Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 002
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 2 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host Daniel Torridon and this is the second part of The Rise and Fall of a Jehovah’s Witness.
Last time I told you how I went from a 4-year-old publisher to a 30-something-year-old elder serving with a psychopathic presiding overseer. As you can imagine, that was causing me some degree of stress. Unfortunately, my home life in my 30s wasn’t much better. My marriage had never been great, but now it was on the rocks. I put up with it for 25 years, but in the end, I had a breakdown and I broke my marriage vows. I just needed to get out. Out of my marriage and out of the cult I had been in for 50 years.
Prior to courting my wife, I had enjoyed a romantic relationship with a Witness girl with whom I’d grown up. I genuinely loved her and we were planning on getting married. But, shortly before we were due to get engaged she confessed that she’d been somewhat intimate with a brother in the congregation in the past. Luckily, she was judged as being repentant and was “reproved” and merely deleted as a pioneer. I say “luckily” because it could have been so much worse. She could have easily been disfellowshipped and shunned by her Witness friends and family. Nevertheless, being named and shamed in front of the congregation was a huge embarrassment to her and her parents, and her mum and dad decided it would be best if we took a break from each other so as to give her time to rebuild her reputation. They were the type that really cared about appearances. She was the congregation’s “golden girl”. Unfortunately, she conceded to her parent’s wishes and suggested we stop seeing each other for a while, and I was devastated.
I tried to keep our courtship going. I suggested we ignore her parents and just get engaged, but the relationship was going nowhere. She simply couldn’t find the courage to go against her parents. I had no idea how long our relationship was going to be on hold and in the meantime a young pioneer sister, just 18, who I’d met some years previously contacted me out of the blue and expressed an interest in getting to know me better. Stupidly, I called my girlfriend and ended our courtship and then on the rebound, I began courting this other sister just a few weeks later at the 1993 “Divine Teaching” District Convention.
Looking back I regret ever marrying my wife. I was still madly in love with my first girlfriend. But I also longed to be in a loving, intimate relationship. I was impatient. I didn’t want to wait for my first girlfriend to resume our courtship. I hated being in limbo, and so to get some closure I went with my head instead of my heart and I honestly thought that if I married a pioneer we would have God in our marriage—we would be a “threefold cord” and we would fall madly in love with each other as we served Him together. It never happened.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were prohibited to have an intimate relationship without first tying the knot, so it was full-steam ahead into marriage. As a courting couple, my new girlfriend and I—we never held hands or kissed. Our relationship was clinical, to say the least. It was built on being “spiritual” with the goal of pioneering together. Despite not feeling “in love” with her, we got engaged within six months and we were married within a year. It was just a blur and before I knew it I had a wife—a wife I didn’t know.
Right from the start, our marriage lacked intimacy. From day one, however hard I tried, I just could not love my wife the way I loved my first girlfriend. I realised I didn’t even like her, let alone love her and as the years rolled by I found myself pulling away from her more and more. She was a shouter like her dad. That made me feel physically ill. I hated confrontation. I was constantly walking on eggshells just to avoid upsetting her. I was miserable. We rarely slept together and masturbation became my solace in times of loneliness and depression, which then in turn made me feel guilty. I wanted to die.
Things went even further downhill in 2002 when, as an elder, I began to develop romantic feelings for a female friend in our congregation. Although nothing came of it—I never expressed my feelings to this sister—I felt the need to confess my “improper feelings” to my wife. She insisted that I sought spiritual assistance from my fellow elders. So, the presiding overseer was called—the psycho one—and he and another elder came to visit me.
In addition to telling them about my feelings for my friend, I also confessed to masturbating on occasion and viewing television programmes containing “sexy scenes”. I just felt the need to confess everything—get everything out in the open, start with a clean slate. Nothing was off-limits to the elders. I thought by confessing I would be removed as an elder for sure, but at least my conscience would be clean. But surprisingly I was counselled, commended for not letting things get out of hand with my female friend, and allowed to continue serving as an elder. “Strange!” I thought, “Why are psycho PO and his mate not stripping me of my privileges?” I got the distinct feeling that the presiding overseer was giving me a free pass in order to make me feel indebted to him—maybe so he could control me later if he needed to. That was how he operated. That was his MO—he was a PO with an MO! I later found out that his mate had a pornography problem—no surprises there—and the presiding overseer knew it. So, I was dealing with an “old boys club”—you know, funny handshakes, wink-wink-nod-nod attitudes if you get my gist. So long as you watched each other’s backs you could get away with anything. This made me feel uncomfortable—I wasn’t that kind of elder. I genuinely wanted to be a good example to the congregation, to correct any flaws in my personality, and just shepherd and teach the brothers and sisters with a clean conscience.
But after that, my relationship with my wife deteriorated rapidly. She never let me forget what I’d done—or hadn’t done—and would remind me of my “unfaithfulness” if ever she lost her temper. In ever-increasing tantrums, she began threatening to leave me whenever she was unhappy about something, but since separation was looked upon unfavourably by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and adultery was the only “scriptural grounds” for divorce, she never followed through. I wished she would! I certainly had no plans to commit adultery—I had grown to love God and viewed marriage as sacred before Him. My wife and I were stuck with each other, but as it turns out, not forever.
Two years later, in August 2004, something took place which completely changed our outlook on the permanence of marriage. After some very intense Bible reading, Jesus and the concept of forgiveness and redemption became very real to me. I experienced a kind of spiritual awakening which I interpreted at the time as being “born again”. Thereafter, I identified as one of the “anointed” with a heavenly destiny. My wife publicly was quick to express how she “hadn’t signed up for this”, but unsurprisingly in private, she seemed totally okay with the idea of me leaving her and going to heaven! She even planned who she was going to remarry in the earthly paradise after Armageddon! After all, our marriage was now only temporary.
By now, the psycho presiding overseer was seeking to control me. He’d become aware that I identified as anointed and that I was going to partake of the bread and wine at the next annual memorial of Jesus’ death and, no doubt acting out of jealousy—or fear, I don’t know which—he tried to convince me not to do it. His exact words were “let’s sit down together and negotiate this.” Now, I’d found the courage by now to begin saying “no” to him so I told him frankly there was nothing to negotiate. My anointing was none of his damn business—I told him—and whatever I chose to do would be between me, Jesus, and God. He was not happy. I knew it was only a matter of time before he would try to get me removed as an elder, or worse, disfellowshipped. But how?
In 2005 the body of elders received a letter from the Society calling into question the qualifications of any elders or ministerial servants who were viewing pornography. Although I had never viewed pornography, my conscience bothered me. At various times in the past, even as an appointed man, I’d masturbated—usually when I was feeling depressed because of my marriage. And then I’d developed romantic feelings for someone other than my wife—even though nothing had come of it, and I’d not expressed my feelings to this sister—it felt wrong to be in a position where I was judging other people when I myself struggled with temptations of the flesh, so in 2005 I resigned as an elder. So the presiding overseer never got his chance to remove me and he seemed to take offence at that. From that moment on I felt he was looking for a way to get me disfellowshipped.
Later that year I followed through on my devotion to God and Christ and partook of the bread and the wine at the memorial and immediately, the presiding overseer began to publicly question my mental health. The Watchtower magazine had noted that some who profess to be of the anointed actually have mental health issues. I insisted my mental health was not affecting my decision to partake of the emblems in any way, and so he and his old boy’s club began to question my loyalty to “Jehovah’s organisation”. On one occasion I was cornered and asked if I thought I was one of the “faithful and discreet slave”. My personal thoughts on that scripture were that it was a parable, not a prophecy and that Jesus was simply encouraging all Christians, not just an elite class of 144,000, to be faithful. Expressing my dissenting thoughts raised alarm bells with the presiding overseer and his buddies, who started to question if I was turning apostate.
For a short while, I escaped to another congregation and attended meetings at another Kingdom Hall in an attempt to avoid further questioning, but I soon heard that I was being slandered in my previous congregation, even from the platform by means of a local needs talks. Word had it I was, indeed, an apostate and should be avoided. Never one to leave things in abeyance, or shy from a battle, I returned to my prior congregation in early 2006 and at my very first meeting back I approached the presiding overseer with an ultimatum. Like a scene from the Terminator, I told him “I’m back. Do what you want to me. I’m not running away!”
Well, within a few weeks, I was invited to meet with him and another elder. They informed me I was being charged with apostasy and invited me to attend a judicial hearing at the Kingdom Hall the very next day. I agreed to attend, thinking that they had no evidence to support a claim of apostasy. However, in the meantime unbeknown to me, they’d approached my dad privately and he’d told them about a confidential discussion we’d had in which I’d shared my doubts about the Watch Tower’s 1914-1918 doctrine and events associated with Christ’s presence. Somehow, in addition to my dad, they managed to conjure up another “witness” who testified, to quote him, “when Daniel speaks he sounds like a born-again Christian”. So, with two witnesses they could proceed with charging me with apostasy. After a seven-hour judicial hearing, and an equally long appeal hearing the next week, I was judged as being guilty of apostasy and disfellowshipped. So, at the following congregation meeting, it was announced “Daniel Torridon is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses” and then a subsequent local needs talk identified me clearly—the only professed anointed one in the congregation—as being an apostate. I was now deemed a friend of Satan—a sinner against the holy spirit—unforgiven and unforgivable—to be avoided like the plague.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature describes apostates in the harshest of terms. We are called “wolves that eat the sheep”, “the deceiver and the antichrist”, and “mentally diseased”. It may be that in some cases ones who have been mistreated who were once Jehovah’s Witnesses have become angry and bitter and have resorted to attacking their previous Witness friends. Now that’s not something I agree with. I’m not an angry man—I never have been, although if I was left alone with a member of the governing body I’m not sure what I might do! But in my experience, the vast majority of ex-Witnesses—they are decent, kind, loving people who have simply come to the conclusion that Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organisation is not “the truth”. Out of a sense of moral obligation, they’ve voiced their concerns and been judged a threat to the organisation. They’ve been treated appallingly. That was definitely the case with me. I bore no malice towards the Witnesses. I still don’t. I just didn’t believe all of their doctrines were true. I was even prepared to remain a Witness and keep my mouth shut, but the presiding overseer had different plans. I’d served my purpose in supporting his decisions in the past. He no longer needed me, and I was a threat to his perceived authority. So I had to go.
I recently looked up the word “apostate” in a dictionary and I found that it means “a person who renounces a religious (or sometimes political) belief or principle”. Now that speaks nothing to a person’s character being “mentally diseased”, or them being a spiritual “wolf” desiring to devour the “sheep”. It just means they have abandoned the religion or set of religious beliefs that they previously held as true, which raises the question, What should a person do if he or she discovers that the religion they’ve subscribed to, possibly all their life, is actually a lie? If integrity and honesty are of any importance to such a person, they’d surely have no choice but to leave their religion and then in doing so, they would, by definition, be labelled an apostate.
A good number who leave, or who are disfellowshipped by Jehovah’s Witnesses, join another church, usually Christian. A few look for truth elsewhere, for example in Islam or Buddhism. Many, and it seems to me to be the majority, lose all trust in religion and choose atheism. Others, like myself, identify as “spiritual but not religious” anymore. And yet in each case, we are labelled by Jehovah’s Witnesses as “wicked apostates” with absolutely no attempt to try and understand why—why—we left their organisation. So why did we?
In almost every case I am aware of, the “apostate” has left Jehovah’s Witnesses because they have concluded, often after much painful and lengthy research, that the religion is false. That’s what happened to me over a period of seventeen years between 2004 and 2021. In future episodes of this podcast, I’ll explain why I no longer feel Jehovah’s Witnesses are “the truth” but rather a false, religious cult.
But for now, let me just tell you that in In 2004, at the age of 34, I began to read the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures by Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watch Tower organisation, as well as the seventh volume, The Finished Mystery, which was dubiously attributed to him posthumously. My aim was to find out why Jehovah’s Witnesses believed the things we did. I wanted to know the true origins of Watch Tower doctrines and how the teachings crystallised over the years. In particular, I wanted to learn about the Watch Tower’s early predictions for 1914. Unfortunately, what started as a quest for truth ended with me being disfellowshipped for apostasy!
So, thank you for listening. Join me next time when I try to get to grips with Russell’s failed predictions and ask “Was Charles Taze Russell a false prophet?” Meanwhile, don’t forget: We are all One, so let’s be nice to each other!