hall and put a bullit in my ear. I know i will never be forgiven. that is what the truth has taught me.

    Respectfully,
    The sheep that got lost.

    • Ricardo says:

      @Joseph Dyer,
      What an experience! Isn’t it sad that you are just one of the many ‘road kill’ just left to look after yourself? But doesn’t it tell you something? Doesn’t it remind you of the illustration of the Good Samaritan? Who are the priest and the Levite in your case? The witnesses, yes? We have forgotten how to love.

      When I realized that our organization has a culture of bullying among the leadership toward the rank-and-file, I started questioning if this is Jehovah’s organization. How can the elders be in Jesus’ right hand if there is a culture of bullying? Jesus was a kind, loving, caring leader. His leadership would not produce a bunch of bullies.

      For you, don’t lose sight that Jehovah loves you. Don’t expect anything from this group that have forgotten to love. Remember, there are decent people in this world who do care.

  15. Free Mind says:

    Mr. Dyer, Your comments have touched my heart. I too was once a strong Witness. Raised in it since 1974, baptized in 1982 at the age of 13. Became a Ministerial Servant at around 19-20 years of age. In the 1990’s I made some mistakes and was dis-fellowshipped. A year and a half later I was reinstated, though I did this so I would not be shunned anymore.

    I can certainly relate with the feelings of stress, loss of family, loss of religion and loss of self worth. I even got to the point of considering ending it all for myself.

    I cannot say I can relate to PTSD from battle but I believe there are some similarities when losing all that you have come to know and love.

    I am now at a point in my life where I am experiencing true joy. There is a scripture that speaks of the heart “leaping with joy.” I remember thinking that was just a metaphor, but it actually does happen.

    It has been a long process which began with thinking for
    myself and lots of reasoning. Please know that I care about you, and it is my sincerest hope that you can successfully break the chains that bind you, that your heart may too ” leap with joy!”

  16. After separating from the Witnesses, I accepted invitations to visit other churches. In attending some of these religious rivals, I couldn’t help but notice similarities. As I entered old churches, converted theaters, and the occasional dank basement, I was bombarded by smiling, Holy book-holding people. Questions such as “Who are you?” and “Are you visiting?” were quickly followed by invitations for Bible study and baptism. The jargon was different but the experiences weren’t far off from my JW background.