I think most, if not all, ex-Jehovah’s Witness have an imaginary drawer somewhere in their head full of speeches ready to go for the next encounter with people on the ministry. “Your interpretation is wrong because…”, “Yes, but have you thought about this…”, “Were you around to see ‘Armageddon’ in 1975?…”
In my head I’ve always loved the idea of having a blowout argument with a couple of would-be knockers, however each time they’ve come to my door I have always been greeted by very sweet elderly women. I really can’t break out the artillery on someone who could be my grandma.
Saturday morning was different though. I was awoken at around 9am which immediately put me at a disadvantage since I was scrambling to find the key to the front door, let alone the key to the speech drawer in my head. Nevertheless, I opened the door and stood blurry eyed at a middle aged women and her daughter of around 13. I responded to the opening statements by declaring that I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness and that my mother is still currently practicing; I’ve always found this either encourages them to leave or at least gets me some buy-in so that my remarks aren’t based on hearsay but actual lived experience. Following that, most of the conversation revolved around the many reasons why I not only left, but was unlikely to return: agnostic/atheist, feminist, gay, degree-educated, common sense etc. I began to wonder whether this would be my opportunity to have some closure and tell them what I really think. It wasn’t. Around half way through the conversation something suddenly changed the way I felt.
I declared that I believe in evolution and the little girl let out a laugh and smirked. Suddenly I wasn’t looking at a 13 year old girl, I was looking at myself, 10 years ago, standing with my father on the ministry. At that age I actually believed that I knew more about the world than any scientist or physicist. “They’re so deluded, they really believe in this crap?”, “Evolution and the Big Bang is such nonsense and these people have no idea.” I know for a fact that there was nothing any one could say on the door to convince me any other way, probably because any counter-evidence was too complicated for me to understand. After all, the big bang was so easily explained away by an Elder on the platform by shaking Lego in a Tupperware container and asking “why hasn’t my shaking built a house yet? This is why the Big Bang could never happen.” I was so dogmatic, convinced… brainwashed? Maybe. But actually, it all just made me feel sad. Sad that the little girl, like so many kids, having had only glimpses of what the real world is actually like, about the people who live in it, about science and even reason (which is ironic if you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading the ‘Reasoning Book’.
Coming away from it all I realised that there really is nothing that I can do or say to prove to them that I’m better off without them. There’s nothing I can do to show how wrong their organisation is, how it oppresses so many groups of people. I recognise that there are many good things that it can provide (comradery for example), but I also believe they can be better sourced elsewhere.
So maybe it’s time to take the speeches out of the imaginary drawer, perhaps I should archive them, or shred them. Whatever I decide to do with them, I think they’re best used with people who understand, those who have lived through it and who have left. Leave the JWs to do what makes them happy, but remain hopeful that kids like the little girl have the opportunity to make their own, well informed decisions about what they do with their lives.