Title: Awakening of a Jehovahs Witness: Escape from the Watchtower Society
Author: Diane Wilson
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Perspective of a former active member of 25 years
Describes personal struggle with manipulative religious organization
Extensive citations and quotes from original sources
Author is certainly biased, but that doesnt mean she is wrong
Describes beliefs and practices of the Jehovahs Witnesses from a former member
Argues that the Watchtower Society is psychologically harmful to members
Makes a case for idea that the Watchtower Society qualifies as a cult
Quite a few former members of the Jehovahs Witnesses have written about their time in this religious organization, with Diane Wilsons being one of the most interesting. For twenty-five years she was an active member of the Watchtower Society, only able to finally leave after a great deal of difficulty and heartache.
Although Wilson certainly offers quite a lot in the way of critiques of the Jehovahs Witnesses theology and practices, that is not really the primary point of her book Awakening of a Jehovahs Witness: Escape from the Watchtower Society.
Rather, those critiques form the backdrop of her own personal struggles as she gets involved with the organization, slowly grows disenchanted with it, and then tries to break free. Many of her problems, often manifesting through physical ailments, develop due to her fruitless attempts to reconcile two things: first, her desire to maintain the only community of friends she has, and second, the fact that this community is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically destructive:
- Constantly repressing my true feelings, submitting to the organization, and putting up mental roadblocks to avoid death-dealing independent thinking was a lot of hard work which resulted in my feeling stripped of my own personality and little more than an automaton.
To what degree can we trust Wilsons assessment of the Jehovahs Witnesses? She admits, after all, that the abuse she experienced as a child left her emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. She admits that she developed a compulsive desire to try to please others which was based upon a sense of her own worthlessness. Current Witnesses can also justly argue that she never really accepted the organizations doctrines and hence cannot speak for those who have adapted happily. Is she, then, just another angry ex-member whose criticisms are irrevocably tainted by her own negative attitudes?
It is true that many people who have abandoned cults become the harshest critics, and that their perspectives on their former religions are not exactly without bias. However, it is also true that those who leave voluntarily tend to have positive feelings; it is those who are forced out and de-programmed who become the most bitter. Wilson left voluntarily it took a long time, but she did it herself and was not de-programmed.
Wilson also supports her arguments with copious citations and extensive quotes from original sources if an apologist for the Watchtower Society wants to rebut her book, it would not be very effective to do so by simply attacking her personally. Even though she is not an unbiased person, if even a fraction of what she reports happened just as she says, the credibility of the Watchtower Society is sorely compromised.
Moreover, if the attitudes she describes are at all common, then it is reasonable to believe that the Watchtower Society is not just another Protestant denomination. Claims about mind control may be overblown, but her story reveals the manner in which an organization can exert undue influence over the thinking and lives of members. Its not a product of supernatural powers, but rather the conscious manipulation of human psychology in known and predetermined ways. It is this, then, that makes such groups a danger.