Religion is a complex beast. It can bleed hatred, create war, and drown you in denial. It builds faith as blind as the blackest pitch. It comforts in turmoil, divides communities and destroys families.
I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. My entire family was a part of this organization referred to as The Truth. Aunts, Uncles, Grand Parents, Cousins. It was normal for me. Family and blood equaled strength and ease. The world around me was filled with pain and sorrow. Even if this so-called truth never did protect me from the harsh realities from which I lived within. We were different, therefore we had to look different, be different.
No holidays, which I still can understand. I mean a true Christian could never celebrate holidays created by Pagan worship, yet they all still do. But birthdays? Why not birthdays? I was told because the world celebrated a child’s birth and we were not part of the world. No pledges to the flag, no fireworks of the 4th. No ringing in of the New Year.
Friends outside the congregation were frowned upon. And there were few inside this Hall of Kingdoms. I was told I was to set the example for the other children, and being close to any of them would make that task too difficult. So I was forced into exile. No sports, no after school activities, no F.F.A. No sleepovers, and no Boy Scouts.
School work was unimportant, grades did not matter, any interest outside the religion was never entertained. The Truth was everything. Music was evil. Olivia Newton-John was a product of Satan. I was even forced to return my Close Encounters soundtrack album because aliens were wrong and opened the mind to evil. Not AC/DC, not The Rolling Stones, but a recording of John Williams orchestra music. That’s how strict it was for me growing up.
The paddle ruled, restrictions were constant. And when asked about girls…well I was told two things, the first was I shouldn’t think about girls until I was financially secure to take a wife. And two, when married it was the main duty of the wife to take care of the husband, “Duty”, can you imagine. That’s just so romantic.
My sisters married right out of high school. My brother vanished, and the cousins moved to so many different states that keeping in touch was impossible.
I am not sure just when I lost the faith. I think it started around the time my father began to shut my brother out because he no longer wanted to attend the meetings. When I was 14 I told my father the same thing. But under his roof, his rules. I had to go.
Being such a recluse, and forced into a life of solitude, I began to write. I worked on short stories, novels, songs. and of course I kept a journal. Now being in this prison I had nothing to enter into this book of empty pages. So I would make things up. Create adventures and events in a make-believe life. I wrote about girls I had crushes on, and being 14 I acted out fantasies of sneaking out the window and into the windows of these girls. I wrote about parties, and concerts and drinking and drug use. I imagined what it would be like to be normal.
When I was 15 one Saturday morning my father woke me up and told me to get dressed. That we had to go to the hall for a meeting. When I arrived I found ten men in a room. Six Elders and four other men. My father was not allowed to speak. One of the men had my journal in his hands. It seems my mother had found it under my bed and after reading it, handed over to my father, who in turn handed it over to those who ran the congregation. They thought it was all real. Somehow they believed that a 15-year-old kid could sleep with all these girls, some of them much older women, and attend thousands of parties, get into fights, steel cars, sneak into concerts, be invited on tour buses where I would party until the sunrise. It was crazy. I sat there that afternoon as they read from my most personal thoughts. The four other men were fathers of children in our hall who I mentioned in the stories. Then they brought in the kids. One was a girl I had a crush on that I wrote about us sneaking out and running off to the park at night to kiss on the swing set. Now this girl never even looked at me before this. Now in trouble because of something I wrote.
I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. I endured a lifetime of torture by not only the kids I attended school with but by the teachers as well. I ran home from school daily, I hid at recess, I never made eye contact in class, I was afraid to use the rest rooms. All for this religion that I believed as the Truth. Now it turned it’s back on me. It left me without guidance to raise myself, then held me up to be crucified for having impure thoughts.
These kids had to ask for forgiveness for things they never did. When they asked me to do the same, I refused. They asked me again. “Are you sorry for what you have done?” No. No I am not.
I was then told that I was a black shadow cast upon the religion. A 15-year-old boy, a black shadow. I was told I would be removed from associating with anyone in the religion. That only after I proved how sorry I was would I be allowed to once again speak to the others. I would be stood up at the next meeting and among the entire congregation be removed and the others would be told not to speak to me.
I never went back to another meeting. My father never spoke to me again. It would be 20 years before I would speak to him and even then it would be very brief. He would pass away never knowing me, never knowing his grand children, and never giving his son a second thought. And my mother, well she was his wife, she did what she was told and obeyed his wishes. I left home two weeks shy of my 16th birthday. They would let me go, not ever even asking where it was I was leaving to.
This is my view of religion. I gave up my entire childhood for something that took away my parents, took away my family, and left me to raise myself without a shred of the knowledge I needed to survive.
The first thing I did….everything I once only wrote about.