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.

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.

There 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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8 replies »

  1. It was a balanced article, imho. Maybe for those like Jesse Otto, with no internal knowledge of things taught and said, certain points could use more clarification.
    ————-
    For Jesse Otto:

    The GB of JWs recently said to the effect, ‘Obey us even when things seem nonsensical or irrational from any human standpoint.’ Is there some other standpoint? JWS consider obedience to 7 men hiding on a secluded compound in NY as obedience to God himself. No mind the 7 also recently stated that they are not “inspired” of God. Makes you wonder about to whom the “standpoint” is reasonable and rational to begin with. A unicorn, maybe, who knows. Whatever the case, JWs will follow whatever their GB says to do or they’ll be cut off from their families and friends. JWs are 1984 personified., sadly.
    —————

    As for ultinate responsibility, I agree with the writer. There’s a Leadership saying: You can pass down your authority but you can never pass down your responsibility. Indeed the JW GB are directly responsible for the outcomes of JW well being in Russia and JWs worldwide.

  2. Jesse Otto, disagree. A few things about your post are rather surprising, and reflect nothing short of a significant lack of understanding about what it is like to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, active Jehovah’s Witnesses consider apostates to be regularly persecuting them, despite the fact that does not match up with reality. However, to ignore the viewpoint of JWs when discussing persecution is to ignore one of the JWs greatest fears. The presentation that apostates aren’t persecuting JWs compared to a ban by the Russian government is therefore at best a half truth. The JW viewpoint of the situation makes it their reality, and thus it can’t be discounted. Besides which, you have no evidence for your argument about the impact of apostate activism vs a government ban, you merely present your opinion as if it were an established fact.
    Additionally, it seems that you completely misunderstand the influence and control the GB has over JWs. If the GB did not tell JWs to shun, they wouldn’t, if they did not tell JWs to refuse blood transfusions, they would take them, if the GB told JWs to report every allegation of child molestation to the authorities, they would, if the GB didn’t tell JWs to preach that JWs are superior to all other religions, they wouldn’t. I can go on. Therefore, it is far from magical that the GB is assigned responsibility for enforcing the very abusive policies that led to the Russian ban. What is magical is your lack of understanding of that point.
    These are but some of the glaring holes in your argument. You either failed to consider the facts, or completely misunderstood them. From such a starting point, you hardly stand in the position to call anyone’s position poorly argued and non-academic.

  3. Disagree. This article does not, in my opinion, bear the hallmarks of an academic. I do not understand the “revictimizing the victims” comment. Please explain. The write simply dismisses human rights argument with absolutely no discussion, despite experts throughout the world making clear that targeting congregants simply for belief or association is a violation of human rights. Poland’s anti-democratic far right government is justified because the growth of the cult of the witnesses is slow there? Correlation vs causation? “On the other hand, I also think that it’s good that the Governing Body now has less influence in Russia.” Less influence? What is the evidence for this argument? “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.” This makes absolutely no sense. A government banning a member of a group simply for membership is real persecution. An apostate, who has no power compared to a national government, who speaks of legitimate abuses of the group, cannot in any reasonable way be considered a persecutor. A thinking JW will be much more likely to let their mind explore rational arguments presented against the failings of their faith by apostates, but a direct attack by a powerful government will confirm the righteousness of their faith, especially since Russia is attacking the witnesses for their separation from society and political life, the very thing JWs believe is so important. “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.” How do you magically get to assign blame to the GB when for one the action was imposed by a government, not on the leadership, but on individual congregants, and two, there is no evidence that a change in abusive policies by the GB would trigger a lifting of the ban. The Russian government is much more focused on the literature stating that the JW faith is the only right way of worship, which somehow promotes hate, than it is on the actual abusive policies of Watchtower. I could go on. This a poorly argued article.

    • Polish non-JW reader here. I’d like to chime in on the comment regarding Poland, with some relevant data:

      1. According to the statistics I keep, the average number of publishers has been declining steadily long before the government changed. In 2009 the average was 125 679. In 2014, when the current government took office, it was 122 381 – a decrease of nearly 3 300. At the same time, the number of hours in “field service” consistently increased, from ~16.5 million (2009) to ~20.4 million. JWs were losing average publishers while preaching over 20% more (assuming they were reporting “field service” consistently and not inflating that figure).

      2. Calling the present government “Catholic” is an overstatement (as is calling it “far-right, given that many of its social policies would be classified as “socialist” in the US). Regardless, Catholicism is primarily a cultural, not a political force in Poland. I highly doubt the change in government actually increased deterrence – people who would be deterred from joining, would probably be so because of the reactions of their immediate family (others might relish the rebellion – JWs anti-Catholic rhetoric can be attractive to the disgruntled in a country where 90% are baptized Catholic).

      So I’d be careful of using the decrease in Poland as an argument regarding the ban in Russia – I don’t think political factors play much of a role in the steady decline in Poland since 2009. The most current drop looks just like the continuation of a long cultural trend.

  4. Excellent article. It was getting so bad, we were afraid to say anything. We even had to take down a video we had done because of all the hate & accusations. We all left that ‘group think’ & unity of thought when we left Watchtower. Thank you for your professional insight

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