Some of these changes, like being shunned and cast aside by family and friends, have been difficult to deal with. However, when discussing what happens when you leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I feel it’s important to share the more positive side of the story.
Even through the emotional manipulation that the religion’s shunning policies inflict upon those who leave, there are so many ways my life is much happier and more fulfilling.
Here are five ways my life has improved since deciding to leave the religion.
I am more accepting of those different from me than I was previously.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, being friends with people who thought differently to you or had a different belief system to yours was not allowed. Those people were considered “bad associations.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are opposed to the LGBTQ lifestyle. Due to the influence of the JW anti-gay doctrine, I frankly had an extreme prejudice bordering on hateful disgust for homosexuals. My views on the subject, though, softened somewhat when I found out a close relative was gay. However, until I left, I never fully accepted what I viewed as their “choice” of “lifestyle.”
Since leaving the religion, I have realized my views were not just incorrect, but not in alignment with the true morality of treating my fellow human beings with dignity. I now consider myself a strong supporter of universal human rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender. I also no longer view others’ sexuality as a something to judge, and I certainly don’t view homosexuality as immoral or anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I wholeheartedly accept people from all walks of life into my circle with open arms.
My thinking has also evolved on the subject of politics. Though Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to remain neutral in politics, because of the conservative nature of many doctrines, I used to identify more with the religious right side of the spectrum, and would never have been friendly toward someone identifying as a liberal. However, now that I have decided to listen to different viewpoints and judge them for myself, and not through a filter of extremist ideology, I find that I am more open to new viewpoints and have accepted some viewpoints that I previously would have derided or rejected.
Deciding to set aside religious and personal prejudice has been one of the most enlightening, enriching and satisfying things I have ever done. It has improved my life greatly by opening my world to new friends, and being able to reconnect with a family member that I never thought would forgive me for the kind of person I used to be.
I spend more time with my wife and kids than ever before.
Being a good Jehovah’s Witness requires you to sacrifice a lot of free time. Four hours of meetings a week, not counting travel time. Every Saturday morning is blocked out for field service (door-to-door preaching).
Again, the JW doctrine of avoiding “bad associations” affected activities with my children. No little league. School functions such as dances, holiday concerts, etc. are frowned upon.
Now, our family is amazingly close compared to just a year ago. We play games at home, frequently go out to eat as a family, we are active in our kids’ school lives and we encourage them to enjoy their education.
My relationship with my wife is also greatly improved. We are truly best friends, and the lines of communication between us have never been more open. Being able to come home after a day at work, sit down with her and eat a meal and play a game is one of the best things in life, and we do it even more now that we have more time on our hands.
My wife and children are now paramount in my life and are my top priority. The thought that I previously gave a religion higher priority than my own family is now quite shocking to me.
I now do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses think that individuals that voluntarily leave the organization just want to live an immoral life. Many scare stories are told in meetings and publications of those that leave and become prostitutes, get involved with drugs, or become alcoholics. Though that is the case with some troubled individuals, it is the exception rather than the rule.
My moral compass has not changed. If anything, it has improved. By this, I mean that I don’t view people as second class citizens, or as if they’re beneath me for having a different viewpoint.
In short, I now do the right things for the right reasons. My motivation for doing right isn’t the desire for a divine reward of making it to paradise. It also isn’t the fear of divine retribution at Armageddon. My motivation for doing what is right is because it’s the right thing to do.
Isn’t that a more honest form of morality? What’s better: someone doing what is is because they are “keeping their eyes on the prize,” or someone doing what is right because that’s who they are on the inside, and have nothing to gain?
I no longer feel guilty for enjoying the little things in life.
I mentioned earlier how most Jehovah’s Witnesses block off Saturday mornings or weekend time for preaching. If you don’t go, the institutional guilt makes sure you don’t enjoy your weekend like you could.
I remember skipping service on Saturday, yet not wanting to go out for breakfast with my wife and kids because we were afraid of running into Jehovah’s Witnesses and having to explain why we didn’t go out in service.
Let me say, those days of fear, obligation and guilt are now behind us. Being able to sleep in on a Saturday or Sunday and go out for breakfast without the thought that you’re not “doing enough for Jehovah” is such a blissful thing.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that recreation is okay, however it should always take a back seat to spiritual matters. This mentality makes it hard to enjoy the little things in life like eating out.
That JW voice in your head says, “Maybe I shouldn’t be eating out… maybe I should have donated this money I spent.” Sometimes, the voice chimes in when you skip meetings and service to go on vacation. “Other people go preaching on their vacation. Maybe I’m not a good JW because I’m skipping that.”
Our family now takes frequent trips without feeling guilty about spending time and money on ourselves. We decided to purchase Disney World annual passes this year – a pretty big purchase. Previously, we would have been wracked with guilt about spending so much money on “Satan’s system of things.”
That purchase, though, is one of the best we’ve made as a family. Being able to really enjoy oneself while doing normal family things seems like such a little thing. However, we are just discovering how fulfilling family life can be now that we don’t have a cloud of guilt hanging over our heads.
I no longer suffer from serious bouts of depression and anxiety.
Prior to leaving the organization, I suffered from many serious bouts of depression and anxiety. There is a constant, overwhelming pressure heaped on members of Jehovah’s Witnesses to do more. And if you’re not doing more, then you’re not doing enough. There is also the anxiety associated with the chance of having to make a decision someday about whether or not to let your wife and kids have a blood transfusion or die.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to preach a message of hope and comfort. However, the organization frequently appeals to negative emotions and highlights negative things about the world in which we live to fit their eschatology. The JW message thrives on tragedy and disasters. Every bad thing that happens in the world is highlighted, repeated and pointed to as “evidence” that their interpretation of scripture is true.
When you are raised in an environment such as this, it is easy to give in to the constant barrage of sensationalism and negativity. I never realized how negative my thinking was until I started going to therapy and ultimately separated myself from that influence.
There was something former Scientologist Sara Goldberg said in the HBO Documentary Going Clear that resonated with me. She said: “People are so indoctrinated and have been in Scientology for a really long time, or they’ve grown up in it and they don’t know anything else. So it’s scary to them to have to start all over – and it takes a really strong person to stand up to them and say ‘no.’ They say, ‘don’t go on the internet, don’t read, don’t go to these sites!’”
Sound familiar? Sara Goldberg’s comments aren’t just relevant for Scientologists. Her words apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. It was not an easy thing to cut through the organization’s influence and stand up for what is right.
Once I took that step, though, I haven’t once regretted it. Now, after separating myself from that influence, I can truly say I am the happiest I have ever been. And I would also say I have never seen my wife happier.
The Best Life Ever
Jehovah’s Witnesses have spread this meme on social media and in their culture that they are living “the best life ever.” They even created an Instagram hashtag for it.
However, my experience is that it is anything but “the best life ever.” After leaving the religion, my life has truly just begun, and it is only getting better every day.
In the last year, I have done more, seen more, traveled more, thought more and loved more than I can ever remember as a Jehovah’s Witness.
For my whole life I longed to be happy – to live in a paradise and spend my days growing closer to my family and learning new things. It turns out all I had to do to get that paradise was leave behind my superstitious beliefs.
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness and are having sincere doubts about the organization, I want to tell you there IS a life beyond. You CAN be happy. And your paradise can be here and now.
By: Sean McGee