Elders and Governing Body

What Is It Like to Be a “Zealous” Jehovah’s Witness? A Former Elder Tells His Side of the Story

What is it like to be a zealous Jehovah’s Witness?  The Watchtower teaches that when you are immersed in service to Jehovah as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will live the most happy, fulfilling life possible.  This claim is backed up by the many pioneers (individuals who have “volunteered” to spend 70 hours per month preaching Watchtower doctrine) that are always smiling and talking about how much they enjoy their life and ministry.  Friendly elders and ministerial servants will always talk about how much joy their “privileges of service” bring to them.  Circuit overseers talk about how much they enjoy their full-time service to Jehovah.  The same goes for others involved in full-time service to Jehovah.

But, have you ever asked yourself, what it is like to actually live in their shoes and do what they are doing?  You may think that this appearance of happiness they present to you is genuine, but can you really know for sure?  There could very well be some individuals that are indeed as happy as they appear to be in their service to Jehovah, but there is something that the average Jehovah’s Witness does not know about these people.

Told to Be Happy, or At Least Look Happy

The Watchtower organization provides additional instruction to any individual that serves them in a greater capacity than the average publisher.  That additional information includes repeated instruction to act like you are happy even when you are not, so as to encourage others to engage in some sort of full time service.

“What effect would complaining about our lot in life as a pioneer have on others? When things get hard for us what should we do rather than express anxiety or complain to others?”
– Shining as Illuminators in the World (2004), page 127

Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like; these individuals are repeatedly reminded that they need to look joyful in their service to recruit others to similar service.  I served as a pioneer at one time, and later as an elder.  In both roles, the additional instruction I received from the Watchtower included instructions/reminders/commands, whatever you want to call it, to look like you are joyful and enjoy the service.

I followed that advice, and avidly encouraged others to pursue some sort of full-time service.  Does that mean that I was actually as happy as I looked?  No.  Not by any means.  I probably should have won an award for acting, if indeed I did come across as enjoying my job as an elder, or any facet of service to “Jehovah,” which in reality I learned was service to the Watchtower organization.

joy

The reality of my service to the Watchtower is that I was always extremely frustrated, and often times angry.  To the best of my ability, I followed organizational mandates, and did what I was told to do.  Despite this fact, or more appropriately, because of this fact, my life seldom worked out in a way that made me truly happy.  I felt as if my life did not belong to me.  There was always some other responsibility I was supposed to take care of for the organization, and I had precious little time I had to do anything I actually wanted to do.  I put off my interests and any pursuit of things I wanted to do, believing that I would have time for that when paradise/the “new system” came.¹

When I pioneered, I came to realize that most of the pioneers actually were not as happy as they appeared to be.  There were oftentimes disagreements among the pioneers, pettiness, and for some, an air of entitlement.  The real pioneers I knew, for the most part, were not happy people.  Some were, but most that I knew were not.  The same can be said of many elders.  They were often good at putting on the front, but many times were also not truly happy in any sense.

The Truly Happy Ones

As these realizations dawned on me, I also realized that the happiest Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew were the ones who existed on the fringes, and were not very zealous.  Their lives always seemed to lead to more true happiness.  Realizing this, at the time, only frustrated me more.  How is it that I’m not getting Jehovah’s blessing for all my work, when these people seemingly are, but for considerably less effort?  I never fully came to peace with that situation until after I “woke up.”

35043de32dbe74012ea3b125c015d878After I realized what the Watchtower was, I was finally able to understand my life experience.  My decades of shutting my mind off had come to an end, and I was finally free to see what had always been right in front of my face.  Once I started living in this place called reality, all illusions dropped away.  Ironically, at the time I sort of felt like Saul of Tarsus must have felt when the scales fell from his eyes.  Beholding this strange new thing called reality, where I was actually allowed to think and form my own opinions, was new and wonderful.  It was almost intoxicating at first, and overwhelming at the same time.  I was now free to apply the logic I used for designing things and solving problems, to the realities of life.

With both the freedom, and finally my own personal permission to think freely, I completely understood.  The Watchtower formula for service to the Watchtower does not make anyone happy.  It actually serves to enslave them mentally, and to steal their very life, which is then poured out for the benefit of a publishing corporation.  This had happened to me, and happens to some extent to all of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I had been so frustrated and oftentimes angry because I was participating in having my own life stolen from me!  Discovering that you have been complicit in your own mental slavery is a harrowing discovery, but indeed a formative one.

Processing Real Emotions

Many people react with anger to this discovery, as did I.  After all, how could you possibly not be angry when you learn that everything you view as reality is nothing more than a lie, and consequently you have been tricked into living in a way that you may not have chosen?  There was anger, deep hurt, a sense of great loss, and more anger.  Processing such massive emotions after being forced to suppress them for your entire life is no small task.  The realization that you must now leave everyone that you have ever known behind if you are to have any chance of happiness is a scary prospect, and considerably disorienting, especially when you have been taught for your entire life to use methods of socializing which are destructive to relationships with normal people.

Having weathered the storm of waking up from my long Watchtower-induced coma-like existence, and having processed it, and continually processing it, allows me to understand what Watchtower happiness really is.  It is an act.  The act is forced upon those who serve the Watchtower at the cost of their actual happiness, their dreams, goals, desires, their very being.  The corporation coldly and mercilessly extracts their toll from individuals, masquerading as an organization that is used by God.  Watchtower happiness is the purest form of misery, pretending to be joy.

Such a harsh statement may not be true of all who serve in full-time service to the corporation.  Many of those individuals truly and deeply believe they are serving the most-high God, Jehovah.  For them, there probably is some sense of fulfillment and happiness.  As to how many that is, I can’t even guess.  But in my experience, those who are serving full time tend to be more likely to be miserable, but better at pretending to be happy.

Finding true happiness is not accomplished by serving a corporation claiming to be something that it blatantly is not.  True happiness is defined by each individual, by their true self, their dreams, their goals.  When one has the freedom to know who they are, and to pursue their interests, then they are free to pursue their happiness.  A realistic view of the world and the problems that we all inevitably face allows us to approach life in a realistic way.  Waiting in vain for your own pet panda bear¹ while doing things you most likely hate doing will never lead to happiness.  I speak from over three decades of experience.

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¹The “new system” refers to the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the earth will be turned into a paradise after Armageddon, when they expect everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be destroyed. Pictures of this “new system” in Watchtower literature often depicts children playing with exotic pets at that time, including panda bears.

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“Spike Raynor” is the pen name of a former elder of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Visit his own YouTube page here for more insights on the Watchtower practices and policies.

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15 replies »

  1. Jerry, do whatever you can to help your wife getting any more involved with the JWs. I was a born into the religion and served as an elder for nearly 13 years. I started my ‘fade’ (not disfellowshipped) nearly 5 years ago. My wife is still a devout JW and showing no signs of waking up to the fact that she is in a cult. Fortunately my exit came just in time, as neither of my teenage children are baptised and have stopped all their JW involvement. All the best with your situation.

  2. Wonderful article, Spike. “The Happiest People on Earth”, lol. Even as a hardcore Witness I would always call people out on that one. Thanks for all your hard work and I hope you truly enjoy your life now. 🙂

  3. Dear Joy, I have read many of your posts and think you are a credible person. Maybe you can shed some light on my situation. My wife started “bible study” with JW’s about a year ago. She is from China and prior to us getting married she professed she had no religion but wanted to learn about the Bible out of curiosity. So, a year ago she gets a knock on the door and there’s a nice lady with another nice very young lady who happens to be Chinese. Anyway, they came over the house every week for the study for about a year before my wife began going to kingdom hall on Saturdays. At first I though these so called studies were innocent enough because I didn’t know much about JW. I travel a lot for my business so at first I didn’t realize what was going on. Next thing I know, when I’m home on the weekend, nothing is more important that meeting with her “friends”. I told her this was not a good thing for our relationship because I don’t think she is being told the truth and the JW intentions are not what she perceives. She assured me that the meetings and bible study were all innocent and they are not pressuring her to join what so ever. After all, her new JW Chinese “friend” took eight years to be baptized. After studying for weeks online about the true nature of JW, I tried to explain to her this is not what she thinks it is. Needless to say she became hostile. She assured me if I feel this strong about them that she would suspend all contact with the JW’s for the summer. And as far as I know she has stopped going to KH. Then two weeks later I am leaving the house to got somewhere and a car load of JW’s show up to say hi.

    Could you please educate me on how the Jehovahs operate on a new potential member? Some questions that I have:
    1) How do they start these so called bible studies. My wife says that the leader allowed her to use her own Bible during these studies. I’m pretty sure that changed quickly to the watch tower magazine but I don’t know.
    2) How long does it take for new prospect to be asked to go to kingdom hall.
    3) When someone new goes to kingdom hall, what happens?
    4) How long before the new prospect is asked to go into field service? My wife is adamant that after a year, they never once asked her to go out with them. It’s always just going with their group for coffee or a girls day out. This really makes one think that they only want to be friends, but every time they see me there is a HUGE unspoken tension between all of us.
    5) Now that she suspended contact with them, how will they behave? Will they give her a couple of months off or will they subtly call her and badger her to return? Do JW’s in general try to convince new prospects that their husbands are bad because they don’t like JW’s?

    There are probably many more questions but the bottom line is that I am having a hard time trusting my wife. It’s like they are driving a wedge between us. She is very impressionable being new to life in America. China has their own cults too but she’s never once believe such BS that I know of. I’m afraid this will destroy our marriage of five years and we’re not that young anymore; around 50.

    Dear Joy, any help will be very much appreciated.

    • Jerry, this is Spike. I used to be an elder as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you would like to learn their history, go to http://www.jwfacts.com That site was set up by an individual who did extensive research, and he shows the multiple changes to Watchtower doctrine.

      The Watchtower is basically a high control group. They use manipulative tactics to recruit people, and they shower new converts with love to keep them interested. They begin to demand more and more time from their new converts the longer the converts are involved. They will not let your wife go easily if they think she is interested.

      Research their long history of false prophecy. People have put old Watchtower literature on line. The Watchtower regularly lies about what they used to teach. Charles T Russell taught that the world was going to end in 1914, as you will see on JW facts. Get those references and show your wife how the Watchtower is dishonest about their past.

      Also, Alexandra has a post about the Australian Royal commission into child abuse that was covered up by the Watchtower in Australia. Read those posts and follow that link, and share that with your wife too.

      This is a dangerous group that breaks up families. It broke up my family, and kept us away from our extended family for decades. Now that my whole family has left we can once again be a normal family.

      Most important, remain calm, as difficult as it sounds. Your wife is being trained to use fallacies in her reasoning. Learn about logical fallacies and point out when she uses them.

      I know I said a lot, but the most important thing is to educate yourself about them. JWfacts.com is the definitive sote for doing that.

      I hope that helps.

    • Hello.. My birth father is an elder.. And has been for as long as I’ve known.. If u care about ur life.. Ur wife.. Ur privacy and ur self-worth… Grab ur wife and run as fast and as far away as u can… The JWs are nothing but a cult.. Full of brainwashed robots who’s only goal is to manipulate… Control.. Program and destroy any normal life as u have ever known it… What’s happening now is them feeling all the work and manipulation that they’ve put into reprogramming ur wife slip from their clutches.. It’s no different than David karesh..Heavens gate.. Jim Jones… Scientology.. Or any other man made organization that hides behind the pretence of God.. In order, to eventually convince you that what they are teaching is alright… Have you noticed that since ur wife agreed to TAKE A BREAK.. They seem to POP UP out of the blue to try and regain what they had accomplished in her before you interrupted… And if they can’t have her whole undivided attention… If u pose to be an obstacle or threat in what they are trying to achieve.. They will eventually turn her against you.. Convincing her that u are not a good influence on her and ur marriage will be a memory.. They will look back and down on u as they convince her of how fortunate she was to have met them and be rescued from you and your “worldy” ways.. Before u can blink…. I am a survivor.. They have robbed me of my relationship with my birth father.. Him with my kids.. I am 45 yrs old now.. I was 10 before I celebrated my birthday… Christmas.. Was allowed to pledge allegiance to the flag.. So many new and happy experiences…i was also 10 when my parents divorced.. And when he chose to be a leader to the cult instead of to me… It hurts.. I write to you with tears running down my face.. Cuz u know what? I’m still that 10 yr old girl.. Who wonders why they were always more deserving of his attention and affection and commitment than me.. I just want my Dad.. I only planned on sending you a short message.. But once I started I couldn’t stop.. And this is just the tip of the iceberg… This is a crucial time right now.. If u care for her and ur future…run…run… If it means relocating to another state..it sounds drastic.. But I’m living proof.. It’s very important..

  4. I am really sorry you went through so much before you realized you were being used. If it makes you feel any better, I am a lot older than you and much of the same things happened to me except I am a female so I didn’t have elder responsibilities in addition. At the beginning, I really thought I was serving Jehovah too until I realized when I went out on service, it was rare to find anyone actually answer their door. So how could I teach them about God. I was told to go to theocratic school to encourage myself and others, but I am shy about speaking in large groups so they were not happy about that. I was told not to complain like the Israelites did; it was all in the name of money. After all, if I went to all the meetings, welcomed new people to our meetings and memorial service, went out on service everyday, all the while smiling of course, I would be able to bring guests (and their money) to the meetings. When I think back on it I feel so stupid. I mean, just because they don’t pass offering plates around; there are other ways of getting money from people. Anyway, I appreciate this article and wanted you to know it.

    • Thank you for your kind message. I wanted to share my story because I know that many others went through exactly what I did, and I want them to know that they were not the only ones. I also hope to help people process what was done to them during their time under the influence of the Watchtower. Hopefully understanding will help the healing process.

      I understand that you could feel stupid about your time in the Watchtower, but don’t. They are experts at tricking people. I’m glad you are out and wish you well. Thanks for reading my post.

      • Thank you for sharing your story it’s encouraging my husband and I that we are not alone and for years thought there was something wrong with US because we were not happy we now realize it was THEM that was faulty…we just recently disassociated ourselves but feel free already…and are coming along nicely…again many thanks Jerry! 😊

      • Hi Spike

        I served as an MS for a couple of years as a single guy. You get all the other jobs no one else wants. Also, I saw your video with Kim & Mike. Sounds like you had a crappy marriage…so did I. I would be more than happy to share my story with you if you wish.

    • Thank you very much Brooke. I have the suspicion that they will not let a year of “work” go to waste. Spike had some good advise too. To be calm, but I just can’t help it. I find myself shaking sometimes when I think about it. I can’t trust my wife anymore. When I’m not there, all I think about is her sneaking around. I shouldn’t feel like this. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting paranoid. I feel like a fool for allowing this to go on so long. I really thought it was innocent at the beginning. Boy, was I wrong. Once I started researching a little it scared the hell out of me. She always told me she was just curious. I now realize how subtle JW programming is. You want to know the moment I knew they got her? I took her out to lunch at a nice restaurant. We do this from time to time. Have a drink or two and in the past we always had a cheers. Well, this time I raised my glass and said cheers. Her reply was, “We don’t cheers”. My heart fell out at that moment. I didn’t tell her I was studying up on JW’s on my own. I knew at that moment that it was “them” against me. After more arguing that evening, she told me she would take a break from kingdom hall. I think to appease me for a little while. I have no one else I can talk about this with. I really feel alone. I thank you Brooke for listening. It’s a tremendous help.

      • Yes u are right.. They don’t “cheers” nor do they say “lucky”..and a few other innocent phrases.. They are in the process of brainwashing her.. They prey on the weak… She is in their grips and right now they will pull out all the stops to make her one of their own.. I equate it to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS… They destroyed my life.. Please feel free to email me anytime.. My mother is a survivor.. Being a wife of an elder.. Witnessing and refusing the wife swapping.. The request to offer me and my sister.. She was abused by them.. But I wasn’t.. There’s a book to start u on really understanding what ur dealing with… CRISIS OF CONSCIOUS..it was the first thing my mom read that got her on her way to escape them… Brookelynnebridge96@gmail.com anytime 😊

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