Artículo y experiencia de una ExTJ en la prensa danesa, Fyens


Former Jehovah’s Witness: – We were working bees, and it was the religion that was the Queen

The fear of exclusion from Jehovah’s Witnesses was a constant fear throughout all of Mary’s teenage years.

Mary was born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses. From her early teens, she lived a double life with constant fear of exclusion. The fear of losing networks and family had nearly cost her her life, but at the age of 21 she took the plunge and put the life of jehovah’s witnesses behind her.

The source in this article is featured under the fictional name Maria. The editors are aware of the true identity of the source.

Funen/Jutland: The year is 1975, and around the world members of jehovah’s witnesses have begun to prepare for destruction. Harmagedon – the ultimate, worldwide war between the monarchy and God – will play out this year, they say. Anyone who rejects or opposes Jehovah will die.

Maria is nine years old. From her youngest childhood years, she has been told to watch out for jehovah’s wrath. She’s been told he’s always watching. Keeps an eye on if you remember to say prayer. Whether you are a good preacher and whether you live faithfully by the words of the Bible.

This year, Maria feels fear. What’s going to happen when Harmagedon breaks out? She has seen illustrations in the many books of Jehovah’s Witnesses; images of death and destruction when Jesus defeats the enemies of Jehovah with his heavenly army.

And what happens next? The congregation and Mary’s parents have taught her that all who are good Jehovah’s Witnesses will live on after Harmagedon. The destroyed earth will be rebuilt to paradise, lions will eat grass, mankind will live in harmony and 144,000 people rule in heaven with Jesus as their king.

But Harmagedon never happens. As the year runs out, Jehovah’s Witnesses must realise that the prediction of the last days is not correct. Instead, they return to a life in waiting. Harmagedon will come; it’s only a matter of time. Soon, anyone who doesn’t follow Jehovah will die.

Jehovah’s Many Eyes

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ prediction of Harmagedon 46 years ago was only one of the many cases in life where Mary felt fear.

As she got older, she only became more aware that no matter what she did, Jehovah always kept an eye. Through her thoughts, her parents, other Jehovah’s Witnesses and the elders – the male leaders of the congregation.

I had some very warped thoughts about the world. I often dreamed that I was a spare child. That my real parents would come and rescue me from my situation. For many years I thought the world wasn’t real. That I was in a movie – that I was an experiment. I was constantly dreading doing something wrong, and the threat was that I would lose my entire network. I was reminded of that all the time.

As a Jehovah’s Witness, Mary had to follow strict guidelines to avoid exclusion and Harmagedon. Most importantly, she devoted her life to proclaiming the Jehovah’s word for the secular and actively attended weekly meetings in the Reichstag. Birthdays were not celebrated, she was not allowed to take a long education, and the texts of Jehovah’s Witnesses were to be studied as homework. All of which kept Jehovah’s many glances always watching if she did.

We were working bees, and it was the religion that was the Queen. First of all, you were one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – that was the identity you had. Jehovah always came first, and you were part of a larger whole where you worked for Jehovah. Everything you had to be as a human being was organized – how you looked, how you spoke and what you were doing, was watched.

Jehovah’s anger and the exclusion from the family became an underlying danger in Maria’s life when, at 13, she began to live with one leg in each camp, she explains. Half as Jehovah’s Witness, half in the world.

Baptism, youth and deadly sins

When Maria reached her teens, surveillance tightened her. She was not allowed to go to parties with her classmates, had to avoid spending time with the worldly around her, and for all the world was not allowed to be in private with someone of the opposite sex.

She had reached an age when she had to start to think that she was going to be baptized. Soon she was to make a pact in which she would seriously enter into Jehovah. A covenant that meant that jehovah’s wrath would get worse and which could result in a public rebuke from the elders if she sinned.

– You get a public reprimand if you commit a so-called wrong act against Jehovah; if one of the sins of death (sex before marriage, homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness or smoking, ed.) You come before a judiciary committee if you are caught committing one of the culprits and everyone knows you have done something wrong. The gossip goes.

Series: When religion hurts

In some cultures, religion is so entrenched a part of being human that it is almost unthinkable to exist besides. For many people, religion is not only a guide to how they can live, but such an integral part of their cultural and human identity that religion becomes a series of dogmas that dictate how they live.

In the series “The Apostates – When Religion Hurts”, Fyens Stiftstidende examines the consequences of negative social control in religion and tries to nuance the debate about and expand the general understanding of religion, social control and parallel societies and cultures in Denmark.

On Saturday you can read about Sareh Kongstad, who lived seven years in Iran in a forced marriage based on negative social control.

On Sunday, Maria talks about her experiences of negative social control and the turbulent transition from faith to trust in Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On Monday, religion researcher Tim Jensen elaborates on the concepts of religion and culture and how negative social control occurs in religious environments.

Maria began to spend more time in the world world as she got older. She made friends who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses, and curiosity about life on the other side of the faith began to grow. She snuck in at parties with her friends, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol in the sly.

Life on the other side of the faith was exciting; but along with the fascination, fear and bad conscience grew. At no point did Mary feel in any doubt that the stories she was told about Jehovah’s anger towards the secular were true. She always felt she had to pull herself together and become a proper Jehovah’s Witness – but she couldn’t. Instead, she lived a double life.

Cigarettes in town

Almost as often as Mary heard of Jehovah, she heard of Satan. The angel who turned his back on Jehovah, who controls the earth and lets mankind live in sin until Harmagedon erupts. Wandering stories passed about a woman who died after she had asked the spirits to see Satan – and about Satan’s demons living in rock music and pop culture.

Maria believed in the stories. She knew that the worldly world and the people in it were evil, even though she herself had begun to live in it. An experience of standing between two worlds that created a great inner conflict in Mary.

I had some very warped thoughts about the world. I often dreamed that I was a spare child. That my real parents would come and rescue me from my situation. For many years I thought the world wasn’t real. That I was in a movie – that I was an experiment. I was constantly dreading doing something wrong, and the threat was that I would lose my entire network. I was reminded of that all the time.

Yet Maria continued her double life after she left home at the age of 19. She showed up to meetings in the reichssalen, submitted weekly reports on how many hours she had served at doors, and at the same time lived a free youth life in the secular world.

But one day she was discovered. Another member of the congregation had seen her smoking a cigarette in a tavern and reported it to the congregation. A wave of panic swept over Maria. She received a call for a meeting with the elders. She had to tell everything she had done – explain why, and repent of her sins. Now she risked being ostracized.

Life in the other world

Maria says she considered taking her own life the day her wrong action resulted in a meeting with the elders. Also the second time it happened.

The consequences of being sinned within jehovah’s witnesses were almost unbearable for her, even though the only sin she had actually committed was to want to live a life like other young people her own age.

Today, it is more than 30 years since Maria left jehovah’s witnesses at the age of 21. After a series of tumultuous years of monitoring in the transition from one world to another, she decided to move from Jutland to Funen. On Funen, she felt like a bird let out of a cage, she explains. No jehovah’s witnesses knew her, and she could live with a freedom from negative social control that she would not have been able to find if she had stayed in Jutland.

But the transition to freedom was not easy. This is often the case for Jehovah’s Witnesses who fall off, Maria explains; they are naïve, and they are not equipped to tackle life in the secular world. Many end up in situations they can’t control – and in the worst case scenario, some apostates end up taking their own lives because of the great upheaval.

– When you emerge from something as black and white as Jehovah’s Witnesses, you have to find your own limits as a human being. It’s incredibly difficult when you’re an adult, because you first have to figure out what your own opinions really are. You know nothing about what is going on in society, and you are very easy to manipulate because you are used to following the rules of jehovah’s witnesses, Maria explains and continues.

A lot of people fall out and live with a really bad conscience. You feel guilty about your family, which you are not allowed to see, and to Jehovah, while at the same time having to learn to navigate another world – social, political and society. Somebody’s going to break their necks.

Therefore, Maria stresses the importance of seeking help from other apostates or support associations if you are thinking about leaving. You are never alone with your feelings and experiences, and you are never so different as apostate that you cannot fall into a life outside of religion, she concludes.


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