A Former Jehovah’s Witness Speaks Out

Sarah Braasch, a summer legal intern for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, recently wrote about her experience leaving her faith — she used to be a Jehovah’s Witness.

Thankfully, she’s not anymore.

This is really a disturbing story:

I lived in a constant state of terror as a child. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan the Devil and his demon hordes are real. They espouse a near hysterical fear of demons, even though this is not always as evident in their literature. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, demons reside upon and rule over this world. They believe that demons may attack humans, psychologically, physically, and sexually.

As a result, I was wracked with guilt and beset by fears. I was tortured by horrific nightmares of demons trying to kill me. I thought I saw Satan the Devil in my room at night. I thought I was incessantly under demoniac attack. My parents never hesitated to take advantage of this threat as a means of punishment and disapprobation. I would cry to Jehovah in my prayers, begging him not to let demons hurt me, promising to be good. I would pray for hours on end. If, in the middle of a prayer, a swear word or pornographic image would pop into my head, then I would have to begin my prayer again, beseeching Jehovah to forgive me for my evil thoughts. Every time I thought a worldly thought or did something un-Jehovah’s Witness like, I thought a demon was going to assault or molest me. I would sort of chant to myself, over and over, something akin to, “Jehovah loves me. He isn’t going to let anything bad happen to me. I don’t want demons to come into my life. Jehovah isn’t going to let demons hurt me.” I would even sleep with my hands over my genitals, lest a demon rape me in the middle of the night.

I left for college, armed with federal student loans and scholarships, and I never looked back. I haven’t spoken to either of my parents since I was a teenager. The very last thing my father told me was that I would never amount to anything without him. But, I knew I was capable of standing on my own two feet. I knew that I was the equal of any man, despite being taught the contrary by the bible. I obtained two engineering degrees, and I’ve made a great life for myself, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve read the great philosophers, and I’m in law school studying international human rights and constitutional law, and, sometimes, I still get afraid of demons in the middle of the night. And, I’m still afraid of the dark.

Check out the story in its entirety. It deserves to be read.

Then, try and make the case that faith is a virtue.

There are people who will claim their religion is nothing like that. Perhaps they’re right. However, those people sit back, saying we should respect other beliefs, and let those faiths continue to destroy lives.

There is nothing respectful about a faith that puts people like Sarah through that much emotional torment.

Everyone should be speaking out against this.

For all the women like Sarah who are strong enough to leave the faith, I fear there are many more women who feel they cannot do that. We need to help them by letting them know they have support, they are not bad people, and they are doing the right thing.

(via Freethought Today)

  • http://stevemegan.blogspot.com Megan

    Hemant, I thought you might be interested in this link about why people are atheists.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    That is so awful. My heart goes out to her.

    I usually think that Richard Dawkins is overstating things when he calls religion child abuse. But in a case like this, I absolutely see what he means. And this is part of what atheists are talking about when we say that religion gets a free ride. If this sort of terror were being foisted upon a child in the name of anything other than religion — in the name of political beliefs, for instance — society would recoil in horror. Why does religion get a free pass?

  • Polly

    See! See! Religious indoctrination can rise to the level of child abuse and I think this is probably a case where it went too far.

    Are all JW’s abused? No, of course not. But, it DOES happen.

    Would the parents have been abusive even if they were not religious? Possibly, but I personally doubt it. Harsh environments result in harsh people. But, most of us in the modern 1st world have little reason to adopt such exreme outlooks without religious fairytales telling us we’re beset by invisible enemies.

    When one is abused in a religious context one’s ability to fight back is further diminished by instilling the belief that it’s GOD’S will, and not simply the abuser’s will, at work.

    Please note that I’m not saying anything about the authorities getting involved. That’s a separate question. Parents, all parents, abuse their kids to some extent. It’s still a matter of degree.

  • Old Beezle

    I was raised mormon and taught that Satan is real and his minions are everywhere plotting our downfall too. While my parents didn’t use it as a stick to beat me with as Sarah’s parents did, I can sympthize with her suffering.

    Akin to that is the practice in mormonism of interviews with the bishop beginning usually around the age of 12. You meet one on one with the bishop in his office at the church–almost like a job interview. He questions you about your “worthiness.” Of course, the subject of self-stimulation is almost always brought up (it was in my case). The bishop will ask you if you engage in such things, sometimes requesting more information on frequency, location, etc.

    The same line of questioning holds true for any other sexual “impurity” such as french kissing or petting as you get older (now imagine being a teenage girl having to reveal these details to an older male). Keep in mind, that this older male–the bishop–asked more pointed questions than my parents ever did and it was always uncomfortable–especially when he was a complete stranger to me (as he often was since we moved and bishops come and go–it’s not a lifelong calling for mormons).

    I always envied Catholic confession, where at least you’re seperated by the screen and there is *some* attempt at anonymity. Having never been actually physically abused as a child, this is as close as it came for me–and I do view this as abuse. No one other than one’s parents (and perhaps a medical professional with your parents present) should be able to interrogate a minor as to their sexual habits. They do it all in the name of faith and religion however–free pass, my a$$.

  • geru

    Uh, just horrible. I can’t even imagine having a fight with my parents, so its just impossible to think what it would be like to live without their support.

    Not to mention what it would be like to be horribly abused by the two people in the world you are supposed to trust.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Woah! That’s scary stuff. Having read the whole thing (including the parts about demonic Smurfs) I would say that religion was one powerful factor in a very abusive relationship that included other misogynistic and abusive factors. I don’t say this to diminish the terrible harm that the religion clearly did but to highlight how it is one of several factors.

    Also Polly said:

    Parents, all parents, abuse their kids to some extent. It’s still a matter of degree.

    Perhaps we have different ideas of what constitutes abuse but I certainly don’t see my parenting as abusive. At all.

  • http://www.europetravelogue.com/blog LawnBoy

    I went to college with Sarah, and I had no idea she went through all of this. Wow.

  • Lorem Ipsum

    This kind of thing just breaks your heart. When I read the whole article, though, I got a different impression than from the excerpts above – the horror stories that gave her nightmares were from the church and its congregation and beliefs, and the child abuse was coming from more than just her parents. Her courage in breaking free at such a young age is inspiring.

    Parents, all parents, abuse their kids to some extent. It’s still a matter of degree.

    The worst abuse I ever suffered was not getting piano lessons and a pony. Reading things like this makes me wish my parents were still alive so I could thank them one more time again. For those of you who also have been fortunate in respect to parents, you might want to tell them so while you still have them around to thank, if you haven’t done so recently.

  • Krista

    I had very similar experiences with the fear of demons from the ages of 13-18. It was hell.
    I think many parents do things that are harmful to their children and never realize that they did anything that hurt them.

  • Randy

    The word “abuse” is as misused as “terrorist”.

  • Polly

    OK, point taken.

    Revised:
    Many, many, many, but not all, parents “abuse” (note the scare quotes) their kids in ways that range from minor hurt feelings to catastrophic physical and emotional problems.
    The authorities aren’t authorized to enter the picture until the parents are near the catastrophic end of the spectrum, IMO.

  • Xeonicus

    Fwiw… a good friend of mine throughout high school and a few years thereafter was a Jehovah’s Witness. He seemed perfectly well adjusted and normal. If you didn’t know he was a JW there would be no indication by interacting with him. I also was aquinted with his sister and their parent’s. They were perfectly normal and rational people, aside from their religious beliefs. Actually, the father was a “very much non-practicing” christian and that didn’t appear to be a big problem.

    I know that’s only anecdotal evidence, but I thought I’d share. Perhaps my friend was good at hiding his real feelings, as people are known to do.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    That’s some fucked-up shit. Definitely makes the case for breaking religion.

  • http://www.ofsteel.net Arnoc Grayle

    “Then, try and make the case that faith is a virtue.”

    Faith is like a blade. Hand it to a surgeon or hand it to a murderer, the blade stays the same, but the results are different. To have a “tool” is better than not to have it, that’s what life teaches us every day. But in cases that faith is not used to cut down other’s freedom it can be the best virtue availible to man. Given he knows to use it well. (Of course we have to dismiss the thought of a common perceived reality at this point or we can not state something that general about a tool like faith.)

    And about the story.. what happens in these sects does not look like faith to me, more like fanatic entrapment and selfbrainwashing, what should sicken every freedomloving being to the core. And freedom is what it all is about, isn’t it? Sarah was very brave she got out. It’s sad that most that are drawn in or born there never will free themselves. :(

  • Maria

    wow. this is really something

  • Pseudonym

    First of all, yes, this is an amazing and heartbreaking story.

    I also agree with everything that Arnoc Grayle said. This is not evidence that religion or faith is bad, any more than the occupation of Iraq constitutes evidence that democracy is bad.

    Hemant said:

    However, those people sit back, saying we should respect other beliefs, and let those faiths continue to destroy lives.

    OK, look, everyone knows that the JWs are very cult-like. I doubt you will find a mainline Christian, Jew, Hindu or whatever anywhere who would make the case that JW beliefs should be “respected”. However, most don’t take the time to learn what they actually believe and practice, if only because it’s hard to keep all those cults straight.

    So what do you all propose? Don’t go to the next Anonymous rally, and go protest at the local Watchtower centre isntead?

  • geru

    Faith is like a blade. Hand it to a surgeon or hand it to a murderer, the blade stays the same, but the results are different. To have a “tool” is better than not to have it, that’s what life teaches us every day.

    Heh, that’s a nice metaphor. You think children should be given surgeon blades? Or should all sorts of nutjobs be allowed to carry blades of their own preference around with them all the time, and have the right to distribute them to people freely? I think the metaphor works quite well. :)

    If the term ‘abuse’ is often misused, then ‘faith’ must be the King Kong of all misused words. Love has nothing to do with faith for instance, not any more than hunger or pain anyway. And if you have faith in something that there is no reason to have faith in, then the simple act of possessing something you describe as faith is certainly not a virtue.

    Or if it is, then I think that it would be just as virtuous to invent any random word, then proclaim that this word represents a virtuous aspect that you posses. Come to think of it, isn’t this pretty much how religions work in general?

    I’m not even sure I understand what the word ‘faith’ means. I guess you could say that schizophrenics have a strong faith in many things that don’t exist. Should they be considered extremely virtuous people?

    I don’t see faith as a ‘tool’ really, but I will agree that some people that confess to having a lot of faith can be described as ‘tools’. ;)

    I really don’t mean to offend, if faith is something that someone feels uplifting for you then go for it. But faith, as its most often described, is a bullshit term, that is used to describe certain psychological phenomenons, as if they we’re somehow dependent religion (or spirituality or whatever). Its one of the ways religions inject themselves into subjects they actually have nothing do do with.

  • Pingback: Lazy Update II « Tungtide

  • http://www.ofsteel.net/blog/ Arnoc

    > You think children should be given surgeon blades?

    I don’t. But who am I to tell them not to if they do take them one day?

    > Or should all sorts of nutjobs be allowed to carry blades of their own preference around with them all the time, and have the right to distribute them to people freely?

    I doubt it is our place to forbid them to do so. But if they start infecting others mind and directing their blades and those of others against freedom – that is where we should come into action ;)

    > If the term ‘abuse’ is often misused, then ‘faith’ must be the King Kong of all misused words. Love has nothing to do with faith for instance, not any more than hunger or pain anyway.

    I wonder what love can be experienced without hunger, pain and all of it.. as I have known love it has all the aspects. The word/ideal may not have, but reality has.

    > And if you have faith in something that there is no reason to have faith in, then the simple act of possessing something you describe as faith is certainly not a virtue.

    Faith can contradict reason as art can contradict science. And still all of it exists. Strange but true. That is what I meant by the common perceived reality thing. To you it might be rediculous, to others it might be worth it. The only thing that one and the other point shares is the action. ;)

    > Or if it is, then I think that it would be just as virtuous to invent any random word, then proclaim that this word represents a virtuous aspect that you posses. Come to think of it, isn’t this pretty much how religions work in general?

    And realities in general. One creates something. It represents what he wishes it to represent. He works with it. Its the same with Symbols for millenia. Or with letters of our language. Or Icons. Monuments. Buildings. Gardens. Think of it, this method is an aspect of everyday life eversince. What’s wrong with that? ;) :P

    > I’m not even sure I understand what the word ‘faith’ means. I guess you could say that schizophrenics have a strong faith in many things that don’t exist. Should they be considered extremely virtuous people?

    No. I would call them determined. And I am not here to argue about what exists and what doesn’t. I think everyone should decide that for his own little world. Again, faith per se is a tool. A tool can not be virtuous.

    > I don’t see faith as a ‘tool’ really, but I will agree that some people that confess to having a lot of faith can be described as ‘tools’. ;)

    You may not see it as a tool because you might not like the idea of using it. Or just don’t know how to and do not want to change that. To a man who does not know how to use a stick to knock on apple off the tree a stick is no tool. He can wait for the woman & serpent combo then.. :D Still you have it in a way I guess, but you might have other sources of inner power that you are more comfortable with. Maybe some you think you have more control over or that seem to be less misguided than faith could be. But look at this world, how many people are misguided by all the other things they use for inner power supply than faith?

    > I really don’t mean to offend, if faith is something that someone feels uplifting for you then go for it. But faith, as its most often described, is a bullshit term, that is used to describe certain psychological phenomenons, as if they we’re somehow dependent religion (or spirituality or whatever). Its one of the ways religions inject themselves into subjects they actually have nothing do do with.

    Yeah, but on this point most of the terms can be referred to as bullshit, because the list of misused terms is almost endless. ;) The injection process and the lack of control is the problem. But how to get control of something noone is trained with? Almost nobody is ready for that, belief or ideology taken, to shield himself unless he knows exactly what he believes in and why and reflected enough about it to “feel” what is right for him and what isn’t. Injections are impressive because overwhelming through faith, because noone has enough experience on that issue. So far my thoughts for that.

  • geru
    Love has nothing to do with faith for instance, not any more than hunger or pain anyway.

    I wonder what love can be experienced without hunger, pain and all of it.. as I have known love it has all the aspects.

    I’m not sure if I said that correctly. What I meant was that love as a concept is caused by the same physical factors as hunger and pain are. I.e. there is nothing transcendent in love, and almost every priest and apologist I have seen/heard have claimed there is.

    Faith can contradict reason as art can contradict science.

    Hm, I feel like this is exactly what I meant by saying that faith is a term used in all sorts of word plays. Faith and reason are like art and science? Kinda sounds like saying that Insanity and sanity are like coffee and tea, as if its a matter of preference or something like that.

    Just seems like using the term “faith” is like a free pass that allows you to abandon the dictionary we all agree on (somewhat), and gives you the right to ignore all common sense knowledge about biology and psychology and such (Love is faith etc).

    And then there’s of course the argument “You just can’t understand this, cause you don’t have faith”, which is the ultimate way to end a debate and declare yourself the winner.

  • http://www.ofsteel.net/blog/ Arnoc

    “What I meant was that love as a concept is caused by the same physical factors as hunger and pain are. I.e. there is nothing transcendent in love, and almost every priest and apologist I have seen/heard have claimed there is.”
    Thats as much worth as you claim there isn’t. I do not agree. It’s a mechanical world view I do not wish to share.

    “Faith and reason are like art and science? Kinda sounds like saying that Insanity and sanity are like coffee and tea, as if its a matter of preference or something like that.”

    No. It’s a matter of choice and of getting it right = get it the way you need’n’like. :D You CAN drink tea AND coffee at the same time, but the taste.. well.. ;)

    “Just seems like using the term “faith” is like a free pass that allows you to abandon the dictionary we all agree on (somewhat), and gives you the right to ignore all common sense knowledge about biology and psychology and such (Love is faith etc).”

    So nothing unusual. The “free pass” doesn’t matter in the “what” it does in the “how” though. It is not WHAT you use to justify what you do. It’s what you DO. That is what’s to look at. Again the tool thing. ;)

    “And then there’s of course the argument “You just can’t understand this, cause you don’t have faith”, which is the ultimate way to end a debate and declare yourself the winner.”
    It is no argument. It’s just a phrase declaring that one isn’t right and he knows it or he has not the capapility to explain it (what also can depend on receiver’s capability and open-mindness to understand it :/ )

  • TXatheist

    Yes, I too studied with the JW’s and went out in service(door to door). Good people generally but wacky beliefs, especially the mistranslation of Jehovah and on blood transfusions.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X