It’s sometimes funny to me when a person tries to do something, yet achieves the exact opposite of what they wanted to do, obtaining a result much worse than if they never tried at all. This is essentially what happened when I opened the door to greet a Jehovah’s Witness in my area. You’ll see what I mean when I tell the full story.
This happened when I was quite young and still a Christian. I was old enough to walk home from church by myself and let myself in to play video games, but my parents still weren’t really comfortable with me answering the door, I don’t really remember how old I was (definitely a teenager) but I can’t be exactly sure.
Normally I wouldn’t answer the door, however today was an exception because I recognised the witness who had rang the doorbell. We met outside as I was walking home, and had said hello before walking on. My house was so close that he would have seen me enter the home, so when he rang the doorbell I thought it was because I might have dropped something, or another similarly related reason.
He was very old, and dressed in basically full green. When he asked the first question: “Are your parents here?” I knew he hadn’t come for any of the reasons I had expected. They actually weren’t, so he continued talking to me.
He then went on to say that he was trying to spread the good news of Jesus and asked me what I thought. I was really happy with this, as a Christian myself at the time and it was one of the first times that I had opened the door, so I was also just relieved the guy wasn’t crazy.
I said that I was actually a Christian, and that I had just come home from church. I encouraged what he was doing, but he then said something strange, that a lot of churches can be contradictory, and that their church only teachs what the bible actually says.
This came across as quite strange to me, as I didn’t think this was the case, but he spoke so quickly that I couldn’t really respond. The idea of following what the bible actually says isn’t really anything a Christian would disagree with, so I just said that it was good. I was very used to preaching the general idea of Jesus regardless of what kind of belief e.g. Catholic, Protestant etc, and said that they all had the right idea even if we disagreed in some areas. So focussing on one specific interpretation was quite unusual to me. The church I was actually raised in was Anglican, however it felt like kind of a mix of multiple different kinds of Protestantism, potentially because I was still in the Youth Group and didn’t really go to the main services where they would have talked about details like that.
After this, he gave me his leaflet. I was never going to read it because I wasn’t that interested, and felt like I already had the right ideas anyway, but I left it aside for my parents.
After I had closed the door it was obvious to me just how much he had steered and controlled the conversation, however I saw that as me being someone who needed to be more assertive and talk about what I actually wanted to talk about, rather than a problem with the person themself.
They did not once mention that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It felt like they really didn’t want to tell me, as not even the leaflet itself had their religion’s name on it, just a link to their website. I think this is why the conversation ended quite quickly. I had a lot of good faith towards him, but I thought he had a very similar religion to mine, and the conversation couldn’t really continue without revealing their identity, and potentially the loss of my good faith, so that’s where it had to end.
When my parents returned it was essentially business as usual for me. I told them “by the way, someone came round and gave this leaflet about Jesus” – as they were incredibly strong believers, I was surprised when their response was anything but “Oh, I’m glad that someone else is spreading the word”. They were fairly annoyed, saying that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I was surprised to learn this, and told them that I had no idea and that they didn’t tell me. They then realised I had opened the door and talked to them, this seemed to scare them.
They understood that I didn’t really have a way to know who they were, but they were incredibly annoyed that he talked to me, saying that he should have just left. They were worried I had been shouted at or something like that, but once they knew I was ok, they calmed down a little, but were still quite worried.
It felt like my Dad was worried he’d done something, like lay a curse on the house or something. My mum complained that “of course they would come on Sunday morning when all the Christians were at church” as if it was manipulative, and they wanted to avoid them.
I had no idea who or what Jehovah’s witnesses were, and hadn’t really come across them. So naturally I was incredibly curious as to why my parents would react in this way. I didn’t look on the website that they gave me, rather YouTube. I found a video from an ex-Jehovah’s witness (or as they call them apostate) and quickly learned why they would react in that way.
Jehovah’s witnesses die rather than take a life saving blood transfusion, if you leave Jehovah’s witnesses you are shunned by your family and friends, meaning you can’t speak to them again, and at the time they had a multi-million dollar court case where they were refusing to share a list of names of people who had allegedly abused children, thereby protecting sexual predators in their congregation.
I could go on for longer, as I would later learn much more, however it was enough to feel like I had been completely tricked and manipulated. I continued watching YouTube videos about them, at first so that I would be able to spot a witness if I ever came across them again, but also because I couldn’t really believe what was happening, the more I learned the more crazy it seemed, and it was so crazy to me that this could possibly happen in a religion, or cult.
I saw cult members as victims, rather than people who were crazy or evil, with the difference between a cult and a religion being the harm caused to members. The idea of how to identify if you’re in a terrible situation like this, and escape, became very important to me. I was introduced to the BITE model which became incredibly important to me. I’ve left a picture of it below as I think it’s so important to be aware of.
All groups and religions have some of these things to a small extent, but if a group you are in does many of these things to extreme levels, I highly suggest you get away from them as fast as possible, as freedom from these manipulative techniques is so important.
It is very easy to see how a lot of these actions are incredibly damaging, and that this could be an incredibly helpful resource for travelling through life. I could also see the danger of being in a group like this through testimonies from people who had left harmful religions, and truly understood how it would benefit so many of these people to have known about these things much sooner. Being able to apply the BITE model to a different religion than my own really helped me to understand the importance of avoiding these manipulative techniques…and also helped me apply them to my own religion in a non-confrontational way.
When I was told I should not have sex before marriage, masturbate, or have a non-Christian girlfriend, I started to see it as harmful behaviour control, rather than actually good advice. I began to see black vs white thinking, loaded language, thought stopping techniques, and punishing doubt as unnecessary, and harmful thought control. I also learned to spot it when it was being used. Was my religious experience at crowd events achieved through trance states and excessive singing and prayer, or was God really there? When I was told I was unworthy, sinful, and should feel guilty for what I’ve done to God, was that just baseless incorrect emotion control? Was this incredibly negative and hostile attitude towards those who have left Christianity actually warranted, or did it only make our problems worse by needlessly dividing good people?
I am lucky enough to grow up in a religion, and not a cult, so in a lot of cases this kind of manipulative behaviour didn’t exist, but when it did appear, I had a powerful resistance to it, and prioritised my wellbeing and sense of self over manipulative techniques an all loving God definitely wouldn’t use.
It may sound like this is what converted me to atheism, but this isn’t the case at all. I stayed a Christian for a very long time after I had become familiar with this model. It was basically a domino effect, something that taught me the importance of questioning and not punishing doubt, so that when I did begin to have questions, I explored them thoroughly and eventually changed my mind.
It’s sometimes funny to me when a person tries to do something, yet achieves the exact opposite of what they wanted to do, obtaining a result much worse than if they never tried at all, and that’s exactly what happened when I met a Jehovah’s witness. Not only did I learn to a large extent the incredible harm that can come from Jehovah’s witness belief, but it also led me to leaving my own religion. So, in a very weird way, a Jehovah’s witness did actually convert me, but in a completely different way to intended.
Most people don’t like it when Jehovah’s witnesses knock on their door, and I perfectly understand why, but I am incredibly grateful to them for knocking on my door and talking to me.