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A few weeks ago some friends and I met a couple of former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left, not only the JW religion and the Watchtower org, but have also left behind their belief in God. Actually, I need to clarify. Neither of them said that they no longer believe in God. It’s just that, they’re soooooo reluctant to allow themselves to believe in God, because of their fears of such a belief system and the organizations associated with that belief. One of the two young women described her gut- and heart-wrenching story of leaving the cult with virtually nothing (monetarily, materialistically, life-skills and job-skills), and her acknowledgement that the provision of her current living situation, income-producing job, and social life were explainable only in terms of angelic help. But she said out loud that she was reluctant to even say the word “God.” She was so fearful of allowing anything into her life, or even her mind, that could possibly, even remotely, lead her toward any form of high-control religious system or organization. Her fear was palpable, like a choking smoke in the room. And her fear was understandable.
I had read online about this fear shared by former JW’s, but seeing it firsthand revealed to me the depth and strength of that fear. It’s as though their former fear of interacting with “apostates” and “opposers” has been transferred to and replaced by a fear of anyone or anything religious.
There’s a reason that people become close-minded about stuff, whether we’re talking about a JW, an atheist, or ourselves. The reason is fear, and fear comes from an experience of pain or strong discomfort. Listening to the two young women, hearing the fear in their voices and seeing it in their body language, has given me more empathy for close-minded people, whether JW’s, former JW’s, or anyone else. We (and I) need to stop seeing atheists, agnostics, JW’s, Mormons, or anybody with a different belief system than ours, as the enemy. They are not the enemy. They are likely victims. The enemy is the belief system, the organization, the abuser, the leader(s) they have followed, the spirits of oppression and deception that has held them captive.
The problem is, it’s difficult to fight against what we cannot see or interact with directly.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
Shouldn’t we be issued with a magic wand, then? That’s almost what it sounds like. Well, we get no magic wand. But we do get the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. And we have the Holy Spirit within us. That’s more than magical; it’s supernatural! Take that, spiritual forces of evil!
There was a fight scene going on in the room where we met. (What movie fight scene are you imagining right now?) But not between us and the former JW’s. Hopefully all they sensed was our love and concern for them. But in the spiritual realm . . . (cue sounds of swords furiously clanking). At one point, one of the young women asked us, hypothetically, if we spent a day with them, and they didn’t convert to our religion, and if they remained atheistic or agnostic, or if they became hindu, muslim, or buddhist instead, would we still associate with them? There were 6 of us believers in the room, and we all without a nanosecond’s hesitation responded with a resounding “yes.” We would all still value our relationship with them, and would associate with them. That must have spoken to their hearts, because they became must softer in their conversation with us after that.
The whole time, I was tempted to use logical arguments with them, such as on the chart above. And if it had been the right place and time, and if they would have been open and ready to receive it, I would have done so. But I didn’t. I valued the relationship above the logical apologetic process. For now they just needed a good experience with believers, something other than guilt, fear, and manipulation. And that’s what we provided.