Cognitive dissonance

10 Years of Cognitive Dissonance—My Last Stand as a Jehovah’s Witness


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 007

HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 7 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. Last time I told you how in 2005 I ended up partaking of the memorial emblems as one of the “anointed”, and how—not long after that—I was disfellowshipped for apostasy.

Was I an apostate? I don’t know. Maybe. It depends on your definition of “apostate”. Jehovah’s Witnesses have this idea that apostates are wicked, Satanic, wanting to destroy people’s faith, opposed to God and Christ Jesus and so forth. That, definitely did not describe me in 2006. I certainly didn’t believe everything Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching to be true—but I was also prepared at the time to keep my mouth shut, not wishing to upset anyone in the congregation and thinking that God would correct anything that needed correcting in his own due time. I was just interested in finding truth. I’d done a lot of research in the Watch Tower publications. I’d found things that didn’t seem right. I’d shared some of my thoughts with my dad, and one or two close friends who I considered to be spiritually mature. I certainly wasn’t looking to bring the organisation down, or undermine anyone’s faith, and I wasn’t going around the congregation causing any upset.

I didn’t believe it was 100% “the truth” anymore, and I didn’t feel comfortable with the governing body, who I felt was being elevated to an almost idol status. I had genuine questions and concerns, and I didn’t think it was right that I couldn’t address those issues without being accused of apostasy.

Did I believe it was God’s organisation? Yes, at the time, insofar as I felt God was using it as a tool to accomplish His purpose. No, insofar as I didn’t feel the organisation had been specifically chosen by Jesus in 1919 as the only true religion on earth. It was a complicated state of affairs—what was going on in my head in 2006. I definitely don’t think it warranted 14 hours in front of a judicial hearing, being traumatised to the point of having a mental breakdown, or being disfellowshipped and having my friends and family ripped away from me for 3 years. It was cruel.

Despite feeling I’d been mistreated, I continued to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall. There was still a part of me that felt God wanted me to return to the organisation to encourage ones in the congregation, and if possible, to help reform things. How I didn’t know. But I didn’t think my time as a Jehovah’s Witness was over, despite being unceremoniously disfellowshipped.

Between 2006 and 2009 I never missed a meeting. I’d moved with my wife and children to a new congregation and my regular attendance at the meetings, along with my respectful attitude, started to make people question why I was still disfellowshipped. The thing is, what they didn’t know, is I’d applied for reinstatement no less than 7 times, but each time I was told I would have to meet with a judicial committee chaired by the presiding overseer of my previous congregation. Each time I refused. There was simply no point in meeting with him. Never, would he agree to me being reinstated, and it would have been too traumatic for me to go back and face him and his mates again. So I just sat it out, waiting to see what would happen.

Then, in 2009, completely out of the blue, I received a telephone call from an elder in another congregation who told me that the presiding overseer had been removed as an elder. This elder encouraged me to call Bethel, which I did, and within a few weeks, I’d been granted a judicial hearing and was reinstated—just like that! It was surreal. I’d gone from being viewed as a wicked apostate to being accepted back as a Jehovah’s Witness, allowed to participate in the door-to-door work again, and, well, viewed as a “brother” again.

Now, you might be asking why I went back. I didn’t believe the doctrine to be 100% true, especially the dates surrounding 1914. I’d lost all trust in the governing body if I’m honest. I anticipated that over time they would seize more and more power—that came to pass as I will explain in a bit. But I still hoped that the organisation was in some way being used by God to accomplish His will on earth. Certainly, that seemed to be the case with regards to the worldwide preaching work. I figured maybe God was gathering people into an organisation which, although not wholly true, was able to be reformed in God’s due time. On hindsight I realise I was just making excuses for what was just a man-made cult, but it took me some time to figure that out. In the meantime, I was back in the congregation, I started pioneering again as soon as my restrictions were lifted, and slowly set about repairing my shattered reputation.

I think there was a part of me that did care about my reputation among my Witness friends. I didn’t like to think of them viewing me as an apostate, and I guess there was also a sense of wanting to belong. I’d been a Jehovah’s Witness for almost 36 years before my disfellowshipping and it was all I knew. I’d identified as one of the anointed—even while disfellowshipped I continued to partake of the emblems at the memorial each year—and I felt I had a role to play in helping the brothers and sisters in the congregation to see the importance of Jesus rather than elevating the organisation and the governing body as seemed to be the case.

So, over the next 10 years, I served as a regular pioneer. I also joined a foreign language group and in doing so I was able to rebuild my reputation. I came to be viewed once again as a good example in the congregation. I was used for various assignments, both teaching assignments and organisational ones at circuit assemblies and regional conventions. Many of the brothers and sisters even began to accept that I was, indeed, one of the anointed—especially as the years rolled by and I neared 50 years of age. The general opinion was that I’d been disfellowshipped wrongly in 2006 and that I’d never been an apostate—just misunderstood. Some even told me that I’d been persecuted, and a circuit overseer expressed that the organisation had let me down.

Despite being accepted back into the congregation, I began to suffer from severe depression from the trauma I’d been through. In 2011 it was suggested that I had bipolar disorder and so I received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and was prescribed medication. However, a later diagnosis attributed my depression to “situational stressors”, basically the effects of cognitive dissonance—being in a cult, trying to fit into the role of a devout believer when, in my heart, I knew Jehovah’s Witnesses was not “the truth”. That plays havoc with your mental health. There I was, a regular pioneer, respected brother, directing people to the organisation, an organisation that was becoming more cult-like every day, and my mind was finding it difficult to square all of that, and make sense of it.

Starting in 2011, the governing body began addressing the “problem” of an ever-increasing number of memorial partakers. For years, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses claiming to have the heavenly hope hovered around the 8500 mark, but after a Watchtower article in 2007 which jettisoned the 1935 doctrine—the one that said the heavenly calling ended in 1935—there was a significant climb in partakers. In 2008 it had risen to almost 10,000, and by 2011 it was nearing 12,000. Something had to be done, it seemed, about all these new “anointed” ones swelling the ranks of the “faithful and discreet slave”.

In a Question From Readers article entitled “How are we to understand the figures in the annual service report?” the governing body explained: “A number of factor—including… mental or emotional imbalance… might cause some to assume mistakenly that they have the heavenly calling.” That had the effect of casting suspicion on memorial partakers such as myself, especially since I had a mental health problem—I suffered from depression, ironically caused by the organisation, the trauma resulting from my disfellowshipping. But yeah, that Watchtower wasn’t very helpful for anointed ones.

I think the spike in the number of memorial partakers may have actually been in part due to that earlier Watchtower article in 2007 in which the governing body had dropped this idea that the heavenly calling had ended in 1935. The article stated: “It appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends.” By 2013 the numbers had shot up to 13,204 and by the time I left in 2019 there were over 20,000 memorial partakers.

I think the change in doctrine was made in order to open the way for new members to be added to the governing body without them being viewed as “too young”. In The Watchtower July 15, 2013 it was announced that Mark Sanderson had been appointed to the governing body in September 2012. He was just 47 years old at the time, only five years older than me, which did help me. Quite a number of brothers and sisters began to accept that I wasn’t too young. However, I don’t think the governing body anticipated the huge increase in Memorial partakers that would follow their adjusted view. 

Then in 2012 the governing body made their boldest claim ever. In the same Watchtower as Mark Sanderson’s appointment was announced, in an article entitled “Who Really is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?” the governing body announced that no longer were all anointed Christians on earth to be considered the “faithful and discreet slave” but from then on, the governing body alone would hold that position. Now, at that moment I realised I could be right. The governing body, seemed to me, to fit the definition of the “apostasy” mentioned by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. To quote: “He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.”

A few months after usurping the role of “faithful and discreet slave”—which I always felt was not something a person or group of people should assume themselves—such an appointment should come from the master of the slave, not the slave itself—the governing body made this statement: “All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not. It was at this point that I began to think of the organisation not as merely a very controlling religion, but as a cult, and quite possibly a dangerous one. I mean, “obey any instructions”—that’s pretty much a blank cheque. Members were being ordered to obey “any instruction” from the governing body without question. This, despite The Watchtower later saying: “The governing body is neither inspired nor infallible” and noting “it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.” So the congregation was being told to do what they were told, even though there was a very good chance it was wrong. I wondered if there was any instruction a Witness would not obey.

No sooner had the governing body assumed total control than they began setting new dates for the end of Satan’s world, albeit surreptitiously. In January 2014 the governing body revisited the doctrine of “this generation” and in doing they’ve made the end due somewhere, I calculated, between 2034 and 2074—quite a big window there!

Then in October 2014, JW Broadcasting, an Internet television station, was launched—very cult-like. Governing body members, rather than being unfamiliar to most Jehovah’s Witnesses as they had been in the past, now became household names as their faces and voices were beamed into homes around the globe. By way of the “monthly broadcast”, considered obligatory viewing for all Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were introduced to Anthony Morris III with his obsession for “tight pants” and “human hotdogs”. Stephen Lett would stare into the camera telling us how much “the governing body loves you”, while contorting his face like Jim Carrey’s The Mask. David Splane would tell us to “do the math” while pointing to a chart that didn’t make any sense at all with a big stick. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Jackson would give a talk with a head covering and get his gospel accounts mixed up—but the Witnesses loved it. They now had highly visible leaders telling them exactly what to think, what to believe, what to do.

JW Broadcasting hasn’t been the only place we’ve been able to see the governing body in action either. Anthony Morris III has been caught on YouTube buying hundreds of dollars of whiskey in what has been dubbed “Bottlegate”. Geoffrey Jackson has appeared before the Australian Royal Commission claiming that it “would be presumptuous” to think the governing body is the only channel God is using on earth—and yet that is exactly what they claim. Meanwhile, Gerrit Lösch in an official affidavit to a court declared in 2014: “I do not answer to Watchtower. Watchtower does not, and never has had, any authority over me.” One can only wonder what would happen if an individual Jehovah’s Witness was to make the same sworn statement to their body of elders!

When I consider the governing body self-proclaiming their faithfulness and discreetness, when I see them elevating themself over other members of the “body of Christ”, when I hear them declaring like Miller, Barbour, Russell, Rutherford, Knorr, and Franz before them that “the end is near”, that we “stand on the threshold of the new world”, when I witness their near-idol status now as TV evangelists, I cannot help but think of those words Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “he… exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.”

Now I realise my cynical stance towards the governing body will translate to Jehovah’s Witnesses as the “unforgivable sin”, the “sin against the holy spirit”, that has allegedly appointed the governing body, but every fibre of my body tells me they are not who they say they are. Not only have they usurped power over the body of Christ, but Christ himself. The “governing body” has become synonymous with “God” or “Jesus” for most Jehovah’s Witnesses. What “the governing body says” is now considered to be the very word of God. One may debate with God, as did Abraham, Moses, and Lot, but one must never question the governing body! Slowly, the governing body has promoted itself and demoted Jesus and in doing so, I feel they fit the biblical definition of the antichrist. They stand in the place of Christ. 

2015 brought with it a number of personal losses, again traumatic, that did nothing to help my depression. Firstly, my mum died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. Shortly afterwards, my 16-year old son announced that he no longer believed Jehovah’s Witnesses was “the truth”. He disassociated himself and left home and then in 2019 my other son also disassociated after learning about the Australian Royal Commission.

Now this caused me cognitive dissonance like never before. I’d recently finished reading The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson which had satisfied me beyond a shadow of doubt that 1914 was not the beginning of Jesus’ presence. I’d also studied the B.I.T.E. model by cult expert Steven Hassan and all of my research up to that point had convinced me that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not only not “the truth” but were now a cult. At the same time, I was a respected regular pioneer, viewed as one of the anointed, and even being considered for reappointment as an elder.

I seriously considered leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, as my sons had done, but it wasn’t that simple. An Awake! article in 2009 stated: “No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family.” In reality, that’s exactly what I was being asked to do. I now had two grown-up children who were now disassociated but I still had two younger children aged 17 and 13, living at home, a JW wife, my Witness dad, and other—I thought—very close friends depending on me. If I remained as a Jehovah’s Witness, even if I faded and became inactive, I knew I would be expected to continue to shun my grown-up children. I didn’t want to do that. but if I didn’t, I would run the risk of being disfellowshipped again myself which would then affect my relationship with my younger children as they grew up, got baptised, and left home. I wanted to get out but I just didn’t feel I could. Maybe I could have. I just didn’t know how to go about it in the best way. I felt torn. I felt trapped and my mental health was going down the pan again.

Marital harmony had also dropped to an all-time low at this point. I was feeling so low that I was praying each night for my marriage just to end, and then I met a wonderful sister, kind, gentle, loving—she showed me respect—and I responded. I told her how I felt and she reciprocated and even though we knew we couldn’t—shouldn’t—be together, we began texting each other and we also met each other privately on a couple of occasions. We held hands, that was it, but it wasn’t right. I was married. I’m not proud of my actions, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was miserable in my marriage and desperately wanted out. I also wanted out of the cult I’d been in for 50 years. I just wanted to be free from the mental torture I was experiencing, but everything—everything—was tied up in being a Jehovah’s Witness and eaving didn’t seem to be an option.

So the next time my wife threatened to leave me I told her to go, but like usual, it was just an empty threat—she didn’t leave—but telling her for the first time ever to “stop threatening and just go”, prompted her a few days later to ask the inevitable question “do you really love me?” to which I, for the first time in our marriage answered honestly. I said “No.” She threw her wedding ring at me and told me we were finished.

My wife, at that point, suspected I had feelings for someone else. I’m ashamed to say that at the time I denied it—but a few days later my wife uncovered the evidence she needed to prove that my heart belonged to someone else. After tearing the house apart, she found my private journal in which, trying to maintain some sanity, I’d written my deepest thoughts. She learned in that journal that I wished she would leave—or even die, I’m not proud of that—but I just wanted to be with the person I loved without committing adultery. I was so confused! My wife demanded that I call the elders to “help” me, but I refused, and at that point, I jumped in my car and drove off to meet my girlfriend to figure out what we would do next.

That’s all for this time. Join me next time as I tell you about my second disfellowshipping which ultimately led to me being completely free from Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also cost me everything.