When I was two years old my parents joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t know what knowledge the general public has of them, but if you view them as a cult, you’re probably right. I won’t go into their entire belief system, because that would take too long, and fortunately for me, I’ve forgotten a lot of it. Suffice it to say that they feel like they are God’s new chosen people. When Armageddon comes the non-believers will be forever destroyed, and the 144,000 chosen Jehovah’s Witnesses will go to Heaven, and the other faithful JW will live in peace on earth and the lion will lie down with the lamb and blah, blah, blah. I remember that I was afraid of Jehovah, because I was told that he watches every move you make, and he even hears all your thoughts. I was terrified of thinking bad thoughts. I didn’t see Him as a loving God, but rather as a cranky old one who was just waiting for me to make a mistake. I think that made me very anxious as a child, which is sad, because children should be free to run, laugh and play without worrying about what some unseen force thinks of them. Anyway, when I was ten years old, my parents temporarily came to their senses and left the JW. Suddenly my brother and I were thrust into the “worldly” environment we had been so diligently warned against. I don’t know what impact that had on him, but it greatly affected me. I was very confused. We had been brainwashed into believing that celebrating holidays was wrong, and more importantly, that not serving Jehovah meant that your entire being would be destroyed when the end came – and the end was very near. I was afraid of being turned into nothingness when I died. As the years went by and I grew into a young adult, I began to really question what I had been taught, but I had no other viewpoints with which to compare those teachings. I had been sheltered from other religions and Christian denominations. All I knew was that I no longer believed in the “Jehovah” that the JW worshipped.
Then one day in my early twenties, a friend of my boyfriend showed me a book called, “The Power of Myth”. It was a series of interviews with a man called Joseph Campbell. The journalist Bill Moyers had interviewed Campbell over the course of days or weeks (I’m not sure) and the interviews had been transcribed into a book. He suggested I read it. So I did. And boy did it ever change my life! Joseph Campbell was a professor of Comparative Religion at Sarah Lawrence College, and he was an expert in world religions and mythologies. I was opened up to a whole new concept: every religion and mythology was basically saying the same things. The stories may have different names for the “Gods” and take place in different settings, but the underlying messages are the same. There are so many belief systems it’s impossible to name them all, but they include Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies; Native American folklores; Buddhism (Theraveda, Mahayana, and Tibetan); Islam; Christianity; Judaism and so on. Campbell shares many stories in the interviews to explain his theories, and they all made sense to me. For example, most major religions and mythologies have a flood story where the God or Gods become angry and destroy mankind with a massive flood. After reading the book I could believe what I had already come to believe without shame or guilt: Jehovah is simply not real. He’s a character in a book full of stories that are meant to give us a sense of morality (and some might go so far as to say to control us; as well as to bring money and power to the churches). Some call Jehovah the Universe, the Absolute, a higher power, aliens, whatever. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. Whatever it is it doesn’t judge us. It doesn’t punish us. It doesn’t frown down upon us if we think a bad thought. It merely exists, and it’s up to us to punish or reward ourselves through our own positive or negative energies.
After being turned on to Joseph Campbell, my belief system changed into what I would call “New Age”. I now believe in psychics (although I think some of them are full of shit; but there are legitimate ones), an afterlife (although I have no clue as to what it’s like on the “other side”), spirits and “ghosts”, other dimensions, chakras, and the list goes on and on. I’m no longer held captive by the religious dogmas drilled into my mind by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I actually feel kind of superior to them, even though I know it’s wrong to feel that way. But since I can guarantee you that they feel superior to me, as far as I’m concerned it’s tit for tat. Although I will admit (albeit grudgingly) that even they are not completely wrong in their beliefs. There is at least a spark of truth in all religions, no matter how ridiculous or hypocrital they may seem.
I would encourage anyone interested in exploring other belief systems to check out “The Power of Myth”. Campbell also wrote a book called, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”, which details the role of “hero” in mythology. Actually George Lucas took many of Campbell’s theories when creating the “Star Wars” films. I think Campbell wrote other books as well; I’m sure there’s a lot of information on him online.
So that’s my “enlightenment” story. Take from it what you will, but just remember that no matter what belief system you ascribe to, Joseph Cambell would say that you aren’t wrong. You simply have a different take on what everyone else believes. At the end of the day it’s all the same.
by Michelle Wilson