A couple of nights ago I watched a programme called Jehovah’s Witnesses and Me fronted by Rebekah Vardy. I know nothing about Rebekah apart from the fact she’s a footballer’s wife who was recently involved in a social media scandal, but her reflections on being brought up in a Jehovah’s Witness household were honest and sincere. She said one of the legacies of her mother being ‘disfellowshipped’ when she, Rebekah, was 8 was that she felt, and still feels, guilty about much in life. The teaching of the organisation was, as it is in many evangelical churches, that the individual is a hopeless sinner who cannot please Jehovah, though must nevertheless endeavour to work out their own salvation. For JWs this involved (and still does, as you may know from personal encounters with them) going door to door and standing for hours on end in public spaces with a trolley-full of Watchtower publications.
I could relate to Rebekah’s feelings of guilt. While not a Jehovah’s Witness (I was never that gullible) my years as a Christian left me with a legacy of guilt. For many years it was the dominant emotion of my life. While a Christian I constantly felt I was letting God down: not as good a Christian as those around me, not witnessing enough, listening to pop music instead of worship songs – practically anything could trigger my not-good-enough feelings. I also felt responsible for anything that went wrong, even when I couldn’t possibly be, and guilt about my secret sexual feelings and, most especially that I wasn’t been a good enough father. To this day, I feel awful if I’m unable to help with my grown-up children’s problems. I am moving away from such fruitless thinking, and recognise that possibly I am naturally inclined to blame myself for events both within and outside my control. Christianity nonetheless exacerbated the problem, with its emphasis on the sinful worthlessness of the individual who is nothing without Jesus. I have, I’m pleased to say, got a lot better since abandoning its negative anti-human philosophy.
What scars has religion left those of you who are escapees from religion with? I’d be more then pleased to hear it’s none, but most of the ex-Christians I know have not come away unscathed. Feel free to share in the comments.