Last week I went to a screening of an exposé on the Jehovah Witnesses called “Truth be Told”. The film is a montage of interviews with several ex-JWs who discuss their childhood indoctrinations, their deprivations from holidays, their witnessing habits, the insular back-biting community and the difficulty leaving their religion.
Here is a 30 minute condensed version of the film and here is the wikipedia article with more links.
The film did not discuss prayer, god or doctrines (nothing on blood transfusions, for instance). Instead it was about the escapees’ inner turmoil. It was a bit long for me but interesting. What made my outing interesting was the discussion afterwards.
The theater had about 60 people, 2/3 of whom were former JWs. The only JWs I had known until then were patients — we had a surgeon in our group who did surgeries without transfusions for JWs. So listening to these JWs describe their indoctrinations and difficulty leaving their faith was fascinating.
I asked one question of the producer: “Your film seems to show problems in many religions, not just JWs. In your experience, what percentage of JWs leave to become believers in another faith?” He thought it was 10% and several ex-JWs jumped in agreeing with him saying, once you see through the bullshit, it is hard to get tricked again. But I do know many join other Christian groups. Here is a 7 minute youtube, of one such woman. One ex-JW said that JWs so stress that there can only be ONE truth, so for her, saying “No” to the Witnesses made it impossible to join yet another truth monopoly.
As I listened to these ex-believers give their anti-testimonies, I walked away with one interesting insight: I had a lot in common with many of these folks. I realized that those who have left an enthusiastic faith often share many attitudes – no matter what religion or fanatic group they left. I was surprised to see I had so much in common with EX-JWs. If you’ve never been part of a fanatic group, you don’t know what you are missing! :-)
Question for readers: Have you ever felt commonality with other ex-believers of a completely different group?
I will soon be faced with a religious decision: Should we go to church for Easter.
I am not a Christian, though I will attend churches occasionally out of anthropological interests. And since I don’t buy the whole salvation package (though I once did), I typically find church services boring and the sermons unbearably annoying. My children hate going to church worse than I do — even if they have only been twice. Just yesterday, for instance, when on a daughter-father evening, my 9-year-old daughter asked me, “Dad, explain to me why Jesus had to die.” And after I explained, she rolled her eyes and said, “Seriously? That is ridiculous.”
So, with that background: This Easter we will be visiting my brother (an atheist) and his delightful wife, my sister-in-law, who is a church-going Christian and we will be invited to attend church. My brother has informed me that he will be going to church with his wife this Easter — not his usual habit but he wants to “show support for his wife” this Easter.
After hearing about this, my wife pondered, “I think I will go to church with your sister-in-law.” I responded with the rhetorical question, “If it were a Buddhist holiday and she were visiting us, and I invited her to go to temple with us for a couple of hours, do you think she would go?”
Anyway, I am undecided. So, when debating choices, listing the pros and cons can be helpful:
- Makes sister-in-law (SIL) happy
- Makes brother happy and avoid strife
- Kids get to see a church again and learn more about another culture.
- Will teach kids that we can be flexible & thoughtful to the religions of others
- Will teach my children how to hide their beliefs for a higher cause — pleasing family and friends.
- Will give a shared, bonding activity for the extended family
- SIL may not do the same for us and so we enable her one-way salvation ideology
- It will re-enforce SIL’s notion that Christianity is the default religion and good people should go to church
- Will set false expectations for the future
- Will be avoiding potentially healthy honest exchanges
- I will have to wear a false smile while shaking hands with church members who have been praying with SIL for years to get her husband and family to turn to Jesus
- Will reinforce to my kids that they don’t belong to the default religion.
- Kids hate going to church and don’t want to go
- Will teach children to hide their beliefs
Another technique I use when making decisions is to triangulate off of the opinions of friends. So, what are your thoughts — any new pros or cons? What would you do? Do you face similar dilemmas?
Japan’s people are primary affiliated with Buddhism and/or Shintoism, yet even that has a largely secular and loose flavor. Their moral fabric is very different from the various American moral fabrics. And there is no truer test of morality than a disaster.
I was not surprised by the reports of the relative scarcity of looting after the recent Japanese devastation when compared to the looting in the Haiti and Chile earthquakes, the England floods, and the Louisiana hurricane — and all those countries have large Christian influences. However, the lack of looting in pagan Japan probably seems odd to Christians who feel that true morality only springs from a love (and fear) of their Jehovah. I wonder how that sort of Christian explains this in their mind.
During my seven years in Japan I was always awkwardly adjusting to the Japanese moral fabric: obligation, shame, self-effacement, neatness, thriftiness, family, non-standing-outness, industriousness and much more. And though much of it was hard for me and a bad fit, I was often a benefactor of this system. For instance, being a forgetful soul, I lost my cash-laden wallet several times in Japan and each time had it returned intact by friendly strangers. Another huge example is when a close Scottish friend’s house burned down, his Japanese neighbors (who hardly knew him) gathered together all sorts of support while the foreign community (who knew him well) barely lifted a finger.
The web of ethics in Japan is rich and deep. But it is not Buddhist, not Shinto, it is complexly Japanese. Likewise, US ethics is not Christian, Jewish or otherwise. Sure, religion can influence ethics, but it is only part of the picture. Ethics is much deeper than religion — to think otherwise is naive.
I am an Atheist but I also have mystical inclinations. They are not always positive, illuminating, wonderful or envious. The are just very different than my normal mind’s living place.
My guess is that most “Natural Atheists” (Atheists from birth — those who never really embraced religion as an adult) do not share many of my mystical inclinations. But then, perhaps only a small percent of religious people themselves actually have many significant mystical experiences.
Below are my posts illustrating my mystical temperament.
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“Grace” is a word Atheists can embrace. Make it your own, take it out of the hands of those who perversely proclaim that we are born disgusting and deserving of torture and torment with our only hope being grace granted from a praise-lusting vengeful god. Take grace back from narrow minds!
Grace is unexpected kindness from others. Grace is the humble interdependence we have with fellow humans and all of nature. Grace is a gift we give without expecting in return. A thankful heart is one that realizes that we live by grace — we live by the kindness of others.
Don’t let the religious steal this beautiful concept. Make “Grace” a word you are proud of. Grace is an important understanding to living in this world where no gods, spirits or spooks exist. Grace is caring for each other.
- Proto-Indo-European: gwer: to praise, welcome
- Sanskrit: grnati: sings, announces
- Greek: karites: one of the three sister goddesses who were bestower or charm and beauty
- Latin: gratia: agreeableness, charm; favor, good will, kindness
- English grace:
1) Elegance and beauty of movement or expression
2) Consideration of others
3) Disposition of kindness and compassion
4) to decorate and make attractive
5) a short prayer before a meal
6) (Christian theology) : the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God
See other “Word!” posts, here.