Monday, February 4, 2008

You Don't Have to See Stars and Fireworks (a bit long)

In my life once the religion went the marriage went as well. And sadly my ex is going back to the JWs. Maybe one day she will see how badly they are using her. I hope that she finds out early enough to enjoy her remaining years. This is for her and all the others who wonder why JW marriages fall apart. Here are some thoughts that I posted a while back on

Watchtower, you have taken away our souls, in some cases our lives, and for many a fighting chance at finding true love and happiness. How have you done this? The ways can and have filled books. Here I want to discuss one in particular. That is our ability to find love. While you brag about marriages being happy inside "God's Organization" I would bet that the level of unhappiness, separation and divorce is almost as high as anything seen in the population at large. If the JW divorce rate is lower it is probably because of your controlling ways. A few years back I remember Paul Illingworth (a district overseer in the US) discussing at a circuit assembly how one sister left her husband and children to "find herself." He mocked it, endeavoring to get a sarcastic chuckle from the audience. I wonder if he ever considered that this sister may have lost her self identity because of Watchtower's oppressive policies. Let me name a few:

The magic of Agape love: "You don't have to see Stars and fireworks."

My ex-wife was told this by a "mature," older sister when she complained that while I was a nice guy she did not feel that special turn-on she always felt should accompany true love. This sister described her own marriage in "the truth" and how that special feeling, even if you have it initially, goes away. What matters is that he is stable, loves Jehovah, and will take care of you. Needless to say this is NOT always enough. But why did this sister come up with this rationalization? Could it have been because WT spends so much time focusing on the perils of sex and how "principled" love is what counts? Could it be because many Witnesses are forced to think this way because they are not allowed to look elsewhere for companionship? The fact of the matter is that even if that initial spark felt starts to dim, the couple can go back to it and rekindle it. And there are many couples who have found that their love has grown deeper with time, that the magic is still there and the stars and fireworks shine very brightly.

"What will the congregation think?"

About five years ago we had a young man and woman in our congregation who were madly in love. And they were very passionate in expressing it. One might say that they "saw stars and fireworks." She was a few years younger than him; he was in his late teens. They were so into each other that in spite of their parent’s efforts they snuck time to be alone in his car to make out. Being that she was underage while they went out in his car, they came home in a police car. Even so their relationship persisted. Now this would seem like a great story of romance. But there was one problem. And it is one that occurs often in the WT organization because it insists on being an organization first and foremost. Their relationship was not allowed to grow (or flame out) naturally. I know because I was one of the elders assigned to "counsel" them. I thought I was doing a great thing too. Her we left alone. Him however we kept tormenting with questions like: "What are your intentions with her?" "When are you going to put a ring on her finger?" "You know if you want privileges in the congregation you either have to make a clean break, or take it all the way. Do you think she would want a brother who can't be used?" And the big one: "What will the congregation think if you keep dragging this on?" Now bear in mind that we are talking about two very young people who rather than being allowed to develop a relationship naturally are being pressured into making a lifelong commitment. This so that a congregation composed in large part of strangers could be happy! In truth most of the friends in that congregation could have cared less. But the elders, traveling overseers and certain nosy people would. Now is this a basis for good decision making?

What happened to the couple? Well, they married and for a while they seemed to thrive. He made great money, bought several houses and by age 25 he could realistically say that he was closing in on financial independence. Given a few years and he would have been appointed as an elder. He was viewed as one of the most stable ministerial servants that we had at the time. He was used in every way possible. Until one day he disclosed to me and the presiding overseer that he had committed adultery. After that everything fell apart. Of course the couple remained together. Witnesses are made to frown on divorce. Even in situations where there are no children involved as was the case here. So she was told to make another life decision, namely to decide quickly whether or not to stay with him. This decision needed to be made quickly even though she did not have had sufficient information, time or experience with which to make it. After all "what would the congregation think?"

It is impossible to go into greater detail because of the confidential nature of their situation. Verifying what I have described is of course impossible. But for those of you who have been around Jehovah's Witnesses you have probably seen some version of this happen in your congregation, amongst your friends or in your family. It is very common. Decisions must be rushed. Engagements are often made quickly for the "sake of the congregation and the good news." Relationships cannot either grow or flame out on their own. There is often simply too much pressure. This also leads to some other interesting scenarios. For example, to avoid some of this pressure, many young men (the girls rarely are to initiate relationships) refuse to date inside their congregations. That buys the guys some time and privacy. (Of course if those girls don't go to other congregations themselves, they are left with slim pickings. And if they do get out, they can be branded as sluts or as "loose.") When these guys go out though they often find that the pressure is still on. There are meetings to attend and field service to go out in. The guy must continue to do these things. Now if he does this in her Hall, it won't be long before he has to answer some questions in his Hall. "Where are you?" She meanwhile will be answering questions in her Hall: "Who is that guy?" Result, the relationship doesn't stay secret for long. And then the pressure is on. Now this is not to say that this is all bad. Or that these things don't happen outside of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Much of this happens in cultures, particularly non-American ones. But the pressures are magnified by several orders of magnitude in the JWs because of the intense focus on congregational works and reputation. Further these lovers are often still subject to cultural pressures. Economic pressures only add to the burden. Many are young and working part-time so as to pioneer. This makes it easier for them to fall into debt. It also forces them into marriages in order to combine their meager resources. Is it any wonder that with all of the activity, nosy people, economic problems and pressure on the man to have "privileges" that many JW couples never really get to date, fall in love, and determine true compatibility. Add to this that no "loose conduct" allowed. After all what could be worse than the couple putting on the "rose colored glasses" of intimacy. Therefore no passionate kissing, (my first girlfriend and I never kissed!) no premarital sex, no living together, no vacations without chaperones watching the couples every move (no matter how old the couple is) and no time alone in secluded places. While these prohibitions can have some benefit, the uniform and unbending enforcement has not brought peace and stability to Witness marriages. Let alone true love. It is more designed to keep an organization together than to keep families together. And in the end even the "principled" love tends to disappear.

"Jehovah has HATED a divorcing."

This comes from a Scripture text in Malachi (a Hebrew prophet). It seems to refer to adulterous husbands in ancient Israel who allegedly would scheme to leave their wives after their prime for younger women. At least that is how WT applies it. There is no question that this can be an immoral and disgusting practice. But is this what people are always doing when they get a divorce? Many, many Witness couples stay together "for Jehovah." If that is not bizarre I don't know what is. Couples would normally stay together for each other. Maybe for children. But for an ancient God who they have never seen nor heard from directly. What does he care? Further, how do we even know what this Jehovah meant by a divorcing? The fact was that this same God allowed divorce in his "perfect" law which was in force in Malachi's day.

Today we have "no-fault" divorces, divorces due to marriages of convenience no longer being convenient, incompatibility, uncontested divorces, and so many more. (Why I know of a couple who obtained a paper divorce for employment reasons.) Does this text in Malachi cover all of these? If we were to go by that text in Malachi we MAY be able to say that God detests divorces done in order for one person to get a younger mate leaving the other with little or nothing to live on. Who wouldn't condemn that? But that is certainly different from many of today's divorces.

Interestingly, many of the Bible's prohibitions, when examined closely, appear to have been laws put in place to protect the weak and the innocent. Most notably women and children. For example, fornication was not a capital offense in Israel. Rather if one committed it, the woman was to be taken in marriage. Later divorce was not an option. The only one who could overrule that was the father. It may have been like saying: "If you break it, you bought it." Women in ancient Jewish societies were considered tainted if they lost their virginity. Proof of virginity was needed for marriage. So enforcing marriage would make sense for her protection. And if enforced probably kept men from "sowing wild oats" just for pleasure. Furthermore, men could still get other wives if the first one was not their true love.

Other examples that seem to bear out the point of protection for the innocent would be the fact that in censuring and limiting divorces inheritances were protected, income for older women who could not simply remarry was guaranteed, and fatherless families were prevented. Where such things happened due to either unforeseen mishaps or violation of the Law other laws were written (such as the gleaning laws) to compensate. One very powerful compensation measure was brother-in-law marriage. (Mind you this was essentially enforced adultery if one were to use Christian standards. Yet WT says that the Mosaic Law (written by Moses allegedly at God's direction) was "perfect.")

The point is that a logical argument can be made that these laws may have not been about sex as much as about protection. This being the case, why rigidly enforce these laws today when we have other devices that can afford these same protections. We have contraception and "morning after" pills, women are no longer property in the Western world, and women can make their own money. We have laws governing estates and probate. They are not perfect. But one could argue that neither was the Law of Moses. Why not let people make their own choices. They may not always make healthy ones, but WT cannot guarantee that it will either.

"The husband is head of his wife...."

This has got to be the most ridiculous of them all. Doesn't it dawn on the Governing Body that this law was made in a time when women were FORCED to be subservient to men? That such standards would serve more as a protection for women back then than for women today? Remember, early Christians were encouraged to work with the prevailing order and not to effect change. (Paul and Peter's writings about slaves not leaving their masters reflect this mindset as well.) How can anyone in their right mind argue that men are superior to women? Or that they should be in charge simply because they have a certain type of reproductive organ? Why does someone need to be in charge anyway? Two people coming together should be about love and partnership. This is not a business. Marriage doesn't require a boss. When discussing this topic WT has been known to use pictures of a man and a woman on the bridge of a ship each wearing a captain's hat. Or two people in a car with two steering wheels. It’s almost as if they are making fun of the idea that someone would accept any other arrangement than male "headship." Why not leave Paul's advice to Paul? It would be impossible to quantify the damage that listening to husbands has caused for Witness families. From husbands who don't respect their families opinions to ones who are simply incompetent to elders who let their position take over their lives to child molesters, the list of tragedies could fill volumes.

"The wisdom of the world"...Dr. Phil, Oprah, marriage counselors, self-help materials....

So now we have a family that is having problems. They may not even be able to explain why, only that they want help. Where can they turn? To a therapist? A marriage counselor? On paper maybe. But in practice those people are considered "foolish" in the eyes of the Governing Body. They are "worldly." And the "world is passing away." And every elder seems to have heard f the therapist who recommended having an "affair" to "spice up" the marriage. So where can these people turn? To the elders. And who are these elders? Most are janitors, sanitation workers, window washers; some are even single people, young men in their twenties and early thirties, old men with corresponding old fashioned views, and other "company men" who can ONLY use the Bible and WT publications. They receive no training in pastoral counseling, and are told not to read or use self-help material for counseling. They regularly ridicule sources of help that many consider valuable like Oprah, Dr. Phil and others. Their stock advice is for the wife to be submissive, for the husband to love his wife (with little advice on what this means or how to do this) and to pray more, attend meetings regularly, prepare as a family for these meetings and be in the field ministry together as much as they can. Of course this will usually mean that the family will have little time left for one another but as Ecclesiastes says: "A threefold cord cannot easily be torn in two." Having Jehovah in your marriage is the third strand that will keep you together! Amazing. And how can they get away with this? It’s simple. Paul didn't have kids. Anyone "spiritually qualified" can give family advice.

There are many more things that could be said about how many Witness marriages are doomed before the knot is ever tied. But I have gone on long enough. If any one else want to pick this up please feel free to comment this blog.

Isaac Carmignani

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