This is Fifth and you’re watching the ExJW Fifth
YouTube channel. On today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Ben. Ben is a former
Jehovah’s Witness, also a former elder and pioneer. He even worked with the
writing desk in the Australian branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses and several of his
articles were actually published in the Watchtower and Awake magazines. So Ben, first of
all I just really want to welcome you to the channel and thank you so much for
taking time out to speak with me. thanks Fifth it’s a pleasure to be on your
channel. I’m looking forward to having a good chat with you.
-Likewise, thank you very much. Let me ask you a little bit about
your background with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What was your introduction to the religion?
-Sure, so my parents were introduced to it when I was about 8
years old; my father was a window dresser setting up shop displays, so of course
most pioneers being window cleaners he came across the witnesses all the time
and eventually invited one back to the house and started studying. My mother was
reluctant at first and she gave the witnesses a really hard time, but
eventually she started studying as well and I think they got baptized around
1978 so from that point on I grew up in that culture. My father was
never a serious sort of witness I think for him it was more that he liked the
people. He was very social and gregarious; I don’t think he ever really took it
that seriously. I know when he studied with me, he never took my study very
personally, so I had to kind of study for myself. So, in my teenage years
I was very studious. I’d read a lot but like – yeah, my dad was pretty casual about it all.
He used to even fall asleep in the study that he had with me but I was a
very serious young person. I made a friend with another older brother in the
congregation and we used to even study our books together, get right into all
those old meaty things with all the types in the antitypes and all the
heavy prophecy stuff so that was the kind of person I was. And so
at 14, I decided to get baptized and even from that young age I had instilled
into me the goal of pioneering. I had a few older
brothers that sort of mentored me and really sort of instilled those goals into
me, so I was a very serious-minded young person; never got into any trouble and
baptized very young. Then about eighteen I met my future wife. She moved into
our congregation from a northern coastal congregation here in Australia and 19 I
was married. So yeah that’s how it all started.
– I see, and now I would imagine because you already have
mentioned that you were very goal-oriented even from a very early age,
I would imagine you were reaching out for even more privileges at that time, is
that correct? oh absolutely, so of course I was
hoping to be appointed as a ministerial servant and the brothers
indicated to me that they were looking looking at me in that way.
Unfortunately, my courtship to my future wife sort of threw a spanner in
the works there, they viewed my wife as kind of a – I don’t know – a boy chaser or a
cradle snatcher or something. She kind of moved into our congregation and
straightaway she’s sort of after one of their spiritual boys as it were, and I
just remember our courtship, you know… it should have been kind of the happiest time
in your life but the elders at times made it really miserable for us because
we couldn’t do anything right. If we were seen holding hands we were straightaway taken
out to the back room and counseled. Everything we did we were counseled
for, they just interfered with everything. Eventually, it got so bad that
the circuit overseer even got involved. To his credit, he actually pulled the elders
aside and said, “hey brothers, look, if the parents are
approving just stay out of it. Mind your own business. So I thank them for
that, but I just remember what a miserable time it was just not being
able to have a natural courtship just because everything you did was so micro
managed and everything was observed and criticized and counseled.
Anyway, we got married eventually and then the brothers came to me and
said, “look, you know, we would like to make a ministerial servant but seeing as you’re
just married, we would like to give you some time to settle into marriage.” Which
I thought was a good practical thing. So I accepted that, but then they made me a
ministerial servant so I would have been about twenty, twenty-one, early twenties I
can’t remember exactly, and then that sort of opened up some strange things
for me and I guess through my story I’m gonna be mentioning a lot of things that
probably should have made me think about the organization on a deeper level,
should have made me question things but I just sort of suppressed it all and
I ignored a lot of things. So I found being a ministerial servant in that
congregation where I grew up very tough because there our presiding overseer – as
they were called in those times He was one of those really old school
elders that sort of felt the congregation was his congregation, like he owned it. He
was the chief and we were the Indians, and so there was again this very
very strict control of everything – how everything was done, there was
no freedom of opinion or how you might carry out certain tasks but, you know, I
coped with that and I thought he was a bit of a Hitler in a sense and
eventually when the opportunity came up to move, I took that opportunity and
got out of that congregation. Also because I thought it was good to to move away
from where you’ve grown up where everyone views you as just a sort of
young kid – to establish your own identity I thought was important too.
I progressed well, I was being given public talks as a ministerial servant so
I think I’d made good progress there, but the opportunity came up to move to,
another Kingdom Hall where there was a Kingdom Hall flat available. So they were
looking for a pioneer to move into that flat and we jumped at that opportunity as a newly married couple.
– I see. Okay, so once you moved into that flat and
obviously changed congregations; being able to be perceived perhaps in a
different light than you had been previously in your home congregation,
what happened? How was your time there at that congregation?
– okay, so part of the reason for leaving was, as I
said, to get away from the this very controlling elder and unfortunately
what happened was it was a bit of the out of the frying pan into the fire
scenario. So when we moved into the new congregation, it was all lovely. We were
welcomed so warmly. The presiding overseer there said, you know, how much he
appreciated having us there but that only lasted for a very short time
and then his true colors came to the fore and I realized that he was an even
worse man than the man I had left. I have to put this in context and say that, you
know, I’ve worked with many many wonderful elders over the years, so I
don’t want to portray a wrong picture. Many of these elders I’ve
worked with have been very loving, very genuine men, but over time there
have been some real bad ones, some bad eggs in that mix and this one was
probably one of the worst. So just to give you sort of an idea of how he ran
the congregation it was really like with an iron fist. Everything
was controlled to the minutest detail and again we used to get in trouble for
the slightest things. So it might be… we had a anniversary party for someone in
the congregation and he’d come up and grill me and say, “you can’t have
anniversary parties! The society doesn’t agree with them.”
and I’m like, “well, where does it say that?” and then he’d write letters and just
make stuff up and say the society says this and that. So any of his personal
opinions he’d used the society and say that’s what was behind his
opinion. There was another instance where my wife wanted to do something
fun for the kids in the congregation. So she thought, “Let’s do a drama
with the kids! We’ll use one of the recorded dramas, we’ll hire a community
hall, we’ll get the brothers to make up costumes and it’ll be a real fun school
activity in the holidays for all the kids. As soon as this elder heard about
it he again straight away around to the hall flat to grill us and say, “you can’t
do that! You know the society doesn’t approve of these kind of things! You dare
not be doing it in the kingdom hall.” and, you know, we reassured him that no no,
we weren’t going to do it in the hall but everything was just – it was just so hard
to get anything done or anything nice and joyful, there was such an oppressive
atmosphere in that in that Kingdom Hall, and then of course being a person who
wanted to create a sense of community and a sense of joy in the brothers and
sisters there, I was always trying to do things and always getting myself into
trouble with this elder, and there were other things too. Like I remember a time
where a sister had this emotionally abusive husband and at one point it got
so bad that he basically kicked her out of the house, threw all the clothes and
stuff on the lawn and locked her out of the house and she was good friends with my
wife. So she called my wife and we went and got her and we invited her to stay
with us for the night just until she got herself sorted out, and again as soon as
this elder found out, he was around to our place grilling us, telling us how
inappropriate it was because we were interfering in their marriage and, you
know, all we were doing was just this humanitarian thing. This sister was
out on the street and we just gave her somewhere to sleep for the night and we
were sort of punished for it, but it sort of all came to a head at one point where
there was a couple of other ministerial servants in the congregation that were
also feeling that, you know, this just wasn’t right the way he was doing things
and oppressing everyone. And one in particular was an ex elder who’d moved
in and was a servant and so he had a lot of experience and he also could see that
this was just not right. So three or four of us I think it was, we decided we
needed to do something, we thought, you know, God’s Spirit wasn’t
working this congregation and we didn’t feel like we could talk to him because
he would just go nuts at us. We didn’t feel like we could talk to any of the
other elders because they all just seemed to be under his control as well. They
just seemed to be his “yes men” as it were. So we decided the only thing we could do is go
to the circuit overseer. So there was a circuit assembly coming up and we all
went to the circuit overseer and we explained what was going on in the
congregation, explained how we felt about it. The circuit overseer sort of thanked
us for that and opened up an investigation and I remember how crazy
that whole assembly was. The whole weekend was just interview after
interview. So what they did was the circuit overseer got the district
overseer involved who was serving that assembly and the two of them got each of
us in turn on our own separately and just grilled us for hours on end about the
situation, and after that they interviewed us all, and then they sort of went back and
interviewed us all again based on the other information they obtained. So
initially we thought, well this is a positive, you know, the society is
listening to us and we’re going to do something about it, but of course what
happened was that it all just went back to him and I’m sure that the circuit
overseer, you know, gave him feedback and some counsel. I don’t know what was said
to him. Nothing was actually done about it in
any practical way. So the fallout from it was that I guess maybe because I was
sort of one of the chief instigators of it, he really directed his
animosity towards me even further. So at the time, as I said, I was
doing public talks, I had my own book study group,
I was almost doing everything an elder would be doing and all that was taken
off me because I’d gone behind his back and acted disloyally. So basically he
dissolved the group I was in and he put me in his book study group where he
could keep an eye on me and keep me under control and this is the bizarre
thing Fifth, I was not removed as a ministerial servant. So I was still an
appointed man but I was treated like a disfellowship person for all intents and purposes.
So he wouldn’t let me take the field service group, I was barely allowed to
answer. When I did answer he just sort of snarled at my comments and looked at me
disdainfully. I wasn’t allowed to do anything. So I had no privileges anymore, even though
I was still a ministerial servant. It was like I was put in the naughty corner as
it were for speaking up against him and I think – I can’t remember exactly how
long this lasted but I think I was in his group for a year or two and the
whole time I just had to sort of put up with it and think, well, you know, just
wait on Jehovah this will get sorted out. It just went from bad to worse really.
Eventually a special pioneer elder was sent to the congregation and then it
finally was sorted out. What ended up happening was that virtually the whole
elder body was removed as elders. A couple of other new brothers moved in
along with this special pioneer brother and so at the time – again that
appeased my doubts and my concerns. I thought, yeah
this is – even though it took so long – this is evidence that Jehovah eventually
fixes things up, that he’s really in control. So a mental conditioning
remained for still a long time even though that experience was just
horrendous. There was no evidence of God’s Spirit working in that
congregation at all, but I thought now it had been fixed, and then not long after
that I was appointed as an elder myself, and at around the age of I think
about 27 28 I was at that time. So what happened then was interesting
because for a while I served with that special pioneer brother who was
a very good brother. We’re still actually very good friends. He moved on from the
congregation after a short while and then a new presiding overseer had to be
appointed. You know, the interesting thing is that there were two very
experienced elders there, but they didn’t get on both had very
strong personalities and I think if either of them had been appointed the
presiding overseer, there would have been a lot of tension and drama because of the
other one disagreeing all the time and not supporting the leadership of
the other brother. so as crazy as it seems, I, as the
youngest elder on the body, was appointed as the presiding overseer. Not because
of any skills or experience On my part, but literally because I was
sort of a compromise candidate. I was the one who could maybe keep the peace between
these other strong-minded brothers, so I was kind of really thrown in the deep
end in a sense, being appointed presiding overseer at a very young age.
-I see, so obviously that would have been a lot of
responsibility; even being an elder at 27 and all of the duties you
would have had at that point in addition to being married and all of that, that was
a lot on your shoulders. What was that experience like for you? How did
things proceed from that point forward?
-it was good for quite a while. As I
said, those brothers were good brothers, as I said there’s been a few
bad elders I’ve worked with, but that team of elders were genuinely
good men to work with, but being an elder is stressful – like just the amount of
work, the amount of emotional energy… because I was also living at the kingdom
hall flat because I was pioneering as well. It was like I was on call 24/7, so
eventually that did wear me down and I almost had – what you might call a nervous
breakdown in a sense, and I eventually moved out of that Kingdom Hall flat and
to another congregation, but I guess the big thing that stands out to me from
that time in my life was just being thrown into this whirlpool of committee
cases after committee cases all the time. It was funny, when I was
first appointed as an elder and I got the keys to the filing cabinet
as it were, where we kept all our records, I was a bit shocked as a young elder
to see…with judicial cases, they are always filed in particular yellow
envelopes that were all sealed, and so the first time I went into this filing
cabinet, there must have been – I don’t know – 30 or 40 of these yellow folders and they were
thick with notes; just all the judicial cases over the decades in that
congregation. I just thought, wow! There’s just so much stuff here and that
didn’t stop during my time as an elder there. I served on – I don’t know how many
but it just seems like every few months there was another judicial case and
that’s probably one of my big regrets now looking back, that some of
the ways we handled those cases. I mean at the time we were following
policy and procedure, at the time I thought I was doing the right thing but
looking back now I can see that some of the decisions I made really affected
families, tore families apart in a sense because of the shunning that followed. I’ve
tried to now go back and find those people and apologize as much as I can
for the part I played in some of those things. There was one particular case
that really still weighs heavily on me because I’ve never been able to find the
man and he was a good friend of ours at the time. We used to be around at
their place for dinner every week we had a young family with young kids, we had
gotten on really well with them, and anyway, he was disfellowshipped for the
most minor of things, you know? and the only reason he was disfellowshipped
because it happened a couple of times and we were following procedure and the book
says, you know, if it’s more than one occasion then you have to question their
repentance, but of course we had no idea whether he was repentant or not, you
can’t judge that in a person. We were just following procedures. So he was
disfellowshipped and that was the end of that friendship of course for me and
I don’t know what happened with his family but I presume that he hasn’t seen
his kids for a many many years, I certainly broke up that family and to this day it makes me
very sad that I had a part in it. So there were many cases, there
was also a case of child abuse. So again I was only in my early 30s I think when
I got that one, so again very inexperienced. I didn’t know how to
handle that it was a very difficult case. Luckily it wasn’t a severe case it was
more sort of the early stages of
inappropriate touching it wasn’t the full-on child rape or anything like
that, but still looking back now, I can see how ill-equipped we were to
handle it. We did what we were supposed to do which was to ring the branch office
and they gave us some guidelines, we followed those procedures. The man
stopped attending meetings so we didn’t really pursue him in the sense of
taking judicial action or anything, we just sort of let the matter rest, but
the thing I deeply regret is that we didn’t really give the victim the support
that she would have needed. We didn’t encourage her to go and get counseling
all we really did was, you know, for a few meetings just check on her to say
“are you okay? Are you doing alright?” Read some scriptures to her, and that’s
all we did. There was no long term help and years later that all came to a head
because she actually decided to do something about it herself. So she
started legal proceedings. So, I got a call last year when I’d already left the
organization from one of the elders, the elder who wa actually the chairman of that committee,
and it was interesting, now I could see from the other side of the coin just how
things proceeded from his point of view so he rang me up, and he told me, look,
you know, the police are going to call me about this case. We have to make some
statements, we may have to go into court and testify, but what really struck me
was that this elder – his chief concern was that we got our stories matching, got
our stories straight. So that’s the reason he was willing to give
me a heads-up. He basically told me what he had told the police and he
wanted to make sure that I was going to tell the police the same thing, and his
chief concern was that we looked good to to law enforcement, that it looked like
we handled everything correctly and what he was suggesting, as far as you
know, the statement that would be given – was it true?
-No. I didn’t agree with it I don’t think – I mean we handled
things correctly in that we followed procedure, but I didn’t agree that we
handled things correctly from the point of view that I now have in hindsight.
-Sure I don’t think we could have done anything
different at that time because we were only doing what we knew how to do,
but looking back on it I could see that we didn’t handle things properly and I
wasn’t prepared to say that we did. So when I went to the police I gave them
quite a different statement and I told them how I felt from my current
perspective, but that went to trial and then the man was dealt with, and he
he was found guilty, and so that all turned out well, but yes, it just really
opened my eyes up to the fact that the other elders on that case
were more concerned about how the organization looked versus what we did for the victim.
– how long was that period of time, from when you were
made aware of the allegation or the reporting of the inappropriate touching
to when the police ultimately got a hold of it and pursued that case legally?
that’s a good question, and that’s why in hindsight it really concerned
me, because this case happened in around 2003, 2004, I can’t remember the exact year. So it would
have been well over ten years ago before it actually came
to court. So – now in that time, there’s no telling what that man could have gone on
and done, and again our concern was he wasn’t part of the congregation anymore.
So we felt, okay, the young ones in our congregation weren’t in danger but
we weren’t at all concerned about what he might be doing to kids outside the
congregation. Now, I don’t know, I never even thought of that at the
time, it didn’t come into my consciousness. of course now it does. Now I just see,
well, you know, we should have gone and reported that to the police because they
might have been able to do something much earlier which may have prevented
him abusing other children. So I don’t know if there were any other cases that
certainly didn’t come out in the trial and hopefully that was a one-off case,
but as we know with pedophiles it is a sickness that usually doesn’t stop at one case, does it?
-Of course not
-Yeah, so that really disturbs me, that in
following those procedures we did – and never putting that to law
enforcement at the time, what could have happened in those intervening years.
-so you had that case and you said several
other difficult judicial cases at that time but that didn’t throw you too far
off balance, right? You continued plugging along continue serving as an elder and
eventually even attain higher privileges is that correct?
absolutely yes, so any sort of doubts I had or whatever of just again just
sort of shoved under the rug, just carried on serving loyally, again, being a very
serious-minded elder, so eventually I was giving talks on the circuit and
district convention level, also around that time I had the privilege of joining
the writing team and doing research for the society, so one of the elders
who was in my congregation where I grew up who sort of mentored me when I was
younger, he was he was kinda the coordinator of that writing team
that we had was where I live we have the national library here, and so the
the writing desk in Bethel would often use us to do a lot of research here
because we had access to the materials and the library here and all the
journals that we needed, so this brother who took me under his wing, as it
were, he encouraged me to start doing some research with him. so eventually I
was sort of invited to become a part of what
they called the writing team and we used to work along with the writing
desk at the Bethel here in Australia. so I’m happy to tell you a little bit about
that, I think it’s an area that people probably are not really aware of how it all works.
-Right I think people are interested to know how these
articles get written. so what would happen is sometimes we would get an
outline from the society and we’d get asked to research and write that
article but more often than not our main purpose was to actually come up with
ideas for the society. so we would talk amongst ourselves talk to circuit
overseers, have our ear to the ground as to what, you know, things happening in the
congregation and see what concerns the brothers had, and we would come up with
an idea for an article. so then what would happen is we’d write – we would put
together like a one-page brief or one-page outline just outlining the
main points of the the article and what the, sort of, thrust of it would be, and
that would get it sent to the Australian branch who would then send in on to the
Brooklyn Bethel, and then we’d wait for their approval. so they’d send a document
back saying it might say, “no, we don’t want that article at the moment”, but more
often than not they’d like the idea and they’d say, “yes, we give you approval for
this article to be written”, and they would give us
direction as to what the article – where the article would be used and how big it would
be, so they might say, “well this would be a two-page article in the Awake! magazine
or this might be an eight page cover series in the watchtower, so they would
direct how they wanted that article, and often they would have other brothers in
other writing teams around the world also at the same time working on a
similar subject, and then they would often combine the two
articles or the different amounts of research into one article, so that’s
kind of how to how it worked. then, once we got the approval for the
article, then we’d get stuck into research. so we sort of had an idea of
what we wanted to say and the points we would want to make, we’d go and research and
find, sort of, material evidence to support the things we were trying to
say, support the arguments we were trying to make, and this is where I
learned looking back now from my perspective just how poor the
society’s academic credibility is in a sense. so at the time I thought – at the
time I was very impressed by the thoroughness of how we did things, so
even just for a couple of pages in a magazine we would send in a very thick
binder of all the photocopied articles that we’d researched and that we were quoting
from and it all looks very thorough and academic but looking back now I
can see it wasn’t, because what we were actually guilty of doing was just
basically using confirmation bias at the time. so instead of – to give an example –
instead of, um, let’s say we were looking at a particular issue and writing about a
particular issue, instead of researching and finding out, okay, what are
all the experts saying about this issue, for or against, what are both sides of the
story, we had our particular angle that we
wanted to present and we were just looking to basically quote mark, and we were
looking for a quote that would support our position and pretty much just
ignoring everything else that didn’t support our position, so that’s basically
what I did as a researcher, I was basically “quote mining”, I was looking for
something that I could use to support my argument. I wasn’t looking for – where does
the evidence lead, you know, what do the bulk of
experts say is the case in this particular scenario?
-I see, I have a question about that. so, as you were doing
this research and you were kind of just picking out things that went along with
whatever it was that you were trying to say, which of course would have been in
harmony with what the organization kind of already taught,
did that ever bug you, you know, did it ever bother you to realize that
maybe the context is really this and maybe the rest of this article besides
that quote I took is carrying another message?
– no it didn’t because at the time I didn’t understand, I didn’t have the
critical thinking skills at the time to understand what I was doing, at the time
I’d never heard of confirmation bias. I didn’t know about these cognitive
fallacies that we suffer from, so at the time I saw nothing wrong with what we
were doing, it seemed totally normal to me, and that was the training I got
at the time, it was very minimal. I should have been taught how to access context,
how to understand what the author was saying, and looking back at the
notes I got, the very brief sort of training I got, we were instructed to
make sure that we were quoting in context, that we weren’t
misrepresenting the author, but again that was like something on paper that we
really didn’t apply that well in practicality.
-I see so, would it be possible for you to just give a specific
example of a time where you were just looking for things to support the point that you were trying to make?
-Sure. I’ll give you an example. It was to do
with a very sensitive subject, it was homosexuality, so this was in the
early nineties. At the time, there was this idea floating around that
homosexuality was a genetic thing, that people were sort of born that way, so
they couldn’t help being homosexual, so we were writing an article to sort of
investigate those kind of things, and of course the the thrust of the article
would be that, you know, it doesn’t matter if you had genetic
tendencies, you could still fight those things. You know, it would be like if you were
genetically disposed to be violent or to be an alcoholic. You could control
those things, so it didn’t matter if you had tendencies. But this idea that it
was a genetic thing, I guess was maybe a Little bit, could be potentially damaging
to the Society’s position, so we were trying to suppress that idea as much as
possible. So anyway, in the research I was tasked to find out what was the
scientific evidence behind this, was there a genetic factor? So I looked up
a lot of a science journals, a lot of studies that were being done at the time,
and the evidence was not clear. The evidence was that there’s definitely
some kind of factor there, that people do grow up from a very young age having this
sexual identity where they’re attracted to the same sex, so that was
definitely clear. But what I did, was, when I was looking at the studies, I found out
that most of the studies were actually funded by organizations that supported
gay rights, so I took that as meaning: okay, these studies are not valid
so I basically put the case forward that none of this science can be
trusted because the funding comes from someone who’s biased and so that was
basically the thrust of the article, that we just ignored all the evidence because
the science couldn’t be trusted because Of where the funding came from, and to a
point that’s a valid argument in the sense, yes, there may be some biases in
the research and that needs to be taken into account, but we just ignored all of
the actual data, all the actual evidence that was uncovered because of
this perceived bias that we couldn’t actually prove was there.
It was just that, the wrong people were doing the funding, so I
think that’s a good example of how we would find information that
supported our argument and even if we found evidence that didn’t support it
we would try and write that evidence off in some ways as not valid because it
didn’t fit our viewpoint of the world.
-That’s very ironic because clearly the way that you guys were going about
doing your research and, you know, finding things to support your argument would’ve
Been very biased, but it’s very difficult to make that correlation when
you just assume that everything on this side is correct and there’s no – this
can’t be called into question, but somebody’s up to something on this
side, and they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
-Well, when you think you have the truth, then you don’t think
you’re being biased, or you don’t think Your bias matters because it’s the truth
so whatever bias there is, is the right bias. The other thing I would point
out, is that, that I thought was interesting, was, we were directed to write to a
certain audience, so the articles were written from the point of view of a sort
of mid grade high school, sort of a fourteen, fifteen-year-old
level of reading, so that’s what it was sort of targeted towards, so it seems
like very thorough and academic, but it was kind of dumbed down a little bit
towards a sort of more teenage kind of audience, and we felt that was sort of
More representative of the whole target audience, from young ones to older ones
that we were trying to approach. And it’s interesting looking back now at the
material the society is producing, I don’t know how much has changed since
then. I don’t know if the direction is different because I’m out of the loop there
now, but I would say that dumbing down process has just gone to an extreme
now, when I look at the material that’s being produced, you know, when I was, well,
when I compared with the articles that I was writing, which were,
I guess they weren’t long form of journalism as you might see in a proper
academic journal, but when you did a cover series at least you were sort of
getting into some meatier aspects of the subject. We had two or three articles over, maybe,
8 or 10 pages where you could really develop a theme and get into more
detail. And you compare that though to the older magazines from the
50s and 60s; it was was much shallower, much less in-depth in those times, but
now it’s gotten even worse. I mean, they’ve cut the size of the magazines to
literally half, and there’s no depth to these articles anymore, and in fact what
I noticed is that most of the actual content now is these charts, pictures,
cartoons, illustrations; it is all just graphic in nature the actual amount of
text I think would probably be reduced to a quarter of what we would have
actually written in terms of text for those old articles.
-Right, so you’re able to see that now with your current
perspective, right? You see to what extent they’re dumbing down the
information, And many times that is a criticism of the articles is that,
you know, they speak to the audience as if they’re children and now it sounds
like that was very purposeful in nature. Yeah, the other thing too, is that I
remember, the Society never liked to publish articles on subjects that they’re
uncomfortable with or that could be in any way controversial.
So, I remember there was a couple of outlines I submitted, which didn’t get
approved. One was an outline on alternative medicine, so I wanted to,
it’s something that always bothered me and it’s one of the things that
helped me wake up later on, was just how many of the brothers and sisters
were always pushing these really strange pseudo-scientific alternative
remedies for things, whether it was homeopathy or chiropractic
Remedies or I don’t even know what half of them were sometimes, but
there was one brother in our congregation that used to have a special machine
that ionized water in a special way and made it into magic water, if you like, and
it could cure everything, so there was always these remedies and all the
brothers would jump under these things, these bandwagons, and it really disturbed
me because even though I didn’t have critical thinking skills at the
time, I was always passionate about science. I did very well at school with
with mathematics and science. I could see that a lot of this stuff was pseudo
scientific nonsense, and it disturbed me how brothers can really fall for all
this stuff, so I wanted to write an article just looking at the
dangers of alternative remedies, and it wasn’t going to be an article attacking
it per se, just taking an approach of, you know, just weigh up the evidence
carefully, just look into a bit more thoroughly, don’t just be gullible and accept
these things, and I think at the time it was just too controversial, the brothers
just didn’t want to go anywhere near it, and I think because probably 90% of
brothers in Bethel were on some kind of alternative remedy at that time, including the
brothers that probably had to approve that outline, so It was never going
to get through, and a couple of years ago we actually finally, after all these
years, had I think one or two paragraphs in a Watchtower study article
warning about the dangers of not looking at the evidence. It was
literally one paragraph in the Watchtower and I thought finally, yes they’ve
addressed this issue but, you know, it could have been a whole magazine article.
There was so much to say about that. There was another one I wanted to write
about propaganda, because again, even though I didn’t have the
necessary schooling, I….. I forgot to mention, so when I was –
As a young person when I finished high school, Of course, I started
pioneering straight out of high school, I got a very good tertiary entrance
score, I could have gone to a university and done practically anything I wanted
to, but of course I sacrificed all that For pioneering and I was even
interviewed at an assembly at the time. I was put on the platform and put out as a
good example, look at this young brother he’s had very good academic
achievements, but he’s sacrificing a career and a university degree to go and pioneer.
Again, now looking back from my new perspective, it shames to think
that I was used for propaganda in that way and I might have influenced other
young people to sacrifice an education to pioneer as well following my example.
But anyway going back to this sort of… I was scientifically minded, but I
didn’t have the critical thinking skills because I never went to
university or college, as I believe you call it in America, so… but I was
interested in how we think and how we were manipulated to think, so I wanted to do
an article on propaganda, but of course that article never got approved either -Big surprise
-because I think the people in charge there realized that a
lot of the points that were going to be brought out would highlight just
how much the society actually uses techniques of propaganda to further
their cause. So it was a little bit too close to home I think, and again recently
I noticed we did have an article on propaganda and it was kind of hypocritical
and just really revealed the Society’s own way of doing things,
but again they misquoted things in that article or left important bits of
the tools of propaganda out because I think they could see that people might
add up two and two together and see that they were actually using those tools
themselves. So this is what part of what helped me wake up later was to just
see how cleverly manipulative the writing department is in
misquoting, misrepresenting facts, misrepresenting evidence and very
carefully weaving a narrative that suits their agenda, which is part of what
propaganda and indoctrination is of course all about. At the time, I couldn’t
see it, now it seems so obvious to me.
-but it sounds like, although you weren’t able to see it completely, it did
plant some seeds; it sounds like throughout your life you’ve had moments
that would have caused you to think twice, but it’s interesting that
being on the writing team of the Australian branch is
wwhat assisted you in ultimately making your exit. Would it be possible
for you to basically explain that process how is it that you finally
came to that to that conclusion that this was not the truth essentially?
-Sure, okay, so this is quite complicated. I wish there was kind of one
thing I could point to and say, you know, this is what really helped me wake up or
this is the doubts that I had, but I guess it was really a whole – it was a
number of things that all coalesced together to sort of make that push. So
it’s interesting, actually, just before this happened, I even had a part on a
convention about doubts. So my outline discussed that
even elders sometimes have doubts about things, and I was instructed to even
interview a couple of elders and pioneers as to what doubts they might
have had in the past and how they dealt with those doubts. So even then – this is
before I woke up – I was learning to suppress my doubts.
I even had a part on how to do that
at the assembly. So we’re acknowledging that we have doubts but we learn to
suppress them and ignore them and just shove them under the rug, as it were. So I
guess what happened was, as I said there was a number of things, so
the whole alternative Medicine thing was one thing.
I’m a voracious reader and I started reading some books on logical fallacies, critical
thinking, again because I’ve always been interested in that – been interested in
how the brain works, how our thinking processes work, and what I started to see
was that when I learned about logical fallacies like confirmation bias, selection
bias, ad hoc arguments, arguments from
authority…I could see how they all applied to alternative medicine. I could
see why people were gullible in accepting a lot of those things and all
the logical fallacies involved in how those things were sold and presented, and
I started to see the connection with what I believed as well, and
I started to think back to what I did in the writing Department and I could see
that – how much confirmation bias and
special pleading and other problems were very much a part of my work, and I guess
the reason I was starting to think a bit more deeply about it was at the same
time I started to notice these really strange dogmatic statements being made
in the study articles without any biblical support. So the brothers would
say, you know, this is what this means and there would just be no Scripture attached to
that statement, and that sort of got me thinking, why they they doing that? and
then of course at that time we had the the new generation understanding, the
overlapping generations. So I think that was a statement in that article
that said something like: Jesus evidently meant there were two groups of
people and this is how they explained it, and again there was no
scriptural basis for that. In times past I remember whenever they’d come out with
a new light or a new point, they’d spend the whole watchtower establishing
and leading up to that point. So it’d be proving with scriptural references and
context and everything. They put a lot of time into establishing this new idea.
Some of these recent magazines, they’re just like: here’s our new
explanation and just.. like… well you’ve just got to accept it. Just, evidently, that’s
what Jesus meant. There was no need anymore to provide context or
scriptural evidence for anything. So that started to disturb me. Around the same
time, we had that article on the types and antitypes. I don’t know if you remember that.
– oh yes Basically they said: well look
brothers, we just went totally overboard with this over the years. We’re
not going to say that anything’s a type an antitype anymore except when the
Scriptures actually say it is. Now, in one way, that was disturbing because as
I mentioned, as a young person growing up, that’s how the truth had always
fascinating me; all these intricate connections, these types and antitypes
from these prophecies were something that I always was fascinated by, and that,
to me, was like the deeper things of the truth. That was what made our
understanding of the Bible so much deeper than Christendom’s
understanding, and now the brothers were saying: well, we’re just throwing all that
out now, like everything that made us unique and different, we’re just
throwing that on a scrap heap, and so that’s where I sort of thought well, I can’t
buy this idea anymore that this is sort of some progressive new light all the time,
and what particularly disturbed me about it was they didn’t
expand on the implications of what that would mean. So
for instance, they gave a couple of sort of minor examples, but then when you
think about it, just about every doctrine he had was based on a type-antitype, and
one doctrine in particular is, of course, the prophecy in Daniel about the Great
Tree and Nebuchadnezzar’s rulership, and again, that was a type and antitype
for God’s kingdom and that’s how we get to the whole 1914 thing with the
chronology and everything. So for me, I sort of thought through the implications
of getting rid of the types and antitypes. So I thought, well, that means that we
can’t use that tree – Nebuchadnezzar’s tree – to prove the chronology that leads
to 1914 anymore because that’s a type-antitype and the Bible doesn’t say
that we should view it in that way, but of course, the brothers just avoided that
subject entirely and didn’t mention that, even though they said that we’re not
going to rely on types and antitypes anymore. So then I started thinking about –
that got me thinking about the whole 1914, they would keep having to reinvent
the explanation of what a generation means and it occurred to me that we’re just –
we’re just playing word games. We just keep reinventing what Jesus meant
when he said this when it should be obvious what he meant. He is
the greatest man who ever lived. He’s the greatest communicator. He’s the great
teacher. We had books called “the great teacher”, and yet, we couldn’t just
take him at face value. He couldn’t communicate, as a great teacher, what he
actually meant we keep having to reinvent it. So I guess that’s where I
first gave myself permission to think, now I need to go back and look at
everything I believe and really test it properly. I really need to make sure that
I’m not falling victim to some fallacy, to some confirmation bias. I need
to go back to square one and reprove to myself all these doctrines.
-Were you still working with the writing team at this time?
– no, no that stopped quite a… so that stopped a number of years ago when I moved
congregations. So we didn’t really discuss that, but after.. I think I lived in that
Kingdom Hall flat for 14 years and, as I said, it just ground me down. I was
suffering emotionally, financially and in many other ways. I just sort of had a
nervous breakdown. So I moved to a new hall, I resigned as a presiding overseer, I
just went back to having sort of minimal privileges that I could cope with, I
still served as an elder, but I gave up pioneering. I just sort of
needed to lighten up all the things I was working on. So around that time
I’d also stopped working for the writing team. I just couldn’t cope
with it anymore, I couldn’t find the motivation to do that work anymore, so I’d given that up.
– I see, so at this time, although you weren’t on
the writing team, you were still serving as an elder when you were making all of these
discoveries. Absolutely, so it was also around that
time that the Australian Royal Commission came out, that’s why I said I can’t
pinpoint any one thing that woke me up because it really was a whole range of
things that all came together. So I remember watching the
testimony of Geoffrey Jackson and I was just – I was just dumbfounded,
you know? I was expecting to see some amazing defense of the truth,
and even when I was, as I said, I went back to all the things I believed and I
tried to reprove it to myself, not in the sense of trying to prove it
false, but in the sense of, “I need to shore up my faith here, I need
to reconvince myself of what I believe”. I went in wanting to prove that it
was true and did my best to prove that it was true, but having the critical
thinking skills to be aware of if I was just conning myself.
So, the same thing when I approached the Royal Commission, I was really expecting
to see some evidence now that… because at this time, this is the first
time we’d seen the governing body members. We never used to even know who
they were and I used to be proud of that fact, that we don’t even know who these
people are they don’t… they’re not the limelight, and of course when they
started JW broadcasting, they did come out in the limelight, as it
were, and we got to know them. Initially that was good, they seemed like really nice
and genuine and it was nice to see them joke around and have fun and they seemed
like really down-to-earth people, but the more we started to see them, well the my that I’d
start to see them, the more the reverse started to happen. So with Geoffrey
Jackson testimony, I was… I was… I was just appalled at how he – the lack of
defense for what he believed in came out loud and clear and how he dodged and
evaded all the questions, and I felt that even in a couple of places he outright
lied. I went to one of my colleagues, one of my fellow elders and say, you know,
what do you think? Do you think he lied in those particular instances? and this
elder said, no, I disagree he was just being cagey because
what he said might be a lie in this country but it might be valid in another
country, and the policies are different around the world. So he was having to
hedge what he said to make it sort of internationally appropriate. This is the
sort of mental gymnastics that some elders were saying that, you know, he
wasn’t really lying he was just being cautious. He was just
withholding information, he was using theocratic warfare, as it were, and they
justified it to me by saying, well, you know, apostates were feeding the Royal
Commission all these things, they were out to get us. So it was appropriate that
he wasn’t upfront and honest with the Commission, and I was thinking, that’s not
right, you know? That we’re told to be obedient to the
superior authorities. This was the superior authorities holding us to
account on something, and they had a right to know this information. This
wasn’t like in Nazi Germany where we could lie and withhold
information about our brothers because they didn’t have a right to know. No, this was
a Royal Commission. This was a respectable and proper thing for
the government to be doing and we should have cooperated, and Geoffrey Jackson
actually said, yes we want to cooperate, but that’s not what he did in his
testimony. I couldn’t believe how many times he said “that’s not my department, I have no knowledge of that.”
– this is a governing body member! Every bit of
policy goes through him or one of the governing body committees, there’s
nothing… everything that I wrote in the writing department eventually went
through his purview, he or one of the other governing body members had to
approve every word of what we wrote before it got published. So I knew
that, I knew that he would know every bit of policy, and besides being
a governing body member, he was also an elder. So it wasn’t good enough to say
well, you know, I don’t know how the elders would handle this
particular scenario because he was an elder first before he was a governing
body member. So he knows how elders do things, what procedures to follow, and I
just couldn’t believe how much he evaded the questions and just ran
around in circles. So that was a real disappointment to me, and then when I
watched the testimony of other branch committee members, I saw them also evade
and lie and misrepresent certain things. So that sort of all then tied in
with the other issues I was thinking about. So basically, what I did with
all my doubts and the research I was doing, I
I did the right – well, I think I did the right thing, again, I was still very loyal
to the organization at this time. So no, I hadn’t read any apostate things, I had
only – you know, when I looked up about – I started doing some research on 1914 and
607 and I wanted to, as I said, go back to the drawing board and look at
the evidence for 607 and the archaeology. Again, in a naive way, thinking well, maybe
the whole generation thing is not working out because we’ve got the
starting date wrong. Maybe 1914 – there is something wrong with that, and so I
needed to just check the chronology and I used worldly secular sources. I didn’t
look at apostate things, I just looked at secular sources to try and work out what
the evidence for all of that was, and of course you know what I would have found out,
that there was no evidence for anything, it just really came crumbling
down. So again I went to a fellow elder whom I trusted and one who was quite
academically inclined, a very intelligent man, and I discussed some of these issues
with him, and he was initially quite helpful, but what disturbed me was I
wrote – he doesn’t know this but he actually, I guess, pushed me further down
the track of the questioning because I wrote him a long email at one point
and I outlined in this email all the assumptions that we need to make
to get to the chronology of 1914. There’s a number of steps that’s
involved obviously, it’s very complicated and most the brothers would find it very
hard to explain it all, and going back and looking at I realized that
there were lots of leaks, lots of assumptions we had to make along the way
to get to that point, and so I outlined all those to him I think there was seven
or eight of them in the email, and I said to him, brother, like… help me
understand this. Are these just assumptions or is this solid evidence?
Are these just a bunch of non sequiturs that don’t follow or am I missing
something? And so he wrote back and I think two of the points – he referred
me to a Watchtower article which I’d already read and decided really
didn’t answer the question, but what again shocked me was all the
other points he just said, yes, they’re assumptions, but so what?
That was his words, “so what?” So that just really blew my mind, I thought, okay so
here’s a bunch of confirmation bias, a bunch of assumption, there’s no evidence
for any of these steps, and here’s this intelligent elder saying, “well,
so what? Who cares?” like – and that’s really then, I guess, what pushed me into
researching things further. So what happened after that was, as you can
imagine, the more I’m learning, the more disturbed on becoming, the more I’m
really realizing that this is a house of cards. It felt like I’d sort of pulled on
this thread with the 1914 chronology, and everything was just coming apart
underneath me because it was all so tied in and related. So basically I went to
my fellow elders and I said, “brothers,” again I was very upfront I was still at
this time trying to save my faith in a sense, and I said, “brothers, you
know, look – I’ve got doubts about this, this, this, this, this doesn’t add up,” I was
saying to them. So another thing that occurred to me at the same time to do
with the child abuse issue was that I sort of came to the conclusion that, you
know, where’s God’s Spirit in all of this? What
I put two and two together with was that… I think… so in Australia,
what came out from our own statistics in the Royal Commission that there were
a thousand cases of child abuse or allegations of child abuse, and I can’t
remember the exact breakdown, but I think it was like somewhere between ten and
twenty percent of those were appointed men – ministerial servant or elders,
and then I realized, again, this sickness is not something that just –
you don’t get to 40 years old and suddenly become a pedophile, like this is
a sickness that starts very young. Again, as an elder, I dealt with another case
of abuse where it was like a teenage boy abusing an even younger girl.
So I knew that this sickness happened from a very young age. So
it occurred to me that there were a number of elders in the organization
that were appointed by Holy Spirit that must have already been pedophiles at the time they were appointed.
-Good point and that just like hit me like a bolt of
lightning. I thought, well how could that possibly happen? Because now, as elders, we
go over the qualifications and we pray to God to help us identify what we
can’t see. We can’t read the heart of this man. We don’t know what’s lurking in
the background. All we can go on is what we see by appearances’ sake, and so the
whole point of praying over the brother and talking it over with the circuit
overseer and sending the recommendations to the society – the whole point of that
whole procedure is supposedly to allow the Holy Spirit to make that appointment.
The Holy Spirit is supposed to – I don’t know – put something in the mind of some
brother along the way to say, “hang on, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. We
need to look into this more.” There should be some warning. Something the
holy spirit should have given us not to appoint this brother, and that never
happens. Dozens and dozens of these men – abusers – got away with things
because of their position as elders and position of trust they were given, and it
occurred to me – how could the Holy Spirit allow that? How could Jehovah, whose power
protects his sheep, allow predators to get into positions of authority like
that? So from that point on, I really started doubting that there was any
spirit involved, and I started reassessing everything in
my life, because again, over the years I’d sort of seen Jehovah’s hand in my
life, as it were, but I realized that I was just – it was another form of
confirmation bias. I was interpreting events in my life as if Jehovah had
somehow done something for me, when in the fact it was due to my own efforts. I
realized when something good happens it’s because I worked towards it, or when
something bad happens it was because of failures on my part, but I’d interpreted
certain events in my life as answers to prayers or God doing something for me,
and looking back now I could see again it was just my interpretation, my biases
coming into play. It wasn’t reality. So anyway, getting back to the point, I
went to the body of elders and I said, “brothers, I’m having problems
with all these issues,” and the first meeting was really nice and, again,
these are brothers – I have to say this team of elders I worked with – they were
good men and I still hold them in quite high regard on the whole, but
they were good, they were willing to listen, they were patient, they were kind with me for
that first meeting. They even acknowledged that they too had some
similar doubts, that they often struggled with similar things, but the
upshot of the meeting was, well, they didn’t have any answers to start with. -Of course not
-They couldn’t defend the questions that I’d raised. So because they didn’t have any
good answers, they just said, “look, just…” I think the expression they used was “you’ve
just got to park it. Park all this doubt.” So, in other words, “shove them under the rug,
just kind of ignore them, suppress them, and just keep doing what you’re
doing. Trust in Jehovah. Wait on Jehovah,” and all these platitudes that we
get, “and just kind of suppress all your doubts,” is what I was told, and looking
back too, though, they were even willing to, I guess, again,
misrepresent or lie about things. I remember one – I was talking to him about
the whole new light thing and how that didn’t make sense, and how can we talk
about old truth or new truth? or whatever, and one of the brothers who,
again, very old experienced brother who served at Bethel, he said, “oh, we
don’t use those expressions. We don’t talk about new truth or old truths.” and I
started doubting myself, I thought, am I going crazy? I’m sure we use those
expressions, but again, I trusted this brother. He was older and more experienced
than me and the brother said, “oh, we don’t say that something is present
truth. We talk about our current understanding of things,” and I thought, no, no,
that’s not how we talk, but he but he flustered me, I thought I was
going crazy, and then the very next day, the broadcast came out and a sister
was interviewed and she talked about receiving present truth and how much he
delights in presents truth, and I thought, there you go! and this brother just
totally denied that we use those terms and think about things in that way.
So anyway, I left that meeting and continued with my doubts and research
and then a couple of weeks later we had the circuit overseers visit and I
discussed a few things with him out working with him in the territory and we
had our elders and I said – at the elder’s meeting – “brothers, there’s just one
more thing I’d like to bring up if you’ll allow me,” and the thing I brought
up – while I was talking about it – one of the elders was sort of Googling it on
his iPad and he found commentary on it on an apostate website, and so
straightaway he sort of said, “well, where did you get this from? Why
are you asking about this? Did you get it from an apostate website?” and at the time,
I said to him – truthfully, because it was the truth – that, no, this is just something
that’s come up in my research and that make sense and something that I
happened to know about, and – but from that moment on, it was almost like I could
physically see the shudders come down, near like if there literal shudders in
their brain and in their eyes. I could virtually see that, and the whole mood
and everything changed to – I was now no longer a welcomed colleague. I was now
almost like a dangerous enemy and initially we discussed – I said
to the brothers, “look, I can’t in good conscience teach some of these
things and I disagree with them, and initially they said, “well we just won’t
give you any talks on those subjects,” but as the discussion
progressed, we sort of came to an impasse and we – I think, mutually realized
that this wasn’t going to work because I wasn’t a team player anymore, I wasn’t
a company man, if you like, any more. I wasn’t willing to just do what
the society told me, to teach what they told me to teach. So we mutually
agreed that it would be best if I resigned. So I resigned
as an elder that night and I went to the meetings for a few more weeks after
that and then I just stopped going to meetings. I couldn’t stand
sitting in anymore and listening to all this
nonsense I was hearing, all this unfactual, incorrect information, this
misleading information, I couldn’t stomach it anymore. So yes, I had to make
that cut completely, you know, cold turkey and just leave.
-I see There was also one other thing
that happened in that meeting that really – I guess – confirmed that my decision to leave was
the right one and it kind of pushed me over the edge, because even up to that
last moment I was still undecided as to whether I should resign
or not, but what happened was we were looking at a young man as a
potential ministerial servant and the way the process works in an elders’
meeting is we go through all the scriptural qualifications and we discuss
the person and then we look at his report card and discuss what he does in
the congregation, how he meets up to the standards we’re expecting. So anyway, this
brother was well-spoken of by all the elders. We had already agreed that we all
supported his appointment as a servant but the circuit overseer was looking at
his report card and he said, “brothers, he’s not getting enough hours. His
average is quite low,” and we tried to give the circuit overseer the
extenuating circumstances. We said, “look, his wife is going through
all this stuff, they’re trying to have a child, they’re going through a lot of
drama and emotional trauma with that. We pointed out how much he does for the
brothers in the congregation. If someone needs moving, he’s always the
first to help someone move. He’s doing the accounts. He’s doing the sound. He’s
so busy helping the brothers in the congregation. We feel, regardless of his
low hours, that he’s a spiritual man. His hearts in the right place. He’s
putting himself out to serve the brothers like a young Timothy,” and
this is what shocked me: the circuit overseer said, “well, what
really counts is the hours. If he’s doing all these other things, then maybe you
should get him, talk to him and get him to do less of those things so he’s got
more time for the ministry.” I could not believe it. I could not
believe we were judging a man based on numbers on a card;
a man who does practical things for the brothers, you know? Helps the older
sisters with their shopping, helps brothers move, shows so much practical
love in the congregation, and we were telling him to stop doing
all those practical loving things so that he could get more numbers on his report card.
-and that for me just settled the whole thing. I thought, what –
what am I doing here? Why am i part of an organization that
judges people, not on the good they do, but on numbers on a card? and I thought this
is wrong, and that just really cemented my decision then, in that moment, to
step down. I see. So you said you continued going to
the meetings for a couple of weeks and at some point you stopped. Could you just
explain what the process was once you stopped going to the meetings?
– Sure. So at that point now, I decided – there was a
scripture that I read in Proverbs which says something along the lines of “he
who’s first to make their case seems right but then you should cross examine
that and hear the other side of the story.” So that’s when I finally gave
myself permission to actually read what would be considered apostate material in
a sense. So in the eighties when I was a teenager, I’d vaguely heard about
this member of the governing body, brother Franz, that was
disfellowshipped and it caused a bit of drama at the time and I didn’t know
anything about it. So I looked up his book, I found this book called “Crisis of
Conscience”, and I thought, well, I’m going to apply proverbs here, there’s nothing wrong
with doing that. You know, God tells us to question things, to test things, he had
recorded in Proverbs that you should cross examine the first person and I
realized that all my life I’d listened to one source of information,
the Society was the first person to ever teach me anything about everything. I
thought, well, I need to hear the other side of the story, I need to cross examine
this story, and so reading “Crisis of Conscience” was when – I guess is what
brought it all together and the scales just came off my eyes. That’s the
moment I awoke. I remember closing the last page of that book and
realizing that my whole life had just changed in that moment, but that’s
when I literally lost lost my hope, lost my faith, lost any
sense of who I was, my identity – I just realized it was all built on the fantasy,
it was all built on a lie because he confirmed everything that I was feeling
that there was no Holy Spirit directing this organization. He gave the proof
and I didn’t just accept it, Fifth. I didn’t just sort of suddenly go off
and start believing apostate lies, as the society likes to portray it as,
as you know if you’ve read the book, he has documented everything. There’s
photocopies of all the letters he’s referring to, the correspondence –
everything is documented, but that wasn’t enough for me. In the book, he also
mentioned other various people who were caught up in that big sort of purge, if
you like, at Bethel, and some of those people are still alive. So I made the
effort – again, this was my training as – when I was working in the writing
Department, you learn to check sources, you go back to primary sources.
So I did that. I looked up these people. I Skyped with
them on the other side of the world and I interviewed them and I said, “Can
you corroborate what I’ve read in this book? You were there at the time. Let’s hear
your side of it”, and I interviewed two or three of these people and they all
corroborated the story. So again, I went to the source of people who were there and
saw it with their own eyes, and that was terribly devastating for me
I have to say at the time. I’ve always suffered from depression and anxiety
disorders and I’ve sort of gone up and down with that over the years, but that
just hit me like a ton of bricks. I just literally bawled for days, you can ask my
wife. I was just an emotional wreck I had a nervous break down, I’m pretty
sure. My wife was so concerned she made me make an appointment with a
psychiatrist. I’d never been to psychiatrist before. I went to a few counseling
sessions and that helped me a little bit but she wanted to make sure that
whatever I was going through wasn’t to do with any mental illness
and I was quite happy to agree with her that could be a factor to
what I was going through, and I wanted to make sure that my change in belief
wasn’t because I was going crazy, because you know that the society gaslights you
in that sense, they do make you feel like there’s something wrong with you,
you’re the one going crazy if you don’t believe it anymore. So I went to a
psychiatrist and he basically gave me a clean bill of health. He said, “there’s
nothing wrong with you. You’re just going through a stage where your thinking
process has changed and you need to follow it, you need to continue
that, but there’s nothing wrong with the way I was thinking. I wasn’t being
illogical, I wasn’t being emotional. It wasn’t a
symptom of mental illness. It was just me actually just thinking for myself for
the first time in my life, and sort of deprogramming myself. So that was
good to sort of just affirm as well for my own sanity, but that was a very
difficult time, and of course it creates a lot of friction in a marriage, you know.
My wife is the one thing I don’t regret about growing up in this
organization. She’s been my rock, my support, and even though we disagree
on many things now, she has stood by me and defended me in all this, and I just
can’t thank her enough for her loyalty towards me even though she’s still very
loyal to society as well, and it’s been very hard for her now to go to meetings
on her own. She thought she’d married an elder, she thought that
her life was going to be a certain way, and that pains me every day too, that
I have to make her life difficult in that sense, but I can’t do anything else.
I can’t live a lie. I have to be true to myself and who I am, and it’s sad that it
creates that conflict and division when there’s two opposing philosophies like that.
With the depression – as I mentioned, I’d always suffered from depression but this
this was quite a bit more severe than what I experienced in the past.
In the past I’d never had any suicidal thoughts or anything like that. It was
just this sort of vague kind of depression where you’re just unmotivated and feeling
miserable, but this really did hit me hard in the sense I started having
suicidal thoughts. I’d literally have some days where I felt so bad I just – I
just literally played out my mind a scenario where I would drive my car into
a tree or just do something insane like that, and of course I didn’t, I just
wanted to mention that because you can really plummet to some serious
depths of despair when your whole worldview is upended like that. When you
have to face your mortality for the first time and realize
that you’re not going to live forever, that was just wishful thinking, and it changes
your perspective on life, and the depression got so bad, but luckily with
the help of counseling and my wife and other factors, I was able to get
past that, which is good. That’s great to hear and I
appreciate you mentioning that because it’s so common and we’re starting to
hear a lot of terrible stories. So it’s good that we’re
able to be open about that and take steps to try to deal with it and
just understand that many times that’s a part of finding out that everything you
believed in and promoted your whole life is not what it’s what you believed
it to be. So let me ask you about how you’re dealing with all of that now,
I understand you had those thoughts and feelings that you just mentioned
previously. How are you able to deal with it at this point?
Sure, I think I’ve gotten past the worst of things, I mean you have
good days and bad days, but I think generally I’m on the up-and-up now. I’m
learning to cope with my mortality and I’ve learned to appreciate life in a way
that I never appreciated it before. I think previously you’re always
thinking, well, whatever is happening now in life
doesn’t matter because you’re in like a holding room, you know? You’re
waiting for the new system to come and you’re going to be able to enjoy lots of things
there. So now I see life in a different way. I see every moment as so much more
precious than I ever did before because this is the only life I’ve got in
that sense and I have to make the most of it. So now I’m just trying to
change my thinking patterns and trying to get out of that, sort of,
depression that you initially go through and focusing on the more positive
things of life, and what I want to achieve in this life, because I still am
the same person, you know? As an elder – the reason I was an elder is because I
wanted to help people I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and I still
want to do that. I still want to make a difference in this world and help people
make the world a better place. I can’t do that anymore in a religious sense as an
elder, so now I’m looking for ways in which I can help the community and
support my fellow man in more secular ways
-Right, and that’s great. That’s a very good outlook to have, just try to find
practical ways to help people which we were somewhat discouraged from
doing in the past. Ben, I really appreciate you sharing all of that with
me obviously you had so many years of experience at high levels within the
organization and I appreciate you opening up and sharing that with all of
us. I will ask you the same thing that I ask all of my guests: for those who are
looking at these types of videos, perhaps for the first time or just starting to
have doubts and have built up the courage to watch videos of former
Jehovah’s Witnesses, what would you say to those people who have not yet decided
what they’re going to do? Well I’d say don’t be afraid to explore the doubts
that you have or the questions you have. Whatever you do, don’t suppress them. I
think that’s emotionally damaging. It’s not good. It’s not a healthy thing
for you to do. I think doubts are your mind’s way of saying, “there’s something
that doesn’t add up here”, and you should listen to that, not just suppress it, but
you should explore and address it and come to some conclusion about it. So
don’t be afraid to look at both sides of an issue. Don’t be afraid, because the society
likes to scare us into thinking that outside information is somehow
evil or satanic or whatever. I remember my last elders meeting, I brought up
something about just some kind of secular fact I think I got it from
Wikipedia, and the brother said, “well you don’t know who wrote that
Wikipedia article. Maybe Satan influenced them to write it,” and so this is kind of
demonization of any information that doesn’t come from the Society. So of
course, that is ridiculous. Information in itself is not good or
evil, it’s just information. It’s what what you with it. So I’d really
encourage people to explore, question everything, research everything
thoroughly, research both sides of any issue, and don’t be afraid to come to
your own conclusions. I would also really encourage people to learn critical
thinking skills because I can see that’s what kept me trapped in the organization
for years because I didn’t have the skills to evaluate the information I was
given. I was fed all this so-called knowledge but I didn’t have the
necessary skills to be able to deal with it properly and come to the right
conclusion. So I really encourage people to thoroughly research their
questions and concerns and doubts and don’t be afraid of where that leads you to.
-That’s great advice. I definitely appreciate you sharing that point of
view. So my next question has to do with those who have come to that conclusion
that this is not the truth, this is not what they believed it to be at one point?
and obviously we both know it could be a very scary, very emotional time in our
lives, you may even have some of those dark thoughts, and
I’ve had them as well. What would you recommend or what would your advice be
rather to individuals who find themselves in that situation.
– okay, you need a support network. One of
the good things about being a Jehovah’s Witness, even if what you believe
might be wrong or the doctrines might be wrong, you have a sense of
community, a support network, and if you leave, then all of the sudden you
don’t. You’re on your own. It can a be very lonely thing. It’s hard to cope with on
your own. One of the reasons I decided to do this interview with you is because I
wanted to add my story to many others that are out there for people to realize
that they’re not alone, but I would encourage people to find – well, to reach
out to other people in the same situation. It’s good to read stuff on the
internet, watch videos, but you still need that one-on-one personal connection with
people. So what I’ve done is I’ve reached out to a number of people that have
left and other ex elders who are in a similar scenario to me and I’ve
established some friendships with them. I’ve established a new circle of friends
and that has been so helpful to have that support network. When I’m having a
bad day, I can just ring them and vent, and because we understand each
other, we can really help each other out. So I really encourage people to
replace the support that they had with a new one. You still need that
human connection. I’d encourage people to get
counseling or psychological help if they need to because changing your worldview
brings up all kinds of emotions and anxiety. So it’s really good to be
able to talk all those things through with someone who’s sort of
independent and not critical of you and just work through all those issues,
and you can come out the other side as a very healthy human being with a new way
of looking at things. At the end of the day, never stop questioning
anything in life. Just maintain your curiosity. The minute
we stop questioning is the minute we stop learning and growing as a person. So
I just really want to encourage people to keep learning, keep educating
yourself, don’t put questions aside, keep gaining more knowledge and just open
up a whole new universe of things that you never experienced before when you’re under that indoctrination.
-So with that Ben, I would really like to thank you
again for taking the time out, speaking with us about your story. I know it’s not
an easy thing to do but it’s very much appreciated. So thank you very much.
Thanks Fifth, it’s been a real pleasure to be with you and to get my story out
there and I hope someone out there – I hope it helps least one person
to realize they’re not alone and if I could just mention, as I said, I think
it’s important to connect with people so if anyone wants to reach out to me I’m
happy to talk to them and help them. I’ll leave my contact details with you
and I’d welcome anyone getting in touch with me if they want to talk about more
of the issues that we’ve discussed. Sounds great. Thank you very much again.
Thank you very much for having me on