It all began in 1982. Fascinated by playing my vinyl records backward, I discovered many interesting samples of backward masking – typically gibberish that is perceived by the listener to convey Satanic messages. As a project for my High School newspaper, I wrote a provocative article in detail of my discoveries. After it was published, I became an overnight celebrity to every kid in school due to the manic controversy I created. For those who believed rock n’ roll was evil, I became a modern-day saint. To everyone else, I was a sabotaging sinner. After all, what teenager demonizes rock n’ roll? Meanwhile, I struggled to define my own spiritual identity.
Shortly after the controversy began, the drama quickly spread around town. I was invited by multiple churches to give live presentations of backward masking to demonstrate Satan’s evil influence. Considered a righteous hero, church leaders assumed I was ‘All for Jesus’ and promptly invited me to become a coveted member of their congregation. Although I didn’t know what I was doing or what I believed, I attended a few of them but quickly became disgruntled with all of them.
Then came the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1984, I was quickly sucked into a Bible Study with a very nice man from the local Kingdom Hall. At first, I was impressed with how he freely used the Bible to explain their teachings. Within a couple of weeks, I began to attend their meetings while I hung on every word that uttered from the podium. I was only 19 years old and quite impressionable. It wasn’t long before I was convinced Armageddon would soon come to destroy everyone – everyone but Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course. Because I was promised an everlasting life of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction, the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses took root deep inside me.
By the world’s standards, I was a good kid: I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t do drugs, and I didn’t get into trouble with the law. In fact, I was so squeaky-clean I was still a virgin. Without delay, however, I was counseled by church elders and advised I wasn’t a good kid by Jehovah’s Witnesses standards: I had shoulder-length hair, I attended rock concerts, I had worldly girlfriends, and I possessed a questionable record collection that included music by Stevie Nicks and Led Zeppelin.
After a few months of consuming their steady drip of dogma, I began to embrace one of their core principles: Satan had his hold on me, and it was my spiritual obligation to rid myself of his worldly influence. Without delay, I cut my hair; I quit attending rock concerts, I stopped seeing my worldly girlfriends, and I threw out most of my record collection. At the same time, however, I began to feel lonely, fearful and depressed. Why was I secretly crying among this group of self-proclaimed god-fearing worshipers?
In 1986, I met a cute girl at my job, a nonbeliever. Temporarily, I abandoned the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and became a reckless rebel: I lost my virginity, we got married, we had three kids, and I replaced my record collection. During this time, however, I experienced a throbbing, antagonizing level of guilt: I was still lonely, fearful and depressed. My anguish was my own fault, right? After all, I sinned. Overwhelmed by shame, I dragged my wife and kids to the Kingdom Hall to redeem myself. This time around, I forced the entire family to live up to the impossible standards of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After several years of effort, my family experienced a traumatic breakdown. I was angry, dismayed and dejected. After all, I heavily invested the words I heard from the podium into the well-being of my family.
The guilt resonated:
Surely, if my family lives by the standards set by Jehovah’s Witnesses, we will suffer no harm, right? If we embrace Jehovah’s Witnesses and abandon worldly influences, we will be awarded family harmony as promised, right? Crying together with this group of self-proclaimed righteous worshipers is the right thing to do, right? They do have the truth, right?
After putting forth much time and effort, the final result was disappointment and rejection from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although I didn’t break any rules, the congregation at the Kingdom Hall abandoned me and never spoke to me again. Exasperated, I suffered a mental and spiritual collapse. Finally, I simply gave up.
Selfish and apostate-like according to the standards of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I made the brave decision to cleanse my life. I chose to laugh with the sinners than cry with the so-called saints. It was a cathartic moment. At the same time, I divorced my wife while my kids moved out on their own. I courageously broke through the prison walls built by Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine and squinted at the world.
I have not set foot in a Kingdom Hall since.
Shortly afterward, I met my new wife who helped me guide my way in the land of unbelievers: I learned that I was in control of my own life, I learned how to socialize with intelligent and competent people, and I learned how to be genuinely loved by another human being. If Jehovah’s Witnesses consider my new life as laughing with the sinners, so be it. I’ll take it any day of the week.
I don’t hate Jehovah’s Witnesses; I willingly talk to them when they come to the door. At the same time, however, I don’t hide my experience of disillusion. Their standards of living might work for some, but they didn’t work for me. While I’ll never consider another religion or attend another church ever again, I’m not an atheist either. My hope is that my mind will eventually become completely free from the oppression, anxiety, and fear that tormented me during my days under the influence of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.