Xpress staffer reflects on past life as a Jehovah’s Witness

Defining your own beliefs and developing a philosophy on life outside those taught by your parents is one of the greatest things one can accomplish in growing older. Many of us are tethered to the religions, expectations and dreams of our parents, and some never venture further than a moderate view of what their parents think.

The point is not to say that your parents or role models automatically have it wrong. Part of being a well-rounded and critically functioning being is to question your own beliefs. Be comfortable with the possibility you may be wrong and do not know something.

I have a fear of raising my children in any particular religion. This fear comes from my personal experience, one that may be biased, as being raised by my mother as a Jehovah’s Witness.

Though I never paid much attention to the Christian-rooted doctrine of the Witnesses while growing up, I pledged my life to the organization through baptism at 16. Half of my family were all Witnesses, and most of my friends were all Witnesses as well, so the social comfort was there. It was hard to mentally overcome the possibility that my closest friends and family were all wrong in their beliefs. At the time, the beliefs seemed to make sense.

I didn’t stay a Witness for long. Within a year, I left on my own accord, and wrote a letter of formal “disassociation” from the organization, asking that I no longer be considered a Witness. I left because I didn’t consider myself philosophically a Witness anymore, nor did I want anything to do with any religion.

The Witnesses have a practice of “shunning” anyone who is kicked out of, or formally leaves the religion. They do this to keep “bad association” away from God’s people, to show the ex-Witness what happens when they abandon the “truth,” and to hopefully compel the ex-Witness to come back.

Ultimately, I choose not to fixate much on these divisions. Some relationships — whether family, friends, or a partner — are not lifelong. If they’re ended over absurd reasons, the more absurd, the easier I’ve found it to move on. I found the Witness’ cookie-cutter nature of shunning to be one of the most unloving and intolerant practices, and beyond hypocritical to the ideals of any religion claiming to be God-inspired.

It terrifies me to think of children that are taught to accept what their parents teach them, and grow up afraid to think otherwise out of fear of abandonment or harsh judgement. Question your parents, pastors, professors, role models, idols, mentors — anyone that tells you how to live or think.

In the very end, if their association with you depends on accepting everything they believe without questioning it, perhaps you should take another look at how much value you place on that person’s word.