I can vaguely remember the last time I encountered “apostates” during my years as an active Witness. I recall they made their presence known at a summer convention.
Whatever message they wished to convey seems to have been smothered by the abject fear I had at the time of any who oppose the organization. All I can remember thinking was, “why are they picking on OUR religion, when there are so many more things wrong about, say, the Catholics?”
This ability to think back to one’s time as an indoctrinated Witness, and contemplate what it was like to be in fear of anything or anyone opposed to “Jehovah’s organization,” is sadly a resource not always called upon by former Witness activists.
Sometimes, when one observes the methods used by former Witnesses in pursuing their activism, one is left wondering whether they can remember anything at all of what it was like to still be a Witness – terrified of even looking at the apostate bogeyman, never mind listening to his angry words.
More recently, videos have been posted to YouTube depicting what I am now calling “aggressive activism” – former Witnesses confronting JWs on the street or at places of worship; goading and mocking them with condescending and belittling words.
I have been familiar with this approach ever since I was a Witness, and truthfully I CAN sympathize with it. When you feel something has been taken from you that cannot be replaced, whether it is a family member (through shunning) or years wasted in cult servitude, it is difficult to stop the anger from spilling over and manifesting itself.
I have often imagined myself causing a scene at an assembly or convention – persuading myself that such actions would always be with the goal of waking people up, when in fact I have known deep down it would simply be about unleashing my primal urges for revenge on a group of bewildered and terrified cult victims.
Common sense should dictate that if you are going to set about the delicate task of untangling the amalgamation of years of extremely potent cult indoctrination, the way to do it is not through shouting and intimidation.
Arguments are not won by the one who can shout the loudest, but by the one who can present the most compelling argument when the opportunity arises. And no information can be absorbed in any meaningful sense by a victim of indoctrination if it is being thrust at them against their will. To suggest otherwise is to fail to grasp what undue influence is and how it works.
The problem is that so many examples of aggressive activism now proliferate that pointing out how deeply unhelpful and even counter-productive it is has become taboo among former Witnesses. I found this out to my cost recently when I dared to point to the elephant in the room in a fairly innocuous post on my Facebook page. Though my observations earned more than 300 “likes,” they also prompted a fierce backlash.
I was accused of being “judgmental” and “divisive,” and one website even briefly allowed someone to post a long rant about how I was a cyber bully and self-styled cult leader. This same individual went on to make further accusations about me that were downright slanderous, suggesting that I may be a sex offender and dragging my wife and baby daughter into his comments – and all because I had committed the heresy of voicing an honest opinion on what I consider to be an important subject.
The simple truth is that most people who know anything about undue influence and how pervasive it is understand deep down (even if they might be reluctant to admit it) that aggressive activism is at least potentially detrimental to the goal of awakening those who are indoctrinated.
True, everyone is different, and there will always be the occasional Witness who responds to being shouted at and ridiculed about his faith. But for every one of these there are surely dozens who will retreat deeper into their indoctrination when their cherished beliefs are threatened. It is therefore a numbers game, and logic dictates that if a certain approach is detrimental to the majority it should be dispensed with in favor of a more effective alternative.
And in what I call “strategic activism,” such an alternative is readily available.
The internet is fast proving to be Watchtower’s nemesis. Not only does it make objective information freely and easily available on a scale never before seen. It also makes meaningful activism accessible to almost anyone through the burgeoning social media phenomenon.
YouTube in particular now offers anyone with something to say the platform to say it in front of thousands or even millions. The most gifted convention speakers would struggle to boast the audience figures that are attainable from a well-put-together YouTube video.
Considering the opportunities now available to the modern activist, coupled with the advice of cult experts like Steven Hassan who urge a “strategic approach,” it seems only too obvious that the gung-ho, in-your-face methods of yesteryear are unnecessary, unproductive and obsolete.
But more importantly, for anyone who can remember anything about what it’s like to be a Witness, these brash methods are more likely to delay someone’s awakening than to accelerate it.
Taking to the streets with a handmade sign or a loudspeaker may feel empowering to someone who is bearing deep scars and feels the urge to act out in some way, but we owe it to those who are still inside to make it easier for them to leave – not harder. And by caving in to our primal urges for revenge, and shouting and goading perplexed victims of Watchtower’s undue influence, we squeeze ourselves snugly into the “mentally diseased” stereotype Watchtower has fashioned for us.
It is for these reasons that I am now distancing myself firmly from those who carry on aggressive activism in its various forms. I care too much about the fate of ordinary Witnesses and their children to endorse those who engage in such behavior, either tacitly or otherwise.
I know I am making enemies by taking this position – that much is clear from the abuse I have been subjected to already. But if there is one thing my opponents need to know, it is that trying to silence me only makes me want to shout louder. And exploring and promoting productive, non-confrontational ways to help wake up Jehovah’s Witnesses is, in my view, a cause worth shouting about.