An appeal to ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses’s who are now atheists or agnostics
by Jason Wright
Do not worry – I’m not out to attack your beliefs. I just want to make an honest “appeal” to all ex-JW’s who have (at this time) opted for an atheistic or agnostic position to take another look at the possibility that God may well exist and that Christianity may not be the “evil slave” that the Watchtower has told you it is.
Let me first tell you a little about myself. My uncle inculcated me with Watchtower theology from around the age of 14. My parents were not Witnesses but shared a common faith in Jesus, although they were not religious. At the age of 22 I became a Jehovah’s Witness. By this time I was married with a son (Jacob) and another son (Jordan) on the way. I was extremely zealous and 100% committed to the Witness cause. As I reflect on my Watchtower days, I can locate three main reasons why I joined the Jehovah Witnesses: 1) I believed in a God 2) I believed that God must have a “true religion” 3) I needed an identity. The first two reasons may sound familiar. The third reason may not. It is only in hindsight that I can identify this need for identity.
Let me address point one. For me the existence of God has never been in doubt. In my current work as an entomologist I see a plethora of insect species, all of which have different colors, shapes, etc. The animal kingdom – with all its complexities – the human body and the mindboggling universe, for me, all point to design not blind chance. The irreducible complexities of creatures such as flagella confirm this. That behind everything is an intelligent mind is, for me, axiomatic. Now before you reply by presenting me what you believe to be irrefutable evidence to the contrary let me just say I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. It would be a futile exercise.
You see my current faith – and by faith I mean “trust” – does not rest purely on evidence (as it did when I was a Witness) but in personal existential experience with the divine. Therefore my presuppositions, while grounded in logic and evidence, are superseded by personal encounter. Such supra-physical propositions are obviously ludicrous – that is unless you yourself have had a similar experience. So in a nutshell God is real to me. I know him; I have experienced his love, majesty, care and guidance. Therefore I cannot deny these realities.
This brings me to my second point; I believed that God must have a true religion. This view demands one search out a belief system that suits his/her rational and spiritual needs. The big question is which one? Anthropologists and history of religion specialists often reduce “belief” down to superstitious expressions of culture and this is indeed so in many cases. However, out of the plethora of religions could any “one” be “true”? Or are they all primitive expressions of superstitious nonsense?
Unfortunately when we speak of something being “true” or speak of “truth” we encounter a new paradigm. That is “truth” is now believed to be a relative term. Post-modernism as the “illegitimate child of pluralism” has cajoled western culture into believing truth is a personal matter and absolute truth is myth. Therefore religious truth, they say, cannot be exclusive but must be all-inclusive. In other words, no single religion can claim exclusive right to absolute truth because absolutes do not exist. Such propositions drive inter-faith and ecumenical dialogue. I have explored and studied the liberal works of post-enlightenment scholars who suggest God works through all religions and therefore truth is relative. For example Schleiermacher said all humans have a universal god-consciousness which operates through religious experience, each different religion having valid experiences of the same God. However, while I agree all humans have a universal need for God, I must beg to differ that “all religions” are simply different vehicles to the same God. Why? Because my presupposition is that absolute truth does exist, and that the creator God has revealed himself through holy writ, viz. the Bible. Please don’t let this statement prevent you from reading on, or indeed cloud your judgment. It is simply my presupposition. We all have them. So please read on despite your reservations.
Let me just backtrack to my own journey out of the Watchtower. Once I was convinced Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine and practice was unscriptural, my first response was to revel in my newfound freedom. Wow! If you’re an ex-Witness you will know exactly what I mean. No longer did I have to go to all the meetings, no longer did I have to knock on doors, no longer was I answerable to elders, I was free! Or was I? You see freedom (unlike truth) is a relative term. How would you define freedom? Is it the ability to do whatever you want when you want? Or is that merely anarchy? Is freedom a state of mind? Could you be imprisoned for life and yet remain free? This may seem an odd suggestion, but “truth” and “freedom” are clearly linked. If you can locate absolute truth you will be absolutely free.
This brings me back to my search for a “true religion”. Sadly “religion” generally attempts to re-locate God within a liturgical, ecclesiological system. While I am not denigrating the benefits of such structures, God does not dwell in such places. This realization was of immense help to me when finally I decided to stop running from God. If you are still running, perhaps it’s time to stop?
After a few years of “doing my own thing” – enjoying my family and children – my desire to re-examine religion began. By this time I had, in all honesty, looked into Eastern religions and Islam. Therefore my interest lay only in
Judeo-Christianity. Could this be the “true-religion”? Or was it false, as the Witnesses had always told me.
My journey began with a subjective prayer. I prayed, “Jehovah please show me the real Jesus”. I prayed this because a street preacher had once told me I needed the real Jesus. His words had rattled around in my head for many years. More than understanding the Bible, more than checking its credibility, I wanted to know “who is Jesus”. As it had been a long time since I had read the Bible I laid out several versions and began reading from Matthew. I need to mention that my studies took place between becoming inactive and my final letter of disassociation.
Like so many ex-JW’s the last thing you want is to be hoodwinked into believing another lie. I decided to speak to other ex-JW’s to see if any of them had been successful (or not) in re-evaluating Christianity. A quick click on Google took me to a number of what I can only describe as negative, depressive, ex-JW forums where people ranted and raged but never seemed to move on, nor had any objective answers. One site I went on could only be described as an “ex-JW for atheists’ page”. I would like to convey that I’m not knocking these sites. They can be a very helpful way to share and offload abuses experienced while in the Watchtower. However, people on these forums rarely pluck up the courage to re-examine scripture objectively. Instead they seem to be adept at presenting anti-biblical, anti-Christian polemics, which I believe is a reflection of their negative experiences with religion and the so-called god of the Watchtower. I do not believe many ex-JW’s have taken the time to objectively re-examine the concept of faith, God, or scripture. In fact, atheism and agnosticism are handy retreats for the perplexed and hurting ex-JW. Sadly many ex-JW’s adopt the catchall phrase “I don’t tell anyone else what to believe or how to live their lives anymore.” That suggests that those who do share their faith are bigoted narrow-minded nut-jobs (like me I guess?). You see the knee-jerk reaction is to reject any notion of absolute truth and thus reject those who make truth claims.
Anyway, let’s get back to my reading of scripture. As I progressed through the Gospels I enlisted the help of the “Kingdom Interlinear Bible” as I wanted to get back to the Greek text – slowly but surely the doctrinal mist lifted and Christian doctrines began to emerge. Remember my prayer – who was Jesus? Page after page of scripture pointed to Jesus being far more than a created angel. Eventually the penny dropped. Jesus was indeed deity. Not just a divine being like an angel – but the divine creator; God. However, this was not merely an academic exercise. I wanted to “know” Jesus. After all, if he had truly risen from the dead, if he was God, surely I could speak to him? Eventually I plucked up the courage to speak to Jesus. I was not struck by lightning – instead I was overwhelmed with joy. Furthermore, by this time I had come to understand the redemptive plan of God (as clearly revealed in Romans) viz. that my eternal salvation rested not in being a member of a religion but in my personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Wow! What a revelation that was! By faith + nothing I could be eternally saved!
Later I joined a local Church, got baptized and witnessed all of my family leave the Watchtower and commit their lives to Yeshua – my LORD and savior, Jesus. Since then the LORD has led my wife and I along with JT and Ally to start a fellowship in the town of Bourne. The LORD has honored our commitment to him and increased our numbers. We meet not because we are commanded to (although we are!) but because we want to. We want to live and work as a family to the glory of God. This is authentic, real, Christian way of living. Many who meet with us have themselves experienced spiritual abuse.
To supplement my private studies I have spent the last few years completing my Bachelor of Theology degree at Kings Divinity College. With the LORD’s blessing I hope to complete my Masters over the coming years. What have I learned from my studies? First there is no argument, no line of evidence, absolutely nothing that can overturn the truth of scripture or Christianity. This cannot be said of other religions. Furthermore, when I compare so-called Witness theology with what is available to Christians there is no comparison. In fact Witness literature is pathetically shallow. Biblical Christians will tell you how scripture pours out truth after truth – timeless, powerful, life-changing truth.
That brings me to me earlier question. You will recall I said, “If you can locate absolute truth you will be absolutely free” – well guess what? Absolute truth is out there but it’s not a “thing” or a concept, truth is a person – it is Jesus himself. Listen to Jesus’ words:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Jesus is the only way and he is the only truth. In fact he is absolute truth. Perhaps it is time for you to meet your savior of truth?
You will recall I asked what true freedom was. I suggested freedom is a state of mind. I might add to that, a state of the soul or inner peace. Read Jesus’ words carefully as he explains the connection between truth and freedom which together bring peace to the soul:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
Jesus is the embodiment of truth; therefore if the truth – Jesus – sets you free you will – spiritually speaking – be absolutely free. Are you truly free? According to Jesus you cannot be truly free until you “know” him as your personal savior. Anything less is an illusion. You cannot claim to be free apart from Christ. Now that’s a challenge.
Please permit me to make a bold statement. I do not believe in atheists or agnostics. Such titles are labels to hide behind; the product of enlightenment rationalism. Ex-JW’s in particular, when they find themselves without a structured belief system, and are suddenly exposed to a plethora of conflicting worldviews, tend to go into meltdown. Once the “facts” against the Watchtower (and God) are assembled the path of least resistance for many ex-JW’s is atheism and agnosticism. The result? A new atheist/agnostic is born. Here is a common example of ex-JW rhetoric concerning personal choice:
“Live your life the way you wish. If you choose to adopt a belief in God at some point, then great. If you choose not to then that’s great too. It is, after all, your life. We all have to find some path to sanity in this crazy life that we have.”
Certainly this is true. We are free moral agents individually responsible for our choices. However, it is interesting to me how this statement actually reflects a postmodern, skeptical worldview; it is not neutral as may appear at first reading but retreats into “personal choice mode” a liberate reaction to former oppression. This need not be the case. I believe in only two kinds of people; those who run from God and those who run to God. Which are you? You see deep inside every human is a homing beacon. A little flickering light. If humans are the product of a creator than this is a logical assumption. Yet most ignore this smoldering wick, this inner yearning for something outside oneself. Many mistakenly cover over this spiritual longing with material pursuits, or reactive ideologies which mock God’s calling. Others fear even looking because culture has turned belief into incredulity. Yet despite all of this, while you yet live, breath and exist, and no matter what your current state of mind or belief system, God the Father through his beloved Son Jesus continues to call you home. This is a scary thought. Atheism and agnosticism are simply clever ways of suppressing what deep down inside you already know: God does exist. The Apostle Paul pointed out the obvious;
“[Unbelievers] suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18c-20)
I urge all ex-JW’s by the grace of God to stop running and find who you really are.
This brings me to my final point; my identity crisis. Religion offers a place to call home. Sociologists have identified this as “world-view construction”. We all have a world-view (metanarrative). It is the means by which we understand and interpret the world around us. Sociologists posit a hypothesis, which they call “frustration-compensation” wherein those of lower status in society, unable to achieve goals; look for alternative ways to attain those goals. This may entail joining a political movement, or like myself joining a religion. Obviously for me religion was the natural option as I already had an understanding in this area. Religion offers not only a spiritual home but also corporate solidarity, and identity. The Watchtower society provides such a home. As a Witness you are made to feel safe, part of God’s organization and superior to those on the outside. Obviously many experience contrary negative aspects, such as the “iron fist” of the Watchtower, however by and large most active Witnesses will claim they feel safe within the organization, but once you leave the organization your identify goes with it. You lose your identity.
I searched not only for God and religion, but also for identity. My mistake was to think my identity was to be found in a religion. Identity is not just a cultural construct but part of human nature. We need to belong. That is why families are so important, not only for children, but also for the whole fabric of society. During my years as a Jehovah’s Witness the Watchtower was my identity. After leaving, and experiencing loss of identity, I had an identity crisis. The question is where do you go to find it? Can identity be found in work? Hobbies? Sex? Or money? Perhaps to a degree one or all of these can provide a pseudo-identity. Certainly for a while I submerged myself into business, but when it comes to retreating into atheism and agnosticism I submit to you these are knee-jerk reactions to rejection and loss of identity. After all, if the Watchtower was a load of rubbish why think anyone else can offer something better? Far easier just to take your anger, frustration, and pain out on anything and everything supernatural. Far easier to adopt a neutral position and just get on with life. But what about your identity? What about that nagging inside? – Those disquieting thoughts that won’t leave you, where at times you feel lost and lonely. Where do we find our identity? Is there a place to truly “know thyself” and find peace?
The Apostle Paul is a good example of a man who had heard the “Gospel of Jesus Christ”, but due to his presuppositions had rejected this messianic movement on the grounds of his own intellect. What changed Paul? Was it slick arguments, or apologetic proof? No – it was an encounter with the very person he believed to be dead, buried and irrelevant. One thing all ex-JW’s should understand is that when you were a Witness you never truly knew God. All you had (like Paul) was a presupposition about God. You never had a relationship with God because that required a step of faith towards a real living eternal person, and the Watchtower took away that “truth” – you never had a chance. Remember the Watchtower offers its own man-made god. In doing so it robs millions of people of the true God. As Witnesses we never had a relationship with the creator God, we had only a religion, a façade, a shell. If, as a Jehovah’s Witness, you didn’t have the “true God”, spiritually speaking you were actually a proto-atheist! Now that’s a thought! Be honest, if you were brought up as a Witness you never actually, ever, searched for God you just went through the motions. Right?
Listen to the words of scripture. Herein lies the key in finding your true identity:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself”. (Corinthians 5:17-19a)
Ah! Here we have it. The human creation finds its true identity in the creator!
“If anyone is in Christ” – Are you “In Christ” – you can be. As Kierkegaard rightly pointed out all it takes is a “step of faith”.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:13-14a)
Are you at peace? Does your atheism or agnosticism fulfill that spiritual void deep inside? This is a challenging question. If, as I am suggesting, we are made in the image of God, and God truly does exist, it stands to reason that humans have a need to know who made them. After all, does not an orphan child want to know his/her “real parents”? There is a biological “need” to know one’s origin. You have a heavenly Father. Would you like to be a son or daughter of God? Not a member of a religion, but a true son, a true daughter of God? I hope so!
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Wow! Amazing! Your identity, my identity – indeed your life and my life is found hidden in Christ with God! What a revelation! God is calling you into a relationship, not a religion. Our true identify is found in him. When we humbly acknowledge this truth, when we bend the knee to our loving heavenly Father and meet with his son, personally and experientially, we not only find identity and true peace we gain eternal life, unconditionally, without human merit based on a “step of faith”. This is the true God of scripture. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Perhaps it’s time for you to begin meditating and praying upon the verses quoted. Don’t let the Watchtower, atheism or agnosticism rob you of your eternal future.
Please forgive me if anything I have written has offended you. However, as a friend once told me “the truth hurts”.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
I earnestly pray for all ex-JW’s who have retreated into atheism or agnosticism. God is real; he loves you and urges you to “look again”. May the LORD by his spirit and grace lead you to his son; He is the way, the truth, and the life. May you find “thy self” in Christ. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:14b) Amen, Amen.
 See “The Gagging of God – Christianity confronts pluralism” by D.A Carson, Appollos books, 1996.
 See “Jehovah’s Witnesses – portrait of a contemporary religious movement” by Andrew Holden, Routledge 2002; pages 42-57.