Friday, 9 September 2011

What's it like growing up in the Jehovah's Witnesses, and what happens when you want to leave?

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Vicky Simister was excommunicated from the
Jehovah's Witnesses at the age of 17
If you're anything like me, your perceptions of the Jehovah's Witnesses will probably revolve around the knock on the door. When I was growing up, the well-dressed group of adults and children going door-to-door was quite a common sight on our street, and in our house it always prompted the same reaction. While I know some atheists like to get into doorstep theological arguments, the message from my parents was clear – don't answer the door, because the people on the other side just want to convert you to a religion where you don't even get Christmas presents (a pretty scary idea for a child).

And that was all I really knew about Jehovah's Witnesses. I learned a little more later in life, as you might expect for someone doing this job, but on the whole I didn't know much about the subject, so when I received an email from the feminist campaigner Vicky Simister offering us an account of her experience growing up in the sect, I was very keen to learn more.

In the new issue of New Humanist, Vicky describes what it was like to be raised in a strict Jehovah's Witness household, where "worldly" non-believers are shunned, wives are expected to "submit" to their husbands and children are strictly disciplined:
"I developed into a self-righteous little madam. We went to Witness meetings three times a week, and spent Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons in door-to-door preaching work. We weren’t allowed to play with 'worldly' children from school, but spent much of our spare time praying, meditating and studying in preparation for the next meeting. TV, toys and reading materials were strictly censored, to protect our minds from corruption. I was bullied in school for not celebrating Christmas, birthdays, Easter or anything else kids consider fun. This only served to strengthen my resolve to be a Witness, not part of “the world”. I felt safe within our small community of 40 congregational members. Not that bullying didn’t happen just as much on the inside – as at school, if you didn’t conform you were teased, humiliated, left out or 'told on'."
She also describes what happened when, as a teenager, she began to question her faith and rebel against the strict rules of the sect – something which would eventually lead to her excommunication and the loss of her relationship with her family. It's a fascinating and powerful account, from which we hope you'll learn more about the reality of the Jehovah's Witness sect, and we're very pleased to have been able to publish it in the magazine.

Please do share your views in the comments below – we're particularly interested to hear from those who may have had similar experiences in the Jehovah's Witnesses or other strict religious sects.
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