Der Tagesspiegel – 11th September 2018
How I got rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Oliver Wolschke grew up with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a young family man, he found the exit. Read an excerpt from his book here.
We mostly prayed as a family before eating. Only I was allowed to speak because I was the head of the family. Our children folded their hands, lowered their heads, and waited for Dad to speak to God. On that day in March 2017, I found it hard to pray. I had just “awakened”. It suddenly seemed to me that I had only talked to myself the years before, and only my family had listened to me – no one else. I had significant doubts about my beliefs and felt torn inside. Still, I did not want to show anything, so I prayed. Over the years, I had developed a few typesetting blocks, which I now simply put together. It was a strange feeling to fool my family, and I thought, “It can not go on like that!”
It was the last prayer I spoke. A few months earlier, I had read something on the Internet that was causing my “firewall” – a protection against criticism built up over years – to deteriorate. A religious sister invited me to a Facebook group founded by followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses . There they argued animatedly about the question of whether pets would survive the impending “end” – Armageddon. Some said that the chances of survival for Suzy and Strolch are quite high, after all, God used the Ark to protect the animals from drowning.
Who settles loses almost all friends
Many followers are more liberal and moderate in their views. They do not worry about trivial things, such as whether pets will survive the intervention of God. Others, on the other hand, could be described as fanatical, obsessed with finding an answer to everything. I belonged to the first group, so I did not take the discussion very seriously. But a comment made me wonder. The question a woman asked there was simple and logical, and yet it never crossed my mind: “How many children did God take to the ark?”
I do not know if it was the fact that I was now the father of two children – so that’s why this question aroused me so much. Why had I never thought before that God had drowned children at that time? I remembered a picture I saw as a child in my Jehovah’s Witness children’s book, where a woman was trying to save herself from the waters to a mountain top, holding a newborn in her arm, but sealing its end was. Suddenly everything seemed so cruel to me. “Why did God do that?” I asked myself.
Over the next few weeks, I began to study the Bible’s stories. Especially the lessons I grew up with were a critical consideration. Something that would not have occurred to me before. I realized that the main doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnessesbuilt on a historical calculation that has since been completely refuted. In any case, with this realization the house of cards gradually collapsed. For everything that constituted my faith depended on this one refutable doctrine. I wondered if perhaps what I had been convinced of for years, what I had geared my life for, which cost me tremendous weekly time, and for which I would have even accepted death, was based on misinformation and false assumptions. I thought about why people in special religious communities felt comfortable and did not notice that they fell for self-appointed leaders just because they promised them salvation.
What if my wife did not go this way?
Why did not people realize what happened to them? Had I even fallen for such a group myself? How would I know that? Jehovah’s Witnesses, like so many other groups, believe that they and only they have known the truth. All other people are misguided. As I studied the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it became clear to me that the founding members’ views are largely withheld from today’s followers or presented in a moderate form. On the one hand, there are the doomsday predictions of Jehovah’s Witness spiritual leadership, but also crude views on blood transfusions, organ transplants, or vaccinations, all of which were dismissed as pointing to cannibalism or poor character traits, which could be transmitted thereby. While at that time the organization was still criticizing the excommunication of the Catholic Church because it did not conform to the Bible, it was eventually introduced itself and became so strict in its implementation that even families are now being divided. Everything that I had accepted for years, such as refusing blood transfusions or breaking contact with the excluded, suddenly seemed cruel and destructive to me.
The problem was that I could not talk to anyone about it. As soon as I reported my doubts, a process would probably have started that would have taken me to the elders – the local leaders of a church. I would have been asked if I still had faith in the organization, and my answer might have been “no,” which would probably have resulted in immediate expulsion.
At first, I wanted to be sure before I trusted someone. I wondered if I had overlooked something in my research somewhere, a mistake had been made. Although I doubted the teachings, but especially of myself – whether I had perhaps not gone to the devil on the glue, which had been warned me since childhood, again and again. But my research led me to even deeper discrepancies. I quarreled with myself, wondering if I could just set the doubts aside as I’ve done before, and in time they would dissolve in the farthest corner of my mind.
But this time it was different. I had two children, was responsible for them. Because of my position in the church, I was expected to do weekly Bible Study with my children through Jehovah’s Witness publications. And now, suddenly, I struggled to teach them something that I did not quite believe. It was a vicious circle. If I did not train my children strictly according to the belief, they might turn away from it, and I would expect them to break contact with them. Or I raised them in the belief that I was no longer 100 percent convinced, and eventually I quit, forcing them to break contact.
However I turned it, the future I imagined had nothing honest to offer. I did not realize at the time that the break in contact Jehovah’s Witnesses had with the marginalized had become a lever for me, as often found in destructive communities. It stopped me from talking to someone or seriously considering leaving. I began to look at reports and videos from dropouts who took me emotionally. In tears, these people told of the loneliness they experienced after leaving, all friends and family members shunning them.
Break up marriages
Some reported that their partners had not taken the step, causing their marriages to come to a sad conclusion. Some had made the jump only when their children were already baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses, who then broke off contact with their parents. I did not know if my wife would join me. There was a lot at stake. The desire to keep my children free and detached from the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses, devoid of devil, armageddon, and other fears that I suffered as a child, grew stronger and stronger. That they could participate in school as usual in all activities for Christmas and Easter and would not be excluded as in kindergarten. My wish was that they could call every human being their friend, without belonging to a religious community played a role. They should be able to take the path they liked.
And I did not want her as a teenager to have to step in front of three elders to tell them about it, as I had experienced, in a “misstep”, such as having sex with someone without a marriage certificate.
I had a problem though. If my wife did not go the way, it would be hard to keep my children away from all these things. I also thought about how my children would react. After all, we had educated her over the years that our faith was the right way to go. Every week we took her to the church meeting. We told them how important these meetings were and that Jehovah was glad to attend the meetings.
For the most part, they only had friends in our community with whom they had grown up together. Would you understand that you could not see your friends from now on? How should one explain this consequence to a child? How do you explain to a child that grandma and grandfather might break contact and grow up without these people? Also, I was aware that we would be robbed of our friends – the people we had known and loved for many years. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, one seeks one’s friends usually only among like-minded ones, on it the organization attaches much value. She is literally warning against making friends in the world.
My wife noticed that something was wrong – that I was hiding something. And on that Saturday in March 2017, she did not let up – biting down firmly. I told her that I just could not talk about what was bothering me. I’m scared to break everything. That worried her even more, of course. I knew, now it had to get out. I started very carefully. Bit by bit, I revealed to her the thoughts that burdened me. She became very calm. In her mind she went through the scenarios that might cause my thoughts. My wife realized that she would not be able to get me out of my doubts, I had already questioned too much to ever be able to be a convinced witness again. We stood in the kitchen, and she said to me in tears: “I can not go that way with you. We have built up so much. You know you might be destroying our family with it. ”
A report about the author and dropout Oliver Wolschke read here.
Oliver Wolschke lives today with his wife and two children in the south of Berlin. In his book “Jehovah’s Prison,” he tells how he made the exit together with his family.
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