Banning

An Ex-JW Psychologist Weighs In On the Russian Ban, With an Encouraging Word of Advice for Activists

The community of Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses has been recently shaken up by a discussion about the ban of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation in Russia. I would like to share my observations on the effects of the ban on the current Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, as well as on those who are being targeted through “the preaching work” there. Next I will share my thoughts on just how that conversation went in the community.

Let’s consider first what was said about the issue of human rights of the individual Witnesses being violated by imposing the ban, and its potential consequences.

Violation of Human Rights and Other Consequences

I believe that the human rights to believe whatever a person wants to believe were not undermined by the ban. By definition of mind control, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship according to their conscience. Their free will has been long time ago hijacked through the use of the deceptive tactics. The freedom of worship, if the ban is lifted, will be granted to the Governing Body, not to the members.

I will not pretend that I know what will be a full result of imposing the ban. Some unintended consequences will hit the vulnerable people the most. Perhaps some Witnesses will not seek to disclose cases of sexual abuse perpetrated in the context of the congregation activities. Others might not seek medical help, just to not draw the attention of authorities. This will only add to the suffering of people already hurt by the Governing Body.

I feel for the innocent people that will bear the consequences of their blind obedience to the seven men in Warwick. Their lives are miserable enough without the anxiety that they must feel upon hearing the news of their group publicly ostracised and delegalised.

On the other hand, I also think that it’s good that the Governing Body now has less influence in Russia. There is no easy, black-and-white way, to speak about the consequences of the ban.

Jumping to Conclusions 

We don’t know if the Russian government will ever resort to violence, even in the face of Jehovah’s Witnesses defying the ban. Framing the argument against the ban from the perspective of the unknown future consequences skews the discussion, and heightens the emotional charge around the topic, which doesn’t promote clear thinking and clear analysis of the subject.

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From the November 15, 2013, Watchtower; Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed persecution long before the current Russian ban.

There is no evidence that the ban will increase indoctrination of the majority of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I believe that it is reasonable to assume that some Jehovah’s Witnesses will radicalise in their beliefs, and that the ban will play to their “persecution complex”. That is not to say that, under right circumstances, these individuals cannot still find their way out of the group eventually.

The situation of Russian Witnesses has been utilised by the Watchtower in their propaganda, and will continue to be used. This material will come in handy to play on some of the potential recruits’ masochistic inclinations. Sometimes it’s argued that ban is a bad idea because it will add to the repertoire of the persecution stories. However, by that logic, ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses should not talk, write, make videos, be angry, or protest about their experience. There’s really not much any apostate can do without fitting into the negative perceptions held by active Witnesses.

On the opposite side of the argument, others will find it easier to leave the religion because of the change in the legal status of the organisation. Less indoctrination, fewer meetings, and less field service might be just what’s needed for them to start to think for themselves.

I’m not sure if the ban is the best first response solution to address the harmful policies of the Witnesses (see Spike Raynor’s video on the subject here). I would argue, though, that if penalising the harmful policies doesn’t bring results, the ban might be an effective measure of deterring potential new converts.

Recent decrease in the numbers of active Jehovah’s Witnesses in Poland can perhaps serve as a case study of what might have brought such result. There are a few factors which have contributed to that trend. The growth of the number of Witnesses over the last 20 years has been quite slow. A few years ago, the current far-right Catholic government came to power. It might be that, for some people, the pressure to confirm to the beliefs of their religious family serves as a protection against joining a dangerous cult like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

At the same time, like everywhere in Europe, people don’t look to religion for answers to life’s problems the way they used to. After the hearing of the Australian Royal Commission, there has been a surge of YouTube channels run by ex-Witnesses who don’t seem to be affiliated with any religion. The secretly recorded conversations with elders show that some of them have heard about the Commission. The availability of this information is the best panaceum for the toxic message coming from the Governing Body, and in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a really bad time with their PR messaging these days. The victims need to hear a serious discussion in the media around the policies interfering with the reporting of every case of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.

Online Discussions

The current discussion about the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia evoked a good deal of back and forth between YouTubers, arguing about the need of some to seek medical help, or not to be hateful, or to improve their appearance. I would like to share my perceptions and thoughts on this subject.

Evie Bklyn had turned the conversation away from the human rights issue to that of the Governing Body’s responsibility for any harm done to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as a result of imposing of the ban on their activities (click here for the video). The Governing Body has the power to change the vile policies and procedures that support shunning, the “two witness rule” applied to the cases of child sexual abuse, and the prohibition of full blood-based treatments in the case of a medical emergency. Unfortunately, the Governing Body has resisted implementation of many recommendations formulated by the Australian Royal Commission, including the “two witness rule.” (Please see this column regarding their followup discussion with the ARC in March of 2017.)

Who really is responsible for the suffering of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

In Russia, the weakening of the family ties and refusal to participate in the military service has put the organisation under fire of the State’s criticism for years now. Unless the Governing Body directs congregations to obey the State’s restrictions on the religious activities, any harm done to the individual Witnesses in Russia will be its responsibility. The escalation of the State’s response will follow, most likely, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses disobey the restrictions imposed by the ban, as their leaders will probably urge them to do.

I mention these facts to highlight the following point: Those who suggest that the apostates agreeing with the ban should feel guilty or share a portion of responsibility for the suffering of the Witnesses in Russia, are re-victimising the victims. This is a case of classic guilt-tripping. Anybody who uses blaming, calling names, and criticises a person rather than their argument then creates an atmosphere where free expression of thoughts is repressed. This can actually make ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses browsing through the internet feel like their Kingdom Hall days are far from over (see freedominveritas’ video about the subject here).

I believe that there is no evidence for the opinion that anybody who understands the consequences of the ban, and supports it, continues to be indoctrinated in the cult way of thinking. Those who claim that the ban supporters suffer from a mysterious defect of the mind that needs addressing are, in fact, not far from calling them “mentally diseased”, and thus perpetuating the stigma put on the apostates by the Governing Body.

I think that apostates have reasons to be angry, but some have said that they (those supporters of the ban) don’t care if Russian Witnesses are thrown into prisons or not (if this worse outcome becomes a reality). I disagree with that. It matters if people are punished with prison or torture for their incredulity and blind following of authority figures. It’s true that the beliefs of the cult hurt, and sometimes even kill people. I just don’t think that this should give permission to devalue and dehumanise active Jehovah’s Witnesses, as if their suffering matters less than the suffering of others. We have all been betrayed and cheated out of the best things that life can bring, and many died as active Witnesses or after they left.

make voice heardThere was a suggestion made by one of the YouTubers for the ban supporters to seek medical help (I hope I’m not misrepresenting the wording of the advice).  This comment somehow sounded like a derision of the mental health industry, perhaps unintentionally. The opinion about the ban, one way or the other, is not a criterion in DSM5, the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals. Also, I hope that we will never see the time come when voicing an opinion would warrant a referral to a mental health professional. Such a world would be dangerously close to the one Orwell warned against in the book “1984”.

Who might decide to seek mental health intervention (such as therapy), or the medication prescribed by a G.P. [general practitioner] or a psychiatrist? Those who experience anxiety disorders (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), mood disorders (including depression), personality disorders, and other symptoms.

Note, too, that you don’t need to be treated by self-professed experts to find your way back to the human family and to your sense of self. An experienced trauma therapist might be in a good position to understand the effects of the abuse by a cult, even if they have never worked with a cult survivor before. I would say that a skilled and open-minded therapist of any therapeutic persuasion (CBT, psychoanalytical, mindfulness, etc.), might bring you worthwhile results. Find someone who is willing to listen and not to jump to conclusions; however, the recovery doesn’t depend solely on accessing therapy services. Many found their healing in the community of Ex- Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If you feel silenced by the tone of comments of any of YouTubers, see if you can claim your voice and speak for yourself. Make your voice heard, this can be your way of resisting the influence of the cult way of admiring and following personalities who provide little to no evidence to back up their claims, regardless of their beliefs or political persuasion.

 

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Karuna, a Sanskrit word meaning any action taken to diminish the suffering of others, is the pen name of a former Jehovah’s Witness originally from Poland and now living in Ireland. Karuna received her Master’s degree in psychology while one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but left the organization after learning of their devastating “two witness” rule and other policies that put children in harm’s way. She is currently looking to continue her higher education and use her learning to help children who have been victims of abuse. JWvictims is deeply grateful for her contributions.

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