If you are reading this, then perhaps you know already that this is a blog/podcast that doesnt hold it’s punches towards religion, more specifically the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you have listened to our podcast, you probably are quite aware that we are sarcastic, cynical and blunt guys that can get drunk and whine about how much it sucked to be raised in a cult. Although there are a lot of legitimate statements that can be made because we grew up in a cult, I’m sure there’s many of you out there who are complaining or even wondering why we don’t just shut the fuck up or focus on the positive aspects of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The truth is, that as much as we want to focus on the shitty parts of being a JW, no objective and fair individual can simply ignore the decent stuff that came out of it all, and thats exactly why I’m writing this post.
Everytime someone asks me about what it was like to be a JW, it always starts with a comment along the lines of “you must have had a terrible childhood” or “you missed out on so much”; whether it was holidays, candy, dressing up for Halloween or not even being able to associate with family who were non-believers. Yes, its true, I did miss out on all of that, and it sure would have been fun to do all of it (of course I would have loved gifts every year from Santa!), but there’s also stuff that I’m quite glad I missed out on.
So, what could possibly have been good about growing up in a cult? To understand where I am coming from, I must start with my childhood. You see, by the time I was old enough to go to school, I was already indoctrinated with the dogma of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I knew all the bible stories (for all you ex-JWs, I’m sure you remember that yellow book of “My bible stories” or maybe even the tapes that came with “The Great Teacher” book) by heart and was able to give decent answers as to why I did or did not celebrate certain things; all mindless regurgitation based on information that as a 6 year old you have no grasp on.
I started preaching door to door at the age of 6, maybe giving tracks as instructed by other members at a younger age, and publicly gave my first bible reading at my local congregation at the same age. I was an exemplary child, trying to please all the brothers and sisters that affectionately encouraged me as well as praised my “efforts” (it really should be called conditioning). If you can picture it, I was a cute chubby-cheeked 6 year old, in a tiny suit, with a lovely little tie and my hair perfectly combed to the side with generous amounts of stickey-gooey blue-colored gel; all of this courtesy of my mom’s loving attention and cleanliness. Paired with a bit of smart genes from my dad’s side of the family and the decent memory that only a 6 year old can have, I was able to memorize all of Psalms 51 and give an outstanding bible reading to a congregation of 150 or so devout churchies. From that moment, I participated in door to door ministry, reading and analyzing information in church, public talks, even conducting bible and congregation book studies or service arrangements. A lifetime of talking, especially to strangers, does have an effect on a kid, and I can say a good one. To be honest, I can be a bit introverted and shy at times (I know, you wouldn’t think so from listening to our podcast) but I can only wonder how things would have turned out without all that practice.
On Wednesday or Thursday meetings, we would be instructed on how to approach strangers, how to walk up to Joe Schmoes, priests and people from all walks of life to persuade them that the “Jehovahs” are the best thing that happened to religion since Jesus took his first shit. Parking lot or gas station witnessing was another semi-bold thing, and telling the world you’re right and everyone else is wrong is arrrogant to say the least. I must highlight that being an active, practicing and outspoken soldier of Christ takes actual commitment and bravery (gullibility and ignorance as well) but bravery for sure. There were notes and even grades at these meetings (back in the earlier days of the ministry school) to model you and aid you with pitch, tone, reading, introductions, examples used in your talk, research, and many other factors in the art of public speaking. That’s not too bad for a bunch of individuals who are force-armed into skipping on a decent education and encouraged to spend the rest of their days shoveling shit for minimum wage and praising the lord all at once. All that made me a better speaker, a better salesman, a better teacher; hell, nowadays, when enduring myriads of job interviews, I even surprise myself how good I can be, but only sometimes…
And what can I say about growing up defending your faith? Well, let me tell you that in second grade I brought the Apocalypse book (yea the one about Revelations with all the demons, and pictures of harlots and beasts and Armageddon) to school. Perhaps it was because I was in a private school that they tolerated me babbling about it to teachers and kids, or maybe that Mexico was a very religious country at the time, all I know is that I was preaching gloom and doom, the death of all unbelievers with a passion. To this day I dont understand how my mother let that happen, or maybe I was a stubborn sunuvabitch (Catcher in the Rye reference here) even at that age, all I know is that that book would come along to school tucked in my little ninja turtles backpack. Being asked every fucking holiday why I didnt do this or that can really build character, being singled out can do it even more. Not “worshiping” the flag, not celebrating little Alberto’s birthday or eating a sugar skull for “Dia de los Muertos” with all the kids makes you stand on your own, all before even hitting puberty. I’m not going to lie, it was rough; it was even worst for my older sister who would come home and cry about the teasing that was the inheritance of being a witness back then. At the end of it all, I stood on my own two feet, stayed in my own bullshit boundaries for something I though was real; yes, it was unnecessary, yes it could have been much better, yes I could have grown as a person in other ways, enjoyed high school and college a lot more, but in the end it made me who I am today.
There was of course, more parts to the social aspects of growing up like this. You do miss out on so many social experiences when you’re in a cult for obvious reasons, anything from just making friends to learning how to hit on women; hell, my pickup line was: “Sooo, what hall do YOU go to?” But (yes, here comes the “but”) the thing about religion is that there are also some great people inside it. In being a JW, I had a chance to meet so many people. It wasn’t just your typical subset of individuals either, it was a vast number of guys and girls from all over the area, all different colors, different countries, different paths, and different ages (the WT always encourages association with “older, mature ones”). Of course, all this great network of people is completely shallow to a degree and full of shit, ready to dismantle and demonize you the moment you don’t get on your knees and give fellatio to the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”; but all in all, it’s still a great bunch of people that expand your horizons, even if its all brought together by the cancer that is religion. We were all stupidly dying together and wasting our Saturday and Sunday mornings knocking on doors.
So, in a nutshell and for the record, I am admitting that there was some good to this particular cult. I walked away with experiences that created who I am, gave me some positive attributes and skills that helped me even to this day. No one really knows who they could have been if X or Y hadn’t happened, or if they would have chosen differently in a certain moment of their past; that is the beauty of this chaotic and erratic universe we live in. Uniqueness and serendipity can happen, creating a snowflake out of our lives, out of us, and that’s kind of cool, even when we realize that we are just one more snowflake in a snowstorm, and that eventually our sun, our galaxy, our universe will dim out and fade away, just like snow inevitably will when the sun shines.