Progressing Towards the Truth
Outside of the organization, I could now search what other people believed, without apprehension, and especially these people labeled by the organization “apostates”.
Little by little I began to uncover one by one the dogmatic faults of the “Watchtower”. As I was learning about all these important and unprecedented (for me) novelties, I wanted to share them with those around me. All these were newly learned revelations the fact that I was discovering how all this time I was believing in false doctrines. Unfortunately however, the others around me did not usually share my enthusiasm. To all those who did not live through my experience, all these phenomenal interpretations, were something simple without any special significance. If for example someone had not placed all his hopes on an earthly paradise, in the vision of the “great crowd” of the seventh chapter of the Revelation, he would not be especially enthused, if he reads some true interpretation of the vision, showing that the “great crowd” refers to the heavenly order. For him this would simply be one more interpretation among all those he could read, while the fact that the “great crowd” is of the heavenly realm, for him is something very natural!
Thus I realized that all this time in the organization, I did not only fail to progress, but in reality I was regressing. Before joining the “Witnesses”, I only needed “reconstruction”. Now, I not only needed ‘reconstruction’, but also a “demolition” of all my past ‘cacodoxies’, “implanted” in my mind all these years by the organization “Watchtower”. I now needed double the work. That’s why Friskoulas was saying: “to leave, to come out of the “Watchtower” organization is easy! The difficulty is to have the “Watchtower” come out of your head”!
How true! Anyone who has lived through such totalitarian groups can attest to this as I did. Thus when I would read something from the Holy Scripture, the interpretations of the organization would envelop my mind not allowing me to see the true meaning. I HAD BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO INTERPRETING THESE VERSES IN THAT WAY. So my excitement and my joy was intense, when discovering something I had never paid any attention to all these years in verses, which I had committed to memory and had read thousands of times. “Where were they hiding all these years and I failed to see them?”, is the most often asked question by people like myself, when we discover this sort of thing.
The only ones who shared my enthusiasm for these subjects I held important, were other former “witnesses”, who had lived through the same experiences like myself. This was something that made us pull together even outside of the organization, and this way we were able to console each other. This was also a factor that leads the people who lived the experience of the “Watchtower” to seek out each other or support and comradery, even though there were other people more experienced in the true interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
Some other people see the truly important issues and they mainly deal with these. Something like this however is still too hasty for the people who recently departed from the “witnesses”. They continue to believe that they will not benefit from others, but only from people with the same experience as their own. We former ‘Witnesses’ spoke in our own language, and about ‘our own’ interests. We had other kinds of directions and priorities in our research. Eschatological and chronological topics that are normally of minor importance, were the most important items for us, since we based our (Adventist-type) faith on such details all these years. It was only through these items that we could be helped, before continuing on to the more important topics.
Thus, by moving backwards, we first studied parts of Revelation, chronological charts, and then, after moving full-circle, we would tackle the important issues such as enlightenment and theosis. Even then, we needed to recap, to review certain topics that we had taken for granted, as –for example- the Canon of the Holy Bible, Traditions, and even the Antilytron!
If we had near us some Christians who could follow our own, ‘reverse’ order of study, our path might have been easier. It is so important, for such ‘welcoming groups’ to exist in parishes, and to be comprised of people who have gone through similar experiences if possible so they can successfully assist in the guidance of new individuals exiting these exta-ecclesial groups.
We were not so fortunate in meeting such people. Everywhere we went, we listened to people talk to us about what they considered important, and not what we were in need of. They usually began to inform us about the beliefs of the “witnesses” making us rebel against their common slanderous remarks and their inaccuracies we were forced to hear. Even when we explained to them what exactly takes place, many were stubbornly adhering to their opinions.
All these developments did no allow us to feel the spirit of “brotherhood” we had gotten used to feeling in the organization. We were strangers among strangers. We missed the continuous company of people with our own worries and troubles and we often became nostalgic for the companionship and comradery of the organization (but no for its dogmas and methods). The lack of the austere discipline of the organization, which we were used to, did not make us feel at home because it did not give us the impression that “everything worked like a clock”.
But, we also couldn’t turn back, having become aware of the malice, the harshness and the voluntary lies it was oppressing us with for so many years. I can remember when I was still a “Witness”, how joyfully I used to receive the organization’s new pamphlets or books and how I would literally absorb everything in them, as though it were “food from God”. (And they were always that many in number, as were needed to keep me from finding time to read other literature). This habit would surface frequently, even after I was dis-fellowshipped, whenever I would happen to see a new issue in circulation. All of those periodicals were written in the same way. First they posed questions, or aroused our curiosity on a certain topic. Then, they would project it from its worst aspect, forcing the reader into a psychological impasse. Finally, they would reveal to the reader that the only solution was for him to enter the organization, or to be persuaded to contact other “Witnesses” as though they are ‘saviours and pundits sent by God’, who would help him find the solution.
Nowadays, whenever I read the first lines, I re-live the treachery and the lies of the organization, and be overwhelmed by all those depressing feelings of aversion that I have for the Watchtower. Even today, it is impossible for me to read an entire article out of those pamphlets, without my mood being destroyed. That which used to fulfil me, is now abhorrent.
The feelings that dis-fellowship creates are so intense, that many people never get over them, no matter how many years may pass. They continue to carry such a psychological trauma inside them, that wherever they go, they desperately need to tell others about their gruelling past in the organization. After so many years in the Watchtower, they had learnt to lure other people into it, in the belief that they were protecting them from the devastation of Armageddon. Now, they feel the need to inculpate the organization everywhere they go, in their attempt to protect their fellow-man fom experiences such as their own; to protect them from the Watchtower itself, and to perhaps even wreak vengeance on it! Even the people who had converted to the proper Christian faith, instead of speaking to their fellow-man about the Christian hope, they would continuously speak of the horrible experiences inside the organization! Many people often confuse the organization with its victims, and they resort to accusing individuals and even feel a vengeful joy, whenever they hear of their misfortunes. They forget that they too used to be victims of the same group. This constant preoccupation with the organization however, seems to fill a void in the victims that have departed from it. It is the void that was created when they realized that all of their labours, everything they had been taught about this lifestyle, was in vain. And now, they have nothing to say and that is a void that cannot be filled. They only thing left for them to say, for the guidance and protection of others, is their own experience. This very book that you are reading could very well be the fruit of such a need.
In reality, however, I learnt that this is not enough. There are many more things that one can do for others, apart from constantly narrating their experiences with the Watchtower.
At first, when I realized that all those things that were crucial to me were indifferent to others, I too felt that void. Very soon, however, I saw other “Witnesses”, whose dis-fellowship did not mean a halting of all their activities. They continued to study the Bible on their own, or with others. Instead of talking about the Watchtower’s hope, they discussed the hope of the Christian “call from on high”. That was very encouraging. I noticed how my initial fears began to slowly disappear. My fear that I could have been wrong in allowing myself be driven out of the organization wsa now replaced with the certainty that I had acted correctly. The truth is, that I now felt God closer to me. Of course, I didn’t feel that I ws ready to speak to others about God. The only thing I could do, was to talk to “Witnesses”, in the hope that they would tread on the same, tried steps as I did, and escape from the organization.
One of them, ws my friend Nick. Whenever I spoke to him about the organization, I never included him in it, to avoid him taking a defensive attitude towards me. I would speak of the organization, as though it were something apart from him, so that he wouldn’t’ feel I was relating him to its frauds.
There were people who offerred financial support to others – something that we were never taught in the organization. There, many were criticized and were labelled “immature”, because they didn’t preach the Watchtower. However, the organization never considered anyone “immature” for not participating in charity work. And yet, there were people whom the organization regarded as “apostates”, because they helped their fellow-man in every possible way.
On the contrary, the organization would send financial aid to its own victims, and only to its own victims, whenever they had suffered damages. The aid that everyone else received, was from their surplus. And then, the organization would brad and advertise itself, for its supposed unique love and caring for all those in need.
The question that all the disillusioned “Witnesses” were accustomed to asking, and which I too had asked: “If I find myself thrown out of the organization, where will I go?” was now obsolete. I now knew, that there WAS life outside the organization also. At first, I sought support - a “Watchtower” substitute – someone who would tell me what I should do, and who would do omy thinking for me. I had become inundated with this passiveness, with the irresponsibility of a robot acting under directions, whose personality had been flattened. The organization did not tolerate anyone having personal opinions. We had to have the same opinion as the organization only. We had to transform ourselves into a more and more faithful copy of the ideal (yuppie) “Witness”, like identical little soldiers. For years, the organization had been telling me that “research is our business. Your concern is only to preach and to accept everything we tell you.” (Believe, and do not seek). Now, I had to learn how to think for myself once again. But, something had to happen, in order to induce me to do it. This did happen, when I began to see the true face of the organization. The same applied to each and every one of us in there; something had to occur, to bring us out of our enchanted sleep and to make us start thinking freely once again. We had to learn to compare, and to test everything we heard.
For years, I had been learning, learning, learning… and now, I had to start from scratch? It would be so hard! Some had become intimidated with this prospect, and they abandoned all attempts. However, I came to see that nothing was in vain. All this experience, no matter how unpleasant, was a useful experience. I could now understand, and could help others that were in the same situation as myself. I could preserve those things that I learnt from the “Witnesses” – what few things that were correct. Most of all, though, I now had a measure of comparison. I had been taught all the traps, and I had learnt my lesson, so that from then on, I would be more careful. I now possessed a basis (albeit a negative one), on which I could build. But I also possessed a misbelieving in everything I heard. I would no longer trust any “conductor of God” in the same naïve manner as in the past. I was now going to put to use my God-given logic and freedom, so that no-one can ever entrap me again. All of the groups that I had attended in the past, smelled of entrapment.
But for some, there was another kind of trap. They would create their own team, or would fall into dogma-less situations. Both conditions are bad. My friend Nick was at risk of being trapped in the first of the aforementioned conditions, as he was ready to create “affiliate” groups from his own study group. In fact, his team was “a-dogmatic” to begin with; in other words, it accepted as “Christians” even the extremest of denominations, regardless of what they believed in. Fortunately, the Lord protected him fom both traps, just as he protected him from the trap of materialism also. This is a trap that threatens all former “Witnesses”, when, after being freed of their compulsory work and their full schedules, they sink themselves into hard work, and end up abandoning God. Naturally, my own financial and professional needs also had spells that forced me into endless hours of work. This was a lesson that I learnt; that it is not necessarily true to accuse others of having abandoned God for the sake of their jobs, because there are times when overworking becomes a necessary thing. As long as there is always the intention and the move towards our Christian goal.
It was not my wife’s or my own desire to become involved in any Protestant group permanently. Wherever we went, it was only to collect the experiences of other groups like the one we left. In this way, we learnt how to compare and how to enrich our personal criteria for research of the Truth. Unfortunately, others became attached to such groups, whether as a substitute to the Watchtower, or for the sake of their companionship, which resulted in them becoming embroiled in new adventures. If there had been a certain “welcoming team” in the Church, to help them to become smoothly reinstated in the community, they would have found what they were looking for. They would have found the warmth of a brotherhood, the unerring guide and the answers that they had been seeking, with a regular group of companions. They would have seen that in the Church, there are people with spiritual interests, and they would have learnt the proper interpretation of the Holy Bible, from the very start, within the Church – which is the natural environment for interpretation. Later on, they would have learnt to trust the other, God-inspired texts of the Church. In that way, they would have known that everything they sought would be found therein, without the need to go from Protestant group to Protestant group and even further away from Christ. They would have come to recognize the boundaries of the true Christian faith, so that they would not be fooled by the self-appointed “prophets”, the “pastors” and the “conductors” of Protestantism.
But the basic problem is that, for such a contact group to be created, out of former members of heresies, the group’s members need to have the required time on their hands. This means they should not have time-consuming jobs, and more importantly, they should not be hindered by their families in their poemantic preoccupations. Unfortunately, both of these requirements are difficult to achieve, and especially the latter, because people that exit such totalitarian groups, usually exit them on their own, and they are confined by their families, either due to their divvering religious priorities, or they even create responsibilities on purpose, in order to hinder their work.
One such group must also be comprised of people who knw how to listen to others. They should not pursue the Watchtower system of: “either you listen to me and be saved from Armageddon, or else I leave!”. The other person also has something to say, and his objections and caution are natural and should be welcomed. In the organization, we required people to take a stance: They would either listen to us and be saved, or else they would become our enemies. We called this a separation process. The organization wanted only two teams: Its own, and ‘the others’. Black, or white. They wouldn’t tolerate grey, with its varying hues. In actual fact though, the varying hues of people’s personalities differ greatly between them. Differences must be tolerated, because each person, with his own particularities, is a unique and unprecedented event in the entire universe.
I was given the opportunity to witness one such attempt by the organization to flatten a personality, in the person of a colleague of mine. The young man’s name was Tasos, and he had been brought up in the organization and had come to believe in it, as we all did at first. He worked in the same goldsmith’s workshop as I did, before I was disfellowshipped. The truth is, my employer, who had a certain respect for “Witnesses”, had asked me “to find him a Witness lad, as trustworthy as myself”. So, I introduced Tasos to him, and he hired him. Indeed, he proved to be very trustworthy and conscientious in his job (as opposed to another Witness that my mother had recommended somewhere, who ran away with his employer’s money).
I worked with Tasos for many years. When I was disfellowshipped, he avoided discussing religious topics with me, and in fact, he would say to me: “curiosity for things outside the organization is not good for you”. However, as the years passed, the organization’s attempts to confine him likewise to their own moulds began to appear. He was told not to associate with anyone who was not a Witness; he was not allowed to go anywhere he pleased; he was not allowed to listen to the music that he liked, and many other restrictions. Whenever he asked for the Biblical justifications of these restrictions, they had no reply available, so he continued to ignore them. This resulted in a relentless hounding, with mud-slinging, “counselling committees”, verbal abuse by other Witnesses, constant monitoring and quarrelling from his family, any many other harassments. All of these things began to alert him. He could see my calmness, and the simplicity with which I saw things, and was puzzled. The fact was, that the organization had become the cause of his depression, instead of his delight.
Very soon, he began to tell me of his suffering. We spoke for hours on end, about a person’s need to avoid becoming the involuntary object of levelling and arbitrary, unwritten laws. He decided thereafter to make his own little revolution. He let his hair grow to a length that was unacceptable to Witnesses. The pressure against him increased. Some, no longer included him amongst their fellow-believer Witnesses, which made him wonder, “Does God really care about hairdos?”. “In other words” (he would say to himself) “if my hair is five centimetres longer than what the others consider tolerable, will I really perish during Armageddon? If God is so unjust, then let Him kill me.”
Very soon after, they began to accuse him without reason, and he was constantly being summoned by the elders of the organization, on various matters against him. The fact that he didn’t comply with the appearance that the organization had imposed, was a bothersome thorn in their eye. Certain Witnesses even accused him of being a homosexual, while others called him a tramp. Others forbade their children to associate with him and every single day, they would create new problems for him.
After all this unbearable pressure, he began to wonder if they were truly correct, and if he was the illogical one. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find the reasons that justified his persecutors’ behaviour. Even Jesus Christ had hair longer than his own! It actually annoyed him, to see the Lord depicted in the organization’s books, with a closely-cropped hairstyle, as though He had just come from a hairdresser’s salon! He realized, that even this detail was a means of promoting the organization’s standards of appearance. So he continued to be a thorn in their eye, even more provocatively, until they accepted him they way he was. Afterwards, he would cut his hair! But every time he planned to cut his hair, some new challenge would rear its head, and made him postpone the haircut.
Some time went by, and he found the opportunity to philosophize on the matter, and draw his own conclusions, both on the matter of the flattening of personalities, as well as the cruel and unfair methods that the organization implemented. He could now discern between their behaviour as opposed to that of the benevolent father of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Eventually, when the local Witnesses were forced to accept his appearance, unable to impose their views on him, he had become mature enough for deeper research into the causes and the sanctimonious dogmas that led to this kind of behaviour. His reaction to their attempts at leveling his personality, led him to the ability to think for himself.