Randy, doing the "truth" disco, circa 1985
On Finding the "Truth"
A former Jehovah's Witness asks:
What troubled me most as a JW was that how I could be sure I had the truth. If you choose a religion and claim it as the Truth, it's like saying you are smarter than anyone who believe other religions... IMHO. What guarantees that, because you are not all-knowing? Therefore I want to stay away from any religion for the time being. But I don't deny the option to have one in the future. My question to those who are Christians (and others) is, does having a religion lead you to a position where you have to be exclusive?
In our intense desire to have the security of knowing the world is not so foreboding as it really is, we seek a story that encapsulates all of life and beyond life, so that we can feel safe and secure. Whatever requirements may be laid upon us, we are willing to do them to feel safe and secure. Some people feel that it will require a lot of work and that you have to be in a certain elite club to attain this state, others see it more as a loving family situation where making it right with the Father--and sometimes the Mother (as with the Watchtower) -- is the key (a la prodigal son). This pretty much sums up all the religions that claim to have the answer for our "lost" condition. (Other religions may not see humans as "fallen," and don't apply in the same way.)
I have a trace of American Indian blood in me--being an okie--which adds a hint of mystery to my Irish-English background. I often picture myself on the plains of America (no, I'm not into reincarnation, just cute fantasies!) out there, with the world being so vast and I so small, and realizing how discovering stories and giving personality and character to foreboding things make them easier to deal with. "Evil," something so beyond our grasp, is personified and made more familiar (ever heard of familiar spirits?). the same with good, fear, hatred, and even the skies, ocean, etc. We are romanticists in the end. No one wants to live in a meaningless world.
No one, however, can authoritatively claim they alone have the truth by their own wisdom. You either defer to another's wisdom, having been convinced by reading some of their literature that THEY must have the truth (in effect calling them "god," since they have been able to achieve that state of wisdom that you cannot), or you come to that conclusion through a series of personal EXPERIENCES and/or FEELINGS that, when assembled in your mind and HEART, convince you that this, indeed, is finally the TRUTH. Any hesitancy to believe it can be overcome through aggressive proselytizing or, to a lesser extent, by assembly with masses of others who have had the same experience (see my article on "When Prophecies Fail", May/June 1990 Bethel Ministries Newsletter-also online at: http://www.freeminds.org/psych/propfail.htm).
When confronted with evidence indicating that others outside your club have had similar experiences, you will most likely practice thought-stopping techniques to keep from once again introducing the thought that possibly what you have ISN'T exclusive, and that someone outside your club may, indeed, be just as well or better off than you. The very anxiety of the thought of resuming your search, with all its insecurity, is too much. How much handier it is if your club identifies other belief systems as clever machinations of the devil, clever counterfeits of what you have just found.
It all seems trivial, perhaps, to those of you who have gotten beyond the search for absolute truth, but to the one seeking comfort and security in a vast, frightening world, it is, indeed, the most important search of all. For years I thought I was addicted to the SEARCH, but eventually found out I was really addicted to the quest for SECURITY and LOVE.
I remember back to 1972, sitting in my bedroom in Canoga Park, CA agonizing over whether the whole Christian story was true (encapsulated in the JW version, distorted but the same basic idea), and going nuts due to the cognitive dissonance aroused by this dilemma. After weeks of struggle, I concluded that the Christian story had to be true, not because of proof, but because I NEEDED IT TO BE TRUE. THERE MUST BE A FATHER WHO LOVES ME. I remember this struggle as if it was yesterday, and my 20-year addiction to fundamentalism was a result of it.
I guess things haven't really changed much in 24 years, except that I guess I don't NEED it to be true, but still choose to believe it. It's "my" story, though someday I might be able to see it from a superior vantage point. If that ever happens, it won't be from deferring to someone's book, or story, or any other outside "proof." Truth for the individual should be internally intuitive. If you can't trust your own court of law, don't go seeking someone else's. Better work on your own and improve it. The person who feels unable to decide on what life is all about and is upset about it, and who goes to another person or organization to get it right, to me, represents the ultimate form of sadness. Sort of like being a non-person, merely a reflection of someone or something else.
To be a Jehovah's Witness, for example, means that you are unable to figure out life on your own, but have found the explanation of the handful of old men in New York to be the most sensible and attractive explanation. But you are not really sure, since there are problems with some of their "proofs," so you dig in deep to prove to yourself that you are on the right course. The intensity of your desire for it to be true causes you to make all sorts of biased conclusions, and the Watchtower has published many aids to help you confirm this biased conclusion.
Generally I have found the ones who are most dishonest about admitting the bias in their original process of proving it to themselves ("I read every book by ex-Witnesses I could find, and they were all hate books." "I checked out everything very thoroughly, I had way too much to lose if it were not true.") are the ones who MOST NEEDED IT TO BE RIGHT, AND WENT TO GREAT LENGTHS TO COMPLETE THEIR DECISION. They are right in saying they may have sacrificed a lot for it, but only because they gained a lot more--the assurance and comfort of finally getting a handle on the world and on life. Just ask a JW to RE-EXAMINE his proof-strings and see if his decision was the most logical, and the internal dissonance in his/her soul becomes so INTENSELY STRONG as to cause him/her to immediately deal with the pain and once again confirm the rightness of their decision, JUST TO AVOID THE PAIN AND INSECURITY.
That's where all the childish responses come from when you confront the Witness with a superior or more logical conclusion, with its string of corrected facts. You then ask, after your failed attempt, "Why can't they see it?" Because, idiot, you have stuck your finger in their eye, and they are flailing about in their soul to GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF THEIR EYE! In such a painful and stressed state, they will almost always say something childish, since they cannot think clearly at that moment. Normal responses to sticking your finger in their eye are:
"APOSTATE!" (the most childish and irresponsible at all--please add voice intonation, a-POS-tate, nya nya nya nya NYA nya). The reason they believe this will get you off their back is because it DOES disturb many who are called a name, and your own struggle with being offended is sick proof to them that they must, after all, be right. Kids love to do this with their peers or siblings. Deja vu, anyone?
By classifying you as evil, they thereby avoid the dissonance, as you are immediately discredited and thereby not worthy of attention. They also like to say,
THOSE PHOTOCOPIES HAVE BEEN CHANGED
YOU LEFT THE TRUTH BECAUSE YOU WERE IMMORAL
WE NEVER SAID THAT!
If unwilling to investigate the truth of the above, they simply need to lie to themselves to survive the anticipated dissonance and bruised ego of discovering that theirs may not be a viable world view of life after all. Realize it is a child's ploy, and don't respond in like, for such reveals your own insecurity and bruised ego. Respond as a mature adult. Give them something to think about in a disarming way (use your imagination, please! I don't have a list of these responses, they are more effective if spoken from your own soul).
If you did leave the Witnesses for mixed reasons (in other words, at the time you thought they were right and you just couldn't measure up), responding as an adult will be impossible until you fully deal with your own devils as to your past. When their words succeed in stirring you up, you can bet you probably haven't accepted your own past errors and dealt with them. Better to stay away from confrontations altogether than to ruin your day being antagonized by the playground bullies once more. Grow up, get healed, accept yourself and learn some healing words for them.
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