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This article from August 5 1997 appeared on the site members.aol.com/beyondjw/nowwhat.htm and was written by Timothy Campbell.

It's Hard to Change - A Personal View

Leaving the Witnesses isn't simply a matter of avoiding Kingdom Halls. Being a Witness changes you, and you can't stop being a Witness (or at least thinking like one) by snapping your fingers.

Right now, your decision is very difficult because you're still affected by Witness teaching. It's like when you wake up from a dream and don't yet realize you're no longer in the dream -- or nightmare, as the case may be.

However, now that you're asking questions, you have enormous freedom. You've taken the forbidden step; you've decided that you can look for answers without the guidance of the dozen men in Brooklyn. However, many Witnesses who reach that point assume that they still need an "organization". That's a "hangover" from their Witness indoctrination, as well as the general notion of what religion "should" be.

The Quest for Flexibility

Things are changing in this world of ours. Fewer people are putting their faith in "organized" religions, and are looking for answers by themselves -- or with the assistance of a selected few. They look back over the centuries and see that no single organization has proven able to find "the" truth. We're only human, and so are our organizations. We make mistakes, and so too will anything we belong to.

Well, if there are going to be mistakes, they may as well be ours, so we can modify our course of action without worrying about who is going to disapprove of us. In our search for truth and meaning, we don't need to be shackled to people we don't even know, or whom we can't challenge to explain their doctrines.

The personal-directed approach is "spirituality" rather than religion. Most religions demand adherence to a set of guidelines. They don't let you vote on what's true. Religions give you "truth" as a fait accompli, and if you don't like it, you can either put up with it, or leave.

(That is, of course, a generalization. Some religions, such as the Unitarian Universalists, are tolerant of differences of opinion. Others, however -- like the Witnesses -- assume the mantle of Great Teacher and will not allow the laity to expound upon any contrary opinions.)

The Price of Freedom

So now you've found out that you can be free. However, freedom is a frightening thing. From birth to death, most people work hard to avoid freedom of choice. They want to be told what to think, what to do, and what to believe. We are social creatures, and we crave a sense of belonging, and sometimes that means giving up our freedom. Choosing to leave the Witnesses is as much an emotional matter as an intellectual one.

However, there comes a point when we feel, deep down, that the price of conformity is too high, and we strike out on our own. When Witnesses leave -- particularly those who were raised in "the truth" -- they are like babes in the woods. They don't know what to believe, and (more important) why to believe. It can be a terrifying time of life.

But to be truly human -- to be the best that we can be -- we must force ourselves to meet difficult challenges. Some of these challenges are almost mind-shattering, and leaving one's religion surely ranks high on the list of stressful decisions that we can make.

Right now, "all bets are off". If the Watchtower Society is wrong about some things, it can be wrong about others. How much can you keep, and how much should you throw away? How much of what you still believe is true, and how much is just carry-over from what you were taught?

Heading Out

Based on my experience in assisting ex-Witnesses, I'd say that people have to go through the departure process at a pace that is appropriate to them personally. Nobody but you can determine how quickly you can change. Few people leave the Witnesses on Monday and ask searing questions like "Is there a God?" on Tuesday. That would be too much and too fast.

You are a short way down the road that leads away from the Watchtower. You may walk more rapidly than some, but there's a limit to how quickly you can move. You will eventually acknowledge and accept your limitations, then realize that your tolerance for change is not infinite. You're human, not a computer that can be loaded with new data.

I recommend that you start first by looking critically at Witness doctrine. Explore your doubts and widen your perspective. Although the Watchtower Society discourages it, think for yourself and skeptically assess what they tell you. Study other religions and philosophies -- even "strange" ones -- looking for inconsistencies and (above all) commonalities. Learn more and acquire a broader view.

The Next Step

The next step is even more difficult. You have to understand how years of indoctrination have affected you. This is not a matter of logic. It is not about the intellect but rather concerns our innermost drives. Why do we act as we do? Why do we believe certain things, be they true or false? What is the effect of years of being guided on a daily basis, according to strict (though changing) rules?

While dealing with the intellectual content of Witness doctrine is an interesting problem, perceiving and countering the relentless indoctrination is far more difficult. It can take years to see how we have been shaped. Indeed, our egos rebel against the idea that we could be so affected. Yet once again, we are only human, and we can be molded by constant peer pressure, selective reading, and adherence to a doctrine that forbids us to investigate alternatives.

Strength

If you still pray, pray for the patience and strength to face this long process of change. In any case, you should seek out other people who are searching freely; they can provide you with help and assurance, even if you may not agree with all of their conclusions.

Just remember that there is a lot of information and support out there for you. You only need to ask.