1. No birthdays, Christmas, or any other holidays
All the other kids are doing fun Thanksgiving drawings of Turkeys by tracing their hands. That looks like so much fun! It’s too bad I have to go sit in the principal’s office while you guys do fun Thanksgiving arts and crafts. My mommy and daddy are in a cult, so we don’t celebrate any holidays. None—not even my birthday. God says birthdays are bad.
2. Never being able to talk honestly with a friend
Jehovah’s Witnesses are commanded to “report what is bad”; in other words, to snitch on their best friend if they tell them they did something like smoke a cigarette or watch an R-rated movie. During my time as a Jehovah’s Witness, having a conversation with another Witness meant editing out anything that could get me in trouble. And for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a lot of everyday activities such as buying a lottery ticket or stepping into another religion’s church will get you into serious trouble. You couldn’t show anyone—not even your significant other—your true self for fear of being disciplined by the elders.
3. Having to go door-to-door preaching every Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well
I barely got any sleep when I was a Witness. I commuted an hour and a half to work each way and worked long hours. I needed the weekends to catch up on my sleep debt, but instead I had to get up at the crack of dawn to go out preaching. The act of knocking on strangers’ doors to tell them their religion is wrong and that they better change or face God’s wrath is bad enough. When you’re so exhausted you can barely stand up, it becomes absolute torture—both for you and the person you’re trying to recruit into a cult at 9AM on a Saturday.
4. Having to fill out field service reports
Jehovah’s Witnesses have to fill out a monthly report that details how much time they’ve spent preaching, how many books and magazines they’ve distributed to people, and how many Bible studies they’ve conducted. While the slips are not shown to anyone but the elders of the congregation, other Witnesses take note if you haven’t been out preaching with them during the regular times. The elders, on the other hand, do have access to your performance records. They will “encourage” you if you lag behind the national average, which was about 10 hours a month when I was a member of the religion.
Being a Jehovah’s Witness is like having a second unpaid job that you work on nights and weekends for no pay. If your performance lags on the job, your invitations for dinner and movies suddenly stop. You are constantly judged by everyone else, especially the elders.
5. Not being able to date
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t really date. The Jehovah’s Witness idea of dating is this: When you’re interested in marrying someone, you go out with them, but always with a chaperone. You are never alone, never without a third wheel until you get married, which will usually be less than a year after you’ve met them. It might sound like I’m describing some sort of weird threesome situation, but trust me, it’s much more boring that that. Because when you’re a Jehovah’s Witness that also means…
6. No sex before marriage
Nothing. At least the Mormons do that weird soaking thing. Jehovah’s Witnesses get nothing before marriage—and I mean nothing. After marriage it doesn’t get much better, since oral and anal sex are banned even for married couples. And if you’re gay, well, you’re doomed to a lifetime of abstinence and loneliness.
7. Not being able to have non-Witness friends
Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t allowed to befriend non-Witnesses. Why would you get close to someone whom God was going to execute at Armageddon? I broke this rule a lot during my 13 years as a Jehovah’s Witness, but I always kept my non-Witness friends a secret.
8. Keeping up with their ever-changing, made-up doctrine
When I first became a Witness, blood was not allowed to be consumed in any form, whether it was blood pudding or a life-saving blood transfusion. When I left the religion, they had changed the rule to allow for blood fractions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s organization periodically receives “New Light” from God, and their doctrine changes with it. Prediction for the end of the world turned out to be false? New Light—just move the date forward. A policy is a little too costly due to lawsuits? New Light—just change the policy.
9. Looking like a jerk when someone sneezes
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t say “god bless you” when someone sneezes, because that practice supposedly has a pagan origin. The result is that you look like an asshole every time someone sneezes as you just sit there staring at them blankly.
10. The constant feeling of being watched
Jehovah’s Witnesses have no concept of privacy and tend to view secrets they find out about other Witnesses as some sort of gift from God. Pair this with the “report what is bad” rule mentioned in #2, and you have a recipe for disaster. The elders once told me that I had negatively influenced my former roommate. The reason? My former roommate worked for Blockbuster Video, and he had searched my records to snoop on the movies I had been watching. He decided to go through my private records at work, and yet I was the bad guy because I rented Die Hard.
My life as a Jehovah’s Witness was Orwellian. I lived in constant fear that someone would see me walk into an R-rated movie, catch me playing a violent video game, see me talking to a girl, know that I had non-Witness friends, find out that I liked rap music, etc. Leaving that religion was the best decision I ever made.