Waking Up

 

A familiar panic set in as hateful public and private messages poured into my social media account. These were messages from the secular community demanding that I remove posts or calling me a bigot. Why was I receiving emotionally charged personal attacks and demands I remove my social media posts? I had committed the unforgivable sin of voicing an opinion that differed from the left-wing narrative of the day.

Instead of the simplistic black and white worldview presented in the media, I chose to believe in
a nuanced and realistic approach to life and social problems. I was surprised by the hostility and
narrow-mindedness I was observing, and I did not know that having a differing opinion was
forbidden in the secular humanist community. Soon after I would lose the friendships I had
formed in the humanist community. Surprisingly, this was not the first time I had committed an
unforgivable sin nor was it the first time I had been shunned for my beliefs.

Religious authoritarianism

I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian religion with a strict authoritarian
approach to life and that often interprets bible passages literally. They are known for not
celebrating holidays, knocking on people’s doors on Saturday morning, and not voting or taking
political positions. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, my religion wasn’t just part of my life, it was
my entire life. As an adult, I would go on to move to a Spanish language congregation where I
would work alongside witnesses who were immigrants and refugees. I would also become a
“Ministerial Servant”, a position that could be considered to a Deacon in the catholic church. I
was also a “pioneer”, which is a prestigious title used for individuals who spend 70 hours out
preaching each month.

Jehovah’s Witnesses discourage the personal fulfillment of their members, especially if that
fulfillment would involve doing something other than church activity. I loved the friends I had
made in the congregation, but I wasn’t allowed to develop my own identity, pursue hobbies,
invest time in things that I might be passionate about, play sports, or even have basic life
experiences like dating or socializing. Although I did not understand it at the time, these
experiences ultimately caused me to become very depressed.

I went to the Elders, Jehovah’s Witnesses pastors, for help with my depression. They
encouraged me to read the bible more and do more preaching to cure my depression. It didn’t
work, but I kept trying because I wanted to be viewed as a good person in the eyes of God and
of the congregation. My situation continued to deteriorate and my depression deepened. I
became unstable, and eventually, my life began to fall apart.

I felt trapped and couldn’t see any way out. I did not know how to get help, and as a Jehovah’s
Witness, I believed leaving the religion was a fate worse than death. It would mean being
shunned by my community and losing my hope of everlasting life. Leaving or even just criticizing
the religion was an unforgivable sin. If I were to speak up about how I felt I would be called an
apostate.

I finally made a decision. I stopped attending meetings and criticized my former religion on
social media. I went further and criticized the elders in my congregation. My social media friends
were all Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there was an immediate backlash. I received public and
private messages from people demanding I remove my posts. I told them that I would not. I
received messages from people that I had known my whole life telling me that they would no
longer be my friends. This hurt me deeply, and I felt waves of panic that grew with every post
and every message. I did not give in. I believed my criticisms to be true and correct, and it is
important to stand up for the truth.

During my exit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would eventually lose all my friends and even
my job.

Political authoritarianism

With time I would come to find support groups for former Jehovah’s Witnesses online. Although
initially I found them encouraging, I was not at all prepared for what was about to happen during
the 2016 elections. At the time I knew nothing about politics, as Jehovah’s witnesses reject
talking about politics or having politics opinions

Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to find meaning in purpose in leftwing activism and
extremism. I joined a support group that had been taken over by radical leftwing extremists. I did
not understand the dynamics at play. Members of the support group would privately message
me and try to get me to unfollow or block people they did not like. I was completely politically
naive, and at one point I made the mistake of sharing a post made by a right-wing commentator.
This was perhaps my first experience with politics.

I did not know who the commentator was nor that he was right-wing. During the election
everyone was sharing posts about racial issues and police brutality in the United States and the
post I shared was about the history and current state of slavery around the world. To me the
post seemed to be informative but to the radical left-wing ex-Jehovah’s witnesses it was
intolerable, presumably because it was from a right-wing commentator or went against the
“approved narrative.”

Racial authoritarianism

Soon I was receiving hateful private messages and being tagged in posts publicly condemning
me. I was called a bigot and a racist. I didn’t understand what was going on and I tried to reason
with them, but they were unreasonable. I felt like I was being re-traumatized because what I was
experiencing was so similar to the treatment and abuse I received from my former religion.

Soon after I posted about the poor treatment of immigrants in Arizona and at the border,
something I have had personal experience with, and another wave of attacks began. I was told I
was only allowed to talk about black people and that I was racist for talking about the
mistreatment of immigrants. Ironically, this was just before the left-wing narrative about “kids in
cages” began. I suspect my post would have received praise instead of condemnation had I just
waited.

I was confused about all of this because I was clearly opposed to racism. At the time, I also
considered myself to be left-wing. I associated anything right-wing with religious nationalist
racists. I liked all the social justice posts that came across my feed. I even shared police
brutality videos posted by the “Occupy Democrats” social media account.

Gender authoritarianism

A final shock would come the morning after the 2016 election. I was very anti-Trump and was
horrified when I found out Trump had won. I expressed my despair online, and the very first
response was from a radical left-wing Ex-Jehovah’s Witness. She told me that as a “straight
white male” I had no right to talk about the election results.

I didn’t understand why she was attacking me if we were both anti-Trump.

I was also confused about why she was assuming my sexuality and my ethnicity as I thought
that so-called “liberals” were opposed to making assumptions about these things.

I blocked all the Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses that had bullied me online. I left the support group and looked for new avenues of support. I found the local humanist group. It was in this humanist group that I experienced the hateful messages mentioned at the start of this article. Each time I would stumble into one of these situations I would relive the anxiety and panic I had when I was first shunned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Not only did I see this knee-jerk behavior in the ex-Jehovah’s witness support group and the
humanist group, but also at work and at my university. It felt like something was seriously wrong
and I spent lots of time trying to understand and describe the phenomenon. I found it difficult to
pin down exactly what was happening.

A maturing worldview

In my search for answers, I stumbled across the book, “Cynical Theories” by James Lindsay
and Helen Pluckrose. I learned the context and phraseology I needed to better discuss and
understand the phenomenon of “Critical Social Justice”. I went on to read books like “The Coddling of the American Mind,” “The Parasitic Mind” and “The Madness of Crowds”, which I found helpful in understanding the phenomenon that I had experienced with left-wing politics and humanism. I often found the details to uncannily mirror the experiences I had inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the ostracism as I left.

My view on politics and the world has continued to mature. On my journey, I have found it
difficult to find communities that supported my secular but anti-authoritarian worldview. They
would be either secular and entrenched in “Critical Social Justice” or opposed to “Critical Social
Justice” and traditionally religious. It was a relief to find Atheists for Liberty, people who had had
similar experiences. It is an organization that values both secularism and individual freedom and
is giving me a community of like-minded individuals where I can feel free to express myself.