Losing My Head

Neither did Jennifer. Our days in the religion were coming to a close.

When finally we ejected theism from our lives, there was little change in my behavior toward my wife. My final decree as head of the house had come years earlier, and it had been to declare our relationship equal. Leaving our faith behind cleared up all the contradiction regarding science, history, cognitive dissonance, and the afterlife. No longer would we have to use tortuous rationales to defend our egalitarian marriage; being atheists meant such equality was now a given. It was so obvious, we spent no time talking about it.

Indeed, it was not until years after we left the religion that I was truly confronted with the ridiculousness of headship. During a bright spring afternoon, my mother called to inform me that the invitation to her wedding—the invitation we had just received in the mail two days earlier—was now revoked. Though the wedding was scheduled to occur in her future-husband's backyard, the congregation elders decided it would be inappropriate to permit me to attend.

When I asked the reasons, she related everything second-hand: her fiancé told her the elders said this . . . her fiancé told her the elders said that. When I then asked why the elders had not included her in the decision, she seemed surprised. She explained that, of course, her fiancé is the man; he's the head of their relationship. So naturally, when the elders felt it necessary to ensure that I would not sully the wedding by sitting in attendance and respectfully observing the ceremony, they saw no need to involve my mother. They simply asked the groom-to-be for a moment of his time and met with him behind a closed door.

The thought of the elders excluding my mother from this important directive made me laugh. I had come so far from the days of dutifully accepting gender-stratified roles that the notion now seemed silly. Like a bad math problem, it seems that as long as a god is in the equation, the sexes are not equal. Attempting to clarify matters, I asked, "Wait, so you're saying that instead of the elder telling you that you can't invite your son to your own wedding that will be on your private property, they held a special meeting with no women allowed?"

Yes, that was correct.

Since my mother had specifically mentioned only me, I asked about Jennifer: was she likewise barred from attending?

"No," she explained, "they said that Jennifer can attend the wedding since she has never said that she doesn't want to be a Witness."

This was flabbergasting. "What are you talking about, mom?" I asked, stifling a laugh. I pointed out that it was Jennifer who first approached me with leaving the religion; it was she who insisted we celebrate the holidays; it was she who contacted our ex-Witness friends in an effort to rekindle our friendships; it was she who often blogged about being shunned by her sister.

"Well," my mom started, groping for some logic in the muddled mess, "I guess they know that, since you're the head of the house, keeping your family in the Truth is your responsibility."

I dismissed the elders' judgment as stupid, explaining that there is no 'head' in our marriage, and that my wife has her own brain and is capable of making decisions and arriving at conclusions without a man to guide her. Surprised that this was not obvious, I laughed again.

My mom asked me to please not laugh at her beliefs. I instantly felt remorse, and I apologized. But I assured her that though I respected her, I had no respect for the sexist culture in which I had grown up. I told her that if she was ever again asked why her son left the religion—the religion they term "The Truth"—she could cite this moment as an example. A religion that creates absurd rules regarding both shunning one's own children and the subordination of women is certainly not worth a thinking person's time and energy.

After the phone call ended, my wife and I reminisced about our own wedding. "I think elders just like to come up with rules," she suggested.

"Like when they told us we couldn't hang a 'just married' sign from our car?"

"Yeah," she agreed. "But you disobeyed them, anyway."

Again, she was right. The decision—and the responsibility—for going against the elders and hanging a 'just married' sign on our car fell solely upon my shoulders. My shoulders, after all, carried the head. "But aren't you glad I disobeyed?" I asked.

"I am now," she said, "but at the time I was nervous about it." She had been very concerned about what might happen. She worried that going against the elders would have terrible repercussions. But in that situation, I decreed that we would hang the sign from our car, and that, as head, my decision was final.

"See?" I said sarcastically. "Sometimes I did a good job being the head of the house.


My wife laughed. "When the religion said that husbands are supposed to be the head of the house, I don't think they thought you would use your headship to go against what the elders said."

"Yeah," I shrugged, "there are a lot of things they don't think of."

We laughed without remorse. The incidents of the day had provided yet another reminder and confirmation of why we'd left theism.

I hadn't been head of the house for eleven years. Everything was okay.

10/9/2012 4:00:00 AM
  • Atheist
  • gender
  • Humanism
  • Marriage
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Atheism
  • About Alonzo L. Gaskill
    Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion; with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.