Notes from growing up in religion

18 Feb 2015

Professor Jerry Coyne's awesome Why Evolution is True site today presented a Jehovah's Witnesses video for kids in the post Jehovah’s Witnesses to kids: Pay attention in church or you might die. Alas, the YouTube video poster has since made the video "private" (what, too much mockery from clear-thinking viewers?), so I can't speak to its content. But I left a nice long comment, and responded to a couple more; I'd like to share those bits here for any wandering readers with an interest in the business of growing up religious.

Update: You can find the JW video here.

First, religious reminescence:  

Interesting find, Prof. Coyne, though I came after the video went private. From your description, I can picture what’s in it.

I was right smack in that position as a Jehovah’s Witness kid, charged with paying attention during services. I can attest that it was a real challenge to listen up. (“And so Jehovah’s original covenant with the Israelites… and so Judaic law in the time of Jesus blah blah… and thus Jehovah’s covenantwithhismoderndaywitnesses..”…zzzzzzzzzzz….)

How to get through a two-hour meeting every Thursday and Sunday was a true endurance test (with the Tuesday one-hour meeting a bonus challenge). It went something like this:

* Boring milling about and chatting before the start (thankfully omitted often, due to our family’s habitual lateness)

* Song time. Lame, but better than what’s next…

* Sit and listen time.

* Actually try to listen for a while.

* Something about… the proper role of Ministerial Servants? Maybe.

* Sleepiness crashes down like a felled sequoia.

* Start familiar regimen of pinching leg (through 70s corduroy trousers) to wake up.

* Nudged by a parent. Time to follow along with scripture look-ups. (Got my green-cover New World Translation right here!)

* Where the heck is Micah? Who looks up anything in Micah? Isn’t that a mineral or something, anyway?

* Minerals. Still got that library book about fossils. Gotta remember to return that.

* Some new people sitting in back? Who are they?

* Peek at watch for 11th time.

* Sigh. Leaf through Bible to look busy. Where’s that one part with the one prophet who disses the false prophets with the “your god must be on the privy” line? Sick burn, dude. [Anachronistic lingo alert]

* Must… stay… awake…

* Watch Mom take notes. Purple felt-tip. Always. Weird handwriting. Is that a “g” or a “q”?

* Try taking my own notes. It’s something to do. But so… boring…

* Doodle just a tiny bit. Can’t get away with more.

* Blah blah preaching work in the something something early congregation talk talk

* Where’s that one girl sitting today?

* Look at that From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained book a bit. Right there, on the map on the inner cover, they drew a dinosaur along with the Babylonians and stuff! So the Bible says that dinosaurs did live with people? Because I don’t see any scriptures like that, and no one will really answer the question…

* Geez, still 19 minutes to go

* Not supposed to say “geez”. Or anything like that. And last week Sister Smith told her kids they weren’t supposed to use the words “luck” because that’s of the Devil, or call anything “perfect” because only Jehovah is perfect. But she was looking right at me, because she heard me call something perfect, but you could argue that that thing *is* perfect for what it is, and I don’t see why that’s a problem…

* Zzzz….

* “Dad, can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know, can you?” “Funny. May I go to the bathroom?”

* Sl-o-o-o-w walk to bathroom.

* Very lo-o-o-ng bathroom break.

* Sl-o-o-o-w walk back to seat. (“Green Mile” slow.)

* Hey, I think that’s that girl, sitting over there…

* Sit. Zone out a bit. Play with clip-on tie a bit.

* All right, four minutes left! I’m a-hangin’ on every word! Sacrificial Lamb! The Remnant! The Anointed! Yes yes yes! It all means something… somehow… Well, it’ll all make sense when I’m older, right?

* Song time. Hey, it’s something!

* One hour down…

Rinse and repeat, hour after hour, week after week, long year after long year. My. What a fine use of time for curious young minds. (The preaching work – “going out in service” – is a whole other horror story.)


Oh, Prof. Coyne, one wee point about terminology for future reference:

For the record, the JWs don’t (and wouldn’t think to) call their services “church”, a word they reserve for the deluded/wicked false religions of Christendom. They call their meeting place a “Kingdom Hall”, and the meeting a “meeting” or (I think) “services”. NEVER “church”!

(Between all of us here, though: Regardless of what they want it called, yeah, it’s church. A bore by any other name is still a bore.)

A reply to another commenter, further discussing JW beliefs:

A.K. Posted February 17, 2015

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe that the saved go to Heaven (only the anointed). They do believe in eternal life on Earth (in bodily form) after the apocalypse for those who are saved. They also don’t believe in Hell, but instead believe that those who are not saved will just die and never come back. When they talk about saving your life that is what they mean. Not being saved means being dead and never coming back to life. That is what they fear.


Defaithed Posted February 17, 2015

As an ex-JW: Yes, correct. I would add one key bit: JWs don’t believe in the immortal soul. From Ezekiel 18:4 (“The soul that is sinning – it itself will die”) they conclude that when you’re dead, you’re flat-out dead; no soul remains. (Resurrection will apparently come about through God reconstructing people from his perfect memory. Makes me think of Star Trek transporters…)

Lots of people misunderstand JW beliefs regarding the soul and after-life – the “end game” – and make the assumption that JWs claim to be heaven-bound (like most Christians do), or even that JWs foresee in hell for non-believers. But their actual beliefs are as you state.

JWs’ actual “end game” beliefs aren’t hard to understand (and even contain a certain logic: God’s original plan was for humans to live on Earth; naturally, that’s *still* his plan). I think they’re often misunderstood simply because the “no heaven for (nearly all) humans” and “no immortal soul” claims are such a big departure from standard Christianity!

And finally, a reply to another commenter, this time on the kiddie tribulations of the more common (non-JW) Sunday School:

Y. Posted February 17, 2015

I paid attention in scripture classes in school for 6 whole years, and all I remember is that when I was seven we were told to draw a picture of Jesus’ body in the tomb. For some reason I decided to depict being run over by a combine harvester.

The priest didn’t like it very much, or maybe not at all, really. But in retrospect I think maybe it was a turning point.


Defaithed Posted February 17, 2015

Heh. I like. My only memory of Sunday School (Lutheran, I think, just before family went JW) is also one involving art – specifically, the teacher taking a dislike to my masterpiece of a hungry T Rex running down fleeing people. “Not very nice”, or something like that.

(What!? No credit for depicting a proper Creationist timeline?)

And there you go. I know the Bible talks smack on the sin of envy, but to all you out there who didn't have to grow up steeped in church, Sunday School, "meetings", or other religious services, my envy is exactly what you've got!

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